Plants of our National Parks: Part 1 - Our Story

Recently, Jon Ewing, co-founder of Lively Roots, asked us to share the green space experiences we’ve enjoyed during our travels to all of America’s major National Parks.

Our journey began in early 2009 when my wife Terry and I scheduled an appointment with a Financial Planner to help us see the forest for the trees in our upcoming journey into the mysterious landscape of pre-retirement. (We weren’t quite ready for full retirement in ‘09!) As it turned out, Mary Zimmerman was more a “Life Planner” than financial counselor.  She explained to us that before she could help us with our financial plan, she’d need us to figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. “The Life Plan precedes the Financial Plan,” Mary explained. “Figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, then we can figure out the financial means needed to make that happen!”

Perhaps the most compelling element emerging from our sessions with Mary was the creation of our Life Plan Goal of visiting all 59 of America’s incredible National Parks and experience the flora, fauna, history and culture of these majestic landscapes.

Having long been outdoor enthusiasts, we’ve known that our National Parks offer spectacular green spaces and places where us city folk can find a respite from the daily dust cloud of urban activity.  So in October of 2009, Terry and I set about to achieve our goal of trekking every one of our country’s major parks.

During our journey, we had the pleasure of trekking amongst some of earth’s most incredible environments. Our passion for the parks has taken us from Acadia to American Samoa. From Gates of the Arctic to the Virgin Islands. We’ve hiked deep into canyons and high up mountaintops. We’ve walked amongst landscapes that included stands of 3500-year-old Bristlecone Pines, dense rainforests, 50-foot tall saguaro cactus, wildflower blooms bursting with color, trees with knees and so much more.

We’ve learned about scat and scree. We’ve enjoyed the simple comforts of tent camping as well as the comfort of a feather bed at a park Lodge. We’ve hiked to where “Angels” have landed and we’ve stood next to Devil’s Postpiles. We’ve visited the homes of the ancient Anasazi and explored the homesteads of the Fruita Valley. We’ve seen geysers and glaciers and green spaces aglow with wildflowers. We’ve touched petrified woods and smelled the pungent gases of Lassen’s Sulphur Works.

We experienced the awesome feeling of standing next to the earth’s tallest tree and tiptoeing around places where “living dirt” thrives. We achieved our goal on September 17, 2017 with a visit to one of the country’s least visited parks – the National Park of American Samoa!

During the course of our journey, we approached our son Charlie (a game designer and artist by trade) with a novel idea: "What if we made a game about visiting the national parks?" The idea blossomed into reality as the family spent the next year testing, developing and self-publishing a tabletop board game that would eventually be known as Trekking the National Parks™.

Over the past 10 years, our treks have given us a deep appreciation for these incredible green spaces and for those folks who have helped and continue to help preserve and protect the finest collection of Mother Nature’s most fabulous Cathedrals. Our country is blessed to have many of the world’s most amazing recreational playgrounds for all of us to enjoy. We encourage you to develop your own passion for the parks and hope you enjoy the stories and photographs of our experiences while trekking about the parks and the spectacular plants within them.

Happy trails!


John Binkele


John Binkele

Photo: John, Terry and Charlie Binkele at Glacier National Park, MT

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