My Passport to My National Parks

I first saw it in one of the U.S. National Parks of the Rockies--Glacier, I think, but certainly by the time I reached Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons. It was there that I noticed a few hikers gathered around a National Parks Passport cancellation station.

It was 1992, and I was really just getting started with my National Parks obsession. To that point, my visits to any of the places in the National Park System were limited: I had been to Gettysburg and Cape Hatteras when I was younger, I had driven to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands the year before, I toured Civil War battlefields early in 1992 and my Dad and I drove to Acadia earlier in August. That two-week gem, which started in the last week of the month, was my first National Parks focused trip and one of my all-time favorite travel adventures. I drove a large loop that led me first to Rocky Mountain National Park and then north to Little Bighorn Battlefield, before kicking into high gear with stops from Glacier National Park down to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and then continuing farther south to Canyonlands and Arches.

I wasn't sure at first what those backpack-toting hikers were doing when they were stamping their booklets at the cancellation station, but after taking a closer look I was intrigued. Magnets, shot glasses and lapel pins were my "I was here" indicators of choice, though the Passport seemed to have some merit. Back then, before social media check-ins allowed us to check in everywhere and anywhere, we older folks had our own ways of recording our locations. For me, it was swag; for many others, it was the National Parks Passport book.

Some of my NP swag. First, the shot glass souvenirs that have survived over the years...
Lapel pins!
More pins! These are small, inexpensive, easy for packing/traveling, but just hard to get to display straightly.
And the magnets. I've bought many more than have survived (or at least made it to my own fridge...)

I passed on getting a Passport on that trip, as I wondered how many more National Parks stamps I might actually execute.

Well, early in 1993, I was on my way to California and Oregon, and hit NPs from Yosemite up to Crater Lake, and Lassen Volcanic and Redwood in between. But, the Passport? I still wasn't sure. Again, I liked the magnets, etc, and just wasn't sold on the Passport.

In 1994, I took a trip to the Smokies and a bunch of Civil War Battlefields, but still no Passport.

In 1995, I was on another big National Park tour--Death Valley, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and even the Petrified Forest. But, nope, no Passport. I know it caught my eye in every visitor center or gift store, but I resisted. By this point, my booklet would have simply been missing too many good check-in stamps. "If I didn't have it at the start of that '92 trip, what was the point in having it now?" I rationalized.

In 1996, I revisited Glacier, Yellowstone and the Tetons. I remember being really tempted to buy one on this trip, and thinking I was a moron at this point--how cool would it have been to have multiple stamps from these glorious parks? "Too late to start now," I kept telling myself.

Well, fast forward to this millennium. Alaska and Hawaii trips let me add to my NP count, but now those cancellation stations gave me a bit of a chuckle: "You should have gotten one, you should have gotten one," I thought to myself. Oh well.

Once I became a homeowner and started doing more travel for work, I was not able to visit National Parks with the same frequency as I had in the past. But, the occasional NP visit I was able to finagle didn't lend toward my yielding to the temptation that was the Passport.

In 2009, now active with social media, I revisited Crater Lake and Redwood NP. I remember uploading pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but these visits (or at least my phone at the time) didn't allow for those newfangled check-ins. Yet the NPs were still carrying those good old Passport booklets. Hmm.

Now, just last week, at Hot Springs National Park, I did my first social media check-in at a NP. Finally. I was able to broadcast to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram that I was enjoying one of my favorite things--National Park travel. And then I saw the Passport and cancellation station in the gift store.

But, I also saw a younger couple looking at it and trying to figure out what it was. I explained to them the cancellation process--find the proper spot in the booklet, and hit it with the dated, inked-up stamp. They had just been to Rocky Mountain NP, and thought it would have been cool to stamp both parks on this trip, and then the other ones they would be hitting on their vacation (I think they were heading to Florida ultimately, and the Everglades). I had to say something.

I explained that I first considered getting the Passport decades ago, and said that if they were even a little bit tempted and had any plans to visit more parks in the future, that they shouldn't let the opportunity slip by. I noted that I passed up numerous opportunities and always regretted it, and knew I would have a really nice record of my National Park travels had I just made the purchase of a few bucks. They decided to get one, and, on a whim, I bought mine.
It will never look this new again...

Yep, I caved. Of course, I stamped it right there, and, in fact, I stamped it in the Natchez Trace Parkway visitor center and at Shiloh National Military Park during my visits over the next two days.
My first stamp--Hot Springs, and I even applied a stamp for one of the bathhouses...

Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo Battlefield and Shiloh--my visits last weekend are stamped!

If things go as planned, I can easily see a minimum of four more unique NP check-ins over the next two years. That almost makes the purchase worthwhile right there.

Sure, it's missing 23 years of data. Sure, it doesn't have a dated stamp of the other 28 NPs (not counting National Battlefields, National Historic Sites, etc) that I've been fortunate enough to visit. It doesn't show my five trips to Glacier National Park nor my six to Antietam National Battlefield. No Denali stamp, no Hawaii Volcanoes visit recorded, etc, etc. I think it could have as many as 90 stamps for my prior NP visits, and 57 or so of those stamps would reveal unique places in the National Park System.

But, that's fine. I'm perfectly content to start stamping like mad the pages of my own booklet. Yes, I am the proud owner of Passport to Your National Parks.

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