Caro Luévanos-Garcia leads by example and social media to encourage hiking and other outdoor recreation among Latinx communities, especially middle-aged and senior populations. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks helped to inspire her advocacy work. Luévanos-Garcia’s story demonstrates how experiencing national parks can transform individuals’ relationships with nature, as well as how visitors are claiming their own places of belonging in the parks.
Carolina Luévanos, born on January 24, 1962 to Mexican immigrant parents was raised in Arvin, California.1 The Luévanos family regularly interacted with nature as farmworkers and found opportunities close to home to enjoy the natural world by, for instance, watching a thunderstorm from the back of their open car. According to Luévanos, the family did not even consider backpacking or hiking, due to the expense and the family’s lack of familiarity with those activities, two factors that have historically limited Latinx representation in outdoor recreation.2 Yet during one exceptional trip to Sequoia National Park, her mother’s terrified reaction to the height as the family climbed up the Moro Rocks stairs led Luévanos to connect outdoor recreation with fearlessness.3
Caro Luévanos married physician Francisco Garcia, and the couple raised two children.4 She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a psychology degree in 1984 and a Masters of Social Work in 1986, then began a 28-year career as a California parole agent. She retired at age 50 in 2012.5 In preparation for a more active retirement, her sister-in-law introduced a reluctant Luévanos-Garcia to hiking. It has since dominated her retirement years. One of her proudest achievements was section hiking over 90 percent of the John Muir Trail through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks with a group of women.6 Luévanos-Garcia credited her embrace of hiking as a retired adult with helping her change “from being fearful in the outdoors and fearful of [her] own power to being courageous and being experimental.”7
Luévanos-Garcia describes herself as “a link between my parents and my children and grandchildren” and characterizes her advocacy as important to instilling an “affinity and attachment to nature” in the next generation. When her grandson was born in 2015, Luévanos-Garcia immediately declared him her hiking partner and had him completing two-and-a-half mile hikes before his third birthday (he has since completed an eight-mile hike with her). She chronicles hikes with him on social media under the name Abuela Afuera (Grandmother Outside); she documents all of her hikes using the handle CaroHikedHere to encourage others to enjoy nature and to pressure the outdoor industry to better serve older hikers. Luévanos-Garcia also hikes with Latino Outdoors, an organization “focused on expanding and amplifying the Latinx experience in the outdoors.”8 In 2018 she introduced her 78-year-old father to national parks by traveling with him to Yosemite and Death Valley. She continues to explore new national parks—forty-eight so far—as she travels the country to compete in half-marathons.
Caro Luévanos-Garcia’s advocacy shows how visitors are key players in changing who feels welcomed and empowered in public parks. Her activism, which is based around relationship building, makes crucial contributions to the broader movement to diversify the outdoors.
1 - “Carolina Luévanos in the California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database on-line, Ancestry.com, State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento, CA; Caro Luévanos-Garcia, “Cesar Chavez Taught Me to Love Climbing Mountains,” Ode to Writing (blog), March 30, 2016, accessed August 29, 2020, https://perishableprose.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/cesar-chavez-taught-me-to-love-climbing-mountains/.
2 - Gale Straub, host, “Episode 57: Abuela Afuera – Grandmother Outside,” She Explores (podcast), February 28, 2018, https://she-explores.com/podcast/abuela-afuera-grandmother-outside/.
3 - Caro Luévanos-Garcia, “Moro Rock, I Come in Peace,” Ode to Writing (blog), September 24, 2015, accessed August 29, 2020, https://perishableprose.wordpress.com/2015/09/24/moro-rock-i-come-in-peace/; Straub, “Episode 57: Abuela Afuera.”
4 - “Carmen L. Garcia, 1929-2016,” Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, CA), February 4, 2016, accessed 29, 2020, https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bakersfield/obituary.aspx?n=carmen-l-garci-a&pid=177588584&fhid=24120; “Caro Luévanos Garcia,” about.me, accessed August 29, 2020, https://about.me/carogarcia.
5 - “Carolina Luévanos in the U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999,” U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012, University of California, 1984, database on-line, Ancestry.com.
6 - Caro Luévanos-Garcia, “Impassable at High Tide? Wait, what?” Ode to Writing (blog), June 25, 2016, accessed August 29, 2020, https://perishableprose.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/impassable-at-high-tide-wait-what/.
7 - Straub, “Episode 57: Abuela Afuera .”
8 - Caro Luévanos-Garcia, “Young At Heart,” Ode to Writing (blog), August 6, 2019, accessed August 29, 2020, https://perishableprose.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/young-at-heart/; “About Us,” Latino Outdoors, accessed August 29, 2020, https://latinooutdoors.org/about-us/; Straub, “Episode 57: Abuela Afuera.”
Acknowledgements:This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.
This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946