By Nancy Gonzalez

This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the Southwest region of the United States to visit, hike and camp at state and national parks. This wasn’t your average school break getaway, it was school, complete with daily assignments and homework.

The two state parks we visited were in Texas; the rest of the parks were part of the federal park system and spread out between Arizona, Utah and the colorful state of Colorado. This trip taught me a lot about myself, introduced me to new people, and allowed me to appreciate the vast beauty of the great outdoors. It was a thrilling and one-of-a-kind experience that I would happily do all over again.

As part of a Study-in-America program at Texas State University, the goal of the program is to promote parks and encourage young people to go out and explore through classes like Mobile Storytelling in the Park and Feature Writing. Our job was to use social media platforms such as Instagram to consistently post and document our trip from beginning to end using the hashtag #sjmcparks. We were also asked to write a feature story on an assigned park, to be published in local Texas newspapers like the Austin American-Statesman.

The 14-day road trip consisted of two vans, three professors and 11 students. Before our travels commenced, we were all complete strangers, which was exciting, but a bit nerve-racking. For many of us, this was our first time traveling outside of Texas, camping or road tripping. We were all eager to meet new people, produce content and visit new places. It was satisfying to apply our knowledge through this hands-on experience.

There are endless possibilities to explore beyond our college careers and this trip really validated that for me. The assigned projects forced us to get out of our comfort zone and introduced us to people who traveled from all over the country (and the world) to enjoy the beauty of these parks.

It’s an overwhelming, but humbling feeling to see the top of a canyon and enjoy the natural structures all around. This course was liberating, influential and has encouraged me to seek and create opportunities. The possibilities are limitless.

For more information on the parks that were part of this journey, visit Caprock Canyons State ParkGrand Canyon National ParkZion National ParkMesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Palo Duro State Park.

Safe travels!