12 January 2024

Creating More Welcoming Outdoor Spaces Through Sandhill Crane Sunsets

Written by: Abigail Juarez

It’s not uncommon to forget the controversies of nature. I find myself relating to stories of both adventure and injustice, yet I consider myself lucky to have fond memories of outdoor spaces. As a visitor services intern, I want to help people connect with nature in ways that don’t add salt to their wounds. I can’t undo generations of hardship and trauma in the outdoors, but I can acknowledge the pain and amplify diverse stories.  

I think about how nature was not a place of leisure for my mother. It was a place where she faced arduous work hours. She swore she would one day live a life of luxury and never have to spend any more time outside. Years later when my father suggested we all camp as a family, my mother was perplexed. “Why would we leave our perfectly good home to sleep on the ground?”, to my mother remote living was not an escape from the city, it was a misfortune.

Something must’ve changed her mind, because the way I remember my mom outdoors is picture perfect. My sisters and I were sliding down the beautiful gypsum dunes with sand covering our faces. My dad was grilling by the picnic table. I saw my mom standing barefoot in the white sand, the strong wind was somehow kinder to her. Her hair blowing in the breeze reached for the fluffy clouds above her and she smiled. She held a disposable camera and snapped shots of us on the bright orange sleds my dad waxed heavily after we begged him to make us slide faster. As I remember this, I wish I was the one taking pictures of her at White Sands National Park, where I created my first memory of loving the outdoors.

Today I’m taking pictures of Sandhill cranes returning to the wetlands at sunset and watching refuge visitors look up at the spectacle in amazement. The crane fly-ins at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge are wonderful events to learn more about the natural history of Sandhill cranes or to simply witness a beautifully mirrored sunset on the wetland waters. I’m still shadowing Madeline, the refuges park ranger, she’s an excellent speaker and great storyteller. February will be our last crane fly-in for the season, since cranes begin leaving for northern breeding grounds in Alaska in mid-March.

Learning about Sandhill cranes has been one of my favorite things so far and I’ll be sad to watch them go as the spring comes. I’ll miss the mornings when my alarm was the unique call of the cranes, which can carry as far as 2.5 miles. As crane season comes to an end, I hope to see more people from the community learn about the outdoor opportunities offered to them in their own backyards.

In December, I had the opportunity to meet Ivette Lopez, a park ranger eager to create connections and develop outreach strategies. She came along with other Hispanic Access Foundation MANO interns. It was wonderful to meet with them an learn more about the collaboration between the MANO Project and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. We spent the day touring the refuge and had lunch on one of the observation platforms overlooking the wetlands. I’m excited to continue learning and to help people create fond memories of the outdoors.


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