Tag Archives: exploring

An Easy National Parks Trip?

Yosemite  Dinner at Ahwahnee     Nat'l Parks Image Map     Isle Royale

The planning for this summers Monopoly National Parks board trips are in full progress. Our destinations include Yosemite National Park which includes a stop at Ahwahnee for dinner and Isle Royale National Park.  These were expected to be fairly easy trips to plan because we’re meeting some friends in California and then heading to Yosemite for a few days. This is a somewhat familiar area for us as we have been there visiting various friends and relatives so we have a good idea of what we need to do and where to go. Isle Royale is the closest park to us on the Monopoly Board so again should be fairly easy to plan for.

As is often the case, what should be the easiest may turn out to be one of the biggest challenges. The challenges with Yosemite come in from finding a suitable place to stay. We questioned camping however that idea came a few days to late as it was a few days after campsite reservations became available. Apparently campsites fill up minutes after becoming available. Who knew? Certainly not me. A good learning experience. There’s a few options left but we probably should get it nailed down soon or there may be no more options left.

Map Showing Location of Isle Royale

Isle Royale is one of the locations I was most excited to see since it is practically in my own back yard and yet provides a very different atmosphere than I am use to. Since this is within a few hours drive time (~5 hours to be exact) we could take a quick trip to Northern Minnesota, hop on a boat for a couple of hours, tour the area close to one of the visitor centers, and get back on the boat for a return trip to our car and be done. Did I mention that this park requires special transportation since it is on an Island in Lake Superior? Interestingly this is the one place where Minnesota and Michigan border each other.

I have wanted to camp in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a number of years and have not fulfilled that desire. Camping on Isle Royale would qualify in my opinion. Unfortunately we are restricted to 40 pounds of gear each on the boat without further costs. The boat ride already is getting more expensive than I was counting on at $67 per person per way bringing a total for 4 of us to $536 just to get there. That does not include a fuel surcharge, parking, and park fees. In order to camp on the island we are going to need full camping and hiking gear including a tent, backpacks, food, water, cooking supplies, etc.… This Tent is a Little Big for Hiking

I don’t’ think my 10 person tent is going to work very well on this trip. It could very well weigh 40 pounds all by itself. When the realization of what we are up against hit me it was very daunting and exciting. Never camping while hiking before makes me a little nervous. Now add that I’m going to be going with my wife and two younger children really added to this nervousness. I’ve been spending countless hours researching Isle Royale and what is needed in order to make this a great experience for all. My nerves have been settling after reading and looking at necessary equipment. The excitement is returning for mid-August when this trip is planned for. Fortunately I started planning for this early enough to locate what we need and practice a little before we go. Now the big question is – can I carry 40 pounds of gear while hiking for several days? Also, can we fit everything we need into the packs for me, Karen, and the kids? Okay, so there are more than just one question at this time. In addition, we are hoping to include Voyageurs National Park for a few days. This also presents challenges since much of this park requires a boat. Still much to learn and prepare for.

More Bits and Pieces From the Keys

The Beautiful Ocean Water in Florida

Our arrival in Key West was in plenty of time to check in at the hotel, find a place to park, and even look for a few souvenirs all before the sunset experience in Mallory Square. I will do a complete post on Mallory Square later so not many details will be shared here.   While at Mallory Square we witnessed a couple miss their cruise ship requiring them to chase the ship down in a small boat and climb aboard using a rope ladder all while the ship was backing out of the harbor and a gorgeous sunset. While on a past cruise I had the pleasure of catching the last tender boat out to the ship as I tend to want to explore as long as possible (my father-in-law has more stories of that). While watching the couple chase the ship I was asked how much of a chance I would take on another cruise if that is a possible result of being too late. To me, this would be a fun experience which I may try on the next cruise so this show had the opposite effect on me than desired by my wife. In her defense, she thought I missed the ship so has already had a taste of what that feels like and would prefer not to experience that again. Only time will tell I guess. I may try to take her with me while missing the ship. This photo of the sunset reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean.

A Schooner at Sunset

The next morning there was the pleasure of an alarm clock. This was never intended however the noise coming from this chicken made it a little difficult to sleep. Being awakened at sunrise was not in the plans but apparently was necessary. While laying there wanting to go back to sleep I couldn’t decide whether I had the desire to go out and feed the animals or have chicken for lunch. A word of caution, chickens are quite common on Key West so there is a greater chance that this will happen. After getting up and deciding to eat breakfast there was still a crowing close by. I decided to find this chicken so intent on waking us up. Once it was spotted all I could do was smile as I showed it to Karen who was equally irritated with this chicken. I smiled because I knew once she caught sight of the little baby chicks with the hen this rooster was protecting she would instantly forget about her irritations. How can you stay made at the cute little baby chickens?

The Guilty Rooster

 

And His Hen and Chicks

By the way, we did end up eating chicken later that day!

Bits and Pieces From the Keys

Entering the Keys

During our journey to Key West we enjoyed a number of activities along the way. A year ago while driving out to Key West for the first time I had read about this place called Robbie’s Marina. If you’re interested you can read the post describing potential activities in the keys here. On that trip we never found Robbie’s. As it turns out, it was dark by the time we got to Islamorada which is why I never saw it. This time, however, we made the trip during the middle of the day in order to enjoy more of the sights along US 1 and just as we crossed the bridge to Islamorada, there it was – a sign for Robbie’s. I quickly slammed on the breaks and made the turn into the marina. It was never our intention to stop but there it was so we at least had to check it out.

Dock "Hazards" - Pelicans

I was amazed at how busy it was. There were some open air shops along with a restaurant and the marina. It costs $1.00 per person to enter the docks for the famous tarpon feeding. We paid our fee along with purchasing some food for the fish and on to the designated spot we went. There are some hazards you encounter before getting to the fish. These “hazards” are the pelicans. Not only do the fish like an easy meal but so do these feathered friends. They are not shy about chasing you and trying to steal your bucket of fish food (bait fish). Once getting past the gauntlet of birds we moved quickly to the feeding area set up to keep them out. I was advised not to get to close to the water as the fish take whatever appears and smells like food. All in all we spent about an hour at Robbie’s and enjoyed the sights. At their website they have webcams available to view the tarpon and pelicans. It’s a good reminder for us of our short time there.

Feeding the Tarpon

After this fun experience we continued onward toward Key West. Fortunately along the way there are several places you can pull off and enjoy the scenery or go fishing. We decided it was time to eat so we happened by this great park right by US 1. There was cold pizza and fruit in the trunk from previous meals and we each had a drink with us so a nice spot with a little shade to eat and then enjoy some sun was in order. We could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon here as the temperatures were near 80 0F with a slight breeze but our ultimate goal was to get to Key West in time to experience the sunset there so back on the road for the remainder of the trip. Looking at the photo below can you blame us for wanting to stay longer?

Lunch with a View

For more bits and pieces from the keys click here…

Discovering Paul Revere

Exploring the Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts provided several experiences that led to a greater appreciation for our Independence and freedom. Witnessing the sights of the Boston Massacre and Bunker Hill where the first battle of the Revolution took place to the Old North Church made famous for the ‘one if by land and two if by sea’ begins to make you realize some of the things involved in bringing about our Independence.  History classes teach of Paul Revere warning about the British by signaling which direction they were coming from and his famous ride through Boston shouting “the British are coming, the British are coming!” Apparently he was involved in many planning sessions leading up to the Revolutionary War and was integral during the war as well.  But what else did Paul Revere do?Paul Revere's Ride

I was surprised to learn that he was a metal smith working with copper, gold, and silver. Many of his works were put into a number of building which can be seen on the Freedom Trail such as the Massachusetts State House and the USS Constitution. We visited Paul Revere’s gravesite along with other recognizable names from that time including John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Seeing all of these places brought a further appreciation for the freedoms I enjoy every day and also a few questions. There are people often saying the government is getting to much control. What conditions did the people of the 1770’s have to contend with that war was justified? What conditions would cause the American people today to revolt against the government? I believe we would have to lose a lot more freedoms to justify severe actions like the colonists took. When I compare what those colonists lived with to what we deal with today, we are very fortunate. Staying involved in our government is still very important to prevent those conditions from every becoming reality.

Paul Revere's Grave

Another interesting occurrence surprised me while visiting these places. I continued to have difficulty in believing that I was seeing these historic landmarks. I kept saying that even though I was physically at a location, it didn’t make the events that occurred there any more real. Trying to believe that what happened over 300 years ago was in that exact place was difficult. I know buildings have been re-furbished and updated making them less
realistic to me. Also, the surrounding buildings make it hard to imagine what people such as Paul Revere lived like and the difficulties in coordinating revolutionary activities. Even visiting the grave site didn’t help to bring me to the 1770’s. Some of the issues were many of the building being brick. Looking at renderings of these building when they were originally built show them mainly built out of wood. Also, Paul Revere’s house is still standing and that was made out of wood.  Historical buildings being remodeled along with the skyscrapers that exist next to them now give a very different perspective. Even so, what a great learning experience!

Paul Revere's House

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.

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!    

The Concept

The concept of being a Monopoly Traveler is to travel to each of the destinations on a particular version of Monopoly. These destinations come from the properties on that Monopoly board.      

The National Parks Board that began our adventures as Monopoly Travelers

First, decide which board(s) you want to travel. Next, choose how you want to get to each location, and finally determine what you want to do once you get to your destination.  It’s that simple!  There are over 1,800 versions of Monopoly with more being created every year.  Many of these boards are full of destinations that allow you to become a Monopoly Traveler.    

 Why become a Monopoly Traveler:     

The purpose of being a Monopoly Traveler is to experience new destinations. Some of these destinations you may be familiar with while others will be places you have never experienced before.  Using a specific Monopoly Board to determine your destinations increases the chance that you will experience a place you never knew existed and would not have planned on exploring if it weren’t for becoming a Monopoly Traveler.      

Each edition of Monopoly has locations that were chosen by somebody else for a specific reason.  Chances are that each location has significance and is worth experiencing.  Determining your travel destinations in this way helps eliminate your biases and become more of a pure explorer, open learning about places which will positively surprise you.  These locations will likely be of interest because they’re are on a board that you have chosen which means there where places of interest to you already on the Monopoly board.      

Surprise yourself and make the commitment!     

The Monopoly Traveler Concept is born:     

My wife (MT Karen) and I were traveling to Hawaii for a beautiful beach wedding.  There were many excursions such as snorkeling, fishing, and a Luau we wanted to experience while in Hawaii since we had never been there. One of these excursions was visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.  During our visit to the USS Arizona Memorial we entered a gift shop to look at souvenirs.  While browsing I came across a Monopoly Board of the National Parks.  I loved playing Monopoly while I was younger so this edition caught my attention.  While looking over the National Parks Monopoly box, I saw several destinations that I had heard about while growing up but never visited and would like to see ‘some day’.  You can imagine how often some day comes around.  As I was putting the box back I mentioned to MT Karen “Wouldn’t it be fun to visit all of the properties on this board?”  She smiled and said “uh huh”.  That was the end of the conversation for many years.     

Since that time our family was growing and our children were getting older.  That were a number of conversations about where we wanted to take the kids and what our wishes were for them to explore while growing up.  We firmly believe the things they learn in school have a larger impact if they get to experience teachings first hand.  A few years ago I looked at MT Karen one morning and told her I thought it was time to travel the National Parks Monopoly board.  We wanted the children to get a taste of many of the different areas of the United States so that they could experience so many new places that were both similar and different to their home.  Well, both MT Karen and I would get to do the same.  The Monopoly board provides more of a random collection of destinations than we would have chosen which accomplishes our goal of exploring different destinations across America.     

The Monopoly Travelers entering Grand Canyon National Park

Being Monopoly Travelers:    

We feel very fortunate to be able to live one of the goals we set out many years ago and have become National Park nerds.  While traveling to the parks that are on the board, we will often visit other parks that are somewhere nearby.  Being a Monopoly Traveler does require commitment in order to complete a board.  There are around 28 destinations on each board.  Some have more and others have less.  There are destinations that you will enjoy more than others but there is guarantee – you will have experiences that last a lifetime.  These experiences will provide bonds with those you choose to participate with and create memories that will bring a smile to your face.  It is these memories and bonds that make being a Monopoly Traveler gratifying.   

 

Welcome to Monopoly Traveler!    

We will share our experiences and what we learn over the course of our travels and invite you to share yours with us.  Let us know which Monopoly board you would like to travel!