15 National Parks, 14 Days, 4 Snowstorms, and 5 Life Lessons

My sister and I just completed an epic two week plus adventure as part of return to the East coast after a year in Bend, OR (preceded by living our whole lives in Georgia).

We packed everything we own in our Wonder Woman-named Blue Kia Forte, Diana, and headed out of Oregon. There is so much to unpack and share about this trip but I wanted to start with five life-changing lessons that will hopefully help you as much as they did me.

Great Basin National Park skies. Photo by https://www.ginamizzoni.com/

Commit to What You Want

Out of the gate, there was a challenge: my sister Sarah felt terrible the day after her first Covid shot (I had been fine when I got mine a few days before). Even though everything was packed, our room spotless for the next renter, and our car gassed up and ready to go, I asked Sarah if she wanted to get back in bed and we’d figure something out tomorrow. To her eternal credit, she said no. If she was already going to feel terrible, she’d rather do it while heading to our first National Park.

So I drove all day, through Oregon and Nevada, and that night we saw the most unreal stars of our lives in Great Basin, which is an International Dark Sky Association park. If we’d waited even a day, it might have been clouded.

Similarly, I was quite worn out (a little monthly blood loss will do that to you) when my sister suggested a two mile hike up a mountain one afternoon to the Cassidy Arch — the only National Park arch you can walk on (!). As soon as I was walking, I was less tired and more excited, and the feeling of boldly standing hundreds of feet in the air on a narrow rock walkway was exhilarating.

Me and the Cassidy Arch (named after the notorious bank robber) at Capital Reef National Park

The beauty of committing is that you KNOW you want the result, so the struggle to reach the end is of little matter.

Hello, Colorado.

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay.

Everything went smooth through Nevada and Utah (really, like a dream). Then came Colorado.

Our first park and second parks were fine but one evening driving south toward Great Sand Dunes National Park, we hit a heavy snowstorm just as it was growing dark (I believe the area later got five inches of snow). I’m not a great night driver and I was already quite tired and eventually couldn’t see the road. My sister could and so she took over, driving us over thirty more miles to an motel, The Sunset Inn, in Alamosa.

I definitely wasn’t at my best even after I stopped driving. I was scared, a little, and disappointed with myself for not being able to manage the challenging weather, or be at ease after I couldn’t. I had made good choices but still, I felt like I had failed.

The next morning I reconciled with myself that what I had felt was The Panic Zone, that place beyond your Comfort and Growth Zones. I had been out of my Comfort Zone for a lot of this trip, including driving in snow through the mountains earlier the previous day, but then I had just gone too far — and gotten scared. A fair and acceptable cost to growing so much this whole trip. And most importantly, it didn’t stop us from…

Hell yeah, it’s a picture we took of Rocky Mountain National Park!

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway

Twice snow nearly altered our plans. Even after spending January 2020 in Iowa, I was still basically a Georgia girl with little knowledge of snow and snowstorms. After The Panic Zone night, we considered cutting our trip short and heading for a planned reunion in Iowa, then onward to the (much warmer) East.

Thank goodness we didn’t. Even though our respect for Westward weather had increased, we still decided to follow the highway north to Rocky Mountain National Park. And what a park! Probably the most beautiful one we saw (at least in some ways). And SO peaceful.

“Every step a f**king adventure.” — Al Swearengen, HBO’s Deadwood

In South Dakota, the snow again stopped us, this time while heading to North Dakota. But it led to a surprise visit/stay on the historic Main Street of Deadwood, which was really exciting for me. And the next day we decided to keep going, onward to…

Wildlife painting or our photo from Teddy Roosevelt National Park? You decide.

In both cases, some of the most beautiful, memorable parts of the trip happened because we didn’t let fears of what ‘could’ happen change our course (and it ended up being easy, snow-free drives to both places).

Not a primitive campsite but nearby one at Capital Reef National Park

Holy Smokes! We can do anything.

It was a night of primitive camping that really convinced us that there were no limits, that we had become different people, that we could do anything.

The idea of paying nothing, pitching our tent in the middle of nowhere (near a few strangers), with no restrooms, lights, or anything — was wild. It was a legitimate, named primitive campsite but not on the Park grounds.

Many other times on the trip we had the same feeling — that feeling of the old world, old rules slipping away, and that the new us really could do anything we set our minds to, and just maybe, we had never been told the whole truth about how wide and wonderful and ours the world really is.

A pale morning sun illuminates the snow in Badlands National Park.

You Don’t Know Until You Go

I had my doubts that we’d last two weeks on the road, at such a pace, living on peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Instead, we arrived in North Carolina safe, sound, and surprisingly rested.

But most of all, I had no idea how it would feel to visit these Parks in person, stand at these viewpoints, see sun and rain and snow on such national treasures, and be so free. I had no idea how beautiful the Badlands were until I stood amid their hills and canyons.

And I think that is a valuable lesson for us all, especially as we plan our dreams. We imagine, perhaps we worry about the downsides, but nothing can truly prepare us for just how amazing and miraculous standing there will be — and how worth it is the trip to get there (snowstorms and all). Happy travels!

National Parks We Visited On This Trip:
  • Great Basin, NV
  • Zion, UT
  • Bryce Canyon, UT
  • Capital Reef, UT
  • Canyonlands, UT
  • Arches, UT
  • Mesa Verde, CO
  • Canyon of the Gunnison, CO
  • Great Sand Dunes, CO
  • Rocky Mountain, CO
  • Wind Cave, SD
  • Theodore Roosevelt, ND
  • Badlands, SD
  • Indiana Dunes, IN
  • New River Gorge, WV
Peaceful beauty amid destiny at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Published by katherinecerulean

Novelist, founder of The Athens Writers Association, and enthusiast of all things awesome and magical. Need my help with ANYTHING? Just ask!

2 thoughts on “15 National Parks, 14 Days, 4 Snowstorms, and 5 Life Lessons

  1. Feeling the fear and choosing to do things is a big one, because I find I often choose to chicken out whenever I’m faced with challenges. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Just know that is a very universal, human feeling — it saved us from getting eaten by sabretooth tigers! In the here and now, I sometimes just try to stand in that place of fear, even just for a few minutes. You don’t always have to take action TOWARD the fear, just be willing to stand in the place you’re afraid of and recognize that you are fine and strong and brave. And like they say, you know more than you think you do. Thanks for your kind words — rock on!

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