You aren’t guaranteed to see wildlife in the national parks and anyone who tells you that you are is misinformed. What you are guaranteed, however, is plenty of plants. Trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers that you don’t normally see in your everyday life. The beauty of the national parks is that nature is completely untouched, even down to the very last fallen and rotting tree.
I have a cousin from western New York, and whenever she comes to the South to visit, she always jokes that Southerns are “all about botany.” She says we don’t say things like, “that bush over there” or “those flowers,” but we say things like, “that boxwood,” or “those azaleas.” It’s true, though. We do this without even realizing it, and since her remarks, I’ve noticed that I even speak to my own kids that way. “Don’t walk through the jasmine!” or “Isn’t that bougainvillea lovely?!?”
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On this trip to the northern western states, I discovered a lot of plants unfamiliar to me. I looked in several places (including the Barnes & Noble in Missoula) for an overall regional botany book, but my searches were unsuccessful. Finally, in the Glacier National Park Visitor Center, I settled for two fold out, laminated pamphlets on plants of the region. The first is 265 Images of Northern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers and the second is Montana Trees & Wildflowers.
I bought these for myself, to satisfy my own curiosity, and did not think my kids would care (or even notice). Well, as with most things in parenting, boy was I wrong! It turned into an almost instant game of “who can identify this flower?” and the competition was actually quite fierce. But it also got my kids engaged during our hikes, and that was what was really amazing to me. It was such a simple thing, and something that had I planned out, they would have called it “lame” or not participated at all.
Further, this little game also encourages the kids to keep hiking down the trail, to keep going just a little further, which sometimes kids need. Stopping to identify the flowers gives them little breaks in the hike, which prevents them from getting too fatigued. Now that I know the kids enjoy this so much, next time I am going to be better prepared with a copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Western Region, as well as the fold out pamphlets. The pamphlets are easier for the kids to handle and use, and the Audubon guide will give me more information on the flowers we identify.
Have you discovered any trail-friendly games to play with your kids? What are their (your) favorites? Let me know in the comments section, I’m always looking for new ideas!