A Beginner’s Guide to Pokémon Collection in National Parks

Pokémon Go, made available for download in America on July 6, 2016 (and adding new countries every day!) enables collection, training, and battling of the first 150 Pokémon. Individual Pokémon collection and observation is now possible, and Pokémon trainers will be venturing into their communities and the wilds that surround them in record numbers as they strive to catch ‘em all. By virtue of collecting and learning about (albeit augmented, virtual) animals, people will also rediscover their attraction to the natural world. Through Pokémon Go, trainers will develop a keen eye for their surroundings, patience for tracking, quick thinking in anticipation of Pokémon behaviors.  And what better place for young and old alike to hone their PokéSkills but the expansive wilderness of America’s greatest natural treasure, the National Park system.

The iconic U.S. National Parks have provided access to both nature and natural sciences to visitors for 100 years. Combined annual attendance to these natural wonders registers at a whopping 305 million people each year, attracting visitors from all over the world. Our National Parks span the landscape of the United States and her territories, ranging from the remote reaches of Alaska to the bustling east coast parks, like Shenandoah-a quick drive from several major cities-and hop entire oceans to appear in far pacific lands like Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam. Sometimes, these parks pack a hefty admission fee, up to $30 in some of the most famous parks. The fees go toward necessary maintenance and upkeep of the most pristine natural environments in the country, preserving the experience for the next generation of visitors. Don’t be scared by the entry fees; reasonably priced annual passes and special free events can make access extremely affordable!  In fact, I planned a trip to Shenandoah National Park this past weekend for both my sister and me as a respite from the rigors of academia. However, once we got the news dropped of the long-awaited Pokemon Go release, our plans quickly adapted to incorporate some Pokemon collecting into our adventure.

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A quick entrance photo at the North Entrance Gate PokéGym.

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Joining the Ranks of Tourists and Fangirls in Yellowstone

Obligatory “NP Sign” Photo

Day 13
Yellowstone National Park
Total Miles Hiked: 3.5ish (70.7 overall)

After the rain

Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!

Yellowstone, the Disney of U.S. National Parks. America’s first national park welcomes over three million people each year, and Rachel and I were certain we wanted to be part of the excitement during our adventures. When we were first planning our trip (which was a very exciting and motivating time during that spring semester) we knew we wanted to take our time exploring this particular gem. Three days seemed adequate, but I’m sure we also could have spent the entire summer there hiking and learning. Even after all of the hiking we had just completed at Rocky Mountain NP, plus arriving at Bridge Bay Campground at 2 am, we couldn’t wait to explore this national treasure!

Right on time!

I hope we don’t need to remind you folks, but on our Awesome Besties National Park Roadtrip we weren’t messing around. We went on an early morning jog along the Natural Bridge Trail (this was when we were being extra amazing…I don’t think it lasted all summer), which was both invigorating and a prime opportunity to try and spot a moose!  Post-jog and granola hoovering, we struck out toward the epicenter of all that is Yellowstone: Old Faithful. And wow, the crowd here couldn’t have been more different from others we’d seen at the previous parks. People of all ages, itty little dogs on leashes, bikers, hikers, photographers, families, and us were all milling around until the next eruption time. Conveniently, eruption timers were plastered all over the viewing area. Old Faithful really did live up to it’s hype and was spectacular to view.

As per usual, we sought out the park ranger that looked like they had the full low-down on the park, and, as per usual, we were not disappointed. A lovely old couple took turns answering our questions and suggesting possible itineraries (Editor’s Note:  Jim and Dot are the business!  Go find them!). We explained we had three days, and while we wanted to hit up the major tourist attractions, we were also quite badass and wanted to do some tougher hikes and see some wildlife. Pausing only to insist we go check out another geyser about to erupt, this couple quickly outlined where we should adventure, and and passed on an important safety tip. Apparently, up until this point in our trip we had been walking bear lunches and didn’t even realize. My thoughtful, well-meaning mother bought me a Bear Bell to attach onto my pack to ward off bears. How sweet!  However, according to our newest ranger friends, these bells acted more like dinner bells than warding off bells. Good to know; acquiring bear spray was necessary.

Meridith’s idea of heaven

Luckily, we could mosey on over to one of the many stores scattered around the park by way of the the largest log structure in the world. Thanks to my love for science documentaries I was able to give Rachel the briefest of overviews of the famous, historic Old Faithful Inn. The highlights: super fantastic craftsmanship and the ice cream shop we found. Rachel treated me to an ice cream cone, and I was in heaven. But, as my luck would have it, heaven was about to get even better. As we wandered back into the lobby, we noticed a man at a small table, which seemed to be set-up for a book signing. Recognition washed over me as I felt my face flush with excitement and sudden anticipation. There, seated before us, was one of my personal heros. The dude who writes the “Who Pooped in the Park?” books. Gary D. Robson, in person. Rachel was kind enough to let me fangirl a bit and we went up to get a photo. If you’ll take a moment to imagine a grown woman, possibly with ice cream smudged on her face, trying to contain her excitement whilst in line among a sea of young children, waiting to meet a gruff older man sitting at a table with scat samples covering it….well, then you’ve pretty much nailed the scenario. I managed to resist elbowing a few 8-year-olds out of my way before getting to the front of the line.

Our second Grand Canyon together!

Still star struck, we battled the brewing rains to finally get to the gift shop with bear spray. I was a little dumbfounded at the steep price, but I suppose if you are investing in your personal safety that price is well worth paying (Spoiler Alert: we never needed the bear spray so now when not out on hikes with me, it lives on the rack behind my apartment door where it waits for State College’s unluckiest home intruder.). I honestly don’t remember the entire conversation, but I chatted up the sales clerk while purchasing the bear spray and through some combination of comradery and the ol’ Meridith charm, I walked away with the staff password to the wireless internet in addition to the bear spray! SCORE! We waited out the rest of the afternoon rain while bingeing on stolen…borrowed internet.

You know, just hanging out on top of a mega-volcano

Now you might think that it was a total bummer to have rain on our first day of visiting Yellowstone, but it was actually quite beneficial! The afternoon storm scared off the majority of people so we were able to hit up the major tourist highlights without dealing with the crowds! We were treated to amazing experiences and sights at the various geothermal elements, artists paint pots, and even the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Even more, we got to enjoy a pretty sunset and several of the majestic bison! One even was sweet enough to pose stoically in front of the setting sun before ambling across the road right past our car. Being the responsible and safe park goers that we are, we kept a safe distance from the wildlife and stayed inside the car in a designated pull off area. (Excuse me while I side-eye and judge everyone else not as responsible as us). All in all, it was a perfect first day in Yellowstone. We tucked in early because we knew that day two was sure to hold ever more excitement!

Magestic

Making Time for Nature

One of my favorite environmental quotations goes as follows:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive…”  ~Edward Abbey*

These are the words of wisdom I try to remind myself of when I am having a moral crisis over what sort of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store (Plastic vs. Glass??  High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Palm Oil??  Too many decisions!).  While I absolutely want to work as hard as I can to understand and conserve the natural world, I also want to take time to walk around in the woods!  When I am working out in the field, I try and remind myself to stick my toes in the water or gush over a particularly adorable weevil.  This helps keep the balance in my life.  

Lett Lake, Snow Mt. Wilderness Area, 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that requires as much outdoor time as mine does.  Heck, even for those of us that work outside, having unstructured outdoor play time is really important.  Remember, just because you are playing, doesn’t mean you aren’t learning or growing.  How do you think kids learn?  Through play, naturally.  Playing in nature, whatever play means to you, is a great first step to exploration, questioning, and eventual understanding.  The question becomes, how do we fit hours into our busy schedules for outdoor recreation and soul-feeding fresh air?  I am currently on a quest to answer this question in my own busy life.  In an effort to make it happen, my partner and I (editor’s note: Meridith and her partner, too!) have committed to hiking once a week every week.  The life experiment is set to run for the summer (May thru August).  For us, there are no rules aside from “get outside and walk!”  I’m hoping to see some new places and explore spaces nearby that I have under appreciated or overlooked.  As of today, we have gone on a walk-about all but one of the weeks we intended! Not bad overall, and we are only getting started! Would you like to get your outdoor adventure one?  Here are my strategies for making it happen!

     
STS Guide to Making Time for Nature

Schedule Your Nature Time
You schedule your classes, your work week, and time to hang out with friends.  As busy people, most of us know that if an activity doesn’t merit a spot in our calendars, it isn’t likely to happen.  So, pick a time and place and pencil in your next outdoor adventure now!  

Multitask (sort of)
Meridith likes to multitask by visiting
 Joshua Tree NP AND looking fabulous.

No, I don’t mean you should be checking your email while you are out on the trail.  I do mean you should make this time do double duty in your life.  Have you been wanting to read that novel, but cannot find the time?  Bring along an audio book and headphones on your next hike. Heck, you can even listen to a sweet science podcast! Have a friend with whom you need to have a life update?  Bring them with you on your evening walk!  Been meaning to find quiet time alone for yourself?  Do a little yoga or meditation by the lake, or, you know, just sit and watch the bugs on the grass.  I think this could be an especially useful tactic for the busy parents in the crowd.  Spend time with your kids and get them tuckered out simultaneously!  Your time in nature can be just nature time, but it can also be friend time, family time, personal development time, or just you time.

Don’t Get Preoccupied with Exercise
I am 100% completely guilty of this sometimes.  I think this is obvious based on my own personal goal to “hike once each week.”  Exercise keeps me centered, and this is often how I multitask my nature time.  And, sure, getting out into nature can be a wonderful way to get some exercise and breath some fresh air.  Is hiking to the top of a mountain superior to driving out to a lake and having a picnic?  I don’t think so.  It really depends on what you like and what you are trying to get out of this time.  Importantly, you can get different things out of nature at different times.  Sometimes it’s a calorie burn and sometimes its a peaceful nap.

Our local spot:  Stebbins Cold Canyon, UC NRS
Think Local
National Parks are amazing, and there is a reason that Ken Burns called them “America’s Best Idea.”  I’m sure Ken would agree that America has had some other really good ideas, like these cookies,(most) of these famous internet cats, and the numerous state and regional parks across the great ol’ US of A.  Just Google “State parks of (your state name here)” and you will be well on your way!  You can also go straight to Google Maps and type in “State Park.”  Don’t forget to do a little internet sleuthing about regional parks, open space areas, land trust zones, wildlife areas, or Bureau of Land Management Areas (BLM Areas).  Meridith and I particularly love finding new BLM areas because these are public lands, meaning when you find one designated for recreation, you can camp for free!  You might find a gem you didn’t even know about within your 20 mile radius.  That is totally within striking distance, even for the most over-committed weekend warrior!    

Expand Your Concept of Nature
Take the suggestion above, and go even further.  Sure, nothing really beats being in a large natural area like a park (national or otherwise).  However, the green belt running through my town is beautiful, and I love walking and running along it.  Does your town have a green belt?  Do you even know what a green belt is?  You can also check out local arboretums and botanical gardens.  Find a local green space and play some Frisbee or lay in the grass!  Don’t get me wrong, if I could, I would be at Olympic National Park every single day, but I can’t.  I can, however, take a walk through the restored riparian area along the local drainage ditch anytime I want.  Even if you live right down the road from some great regional, state, or national parks, I would encourage you to take a little bit of time to explore these non-traditional nature experiences.

Build to Something Bigger
Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I am super goal oriented.  For me, setting a goal encourages me to do things I would never have made time for otherwise.  For example my 10-year goal to see all the US National Parks has resulted in numerous adventures that I’m not sure I would have facilitated otherwise.  Just two weeks ago, our household goal to hike once a week this summer lead us to take a short detour to Point Reyes National Seashore after attending a family graduation.  Giving your everyday actions context in the larger picture of you life gets you jazzed and propels you out the door.  And that, really, is what it’s all about.


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So there you have it! What are your plans for getting outside this summer? Any big outdoor oriented goals you want to share?



*Emphasis is my own