All posts by Raven About The Parks

Tumacácori National Historical Park

Overview

South of Tucson in Tubac, Arizona, San Cayetano de Tumacácori is a Spanish mission founded in 1691 by Padre Kino and abandoned in 1848.  It became a National Monument in 1908 when it was restored to its ruined state based on photographs dating from 1868.  Two additional mission ruins were added when it became a National Historical Park in 1990, but they are not open to the public except on special ranger-led tours January through March.

Highlights

Historic mission, historic museum (built in 1937)

Must-Do Activity

Jesuits, like the famous Padre Eusebio Kino, established more than 20 missions in this part of the Sonoran Desert in the late-1600s.  Some of the Pimas they were “serving” attacked in 1751, leading to the move of Tumacácori to its current location and the establishment of Tubac Presidio (now a State Park).   Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and the final phase of construction on the mission began two years later.  In 1853, the Gadsden Purchase brought this region into the United States of America.  When you visit the ruins of Tumacácori, consider a trip north to beautiful San Xavier del Bac, which is still an active church.

Best Trail

A 4-mile portion of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail connects Tumacácori with Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, which offers a museum and an underground archaeological display.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of the day in the winter months, trees surrounding the mission cast interesting shadows on its stucco walls.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$7 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Patagonia Lake State Park has more than 200 campsites northeast of Nogales, Arizona.

Explore More – Why was the Jesuit order expelled in 1767 and their missions assigned to Franciscan friars?

Top 10 Blog Posts from Our First 100

To celebrate reaching the milestone of our first 100 blog posts, we are linking to our top 10 posts based on number of page views and personal favorites.  Thank you to our readers for continuing to inspire us to visit new National Park Service (NPS) units and share the wonders with you all.  We are heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands in less than two weeks and we will visit all 5 NPS sites there.

Our first hardcopy guidebook to the National Parks will be released in June 2019!

10. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

9. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

8. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

7. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

6. Grand Portage National Monument

5. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

4. City of Rocks National Reserve

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

2. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

…and finally the #1 most popular blog post from our first 100:

1. Capitol Reef National Park

Honorable Mention

Indiana Dunes National Park (renamed February 15, 2019)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Overview

The tallgrass prairie formerly covered 170-million acres of North America, but today only 4% of that exists in a few isolated pockets due to conversion to agriculture.  The Flint Hills of eastern Kansas were too rocky for tilling, so this was an ideal place to create Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996.  Occasionally, land managers utilize fire to support fire-adapted native grasses against invasive species. Before our visit in November 2014, large areas were burned.  The bison that live here enjoy eating the fresh green grass that sprouts following a fire and wildflowers thrive with the release of available soil nutrients.

Echo at Tallgrass Prairie

Highlights

Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd

Must-Do Activity

After reading the interpretive panels at the visitor center, walk around the buildings next door at the historic Spring Hill Ranch.  The 1881 ranch house is open for tours seasonally.

Best Trail

There are many trails that wander through the 10,894-acre preserve that is jointly run by the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service.  Many loop options are possible, but no backpacking is allowed, possibly due to the bison herd.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just down the road from Spring Hill Ranch is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School which was open from 1884 to 1930.  Its walls are made of local limestone.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Chase State Fishing Lake has 10 primitive campsites two miles outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds surround Council Grove Lake, which is located 20 miles north.

Explore More – At first the grasslands may all look the same, but how many species of plants are found within Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve?

Castle Mountains National Monument

Overview

Designated in February 2016, this small monument borders Nevada and is surrounded by the much larger Mojave National Preserve on its other three sides.  Its highest point is Hart Peak (5,543 feet), named for James Hart who discovered gold here in 1907 and founded a boomtown that reached 1,500 residents. 

Highlights

Hart Peak (5,543 feet), Hart Mine ghost town, view of Castle Peaks

Must-Do Activity

This new National Monument is undeveloped with no trails, no visitor center, and little signage.  Drive or walk its network of dirt roads to get a feel for the Mojave Desert.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Joshua trees are always photogenic, especially when the jagged Castle Peaks are in the background (though they are outside the monument’s northern boundary within Mojave National Preserve).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

There are visitor centers in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve that have hours posted here:

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Walking Box Ranch Road is a groomed dirt road passable to any vehicle from Highway 164 west of Searchlight, Nevada.  Access roads from Mojave National Preserve require high-clearance.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed within the monument.  Hole-in-the-Wall Campground within Mojave National Preserve is accessible by paved road from Interstate 40.

Explore More – Piute Spring is charged by the aquifer within Castle Mountains National Monument; when researchers tested it, how long ago did its water fall as precipitation?

Top 10 Primitive Campgrounds

We previously ranked our 10 favorite campgrounds with running water, so these are the best of the “dry” campsites with vault toilets, four of which are free when you pay the park entrance fee.

10. Haleakala National Park

You might think Maui is going to be hot, but the free campground in the Hosmer Grove sits at 7,000 feet in elevation.

9. Channel Islands National Park

You will never forget a night spent on East Anacapa Island and not solely because the foghorn sounds 4 times per minute.

8. Joshua Tree National Park

This park in the Mojave Desert has several campgrounds with running water and reservations, but rock climbers love Hidden Valley for its first-come, first-served sites surrounded by boulders.

7. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Kulanaokuaiki Campground only has 8 free walk-in campsites, but at night you can see the glow of molten lava from Kīlauea Caldera.

6. Denali National Park and Preserve

Reservations (minimum 3 nights) at Teklanika River allow you to drive your own vehicle (or RV) to Mile 29 on the park road and pick up the shuttle bus there.

5. Canyonlands National Park

Willow Flat is in the Island in the Sky District west of Moab, Utah way up at 6,000 feet in elevation; a great place to stay if you want to photograph sunrise at Mesa Arch.

4. Yellowstone National Park

Slough Creek is a small campground in the northeast corner of the park and its first-come, first-served sites are hard to come by.

3. Badlands National Park

Often jam-packed in the summer, the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is frequented by bison and coyotes (Note: beware the sticky clay after a rainstorm).

2. Grand Canyon National Park

If you drive the 61 miles of dirt road to beautiful Hovenweap Overlook on the north rim of the canyon, you deserve to spend the night for free.

…and finally our #1 primitive campground in a National Park!

1. Dry Tortugas National Park

Bring your own water and your snorkeling gear aboard the ferry to Fort Jefferson, 70 miles west of Key West, Florida.

Honorable Mentions

Devils Postpile National Monument

Technically this riverside campground is in the adjacent Inyo National Forest, but staying here is one of the few ways you are allowed to drive your own vehicle into the monument.

City of Rocks National Reserve

Designated sites are spread throughout this reserve in southern Idaho and are popular with rock climbers; try to get one near photogenic Window Arch.