A Throwback Tale

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Peekaboo Trail

Cairn. I rolled the word around in my head, almost like a chant, matching pace with the sound of my feet hitting the slick rock. Canyonlands National Park in Utah was an adventurer’s dream. I was taking a much-needed break from Arches, the tourist trap only 45 minutes to the northeast. After being run into by one too many inconsiderate photographers, I was looking for some good hiking trails off the beaten path.

The visitor’s center was tiny, showcasing some of the local flora and fauna as well as the particular geology of the park. The list of trails was comprehensive; many were long and remote, boasting miles of solitude surrounded by canyons.

The Peekaboo trail caught my interest; it was an approachable 10 miles and rewarded you with a “peek” at the end of some ancient petroglyphs. I loaded up my pack, double-knotted my hikers, and went on my way.

The sun was hot, but not fierce, and my mind began to wander as it normally does during my long walks. After thinking of something meaningless for a couple minutes – let’s say food trucks – I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. I was off trail… or was I? In forested parks, the trails are well-marked by packed dirt and handy signs every junction. Here in the Utah desert, however, cairns were the beacon guiding the way towards the final destination.

They were also easy to miss.

I soon realized that constant vigilance would need to replace my usual daydreaming m.o. while I hiked. My initial irritation at this concept surprised me. Was I so arrogant that I couldn’t stand to actual pay attention and “work” to find my way? Certainly not.

I plodded on.

For those unaccustomed to the ways of hiking, cairns are piles of rock that vary in size from 6 inches tall to taller than a human. On the Peekaboo trail, the cairns were good-sized, meaning most of them were about a foot tall and easy to spot. It amazed me that someone had taken the time to gather rocks and stack them on top of each other, basically erecting a sign that read “follow me – stray ye not from the path”.

Hunting for cairns in all the right places

So I followed. I put aside my random thoughts about penguins, Lisa Frank, and the invention of soda, and decided to actually pay attention. I eagerly looked for the next marker, confident that some well-meaning and intelligent park ranger would not lead me astray with these cairns.

In the end, the petroglyphs were interesting, yet it was the hike itself that was most memorable. Following piles of rocks for 5 miles in and back felt akin to being guided on an epic treasure quest. Here’s the part where I could throw in some deep metaphor about people in my life who have guided my way, leading me along my quest for discovery.

But no, this is purely about rocks.

I promise.



Cuyahoga Valley Recap

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Beaver Marsh (I didn’t see any beavers)


  • 0 more parks to go!

Length of Stay:

  • 2 days, 2 nights
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Family outing


  • Biking along the canal
  • The Canal Exploration Center featuring historical exhibits on the Ohio and Erie canals
Canal Exploration Center: one of the best museums I’ve seen this trip


  • Constant traffic noise
Enjoying the shade on the Ledges Trail

Favorite Hike:

  • Ledges Trail

Favorite Treat:

  • Buckeyes: a peanut butter and chocolate treat unique to Ohio
A platter of buckeyes. (I only ate one, I promise)

Park #47!

I did it.

I have officially visited every national park within the contiguous United States.

I felt such a sense of accomplishment adding the last stamp to my passport booklet in Cuyahoga Valley, a park snuggled neatly in between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Huge bridges overhead shuttled cars along the interstate while visitors and wildlife enjoyed this small piece of nature hidden within an urban landscape.

Mission accomplished!

There was an incredible amount of history that I found fascinating. Who knew that canals played such an integral part in America’s development? I rented a bike and pedaled along the old canal, admiring abandoned locks and water fowl. I even saw a big ol’ snapping turtle resting on a log.

My wheels for the day

There were some charming waterfalls that I had to myself briefly during the early morning hours. Water cascaded down and I took the time to appreciate every second. I was intent on eking out the last drop of enjoyment from my year-long nature exploration.

Can you spot the turtle?

Only Ansel Adams, the famous photographer, could so perfectly sum up my thoughts as I officially wrapped up my trip.

I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful – an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”

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Finding magic and wonder in the marsh

Acadia Recap



  • 1 more park to go!

Length of Stay:

  • 2 days, 3 nights


  • The compactness of the park; so many neat things to see wrapped up in a relatively small area (= less driving)
  • Every hike I did
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Yet another incredible overlook on another incredible hike


  • Too many detours

Favorite Hike:

  • Beehive trail (lots of iron rungs and exposed parts)
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Enjoying the view on the Beehive Trail

Favorite Treat:

  • Lobster roll*


*Probably the top 5 best foods I’ve had on my trip


Making Lemonade, Small Planes, and Iron Ladders

Silly selfie

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Or in my case: When life throws a deer in front of your car, fly to Acadia National Park.

It just didn’t make sense to hang out in Wisconsin for a week while I waited for my car to get fixed. Hotels were pretty pricey, and I knew that I would be going stir-crazy lingering in a city.

I crunched some numbers. When I calculated the cost of gas, lodging during the drive, and tolls, taking a last-minute flight to Maine didn’t seem like such a bad decision.

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A small plane

So I spent a glorious 2 days on Mt. Desert Island, the largest and most popular part of Acadia.

I drove my sweet rental car, a Jeep Cherokee, along the coast, marveling at the rugged rock meeting the Atlantic Ocean. I laced up my hiking boots and explored the mountains and unique ecosystems, the sound of the crashing sea in the distance.

On one occasion, I decided to do a quick 0.4 mile hike to a lookout point. I soon realized that the majority of the hike was iron ladders, and that the “trail” was really more of a nontechnical rock climb.

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Up, up, and away…

It was fun.

Even though flying is a pain, I’m happy that my impromptu decision will save me hours in the car in the long run.

Now, my trip is officially back on track. One more park to go!

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Home Stretch

I was struck by a feeling of melancholy yesterday morning as I hiked along a trail, alone with my thoughts.

My trip is almost finished. My trip is almost finished. My trip is almost finished.

This phrase rolled over and over in my mind, beating rhythmically in time with my steps.

Resting my feet on Isle Royale

Two hours later I was overwhelmed with excitement, celebrating the fact that I’ll soon be done — home at last. I’m definitely experiencing the gamut of emotions regarding the forthcoming conclusion to my year-long trip. It’s bittersweet; my brain and heart don’t know quite how to handle it.

I’m looking forward to a real refrigerator, an indoor bathroom, and not driving so much. I daydream of sleeping in one place for more than three nights. I eagerly anticipate seeing my friends and family again.

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A cute pioneer cabin I wouldn’t mind calling “home”.

But I’ll miss so much, too. I know I’ll pine for the vagabond lifestyle once I’m settled. I’ll miss the adventure of constant motion, the beauty of experiencing nature to the fullest, and the contentedness of personal reflection. I’m already becoming nostalgic for each memory I’ve collected.

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Random sign. Texas I think???

When I first set out on my 47 parks in 47 weeks journey, I considered it would be a fabulous blip within my life. I assumed I would spend time traveling and having fun, and then return to my normal adult existence.

But it’s not like that. I feel that 47 Parks is the beginning of something grand. It is the rekindling of my love of learning and the launching point of my passion for nature. Each national park has affirmed my child-like wonder and drawn out my desire to help others find this as well.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I may only have 2 more parks to see, but this isn’t the end.

I plan on exploring the world, one wild place and natural space at a time.


It just might look a little different than this past year, and my pilgrimages will be spread out as I find a healthy balance between travel, work, and rest.

I invite each one of you, dear readers, to continue to take this journey with me. I plan on making some slight changes to my website and Instagram (@theparkpilgrim).

Here’s some things to look forward to, post-wise, this summer:

  • Behind the scenes stories that haven’t quite made the blog yet (some funny, some creepy)
  • Another contest, wherein you have a chance to win jelly beans or photo prints
  • More park awards for Part II
  • What’s next in my life, including what outdoor places I hope to explore in the near future
  • Information regarding a calendar for next year
  • More pictures
  • Clarence’s fate
  • Whatever other stuff I come up with as I sort through 47 weeks of being on the road

Life is good.

It truly is.

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Clarence on the coast of California, right outside Redwood National Park.

Isle Royale Recap


  • 2 more parks to go!

Length of Stay:

  • 1 very full day, plus another morning at the visitor center on the mainland
Perfect spot for a lunch break


  • Being on a remote island on a sunshiney day


  • Too short (I had the option to spend the weekend, but the Lodge was expensive and I didn’t have Clarence with me)
Nice scenery

Favorite Hike:

  • Scoville Point
Scoville Point

Favorite Treat:

  • Pasty (rhymes with nasty, not hasty); in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, these were commonly taken via lunch pail to the copper mines back in the day.
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Getting ready to devour the pasty