By Dale Blasingame
I turn 40 in a few weeks. How in the world is that even possible? It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday on the first of many, many trips to Las Vegas.
Ah, Vegas. It’s one of those places that you either love or hate. For me, it was love at first sight on that particular day in early January 1998. It was all about a life of excess – something I had never experienced growing up in south Texas.
My love affair with Las Vegas continued until my early 30s. In that 12-year span, I visited Sin City more than 35 times. Many with friends. Some with family. Occasionally on my own.
I lost my Las Vegas passion sometime around my 35th birthday. I went for one final trip and realized it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. The problem at the time, however, was I didn’t have something to fill that void.
Until I had a dream one night a few years ago…
I’m one of those people who has insanely vivid dreams. That’s great when it’s about something positive or beautiful. And it’s downright scary when it’s on the other side of the spectrum. Fortunately, this night was the former. I dreamed about a road trip across the country. And I couldn’t shake it when I woke up. It was all I could think about. The semester was coming to an end, so I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this.” I had never been much of a road trip guy at that point of my life. In fact, I hated to drive. But a few weeks after that dream, I loaded up my car and headed west. Mount Rushmore, Montana, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Rockies. I saw them all.
Suddenly that Vegas void was filled with something way more powerful.
That road trip has changed so much about me in the past two or so years. I could list off cliché after cliché about finding myself. But, most importantly, it opened my eyes to what matters in my life. I’m now on a mission to see all 414 national park properties across this country of ours. (I’m 145 in, so far. Hopefully I’ll finish in the next couple of years.) I’ve zig-zagged across America since that initial road trip – from Alaska to Maine. I’ve witnessed the beauty of sunset at Joshua Tree. I’ve stood next to a glacier in an Alaskan rainforest. I’ve dipped my toes in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Acadia.
I often wonder where I’d be had I started this journey long ago, instead of repeatedly going to the same place over and over.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. I eventually found what I was looking for. And I hope you are able to find that passion in your life, as well.
(Dale Blasingame is a social journalism professor at Texas State University. He’s a two-time Emmy winner and teaches two classes related to storytelling in our state and national parks.)