We travel a lot with our kids. We’re big fans of the National Parks and of exploring natural wonders in other countries as well.
We loved visiting Yellowstone and seeing the fields of bison along with the hordes of other visitors, playing in the tide pools with other families at Acadia National Park in Maine, and hiking the Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park with a park ranger and two dozen other people. All of those were fun experiences we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
But I must admit, some of the more interesting, exciting and unusual experiences we’ve had on our trips have been at night. Yes, that’s right. Just when everyone else around us is turning in, we’ve had some of our more thrilling encounters.
At Sequoia National Park in California, a sunset drive through the picnic grounds put us up close and personal with a very large black bear. As we drove through, we spied it sitting on its butt right next to the parking lot chowing down on what looked like pine combs. When we pulled to a stop right near it and rolled down our windows to grab some photos, it paused for a moment to check us out. After seeing that we weren’t a threat and weren’t going to chase it from the picnic ground, it went right on back to doing what it was doing. We spent a good 10 minutes watching it up close before it got bored and moved on.
At Tortuguero Park on the East coast of Costa Rica, we went on a night walk with a ranger down to the beach. It was a warm, moonlit night and our way was illuminated by only a red-tinted lamp carried by the ranger. At first, Rudolph and Holly weren’t sure they liked being on the beach in the darkness. But soon, we arrived at what we came there to see – the giant sea turtles would emerge from the sea, shimmy their way up the beach, dig deep holes and then lay their eggs. There in the red-tinted light, we watched as hundreds of golf-ball sized eggs were emitted from a single seat turtle. When the laying was completed, the turtle used its flippers to swat at the sand violently to bury the eggs. Once satisfied the eggs were sufficiently covered, the turtles would rest for a while to gather up the energy to return to the sea until the eggs were ready to hatch. To this day, my kids still talk about this experience as if we were guest stars on an Animal Planet show. It was hard to believe that we were really there, in the moonlight, witnessing what we had witnessed.
At Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, we were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of very heavy footsteps near our tents. We were staying in a tented camp that night. The canvas walls were fitted with screened windows which were covered by canvas flaps for privacy. I rolled over in my cot and just as I pulled the canvas flap back to survey the situation, two large legs walked right past my window. Those legs happened to belong to a giraffe. I rolled off my cot onto the floor and crawled over to Rudolph’s cot and rustled him from a sound sleep. For the next hour, he and I sat silently by the window watching three giraffes in the moonlight as they ate from the trees around and over our tent. One of our coolest experiences ever.
The last example I’ll site (and there are plenty more) came from just last night. Because of flight delays, we arrived in Everglades National Park late in the day. We grabbed some dinner at a local Cuban place and then instead of retiring to our hotel for the night, we driving into the park in the dark. We met a group that was heading out for a 45 minute starlight walk with a ranger to go looking for birds, frogs and alligators in the dark. It was a full moon so we only rarely needed the flashlights we had brought. And the walk did not disappoint. Shortly after starting the walk, a giant Blue Heron swooped down from above and landed in a tree not far from where we stood. A 5 or 10 minutes further out on the elevated walkway put us within about 6 feet of an alligator rolling around in the water. Sure we could have seen other gators in the daylight. But being there, at night, in the moonlight, with the ranger and a few others, we were able to experience something special that I know we’ll remember forever.
So if you ever find yourself in one of these places, instead of turning in early with a cocktail or a book, consider whether there are opportunities to experience something special in the darkness.
Thanks for reading.