Minute Man National Historical Park

Overview

The events that occurred at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 were immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson as “the shot heard round the world.”  First of all, a “Minute Man” was a colonial militiaman who was always ready to fight at a minute’s notice.  Secondly, when the colonial militia fired upon British troops at North Bridge, it was considered an act of treason against the Crown and truly started the Revolutionary War at a time when the majority of colonists did not want independence. 

Highlights

Films, Hartwell Tavern, North Bridge, the Wayside, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

If your memory on what exactly happened here is a bit foggy, start with the multimedia presentation at either of two National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers, located in the suburbs west of Boston.  At Lexington, you will learn the true story of how Paul Revere’s ride ended early when he was captured by British soldiers and that he did not mention redcoats, instead yelling “the Regulars are coming out!”  At Concord, you will learn about “the shot heard round the world.” 

Best Trail

Battle Road Trail stretches 5 miles between Fiske Hill in Lexington to Meriam’s Corner in Concord, and is open to bicycles.  It passes many historic sites, including Hartwell Tavern.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We recommend a walk up Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  The graves of famous local writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, are located here.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

Hours for the many historic buildings vary and most are not open every day of the week.

https://www.nps.gov/mima/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at some historic buildings (like the Wayside) which require guided tours.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest (28 miles northeast) has campsites with running water. There is no camping at Walden Pond State Reservation.

Explore More – Which famous authors once resided at the Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts?

Top 10 Novels Set During World War II

Since the world just commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we thought we would honor the Greatest Generation with a list of our favorite novels set during World War II, of which there are so many that some great ones did not make the cut.  In 2016, we were on hand for the ceremonies on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai‘i and can imagine how moving it must have been to be there in Normandy.  We will soon release our list of the Top 10 non-fiction books set during World War II, but in the meantime check out our other book recommendations.

10. The Thin Red Line by James Jones (1962)

A story of the fight to take Guadalcanal from the author of From Here to Eternity.

9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

There are several good books about Japanese-American internment, but this is our favorite.

8. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean (1957)

An action novel about a commando team that destroys an impenetrable fortress on a Greek island.

7. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)

A fascinating glimpse into the lives of two sisters in occupied France.

6. Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener (1947)

Imperialism and racism are the backdrop to all of these short stories.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008)

A fun yet sad story told through a series of letters from an island in the English Channel.

4. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)

Pulitzer Prize-winner based on the author’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)

A Gestapo interrogation is the center of this tale with a major plot twist.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

Most World War II novels involve Death, but he is an actual character in this masterpiece.

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

These unforgettable characters stuck at an air base in Italy are both hysterical and poignant.

Honorable Mentions

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008)

Two Russian prisoners attempt to secure a dozen eggs or face execution during the siege of Leningrad.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)

This classic is set during the Spanish Civil War in the years leading up to WWII.

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Virgin Islands National Park

Overview

More than half the island of St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park, a Caribbean paradise known for its white sand beaches and crystal waters.  The National Park also includes 95% of Hassel Island, which was once a peninsula connected to St. Thomas.  The region is still recovering after Hurricanes Irma and Maria did extensive damage in 2017, but did not seem to affect the sugar mill ruins that have been standing since the 1720s.

Highlights

Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, Annaberg Sugar Mill, Petroglyph Trail, Saltpond Bay

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling is the number one reason to visit St. John, which is surrounded by coral reefs.  The Underwater Trail in popular Trunk Bay is a good place to start, but our favorite spot to snorkel was from the beautiful beach at Saltpond Bay where we saw sea turtles, reef squids, and countless other species.  From the beach a trail leads 1.8 miles roundtrip to the 200-foot high cliffs at Ram Head.

Best Trail

Reef Bay Trail starts near the island’s high point at 900 feet in elevation, then descends 1.5 miles to the split for Petroglyph Trail where the rocks around a seasonal waterfall have several Taino carvings.  Reef Bay Trail continues another mile to the ruins of a sugar mill where ranger-led hikes (fee) are met by a boat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A small, paved pulloff at the top of a hill on North Shore Road looks east towards the white sand beaches of Trunk Bay, an image used in almost every promotional publication for St. John. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/viis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except when lifeguards are on duty at Trunk Bay.

Road Conditions

Two narrow, winding, paved routes (North Shore and Centerline Roads) leave from Cruz Bay where the ferries arrive.  Several dirt roads require four-wheel-drive, including Catherineberg Road.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

None on the island of St. John until the NPS reopens Cinnamon Bay Campground, which closed following the 2017 hurricanes.

We created this design to celebrate Virgin Islands National Park and it is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How long did the violent slave revolt in 1733 last before French troops arrived on St. John to return slaves to the sugarcane plantations?

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Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Ancient mammal bones from Agate Fossil Beds can be found in museums around the world.  Excavations began at Carnegie Hill in 1904 and soon thereafter at University Hill to be shipped back to Lincoln, Nebraska.  You would never guess at the thousands of fossils removed from these nondescript hills while hiking the 2.7 miles across the prairie from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.

Highlights

Museum, film, Daemonelix Trail

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center has an excellent display of the 20-million-year-old inhabitants of this spot, as well as a great collection of American Indian artifacts.  You can also learn about the mystery of the daemonelix, a corkscrew burrow which baffled researchers until it was eventually discovered to have been formed by palaeocastor, an ancestral land beaver.  

Best Trail

The Daemonelix Trail on the west side of the National Monument allows you to get an up close view of one of the palaeocastor’s corkscrew burrows.  A cast of this exact same formation is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Northwest of the National Monument in Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool Geologic Park is a beautiful badlands that is best photographed at sunset.  While exploring its trails, look for fossilized bones and trackways, plus be sure to visit the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center, which is open in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/agfo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Highway 29 in the west and through the park is paved, but turns to well-graded gravel east of the National Monument.

Camping

No camping within the National Monument, but there is a free primitive campground at Toadstool Geologic Park in Oglala National Grassland.  Fort Robinson State Park offers camping, cabin rentals, and accommodations in former military barracks.

Explore More – How did the frontiersman James H. Cook collect the impressive array of American Indian artifacts now on display in the NPS visitor center?

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Following meetings in regards to development in North Las Vegas, the Protectors of Tule Springs was founded in 2006 and successfully preserved 22,650 acres of federal land eight years later.  The area contains fossils of Columbian mammoths, ground sloths, American lions, ancient camels, dire wolves, sabre-toothed cats, bison, and three ancient species of horse ranging from 7,000- to 250,000-years-old.  There are plans to open a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at the end of Aliante Parkway.

Highlights

Upper Las Vegas Wash, natural bridge, trash cleanup

Must-Do Activity

The actual Tule Springs are a desert oasis contained within Floyd Lamb Park, operated by the City of Las Vegas.  The Bureau of Land Management formerly controlled the acreage that became the National Monument and it was heavily impacted by garbage dumping, off-road driving, and shooting.  Your “must-do activity” here is to remove some trash.  The Protectors of Tule Springs have hosted several cleanup events.

Best Trail

There are no trails within the National Monument yet, but there are two access points to Upper Las Vegas Wash from Durango Drive and Aliante Parkway.  The wash contains Joshua trees and several patches of the rare Las Vegas bear poppy, and provides habitat for threatened desert tortoises, burrowing owls, and kit foxes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hike the Upper Las Vegas Wash about a half-mile east from the end of Durango Drive and look for a natural bridge carved in the soft mudstone wall. 

Peak Season

Winter when snow dusts the top of the Sheep Range and Las Vegas Range of mountains.

Hours

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is open sunrise to sunset.  Information is available at visitor centers in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. https://www.nps.gov/tusk/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to access points at the north end of Durango Drive and at the end of Aliante Parkway.  Look for wire barriers and small brown NPS signs at the two parking areas.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but free dispersed camping is allowed within Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the north.  There are campgrounds in nearby Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Explore More – In what year did National Geographic conduct a 4-month study here to catalog thousands of Ice Age mammal fossils?