At a recent staff meeting, we were asked to share about trips we had planned for this summer and fall.

“Well, we’re going to Alaska in September, which is really exciting.  But it will also be the culmination of my quest to visit all 50 states.”

“Wow, that’s so cool Leslie, good for you!”

I didn’t start this quest a long time ago.  It didn’t even become a goal until a few years ago.  At a gathering with friends, conversation turned to traveling.

“I guess I was most surprised how many people had never been west of Pittsburgh.  They’ve even seen the Rocky Mountains.”

“Yeah, it is amazing how many people really get comfortable, and don’t visit other states.  I’ve always loved maps, and adventures.  I wanted to see places different from where I live.”

About ten years ago I realized, I had seen 42 states around the country.  I didn’t set out to visit all of them, but part of it came from my childhood vacations.  Some came from my own wanderlust.

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri – smack in the middle of the midwest.  Missouri is like the hub of a bicycle wheel in the U.S. making it easy to venture out a day’s drive and see a lot more states.  We made many visits to the east coast and New England early on.  Most of my parent’s relatives lived on the east coast.

Later on, we made trips to Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota for family vacations.  The quintessential family packing up the station wagon, and driving the nation’s interstate highways.

As a young adult, I knocked off a lot more states driving cross-country two times, once from Washington, DC to California.  I deliberately picked routes unknown to me, seeing barren prairies in Texas, mountains around New Mexico, and red rock canyons in Utah.

My career in the National Park Service lent itself to more adventures, working at seven different national parks all over the U.S.  Tick Oregon and Washington states off the list, as well as all the states of New England while working at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Suddenly, visiting all 50 states seemed attainable.  Some were more desirable or easier than others.  Visiting Hawaii took a lot of planning, time and money.  Heck, just flying there is difficult enough.  We spent a full week exploring the wonders of Kauai.

Last year, we made special trips to tick two more off my list — visiting North Dakota and South Carolina.  What’s been most surprising, yet rewarding, is what I’ve discovered.  I can honestly say if I hadn’t been trying to finish my 50-state quest, I probably would’t have visited either state.  Yet what I found there revealed new appreciation for history and wilderness.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park blew me away with its quiet beauty, wildlife, and ruggedness.  I never expected such stark expanses that more than any other place, reminded me of the wild west.

Charleston, South Carolina reminded me of our nationa’s rich history as well as charm.  Sprawling oaks lining streets filled with colonial houses took me back two hundred years.  Stories of our nation’s great civil war and the strife it caused within our ranks reminded me of our resilience and courage.

And so I come to the end, visiting Alaska — “the last frontier.”  The sheer size of the state is daunting, and the photos of tundra, fjords, and glaciers take my breath away.  It will be a wonderful way to end my quest.

Which will leave me with one question.

What will be my next adventure and where will it lead?