That would not be such a terrible thing to be…a “Rock Hound”. I never thought of myself as such, but lately when I think about the kinds of things that have interested me on past journeys and my upcoming agate search to Lake Superior….yeah maybe I am into rocks just a bit. Looking at this photo of all different types of polished rocks, I remember traveling to many places that offer to fill up a little bag (for a price, of course) with your choice of the rocks displayed there. (Just think of all the places at Wisconsin Dells that have something like that…!) It’s a very touristy thing, yes… but it was something that my young sons could not resist. Or perhaps it was me that had the most fun “helping” them with their rock selections. (Ooo David….Look at this one!!) In any case, you have to admit, it is fun to have free reign of picking out any shape and color that you want. If you going to have a souvenir, what a great, memorable one.
Also, it’s not just the shiny pretty ones, all the amazing sedimentary rock faces in canyons and valleys around this country cause me pause to admire their unique formations and to reflect on how they got there in the first place. These types of rock formations are always intriguing and usually make for some awesome photos to remember your trip. Yet, small rocks you can take with you as a memento. However, it does depend on where you are. ALERT: You can not take rocks or other parts of nature home with you from a National Park. Just thought I would put that out there as a reminder and I totally respect the reasons for that. If everyone did that when visiting our beautiful Parks, it would be problematic. Yet, depending on what state you live in, many of the state and county parks don’t mind. My upcoming trip to the North shore of Lake Superior, in Minnesota, actually encourages and highlights which beaches are great places to find agates. I’m looking forward to it, and if I end up empty handed after beach-combing, there are several rock shops in the area where I can purchase agates and agate jewelry made from locally found rocks. Still, I would rather have the joy of discovering it myself.
Years ago, when my son’s were in Scouts, I remember a trip to the Michigan Dunes that of course included beach-combing on the shores of Lake Michigan. I had a pair of shorts that I filled the pockets with an array of interesting stones. I remember the Scout Master laughing at my bulging pockets and wondered what was I going to do with all those rocks? To this day, I have them with a candle as part of an arrangement. Nature and household decor come together in such a great way and I still remember the story behind those rocks. They are not stuck in a shoe box somewhere.
On another venture out west, I was on a quest for Black Hills Gold. Anyone who has traveled through South Dakota had probably seen many places for sourcing Black Hills Gold. When fashioned into jewelry, the Black Hills Gold is easily spotted by the unique red and green leaf patterns. I have a lovely ring and necklace from there, although I didn’t mine it myself…other than traversing up and down the stores in Rapid City to find the best deal. The interesting thing I learned about gold mining is that on the quest for seeking gold, a common “bi-product” that is mined is Hematite. Luckily Hematite can be polished to a beautiful black sheen and also fashioned into jewelry. By itself, or paired with another stone, it creates some really striking jewelry, at an unusually economical price. So fun to have a little souvenir of a trip without breaking the bank.
In Alaska the state gemstone is Jade and readily available in several locations for purchase in many formats including jewelry, carvings and just raw rock samples. When paired with Hematite it is a great combination. Pictured here is one of my favorite sets from a store in Anchorage. Many places market hematite as the “Black Diamond”, which I imagine sounds more exotic than hematite.
So on your next journey, remember to take a look at the rocks beneath your feet…you just might discover something amazing.
Yet the most precious rock I ever obtained was given to me some 30 plus years ago on my engagement ring. I may be a sucker for pretty rocks, but I am also a sucker for romance.
As I write this blog, our country is beginning to swim towards the surface and hoping for a breath of fresh air from the devastating COVID pandemic that has kept us quarantined for months. The vaccinations are beginning to roll out and, most folks anyway, are hopeful. I actually have begun to peruse the internet with ideas for travel destinations and even airfares….when we get to that point. It has been hard to travel, but soon we hope to be getting out and about again. Yet, even before we start flying again, what better way to ease back into enjoying the great outdoors then with the close proximity of a state park.
Every state operates their park system differently, however almost every state in the country takes great pride in showcasing the beautiful places within their state. It’s amazing that in the United States there are close to 7,000 state parks. In my home state of Wisconsin there are 43. Since I live very close to the border of Minnesota, I also have access to several Minnesota parks in very close proximity. The state of Minnesota currently has 75 state parks. Luckily we don’t need a passport to cross state borders, and many Parks are enjoyed by both Wisconsinites and Minnesotans.
Since I now am a Wisconsinite, after living in the Land of Lincoln for 30 some years…I have found a certain pride in my state, especially when it comes to our State park system. The parks are managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Just like the national parks, the state parks frequently have different designations including forest, prairies and wildlife preserves. The Wisconsin DNR manages 116 state “units”. Included in this number are not only the state parks, but miles of trails over a huge diversity of terrains. I have a handy little guide listing all the Parks and trails in the state and can hardly wait to get out there with a camera and my hiking stick. The guide is published by the DNR, but their website is very helpful in finding just the park and recreational pursuits you are looking for:http://wiparks.net Additionally, the Travel Wisconsin.com is a fun site for trip planning and just getting an arm chair view of where you might want to explore next:http://travelwisconsin.com
Living in western Wisconsin ,on the border, there is an on going friendly “rivalry” between Green Bay Packer fans and Minnesota Vikings fans. Loyal football fans dedicated to their teams and the close proximity of the states provide a natural competition, but it almost always seems to be good-natured and part of the game that football fans play. Those that want to discuss the game of football love to get together and share notes, no matter what side of the border you are on. The same can also be said of the scenic parks that are available in our region, except it’s really not a “competition” when it comes to enjoying all that the north-woods has to offer. Those that love the great outdoors seek out trips to the nearby parks, in both states.
Probably the most obvious example of this mutual admiration is Interstate Park. Located on the St. Croix River, both Minnesota and Wisconsin have a Park with that same name: Interstate Park. The Parks share a common border, but are managed separately by their respective states. In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park. Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state. When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states. However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal. On the Wisconsin side, a portion of the park: The Ice Age Trail Scientific Reserveis run by both the state and federal agencies (National Park Service) and helps tell the amazing story of how the glaciers formed many areas in the state. The terrain and geology of the area is is so great to view, whether it be on a hike, a walk by the river, or a paddle boat ride through the steep sides of the gorge.
There are an abundance of incredible state parks to explore, no matter where you live. I have discovered that many popular destinations actually hold the title of “state park”. A perfect example is Niagara Falls in New York state. People generally just focus on admiring the falls, but it holds the unique title as being not only the oldest established (1885) Park in New York state, but the oldest state park in the United States. Pretty nifty, Huh? So in more ways than one, it truly is the Grand Daddy of stunning waterfalls.
The National Park Service has evolved over its 100+ years existence, with varied perceptions about its role in aiding conservation and recreation. From its humble beginnings as just a vision in Roosevelt’s and Muir’s mind’s eye, the National Park Service has experienced a variety of perspectives, both good and bad, about their mission. Many people, myself included, hold the National Parks Service in high esteem as the folks that help to maintain and protect our beautiful public places in this country. Yet, it’s not all blue skies and sunshine. There are almost as many opinions about the NPS and “appropriate” land use as there are plots of land. Therein is the heart of where most problems with the National Park Service lie: Land Usage. Which begs the question, who should be in charge of a particular area and to what extent? Think about Native Americans that have been “re-located” off their ancestral lands to make room for the white man’s hunting grounds or recreation playgrounds. Think about ranchers in the western plains states whose lands are subject to restrictions put in place by the NPS. There are no easy answers, but as lovers of our lands it’s only right that the questions be asked.
To exacerbate some of the bad perceptions of the National Park Service, they are a branch of the Federal government and with that come partisan politics that frequently divide issues affecting the operation of our Parks and sites. Since the NPS is a predominantly funded by the Federal government operated programs can be affected, either adversely or positively, depending on the current administration. Theodore Roosevelt got the ball rolling as “The Conservation President” and many of the sound conservation programs including the steps for the establishment of the NPS can be attributed to Roosevelt. Then as we look at more recent administrations, Barack Obama passed more legislation to protect lands and establish monuments than any other President. The future of the sanctity and preservation of our most beloved lands is currently threatened under the current administration. Again, the issue frequently comes down to land usage. I shudder at the thought that a recent President even considered extending mining rights within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon. Luckily there are enough people, who not only love the Parks but also understand the long term ramifications of such actions. Short term economic gains do not justify permanent desecration of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
A good example of the complexity of land usage matters is found with Point Reyes National Seashore. The seashore, an hour north of San Francisco, is managed and protected by the NPS. The issues surrounding the management and operation of the land does indeed provide an example of how complicated the issues involving the National Park Service can become. Yet it also shows how the battles that ensue can become so tragic and intense.
To understand how complex these issues can become, it is best to have a brief overview of the history of Point Reyes. President John F. Kennedy established the National Seashore at Point Reyes in 1962, but the government only owned a portion of the land. The rest of the land in that area had been owned and operated by ranchers and dairy farmers for over 100 years. Much of the land was purchased from the farmers and ranchers with the federal government allowing them to continue farming on the land with long term leases.
In these park lands, there was an effort to restore Tule elk: a previously endangered species. The recovery of the elk has been a conservation success, to some extent. However keeping the cows and elk in close proximity is not without its problems. Both the elk and cattle have been struck with a chronic wasting disease, affecting both species. The elk’s habitat frequently became “shared” with the cattle that graze there. Fences can contain cattle within their defined boundaries, but the elk easily jump the fences and end up sharing the grazing land with the cattle.
The efforts to restore the endangered elk were considered successful. However, the problems that occurred and fights that brewed among conservationists, the National Park Service and the ranchers using the land culminated in several lawsuits. In September of 2020, the NPS released an impact statement that extends the leases for the ranchers. It also allowed National Park Service rangers to shoot native Tule elk and otherwise drive the elk away from ranch lands. As you can imagine, this plan would make the ranchers happy, but the conservationists who fought so hard to re-populate an endangered species were frustrated and perplexed…to say the least. This push/pull battle on the use of public lands is frequently fought. The decisions made at Point Reyes have been fluctuating for almost the past decade and it is unlikely that the story has come to an end yet. Here is a photo that seems to be a commonplace image at Point Reyes.
Since the inception of the National Park Service, issues such as these have surfaced and will more than likely continue to do so. The NPS realizes, perhaps in so many ways, that “you can’tplease all the people all the time.” They devise general guidelines for smooth operations of the parks and continued goals for conservation. Yet, inevitably situations arise that demand a reexamination of what they believed to be “gospel.” As Americans, our perceptions of how the land should be utilized and what we believe makes a beautiful park and/or vacation spot has varied from generation to generation. Some things are quintessential, but some perceptions do change. When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, it seemed commonplace and “Oh so muchfun!” to feed the bears at Yellowstone from your car window. We know better now…not good for the bears or the people. Yet, the NPS has strived to meet those needs of a changing America and at the same time assuring the conservation of our most sacred lands.
Fast forward to 2020; a look at the devastating Coronavirus that swept through our country shows it had profound impacts on our society. The number of deaths was staggering and how the virus impacted every aspect of our lives. As the increased demands on the public to isolate and “shelter in place”, so did our need to get outside, get some fresh air and enjoy the beauty of a park. Park attendance increased dramatically, which was good news for increasing the public’s awareness of the splendor of our public landscapes, but became an added challenge to the Park administrators to handle the crowds and keep park goers safe during one of the most devastating pandemics this country has seen. At one point during 2020, some of the Parks and sites had to temporarily close to visitors to help contain the spread of the virus.
The NPS helped to keep everyone informed of closures and restrictions, which was a challenge because the situation frequently changed. As many organizations did, the NPS promoted many reminders for mask wearing in public places, hand washing and social-distancing. Here is a sample of one of their reminders for social-distancing. A little levity helps the situation and still makes a point:
My trip to the Utah parks in the fall of 2020 almost didn’t happen and the plans I made were subject to change at a moment’s notice. Zion had closed several trails, campgrounds and the shuttle service in March. The Park remained opened but with limited access. The shuttle system did reopen in July, but with a new ticketing system that assured 50% capacity on the buses to maintain social distancing. It was a good system, but nevertheless seemed awkward when visitors to the park were seeking wide open spaces. At this particular point in time, it would have been nice to go somewhere “mask free.” Yet, I gave the NPS great credit for making the best of a bad situation; the pandemic was bad enough….thank goodness we could still get out and enjoy the Parks even if it was very different than the usual Park experience. It appeared to me, that a great majority of the Park goers did the very best they could to follow the rules in the spirit of cooperation and relishing the opportunity to enjoy the unique beauty of Zion National Park.
So our trip to Zion was incredible, in spite of the pandemic regulations that gave the trip some “unique” qualities. Qualities that will indeed make it memorable.
Another element that made the Zion trip stick out in my mind is how the NPS handled the pandemic; a positive perception in my mind. It seemed to me that the NPS did everything they could to provide a safe environment for visitors, but also realized the importance of connecting with nature and seeking the great outdoors at a time when the whole nation was just about going crazy with all the quarantine policies. John Muir knew the healing powers of nature when he said:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
So John Muir had it right…we need the wilderness to restore our souls and renew our spirits. Whatever your perceptions of the National Parks may be, or perhaps you don’t have an opinion one way or the other….take the time to see what the NPS has to offer. Seeking out a few hours or perhaps an extended trip to a Park can be well worth the effort. Even if it’s as simple as a “Walk in the Park”. Put your Traveling Shoes on….
It’s funny how a simple activity, like trying a new restaurant for lunch, can spur a whole new level of conversation and pique my need to look into a topic further. Sometimes, it goes beyond: “Oh, this pizza is really yummy.” Recently, my husband and I went to a local restaurant called the 45th Parallel. As you can imagine, the conversation turned to where we are living, on the 45th parallel, and why is that significant? More about this unique restaurant and distillery later…
So at the forefront of our discussion was the fact that Yes...we are roughly, geographically living on the 45th parallel in this area of Wisconsin. It is significant for several reasons. First of all, C’mon…it just sounds cool: I live on the 45thParallel. Sounds like the making of a great Sci-Fi drama, in conjunction with Area 51. But more seriously, it is significant because it is generally the half way point between the Equator and the North pole. The 45th parallel latitude circumvents the globe and passes through the northern part of the United States, Europe, Asia and both the Pacific and Atlantic. In the U.S., only 4 states lie entirely north of the 45th parallel: Alaska, Washington, Montana (almost) and North Dakota.
In my state of Wisconsin, and many parts of Michigan, the proximity to the 45th parallel has become somewhat of a novelty and to some extent…a tourist attraction. Perhaps not in and of itself, but when combined with a really great restaurant and/or bar you’ve got yourself an attraction. In Cadott, Wisconsin (located northeast of Eau Claire in Chippewa County) the sign welcoming visitors proclaims their status on the 45th, and also is the town’s official slogan: “Half-Way Between the Equator and North Pole”. Those of us that live on the 45th parallel, in the Midwest anyway…know that there is more to the attraction then just a line on a map. The climate and the beauty of the terrain here makes even the winters not so terrible. There is nothing quite like seeing the snow blanketing the branches of incredibly tall majestic pines. I remember when we moved up here, our cousin Al said: “Welcome to God’s Country” and I am sure he said something at the time about living North of the 45th.
So markers informing travelers of their locations on the 45th parallel can be found from Maine to Washington. The oldest known 45th parallel marker is in Maine. Many of the markers in Wisconsin were placed originally in the 1930’s by a newspaper editor by the name of Frank E. Noyes. Several of the plaques bear his name and date. So interesting to see a part of history and know that your footsteps are becoming a part of that history. Here is a photo of one of those markers placed on Hwy 141, 3 miles north of Lena, Wisconsin
When I looked up information on the topic, I found that it is not just cartographers who are interested in this phenomena, but historians and even vintners. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the best vineyards in the world, both in the US and Italy, are along the 45th parallel. Apparently the climate along that part of the globe is conducive for establishing vineyards and other crops. Not just grapes for wine, but also hops and grains for other fermented beverages. That brings me back to how the thoughts on this topic got started: a terrific lunch at The 45th Parallel.
I had a brief talk with Paul Werni, the founder of The 45th Parallel in New Richmond, Wisconsin. I led with the question that is perhaps on many customer’s minds: are we really exactly on the 45th Parallel right here? Pretty darn close: about 7 miles from the exact latitude. Yet, Paul said that the only farm that they get their grain from, Rusmar Farm, for the distillery is only about 8 miles from here and the 45th Parallel runs right through their land. Cool.Paul also explained that when they opened, in 2007, there were only 50 distilleries in the U.S. Now there are over 1,600.
I’m hoping to go back again someday soon for perhaps a tour and hope to sample some of that “Richmond Rye” whiskey. Sounds great! When we were there we just sampled the lunch menu, and did not have time for further sampling. Hope to go back when we have time to savor the flavor of a smooth bourbon by the fire. For more information on The 45th Parallel Distillery, check out their website at: http://www.45thparalleldistillery.com In the mean time, I find the simple joy in knowing that I am one of the 4% of the population that live on (or above) the 45th parallel. CHEERS! Julie E. Smith
Every time you enter the entrance gate of a National Park, a historic site or walk in the serene beauty of an area preserved by the National Park Service, you will see this arrowhead sign. The sign tells you, of course, that this is a site operated and maintained by the National Park Service. Yet, it also tells you that you are about to explore something that has been deemed worthy of protection and also so intriguing that it needs to be shared. I have reached the point with so many NPS Parks and site visits, that my enthusiasm for all things NPS related bubbles over when I first see the arrowhead sign…I know I am in for a treat! However, not only a treat, but also the surprise of discovering new and different things. The variety of places to visit within the scope of the National Park Service never ceases to amaze me. There is always something new to explore.
There are currently 62 National Parks in the United States, but actually 419 protected sites which include such areas as lake shores, forested areas and significant historical sites. So many times, travelers think they need to visit the “big” Parks to really experience what the National Park Service has to offer. The well known Parks are incredible….no denying that, but it is nice to explore some of the intriguing sites in your own back yard. When I first moved to Wisconsin, I was delighted to find out that a Visitors Center for a NPS protected site was only about 20 miles from my home: the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
I have been there several times and I always learn something new. A trip to the Visitors Center is a great way to learn how the St. Croix and the Namekagon rivers have had an incredible influence on this area of the upper Midwest. In addition to learning about the fascinating geologic and historical information of the area, one can also get information here on hiking, canoeing and fishing these beautiful waters. The rivers have provided commerce, recreation and also abundant resources to support a diversity of wildlife. The rivers of the St. Croix and Namekagon together make up 252 miles of protected waterway in the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway.
The geologic history of the area began millions of years ago when the glaciers carved out the river valleys and rugged bluffs overlooking the flowing rivers. The first human inhabitants of the rivers were the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwa (Chippewa) that found this area to have plentiful resources for an abundant life. The next to explore this area were the French and later the English fur trappers.
The logging industry in the area took the St. Croix river valley by storm and the peak of the logging industry was the 1890’s. Log jams in the river frequently occurred, not only hindering the progress of lumber to the mills, but also damaging the fragile ecosystems of the rivers. The life of the lumberjacks was challenging on the river, to say the least, and many lost their lives in this profession.
They built small shanties that floated in the river to help carry supplies and were sometimes used to sleep in as they were “steering” the lumber downstream. The shanty was called a Wannigan as shown is this photo. The last major log drive was in 1914. It is interesting that in St. Croix Falls, WI. and Taylors Falls, MN. the lumber industry and the rich heritage of the river is still celebrated today with “WanniganDays”. Now that is neat! I learned that new tidbit of trivia when moving to this area….I bet not that many people know what a Wannigan is, well know you know.
The St.Croix River Visitor Center is easily found at 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. It is just off the main road (87), 2 blocks north of the deck of the St. Croix Overlook.
Another example of an NPS site very close to my own “backyard” that I discovered is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. Located near Bayfield, Wisconsin they are a series of 21 islands in Lake Superior that are protected by the National Park Service.
Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the islands. They are located above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and were formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.
Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles. Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate. Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.
It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.
President Nixon established the Apostle Islands as a National Lakeshore in 1970, making 2020 the 50th anniversary year of being a protected site by the National Park Service. I am glad our recent trip there was during the commemoration of the 50th year. It was interesting to learn more about the history of the islands. Visitors here are lured by the mystic and might of Gichigami (Ojibwe for Lake Superior) and what is offered here. There are miles of beautiful shoreline with both sandy beaches and rocky overlooks. The rocks that have been weathered and carved by time display the unique formations found amongst the sea caves.
Additionally, since I have an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor.
Whether you explore with a hike, in a kayak or climb aboard one of the day cruises available out of Bayfield, it is an area that truly warrants discovery.
When you visit one of the landmark “big” parks of the National Park Service, it is easy to find a favorite…one that you want to go back to time and again. The same holds true for the perhaps lesser known Park sites. It is easy to find a favorite among those places bearing the NPS Arrowhead sign. I found one of my favorites in the Apostle Islands.
The “Mighty 5” in Utah are National Parks that provide such grandeur, stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures that they surely are befitting of the description: Mighty. Starting from the the southwest corner of the state and moving eastward they are : Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches.
It was in just this particular order that we traveled, starting our journey with Zion National Parkand making our way eastward. It is amazing that when you view all the parks on a map clustered together in the same general vicinity it would seem easy to visit them all within a short time…not so. Utah is a relatively large state and the vastness of it is complicated by the fact that there are fewer roads to take you from point A to point B. I’m not complaining; it’s wonderful to have the spanning horizons unscathed by roadways. It just takes longer to visit if you want to do justice to all 5 Parks.
Out of the Utah National Parks, Zion is the most visited National Park; in 2019 the Park received 4.5 million visitors. Canyonlands, however is by far the largest Utah park with 337,598 acres. All five Parks have their own distinct geographic features and breathtaking views, but the mountains of Zion and majesty of their height really diminishes the height of a small human being as one stands in awe. Especially for a Mid-westerner like myself, who is not accustomed to being around mountains like this. A couple of times I found myself gazing upward with my mouth agape: “Oh…Wow!”
Although Zion National Park was established in 1919, it has only been in recent years that the popularity of the park has soared. The Parks further north of Zion (the favorites of Yellowstone and Yosemite for example), had become traveler’s favorites. Yet, all the amazing pathways to be explored at Zion have brought many travelers through the gates. There are of course, pros and cons to this expanding appreciation of the Park. It is nice to have people love and appreciate the Park, but sometimes managing crowd control and assuring the preservation of the Park can be a challenge.
When we were there, our country was in the midst of a pandemic. In October of 2020, after months of quarantine, everyone was wanting to get outside and many of the National Park Service sites saw a surge in attendance. Several things were not “normal” and I do give the Parks administration credit for doing their best to assure a safe and healthy environment. One example, was limiting the shuttle buses to 50% capacity so as to improve social distancing. This was a great idea…but did create long lines to get on a shuttle and limited how much you would have time to see in the park. Getting tickets for the shuttle in advance is a whole other story…yikes! They are only $1.00, but you have to have one to get to certain areas of the Park. I know they had to institute a ticketing procedure for “crowd control”…but it was very frustrating. My advice for trips to a popular National Park such as Zion is plan MONTHS ahead of time. I booked our hotels in January for an October trip. Shuttle tickets, campgrounds and other reservations can be found on http://recreation.gov .
Zion National Park is situated on part of the Colorado Plateau and the sandstone cliffs, towering mountains and river valleys provide a stunning remnant of how this part of the continent was formed roughly 250 million years ago. Looking at the vastness of the terrain, it is hard to imagine that this land was once submerged in a shallow sea and this area was considered part of the super-continent of Pangaea. As a hiker kicking up dust and stones along the path, it is compelling to think how this terrain has evolved through both erosion and tectonic shifts. The canyons and sandstone cliffs provide unique and colorful views. Zion National Park helps to preserve the most sacred and impressive canyon country and wilderness ecosystem on our planet.
One sight, and hike, that I did not attempt while at Zion is the infamous Angels Landing which rises 1,500 feet above a sheer wall face above the Virgin River. There are chains bolted into the rock face in part of the walkway to provide “security” on your walk. Just looking at the photos of a chained walkway on the side of a mountain scared me to death. Well, guess what…when we got there the Angels Landing trail was closed because of the pandemic. (whew…wipe brow with relief), Now I don’t have to come up an excuse not to go. Apparently, it was too hard to assure “social distancing”. However, my son and his friends went on another challenging hike that Zion is famous for: The Narrows. It is what the name dictates; where the canyon Narrows and is carved out by the Virgin River. The trail is mostly wading through the cold water anywhere from ankle to waist deep. The entire trail is 16 miles long. Many hikers just go part of the way and turn around; it is a very arduous hike and very tough in water with the uneven terrain of the river rocks. Our group all made it back in one piece. Before you enter the Narrows is a beautiful, easy hike: Riverside Walkthat follows the Virgin River. Part of the walk is paved and the rest is a groomed path that is easy to navigate. My husband and I enjoyed our time on that path while waiting for the guys that had ventured into The Narrows.
After departing Zion, and with a sad goodbye to our son and his friends, we started heading east while they headed west back to San Diego.
Our next stop was Bryce Canyon National Park. It is the smallest of the Mighty 5 parks, but has a huge impact visually. Technically it is not a canyon, but rather a series of amphitheaters cutting into the pink/red rocks with spires rising up skyward. The rock spires, called hoodoos, are an intriguing example of how erosion and freeze/thaw cycles have molded the rocks. Another story about the hoodoos is told by the Paiute people in the area. They tell of the Legend People who were animal-like people. They behaved badly and treated Coyote so badly, that he turned them into rock formations. The creatures huddled together and still stand as when they were first turned to stone. The impressive and ever-changing hoodoos and other rock formations seem to be the highlight of the park, but the dense forests and sporadic meadows provide a serene setting.
Since the park’s elevation ranges from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, its usually much cooler here than at the other Utah parks. When we were there, the heavily forested sections in the park made me feel, briefly anyway, I was back in the great north woods of Wisconsin. The terrain of course is very different than the Midwest, each region having their own distinct characteristics and shining attributes.
After leaving Bryce, our next stop was to Torrey, Utah. We stayed at Cowboy Homestead Cabins: cozy, very nice and situated close to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park. The Park’s namesake comes from the presence of several white rock domes that resemble the U.S. Capitol. Also a huge geologic feature in the park is water trapped in the pockets of rock creating a “Waterpocket Fold” and hence the creation of a “reef”. Early explorers, in the 1870s, found it difficult to navigate and started referring to this unique geologic feature as a “reef”. The Waterpocket Fold extends 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to the north all the way south to Lake Powell.
Prior to the arrival of the Mormon settlers, the Native American Fremont people lived in this area. Several examples of their rock art have been preserved on petroglyphs. The art is an amazing depiction of the hunting and gathering lifestyles of the Fremonts. Capitol Reef was one of the last places in the West to be explored by immigrant settlers. It was not until the late 1870’s when the Mormons began settling into the region. The town of Fruita was established and many of the orchards that were planted and irrigated still exist today. The National Park Service still maintains the orchards and visitors to the park can enjoy many “pick your own ” crops of cherries, peaches, pears and apples. Unfortunately we had just missed the apple picking season when we were there. Yet, in Fruita we made a stop at the little country store (very quaintly fashioned after a 1900 farmhouse) and had hot coffee with one of the biggest and best cinnamon rolls I have ever tasted! The turn of the century barn, blacksmith shop and split rail fencing all around the area, gives one a real feel for life as a southern Utah settler in the early 1900’s.
After Capitol Reef, our journey took us to Moab, Utah. Very interesting place that I found out is a real mecca for dirt bikes,mountain bikes and ATVs. I can’t blame them…all those awesome trails with jumps, racing curves and are naturally groomed by nature. I did not pick Moab because of this however…the town of Moab is centrally located to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Great location and the town itself has several great restaurants and overnight lodging.
Our journey to Arches was short lived. We made it to the entrance and got the traditional “sign picture”, then I saw several vehicles driving toward the gate, then turning around. Then I saw it: a light-up sign with the message: “Park Full”—“Turn around Ahead”. Needless to say I was disappointed, but not too terribly surprised since we were visiting in the age of a pandemic and the limiting of park visitors. I am sure Arches is a popular park, and they have to assure that it won’t be too crowded…but still, I was very sad at the time. Well, even though we didn’t make it to all of the Mighty 5, three out of 5 ain’t bad and it gives me motivation for a return trip. There are many sights to take in while visiting Utah. So….”Put your traveling Shoes on…” Julie E. Smith
I have always been an optimist, sometimes a blind optimist looking through rose colored glasses at my world. Yet, 2020 and all that has occurred makes it hard to look for the proverbial silver lining. However, my husband and I made a recent trip to southern Utah to visit the “Mighty 5” National Parks. I experienced a resurgence of optimism on this trip and I hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel as we face the struggles of beating COVID-19. Granted, I really hope it is not “blind” optimism but I would imagine all of us are looking for good news and a light at the end of the tunnel at this point.
When I started to write this blog, and think of my recent experiences on the road, I thought of the Rosie the Riveter icon from World War II who served as an inspiration to working women trying hard to do what it takes to help at home while soldiers across the sea were fighting to win the war. The “war”on COVID-19 is a different war, but a war nevertheless because it has drastically affected the way we live our lives. So Rosie was encouraging gals to pull together and do what is needed to provide the goods and services to not only win the war, but to provide for the folks at home. That spirit of pulling together as part of a community became even more evident to me recently. It seems to me that almost every man, woman and child is trying hard to do all the “rightthings” that are expected of us at this time: wash hands frequently, mask wearing and social distancing. Specifically, while on our trip, we saw almost everyone wearing their masks and keeping a respectable distance from one another. At Zion National Park, masked are required in enclosed buildings, like the Visitor’s Center. When in open areas of the Park they were recommended only when close to other people. I would estimate that 90 to 95% of park goers were very good about adhering to these regulations and even though the Park was relatively crowded, people tried very hard to be considerate of others. After all, we are all in this together and we all want this craziness to come to a halt.
Another aspect of our trip that made me really admire Corona fighting efforts were the hotels and restaurants that we visited. EVERYONE wore masks and everyone tried to make our visit a pleasant one…in spite of all the necessary changes……Remember those free breakfasts offered at many hotels? What a great way to start your day with hot coffee and a light breakfast, that you don’t have to cook! Well, they were still offered, but very different. Several hotels had set up a table by the previous “self-serve” station with an employee to get our choices for us. All the tables were sanitized in between uses. Sometimes my husband and I just ate in our room. It was a good system, just seemed weird. Yet I appreciate all the hotel and restaurateurs efforts to keep us all safe. These hardworking folks all deserve a Rosie the Riveter affirmation.
Apparently I am not the only one who views Rosie as an inspiration for a “call to arms”. In Lafayette, Indiana a Facebook Group was started for the purpose of sewing masks to help fill the needs of their community and beyond. What an inspiring icon for those sewers in Indiana. Apparently Indiana is not the only resourceful part of the country to inspire others with Rosie, there are several groups coast to coast. Also, health care providers have inspired others with her determined stance as well. I view the icon of the mask wearing Rosie as an inspiration to do our part on the battle against Coronavirus. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, yes it’s a pain and yes it has turned our lives upside down. But with tenacity and hope we will get through. And don’t forget to wash your hands…..Julie E. Smith
So Many of us have “cabin fever” and are trying the best we can to cope with the realities of this pandemic. Having a chance to get away is so important to our mental health, most would agree with that….yet we want to remember to take steps to protect our physical health as well. It’s even more important when considering travel. My Brother- in- Law (Thanks Larry!) brought to my attention a terrific article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this exact topic. Some of the pointers are things we already know, but it is helpful to be reminded of the basics so we can all work together to minimize this terrible virus.
Here is a re-print of the majority of the article from the CDC web-site. To read the entire article, and other relevant articles about COVID-19, their web-site is: https://www.cdc.gov
Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic —Updated Aug. 26, 2020
Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
You can get COVID-19 during your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to others. You and your travel companions (including children) may spread COVID-19 to other people including your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.
Does your destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers?
Some state, local, and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring people to wear masks and requiring those who recently traveled to stay home for up to 14 days. Check state, territorial,tribal and local public health websites for information before you travel. If you are traveling internationally, check the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.
Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Your chances of getting COVID-19 while traveling also depend on whether you and those around you take steps to protect yourself and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people outside your household (social distancing). Airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.
Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
Traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others, which may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. If you choose to travel by bus or train, learn what you can do to protect yourself on public transportation.
Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently-touched surfaces.
You may have to stop less often for food or bathroom breaks, but RV travel usually means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others.
Know When to Delay your Travel to Avoid Spreading COVID-19
People who are sick, have recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 should delay travel. Learn when and for how long to delay travel to avoid spreading COVID-19.
How Are Companies Protecting Customers from COVID-19?
When planning travel, you may want to check companies’ websites to see what they are doing to protect customers from COVID-19. Things to look for include:
Requiring people to wear a mask
Promoting social distancing
Using online or contactless reservations and check-in
Using contactless payment
Enhanced cleaning procedures
Tips to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 in common travel situations:
Pack hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep this within reach.
Bring enough of your medicine to last you for the entire trip.
Pack food and water in case restaurants and stores are closed, or if drive-through, take-out, and outdoor-dining options aren’t available.
If you are considering cleaning your travel lodgings, see CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect.
Check Travel Restrictions
State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Follow state, local, and territorial travel restrictions. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state, territorial,tribal and local health department where you are, along your route, and where you are going. Prepare to be flexible during your trip as restrictions and policies may change during your travel.
If traveling internationally or across international borders, check with the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine. Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled.
After You Travel
You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without symptoms and spread the virus to others. You and your travel companions (including children) pose a risk to your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus. Regardless of where you traveled or what you did during your trip, take these actions to protect others from getting sick after you return:
When around others, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
Alaska beckons. The mountains are calling. The pines whisper and the frozen tundra holds curiosities beneath. The unique lands showcased in the parks there demonstrate its reputation as The Last Frontier. Some of the National Parks in Alaska are much harder to access than others, one must travel by boat or plane to reach them. Yet, KenaiFjords National Park is near Seward, which is only 126 miles from Anchorage. The drive from Seward to Anchorage on the Seward highway provides stunning views of the Turnagain Arm Fjord (so named by James Cook in 1778, when he was forced to “turn again” when he was unable to navigate passage through to the Northwest Passage.)
The Park covers about 950 square miles and showcases some of the iconic features of Alaska including glaciers, marine life and coastal scenery. A large majority of the Park is either in the waterways or frozen icefields, so one of the best ways to get an overview of the park is via a tour boat from Seward into Resurrection Bay and parts of the Gulf of Alaska. There are several tours available from the starting point of Seward for both wildlife viewing and fishing excursions. We went on an afternoon cruise with Major Marine Tours. Getting out on the water gives you a great overview of one of the crowning features of the Park: the Harding Icefield. It is 70 miles long and 30 miles wide and creates all the glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park. It is incredible to see-and hear- the glaciers “calve” icebergs into the bay by releasing massive chunks of ice into the water.
Additionally, on the boat tour, we were able to see numerous examples of Alaska marine life. We saw Stellar Sea Lions, Bald Eagles and an abundance of Puffins and Kittiwakes. Puffins were always my favorite. They look so cute and pudgy and seemingly awkward, but they are fast flyers and divers with excellent fishing skills.
Another aspect of our tour at Kenai Fjords was my first introduction to the concept of the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. Since we were there in August, the long days and short, short nights were very evident. At the end of the tour we came back to the harbor, pulling up to the dock and the sun was still high on the horizon. It felt like about 6 or 7 pm, but it was 10 pm. So odd. Now I know why residents of Alaska purchase “black out” curtains to get a good night sleep. Yet, as a tourist it’s great because you can fill so many things in one day and you don’t run out of daylight.
The only road in the Park, ends at the Exit Glacier parking lot. From there you can take an easy hike to view the glacier face. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and terrific to view, but sadly is also a very visible indicator of glacial recession due to climate change.
As just a humble visitor to Alaska, and not a resident, I appreciate the beauty and diversity of the landscape. Yet, I recognize the frailty of so many parts of this planet that we call home. Seeing the changes at Exit Glacier really provides a powerful visual that YES our planet is changing. No easy answers, but acceptance of the problem is half the battle. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith
Authors note: This particular journey to Alaska was made several years ago, before my interest in the National Parks began to pique. Yet, I wanted to document my experiences there for my book: “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.”
My Husband and I just returned from a “mini vacation”, only 3 days, from a lovely state park relatively close to us and also the beautiful Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. Like many people at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on our spirits and we certainly did not expect the current situation to last as long as it has. Yet we carry on and keep on hoping for the situation to improve…and I am optimistic that YES it will. Eventually.
But in the mean time, we all have to be gentle with ourselves and do things to help our mental health and keep us going. I have a great love of travel and the great outdoors, so I thought this would be a terrific way for some rejuvenation. It was a great trip, but it was so different in so many ways. Just like many things in 2020, it will be remembered as a time period when radical changes in our lifestyles happened almost overnight. Time will tell how history will remember this time period, but as the people who have lived through it….we will remember it in a multitude of ways-both good and bad.
On our trip we noticed what has become commonplace across this country: The Magic Three to fight COVID-19:
) Mask usage
) Hand washing and liberal use of hand sanitizer
) Required social distancing
We followed the rules, as best we could, I have no complaints there. I know doing these things are what we do as a community to help stop the spread. Yet, what is most disturbing to me is how utilizing these guardians of our physical health most certainly change our behavior and our mental health. We know it’s the “right thing to do”, but some of the behaviors that we are expected to follow feel foreign to most people, especially those of us that crave human interaction with our fellow human beings.
Probably the best illustration of this is how awkward it can become to maintain that recommended 6 foot distance in a “touristy” area. When we were walking out and about, enjoying the sights with our fellow travelers, people tried really hard to avoid getting too close to others. This is a good thing at this juncture, but normally when you are visiting an interesting city or park, it’s part of the experience to share observations with others. You probably will never see these people again, but for the moment you are immersed in the mutual experience together. So during this pandemic it just feels so odd to avoid eye contact with people and walk on the curb or even in the street to avoid sharing the sidewalk. As I said, people were trying to do the right thing, but it just feels odd and in my opinion distracts from the joy of the trip.
At the state park people frequently avoided even making eye contact with others. It was just weird, not how I remember a beautiful walk in the woods is supposed to be with fellow hikers. Granted, I am not discounting the extreme importance of the social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing. We all need to do our part…and many people, myself included, are trying their hardest to do what is best for everyone to stop this horrible virus. I’m just saying it feels so weird right now. And when you go on “vacation”, you would think you can take a “vacation” from reality…but in this circumstance- NO. Because for awhile anyway, this is our new reality.
Masks have become standard uniform when going out into the world and we are learning to adjust, but sometimes it is hard to read people’s body language with half their face covered. As it has been said: Eyes are the Mirrors of the Soul. This is true now more than ever. Sometimes we can smile with our eyes if people can’t see our mouth. Try it right now as you read these words…it’s good practice because it’s nice to smile with your eyes in appreciation if you have a mask on. We had a waitress on this past trip that was so lovely and she had perfected the art of smiling with her eyes and her mask was intact the whole time. It also helps to talk with your hands a bit more. Almost everyone can appreciate an encouraging thumbs up like this little fellow.
Vacations are always a break from our routine, and this one was too. This trip, by car, was just the tip of the travel iceberg; I can’t even image air travel yet….not sure what that will be like. However, some say this may be the best time to fly because airlines are very meticulous with sanitation and not overbooking flights. We shall see, but I personally don’t plan on flying anytime soon. We enjoyed our short car trip and enjoyed the opportunity to see some new places, take lots of fun photos and have the fun of trying new restaurants. Something as simple as a walk in the woods made me realize we can all benefit from being gentle with ourselves and doing something special to survive 2020. As many companies have stated, in one way or another, “We are all in this together” (but 6 feet apart…Ha-Ha) Stay Safe, Stay Happy. Put Your traveling shoes on! Thumbs Up! Julie E. Smith