It’s that time of year again! You know, the time when everyone is figuring out what they want to change about themselves for the new year. All those resolutions that they’re going to keep (at least for the first week and a half) for things they’re going to stop, start, lose, save, and whatever else they decided to put off changing until the first of the year. While I don’t necessarily think that January 1st is the only day of the year to make major lifestyle changes, it’s an easy milestone that allows us to look back on the year behind us and look forward to what we want the year ahead of us to hold.

If you would have told me on January 1, 2016 that I’d be doing the things I did this year, I would have laughed…maybe…maybe I would have believed you and prepared a little bit better. This time last year I had just graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in geology and was planning on starting grad school in the fall. I had recently moved into my first apartment and was working a comfortable guest service position in which I was hoping to get the promotion they had pretty much been dangling in front of me for roughly the past six months.  

Well…2016 didn’t quite happen that way. Instead I ended up spending time living in Utah and then South Dakota, putting over 20,000 miles on my brand new (leased) car, visiting over 30 National Park Service sites and exploring countless other fascinating places across the country, hiking and camping on my own for the first time in my life and giving my parents a heart attack when I tell them about my weekend adventures…every single weekend. Oh, and I didn’t get into grad school, but at this point I’m not even a little disappointed about that.

Camping along the Colorado River near Moab, UT

I’m from Cleveland, OH. In the winter there’s snow…although come to think of it, there really wasn’t that much snow in the winter of 2016. But regardless, it’s cold and grey and gets pretty depressing. By February I was going stir crazy and was ready to go somewhere, anywhere. I had started applying for internships, deciding it would be beneficial to get some sort of geology-esque experience before starting grad school in the fall. I ended up applying to a couple dozen places ranging from the local sewer company to environmental companies to mining and oil companies (so glad I didn’t end up working in this field!) and even to some Geologist-in-Park positions with the National Park Service. I liked the idea of working in a National Park so I ended looking into other NPS internships and opportunities. It was here that I found the Student Conservation Association. The SCA works in partnership with the National Park Service, as well as many other federal and state land agencies, providing access to hundreds of internships and volunteer opportunities. After paying the small fee, I applied for several internships. Best $25 I ever spent!

Within a week I had an interview and a subsequent job offer. The only catch was that the position was in a remote area of Utah, 1,800 miles from home…and I had to be there in 3 weeks. Naturally my parents said no…after all, I was just 21, fresh out of college, with almost no experience living on my own, let alone on the other side of the country. Somehow, after several days of trying to convince them, I was on my way to planning a roadtrip to Utah and packing for a three month stay. On top of packing I had the stress of quitting my job, finding someone to take over my half of rent for the two months left on our lease, and finding a new car (my rusty pickup truck probably wouldn’t have made it out of Ohio, let alone all the way to Utah).

The one condition to my parents accepting the fact that I was moving halfway across the country was that my dad was going to drive out there with me. Which at first seemed like a drag (who wants their dad showing up with them on their first day meeting their new employer?) But it ended up being a really great trip. We made sure to stop at all kinds of weird roadside attractions along the way (I’ll probably talk more about this in a future post) and ended up getting to spend a couple of days of quality father-daughter time while exploring Utah and the road along the way.

The Blue Whale of Catoosa, OK: one of many random roadside attractions along the drive west.

Once I said goodbye to Dad, it was time to settle into a new life in Utah, where I didn’t know anybody, and frankly there weren’t that many people to know since it was a small park, though everyone I did meet ended up being pretty awesome! My  job consisted of working in the visitor center, putting together ranger programs (absolutely terrifying for an introvert like me) and roving the overlooks and hiking trails.

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Hiking the canyons in Utah.

Sometime in those three months living in a remote but gorgeous area and meeting fascinating people from all over the world I decided I liked the park ranger lifestyle and could see it being an actual career path for me, so I started applying for actual park ranger jobs. By the time my internship was over I had a paid ranger position lined up at a park in South Dakota (I don’t know if there are any rules about saying where I work, so I’m simply not going to). My season ended mid-November and for the time being I’m back in Ohio, enjoying family time and getting ready for another year of countless road trips and adventures, new friends, and amazing experiences.

I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if everything I had planned out for this year had actually happened. I’d probably be finishing up my first stress filled semester of grad school, still not really knowing what I wanted to do with my degree and my life. I wouldn’t have met any of the amazing people that have become part of my life. I wouldn’t have seen the sites, drove the roads or tried the things I had the opportunity to experience this year. I started off this post talking about resolutions, since it’s so close to New Years, I figure it’s time for me to start figuring out what I want from 2017. Here are a few of my goals for the upcoming year:


-Hike more: My initial goal is 201.7 miles in 2017, but really I’m hoping to hike closer to 500 miles…hopefully more than that!

Hiking in Badlands National Park, SD


-Travel more: As of 2 days ago, I put 22,000 miles on my little car since February, sticking with the 2017 theme, my goal is to put 20,170 miles on her in 2017 (she’s a pretty fuel efficient vehicle, so I don’t feel too guilty about doing this).

Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park, UT.



-Explore more: Throughout this year, I spent a lot of time going to a lot of places, and squeezing as much as I can into a short trip. My goal is to force myself to take my time, explore more and not be one of those people who’ve “done” this park or that, because you can’t “do” a park in a weekend. Heck! I spent 3 months at one park and 5 at another and still didn’t get to see everything each of those parks had to offer.

Target Site: One of many ruins I found in SE Utah, this I found by mistake when I took a wrong turn.

And last but not least…

-Have more firsts: 2016 was a pretty big year for me in regards to firsts-first time living more than an hour from home, first “big kid” job, first new car, first time hiking alone, first time camping alone, first time sleeping in my car, first time caving, first fancy camera, first time flying on a plane by myself, first time writing a blog post…just to name a few.

First time caving!

I know there are still 9 days left before New Years and it technically isn’t quite time for New Year’s resolutions yet, but I’m a firm believer in making resolutions whenever the heck you feel like it, not just on a certain day of the year. There really isn’t a better time than the present!

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