SAN ANTONIO — She may not read yet, but Journey Castillo knows when she's reached a national park. Her parents, Eric and Valerie Castillo said their only daughter realizes it's picture-taking time when she arrives.
"We call it our Journey. It's our Journey. She is the 'journey,'" Valerie said.
Journey became symbolic of a new start in her parents' lives. They came into their marriage with sons: Eric has two, a 15 and 14-year-old, and Valerie has three, ages 21, 16 and 6.
After a three-year attempt and a pregnancy scare, Journey was born. Her parents wanted to get their infant into the energy of being outside because they are nature lovers.
Even though the pandemic was raging, their doctor gave a thumbs up a week after her birth.
"If you're going to be in a park, that's the safest place for your baby, " Valerie recalled.
They took the baby to Pikes Peak in Colorado. Then, they were off to Sedona, Arizona, with their bundle of joy before arriving at the Grand Canyon.
"That was the first time we went to a national park was the Grand Canyon," Valerie said. "We didn't know at that point, though, that national parks were where really anything until we experienced it with her when she was a week old."
The couple decided they could take their baby to all 63 national parks. With a name like Journey's, how could they go wrong?
"I really feel like each park that we go to," Eric said. "She absorbs something from it."
The Castillos own a business which gives them the flexibility to travel. Still, they are strategic about hitting parks where they can get the most bang for their buck.
"You don't see waterfalls or mountains here in San Antonio," Valerie said.
They are well on their way to completing the goal. The Castillos will reach 32 parks before the second week in March. But how much does Journey remember from the hikes and trails?
"She'll remember," Eric said. "She'll feel it more than anything. It'll be more in her spirit and the way she carries herself."
To help her recollect and document her journey, the toddler even has a web presence: Journeygoexplore.com.
"I want Journey to be the kid that says, 'I don't care about laptops. I want to go see Yellowstone again, mom.' You know? Let's go."
Eric said the trips are not always picture-perfect. He said his energetic daughter is still a baby who requires routine care.
"When we travel, it's very hard, like it would be for any, any parent with an infant," he said.
The cost does not outweigh the payoff, the couple said.
"We're putting her in situations where I think it's going to strengthen her, and it'll continue to make her great," Eric said.
Backdrops of nature create a magnificent catalog to measure their daughter's growth and environmental education.
"It's like time has stopped," Valerie said. "When we go to these places, it's like nothing else matters."
The ultimate goal, they said, is to inspire others to go outside and discover treasure-filled this country's national parks.
"Her name was Journey," Valerie said. "Like, this is just all meant to be."
When she's at home in San Antonio, you can catch Journey running on local trails.