The National Park Travelers Club featured our family in The Stamp Pad. This national park club is a fantastic organization to be a part of. The Stamp Pad is the official newsletter of the National Park Travelers Club.

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A Family’s American Adventure

“59 before 18” is the title we gave to our quest to see all 59 American national parks together as a family before our children turn 18 years old. I am the father who grew up in New Jersey and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend the university. I met Alisa, my wife of 16 years, there, and we both graduated. We continue to live here along with our two boys, Luke and Winston. In 2009, we flew to California to visit with some friends and traveled to Yosemite National Park. This was our first national park hiking experience. Obviously, the landscape was majestic, but the idea that this land was ours as Americans created a feeling of euphoria for me.

When we returned home, I discovered that I enjoyed the feeling of traveling together with my family. Road trips actually brought us closer together. Not much later, instead of taking the highway to get to Washington D.C., we decided to drive the entire Blue Ridge Parkway via the Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park. Our friends thought we were nuts, but I loved it. What they did not understand was that the destination was not always the objective. We could have fun just as long as we were together.

Soon, I started researching how we could drive out west across the United States to visit more parks. I planned our first national park family vacation for the summer of 2010. We bought a park passport and canceled 12 parks on that trip (Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Arches,

Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, and Great Smoky Mountains). We took two weeks, and our trip itinerary was based on the National Park System Map and Guide. We did visit other parks in the system, and the boys had fun stamping their passport, but we did not enjoy them as much as the full national parks. I turned 40 years old on the drive home.

When I went back to work on Monday, I was a new person. I diagnosed myself as addicted to exploring our national parks. I was obsessed. My customers at least said it was a good addiction. To my surprise, there was a park about 90 minutes from our home. So, the next weekend, we canceled Congaree and hiked 15 miles in the swamp. It was the most difficult thing to this day we have ever done. We were cocky because we had just come back from our vacation. Giant spiders were hanging from trees along the trail, and there was no place to sit and relax. However, we discovered something new about ourselves: we can overcome and be happy as long as we are together, even when the most difficult things happen to us.

We took advantage of the extended Labor Day weekend that year and drove to cancel Mammoth Cave. During the boys’ winter break, we drove south to cancel Everglades, Dry Tortugas, and Biscayne. During the next few weeks, we came up with the idea to see all of the 58 parks (the 59th park, Pinnacles, was upgraded from a national monument to a national park on January 10, 2013). When I wanted to film our adventures, create a website, and so much more, my boys thought I was crazy. They did not understand the thought of creating a goal and trying to accomplish it yet. At that time, Luke was 14, and Winston was 12. We have been blessed with good weather and no major issues on any of our trips so far. We spend a lot of time planning these adventures and experiencing each new place for the first time and sharing every moment together is the best part.

For our 2011 two-week summer vacation, we flew to Portland, Oregon and rented a car. We drove over 4,500 miles and canceled seven more national parks (Mount Rainier, Glacier, North Cascades, Olympic, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, and Crater Lake). A friend of mine from North Carolina actually moved to Portland, Oregon that week, and we drove more than he did. Once again, he thought we were insane, but we had the time of our lives. Additionally, we canceled Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio during the same weekend.

The next winter break we planned a wild drive to New Mexico and back in fewer than 11 days. We canceled Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and Hot Springs. During the summer of 2012, our vacation was ambitious. We flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and within two weeks canceled eleven parks (Death Valley, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Channel Islands, Joshua Tree, Saguaro, Petrified Forest, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, and Great Basin). We arrived in Death Valley at 3:00 am, yet our desire for the making the most of each day never waned.

With 42 parks successfully canceled, the quest started becoming strategic. For Christmas, we went to Virgin Islands National Park. To save money on the plane flight to St. John, we drove to Miami. Our lodging was at a campground, and we slept in a modified screened porch. This became Luke’s favorite park. It was certainly a treat with the warm weather, our first underwater snorkeling trail, and hiking across the entire island in one magnificent day.

In 2013, we planned a massive road trip across 27 states to cancel the last four parks in the lower 48, not including Pinnacles. During our planning for this, we realized that this quest had provided us with an added bonus of visiting every state in America. This 17-day journey began with a drive to North Dakota (Theodore Roosevelt), up to Minnesota (Voyageurs), northeast on a boat into Michigan (Isle Royale), and all the way east to Maine (Acadia). Finally, we drove back home for a total of 6,600 miles in the same 2008 Honda Accord in which we took on our first national park family vacation.

So with 47 out of the 59 canceled, only two trips are left. The first will be the most luxurious. We are flying to Hawaii. Our 48th park will be Haleakala. Next, we are flying to the National Park of American Samoa. The 50th park will be Hawaii Volcanoes. Lastly, we will fly to Los Angeles, rent a car, drive to cancel Pinnacles, drive back to LA, and fly home. This trip has ten flights and will probably be the best 15 days of our lives.

After that, all that are left are the eight national parks in Alaska. It has taken me over three months to plan and organize. However, I have everything figured out and scheduled for July and August 2014. It will take us three weeks, but it can be accomplished. These last two trips have taken a serious toll on our finances, and I am thankful for the ability to do this without any sponsorship. Luke is 16, and Winston will be 15 when they reach their “59 before 18.” They both fully understand that aspirations for college have been paid for already. They know what they need to do to help me fulfill their dreams. But for right now, we are living a dream. Our dream is coming true right before our eyes. We are spending quality time together, visiting the most beautiful places in the United States (our national parks), as well as seeing our great nation of America.

The Stamp Pad Summer 2013 National Park Travelers Club Page 11