When you’re a dual-military couple, it can be a challenge to try to find things to do together, especially when you’re at separate duty stations or on deployment. For one Army couple, what started out as a simple idea to get out of the house turned into a five-year adventure.
Army Capts. John Gomber and Kendall Gomber are stationed together at Fort Hood, Texas, but they weren’t always. In January 2012, when they were just dating, Kendall was at Fort Carson, Colorado, while John was at Fort Rucker, Alabama. As they were trying to figure out what they should do when John visited, one of them thought it would be fun to visit nearby Arches National Park.
The 29-year-olds had such a great time that they decided to do them all. And now they’re about to finish the adventure, hitting up the 59th and final U.S. national park on their list.
“We just wanted to spend time together and see this beautiful country we’ve got, and we finally found a cool way to do it,” John said.
The pair picked their next moves based on location and opportunities.
There Was a LOT of Traveling
The Gombers had some amazing experiences and learned a lot along the way. For instance, did you know there’s a national park in in American Samoa, the only national park in the Southern Hemisphere?
Yeah, me either – probably because its South Pacific location makes it really hard to get to.
“You can fly into Samoa [NOT American], but then you have to drive across the island and then fly from a different airport to American Samoa, and you cross the international date line,” John said.
American Samoa aligns its clocks to match with countries east of the date line (like the U.S.), while Samoa aligns itself with countries to the west. So no matter where you originally fly from, if you stop in Samoa first, you’re going to go back in time almost a full day.
“It’s a half-hour flight, … but it’s 23 hours earlier [when you land],” John said.
The National Park Service’s flagship park, Yellowstone, was the couple’s recommendation to anyone who can only get to one park.
“It’s huge, it’s beautiful, and there’s so much to see you can never really see it all,” Kendall said.
Her favorite was Congaree National Park in South Carolina. “We went on this wonderful run there, and it was a perfect memory, perfect weather, a great hike. I told people it felt like I was in a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Kendall said.
John had trouble pinpointing just one park, so he went with two: the Grand Canyon and Montana’s Glacier National Park.
“The Grand Canyon, when you stand on its rim, it’s almost unfathomable. It’s really hard to comprehend how big it is,” he said. “Glacier is really hard to get to, but the scenery is breathtaking. The actual glaciers that are left are phenomenal to see. … But there’s also the animal aspect. There are bighorn sheep roaming around, and you have to bring bear spray because there are bears.”
Their Least Favorite
This one was mutual – Mesa Verde. A bad encounter with a not-so-friendly park ranger left a bad taste in their mouths.
“Almost every place but Mesa Verde, we’ve had amazing recommendations and had really wonderful park rangers who really helped us,” Kendall said.
The Most Memorable
Kendall’s was Great Basin, Nevada, because their car broke down.
“We spent the majority of our trip trying to figure out how to get a tow truck so we could get back to the airport and not miss work on Monday,” she said, laughing about it.
For John, it was a remote spot in Alaska, where they needed a pilot to fly them in.
“Right before we landed at Kobuk Valley National Park, which is the least visited, it’s this beautiful preserve of sand dunes in the middle of the Alaska wilderness. It looked like the Sahara at that point. So, you land there, and where the Kobuk River bends is where the great caribou herd crosses,” he said.
Their 59th and Final Stop
To round out their tour of all 59 national parks, the Gombers are hitting up Acadia National Park in Maine this Labor Day weekend. Since both of their families live in Massachusetts, they’re making it into a family reunion of sorts, which is nice since they’re both about to deploy.
“We thought it would be a neat idea to save [Acadia] until the end because they could come up and celebrate with us,” Kendall said.
Advice to Park Newbies?
“You really have to put in the effort and do the research,” John said. “Understand what kind of clothing and equipment and stuff you need to bring. I really feel anyone could have a great time at any national park, as long as you have the right expectations.”
All of the parks are encouraged to keep their websites up to date with tips and emergency situation updates, so you can check that to prepare for your visit.
“You don’t have to travel far to see some of the things that we’ve decided to preserve as a country,” Kendall said. “The one that’s closest to your house is just as special as Yellowstone or the Arctic or American Samoa.”
If you’re interested in following in their footsteps, visit NPS.gov to find all of the U.S. parks! The good news: Military personnel and their families can get an annual pass FOR FREE that’s valid at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including the parks.