I first became obsessed with America’s National Parks in the summer of 2004. I was 23 years old and had just finished college. I went on an 11-day solo road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I went on five more road trips out west over the next seven years. The following year I got married, and then the year after that I flew to Las Vegas with my wife and in-laws. We rented a van and drove around the Southwest for eight days. All told, I went on seven National Park trips in ten years.
I have been to twenty National Parks in the U.S. and three more in Canada. I have returned to several of my favorites, visiting those 23 parks a total of 38 times. I went on two trips with my wife, two with a friend, and three by myself. I would have done much more traveling if I could, but I live in Western New York and it’s a 24-hour drive just to reach Denver.
I typically went on the road for about three weeks at a time, but once traveled for 37 days with my friend Joe. We stopped at eight National Parks on that 10,000 mile trip. When I wasn’t visiting National Parks I was usually planning my next trip. I spent a lot of time reading about different parks and studying up on hiking options. I also wrote about my hikes and adventures within the great parks. I spent a lot of time hiking some of the best trails in the world and photographing breathtaking vistas.
My time in the National Parks has significantly shaped me into the person I am today. My utmost interests and hobbies have grown to revolve around National Parks and the outdoors. I am especially passionate about outdoor photography and hiking, but also spend a lot of time reading and writing about the National Parks. I think that my journeys, especially the ones I made alone, helped make me more independent.
I still love the National Parks, but things have changed drastically for me. My wife has given birth twice since our last journey to the west. Noah turned three years old this month and our little Charlotte celebrated her first birthday in May. As much as I love the National Parks and the outdoors in general, my family is now the most important thing in my life. I adore my wife and kids and every one of my days revolves around them.
I know there are plenty of dads out there that are very busy with long hours, work-related travel, or second jobs. Others have hobbies or interests that might limit their time with their children. By no means am I saying there’s anything wrong with that or that those people are bad fathers. But that’s not me. I am with my family virtually all of the time before and after work, and that’s the way I like it. I’m actually far along in the process of writing a book about being a new dad and how it has changed my life (it should probably be done about a year from now).
I suppose I could go into the wilderness with my youngsters, but that doesn’t seem like the best idea to me with their age. I know there are a lot of hardcore outdoorsy people that strap their babies on their back and head out into the backcountry. But backpacking with a baby doesn’t sound like fun to me. I also can’t imagine a baby getting any enjoyment out of it. However, Noah is now at the age where he loves to be outside and is getting more interested in nature. He’s gone on a couple of short hikes with me and said he enjoys it, which makes me ecstatic.
If we lived out west this would be different. I’d try to get out more often and would insist on taking the kids to see some sights at any National Parks that were within driving distance. They are simply too far away for my liking.
I may be on a hiatus from traveling to my favorite places, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about them. Not even close. My National Park adventures have provided me with a lifetime of incredible memories. I’ve seen glaciers and giant sequoias, explored slot canyons, and watched geysers erupt. I hiked high above Yellowstone and deep into the Grand Canyon. I watched the sunrise over Crater Lake and have seen plenty of unforgettable sunsets. I have watched a couple of Search and Rescue missions unfold and narrowly avoided being the subject of others. I will never forget pulling myself up the treacherous cables to the summit of Half Dome or hiking among the mysterious hoodoos in Bryce Amphitheater.
The smallest things in my daily life will cause a fond memory to pop into my head. Sometimes something as simple as a smell will take me back somewhere. One night last week, I looked up into the night’s sky and saw more stars than usual. It brought me back to a walk I took in a Yellowstone campground when the stars were so abundant and so bright that I didn’t need to use a flashlight.
Needless to say, I’ve already begun planning future National Park adventures in my head. I really enjoyed introducing my wife, Ashley, to the amazing parks of the west and I can’t wait to do the same with my kids. I can wait a few more years, though. Flying with the kids is not one of my favorite things to do, but I’m expecting that to change in a couple years.
Some of the things that I’m most looking forward to…
Seeing that look of amazement on my children’s faces when Old Faithful erupts
Watching mountain goats
And bears (from a safe distance).
Seeing the gigantic waterfalls of Yosemite Valley
Gazing up at the jagged Cathedral Group of the Teton Range
And watching the sunset make Delicate Arch glow orange.
Being mesmerized by the deep blue Crater Lake.
Walking through mountain meadows covered by wildflowers in Glacier
And walking among giant sequoias in Yosemite.
Watching the sun drop into the Pacific Ocean
And seeing the rainforests in Olympic.
The majority of my blog posts thus far have been stories of hikes from my past National Parks out west. It will take some time, but I will eventually run out of those. Thankfully, my family and I are now getting outside more often and making memories that I have started writing about. We have made our Summer Bucket List and are trying to check off items every week. I’ve blogged about our family excursions to the beach and about a hike in a nearby park recently. I have some other things in the works, too.
So, the National Parks are no longer my greatest passion. That position is now owned by my family. I’m really excited to combine the two, but it can wait. There are plenty of other fun and memorable activities I can enjoy with my family in the meantime.
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