Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith

I recently read a book titled “Dear Bob and Sue” by Matt and Karen Smith.  This book is in keeping with my theme of books about the National Parks.  Matt and Karen quit their jobs and took a year off to visit all 58 (now 59) National Parks.

First of all, a disclaimer.  I get a little insulted when people act like the only national park sites worth seeing are the ones that are designated “National Parks.”  There are currently 417 National Park Sites.  Some people act like anything that is a National Monument, a National Historic Site, or a National Military Park is less important than a National Park.  I had a woman tell me that King’s Mountain was “just” a National Military Park so it didn’t count.  Humph.  But Matt and Karen Smith felt like they had to set some limits on their adventure.

“Dear Bob and Sue” is written as a series of postcards and e-mails to their friends Bob and Sue.  It doesn’t follow any particular organization.  They talk about the parks they visited in the order they visited them.  Matt and Karen started with parks close to their home in Washington.  They finished with the two parks in Alaska that are most difficult to reach.  Instead of a giant road trip, they flew to most of their destinations and rented a car to see the national parks in that area.  They only spent one or two days in a park, usually staying at hotels outside the park.

Matt and Karen Smith set some standards for being able to count a park as “visited.”  They had to go to the Visitors Center to collect the park brochure and get the passport stamp.  They took their picture by the sign for the park and they took a hike in the park.

“Dear Bob and Sue” is a series of humorous snapshots of the National Parks.  Because they were only in the parks for short periods of time, Matt and Karen were not able to see or do everything in the parks.  For instance, they visited Cuyahoga Valley on a Monday when the train was not running and Hale Farm was closed.  I enjoyed their descriptions of parks that I have visited – it brought back good memories.  When they went to Death Valley they visited the Borax Museum, the Racetrack, and Titus Canyon.  Unfortunately, they missed our favorite place – Scotty’s Castle.

I enjoyed the humorous descriptions.  Matt’s description of the things he carried in his backpack was especially funny.  But the couple also had some less humorous encounters with wild animals (grizzly bear and big horn sheep).  A small plane they were in collided with another airplane.  These were good reminders that the National Parks are still in very wild places and it is important to be careful.

“Dear Bob and Sue” is a good book to read if you are thinking about visiting the national parks.  There are descriptions of the parks and some tips about places to stay and how to get to the more remote parks.  I think it would be fun to read the various park descriptions just before you go to a a park or after visiting one.  The book, however, is long and got a little tedious toward the end.  I was as glad to see them reach their final park as I think they were.