AMBASSADOR PROFILE: THE VAN MAN

TOPIC: On the Road

LOCATION: Roaming . . .

PROJECT: Living Mobile /  Introspective

What's a typical day on the road like for The Van Man? Morning means packing the van back up and putting away all loose items, anything we forget will be crashing around in short order once we hit the road. Usually I'll be behind the wheel for a while as I do the majority of driving day to day. Once the sun starts setting we'll search out a campsite for the night. Probably a few hands of cribbage after dinner (Gale is KILLING me of late). Then paging through the atlas to see what the next day might hold.

How do you choose your itinerary? Friends and family play a huge role in setting our course. A familiar face and the promise of a hot shower are always a draw. Aside from that we see if anything catches our interest, is on our must visit list, or we get a good recommendation and then go for it. We try not to be overly scheduled as the road has a way of slowing you down.

Tell us about your park patch collection, which one's your favorite? The patches are a source of memories, just a reminder of where we've gone. My Junior Ranger patch from the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, WY because it was my first Junior Ranger experience. The retired volunteers had a good laugh swearing me in over the intercom at the visitors center. It was fun and got me excited to actively learn more about the parks, not just visit them.

What are your top 3 favorite parks on your journey so far? Olympic National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Glacier National Park. I can't wait to visit all three again. I felt like we only scratched their surface.

What park do you want to go back and explore again? Of the three above, I'd have to say Olympic National Park. There's just such a broad range of environments there, I need more time to know it.

Do you have any advice for travelers wanting to experience our nation's parks? Buy an atlas and start looking at the state you live in and look for the different parks that exist. Don't just focus just on National Parks, there are some spectacular State Parks and National Monuments that are often overlooked. I never knew how much there was available around me until I started paging through an atlas.

What can we do to protect our parks for future generations? Invest in them. It's clear that the parks system is strapped for money and often under attack for the use of the natural resources they often contain. We need to invest in them across the board: volunteer our time, push politicians to properly fund public lands, and make the effort to show others the amazing value these parks provide us as a society. The more people who act, the better chance these parks will be preserved for generations to come.

Where to next? South down the east coast and then west. We've been stuck in quite a bit of snow the last few weeks, looking forward to some warm weather!

Bio: Jon Gaffney is currently a man of the road, traveling North America with his girlfriend Gale Straub of She Explores www.instagram.com/she_explores  in a Sprinter van camper of their own creation.  If he doesn't have a camera in his hand he's probably attempting to climb, hike, ski, or swim and needed both hands. Follow him at www.instagram.com/thevanman

MUGU MUDSLIDE

TOPIC: Volunteer Day

LOCATION: 34.1203° N, 119.1211° W

PROJECT: Heavy Duty Trail Restoration

Point Mugu State Park stretches from Ventura County through some of the most majestic parts of the Santa Monica Mountains, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s got some of the most phenomenal views of the ocean in Southern California. This stretch of coast is known for its uniquely untouched California landscape, stretches of rare native grassland, and extensive trail system.

Unfortunately, the Chumash Trail area was badly burned in the Springs Fire in May of 2013. With the lost vegetation, hillsides were exposed to heavy erosion. Early December storm rains brought major debris- and mudslides flowing all the way down to the Pacific Coast Highway. The Chumash trail in the end closed, meaning its up to Volunteers to pitch in to restore the trails and in some cases, recreate trail where 4’ – 6’ of mud/rock slides slid down the mountainside.

Last Saturday the Parks Project Crew gathered at the Chumash Trail entrance, this route makes a pretty no nonsense ascent up a steep incline, rising 845 feet in the first .7 miles. The landscape is classic coastal scrub — lots of yucca, sage, and grasses. Because the ground has always been a bit loose in this area, the fires and rains created a real mess to clean up. Add a little drizzle to the mix, and we were sliding around left and right. The fact that it’s so steep here doesn’t help you keep your footing either, but we leaned in with our pick axes and tools to restore much of the upper and lower trail.

Next time you are up there, enjoy this beautiful trail and ensure you leave it better than you found it!

SURFING WHITE SANDS

TOPIC: Park Adventures

LOCATION: 34.0161° N, 119.8039° W

PROJECT: Great White Escape w/ Jon & Gale

We'd seen photos of White Sands National Monument in our travels through the Insta-universe. They were tough to miss: rolling white hills swallow colorful tents and their entranced occupants. We were interested to see it lifesize for ourselves. The brown scrub land of New Mexico dropped away as we approached the visitor center on Route 70 and spotted bleached sand in the distance.

We arrived to reserve one of ten primitive backcountry tent campsites and we were surrounded by rolling white dunes reminiscent of mornings after snowstorms in our native New England. These gypsum dunes are incredibly rare as gypsum is water soluble, problematic even in the dry desert.  As a result of the basin White Sands is in, however, the gypsum can't wash away into rivers and thus continues a cycle of dissolving during rain storms and drying back out thereafter. This area of New Mexico contains the largest gypsum dune field in the world (275 square miles), though only a small percentage is accessible to the public.  We were surprised to learn why.

White Sands is an anomaly amongst the National Parks System. Most National Parks and Monuments are ringed in swaths of National Forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. This is great for the wildlife that seeks refuge in these parks, good for the ecological health of the land, excellent for cheap van dwellers (it's free to dispersed camp on National Forest and BLM), and pleasing to the eye. Surprisingly, White Sands has no protected land surrounding its borders. In fact, its location is somewhat shocking, smack dab in the middle of one of the largest missile ranges in the United States.

What’s the significance for visitors?  It means White Sands National Monument is closed a few times a month during live missile tests.  It also means that upon arrival you will be given a pamphlet to advise you to beware any unexploded ordinances possibly hiding amongst the gypsum dunes. Unfortunately, while tourists may practice the credo "Leave it better than you found it," it’s unlikely that missiles test will as well. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization wanted to declare the area a World Heritage Site, but it was thwarted by the state of New Mexico which was concerned they'd be pressured to close the surrounding military installations if it was added to the list. A provocative perspective on one of the truly unique geological wonders of the world.

Permit and unexploded ordnance pamphlet in hand, we raced against a swiftly setting sun to our campsite. This proved challenging in a sea of white. After a wrong turn, we arrived at the sign post denoting our site and scrambled to set up our tent as temperatures began to plummet. In a rare turn, someone else's flaunting of "Leave it better than you found it." was to our benefit as they'd left a slightly mangled mallet at the site. Perfect for putting tent stakes into hard packed gypsum.

We ate a simple dinner and played cards under one of the clearest and quietest nights we'd ever seen. The morning arrived gray and raining with gypsum sticking to everything - not the day of sand sledding we'd planned. After a few soaking runs down the dunes it was time to move on. The fast fading walk in, complete with rose tinted horizons has stayed with us ...and so has the sand, we're still finding it in the van.

Jon Gaffney and Gale Straub are currently on the road traveling North America in a camper Sprinter van. Follow along on Instagram: Jon: instagram.com/thevanman ; Gale: instagram.com/she_explores

CHANNEL ISLANDS RESTORATION

TOPIC: Three-Day Volunteer Trip

LOCATION: 34.0161° N, 119.8039° W

PROJECT: Island Adventure & Habitat Restoration 

The Parks Project team is honored to work closely with various park groups, we tip our hats to the work they do everyday.  Just the other week, we were given the chance to join a group from Channel Islands Restoration to voyage out to the islands to do some volunteer work, how could we say no?!  

Channel Islands Restoration protects rare and endangered plants and animals by restoring habitat in sensitive and unique natural areas on the California Channel Islands and adjacent mainland.

We found it fascinating that the islands have remained so pure and desolate, and much of the National Park is off limits to visitors.  We got an exclusive look at some of these coves and sites, and also got to pitch in to restore some of the natural habitat to keep these gems the way they should be.  Check out a few of these amazing photos, definitely a bucket list trip come join us next time!

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The island nursery is filled with ______________

The island nursery is filled with ______________

Our channel islands tee is coming soon, shout out if you want to get in line for one. The tee will be supporting island habitat research.

Our channel islands tee is coming soon, shout out if you want to get in line for one. The tee will be supporting island habitat research.

This empty seat awaits you . . .  til next time!

This empty seat awaits you . . .  til next time!

SEE AMERICA COLLABORATION


TOPIC: Advocating Artists & The National Park System

LOCATION: 38.8951° N, 77.0367° W

PROJECT: Support the National Parks Conservation Association

At Parks Project, we have always been supporters of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the hard work they do protecting our National Parks for future generations. Hats off to all the advocacy they have done! Furthermore, we are massive fans of the “See America” campaign that was part of the new deal arts project in the 1930’s, so rad. We are so proud to launch a capsule collection to celebrate the reinterpretation of See America with this collaboration that also advocates the NPCA!

Over 75 years after the government first commissioned posters to showcase the country’s most stunning natural features under the banner: “See America,” The Creative Action Network (CAN) has set out to do it again by launching a new version of See America, a crowdsourced art campaign, enlisting artists from all 50 states to create a collection of artwork celebrating our national parks and other treasured sites.

We couldn’t think of a better way to thank these two organizations for what they have done than to make a tee that encapsulates much of the campaign into one awesome graphic.  And as all products we create tie into a story and support a project in the parks, we are using these tees to help support the artist network and highlight NPCA’s continued efforts to advocate the conservation of our National Parks.  

 
The NPCA plays a crucial role in ensuring that our magnificent lands and landmarks are protected in perpetuity:
- They advocate for the national parks and the National Park Service; 
- They educate decision makers and the public about the importance of preserving the parks; 
- They help to convince members of Congress to uphold the laws that protect the parks and to support new legislation to address threats to the parks; 
- They fight attempts to weaken these laws in the courts; 
- They assess the health of the parks and park management to better inform our advocacy work.
In more than 90 years, they have grown to represent a million members and supporters through their DC headquarters and 24 regional and field offices, all working to "protect and enhance America's National Park System for present and future generations." 

Creative Action Network is a marketplace for meaningful merchandise, from a passionate community of artists and designers around the world harnessing their talents for good. They run crowdsourced campaigns around causesanyone and everyone to contribute their own original, visual, meaningful work. The campaigns are not contests, they welcome everyone to participate. They then produce those beautiful designs into, prints, apparel, and other merchandise here in the U.S.A., and sell it on their online store to support the artists. 

SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS WATERSHED RESTORATION

TOPIC: Volunteer Day

LOCATION: 34.2900° N, 117.6500° W

PROJECT: Reforestation

This weekend the Parks Project Team joined the National Forest Service in the San Gabriel Mountains to plant Jeffrey Pines in the highland watershed. Over the course of the morning we were able to plant 150 saplings that will create a tree lined area that will eventually become a camping/picnicking area.  More visitors means more support for the park, and we do promote healthy parks = healthy people.

This hillside was about to get some love. Checkout some of the Jeffrey Pines planted about 15 years ago in the background. 

This hillside was about to get some love. Checkout some of the Jeffrey Pines planted about 15 years ago in the background. 

Heavier than they look . . .

Heavier than they look . . .

And the ground is harder than it looks  . . .

And the ground is harder than it looks  . . .

Jonathan & Kevin leaving it better than they found it.

Jonathan & Kevin leaving it better than they found it.

You stack south facing rocks around the lil tree so the roots stay shaded from the sun.

You stack south facing rocks around the lil tree so the roots stay shaded from the sun.

Aside from being an awesome person who plants trees, Andrea also shares stories on her blog www.thecultcollective.com 

Aside from being an awesome person who plants trees, Andrea also shares stories on her blog www.thecultcollective.com 

Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted, and in this case the pine trees area a critical component in holding the hillside together and balancing the areas water table. Though southern California is experiencing a massive drought, this watershed provides 75% of the surrounding valley’s water.  

Kam is a total sweetheart, a pleasure to spend the day with her, she's got a killer blog www.campfirechic.com

Kam is a total sweetheart, a pleasure to spend the day with her, she's got a killer blog www.campfirechic.com

Right on DQ!

Right on DQ!

VIP of the day.

VIP of the day.

Simone knows how to swing an axe.

Simone knows how to swing an axe.

So does Sevag. Leaning into it.

So does Sevag. Leaning into it.

Done and dusted.

Done and dusted.

Part of the group hams out for a photo

We wrapped up the afternoon with cold ones and BBQ sandwiches, solid finish.  (insert photo here of super happy people) Big shout out to all the awesome folks that came out to support our #radparks! Til next time. . . 

JOSHUA TREE RECONNAISSANCE

TOPIC: Weekend Getaways

LOCATION: 33.7884° N, 115.8982° W

PROJECT: #Radparks Field Notes, Guest Post by Kris Holbrook  

Located in southeast California, Joshua Tree National Park is about 3000 - 4500 ft above sea level depending on where you are or what you've climbed on top of. Having an arid desert atmosphere, Joshua Tree is known for its spiky Joshua trees, giant molten-bubble-looking granite rock formations, gorgeous sunsets, and is a major rock climbing spot (both for bouldering, and traditional climbing). According to their brochure, 1.3 million visitors come through Joshua Tree a year.  

My first night in Joshua Tree, I couldn't sleep at all. I dragged my sleeping pad and bag out of our massive shared tent and hung out under the sky, looking at the stars. They were very slowly moving. Incredibly slowly. Or rather, it was the earth rotating -something very interesting and easy to feel when you hold your breath. There were odd single stars taking quick walks across a portion of the sky before disappearing. There were shooting stars that zipped by, flashed, and went out. There was no moon. Eventually, the whole sky slowly started to glow a lighter shade of night and began waking up (the quietest miracle in the world). 

What I found on my next trips out there was that Joshua Tree is a huge place. It's gorgeous, looks otherworldly because of the mounds of bubbly rock blobs, looks goofy because of the Joshua trees' arms reaching out to tease you, and somehow always feels so quiet. It has a pseudo-magical atmosphere of strangers. All sorts of visitors - people in massive RVs, dirtbags living in vans, sunburned rock climbers (who are often the ones in the vans), foreign tourists, hardcore cyclists, locals going for weekend walks, people passing through California on business trips, -and so much more. Everyone has different stories to share. And you will have something in common with every one that you come across - you made your way out to this weird dry rocky desert park with alien-looking plant life.

What's the greatest part about being in Joshua Tree? Probably the same for any place that's beautiful and a part of nature. That grounding lucky-feeling, the understanding reminder of how you are one person who gets to experience this great, big, living life thing - and also that apartness, that otherness which reveals again and again what's important to you, and what is fleeting. The openness of the ground and the sky, you can see what is constant and what is not. You can see and feel whatever you like. What's particular about Joshua Tree is that you can do that while sitting in a rock cave 50 feet off the ground. 

What's important to remember is the reason so many people have been able to go to a gorgeous park like this throughout the years - the efforts made to preserve and protect the land; both by federal agencies, and by you! The visitor. Take care to pick up after yourself, stay on trails whenever possible, don't feed animals, and leave nature as it is - Leave No Trace. The lower impact we make on the park, the longer we'll be able to bask in its awesomeness.

Thanks to our guest blogger Kris for the entry! She is a mid-twenties graphic designer/photographer/person/thing who really likes rock climbing.

Website: http://www.krisholbrook.com
Tumblr: http://krisdoesthis.tumblr.com

The First 70 Documentary

TOPIC: Inspiration
LOCATION: 37.7833° N, 122.4167° W
PROJECT: Support filmmakers making a difference

In Brief: In May 2011, the State of California announced plans to close one quarter of its 278 parks. The closure list included thousands of acres of park land, recreation areas, wildlife reserves, and half of the state's historic parks. Upon learning that the state would save merely $22 million with these closures—while undermining local economies—three young filmmakers set out to visit the 70 parks that were doomed to close. Along the 3,000 mile trek, they capture both the majesty of the state’s parks and the outrage of local community members, park rangers and environmental activists who are confounded by the State’s financial logic, yet determined to keep these wondrous expanses of beauty open to the public. The First 70 is an awe-inspiring journey through California’s historic and natural treasures that highlights the ongoing fight to keep them open for future generations.

The First 70 Documentary to learn more