My Park Story: The Life of a Junior Ranger

My childhood looked a little different than most. From the ages of six through eight, I was homeschooled along with my brother as we traveled the country with our parents and ‘travel dog,’ Baxter. My parents decided to leave behind a conventional lifestyle in search of more adventure and less rigidity, due in part to a traumatizing car wreck that my mom was in. Why waste a life that’s meant to see and do?

My folks sold our home and put our belongings in storage, save a few of my Barbies. They then bought our new home-on-wheels in 1996. It was a forty-foot, purple Bluebird Wanderlodge motorhome. This thing was a sight to be seen. The “Bus” became home. My dad outfitted the interior, taking out an old table in the kitchen area to create bunk beds for my brother and me. The Bus featured a large bed in the back, a big walk-thru bathroom with storage, a kitchen and bunk beds, and a couch toward the front behind the captain chair. The entire underneath of the rig was storage along with batteries and water tanks and the works.

From 1997-1998 we traveled the East Coast, working our way from Florida all the way to Maine, and stopping everywhere in between. I have a vivid memory of being in Maine at a family-style restaurant where people were sitting shoulder to shoulder eating amphibian bugs. Let’s just say I didn’t fully appreciate lobster until I was older. We spent six weeks in Washington D.C. visiting the Smithsonian’s and each memorial.

In 1999, we traveled West through Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas seeing the Alamo and Big Bend. On through New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona and northward through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. Visiting everything from the Yellowstone paint pots to the old west reenactments in Cody, Wyoming. From here, we traveled through British Columbia and the Yukon to spend the summer of ’99 in Alaska. Seeing everything from Fairbanks and Denali to Anchorage and the Kenai Fjords. We then traversed back south through Juneau and Washington state, through Oregon and California.

This was our schooling. Experiencing the history and cultures of each area we visited. As a part of our schooling, we would visit every National Park, Civil War battlefield, historical marker and site that came across our path. Well, at least that’s how I remember it. I recall having to read every sign in every National Park, State Park, and Battlefield we stopped at. My brother and I would have to read each sign aloud, trading off every other one. This was our education. This was our school. Outside, in nature.

We loved visiting National Parks throughout our travels. While at the different parks, my brother and I would work through a series of workbooks in addition to attending ranger talks and walks. At the end of our visits, we would take these workbooks to the Park Rangers, where we would then be sworn in as Junior Rangers. Currently, both my brother and I are Junior Ranger’s at over 30 National Parks throughout the country! This program instilled in me the importance of our National Parks and the impact that they have on every generation. We were always so excited to become Junior Rangers as each activity had us experiencing something completely new; may it be looking for sea life in Acadia or creating dinosaur footprints at Dinosaur National Monument. It taught me about nature and the critters that live within a certain landscape. It taught me an appreciation for place and how place nurtures and defines us.

In the springtime of 2000, my parents bought a campground just outside of Cherokee, North Carolina, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I always tell the story as my parents decided to go “camping forever.” We lived in the Bus for a total of five years. My folks then moved us into a slightly larger home that would now be considered a “tiny home.” Let’s just say my parents were pretty darned trendy before all the hype. Living small was a wonderful way to grow up, by living life outside.

As I’ve become an adult, I have found that these experiences have greatly impacted my life and the artwork I have created. "Place" has played a very large role in my life. The way that place affects a person and how one person’s roots are completely different from their neighbors. I studied fine art at Western Carolina University where I used photography to tell stories in place-based scenarios. The concepts of my photographs were completely reliant on place and how that place spoke, in order to create the narrative.

When I discovered that Xplorer Maps was looking for a new team hire, things just clicked. The slogan “Connecting People & Place” spoke to me immediately. I know the importance of how a place can deeply affect you. I was also drawn to the fine art of the maps. Wonderful, hand-illustrated maps of every place you want to xplore. Everywhere you want to see. All the wonderful places you’ve heard of all come to life in the artwork of Xplorer Maps. I’m excited to continue sharing my story alongside the story of Xplorer Maps.