This 1-year-old from San Antonio visits all the national parks

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By the time Journey Castillo took its first steps visiting Olympic National Park, it had already crawled through the features of Rocky Mountain National Park and sat amidst oversized tree roots at Sequoia National Park.

The 1-year-old from San Antonio has been visiting US national parks with her parents, Valerie and Eric Castillo, since shortly after she was born in September 2020. Last month, she and her family checked off parks No. 39 and 40 of them on a trip that included stops at Mammoth Cave State Park in Kentucky and Gateway Arches State Park in Missouri, their first urban national park. They hope to see 63 before Journey’s third anniversary.

“When she goes to these parks, she comes to life and her personality lights up,” says Eric. Valérie adds, “We’re not worried about her messing up or messing up her outfits. We just want her to embrace everything and her little spirit to soak up everything.

Valerie and Eric made the decision to help Journey see the world after they feared losing her when Valerie started bleeding when she was only 11 weeks pregnant. It was a weekend, so they headed to an emergency room where a doctor told them there was nothing they could do and that they would have to follow up with their obstetrician on Monday. An ultrasound revealed that their baby was not only fine, but had a strong heartbeat.

They were overwhelmed with relief and decided to call it Journey. From the moment she was born, they knew they wanted her to live a different life than most lived amid the pandemic lockdowns.

“When I got her, I just told her, we’re going to live like we didn’t promise anything,” Valerie says.

Castillo Travel, courtesy of the Castillo family

After being discharged from the hospital following Journey’s birth, the Castillos got approval from their pediatrician to take their newborn daughter on the trip. They headed to Colorado and strapped Journey to their chests as they climbed Pikes Peak. From there, they visited Grand Canyon National Park, a must-see destination for Valerie.

They had experienced more than 15 parks before Valerie’s maternity leave ended. That’s when they started thinking and realized they hadn’t seen many other babies on their travels. Even as a baby, however, they saw Journey’s eyes observing his surroundings and knew the experience was affecting him.

The couple vowed to continue their journeys and share their experiences on Instagram (@journey_castillo) and online at voyagegoexplore.com hoping to inspire other families to get out.

In the months that followed, Valerie quit her corporate job to work as a freelance marketing consultant while helping Eric manage their business, Dream Outdoor Services, a local service and tree trimming business.

Before Journey could walk, Eric says they would strap her into a baby carrier or put her in a stroller and go on long hikes on each trip. Now that she’s on the move, their rides are shorter, around 1 mile, but Journey can do more exploration, whether that’s hiking in the snow, inspecting the rocks, or playing in the dirt. When they’re not traveling, they make it a point to regularly visit San Antonio’s parks, whether it’s Friedrich Wilderness Park or the Denman Estate, where they can wander around and let Journey visit the ducks.

“It’s a blessing to see her growing up in these environments,” says Eric. “It’s definitely in his soul and in his mind.”

Having started hiking several years ago when she was going through a stressful time, Valerie hopes teaching Journey early on the merits of the outdoors will set her on a different life trajectory. She hopes other parents who see their travels will feel encouraged to do the same, if only by visiting one of the many local parks.

“If you develop this passion now, imagine what the world might look like in 10 or 20 years,” she says.

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