Geek of the Week - Evan Wexler
As we start the New Year, we wanted to share some insights from fellow National Park Geek. To start this series, we are featuring Evan Wexler @Wexplorations as our Geek of the Week.
How did you become a National Park Geek?
I believe that I originally found you on Instagram and Twitter and everything followed from there. As long as I’ve had social media accounts, I’ve been following National Park units and other related accounts. Once I found NPG, however, that opened me up to interacting more in the National Park community and posting more often.
How many parks site have you visited?
I have visited 56 individual National Park units with plans to bring that number up to 59 at the end of December. Out of those 56 units, 17 of them are designated as National Parks.
Do you have a few favorites you recommend to everyone?
Picking a favorite National Park is like trying to pick a favorite way to live. They all offer something special and invigorating, but if you’re going to press me to an answer, here are my top 5:
Glacier National Park - for unparalleled Alpine scenery and remoteness. You can get lost here and really connect with the spirit of nature that John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather talk and write about. Also, there’s no better thrill ride in the world than Going To The Sun Road.
Acadia National Park- There’s nothing quite like the quiet and intimate scale of Acadia. I realize that it’s not a “BIG” western park like most think of when they envision the term “National Park” but for me, and for whatever reason, Acadia is what sent my love of the National Parks into overdrive. I’ve been going to National Parks sites since I’ve been a child, but a 2014 visit to Acadia really woke me up in terms of how nature made me feel and its importance to people and this country. There’s nothing quite like surveying the majesty of the Maine coast from Cadillac Mountain or sunsets around Jordan Pond.
Grand Teton National Park- Is there anything more iconic than a herd of bison grazing in the shadow of those mighty mountains? No.
Statue of Liberty National Monument / Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration - There’s nothing that makes me prouder to be an American than visiting, first, an enduring symbol of our nation, and second, where so many people first came to this country in hopes of finding a better life. Immigrants make this country the hope of the world and seeing one of the landmarks where we committed ourselves to acceptance is a wonderful experience, Furthermore, my own great grandparents came through Ellis Island and visiting there feels like a pilgrimage to me; I am returning to my roots and where my own American history started. Standing in The Great Hall of Ellis Island is like visiting with family members who have long passed on and makes me feel closer to them and their story.
Everglades National Park- Quite simply, The Everglades is my home National Park. I live in Miami and I am overtly thankful that I live so close to a bastion of wilderness and calm. The Everglades is where I go to escape the stress and insanity of a busy week and feel connected to nature again. Beyond that, there are no other everglades in the world, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas said. They are wholly unique and no other National Park that I have visited can really compare to them. The overwhelming and glorious vastness of the Everglades gives it a sense of place that is restorative and invigorating. My favorite place in The Everglades is the Pahayokee Overlook Tower at sunset when the owls are beginning to come out and hunt and the cypress trees are catching the glow of the sun in their leaves.
What’s your favorite park activity?
My favorite park activity is usually hiking and getting to get away from the more “populated” parts of the parks. I also absolutely love getting to fill out a Junior Ranger book (despite being 26) and learning more about the park I’m in.
How do the parks feed your spirit?
Our National Parks feed my spirit by being the open spaces of our democracy. No, that is not to talk of their physical features, but it is to discuss the idea that drives the preservation of these places and these landmarks: the very fact that they are preserved and open to all is affirming to me.
In terms of the actual destinations and places that the National Park Service saves, the simplicity of being in nature and going on an adventure to explore and see new things is a rewarding experience. That act of discovery is what feeds my spirit. Seeing new places and new environments and actually being there as opposed to reading about it or seeing it in pictures, is the most satisfying kind of understanding of a place one can have. Remembering back to those moments of realization where one understands exactly how a seastack on the Olympic coast “fits” into that environment or how the clouds can cover and blanket the Smoky Mountains sustain me when I’m not in a National Park.
Do you have any favorite things you always look for? IE: patch, magnet, passport stamp, etc.
As I mentioned before, I love completing Junior Ranger books and cherish my collection of Junior Ranger badges and patches. I always try and get a reproduction of the Works Progress Administration travel posters from the NPS units that I have visited for my office bulletin board and travel map.
What is or are your favorite park memories?
My favorite National Park memory would have to be my first encounter with a herd of bison in Grand Teton National Park. I had always wanted to see a bison in the wild and although I had caught a glimpse of one solitary bison in Badlands National Park a few days earlier from several thousand feet away (we were at Pinnacles Overlook and the bison was down below us in the canyon) the experience in the Tetons was downright spiritual. As we were driving through the park on our last day and about to head into Yellowstone, it began to rain. Out of the rain and mist, a massive herd of bison crossed the road and halted traffic. As they did so, the rain began to clear and the sun began to shine through the clouds. Once the bison had passed and it was safe to get out of our cars, the most archetypical and grand scene presented itself to me- a herd of bison, in the shadow of those grand and majestic mountains, complete with the sublime texture of clouds and sun. My dream of getting to see bison in the wilderness came true in a absolutely wonderful and memorable way.
What park (s) are next on your bucket list?
In late December, I’m heading back to Great Smoky Mountains National park but also getting to visit Vicksburg National Military Park and the New Orleans National Park units for the first time. I’ve wanted to see that part of the country for a while, now. Beyond that, I would love to head out of the contiguous U.S. and see Hawaii’s and Alaska’s National Parks.
What should we all be doing to help preserve and protect our parks?
We should always be speaking out about saving our environment and voting for candidates that cherish our parks as much as we do.
What do you hope the future of our NPS looks like?
I hope that the future of our NPS is a bright one. I want to see the NPS (and the Department of the Interior, for that matter) to relax their involvement in energy consumption and use. I find it abhorrent that the Bureau of Land Management leases public lands for oil drilling and fracking. Those lands have been preserved for the enjoyment and recreation of all- destroying them for myopic uses should not be allowed. I would like to see the NPS and Interior focus wholly on conservation and protection of our natural wonders and historic landmarks.
When not in the parks, what’s your profession?
I am a teacher! I teach middle school Civics and American History. And yes, we do a LOT of National Park inspired projects and utilize the resources found on the National Park websites!
How do you plan and make your park adventures happen?
My park adventures happen any time school is not in session. My planning process is pretty broad- I usually find places I am interested in and want to see through social media and then follow up through more traditional channels in books and travel websites. I know that that can be pretty controversial- people seem to think that you shouldn’t base your trip around Instagram posts, but in all honesty, I’ve found some pretty interesting trails to hike and overlooks in the National Parks by going on Instagram, exploring a hashtag or two, reading more in depth about it, and then going to see it for myself.
If you could be a park ranger, where and what would you be doing?
If I was a park ranger I would love to be involved with historical interpretation. I have my Master’s Degree in early American history and would absolutely be thrilled if I could lend my voice to making the early history of the republic more accessible to people visiting the National Parks.
Do you want to give a shout out to any favorite park lovers?
Sure! @NationalParkPatchLady is a good friend of mine who posts awesome pictures on Instagram and is someone who I’ve been honored to work with on a project for one of the South Florida National Parks. We can’t say much about it yet, but we’re very excited to help out a National Park program we both hold dear to our hearts.
You can follow along to Evan's adventures at-
@Wexplorations on Instagram
https://evanwexler.wordpress.com on the web
Many Thanks to Evan for sharing his insights and being a National Park Geek. You are the best!!