Follow the NPS Arrowhead

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.

St. Croix River-border between Wisconsin & Minnesota

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.

NPS photo (circa early 1900’s) Logging on the St. Croix River with Wannigan house

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 “Wannigan Days”.  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 Stack” in the Apostle Islands

 

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.

Devils Island Lighthouse- the Apostle Islands

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.

Put your traveling shoes on.….Julie E. Smith

The “Mighty 5”: Utah’s National Parks

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: MightyStarting from the the southwest corner of the state and moving eastward they are : Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches.

Zion National Park (Photo: Dept. of Interior)

It was in just this particular order that we traveled, starting our journey with Zion National Park and 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.

 

Entrance gate: Zion National Park, Utah

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.

Zion National Park shuttle buses: minimizing car traffic & reducing the carbon “footprint”

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 .

Temple of Sinawava; last stop on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive & entrance to The Narrows

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.

Virgin River by Riverside Walk Trail

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 Walk that 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.

Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon (photo from myutahparks.com)

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.

 

“Sunset Point” at Bryce Canyon National Park

 

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.

Mormon style farm settlement-Capitol Reef National Park

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.

The traditional “sign picture”: Arches National Park

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

 

Yes, we can! Resuming Travel (Carefully…) during 2020

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 right things” 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

It’s on our minds; Travel or not to travel?

About a week ago I wrote a post about how strange it can be to travel in the midst of our current pandemic: “Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19 (https://americantrekkerblog.com/2020/08/23/travel-2020-in-the-age-of-covid-19/ This is an addendum to that blog with additional information that we can all use to help make our world a safer and healthier place.

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.

Don’t travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Before you travel, consider the following:

If You Travel

During your trip, take steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Considerations for Types of Travel

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

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.

Also consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.

Bus or train travel

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.

Car travel

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.

RV travel

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:

In public:

  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.

Bathrooms and rest stops:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and after you have been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Getting gas:

  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons at the gas pumps before you touch them (if available).
  • After fueling, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you get to your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hotels and accommodations:

Food stops:

Anticipate Your Travel Needs
  • Bring a mask to wear in public places.
  • 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.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.

Follow state, territorial, tribal and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

 

Showcasing Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

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, Kenai Fjords 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.)

Kenai Fjords National Park (photo by Major Marine Tours-Seward)

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.

Puffins @ Kenai Fjords National Park (photo:Major Marine Tours)

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.

Exit Glacier near Seward. This photo was taken in 2016 and shows how glacier has receded past it’s location in 2005. (photo by Dan Smith)

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.”

Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19

 

Michigan Island lighthouses: Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

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:

  1. ) Mask usage
  2. ) Hand washing and liberal use of hand sanitizer
  3. ) 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

 

 

The Conservation President

Theodore_Roosevelt_High_School,_DSM,_IA

TRHS-Des Moines, Iowa

I think it must have been fate that I graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. Little did I know that later in life I would develop such admiration for this man.  He really did so much for conservation and along with John Muir helped to create the National Park Service.  Since I am currently working on a book about National Parks and all the fantastic sites operated by the National Park Service…Teddy’s name just keeps popping up. That and John Muir. Come to find out John Muir is from Wisconsin….Nifty. But that’s a story for another day. Since Roosevelt had such an impact with conservation and the establishment of the National Park Service, I continue to find him an intriguing man in history. He is so much more than just some dude who’s likeness is carved into Mt. Rushmore.

I have been reading this terrific book about Roosevelt, but it’s not something you just sit and read cover to cover. Easier to digest when you peruse it and bounce back and forth through the chapters. It’s 940 pages long…but really interesting. Entitled:“The Wilderness Warrior, Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade For America” by Douglas Brinkley. (available on Amazon if you’re interested) It is a book that has so much detailed historical information, yet it also has details about the President as a person and helps you get to know many of Roosevelt’s little idiosyncrasies.  Things that really bring him to life, not just facts and figures but illustrations that show he was a man with both passions and prejudices. For example, I never knew that he was an avid bird watcher, cool… so am I. We would have so much to talk about.

An ice breaker question to ask is :“Who would you like to have dinner with, alive or dead?” At least one of the responses I would give to that question would be our 26th President: Theodore Roosevelt. In reading this book it is a reminder that even then, politics were, well….”politics” . TR had several adversaries that were on opposite sides of his agendas and I am sure he even had so-called enemies. Considering today’s political climate, it probably seemed mild to what we are trying to cope with now as Americans. In any case, Roosevelt persevered on several topics and was able to formulate several plans and enact legislation for conservation and preservation of our country’s valuable resources.

When my husband and I were heading west to visit Glacier N.P., we stopped in North Dakota and paid a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This area of the country is often considered the “Badlands of the North” evidenced by the rugged terrain, sedimentary rocks and prairie grasses. Occasionally you see small trees or shrubs popping up but mostly it is a rugged landscape with grasses and rocks. It was an interesting park to visit, even though it was devoid of majestic mountains and towering pines; things that people think are synonymous with a national park.  The quiet beauty here made you realize why Roosevelt choose this place as a refuge and a place to “re-fuel” his spirits.  At this Park, there is an on-site museum detailing Roosevelt’s life: both professionally and personally.  I was very saddened to find out that both his wife and his mother died hours apart on the same day: Valentine’s Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine how devastating that would have been. He found comfort and solace in this part of the country. His time here allowed him to grow and strengthen, both mentally and physically.  He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota”.

So it’s no wonder they choose North Dakota as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a place that meant so much to him. Not only does it protect this unique area of land, it pays a wonderful tribute to a man who is remembered fondly as “The Conservation President.” I think I will vote for TR come November.

 

 

 

Badlands National Park: “Bad”, but uniquely beautiful

Visiting the beautiful Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota, travelers often wonder why it is called The Badlands. Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota is only one area that holds the title of “badlands”.  It is a geologic term that describes landscapes characterized by soft sedimentary rocks.  This type of terrain can be found all over the west in places like Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. 

badlands of South Dakota

Surveying the terrain & exposed sedimentary rocks: Badlands National Park

 The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad”.  French Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvaises terres pour traverser”, or “bad lands to travel through.” When one surveys this barren, rocky terrain with limited moisture and vegetation you can see why the title stuck. Nevertheless, the rock formations and colors in the sedimentary rock create a surreal landscape that seems not of this world.  The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was impressed with the uniqueness of this land. In 1935 he wrote:
“I’ve been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for the revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands…What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere-a distant architecture, ethereal…an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” 
Badlands,flickr photo

Sunset in The Badlands (Flickr photo by Sue Vruno)

So I would agree with Mr. Wright: the Badlands create an other world atmosphere…sometimes you feel you are wandering on a different planet. The different textures and the way the sun light and clouds plays across the horizon make the rock structures seem to go on indefinitely. When I was there with my family, I remember one of my son’s commenting that it felt as if we were “walking on Mars”.

Yet even with this desolate terrain, there are a variety of creatures and plant life that are abundant here and call this territory home. The prairie and rocky terrain amazingly are able to support 60 different species of grasses.Badlands,rattlesnakes sign!

This in turn provides a food source for several animals including bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, snakes, vultures and bluebirds. When we were there, we did not see much wildlife…or snakes thank goodness…but this is the first sign we saw on the trail. Good to know! 

In addition to the living creatures, this region is rich with fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. In this desolate place, it’s intriguing to think that many of the fossils are of aquatic dinosaurs. When the formation of the Badlands began, over 75 million years ago, there was a shallow sea spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada encompassing the Great Plains area. The creatures sank to the bottom of the sedimentary layer and became fossilized. All the different layers of rock also provide a geologist’s dream and include: sandstone, silt, mudstone, limestone, volcanic ash and shale. These layers create a multi-dimensional and colorful landscape.

Many travelers heading to South Dakota and points west catch sight of the popular destinations of Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower’s and many more in that neck of the woods. Yet, the eerie and majestic beauty of the Badlands is worth adding to your trip agenda. For more information check out the National Park Service link to The Badlands: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm 

Put your traveling shoes on….Julie E. Smith

 

Striving to come out on the other side: Coronovirus-2020

Like so many people at this time, we are all trying to survive this pandemic that has taken hold in our lives.  Not only has it taken the lives of so many people, it also has affected the lifestyles and a shattering blow to the economy and livelihood of many Americans. An event of this magnitude sweeps across the nation affecting everyone, even if you yourself are not sick.

So the best thing we can do after protecting our self physically, is also to protect our mental health. One way is to make plans for the tomorrows to come, when this pandemic has “simmered down” and we can resume somewhat of a “normal” lifestyle.  Many will agree that time will tell when that will be and also there will most defiantly be a new normal. 

Yet, making future plans is a great way to keep us going.  Enter the joy of travel planning…and of course reading travel blogs like this one!  Time will tell when traveling beyond our own backyards will be more acceptable, but in the mean time, Weary Travelers, we need to do something to keep up morale.  I am already planning a trip this fall to Utah and “The Mighty 5”, National Parks.  If you are curious, here are the Mighty 5: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Reservations have been made (long before the craziness of COVID-19 really struck) and thank goodness we were planning on driving anyway. I’m not sure when air travel will be resuming at a point that most passengers will feel comfortable and safe. Another consideration, sad that it may be, is the fact that currently many of the National Parks and sites are currently closed due to efforts to contain the Coronavirus. I understand the need for such measures, but at the same time I want to remain hopeful that the Parks will be able to reopen soon. Also, I want to stress the importance of responsible behavior by park visitors to maintain our nation’s most treasured spaces.  I want to be optimistic that by Fall, my husband and I will be heading out to Utah as planned. Fingers crossed. Although we have our lodging figured out, I am open to suggestions on other cool stuff to see and do in the area. Probably no need to suggest Angel’s Landing hike in Zion, not gonna happen. I am way too afraid of heights in addition to that fact I am not as agile as a mountain goat, don’t really wish to fall to my death….just saying. But am looking forward to hiking The Narrows, we shall see.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park, Utah

So I am not even sure if we will have the time or energy to see all five, but just the anticipation of the trip…and the prospect of added features for my book, keeps me motivated and optimistic for what is to come. If I am discouraged, or feeling “cabin fever”, I just take a gander through those travel brochures and it gets me back in the game. Did I mention BOOK? Yes, I am in the midst of putting together a book about the National Park Service. It is not meant to be the definitive guide to the parks , but rather an overview and a way of providing an inspiration to visit the parks. It is entitled “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.” A large portion of the book is compiled from my blogs to many of the Parks, but I am also working on new content. The up side of the fact that we are strongly encouraged to comply with “Safer at Home” ordinances pushes me towards continued work on my book. I enjoy working on it, but as an writer knows…it’s easy to get distracted by so many other things.

Zion National Park, photo from U.S. Dept. of Interior

So here’s one more image to inspire both myself and my readers: Zion National Park. Zion is currently closed for visitors, but let’s hope the future will bring opportunities for others to see this glorious view….myself included. Looking for a way to remedy the “stay at home” blues? Why not try some travel planning with a virtual trip with plans for the future. Stay safe, stay healthy and hang in there until we come out on the “other side.” Put Your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

The Quiet Majesty of the Grand Tetons

“In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there –Roundabout by YES

The Teton Range: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Looking at the majesty of the Tetons, I was reminded of those lyrics by YES from so many years ago. I have always liked that those words seem to bring the mountains to life. A life of their own and as they stand there, if they were so inclined they could get up and walk away to another place.

The Teton range has been “standing there” for millions of years, but was established as Grand Teton National Park in 1929.  About 13 million years ago, two blocks of the earth’s crust shifted on a fault line, tilted one up and the other down forming the range we view today. The highest peek: “Grand” reaches to a height of 13,770 feet.   The area surrounding the range includes a lush valley with crystal shining lakes, groves of aspen trees and alpine meadows. The park is 484 square miles and includes the range and most of the nearby area of Jackson Hole.  Not to be confused with specifically the town of Jackson, Wyoming. This flat valley surrounded by the towering mountains was visited by many trappers in the 1800’s. The area was named “Jackson’s Hole”  after Davey Jackson: a trapper from that time.  In time, the apostrophe was dropped and it just became Jackson Hole. Both the town of Jackson and the geographic namesake of the area are linked historically and are “next door neighbors” sharing the same inspiring landscape.

Antler Arches-Jackson Wyoming

Many visitors to the Park also spend time touring the town of Jackson and many hotels, restaurants and shops are found closely to the Park. Jackson is also the home to three popular ski resorts, so it is even busier during the winter months. We were there in summer and there were some visitors from the Park, but their peak season is ski season. When we went to the Grand Tetons, we stayed in Jackson and had the opportunity to explore both. One of the most unique features of Jackson was the Town Square: decorated with cowboys statues and arches made from antlers. On first view, it seems a little morbid…but come to find out the elk shed their antlers every year. Most of the antlers used in the construction of the archways were collected from the area in the woods. Otherwise, that would have been quite a few elk to shoot! Here’s a photo of one of the arches. They do have quite an impact: it gives the town square a real rustic, western feel.

Jenny Lake-Grand Teton National Park

There are three entrances to the Park, the southern entrance is only 4 miles north of Jackson.  If traveling from the north, via Yellowstone National Park, the two parks are only 31 miles apart.  Nevertheless, the Tetons are frequently overlooked by the notoriety of Yellowstone.  Both parks have their own unique features, but personally I liked Grand Teton better. The majestic beauty of the mountains and the quiet solitude of the shimmering lakes gives one a wonderful sense of calm…good Zen.  Yellowstone provides a great showcase of unique geographic features: erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots and breathtaking waterfalls.  I don’t deny these are all part of an awesome park adventure, but the majesty and serene landscapes of the Tetons should not be missed.

With the varied terrain there are also different hikes suited to different skill levels. Yet, the easy to moderate level hikes provide a great day hike through sparkling streams, alpine meadows and loads of photo opportunities. We took a relatively short hike and ended up at Jenny Lake. Since it was an easy hike, we were not alone on the trail, but not crowded by any means.  I am always amazed by delightful conversations with fellow park goers. We had asked two women if they could take our family photo and they were happy to oblige (most folks usually are…) Come to find out they were also from a  Chicago suburb; very close to where we lived. Small world.

Moulton Barn on Mormon Row-Grand Teton National Park (photo by PhotoJeepers)

Some of the most iconic photographs of Grand Teton National Park include the antique barn on Mormon Row Historic District: the Moulton Barn. The barn stands as a picturesque back drop to grazing bison and antelope. It also reminds the viewer of the challenging life of farming that took place on these rugged lands. The area was settled by Mormons in the late 1890s. The community was established and 27 homesteads were built to form a close knit community. Most of the farmers grew hay and oats and had limited livestock. In the mid-1900s, Mormon Row was acquired to expand Grand Teton National Park and in 1997 the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Several iconic barns still stand today and are widely recognized in photographs with the Teton range as the backdrop.

Grand Teton National Park: a magnificent, must see park for travelers to the west. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

« Older Entries