The family's memories — Journey crawling for the first time at Rocky Mountain National Park and taking her first steps at Zion National Park — will last a lifetime
On Sept. 19, 2020, 2-day-old Journey Castillo was released from the hospital in San Antonio. She was in the car on her third day, heading out with her parents, Valerie and Eric Castillo, to see the country. And she's never stopped.
Journey's name comes from a pregnancy scare and the fact that she survived. “She's already a fighter. Let's call her Journey,” Valerie, 40, tells PEOPLE of her thought process. But her parents didn't know that her name would take on an exciting new meaning for the family.
The toddler arrived at her first national park, the Grand Canyon, when she was 2 weeks old, and her parents made a big decision: "We set a goal and said, 'Let's get to 21 national parks by the time she's 1,'" Valerie explains.
That goal eventually got loftier, and the Castillo’s were determined to continue the challenge, hitting 42 national parks by the time Journey was 2 and visiting the rest of 63 in her third year.
Journey’s adventure began with nearby trips.
“We started with the RV, doing a lot of the driving that we could from San Antonio,” dad Eric, 40, says. “But as we headed for parks further from Texas, then it was flying into an airport, renting a car and then driving again.”
Making this dream a reality required a lot of dedication.
“The final leg of it was really about sacrificing,” Valerie recalls. “We stopped going out to eat, we sold one car. We had to make decisions where it hurt a little. It was hard to give up. But then in the long run, you realize, I don't need all of that stuff because what I'm getting out of this is so much more important.”
The family's memories — Journey crawling for the first time at Rocky Mountain National Park and taking her first steps at Zion National Park — will undoubtedly last a lifetime.
"We knew at the beginning that she may not remember all of these, but we did take a lot of pictures and we wanted her to grow up in the park," Eric says. "It was very rewarding for us to see."
Journey has laid on beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands (which she says is her favorite part of the experience), watched sunrises in Hawaii, played in the snow in Colorado, hiked in Maine and accumulated a list of experiences in three years that most people would strive for in a lifetime.
"These national parks have been a gift," Valerie says.
The Castillos achieved their goal when they completed the list at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
“When we got to Lake Clark, we were both in tears. It's a big chapter,” Valerie says.
Eric adds, “All three of us hugged each other. It was emotional. We've sacrificed so much for this, not just financially but spiritually and emotionally. It's been a lot. And when we finished, it was such a relief as a family for us.”
The family says they had no clue about the significance of the milestone. As soon as they reached Lake Clark, Journey officially became the youngest person to visit every national park.
“We didn’t realize it was a record until the end,” Eric adds.
Valerie says, “Somebody wrote an article about her being the youngest, and that didn't even cross our mind until we'd already finished the 63. We fact-checked it, and it was true. We realized that she's the youngest to complete all 63 national parks and at a record-breaking time because she did it in three years."
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While the Castillos acknowledge that “it probably seems crazy what we're doing,” they’re proud of themselves for making a goal and reaching it.
“We're very goal-oriented people,” Valerie says. “So if you're going to set a goal, make it a big one."
While the family may have visited all of the national parks, Valerie says there are more adventures in store: “We don’t have an idea of what is next, but we want to see her grow up and continue to visit the National Park Service sites and national parks.”
She adds, “We've always said from the beginning that we want her to grow up in these places, so we’re not done.”
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