My #BattlefieldsandBeginnings road trip

15 days. 2,486 miles. 31 new national parks.

In March 2013, I had one of my most productive national park road trips. I called it my #BattlefieldsandBeginnings trip, and it primarily focused on as-yet-unvisited national parks in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. I also snuck in a quick jaunt over the Pennsylvania border to hit Gettysburg and the adjacent Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Continue reading My #BattlefieldsandBeginnings road trip

A partial recap of my #GreatWaters road trip

A twitter recap of my #GreatWaters national park roadtrip* in August 2012. Sadly, I haven’t gotten around to posting the photos yet, or writing a passable summary yet, so this will have to do for now. Enjoy!

*and a shitload of roadside attractions/oddities.

Continue reading A partial recap of my #GreatWaters road trip

2012 was among my best trip years yet

2012 planned trips map
It didn’t quite turn out this way, but it was an ambitious travel year nonetheless.

While I’ve had some amazing travel years, 2012 surprisingly ranks near the top. I made it to 39 national park units I had not yet visited, took my first big solo national park road trip, visited a few new states and two new parts of the country, made it to the first Graham family reunion in several decades, marked off a few straggling park units that had dogged me for years, rafted and backpacked in some amazing places, gained a nickname for visiting all three specimens competing for the title of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, started a new quest to hit all of the highest points of relatively flat states, and stopped by over one hundred roadside oddities and attractions. And, of course, created some fabulous memories. Continue reading 2012 was among my best trip years yet

A partial recap of my “Roadside Oddities of the Prairielands” roadtrip via twitter

One of the benefits of tweeting your trip is that it automatically creates an archive of sorts. Here’s all of the #ontheroadinthemiddleofuckingnowhere tweets from my trip.

But first, a couple of notes. One, I’m a bit bummed that the photos I attached to foursquare checkins aren’t autodisplayed; so if there’s a place that sounds interesting, click over to foursquare to see the shot I snapped. Also, since I was #ontheroadinthemiddleoffuckingnowhere, I also didn’t always have cell coverage, which meant that I didn’t get to check in or post to twitter. Nonetheless, it was fun to keep folks updated on my trip progress.

Continue reading A partial recap of my “Roadside Oddities of the Prairielands” roadtrip via twitter

Roadtripping the national parks in my Forester

Since its purchase in 2006, my Subaru Forester—named Betsy—has been a constant companion in my quest to visit every national park unit. The vehicle has transported Kim and I on some of our best road trips, whether that’s our Great American Roadtrip in 2007, our wedding post-wedding roadtrip in 2008, or many others. There have been a great many memories produced in the vehicle—the mystery rodent that chewed through our backseat fabric in Glacier, attempting to sleep on far too thick of air mattresses in the back of the vehicle at a random rest stop somewhere in California, or enduring a gauntlet of 70mph wind, dust, rain, hail, and snow on a drive to Utah with my kayak strapped to the roof for the very first time, to name a few.

Last week, I took what is probably my last national park road trip with Betsy: a long overdue visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park—one of the first places we had intended to go once we got it. It was a last minute change of plans that had me take the Forester on that trip, but it was great to bring her out one last time, and especially to a remote park that requires a significant drive on dirt roads to access.

With 175,000 miles on her, and several significant repairs I’ve been delaying, and only one long national park road trip to the Pacific Northwest remaining (I’ll fly to the northeastern parks from now on), she’s likely finally retired from her road trip career. While I’d love to do some more long roadtrips with her, I’m also happy shuttling around my kayak and mountain bike around the state. Thanks for all of the lifelong roadtripping memories.

 

Our Mojave National Preserve roadtrip

Sunset over Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve

It was February 2009 when Kim and I brought friends Victoria and Terry on a short roadtrip to California. Our primary destination was Mojave National Preserve, a national park unit tucked away between I-15 and I-40 near the borders of California, Nevada, and Arizona. It was a first visit for Kim and I, who had been on a quest to visit all of the national parks.

Along the way, we stopped at the Blythe Intaglios, a series of rock geoglyphs near the Colorado River. Because it had rained just before we left Arizona, some roads in Mojave were a bit rough and the park ranger suggested we stick to just a few parts of the park. We spent some time at the Kelso Depot and Kelso Dunes, and camped and hiked near Hole-in-the-Wall. We also managed a tour of Mitchell Caverns within the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. When it was time to head home, we traveled along historic Route 66 and stopped off at Joshua Tree National Park for half a day before finishing the drive home.

It was a short trip, but we managed to see quite a bit. I’ve finally posted the photos from the trip, so please feel free to take a look and leave a comment or two.

National Parks I visited in 2010

The National Parks I made it to in 2010

2010 was an uncommon year for me in my national park quest. For years and years, Kim and I would have gone on several trips each year, all with the sole purpose of marking dozens of parks off of our list.

This year, things had changed. Even so, I was able to make it to a bunch of new parks—eight to be precise—and also made return visits to 10 other ones.

Most of the return visits occurred during personal time extended onto existing work trips. All but one of the new visits happened during my summer roadtrip. It was great to be able to mark off a bunch of parks — I’m looking at you Manzanar and Devils Postpile — that I had driven past before but was never able to stop and see.

Return visits

First visits

  • Aztec Ruins National Monument
  • Manzanar National Historic Site
  • Devils Postpile National Monument
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Lava Beds National Monument
  • WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Tule Lake unit)
  • Oregon Caves National Monument

I considered ranking the parks I’ve seen this year, but it’s always difficult to choose amongst such cool places. Each is in their own way special, whether it’s because of the terrain or the memories you create there. However, a few of this year’s experiences stick out.

One of those moments was seeing the bat show at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Another was finally—finally!—visiting the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Or being part of some amazing sunset light at White Sands National Monument. Or collecting wild blackberries by kayak in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Or exploring Fern Canyon in Redwoods State and National Parks. Or spending several days kayaking through Canyonlands National Park.

There were certainly other moments, special moments, and others that are more forgettable, but each unique and special in its own way.

I’ve been particularly bad about posting photos and trip summaries from the trips I’ve taken this year. I’m hoping to start getting those up in the next few months.

So what are my 2011 National Park goals? I’m not sure yet—I suspect that it’ll be a relatively lean year, but I’m definitely hoping to mark off a few more. Do you have any national park trips planned this year?

Pleasant surprises in the national parks

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about my national park quest is that it pushes me to visit places I wouldn’t otherwise visit. It encourages me to step outside of what I know and am interested in to at least dabble in something new. I may not come away with a deep appreciation of that topic, but at least I’ll know a little bit more about it. Or, at the very least, know more about how I feel about it.

There have been a few of these places along the way. George Rogers Clark National Historic Park’s huge granite memorial, which clearly deserved to be the central attraction of a major city but was instead plopped down seemingly nowhere. The visitor center at Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site, which stands as the most emotionally moving I’ve seen. The incredibly high tree canopy of Congaree National Park, the largest remnant of an old growth floodplain forest on the continent, which seems tucked away in South Carolina. And so forth.

Add to that list Vicksburg National Military Park. Well, at least two components of it. I was greatly impressed with the Illinois Monument, which reminded me a bit of both the archives building and the George Rogers Clark memorial I mentioned above. And I was completely caught off guard by the USS Cairo (pronounced KAY-row). I remember seeing a picture of an armor-clad Civil War battleship back in school, but had no idea that we were going to see one until we turned the corner on the driving tour. Both unleashed those unexpected fleeting moments of excitement when you first realize that there’s something much cooler to this place than you had anticipated. The thrill of discovery, you might call it.

Touring the national parks has focused our attention on learning more about the country in which we live; experiencing, at least within a narrow focus, some of what it’s meant to be American or experience a bit of America. There have been a few disappointing parks we’ve visited, but it’s always because we wanted to learn more than the park has resources to provide. And even in those disappointments, we gain a new understanding of the natural or cultural heritage that we must continue to protect. But most of the time, we walk away excited and awed by some magnificent fact or memorable experience of a place we may not ever had taken the trouble to see. It’s these kinds of pleasant surprises that energize me through the year in protecting a new set of worthy places.

Roadtripping without our Forester

Our Forester in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

It feels like we’re being unfaithful.

In less than 72 hours, Kim and I will be departing on another of our national park roadtrips. It’ll be the first time we’ll be roadtripping sans Forester since we got her. It feels a little weird.

It’s the right decision to leave her at home – she’s in need of new tires, struts, and her check engine light has been blazing for a month or two now. And we’ll save some serious gas money on the trip, too. But we’ve created enough memories with her that it’s odd to plan a trip in a different vehicle.

Not that it’s been uncommon for us to take a trip in a borrowed vehicle. Our first trip together, to Las Vegas in March 1997, featured us rolling down Las Vegas Boulevard in my dad’s Cadillac (we didn’t even own a working car back then). We borrowed Jessica’s old – well, I forget what it was, but it was old – car to get to Mt Rainier National Park in 2002. And we’ve put nearly as many highway miles on my mom’s Highlander as she has. We enjoyed roadtrips in our Altima years ago, but even then, we often opted for my mom’s SUV.

This time, we’re borrowing my dad’s Prius (thanks Dad!). It’ll save us about $300 in gas on the trip, and well, its check engine light isn’t on. But it won’t be without its challenges. Our favorite cooler doesn’t fit in the trunk, and I’m not even sure our backup cooler will. It doesn’t have an auxillary jack for the iPod, or amazingly, even a cd player (I guess we’re back to using those cassette tape adaptors). It “features” golf-related bumper stickers. Worst of all is that we won’t be able to add to our (incomplete) collection of photos of the Forester in national park units. Or capture a shot of the odometer as it digitally rolls over to 130,000 miles. Or…well, you get the picture.

It’s funny how attached you can get to an old friend…