Some fourteen years ago, I began a love affair with our country’s national parks, historic places, and monuments. A few years after I had started hiking a number of the western parks with my friend, Joyce, my sister, Heather, discovered the National Parks passports, and she encouraged me to get one. I figured it was too late, but after I spent an additional year exploring parks without this souvenir, I finally took the plunge and bought a passport.
A national parks passport is a small notebook which lists and maps the national parks and leaves space for validation stamps, which may be obtained at the visitor’s centers of most parks. Because the date on the stamp gets changed daily, it is a way of keeping track not only of which parks I’ve visited, but also when I was there. My Beloved Husband refers to the practice of visiting parks as “stamp collecting,” and there are certainly numerous destinations I’ve visited with Heather, Joyce, or both based solely on the statement, “It’s a stamp.”
Within the passport, the country is divided into geographic regions, each identified by a different color. Most of the parks in each region make sure that the ink for their stamp pads matches the color of the region, so in the Northeast, the stamps are brown, in the Southeast, the stamps are purple, etc.
Washington DC gets a region all its own, and it represents the highest stamp density of the entire country. A four mile hike in Acadia National Park in Maine merits only a single stamp, whereas a four mile hike of the National Mall can net upwards of ten stamps or more. Thus Washington DC is the mother-lode of stamps for a passport, and on Heather’s recent visit, we set out to embellish her passport to the max.
For some locations in Washington, such as Ford’s Theater, the stamp is easily located in the bookstore, but for an outdoor location such as the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the World War II Memorial, or the Korean War Memorial, where are the stamps? On a trip to DC nearly ten years ago, I discovered that one of the treasure troves of stamps exists in the bookstore of the Lincoln Memorial. I went to get the single stamp for that location and was handed a box with eight separate stamps. Eight! I felt I had won the lottery! Apparently the Washington Monument visitor’s center is another stamp bonanza, and even at the Old Post Office tower, there is a second stamp for the Pennsylvania Ave National Memorial.
Heather was bemoaning that she had no stamps in the mid-Atlantic region, and she was a little taken aback that I had so many of the light blue stamps, collected from spending a considerable amount of time in Virginia over the years. In a moment of inspiration, I realized that if we went to the Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery, that was actually in Virginia, so a visit there over the weekend got Heather a stamp in that region, so her light blue section is no longer so bare.
Stamp collecting is probably my favorite souvenir experience, and I highly recommend getting a National Parks Passport no matter how many parks you might have missed. They are usually around the cash register in visitor’s center, and for about $8, they provide a wonderful record of my travels and suggest future destinations. One of my goals for the year is to try to get every stamp in the National Capital region- if I can just find where they are all hidden!
P.S. I just looked up that Capitol is the building and Capital is the city. How crazy, I looked it up!