I just returned from an incredible adventure to the Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming. Last year I followed the exciting adventures of the American Latino Expedition and told myself I’d apply for it in 2014. When the opportunity to apply opened I jumped on it.
I honestly did not think I would be selected because I am a food blogger and what does blogging about food have anything to do with an outdoor expedition. Why would they pick me? I started to doubt myself as I filled out the application, but I didn’t let it stop me. On my application I shared my love of the outdoors, as well as my passion for educating my readers about healthy Latin inspired recipes, and included my desire of teaching my children how to make healthy choices by getting them involved in the kitchen. Sure, I splurge on the occasional tamal and empanada, but it’s all about moderation. Anyway, back to the application. I continued to fill it out, submitted it, and guess what? A few weeks later I received an email saying I was a finalist. Then, the phone interviews began and a few days after that, I was notified that I had been selected. I was beyond excited!
What did I win you ask? To start, the eight lucky bloggers selected were completely outfitted in spectacular gear for the expedition by Columbia Sportswear and REI. And when I say spectacular, I mean spectacular.
Next the bloggers were flown by Alaska Airlines to Salt Lake City, which is the closest large airport, where we all came together and drove to Jackson.
Go RVing provided the transportation for the week. Thanks to Aramark we stayed at the wonderful Togwotee Mountain Lodge that sits in the shadow of the beautiful Grand Teton mountains. We also had snacks provided by KIND Healthy Snacks. The perks were endless.
We went on guided hikes led by National Park Rangers and explored hiking trails that are not open to the public yet.
We went on a wildlife expedition where we saw bison, elk, and a bald eagle.
We went on a mountain bike ride.
Ramon (MrBrownThumb), Melanie (¿Qué Means What?), Staci (7 on a Shoestring), Vianney (Sweet Life), Lizza (XoxoLizza), Daily (DailyCurlz), myself, and Ramon (not pictured Ramon B. Nuez Jr. Photography)
We went on a snowy horseback ride.
A cruise on Colter Bay Lake.
The highlight of my trip was seeing the geysers of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I didn’t expect the emotional reaction I had when I saw the Grand Canyon. I just broke down in tears. I was in shock. I didn’t know that kind of natural beauty existed in our world. I was sad that my family wasn’t there experiencing the moment with me. I was overcome with an array of emotions.
Finally, after I composed myself I hiked a little higher and sat overlooking the edge and was at peace in complete silence. Then I suddenly realized I am deathly afraid of heights and somehow I was not scared. I felt strong, safe, and brave. All I could think about was being so proud of myself and proud to be an American. I thought about my brother who served in the Marines and National Guard and was deployed to Iraq twice to protect our country. I started to cry again from happiness that he came home safe. Then I was excited to share my feelings with my husband, children, friends, and you.
As you can imagine this trip was so amazing, but they saved the best for last. Our last dinner was at the Signal Mountain Lodge with all the Park Rangers we had met, as well as the Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, David Vela. At the end of dinner all the bloggers were sworn in as Junior Rangers and each of us received an official Junior Ranger badge. Yes, I cried again.
You are probably thinking, “What was the point of this expedition?” The point is that Latinos unfortunately do not frequent national parks. The American Latino Expedition is to share our experiences with our readers and inspire and motivate other Latinos to visit national parks. National parks do not have an advertising budget. They do not have commercials on TV or advertisements in magazines to excite and educate children and parents like other destination vacations.
So many Latino families visit major amusement parks, but for some reason they do not frequent national parks. And I’m sure it’s because of the lack of education. I speak for myself when I say this. I never imagined the magical experience I’d get out of this trip. You do not have to be an athlete or in amazing shape to visit a national park. There are a variety of activities and it’s up to you to make your own itinerary. I am truly honored that I was selected to be one of the lucky bloggers to visit the Grand Teton National Park. We were treated like celebrities with VIP treatment.
When you are planning your next family vacation I encourage you to visit a national park. And if you go to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, stay at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. They have beautiful and comfortable log cabins with a kitchenette, down comforters, a blow dryer, fireplace, housekeeping, and a lodge with a terrific restaurant and bar. Now, that’s my kinda vacation.
I could go on and on about our expedition so I encourage you to visit the American Latino Expedition website to read more stories on their blog from myself and the other seven bloggers that were selected.
The tart and sweet huckleberry bushes on our hikes inspired these warm huckleberry empanadas. It was my first experience tasting wild huckleberries. As soon as I tasted them I knew I needed to share a recipe with you. Huckleberries taste very similar to blueberries and even look like little blueberries. I purchased a jar of wild huckleberry preserves at Dornans Moose Trading Post and made these empanadas with my children as I told them all about my trip. I encourage you to give this recipe a try or substitute with blueberry preserves if you do not have access to huckleberry preserves.
These empanadas are warm and perfect for a chilly fall night sitting in front of a cracking fireplace. I dedicate this dessert to the sweet Latino and Latina bloggers that became a familia and bonded on this trip.
Salud to the eight of us who were part of this amazing experience and a big thank you, hug, and kiss to all the sponsors and all the lovely folks I met on this incredible journey: Mark and Alanna with the National Park Foundation/American Latino Heritage Fund who without them this event would not have been so well organized. Robin with Aramark. Myrian with REI. Scott, Jin, and Tori with Columbia Sportswear. Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, David Vela and his kindergarten sweetheart Melissa. All the inspiring park rangers: Megan, Millie, Ricardo, Katie, and Kevin. Daisy with Latino USA. Erika and Louise with Nat Geo. Gustavo with CNN. Sean with Wildlife Expeditions of Teton Science Schools. Stan, the cowboy at Togwotee Lodge. Kim and Paige with Grand Teton National Park Foundation. And of course all the lovely bloggers who were on this journey with me: Daily, Melanie, Ramon, Ramon, Staci, Lizza, and Vianney. Love ya guys!
This event was truly epic!
Have you visited a national park? Please tell me all about it in a comment below.
- Make Empanada Dough:
- In a stand mixer cream the shortening and then combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and milk and add to dough mixture until you have a soft dough. Remove dough from mixer and add flour to dough if sticky. Split the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Assemble and Bake Empanadas:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- On lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 4-inch circles.
- Place a small dollop of preserves on one half of each of the dough circles. Wet the bottom edge of the circles with water to help seal the two halves. Fold over the dough to cover filling and seal off the edges with a fork by pressing down along the edges. This also makes for a pretty pattern when baked.
- Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Brush each empanada with evaporated milk and sprinkle with raw sugar. Puncture two slits on the top of each empanada with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking.
- Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray; place the empanadas on the cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes on middle rack in the oven. If after 15 minutes you notice the bottoms of the empanadas starting to brown, move the cookie sheet and set oven to broil and bake for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown.
- Enjoy the empanadas warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate baked empanadas for a few days. Reheat in a toaster oven or bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.
Disclosure: I was selected by the American Latino Expedition and was not paid to write about my visit. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own and based upon my personal experiences.