Tag Archives: National Parks

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

A New Edition

FrontI was browsing for some images for an upcoming post and ran across a new edition of Monopoly National Parks. Apparently this version was released sometime in 2012. You can get a little more information at World of Monopoly. This is a site dedicated to Monopoly. The history and multitude of editions published by Hasbro and other licensed distributors. Way more information than I need in a single sitting but interesting to browse over.


They certainly went further in this edition than previous ones in that the chance and community chest spots have been transformed into historic sites and battlefield parks. These areas had been left original in earlier editions however the cards themselves pertained to the national parks. In addition, the middle spots are now filled with activities available in many of the parks – hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, and river rafting. The four corners have been left as original which I believe in required by Hasbro in order to be a licensed edition.

Looking over many of the parks used on this board, there are several that we’ve been to and several more we will be going to, and a few not on our current list. Those not on our list are parks I would eventually like to get to someday as the photos and information I’ve read are very intriguing. Overall if I was starting out and choosing a Monopoly Board to travel this would definitely be at or near the top of the list. This being written, We’re going stick to the first edition as we are almost half complete with it. The only difficult spot on this entire board is the Campfire violation. I would probably have to break my rule trying to complete each location on the board minus the corners as there is no interest in a campfire violation.


Check it out for yourself. I did see it available on Amazon.

Backpacking Tips Continued….


-Take a moment to realize how little you actually need to live while you’re hiking and surviving on only the things you can carry on your back. There are so many distractions in life that we begin to believe are necessary filling houses with so much stuff to occupy our time. It’s nice to live in a simple manner if only for a few days. These few days of simple living can also serve as reminder to appreciate the comforts of home.

-One aspect of taking a backpacking trip that no one mentioned to me ahead of time was training for it. Adding a 40 pound backpack to your weight instantly puts a lot of stress on your body especially while walking up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and any other obstacles on the trail. Some methods of training include putting on the pack and running, using a Stairmaster while wearing the pack, or just go hiking on local trails with your pack on. You make think this is not necessary or be a little concerned about what people are thinking as they see you training with a backpack but it will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your backpacking experience. After completing the first hiking trip I entered a conversation with more experience backpackers on what they do to get ready for the physical endurance required. Two of these included ex Marines that agreed backpacking is tougher than the training in the military regarding carry packs. In the military training may include running with a 40 pound pack for 10 miles but these miles are on flat, smooth surfaces. The trail is very rarely flat and smooth!


-Take a few moments and just be. What does this mean? Sit or stand still and close your eyes to listen to all the activity that is going on around you. The breeze moving leaves, critters rustling around, birds fluttering, a deer off in the distance. After a few minutes open your eyes to the amazing vista you came to visit. Just listen and feel yourself breathing: your heart pumping, lungs inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, your muscles aching reminding you of the feats your accomplishing. Realize how few people actually get to experience this solitude of the wilderness. People call these the simple pleasures in life. I believe these are reminders of the great and necessary things in life.

I hope these tips help you understand what is involved in a backpacking trip so that you are better prepared and most of all enjoy your first experience.

Isle Royal 2012 211_thumb[18]

To read more about my first experience check out these articles:

An Easy National Parks Trip?

Isle Royale Preparations Update

A Night on Isle Royale…or Three

Some Tips for First Time Backpackers into the Wilderness

Hitting the Trail for the First Time

If you’ve never been on an overnight backpacking trip before but have the urge to see what it’s all about like I did, here’s some tips from my first experience.

-Every backpacker is looking for 3 things from their gear:

1. Quality to last

2. Lightweight for easier carrying

3. Inexpensive

Pick 2 out of 3 because getting all 3 is very unlikely

What?! I Have to Fit All of This Into My Backpack?

-Realize that for your first time out your are going to be carrying a lot of weight for a couple of reasons. First, you will most likely over pack for your trip simply because you have never done this before and are unsure of exactly what you will need and what you can live without. Being caught in a rainstorm without rain gear or running out of food during a hike are not going to make your trip fun. Second, acquiring lightweight gear is something that takes a number of trips to accomplish due to the expense of it so for the first time you will likely have equipment that is reduced cost but heavier to carry. Some options for finding good lightweight gear include borrowing it from someone you know that has it or renting gear from an outfitter.

Duct Tape Fix

-bring a partial roll of duct tape. This stuff comes in a variety of colors and patterns now instead of just the good old grey to make it a little more fun to use. Ultimately you want this as it can be a versatile fix it tool. If something breaks or rips on your tent, clothing, or hiking boots duct tape can get you through your trip. In a pinch you could make a rope out of it by twisting long pieces of tape together or use it as a medical bandage.


-when planning your meals, try to plan a couple of meals that don’t require cooking each day especially if that day requires a lot of hiking. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, you save on fuel. Second, and probably more importantly you save water and time. Cooking a meal requires water to cook with and clean with. Cleaning is the more water and time intensive task. Once everyone is finished eating a warm meal the dishes need to be washed with the wash and rinse water needing to be strained away from water or trails in an effort to leave no trace for wildlife and other hikers to find. This requires filtering more water to clean with. All in all cooking a meal requires time and energy that can be spent on the trail. I took the time to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my first backpacking trip. Next time I will plan on more breakfast bars and snacks with a warm meal only once a day for some of those days. In addition, food to be cooked generally adds more weight to your pack.

How Does This Stove Work?

-Plan a practice backpacking trip a few weeks before the real thing. Go to a nice campground that’s not to far from a store or restaurant in case you forgot to pack something preferably with a river or lake so you can test out your water purification methods. Your back yard doesn’t count because it is to easy to go in the house to get stuff. This accomplishes a number of things. It forces you to have all of your equipment you think you’ll need with enough time to make adjustments before going somewhere with nothing available except what your carrying. This gives you practice in real conditions with your equipment to make sure it all works the way you want it to and figure out how to best use it. Also, this is on opportunity to figure out how to pack your backpack and how much it’s going to weigh. The most important thing this does is give you confidence in your ability to successfully prepare for a backpacking trip in the solitude of the wilderness.