1916~2016 Centennial Celebration of the National Park Service

When you look at all the magnificent beauty within America’s National Parks, it is very easy to have a sense of civic pride, especially this year as we celebrate the Centennial founding of the National Park Service. 

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Yellowstone National Park

If you have not visited a National Park lately, 2016 may be a fantastic year to plan a trip to one as we commemorate the founding of the National Park Service.  There are currently 59 National Parks and over 117 protected areas that are designated national monuments. There is something for everyone to discover and also parks are accessible in every part of the country.

Teddy Roosevelt is remembered as instrumental in generating an interest in preserving and cherishing the natural beauty of the lands found in our country. He was one of the most visible advocates of the establishing and preserving of the Parks: often remembered as the “conservation president”.  He loved the great outdoors and began several steps to insure the preservation of our nation’s natural landmarks.  The passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act enabled Roosevelt and future presidents to proclaim certain sites and landmarks historical and/or scientific and worthy of preservation. The very first site to be proclaimed as a national monument under this act was Devils Tower in Wyoming.  It is a unique natural feature, rising 825 feet above the Wyoming plains.  Roosevelt’s dedication to the preservation of lands prompted the establishment of Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  With rugged terrain and landscapes filled with colorful geographic features, the park has been described as the “Badlands” of the north.

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Theodore Roosevelt and Conservationist John Muir at Yosemite National Park. (established 1890) photo: PBS.org.

Roosevelt paved the way for park preservation, however it was really Stephen T. Mather who helped to turn the concept of a National Park system into legislative reality.  Mather was an American industrialist and conservationist who promoted the concept of the creation of a federal agency to oversee the National Parks administration. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law an order establishing the National Park System. Stephen Mather was appointed as the first director of the National Park Service in 1917.

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Glacier National Park~ Montana

Since 1916 our National Park service has continued a legacy for 100 years. I encourage you to celebrate this legacy by visiting a National Park sometime during this Centennial year. Check out the National Parks web-site at: www.nps.gov to find information on the park of your choice. I have a few parks on my list that I am hoping to see including Glacier National Park in Montana….lots of chances for great photos! Can hardly wait to view these mountains with my own eyes and take my own photos other than internet voyages.  Put Your Traveling Shoes On. JES

(Authors note: I originally posted this in March, but revised with a few updates and photographs)

 

 

Summer travel season begins! Minimize Travel costs using Internet travel planning.

Travel planning on the Internet: it really is not as confusing and intimidating as it might initially seem.  After planning and executing a few trips, it is amazing how adept one can become. travel planTravel Planning for that fantastic trip sometimes requires some “practice makes perfect”, but there are a few caveats that help make the learning curve a little less painful and more economical. In planning several trips, both airline travel and by car, I found out through trial and error several tips to improve travel planning. Internet travel is not limited to searching for airplane tickets, some of my best car trips were planned with the help of internet searches. Nevertheless, my first venture with using the Internet for travel planning is probably where everyone starts: getting the best deal on airline tickets.  There are so many sites out there to chose from, but here are a few guidelines to assist you in getting the best deal:

Airlines:

  1. Try to fly in the middle of the week and include a weekend stay, this should help reduce your rate.
  2. Bear in mind that when you do multiple searches for the same flight information, search engines DO remember and sometimes flights will increase in price if they know that’s what you are looking for. Erase your cookies/search histories and start fresh for an “unbiased” search.
  3.  It may be inconvenient, but it is almost always cheaper NOT getting a direct flight.  Usually you are routed through one of the hubs, but it can shave quite a bit off the price of each ticket.

Lodging/Hotels:

  1. When booking directly with a hotel, many chains have their own “reward” programs.  If you choose to use an internet search engine like hotels.com or expedia.com.com , they also have reward programs but remember that you can’t “double dip”.  I made the mistake once of booking a Best Western hotel on hotels.com and could not use my Best Western rewards points because of how it was booked.  We were very happy with the hotel, I was just frustrated with the rewards system.  So make sure you know before booking, which “rewards” program you wish to pursue.  Personally, since I do a fair amount of traveling, I like the hotels.com system of getting your 10th night free. That’s a good deal and it’s a reward you can really use.
  2.  Don’t get stuck in a rut by only staying at certain types of hotels, try a Bed & Breakfast with a local flair for something unique to the area.  A really fun way to find interesting places is to do a Google Earth search on the area you will be visiting.  My husband & I found a fantastic ranch/resort just outside Yellowstone using this method.
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    Main lodge @ Shoshone Lodge & Ranch~Wyoming

    The Shoshone Lodge & Ranch in Cody Wyoming: www.shoshonelodge.com is a beautiful place right near Yellowstone National Park that surprisingly enough does not show up in several internet searches. My husband found it by simply hovering the cursor around the east side of Yellowstone. We were glad we found it then the rest came easy: their web-site has everything laid out nicely.  So never underestimate the power of just “poking around” on the internet, you will be amazed at what you will find.

  3. Do take the time to read other reviews of hotels, for example Trip Advisor, but bear in mind some people are more picky than others.  Sometimes you can almost tell when reading the review which are legitimate complaints and which are from folks who really “got up on the wrong side of the bed”.
  4. Bear in mind that some search engines, including Priceline.com get great prices for you with their “name your own price” program but you have to give your credit card in advance of the search and the exact hotel is not revealed until after you are booked.  This is great if you can be flexible, but I am uncomfortable with making a committment in advance when I don’t know exactly what I will be getting.

Car travel:

  1. When planning a lengthy car trip, start first by determining how many miles you wish to log each day. Then from there you can get a pretty good idea where you will end up and where to book a hotel or campsite. A wonderful aid for determining mileage and drive times is:www.calculator.net/mileage-calculator.  You can enter the starting destination and your next stop and not only do you get a recommended route, you get total miles and estimated drive time.  This is fantastic for mapping out a car trip and you can estimate how many miles you want to travel per day, and in turn where we want to end up looking for lodging.  If traveling during peak periods and at a popular destination, it’s probably better…and alot less stressful to have a reservation.
  2. Once again, I highly recommend Trip Advisor for not only lodging recommendations, but also restaurants, coffee shops and even the best places for a scrumptious ice cream cone. Sometimes if you’re visiting an area that you are unfamiliar with, it is good to get some insights from others who have been there and get the “low down”…for better or worse.

Planning and negotiating the ins and outs of a trip with the help of the internet can help in so many ways.  Not only do you save money by shopping around for the best deal, once your trip is planned you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Put your Traveling shoes on. JES

The Impact of the CCC on America’s Parks

Millions of Americans visiting both our State and National Parks every year take in the beauty surrounding them as they walk in the woods and traverse across the bridges and trails.  Yet, do many of these park visitors take a few moments to pause and reflect on just how these pathways were blazed, bridges were built and trees planted?  Many projects across this country encompassing more than 700 local, state and national parks were completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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Elkmont Bridge~Great Smokey Mountains National Park (photo by by Bob Davis on Bridgehunters.com)

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the efforts to put thousands of young men to work during the Great Depression.  The CCC  was envisioned by FDR as not only a way to help construction efforts in the country, but also to instill a spirit of hope to thousands of men and thereby helping raise the optimism, and economic standards, of the entire country.  When FDR  presented the bill to Congress, urging the formation of the CCC, he stated:“This enterprise…will conserve our precious natural resources. It will pay dividends to the present and future generations.  It will make improvements in National and State domains which have been largely forgotten in the past few years of industrial development…More important however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work…We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings.  We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability. It is not a panacea for all the unemployment, but it is an essential step in this emergency.”

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FDR at Civilian Conservation Corps camp

On March 31, 1933 Roosevelt signed the bill into law and work quickly began to organize and implement the operation of the CCC.  Since it was such a huge undertaking the successful implementation of FDR’s vision required the cooperation of several branches of the government to assure its success. The Department of Labor was utilized for the enrollment of the young men.  The War Department was responsible for feeding, clothing and training the enrollees for their duties and the Agricultural and Interior Departments selected the work projects, supervised the work and oversaw the administration of the camps.

The volume of projects accomplished by the CCC from 1933 to 1942 is reflected in the statistics.  The majority of projects were conservation efforts and thereby had the greatest impact on our parks and farmland.  Approximately 125,000 miles of  roads were built, 13,000 miles of foot trails built, 972 fish stocked and between 2 and 3 billion trees were planted.  Additionally, 40 million acres of farmland benefited from erosion control projects.

Working in the camps as a CCC worker, instilled in most of the workers a great deal of pride in what they were accomplishing for their country.  Yet, it was no picnic in the woods; the men worked long arduous hours and were paid only $30.00 per month, thinking in simpler terms:$1.00 per day. Even by 1930 standards…it still didn’t seem like much.  Most of their salary was sent home to their families. It was very beneficial that their meals, clothing, lodging and medical care was included in their work with the corps.  Over its 9-year span the CCC employed about 3 million men nationwide. CCC logoThe profound impact of the CCC on our Parks system provided an expansion and development of the parks so as to create many new opportunities for Americans to explore the great outdoors, frequently in new ways for many visitors. The CCC was a great benefit to the Parks and even today the legacy continues. An organization called CCC Legacy helps educate and foster an appreciation of the works that were accomplished by the CCC. They have a web-site: http://www.ccclegacy.org  with links to how one can learn about the history of their accomplishments and how a person could assist in conservation efforts in their own community.

The National Parks are basically funded through three main channels: tax supported, user fees and private donations. During its tenure, not only did the CCC help the National Parks develop into the parks we know today, but they helped them complete those projects at a great savings. The question has been asked before, but deserves to be given consideration: would the CCC  work today? Perhaps Yes. If the formation of an active Civilian Conservation Corp., or one similar to the one that was formed in 1933, were to be successful it would need to take several cultural and political differences into account. The major goals would undoubtedly remain: to restore the original CCC structures, provide maintenance in Parks while simultaneously providing rewarding work for unemployed young people. When people think of  America, they not only think of our freedoms and lifestyles, but also the beauty and diversity of our lands. Our State and National Parks help to showcase these beautiful lands, as well as helping to preserve them.

So the next time you visit either a state or national park, ask a few questions and see if you can spot projects completed by the CCC.  Chances are good you may find some of their work; so many projects across this country we have the CCC to thank for.

It is a legacy that deserves to endure. Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

Sources: “Our Mark on this Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks”, by Ren & Helen Davis (published 2011)

http://www.ccclegacy.org             http://www.nps.gov

 

 

 

Tales from the Ghost Trees of Alaska

Driving along the roadways in parts of eastern Alaska, on odd indication of the 1964 earthquake becomes apparent. The 1964 Alaska Earthquake had a profound impact on the people of Alaska and  left visible scars on the land. Many of the scars and the buildings that were destroyed have long since left from view, but what remains after all these years are the tall trees that stand stark against the blue skies.

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Ghost Trees near Girdwood,Alaska (photo: Julie Smith)

They stand like soldiers guarding the memory of that terrible day in 1964  and to serve as a reminder to never underestimate the phenomenal power of nature’s force. When the quake occurred, sea water came up through the fault flooding the terrain near the trees, but in the same token not uprooting them.  So they not did immediately die, but the sea water caused them to turn to a petrified-state and they remain standing.
It is just one of those odd tricks and unusual quirks of nature that leaves behind an almost artistic rendering to tell the story of what took place here over 50 years ago.   Repercussions of catastrophic events such as this earthquake can have lasting, visible effects for quite some time after the clean up has been completed and people have carried on with their lives.

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Anchorage-4th Ave. 1964 (photo: Time.com Life collection)

The 1964 Alaska earthquake had a profound impact on numerous communities along the fault line.  The quake occurred on Good Friday, March 27, 1964 and according to the US Geological Survey measured 9.2 magnitude on the rector scale.  The quake was reported as the most devastating quake in North America. A total of 131 deaths were reported and the property damage totaled between 300-400 million dollars. Damage was widespread throughout the state and was felt as far as Oregon.  The epicenter of the quake was about 10 km east of the mouth of College Fiord, approximately 90 km west of Valdez and 120 km east of Anchorage.  This earthquake is the second largest earthquake ever recorded in the world. (http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/quakes/Alaska_1964_earthquake.html)  Because of the epicenters location, some of the hardest hit towns were Anchorage, Valdez, Girdwood and Portage. The quake also spawned a tsunami, which contributed to the severe damage to the harbor town of Valdez.  Half the town tumbled into the harbor and the disaster claimed 31 lives. Valdez was not totally destroyed but relocated 4 miles west of the original site. Traveling through Valdez today, there are signs designating “Old Valdez” prior to the quake. Girdwood was also relocated, but the town of Portage was completely abandoned after the earthquake.

 

The town of Portage was destroyed by the quake. In the area where Portage was located are a few abandoned buildings, still remaining, not yet consumed by the earth.

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The abandoned town of Portage (photo:www.greatlandofalaska.com)

The area around what used to be the town of Portage is a location that one can readily see an abundance of “skeleton trees” that stand there ground 50 years later after the rest of the landscape has changed around them.  In other areas of the country, with higher demands for immediate “land usage”, the trees may have been taken down, but here they stand on a seemingly barren landscape.  The tundra and other life has grown up around them, but their clinging to the earth with a refusal to succumb to gravity, gives them a stoic albeit sometimes ghostly look.  To hear Alaskans talk of the skeleton trees and their evidence of the earthquake in ’64, there is a sense of deep sadness of course, but also a sense of pride in the strength of the Alaskan spirit and tenacity.

 

When traveling to a new place it is so rewarding and incredibly interesting to learn some of the historical aspects of where you are visiting.  Not only is it valuable in terms of learning how certain areas were developed, but it also gives you an opportunity to view the area with an understanding on why it is the way it is: how the people and the land have been shaped: culturally, geographically and politically. Put your traveling shoes on.  JES

 

Put Your Traveling Shoes On

Why do I end every post with :”Put your traveling shoes on.  JES” ? Well, the last part is easy,  JES  are my initials: Julie Etta Smith. The  Put your traveling shoes on goes a little further than just a request for some sturdy footwear. It is always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, a trek on a wooded trail would not be too easy with spiky sandals.hiking shoes Yet, I am using that phrase as more of a metaphor for preparing yourself, both mentally and physically, when starting out on a trip.  When you start to plan a trip, I like to encourage people to go beyond the usual hotel reservations, airline tickets and road map plan.   When you complete those first, it’s best to take it a step further and find out more about where you will be visiting.  What about the local history? Is there a favorite local cuisine? Are there products exclusive to that area of the country~ in my case: a fantastic wine, perhaps? Always good to be on the look-out for a memorable souvenir. It is so incredible to read articles and see photographs of an amazing feature or place and then view it with your own eyes. I remember seeing photos of the “freak of nature” prismatic springs at Yellowstone National Park and thinking to myself they must be photo-shopped. Nothing could look that strange. Yet, seeing the rainbow colors with my own eyes made it that much more spectacular. It is good to get some background on the local history and lore of an area.

On the same trip we made to Yellowstone I was in the back seat reading a local publication with a feature about a HUGE mansion that was being built in the late 1970’s.

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Smith Mansion~on the road to Cody, Wyoming

The man building the Pagoda-inspired design was tragically killed when he fell from the highest floor.  Locals say that it is still haunted and sits atop the hill untouched since his death. AND to add a little more intrigue to this story, it is referred to as the Smith Mansion. I know Smith is a common name, but nevertheless this story just keeps getting better.   Do you have goose bumps yet? Well, as I was describing this story to my family, I looked up and there it was…just a short distance from the side of the road. “OH, MY GOD……THAT’S IT!”  I shrieked to my family as they wondered the cause of my alarm. Now that was creepy: just when I was reading about that local story it appeared before us. Other than a story of unique coincidence, if I had not read up on the local history we never would have known the story behind that interesting Pagoda on the hill.

It is truly amazing the things you can learn before a trip that will really make your trip more memorable. So take a trip to the library, peruse the internet, talk to friends and family that have been there and be sure to enjoy the ride. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

For the Love of Lighthouses

My family & friends frequently tease me about my love (er…obsession perhaps…) of Lighthouses. Yet, fellow admirers of Lighthouses will agree with me that these majestic structures provide an inspiration and tales of their colorful histories abound.  Also, it never ceases to amaze me that no two lighthouses are alike and they are as varied as the shorelines they beautify.

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Port Washington Lighthouse ~ Wisconsin

I believe Lighthouses have evolved from their historical roots as a guide to ships in turbulent waters and rugged, dangerous coastlines to landmarks of great historical significance and beauty. Not only do they serve to guide ships, but they have an air of spirituality about them to guide troubled souls in a world of darkness.  Their beacons shine in such a way that they provide an inspiration to all who view them.  How can one look upon a majestic lighthouse perched on a cliff or at the far end of a pier and not help but smile at its beauty.

Living in the Midwest, I feel honored that we have the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world.  By virtue of the five great lakes, that provide hundreds of miles of coastline that need lighthouses to provide safe navigation.  In recent years, many of the lighthouses have not continued to operate and function as navigating tools, with the advent of more technologically advanced methods replacing them.  Yet, since many are steeped in history and tradition, there are efforts to restore and maintain them. For more information, an interesting site on preservation is: www.lighthousepreservation.org

It is interesting when visiting a community that is fortunate enough to have a lighthouse; the local residents utilize it as a focal point and a tool for orienting. “Oh, that cottage is located just south-east of the lighthouse”, one might say; makes things easier to pinpoint.  Also, many times a specific lighthouse is symbolic to the area in which it is found and has unique characteristics to only that lighthouse.  That is the exciting thing about lighthouses: each one is different and each one has their own special features and attributes. Not all are the tall beacons rising high on a rocky cliff.  Many are actually relatively small structures, but are situated on a jutting landscape so as to shine their light on the water.  It never ceases to amaze me the different sizes, shapes and features inherent with all the different lighthouses.

When viewing, and visiting a lighthouse I try to appreciate the craftsmanship of the actual building and of course the view from the top, if one is able to gain access to the tower. In addition to the physical beauty you are surrounded by, it is wondrous to imagine the history, local lore and stories therein.

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Split Rock Lighthouse~Minnesota

When close to a lighthouse I can’t help but feel a sense of serenity and guidance, a connection between the creations of man and the turbulence of waters of Mother Nature; both the sea and the massive stretches of fresh water lakes. Here is one of my favorite iconic lighthouses in the Midwest: Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior (Minnesota). It was built in 1910 and sits atop 127 foot cliff Now that is quite a cliff!

 

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St. Joseph Lighthouse ~ Michigan

Shown here is the St. Joseph Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. (St. Joseph, Michigan) Since it is situated across from Chicago on Lake Michigan, lighthouses were built at the St. Joseph location dating back to 1832, but the current structures were built in 1907. This is a lighthouse with such character and seems rather diminutive with it’s small “partner”building. The lighthouse itself is not that tall, but sits atop the pier as it juts out  approximately 1,000 feet out onto the turbulent waters of Lake Michigan.  I have walked all the way to the end of the pier to take in the view from the lighthouse.  Catwalks above the pier were built so that the lighthouse keepers could access the lights when the seas were rough and waved crashed over the pier. Walking on the pier on a sunny, summer day, I envisioned what it would have been like on the catwalks with snow and ice below you.

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Winter dressing of the St. Joseph Lighthouse (photo by Tom Gill)

This particular lighthouse is frequently photographed when artfully depicted covered with snow and ice; as shown in the photo here.

I  was so charmed by this lovely little lighthouse, an artist friend of mine painted a beautiful oil for me that I have in my home. (Thanks Rebecca!)

So the next time you have an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, take the time to enjoy it’s unique design and think of its rich history. Ask a local about the history and the folktales of the lighthouse…I’ll bet there is a story to hear.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

 

 

State Parks: Not to be overlooked!

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park

Depending on where you live in this great Nation of ours, you may or may not be relatively close to one of our beautiful National Parks. Fear not, the State parks hold many wonderful treasures that frequently mirror the beauty and splendor of their “big Brother” National Parks. Sometimes state parks are overlooked as a travel destination, but not only are they more readily accessible they frequently deliver a fantastic travel experience and if you are within your own state…a sense of civic pride surfaces enjoying what wonders are found in your very own Homeland. It’s amazing to think that in the United States, there are over 7,000 state parks. In my home state alone, Illinois, there are sixty. Now that’s quite a few parks to choose from.When travel planning, keep in mind the fantastic sites and adventures that can be found in all of our State Parks. Frequently, travelers head to a National Park and forget the beauty that can be found in a nearby State park in the same vicinity.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the most visited state park in Illinois is Starved Rock State Park in the central area of the state near Utica. With its varied terrain, hiking trails and sandstone bluffs, no wonder it is the most visited state park in Illinois. My husband and I visited and were amazed at all the natural beauty to be found. The park is also located along the Illinois River, and has several high bluffs with fantastic views of the river and the surrounding woodlands. The park is home to at least six seasonal waterfalls (best viewed in the melting thaws of springtime) and several scenic canyons. Most of the canyons are easily accessible, although some are quite steep. It is so interesting to hike through the wooded areas and have the opportunity to see up close the layers and layers of rock and the cool formations. Here is a picture of one of the deeper canyons: LaSalle. For purposes of navigating your way around, they have named all the major canyons and maps can be found at the visitors center. If you want to make it longer than a day trip to the area, they do have a historic lodge on the premises and lodging in nearby Peru. The park was established in 1911 and the beautiful Lodge was built, in part, by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930’s. For more information on the Park, and also reservations on the Lodge, you can check out the web site at: www.starvedrockstatepark.org

It is interesting that the oldest state park in the country is often viewed as a “national” treasure. Niagra Falls State Park in New York was established in 1885 and is a popular destination averaging over 28 million tourists annually. Niagra Falls are made up of three sets of waterfalls that are on the border between Canada and the United States. The Falls can be viewed by both the American and Canadian sides and each side offers a different perspective.

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The combined Falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. In addition to tourism, the falls provide an abundant source of hydro-electric power for the area.
A fun way of finding a park near you is exploring a really fun web-site called: America’s State Parks. They have lots of information on all the parks including historical, activities available, lodging and local events. One of the most nifty aspects of the site is a map of the U.S. showing how many state parks are in each state. Just hover the cursor over each state to get a count. California has a whopping 278 state parks, and much fewer are found in the state of North Dakota: only 15. You can check out this site at: www.americastateparks.org

When travel planning, keep in mind the fantastic sites and adventures that can be found in all of our State Parks. Frequently, travelers head to a National Park and forget the beauty that can be found in a nearby State park in the same vicinity.
When traveling to Alaska, many of course view Denali National Park~ a must see when there. Yet, when I was recently there, we spent an afternoon hiking in Chugach State Park: a 500,000 acre park near Anchorage.

Alaska-2015 346 This park is home to Flattop Mountain, with an elevation of 3,510 feet, it provides beautiful views of the city of Anchorage, Denali, Mount Foraker and Mount Spurr. Since Flattop Mountain is very accessible from Anchorage, it is the most climbed mountain in the state. We did not make it quite to the summit…but climbed to one of the higher plateaus for a fantastic view!
So, next time you plan a trip, even a short weekend get-away, seek out the adventures in your very own state~ ~ what treasures are held in your State Parks?  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

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