From Chicago to Lands End: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Lands End, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

On Friday, September 6, Sean and I began what was our longest trip since our honeymoon in 2015. The night before, we had quietly toasted at home my final day as Director of Communications at Openlands. After our trip, I’d be starting a new adventure as the founder of Bold Bison Communications and Consulting. We had a lot of packing to do, so we celebrated with a couple drinks and some delivery Brazilian food for dinner. We were both behind on our packing since he’d had to spend a portion of the previous week in Philadelphia for work and I’d been wrapping things at my former employer.

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“Shasta,” a West Coast Adventure in Two Cities and Three National Parks: Planning

Banana Slugs on Redwood sapling, Redwood National Park

Ponderosa Pine stump near Butte Lake and Fantastic Lava Beds, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wolf Lichen on Whitebark Pine snag with Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

For a long time, I’d known that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So I’d always be able to answer the question, “Which Parks are you going to do next?” with a nod to a distant trip to Guadalupe Mountains. Then it became the next Park, and then that trip came and went. Afterward, we weren’t sure where exactly we would focus for the next big trip, but a grand trip that had been percolating in my mind soon became the clear frontrunner. In early 2019 we began planning a trip with great bookend cities and some iconic Parks: flying into Portland, doing the three Parks that surround northern California’s Mount Shasta, and flying home from San Francisco. Redwood National Park just sounded magical. Crater Lake National Park is one of the iconic early Parks. And Lassen Volcanic has long been one of the Parks in the system I’ve been most excited about.

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Indiana Dunes National Park: Cowles Bog Trail and Bailly Homestead

After our lunch on August 24, Sean, Angela, Mary, and I set off on our afternoon adventures at Indiana Dunes National Park. Since the morning, we had slowly been making our way west from the easternmost point of the Park. Our next stop was the Visitor Center, and then we’d do some more hiking. It was already clear to us that we would not be able to do all the hikes on our list in one day, but we knew we’d be back to this out-our-backdoor Park time and again in the future.

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Indiana Dunes National Park: Mount Baldy, Great Marsh, and Dune Ridge

Mount Baldy

Yellow Garden Spider in Great Marsh

On August 24, exactly a month after our visit to West Beach, we were back at Indiana Dunes National Park. This time, we were again there as part of our Let’s Go Outside group of mostly Chicagoans who pick places near the city to go for day hikes six times a year. The group had last done Indiana Dunes in July 2015. Four years earlier, we’d run into some issues finding parking, so I suggested to the group via Facebook earlier that week that we try and get an early start. Our plan was to begin at the Park’s far eastern edge, Mount Baldy, and work our way west with a series of short hikes. If people wanted to join us later, they could text and find out where we were. Also, if people needed to get back to the city early, they could peel off whenever they needed to.

Ultimately, there were four of us who explored the Park that day: Sean, Angela, Mary, and me. It was our first time exploring a National Park with Mary!

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Indiana Dunes National Park: West Beach

In the summer of 2019, after Indiana Dunes became a National Park, Sean and I planned two day trips there. The first trip was on a hot July day with a bunch of my family who were visiting Chicago from both the Detroit area and Seattle. Our choice for the day was West Beach, a unit of the Park that Sean and I had never been to. It boasts both a beach with a bathhouse and lifeguards and some nice hiking trails.

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Indiana Dunes National Park: Once Upon a Lakeshore

Marram Grass on Mount Baldy overlooking Lake Michigan, with Chicago in the distance

What’s in a name? Both everything and nothing.

On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became Indiana Dunes National Park, the nation’s sixty-first. The legislation to “upgrade” the National Lakeshore to National Park status, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Gary) with the support of the entire Indiana Congressional delegation (but over the opposition of the National Park Service), had been inserted into the omnibus bill to reopen the federal government after the longest shutdown in history. The legislation, however, added no land to the Park, nor did it change its appropriation budget or increase levels of protection for an exceedingly fragile landscape. Although sites become part of the National Park System in different ways (only Congress holds the authority to establish a National Park while, for instance, a president may unilaterally create a National Monument), since the National Park Service General Authorities Act of 1970, all the units within the National Park System have been managed equally as a single system. But the term National Park holds a special place in the imagination. As Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz writes in the summer/fall issue of The Singing Sands, the Park’s newspaper, “Sixty-one of the 419 [NPS units] are called National Park, and when you think about they way National Park visits are written about and promoted, those 61 are usually the places featured.”

Indeed, Paul.

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Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks: Going Home

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Monday, November 19 dawned cool and cloudless in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and we were heading home. This was the twelfth and final day of my wonderful fortieth birthday trip to two National Parks. Although we were saying goodbye, we intended to make a quick stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park as we departed.

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