Yes, I am inspired by the National Park Service; the Parks, the seashores, the monuments, the historical sites….the whole package. People who know me, know that I have a very keen interest in the National Parks and my passion for the parks really grew during the 2016 Centennial of the NPS. Yet, last night it was refreshing and exciting to find that a person I don’t even know was also inspired by the 2016 Centennial of the NPS; so inspired that he wrote a book about it and his extensive travels. WOW, looks really cool and also an inspiration to me. I keep blogging away about the parks, but am also starting a book about the National Park Service. The book is in it’s infancy stage at this point, but seeing something like this book inspires me to keep plugging.
Also, as a note to my regular readers and friends, I have made several updates to my travel blog that I hope will make it more “user friendly”. I hope to inspire others to comment and learn from each other in the travel community about amazing places in the USA. I also recently changed the name to:http://americantrekkerblog.com
I believe that “American Trekker” is more representative of what the blog is about: fantastic trips across America, and encouraging people to get out there and explore! Also, it is encouraging to know that wherever you live in this country, there is bound to be something amazing right in your own back yard. I have added a sections on my blog called “Regions”. You can click that tab and all the stories pertaining to that region will be listed, then just click on the story you want to read. Another section of my blog is : “Travel Features/Tips”, which covers everything from making the most of your National Park adventures, internet travel planning, free museums and the perils of lost luggage (yes, I imagine we all have a few stories to tell….)
I am hoping these revisions to my blog will help readers navigate their way. Be sure to enter your email if you are not already following me. You will just get email notification every time I post a blog. Thanks & Put Your traveling shoes on. JES
Olympic National Park, located on the western edge of Washington state, showcases three distinct ecosystems: a rainforest, a wild flower meadow and a rugged Pacific shoreline. The exotic terrain and beauty of these systems are all showcased in the 1,441 square miles of this park located on the Olympic Peninsula. When visiting there, it’s a bit perplexing to understand the “boundaries” of the park because the terrain is so varied and part of the park follows the coastline of the Pacific ocean with a seemingly endless horizon.
The trees, almost all sitka spruce and hemlock, in this park are wondrous and their sheer size takes your breath away. Walking among these trees gives a mere human a sense of the grandeur of all creation and at the same time the fragility of our beautiful planet. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and can reach a height of 250 feet, with some having a circumference of 30 to 60 feet. Going on a walk in these woods helps to give perspective on the connectivity of life, all life. John Muir, the naturalist who was one of the men instrumental in helping to create the National Park Service said simply: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” (John Muir, 1938) It’s amazing that this is one of the few rain forests in the lower 48 states. A key feature that allows this rain forest to thrive is the abundant rain. Precipitation in the Olympic’s rain forest ranges from 140 to 167 inches per year. Luckily, we happen to time our trip there on a sunny, warm day.
A portion of the Park borders the Pacific and boasts two beautiful beaches that stretch along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach. Rialto Beach is further north and Ruby beach is south near the Hoh Indian Reservation. These are not the kind of beaches you park yourself on a beach blanket with a margarita in hand; they are very rocky, rugged with a ferocious surf. Nevertheless they are wonderfully scenic and you can spend hours beach combing to see amazing shells, driftwood and view the iconic “sea stacks” by the shore. Sea stacks are steep columns of rocks formed by wave erosion. Along this particular beach, the sea stacks create quite an interesting and diverse view along the shoreline.
With the strength of the pounding surf, the driftwood that decorates the beach more closely resemble art sculptures in a variety of shapes. Art inherent in nature. This close up of one of the huge logs shows the detail and the resulting effects of wind and water. Everywhere you look, from every angle…there’s something new to discover, and to photograph!
Entering the park is probably easiest from Hwy 101 by Port Angeles. The main Visitors Center is located at this entrance and the untamed beaches on the Pacific side may also be accessed from Hwy 101. Also by 101, situated at the northernmost area of the Park, is the amazing Lake Crescent. The glacial formed lake waters reflect a beautiful azure color, have very limited algae growth and are crystal clear. Some days you can see 60 feet down into the lake that has been measured in places at 624 feet deep. The lake is the perfect environment to support several different types of trout. When we visited the lake, we didn’t have the opportunity to go fishing, however we were able to have a peaceful picnic lakeside. Also on the lake is the historic lodge: Lake Crescent Lodge. It was built in 1915 and each of the rooms has a view of the lake. This is one of three historic Lodges found in the Park.
Olympic National Park is a gem in the Pacific northwest that definitely warrants a visit when in the area. I have only been once, but would love to visit again someday. Put your traveling shoes on. JES
On the eastern most point of the Maine coastline, atop Cadillac Mountain, is one of the places where dawn first touches the continental United States. The 1,530 foot mountain is found within Acadia National Park, established in 1919 as the first National Park east of the Mississippi. (Yellowstone N.P. holds the title of the first Park in the U.S.-1872) Acadia is truly a gem on the east coast, a showcase on the Atlantic seashore that Maine residents feel such pride in sharing with visitors to this mountainous part of the state. The park is composed of most of Mount Desert Island and tracts of land on the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut.
When my family and I visited there, that Maine hospitality and pride of their state is very apparent. My husband’s uncle has lived in Maine all his life. He was so delighted to show us around Acadia and the nearby tourist town of Bar Harbor. Being from the Midwest, I pronounced it with the “Rs”. A true Maine local would say “Bah Habaw”. I probably don’t have a correct phonetic pronunciation, but you get the idea…they drop their Rs. On that trip it was a never-ending source of amusement: our Uncle and cousins laughed at the weird sound of our “Chicaawgo” accent and we laughed about Bah Habaw. Bar Harbor is Maine’s best-known tourist town, with most of Mount Desert Island’s motels, restaurants and shops located there. As you can see on this map, Bar Harbor is right on the coast with a stunning view of the Atlantic, but is just outside the perimeter of the Park. In addition to tourism, Maine is known for being the leader in the Lobster industry. Looking out at the water I remember seeing all the little white dots on the water and then realized that they were buoys designating where the lobster traps were set. A lobster feast in Maine is a must-do while traveling there. The map also identifies many of the incredible features of Acadia including the carriage roads.
Acadia is a stunning example of a beautiful plot of forested land where the mountains meet the sea. Last year, more than 3.5 million people visited Acadia National Park. Yet don’t think for a moment that it feels crowded…the 49,600 acre park affords amble opportunities to stretch your legs and take in the landscapes surrounding you. Although it is considered one of the smaller National Parks, it ranks among one of the most visited. Taking in the scenery is easy by either car or traversing the 125 miles of hiking trails. The Park Loop Road provides a wonderful sightseeing jaunt trough the park. It takes you to Sand Beach, Otter cliffs (a favorite rock climbing spot) and Thunder Hole. At Thunder Hole, the Atlantic waves crash into a narrow chasm with such force that they create a thundering boom. When we went there, my sons were captivated, and impressed by the power of the ocean waves. Depending on the surf, and time of day, the waves rushing in can sometimes create a huge thunder effect and spray water 30 feet into the air.
One of the major attractions of Acadia is Cadillac Mountain. It is the highest peak in the eastern United States. Reaching the peak by car, is easy from a 3 1/2 mile spur off the Park Loop Road. There are also several hiking trails that end up on the mountain. The view from the top is a fantastic one including the ocean and surrounding islands. Any time of day is beautiful, but a few brave souls take the opportunity to see the first rays of sunlight as it hits the continental shore.
One of the unique features of the Park are the carriage roads. From 1915 to 1940 John D. Rockefeller financed, designed and directed the construction of the carriage roads. The roads provided access to the park by horse-drawn carriages and were banned for usage by automobiles. The carriage roads still prohibit automobiles and are treasured by hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The roads include 17 hand-built granite bridges, each a beautiful addition to your travel throughout the park. The preservation of the carriage roads is also a unique tribute to John D. Rockefeller, as he was the one that donated land to the National Park Service to provide for establishment of the Park.
Being the lighthouse lover that I am, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most photographed lighthouses that happens to be in the Park at the southern most tip of Mount Desert Island: Bass Harbor Light. It sits atop a perilous looking cliff and the tower height itself is 32 feet; relatively short for lighthouse standards but it’s light extends far out into the Atlantic. The lighthouse was built in 1858, and became fully automated in 1974. Probably one of the most photographed because of its location on a majestic pine-covered cliff overlooking fantastic sunsets on the Atlantic. Definitely photo worthy.
Acadia National Park is New England’s only National Park and a beautiful Park preserving the forested lands and the rugged cliffs of the Atlantic seaboard. For more information you can contact: http://acadiamagic.com or the National Park Service site information at: www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm
I originally posted this 1 year ago…not sure how far we have progressed, but in some ways I feel we have protected our national lands to some extent: at least we have not started mining in the Grand Canyon!
I love our National Parks and am a strong supporter of keeping the beauty and sanctity of our most treasured natural spaces. I travel to the Parks, I research the Parks and I blog about the Parks. I have wanted my discussions and observations to be encouraging and support our National Park Service and perhaps encourage others to enjoy and appreciate our Parks. Up to this point I have done that and will continue to do so, however in light of recent developments with the current federal administration I can no longer keep silent. I really don’t want my blog to be about politics, but if you discuss the National Park Service you can’t avoid talking about the federal government because after all, it is managed as a branch of the federal government. In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated their centennial: celebrating 100 years of the establishment and development…
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Seward, Alaska is a charming city that has so many great things to offer that are quintessentially Alaskan. The city of Seward was named for President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, the man who negotiated the purchase of the state of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and by many of the American public as “Seward’s folly,” or “Seward’s icebox,”. After the Civil War, Seward saw the potential in the land and was an advocate of territorial expansion. He was eager to acquire the tremendous landmass of Alaska, an area roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States. The city of Seward’s official motto is: “Alaska starts Here” and certainly showcases so many of the things that Alaska has to offer. So you may have been ridiculed at the time Mr. Seward, but you knew a good thing when you saw it…..and what a beautiful land it is!
Relatively easy to get to, Seward is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Anchorage on the scenic Seward Highway. The city is nestled between the mountains and the sea and has the beautiful Resurrection Bay as it’s playground. Surrounded by glaciers and landscapes that support an abundance of wildlife and fauna, the Resurrection Bay was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and is now a deep fjord 35 miles long on the southeastern coast of the Kenai Peninsula.
Also found stemming from Seward is The Kenai Fjords National Park. This park was originally established as a National Monument in 1978, and became a National Park under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Most access to the park is via tour boats out of Seward. Several wildlife and glacial cruises are available. Out on the water traveling along the coastline, it is a great way to see glaciers, marine mammals and seabirds. A view of the Harding Icefield, which covers over half of the acreage in the Park, is an amazing relic from the last ice age and truly takes one’s breath away. The huge fields of ice advancing between the mountain caverns and a calving glacier are amazing and can sometimes make a person feel relatively small, in the scheme of things. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield. The boat tours are worth taking the time when visiting Seward. Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park that may be accessed by road. There are two Visitor Center’s available: one at Exit Glacier and one on Resurrection Bay in Seward. The park itself is open year round, but it’s important to note that both Visitor’s Centers, and many boat tours, have only summer operations: from May to early September.
It’s a fisherman’s paradise here and many charters are available. A good start would be a visit to The Fish House at 1303 4th Ave. They have lots of information on charters, equipment and anything and everything you need for fishing. Not only is it for fishing, it’s a pretty cool hardware store, too with a few little souvenir items. For more information check out their web site at: https://www.thefishhouse.net/ Sport Fishing in the area includes Halibut, Salmon and Rockfish. Seward is known as one of the top five ports in Alaska for commercial fisheries.
The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is celebrating their 20th year of operation. It opened in 1998 as an educational aquarium and rehabilitative center for marine animals. It is a wonderful place to get up close and personal with marine life creatures that you normally would not have access to. They have a wonderful aviary with an array of seabirds to view. In the lower level viewing area there is an amazing tank that you can view sea lions swimming and diving right in front of you! In addition to the various fish displayed there is an octopus, who always seems to be a big hit with the spectators. Also at the Center is a “touch tank” where you can gently touch and feel what sea cucumbers and starfish actually feel like. An amazing experience, but that arctic water is REALLY cold; touch tank experiences are usually brief! Of course there is a gift shop for obtaining a souvenir of your visit. It is good to know that your purchase goes to help support the Center as both a public aquarium and the stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. I think I would be remiss, if I did not include in this discussion about the Alaska Sea Life Center, the devastating event in history that in some ways spawned the creation of this wonderful center: the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. On March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. I remember that devastating event and even today some consider it the worst man-made environmental disaster. After this disaster, years of litigation and civil settlements helped to create new wildlife rehabilitation programs in addition, of course, better regulations regarding the transportation of crude oil. The Alaska Sea Life center was also created by collaborative efforts of local marine scientists and also Alaska legislature appropriations. For more information on this must see destination in Seward, see their site at: http://www.alaskasealife.org
Walking around the streets of Seward you see wonderful examples of the rich heritage and artistic influence as depicted in all the murals around town. In 2008, Seward was voted the “Mural Capitol of Alaska” and an organization has been established to promote and maintain the artwork. The murals cover a diversity of topics including the history of Seward, commercial fishing in the area, the Iditarod trail, the natural world and the heritage of the Native Alaskans. So when taking a walking tour of Seward, have your camera ready and your eyes open…you will see murals just about every 2 blocks. There are several murals that I missed, guess I better go back! Also, there are at least 6 art galleries/gift shops that display wonderful artwork by Native Alaskans and art that is reflecting the Alaskan spirit.
So head down the Seward Highway and Put your traveling shoes on. JES
The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska”, meaning “great land”. Very fitting for this land in terms of size but also the majestic mountains, glacial streams and miles of forested hills. Any time you set foot on this land, you can truly get swept away with the beauty here. Almost every Alaskan adventure starts with a flight to Anchorage. Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska: of the approximately 710,000 Alaska inhabitants, half live in Anchorage and the surrounding areas.
So the minute you land at the Anchorage Airport, you know you are not in any typical airport. The airport is filled with examples of animals that are readily seen throughout the state: bear, moose, wolves and a variety of water birds. Also on display is a variety of beautiful Native Alaskan artwork. Of course, included are several shops you can purchase the “usual” souvenirs from mugs to t-shirts and gourmet chocolates. However, I want to emphasize again…this is not your typical airport. I happen to see a vending machine that sells mittens and gloves. (Are you prepared for being “up North”?) That alone is unique, but it was pretty cool that they were made from Bison hair. I just thought it was pretty amazing to see gloves sold in a vending machine. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
After descending the escalator to go to luggage claim, on display you will see another characteristic example highlighting the fishing industry in the state (both commercial and recreational) : a HUGE Halibut. This is the record holding Halibut at 9′ 5″ long and weighing in at 459 lbs. That must have been an exhilarating catch to watch them bring it in. (perhaps he was thinking: My name is Ishmael) Our family did go Halibut fishing a few years ago in Homer and had a very successful trip with several impressive catches. Then we had them fillet, frozen and shipped back home. It was exciting to have a whole freezer overflowing with Halibut. Halibut are sooooo delicious even though most people will admit, they are pretty creepy looking.
Once arriving, a very good start to getting familiar with the area and what’s available for the type of adventure you want to pursue, stop in at the Visitor’s Center. In the heart of downtown Anchorage, amidst the office buildings is a little log cabin with grass growing on the roof. This is the Anchorage Visitors Center. The building itself is so quaint and photo worthy and very easy to find: at the corner of Fourth Ave. and F street. The staff is so helpful there and can fill in the details of any questions you may have and they are also able to provide several different brochures about anything and everything within the state of Alaska. A definite place to stop by when in Anchorage and also a good starting point. The growing season in Alaska may be a little shorter, but they make up for it with beautiful displays of flowers all over the city. From block to block in Anchorage there are hanging pots with cascades of flowers. One of my favorite flowers, the Fireweed, gets its name because it is the first vegetation to appear after newly cleaned and burned areas. It is a perennial wildflower that is found in Canada, parts of Minnesota and of course Alaska. The purple and pink flowers light up the hillsides with color. Then in the autumn, they change to a soft, white fluff looking like lambs wool.
Depending on the time of year you are visiting Anchorage, there are a few summer time activities you really should check out. Alaska is known for its abundance of wild salmon. Near the heart of downtown Anchorage is Ship Creek: an amazing place to watch the “salmon runs” and watch the anglers try their luck. There is also a nearby fish hatchery. Not only do the local fisherman go to the shores, but the shorebird viewing in this area is amazing. When the locals say “the Kings are in”, you know the King Salmon have started to run. King Salmon are present in late May, then Coho Salmon run from August to mid- September. The best place for information is found on this link: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.shipcreek
Another fun summer festival and Farmers Market that includes great food, music and an abundance of arts and crafts is the Saturday Market, held on Saturdays outside near 3rd Ave. by Buttress Park. (summer months only) The craftsmen there provide many authentic Alaskan made products that are very unique and provide a wonderful remembrance of your Alaska trip. I remember when my boys were young we found some wooden toy frogs with washboard backs that made a “Ribbitt…Ribbitt” sound when the small dowel was racked across them. So cool! I believe they still have those. Also, at Saturday Market was the first time ever I had eaten a reindeer corn dog….Yum! Don’t knock it till you try it, and I actually like them better than the traditional Frankfurter dog.
Of course there is a whole diversity of fantastic dining in Anchorage besides corn dogs, with a diversity of price ranges. Simon & Seaforts boasts a beautiful view of Cook inlet and a great selection of Alaskan seafood. Beautiful restaurant with wonderful food, a bit pricey but worth it as a treat. For a little less formal restaurant, and a place that is known for their wood -fired pizza try the Fat Ptarmigan. They are located in downtown Anchorage at W. 5th Ave. Great food in a casual, but very nice atmosphere. The Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird. Whenever I hear that, I think of a funny quip about the town of Chicken, Alaska (SE Alaska near the Canadian border). The founders wanted to name it after the state bird, but remembering how to spell Ptarmigan was a pain so they settled on Chicken…Ha. Probably not true, but a cute story. Last restaurant I want to mention is NOT known for Alaskan seafood, but surprisingly enough is a fantastic Mexican restaurant: Hacienda. I guess when I think of good Mexican cuisine, I thought one needed to head south (not north to Alaska?),…but this particular restaurant is really good and most of the locals are familiar with it. Not really on the beaten path of the tourists. And the Margaritas were perfect! Highly recommended fantastic Mexican food.
I know it’s “touristy” but one of my favorite places to go in Anchorage is the Alaska Wild Berry Products store. Not only does it have a wonderful array of “wild berry” products like jellies, candies and specialty teas…they have jewelry, clothing and just about any type of sought after souvenir you might like. AND….they have the World’s Largest Chocolate “waterfall”!(but it’s chocolate….Mmmmmm) It is a 20 foot fall with 3,400 pounds of real liquid chocolate cascading down several buckets and ending up in a glistening pool of chocolate. Wow, you gotta love that. Here’s a picture, it really is neat and makes you crave a trip to the candy counter. Just for show, it’s really chocolate, but you can’t dip your pinkies in for a sample.
Well, this just scratches the surface of all the experiences that await in Anchorage. There are also two awesome museums that really warrant looking into: the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum. Additionally, exploring nature is easily accessible to the city with fantastic wildlife and bird watching at Potter Marsh. A hike up Flattop Mountain, in Chugach State Park, brings you to a dramatic, skyline view of Anchorage. For more information on these features and much more about Anchorage, be sure to check out this helpful site: http://www.VisitAnchorage.com
So I hope I have whet your appetite for an Alaskan Adventure and don’t forget: Put your traveling shoes on. JES
We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.
So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!
In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War. There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.
The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.
Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin. The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269
Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior. Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.
They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles. Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org
Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them. Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum
So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.