Grandson takes 89-year-old grandma to 29 national parks after she tells him she’s never seen mountains

A loving grandson took his 89-year-old grandmother to 29 national parks to give her the “life of adventure she had never been able to fulfill,” he said. 

Brad Ryan, 38, took his grandmother, who he calls Grandma Joy, on their first road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2015, and they haven’t stopped since. 

Ryan currently lives in Washington D.C., while Grandma Joy lives in Duncan Falls, Ohio, where he also grew up. 

Four years ago, she revealed to him that during her 85 years of life, she had never been camping or seen any mountain ranges. Her revelation motivated Ryan to take his Grandma Joy to see the world. 

“I felt a calling to ensure she was not forgotten and that she was given the opportunity to live the life of adventure she had never been able to fulfill,” Ryan said. 

He said he was inspired by his grandmother’s sense of adventure and love of nature. 

During the summer of 2017, the grandson-grandmother dynamic duo traveled 10,000 miles around the country and visited 21 U.S. National Parks in 28 days. 

So far, they have have spent a total of 50 days on the road traveling 25,000 miles through 38 states in every corner of the country, he said. 

“Everywhere we go people are inspired by Grandma Joy’s spirit and attitude. She believes you’re never too old to try something once whether it’s rolling down a sand dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park or hiking 5 miles round trip to see the Alum Cave Bluffs in the Smokies,” Ryan said. 

The grandson said his Grandma Joy reminds him wherever they go to remain and present and grateful. 

“When she says, ‘I probably won’t be back here again,’ it always affirms that tomorrow is never guaranteed,” he said of his beloved grandmother. “We have an obligation to lean into joy with every spectacular sunrise and chorus of birds that greet the morning.”

Through his travels with Grandma Joy, he realizes that “time is the most precious, fleeting commodity we have.”

“Being two people who value nature and wildlife (I am a wildlife veterinarian), there is no better use of that time than exploring the biodiversity, breathtaking wonders, and hidden treasures of our U.S. National Parks,” said Ryan, who is a veterinarian at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. 

He recalled his Grandma Joy’s favorite moments. 

“(1) being caught in the middle of a bison herd traffic jam for five hours in Yellowstone NP; (2) watching moose at sunset on the shore of Fishercap Lake in Glacier NP; (3) wandering through the towering redwood forests of Redwood National and State Parks; (4) walking through the desert and marveling at the Dr. Seuss-like plants of Joshua Tree NP with her pink umbrella for portable shade; (5) boarding the Yankee Freedom National Park Ferry in Key West and traveling through the Caribbean Sea to explore Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park, and (6) taking a wrong turn in the fog and stumbling upon a bear cub in a brief clearing along the road to Clingman’s Dome in the early morning hours...we were alone watching the cub dig for grubs for five minutes before it disappeared into the fog,” Ryan said.

“The open road offers precious time to learn about your family’s legacies. Our grandparents take their stories with them when they leave earth, and I want to make sure her legacy and life’s journey is preserved.”

This story was reported from Los Angeles.