Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Overview

Located on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Pu‘ukoholā Heiau translates as “temple on the hill of the whale.”  Under the rule of Kamehameha I, the heiau was built in 1790-91 after a prophet told his aunt he needed to appease the family war god.  In 1810, after years of warfare, Kamehameha I finally became the first king of the unified Hawaiian Islands.  Following his death nine years later, his son abolished the kapu system of beliefs and the heiau fell into ruin.  This 86-acre site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972.

Highlights

Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, Mailekini Heiau, John Young’s Homestead

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the NPS visitor center and check out the metal artwork that tells the story of the demi-god Maui.  Then walk the interpretive trail for views of several heiau, including the submerged Hale o Kapuni Heiau dedicated to the shark gods.  You can also park across Highway 270 and walk to the site of John Young’s homestead.  Young was a British sailor stranded on Hawai‘i in 1790 who became a trusted military advisor of Kamehameha I. 

Best Trail

A short portion of the 175-mile long Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail runs through this site, though at present most of the trail is not publicly accessible.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Pu‘ukoholā Heiau measures 224 by 100 feet with 20-foot high walls and was constructed without mortar by stacking volcanic rocks.  The heiau are closed to the public, but can be photographed from downhill.

Peak Season

Year round, but each August there are ceremonies held at the heiau.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Samuel Spencer County Park offers camping nearby, but reservations are required.

Related Sites

Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Explore More – The kikiako‘i (or stone leaning post) was at least six feet tall and used by chiefs to observe sharks feeding at Hale o Kapuni Heiau; when was it accidentally broken?

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Overview

On November 29, 1864, in the middle of the Civil War, a tragedy played out on this spot where Chief Black Kettle and 700 other American Indians were peacefully spending the winter in accordance with the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise.  A surprise attack led by Colonel John Chivington killed between 165 and 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho, primarily women, children, and the elderly.  The site is held sacred by the Cheyenne and Arapaho, so is only viewable from an overlook above the cottonwood-lined creek.  It serves as an important reminder of the terrible acts people can undertake when they dehumanize their fellow men.

Highlights

Memorial, trail, overlook

Must-Do Activity

Authorized in 2000 upon the discovery of two grisly letters describing the gruesome event, Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site opened to the public in 2007.  It is located in a remote section of the eastern Colorado plains, down a long dirt road, but it does have a small visitor center in a trailer staffed by the National Park Service (NPS).  Near the parking lot you will find posted the letters written by Captain Soule and Lieutenant Cramer, whose units refused to fire during the massacre.  Be warned that the description of the mutilation of the bodies is painful to read and not suitable for children.

Best Trail

There is a 0.8-mile self-guided walking trail with a few interpretive signs. There is also a 600-mile Sand Creek Massacre Trail designated on highways between here and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We took this photo from the overlook of the 1864 Cheyenne and Arapaho camp in November nearly 153 years after the massacre.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The dirt access road is well maintained.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

Explore More – Who was the Colorado Territorial Governor that authorized the 100-day volunteer cavalry to “kill and destroy” hostile American Indians?

Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Overview

While there was some limited European settlement on the west coast prior to her journey, the popularization of the Oregon Trail for families can be traced to publication of the letters of Narcissa Whitman after her journey in 1836.  While in the Black Hills she wrote, “It is astonishing how well we get along with our wagons where there are no roads.  I think I may say it is easier traveling here than on any turnpike in the States.”  Narcissa came with her doctor husband and other Protestants to establish missions among the American Indians.  The Whitmans did much to open the west to emigrant families and you can visit their graves at this 138-acre National Park Service (NPS) site in Walla Walla, Washington.

Highlights

Museum, film, millpond, Whitman Memorial, Oregon National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Whitmans set up near Waiilatpu, which translates to “place of the people of the rye grass.”  The main Oregon Trail would eventually detour south of their mission, but the couple would still care for stragglers, even adopting 10 children.  Following a devastating 1847 measles epidemic they and eleven others were killed by grieving Cayuse families who blamed the doctor for poisoning them.  News of the November 29 attack and subsequent retaliations spurred Congress to create the Oregon Territory within the year. 

Best Trail

A self-guided interpretive trail leads up to an overlook of Waiilatpu from atop the Whitman Memorial hill.  The trail passes a restored millpond and the Great Grave where 13 victims were buried in 1847, including Narcissa Whitman and her husband.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A portion of the Oregon Trail passed through Waiilatpu until rerouted south after 1844.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is not an NPS campground, but private campgrounds are located in Walla Walla, Washington.

Related Sites

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In addition to those killed in the attack at Whitman Mission on November 29, 1847, how many others were held hostage for a month until their ransom was paid?

Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration.  It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah.  Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery

Must-Do Activity

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah.  Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon.  The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall.  It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.

Best Trail

There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name.  Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars.  Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive.  The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.

Camping

There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District.  White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required).  Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.

Related Sites

Arches National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Canyonlands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Overview

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is composed of two separate sites located 14 miles apart in Johnson City and Stonewall, Texas.  Museums here highlight the significant legislation that passed during his presidency from 1963-1969, including the pivotal Civil Rights Act, and, for nature lovers, the Wilderness Act.  Additions to the National Park Service (NPS) system during his presidency were extensive, including five sites in his home state of Texas (see Related Sites below).

Highlights

Johnson Settlement, films, Texas White House, Johnson Family Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

The 36th President of the United States is typically referred to as LBJ.  Birders know an “LBJ” as an acronym for those hard to identify “little brown jobs” that flit away before you can focus them in your binoculars.  Fittingly, President LBJ’s wife was named Lady Bird, and together they did much to preserve our public lands for native plants and animals.  Around the boyhood home where LBJ grew up in Johnson City, there are plenty of birds to watch, as well as longhorn cattle.  A driving tour through the Stonewall property (14 miles west) requires a permit from the LBJ State Park and Historic Site.  Once you get that, tickets for a guided tour of the Texas White House are available at the NPS visitor center located inside the Airplane Hangar.

Best Trail

A walking tour through Johnson City includes stops at Withers and Spauldings General Store, LBJ’s boyhood home, and barns and cabins that date back to the 1800s within the Johnson Settlement.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Longhorn cattle can be seen at the Johnson Settlement in Johnson City, Texas.  Hereford cattle are still raised at the working ranch in Stonewall.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None except for the Texas White House tour ($3 per person or free with the America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

East of Johnson City, Pedernales Falls State Park has a campground, as does Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Explore More – Which resort in Florida (later owned by a future U.S. President) was designated a National Historic Site under the Johnson administration (then eventually sold and disbanded)?