The first time we ever went camping, Regina told me about her Nerd Book. Its proper name, really, is the National Park Passport Explorer Edition, a behemoth of a book full of blank pages, pockets, dividers and an envelope to hold your souvenirs. It zips closed and can be carried like a purse.
As soon as she showed it to me, I knew I had to have it. It was only our first camping trip and we didn’t even own a tent yet, but I was all over this. Why? Checklists. You had me at checklists.
Thank you, Regina!
I should also add that Regina continues to inspire and provoke envy in me, because her nerd book is a true nerd book. I’m going to estimate that she has been to 80% of our national parks, but that is a completely made up number.
One birthday not long after that trip, Darren presented me with my very own Nerd Book. Score! I love my Passport so much that the thought of getting a new stamp thrills me as much as the thought of seeing a new park.
Case in point: When Steve mentioned swinging by Pinnacles National Park a couple weeks ago, my first thought was, “O-o-o-h! New stamp!” I mean, yeah. Pinnacles, too!
How it works
Every National Park visitor center has a stamping area, usually located among the souvenirs and/or near the cash register.
There are two types of stamps for your Nerd Book:
- The general park stamp with the date
- The stamp of the region/area of the park you were in, if applicable
The stamps for various areas of a park can usually be found at the entrance, whether it’s just a small ranger station or a large visitor’s center.
In addition, there are stickers: Park stickers, regional commemorative stickers, yearly park commemorative stickers. All of the stickers cost extra. I haven’t gone too nuts with them, and only get the park sticker if I need one. They run around $2 and can be purchased online or in the visitor center store.
If you by chance forgot your book, the stores also sell extra blank pages.
In the example below you can see the Joshua Tree park sticker, plus a stamp for the Cottonwood area, where we stayed in 2012, and a stamp for the main Oasis entrance to the park, where we arrived when we camped there one trip:
One other sweet thing about the book? Sometimes you might see a celebrity ranger, like Ranger Shelton Johnson from Ken Burns’ National Parks, and he will sign it! Hey, that pen doesn’t seem so silly after all, does it?
Don’t you love that autograph? Ranger Shelton Johnson. He was so nice, too. I got the feeling that he would talk to us about national parks all day long if we wanted him to. A Shelton Johnson-led tour of Yosemite would not be the worst thing in the world!
Some state parks will have stamping stations, too. I have a stamp from Mono Lake when we went a couple years ago, but I’m not sure how common this actually is. Get in the habit of bringing your book along, since you never know when you’ll find a stamp. I was surprised that the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center has one for Mt. Whitney, for example, complete with a sticker and everything.
What’s in the National Park Passport
The Passport contains everything you’ll need to remember your national park vacations with fondness:
- Regional sections with dividers
- The aforementioned checklist of every national park and national monument in the good old USA, listed by state for easy finding
- A pen
- A zippered envelope to hold souvenirs and maps
- Pockets on the inside of the book to hold more things
- Wraparound zipper
- Carrying strap
Even though I got this as a gift from my husband, I still say this is completely worth the $49.95.
And good news: The cover now appears to be back to black. The year I got mine, it had a gray cover, which is not awesome when you are a tent camper. If you were to zoom in on that photo above, hello, dirt city.
If you’re planning to visit national parks on a regular basis, love checklists, stamps and organizing things just for the sheer hell of it, then the National Park Passport book will complete your life.
Disclosure: When you click one of the links above to purchase an item, we get a tiny commission that will in no way enable us to quit our day jobs and roll around in our piles of cash.