Dale Blasingame, in my opinion, is good at everything he touches. A self-described addictive personality, he’s not going to do something unless it’s done 100%. I know from personal experience. Dale and I were co-producers of the weekend newscasts at WOAI-TV for several years. He definitely got me out of a few binds and impressed me with his producing skills! Now a Lecturer at Texas State University, his alma mater, Dale is tackling another challenge. During his time off he is trying to visit all 400+ national park properties. He is realistic that this feat is going to take a long time but if anyone can do it, I know he can. Dale has already visited ALL 95 Texas State Parks in one year! He’s even featured in the January/February 2016 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. I asked him several questions about his journey, as well as his plans for the future.
In Dale’s words:
What inspired you to visit all of the state parks in one year? Was that the original plan?
I had just gotten back from a road trip across the west to Montana, Yellowstone and the Rockies, and I was incredibly bored. One day I went to Pedernales Falls State Park, bought a state parks pass and that was all it took. It definitely wasn’t the goal when I was headed to the park that day, but it was a fantastic journey.
What have you learned about yourself from the experience?
Biggest thing I learned was that I’m a hiker. Hah. I never considered myself an outdoorsy person in the least until all this started. I was more of a big city, 5-star hotel guy. Being outdoors now keeps me centered. It’s my getaway.
What is your favorite state park?
This one is easy – Palo Duro Canyon State Park. My sister lives in Amarillo, so I get to go there fairly often. It’s beyond gorgeous, and the views never cease to amaze. My second favorite park is about an hour away from Palo Duro – Caprock Canyons State Park. So that’s a fantastic 1-2 punch in the panhandle.
Which park is the most challenging?
I don’t know that I’d say any state park is necessarily challenging – that’s the beauty of them. They’re approachable for people of all ages and fitness levels. The longest hike I’ve done in a state park is Seminole Canyon near Del Rio. We did 13 miles there, but even that wasn’t necessarily “challenging.”
Big Bend Ranch State Park is challenging for a different reason. You have to be able to drive off-road to see most of the park. My Prius doesn’t cut it there.
To reach Devil’s River State Natural Area, you have to drive 22 miles on a bumpy, dirt road. It takes about an hour and a half to go that final 22 miles. It’s also not Prius friendly.
One of the most challenging hikes in our state is Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It’s the highest point in Texas, and there’s a 6,000 foot elevation change along nine miles. I didn’t take a lunch or enough water, so I considered stopping a few times before a couple of students from Baylor convinced me to keep going. I’m glad they came along that day.
What state park would be an easy day trip from San Antonio?
Enchanted Rock is probably the easy answer here. It’s one of the most popular state parks, and it’s only an hour and a half away. If you’re doing this in the spring or summer, make sure and arrive early. The park only allows a certain number of people on the rock, so long lines can start to form after 10-11 a.m.
What if I had a weekend?
My weekend trips are admittedly not going to be everyone else’s cup of tea. I consider Big Bend National Park or Palo Duro a doable weekend trip. A more realistic weekend trip might include a trip to Padre Island National Seashore, which is out on the island near Corpus Christi. I really like Malaquite Beach, and you can camp there on the sand.
What about a full week?
If you’ve never been to Big Bend National Park, do it. It’s my favorite place in Texas. I love everything about it. The trails (especially The Window), the canyons, the views, the unique experience of looking north into Mexico, beers from Big Bend Brewery, Terlingua and the Starlight…everything.
Do you have a travel companion or do you prefer to go it alone?
My dog, Lucy, goes with me to all the state parks. She’s been to 50+ so far. I rescued her after a hike one day. She’s my partner in crime. Unfortunately, you can’t have dogs on the trails in national parks. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get her to Big Bend.
If you could choose your dream park travel companion for one epic trip who would it be and why?
Does Penelope Cruz count? If so, Penelope Cruz. I’ll spare you the reasons why. But seriously, I would have loved to have met John Muir. He’s become one of my biggest heroes over the past couple of years. I would have loved to hike across the Sierra Nevada Mountains with him and just soak up all the knowledge along the way. Maybe he could have invited Teddy Roosevelt, as well.
Have you faced any challenges while traveling?
You get lost a lot, especially trying to find some of these out-of-the-way state parks. I’ve had to run from some hungry feral hogs and heard a bear growl while on a trail. But that just adds to the excitement.
You’ve said you didn’t hike much before this experience. What do you enjoy about hiking now?
For starters, it’s pretty good exercise without realizing you’re exercising. Two, I love the thrill of finding a new trail that you fall in love with and sharing it with others. I love the smell of trees and clean air. That crunching sound as you walk across leaves. I love coming across creeks along the way and getting your feet wet. And I especially love the feeling of accomplishment when you reach a summit somewhere and experience the view that you worked hard to see.
You mentioned wanting to visit all 400+ national park properties. What’s on your travel agenda for 2016? How long to you anticipate this goal to take?
I have a 32-park property trip coming up on New Year’s Day. I’m headed to the Smoky Mountains, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Delaware for two weeks. For summer, it’s looking like I’m going to head to Utah and the Grand Canyon. It’s going to take forever to visit all the national park properties, but that’s okay. It keeps the travel planning interesting. I’m only about 80 parks in, so far. Aside from national park properties, I really want to visit Cuba. I’ve always been fascinated with it, and I want to see Havana before it becomes touristy. I’m hoping to do an academic trip there sometime in 2016 or 2017.
What are your travel essentials?
My Camelbak and plenty of water, peanut butter crackers and trail mix. It’s the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions on the road. I travel light when I go on extended trips. One good thing about traveling solo is you don’t really care if you’re wearing the same clothes from the day or two before. You’re the only person who has to put up with it – and no one cares on the trails. Lucy hasn’t complained yet, either.
What would your advice be to someone who wants to visit all of our state parks?
Don’t let the number 95 overwhelm you. Start local, and then expand out from there. And get a state parks pass, for goodness sake!
Please tell me that you’re going to write a book about this….
I’m actually working on two books. One is a personal story about the journey along the way. The other is a children’s book with Lucy as the main character. And I’m writing all year for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. Lots of writing to do!
What makes your soul flutter?
A great sunrise. A great sunset. Hearing my dad get excited when talking about my travels or where I’m headed next. Finding an unexpected waterfall along the Pacific Coast Highway. The Skagit River. The Lincoln Memorial. Southwestern Montana.
Lots of things. You just have to keep your eyes and agenda open. Embrace serendipity.
Living with soul,