Our national parks have been described as America’s “best idea.” But back when I decided to spend a year exploring them all, I was worried the whole thing might end up being my worst idea.
At the time, I was recovering from a broken engagement and a broken heart. My friends had told me I could use a change of scenery, but I don’t think they expected me to take their advice quite so literally…
I gave up my apartment, packed my bags, and set off to visit every national park in the country, from Acadia to Zion. It was the journey of a lifetime—one that I’ve recounted in my new book, Leave Only Footprints.
When I first sat down to write, I briefly considered grouping my experiences in the parks geographically or chronologically. But what stood out to me most were the thematic threads that tie these wildly different places together. When you look at the Table of Contents, you’ll see chapter titles like “Sound,” “Borders,” and “Home.” Alaska’s remote Kobuk Valley—north of the Arctic Circle—and Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley—twenty miles south of Cleveland—both had lessons to teach me about living off the land (explored in Chapter 19, “Food”).
At Arizona’s Petrified Forest and Florida’s Dry Tortugas, I found stories of people searching for forgiveness. In the deep blue water of Crater Lake and the murky floodplain of Congaree, I searched for answers to unsolved mysteries. These ancient landscapes opened my eyes to new perspectives on everything from God and love to politics and technology.
While the parks are full of fascinating history, they also share a fragile future. With Leave Only Footprints, I’ve endeavored to capture what I found so inspiring about these protected places—the common ground we all share.