Sequoia, CA

"It was a long, confusing trek to the General Sherman Tree, as well as the Congress Group and the President. I wondered what made these in particular so special. They looked identical to others I’d already passed on the trail. Apparently, General Sherman is the largest tree by volume in the world, at 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at the base."

Yosemite, CA

"Nevada Falls billowed rainbow off the rock face, the icy water letting off a fiery, colorful aura that could not be properly photographed. It burned, absolutely, with every color, shamelessly. The Liberty Cap presided over this, as well as the deep, sweeping valley below. The wildflowers and trickling cliffs shone in the waning, warm sunlight. I stood there for a long time, watching, listening, and then I descended my final mountain peak for this trip."

Lassen Volcanic, CA

"And the best part of Lassen? The butterflies. Millions, billions of them, in orange and black sheets sweeping up the mountainside, carried onward by the winds. I was so dearly lucky to have seen such a thing, so many of them teeming so quickly through the air at once that they bounced off my sunglasses a few times. It felt as if this sight was just for me, as if they were welcoming me home in this swirling, colorful parade. I couldn’t believe it."

Mount Rainier, WA

"The colors were almost fluorescent, and sickly sweet. The crystal-blue pond near the trail was ringed with the flowers, watched over by the trees of the most perfect green I have ever seen. Small explosions of fuchsia blooms, canary-yellow daffodils, and white buds sprinkled themselves among the enveloping waves of lilac like fireworks against the backdrop of verdant green."

Yellowstone, WY

"From the overlook, an unbelievably bright pool simmered and steamed down below. Acid-aqua and sulfur yellow, umber orange and ocean blue in the middle of this stark gray-swirled plane. The most beautiful water I have ever seen, although I couldn’t approach closer down on the actual boardwalks due to the perpetually full parking lot over there. A better view from above anyway, I think."

Badlands, SD

"This road trip around the West was something that I knew I would want to remember for a long time, so I decided to keep a running journal to tell a story about every park I visited. It was just a pen and a notebook in my tent, by a lantern at times. So, depending on the day, some of my entries were ecstatic, and others were a little sour. I would say this day was a bit sour."

Wind Cave, SD

"The trail spun outward into infinity, and I followed. Into the gently waving horizon, nothing and no one surrounding me. I slowly spun in the middle of the rich emptiness, just breathing. My sun-strained brow relaxed, my shoulders loosened. I let down my final guard, and I stared."