I’m writing this column from my hotel room in Roswell, N.M. Roswell is, of course, famous for the alleged alien crash landing that happened in 1947.
Roswell also happens to be the last leg of my family’s summer vacation. We opted for a two-week vacation instead of our customary one week because we had a lot of places we’ve always wanted to visit.
My husband had absolutely no interest in visiting Roswell and hearing about aliens, but my son and I couldn’t wait to get here. While it’s been a blast hearing about the supposed cover-up at Roswell (and I’ll keep my opinion about that to myself), most of the alien-like sightings we’ve had during this trip haven’t been at Roswell.
They’ve been at the slew of national parks we’ve visited on our trip – places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, White Sands National Monument, the Grand Tetons and Lake Mead.
We had planned for months to visit these places, but we only learned right before we left that we qualified for free entry into all national parks we visited because my child had just completed fourth grade. Under a program established by then President Barack Obama, all fourth-graders and their families receive free entry into any of the national parks they visit. Hopefully, this program continues, so more families can experience the natural beauty these parks have to offer.
While we would have visited these places regardless of what we were charged to see them, having free access saved us a bundle.
I think introducing kids who are in middle school to national parks is a great idea because they are at such an influential age. A trip to Yellowstone may put them on a career path they may have never considered.
Plus, it gives them a sense of ownership. My daughter felt like a special guest of the parks we entered. She had her own card that gave us free access, and the employees would ask where our fourth-grader was when we pulled up to the admission gates. She’d wave her hand like a celebrity, and we’d get right in. And now, as our trip is winding down, that card will serve as a unique souvenir of the biggest trip we’ve ever taken together.
It will help her remember the mind-blowing things we saw, the natural landscapes that made us feel like we were the aliens on a whole different planet entirely. That card will remind her of the world-famous geysers we saw at Yellowstone, and the things we didn’t even know existed like the colorful geyser basins and the Dragon’s Mouth formation that hinted at the enormous volcanic pressure under our feet at Yellowstone.
Years from now, that card may spark a memory for her of the half-mile walk we took down into the Grand Canyon – a walk that consisted of a narrow dirt path and no handrails in sight. Although we had all obviously heard of the wonder of the Grand Canyon, hearing about it and seeing it in person are two different things entirely. Walking down that pathway, I felt like a visitor on the planet I have lived on all my life. It was completely foreign from anything I had ever seen.
Another alien-like place we visited was White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The giant white sand dunes there are completely cool to the touch, unlike beach sand. The dunes are so tall, we rented sleds to slide down them as if it was winter in summertime. I couldn’t let my kids have all the fun so I slid down them too, laughing as I wiped out on the particularly steep dunes. The whole landscape seemed like something you might see in Star Wars movies instead of here on Earth.
But while the landscape we saw may have seemed extraterrestrial, we also saw flashes of human creativity and ingenuity everywhere we went.
There were roads built through mountains and tales about people conquering the wilderness of the Grand Canyon long before they had any sort of technology to help them.
We saw a bottle forest in California – a man had created it alongside the highway. For whatever reason when he looked at an empty bottle, he didn’t see it as junk. He saw it as a piece of a glass tree and he built a forest of those trees for people to enjoy at no cost. It might seem like a strange thing to do, but it was a spectacular sight.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of aliens, ever since I was little. But as it turns out, you don’t have to look to the skies to spot something that looks like it belongs on another world. You just have to explore the places and people that are already on our planet. There’s still plenty of wonder here if you look hard enough.
Shannon Serpette is a freelance writer and a mom of two who lives in Henry, Ill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.