Category Archives: National Parks

Winter in Mesa Verde (continued)

Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House

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 darkened ceiling of Spruce Tree House
The Darkened Ceiling of Spruce Tree House

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?

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace

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.

Another Dark Ending
The Sun Beat Us Again

What a great adventure with so many new discoveries!

To See More Photos of Mesa Vere Click Here …

Winter in Mesa Verde

Entering Colorado
The Colorado State Line

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.

Southwestern US Landscape
The Beautiful Scenery Along the Way to Colorado

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.

The sun setting
A Spectacular Sun Set at Mesa Verde

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.

To Continue this story…..

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The Top 5 Best Parts of Our Travels to South Florida

 

There are a lot of great memories from our recent adventure to Miami and the Caribbean. Here are the top 5:

Peace sign made out of coconuts in Key West
A Peace Sign Made Out of Coconuts In Key West

#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.

An American Alligator 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.

A Stingray Kiss
We Also Had the Chance to Kiss a Stingray

#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.

Being pushed by a dolphin
Being Pushed by a Dolphin

#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.

Traveling with family
Traveling with Family

#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.

A Taste of the Everglades

Everglades

An Everglades Sunset
Is this the result of crocodiles?

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!

Sighting a Manatee

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.

An Anhinga Hiding

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A Memorable Day

Entering Biscayne N.P.

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. 

Boca Chita

In the end staying with your priorities, even when they are challenging to determine, will allow you to be confident in your decisions.

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Leaving the Cold

The Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park

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. 

Manatee Swimming along the Coast

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! 

Sights to see while snorkeling

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!

Becoming a Junior Ranger

Adding Biscayn N.P.

 
Boca Chita Key with Miami in the distance

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!  

Our home reef away from the reef

 

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.  

Motivation and Anticipation!

 

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.

Excited for the Everglades

Everglades in Florida

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.

The Endangered Florida Panther

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!

Our Next Destination

The Great Egret Among Cypress Trees

Our next National Parks edition monopoly board property has been chosen and planned – Everglades National Park!     

We are planning on spending only two days there which is going to be enough time to start to experience all that this park has to offer.  Our intentions on these trips are only to get an introduction to these parks and experience many different areas of the United States.  Once Lysa and Kristy are older, they can return to whichever locations they may want to explore further and do the activities that interest them.  For now, our family will explore some parts of the Everglades to get a general idea of the intricacies of that park.    

Some interesting information about Everglades National Park:    

  • It is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states with 1.5 million acres
  • Created in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman dedicated the original 460,000 acres
  • This is a sub-tropical environment with a distinct dry season (December – April) and wet season (May – November)
  • Wildlife include the American Alligator, American crocodile, indigo snake, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, many different birds depending on the season, freshwater and saltwater fish, along with many different amphibians
  • Known as the “river of grass” and has the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America

    Sawgrass

 Exploring the everglades    

There are a number of different ways in which to explore this vast area.  Driving, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, or boating all are options that can give different experiences and perspectives to the diversity of life in Everglades National Park.  For the diehard adventurist there is the option to camp overnight.  We have chosen to enjoy the comforts of environmental controls typically associated with a hotel.  Hiking, driving, canoeing, and boating are the modes of transportation that we are researching currently.     

Once arriving at Everglades National Park we will find out what ranger programs are available and begin to plan our two days according to which programs are of interest to us.  I always enjoy these ranger programs and gain some great information.  Being able to identify some of the flora and fauna or knowing some of the planning and history can really increase the enjoyment while we are out exploring the park on our own.     

There appears to be other tours available such as tram trips, boat tours, bird watching trips, canoe trips, and fishing trips.  These all would give different aspects to the wilderness of the everglades but due to our limited time we can only participate in a few activities.  How do we determine which actives will provide the best experiences for us?  We have to prioritize what we want to do and see the most.

Florida Bay

 

Once we get a list of the ranger programs we can determine which of those we want to attend and we know that Lysa and Kristy want to get their Junior Ranger badges.  Visiting the Everglades without riding on an airboat doesn’t seem like a complete visit so that is something we want to schedule in.  We will take some time to drive through as much of the park as we can to see how the scenery changes as Everglades change from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater rivers and streams that flow through the park.  While driving around we will likely stop in a number of locations to enjoy some hiking at a number of different trails.  If there is time, canoeing would be a great addition to the experience for a couple of reasons.  First, Lysa and Kristy have never really been in a canoe before. Secondly, much of Everglades National Park is based around water so seeing the park from this perspective can enhance our adventure.    

We have much more planned with our trip to southern Florida which I will write about in a later post.  For now, we are excited and looking forward to exploring Everglades National Park and including this location on our monopoly board!