Now that the story has been told, what exactly did our Westward Wanderlust 2012 add up to?
First, the quantifiable stats:
Days on the Road – 23
Miles Traveled – 9,185.8
National Parks – 19
National Monuments – 3
National Forests – 26
States Entered – 15
Nights in our Tent – 10
Nights Sleeping in the Car – 9
Nights Spent in a Hotel/Cabin – 4
Not necessarily wanting to purchase a t-shirt or hat everywhere we went, but still wanting to commemorate each destination, we decided to purchase patches at each of the National Parks we visited and create our own souvenir. An inexpensive, small, and easily displayable option, we enjoyed choosing our park patch at each visitor center. After we got home, we had a friend make a canvas flag to which we sewed each patch we had acquired. Starting with patches we had saved from visits to Acadia, Alaska, the Apostle Islands Lakeshore, and the Smokey Mountains, we created a tangible reminder of what we had accomplished. It also served as a reminder of what we still wanted to do. We yearned to fill the white space with more patches, signifying more parks, more travel, and more experiences. Once the patches had all been stitched on, we tacked the flag on our bedroom door. Everyday we walked past our display and sighed, wanting time to move faster. There was no question we were taking another trip in the summer of 2013.
We poured over our maps and Mike’s book planning, plotting, and figuring how long we would be able to be gone and how far we could go. We jealously guarded our summer calendar, trying our best not to fill it with other plans and commitments. We saved our pennies and focused any spending on items that would be useful for travel, camping, and photography. We tried to hike and snowshoe as often as possible to keep our legs and lungs in shape. Anything that we could do to prepare for or anticipate the possibility of a 2013 trip was important to us.
Planning for a 2013 summer trip also played a key role for both of us in getting through the long, busy 2012-2013 school year. Not only did planning our next trip give us something fantastic to look forward to, but we also relished the opportunity to relive our 2012 experiences in preparation for each blog post. Almost every week we were able to sit down together and take a short vacation. As I read aloud from my travel journal, D reminded me of road names and forgotten stops or recited the order of events for a particular block of time. We paged through pictures, recalling favorite memories and experiences. We traced our fingers along highlighted route in our atlas, reminiscing long night drives and memorable mountain roads. We looked forward to having more time to spend on the road this summer, which in turn meant more time in some of the parks. With our hearts set on new experiences in the Southwest and repeat but longer visits to some of our favorite parks, we could hardly wait for summer to arrive.
But before we get to 2013, I’d like to share a few thoughts from 2012. As I have expressed throughout this travelogue, we took so much more away from our journey than a list of numbers and a flag full of patches. The National Parks are…
A Place to Share
I don’t know how many times while we were on our trip that I turned to D and said, “I wish everyone I love was here with me.” The National Parks are places I want to share. They filled me with feeling of peace, beauty, happiness, and excitement, feelings I want to share with my family and friends. One of the best aspects of this summer was the fact that D and I shared our experience with each other. Together, we witnessed some of America’s most beautiful places, best hikes, most interesting natural features, and became a part of the history of these places. We did our part to support The Parks financially by purchasing and annual parks pass and camping in the parks, environmentally by practicing responsible travel and exploration habits, and culturally by sharing the impact The Parks had on us with others and encouraging everyone to experience it for themselves. We are only 2 of the 282.7 million people who visited the National Parks in 2012, but there were so many times that it felt like we were the only ones there – that day, that place, that experience had been created just for us. The Parks can be just as much a place of solitude and intimacy as a place of community and togetherness.
A Place for Wonder
The National Parks are an excellent option for family-friendly travel. The Junior Ranger Program being only one example, there are endless options for activities that will engage children and families in their park experience. We saw several children that had home-made journals in which they were drawing a plant on the side of a trail, or recording the time a geyser went off, or telling the story of the bison herd they saw while they were eating breakfast. Involving children in natural experiences can also excite their (and your) sense of wonder. Phrases like “Wow!” “Did you see that?” “What is that?” “Cool!” and “That was awesome!” can remind us to appreciate the moment we are experiencing. Share that moment of awe and wonder with your loved one and recall that yes, it is awesome that you just saw a moose cow and her calf right outside your campsite, or yes, I did see the that massive redwood tree, let’s go look at it, or wow, you’re right, I didn’t notice how many different colors there are in the sky right now. The National Parks are a great place to recall that feeling of wonder that was so present in childhood when you saw something that was new, or something you couldn’t explain, or just something that was so fantastic that all you could do was shout for joy.
A Place of Change
A particular argument can also be made for repeated visits to any of the National Parks. Be it a result of the evolution of environment, natural disaster, climate change, or human interaction, The Parks are always changing. The environment of any National Park will never be exactly the same as the last time you visited it. This is obviously evident in places like Glacier where you can plainly see how glacial structures have receded and disappeared over time. But there are many more subtle changes that are taking place too. Efforts to revive populations of native animals or plants, or to exterminate invasive species, changes the biological landscape of The Parks. Road and building management in order to accommodate visitors and personnel can change or improve what you are able to access or experience in The Parks, but can also increase the amount of human impact on the environment. The point is that the experience you have at a National Park is singular. There will never be another day exactly like this one, so experience it, appreciate it, memorize it, be thankful for it. Be ready the next time you visit to consider what may have changed. What new gift will The Parks give you on your next visit? And your next?
Well, with 2012 summed up we are ready to transition into the 2013 trip. Yay! To give you an idea of what’s to come, we were gone for 40 DAYS!
During that time we…
- Visited 11 new parks/monuments
- Revisited 5 old favorites
- Spent 2 weeks in the Southwest
- Saw multiple grizzly bears
- Climbed Angel’s Landing (again)
- Camped in a temperate rainforest
- Fly-fished in the Snake River, WY
- Shared our first backcountry hike-in camping experience
- Spent an afternoon with icebergs
- Hiked 6 miles in 102 degrees
- Camped less than 3 miles from a herd of buffalo on the verge of the rut
- Learned to identify various edible wild berries
- Were startled by a kangaroo rat
- Found out that Arizona has a monsoon season (who knew?)
- Saw two double rainbows
And much, MUCH more! I hope you decide to join us on our next National Park journey: Wanderlust 2013 – 40 Days in Motion
See you on the road!