Tag Archives: National Parks

A Return to the Volcano

It’s 4:27 am and I’m rolling over to shut off the alarm before it wakes anyone else wondering if I really want to get up and drive back into the park for another view of the volcano. After debating for a minute or so with myself I decide to get up and get dressed. Fortunately I had company as my cousin is with and decides to join me on another ridiculous morning adventure. When will we be here again to see this active volcano?

Fortunately one of the priorities of this trip was to witness the glow of lava during the night so we planned a one night stay just outside of the park in Volcano, HI making our early morning journey a fairly quick one. Within 15 minutes of leaving our lodge we were staring at the glowing coming from the top of the mountain. It looked like a large fire was burning off in the distance. Walking closer to Jagger Museum patio while scarfing down the last of a quick breakfast we could see the glow intensify as smoke continuously billowed from the caldera.

The volcano glowing under the moonlight

Over the next hour or so I just kept taking photographs of this almost unreal sight. In the above photo you can see a few stars along with the moon shining high above the volcano although it appears more like a star in this picture. Eventually I realized there was lava spatter erupting just above the rim from time to time. Seeing lava was something I hoped to accomplish while visiting Hawaii but the accessible flows had stopped a few days prior making it unlikely to spot and yet here was actual lava. The whole concept of standing on top of this mountain watching an active volcano spitting out lava seemed almost more of a dream than a fortunate reality. This was something I never imagined I would do during my life and here I was witnessing the continued creation of this island with my own eyes.

Lava erupting from the lava lake at the top of Kilauea

Daylight began to break across the horizon reducing the glow from the lava lake while my cousin and I realized just how much we were shivering as it was quite cool in the night air. It didn’t help that I wasn’t properly dressed for being at a higher elevation for an extended time only wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. Definitely worth getting up a little early to see!

Daylight entering the sky around Kilauea

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

There was one day set aside to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so not a great deal of time. Making things a little less interesting was rain at the top of Kilauea making it difficult to see much and decreasing our motivation to venture too far from the car. Still we were determined to do all that we could on this final National Park adventure. Arriving mid-morning our first destination was the Kilauea Visitor Center to learn a little about this area and the active volcanoe we were standing on. Looking over the exhibits explaining what was creating this mountain and the surrounding new land along with plants and animals inhabiting it brought us to lunchtime. There really wasn’t a good place to eat nearby that we knew of plus our plan was for to have a picnic while taking in some amazing views. The rain outside indicated we needed to make other arrangements so looking over the park we found some possible places to sit and eat under dry skies at the end of Chain of Craters Road which was next to the ocean and away from the rain at a lower elevation.

Holei Sea Arch created by the ocean carving out lava rock

After a short break eating, it was time to explore the coast in front of us a little and work our way back up to the summit of the volcano. Just looking out over the ocean was beautiful with the blue water and waves crashing against the shore. Examining the shoreline closer, which is really a cliff plummeting into the water made from a lava flow in 1971 which has been eroding ever since, we discovered a sea arch nearby. An interesting structure protruding from the cliff defying the brutal ocean waves which continually beat against it. Looking even closer the designs throughout this cliff wall made some interesting patterns and colors from all of the different layers of lava flowing at different times binding itself together to form new ground. You can make some of this out in the very top photograph.


Exploring a lava flow just under the clouds

A little bit of time to explore this cliff wall and stare into the sea and we began to ascend back up the mountain towards the smoldering volcano summit. Along the way we stopped to explore some of these lava flows just below the clouds more closely finding different types of lava formations. It was some much fun and amazing to see the different patterns and colors created from lava which flowed 45 years ago. Some has smoother edges more like a mud flow might have while other lava created sharper rocks that, from a distance, appear like dark, rich soil to grow crops in. This is not the case as there is almost nothing growing on it still after 45 years of inactivity.

What looks like a great, rich soil is lava rocks created from a lava flow

Returning to the car we continued higher up the mountain and soon became enveloped in clouds followed by rain. We wanted to see the popular Thurston Lava Tube which is a cave created by flowing lava at one time. Bravely we donned raincoats and ventured out into the rain to explore this cave. With soaked shoes we entered this tropical cave feeling like we were entering something out of the movie Jurassic Park. Hoping for a dry place we found water dripping from the ceiling and large puddles across the floor. Fortunately the floor was lit up so you could make you way through this portion of the lava tube avoiding many of these puddles. Still it was an eerie experience to know large volumes of lava flowed through here not all that long ago to make this and this mountain is still an active volcano.

Thurston Lava Tube

Making our way back to the car having been thoroughly soaked by rain and standing water we continued on to the top of the volcano to catch a glimpse of the large lava lake. Nearing the crater there were steam vents all around trying to alert us to the fact that there is hot lava close by. Still we drove on until arriving at the Jaggar Museum which stands at the side of the crater looking into this volcano. The clouds were covering this mountain making it near impossible to see anything so we headed inside to explore more exhibits and learn about this area. After some time looking things over the clouds cleared a little revealing more details of the mountain summit so I headed outside to look around. Shortly after getting outside there was a large clap of thunder. Excited to see a storm I scanned all around looking for lightning but found none. And then another clap of thunder and I decided seeking shelter might be a good idea. Once inside a ranger told us that it was not thunder we were hearing but rocks moving inside the volcano crater. That was kind of cool to hear and yet a little unsettling at the same time that there are large enough rocks moving to create a sound like that.

Top of the Kileaua Volcanoe

Unfortunately there was no erupting lava to be seen on this cloud filled day and the active lava flow had stopped flowing a couple of days before we arrived. It was a little disappointing to go all the way to Hawaii and visit an active volcano and not have the opportunity to witness actual lava with our own eyes and feel the heat protruding off of it. In a last ditch effort to see some lava I did return another time which I will write about later.

The Game is Complete!

A few weeks ago we made our final Monopoly National Parks adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to complete a journey which began almost nine years ago. It’s hard to believe we were actually able to complete this goal of visiting 28 parks in that time frame.

Hawaii Volcanoes Entrance Sign

On the road to this entrance sign it was difficult to pay attention to driving as I often caught myself reminiscing over past adventures that all began at Badlands National Park where our two girls first became Junior Rangers and we all began to see the luxury of our National Parks. Once the final signature had been obtained we were congratulated by those around us in the visitor’s center but the fact that this game was now completed didn’t really sink in at first. In fact I think there was probably more sadness than sense of accomplishment because we are now without plans for another family adventure. It’s a weird, empty feeling that I’m not sure how to grasp. There’s always been another place to plan and prepare for.

The final signature on our National Parks Monopoly Board

While our board of adventures was complete there was a small piece to add in order to make our journey full circle. That was to visit Pearl Harbor. More specifically to re-enter the gift shop there 15 years later with our children to the place where this whole thing actually began. It was in this very place that Karen and I first discovered the National Parks Monopoly board and this idea of visiting each place was conceived. Only this time there were four of us to complete this list of incredible adventures.

Gift Shop at Pearl Harbor

The End!

Craters of the Moon

At least that’s what they thought before people actually traveled to the moon. Craters of the Moon National Monument received it’s name from the volcanic rock and volcanic cones blanketing this area of Idaho appearing to look like what scientists believed the surface of the moon to look like. Because of this, lunar training took place at this place preparing for going to the moon’s surface. After landing on the moon it was realized how inaccurate that belief was.

Lava rock covering much of the landscape

This unique landscape in Eastern Idaho is a result of volcanic eruptions 2,000 and 4,000 years ago leading to the possibility that another eruption could occur at anytime again if the cycle were to continue. Nothing to worry about yet though as there will likely be signs of an eruption well before it actually occurs. These special rock formations can only be found here and in Hawaii within the United States with Idaho being the easier place to see such volcanic formations.

Inside a lava tube

Ice inside one of the lava tubes

Probably the most amazing part is the vast tunnels called lave tubes created by lava flowing under hardened volcanic rock. Several are large enough for people to walk inside and feel like they’re in a huge cave similar to Mammoth or Wind caves but being just a short distance below the surface allowing natural light to illuminate much to the path. Another interesting piece to these lava tubes is the cold temperatures inside. While visiting the scorching heat outside was near 100 degrees F. Once submerged into these caves, the temperature dropped rapidly enough to maintain ice on the cave floor. A nice natural air conditioning as there are no trees to provide shade near these tubes.

Peering into a cinder cone

Another fascinating feature of Craters of the Moon are being able to look inside these volcanic cones called cinder cones. To be able to see deep into these relatively small volcanoes is quite interesting. Even though they are capped after their eruptions you can still imagine lava surging out of them blanketing the surrounding landscape scorching what may have been their growing. Amazingly even though it has been 2,000 years since the last eruption there is little plant growth covering this lave. Of course receiving very little rain could have a lot to do with this characteristic preserving these formations. Still a few plants have been able to persevere in this harsh climate.

Flowering among the lava rock

Night skies provide amazing views into the universe with this national monument, being an international dark sky park, if you’re able to remain awake for it to show it’s full splendor.

A grand view of the night sky

Little Bighorn? Which is it?

Actually it’s both because this National Monument is located next to the Little Bighorn River which flows into the Bighorn River which hopefully makes more sense. This was one of the few remaining destinations on our National Parks Monopoly board which we visited recently. This is an interesting but solemn place memorializing a battle between Lt. Col. Custer with his Calvary and 5 different Indian tribes taking place over June 25th and 26th, 1876 as well as the location of Custer National Cemetery.

Warriors riding into battle

This battle was won by many different Indian tribes working together led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to defeat the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry in a final victory before being forced onto reservations a few short years later. Photos above and below show a beautiful memorial to this battlefield where Indian tribes came together at this location for one cause – preserving and remembering their way of life. It’s sad and unfortunate that this battle had to take place due to the greed of those further east over control of the land and it’s resources, but if it hadn’t happened in 1876, I’m quite certain it would have happened at some point in a desire to possess land by those with wealth and power.

Inside the circular memorial honoring each tribe contributing to this battle

Little Bighorn is a popular National Monument with more people entering hear than I’ve seen at other National Monuments of this size.When asking about this popularity, as this was not the only battle between the U.S. Army and Indians, the response was increased attention due to the high profile people involved such as Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse along with this is the only battle that has markers in the exact location where each person died during the battle. Additionally it is a National Cemetery so there are visitors seeking out those buried there.

Stone momument honoring a fallen Indian warrior


After this battle was over, those who survived buried those who died where they were found a placed markers so each persons location which is unique. These people have since been moved to different burial locations but the markers have remained and been replaced with the inscribed stones seen in the photo above and below. Red are for Indians and white for U.S. Calvary. There are far more white markers throughout the park than red ones reinforcing how one sided this battle actually was. This gives historians and visitors a more detailed map of what took place on this battlefield over two days.

The battlefield with markers for each person killed


Excited to begin our Spring Break adventures, we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico on a warm spring like day in mid March headed to Petroglyph National Monument. This National Park is a smaller park in Albuquerque established to preserve the rock drawings created hundreds of years ago. This was our second Monopoly board excursion with much to see and learn.

Walking through Petroglyph National Monuments enjoying the snow capped mountains behind

Petroglyph has a number of short hiking trails which bring you near many of the drawings carved into volcanic rock by people living in this area long, long ago and a modest visitors center to provide more information of this area and its formation. We took in a few of these hikes while enjoying the warmth on this bright, sunny afternoon with mountains lining the horizon. A great day to be here, especially since when I returned a week later it was to snow and ice blanketing many parts of this area.

Studying on of the petroglyphs

Most of the hikes wonder around and through rocks and what must younger people do when approaching rocks? Well they must be climbed of course. Before allowing them to touch a rock we tried to find any petroglyphs so they would risk damage even though these rock drawings have been there for hundreds of years and likely have been climbed over numerous times before.

If there are rocks around, they must be climbed

While hiking we would come upon a petroglyph which was interesting but it seemed like a bunch of kids were let loose in the park with sticks or rocks and told to draw on the rocks. How did we know if the drawings were 5 days old or 500 years? It was hard to know in most cases so we had to just believe these have been there for a long time. We were amazed at how well preserved they were given how long many have been here although I’m very poor at analyzing them to figure out what they may be showing so well preserved or not, I couldn’t really decide what they were portraying. Most of the petroglyphs were simple shapes to depict and animal, bird, or person with some being more intricate to show a particular type of person or event. Seeing these rock drawings in person provided some great historical education to think back on when traveling to different places.

Canyon De Chelly

Canyon De Chelly was a National Park we haven’t heard of before and a brief search before visiting basically informed us that it is a canyon in Arizona. It may not be largely publicized because of that other little canyon in Arizona called The Grand Canyon. Canyon de Chelly is a beautiful park where the floor is still in use today by the Navajo for farming as this park is part of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Canyon De Chelly

We enjoyed exploring this National Park as it is a beautiful place amongst the Colorado Plateau with the uniquely carved out canyons and amazing rock formations all made out of red tinted stone. There are numerous overlooks surrounding this park each providing a great view of canyon and surrounding area. The longer you look at the rocks you begin to see more and more details such as stone carved by the natural elements, rock stacked together creating layers upon layers highlighted by different colors, and areas where the rocks have fallen away from the cliffs created caves.

Spider Rock

There is one designated trail that allows you to hike into the canyon without trespassing on Navajo lands at the bottom so we decided to take advantage of that opportunity. There are tours available led by Navajo guides as they are the only ones allowed to bring people down into the canyon outside of this trail.

Hiking into the canyon

The trail takes about 15 – 20 minutes as you wind back and forth among the stones descending about 600 feet to the bottom. Along this hiking trail there are tunnels and caves providing some great locations for people to escape the elements. They also made great additions to the scenery throughout the canyon. Once at the bottom you get a very different perspective of this stone maze. There’s a better understanding of how tall these cliffs are and how large this canyon is. Plant diversity becomes apparent as many areas are dry providing an environment for cactus to grow while near the river running along the bottom gives moisture for trees and other plants.

Some of the caves carved into the canyon walls

At the end of the trail you can explore one of the areas cliff dwellers inhabited at one time. The structures are kept behind a fence in order to preserve them but they are still interesting to see and makes it a little easier to imagine what it must have been like living in this canyon before the conveniences of horses and vehicles. What was it like to create multiple level buildings climbing up cliffs into large caves? These cliff dwellings were an unexpected surprise for us as we explored Canyon De Chelly National Monument.

Cliff dwellings up close


Looking Back

Our First Monopoly Adventure in South Dakota 2009

As I was looking back over this past year I looked at some photos from the past several years, some of which were from our first Monopoly travels to the Badlands in South Dakota. This has definitely reminded me of how much the kids have grown since we began our National Park adventures not all that long ago. This brings a number of different feelings as I’m sure many parents experience.

First, a huge smile to my face remembering the places we’ve explored together as a family and the stories there are about each one. Then a little bit of sadness enters because we can never go back to those ages with the kids and all that are left of those times are the pictures and memories. As I’m reminded of the changes that have occurred I begin to think about the changes that will be coming as we have only eight spaces remaining on our Monopoly National Parks board out of twenty-eight total spaces.

The end of these family adventures is nearing and I’m wanting time to slow down because our last trip is supposed to be to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which coincides with the oldest daughter graduating from high school. From that point I expect our family to change as she begins to venture out on her own making family vacations more challenging to complete. As I envision entering our final park and stopping to take the requisite photo by the sign I begin to well up a little and feel as though I can’t get out of the car to get that last photo as my girls will be pretty much all grown up. Even writing this now is more challenging due to my emotions. I made the mistake one time of looking up images of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and saw a photo of the entrance sign making these visions all that more real for me.

USS Constitution 2011

We have been very fortunate to have these adventures and share them with several family members and friends along the way. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to explore so many areas of the United States with my children and watch as they grow up and learn about these parks and places as well as they get to learn more about what each of them likes and doesn’t like and begins to explore themselves. Fortunately I have eight more parks to share with them and watch them continue to grow more.

As I look over these photos I’m very proud of our family for what we’ve done and tried and learned. There is no question in my mind these Monopoly Adventures are worth what we’ve put into them and some of the trade offs we’ve made to accomplish our goals so far. I’m hopeful we are able to complete the last parts of our board without too many difficulties, but not too quickly. OK, time to look ahead into 2015!

Exploring the Statue of Liberty 2014

Re-living American History–Valley Forge

Living Accomodations at Valley Forge

Valley Forge was an encampment used during the American Revolutionary War for the winter of 1777-1778 just outside of Philadelphia. There was no battle here so it may seem a little unclear as to why this was turned into a national park. What’s so significant about Valley Forge? Valley Forge marked the turning point in the war because the army was able to train and learned how to fight as a unified army under General George Washington. Without the use of our National Parks Monopoly board we may have never taken the opportunity to explore Valley Forge National Historical Park and missed learning about this important place in United States history.

Ovens to Prepare Food

We were fortunate to be joined by some friends while exploring Valley Forge which provided a different way to look at the Revolutionary War as we learned about this Continental Army encampment. One of those friends is British bringing a very different point of view and a new perspective on this war. I had never thought about the war from the British view which added to the interest while learning about Valley Forge. Seeing how the soldiers lived and everything they had to endure was quite interesting.

Living Space Inside the Soldiers Huts

These soldiers were only in Valley Forge for six months. In that time they had to build shelter, fortify the area from attack, and train all without adequate supplies, food, and clothing. How many Americans today would accept these conditions? If it meant freedom? I think there are a great many that would sacrifice everything they had to if it meant gaining freedom. There are many that do that in today’s military for the protection of our country and for other’s freedom. I’m humbled to think of these people and the strength of the United States even when it seems there are a great many differences separating this country.

Fortifying Valley Forge

Knowing how these soldiers were living brought the question of how were the British soldiers living? Did they have equally bad supply of food and clothing? Before Valley Forge the Continental troops were relatively untrained so the British were looking for a way to win the war quickly and likely thought it should be relatively easy. I’m sure their troops were not desiring to be in America having to continue this fighting even though there was likely a great pride being a part of the greatest military in the world at that time. I assume their living quarters consisted of buildings they had taken over and turned into housing giving them an advantage since they didn’t have to take time to construct new structures.

General George Washington's Headquarters

It was educational to see General Washington’s living quarters which were rented for the winter. They were modest but still substantially nicer than the huts built to house the troops. Most of the huts would house twelve soldiers in each one. Talk about cramped quarters. These all had to be built during the winter. Imagine all of the trees and stones needed to do this in such a short period of time. I’m sure there was very little time spent in these huts as there was food to get, security to provide, and training to complete while maintaining equipment. Each day wondering when the next battle would take place and where that would be. By the end of their stay at Valley Forge I’m sure the troops were eager to move on and engage in the next battle. You certainly cannot win a war by staying in a camp living without enough supplies.

A Place to Sleep

Re-living American History–Gettysburg


Looking Over the Battlefield of Gettysburg

The American Civil War was one of the pieces of history that interested me the most growing up. In particular, the battle of Gettysburg. After deciding to go on these Monopoly Adventures and receiving this National Parks board, I was very happy to see Gettysburg on it as one of our destinations. Leaving Washington D.C. towards this national park I had surprisingly mixed emotions. This is a place I wanted to visit so there was some excitement but at the same time there was a desire to not go to these historic battlefields. I didn’t really want to see the location of this famous three day battle which took so many lives and wounded so many others both physically and mentally.

The Battlefields

Sometimes doing things we don’t want to do helps us to get perspective and gain life experience and so we continued on to this place forever written into history. Upon arriving there were three ranger programs that I absolutely wanted to hear covering each day of the battle between the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers. The first was about to begin so we made a quick stop at the visitor center and then off to the meeting place of the program covering July 1st when these two armies first engaged each other. It was interesting to learn where each army was located before, during, and after their different engagements and how this Gettysburg battle changed as more and more soldiers arrived to this area. We started to see the different strategies of each side and the successes and failures as fighting continued.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial

Even after this first ranger program, I still had a difficult wanting to stay at Gettysburg National Park. There wasn’t a lot of interest to continue to experience more as I was having difficulty imagining all that was happening during these battles. We continued to drive to different areas of the park and get a closer look at the landscapes these armies traveled through and engaged one another at trying to become more interested and educated. It was time for lunch and we were all getting hungry so we began to head for town and find a place to eat before the next ranger program. On the way I wanted to quickly go through on other area. It turned out to be a one way drive that went on for several miles with many different stops.

Cannon Demonstrations

There were a couple of places we got out of the car and read a few posted signs while taking pictures and then moved on. Being in a little bit of a hurry, I was driving faster to see the sights and then get lunch. Getting a little frustrated at how long this drive was and how much time it was going to take to get off this one way street, we came upon a small encampment with people dressed in Confederate uniforms walking around canons. Unsure if we should stop or not we decided to park the car and at least check out what was happening. As it turned out, this was a demonstration showing the loading and firing of Civil War canons and the different types of shots that could be used against an opposing army. We had no idea that this was going to happen and felt fortunate to be able to witness these cannons as they were loaded and fired three times.

Different Types of Ammunition

This event that we accidentally encountered made a tremendous difference in our time at Gettysburg. Seeing and hearing these cannons fired with the soldiers around them allowed us to finally imagine these battles going on between the north and south. The load booms as they were ignited and then all of the smoke billowing from the end of each canon set a very different and real tone for our day. Without these live cannons, our time here would have been significantly less meaningful and educational. Once the demonstrations had concluded it was off to find a quick bite to eat and then on to the second ranger program.


So much more was gained from this second informational talk because now we had an idea of the surrounding landscape and how these armies engaged one another. Plus we could imagine these battles taking place thanks to the cannon demonstrations. After a short time it began to feel like we were actually there during the war. After this program completed we drove around the park for a while and eventually arrived at the third program covering July 3rd of the Gettysburg battle. I was very interested in hearing how the final day of fighting in Gettysburg went and seeing the ground these soldiers engaged upon. This talk began and about half way through we began to get wet with heavy rainfalls moments away so we left and headed for the car hoping to stay dry. That didn’t happen. We decided to head for the visitor’s center once again to get our Monopoly board signed and then be on our way.

Signage used to Describe Different Parts of the Battle of Gettysburg.

As I continue to reflect on our day experiencing Gettysburg, I wondered what it would have been like to live in Gettysburg and have fighting all around my house for three days. To witness these armies fighting and the pain and death that followed in a place that is suppose to be relatively safe – your home. I also realized how important adding times to these battles were to add to the realism of the war. Stating that the fighting began at 8am at a certain location and by 1 pm the fighting started in this area here and by 3:30 pm this army was retreating or this army was advancing to here really had an impact on me. It made things so much more imaginable and something I could relate to.  Gettysburg is a place of great interest and sadness now and an experience I won’t forget.

Here Comes the Rain