Weir Farm National Historic Site

Overview

Weir Farm National Historic Site is the only National Park Service site in the state of Connecticut.  It is built around the art studios of Julian Alden Weir, an American impressionist painter that were later utilized by the Mormon sculptor Mahonri Young who made the This Is the Place monument in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Weir

Highlights

Free guided tour, free use of colored pencils/pastels, Artist in Residence program

Must-Do Activity

A unique opportunity the park provides is the use of colored pencils and pastels for each visitor to create their own artwork when they visit.  In this way they continue to allow the farm to inspire artists to capture the landscape in their own way, regardless of age or ability.

Best Trail

Pick up a self-guided walking tour pamphlet at the visitor center then walk (1.5 miles roundtrip) to Weir Pond, where the family loved to spend time in the summer fishing, swimming, and, of course, painting.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Get into the artistic spirit by posing with your face to the window like Weir’s wife did for a portrait in the family’s living room that you can see hanging inside the house.

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Peak Season

Open year round, but this was Weir’s summer home because that is the nicest time of year here.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but Nod Hill Road is steep and narrow which may be difficult for RVs and other large vehicles.  The small parking lot cannot accommodate large RVs.

Camping

None

Sketching at Weir Farm

These bison cutouts were painted and posted around the farm

A outside view of the sculpture studio

One of the other artists that lived here was a sculptor

On the porch of the Weir Farm House
Scott waiting on the front porch for our ranger guided tour inside the painter’s house.

Explore More – Julian Alden Weir studied impressionism in the country it was founded in, where is that?

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Overview

Usually sand dunes are associated with deserts, but in southern Colorado they sit at 8,200 feet and are surrounded by snowy mountains, pine trees, and Medano Creek where kids splash and make sandcastles.  These dunes are the tallest in North America, up to 750 feet in height, blown in grain by grain from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west.

Dunes

Highlights

Medano Creek, High Dune, Medano Pass Primitive Road

Must-Do Activity

The height and steepness of the dunes makes them a great place to try sandboarding or sand sledding, which works best when the sand is wet.  If you don’t have a homemade sandboard, you can rent one in the nearby town of Alamosa or bring a plastic snow sled (round saucers seem to work well).

Best Trail

Blaze your own trail to the top of 650-foot tall High Dune.  The 2.3-mile roundtrip climb is quite a workout at this elevation while sliding backwards in the sand, but bounding downhill makes up for it.  This park is unique because it allows dogs on the dunes, but bring foot protection for your canine on sunny days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stay in the dune field at sunset for long shadows on the dunes.  A major bonus if you visit in the spring or fall for a backdrop of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Peak Season

Due to its high elevation (8,200 feet), summer is the best time to spend the night, otherwise it can be very cold.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass, but it is typically not collected in winter months.

Road Conditions

Other than the four-wheel drive road over Medano Pass, passenger vehicles can access all trailheads.  The park provides specialized wheelchairs are available for crossing Medano Creek and exploring the sand dunes.

Camping

Pinyon Flats Campground (fee) has two 44-site loops frequented by mule deer.  Backpacking permits are free to overnight on the dunes where the stars shine brightest.  First-come, first-served campsites are available along the high-clearance Medano Pass Primitive Road.  Dispersed camping is allowed in the neighboring Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.

June 2013 Colorado Trip 360

June 2013 Colorado Trip 274

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Pronghorns at the dunes
Pronghorns grazing in front of the sand dunes in December.

 

Tiff with the mountains
Tiff sledding down a wet (i.e. fast) dune in October
Tiff heading to the parking lot
October brings fall colors to the cottonwoods

 

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Our original logo is for sale on a variety of products on Amazon and Cafe Press

Explore More – What time of year can visitors “boogie board” the waves in Medano Creek?

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Lava Beds National Monument

Overview

Near California’s northern border lies isolated Lava Beds National Monument.  There are 700 lava tubes within the monument and many of them are open for self-guided caving.  Lava tubes form when the rapidly cooling surface solidifies into rock and free flowing lava drains out beneath.

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Highlights

Skull Cave, Golden Dome, Petroglyph Point, Captain Jack’s Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

Only one cave near the visitor center is lit, the others all require flashlights, with hardhats and kneepads recommended for some of the tighter squeezes.  Explore as many lava tubes as you have time for, like Skull Cave with its wide entrance or one of several caves that contain ice year round.

Best Trail

1.5-mile roundtrip hike to top of Schonchin Butte where a fire lookout offers panoramic views across lava flows to Tule Lake, Glass Mountain, and Mount Shasta.

Instagram-worthy Photo

All you need is a flashlight to walk less than half a mile underground to Golden Dome, the most spectacular feature of the park.  The gold flecks are actually colonies of hydrophobic bacteria that thrive in this humid, lightless environment.  Other caves containing them include Thunderbolt and Blue Grotto.

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Peak Season

Open year round, but due to its elevation (5,000 feet) the aboveground surface can get a bit hot in summer and cold in winter, but it is usually nice inside the lava tubes.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Oregon and Cave Loop Road are paved, but most are dirt south of the park in Modoc National Forest.

Camping

Indian Well Campground is located near the visitor center and Cave Loop Road.  Dirt roads in the neighboring Modoc National Forest provide free dispersed camping.

 

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Standing in the wide entrance to Skull Cave.

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Lavasicles hang from the ceiling inside a narrow section of lava tube.
Hydrophobic bacteria light up in Golden Dome
Group shot under the Golden Dome.

Explore More – How did 60 Modoc warriors led by Captain Jack keep 1,000 U.S. troops at bay for six months?

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Buffalo National River

Overview

Designated as the nation’s first National River by Congress in 1972, the free-flowing Buffalo River winds 135 miles across northern Arkansas.  It is noted for its sandstone bluffs and tall waterfalls, as well as its three designated wilderness areas.  Multiple concessionaires rent canoes and offer shuttle service for those who wish to float the river during the high spring flows.  There are many hiking trails to be found in this National Park Service site and in the adjoining Ozark National Forest.

Buffalo

Highlights

Boxley Valley Historic District, Hemmed-in Hollow, elk herd, Ponca Wilderness, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Steel Creek to Pruitt Landing is a 22-mile float through Class I rapids on the Buffalo River through the Ponca Wilderness past rock bluffs up to 500 feet tall.  Wildflowers and birds abound in the spring, the only time the upper river is deep enough to float.  Numerous outfitters provide rental gear, guides, and car shuttles.

Best Trail

A short 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from a river pulloff, Hemmed-In-Hollow is a 210-foot tall waterfall, also accessible on a much more strenuous trek starting on top of the bluff in Compton, Arkansas.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While not technically within the National River boundaries, Hawksbill Crag is an image that shows up on many tourism advertisements for Arkansas.  Go in early November for fall colors.

Tiff on the edge of the famous point in the Buffalo National Forest

Peak Season

The water flows best in the spring and is often not deep enough for paddlers in the river’s upper reaches other times of year.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Many of the dirt roads are steep due to the park’s rugged backcountry nature and may require high-clearance vehicles when muddy.

Camping

Twelve campgrounds accessible by car, with Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point Campgrounds offering showers.  Backcountry sites mostly reached by canoe or kayak.

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Scott by the waterfall
Hideout Hollow provides an easy hike to a waterfall near Compton, Arkansas.

There were nice fall colors

Explore More – Why is a river in the forests of northern Arkansas named for buffalo (or bison)?

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview

“The green desert” is home to dense stands of saguaros, ocotillos, and its namesake organ pipe cacti.  The monument’s 330,689 acres sit on the Mexican border of Arizona and were recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.  The park has a reputation for being dangerous, which it can be for NPS Law Enforcement due to its border location, but tourists should encounter no problems while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

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Highlights

Ajo Mountain Loop, Alamo Canyon, birding, earn an “I Hike For Health” pin

Must-Do Activity

The namesake cactus is more common further south and shares this landscape with 27 other species of cacti, including the famous saguaro.  To see the cacti at their best, I recommend driving the 21-mile dirt road Ajo Mountain Loop in the evening before turning in for the night at the campground.

Best Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a shuttle some mornings to Senita Basin from where you can hike back to the visitor center (with an optional side trip to the abandoned Victoria Mine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park’s Ajo Mountains are mostly volcanic rhyolite and their jagged outlines photograph well in the twilight hours with the famous saguaro cactus silhouetted in the foreground.

Saguaros and Diaz Peak

Peak Season

Anytime but summer when temperatures regularly soar above 100°F.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The highway is paved to Kris Eggle Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground, but most of the dirt roads are passable for all vehicles.

Camping

The park has the very nice Twin Peaks Campground (with solar showers) where you can pick up free hiker shuttles that allow for one-way trips back to your tent.  There are also a couple dry campsites (permit required) on Alamo Canyon Road.  A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Lots of organ pipes

A cristate formation on an organ pipe
An organ pipe cactus with a unique cristate formation.

Sunset on the Green Desert

Estes Canyon

Phainopepla
We saw unique bird species like this phainopepla, in addition to Scott’s orioles, Gila woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows, and, of course, ravens.

Explore More – Why is the Visitor Center named for Park Ranger Kris Eggle?

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