Anjelica Harlow (PitP)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison 2013

During August of 2013 I went on an adventure. I wanted to go on an adventure not because I was a seasoned traveler and had stayed static for too long, but instead because I had, in fact, hardly ever traveled and was beginning to feel too comfortable. The onset of what I like to call IfIdontleavenowIneverwill-osis in addition to my increasing fear of failure and non-decreasing list of honors requirements is what pushed me to alleviate at least one of my problems. Lucky for me, Partners in the Parks enabled me to knock off the first and third issue while allowing me to forget about my anxieties concerning the second. So, I sent an application, received a confirmation, booked a plane ticket, bought a bus voucher, and was on my way. I felt like a true adult! Little did I know, there was so much more in store for me to learn.

My interim destination was Gunnison, Colorado — approximately a 1,500 mile journey from Seattle. This small town with true blue skies, very green grass, and predominantly incredibly outdoorsy people shares its name with Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a massive National Park. Black Canyon was my final destination (in the less ominous sense). I was increasingly more nervous as my departure date grew closer, partly because I had never done what I was about to do and my only prior experience in Colorado was a turbulent landing and long layover in the Denver International Airport. At this point in time, my only conception of the state was a sunny, treeless western Washington. I knew no one who lived there. Knew very little about where I was going. And was doing it all on my own. So, to prepare for the worst, I started my journey with little to no expectations.







Well, as it turned out, my lack of forethought regarding the journey, in many ways, allowed me to experience things afresh, without a filter to alter my perception of the experience! I didn’t expect to be able find my departure gate as easily as I did, or have my plane take off on time, or even get on the right bus at the Greyhound station- it was all an added bonus! And when I originally registered for Partners in the Parks, I didn’t know how the experience would tie in with my classes back home, or even that it would. However, it did in a grand way! But, perhaps, some of the best things I learned were things I didn’t know were knowable. For example: I didn’t know what it would feel like to stand on the parched earth at the edge of a canyon and see out beyond the blue and look down between the great divide while standing on the North Rim at Exclamation Point; I didn’t know I’d be doing it. I didn’t know the benefits to learning about the Ute people, or the Colorado River and her dams, or the species invading her land because I’ve never needed to know it. And I definitely didn’t know how I would respond to seeing herds of cows in the middle of a barren nowhere standing on near vertical hills, channeling their inner stubborn Billy goat and dotting the land like Monet does canvas. And in fact, I still don’t quite know how to respond to that… When I think back to the cows, I typically laugh to myself and sponsor an occasional literal LOL, but I’m getting better.

Real-Life Applications of my Partners in the Park Experience

It is impossible for me to go into depth about my experience at Gunnison without going on wild tangents and irrationally jumping from one subject to another. There was too much I experienced, so much I learned. But what may have been one of the biggest benefits about partaking in the program came as a surprise to me nearly three months later in one of my interaction design classes.






Before I get too deep, let me first explain what interaction design actually is, because as soon as I ever introduce it, my statement is nearly always returned by a quizzical look (typically an eyebrow raise or frown) and “Oh cool…” short pause, “What is that?” Interaction design is the development of people orientated systems and interfaces. (more confusion.) Interaction designers typically work on relaying information to users appropriately so they don’t feel overwhelmed by technology, environments, or settings. (slightly less confusion.) We may design aspects in things from bus stations, to digital applications, to airplane cockpits. (Finally, a smile!)

Now, back to how Gunnison helped me! For my interaction design class final project I worked with a team to develop an application to assist stakeholders in Seattle’s Discovery Park with some type of activity. The prompt was very broad to allow teams to go in multiple directions. Some teams focused on way-finding and other teams worked on more social aspects. After much research, debate, and development, my team decided to focus on the education side of Discovery Park.






Currently, Discovery Park has amazing programs catered toward K-12 children. Their most successful programs focus on children around 4-10 years of age and involve an in-depth, hands-on approach. Children enrolled in a Discovery Park program experience a unique educational opportunity by working closely with a Naturalist, an adult who is highly trained in the park, throughout specific courses with a small group of their peers. The problem my team discovered was that these programs were in extremely high demand and were too challenging to access; parents had difficulty getting their child into the programs. To alleviate the number of children who don’t get the opportunity to experience the richness of Discovery Park as others do, we developed an application that would run on a tablet provided by the park. This application would utilize currently developed and developing technologies such as geo-location, geo-tagging, and object recognition. This tablet would be used by children and families to enhance a typical park outing by allowing them to freely explore and learn about the flora, fauna, and history of the park. My Gunnison experience became useful to this project when creating the infrastructure for this tablet system.

The National Parks Service helps facilitate learning environments for children by providing park specific activity books and physical reward badges. This system is called Junior Rangers and works similarly to how boy and girl scouts are required to complete a range of activities and are then given patches based on their accomplishment of the activities. On my trip I saw so many children from a variety of ages actively participating in Junior Rangers and this inspired my team to in our design. And I must admit one of my standout moments during my stay was when a park ranger gave me my own badge; it is currently hanging up on my bulletin board right now! Intrigued by my badge, I grabbed not one, but two Junior Ranger activity booklets and completed most of the activities.








This activity and reward system was crucial to the development of my project and our application became dependent upon it. The way our tablet system works is that a Naturalist within Seattle Parks chooses a type of badge a child can earn and then the Naturalist adds specific locations, objects, animals, or plants they want a child to find. This creates an assignment the child accesses on their tablet. The child, using the tablet, then looks for and learns about those specific things or freely explores and scans what they choose. When a child locates everything within an assignment, they earn the badge. The theory behind this system is that it could be instituted at all Seattle parks, like how the National Parks Service used Junior Rangers at all their locations. This would encourage children around the Seattle area to explore deeply any or all their local parks.

My Adventure Overall

In conclusion, my stay in Gunnison was exciting and adventurous! I learned things I never knew were worth learning. My academics were enriched by the experience, and so was my sense of self. I did things I never thought I would do (like sleep, probably a bit too comfortably, in a Greyhound Bus Station). I did things I never wanted to do (like pay for transportation to the bus station I could have gotten for free). And I did things with more grace than I thought I could (like not showering for a whole week). It was truly an adventure and one I’ll always think fondly upon.