This past fall, the NFF sponsored a blog contest to celebrate local community connections the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside of Los Angeles. Special thanks to REI for helping to sponsor the contest and providing prizes for the winning entries. Read Monica's second place entry here.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t hiking, camping, biking, or riding off-highway-vehicles (OHV). Does that seem strange to hear from the daughter of two Mexican immigrants?

Let me tell you why it shouldn’t. 

To tell the story of my first experiences outdoors, I have to tell you about my parents. My dad and mom honeymooned in 1976 by visiting California’s National Parks and Monuments, including Yosemite. As the family grew, they organized big camping trips with friends and family.

Then they had me and on weekends, we visited our backyard, the Angeles National Forest (we lived in Highland Park) to hike in what is now part of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. When they weren’t camping or hiking, they still went outside, loading up their daughter and their dog to spend Sunday’s rolling around the OHV area in Azusa Canyon, getting muddy. 

My parents started taking me out so young that I didn’t even know where we were half the time, and now that I hike as an adult, it’s fun to check in with my dad to see if I am actually on a trail I may have hiked as a kid.

I grew up, majored in Conservation and Resource Studies and have made a career outdoors because my parents planted that seed when I was very young. They were the architects of my firsts. My first hikes. My first trips to the ocean.  My first lessons on being clean (yup! Clean! in my mother’s words). My sense of responsibility and, very importantly, my love of the space, time and the connections I made in the outdoors, all of this came from my parents.  And I am proud that they were able to teach me this because they brought it with them, or rather in them, from Mexico. 

But where did they get the ethic, the interest, heck, even the knowledge of where to go, where to hike, where to camp? When I talked to my mom about it, she reflected a bit and told me about my grandfather. He ventured into the forest around his hometown, Talpa in the state of Jalisco in Mexico, to gather, hunt and walk. It was as natural as breathing. My mom shared stories about her youth as well, running around, picking flowers to make crowns with her sister or wandering around picking fruits from the trees. 

My father told me about the iguanas and the jungle in Puerto Vallarta where he was born. Then, the forests of Nayarit where he was sent to live after his parents died. His grandmother would send him and his brother outdoors. There they ventured into the jungle with friends. They hunted little birds and cooked them for food; they used branches in epic “sword” fights; and they climbed trees and picked mangoes. Both my parents came here as young teenagers, and when they met, it was natural to simply go up into the forest and spend time there…and to take the family with them.

This sharing with family is such an important aspect of my connection to the outdoors. I remember big breakfasts, carne asada, music, tree swings, the river and the family with which we shared it all. Being outdoors was a family occasion. It was time to bond, laugh, and joke! These are the roots of stewardship. It is in these experiences that we grow a desire to protect our mountains and rivers.

This is how deep connections are fostered because the connections are multifaceted and tapped into many different emotions. Joy, laughter, fun, good food, singing and dancing mix with peace, exercise, challenges and accomplishments to create an experience that is long lasting. I can remember trails I thought I couldn’t cross and then would! Or big climbs that I thought were too long, but then made it to the top. When I go out now, I return to the places I first felt this connection and there, I find it again. 

Being outdoors was a family occasion.

My parents are 61 this year. When I begged my dad to do Mt. Baldy a few years back, he didn’t feel like he could (he did it plenty of times as a young man). Nevertheless, my dad finds a way to stay with me on the trail.  When I did Mt. Whitney for the first time this year, he went hunting around for a hat for me to take as a way to show his support.

Being on those trails, he wasn’t with me physically anymore, but he and my mom were with me in spirit and in my memory, telling me all the things they told me as a kid: that I could do it, that I had a responsibility to take care of it, and that I should enjoy and appreciate every moment that I was there. That is what was born out of my firsts.  

National Forest Foundation