We rose early, quickly took in a continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel we stayed at, and headed south on 240. We traveled through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and came upon our first entrance where we decided to stop and take the requisite photo next to the Badlands National Park sign. Back in the car heading further into the park we stared at the unique landscape unfolding in front of us. Sage Creek Rim Road was the first turn off we encountered requiring a quick decision: do we continue on or take this turn. Sage Creek Rim Road it was hoping to find a spot nearby in order to stop and study the list of events and map that where handed to us at the entrance in order to get a bearing on where we want to go. Our first stop was at the Hay Butte Overlook where the map and events list were quickly forgotten as we got out of the car and focused our attention at the amazing hills sitting before our eyes. This is a moment forever engrained in my memory as I was struck by the beauty of colors, textures, and shapes creating this incredible landscape. I could no longer feel myself standing as this moment became very spiritual for me while I became a part of this place that has existed for thousands of years and will continue to be here long after I am gone. After accepting this, my attention turned to other family members taking in all there was to see. Down in the valley roamed one loan buffalo. Our first wild buffalo experience. The day had just begun and I had experienced all that I expected. What more could there be?
We could have spent the entire day just exploring this one area in the Northern portion of the Badlands but there was much more to see. Grudgingly I returned to the car as we looked over the list of events. Ohh, there’s a ranger program starting in 15 minutes that sounds interesting. Unfortunately we were 30 minutes away from the meeting place so this wouldn’t work. The next ranger program of interest didn’t start for over an hour at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center so maybe that would be a good place to start. Everybody returned to the car allowing us to head back towards 240 which would wind through the Badlands and end at the visitor center. There were many places that begged for us to stop as the scenery continued to be amazing and show us different views. We resisted in order to get to the visitor center to learn more about this park. Once at the visitor center we began looking over the models on display showing the evolution of the Badlands.
During the course of this examination we stumbled upon the junior ranger program. Wow! A program directed completely at children. The kids received a booklet and needed to complete a certain amount during their adventure and then explain what they had learned to a ranger. Once the ranger is satisfied with all the kids learned, the potential junior ranger pledges to help keep the park as it is so other can learn and enjoy this special place. Upon completion of the pledge they receive a junior ranger badge. Both of our children decided to accept the journey to become a junior ranger. Fortunately, the ranger program we had made this trip for was a junior ranger program which would help them earn their badge. As the program wound down it was time for the board signature. I quickly headed towards the car to get our National Parks edition of Monopoly board and rushed back where the rest of the family was sitting. We asked the ranger for an odd favor – to sign our board on the Badlands property. He did so with an excited demeanor. Lysa and Kristy completed their necessary requirements and received their first junior ranger badge. Our first park complete! Time was passing as if with a purpose and we were starting to get hungry. What is available for food nearby? There was only the restaurant in the visitor’s center providing a meal without having to travel some distance. In we went for a bit of food, something to drink, and some refreshing cool air. After some rejuvenation we headed back out to explore a trail or two before the next ranger program of interest. There were two ranger programs on our agenda for the remainder of the afternoon and many stops throughout the Badlands just to enjoy the landscape.
Once we made the decision to travel the National Parks Monopoly Board it was time to look over all of the destinations. After studying the board for a little while we decided to embark on our first journey closer to home so that we could find out what we were in for in a little more familiar territory. Knowing that this was going to be a summer expedition we saw a cluster of parks near Southwestern South Dakota which included Mt. Rushmore. After discussing this trip a little while it was determined that we wanted to be at Mt. Rushmore for the Independence Day celebration which dictated our travel dates. A little further east resides Badlands National Park and would be a good destination to begin our Monopoly Travels. While growing up I had friends who had visited the Badlands tell me about them but I really had no idea what to expect. The thought of going to someplace called “the Badlands” didn’t have a great appeal as it conjured up images of Mel Gibson in Mad Max. Visiting someplace with such an imagined bleak landscape didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Keep in mind that I had not looked at any photos or video of this place and was basing my opinions strictly on the name. Well, it’s on the board so there must be something of interest and in order to be a Monopoly Traveler we at least need to stop and check it out.
I remember planning for this trip and all of the time spent researching directions, places to stay, and what to expect in the Badlands. There was a lot of uncertainty because we have never taken a family vacation like this before. Where do we stay? A Campground or hotel? What are these national parks all about? What are we going to drive there? Use our own car or put the miles on a rental vehicle? The first thing to do was plan our agenda to get an idea of where we want to visit and departure and return dates in order to get this time off from work. We knew we wanted to experience the Independence Day Celebration at Mount Rushmore so the next question was do we want to explore the Badlands before or after Mount Rushmore?
It was decided to make the Badlands our first National Park and stop there before continuing on to Mount Rushmore. Now we had a date and could start planning departure dates and times along with where to stay to make this happen. I researched camping because that would save some money and the kids love to camp. After thinking about this for a little while we realized that we would have to pack our camping gear along with everything else we needed for a 10 day trip and room in the car. In addition, we would have to set up and take down our camping gear almost every day. Understanding these pieces helped us to decide on staying in hotels. Next was to figure out which hotels to stay at and in which cities. In order to know that we needed to know where exactly Badlands National Park is and how to get there. Fortunately the national park service has a nice website the gives this information along with planning information and what we could expect while visiting while in the Badlands. This helped to fuel our excitement to get to the Badlands and experience all that we could. In addition we would get the opportunity to stay in Wall, South Dakota and visit the highly popular Wall Drug. I grew up hearing about and seeing advertisements for Wall Drug. Now I would get to see what this place is all about.
It was the summer of 2009, our day started out by getting into the car at 5am in order to arrive in Wall by late afternoon. A stop in Sioux Falls took a little longer than anticipated as we took time to enjoy the waterfalls where we were interviewed by a local TV news station about our travels and also exploring a local butterfly house gave great enjoyment while delaying our arrival in Wall. Finally heading out of Sioux Falls, we had to take a bathroom break in Mitchell South Dakota for an unauthorized stop at the Corn Palace. If you haven’t been there, it is interesting how art can be made out of corn to decorate a large building. Yet another delay in getting to Wall. All of these unplanned stops can create memories that were never expected a make a family trip such as this more enjoyable with more to reminisce as time goes by. We entered Wall early in the evening with just enough time to find someplace to eat and explore Wall Drug. Wall Drug is basically a little mall with a number of small shops inside set in a frontier motif. Up Next…the Badlands!
What a great experience with so much to learn during such a short period of time. This tour only lasted an hour but provided enough information to last several hours. We saw how their structures were built using surrounding resources including logs, stones, and a special mud to hold it all together. Kivas were built underground and used as ceremonial gathering places. The Puebloans that lived here carved holes into the side of the cliff in order to ascend to the top of the mesa where they farmed and hunted for food. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the advantages of living here became apparent. Protection from many of the elements and even potential enemies was a great benefit. During rain or snow they were able to stay dry and on a hot summers day there was plenty of refreshing shade in cool locations to stay comfortable. The placement of many of these communities allowed for the rising or setting sun to warm the cave and I’m sure provided magnificent sunrises or sunsets. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the darkened ceiling continues to give proof of the fires that were used inside the cave. After wondering in and out of accessible parts of Spruce Tree House and satisfying our curiosities while at the same time creating more, it was time to ascend back to the museum.
The exhibits back at the museum had a much larger impact after seeing the actual living conditions presented in Spruce Tree House. We were eager to continue this adventure in Mesa Verde National Park by exploring more cliff dwellings and even witnessing how the Puebloans existed before building in the caves of these cliffs. Driving the Mesa Top Loop brought us to a number of different stopping points to look at other cliff dwellings and pit houses. These pit houses were built on top of the cliffs before the Puebloan people began building in the caves. Pit houses are partially dug into the ground with timbers and mud used for the roofs. Pit houses eventually evolved into stone and mud buildings bringing the necessary skills to build in the caves. There are several cliff dwellings along this loop with the largest be Cliff Palace. Cliff Palace is a beautiful compilation of buildings all contained in this large cavernous cliff. Why some of the structures are square while others are round still captivates my curiosity. Why are some buildings several stories tall with many others containing only a floor or two?
As we started nearing the end of Mesa Top Loop the temperature was beginning to cool and the daylight weaning signaling the end of our day. We were all tiring from this adventure and had been fighting hunger for a couple of hours eating every snack available in the car. It was time for the 21 mile drive towards the exit and another few miles to our place of rest for the night. As we found our way to the exit the entrance sign appeared which had been missed earlier in the day. The reason for missing the sign became apparent once we saw the mound of snow surrounding it. We stopped and attempted several pictures but there just wasn’t enough light to accomplish the task. Another trip the next day was in order to capture this final photo.
What a great adventure with so many new discoveries!
It was a beautiful mid-March morning in Albuquerque New Mexico as we packed up the car and headed north towards Colorado. A quick stop at Petroglyph National Monument on the way so that we could capture a last picture or two and get our National Parks Monopoly board signed and then we were on our way to Mesa Verde National Park. With Albuquerque in our rear view mirror we turned on to US-550 for our 5 hour drive into the southwest corner of Colorado. Along the way we enjoyed the amazing rock sculptures showing off the many layers and colors. It wasn’t long before we could see snow covered mountains in the distance giving us a pre-view of where we were heading. Time continued to tick by as we were immersed in the ever changing scenery when we arrived at the Colorado border. It was time to stop the car and stretch our legs and take the requisite photo by the Colorado sign and then quick dart across the road to take a picture with the New Mexico sign proving we were in both states. Back in the car, we entered the last portion of our road trip. Now instead of green grass with the promise of spring, there were ski resorts and plenty of melting snow. Finally! Our destination of Mesa Verde National Park was in front of us.
Having completed a little research we were prepared for a scaled back tour of this park due to road closures as a result of unplowed roads during the winter and early spring months. We accepted this in light of the fact that this could be our only visit to the vast park as there were many sights to see on this 10 day adventure into the desert southwest. As has become typical of our visits to national parks, we attempt to take in as much as possible and usually end up racing the setting sun to catch one more glimpse and gain one more new experiences. Mesa Verde proved to be no different. The first objective as we enter a national park is to take our picture next to the entrance sign. Before we knew it we were paying our entrance fee and never saw an entrance sign. After inquiring about this, the gentleman told us we passed it already. That means we’ll have to stop on our way back out. On to the visitor center for more information.
Hiking trails, scenic routes to drive, and ranger programs are all reduced this time of year but so are the number of visitors allowing for easier and quicker drives as well as more personal ranger programs. I was eager to see a cliff dwelling as I had only heard of them before but didn’t have much information about them. To imagine people building their homes in the side of a cliff was intriguing. The only dwelling structure available to experience up close was Spruce Tree House. The first piece of information we looked for in the visitor center was the time and meeting location of the ranger program to this dwelling. Once gaining that information we explored the exhibits in the Chapin Mesa Museum until the time arrived for our ranger program. It’s a short distance from the museum to Spruce Tree House which involves walking down into a valley and back up a short distance to the well preserved cliff dwelling.
There are a lot of great memories from our recent adventure to Miami and the Caribbean. Here are the top 5:
#5: The Beautiful Florida Keys. Whenever travel to southern Florida is mentioned, the keys are often talked about or written about and have been a destination that has intrigued me for several years. This seemed like a good time to see why they are mentioned. Our first official key was visited in Biscayne National Park however during our driving adventure we arrived in Key Largo first. I never knew how close Miami was to Key Largo. It seemed a lot further on the maps I was looking at. There was a lot of activity and traffic heading back towards Miami. It was Sunday night so we thought it was just people who were returning home after a weekend in the keys. As it turns out, there was a Seafood Festival taking place and we arrived just as it was ending. Continuing south I was amazed at how many islands actually make up the Florida Keys. It was great to experience all of these keys and the number of bridges with people fishing from them. Driving on the seven mile bridge was interesting as this is a well known expanse of road. We finally arrived in Key West just after sunset. While in Key West we drove around the key, watched people get off of a cruise ship (so many people it was difficult to drive), took our pictures at the Southern Most Point Monument, and found lunch on the beach. One other memorable part of Key West was standing on a pier getting our last views of the water on this island when a stingray swam right next to the pier, stopped, and covered itself with sand waiting for its next meal. We all had a great time on our visit to the Florida Keys.
One of the Many American Alligators We Saw
#4: Alligators, Crocodiles, and Manatees Ohh My! While we were in Everglades National Park, our main goal was to see a manatee. Not really knowing much about alligators and crocodiles, I was a little nervous about running into one. In an effort to face this nervousness, we participated in an alligator talk to learn more and possibly see one. Not only did we see one, we saw over 20 of them in one afternoon. During our time in the Everglades we also were able to see crocodiles and witness firsthand the subtle differences between the American alligator and the American crocodile. Our mission to see a manatee began to appear as though we wouldn’t accomplish this goal as time was running short and we needed to leave to get to our next destination. The last opportunity was to join a ranger program on manatees and hope the park ranger had better luck than we did. During the program, the ranger was looking for a manatee in the spot one was last observed but with no success. Finally, a manatee was spotted and gave us several opportunities for pictures although we had to be quick as it only surfaced long enough to exchange oxygen and then quickly re-submerged. Having met our goals of seeing some of the local wildlife, there was a sense of satisfaction as we left the park. I certainly could have spent several more days exploring but the time there was fulfilling.
#3: A stingray massage takes this spot. For the short time we were in Grand Turk we enjoyed a snorkeling excursion. This was Kristy’s first time snorkeling and Lysa’s first time going off of a boat. It was a lot of fun watching them swim around the reef and watch the corals and fish in a natural setting. Once our time at the reef was complete, our excursion took us to an island to play with the local stingrays. After watching them swim in and out of our feet, one of the stingrays was caught to allow us to take pictures with it and then get a stingray massage. It was an interesting adventure.
#2: Our greatest experience was swimming with the dolphins. I absolutely believe this was a once in a lifetime experience. Just remembering the dolphin swim puts a smile on my face. Personally being able to touch dolphins and go dolphin skiing was amazing. The only way an adventure such as this could get better is to be able to watch your spouse and children do it also. Seeing the exhilaration on their faces as the dolphins swam right next to them and popped their heads out of the water to say hello was remarkable. The huge smiles we all had after skiing with the dolphins is a memory all of its’ own. This experience is one that has been talked about over and over again since we did it. The kids love to share videos with friends and watching their expressions helps to realize what a lifetime event it was.
#1: This may seem a little cliché but the number one part of our travels was being able to share this adventure with family. We were fortunate to be able to go on this trip with four other family members in addition to the four of us. There are experiences that we can share and talk about for the rest of our lives. There were certainly some challenges in trying to see and do as much as possible with a larger group as each person has their own interests. I believe all of us got a lot of enjoyment out of our travels together if at the very least we escaped winter for ten days. What great memories for Kristy and Lysa to be able to share as they get older and remember this adventure.
Eventually we wandered into the visitor center to peruse the displays and ask a ranger for the best chance to see some crocodiles and perhaps a manatee.The everglades are the only place in the country where alligators and crocodiles overlap. We were given a location and immediately headed for the recommendation. Scouring the water from shore we became more and more disappointed as there were none in sight. As we continued to explore, a crocodile was sighted although we weren’t convinced that it was a live crocodile because there was no movement for a long time. I think the only movement for about an hour and a half was opening its eyes. This crocodile kept it mouth open for that entire time which seemed unusual for a live animal. Later we found out that this is one way for a crocodile to regulate its temperature.
A Crocodile Resting on a Branch
Early in the afternoon there was a ranger program about manatees which we decided to attend. While waiting for this program, a nest above the visitor center was spotted where an osprey was feeding its young. Another satisfying discovering on this great adventure!
The manatee program got underway with some great information about manatees such as their resemblances to elephants and the amount of food required for this animal to survive. Manatees are able to live in fresh or saltwater and their largest predator is a propeller from boats. After taking in this information, we headed to the area suggested for sighting a manatee and searched and searched to no luck. Then out of the dark water emerged a manatee surfacing for air. Once sighted, we were able to see this animal a number of times. Satisfied that we had accomplished what we had set out to do, it was time to leave Everglades National Park and continue our adventure to the Florida Keys and Key West.
Every day is a day to be thankful for but there are days that make an impact on you that you won’t forget. Today was one such day! Our plan from the beginning was to get going to Biscayne National Park to explore Convey Point and Boca Chita Key with the hope of spotting a manatee some time during this adventure. There was a dilemma that arose a week ago which required some difficult decisions and examining our priorities. I fully enjoy exploring National Parks and all they have to offer and was really excited to see Biscayne. The issue that conflicted with that was one of the sports teams I follow was in the playoffs and I really wanted to watch the game. My resolution before today was to miss the first half of the game and leave the park a little early. Well this came with a further examination of priorities as the day wore on. In the end, all worked out well. Let me explain:
I don’t follow a lot of sports teams with any regularity and am content with just hearing scores most of the time for a few teams around my area. There is one team I have followed for much of my life and they are the Green Bay Packers. Well, a week ago they earned the right to play in the NFC Championship game with the winner going to the Super bowl. Unfortunately the game was scheduled for mid-afternoon at a time I was planning on enjoying the sights and environment of Biscayne National Park. After doing some soul searching and examining my priorities I came to a conclusion. I may never be back to the park and there is a probable chance the Packers will make it to the playoffs again in the next decade or two so the park held a higher spot on my list of priorities. I decided to leave the park a little early (probably only by an hour) and that should allow me to watch the second half of the football game. That seemed acceptable to me and a good compromise.
The Lighthouse at Boca Chita Key
Apparently that was not a close enough examination as our plans were called into question once we arrived at Biscayne National Park. We had planned on taking a boat tour out to Boca Chita Key which was listed as departing once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As we were getting ready for this tour we were informed that there was only an afternoon trip which would not get us back until the football game was almost over. Our decision was to either miss the trip to the key or miss most if not all of the game. I didn’t want to do either but could not do both. Ultimately the decision was to take the boat trip and hope we could see the end of the game and the highlights. With technology there was another option, I could watch the game on my laptop as long as I could get reception. A nice way to enjoy a bit of both the park and the game.
Watching the NFC Title game at Biscayne
After deciding to take the boat tour the day began to fall into place and ended up being a day I’m sure I will remember for a long time. As we began looking at the displays in the visitor center and learning about the park I had a gentleman ask me to take some pictures of him and his girlfriend. I agreed and began to follow him outside when he further explained that he was about to propose to his girlfriend and where so that I could take some pictures for him of these important highlights. I was very happy to do this and be a part of something that can be so significant for two people. After this the day went to fast as we explored Biscayne N.P. and searched for the elusive manatee. We enjoyed seeing many fish and birds along with the amazing scenery of the landscape and ocean all the while seeing the city of Miami in the background. On our way back to the hotel I managed to find a radio station to listen to the football game and did make it to the hotel to see the last few minutes of the football game and watch Green Bay win to move on to the super bowl in 2 weeks.
In the end staying with your priorities, even when they are challenging to determine, will allow you to be confident in your decisions.
I am excited to go to Miami in this cold weather. Biscayne National Park looks and sounds really cool too. So it isn’t just to get away from the cold weather. Biscayne National park has a lot of things I would like to do and see. “It protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs.” according to their website. Now that sounds really interesting! It has 10,000 years of human history from pirates and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents. I hope to see a lot of wildlife out there! I also would like to snorkel.
I like to look at the colors and designs of fish. I like blue fish the most though. I’ve never seen a manatee and would like to. There are many tiny creatures to look out for too. Boating would be fun too! I like to feel the breeze in the air. There would be a lot of breeze too according to the website. Camping would be cool but I don’t think we’ll be camping. Biscayne was established for its natural history! Almost every island at the park has evidence that the native people used it. As stated in the Biscayne National Park website: “underwater, shipwrecks lay as silent witnesses to one violent moment of time, having a promise of teaching us about our collective past.” I would like to see a shipwreck and see how I feel about the history. I like to learn about history whenever I get the chance. I’ve learned so much already. You could even hear the story of how the park got established from one of the people who actually made it happen! I would love to hear that story!
I will become a Junior Ranger for this park. You do a little booklet at your level and to complete it you have to venture around the park for the answers and use your knowledge. After completing it you get a badge with the parks name on it and if you’re a Girl Scout, or Boy Scout you can add patches to your vest or you can just get them for fun too if you aren’t! It is a really fun activity for kids and family. A glass bottom boat over Biscayne’s coral reef would be a great experience, but to see the reef well you would have to swim from the boat to the reef. It would not only be fun for me but a very good sight and experience. I don’t think anything could replace a trip to this park! You can learn so much from traveling in a fun and an exciting way, especially if you go as a family. That’s how I like to travel at least. Like I said, I am so excited for the trip and to see even more National Parks!
While I’m sure we could spend many days exploring the Everglades National Park, we have chosen to visit nearby Biscayne National Park as part of our excursion to Southern Florida. This destination is not on our National Parks edition of Monopoly but is a place we highly look forward to experiencing. It is common for us to add non-board destinations to our trips which help both in tiring us out and packing more experiences into each trip. We have planned for one full day at Biscayne National Park so I hope the weather is nice. This is not enough time to do all that we would like to do I’m sure but does give us a taste of this park which is the intention of our visits to all of the National Parks on our board.
Most of Biscayne N.P. is underwater (95%) which is one of the features that really draws us to it. Snorkeling is a favorite activity whenever we are in tropical waters with reefs. Kristy is anxious to travel to Southern Florida as this will be her first attempt at snorkeling. This will be Lysa’s second time snorkeling. Her first experience was in Cozumel, Mexico three years ago. I am excited to take them and let them experience life on a reef. They have both looked over pictures of reefs and fish and we have a small saltwater aquarium with corals and fish but to be able to see everything going on at a natural reef is so much more mesmerizing. Fortunately by watching how different animals work together in our aquarium, Kristy and Lysa will have the opportunity to notice many things that can be missed when snorkeling such as how the cleanup crew (snails, crabs, shrimp, and sea stars) scavenge around the reef and interact with the fish. Watching all of this will make the day go by exceptionally fast!
While snorkeling appears to be a great way to explore Biscayne National Park, there are other activities that highlight the diversity of this park. There are hiking trails, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, boating, fishing, and a lot of history according to the National Park Service website. The beginning of the Florida Keys is considered by many to be in Biscayne N.P. – Elliot Key. Since we won’t have a boat to freely move about the reefs and keys, we need to plan ahead to use the park vendor for boating excursions in order to be able to experience this area and see what we can. I would like to see the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay along with snorkeling. Kristy and Lysa enjoy becoming Junior Rangers at all of the national parks that we visit so this will be a priority at Biscayne National Park as well.
Camping is allowed on Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key which would be a great way for us to really enjoy and explore this wondrous area. Unfortunately, we are limited by our arrival to Miami late the day before and have commitments early the day after. I would love to watch the sun set and rise again from a key while star gazing and surveying the nighttime Miami skyline. These are some of the things we may have to explore on another trip after completing our National Parks Monopoly Board.
As I write this I am looking forward to this trip more and more. Maybe it is time to stop writing about this national park and focus on the upcoming holidays.
I am excited to tell you about my adventures, but first I would like to tell you about the National Park we’re going to. The Everglades must be a cool place because I’ve heard so many things about them. First of all, I’m traveling with my family so I’m not alone. Traveling is more fun for me if there is someone to travel with. I’m very excited to explore the Everglades and learn more. I love to learn about other places.
Everglades National Park is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states! Only Death Valley and Yellowstone National Park are larger. I am not surprised because it covers much of the southern tip of peninsular, Florida. It is 1,506,000 acres! I’ve been to this area before but never to the Everglades. It does surprise me that it ranks with the planets most important natural areas. It must be a cool place to visit but that’s not all! There are all kinds of animals too! There are all kinds of birds, alligators, crocodiles, bald eagles (cool!), and endangered panthers hoping to track white-tailed deer! I never knew they had endangered animals there! I hope we see, if not all, many.
This park was established December 1947, when Harry S. Truman was president. That was About 63 years ago! That seems like a really long time to me.
I hope we go to The Ten Thousand Islands (that’s a lot of islands!), The Royal Palm, and The Shark valley. SHARK VALLEY! I wonder if it’s where you can see or feel the sharks. I bet it is because the National Park goes into the Atlantic Ocean, and The Gulf Of Mexico. There’s also the Florida Bay, and The Whitewater Bay. There’s even an Everglades city right next to the boarder of The National Park! That’s really cool! I hope we have a lot of fun! Of course we will! I hope you can travel there too. It sounds really cool!