Tag Archives: National Parks

The Last Fireworks at Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

It was the best of times …. uh … it was a cool and dreary day at ….. it was the worst of times … Let’s go back to that cool and dreary thing. It was July 3rd and the sun had not awakened yet as we were quickly getting up and packing the car for a day at Mt. Rushmore. We had heard about the Independence Day Fireworks being some of the best in the U.S. as they are broadcast in many different areas of the U.S. and even internationally and were eager to get our spot to enjoy a day of festivities.

Mt. Rushmore Entrance

Daylight was arriving to the Black Hills of South Dakota as we were driving towards this patriotic destination. Friends that had been there in years past for this celebration warned us to get there early or there would be no place to park or sit. Finally we passed the entrance sign to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and began to wonder where all of the cars were. There were plenty of indications that a huge crowd was expected but no lines. Could we really be early enough to have avoided much of the traffic? Enlightenment quickly arrived as we neared the entrance and saw that the only way to get into the park was from the other direction of which the line of vehicles went as far as we could see. We continued driving down the other side of the mountain passing stopped cars waiting to enter the memorial. Finally the end of the line appeared so all we had to do was turn around and get in line.

It was at this time that traveling with children reminding me of the frustrations that can occur as one of them blurted out “I have to go to the bathroom! Can we stop!?” Great! Every minute we delay getting in line reduces our chances of parking inside the park. Well, waiting as long as we were going to have to it was better to not take a chance so I pulled over by a gas station and let out the children and my wife to take care of this issue while I turned the car around and got in line. As the line started to move I began to grow nervous as our missing passengers hadn’t returned yet. As I continued to creep further and further away from the gas station I kept looking for Karen and the kids with no sign of them. The line was about to move forward around a corner when finally here they came. Success! The children were once again comfortable and we were all together again without giving up too many spaces in line.

Front and Center for the Celebration

It was just after 8 a.m. when we entered Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Park. Relieved that we would be parking inside the grounds it was time to find a parking spot and then move as quickly as possible to find a spot to sit for the day. After several minutes more we had landed in our place to park for the day and there was still plenty of room for more cars. Moving on towards the monument we were again stalled due to security screening. Nothing we could do about this so just wait for our turn. Besides, everyone else needed to do the same thing. As we waited there were plenty of things to look at such as a huge screen monitor to watch all the festivities on. This monitor took up an entire semi-trailer! I had never seen a screen that big. Now I wish I had taken a picture of it. Once through security (which was similar to airport security except you could bring coolers through with larger amounts of liquid) it was on to find our living quarters to enjoy the Independence Day festivities. We were fortunate to get prime seating (using our own camping chairs of course) staring directly at the monument.

The Monument Crying

The entire area was filled with fog keeping the sun from beating down on us. As the morning grew older we could see people setting up the fireworks display we had so eagerly anticipated. After sitting for about on hour rain began to fall. It was at this time we started questioning if we should stay. It appeared as though the rain could continue much of the day and possibly cancel any fireworks display. This was confirmed by periodic weather updates given by park rangers and those watching the radar on their phones. To make matters worse the rain was basically defined to this area of the mountain and just kept building for much of the morning. We decided that there had been plenty of time planning this event that we should stay so off to get rain ponchos and rain coats and wait it out. After being out in the rain for several hours we would take turns going through different buildings to see the displays and find a reprieve from the rain.

Setting up the Fireworks Display

Throughout the day there were many different activities planned including Native American dancing and ceremonies along with military aircraft flying over. Around the middle of the afternoon the rain slowed down and eventually stopped. Some of the aircraft flyovers had been canceled already but there were more scheduled and now that the rain had stopped their were indications that these could take place. The sky had began to clear and there was plenty of sun to dry us out and the hope for fireworks had returned making us extremely happy we decided to stay. As the daylight began to wane, so did the clear sky. Just in time fog had rolled into the mountains making it impossible to even see the monument let alone any fireworks. Our hopes of witnessing this spectacular display were once again dashed.

The B-1B Flyover

After a long day of waiting fireworks time had arrived. Unfortunately there was one problem! It was uncertain if we would be able see them. Time came and an announcement over the loudspeaker began to confirm our disappointment. They decided to test one of the shells to see how it would look. It was difficult to know if it was the firework or lightning as that is what if reminded me of. After this test the audience was asked if they should continue with the rest of the display. A loud resounding YES! was the crowds response. After a few more minutes the pyrotechnics display we were all waiting to see began. It reminding me of a mix of lightning and northern lights set to music. Once this had finished many members of the audience agreed that this was the best fireworks show we never got to see. As it turns out, this may also be the last Independence Day Fireworks display at Mt. Rushmore for some time to come. To read more about that go here ….

This was a day that tested our fortitude and rewarded our persistence with a unique light show created by humans and nature which will not be duplicated for a number of years if ever at Mt. Rushmore.

View From A Far

Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson with the Caribbean Waters Visable Through the Windows

On our last voyage to Southern Florida the main goal was to visit Everglades National Park. When planning a park trip we look at nearby national parks as well and in the process explored Biscayne National Park which we would never have gone to due to lack of knowledge about it. Another park that came up was Dry Tortugas National Park. This requires a boat ride or seaplane ride to get there as it is 70 miles off the coast of Key West . Due to the difficulty and expense in getting there we took it off the list. Having another opportunity this past winter we decided to plan a trip to Dry Tortugas if the weather was going to cooperate. This means warm, sunny, and low winds.

The Ferry Through a Window

I was in Ft. Lauderdale for a convention and decided to extend the trip for a couple more days. Near the end of the convention I started watching the weather forecasts a little closer and saw expected highs in the upper 70’s with minimal wind. It couldn’t possible get any better so off to Key West to catch the Yankee Freedom II for a 2 1/2 hour boat ride to Fort Jefferson. The morning starts early with boarding at 7:30 am in order to get to the island and back before sunset. We had a beautiful trip with plenty of sun although it was a touch cool requiring sweatshirts. During our voyage out to Dry Tortugas National Park we saw a ship with a long trail of white debris behind it. Turns out this was a crew working to recover items off a Spanish shipwreck. They were out on a weekend because of the calm water from lack of wind. It was certainly interesting to see an actual shipwreck recovery in process.

Arriving at Fort Jefferson

Finally we arrived in the Dry Tortugas! These are a chain of very small islands but extremely beautiful. Docking at Fort Jefferson we quickly got off the boat as there were only 4 hours to explore this place. First we wanted to snorkel for an hour or so in these tropical waters. For being tropical waters it sure took some time to get use to the cool water. There were some great things to see such as a conch slowly moving along the sandy bottom and some squid in the sea grass but very little coral. After swimming for some time we heading in a different direction and discovered the coral. While enjoying the fish swimming in amongst the coral I noticed we were being watched by a barracuda. I get a little nervous around these fish as they have a reputation for being a little aggressive and seeing the rows of teeth covering their mouth just adds to that reputation. Fortunately this fish just continued to move ahead of us. After this short time in the cool water we dried off and got something to eat before touring Fort Jefferson.

The Barracuda

Fort Jefferson was constructed around the civil war and was one of the few southern locations aligned with the Union armies. This fort takes up almost the entire island and was built to house up to 2,000 soldiers however it was never completed. As the construction continued the island began to settle (sink) under the weight of all the bricks and other construction materials used. Prisoners were kept here and the most famous of those were 4 men convicted of helping in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is some fascinating history being preserved at Dry Tortugas National Park. I understand why this was placed under the national park system.

Fish and Seafan Coral

After learning about this fort and it’s history and exploring under the surface of the ocean it was time for the journey back to Key West. I would have liked to stay longer and take more time to explore but we did not plan for it on this trip. Camping is possible and would give more time for snorkeling and exploring the fort along with experiencing the peacefulness and solitude of the Dry Tortugas. This is one of the least visited national parks for obvious reasons. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend this opportunity!

Tropical Waters from Fort Jefferson

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.

New England Trip Re-Cap

Remembering Acadia

The first time I wrote about re-capping a trip I called it a post-mortem. Apparently that seemed a little to weird so I changed it to a re-cap. You could also call it trip analysis. What can go into a trip re-cap report? That depends on each traveler and what they want to gain out of the re-cap. I like to keep track of how much each trip costs us along with how many miles we traveled and how many pictures we took. I also try to record things that I can improve for the next trip to make it better as well as what worked well if there was something I tried differently.

A Great View During a Picnic

One of the things that I learned from our last trip was to pay closer attention to hotel location as compared to whatever sights we are planning on seeing. Our destination was Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Our hotel ending up being closer to the Miami International Airport which was at least 45 minutes from either of these parks. That cost us at least 1 ½ hours that we could have used to explore the park further. This time we learned that a flashlight is a good idea to have along (see An Evening Adventure at Acadia). Also, packing a soft sided cooler is helpful when exploring a National Park. This can be used to keep water or food cold. On a earlier adventure we figured out that buying a case of water early in the trip was useful and economical. Another thing learned at Acadia was that getting a meal ahead of time and bringing it with opens up some flexibility. There are a number of National Parks without options for eating and if you intend to spend more time than a few hours at theses parks than being able to stop at your leisure and grab something to eat allows for a longer adventure. In addition, most of the time what better place to have a picnic than in the presence of the scenery and sounds of a National Park.

On the Road Again

Some of the other data that I collected:

Miles covered in an airplane: 2,248

Miles driven: 1,639

Miles walked: 13

All of these miles were covered in 8 days. We slept well during the night in order to have the energy to explore the next day. The 8th day was strictly a van ride to the airport so no miles driven or walked so taking the miles driven or walked divided by 7 gives us 236 miles traveled in a day. No, our goal is not to go as many miles as possible in a day. The goal is to experience as much as we can while the opportunity to do is present. Also, we took 587 pictures.

Different Modes of Transportation

This reminds me. I didn’t even calculate the miles on the bikes.

The Conclusion of an Evening Adventure

The Beautiful Night Sky

We continued to descend as quickly as possible but that was slow going at the best because each step had to be felt before placing your full weight on your next step. A fork in the trail arrived and while I was pretty certain which direction to go, I did not want to end up making a very costly error so out came the lighter. Most of the time you would think of a lighter as a source for light because there is so little there. In complete darkness a lighter can blind you for a minute or two. After a little light near the sign indicating which way to go a little feeling of calmness fell over me and now time to continue on. Unfortunately it took another minute to go as my eyes needed to re-adjust to the darkness. Moving slower once again we came to a staircase built out of rocks. I recalled this part of the trail and knew that Karen should be at the bottom waiting – this is if she was still brave enough to be sitting in the dark forest. I was anticipating that she moved on to the car. There was just one problem, I had the only set of keys. What I believed to be the bottom of the stairs was approaching but I could not make out a bench and there certainly was no sign of Karen. I stopped and tried to get my baring’s but the feeling of being lost was creeping in. I could not find the direction of the trail and where to go next. Finally I decided that the best direction was to continue in the same direction we were already going.

An Airplane Streaking Across the Sky

Moving extremely slowly we I found more stairs to descend and in a short time the place we left Karen was in front of us. Still no sign of Karen though. I was pretty sure that she had returned to the vehicle. Maybe it was more hope that she had gone back. Only one way to find out – continue on. The trail was relatively flat at this point with few stones to trip over allowing us to move faster. FINALLY! THERE IT IS THE PARKING LOT! There may have been more whoops of joy if it were not for the welcoming words of Karen. O.K. so they were not as welcoming as scornful. The ensuing conversation does not need to be repeated here but I was still extremely glad to see her standing by the car.

Finding the Parking Lot

Kristy and Lysa have agreed on a new hiking rule since this – no hiking within 45 minutes of darkness. I believe we just need to bring flashlights next time. A good night hike can be a great experience. The next day the girls thought we should go back to bubble rock so mom could see it. What they didn’t realize is that mom had no interest what so ever to go back to that location after the less than positive experience the previous night. I believe this was a great learning experience for all of us and created an adventure we’ll never forget.

Where Everbody Knows Your Name…

Cheers on Beacon StreetWe arrived in Boston after a short delay in our flight and hit the ground running… I mean walking. Our goal was to get information about the Freedom Trail which is part of the National Park System and possibly see some of the sites on that trail. After quickly finding something to eat we were off and managed to visit a few sites including where the Boston Massacre happened and the oldest graveyard in Boston which opened in 1630. I was amazed at the detail engraved into headstones over 300 years ago.

These sites were closing down for the day so it was on to one of the other landmarks that was on our list:  Cheers. Or at least the bar that the TV show Cheers was modeled after. Fortunately this was within a few blocks of where we parked the car so there really was not a lot of walking involved. Obviously this is still quite a popular attraction as there were trolley loads of people coming to take their pictures by the Cheers sign. The original Bull & Finch Pub that was the model for the set used in the Cheers series is still downstairs however a replica set has been added along with a giftstore to where “Melvilles” would have been. It was great to see this in person after watching it in a number of Cheers episodes. I would never guessed it would be in the location it is with a lot of residential buildings and parks around it.

Off to explore more of the Freedom Trail…..

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!