Don Hafner runs the blog 59NationalParks.com. Along with his wife Shelly, he has been to all 59 national parks in the United States.
Q: When did you start traveling?
A: Growing up our family didn’t travel a lot. The longest trip I can remember was to Galveston, Texas. I became a committed traveler at about age 25 when I met my wife Shelly. We have traveled extensively throughout our marriage for both business and pleasure.
Q: How many national parks have you been to?
A: As of June 5th this year, I have been to all 59 of the U.S. National Parks. The National Park Service manages 407 “units” of which 59 are National Parks. I have been to 125 of those. Other designations include National Monuments (such as Devil’s Tower, Wyoming), National Military Parks (such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) and National Recreation Areas (such as Lake Mead, Utah and Arizona).
Q: What is special to you about national parks?
A: I enjoy the National Parks on many levels. First and foremost I am attracted to nature and its associated awesomeness. National Parks also offer history lessons, cultural insights and opportunities to view wildlife.
Q: Which one is your favorite?
A: As a rule, I don’t identify favorite National Parks. I believe that each park has its own unique characteristics and should be enjoyed based on its own merits. I did identify the “Five Best” in a blog but that was a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal of a Yahoo Travel blog.
Q: How many countries have you been to?
A: I have been to twenty seven countries over four continents.
Q: Which one was the most unique?
A: I have been to Japan twice. It is easily the most unique due to its rich Asian culture.
Q: What is the most interesting experience you have had while abroad?
A: The most interesting experience that I’ve had abroad occurred in London. We booked a tour of Saint Paul’s Cathedral which ended up being a private tour. The gentleman that guided it was unbelievable. In addition, we uncovered a bit of family history in the Cathedral totally by accident.
Q: What about in a national park?
A: I had to think about this for awhile. It is a tough question because I had incredible experiences in every park. I will say it was seeing the Milky Way in its full glory at Great Basin National Park, Nevada last September. There was just nothing else like it.
Q: Have you ever had any close encounters with bears?
A: During our 59 National Park tour we photographed 41 bears. We saw about 10 more which we didn’t photograph. We were very cautious not to get too close. Nevertheless, we were too close to this brown bear with cubs. It wasn’t deliberate and we slowly moved away from her without incident.
Q: How have your travel experiences shaped the way you see the world?
A: My travel experiences have shaped the way I view the world. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is tolerance.
Q: What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
A: It is the same advice I give to myself now each and every day. First, live life one day at a time. Second, I would advise a young Don to realize that whatever other people think of him is none of his business. Third, I would recommend that young Don get down on his knees everyday and thank God for all of his blessings.
Read more about Don and Shelly’s experiences in America’s national parks at 59nationalparks.com.