Our son Leo loved the outdoors. In 2009, he came with us on a three-week road trip adventure out west in our camper to visit our daughter, Kim, in Vancouver. He was excited to show us the national parks that he loved.
We breezed our way across North Dakota to make our first stop at Glacier National Park in Montana. The hikes were adventures with 700 miles of trails available. We were fortunate enough to drive on “Going-to-the-Sun Road” through Glacier. It was absolutely breathtaking. Leo’s words were, “It was a view no camera can capture.”
At Mount Rainier, we hiked up to the glaciers and were so close we were able to see the beautiful blue tint. It was an unbelievable sight. The landscape was a hiker’s paradise. After spending some time at Pacific Beach Shores, we traveled to Olympic National Park and soaked in the smell of the rainforest. Along the way, we stopped at North Cascades National Park to hike the high rocky ridges and view the waterfalls.
Leo wanted to go south and visit the national parks in California and Utah. We promised him that before his sister left Vancouver, we would go back and take the south route so he would be able to show us more of God’s beautiful creation.
That trip with Leo never happened. In October 2010, Leo was violently taken from us in a senseless attack. We really miss Leo’s quiet, gentle presence. He accepted everyone for who they were and never passed judgments. Leo was known for his music, composed original songs and could play just about any instrument. God blessed us with him for 22 years, and we will live out his memory until the day we are reunited.
In August 2012, we fulfilled our promise to Leo, taking our camper out for three weeks and traveling 6,600 miles westward to visit the national parks that Leo wanted to show us. We chose rocks from our rock pile and painted them with messages of “Love for Leo.” We each picked a special national park where we left our rock in loving memory of him. We would pause and say special prayers and poems about Leo.
How marvelous it was to wake up in Crater Lake, Oregon, to a view of the deepest lake in the world — the blue color of the water was stunning. We headed to Redwood National and State Parks where we drove through a large tree. The smell of the redwoods was our favorite part. After lots of mountain driving, we ended up at Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California where we took a nice hike to the hot springs. We kept driving to Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Plumas National Forest where trees were donated through the Arbor Day Foundation in Leo’s honor.
There is truth to the saying, “In nature nothing dies.” Being in the wilderness has a way of making us feel connected to Leo. It has helped us when the waves of grief become overwhelming. Spending time in God’s beautiful creation has brought us peace and serenity in the midst of our grief journey. We feel safe, secure and energized while spending time in nature.
At Yosemite were magnificent views of the granite rock formation El Capitan, Merced River and the falls. It was exciting to arrive at Kings Canyon National Park with the steep banks — we were actually driving in a huge canyon. Upon entering Sequoia National Park, we saw gorgeous scenery of mountains, valleys and General Sherman, the tallest tree in the world. We drove down to Death Valley where we saw the coolest colorful rocks at the lowest elevation in the United States, with a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
We drove on to Hoover Dam and then to Zion National Park. It was a wonderful surprise to see all the limestone and sandstone with many tunnels glowing in the sun. Coming into the Grand Canyon, we saw spectacular views of red rocks and mountains. We started out to Bryce Canyon, which looks like a castle with lots of pillars. The sunset was absolutely beautiful as we were driving in Capital Reef National Park. Canyonlands National Park was tremendous with hundreds of miles of wilderness and rock all around us. We took in the awesome view of Arches National Park, surrounded by lots of sandstone.
Along the way we would open presents of Leo’s favorite things. We made Leo’s favorite foods — curry, peanut butter-mustard sandwiches, Thai soup — and drank chai tea. We sang and played his favorite songs around the campfires. It was “all about Leo.” Leo loved the outdoors and would be pleased to have a rock in his memory at several different national parks. We will return to these places with our grandchildren and share our memories of Leo as we create new ones with them. We will show them the amazing national parks we visited and exactly where we left the rocks in memory of Leo.
We have been blessed to have the opportunity to visit 29 of our magnificent national parks. We have set our goal of seeing all 59 national parks in our upcoming retirement.
Barbara and Dan Kohorst live on their family’s century-old farm and operate their business, Kozy Cab, which transports elderly and handicapped individuals in wheelchairs.