With our attention no longer focused on which bowl game we’ll be attending (um, none), we’re now in unusual territory in our quest to visit all of the National Park Service units: we can go wherever we please. Well, anywhere we can afford, at least. This year, that means anywhere within driving distance – and no place with snow.
With those limitations – and the caveat that we want to focus on units we haven’t been to yet – it’s really down to either the Bay Area, the California desert…or Texas. It’s all about strategy in choosing.
We’ve visited all but a few NPS units in the Bay Area (Eugene O’Neill, SF Maritime, Rosie the Riveter, and Port Chicago) but love the area and could easily bunk in with family and find other non-NPS sights to visit. We could also hit Mojave and the Santa Monica Mountains, two places that we’ve passed through, but haven’t really stopped in. However, we’re planning a roadtrip to a future ASU away game (maybe Stanford on Oct 24 next year) and we could easily find ourselves in the Emerald Bowl next year as well, so we can always do those units then.
Next on the list is the California desert. This trip would include stops at Mojave, Death Valley (we’ve been there, but didn’t get to see everything we wanted to), Manzanar (we drove past without stopping back in ’99), and maybe a stop at Santa Monica Mountains and/or Lake Mead. Most of these places are places we could visit in conjunction with a Vegas Bowl trip, or technically a Rose, Holiday, or even Poinsetta Bowl trip for that matter. They’re also close enough to just hit on a short 3-4 day trip.
Finally, there’s Texas. This trip would focus on Big Bend and Fort Davis, plus any other stops we could work in. But we always figured that we’d tack Big Bend and Fort Davis onto a Sun Bowl trip. We’ve also been “saving” Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns for an additional Sun Bowl trip or a shorter 4-5 day trip. Of course, we’ve also planned on taking a long roadtrip to hit the rest of the South, mostly focused on the units around the Gulf Coast – so we’d probably be driving passed these Texas units on that trip.
So, what did we decide? We’re headed to Texas.
Yeah, I know, it’s Texas – a state we do our best to avoid. But here’s the rationale. We’re quickly running out of trips that we can drive to, and Texas is far enough away to make for a serious roadtrip while not making us feel bad about eliminating shorter long-weekend-type trips. And, let’s face it, it’d be great to get Texas out of the way and instead fly into New Orleans and start the Gulf Coast loop from there.
So here are the units we’re considering hitting:
- Big Bend National Park
- Fort Davis National Historic Site
- Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
- Amistad National Recreation Area
- Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site
- Padre Island National Seashore
- San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
- The Alamo (not a NPS unit, but hard to pass by without stopping)
- Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park
- Chamizal National Memorial
Other possible add-ons:
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Big Thicket National Preserve
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
- Fort Bowie National Historic Site (a unit on my 101 list)
- Austin – yes not a unit, but we need something to do on Jan 1 when NPS units are closed.
That trip would get most of Texas done in a little over a week, and if we were able to tack on Big Thicket and Guadalupe Mountains, then we would actually completely finish off the state. Of course, Guadalupe Mountains would get done whenever we do Carlsbad Caverns, and Big Thicket could easily be incorporated into the Gulf Coast loop, so we won’t be orphaning these units if we skip them this time around.
It’s not a particularly glamorous National Park roadtrip, with only Big Bend making on to my top 25 NPS units I still haven’t seen list. But it does get a bunch of stuff done – and hopefully for cheap, as we can camp at most of the units (or in adjacent state parks). And while Big Bend is definitely the main attraction, though I think it will be interesting to see The Alamo and some of the San Antonio Missions, and you never know when you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
We’re still planning the trip, but I’ll post the final trip plans whenever they come together.