Originally published on AZCentral by Karina Bland on March 26, 2019
Bryan Wilson has been dog sledding in Alaska, been soaked at Niagara Falls and stood in the shadow of Mount Rushmore.
He saw a grizzly bear at Montana’s Glacier National Park. At Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, he saw 16 bald eagles, 11 moose and six caribou in a single day.
Not bad for a 12-year-old who used to complain he was bored.
Two years ago, Bryan moved with his family to the Navajo Nation when his dad, a physician with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, was stationed there.
It’s a beautiful place, Bryan said. But he attends school online and no other families with kids live in the employee housing.
Bryan asked his mom if he could start an Instagram account. Sure, she said, if he made it educational by focusing on national parks.
Bryan had discovered national parks while researching a fourth-grade project. His family lived in Florida and on a trip to Colorado, they visited Rocky Mountain National Park, snowshoed around Bear Lake and sledded in Hidden Valley.
Bryan told his parents, “If all of the national parks are this beautiful, we should go to all the national parks.”
Now Bryan has been to 50 national parks in 50 states and 160 national park sites.
In May, he was named a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador for the National Park Trust, one of four in the country, to promote public lands and share what he learns.
Bryan volunteers at Navajo National Monument, where there are three well-preserved cliff dwellings, answering questions at the information desk and giving tours.
“I’m getting a great education traveling,” Bryan said, learning about history, geography and wildlife.
“There’s so much that the national parks preserve, from the smallest little plant to the biggest bison,” Bryan said.
It’s given Bryan a purpose.
He knows he wants to be a park ranger. And then? Secretary of the Interior.
Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan has been busy the last two years! This month, Bryan has made a list of his top 10 national parks and what he loves about them.
“Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 49 of our 50 states and 44 of our 60 National Parks. I’m going to give you the top ten countdown of National Parks, the best times to visit and family friendly hikes for your trip in 2019. (Note: While there are 60 National Park Service units labeled as “national parks,” there are a total 418 park service units, which includes historic sites, battlefields, etc.)
#10 Zion National Park
Bryan in the Narrows at Zion National Park
Zion was an amazing park. I got to hike the Narrows, which was cool. It’s also great for kids because they can play in the water. The best time to go is October because there are no flash floods and the fall colors are beautiful and the water isn’t too cold. The summer gets really hot, so be prepared for the heat. Make sure to bring your gear. And look for big horn sheep and lots of mule deer.
#9 Acadia National Park
Acadia was a mixture of green mountains and beautiful beaches. I enjoyed hiking the Coastal Trail which is right next to the water and lead right to the beach. I would visit Acadia in summer so you can experience the beaches.
#8 North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks, so it is very quit. It also has amazing emerald green water caused by the minerals that come from the mountains. The best trail is the Bored Walk at Diablo Lake. You should go in spring or summer because in winter the visitor center is closed and in fall there aren’t too many fall colors.
#7 Theodore Roosevelt National Park
All the way out in North Dakota is a park dedicated to President Teddy Roosevelt. This park reminded me a lot like Yellowstone, but it is much less crowded. There are bison, prairie dogs, elk, wild horse, and coyotes howling. Take the Prairie Dog Town Trail and you will see hundreds of little prairie dogs running around and if you are lucky I saw a badger there! I think the winters would be harsh, so come during any other time of the year.
Theodore Roosevelt’s cabin in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
#6 Biscayne National Park
Biscayne is a place for swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and so much more. The best trail is the visitor center trial which gives you beach access and great views of downtown Miami; bring your bathing suit. Also make sure to check out the mangroves because you could see manatees. The best time to visit is any time because the weather and water is always perfect.
#5 Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park
Bryan in Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone is a park that if you want to see animals that’s the park to go. You can see anything from a grizzly, to bison, to a pika. I liked the Geyser Basin Trail which you get to see Old Faithful. The best time to go is fall because the colors and the wildlife encounters. Lamar Valley is a great place to view the wildlife and Mammoth Hot Springs VC there is always elk! You can plan this trip with Grand Teton.
Grand Teton was stunning. I did the Jenny Lake Trail which gave you stunning views of mountains and lakes. The best time to go is fall because they have beautiful fall colors and it’s the best time to see bears.
#4 Haleakala National Park
Haleakala was one of my favorites because I got to feel the clouds and see the silver sword plant which is an indigenous plant only found in Haleakala. The best trail is the Northern Visitor Center Trial because you get a viewing of the sun rise; make sure to make your reservations in advance for parking. The best time is anytime because it’s Hawaii! Take the road to Hana after your trip to this National Park.
#3 Mount Rainier National Park
The Shadow Lake Trail was awesome it lead you right to a water fall and behind the water fall was Mount Rainier. The best time to go is summer through fall because of the nice weather and fall colors. Winter might be too cold.
Bryan and his family at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
#2 Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rockies are indescribable; it’s so beautiful. I would do the Bear lake and Sprague Lake Trail which in winter you can walk over the frozen lake. The best time to go is any time of the year, but I like winter because you can snowshoe, sled, backcountry ski, and so much more.
# 1 Glacier National Park
The Crown of the continent is my favorite park because of the mountains, the emerald green lakes, the animals and scenery. You should do the Many Glacier Trail because of the lakes, the bears, and the glaciers; bring your bear spray. The best time to go is before winter because of the stunning colors, the best weather, and the biggest chance of seeing animals. Also, you want to visit before they close the Going-to-the-Sun Road, so check out the website before you make plans.
Bryan and his family on Many Glacier Hike in Glacier National Park
Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan created a handy list of “Tips for Road Trips” to help you plan your next park adventure.
I have been on some of the most epic road trips covering our national park sites. I have traveled all the way up the East coast, Midwest, and even to Canada to name a few. Here are some tips to make your road trips successful!
So go explore outdoors, the parks are yours and find your park today!
Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan”
Our newest Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan Wilson has recently moved with his family to Navajo Nation. This summer, Bryan interviewed Edison Eskeets, of The Message, The Run project, to learn more about the Long Walk and how Mr. Eskeets honored the 150th anniversary of this devastating chapter of Navajo history.
“Ya’at’eeh, this is Jr Ranger Bryan with a message from Navajo Nation:
Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Bryan and Edison Eskeets at Hubbell Trading Post NHS.
After hearing accounts from Rangers at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site and Navajo National Monument and doing my own research, I learned about one of the most horrible times in Navajo history called the Long Walk.
In 1864, during a brutal winter, approximately 10,000 Navajos were forced out of their homes in present day Arizona and walked over 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Men, women, children, and elderly were surrounded by US Army and if they couldn’t keep up, they were shot on the spot. Those who survived the walk suffered in horrible living conditions at the Bosque Redondo internment camp. Many people ate rats because they were starving. Many more became very ill. One third of the Navajos died. But finally, on June 1, 1868, a treaty was signed to return home where life was anything but back to normal.
June 1st, 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. To commemorate the Long Walk and celebrate the resilience of the Navajo people, Edison Eskeets ran from Chinle, AZ to Sante Fe, NM and retraced the steps of the Long Walk.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Edison Eskeets, a 66 year old Navajo man, who started his running career as a young boy by herding livestock. He was such a great runner as a young adult he came seconds away from making the Olympics in the Boston Marathon.
I asked Mr. Eskeets why some Navajos were against him running and retracing the steps of the Long Walk. He said, “some traditional Navajos are sensitive and hesitant to it [the events of the Long Walk], but it is important to look at it as history. We have to read about it, learn from it, and understand it because ultimately we don’t ever want it to repeat because if we ignore it then here it is again.”
Mr. Edison Eskeets.
I also asked Mr. Eskeets what was the message he wanted to share to his people. He said, “A treaty was signed with agreements and they tried to make us leave behind traditions but we [the Dine, the Navajos] survived. The language survived and was maintained and used during WWII and since the treaty the Navajos have done very well and have been successful.”
Mr. Eskeets wanted to leave a message for the youth of today. “Maintain and embrace your ethnic background. When you get older, you will feel the loss. You will wish you could speak your native language and know more about its traditions.”
You can find Mr. Eskeets at Hubbell Trading Post where he works for the Western National Park Association (WNPA). He enjoys learning from and teaching visitors at Hubbell. He’s happy to be a part of the Trading Post history that will survive for a long time.
You can also follow Edison Eskeets @theMessage_theRun on Instagram or check out his WNPA site.”
Jr Ranger Bryan
National Park Trust is excited to announce our newest Buddy Bison Student Ambassador, Bryan Wilson. Bryan is originally from Florida, now he is in 5th grade and lives in Navajo Nation, Arizona.
“I never really knew about National Parks until my fourth grade teacher made me do a National Park research project. I couldn’t believe how many parks were in the United States, and 3 in my hometown state of FL! My teacher told us to print out the Every Kid in a Park
Pass, and my family happened to be going on a trip to Colorado that month. I told my parents that we had to visit Rocky Mountain National Park!
We arrived with breathtaking views of Pike’s Peak, snowshoed in 32 below weather through Bear and Sprague Lake, and sled down the hills of Hidden Valley. It was there I became a Junior Ranger and promised to learn, protect, and explore our public lands. Since then, I have been to 28 national parks and almost 100 national park sites.
Currently, I am living in Navajo Nation and working with local schools on the reservation to get kids active and healthy. I am hoping, with Buddy Bison, to help end childhood obesity and diabetes on the Rez!”
Follow him on social media to see where he and #BuddyBison (@junior_ranger_bry) are traveling.