Dream Big

Grace CortezFYPx
Grace in Find Your Park shirt at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

My dream of working for the National Park Service started a little after I visited Yosemite National Park for the third time. Also, having a best friend who is a naturalist has definitely helped feed my dream.

I dream of wearing a ranger hat and telling visitors about the history of the parks and the different wildlife and habitats. I dream of showing them beautiful sites and explaining why preservation and conservation is so important. I’ve always been fascinated by those who work in the Park Service and how they got there because in my opinion, they have the coolest job.

My world was radically changed when I embarked on the National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition and learned that within national parks there are so many different people who do very different things and each one of them is very valuable to the parks.

Two Rangers with Map
Victor Wei

While I thought there were only park rangers, I ended up meeting a geologist, a resource management specialist, a park museum curator, a chief of research and resource management, a fire management officer, an archaeologist, and a natural resource manager. I got to hear their individual stories of how they got into what they do and what brought them to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and Mesa Verde National Park. I was very inspired by the way they displayed so much enthusiasm and passion for their work.

Park ranger standing on top of cliffs at Mesa Verde National Park
Victor Wei

Female park ranger tour guide at the ruins of Mesa Verde National Park
Victor Wei

Kay Barnett, the wonderful archaeologist at Mesa Verde, referenced the Spruce Tree House dwelling site as her “baby.” She has such a love for it, reminding us that when we build an emotional connection to the parks, we’re going to care for them the best way we can. Tara Travis who is the park’s museum curator never stopped smiling while she gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the different basketry and pottery that the Ancestral Pueblo people left behind.

Everyone’s knowledge left my curious mind blown.

Learning about how prescribed fires are important for natural resources and vegetation or about how certain plant species only like to grow on specific parts of a canyon showed me that within the National Park Service, there’s so many things you can do.

NPS fire management personnel with canister at Mesa Verde
Victor Wei

Towards the end of the expedition, I wanted to be a little bit of everything: archaeologist, museum curator, interpreter, geologist, naturalist, park ranger. In fact, I was so inspired by everyone that next spring I will be enrolling in my very first anthropology class to study past human cultures through artifacts, otherwise known as archaeology.

Thanks to all the wonderful park service staff, a new curiosity was awakened within me and because of their emphasis on how the future of our national parks is in my hands, I am encouraged all the more to pursue my dream of working for the National Park Service.

Grace and Fred posing and smiling in front of sand dunes.
Victor Wei

Grace Cortez participated in the National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. Based out of Los Angeles, California, she is a lifestyle, landscape, and travel photographer. You can follow Grace's adventures and connect with her on Instagram, PinterestTumblr, and Portfolio.

Start a Conversation

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.