Category Archives: Our National Parks

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

Boston Blend

Paul Revere statue by the Old North Church

 

Boston is a city that stands as a shining example of the blending of old and new elements. Boston is steeped with history showcasing the birth of our nation and the events of the American Revolution. Yet, in the same token it is a modern bustling city with glimmering skyscrapers next to the shores of the Atlantic. There is so much to take in when visiting this east coast city and there is something to appeal to every taste: history, architecture, diverse cuisine, beautiful parks and of course the famous Freedom Trail.

Red brick pathways of The Freedom Trail

Even if you have never been to Boston, the Freedom Trail is the most talked about and highlighted feature of the city.  The red brick pathways throughout the city streets lead you to 16 of some of the most significant events in the history of the United States. And yes, they happened in Boston.  Boston is frequently referred to as “The Cradle of Liberty”. The trail was originally conceived in 1951; the trail was completed and by 1953 40,000 people were walking the trail annually.  The trail is easy to follow by the narrow red bricks marking the way. The entire trail is only 2 1/2 miles long, but to take it all in perhaps its easier to walk part of the trail and “trolley” part of it. There are two trolley companies within the city that provide “hop on, hop off” service. I would highly recommend this, it’s an easy way to get around and see the sights you want to without becoming completed exhausted. They both have web sites and information on their tours: Old Town Trolley Tours and City View Trolley Tours.

One of the best places to start learning about all the ins and outs of the Freedom Trail is with the National Park Service. The NPS provides an abundance of information detailed the significant events of the birth of our nation. The National Park Service has two Visitor’s Centers in Boston: one in Faneuil Hall in the heart of government center area and the other by the harbor and the USS Constitution. We went to both Centers and both facilities offer an abundance of information to gain a better understanding of the historical significance of all the sites along the Freedom Trail. For those of you who are NPS passport holders, like myself, I am thrilled to report there are 16 different stamps you can collect from all the historic sites. I didn’t get all of them, but added quite a few to expand my Passport collection.

Boston’s Quincy Market- Built 1826

In the heart of the city is a vibrant market place housed in both Faneil Hall and Quincy Market. Faneil Hall was built in 1742 to serve as a central market but town meetings were also held here from 1764 to 1774. Samuel Adams led meetings here with protests against the taxation of the colonies, when some of the first stirrings of a revolution began. Today Faneuil Hall contains shops and restaurants on the first floor, the NPS Visitor’s Centers on the second floor and a museum on the third floor. The museum contains a collection about the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The Company was founded in 1638 for defense of the colony. The display has occupied space in Faneuil Hall since 1746.

“In Boston, we love Lobsta”

In the same courtyard as Faneil Hall stands the stately building with Greek columns: Quincy Market. It was named after the Mayor of that time period (1823) who pushed to have the marketplace built to accommodate the needs of the growing city and the overcrowding at Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market was completed in 1826. It is a fascinating place to visit with all the sights and sounds of a thriving marketplace. Fish, meat, cheeses and an abundance of produce are seen up and down each aisle displayed by a diversity of vendors. Not only is this harbor town known for their wonderful seafood, but Bostonians have a unique accent and are not shy about it. Just take a look at this sign at a seafood vendor I saw at Quincy Market, it really gave me a chuckle. The way to pronounce Lobster is to drop the R….Lobsta…that’s the Boston way. I love it. We enjoyed talking with the locals and their accent was very evident with the trolley drivers. Perhaps they ham it up a bit for the tourists. I know that our Mid-western accents sound quite odd to them. That is always a fun part of traveling about the country. It’s English, but there are just so many different ways to speak it. Additionally, in this same marketplace, there are two additional buildings: South Market and North Market. Wow….So much shopping, So little time.

USS Constitution-oldest ship in the Navy

One of the highlights on the Freedom Trail takes you to the Charlestown Navy Yard; where the Charles River meets Boston Harbor. Here sitting in the harbor, is the oldest commissioned U.S. Naval ship: the USS Constitution.  She really is quite a sight to behold, and looking at all the rigging on her sails, it’s hard to imagine all the sailors operating them without tripping over each other. It would definitely have to be an orchestrated effort. The ship was built by Bostonians and launched in 1797. She sailed in 40 battles and never lost one. She was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because of the way cannonballs would bounce off her tough oak planking. When visiting this sight, you are allowed to walk on the ship and explore it. However, security is tight because part of the facility is a working Navy base, it’s not all for tourism. The museum on the premises is also very interesting, it’s hard to take in all the information at one time, perhaps warrants multiple trips.

Swan Boat in Boston Common

The oldest public park in America, the Boston Common, is in the heart of the city and provides lush green spaces, manicured walkways trimmed with flowers, a small “frog pond” and a larger lake. It was originally  established by the Puritans in 1634. Within the park is a beautiful pond with the infamous Swan Boats floating gracefully across the pond. The boats are as quiet and gently moving as a real swan, because there are no motors; powered only by peddling of the swan boat “captain”. Even when filled with people, the whole park is serene and a lovely place to relax on a blanket on the grass.

“Make Way For Ducklings”

Another charming aspect of the park is the adorable “Make Way for Ducklings” statue that pays homage to the classic children’s story by Robert McCloskey. The tale of the wayward ducklings was inspired by the busy streets of Boston and a Mama Mallard trying to protect her brood. It was originally published in 1941, but it’s continued popularity has held the test of time as a classic children’s story.

Crossing the bridge on the Charles River, from Boston to Cambridge, takes you to two of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America: Harvard University and MIT. Harvard holds the title of the oldest college in America, it was founded in 1636. Today Harvard also is known as a leading research facility.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded in 1861 and has become one of the world’s leading technical institutions.

Boston is indeed a city of manyfirsts” in our county. The first printing press was in Boston in 1638. The first subway was in Boston, 1898. The first World Series was held in Boston, 1903. The last “first” I will mention is near and dear to my heart: The Boston Light was the country’s first lighthouse in 1716. How could I have missed that when I was there….sounds like I need to head back to Boston for my OWN photo of that iconic lighthouse. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

The Boston Light-America’s first: 1716

The Timeless Retreat of Mackinac Island

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan

The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.  The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Carriage rides awaiting their next customer.

Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!

Our Trusty Team

Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”

 

A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The  early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing.  After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.

Historic Fort Mackinac

Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British  soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.

Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895.  By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post.  Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.

The Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel.  It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.

For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their  Tourism  board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

Grand Daddy Yellowstone

Falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Established in 1872 as the first National Park in America, Yellowstone is the Grand Daddy of our national parks. It is interesting to note that not only is it the first in America, it is the first National Park in the world. It is good to be known as a trendsetter for something like this….setting aside land for conservation, recreation and preservation for future generations. It is an amazing place to visit not only for the historical significance, but the diversity in the features of the park. Yellowstone is quite a popular destination: it hosted 4.12 million visitors in 2018. That sounds like alot…but it is a huge park, plus it is not all summertime attendance. Some  folks visit for winter adventures, but the most popular times are July and August.  A visit to Yellowstone provides a variety of experiences to make it well worth the trip. Included in that list of things to see at the park include: erupting geysers, bubbling hot springs, prismatic reflecting pools, waterfalls and an abundance of readily visible wildlife. All these amazing features are found within this large park of  3,472 square miles.  For some perspective, that’s more than three times the size of Rhode Island.

Old Faithful…just like clockwork.

Probably one of the most fondly known features of the part is Old Faithful geyser. Like clockwork, it erupts about every 90 minutes. Old Faithful and the many geysers and hot springs serve as a reminder of the unstable nature and changing geology of our planet: especially near Yellowstone.  Also near Old Faithful is a terrific Visitor Information center with all kinds of nifty information about the geyser basin region.

Grand Prismatic Spring (photo:trendbuzzer.com)

Just north of Old Faithful are the beautiful prismatic springs and waterfalls. A boardwalk stroll through the various springs gives you a nice view and it’s beneficial to try several different viewpoints. One of the most amazing and colorful is the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest in the Park: at 370 feet wide, and stunning to view. The bright colors are caused by different types of bacteria and algae that thrive with the different water temperatures. One has to try several different angles before viewing, and photographing, all the spectacular colors.  If you have a drone for aerial views…this would be an awesome place to try it out.

Woodland critters @ the Park: to this day I’m not exactly sure what these fellows were, badgers?

The wildlife are so accustomed to park visitors; frequently they wander close enough so you can get some awesome photos.  Of course that has been known to cause problems, if you don’t respect their space and use common sense. They are wild animals after all.  When we were near one of the visitor’s centers, there was a very large heard of Elk that decided to hang out and take an afternoon siesta under the shade of a spreading Oak. They are beautiful graceful creatures and several were mothers with young ones to protect. Photos could easily be taken from a safe distance. Several rangers had carefully arranged some barricades by the sidewalk directly across from the Elk….to keep both the tourists and the Elks safe. As you can image, “there’s one in every crowd” : some idiot walked over the barricade with camera in hand trying to get much closer for a “great shot.” Luckily he did not get too far before the ranger called out to him. Apparently, he felt he was exempt from following the guidelines put in place by the Park…he just ignored the ranger and kept walking closer. He waved off the ranger who then, justifiably so, got angry. Nevertheless, the ranger’s professionalism and manner in handling this incident was incredible. He “hit” him (the inconsiderate tourist) where it hurts: his wallet. The ranger firmly said that if he did not step away he would fine the man $500 for not adhering to Park regulations and disobeying the instructions of a Park Ranger. The Elk photographer did back down and I am sure the ranger was relieved that no further action was necessary. The rangers are there just to protect the beauty and sanctity of the Park, the Park wildlife and to assist visitors in the Park to have a wonderful Park experience.  I give all those rangers so much credit; they do incredible work. I have never met a ranger I didn’t like: they are all so incredibly helpful and they have a wealth of information about the Parks they serve. Never be afraid to ask questions, they are happy to help!

“Bison Jam” @ Yellowstone

On a lighter note about wildlife viewing is a critter you are almost destined to see: the Bison.  Yellowstone is famous for its roaming herds of bison.  Like many visitors to Yellowstone we were wondering: “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?” We wanted to make sure we used the right verbage for theses amazing, massive creatures that you see frequently all around the Park. Actually bison are the creatures found roaming the American west, not buffalo. Varieties of buffalo are found in South Asia and Africa.  A major difference is the presence of a hump. Bison have one at the shoulders while buffalo don’t.  Buffalo’s horns tend to be quite long, bison’s horn are shorter. Even with all these differences, it’s easy to get mixed up and call them buffalo. Common usage I guess from all those old cowboy Western movies. In Yellowstone, a frequent occurrence on the road ways is the Bison Jam. Bison, of course, have the right of way and when they want to cross the road, you better let them….at their own pace. We had the excitement of seeing this first hand and you can get some great photos…safe photos…if you use caution and obviously stay in your vehicle.

Heading out west? Be sure to stop at the Grand Daddy of them all:Yellowstone National Park. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Creek by the Shoshone Lodge, near East entrance to Yellowstone

The Author, Julie, at Yellowstone National Park

 

NPS Inspiration

Just published in January 2019: “The Centennial, A Journey through America’s National Park System by David Kroese

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

From the Rain Forest to the sea: Olympic National Park

Ruby Beach at Olympic National Park

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 huge pines in the Hoh Rain forest: most of the tress are either Sitka spruce or western hemlock

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.

Sea Stacks near the shore at Ruby Beach

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.

Driftwood at Ruby Beach

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!

Skipping stones by Lake Crescent, Olympic NP

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

The Sun Rises first at Acadia

Cadillac Mountain–Acadia National Park

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.

Waiting on the next wave to come in…. Thunder Hole

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 stone bridges on the Carriage Roads Acadia National Park

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.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

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

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