Passport To Your National Parks®: A Healthy Obsession

A Guest Post by John D. Giorgis

PassportCoverMockUp2Even though as far as I know, my grandma never owned a Passport to Your National Parks®, I think in many ways she is ultimately responsible for getting me hooked on this wonderful, fun hobby.   You see, even today, my mom will still tell stories about her childhood in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY and how my grandma would pack my mom and her four brothers and sisters into the back of the station wagon every summer for a family vacation.  Those trips would take my mom all over the country, and more often than not, those trips would include visits to national parks.

When it came time for my mom to raise her own family, the tradition of packing myself and my two sisters into the back of a station wagon each summer for a family vacation was just as-important a family tradition as having turkey on Thanksgiving.   Now our family was never quite so ambitious as to do the cross-country road trip to California (although our final family trip before I went to college was a flight to Arizona to visit my Aunt and to see Grand Canyon & Petrified Forest National Parks), we did go up and down the east coast of the United States during my childhood – and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, many of our trips did include national parks, such as the National Mall in Washington, DC; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; the Boston Freedom Trail; and Cape Cod National Seashore.

So, with road trips “in my blood,” it’s probably no surprise that once I was in college, I jumped at the chance to take a Geology Field Camp course in the summer after my junior year of college – and not just any field class, but one that advertised itself as visiting some of the greatest national parks of the American West, including Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, and the granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone National Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wouldn’t really get hooked on the Passport Program, however, until the following summer – which I spent as an intern for the National Park Service at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado.   If you’ve never been to Florissant, this national park is a true hidden gem.  The park could almost stand on its own on the basis of the 35 million-year-old stumps of redwood trees found there (yes – very much like the ones found in California today), which have now turned to petrified wood.  What truly amazes here, however, are the multitudes of tiny insect fossils that have been so-perfectly preserved that you can still see the veins in the wing of a bee or stripes on the back of a beetle.   And as if that was not enough, there is also the human history of Adeline Hornbek, the remarkable pioneer woman who made a claim for herself under the Homestead Act in the valley.

Thus, it was while I was spending that summer among the alpine forests and meadows, almost literally in the shadow of beautiful Pike’s Peak in the distance, that it occurred to me – if there could be a place this amazing that I had never heard of, then how many other amazing places like this are also out there that I have never heard of?   And then it hit me – if I set out to try and collect a Passport cancellation from each of the national parks, then I would be sure to discover many more amazing places along the way.

At that point, I was hooked.   And pretty soon, I was quickly becoming known among my friends as “the crazy guy who is trying to visit all the national parks.”

JohnWedding-115-106As I was discovering so many amazing places in the national park system, it became only natural that I would plan one of the biggest days of my life in the national parks.  In October 2007, I proposed to my then-girlfriend Sara on a beautiful fall colors day at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.   Nine months later, we returned to Harpers Ferry, and were married at Historic St. Peter’s Chapel overlooking the town.  For Sara’s bridal shower, I bought her a Passport Explorer book, which we decided to use to collect cancellations for all the national parks we would visit together as a married couple.  So, of course, on our wedding day – we had to start things off by getting our first stamp in our Explorer!   Once we did that at the Lower Town Information Center, though, there was only way to get up to the Church – a set of ancient stone steps that form part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.   So, yes, my bride can say that she hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in her wedding dress!

Over the years, I’ve also become increasingly involved with the National Park Travelers Club – an organization which brings together enthusiasts of the national park system and the Passport to Your National Parks® Program to plan trips to the parks and provide resources to help collect the cancellations.  Visit our website at to learn more about the National Park Travelers Club and our 11th annual convention, to be held at Shiloh National Military Park this summer.

Featured Image: John Giorgis at Badlands National Park