25 Aug
Posted in: travel
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One Thing that Changed Our Travels

multiple stamps in a National Park System passport

I remember five years ago standing in a visitor center making the decision to purchase a book titled, Passport To Your National Parks. I thought the book would be a nice way to remember places we visited but had no idea how much it would change the way our family travels. It was meant to be a souvenir but changed the way we travel.

Road leading to rock piles in Josua Tree National Park

The passport is a blue, small, spiral book where tourists can collect stamps from visits to National Park Service entities. The book is organized into nine regions and includes over 400 areas to visit across the United States and U.S. Territories. It permanently resides in the glove compartment of our vehicle. Our collection includes stamps from the most popular of national park destinations (Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yellowstone) to lesser known stops (Congaree National Park and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument).

Giant white sand dune in Great Sand Dune National Park

One of the first steps when we begin planning a road trip, after picking the end destination, is to pull out our national parks map that shows where all the entities are located in the U.S. to aid in route mapping. West of the Mississippi River is littered with national parks and monuments giving many options of places to visit. It’s a little trickier east of the Mississippi where national parks may be farther apart.

cathedral in San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

The National Park Service (NPS) turns 99 years old today. For almost one century, the organization has worked to protect and preserve our natural resources as well as educate about our history and safeguard our country’s treasures. Other countries have followed suit. NPS visitor centers are museums dedicated to teaching about nature, the science of our world, wildlife and the people and events that formed this country. Countless park rangers have taught my family over the years with the ease of seasoned college professors. This summer, I sat through a history lecture at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida and was floored, both by the gap in knowledge I have about the early years of the U.S. and the level of information the ranger easily shared. Our vacations are lengthy field trips.

Vista at The Needles in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

The NPS has helped increase my knowledge of this country I tend to take for granted. I’ve stood at overlooks and viewed unimaginable beauty and walked the halls of buildings showcasing some of our darker hours. My children know far more about this place we call home than most adults I know. Without knowing, that small book helped nudge me to become more invested in my country. I want to know more about our history. I want to stand in the places that shaped where we are today. I want to know the beauty of America. It’s not enough to call one small section of the U.S. home for me. I want to see and understand what makes America.

Massive arch in Arches National Park

Happy birthday and thank you to the National Park Service for opening doors in America that, five years ago, I didn’t know were there. Go find your park. I’m already making plans for summer 2016.

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