How I Got Started

Did I have any idea what I was getting into? What megalomaniac am I, proposing to build a website that leave professionals blanching and my wife shaking her head?

Well, it's all her fault, anyway. She has nothing to complain about, for I lay this completely at her feet. She was the one who wanted to move, she was the one who saw the neighborhood heading in a direction that admittedly left us both a little uncomfortable. We have five kids and we want the best for them; our good neighbors were shaking their heads and moving, selling their houses to people with loud teenagers and fast cars.

Not us, thought we, and so we hunted high and low for a better place for our family. This was in mid-2001, and the interest rates were dropping - surely a propitious time to buy a new house! So we found a new development far south, with many parks planned, not far from a proposed freeway (but far enough, we were assured, so that we wouldn't hear a thing). We shopped for models, we viewed homes, we compared lenders, and signed contracts. The deal was done; ground would soon break.

So we put our house up for sale. We asked for more than the home's valued worth, figuring we had time to negotiate. The new home wouldn't be ready for six months. Confidently, pleased that time was on our side, we put a "For Sale" sign in the front yard.

Cursed buyers, flush with cash. We got our asking price in ten days, moved out in a month. But where to? Five kids in a two-bedroom apartment for half a year? I don't think so! But what other choice did we have?

Enter my Mother, champion of the downtrodden, charity and generosity personified. She lived in our town, alone in a house with two extra bedrooms and a loft that could be converted at night. She graciously invited us to stay with her until the house was completed. I can't say enough about her kindness. Yes, I did a little yard work around the house, and my wife took over the cooking, but that was small recompense for the noise and distraction a family of seven can bring to a house. Yet through it all, Mom never complained once, never gave a hint of the sacrifice she was making.

We thought it only fair to give her a little time off every now and then, so we looked around for weekend getaways. I bought a book or three on the subject, Day Trips from the Phoenix Area, Weekend Getaways in Arizona, you get the idea. National Parks were frequently mentioned in the pages, along with state parks, hikes and trails.

Thus the germ of an obsession took root. The soil was fertile, I was prepared for mania. I'd had touches of obsessive behavior before, in my younger years. I kept a list of all the books I'd read; I stopped, by 16, at 800. Then I charted the New York Times Bestseller list (only the top ten books) from 1947 to the present, using colored pencils, graph paper, and the code explained on the back. Billboard lists of my favorite artists, albums and songs, soon followed. This took me to my college years, and other interests gradually occupied my time - tennis, studying, mountain biking with friends, girls. Dating girls. Getting serious with one girl. Falling in love and marrying my wife. Law school, graduating, the joy of children, all these take time. This was time I was glad to spend, because I knew the payoff was worth it.

But now we come to late 2001, with five children in tow, from ages 11 to 4, they're not babies any more. We can expect to take weekend trips and have a decent good time, so, Prescott, here we came!

It was at the Montezuma Castle National Monument's gift shop that I came across a small blue book, called a Passport. I didn't immediately realize that it was printed by a private company, but I thought it was a fantastic idea for visitors like me. A list! It had a list of every National Park and Monument (though I didn't at the time know there was a difference), and places - get this - actual blank white places in the book that could be stamped every time you visited a National Park! I was dizzy with the implications. That weekend we got our first stamp, and a mania was full-born. Three weeks later, Christmas Eve day, after I had checked maps and directions and of course my Passport, I waved goodbye to my wife and took the five kids in our Suburban and drove 60 minutes south to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

I know what you're saying. You left your wife behind? How could you leave the most important member of the family behind? Well, it was Christmas Eve, there was cooking to be done, last minute presents to be wrapped, and little prying eyes and helping fingers threatened to make the day a tense one indeed. I felt noble, I sacrificed, I offered to take the kids away for a few hours. My offer was met with a grateful smile. We got our stamp, we explored the Ruins (as best we could, for the main three-story part is currently off-limits to visitors), we bought a little refrigerator magnet. My book had two stamps.

Soon a trip didn't go by without the kids chorusing a reminder as we piled into the Suburban: "Dad, don't forget the passport!" We drove to Tucson and Saguaro National Park, we vacationed in San Diego and visited Cabrillo National Monument. The next August I took the three boys to Tonto National Monument, got to see more ruins, and the impressive masonry Roosevelt Dam, so important to the valley we live in.

On to San Francisco, and extended family! On to Fort Point, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Maritime National Historical Park! The Presidio, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, no time for Eugene O'neill's house or John Muir's residence, curse the lack of time, but I'm happy! Take a trip to northern Arizona, see Walnut Canyon, see Sunset Crater Volcano, drive 30 miles east for a view of a wicked asteroid crash at Meteor Crater (NOT a National Monument, but I'd never have seen it otherwise!). Even Tuzigoot National Monument, the fifth Arizona Sinagua-style ruins, even that stamp has graced my passport. Though perhaps I can't recommend that one with the same enthusiasm as I can the Grand Canyon (visited five years ago, pre-stamp).

Now to my right there is a United States map. It's laminated and mounted on cardboard for extra stability, and it's studded with numbered pins. You can probably find these pins at a map store; I recommend World of Maps in Mesa. The red pins are Parks I've visited (20), the green are for ones I'd love to see (such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, numerous places in Washington D.C.) and the yellow are for Parks that, if the entrance is next to the interstate, and I'm already going by, I might stop long enough to get a stamp (Eugene O'Neill's house, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Saugis Iron Works National Historical Site). I know, realistically, it might take me a few years to get to the ones I really want to see; but I dream of taking a year off, with constant touring, putting 20,000 or 30,000 miles on the ol' Suburban, notching stamps, filling passports ...

There, in more than a nutshell, my mania for all things National Parklike. I hope you enjoy the journey!