Great Sand Dunes
Josh is a concessionaire and entrepreneur who operates his own camp store near the Great Sand Dunes campground called Bristle Cone Pine Concessions. We were desperate to find some ice for the cooler when we ran into Josh’s handy store and when we saw he had ice cream bars we were desperate for that too. After swapping stories of National Park adventures, he started telling us about his business. He mentioned one of his main ventures besides concessions was making jewelry boxes out of the hearty wood of the Bristlecone Pine, which is only found at certain elevations in the mountains.
Tom and Jen Flynn were father and daughter fellow visitors to Mesa Verde that we ran into at the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. There were lots of people milling around doing the self-guided tour and we struck up a conversation while waiting to climb down into the reconstructed kiva. They were on a trip from Salt Lake City where they live to Dallas where Jen is starting chiropractic school in the fall. And if you are going on a long road trip, why not throw some National Parks on the itinerary. We really enjoy any chance we get to talk with people and share a bit of our park experience.
Dan and Lisa McShane were a very interesting couple we met at the Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest. We there for the ranger program to tour the inn and Dan was part of the group. We started chatting after the tour and found out that his wife Lisa was the Artist in Residence at Petrified Forest for the two weeks. So they get to live in the park and Lisa uses the landscape to inspire her beautiful paintings and then donates a finished product to the gallery. We actually got to meet Lisa out on the back patio as she was painting the desert view. Then Dan explained that while Lisa was painting he was working as a park volunteer and using his geologist background for some interpretation activities. He even took us out to the overlook and explained some of the rock layers and features that we could observe as we hiked into the Painted Desert Wilderness that evening!
Mike was the first person we met when we got into the Grand Canyon and drove straight to the Backcountry Information Office to arrive 5 minutes before it closed. He was right in front of us and by some crazy coincidence was doing the same rim-to-rim-to-rim itinerary. So we ran into and chatted with Mike at several points throughout our 4-day trek. We even shared a campsite with Mike on our 3rd day in the canyon because we were unable to get a permit for the Bright Angel campground and he graciously added us to his through a wild last-minute switch. Mike had visited the Grand Canyon and parks all around the southwest for many years, even though he runs his own accounting business and lives in Connecticut. He’s traveled with his family in the past, but lately he appreciates hiking solo. Perhaps most impressively, he always drives!
Zion National Park
Ben and Kim are professional photographers that we met along our hike to the Subway. Ben has his own photography business in Florida, but is now the Artist in Residence at Zion for the next month. The second one we’ve met (see Petrified Forest)! His friend Kim came down to hike with him from Salt Lake City where she works as a photojournalist. We leapfrogged each other along the trail for a while as we hiked up the trail, criss-crossing the creek, scrambling up boulders and climbing waterfalls. Then we got to talking as we explored the crazy subway-like canyon tunnel at the end of the hike. It was easy to tell they were not just casual photo snappers like us. Ben was even taking some pictures of us wading the deep pools… so who knows? Maybe we’ll be famous! 😉
Great Basin National Park
Toby and Rodrigo are a couple we met on top of 13,065-foot Wheeler Peak. As we shared in the sweet relief of making the summit, they mentioned Great Basin was the 26th National Park they’d visited! Apparently they have moved to different locations for work over the past few years, and as avid park enthusiasts they make it a priority to thoroughly explore everything the area has to offer – from Everglades in Florida to Lassen Volcanic near San Fransisco to Great Basin near their current home in Las Vegas. They were very excited to hear about the journey we are currently on to visit all 59 (hopefully we’ll be catching them soon!). I felt like we could have talked for hours about our favorite parks stories, but too soon we had to start hustling down the peak as a thunderstorm began to roll in.
The night before meeting Toby and Rodrigo we were setting up our campsite where we met Genevie and Sebastian, a mother and son visiting Great Basin for the astronomy festival. In fact, the two had also recently moved to Las Vegas from their former home in New York. This trip was actually Genevie’s first camping trip in a long time and Sebastian’s first ever camping trip. I believe they also said it was their first visit to a National Park! So that’s the great thing about the parks… no matter if you’re a seasoned vet or a new camper, anyone can #FindYourPark and #FindYourAdventure.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Gary and Charlotte are first and foremost fellow Cardinals fans from our good ol’ home state of Missouri. Gary retired from GM after 38 years and now the two enjoy traveling to National Parks! We were pretty exhausted when we met them near Bryce Point as we finished the final hill of our 33-mile backpacking trek on the Under the Rim Trail. But when we saw Gary wearing his Cardinals shirt it was nothing to strike up a conversation. The couple are from a small town about an hour west of St. Louis called Rosebud. Elizabeth grew up pretty close to there in Washington, MO, and it turns out they know Elizabeth’s dad because of the optometry practice he runs in a nearby town! The parks are a small world after all.
Capitol Reef National Park
Gail and Lorri in the middle of an extensive motor home road trip across the entire western U.S. We were lucky enough to run into these brand new friends of ours on the 10-mile climb to Navajo Knobs far above the Capitol Reef valley. We hadn’t really joined up with strangers along the trail before, but we really enjoyed sharing stories of our travels as the miles flew by. They are also avid hikers and set an impressive pace as we climbed over 1,500 ft to the top. There we managed a selfie stick picture of all four of us at the incredible 360-view we got from the top of the Knobs. They said the picture below might make it onto their Christmas card! And when Gail and Lorri wrap up their trip they get to return to their home in San Diego just in time for their balmy “winter.” Rough life! It was great sharing the trail with them for a day and we both agreed the rugged beauty of Capitol Reef shattered our expectations.
Canyonlands National Park
Eddie and Maggie are on an awesomely ambitious whirlwind tour of the Southwest for their vacation. We ran into the Ft. Lauderdale, FL couple at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center and they told us how they were tackling Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon and Sedona… all in one week!!! Apparently Utah is advertising the Mighty 5 super hard in Florida. Unlike many of the retired couples we’ve met this time of year, Eddie works in sales and Maggie works as a nurse. So they don’t have the luxury of time. It reminded me of the jam-packed “sprint-cations” we took the past 2 years. But we were so glad Eddie and Maggie spared a few seconds to tell us about their epic trip. Good luck you two!
Arches National Park
At Arches we were very excited to meet up with a few friends of our. Sam Ritchie graciously hosted us at her home in St. George where she works before Zion and now we were able to return the favor as she joined us for two nights at our Arches campsite. We had a packed two days of arches and trails and then trails and arches and it was great to bring a friend along for the fun.
One evening we were even spoiled with an awesome dinner of pizza and s’mores from Elizabeth’s old family friends, the Meyers. Their family was based out of Moab, Utah as they hit National Parks and awesome stuff like ziplines throughout the whole area. Anna (3rd from the right) was Elizabeth’s high school friend and, because Anna and I lived in the same dorm and floor freshman year, coincidentally was the reason I met Elizabeth my first day at Mizzou. And when our camping plans changed unexpectedly our last day in Arches, we took the Meyers up on their offer to set up camp on the floor of their rental.
We love sharing the parks with friends!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Stuart and Audrey taking a break from their jobs in the insurance and publishing fields to tour a number of National Parks. We ran into them during their hike at the East Portal while we were fly fishing. They said the trip was inspired when they purchased enough Eddie Bauer products to qualify them for a free National Parks Interagency Pass (gets you into all parks for a year). So they took off from their home in Portland for a two-week vacation of perfect park bliss.
In August 2015 we left our jobs and our home to go on a tour of all 59 National Parks across the US during the NPS Centennial year. We spent a year immersing ourselves for about 5 days in each park as we tent camped, hiked, biked, backpacked, kayaked, and climbed our way through the challenge and adventure of our lifetime.
We are Cole and Elizabeth, twenty-something Missourians turned National Parks explorers - constantly seeking to find new adventure and ourselves. Follow our journey for pictures, videos, park tips, and stories - because after all, the Parks are for sharing.