Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

Climbing the Rockies

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

There are a couple of National Parks on our Monopoly board that stand out to me as the places I am most eager to see. One of them was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I have enjoyed all of the national parks we have visited to this date but RMNP is so far my favorite national park. There are some great places yet to come so I expect this may not remain my top pick in the end but for now this is the park I think of first when talking about national parks. What makes this my favorite national park? The elk, moose, marmots, the tundra in bloom, picturesque snowcapped mountains, wild orchids, waterfalls, beautiful lakes and rivers, intriguing trails, and on and on and on… Does it appear as though I enjoyed our time here?

Estes Park
Estes Park

We entered Colorado from the plains of the Mid-west. The mountains continued to grow larger in the background until we were at the base of the Rocky Mountains beginning our ascension towards the top. Our climb towards the top started slowly at first and then quickly became steeper and steeper as we drove higher towards RMNP. Watching the trees and rocks all around us was mesmerizing complimented by the raging rapids from the snow melting higher in the mountains. After a short time we entered Estes Park where one of the entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park resides. We settled in at our lodging for the next couple of days and prepared to go exploring in the mountains for the next couple of days.

RMNP Entrance
RMNP Entrance

The next morning we grabbed some breakfast and headed out to continue our adventure. Upon entrance to RMNP we browsed over the activities available for the day and began our drive towards the Alpine Visitor Center. As we meandered along we came upon a traffic jam. Further inquiries declared there were a few elk rested in the area. Driving along a little further we spotted an elk. This one happened to be a bull with horns towering above his head completely covered in velvet indicating they were still developing. For us this was exciting as we have never seen a bull elk before. While visiting Wind Cave National Park we watched a heard of elk in the distance but there were no bulls visible in that heard. Spending a few moments we snapped a few pictures of the elk and enjoyed the surrounding landscape and then off towards the visitor center once again.

Two Bull Elk
Two Bull Elk (one is hidden in the background)

Our road trip to Alpine Visitor Center would have been much faster had there not been so many places to pull over and gaze in amazement and the snow covered peaks where the snow was melting. Streams of melted snow turned into rivers with beautiful waterfalls and violent rapids allowing us to get lost in these scenic moments and lose track of time. There were at least 4 stops off of Trail Ridge Road on the way to the visitor center each one capturing our interest and providing a unique look at these mountains. Along the way we encounter snow drifts that had covered this road weeks before. Some of them were at least 10 feet tall reminding us of the harsher times of year and the amazing feat required of animals and plants in order to survive this environment. At our last stop before reaching our destination a marmot appeared in and out of rocks while crawling around on the tundra which was full of plants displaying their beautiful flowers showing the attraction of this alpine terrain. Eventually we arrived at the visitor center where Lysa and Kristy began their journey towards another Junior Ranger Badge.

Alpine Visitor Center
Alpine Visitor Center

To Continue to Part II Click Here…

Going Underground in Wind Cave (part III)

The Natural Entrance to Wind Cave
The Natural Entrance to Wind Cave

Getting back to the visitor’s center it was time to determine how we would spend the rest of this day. It was early afternoon and time for something to eat. We traveled to a nearby town and enjoyed a small town restaurant before continuing our explorations of Wind Cave National Park. Returning to the visitor’s center once again it was decided to spend the rest of our time as surface dwellers since there are thousands of acres to explore. A trip to this cave would not be complete without experiencing the natural entrance which was amazingly small with a lot of air movement which is how it was first discovered. Apparently two brothers were passing by and heard a loud whistling. Upon further investigation they found the vast network of caves below that caused this sound due to the attempt at equalizing atmospheric pressure. Since then over a hundred miles of this cave have been discovered. It is estimated that this accounts for only 5% of the entire cave. Try to imagine over 2,500 miles of caves and passageways beneath the surface. That’s the equivalent of driving from Buffalo, NY to Los Angeles, CA!

A Deer Playing Tag as we Drove Along Side
A Deer Playing Tag as we Drove Along Side

Once the natural entrance was found we decided to get in the car and drive some of the unpaved roads in an effort to explore some of the prairie protected by this national park. Early on we encountered a pronghorn deer that wanted to play for a short time. We would stop the car and this deer would run ahead of us for a distance staying next to the road and then stop and watch to see what we were doing. We continued forward as this deer decided to wait until we were again next to it. Once we pulled alongside it ran ahead again, stopped, and waited anxiously. Again we drove ahead to meet it only to have this deer run further along the road. This went on a few times before the pronghorn grew tired of the game and left. Our next encounter was single buffalo standing near the road allowing birds to perch on its back. We found this entertaining for a few moments and then continued on. The top of a hill was reached and below waited a breathtaking sight of this never ending prairie. Looking over the grass as it waved in the breeze along with the occasional stand of trees appeared as though out of a painting from a century ago. Over on the hillside rested some animals. They turned out to be a herd of elk resting in the mid-afternoon sun while darker clouds began to roll in indicating a potential storm. There were a couple of hundred elk comprising this herd allowing us to watch from a distance as they lazily meandered about. There were no horns on any of these elk causing us to wonder where the bulls could be. Our day was growing long and we had to return to our hotel in time to catch a wink or two before getting up early to participate in the Independence Day celebration at Mt. Rushmore.

A Herd of Elk Lazily Grazing in the Afternoon Sun
A Herd of Elk Lazily Grazing in the Afternoon Sun

 

On our way back through Custer State Park we encountered another herd of buffalo. After a few moments of gazing at these grazing animals we moved on. Another few miles down the road we saw the next spectacle – a herd of donkeys. This was a complete surprise as I hadn’t imaged donkeys in the wild. Here they were and demanded another stop to take it all in. They were very friendly and seemed to enjoy our company as much as we enjoyed watching them. Finally, we needed to depart for our journey back to Custer to grab a bite to eat and plan the next day’s activities before falling asleep. This was another in a string of very memorable adventures and once again proves that confronting that which you may fear will help you learn more about that fear.

A Storm Approaching Out on the Prairie
A Storm Approaching Out on the Prairie

To View More Photos of Wind Cave click here….

Going Underground in Wind Cave (part II)

Entering Wind Cave
Entering Wind Cave

The elevator doors opened and there was a small, cool room waiting which had been created out of concrete. There was a door leading into the cave with a small flag attached near one of the crevice. That small flag would show which direction the wind was blowing caused by the change in pressure from the surface to the cave. This cave is always attempting to equalize the atmospheric pressure from within to that on the surface creating a wind either entering or exiting. At the time of our entrance into this cave the flag was standing away from the door indicating the pressure was higher inside and was trying to escape to the outside. As we waited for everyone in the tour group to arrive inside these close quarters, my mind began racing and a trapped feeling crept in knowing that the only way out was through that elevator which was at the top of the shaft for the moment. The walls appeared to close in and panic was felt climbing into my head. Quickly I started work on calming down with the exercises I had rehearsed many times before this moment. I was in a parking garage under a building I was familiar with. Immediately my mind relaxed a little and in no time the ranger opened the door leading us into the cave. Shortly after getting into the passageways amazement took over and the claustrophobia was gone never to return in Wind Cave.

Amazing Colors and Textures inside the Cave
Amazing Colors and Textures inside the Cave

The cave was cool as it stays at 53 0F year around requiring the use of light jackets but not as dark as I was anticipating. These main passageways that we would be using were very well lit in most areas so we could see where we were going and cave formations. It is unbelievable how large some of the rooms are inside and the passageways didn’t feel tight at all. I was in complete adventure mode as I had never experienced anything like this before. Sure growing up there would be caves to explore but those were merely a place to hide without much more. The colors and formations of these rocks where unlike anything I had imagined. It was now understood how people could spend days exploring different areas inside of caves to uncover mysteries that no one else had discovered. To see something never seen before in the world would be incredible. I don’t think caving would be for me but to see inside some of the easier passageways was incredible. Some of the rock formations such as boxwork, popcorn, and crystals encountered along with the huge boulders hanging overhead provided an amazing experience. There was more than once that the thought of one of these rocks falling entered my mind. Just a quickly a reminder that these stones have been in place for a very long time and the likelihood that they would fall at just this moment was probably less than being injured in a car accident or even being struck by lightning.

Cave Popcorn
Beautiful Cave Popcorn

 

There were hundreds of stairs built into the passageways of Wind Cave allowing us to descend into some passageways and ascend into others. Over the course of our tour we changed altitude by 150 feet giving many different perspectives of these rocks and the forces that created them. Some of the rooms were so large that houses could fit inside with room to spare. These rooms made it easy to forget about being hundreds of feet below the surface. It was difficult to keep hands off of these rocks as much as possible because there were crystals or boxwork within touching distance. However, the importance of not touching was presented before entering the cave due to the potential for degradation from either the rocks breaking or oils from our skin deteriorating the minerals that make up these formations. Our tour wound in and out, up and down, and through these cavernous passageways with only a small number being small enough to sneak through. The end of the tour arrived and left us wanting to see more another time. As we exited the cave, that flag that was blowing out of the cave and changed directions and was now blowing into the cave indicating a change in pressure so that the atmospheric pressure outside the cave was now greater than inside. Back into the small chamber to await our elevator ride back to the surface with nothing but memories to last a lifetime to occupy our thoughts.

Stone Boxwork
Stone Boxwork Formations

To continue click here….

Going Underground in Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park Entrance
Wind Cave National Park Entrance

Wind Cave National Park is not one of the parks on our monopoly board but it is close to Mt. Rushmore and one that peaked our interest. As I continued to research this park I became a little nervous and unsure about taking any of the excursions into the cave as I tend to get nervous in dark, tight spaces. Many other people go into this cave and come out unharmed so I should be able to do the same. Several days were spent mentally preparing for this adventure and how I would have to think about things if a bout with claustrophobia presented itself. I’m used to riding in elevators both above ground and several stories below ground so that is how I planned on dealing with being 300 – 400 feet below ground. Just image being in a parking ramp that is under a building. I’ve experienced underground parking areas numerous times so this should be fairly easy to do. Let’s see how well this works.

A Prairie Dog Greeting
A Prairie Dog Greeting

The drive from Custer, SD to Wind Cave is beautiful. This is located in the black hills so there are lots of pine covered hills and valleys to wind around and through continually challenging us to examine the landscape as it quickly passed by. In order to get to Wind Cave we drove through Custer State Park which also has a lot of great scenery and could take many days of exploring but we were focused on our destination so there were no stops before reaching Wind Cave National Park. While stopped at the entrance sigh we were pleasantly greeted by a mule deer off in the distance and the barking of many prairie dogs as there was a town close by. Continuing on we quickly came upon a traffic stop due to a herd of buffaloes crossing the road. They were in no hurry as I’m sure this is a daily occurrence and possibly entertaining to the buffaloes to see how many people they can get to stop and watch. After several minutes an opening arrived for us to drive through without the danger of one of these large animals colliding with us or many of the other people stopped and observing this magnificent sight. On towards the visitor center.

A Buffalo Crossing
An Inconvenient Buffalo Crossing

Despite the main attraction – the cave, this park contains thousands of acres which include pine covered hills and vast prairies. The cave was our primary interest so we wanted to leave enough time to adequately explore it before experiencing some of these other attractions. Once at the visitor’s center a tour into the cave was decided upon and purchased. Our wait was not long so the few moments before going down into the earth were spent looking over the displays and learning about the formation of Wind Cave. There were a number of tours available which would have been interesting but we chose the Fairgrounds tour which is about ½ mile long and explores some of the great formations in this cave. As time approached for this adventure we met at the designated spot where a ranger was waiting to guide us to the elevator that would drop us into the cave. This elevator only holds a small number of people so we had to wait in line until everyone was lowered several hundred feet beneath the surface. I tried to be towards the back of the line to minimize the amount of time spent waiting underground before entering the cave passages. Our opportunity to go down arrived and we entered the elevator. If there was a time for claustrophobia, this was it being packed in this little box slowly descending to a place natural light does not exist.

Part II, click here….

Beginning in the Badlands (part III)

A Break on a Butte
Resting on an Area Butte

The afternoon sun was beginning to wear on us. Fortunately we had placed a gallon of water in the trunk with a few glasses in order to keep hydrated. After our early afternoon ranger program, Lysa and Kristy wanted to climb the hills. I was ready for some rest so we retrieved our camp chairs from the car and watched as both of the children climbed up and down different hills. The air was getting a little stagnant from our seating area. There must be some movement in a different location so off I went in search of a breeze. The beautiful thing about our chairs is they fold up quickly and stow in a bag containing a strap for easy mobility. I began exploring different areas, climbing up and down just like the kids but for a different reason. Finally I found a satisfactory location – on top of a butte. This must have seemed a little weird as other families were stopping and taking pictures of me in my chair resting on that butte. You know you’re doing something right when you’re purposefully added to another family’s photo album. We continue to laugh about this to this day.

A Badlands Prairie
A Badlands Prairie

Off to our final ranger program of the day as we continued to explore more of this great park. At this point the Lysa and Kristy were beginning to grow tired of walking and the thought of another mile stroll through the prairie was not an exciting idea. Being the troopers that they are, they accepted this final program although there seemed to be more resistance than I was happy with. There celebrating began as this program came to an end and it was time to return to the hotel. Of course, the return trip required us to drive back through much of the Badlands prompting a number of stops that were of interest on the way to the visitor center. The sun was beginning its nightly journey towards the horizon leaving us before we were ready. As a result our stops became fewer and quicker while we traveled back to Wall. A brief stop for another meal and then back to the hotel for some much needed rest before continuing our journey.

The Sun Setting over the Badlands
The Sun Setting over the Badlands

Absolutely a great start to our adventure around the monopoly board!

For more photos click here ….

Beginning in the Badlands (part II)

Badlands Entrance
Badlands Entrance

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?

First Sights of the Badlands
One of our First Views of Badlands National Park

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.

Junior Ranger Program
Becoming a Junior Ranger

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.

Beginning in the Badlands part III….

Beginning in the Badlands

BadlandsOnce 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.

Looking Over the Badlands
Looking Out Over the Badlands

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?

Sioux Falls
The Falls Sioux Falls was Named For

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.

Mitchel Corn Palace
The One and Only Mitchel South Dakota Corn Palace

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!

Beginning in the Badlands part II….

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…..

For more photos of Mesa Verde click here….

A Travel Reminder From Japan

tsunami

The recent natural events in Japan have gained and required the world’s attention and reminded us that there are events that are beyond anything we can control. Forces of nature will eventually test what people have built and the political choices (or lack thereof) that have been made beyond what has been conceived. These earthquakes and tsunamis have physically altered Japan permanently and even altered time even if only a miniscule fraction. In some cases travelers are reminded of a place they have visited which now will never be the same as it was when they were there. People often use the phrase “SOMEDAY”. Well, for those who may have wanted to visit parts of Northern Japan, someday can never come. At least for those that wanted to experience Northern Japan as it use to be.

earth-from-space-western

There are a number of events that can often change a destination that we may want to travel to such as natural disasters and more often political or religious tensions. Such examples include the Soviet Union splitting apart into several different countries or East and West Germany uniting into one country. Volcanoes erupt creating new landscapes, hurricanes destroy places, and rain can wipe away hillsides. It is easy to take for granted that a country will still be there tomorrow or a mountain will stay has it always has appeared. As we continue to gain experience one thing becomes more evident all the time – The world is constantly changing.

volcano

One of the lessons from the natural disasters in Japan is to make plans to experience an area of the world of your choosing instead of planning on going someday. This doesn’t mean that you should make plans to travel immediately if that does not fit into your budget or commitments. It does mean to put together a plan to travel including a potential budget needed, paperwork required such as visas and/or passports, and most importantly a date. At the very least putting together this plan increases the likelihood that you will be able to experience a new destination instead of someday which never comes. We can’t control this changing world and yes we can still miss seeing someplace as it is today but at least by putting together a plan, there is a greater chance of getting there.

There is another effect. I believe that those who have ventured into a foreign land and witnessed traditions of a culture other than their own experience the news and videos of Japan differently. Traveling to a foreign land teaches us that while there are many different beliefs we are all similar in many ways. These similarities are often not broadcast on news programs or in newspapers but people who have traveled have found a number of resemblances. We all need to eat and sleep and want to give our children the best that we can. Methods of communication and our personal beliefs based on what we have learned in life are different but the fact that we communicate in one form or another and have beliefs based on personal experiences binds us together.

japan-senganen-garden-kagos

Travelers have witnessed this first hand and this gives us a different perspective on the tragedies of Japan and how people there are affected and respond to it. We all are reacting to these events differently. One aspect to keep in mind is there is something to learn from every situation. For travelers, if there is a destination of interest make a plan to get there and stop saying someday.