Wherever you are, I hope this finds you well, and that you have a chance to spend time outdoors safely.
I have a bit of good news on my end. My latest book, What I Saw in Rocky: a Kid’s Guide to the National Park, has made the short list for the Reading the West Book Awards in the Young Readers category.
These awards are sponsored by the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller Association, which represents member bookstores in 12 western and mid-western states. The next step in the awards process is a public vote. To participate in the vote, or pick up ideas on what to read next, please visit the awards website. This is also a good time to remember you may purchase books online from many independent bookstores, which could really use the business right now.
Many national parks, including Rocky Mountain, are currently closed due to the covid-19 pandemic. But if you are a planner and find yourself with time on your hands (I know–something health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers can only dream of) you may find some consolation in researching a future visit to one of the parks. I like checking out Rocky’s webcams (one summer, I lived a few hundred yards away from the Beaver Meadows location). It makes me feel a little better knowing that although the gates are closed, the park is still there, the animals are fine, and eventually, when our world returns to some approximation of normal, we can visit again.
It’s out! My latest children’s book, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, was just released by Riverbend Publishing. The book is available directly from Riverbend, as well as from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Target. It will be available at local bookstores later this spring.
Like other books in this series, What I Saw in Rocky Mountain highlights some of the animals, plants, and places families are most likely to see during their visit to the park. Each section provides a kid-friendly description, detailed “where to see it” advice (though animals don’t always cooperate!), and a place to record sightings and experiences. Researching the fun “guess what?” facts sprinkled throughout the book was one of the best parts for me. Below I’ve given a peek inside the book, showing some of my favorite bighorn sheep pics by photographer Christopher Cauble.
Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place; it’s hard to beat the park’s special combination of wildlife, scenery, trails, and tundra. And as long as you pay attention to safety (including weather!), it’s a great place to take kids of all ages and abilities. But it pays to plan ahead when visiting busy national parks like “Rocky.” You can find trip-planning information at the park’s website: www.nps.gov/romo.
Thanks to Suzy Miller and her third graders for welcoming me and my book, What I Saw in Grand Teton, into their classroom. They created an awesome earthquake! We had so much fun doing it, they might even remember how earthquakes helped create the unique shape of the Teton Range. And their thank you notes are the best . . .
About 90 percent of Grand Canyon National Park’s visitors head to the South Rim, the most accessible area of the park’s 1.2 million acres. But even here, it can be hard to know where to start, especially when traveling with children. I kept that in mind when writing What I Saw in Grand Canyon: A Kid’s Guide to the South Rim, which is illustrated with photographs by Christopher Cauble (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). Many families have just a short time to visit the canyon. Where do you go? What opportunities are there for kids? How can you help your children make sense of this vast place?
What I Saw in Grand Canyon offers a sampler of many of the things families are most likely to see during their visit to the South Rim, as well as recommendations for easy walks and hikes. The book’s fun checklist format provides space for kids to record their own sightings while they learn about the park’s geology, wildlife, plants, and history. Back at home, they can use the book to share their Grand Canyon visit with family and friends.
The book, illustrated with photos by Christopher Cauble, is now on sale at Riverbend Publishing and on Amazon. It will soon be available at local bookstores.
I hope What I Saw in Grand Canyon will prove to be a good companion for you and your family on your Grand Canyon journey. May you have a safe, enjoyable, and unforgettable visit to the South Rim.
If you are a teacher or homeschooler looking for ways to extend What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park, here are a few activity ideas for you. My thanks to third-grade teacher Suzy Miller for “Safe Space”–a fun way to teach important lessons for kids living in or visiting areas with potentially dangerous wildlife.
In 1978, there were only 12 known nesting pairs of bald eagles in Montana. By 2014, that number had increased to more than 700 pairs. This amazing recovery, thanks to the ban on DDT and actions taken under the Endangered Species Act, is the subject of “The Eagles Have Landed,” my article in the November-December 2017 issue of Montana Outdoors Magazine. Kate Davis of Raptors of the Rockies took the stunning photographs that accompany the story.
While researching bald eagles, I watched for them in their usual haunts, and I spotted a fair number of nests in river valleys before the cottonwoods leafed out. But I also saw bald eagles in a few more unexpected places:
Soaring over Walmart in Missoula, next to the Clark Fork River.
Flapping over the parking lot at my kids’ school, while being harassed by a raven.
Attending a high school track meet. An adult and an immature bald eagle perched in nearby trees, hunting rodents in a field. Later, the adult circled repeatedly over the track, as if curious about the 1600m relay.
Flying low over my yard during high water. With tough fishing on the river a mile away, the eagle may have been looking for more prey options. (My three hens appeared to get a good adrenaline rush out of this flyover, but were unharmed.)
Sometimes I even saw eagles while driving somewhere to look for eagles. The message in all this for me? The eagles are back.
Yet even though overall bald eagle numbers are encouraging, we should be careful not to take the species for granted. As zoologist Willard Van Name said, “The time to save a species is while it is still common.” Bald eagles remain vulnerable to everything that got us in trouble in the first place, including habitat loss, nest disturbance, and poisoning by environmental contaminants.
One more note about Montana’s bald eagles . . . Not all the birds you see are nesters. Some are “floaters,” immature birds or others that haven’t yet established a nesting territory (my track meet birds probably fit this category). Others are migrating birds passing through Montana on their way to somewhere else. And still others are Canadian birds here to spend the winter in milder conditions. I look forward to seeing these winter migrants soon.
When you hear coyotes howl, do you ever wish you had a translator? I became especially curious a couple of summers ago when a pack of coyotes moved into the gully below my house, and as far as I could tell, started raising a family. The coyotes kicked up a chorus for almost any loud sound, including the roar of commercial jets flying over the neighborhood. That noisy summer is the subject of “Awake at night and listening to coyotes,” my latest essay in High Country News (titled “Overheard in Montana” in the print edition, which was published September 4, 2017). My thanks to researcher Brian R. Mitchell for answering my questions about coyote vocalizations.
I’m excited to announce the release of What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the NationalPark on April 1 (available through Amazon and Riverbend Publishing). I wrote the text and Christopher Cauble provided the many beautiful photographs.
Our book offers a sampler of many of the animals, plants, and places families are likely to see on a trip to the park, as well as space for children to record their own sightings. It also includes fun facts on everything from ranger hats to earthquakes. The wildlife “Guess what?” sections are some of my favorites. Did you know that bluebird feathers aren’t really blue? Or that the pronghorn’s closest living relatives are not antelope? (Hint: They are found in Africa and can grow up to 19 feet tall.) I liked digging into the research to find surprising details even about common species.
After spending a fair amount of time in the Tetons as a kid, I enjoyed reconnecting with the park and learning more about its history and incredible diversity of wildlife and plants. The book provides a fun guide for kids visiting Grand Teton National Park, and I hope it will spark an interest in wildlife and natural areas for at least a few of them.
I’m still the family barber, but you never know what might happen when I pick up the scissors. My new essay in the Christian Science Monitor, about the risk of doing it yourself, is titled “Free haircuts—but at a cost.”