“It’s on the way, which means we have to go,” I told him. By that point, he’d grown used to my map-scouring and park visit-plotting ways, and while he cared little for history, he was a good sport about it, especially if there were comfy benches for him to sit on while I chattered about random pieces of history or artifacts in a display case.
I can’t remember when we discussed it or when we made the decision, but at some point, between America and the Middle East, we decided.
“We’re going to Italy,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re really going to Italy.”
We were deployed then, when we made the decision, that much I do know. He was in Jordan, I was in Kuwait, and we needed a distraction, some event on the horizon to look forward to and Italy was it. I ordered travel books, had them sent to me and him and we started planning.
It’s been four months since I went to New Mexico. It was the first solo trip I’d ever taken and I can’t stop thinking about it, especially lately as I put together my next adventure, this time to Arizona for my birthday in March. I keep coming back to the way I felt while I was there, to these specific moments that seem suspended in my memory. They’re glowy, like an old television flashback, with a certain amount of sparkle around the edges.
We broke up six months ago, but there we were, driving south from Richmond to Gatlinburg, Tennesse, toward the Great Smoky Mountains. It was an unintentional farewell tour, a trip hatched months ago, planned and booked right before things broke again and executed defiantly and stubbornly because that’s who we are, defiant and stubborn humans with an excessive amount of love for one another and hopelessly divergent viewpoints.
Work sent me to Iowa and after sending a text to my friend who lives there, I looked up the National Park situation. Iowa has just two National Park units, Effigy Mounds National Monument and Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. With limited time and an already-packed schedule, I decided to aim for the closest park and on my last day in Iowa I woke up well before dawn and headed to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, located in West Branch, Iowa.
Mexico City is HUGE. It’s home to almost 9 million people, encompasses more than 550 square miles and has some of the worst traffic in the world. Knowing that I knew I had to go prepared and so, after making lists and reading travel blogs and getting a ton of recommendations, I picked three things that I absolutely had to see while I was there. Visiting the ruins of Teotihuacan (teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn), located just about an hour from the city center, was on the top that list.
Visiting Alcatraz Island is maybe my most favorite thing to do in San Francisco. To me – a true crime lover, a National Park nerd and a history buff – the place is fascinating. I love the access visitors get to the notorious former prison, the views of San Francisco from the island, the self-guided audio tour and the intensely spooky vibe of the place.
When 2017 started, I was in Kuwait. It was the end of my deployment though and by the middle of January I was back in America. I’d spent most of the National Park Service’s centennial year (2016) in foreign lands and I came home determined to make up for my absence.
Two days after being released from the clawed paws of the U.S. Army, I visited my first National Park unit of the year, in New York City, and then spent the rest of the year dreaming of future park visits, driving across Virginia to visit close-to-home parks and generally annoying nearly everyone with my incessant National Park chatter.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in America’s one and only national park dedicated to the performing arts. It’s located in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., and is super close to where my grandmother used to live. I grew up knowing about Wolf Trap, but for some reason I never realized it was a national park.
In November, I went to Mexico. I’d been hearing about the magic of Mexico City for a while now, and finally planned a trip with a friend and her boyfriend. We tacked on a few days in Playa del Carmen to the end of our adventure, but we spent the bulk of our time in Mexico City, eating, drinking, wandering and, in my case, excitedly pointing out all the dogs walking the streets with their people.
I never mastered the art of swimming. In fact, I can’t swim. That hasn’t stopped me from getting into bodies of water, though. I’ll gladly get in the ocean and I’ll be fine when a wave inevitably smashes into me and flips me upside down in the surf, giving my sinus cavity a nice saline rinse in the process. I’ll get in lakes and rivers and pools, too. I’m not water-adverse, I just can’t swim.
When the park ranger at Fort Union National Monument asked me what I thought about the site, I told him it was creepy. He said that was an unusual response, one he didn’t get regularly, but that I was the second person that day to call the place creepy. I tried to qualify the statement. I told him creepy wasn’t exactly the right word. The place felt eerie, maybe, sort of ghostly and maybe even haunted.