Booker T. Washington National Monument, Freedom & Turkules the Turkey

We were in a planning meeting at work, just the three of us.

My boss asked, “Do you want to go Bedford for D-Day on Wednesday?”

In mostly one breath I said, “Yes, yes, of course I want to go to Bedford because the Booker T. Washington National Monument is there, or at least near to there and if I go down earlier on Tuesday and use it as a travel day then maybe I can swing by and spend a few hours there, so, yes, I’ll go.”

First Flights, North Carolina & the Wright Brothers National Memorial

There are a few things you’ll definitely notice if you visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The sand dunes are hard to miss and Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the most visited park in North Carolina, protects the tallest active sand dune system in the Eastern United States. There’s the beach, of course, and Brew Thru, a chain of legendary drive-thru convenience stores that sell beer, wine and “world famous” t-shirts. There’s the winged horse statues, part of a public art installation started in 2003 to celebrate 100 years of flight.

Why I’m on a Quest to see all of America’s National Parks

I was in San Francisco to run a 200-mile relay with a handful of friends. I arrived in the city a few days early, to acclimate and explore, and went with my friend Tara to visit Alcatraz Island. It was my second visit to America’s most infamous prison and her first.

In the gift shop, I bought a National Parks Passport, a small booklet with information on America’s National Parks with room for commemorative collector stamps and cancellations, which are just stamps with the site name and date. I got my first cancellation at Alcatraz and that’s probably where it started.

Me & the Ghosts of Wupatki National Monument

It was the end of the day in Arizona and I was alone. I’d passed the day’s last visitors on the way in, watched them pull out of the parking lot, a little dust kicking up behind them as they faded into the desert. Then, it was just me and the ghosts of Wupatki National Monument.

When I visited Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, I spent 15 minutes talking to a volunteer about what it feels like to be there first thing in the morning, to wander through the ruins before the tourists arrive. He talked about the people who used to live there, the ones who built the centuries old site, who used to call the place their home. He told me he knew they were still there, that he felt them in those quiet morning moments.

Hiking & Creeping in Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park is sneaky. I’ve probably driven past it a few hundred times over the years and yet, I didn’t know it wasn’t there. It’s just off I-95, south of Washington, D.C., north of Richmond, Virginia, and adjacent to Quantico. It’s smallish, at 15,000 acres, but includes almost 40 miles of hiking trails, more than 20 miles of bicycle-accessible roads and trails and a short scenic drive. Best of all, it’s lovely.

Day Hiking the South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park

https://www.instagram.com/p/w9d3BZPPWS/

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon it was not enough. We were just passing through, quickly, on a time-limited, cross-country road trip. We had hours there, only a few, and we spent our time staring into the canyon, wondering how such an impressive and incredible thing could be real.

Later, as we drove to Palm Springs, we talked about going back, about the next time. We both knew we’d be back, both agreed we wanted to go below the rim.

A Serendipitous visit to Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

I didn’t have a plan for the day, not really. I needed to get myself from Richmond to Maryland for a work conference that would start the next day, a friend in Washington, D.C. was celebrating her birthday and it was pissing rain.

I sent my friend a text, asking if she had plans for the afternoon, explaining that yes, I definitely did have time for a birthday beverage or adventure and that I would love to see her if we could make the timing work.

“What parks do you need here?” she responded, knowing I’m on a quest to see all 417 National Park Service units. “Is Frederick Douglass House one of them?”

“No, I haven’t been there yet,” I said, doing a quick search to check their hours, tour times and parking options. “Let’s go!”

So we did.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

I picked her up in D.C. and we scampered our way across the Anacostia River to Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which preserves the house where abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived for the final 17 years of his life.

The house, called Cedar Hill (and sometimes Cedarhill), includes approximately 70% of the home’s original furnishings. As the name implies, the house sits on a hill, overlooking the Anacostia River and the District of Columbia.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

Frederick Douglass is one of those incredible historical figures I learned about way back in high school history class. Before visiting his home, I remembered only a few details from his life, mostly that he was a former slave and, later, an outspoken abolitionist. So, in visiting his home, I had a lot to learn.

One of the best parts about visiting the homes of these legendary historical figures is they fill in the details of a life lived, showing you the china patterns they ate from, the desks they worked at, the pictures that covered their walls, the books they referenced. These incredible spaces add color and texture to the flat figures we paged past in school.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site || terragoes.com

WHAT I LEARNED (& REMEMBERED) AT FREDERICK DOUGLASS NHS

1. HE ESCAPED SLAVERY.

How to Spend 6 Days National Parking Through Arizona

After the success of last year’s solo trip to New Mexico, I wanted more. I debated a few options, consulting this map and looking for clusters of national parks that would allow me to spend 5-7 days in one or two places while hitting a handful of parks. Mostly, I wanted to go west again and Arizona’s national parks kept popping up in the books I was reading, the shows I was watching and it all started to seem like a sign.

So I went to Arizona for my 34th birthday and spent six days scampering from Tucson to Flagstaff and managed to visit seven of the state’s 22 national parks.

MY 6-DAY ARIZONA NATIONAL PARK ITINERARY

I started my adventure in Tucson, flying in late on a Wednesday and heading almost immediately to bed.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 1. SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK

Coming from the East Coast, I was up super early on my first day in Arizona, and I set out just after sunrise for Saguaro National Park, getting there before almost anyone. I started in the Rincon Mountain District, the park’s east side, mostly because it was closest to my hotel.

I drove the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, then hiked part of the Douglas Spring Trail, taking it through the desert and past saguaros to Bridal Wreath Falls. Then, famished, I headed into Tucson for a Sonoran Dog, some tacos and a beer at BK Taco. The Sonoran Dog is a must-eat for anyone visiting Tucson and it was ridiculous and also delicious.

After checking in at my hotel and taking a short nap, I headed to the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park, the park’s west side, to watch the sunset and soak in a little bit more park time before the day ended.

For dinner, I hit one of Tucson’s many downtown breweries and went to bed early like the little old lady that I am.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 2. DESERT MUSUEM, SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK & CASA GRANDE RUINS NATIONAL MONUMENT

Just outside the Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is where I started my second day in Arizona. It’s definitely worth a visit for those who enjoy animal encounters and want to learn more about Sonoran Desert, plus, it’s adjacent to Saguaro, which is where I headed after the museum, to drive the Bajada Loop Drive through the park and scamper along a few trails.

After that, I headed north, aiming myself toward Flagstaff, which is about four hours north of Tucson. I stopped in Casa Grande for In-N-Out Burger and then headed to my second national park of the trip, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, located right between Phoenix and Tucson.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

I then headed north and the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is one I’d recommend to anyone visiting Arizona. You gain a few thousand feet of elevation as you go, winding your way through saguaro-covered mountains before entering the largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest in the world.

I made it to my cabin just after sunset, set up my bed, dropped off my luggage and then headed to downtown Flagstaff, which is incredibly charming, and had dinner and a few beers at Flagstaff Brewing Company, which incidentally has the largest whiskey selection in the state.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 3. SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT & WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT

No lie, y’all, my third day was a bit of a train-wreck. I drove all the way to Petrified Forest National Park, watched a pronghorn prance his way across the road in front me and only then realized I’d left my camera sitting on my bed back at the cabin. So I turned around, went back to the cabin, grabbed my camera and some lunch, then headed to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the almost-adjacent Wupatki National Monument, my third and fourth national park of the trip.

If I’d had more time and hadn’t spent half the day driving across Arizona, I would have visited Walnut Canyon National Monument, which is just outside Flagstaff.

Arizona National Park Itinerary || terragoes.com

DAY 4. PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK, WINSLOW & GRAND FALLS

I woke up early on my fourth day for round two at Petrified Forest National Park. It’s insane, that place. It’s beautiful, with blue and red mesas, incredibly sweeping landscapes, part of old Route 66 and, of course, petrified wood. I hiked a little bit, scampered into the wilderness area as well and, mostly, I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s an incredible place.

On the way back toward Flagstaff – it’s about a 90 minute drive from there to the Petrified Forest – I stopped in Winslow for a drink and some tacos at Relic Road Brewing Company and to say hello to

Standin’ on the Corner Park

Jones Run & Doyles River Waterfalls at Shenandoah National Park

IT HAPPENED, Y’ALL! After two attempts to scamper along the trails and explore the waterfalls of Shenandoah National Park, I finally made it. AND IT WAS GLORIOUS!

Shenandoah is, in a way, my home park. I was born in the mountains that it protects and I grew up driving up and down the Skyline Drive, but I think I took it for granted and, as a kid, I was restricted to whatever the adults wanted to do, which mostly wasn’t hiking. Plus, I’m a very different sort of explorer than I was growing up, and so, I’ve promised myself I’ll be better about visiting Shenandoah this year, that I’ll hike more and explore and just do more.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

When I first planned this adventure, way back in February, my aim was to see waterfalls. After some brief internet investigating, I decided to follow the advice of Hiking Upward and hike a 6.6 mile loop that started from the Brown’s Gap parking area and included part of the Appalachian Trail, the Jones Run Trail and the Doyles River Trail, which is also listed here as the Browns Gap Hike.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

the APPALACHIAN TRAIL

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200 mile public footpath that follows the Appalachian Mountains from Maine all the way to Georgia. Finished in 1937, it was built by private citizens and today is managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a bunch of state agencies and thousands of volunteers. It’s a National Scenic Trail and, along it’s many miles, it winds through a total of nine states.

More than 500 miles of the A.T. goes through Virginia, including 104 miles that cuts through Shenandoah National Park. Secretly, I want to hike all of those miles, but on this particular adventure, I settled for starting my hike with 1.4 miles of the A.T, which I picked up on the other side of the Skyline Drive from the parking lot at Brown’s Gap.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

The A.T. is white-blazed and easy to follow and I spent the mile and a half of my hike along the A.T. thinking that yes, this whole hiking thing is a thing I want to do more of and maybe I might even be convinced to carry a bunch of shit on my back across many, many miles just for the chance to go further and deeper into the wild.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

 the JONES RUN TRAIL

From the A.T., I turned left to head downhill on the blue-blazed Jones Run Trail and, after following Jones Run for a while, I hit the first set of falls after 1.6 miles, followed by the main falls in another tenth of a mile.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

I can’t explain the magic of waterfalls. There’s a draw there, obviously, or people wouldn’t trek miles and miles just to catch a glimpse of one.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

After the waterfalls, I followed the trail for just over half a mile as it ran alongside and then crossed Jones Run. Shortly after the crossing, I turned left and headed up-hill and away from Jones Run onto blue-blazed Doyles River Trail.

Browns Gap Hike @ Shenandoah National Park || terragoes.com

the DOYLES RIVER TRAIL