We were at the end of our spring break trip through southwest Utah, first on a 5-day raft trip down the San Juan River and then a three-day exploration of slot canyons in Capitol Reef and Escalante National Parks, when the climax came for our seven-year-old daughter, Casey. For that’s when, following a book signing at Arches National Park, she became indoctrinated as a…Junior Ranger!
Our national park swing came during April’s National Parks Week, an initiative designed to get more families to visit our national treasures by offering free admission. But it was our older daughter Brooke’s free admission that summed up Casey’s abuse of her new power. “I think she’s going a little overboard,” she said, cupping her hand to her mouth.
It happened after joining Ranger Joel on a pilgrimage for an hour-long family hike up a ramp of slickrock to Delicate Arch. Countless others had the same idea that glorious Saturday, and it was like following worshippers to Mecca. I promised Casey ice cream if she made it under her own power. Her choice? Aptly named Rocky Road.
Noticing us with the ranger, other families quickly joined in and soon we had our own family-friendly posse en route to enjoy one of the park’s most popular attractions.
Along the way, under Ranger Joel’s tutelage, we stopped at petroglyphs, spit water on juniper bark to enhance its smell, and learned how an ancient, massive salt wash dipped the surrounding strata. Before we knew it, we traversed a thin ledge of slickrock and emerged around a corner to see the arch.
While that was captivating enough, for Casey the real reward came when Joel had her raise her right hand and repeat a makeshift ranger mantra to get officially deputized, ranger pin and all.
“I swear to protect my national parks and not poke my sister,” she dutifully repeated.
Ceremony completed, and with the arch and other bystanders as her witness, she then put on her new badge. And that’s when things got weird.
First, she proceeded to wave people along the path on the way down. “Keep it moving, keep it moving,” she admonished, waving her hand.
Next, she picked up an errant piece of gum and promptly gave it to dad to put in his previously clean pocket. “Here, dad. This is trash.”
Next, she grabbed a piece of my notebook and a pen from the pack. My hopes of her actually taking notes were dashed when she proceeded to write someone a ticket for stepping off the trail. She then plotted how to make more tickets to give out down at the visitor’s center.
“I feel like a grown-up,” she proudly said. “I have a job and everything.”
And that’s when Brooke had enough. “She’s taking this waaaay too seriously,” she said under her breath.
But we let her have her fun. After all, it’s not every day you get deputized as a junior ranger – and get rewarded with Rocky Road afterward.