Keeping up with Aida: A western adventure, part three

Junior Ranger Aida Frey
Junior Ranger Aida Frey

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer
and Aida Frey
Junior Ranger

Hiking through cliff dwellings, snapping photographs of Puebloan ruins and shooting video were perfect ways for Aida Frey, of Algonquin, Illinois, to conclude the 20-day, 6,000-mile leg of her journey to visit the country’s national parks.

Aida began the summer with 164 parks in the books and visited her 190th Aug. 12. She started the quest three years ago, when she visited Effigy Mounds National Monument and joined the Junior Ranger program. She has since become an ambassador of the U.S. National Park Service and has no plans to stop.

The August trip followed a July 4 weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Keweenaw National Historical Park became the 13-year-old’s 164th and 165th national parks.

Following is part three of Aida’s August travelogue.

Aug. 5, 2014

In the morning, we went to Zion National Park in Utah. It was our 180th national park. In the park, there were monster-size rocks surrounding the canyon. These huge rocks look like mountains and rise up way above the desert floor! We went through a pitch-black tunnel and it was over a mile long. It went right through one of the mountains.

The rocks had a ton of layers and it looked like a giant bear scratched all of the rocks. The layers were formed by erosion from the wind, rain and snow.

In the park, there was a building made especially for Junior Rangers. Inside, there was a mini museum, a reading tent where there were national park books, and an excavation site, where you can look for dinosaur bones.

Aug. 6, 2014

Our first stop Aug. 6 was the Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona. This is in the Mojave Desert, on the Paiute Indian Reservation. The monument was built in 1870. It protects a fort which is a Mormon trading post. There is a small spring next to the fort that was very important for the people and their livestock. Our tour guide allowed me to feel the water that was surprisingly cold for a desert.

The tour guide was a Native American who just graduated from high school. She said she was very nervous because it was her first time guiding a tour. I think she did an awesome job for her first time! I also met Ranger Benn, who taught me about Paiute culture. He was very impressed with my vest and took lots of pictures to put in the Visitor Center.

At the park headquarters, I met Superintendent John, who was very excited to see me and we talked about the Junior Ranger Program and my accomplishments. We then drove to Grand Canyon National Park on the North Rim.

On the way in to Grand Canyon, we saw a coyote trying to cross the road. When I tried to take a picture, I only got his tail because he was running. When I got out of the car and looked down on the canyon, I felt small because it was gigantic! I walked on the Bright Angel Trail that goes along the rim, and it has no guard rails. I wish I can go there every day!

Aug. 8, 2014

In the morning, we went to Grand Canyon National Park again. We first went on a shuttle bus and went to the old historic Grand Canyon Village. There were squirrels around the picnic area, and it was entertaining when someone would put their food down for a couple seconds. The squirrels would start eating before anyone knew it. Luckily, that didn’t happen to us. I also visited the Kolb Brothers Photo Studio on the canyon rim. It is famous for being the first and only studio on the Grand Canyon. It was set up in 1903 and was important because people did not have individual cameras at that time. I am really happy I came to the Grand Canyon, and I hope I can see it next year.

Aug. 9, 2014

Our first stop of the day was Walnut Canyon. In the canyons, there are houses, called cliff dwellings, that were once occupied by the Hopi tribe. The Hopi hunted squirrels and gathered berries in the area. Eventually, they moved away from the canyons because of a big drought. This park visit was totally unexpected because we were originally going to visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but the road was closed. Instead, we were able to visit a total of three national parks. Luckily, the parks were small and close to each other because we got to visit all of them in time.

Our second park of the day was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Arizona. There, we took a trail around the lava rocks near a volcano and took plenty of pictures.

A couple miles down the road, we went to Wupatki National Monument, where we saw Native American ruins from 1,000 years ago. I also saw old Indian ruins, where I made a video for my friend.

Aug. 10, 2014

Our first stop was Navajo National Monument, on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. The cliff dwelling ruins there are 13,000 years old. On the hike to see them, it was so hot and the trail seemed never-ending. We finally got to the overlook and saw the houses. They looked well-preserved and colorful! We then hiked back to the Visitor Center and ate chicken sandwiches, followed by a visit to Four Corners Monument, where I put my hands and feet in four states at the same time! We didn’t spend a lot of time there because it was so hot, but we bought a bookmark from one of the American Indians.

Aug. 11, 2014

In the morning, we went to Mesa Verde in Colorado, the seventh National Park in America. We took an hour tour to the ruins called Cliff Palace. To get to the ruins, we had to climb up and down ladders. We were really out of breath because the air is thinner than what we are used to. We also went to a kiva, which is a place where the American Indians held religious ceremonies. The area was occupied by Native Americans from 800 to 1250 A.D.

The rocks there were still black from smoke. Archaeologists think the Indians died because of smoke and dust created by sandstones used to grind corn. I learned a lot of interesting things, and I think this is my new favorite national park.

Aug. 12, 2014

Our first stop was Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. What is unique about this monument is that its name, Aztec, really describes the Puebloan people. The name Aztec was given to the ruins in 1800.

The buildings at Aztec Ruins are made of adobe, and the rooms are really small. The Puebloan people left around 1300 A.D., because of severe drought. Their ruins are very well preserved. This park was my 189th!

Our next stop was Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. It preserves an entire community of Indian dwellings that are spread out through the valley. The Indian people lived there for more than 400 years, from 800 to about 1250.

The road leading to the park is dirt, rough and stretches about 20 miles, but it is worth it. When we first arrived, I completed my Junior Ranger book and received my badge. We then drove around the ruins and walked to get some pictures.

Pueblo Bonito is the most famous, and has the best ruins in the park. They are made out of rock and much and are very well preserved because the desert air is extremely dry. The complex is huge. This was my 190th national park.

Trip recap

On this trip, we saw different rock formations, canyons, wilderness, American Indians, animals, ruins and deserts. I’ve seen 25 national parks and brought my total to 190.

I learned about how the Indians made their homes and how they survived. I also learned a lot about geology, erosion and how water does its magic. My grandma joined us on the trip when we got to colorful Colorado. She really enjoyed being with us and visiting all these beautiful places. We had so much fun with her, and I hope we can have another trip with her soon!

In all, this trip took us through seven states, and we drove more than 6,000 miles!!! I met great rangers, the chief of interpretation, and superintendents of the National Park Service. I also met fun kids, American Indians and a lot of foreign visitors. In fact, there were many French, Italians, Germans, and people from Spain who took my picture and spoke to me about my Junior Ranger accomplishments. I helped kids from England, Norway, Holland, Japan and Australia. I hope I encouraged them to participate in the program.

Aida and her parents, Shawn and Norma Frey, will head to Louisiana later this fall to visit the state’s five national parks.

From the Oct. 1-7, 2014, issue

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