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

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

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.

 

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?

Celebrate National Park Week with free admission all week

My next park visit: kayaking through Canyonlands National Park

The National Park System includes some of the most significant and inspiring places in the country. The parks have played a special role in my life, and this is a great opportunity to experience them.

From the National Park Foundation, who is partnering with the National Park Service on it:

Celebrate National Park Week April 17th – 25th, and celebrate what we all have inherited as Americans — 84 million acres of the world’s most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures. Together we are owners of this land, and this National Park Week, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation invite you to pass along this tradition. Introduce a young person to their national parks and introduce them to a new world of experiences that can shape their future, protect our environment, and preserve our American legacy.
Share a park, and shape a life.

Whether you are visiting, volunteering or interested in sharing your national park experience with the world, below you will find all the resources you need to make your National Park Week experience a memorable one. Start by downloading your guide to participating in National Park Week.

National Park Week also means free entrance or admission to any of America’s 392 national parks. There are lots of great places comprising a variety of resources—there’s definitely something out there for everyone.

Be sure to check out the complete listing of events, many of which are scheduled for Earth Day. It’s also a great time to bring your kids to the national parks—April 24 is also National Junior Ranger Day. It’s one of my favorite government programs.

Guns in National Parks is a dumb idea

Earlier this week, the law permitting loaded firearms in National Parks went into effect. In order to force it through, the bill had been attached as an amendment to the unrelated credit card reform bill. The new law repeals the Reagan-era practice of allowance of guns in parks, as long as they were unloaded and stored.

There are some obvious concerns about the enforcement of poaching laws and general safety.

But what concerns me most about guns in parks is the chilling effect it will have on visitor management.

If someone is packing heat, fellow visitors will be less likely to engage in friendly reminders or report when that person is damaging or stealing park resources.

Even more to the point, unarmed interpretative park rangers will be more reluctant to confront—or even make contact with—someone who is armed. I’ve personally seen this happen several times while doing ride-alongs with rangers in BLM-managed national monuments and have asked park service rangers about it too.

There’s no reason to need loaded guns in national parks, but there are many reasons to keep them out.

A short guide to park passes

When someone hears about my national park quest, they often ask me if I’ve visited a particular place that they have enjoyed. As often as not, the location they mention is not part of the National Park System.

That’s not particularly surprising. There are a wide variety of land management agencies at the national, state, and local level—each of which have different purposes, rules, and fees. Unless you’re really paying attention, it’s easy to get confused.

If you’re inclined to buy an annual park pass—which I hope you’ll consider doing—it’s important to understand what you’re getting. I’m using metro Phoenix as the example here, so your local passes may vary.

So in the interest of clarity, here’s a quick rundown:

Maricopa County Parks

This includes just the 10 or so regional parks in Maricopa County, Arizona. The big question is whether or not you’ll be boating at Lake Pleasant—there’s one annual pass for the lake, and a separate one for the rest of the parks. Other counties or metro areas may or may not have their own park systems and annual passes.

Arizona State Parks

This includes the state parks that are still open. Again, you’ll need to decide if you’ll be doing a lot of boating. The standard pass doesn’t include the river parks on weekends (Friday-Sunday) or holidays, while the premier pass does. All states have a state park system, but their rules for annual passes varies.

Arizona State Trust Lands

This includes state trust lands (which are not considered public lands) and is actually a permit, so be sure to read the fine print as they include some important restrictions. You won’t find any visitor services here. Most Western states have their own systems of state trust lands; their primary purpose is not recreation, so don’t expect park-like amenities or rules.

Federal lands

This includes National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management lands where you pay an entrance fee. If it has the word “national” in the name of the area, it probably fits under this heading. There’s a single pass called the America the Beautiful: the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that is supposed to cover entrance fees for all of these.

A very important note here. Some National Forests, including several in Arizona, now exclude some very popular fee areas from being covered by this pass. They call some of these sites with “enhanced amenities” and others are technically operated by a private permittee or concessionaire, but you and I might not notice the difference. Yes, this is total bullshit that’s still a better-than-nothing attempt to deal with the inadequate budgets Congress appropriates for our public lands. These areas also often have their own local Forest pass (Tonto Pass, Red Rock Pass or Grand Red Rock Pass, and the Coronado Pass are Arizona examples) with daily and annual options which vary with each national forest.

You can also get a highly reduced or free pass if you are:

A few additional tips

  • You can usually buy these pass at any staffed entrance station or visitor center.
  • Many places have annual passes for a specific park location.
  • These passes usually admit a carload but don’t cover any additional fees—like camping or tour fees.
  • Areas managed by a concessionaire aren’t covered in the federal pass, even for basic things like parking or entrance fees.

Speaking of park passes, don’t you think we should have an America the Beautiful pass for kids?