After a lot of varied camping experiences in five states, we can honestly say that we love State (and National) Parks.

This is not to say that we have anything against free camping – we’ve just found that we’re often quite anxious and unable to sleep well. Something about claiming a random patch of ground leaves me feeling as though I never really know what I’m going to come across or what’s going to come across us. Even if it’s perfectly legit National Forest or BLM land, there seems to be this a nagging feeling that we should be up at first light and back on the road before anyone has the opportunity to find us.

Does that sound totally irrational (especially since I grew up backpacking and free camping in the wilderness in Oregon – and considering that we’re always watching our pennies)? Yeah, probably. But, there’s something to be said for having a few comforts in this otherwise totally unconventional and always changing lifestyle.

So, let’s talk State Parks… For starters, there’s something about their legitimacy that makes them feel safer and more inviting. They usually have potable water to drink, bathroom and shower facilities, picnic tables so that we’re not sitting on the ground, and fire pits so that we can expand our dinner possibilities. Plus, we’ve met some really great people and had wonderful conversations with other campers at State Parks. For us, the structured campgrounds of State and National Parks lead to a more restful and sociable evening, and it enriches the experience of this journey. In other words, it’s money well spent.

When we rolled into Tucson, we told everyone about our wonderful stay at Picacho Peak State Park. Only 40-some miles north of Tucson, it’s an easy trip from the city. The park is beautiful, set up the hill and away from the freeway noise, with shade pavilions, fire rings and the cleanest bathrooms we’ve seen so far. Our urgings that Tucsonans visit Picacho Peak were met with comments about how we were lucky that it was still open when we got there, and that it’s slated to be closed in June with most of the other Arizona State Parks.

As Californians, we’re all too aware of the ways in which state governments are struggling right now, and how state parks seem to be easy targets for saving a few bucks. But we’ve always thought it was very illogical to close state parks in an effort to balance a budget, because, really, how expensive can they be to maintain? Especially when you consider that they’re also making money.

At Pancho Villa State Park, we discovered that New Mexico had chosen a handful of furlough days for state employees – and that state parks would be closed during these dates. As it turned out, we wound up heading straight for a state park on exactly the days it was going to be closed. Ugh. And then… a stroke of luck… I checked the New Mexico state parks website to be sure I had the correct dates, and I learned that the Governor just issued an order that state parks remain open during the furlough days. All because New Mexico citizens complained enough.

In California, an organization (Save Our State Parks) was founded last year to keep the state parks open, after the state government decided to close them to balance the budget. Thousands of Californians came out in support of keeping the parks open – and stopped the planned drastic closures.

For us, keeping State and National Parks open isn’t so much a political issue. It’s about maintaining access to the natural world around us in a way that’s not scary or overly difficult. The more we travel, the more we learn – about ourselves and the world around us. And it’s sad for us both to think that people around the country might have to miss out on these same opportunities. More and more, we’ve been realizing just how much we appreciate and support State and National Parks. And we hope to see them continue to flourish.

So, we thought we’d put this out there… If you enjoy spending time in your State Parks (especially if your State Parks are struggling), consider voicing your support like folks did in New Mexico. Sometimes it’s amazing what a letter can do – and it seems a shame to lose these beautiful resources.