In honor of National Park Week, Park Chasers is launching a new series of guest posts called “Park Chaser Profiles.” Each Q & A interview features the story of a national park traveler. Whether you are visiting your first park or your 400th, we hope the travel tips and shared experience helps inspire your next national park adventure. Our first post in the series features photographer and self-described ‘serial road tripper’ Sandra Ramos also known as: The National Park Patch Lady.
Total Park Count:
159 out of 417
Tell us where and how your interest in the national parks got started?
It happened completely by accident!
I was living in Washington DC at the time, and had just retired from a 20-year career in politics. A friend who I had worked with in a Congressional office wanted me to tag along with her on a trip to Gettysburg National Military Park and Antietam National Battlefield. Honestly, I didn’t want to go – why would I want to spend three days at battlefields? Begrudgingly, I went and instantly fell in love.
I’m a history buff, research nerd, and avid road-tripper, and these parks had everything I didn’t know I wanted.
When we returned home, I looked up the National Park Service and all the park sites I could find around me. Shortly after I found there was an amazing community of NPS lovers on instagram.
The rest is history 🙂
How did you decide to start sharing your national park interest online?
Being a photographer and an oversharer, it was a natural progression for me to want to show others what I learned and experienced at National Park sites, especially the smaller parks many don’t know about.
We’re so glad that you decided to!! Tell us about your Instagram account and where else to find you online:
Instagram: @nationalparkpatchlady – photos and interesting trivia about park sites, with weekly Pop Quiz trivia contests.
Facebook: @National Park Patch Lady – photos and current news links that affect our National Parks
Twitter: @nppatchlady – a combination of both of the above and random retweets from Park-minded accounts.
What’s the most recent park you visited?
The most recent parks I’ve visited were parks I’ve previously explored, but always find interesting: Padre Island National Seashore, Palo Alto National Historic Battlefield, Lyndon Johnson/Texas White House National Historical Park. In January, I re-visited Biscayne NP and Everglades NP for eight weeks.
What is on your itinerary for 2018?
In late May, we are planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i and will be exploring the four NPS sites: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, and Pu’ukohala Heiau National Historic Park.
In June I’ll be heading to Boston National Historical Parks; and July 4th will be one of my favorite events – the reading of the Declaration of Independence at Morristown NHP.
What Sandra Loves About the Parks
What’s your favorite thing to do when you visit a national park unit for the first time?
I definitely hike, and love to do Junior/Citizen Ranger programs to learn about each park. Being a history buff, I enjoy watching the visitor center films as well. The opportunity to see any park at night is a plus. I’m always interested in nighttime events at a national park site.
My obsession with patches led my friends to call me the National Park Patch Lady, and the nickname stuck. I have a huge collection of park patches!
As far as traditions go, each park holds different wonders, so I always talk with a ranger or volunteer about their favorite part of the park before I begin. This dialogue helps guide where to start or focus when exploring a park for the first time.
Everyone that travels to a national park has a favorite story or two they like to tell about a trip. What’s one that you’d like to share with us?
I’m not very good at storytelling, but I’ll give you a few of the best park experiences I’ve ever had:
- The first sunrise I saw at Joshua Tree National Park had me in (happy) tears and was one of the most amazing natural experiences I’ve ever had.
- Meeting Ranger Dan at Fort Stanwix National Monument in New York the day after my father passed. He spent almost the whole day with me as I explored this under appreciated national monument.
- My first conversation with Ranger Gary at Biscayne National Park. We had a “nerd-off” about obscure NPS trivia (I like to think I won, knowing Massimo Vignelli designed the NPS unigrid!)
Travel Tips from National Park Patch Lady
As an experienced traveler, how do you decide where to travel to next? How do you plan your itinerary when you pick a park? Do you like to have a set plan for the entire visit or like to decide when you get there?
It usually begins haphazardly – checking my partner’s travel schedule to see what I can piggy-back on, or just feeling itchy for a road trip. Where I end up depends on how much time I have to spend in the area.
Research is vital (as I’ve shown up to park sites, only to find them closed on particular days). I plan one or two options per day to account for weather or other last-minute options. I’ll put together a timeline of the trip with options and destinations plugged in – I have a tendency to forget what day it is while traveling!
What are the resources you use when planning national park trips?
I always check the National Park Travelers Club database map for cancellation stamp locations. They have a great trip planner map that can assist in route selection. I Google photos of the park to see where the good photographic opportunities are and figure out what gear I should take. One of my favorite apps is Weather Underground, which graphs the best time for landscape and night photography, so I can plan my sunrise/sunset/night shots. I search The Dyrt to find local campgrounds and the app Next Exit has become a road trip must-have.
What advice do you have for friends and family who ask about the amount of time and money it takes to travel so much?
A little planning and ingenuity can go a long way to cutting costs – camp instead of getting a hotel room; find a cooking system that works for you instead of eating on the road; investigate a gas card that gives you cash off gallons of gas purchased.
Time is a little more difficult to maneuver (you can’t add hours to a day!), but making it a priority is a good start. Watch less tv during the week and get your chores done instead, so you can hit the open road faster. Get out to lesser known parks or national forests close by more often.
What tips would you give to someone who is just starting their parkchasing list? Anything you wish you would have known from the beginning?
When many people think of National Parks, they only consider the “Big 59”, but all 417 sites are National Parks. Don’t overlook the smaller parks – many National Historical Sites might not initially sound interesting, but many have enthusiastic rangers that can make the experience one of a kind.