NATIONAL PARKS GUIDES: HOT SPRINGS

The focus of this park is unabashedly the history of the region and the importance it played in the transformation of medicine at the time. The tours offered at the Fordyce Bathhouse are dripping with historical trivia, and walking through the building offers an incredible view into a time capsule of the United States during the Victorian-era.

NATIONAL PARK GUIDES: MAMMOTH CAVE

We were enchanted by the Historic Tour. This was one of our top experiences with our heroes in khaki. The history of the cave, from military asset to World Heritage site, is incredible. We just came to see "a hole in the ground", and came back out adventurers.

NATIONAL PARK GUIDES: SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS

The San Antonio Missions are the preserved remains of a series of Catholic Missions built by the Spanish in the 17th through the 19th century. The entire system of Missions throughout the Spanish Empire was designed to convert the local population, including the Pajalat, Nabedache, Coahuiltecan, and Hasanai. The park, which is also a UNESCO Heritage Site, is comprised of four distinct Missions.

END OF A ROAD; UNRAVELING THE MYTH

With so many highs it was difficult to choose favorites. On a different day we might name another place. How does one judge descending into the New River Gorge against wading in the Colorado's frigid waters on a Glen Canyon beach? What makes learning about the one-armed, explorer, cartographer and general badass John Wesley Powell any less intriguing then witnessing Native American dance? Is the culture of the Puebloan people preserved at Bandelier National Monument any less important than the sculpture gardens at the Nasher Center? Is anything more beautiful than stumbling upon the expansive crater of Valles Caldera at sunset, or watching J look upon the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or having a cool lake to ourselves on a sweltering Texas day?

END OF A ROAD; UPPING THE ANTE

The first time I saw Pittsburgh I knew I would leave her. She could be cold, nebby, and casually racist, but really, it was me. With so much out there to see in this world, I've never entertained the idea of being tied down to any one city. I've never had a car note, a mortgage, or a desire to settle down. While I appreciate the homes others have fashioned for themselves, I'm not quite ready for a long-term commitment. I have an ongoing joke of a New Year's resolution: all new mistakes. It's a way to remind myself to take chances, explore new territory, learn to dig deeper. It's a call to say yes to opportunities and have a sense of humor when things go awry.

NATIONAL PARKS ARE COUNTING ON US ALL TO THINK RESPONSIBLY

Take heart, gentle traveler, for there is a way to mindfully take joy in the true national treasures of the United States. The men and women protecting our parks are fighting an uphill battle to protect us from ourselves, and we can help them. Follow the rules posted on the clearly posted signs. They are meant to protect both you and the wildlife. Place trash in proper receptacles. They're everywhere. Adhere to the trails. The maps are free and comprehensive. Do not try to steal the limited, federally-protected nature. Basically, don't be terrible.