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American Latino Expedition: Exploring Mesa Verde National Park

The Grand Canyon is about five hours from where I grew up in Tucson. It was the closest National Park to us, and one of the most incredible sites in the world. Even though we went on a road trip every summer, we never went there. We went to the beach in Mexico, Las Vegas, and once to Disneyland. My dad spent a lot of time outdoors, but the Grand Canyon or any national park seemed too daunting a vacation for our family.

That appears to be the case with many Latinos. Latino representation at National Parks is a mere 9 percent, which is a shame because there’s an incredible amount of history there. Getting more Latinos to the National Parks is a goal of the American Latino Heritage Fund an arm of the National Park Foundation. To get more people to the parks and to make them more aware of the rich Latino history to be found, the ALHF created the American Latino Expedition contest and I was thrilled my family was chosen as one of the winners.

In August, I traveled with my two boys, ages 8 and 9, and my husband to Mesa Verde National Park in Southwestern Colorado. It was unbelievable. We visited ancient cliff dwellings, climbed a 32-foot ladder near the top of the mesa, and learned about the life of the Ancient Puebloans.

I documented my journey on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and different blogs to help get the word out about what a wonderful vacation a national park can be. I hope I was able to convey the beauty and the awe that we felt being in such an amazing place.

We go to a lot of National parks and my kids always learn a lot. But it’s not just about that. We were able to be outside together in nature. We hiked around and we talked to each other in a way that isn’t possible at home when we’re competing with video games and Netflix. The first thing we did was get Junior Ranger booklets so the boys could earn their badges and bring home a special memento of our adventure.

Some families might feel the parks are too remote and the comforts of home are too far away, but the campground and hotel at Mesa Verde had Wi-Fi and they served fresh Starbucks coffee. Plus, the restaurant at the Far View Lodge where we stayed had good wine and excellent food.

I mentioned earlier that as a kid we never went to a National Park so it was a shock to my parents when one summer in college, I took off to work in Denali National Park in Alaska. It was so vastly different in every way than where I grew up in Tucson. I saw bears, wolves, moose, caribou, and the most incredible views. I hiked and camped and formed an appreciation for nature that has stuck with me to this day. The National Parks are the last wild places in the United States and somewhere that I hope my boys will appreciate as much as my husband and I do, and I hope that our journey to the National Parks with our kids will encourage other families to try this type of vacation even if it's a little bit outside of their comfort zone.

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