In the summer of 2021, I used 26 days of my 30 days of leave given to me after graduation to travel across the country and back. 17 National Parks, 9,500 miles, and countless memories and pictures later: here is that trip.
May 29th:
Less than 24 hours after graduation, I took off on my own across the country. I started my trip in Annapolis, MD and my first stop was in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio for a lunch rest stop. I finished the night in a motel in Toledo to recharge for another 8 hour driving day the next day.

The day I came was very overcast so I tried to make my pictures reflect that. It wasn't very crowded and it was a very small park but a pleasant lunch visit.

Brandywine Falls was a short hike but great in May.

May 30th:
I continued on my journey, this day stopping at Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana. It was mostly a state park and not very easy to navigate but amazing to see sand dunes and beaches in Indiana of all places.

Pebbles on the beach.

The tallest dune in the park.

A long exposure of a creek near my campsite that night in Minnesota.

May 31st:
Taking off from Minnesota this day, I made it all the way to Western South Dakota in order to meet up with Caleb, my first partner in the trip.

Sioux Falls was a very cool stop with an impressive waterfall and surrounding park in the middle of the city.

There are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the Badlands on hikes.

Some elk we saw on our way to our campsite in Custer State Park.

June 1st:
Starting off in Custer State Park, we made a quick stop in Wind Cave National Park, then picked up Jake and Maddi at the airport before exploring the Badlands some more with them and exploring Wall Drug, the famous tourist attraction of South Dakota.

Bison are very common in both Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Not quite as common in the Badlands.

Another overcast day but amazing landscapes.

We got rained into our tent in the middle of the day with a sudden rainstorm.

A quick muddy hike.

Stayed up to see the stars.

June 2nd:
After camping in the aforementioned tent, we drove to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and began our trek west to Yellowstone and the Tetons, driving through Eastern Wyoming and Southern Montana. We stopped at Devil's Tower before camping 30 minutes out from the monument for the night.

The big boys.

Crazy Horse. Crazy scale but incomplete.

On a hike around Devil's Tower.

Capturing climbers on Devil's Tower.

June 3rd:
After camping near Devil's Tower, we continued our drive through Wyoming and Montana, stopping at Little Bighorn National Monument and eventually making it to the Montana-Wyoming border where we stayed for the night in a beautiful free campsite.

Custer's gravestone at Last Stand Hill.

Some of the many gravesites at the monument for the soldiers.

From a restaurant in Montana that we stopped at before camping for the night.

Ich Kep Pe Park.

June 4th:
After resting up, we headed into Northern Yellowstone to see how much we could capture in a day before camping in the Grand Tetons for the night.

A few of the many geysers at the park are located in this field.

The Lower Falls, taken from Inspiration Point.

The beautiful colors of Yellowstone.

My trusty 4Runner, Frank the Tank, that I bought a month before the trip. He served us well so we had to give him a glamour shot. I took this after dropping my hat out the window in awe of the view through the trees. I hopped out and snagged some pictures while my friend Caleb drove to pick up the hat. My friend Jake and I got eaten alive by all the mosquitoes in the area in the 1 minute we were outside the car. Well worth it.

Taken a quarter of a mile from our campsite at the Tetons.

June 5th:
We got up early to finish sightseeing in Yellowstone and then headed back into the Tetons to catch sunset again.

Ol' Faithful.

A bison walking past the Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.

Panoramic view of the Tetons.

Flowers looking the other direction.

June 6th:
This was our big hiking day in the Tetons. We got up early, got a big breakfast in us, and then took off up Cascade Canyon. We were barely able to finish the hike but the views were well worth the trials.

Boat ride across Jenny Lake to get to the start of the hike.

We weren't expecting snow in June so the last 2 miles were more of a challenge than we thought they would be.

It turns out the lake was mostly frozen over.

Caleb took a dip for 5 minutes and nearly died.

 June 7th:
We spent our last night in the Tetons on the 7th and headed down to Salt Lake City on the 8th, spending most of the day in the car.

Dinner in the park.

June 8th:
We dropped Jake and Maddi off at the airport and Caleb and I linked up with Anna and her cousin Catherine for the day before Catherine flew out and Anna joined us for the last leg of the trip. The day consisted of checking out Salt Lake City and jumping in the lake for sunset.

The State Capital.

Inside the State Capital.

Taken just before jumping into the salt lake.

June 9th:
After a couple days of rest and comfort in Salt Lake City, we headed back to the country to check out some more parks and the beauty of the West. We settled in Moab for the night after checking out Arches National Park.

Hiking a brutally hot trail in Arches.

Posing in the arches.

The massive double arch.

We headed back to our site just a few mile away from a massive fire.

On the road home from Arches.

June 10th:
After a day at Arches, we drove the next day to Canyonlands, nearly running out of gas on our way out to The Pinnacles, but filling up before watching sunset in the park. 

The fire got much closer to our site but we still stayed safe

Sunset looked like a scene from another planet.

June 11th
We drove away from Moab breathing in smoke from the fire that reached within 5 miles from our campsite and made it to Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. After driving around the rim, we finished the day by driving to Crested Butte. We hoped to have more time to explore the town but on our way we had to take a 30 mile detour down a dirt road because of a rock avalanche

The rock at Black Canyon is over 1.6 billion years old.

Over 2,700 feet down to the river through the rocks that carved the valley.

Snuck a quick picture during our 30 miles on rough dirt roads.

Just outside our campsite at Crested Butte.

June 12th:
On the 12th, we made it down to Colorado Springs and stayed at my friend Tara's house. We checked out the Air Force Academy and went to a minor league game.

The Rocky Mountain Vibes gave up 11 runs in the 9th inning.

June 13th
We woke up early for church, ate breakfast at the Broadmoor, hiked The Incline, drove up Pikes Peak, and watched sunset at Garden of the Gods to cap off a perfect day in Colorado Springs.

Over 2,700 steps up to the top of The Incline.

From the hike down.

From near the top of Pikes Peak, looking out towards Denver.

Sunset at the Garden of the Gods.

June 14th
We stayed one last night at the Storch's, then drove to Royal Gorge Bridge, drove the distance to Great Sand Dunes National Park, then attempted to find a campsite but were unsuccessful for the only time during the trip. We ended up staying in the car for the night in a Walmart parking lot.

Royal Gorge Bridge. Kind of a tourist trap.

The view from the bottom of Royal Gorge as families waded in the stream.

Taken while climbing the tallest dune in the hills.

Sunset colors at the Dunes.

June 15th
After staying the night in the car, we checked out some ancient ruins, drove down a dirt road to a cliff jumping waterfall, then finishing the day camping outside Mesa Verde. 

The view from the back of the car in the morning. We crammed all of our belongings into the front two seats and tried to cover the windows the best that we could.

We had some great history lessons by the guides at this park.

On the road to the cliff jumping spot.

Just before sunset outside Mesa Verde.

June 16th
We woke up early for a big driving day, starting by doing the driving tour around Mesa Verde, dropping Caleb off in Albuquerque for his flight, and finishing the day by checking out the Very Large Array, camping just 20 minutes outside the array.

The upper view of Mesa Verde.

The Very Large Array.

Sunset on the array's tracks.

June 17th
We woke up in Northern New Mexico and drove down to White Sands, checking out the National Park at lunch but deciding to go to our campsite for a few hours to cool down before returning for sunset.

Panorama of White Sands at sunset.

Posing for portraits at sunset.

The sands and sky made for a very soft color pallete.

June 18th
Coming in from White Sands, we drove past Carlsbad and checked out Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the border in Teas. We went back to Carlsbad to watch the nighttime bat show but cameras were not allowed.

Massive mountains in Guadalupe. 

Although there was plenty of life, it was still a very hot park and I would not recommend visiting in the summer.

June 19th
After securing a campsite just outside of Carlsbad Caverns, we went in early in the morning to try to get a spot to tour and we were able to. We spent the morning there and then drove down to South Texas to check out Big Bend National Park. We got to watch an amazing sunset there before falling asleep to incredibly loud cicadas.

The massive entry to Carlsbad Caverns.

The scale within the cave is astounding.

Sunset over the Rio Grande.

The Mexico side of Big Bend looks like an incredible park too.

June 20th
Getting out of brutally hot Big Bend in the morning, we made it to Austin by mid afternoon and grabbed some food and toured the capital building.

Just outside the capital building in Austin, Texas.

An older man sitting on a bench next to a Beto O'Rourke rally at the capital.

June 21st
One of the biggest driving days of the trip. We made the leg all the way from our Airbnb in Austin to just outside Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Taken from the lake.

June 22nd
We woke up near Hot Springs National Park and spent the morning checking out the park. It may have been a little too close to a city for our liking, but it was still a pleasant little park. We finished the day by driving to Nashville to watch Katherine perform in a writer's round, getting some Nashville hot chicken, and going to a "Honky Tonk Tuesday".

A break on a hike up through Hot Springs National Park.

Some hot springs at the bottom of the national park.

Anna decided to steal a lucky quarter from the pool to pay for our parking. She may have burned her arm because the water was 150 degrees.

Watching Katherine perform in a writers' round. Check her out!

June 23rd
After waking up in Nashville at Katherine's house, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It was a big driving day but we were able to get a good hike into the mountains of the park.

A long exposure on a hike through the mountains.

A beautiful bridge into a path through a rock.

From later on in the hike.

June 24th
After waking up in the Great Smoky Mountains, we headed out early to stop with my friend Ellie for lunch in Asheville and staying in New Bern from the afternoon through the night, dropping off Anna and making the leg up to Norfolk myself to finish the trip.

On the drive out of the park.

Sunset on the drive out of the park.

This trip was not the one I intended on making for my basket leave when I had envisioned it years before. I had hoped to be able to backpack around the European Union, but Covid made sure that I couldn't fulfill that dream just yet. In the end, I'm eternally grateful that that was the case. This trip helped me double my National Park total, broke in my new (old) car, and contributed to friendships that will last a lifetime.

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