Earlier this month, Fountain Hills residents Al and Nancy Lorenz returned from the gates of Arctic National Park in Alaska, the final destination of their lifelong pilgrimage to all 63 national parks.
“It has been an incredible journey for Nancy and I to experience all 63 major national parks and experience an adventure in approximately 150 other national park features,” said Al Lorenz, former telecommunications manager and former member of Fountain Hills Parks. and recreation committee.
The national park system includes 423 national park sites, but only 63 have the “national park” designation in their name, which is an impressive feat. Given their shared passion for the outdoors, this was a significant milestone for both national park enthusiasts.
“We love the outdoors and it’s always been one of those common bonds,” said Nancy, who served as a counselor at Fountain Hills High School for 15 years. The two grew up in South Dakota and met while attending South Dakota State University.
When not in class, the two spent their time hiking and camping, and in the summer of 1976 they were married in a park. Before moving west, they spent their honeymoon jumping in national parks.
Over the years, their methods of exploration have changed from pop-up tents and Coleman lanterns to seaplanes and water taxis, but their passion has remained constant.
“It’s easy to get into the day-to-day rhythm of what you do and take care of your career, kids,” Nancy said. “So when we go on these national park adventures, we feel like we’re seeing new things together and we have a lot of fun.”
Asked about their favorite places, Al had a ready answer.
“It’s kind of like someone saying to me, ‘Who’s my favorite kid?’,” Al said. how big the Grand Canyon is and how big and tall those trees are in Northern California…until you walk on that beautiful flat plane of sagebrush and look at the Grand Tetons, I don’t know not if you can answer this question.
Al likes to visit big mountains, deep canyons and vast wetlands, while Nancy likes the cool weather and crisp snow on the snow-capped mountain ranges.
“I don’t like humidity,” Nancy added. “Al says it’s not swamps, I’m not allowed to say swamps.”
Al corrects her: “Wetlands”.
Over the years, Al and Nancy have learned that when enjoying Mother Nature, safety comes first. At one point while hiking in the Cascades, the two encountered two bear cubs on the trail. Knowing that a mother bear was nearby, the two caught up with a large group of hikers to avoid any mishaps. They’ve encountered moose, snakes, and active volcanoes, but are still there to tell the tale.
Al and Nancy have also become experts in planning their trips to national parks, knowing what to see and when to visit to avoid large crowds and long lines.
“It would be my advice not to go to any of the 15 or 20 major national parks during the summer,” says Al, who has planned a winter trip to Arches National Park with his wife, daughter and son. grandson. When they arrived, they were among the two cars lined up at the entrance to the park.
The two have endless stories of their travels with a stack of photo albums to prove it, but what stands out are their encounters with the people they meet.
During their visit to Isle Royal National Park, a grim storm rolled over Lake Superior, causing the waves to crash against the walls of their island getaway. Dismal thoughts of the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald hovered ominously in the back of Nancy’s mind. To brighten their spirits, Al and Nancy, along with the rest of the distressed Travelers, huddled in the community room, rolled out their sheets, and swapped stories and the rest of their rations in an intimate, communal experience.
Another encounter occurred in one of the most remote parks, American Samoa National Park, encompassing 9,500 land acres and 4,000 sea acres, consisting mostly of coral reefs. The remote park is only accessible by air, making tourism uncommon, which has only fueled Al and Nancy’s desire to visit.
At the park and hoping to swim in the crystal clear waters of the island, Al began asking for a boat to rent when a fisherman offered his boat service in exchange for money. On the boat, Nancy was beginning to worry.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘The shores are shrinking, Al is having a blast, these men are speaking a language I don’t know,'” she said. “So I texted our son and said, ‘If you don’t hear from us, like, in 12 hours, start looking for us with the guy behind the fast food, he’s ‘called Rick and we paid cash.’”
The two made some of their fondest memories that day, swimming along the coral reefs and even joining a few fishermen and their families for an oceanside barbecue.
“The cultural and interesting differences of families and family units and their way of life, it was fascinating, even beyond the beauty of the parks,” Nancy said.
After completing their pilgrimage, Al and Nancy took on various initiatives within their community, the National Park Foundation as well as their alma mater, South Dakota State University, where they support a new wellness center.
“We’re trying to embed an active lifestyle, good nutrition, good mental health, all of that into the whole human being,” Al said. “It’s a very exciting topic for us.”
Semi-retired and enjoying their free time, the two are compiling their notes to write a book of their experiences.
Al and Nancy instilled a love of the outdoors in their children, who traveled to several national parks alongside their parents, carrying a bond that would span generations.
“Our grandson is even a junior ranger now, so we’re attracting this next generation.”