Just a little over six years ago, on a sunny June afternoon in 2005, I innocently made an $8 purchase, not knowing that my small investment would end up informing my vacations for the foreseeable future.
After climbing Big Kill Devil Hill and witnessing where the Wright brothers conducted their famous glider tests, checking out full-scale reproductions of both the 1902 and 1903 flying contraptions and wandering the dunes surrounding the national park area, it was time for our party of four (Mom, Dad, Thad and me) to hit the road. As Thad and Dad went to use the restroom, Mom and I decided to check out the gift shop. While there, I saw a National Parks Passport book. Now, apparently these things have been around for a long time, but this was my first introduction to them. Knowing how nerdy Thad is about history (we were actually on the East Coast because he was taking a summer AP History course for teachers at Wake Forrest University), I thought it would be fun to get him one of these little books. Little did I know I what I was getting myself into…
Jump ahead six years: with nearly all of the northwest stamps added to the passport (with the exception of Alaska), a cross-country move was just what was needed to continue adding to the collection of ink on the book’s precious pages. With that in mind, it was time to go on a stamp-hunting expedition.
Last weekend, we rented a car and headed for a series of US National Parks in Virginia. Our sightseeing included deserted parks where we were the only visitors, like the Thomas Stone National Historic Site, as well as well-known, high-traffic parks such as Appomattox. While the passport has dictated many trips over the last half decade, the best part about it is seeing things we never would have seen without its lead. Would I have sought out the pencil General Robert E. Lee used to sign the official surrender of the Confederates to the North? Nope! Have I seen it? Yes!! Would I have sauntered through the halls of Maggie Walker’s 5000 square-foot Richmond home? Nope? Have I seen the elevator she had installed in her modern-era home? Yes!
While these trips do lead to a wealth of knowledge, they are not nearly as serious/scholarly as one might think. I tend to look at them as a great chance to play dress-up! One recent trip found Thad and friends snickering after I popped around the corner of a display case in full Civil War era soldier garb, announcing I was headed to war. (This was followed by my expert translation of a sample Morse code message. I’m pretty sure it was asking for crunchy peanut butter and no crusts on all future sandwiches.) I’ve also donned a metal helmets and sword as a member of a conquistador party in Florida and a hoop skirt and bonnet as a Civil War era plantation owner’s wife.
While I am off playing make-believe in a fashion that would make Mr. Rogers proud, Thad is usually chatting it up with the park rangers, filling his noggin with obscure facts and stories about each site. We’ve come to discover that US National Park rangers are a unique breed. They tend to be overflowing with minutia about their given site, spinning tales of the people and times that created the setting where they work. Most have a passion for the preservation of their site and the education of their visitors. In short, they are history nerds. (I’m pretty sure that if Thad didn’t work for the Department of State or wasn’t a teacher, he would be a park ranger!)
When I dug eight wrinkled dollars out of the bottom of my purse at a small gift shop on the coast of North Carolina six years ago, I had no idea that the gift that I bought more in jest than seriousness would become a central player in the planning of our future stateside travels! Thrill seekers plan their vacations around amusement parks, foodies around culinary experiences and high rollers around trendy spa/golf resorts. The Ross family? We plot ours around our dog-eared National Parks Passport!
(Photos from various stamp gathering expeditions.)