RoadVenture With Dad – A Day in Northern Virginia

Since I am home for more than the requisite amount of time to hang out in my bed or with my family, my dad and I decided to take a day trip to see some local sights neither of us had seen, much like our national park road trips all through my high school years. Believe it or not, there are several (okay, plenty) of National Park Service places within driving distance that I have not yet seen, so today we set out to explore some sites in northern Virginia. Originally, Dad wanted to do a 2 or 3 day driving trip, across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, then down the peninsula to cross the Bay Bridge Tunnel and wind up in Norfolk, then hit up Richmond before heading home. I’m actually glad we didn’t, because apparently a tractor-trailer crashed off the Bay Bridge and into the water.

So that happened.


Great Falls Park, via the Fairfax County Board of Tourism. We saw the falls, but not the greenery.

Anyway, at about 11:00 AM, after about 1 hour and 20 minutes of driving, we ended up at Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia. There was a little visitor center, but ultimately, not a lot to see there. Fortunately, it was not too cold to be outside, but it wasn’t warm enough to take a stroll into the park either, especially if we were going to see some other parks. It is probably a much better sight to see in the summer, with all the trees and whatnot.


Wolf Trap Farm Park is America’s only national park devoted solely to the performing arts. This is pretty much all I saw of it. Photo from Copper.org

From there, we drove through what is probably one of the ritziest neighborhoods I’ve ever seen (I’m talking giant mansions with golden gates), we ended up at Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. Again, since it was the middle of the week in the winter, not a lot going on. There were a few other people hanging around at Great Falls, but we were literally the only people at Wolf Trap; it was so deserted that I actually had to go up to whatever buildings I could find so I could get someone to give me the stamp for my National Parks Passport. Eventually, I found someone who worked in admin to unlock the ranger station for me, and I didn’t want to impinge on his time so we left quickly.

After lunch at a totally shi-shi mall in Tyson’s Corner (I’m talking Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, BCBG Max Azria) and a few geocaches in Falls Church, we decided to head to Arlington to see the Arlington National Cemetery. It was only 3 PM and the cemetery was open until 5, but we were planning on meeting the rest of the family for dinner in Rockville on our way home, so we went anyway. Here’s a tip: get directions before you go. We ended up driving into a restricted military area near the Pentagon, and almost did it again a few miles down the road. Eventually, a helpful man in uniform gave us better directions than Google Maps (thanks a mill, Siri), and we made it to the cemetery. And even more remarkably, despite having served in the military and lived within driving distance of the cemetery for 98% of his life, my dad had never been before.

Fortunately, it had gotten a little warmer, but unfortunately, since we arrived at 3:45, things were actually beginning to shut down a little. At the cemetery visitor’s center, the ranger told us that the Robert E. Lee Memorial (Arlington House) was actually closing at 4:30, so it would be tough to make it there and have time to see anything. So instead, we just moseyed around the cemetery. I felt bad about having to rush, especially when we had to stand on the curb and wait for a funeral cortege to pass by, but it was needed. At least we got to look at some of the cemetery, which is incredible to see; acres and acres of identical white gravestones with red and green wreaths propped up against each one, in perfect straight lines. We also got to see the graves of John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and their two children who died in infancy. They are buried around an Eternal Flame; I didn’t feel right taking pictures, but it was a very emotional monument and I am sure that anyone who was alive during the Kennedy presidency would definitely feel something (I wasn’t, and I sure did). I would have liked to have seen more, including Arlington House, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the LBJ Memorial Grove, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but I’ll definitely come back someday to take a second visit. A bit of trivia: only two presidents are buried at the cemetery (JFK and William Howard Taft).

If you’re in the DC area, definitely check out Arlington Cemetery, it’s hallowed, spiritual, and worth paying to park.


Arlington National Cemetery: a neat freak’s delight. Photo from Vietnam Veterans of America.

Four graves.jpg

Graves of the Four Kennedys and the Eternal Flame, from wikimedia commons


It’s Fossil Butte NOT Butt

Well hello there, you’ve caught me in a respite between bouts of nighttime sneezing, so here’s the lowdown on all the exciting things that happened on Day 3 of Summer Odyssey 2015.

The theme of the day: exploration! We got up bright and early, and were out of the apartment by 9 AM for a day of fun. I think I nodded off in the car for some of the trip, but two hours later and we had crossed into Wyoming, the 41st state I can say I’ve been in. We stopped off in Evanston for gas, snacks, and a bathroom break, but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves (well, we arrived, we knew where we were going) at Fossil Butte National Monument outside Kemmerer, WY. On the way, I taught the group the “We Call It Butte NOT Butt” song, and even though someone was always singing it, it never became unfunny. That’s the best.

Unlike yesterday’s national park adventure, today we practically had the place to ourselves. The weather was gorgeous; not too hot or cold, bright sunshine, blue skies, and a cool breeze. Walking along to the visitors center is a railing which is also a giant timeline denoting when certain things appeared, like sponges and bacteria, and when certain landforms came to be. It wrapped around the whole visitor center and was very informative. Human beings were only a tiny red arrow at the end; makes you feel so, so small.

Even though the visitors center is pretty small, we spent about an hour there looking at fossil imprints of everything from plants to seeds to bugs to animals to…fossilized poop. That was a crowd favorite. As we watched, a park ranger carved a fossil out of stone right before our eyes. It was incredible – the real deal – an ichthyologist at work. Ramona actually came up with some seriously interesting questions for a 4-year-old; she wanted to know where on the body of the fish do they start etching, the head or the tail, and how do they know how big it will be? The ranger, Andy, told her (and us) that they always start at the head, when they find it. Based on how the fish is facing, they work down the body to the tail, and usually it just tapers down. Important to know, or else they just be chipping away at empty stone all day. We also learned that they have found fossilized fish with other fossilized fish in their mouths; a sign that the bigger fish probably choked to death.

And that’s why you always chew your food, kids.

After learning that valuable lesson, getting some souvenirs, and Junior Ranger badges for the girls, we headed to the trail for a picnic lunch. You just can’t beat cheese sandwiches in a gazebo looking out over the wilderness. Then, we headed off on our post-lunch hike. It was not as strenuous as the hike up to Timpanogos, but just like yesterday, Iris and I played trailblazer and sped ahead of Julie and Nathan who were corralling Ramona and hoping she’d want to walk more instead of riding on her dad’s shoulders in the heat. They caught up to us at the halfway point, and just as we headed out, Julie told us to look out for black bears. Somehow, this ended up becoming a giant story about evil teddy bears, and Iris and I went back and forth creating an entire movie treatment complete with sound effects as we hiked, and before we knew it, we were back at the car. The other three came back, reporting that Julie had gotten stung by a bee, and that they saw a big rattlesnake in the path (which we probably missed because we were lost in our own world) and headed back home. On the way, we saw a huge herd of pronghorn deer, plenty of cows, and not much else. Still, the “not much else” of Wyoming was more beautiful in color than most other places. As the earth-tones of Wyoming faded into the Utah green, it was hard to believe that we’d been sitting in a car for almost three hours each way. With so much to see and fun conversations going on in the car, it was almost like no time at all.

Back in town, I treated everyone to all-you-can-eat sushi, which might have been a huge mistake for the tummy but it was so, so good after a tough day of hiking. I polished off four rolls so quickly it was like they were not even there.

Tomorrow: my last full day in Utah 😦 other than the altitude headaches and the constant sneezing/nose bleeds I’ve been enduring, it’s just so beautiful and fun here. This time tomorrow night, I’ll be spending the night on an uncomfortable plane from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia, then to Baltimore for Leg 2.

Better press publish before my computer clock rolls over to tomorrow even though it’s only 10:55 PM here.



Man, Utah really does a number on the nervous system.

Even though this post is going to technically be published on July 21st, my computer is on Central Time, and I’m currently sitting here and writing this at 11:24 PM Mountain Time here in Julie’s living room in Orem, Utah. This is also the middle of Phase One of my 2015 Summer Odyssey, and kicking it off in a new state – number 40 for me – has, so far, been great.

So, to recap:

Yesterday (July 19) = Day One. Awake at 6-something after being to excited/anxious/nervous to sleep. At least I didn’t have to move apartments this time around. Actually, that made last time somewhat easier, but this time, I could get lazy about cleaning/packing since I could pretty much leave my apartment as is. Basically, I cleaned the floor, washed the dishes, and took out the trash before I left, but I left with half a hamper full of laundry and a bathroom that hadn’t been scrubbed clean in a long time. Once in the cab, I had my first mini-heart-attack of the trip, when I realized my camera was missing before we turned off Conklin Avenue. It ended up stuck between the seats of the cab, for some reason.

Security at Dane County Airport was a breeze, and soon enough I was on my first flight, on United Airlines from Madison to Denver, Colorado. On the flight, I sat with a high school kid who was on his way to Orange County. The flight was two and a half hours, and even though I don’t normally sleep on planes, I think I nodded off for at least thirty minutes.

Arriving at Denver Airport, I had about a half hour to book it from Gate B20 to Gate B77, just barely enough time to get on the plane. This one was much smaller, with a very loud engine. I had to gate-check my bag as it wouldn’t fit in the compartment.

Then, finally, Salt Lake City. Julie and family timed it perfectly and we had a happy reunion at the airport, before heading out into the beautiful Utah sunshine.


Utah. Is. GORGEOUS. Everywhere you look, it’s a different color, from red rock to yellow sand to green and brown mountains. The sky isn’t as big as Texas but the blue is striking on a sunny day. They informed me that Salt Lake City, being a Mormon hot spot, shuts down on Sundays almost completely, which I found to be totally weird. Fortunately, we found a great little Italian place that seemed relatively new. It’s strange; a setting of ancient mountains, yet everything looks brand new.

Soon enough we arrived at their lovely apartment in downtown Orem, a suburb of Salt Lake City. After a short break to catch up and catch our breath, we headed on out to Bridal Veil Falls, and even though there were tons of people there, we still got a great little hike in to a beautiful waterfall. It was so refreshing to feel the cool mist on my face, while watching idiots ignore the “no climbing” signs and try not to die. It stays light until almost 10 PM here, so it was broad daylight when we went home for a light dinner. After the little girls went to bed, Julie and Nathan and I sat up with wine and chocolate until about midnight.

Bringing us to Day 2, which was today. A bit of a late start so I could sleep in from the trip and get adjusted to the time difference. We were going to take a long road trip today, but the forecast seemed a little uncertain so we went to Timpanogos Cave National Monument in American Fork, only 45 minutes or so away. Once there, I bought Iris a National Parks Passport and introduced her to the wonderful world of stamping. I love spoiling other peoples’ kids. We thought we could just go in, but it turns out you need to buy tickets for a guided tour, which is the only way you can see the caves! Fortunately, Nathan snapped up the last few tickets of the day, a 5:45 PM tour.

And the time? 11:45 AM.

Fortunately we had looked up some places to explore nearby in Salt Lake City, so after lunch at a Whole Foods cafe, we headed over to a spot I’d found, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. It’s a “visionary art environment,” in every sense of the word, complete with a Sphinx with Joseph Smith’s head, stone books, and rocks with bible quotes. It was small, (about the size of an average home’s backyard), but perfect for Ramona, Julie’s littlest, to run around in and imagine and ask questions.

Then, Julie found info about a nearby International Peace Garden, so off we went. Now this place? Super cool. It was built in 2002 for the Olympics, and it’s a pretty large park with different pavilions and mini-gardens representing different countries. Right near the entrance is a Chinese hut with a little pond, then right after that, some Greek columns, and on it went from there. It was beautifully designed, even though it seemed kind of arbitrary since other than the architecture and flags, the flowers all seemed to be the same. Iris and I walked around and hit the highlights, including a Margaret Thatcher bust in the England Garden; a tiny house in Switzerland; a mini-maze in Korea; an Eiffel Tower sculpture in France; and a giant harp in Wales. We also saw gardens for Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Lebanon, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, Philippines, Japan, India, a general idea of Africa, and oddly enough, the Pacific island nation of Tonga. Iris was disappointed that there was no Madagascar or Australia. The only ones we missed were Scotland and America, maybe we breezed by those too quickly.

Then, back to the main attraction of the day: Timpanogos Cave. I’m getting a little tired, so maybe I’ll add more description in a future post, but I can describe it in a few words: hot, cold, amazing, and cute. Hot: the hike up to the cave. Steep trail, blazing heat, but fantastic views. Cold: Once inside the caves, we all needed jackets and were shivering when we finally emerged at the end of the hour and a half long cave tour. Amazing: all the stuff we saw and learned in the caves. Beautiful, glowing calcite formations, majestic flow stone, stalactites and stalagmites, tiny underground pools, intricate patterns on the walls and ceiling, and trying not to get too wet from the drippy drippy drips. Going down was a breeze, all the way to the cute: Ramona and Iris doing the Junior Ranger program. Julie shot a video on her phone and took pictures, it was adorable. Then, back to civilization for Smashburger and Menchie’s (we deserved all those calories!) and back home for bed

My first impression of Utah (well, after beautiful): ah-choo. I’ve been sneezing and already had two nosebleeds, in addition to a scratchy throat and headaches, just from the altitude, it seems. I go to the gym nearly every day, yet I got winded really easily on the hikes, from easy Bridal Veil to tough Timpanogos. I am constantly thirsty, and my voice has cracked a few times. Also, it seems like people here can have some serious attitude; twice we almost got slammed into by other drivers, and there was a certain air of holier-than-thou-ness about a lot of the people we saw, save for the awesome and patient National Park rangers. Seriously. This older lady literally pushed past me at Menchie’s without so much as a “sorry,” and it just seemed like I kept getting in peoples’ way.

That’s all for today, I guess.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures tomorrow, and any important details from today I may have forgot.


Road Trip 3: The Carolinas, 2002

I can’t think of anything really interesting to post about today – it was a pretty low key day, all things considered, and nothing really leaped out at me that PO’ed me or made me really happy. Ran for the first time in several days, which was nice. Even if the treadmill was conspiring to kill me with its rattling…

So here’s Road Trip 3: North and South Carolina, 2002.

A prologue to this trip: we had discovered geocaching a year before, so we were all set to do that. Also, my dad had decided that he was tired of the long drives, and since I was nowhere near being able to drive, we did a hub-and-spoke fly/drive trip, with Charlotte, NC as our “home base.”

Day 1 (August 8, 2002): We flew from Baltimore to Charlotte, North Carolina. We got there early enough in the day that we could dip down into South Carolina to get the first two stamps of the trip, Kings Mountain NHP and Cowpens NB. We did a fun virtual cache at Kings Mountain that led us around the park.

Day 2: We spent the day geocaching around Charlotte, and found five geocaches (which was mind-blowingly amazing – and remember, this is papered caching as well), and probably did something else semi-interesting.

Day 3: Shabbat. This was (admittedly) a mistake. We had only incorporated Shabbat into our plans once before, and that was all the way back in 1999, when we spent it in New York City with family. This time around, we were a) in a hotel, b) in a hotel in Charlotte, NC, and c) in a hotel in Charlotte, NC in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. We couldn’t even walk around outside the hotel grounds because we were surrounded by highways. So, naturally, it was boring and sort of wasted.

Day 4: Back in the saddle. This day, we went to Columbia, South Carolina to get the Congaree Swamp NM stamp and do some geocaches around town. Congaree Swamp was exciting for me because it was the first real “natural” park we’d ever seen on our trips and it was nice to visit somewhere and not be inundated with history and exhibits. We walked on an elevated walkway through the forest and saw a bunch of lizards, big and small. We also saw the SC state capitol, complete with a statue of (then-living) Strom Thurmond. We capped off the day with geocaches in Sesquicentennial Park, including one that was a complex multi.

Day 5: The direction of the day was west. In the morning, we hit up Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina – a town that is actually much prettier than it sounds. I remember meeting a fellow Passport stamp collector in the gift shop and reveling in the fact that I had way more than him. It was still early afternoon, and we didn’t have anything else to do, so my dad asked if there were any other nearby stamps. Great Smoky Mountains National Park seemed a little far, but off we went anyway, and got there relatively quickly. The scenery was gorgeous and I fell in love with the mountains. It was strange, however, entering the town of Cherokee. Cherokee is on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, and is not only pretty but pretty poor. It seemed like everyone was depressed, selling stuff, or both. Some of the signs were in Cherokee rather than English which was interesting. Once we made it to the visitor center, however, we were both so hot and it was so crowded that we just wanted to leave. I got my stamp, but unfortunately we skipped most of the exhibits because it was too hot. We poked around the reservation a little bit and bought some souvenirs, and I thought it was cool to tell people that I visited an Indian reservation over the summer. Fortunately, we saw plenty of the Smokies from the car, and that was satisfactory enough.

Day 6: We stopped in the morning at a history museum, but it was super boring since nothing ever happened in Charlotte. Then we flew home.

Ranking this trip, it probably fell somewhere between New England and Ohio. Seeing Carl Sandburg’s home and the Great Smoky Mountains made up for the boringness of Charlotte.

Our next trip was on the New England level of fun: Chicago, 2003, followed by our last official trip – Kansas City, 2004 – before I graduated high school, went off to college, and the tradition died off.


Road Trip 2: Ohio, 2001

After a summer hiatus due to Bar Mitzvah preparation, we resumed our trip with a drive to the west in August 2001, getting national park stamps in western Pennsylvania and Ohio. This trip was only four days, since Dad decided he couldn’t do another 8 days of driving.

I was a little less obsessed with national parks this trip (mostly because there were much fewer stamps to be acquired) so we also did some more sight-seeing and touristy things.

Day 1 (August 21, 2001): We picked up and headed out west through the radio wasteland of the Appalachians to Fort Necessity NHS and Friendship Hill NHS. Pit stop for the night was suburban Pittsburgh.

Day 2: Pennsylvania to central Ohio to Cleveland. We stopped in Akron to do two touristy things, the extremely fun Harry London Chocolate Factory, and the Football Hall of Fame, which was less impressive. We stopped in Canton to see the First Ladies NHS, a newer site, that unfortunately hadn’t gotten a stamp yet, but they gave us a sticker. We ended the day in Cleveland.

Day 3: The morning brought us to what would become one of my favorite museums of all time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The beauty is in its layout and design, and the awesome exhibits inside were a treat too. Dad even enjoyed the museum, and he hates pop music. It was also a landmark day for him – he got a senior discount for the first time ever, having turned 55 earlier in the year. We rode past the stadium of the Cleveland Indians, but they were away that week.

In the afternoon, we headed out of Cleveland to what Dad called “the best kept secret in Ohio,” – Perry’s International Victory Memorial in Put-in-Bay, on South Bass Island in the middle of Lake Erie. We rode a ferry to the island, and drove around via a rented golf cart. The memorial itself was a huge tower.  We rode an elevator to the top, and the view was crazy even though it was foggy. I could’ve stayed on that island for longer, but alas the last boat left at sunset and we had to be on it.

Day 4: Up bright and early, since we had to do the Cleveland-Baltimore drive, and pick up a stamp along the way at James Garfield’s home in Mentor, OH. We literally camped out in the parking lot with bagels and cream cheese, running in to get the stamp at the visitor’s center and look around for about fifteen minutes before packing up and heading home.

It was a short trip, but a pretty good one. Only a few stamps, but many more unique experiences (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Put-in-Bay, Harry London). A lot less happened in Western PA and OH than in New England.

This was also the last year of the true “road trip.” Next year’s  trip was to the south, but with flying to our main city, renting a car and doing “excursions” rather than a continuous road trip.


Road Trip 1: New England, 1999

Our first official road trip started on June 13, 1999. With a tank full of gas and hearts full of hope, we headed to nab our first stamps of the day, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After driving through Maryland and Delaware, we arrived in Philly just in time for lunch.

Our first stop was the Gloria Dei Church. It wasn’t too interesting – just an old church with a graveyard. We didn’t see a visitor’s center, so we asked around inside, and the church workers had no clue what we were talking about. It was listed online, but not in the book, so I thought we had a chance of scoring one, but alas, we failed. (A few years later, they did indeed get an official visitor’s center with a stamp. I need to go back.)

The rest of the day went very smoothly. We picked up the first stamp of the trip at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, home of a supporter of George Washington, then another at the Liberty Bell (Independence National Historical Park) and at the home of Edgar Allan Poe. There, one of the rooms had a rubber “telltale heart” hidden under a plank, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Later that day we hit Valley Forge before stopping for the night in Fort Washington, PA.

Day 2: More of the same. We hit three: Morristown NHP, Morristown, New Jersey; and my first brown stamps (as opposed to Mid-Atlantic light blue) were Ellis Island (new to my dad but old hat to me, having visited it with my 4th grade class), and the Statue of Liberty (which we climbed up to the base). But that didn’t matter because we got to spend the night in a state I’d never been to before: Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had finally visited a state that my sister hadn’t. Moving on to:

Day 3: Bright and early to capture Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first stop was the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, where we got to see the secret passageway beneath the bimah (another historical thing that BLEW MY MIND) and say hello to the oldest still-standing synagogue in the USA. It’s also the only Jewish-themed national park, so, bonus. Once we hit Massachusetts, we made an unplanned stop in New Bedford and got the stamp for the New Bedford Whaling NHP, which remains one of my favorite national parks to this day – the town was so cute and little and New England, and the huge whale skeleton suspended on the ceiling didn’t hurt either. We spent the night at the Suisse Chalet Inn in Cambridge – I didn’t mind it so much (probably too high on having fun) but my dad remembers it as being a roach motel.

Day 4: Boston Day. This was also no-car day, which was less expensive and easier on my dad. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail to get the Boston NHP stamp, as well as the Black History Trail to get the Boston African-American stamp. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the parks and the stamps, but upon my dad’s insisting, we strolled around Boston Common and made a stop in Harvard Yard. We took the T to Brookline to see John F. Kennedy’s home, and then headed to Dad’s favorite part of the trip, a Red Sox game at old Fenway Park. They played the Twins but I can’t remember who won.

Day 5: Boston Suburbs. We hit up the Salem (Salem Maritime NHS), Saugus (Saugus Iron Works NHS) and Lowell (Lowell NHP) AKA home of the cotton mills. This is the only time on any of the trips I remember having a serious breakdown (I was totally a crier as a kid) – I think it was because of traffic. I was surprised at how little we fought throughout the entire eight-day trip. We also veered up to New Hampshire, just so I could say I’d been there, even though the only stamp was much further up.

Day 6: Goodbye Roach Motel, hello central and western Mass. We excitedly hit up Minute Man NHP in Concord/Lexington and the Springfield Armory in Springfield, ending the day with Weir Farm in Wilton, CT, before stopping at my cousins’ place in the Bronx for Shabbat.

Day 7: Shabbat. No parks.

Day 8: Last day. We bid the cousins goodbye, visited old Great-Aunt Yetta (think Yetta from The Nanny, only in real life), who lived in Washington Heights squalor complete with faded photos on the walls, furniture held together by duct tape, and a funny old-lady smell in the whole apartment, and got two stamps (Grant’s Tomb and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace) before heading home. Where I proceeded to tell the whole story to my mom and sister, and anyone else who would listen, numerous times.

Overall, we had a great time. My dad is very much into history, and learning about American history with me was as much fun for him as it was for me. He viewed it as an “educational experience” for me, but I had my stamps and some other souvenirs so I was happy enough. He had been to NYC and Boston before, but hadn’t gone to any of the battlefields, presidents’ homes, or even Fenway Park before. He and I quarreled very little, and with my old-style, Pre-GPS maps from AAA, I managed to navigate us the whole way, even leading my dad on a shortcut once and redirecting him after he almost missed the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike going towards NYC. Even though I had such fun as the navigator, the driving did take its toll on my dad, who spent the next day or so sleeping it off.

We took a break in the summer of 2000, while I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah, but resumed our road trip with a Part II for four days in June 2001, heading toward the Midwest – the second of 5 official road trips we took together.


Road Trips

When I was about 11 years old, some friends bought me a pocket-sized blue book with “Passport to Your National Parks” written on the front in gold lettering, with a map and guide to all the National Park units in the country, including battlefield, historic homes, whatever – there are about 360 of them. It’s a little book with color-coded sections in it. For each national park you go to, you get a cancellation, or “stamp” stamped in your book. The same friends took me to Washington, DC to get my first stamp from Ford’s Theatre and Peterson House (The House Where Lincoln Died) on December 31, 1998. I remember that date not because it’s imprinted on my brain but because the passport stamp says so 🙂 each stamp is a circle with the name of the park up top, location on the bottom, and date in the middle. So, since it was something collectible, naturally I became obsessed.

It was also around this time that the movie Eurotrip came out – you know, the one with the horrible trailer with the guy eating the mouse. I wasn’t allowed to see it but I knew it was about a road trip. My eleven year old mind went, “I want to take a road trip!” And now that I had my National Parks Passport, I actually had places to visit!

So I went through the book, starting from the first section, the brown stamps labeled “North Atlantic Region,” comprised of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. I traced a trail along the little numbers of the map, looked up the distance online, and decided I wanted to go. One problem…I couldn’t drive.

It was summer, and I asked my dad, who was outside trimming the bushes, “Dad, can we go on a road trip next summer? To get the national park stamps from the North Atlantic Region?”

His response: “Sure, you plan it, and I’ll drive.”

So it was settled.

Over the course of the next school year, I lived by the National Parks website, painstaking printing out both at home and at my school library all the pages for all the places I wanted to go, and kept them in a big blue folder.

June 1999 came, and believe it or not, I got my dad to take a week off work to drive us (me) to New England to do some bonding and traveling (and get those stamps)! My mother was possibly the only one more thrilled than I, since it meant for her a summer week without husband or son to take care of, cook for, and clean up after, and was only too happy to show us the door.

So we headed off on our very first adventure: to conquer New England.