Editor's note: Alisa and Bill Goldstein dreamed up a crazy idea in 2009 while visiting Yosemite National Park. Along with their sons, Luke and Winston, they decided to try to visit all 58 national parks before the boys turned 18. Well, they're on their way and, with any luck, should reach No. 59 during a trip to Alaska next year. Recently we caught up with them to check on their progress and got the following report.
National Parks Traveler: What prompted this adventure?
Bill Goldstein: When we first visited Yosemite National Park in 2009, the beauty and idea that it was our land as Americans inspired us to embark upon a national park summer vacation in 2010. We drove from our hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina to Yellowstone.
We used the passport map as our guide to visit other national parks such as Badlands, Wind Cave, Grand Teton, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, and the Great Smoky Mountains. We did all of this in about two weeks and it changed our lives forever. Now, every vacation is strategically designed to visit all 58, now 59, American National Parks.
NPT: Have you had to rename it to "59 before 18" with the renaming of Pinnacles National Park?
BG: Yes. We are in process of a new logo, as well as trying to visit Pinnacles this winter. The primary business will remain 58 before 18 Inc. However, as new parks become elite 'national parks,' our quest may change. Therefore, we are in process of creating a few other alternatives to accomplish a long-lasting adventure together as a family.
NPT: Which is the most difficult park to reach?
BG: Well, visiting all eight in Alaska summer 2014 will be the most difficult. One of them, Gates of the Arctic, contains no roads or trails. We will be planning that trip in a few months. Currently, we are in the final stages of our winter trip. Those parks include Hawai'i Volcanoes, Haleakala, National Park of the American Samoa, and the 59th newest park Pinnacles. American Samoa is the problem. We are working to coordinate this, however it is still very difficult put everything together. Moreover, the more remote, the more expensive.
NPT: How were you able to arrange the time to visit all these parks?
BG: We travel only together as a family during our time away from work and school. We see most of the parks during summer and winter vacation times. Also, during extended weekends throughout the previous few years we have driven long distances to visit a park for a day or two.
NPT: What has been your most unexpected experience so far?
BG: Our most unexpected experience so far has been that we have created a business (selling T-shirts) with this exploration. We spend everyday doing something toward this project. Everyone in our family has an important role. But, the fact that we are all doing it together as a family has created a special 'togetherness' and 'respect' for one another.
When we take these road trips, hike and explore new parks, we become closer to each other. It may sound strange, but being together as a family alone in the wilderness has created a better life for us. Meaning that we have found true happiness when we are in a new park together. And, the feelings last for awhile... until the stress of our normal lives creates tension.
NPT: What has been your most pleasant experience so far?
BG: Our most pleasant experience has to be relishing our country's landscape and accomplishing 43 of the 58, now 59, parks so far. The satisfaction of our hard work, sacrifice and desire to explore is beyond anything we could have dreamed of. Simply seeing the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, grizzly bears in Glacier, or bison in Yellowstone are all adding up to an overwhelming memory of wonder. My favorite part of this quest is spending quality time together as a family.
NPT: What has been your most unpleasant experience so far?
BG: Yelling in the car, fighting among each other, and not eating quality food to save money are all unpleasant. They happen in or around our national parks and across America. They happen in our family.
The yelling usually comes from me, the father of the family. It mostly happens during the early part of the trip. As the days progress and our endorphins kick in, my inner peace is more relaxed. The boys fight occasionally as any normal brother relationship.
However, once again, as the respect for the wilderness happens, so does their respect for one another. Not eating quality food (going out to eat) is just the fact of life for our family. Time, money, and convenience are all factors and will continue to be unpleasant. But the sacrifice is well worth it for the experiences.
NPT: Some of the 59 parks are located near to other units of the National Park System. Are you trying to visit them, as well, or stay strictly on your path to 58/59?
BG: We visit some of the other almost 400 of parks in the system. But battlefields, memorials, and others are not the most thrilling for teenage boys. Also, we thought that 58/59 was more than enough to try and accomplish our task. That being said, if the park is not too far off of the quest, we love jumping of the car, going to the bathroom, taking a quick walk, and stamping the boys' passports.
NPT: How do you handle schooling for your kids?
BG: The two boys both go to fine public schools in North Carolina. We do not take them out of school for this. Also, my wife and I have jobs that require a minimum of 40 hours of work per week to pay the bills.
NPT: Are you car-camping, tenting, or moteling/lodging it, or a combination of all those?
BG: We usually are moteling/lodging it. We don't spend much time in there. It is just a place to stretch, bath, and sleep. If there is a breakfast, it also becomes our lunch. The time crunch and 8 hours of decent sleep is usually the cause for us booking a hotel or lodge.
NPT: Your budget planning for this must have been incredible. Any tips to pass on to readers?
BG: Planning is the key. We plan on writing a book to explain in detail on how we are accomplishing this. But a few tips would be this... do it! Don't listen to the complaining and nagging of the kids. I believe as parents, we are in charge and what we say is the law. They will enjoy exploring the wilderness of our national parks.
We have rules when we are in a park... some include no cellphone, music, etc. We are there for the park and we are blessed to be there. Also, $80 a year for a family to enjoy as many parks as possible is a DEAL! You only have gas and hotel as added expenses. The entertainment is FREE. Make the time, visit one park together as a family, and you will benefit from mother nature.
NPT: Any suggestions for the NPS?
BG: I am very thankful for our NPS. I think they are doing a fantastic job. We show up, get a map, find a trail, hike it, have fun, and more.
The only suggestion I would have would be to allow us to help promote the parks more. I think that out story is compelling enough to inspire others to visit the parks. If the parks are more popular, then there would also be more federal funding to protect them.
NPT: Were you and your wife into national parks as youngsters?
BG: No. Our first few parks were in college. It's a long story... but I will say this... It is never to late to create new family traditions.
You can follow the Goldstein's trip at their website, 58 Before 18.