Tag Archives: National Parks

National Parks and Me

27 May

On our recent trip to New Mexico, we visited several places under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, and those visits made me wonder how many I have visited.Park

This post is simple. It is a list of the ones I have visited with a short comment about each. Oh yeah, they will also be listed by state.


Denali National Park – a beautiful view of Mt. McKinley

Glacier Bay National Park – eagles, bears, whales and calving icebergs.


Canyon de Chelly National Monument – an interesting ride into another culture

Grand Canyon National Park – a big hole in the ground

Montezuma Castle National Monument – cliff dwellings by the river

Petrified Forest National Park – trees of stone

Saguaro National Park – the insects make a weird sound, but the cacti are awesome


Death Valley National Park – hot does not describe it

Golden Gate National Recreation Area – the bridge is not golden

Redwood National Park – a bunch of big trees

Sequoia National Park – another bunch of big trees

Yosemite National Park – one of the most beautiful places on earth


Great Sand Dunes National Monument – it is a heck of a climb to the top

Mesa Verde National Park – unfortunately, I had to correct the park ranger


Jimmy Carter National Historic Site – Plains never had it so good


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – we visited before they started erupting


New Orleans Jazz National Historic Site – it is a room behind Cafe Du Monde


Natchez Trace Parkway – it is a cool drive but do not speed

Vicksburg National Military Park – this is what a siege looks like


Harry S Truman National Historic Site – my favorite president to visit

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – otherwise known as the Arch


Glacier National Park – it is my heading on Twitter

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site – a real ranch is better

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument – my favorite battlefield to visit


Lake Mead National Recreation Area – made famous by Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument – climb the ladders

Carlsbad Caverns National Park – walk in and take the elevator out

Chaco Culture National Historic Park – kivas are everywhere

El Morro National Monument – the most awesome collection of autographs ever

Fort Union National Monument – not much left of the fort

Pecos National Historical Park – exists due to the generosity of Greer Garson

Petroglyph National Monument – a victim of urban sprawl

White Sands National Monument – it is like visiting another planet

New York

Statue of Liberty National Monument – she has big feet


Crater Lake National Park – bluest water I have ever seen

Lewis and Clark National Historic Park – this is where they stopped before turning around


Independence National Historic Park – they signed some sort of document around here

South Dakota

Badlands National Park – it took some bad people to survive here

Mount Rushmore National Memorial – where are the rest of their bodies


Andrew Johnson National Historic Site – it does not matter that he was impeached

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – it has some great hiking trails

Shiloh National Military Park – the tragedy can be felt in the air

Stones River National Battlefield – it is right down the road


San Antonio Missions National Historic Park – remember the Alamo


Bryce Canyon National Park – walk among the hoodoos


Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial – it looks down on the eternal flame

George Washington Memorial Parkway – we had a nice lunch along this road


Mount Rainier National Park – you do not want to be around when it erupts

Washington, D.C.

Korean War Veterans Memorial – truly haunting at night

Lincoln Memorial – covered with people

National Mall – it is bigger than you might think

Vietnam Veterans Memorial – touch the wall and feel the loss

Washington Monument – they play softball all around it

White House – it does not look as big as I thought it would

World War II Memorial – try to find Kilroy


Devil’s Tower National Monument – did not see any alien spacecraft

Fort Laramie National Historic Site – several broken treaties signed here

Grand Teton National Park – what does that name mean in French

Yellowstone National Park – the jewel of all national parks


To the Sun and Across the Great Divide

13 Aug

We left Great Falls and moved north toward Glacier National Park. Keeping with the plan, we skipped the interstate and went up Highway 89, one of those dotted roads on the map that signifies a scenic drive. We were not disappointed with the landscape, as we passed agriculture of all types and a few cyclists, which we did not anticipate in such an isolated place.

It wasn’t long before we entered the Blackfeet Reservation. I can always tell when I enter a reservation because the entire atmosphere – air, land, roads – becomes more depressed. It’s as if the fog of history has never lifted from the lives of Native Americans.

Our destination was the Glacier Park Lodge, and there were some concerns from the group about our accommodations. Lodges, both around and within national parks, tend to be remnants from the turn of the last century and are built in the Victorian rustic style. I have no problem with this, but a few of us have issues with staying in hotels that are a century old. Also, these lodges have some rooms without bathrooms. Instead, there is a communal bathroom at the end of the hall.

I must admit that I was wondering what we were getting ourselves into. None of us should have been worried. The Glacier Park Lodge was a great place to spend an evening. We were not even concerned that the rooms had no televisions.

I thought I would see Jack Nicholson busting through a door. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

The lobby, where everyone hung out because of the “NO TV” rooms, was awesome.

I want a room like this is my house.

The view from the back porch was also pretty good.

I also want a view like this from my deck.

After checking in, we had a little time for me to show my nephews how to play pitch-n-putt.

He has this putt to win The Masters.

Overall, the Glacier Park Lodge was a great place, but there was a somber reminder that national parks contain dangers as well as beauty. The front desk was plastered with information of a missing hiker. He had been gone for a few days by the time we arrived and had not been found when we flew home.

The next morning we ventured into the park but not before there was a struggle over which way to go. My dad and brother were convinced that we needed to turn right. My oldest nephew insisted that we go left. My nephew was right. We made the correct turns; made it to the eastern entrance; and, drove on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Words can’t describe its beauty, so I will let a few photographs do the talking.

Along the way, we crossed the Continental Divide.

We did it just like Lewis and Clark.

I have some advice for those thinking about going to Glacier. Enter the park from the east because there is a lot less traffic that way.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We had a nice lunch at the western entrance to the park. I thought my nephews were getting bored with the ride, so I bought them something to read. It was the literary classic, “Who Pooped In The Park?”. They thoroughly enjoyed it.

Touching Them All (50 States That Is)

10 Jan

I have been lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling. As I was growing up, my parents took road trips for family vacations and took me to various places on the map. Because of them I was able to visit each of the states in the U.S. by the age of 24. Several posts on this blog have chronicled the places they took me and the places I have visited in adulthood. This post does the same but with a different tack. I will list the states in alphabetical order and match them with my favorite location in each. Many states will be difficult to limit while some will be difficult to list at all. Obviously, the list will have a historical leaning, but there will also be other types of places. I will not write any descriptions. However, if anyone wants to know more about something then give me a comment. I will be happy to post about it later. Here goes:

Alabama = The All Steak House in Cullman

Alaska = Glacier Bay

Arizona = Jeep Tour in Canyon de Chelly

Arkansas = The Farmer’s Market in Little Rock

California = The Green Door Room in the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco

Colorado = The Strater Hotel in Durango

Connecticut = Yale University Campus in New Haven

Delaware = The Coastal Drive Up Highway 1

Florida = The Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Georgia = The Varsity in Atlanta

Hawaii = The Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Idaho = The Oasis Rooms Museum in Wallace

Illinois = Abraham Lincoln’s Home in Springfield

Indiana = The Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis

Iowa = John Wayne’s Birthplace in Winterset

Kansas = The Kirby House Restaurant in Abilene

Kentucky = The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Louisville

Louisiana = The Town Square of Carencro

Maine = The L.L. Bean Store in Freeport

Maryland = The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis

Massachusetts = The House of Seven Gables in Salem

Michigan = The Palace of Auburn Hills

Minnesota = The Softball Fields in Brooklyn Park

Mississippi = Square Books in Oxford

Missouri = Harry S Truman Home in Independence

Montana = Last Stand Hill at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Nebraska = A Gas Station in North Platte

Nevada = The Blackjack Tables at the Mirage

New Hampshire = Where the Old Man of the Mountain Once Stood

New Jersey = The Meadowlands in East Rutherford

New Mexico = The High Mesa Trail in Chaco Canyon

New York = Niagara Falls on the Niagara River

North Carolina = The Lobby at the Grove Park Inn

North Dakota = Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan

Ohio = The Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton

Oklahoma = The Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma City

Oregon = Crater Lake National Park

Pennsylvania = The Hotel Hershey in Hershey

Rhode Island = The Breakers in Newport

South Carolina = The Five Points District in Columbia

South Dakota = Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood

Tennessee = My Mom’s Kitchen

Texas = Keel Drug Store in Ballinger

Utah = Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation

Vermont = Interstate 91 from Massachusetts to Maine

Virginia = Mount Vernon near Old Town Alexandria

Washington = The Space Needle in Seattle

West Virginia = West Virginia University Campus in Morgantown

Wisconsin = The Softball Fields in Stevens Point

Wyoming = The Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park

If I could choose one place in each state to go, then this is the list. Obviously, other people will have a different list. Let me know what a few of those locations might be.

Childhood Memories – Road Trips

14 Dec

I am amazed at what my friends call a vacation. They talk about going to the beach; staying in a condo; eating seafood; and, generally, lying around for several days. They talk about how great it is to relax in the sun and read books. I know that many people think this is the perfect idea of fun and frivolity. I think it is hell on earth. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. Sand gets everywhere. Seafood is not meant to be eaten for a solid week. But most of all, sitting around all of that time is mind-destroying. I need to see something besides the same waves coming in from the same horizon before eating the same crab legs while wearing the same lobster bib. And I know whose fault it is that I think this way…

My dad dreamed of being a truck driver when he was a kid. He did not reach his dream but did become successful in the business world. With his dream of being a trucker dashed, my dad made sure that he ventured on that endless black ribbon by taking his family on road trips every summer. Other families went to the beach. We picked a cardinal direction, usually west, and headed out for a couple of weeks of constant changes in hotels and landscapes. My dad’s motto was “never burn daylight”, so we went from daylight to dark touring the country and checking out the scene. My mom even packed a cooler with sandwich stuff and drinks, so we could eat on the move. We were the real Griswold’s, and nothing from a movie can come close to what we experienced.

Because of my dad, I had visited all 50 states by the time I was 24. I developed a love for history from visiting the places where history happened. Some of my greatest memories are from the road, but it wasn’t all pleasant. Spending that much time in a cramped vehicle led to funny events that weren’t very funny at the time.

1. The Great Winnebago Trip – One year my dad got the bright idea to rent a motor home to drive cross-country. It started out good enough with my dad driving while the rest of us whooped it up in back. However, problems soon arose. The Winnebago broke down. And it broke down again. And it broke down again. In fact, it broke down all the way to California and back. It ended up with three fuel pumps that my brother had to hose down every time we stopped. The trip is legendary in these circles and can’t be accurately depicted here, but a few things stand out.

On a Saturday night, we broke down in Amarillo while heading west. The next Saturday night we broke down in Amarillo on the way east. The same mechanic worked on it both times. My mom took his picture. In between those two stops, we broke down in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway. We also broke down in a blasting zone. There was also the time we broke down in Needles and watched them fry eggs on the sidewalk. That was the last motor home.

2. The “My Mom Lost Her Mind” Trip – We spent the night west of the Colorado/Kansas border with the plan to drive to St. Louis the next day. Road trips are a loop, and the turn home was always seen as the home stretch. My mom was driving as we neared St. Louis in a rain storm. It was then that we discovered no rooms at the inns. St. Louis, big city that it is, was completely booked. My mom drove on. And drove on. And drove on. We tried to get her to stop, but she held a death grip on the wheel and wouldn’t listen. Her eyes got wide as she focused on the road. Ignoring the pleas of myself and my dad, she drove all the way home. We drove from Colorado to Tennessee in one day.

3. The “Speed of Sound” Trip – In junior high, my teacher asked us to write an essay about our summer. I wrote about our road trip, and she gave me an F for making it up. My mom had to call her and explain that it was all true. Simply, we drove to Virginia and toured the sights around Washington. We saw Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Arlington Cemetery and the Smithsonian. We then drove to Philadelphia and saw the history made there. Next, came New York (which I will discuss in more detail in #4), and a drive up to Niagara Falls. After the falls, we went into Canada and reentered the United States at Detroit. There we toured the Ford Museum. All of that took five days.

4. The “Tour of New York” Trip – Technically, this is the “Speed of Sound” Trip, but it deserves its own number. By this time, I was the official navigator and map-reader, and this was my job as my dad drove through the streets of New York City. He wanted to see Central Park, so I got him there. As we went through the park, I set the map to the side and looked around. When we came out of the park, we began to notice a degradation of our surroundings. Cars were on blocks. Windows were smashed out of buildings. It looked like a war zone. I picked up the map and told my dad not to stop at any cost. Don’t stop at red lights. Don’t stop if someone walks in front of us. My dad was driving his Cadillac down the street that separated Harlem and the Bronx. His orders were to drive to Yankee Stadium as fast as possible and get on the interstate.

5. The “That’s A Big Hole” Trip – Like a lot of people, my dad always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and he made sure to stop the first chance he got. We parked the car and walked to the edge. As we stood there my dad declared, “That’s an awfully big hole.” We replied that it was. Then, he asked, “Ready to go?” In unison, we said, “Yes.”

Everyone should see the Grand Canyon once. It’s one of those things that makes the American landscape what it is. But, I’m not impressed with it. I think that it may be too big to appreciate, but it is not my favorite natural wonder. My nephew camped in the bottom last year and said it was great. That may be true. Riding the mules or flying over in a helicopter may be great too. However, I would rather see a lot of things than stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and look into a big hole.

I know. All of this sounds terrible, and you are thinking that we would have been better off at the beach. However, these bad experiences were few and far between and gave us great stories to tell at family gatherings. The road trips were great bonding experiences and gave me the opportunity to see things that many people do not. For that, I am eternally grateful. Therefore, I am going to end this post on a positive note and list my favorite historic sites and natural wonders. I owe my parents for the love I have for these places.

My Favorite Historic Sites

1. The Little Big Horn Battlefield – I have mentioned this several times in other posts and will not go into great detail here. Just know that this is the one place where I can mentally take myself back in time.

2. Alcatraz – The first time I saw it the prison wasn’t open for tours. The second time it was and proved to be an amazing experience. You haven’t done anything until you have stood in Al Capone’s cell.

3. Biltmore Estate – This is the largest privately owned home in the United States. Built by an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, it is the perfect example of Guilded Age decadence. No castle in Europe has anything on this.

4. The OK Corral – Tombstone, Arizona is the quintessential tourism laden ghost town. It looks kind of hokey today, but it held an important place in Old West history as the location of America’s most famous gunfight. As a bonus, Ben Traywick, who is from my home county, is the unofficial Tombstone historian.

5. Pearl Harbor – Technically, I did not see this on a road trip. Even my dad couldn’t drive to Hawaii. However, this is a historic site that everyone should see. Walking onto the Arizona Memorial is a spiritual experience.

My Favorite Natural Wonders

1. Monument Valley – The banner at the top of this blog is a photo I took at Monument Valley. Those buttes have been shown in countless movies and have long been symbols of the American West. It sits in the Navajo Nation and serves as a reminder of what they lost in the United States’ drive toward Manifest Destiny.

2. Yellowstone National Park – There is so much in the park that it is indescribable. Therefore, I will boil it down to my favorite thing. There is nothing like waking up in the Old Faithful Lodge; walking onto the porch; and, seeing buffalo walk through the steam of the geysers.

3. Sequoia National Park – Imagine trees sold old that they started growing when Jesus supposedly walked the earth and so large that they look as if they had been constructed. That is the best way I can describe this park. I will leave out the time I got lost in it when I was two.

4. Bryce Canyon – This is a canyon filled with rock formations called “hoodoos”. They fill the landscape and make you feel that you have landed in another world.

5. Denali National Park – We did not drive to Alaska, but Mt. McKinley is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. We were lucky enough to view it on a clear day and see the peak. I have no idea how big the mountain is, but I know that it filled the landscape from miles away.

There you have it. My road trip adventures. Isn’t that better than a beach?