Place of the Week

Click on the Place of the Week tab above here or the link on Mondays now for our national site of the week!

The national park system has 419 national areas including national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

Each week, that page on this blog will highlight one of the national areas and give you a link for more information. Check out this week’s place of the week and then come back on Monday for the next one!

Happy Monday!

National Park Week

National Park Week starts tomorrow, April 20th, and goes through the 28th this year! And to start this awesome week, all national parks have free admission tomorrow!

Each day this blog will highlight different aspects of the parks to celebrate this fun week!

Go and enjoy our amazing national parks!

First Visit to Yellowstone

Below please find a piece that I wrote in April of 2005 about our first trip to Yellowstone National Park. I decided to share it in honor of Yellowstone’s birthday coming up on Friday. (Please excuse any of the outdated cost information found in here as the piece is about 14 years old.) Enjoy!

—————————–

Unemployment equals time minus money. In 2002, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I faced a summer calendar randomly decorated with a handful of interviews, but mostly the dark black numerals stared back at us yelling out our available time.

One night at dinner early in the summer, Steve said, “Let’s do it. Let’s drive out to Yellowstone and go camping. What else do we have to do?”

A smirk of surprise hopped on my face and I replied, “Can we afford it? There’s gas, food, camping fees, and park fees.”

“When else in our lives will we be able to take off for a couple of weeks? Besides that, we have to pay for food and gas even if we stay in town.”

A few weeks later, we loaded up our Nissan Maxima with the essential camping gear, cooler of food, and maps in hand.

After several days of driving and making a few fun stops, we rolled into Yellowstone National Park. I had always heard about this park – the buffalo roaming all over; the bears surprising visitors randomly; the old times when rich people took the train and stayed in lodges; Old Faithful going off every 90 minutes; kids pointing at herds of elk; and the ability to gaze at millions of stars that ignite the nights.

From a distance, you could see the grand stone building standing high above all else in the area. The Roosevelt Arch seemed to wave us towards the park as we continued to drive closer. The Roosevelt Arch debuted as the first major entrance for Yellowstone at the north side. Before 1903, trains would bring visitors to Cinnabar, Montana, located a few miles northwest of Gardiner, Montana (just outside the northwest entrance of Yellowstone. People would climb onto horse-drawn coaches in Cinnabar and then ride to enter the park. In 1903, the railway finally came to Gardiner, and people entered through an enormous stone archway. Robert Reamer, a famous architect in Yellowstone, designed the immense stone arch for coaches to travel through on the way into the park. At the time of arch’s construction, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the park. He consequently placed the cornerstone for the arch, which then took his name. “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people” inscribed at the top of the Roosevelt Arch, which comes from the Organic Act of 1872, the enabling legislation for Yellowstone National Park.

After driving under the famous Arch, we pulled the Nissan up to the tollbooth-like station. A ranger donned in their usual Stetson hat and uniform greeted us hello and gave us our maps. Steve pressed lightly on the gas pedal and we crept further into Yellowstone National Park.

Around the next bend, a herd of about 50 elk strolled across the two-lane road. We paused in delight to witness such wildlife. The male antlers towered several feet in the air. The female elk guarded their young elk closely.

America created Yellowstone National Park, our first national park, in 1872. In 1873, 500 people visited America’s first national park. By 1888, Yellowstone hit a record number of 6,000 visitors. In 2004, 2,900,971 people journeyed to Wyoming to visit this park.

As we traveled through this park, I visualized who traveled here over 100 years ago and who traveled to this amazing this amazing area over the last century. Were these people all rich and loved to travel? Did any of them camp like us? How did they get around the park before the invention of automobiles? Questions swarmed my heard of the past while balancing my eyesight on the breathtaking views.

I tried to picture myself here if I visited the park in the late 1800’s. Would I be a hunter, trapper, or poacher as those who comprised the visitation demographics during that era? When Yellowstone first opened its doors, people could hunt within the national park. Today, rangers will arrest people for hunting in efforts to help preserve animal life. The other types of visitors back then included the wealthy train visitors. Few people could afford the $116.75 train ticket from Omaha, Nebraska to Corinna, Montana in 1873.

Local residents of nearby towns also made random visits to the area using their own wagons, horses, carriages, or pack animals. Other visitors included military officers from not only the United States military, but also from European countries’ military forces. I imagined riding a wagon or escorting my military husband back then. I do know that Yellowstone really struggled with a target audience and sustaining visitation rates over the early years. Visitation numbers fluctuated throughout this time.

As Steve and I continued to drive through Yellowstone, I noticed the other cars originated from all states. We must have seen at least 30 states. Their automobile license plates looked as diverse as this landscape around us.

I had always envisioned the early visitors only stayed at the lodges. However, in 1905, visitors split down the middle between camping and lodging. Nearly half of the visitors at this time camped during their Yellowstone visit.

Over 80 years ago, Yellowstone allowed automobiles (like our little Nissan) to enter the park in 1915. With the usage of cars, an increase of visitation occurred that created another need in the park – lodging for all these new visitors. Democracy came to Yellowstone in 1926 with the creation of the Lake Lodge. Prior to this time, visitors only had the options of the luxurious Lake Hotel or rustic tent camps. Lake Lodge offered guests intermediate style of lodging.

In order for the park to promote accommodations and also reach out to all classes, they created three-tiered system of accommodation including: 1. hotel or chalet system for sleeping and dining; 2. a system of permanent camps where the traveler slept in tents, but ate in dining rooms; and 3. facilities for individual campers who rented a tent and cooked their own food. Also, the park suggested a “village” prototype to congregate the needs for travelers into local areas called villages. In addition to the lodging changes, the automobile brought new demographics to the park – the middle class. Essentially, these three options targeted the three classes of visitors of the time – upper, middle, and lower.

In 1916, the government created the National Park Service (NPS) and offered a concerted, business-like approach to the operation of the national park system. At this time, NPS took Yellowstone to a new level and the visitors responded in person each year.

In the mid-1920’s, the park looked into creating a four-tier level of accommodations targeting hotel-type rooms, lodge rooms (formerly called the permanent camps), cabins, and campgrounds. The addition of the cabins helped bring another type of visitor to the park and gave all visitors more options as the total visitation numbers grew throughout the years.

As you look at the other visitors, you notice the diversity immediately. Some people come with very little and camp very cheap. Other people spend the big bucks and stay at a suite in one of the lodges.

While lodging affected visitors’ purse strings back in the 20’s, today, visitors need much more money to make this visit. When we visited the park, it cost a family $20 entry fee (for a 7 day pass). Campgrounds averaged $17 per night for tent site or $31 for an RV site. Lodging rates varied based on the types. Cabins run from basic at $45 to $164 with a hot tub per night. Rooms in the lodges run from $75 (without a bath) to $161 per night. Suites cost between $301-385 per night. We could only afford the tent site on our minimal budget at this time.

According to the Grewell Report, a family of four will spend $500 – $982 per person on just gasoline, lodging, and food to visit Yellowstone coming from Washington DC. A family of four from Denver, Colorado will spend between $191 – $341 per person just covering the gasoline, lodging, and food. Both of these estimates allow for only two days of recreation in the park.

According to the American Automobile Association, the average family spends $167 per day on a vacation. Yet, 2.9 million people (like me) visit Yellowstone a year. A recent Family Fun magazine survey rated Yellowstone as the third most popular family vacation destination after Walt Disney World and Yosemite National Park. Gaming and cruise industries have increased in popularity over recent times. As we drove through the park, Yellowstone did not seem to suffer from lack of visitors.

With little money in our pockets and no thoughts of a casino or cruise ship, we pulled into our campsite surrounded by tons of skyscraper tall lodge poll pine trees. I glanced at our fellow campers at the Canyon Campground as we set up our not-so-cheap tent. The other camp spots all had tents (most cost in the several hundred dollar range). You could see the camping stoves, sleeping bags, hiking boots, hiking poles, fly-fishing rods, and camping attires (many with brand names) and realize that it’s not cheap stuff, but yet still cheaper to camp than stay at a lodge or hotel room somewhere else.

A man in the campsite north of came over and asked “where are you from?” We replied Chicago. He smiled and told us that his family (and points to his wife and daughter lounging by a campfire) lives in Michigan. We bonded and chatted for the next several minutes about the beauty of this area. We briefly talked about the irony of two Midwest campers camping side-by-side, but then talked further about whether it even is ironic.

For the next two weeks, we hiked and explored as much of Yellowstone as we could on this trip. We tiptoed around a huge bison on a walking path over active geysers. We listened to ranger campfire talks. We hiked to see waterfalls. We fly-fished in the rivers. We cooked smores over our campfire. We pretended that life in Chicago did not exist. I pretended to be a 1920 visitor leaving the big city and entering the wilderness. I hope that I saw the Yellowstone that they saw back then.

Yellowstone once was and continues to represent an American dream for its visitors. The park represents more than wildlife, hikes, or beauty. It represents a place where people (of all backgrounds and incomes) respect nature and admire it. A place where crime feels rare compared to the big cities. A place where people do not mind traffic jams because traffic means a large animal to witness and photograph. It is a place where people say hello to each other (yes, to strangers). A place where canned beer, hot dogs, smores, and campfires serve as nightly entertainment. A place where rangers encourage learning and even adults do it too. This trip reminded me of values and interests.

About a year after this trip, Steve proposed to me at another national park, Shenandoah National Park. After discussing and exploring where to get married, we tied the knot in Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south, the Grand Teton National Park. We even named our first dog after the park rangers calling her Ranger.

All of America’s national parks create beauty and magic. Yet, America created something pretty special in 1872 when it designated Yellowstone as our first national park.

100 Years of Grand Canyon National Park

Happy 100 to the Grand Canyon National Park! President Teddy Roosevelt urged Americans to protect this great canyon, “What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see.”

I have had the opportunity to visit this national park two times (so far).  It’s on our list to take the two children there, so we will be back.

I first visited the Grand Canyon National Park many years ago after finishing the 8th grade and went with my grandma. Coming from the Midwest, I had never seen this grandness (had to use the word in this blog at least once!)!  As a child you often feel like the center of everything and I remember seeing this canyon and realizing how little people are in this great world and what wonders exist out there to see and experience.

Many years later, I traveled to the Grand Canyon National Park with my husband in the spring about 13 years ago.  We spent an entire week exploring this national park.  Again, the grandness of the canyon truly resonated here with me. We really enjoyed our time in this national park!  We even experienced some snow while out on a hike one day!  In today’s social media era this would be a disaster, but our camera broke on the way back home, so we have no photos from this amazing trip! Crazy! And our cell phones did not take photos back then either (not sure our children will ever understand that idea!).

My husband visited the park last year with a couple of friends. Enjoy a few of his photos here.

grand canyon 1grand canyon 2grand canyon 3

To understand this grandness, I will share some statistics of the park with you.  The park covers 1,217,403.32 acres or 1,904 square miles. The Colorado River runs 277 miles in the park. The South Rim averages 7,000 feet of elevation and the North Rim averages 8,000 feet.  The park preserves landscapes and resources ranging from 1,840 to 270 million years old.  The Colorado River established itself there about 6 million years ago. So, this park has some grandness (tired of the word, yet? 😉 ).

If you visit Las Vegas or Arizona, take the time and check out this grand national park! Definitely worth the time and journey! Just make sure to protect your camera!

Cheers to 100 and to the next many 100!

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Happy 104th anniversary to Rocky Mountain National Park!

In 1915, Congress created the Rocky Mountain National Park. Named after the mountain range, this mountain range is one of the world’s longest mountain ranges stretching from Alaska down to Mexico.

Rocky Mountain National Park lies in north central Colorado covering 415 square miles. And it is not too far from Denver!

Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to go on some fun hikes, experience the mountains, drive the epic Trail Ridge Road, see wildlife, and enjoy the outdoors! If you’re in this area or looking for a great national park to visit next, I highly recommend that you check out Rocky Mountain National Park!

Enjoy a photo below of me hiking a trail in this national park back in June of 2006.

rocky mountain natl pk june 2006

Smoky, the Black Bear

Many years ago back in 2001, my husband and I were in the dating stage of our relationship. We had a great relationship and had started talking about vacations.  He suggested doing a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I had never camped before and hadn’t visited more than one or two national parks before.  I really liked him though and agreed to this adventure!

Our first night at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we pull into the campsite along a quiet river.  It is a beautiful campground. You can hear the water flowing along next to you and sleep under the tall hemlock trees. We grilled out and had just started eating our tasty hot dogs and the rain came. Not just a dribble, but a downpour! We quickly finished up our food and jumped into the tent.  The rain persisted on, so we crashed early on this first night of camping. 

I had a hard time falling asleep as I kept picturing the river overflowing and then carrying our little tent (with us in it) down for a ride.  I finally ignored these silly worries and fell asleep.  I woke up a few hours later to a consistent wet drip on my forehead. The tent had one little leak and it was right above my head.  My sweet man just rolled me over away from the drip, held me, and took the drip for me for the rest of the night.

We had picture perfect weather the next day and the rest of the trip. With the great weather, we set out for a few hikes targeting waterfalls. I really wanted to see some waterfalls there. 

On our first hike, we get to the base of this particular waterfall which is surrounded by rocks. These rocks are wet of course as water crashes around here at the base and splatters.  My new hiking boots didn’t think about this wetness situation as my feet went flying out from underneath me and my bottom lands on the wet rock.  I stand up to see him giggling at my gracefulness and join him in the giggles.  I was so embarrassed!  I take a few steps and manage to repeat the flying process.  So, note to anyone hiking on wet rocks – they are very slippery!

Our last hike of the trip, we planned to hike part of the Appalachian Trail to a cool view.  I don’t remember how many miles we did, but I had never hiked that far before that day.  Almost half way, we pick up our tired pace as we are almost at the view. It must be around this bend on the trail according to our mileage. We turned the bend and get to our “view”.  It was not a “view.”  We looked at each other like “this is it?” Don’t get me wrong, the view wasn’t ugly and we are still out in nature, but we both definitely had expectations for something grander like the ability to see the entire 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

One thing I tried to tell my man prior to the trip is that I drink a lot of water hiking.  I don’t think he quite heard or believed me on that one. On this same longer hike, we had a few miles left before reaching our car and I run out of water. He looked so shocked as we still had a few miles to go. I really do drink a lot of water. He shared his water with me the rest of hike. Now, he always plans for extra water for me when hiking.

He ended the trip with giving me a little souvenir – a stuffed animal black bear named Smoky. Smoky is still with us and still makes me smile! This vacation still ranks as one of my favorite vacations ever. I fell in love with my man and also with the national parks.