National park book series is laugh-out-loud reading

“Dear Bob and Sue”

I read a lot about national parks, when I’m not listening to podcasts about them. And I’m constantly researching new destinations and filling my head with nature and wildlife trivia. I fancy myself as a perpetual student of the outdoors.

So when someone suggested that I read a book about national parks authored by Matt and Karen Smith, entitled “Dear Bob and Sue,” honestly, I was skeptical. Three books later, I’m eagerly awaiting their next travel memoir.

The trio of “Dear Bob and Sue” books entertains, enlightens and educates. That’s right, three verbs each starting with the letter “e,” which means I’ve stooped to using literary gimmicks to amuse myself. But the adjectives do accurately describe these playful and humorous travelogues.

Like many good writers, Matt and Karen Smith are great storytellers, often sharing the small, quirky things from their trips rather than straining to describe big vistas and huge landscapes. And their dialogue as a seasoned married couple made me laugh out loud, a rare effect in the category of travel books.

This article combines my impressions of the books and parts of a recent interview I had with Matt and Karen for Wandering Rose Travels.

Dear Bob and Sue authors Matt and Karen Smith
Authors Matt and Karen Smith. I love their marital banter.

Couple’s quest to visit every national park

In 2010, the Smiths leveraged an empty nest at home, Matt quit his job and they both reconfigured their lives to begin a quest to visit every U.S. national park. They admit it was a risk to make such an abrupt change in their lives, but Karen and Matt had experienced friends and family who passed on too early in life and those remembrances added motivation for their big outdoor adventure. And they have no regrets.

Through a series of emails written to their friends, Bob and Sue, the Smith’s first book shares stories from their adventures in national park number one to the finale. Their books are not “how-to-vacation” manuals, although their stories still provide great insight into parks. But for me, I read beyond the first book because I loved the fun banter and interesting personalities spread throughout their stories.

I asked Karen and Matt about their favorite reader feedback. “A person shared with us that she read chapters to her aging father,” Karen explained. “She said it was one of their favorite things to do together. After her dad passed away, she told us that our books meant a lot to their family.”

Chiricahua National Monument.
The authors explore other outdoor wonders, such as Chiricahua National Monument.

Expanding their quest to other outdoor gems

In “Dear Bob and Sue: Season 2,” Matt and Karen explore other U.S. treasures, including national recreation areas such as Lake Mead, state parks like Utah’s Goblin Valley and geological marvels such as Antelope Canyon.

Since reading their books, my family has added three new destinations to our vacation plans, including Zebra Canyon, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. I thought our bucket list was complete until I read the “Dear Bob and Sue” series.

In this second book, readers learn about Matt’s unusual plans to open his very own national park visitor center inside his home (although it probably won’t be sanctioned by the National Park Service). During Matt and Karen’s travels, he scours out-of-the-way stores for animal pelts, which he believes will make his visitor center more interactive and appealing. And Karen mentioned during the interview that they also plan on turning their back yard into a national forest. Quirky aspirations like this lured me further into their books and kept me fascinated by their fun ambitions.

They share their joys and tribulations while traveling in a small RV.

Matt and Karen try RV-ing

In “Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3,” they take to the road in a small rented RV and also try out a teardrop camping trailer. They finish that section of the book by sharing their opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of both modes of travel.

One of my favorite conversations in the book comes about when they unfortunately camp across from the RV dump station. Rather than mope about it, they made the best of the situation by relaxing at their picnic table, enjoying a beverage and ogling campers using the dump station to empty their RV’s septic system. Karen and Matt rated people’s “dumping” performance like TV commentators rate Olympic figure skaters, except the skill in this competition was connecting hoses and clamps without getting splashed. Karen and Matt tell the story better than I do.

My favorite section of “Dear Bob and Sue Three” was their Bison Tour 2018, visiting South and North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming searching for our country’s majestic beast. In another section, they tell stories about a backpacking trip along the Alaskan Chilkoot Trail that prospectors used during the Klondike gold rush.

The authors also take breaks from storytelling to rant about things, like Matt’s loathing of breweries (which they spend a lot of time in, which I admire) that use clever names to label their restrooms, like “hen” and “rooster.”

Karen and Matt with friends John and Lolly. They like sign photos.
Karen and Matt with friends John and Lolly. They like sign photos.

Visit the Smith’s website

When people ask them for vacation planning tips, they emphasize researching the impact of weather and seasons on national park accessibility. For instance, the Beartooth Highway near Yellowstone and the main roads inside parks like Lassen and Glacier may open for only 60 days during the summer. But for the most part, their storytelling inspires more than educates.

I’ve not read their fourth book, “Dories, Ho!” about their float trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. But I plan on adding it to my reading cue.

Matt and Karen have been married 37 years and live in the Seattle area. I recently signed up for their enewsletter at www.mattandkaren.com. All of their books can be purchased through Amazon.