My Unconventional life. A woman of color in the outdoors.

jacket 2I’m often asked about the joy I find outdoors, about getting dirty, even smelly at times, with my hair unruly and clothes a little raggedy. My response is that you’ll have to try it for yourself. The other question that seems inevitable, is, “How in the world does a black woman find joy in hiking and camping out in the wilderness all by herself?!”

For me, the outdoors has always been my respite. It’s where I find relief from the hustle and hassle of the all too familiar, busy, demanding  world. My daily routine is just too routine. I’m preparing for work, working, or preparing for the angry commute back home. There is no drive or passion in that. So when my schedule allows, off the grid I go. More often than not, it’s just me, my backpack, and a good book. There is nothing more satisfying than to be off in the wilderness where I answer to no one but Mother Nature. How can anyone not relate to that?

I’m not one who hikes great distances. Usually I prefer to go no more than 10 miles. For me, it is not about the distance; it’s about the empowering nature of being out on my own. I gain so much confidence from simply wandering about taking in the sights and sounds that nature offers.

I love SUV camping, tents, cabins, and Yurts. I do it all, and I love it all. Often without even a destination  in mind, I’ll hop in the car, hit the back-roads of Northern California, and just go. Sometimes a sign will catch my eye,  and down that road I go. There are tons of camping spaces throughout the Bay Area, many of which are seldom visited, and a campground that belongs primarily just to you can offer the best experience.


Burney Falls

My most recent visit to Burney Falls was one example of having a campground to myself. Prior to my visit, I reached out to Catherine Camp, president of the Interpretive Association at Burney Falls, and asked if she could arrange for a ranger to meet me at the park for a tour. Catherine was more than happy to work with me on my visit.  She put me in touch with Interpretive specialist, Marlon Sloan who comped my campground space for the night and made himself available to tour me around the park.The campgrounds for the most part were vacant, except for a few RVs scattered here and there. I spent the night under the stars and fell asleep listening to the silence.

The beauty of the outdoors is really more of a feeling than anything else. There is hope and inspiration, solitude and envy, the desire to protect and keep out all trespassers who do not appreciate the sanctity of such a precious place.

So for everyone who continues to ask, “What’s the big deal?” I answer: give yourself a few hours, take a hike through a national or state park, find a place to be still, take in the sounds and the sights, and notice the calming effect. Gather your thoughts, seize those thoughts, know that in that very moment, Mother Nature is at work reminding you that life is more than the monetary things we chase. The beauty of that space will stay with you and beckon  you back, simply because that is what our spirits yearn for, an awakening that our everyday lives take from us. Nature is replenishing, and that is what I desire for us all.



The Bliss I find in Solo Hikes.


1493361_10202810260993578_37607114_oAs a woman I’m often asked  if I’m afraid to hike alone and  why I like to solo hike, the answer is both simple and complex. I hike alone for the serenity and quiet of the journey, and being afraid doesn’t come into play because I’m a woman. Being out in nature allows me the time to contemplate my next move. When I hike with others, I’m too focused on being in the conversation and keeping up with the group, and it doesn’t allow me the time to slow down and focus on my thoughts.

Nature offers something that being indoors simply can’t. It is motivating to walk among the trees and tramp along the trails, focusing on nothing more than the path ahead. You notice the shape of broken tree branches, how a blade of grass reacts to the wind flowing through it, and how clouds form into shapes and images. You hear the various bird chirps and identify them by their distinct sounds. It is magical to be out in nature alone, noticing everything you miss when you’re in a group.

Solo hikes allow me the time to stop and jot down my thoughts and set priorities for the week ahead, but it is also my time to exhale from all the phone calls, planning, and complexities of the world around me. No other space offers me what being out in nature does. It’s my reward for not losing my way and giving in to the constant badgering of a world that expects you to conform to its expectations. Nature doesn’t take notice of your gender, your race, your abilities, or your faults. The only thing that matters is that you leave the space as you find it.
IMG_5242I often refer to wild spaces as my cathedral–not in a religious way, but in a spiritual sense–my place to lay my burdens down. Being in nature provides me with a way to connect to something greater than myself, nonjudgmental and welcoming to all.

Have you ever walked the valley floor of Yosemite, or stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, alone? I invite you to try it. It’s amazing how you can  feel so small in these spaces, so insignificant compared to the beauty and grandness that surrounds you. There is something invigorating about feeling the oneness in the wild spaces that surround you and encompass you completely. There you stand, completely vulnerable to the elements around you, yet you feel at peace in the serenity of it all.

Nature is a bridge between the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and the world we long for when we are caught up in a whirlwind of appointments and commitments. It provides the flip side of confusion, a space where we can be still and in tune with ourselves, almost a tunnel vision.

f94821ca-e638-42aa-871f-bb5fb4909cdaFor me, solo hikes are one of life’s necessities, sustenance for the soul, an energizing moment to get away from all the electronic gadgets and the demands on my time. Solo hikes are more than just time away from the congestion of the city; they are my time, how I choose to live my life, how I choose to break away from all the confinements that a 9 to 5 life requires.

I am unapologetic for my love of solo hikes. Some may see it as being an introvert or anti-social, but it is actually empowering to be so strong willed as to embrace the beauty and wonder in being off on your own, in spaces that you may be in for the first time, learning your way as you go, being unafraid to travel a new path or to experience life in the wilderness. I encourage you to find that path, that outdoor space that brings you to the brink of tears, as you gaze out at its beauty. The wonderment of nature is there for all to see; just remember, it’s ok to travel it alone.



Yosemite National Park, Forever.

3057100366_5f727ef0b2_zWith all the changes taking place in Yosemite today, it’s hard to keep up. The changing of the guard has come quickly. From the moment I first heard about the seemingly hostile takeover, to the actual moment I saw it take place, was less than 4 months. 4 months to wrap my mind around a new look, a new guard and new names. While in Yosemite this past weekend, there was a rush on merchandise by park visitors, myself included. All merchandise in the park stores with the name Yosemite National Park were 50% off. It was like they were trying to rush out items for Thanksgiving to get ready for the influx of Christmas gear. Unreal how quickly we can push out such an iconic name. This is the headline I awoke to this morning, Yosemite’s Iconic Attractions Renamed in Trademark Battle.

All around the park were Aramark vehicles, the new sheriff in town. DNC uniforms still present on park maintenance and hospitality staff. The feel of the park still the same, NPS personnel walking among park visitors, the folks at Degnan’s Deli still making awesome sandwiches and offering up park chatter about the best places to photograph the wildlife.

As much as the park worked at normalcy, there was a feeling of impending changes and those changes took effect at 12:01 this morning. Iconic park locations with new names, old faces in new uniforms, it’s rather sad that what we all took for granted, seems to be no more. It is beyond belief that what we were told belongs to the people, never really did. What our tax dollars paid for was maintenance on our beloved Yosemite National Park that always carried a for sale sign.

IMG_5242How sad a world we live in where nothing seems sacred. Nature in all her splendor, held hostage by corporate America, whose bottom line is power and greed. I am not picking sides on who is right in this mess, it serves no purpose. One day, hopefully before there are billboards standing next to Yosemite Falls and corporate logos on the park shuttle, we will come to our senses and understand that our natural spaces need less corporate shenanigans and more focus on keeping these spaces wild and free for future generations. Until then, I encourage you all to love on nature and embrace the beauty that still remains.


The growing changes in Yosemite

1936320_10208097341567288_5109625069274055139_nMy most recent trip to Yosemite was eye opening. I have been on this hunt for diversity and inclusion for years now, visiting parks and reporting on how things remained the same, but not this time, this trip was different. As I stepped off the bus and walked into the Yosemite Lodge, the very first couple I saw was African American. They weren’t doing anything exceptional or out of the ordinary; like other visitors to the park, they were asking about the sites and how to get around.  As I stepped up to the registration desk, an Indian couple came up beside me and stood in line, then a middle-aged black man in a park uniform walked past me. Now I’m taking notice. During my first five minutes in the park, I laid eyes on five people of color.

As I started to my room, I was approached by an African American woman, who was doing nothing special other than just walking. I started to wonder if cameras were following me, recording my reaction to seeing people of color. Someone is playing a trick on me, I thought. I started looking around – nope, no cameras. In my room I thought that maybe there was some sort of” people of color convention” in the park. Yeah, that must be it. I went looking for this convention. I was somewhat peeved that I hadn’t been invited; after all, this is my beloved Yosemite and holding a convention for people of color and not inviting me was unsettling.

12744337_10208097342087301_2628875062421059652_nAt the activity center, I asked if any conventions were being held over the next few days. The woman at the desk said yes and asked which party I was looking for. Not knowing what to say, I suggested that she just point me in the general direction and I would peek in to see if any of the faces looked familiar. She obliged and off I went, searching for this “people of color” gathering.  But nothing in and about Yosemite Lodge substantiated my original thought. I continued to make my way around the lodge when at a distance, I again noticed the African American couple from the registration desk, As I made my way over to them , preparing to ask  if they were in the park for a convention, they must’ve seen the look of confusion on my face as they greeted me with a big smile and said, “Hey sista, you lost, too?” I smiled and said no, I was just wondering if there was a convention you were here for. They said no, they were just visiting, taking in the sights. I asked if there was anything I could help them with and they asked if I could point them in the direction of the Swinging Bridge, which I did.

By then, I started thinking there was not a convention and I should get over being mad about not being invited. So I switched gears and started to Yosemite Falls, one of my favorite places to visit in the park. The beauty of the falls is beyond description. It is sacred and spiritual and peaceful to hear the falls in active motion. I stood there for a while taking it all in, watching the faces as people stood in awe. As I walked away this overwhelming sense of calmness shadowed me. I get this feeling whenever I visited Yosemite. I feel in my element, among the sacredness of space.

d0f53cf4-3f75-4161-93e2-6ec419035350On the way to the meadow just adjacent to Lower Yosemite Falls, there was a frockling family of deer that had captured the attention of the photographers in the area. As I was walking across the street to get a closer view, out pops a young African American woman, camera in hand. Her two kids yelled from the car, “Mommy, don’t get too close.” For a moment I considered snapping a photo of her, because she was just as much an anomaly to me as they deer were to her.

Throughout my visit I ran into people of color, from visitors to park personnel. As much as this shouldn’t be something to report back on, it actually is. Myself and others have been working towards this goal for ages. For maybe the first time, I got to see a semblance of the vision we are working toward, some measure of progress.

I welcome the day when it feels like sitting at the lunch counter, drinking from the water fountain, living in certain neighborhoods, going to certain schools and voting, but for now I embrace the changes that are occurring and look forward to the day when reporting on such victories are not needed.

IMG_8413Much work remains to be done. As much as I hate the slow pace of change, I appreciate the efforts being made by grassroots organizations, government agencies and outdoor organizations. We have yet to make it to the mountaintop, but if we continue to march forward to address the ever changing needs of a rainbow America, I’m sure our collective efforts will get us there.








H.E.A.T, Hiking Every Available Trail.


5ff7de8e-f2fe-464d-91ba-f833d5ed64ebIn the Bay Area ( Calif. ) there are several hiking groups and organizations dedicated to getting folks outdoors, there are a select few that are committed to engaging communities of color, but getting into the groove is  H.E.A.T, Hiking Every Available Trail, a new hiking group dedicated to getting bay area folks out into nature.

One of the founders of this group, Stan Miles, has reached out to me several times, inviting me to join them out on the trails. Seeing all the photos the group posts is inviting in itself, but watching the number of participants grow over time is the reason I wanted to blog about them and the awesome work they are all putting in.

What was the motivation in creating H.E.A.T?

H.E.A.T. was created as a recreation and fitness group to provide opportunities for people to turn up their level of fitness by Hiking Every Available Trail. There’s a myth that African Americans don’t hike but we dispel that myth every weekend with turnouts of 50 plus people each time. The Bay is filled with beautiful trails and fantastic views. We wanted to create a group where people of all fitness levels could challenge themselves physically, explore nature and find support among new friends. There’s a place for everyone in HEAT; from the beginning hiker to the trail runner.  Our only requirement is a positive attitude and respect for the nature we commune in each week.

b64d155a-9df1-4605-bba0-8d7da4e506eeHow has it been keeping folks motivated over time?

That’s one area that requires no effort at all. People are so in awe of the magnificence of the areas we visit, they sometimes forget they’re also getting a workout. It’s really exhilarating to stumble across all the hidden jewels tucked away in our backyards here in the Bay. It’s not unusual for people to go on their first hike ever with HEAT and then start exploring trails on their own while they’re away on vacation or business. It’s great to see people post pictures of themselves on trails outside of the Bay because it inspires others to get out and explore. People share fitness, health and equipment tips among themselves. It seems like there’s always some peripheral fitness challenge going on between members. Hiking is contagious and we’re happy to be the driving force that gets people active.

What are your future plans for the group?

As our name suggests, we want to Hike Every Available Trail so we have many more to check off the list. There are so many beautiful parks and trails in the Bay Area we have yet to explore, but we also want to venture out of the area as a group to longer destination hikes. We would like to explore hikes out of the state and eventually out of the country. Our primary focus though is to continue to encourage people to get active to try to mitigate some of the health challenges that face our community like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Hiking is a great way to get fit because it doesn’t cost anything, you’re not stuck in a stuffy gym and you don’t have to be fit to start. You choose your own pace and how hard you want to push yourself. Outside of hiking, we also participate in community service events. With so many resources within the group, we’re finding we can also make an impact in our communities in other areas.

Which trail(s) in the bay area do you consider the groups favorite and why?

Cataract Falls, in Fairfax is our favorite Bay Area trail with Redwood Regional Park in Oakland coming in a close second. Cataract offers everything you would want to find on a hike. Depending on the time of year you go, you’ll notice something new each time. It’s also one of the more challenging trails coming in at 9 miles with a roller coaster of inclines and stairs, it definitely gives you reason to pause and enjoy the greenery, waterfalls and overall beauty in nature. Redwood Regional is a hidden gem that so many do not realize is in our own backyard. Offering beautiful redwoods and challenging trails throughout to create a different path time and time again.

f068b2cc-bbdd-4dcc-91c6-ed223437e450What advice would you give to others who are considering hiking but pause for various reasons?

Just come out. If you can walk to your car to go to the store, you can hike with HEAT. We have first timers who have never been on a trail, all the way to people who have been hiking the majority of their lives. The best part about hiking is that nobody cares what level you’re at. It’s not like the gym where folks try to outdo the next member by lifting more weight. Hiking isn’t a competitive environment. We’re all just out to hike, unwind, get a good workout, enjoy nature and meet new people with familiar faces we can relate to. So grab a friend and come along or come solo and make 50 new friends. Everyone is welcome and everyone finds their reason to keep coming back. #hikingtobetterhealth.


Traveling Our Nations Parks. Mom, kids and an RV.

unnamed (2)


I was recently made aware of Christina by Alan Spears of the NPCA. Christina, a mother of 3, decided to pack up the family and hit the road in their RV, visiting national parks and various RV campsites along their journey across the country. Christina reached out to Alan regarding her travels and how it took her by surprise, the lack of diversity in our parks. She wanted to express her concerns  to the NPS as well as other park advocates.  In no way has this dimmed her travels, but it bothered her enough that she wanted to make others aware of it.

Christina, why did you feel the need to reach out to the NPS concerning your observations around diversity in the parks you’ve visited? What was their response to your call?

I reached out to the National Park Service about their lack of diversity because I noticed the disparity and was sure others noticed it as well. I wanted to reach out to the source itself… the people who are actually in charge of promoting diversity and responsible for raising awareness about the parks so I reached out to each regional director head. My initial call of concern was received with welcome. Everyone has been nothing but helpful. They have all explained that they too have noticed this lack of diversity in the park system (both internal and external) and have made every effort to connect me with people such as yourself who are working to make a difference in that area. They have guided me and directed me and offered me guidance as far as how best to move forward with raising the issue of diversity in the national parks.

 Of all the explorations you could have taken on with your kids, why an RV adventure?

My children and I are avid RVers to begin with. We camp regularly and last year we even took a two-month journey north into Canada, so when my job gave me 18 months off to finish writing my dissertation doing it across the country in our RV was a no brainer for us. Since we went north the last time we decided this time to head west. My kids had never been on the west coast and was excited to make the journey. We decided to take Interstate I-10 across with a plan to hit as many national parks along the way (we are collecting stamps in our National Park service passport book).

How has the experience been for you and the kids?

unnamed (5)This road trip has been truly amazing for both me and my children. The places we have seen, the people we have met, the cultures we have experienced have been life changing. My kid are getting a hands-on, active, and involved education they could not get in the classroom and I am learning right along with them. Of course, we have our moments. Traveling with a 13yr old, 10yr old, and 6yr old in a 200 square feet there are bound to be bought of bickering but overall the experience has been amazing.

How many national parks had you visited before this trip and what was your take away from your visits?

We are very big fans of the National Park system and had been to 43 sites within the National Park system prior to this road trip. All of these parks were on the east coast so we have been extremely pleased to earn passport stamps from the southwest and west coast regions. Each and every site was a learning experience for us all. We really love the Jr Ranger program that we make sure to participate in wherever it is offered. We have loved walking/ hiking along the trails and scenic byways within the NPS. We are constantly amazed at how well preserved and well protected the sites are.

How familiar were you with our national parks, prior to your RV trip?

unnamedPrior to this trip we were quite familiar with the NPS. Growing up near the Great Smokey mountains I learned early on the value and benefit of these protected lands. We actually planned much of this road trip around which National Parks we would be able to see along the way.



Of all the parks you’ve visited, which has been your favorite and why?

I asked my children this as well so this answer is from all of us.

Christina: Kings Canyon to see the giant sequoias. I had never seen anything so mighty in all of my life. Those giant trees were truly amazing. The drive up the mountain to this park was treacherous, especially in an RV, but was so worth it. That park certainly put things in perspective for me regarding how small and insignificant things that I think are huge really are. Now I know huge and it was amazing.

Joshua (13): My favorite park was the White Sands dunes because it was interactive and the sledding down the dunes was really fun. Also Carlsbad Caverns were really fun and required a lot of physical strength to get through.

Averie (10): I liked the Sequoia National Park because of how big the trees were and how the pretty the snow was and how the mountains looked in the background.

Nathaniel (6): The sand dunes was so epic because you could sled all the way down, find a path to run back up and sled down again. It was the most fun in the world.

What message would you like to share with others who may be hesitating to do what you are doing?

unnamed (3)The landscape of this country that we live in is absolutely amazing. We often think international travel is the key to being “cultured” and “well traveled” but starting at home… in your own back yard is actually the key to a well traveled person. What better place to start than the national parks that offer some of the most amazing, unique experiences. We have natural wonders of the world right here in our own parks and people of color do not seem to be taking advantage of this. I feel a large portion of the community is missing out on some truly amazing experiences. I urge everyone… plead with everyone to get out and experience this countries landscape. From mountains, to deserts, to forests, to caverns, and canyons. From historic places and the homes of historic people the National Park Service truly has some amazing things to offer.

What has the reaction been by strangers and family alike, to your adventure?

So far we have had a unanimously positive response when people learn what we are doing. Many express how they wish they could do something similar or are planning to do just that. The percentage is roughly equal between the positive reactions of people of color to non-people of color yet I notice a huge disparity in the National Parks, the RV parks, and the outdoors in general. I’m hoping to contribute to group of voices that are urging more people of color to get out and experience what their national parks have to offer. And not knowing how or where to start is no excuse. I’ve offered many times and I’ll offer again to be a hiking buddy, camping buddy, park tourist buddy as well as offer any advice and guidance (within the scope of my experiences) on where to start when exploring the national parks and the great outdoors.


Christina may be reached through her blog: Nomadic mama of 3 or by email:

IMAX Film: D for ( NO ) Diversity- Trail Posse


Arches National Park in Utah (photo by David Fortney, courtesy of MacGillivray Freeman Films).


Written by: Glenn Nelson

The film, National Parks Adventure, aims to stir its viewers, as producer Shaun MacGillivray puts it, “to get off their couches and get outdoors.” Its destination of choice is the U.S. national parks, which are celebrating their centennial as the National Park Service in 2016. MacGillivray and his crew used every IMAX 3D trick at their disposal, from jaw-dropping, aerial footage of sun-splattered landscapes to in-your-face encounters with furry, squeaky creatures like prairie dogs.

As if the visual feast weren’t enough, the film also serves up actor/environmentalist Robert Redford as narrator, climber Conrad Anker as narrative focal point, and a track by rocker Bruce Springsteen as rousing irony. Missing from the parks buffet is, as usual, the story of the system’s future – the one filled with diverse peoples who not only enable the parks’ continued existence but, as the impending nonwhite majority in this country, provide the political, economic and spiritual wherewithal to ensure the future of the planet.

The film gets off to such a promising start with its mention of Native Americans and their belief that this country’s “greatest natural wonders belong to no one – they belong to all.”

But to go from that utterance to Springsteen’s “This Land is Your Land” renders most everything in between not only as antithetical, but also as a continuing indictment of the National Park Service’s overwhelming whiteness. This land doesn’t appear to be made for you and me if a significant number of us are missing from the picture. And National Parks Adventure, which opens globally on Feb. 12, feeds this perception by illustrating the national parks experience as an almost exclusively white one.

The trick to solving the diversity issue, of course, is to actually begin diversifying. Otherwise, absent outside agitation, there’s little potential for recognizing that diversity indeed is an issue. The people affected aren’t at the table.

This is the challenge for MacGillivray Freeman, known for numerous IMAX hits including Everest, Dolphins, and The Living Sea. When asked about diversity in his film following a Seattle screening, Shaun MacGillivray, the president of the production house, hailed the film’s opening remarks about Native Americans. When asked if he’d considered actually showing Native Americans and other people of color onscreen, MacGillivray said, “If my crack research team had found a character with a more diverse story, we would have considered using one.”

Ryan Hudson may be no Conrad Anker, but he is a black professional snowboarder with a compelling backstory. Hudson grew up in and out of homeless shelters until, at 14, his life was changed by an introduction to snowboarding by Outdoor Outreach, a non-profit dedicated to empowering at-risk youth through outdoor activities. He was part of an expedition that attempted to climb Denali and was led by Anker, a fellow North Face ambassador.

Which likely was the reason Hudson was with Anker, his stepson Max Lowe, and friend Rachel Pohl at one of the film’s more spectacular stops in icy Pictured Rocks National Seashore. We know Hudson is in upper Michigan because Pohl mentions his presence. If you watch carefully, without blinking, you’ll see him on the screen, ever so briefly.

MacGillivray also said that the filmmakers also wanted to portray John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, the architects of the park service, “who just happened to be white.” The only semblance of diversity is shown in some of the roll of user-generated content near the end of the 43-minute film.

These have to be viewed as missteps, not missed opportunities. The National Park Service should have known better; it lacks the moral leeway to allow a project to be executed with such blatant racial ignorance.

The National Park Service hasn’t delivered on pre-centennial promises to ramp up diversity efforts. Its ranks remain 82 percent white, about the same as its visitation, in a country that is 38 percent nonwhite and growing fast. Even the National Park System Advisory Board found that “despite ongoing efforts to address diversity gaps, the NPS is perceived by stakeholders as neither diverse nor inclusive.”

National Parks Adventure attempts to herald the national parks road trip as quintessentially American, but proves the conceit as quintessentially white American. When Springsteen belts out, “this land is your land,” a much too significant portion of this country is forced to disagree. In essence, MacGillivray’s work reflects too closely the agency it celebrates and adds itself to a film legacy dominated by sci-fi flicks that do not count on the presence of people of color in anyone’s future.

Glenn Nelson is the founder of The Trail Posse (, which documents and encourages diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. He tweets @trailposse

National Parks Adventure:

National Park Service:

MacGillivray Freeman:

Outdoor Outreach: