All posts by Raven About The Parks

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Like John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon, this area in central Colorado protects a geologically significant window into the past.  Here the fossils are 34-million years old, buried by volcanic debris and lake sediments, with species that do not look that different from plants and animals we see today. 

Highlights

Museum, Ponderosa Loop, Petrified Forest Loop, Big Stump, Hornbek Homestead

Must-Do Activity

A variety of butterflies, birds, leaves, and flowers are nicely displayed in the visitor center.  Our favorite was the bloom of Florissantia speirii, an extinct member of the cocoa family that grew at this site when the climate was much warmer and wetter.  After exploring the museum, head outside on the wheelchair-accessible Ponderosa Loop or hike some of the monument’s 14 miles of trails.

Best Trail

Take a walk on the Ponderosa or Petrified Forest Loops to see excavated stumps of massive redwood trees, fossilized in place with beautifully colored minerals replacing the original organic compounds.  You can even see annual growth rings preserved in the petrified wood.  If you have not experienced the massive dimensions of coast redwoods in California, these stumps will make you want to visit those living trees in person.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On your walk through the ponderosa pine forest, you may spot an Abert’s squirrel, a species known for its long ear tufts.  Also watch for elk.

Peak Season

Summer due to high elevation

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per adult or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but Upper Twin Rock Road is not.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but there are several campgrounds in the surrounding Pike National Forest, as well as dispersed camping opportunities.

Explore More – At the bottom of Ancient Lake Florissant, the microlayers of fine volcanic ash and clay formed what type of sedimentary rock?

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

More than 3.5-million years ago, this section of southern Idaho was on a floodplain of a giant lake.  Lush grasslands and forests attracted camels, llamas, mastodons, zebra-like horses, and a variety of birds.  Their fossils were not discovered until 1928, on the steep bluffs on the west bank of the Snake River, now Lower Salmon Falls Reservoir.

Highlights

Museum, film, Snake River Overlook, Oregon Trail Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Numerous mammal fossils from the Pliocene Epoch are on display at the National Park Service visitor center, located on the main drag in the small town of Hagerman, Idaho.  Scenic overlooks of the Snake River and Oregon Trail are located further south, but there is no public access to the fossil beds.

Best Trail

The 3-mile long Emigrant Trail parallels the Oregon National Historic Trail, which has wagon ruts accessible from both the Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook (where there is also a half-mile interpretive trail).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Interstate 84 passes directly over Malad Gorge State Park, north of Hagerman, Idaho.  Take the freeway exit and walk to the canyon rim to see the beautiful waterfall you missed from the bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hafo/planyourvisit/visitor-center-operating-hours-seasons.htm

Fees

None for Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, but there is a day-use fee at Malad Gorge State Park.

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved.  There is a one-lane bridge crossing the Snake River off Highway 30 that was closed during our visit so we took the Gridley Island Bridge instead.

Camping

There are places to camp along many sections of the Snake River, but not within the National Monument.

Explore More – How many complete skeletons of zebra-like horses were discovered within Hagerman Fossil Beds?

Fossil Butte National Monument

Overview

One-hundred years after the creation of Yellowstone National Park, another Wyoming site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972: Fossil Butte National Monument.  It is dedicated to 50-million-year-old fossils found in an ancient subtropical lakebed, including plants (like palms and ferns) and animals (like turtles and lemurs). 

Highlights

NPS museum, film, Fossil Lake Trail, Historic Quarry Trail

Must-Do Activity

Even 50-million years ago it was windy in Wyoming!  The excellent preservation of the fossils may be in part due to high winds that kept surface water well-oxygenated while deeper waters were stagnant.  If you need to get out of the wind, head into the visitor center to see fossil fish, turtles, and other species on display.  On the deck outside there is an awesome timeline that traces CO2 levels and life on Earth throughout geologic time.

Best Trail

Take the steep steps up the Historic Quarry Trail to find fish fossils still in the rocks.  There is no shade along the trail, but even in the summer the weather is usually not that hot at 7,000 feet in elevation.  From the picnic area, the 1.5-mile Fossil Lake Trail leads to aspen groves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Get up close with fossils that stand out against the white bedrock in the NPS museum or on the Historic Quarry Trail.  On private land nearby, you can pay to excavate your own fish fossils that you get to keep.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

None within the National Monument, but to the north Bridger-Teton National Forest provides opportunities for dispersed camping.

Explore More – Kemmerer, Wyoming is home the very first example of which well-known department store?

Shenandoah National Park

Overview

At one time Shenandoah National Park was entirely private owned, then in the 1930s the government of Virginia went about “procuring” the land for a grand National Park in the east.  These mountains are renowned for their colorful fall foliage, which peaks in October, when 18% of annual visitors arrive.  If you are looking to avoid traffic in a park only 70 miles from Washington, D.C., we recommend coming in February when almost every park amenity is closed.

Highlights

Skyline Drive, Stony Man, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag Mountain

Must-Do Activity

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to form the backbone of this narrow National Park.  Driving at the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, it takes 3 hours to drive in its entirety if you do not stop once.  But with 75 overlooks and 513 miles of trails to choose from, who would want to do that?  Skyline Drive is paralleled by 101 miles of the famous 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Best Trail

The trailhead for Old Rag Mountain is located east of the park off Highway 231 (not Skyline Drive), but it is the most popular hike.  The challenging route over slick rock faces and narrow corridors provides wonderful views of the ridgeline that comprises Shenandoah National Park.  Due to the number of hikers, it is recommended you complete a 7.1-mile loop by connecting Ridge Trail with Saddle Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Throughout the park there are numerous trails to waterfalls, though some may run dry in the summer.  The shortest hike, at 1.4 miles roundtrip, leads to 70-foot tall Dark Hollow Falls. 

Peak Season

Summer, plus mid-October for fall foliage

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The park’s paved backbone Skyline Drive is occasionally closed after major snowstorms.  Located at Mile 32 (measured from Port Royal, Virginia in the north), the 670-foot long Mary’s Rock Tunnel allows a maximum vehicle height of 12 feet, 8 inches.

Camping

There are four seasonal campgrounds located along Skyline Drive and backpacking is allowed with a free permit.  West of the Shenandoah River Valley, George Washington National Forest also provides camping opportunities.

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

Explore More – What percentage of the 199,218 acres in Shenandoah National Park is designated Wilderness?

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.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Overview

This site in Deer Lodge, Montana commemorates the late-1800s lifestyle of cattle barons and cowboys.  In 1866, Conrad Kohrs bought this ranch from Johnny Grant and went on to amass a huge cattle herd that grazed across 10-million acres of public land from Colorado to Canada.  Today this remains a working ranch with the sounds and smells of horses, cattle, and poultry.

Highlights

Working cattle ranch, living history demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

There is no admission fee and a free guided tour is offered inside the large ranch house originally built by Johnny Grant in 1862, with a brick addition doubling its size in 1890.  After the tour, you can practice your roping skills on cattle dummies.  Be sure to stop by the blacksmith shop to ask the volunteer there about all the different types of horseshoes on display.  Inside the Buggy Shed you can see the elaborate harnesses once used on the huge Belgian draft horses that still work here at the ranch.

Best Trail

You step back into the 1800s when you walk the quarter-mile trail from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  A self-guided walking tour enters 15 buildings with displays on the history of cowboys, barbwire, branding irons, and so much more.  There are a total of 7 miles of walking paths on the property, including a nature trail along Cottonwood Creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you explore, keep your eye out for livestock and cowboys on horseback.  It was calving season for the Herefords when we visited in mid-May.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Deer Lodge, Montana, and Lost Creek state Park offers a primitive campground 25 miles away.

Explore More – What is a “beaver slide hay stacker” and how does it work?