Geek of the Week - Sandra Ramos
This week we would like to introduce Sanda Ramos as our Geek of the Week. Sandra @nationalparkpatchlady on Instagram loves to explore and help share the spirit of the parks everywhere she goes.
How did you become a National Park Geek?
I became a National Park Geek completely by accident! I was living in Washington DC at the time, and a friend who I had worked with in a Congressional office wanted me to tag along with her on a trip to Gettysburg National Military Park and Antietam National Battlefield. Honestly, I didn’t want to go - why would I want to spend three days at battlefields? Begrudgingly, I went and instantly fell in love. I’m a history buff, research nerd, and avid roadtripper, and these Parks had everything I didn’t know I wanted. When we returned home, I looked up the National Park Service and all the park sites I could find around me, and shortly after, found the National Park Geek community on Instagram. The rest is history :)
How many park sites have you visited?
I’ve experienced 159 of the 417 National Park Sites, all of them, except for Hawai’i Volcanoes, in the continental US.
Do you have a few favorites you recommend to everyone?
Yes, and for different reasons. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, VA is hands down my favorite historical park. She was an amazing woman who was the first female president of a bank in the US and she played a pivotal role in the African-American experience in the early 1900’s, it appealed to my passion for justice and equality. Ranger Ben was such an awesome tour guide and really made the experience come to life for me.
Another of my favorites is the Everglades, which always gets me funny looks. It’s not your typical scenic mountainous vistas that one would usually think of a National Park, and it’s one of the things I loved about it. Growing up in New Orleans gave me a unique aesthetic of beauty and Everglades certainly appeals to that. I’m also in love with White Sands National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, and Cumberland Island National Seashore.
What’s your favorite park activity?
I love learning the history behind the park and find the best way to do that is by completing the Jr. Ranger books while I’m at the park site. (I’ll spill the beans a bit here and tell you I’ve had the honor of being charged with creating a Jr. Ranger Program book geared towards those of us 18 and older for Biscayne National Park the past few months, and it’s has been so enlightening and educational!) I also love chatting up Park Rangers and picking their brain about the trivia they may know about the park site. I always make sure I give myself time to really experience each park site I go to - that means no less than 4 hours at a National Historic Site and at least 2-3 days at a larger park. I really love to host pop quizzes to get people on Instagram involved in researching the parks I’m in :)
Gettysburg National Battlefield
How do the parks feed your spirit?
Ah, in so many ways! For years, I struggled with depression and anxiety issues, which at times were debilitating. When I’m in a National Park site, regardless of its size or what it has to offer, it has a calming effect and allows an opportunity to meditate on what’s around me. It’s so grounding. With all the craziness going on in the world, I love that no one is angry in a National Park site, and people (for the most part) are civil to each other and are enjoying our parks collectively. National Parks give me a sense of hope for the future of our country, while simultaneously showing us the past.
Do you have any favorite things you always look for? IE: patch, magnet, passport stamp, etc.
As you can probably guess, I love to collect patches from National Park sites, but I also usually get Travel Stamps stickers as well. I’m on my fourth Passport stamps book, which is so much fun to look back on and review where you’ve been. Local art or artisans from the area are also great items to search for.
What are some of your favorite park memories?
The first sunrise I saw at Joshua Tree had me in (happy) tears and was one of the most amazing natural experiences I’ve ever had; meeting Ranger Dan at Fort Stanwix the day after my father passed, and how he spent almost the whole day with me as I explored this under-appreciated National Historical Site; my first conversation with Ranger Gary at Biscayne and how we had a “nerd-off” about obscure NPS trivia (I like to think I won, knowing Massimo Vignelli designed the NPS unigrid!)
What park(s) are next on your bucket list?
All of them are on my bucket list, so I’ll tell you about what’s on the travel list this year. After my current trip to south Florida, I’ll be up at Boston National Historical Park (and the many others in the vicinity!) in Spring; in May we’re heading out to the Big Island, so the four parks including Hawai’i Volcanoes are on the list; I’m teaching a photography class at Petroglyphs in early October and will hopefully round out the year at the solstice alignment at Aztec Ruins/Chaco Culture for my birthday in December. My dream of dreams or bucket list item would hands down be to camp out in Yosemite with Ranger Shelton Johnson.
What should we all be doing to help preserve and protect our parks?
Not to be negative here, but pick up your trash, people!
Also, as much as I try to avoid politics in this space, our parks have become subject to the rancor of the political sphere - particularly when it comes to science and global warming. I think it’s important for those of us who care about the future of our National Parks to make sure our elected officials know we are a constituency and we vote, as well as being an activist on behalf of our precious resources and land.
What to hope the future of our NPS looks like?
One that is inclusive for everyone, with more than adequate funding, protects and supports our history and future, and appreciates those who serve the public as stewards of these special places.
When not in the parks, what’s your profession?
I’m very lucky to be what I call “semi-retired” About seven years ago I retired from my career as a political consultant and staffer after 20 years in public life. Now I am a freelance photographer and teach technology classes, which allows me to travel a lot more than if I had a traditional job.
How do you plan and make your park adventures happen?
When I decide it’s time to hit the road, I always search the map on the National Park Travelers Club website for park sites along a specific route. Then I check the NPS websites for those parks for any information I may need beforehand (reservations, road closures, etc) and to learn about the park(s) I’ll be visiting. Most of the time I camp while out on the road, so I research any campsites or BLM lands along to way for a general idea of where I’ll park for the night using The Dirt or Hipcamp. Lastly, I’ll crowdsource ideas of must-do’s from folks who have been there before or have knowledge of the area. Most trips are very last minute - deciding about a week before to pull the trigger, but this year I’m piggybacking on my partners’ business travels to explore places that I wouldn’t necessarily road trip to.
If you could be a park ranger, where and what would you be doing?
In some ways, this is really the most difficult question! I’d love to be a ranger at a historical park (like LBJ ranch or Women’s Rights NHP) and talk about the importance of our democracy and historical context of our National Parks.
Do you want to give a shout out to any favorite park lovers?
NPGeek has such an amazing community of folks and I am so thankful for the connections I’ve made through it! NP Geek ambassador Linda (@thebucketlisttraveler) was one of the first who I connected with and am really grateful for her enthusiasm and encouragement. Mandy & Katie of @notsojrrangers and Evan @wexplorations have become great friends. I really enjoy @thehistorygirlnj, @chrisriefphoto, @aim.eff.bee, and @jwlunne as well. And then there are the Park Rangers who are always so generous with their time, knowledge, and passion: @mggy1, @rpr.images, @majgensteveyp, @garybremen, @rangerren, @parkranger86, @rangerchrista, and so many others!
Thanks so much for this amazing opportunity! I’d love to hear what other folks like to do in parks, so feel free to drop me a line.
You can find Sandra on these social media accounts-
Instagram - @nationalparkpatchlady
Twitter - @nppatchlady
Facebook - National Park Patch Lady for more Park news and current events