JACKSON, Mich. — Teresa and Larry Graetz crossed something off of their bucket list this year. The Jackson couple has visited every national park in the U.S.
The Graetzes say their interest in trekking across the United States and visiting all of the national parks came after a trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
“We didn’t have nearly enough time at the Grand Canyon,” Teresa said. “We decided one day to go visit the grand canyon again.”
At the time both Teresa and Larry were working full-time. Once Larry retired in 2013, they bought an RV and embarked on a years-long journey that would take them to all 63 national parks and American Samoa.
Obviously, you can’t get to locations such as American Samoa by RV. The same thing goes for Hawaii but that didn’t stop them from checking out their natural beauty.
“The two in Hawaii, don’t overlook those,” Teresa said. “Volcanoes National Park we visited before they had the big eruption. That was breathtaking.”
“Haleakala took your breath away too,” Larry said.
“The elevation is over 10,000 feet so you’re above the clouds,” Teresa said. “So, you’re surrounded by clouds when you’re up there. You’re literally in the clouds. That one I was shocked when we got out of the car.”
But there was one place in particular that stood out above the rest.
“The most breathtaking for me was the Grand Tetons,” Teresa said emotionally. “And I still get that way. The Grand Tetons took my breath away and I think if I had to return to one I would go there first.”
“I definitely had a similar experience with Bryce Canyon,” Larry said. “Those two are in our top ten but no particular order.”
Bryce Canyon is in Utah.
One of their more challenging trips was through Alaska where there are eight national parks, only three of which are accessible by RV.
“They call it Alaska time,” Larry said. “You really have a loose plan visiting Alaska but it's very weather dependent there. Several of the parks that we visited we had to have a bush plane in order to get there and for safety reasons they just don't fly if it's not safe which we appreciate.”
The drive back home was a challenge in its own right.
“We would literally drive 50 miles without seeing a car or truck,” Larry said. “So your plan is pretty much from not a big town but a town to the next town that might be 100 miles away and refuel and campsite or something and then pick up the next day and continue on. Definitely the most difficult terrain. They deal with permafrost there and the roads buckle even worse than here in Michigan.
“A lot of construction during this summer where they just tear up the road and keep the road open you just drive through the torn-up road,” Teresa said.
Now, their excursions are giving other people inspiration to do the same thing.
“Two of our three sons have started to visit the parks and the third son has shown an interest in visiting them when he's able, so that's been exciting for us to see that they're wanting to do that,” Teresa said. “I've recently had two friends tell us that they're starting to visit the parks so that's been kind of cool. Someone sent us a letter and said that we've been an inspiration for them to continue their journey that they had done. They had maybe visited 26 of the 63 parks but weren't sure if they'd be able to finish due to distance.”
After accomplishing this, what is next for the travelers?
“We love to travel. I'd like to see more of Michigan and more of the United States,” Teresa said. "It's a beautiful country and we would love to continue visiting our country.”
But they might take a trip down Route 66 as well.
“That'll get us through a lot of different states and catch a couple places that we’d like to see again,” Larry said.