Terra Galleria Photography

National Parks Travelers


If you’ve followed the PBS link at the end of my post about the Ken Burns National Parks film, you’ve seen that collecting the National Parks stamps that can be obtained at visitor centers has been a popular hobby. More than a million of the “Passport” books designed to collect the stamps have been sold. There are stamps not only in the 58 National Parks, but also at each of the 391 National Park Service units that include a hodgepodge of designations, such National Monuments, National Historical Sites, National Lakeshore, National Memorial, etc…

I knew that others make an obsessive pursuit of visiting National Parks and NPS units. I had read about a person who visited all the units. However, I was surprised when I received an email last week from Nancy Bandley, the president of the National Park Travelers Club (NPTC). Some of the descriptions here are straight from that email. Nancy pointed out that the club includes 14 members who have not only visited all the 58 national parks, but all 391 national park sites in the NPS system. They even have a program with the NPS to write letters of congratulations to any one in the club who achieves what they call the Platinum Member status- visiting all 391.

The website of the club is http://www.parkstamps.org. Access to most of the site’s contents requires a free registration. There is a forum full of trip reports, where members quiz each other by posting “mystery photos”, details of obscure parks that are in general, amazingly, quickly solved.

At first, you get the impression that the club is heavily focussed on collecting the stamps. Parks with several visitor center locations have several different stamps, whose exact locations are listed. The passport stamps continue to grow rather exponentially with the addition beyond the 391 to National Trails, and National Heritage Corridors. One corridor, Hudson River Valley, has 61 stamps in it alone. They helped Eastern National, the organization who created the passport program for the national parks, design a new passport called the explorer edition- it is larger, has a loose leaf binder arrangement to add in more pages, which is rapidly becoming more imperative to the serious visitor and stamp collector. This month alone brought 13 new stamps for a new Heritage Corridor, the Gallah Geechee. However, Nancy kindly made it clear that although it may seem that the emphasis is on stamps, it is not the primary purpose of the group, that is park visitation.

Ken Burns used the “stamps” sequence out of an hour-long interview for the film. However, in my quest, the focus has never been into just visiting the parks, but rather (a) to photograph each park with a large format camera (b) to photograph each park extensively enough so that the image collection is truly representative of the place. To this effect, I have visited each of the National Parks on average more than 3 times, being less than 10 parks away from having visited them all twice, returning to many locations several times, in different weather and seasons.

I do not even have the Passport. Instead, I just used the front endpaper pages of the National Geographic guide to collect the stamps. Mine was the first edition of that guide. Although subsequently I sought a number of publications more specifically geared towards the photographer (this would be the subject of another post), I have found the National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States, now it its 6th edition, to the best all-around guide to the National Parks. That was the book used to plan most of my travels.

It would be nice if modesty prevented me from mentioning that in 5th and 6th edition, National Geographic used more than 40 of my images, including the sunrise image of Cholla Cactus in Joshua Tree National Park as the book opener in the 5th.

Speaking of resources for National Parks travelers, let me also mention a few free ones, besides, of course, the NPS site. That site has much improved over the years, and now gives easy access to all the official maps (which used to be buried in a hard-to-locate section) and brochures. They are still lacking a bit in the photo department, though 🙂 The aptly named http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com is the best source for daily news and updates about the parks. In addition, Kurt Repanshek, the editor, and his collaborators also regularly post great features, such as the traveler’s checklist. The National Parks Foundation offers the extensive National Parks Owner Guide for download. There is also a section with a lot of information at the National Parks Conservation association.

By he way, the first photo is from Kobuk Valley National Park, the least visited of the 58 National Parks. That quiz was not even in the ballpark in listing Big Bend as least visited (NPS statistics). The previously cited sites are much less likely to have that kind of errors !


  1. congratulations, thats a fantastic accomplishment !

  2. Nickie Price says:

    Hi Tuan — I’m an long time fan of Ken Burns’ documentaries and have been enjoying the National Parks. I’m so glad that you and your exquisite photographs are in it, and wanted to say congratulations!

  3. Larry Hayden says:

    Hi QT,

    I really enjoyed seeing your segment on the series. Your enthusiasm was contagious and I was really enchanted with your dedication to photography and the National Parks. I’m a relatively new LF photographer, but the information you’ve provided for so long, has been both an inspiration and a huge help to me personally.

    Congratulations on a wonderful achievement!


Leave a Reply to Larry Hayden