Part travel monologue, part heartfelt, healing memoir, the uniquely structured debut book from CBS news correspondent Conor Knighton, Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park, is essentially a love letter to America, and to himself.
Following a broken engagement, Knighton decides to take his mind off his pain by visiting all of America’s national parks, taking just a single year to do it. It’s an admirable endeavor for anyone, particularly someone nursing a broken heart, but Knighton rises to the occasion, ultimately gaining the inspiration to move on with his life through the “healing, strengthening power of nature.”
Instead of lumping the parks together by state or region, Knighton creatively organizes the chapters into themes such as canyons, food, people and animals. Throughout his road tripping, he finds little nuggets that encapsulate America’s distinctiveness and beauty, such as Oregon’s vibrantly blue Crater Lake (the deepest in the U.S.), Death Valley’s Devils Hole pupfish (one of the world’s rarest fish species, found only in one water-filled cavern in the middle of the Nevada desert) and Michigan’s Isle Royale (a group of islands so remote that they’re only accessible by seaplane or boat).
Knighton finds that America’s national parks are as varied as the nation’s demographics and geography—the people who make up the melting pot that is the United States as well as its varied, gorgeous landscapes. He also chronicles his own life experiences, incorporating memories of family and friends, relating how they tie in to each chapter’s theme. Along the way, he cleverly weaves in bits of history, science, geography, statistics and little-known fun facts. For example, California is home to not only the world’s highest tree (located in Redwood National Park) but also the oldest tree in the U.S., the exact location of which is a closely guarded secret.
Entertaining, informative and inspirational, Leave Only Footprints will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about America’s “best idea” and how challenging yourself can help with spiritual, emotional and personal growth.