I once heard a trip begins at your driveway—not at your destination. Stopping to stretch legs and release pent-up energy can be more than beneficial if you factor in a stop at a national park. No matter which direction your destination takes you, a national park can be en route. No longer are they located in remote areas like the Grand Canyon, but many are near interstate highways and in urban settings. There are 403 lighthouses, military sites, lakeshores and parks under the umbrella of the National Park Service, and they each have a story.
My wanderlust began as a child in a family of nine who traveled with a camper that slept eight (the three youngest ones were crowded, but we made it work). My parents wanted us to experience places many only read about. We walked the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, viewed Mount Rushmore and played kickball with new friends before the sun set over the St. Lawrence Seaway.
My quest to see new places didn’t diminish when my husband and I had our two children. A part of each summer was to travel. Some years, it was to visit relatives; other years, it was to explore out West. We borrowed a camper and set out with just a map and itinerary in hand. Neither cellphones nor GPS existed.
We ventured into national parks, driving and hiking to see as much as we could. We took pictures standing by the entrance signs to prove, “We were there!” Like all good tourists, we stopped to get pictures of moose and bison by the roadside. I coordinated trips with what my children were reading or learning in school.
With peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in hand, we crossed the hot, dry prairie, following the trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We stopped at caves used by Jesse James, located the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln, and drove many miles off the highway to see the fields where George Washington Carver experimented with peanuts. Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on the Mississippi River made our time in Hannibal, Missouri, come alive. As my children became teenagers, we went to locations like the Grand Canyon, where science and nature collided for a teachable moment.
Even though we are now empty-nesters, my husband and I still travel. But for a different purpose: I’m experiencing adventures to use in my National Park Mystery series.
I research a park’s history and geography and include it in the story so children learn as they read. The characters—who are real kids from Lansing, Michigan—work with park rangers to solve mysteries and become the heroes. I tell parents and teachers that children will get much more out of their trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula if they read Stolen Treasures at Pictures Rocks before venturing into cold Lake Superior. Or learn what it takes to hike nine miles down to Phantom Ranch in Twisted Trails at Grand Canyon. Or what reptiles will welcome you to Everglades National Park.
The books have created in many readers a quest to explore the parks for themselves—and for me, that is mission accomplished.
Mary Morgan is the author of the National Park Mystery Series. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Randy. She has two married children and two grandchildren who share her passion for travel. Learn more about Mary and her adventures at www.nationalparkmysteries.com.