Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Overview

Since there are no campgrounds at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, many people stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the state border.  The park contains the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, so snow is not unheard of here.  One night when we stayed there in December, we awoke to an inch of snow.  It always looks like it just snowed at the Salt Basin Dunes.

Highlights

McKittrick Canyon, Pinery Station, Guadalupe Peak, Salt Basin Dunes, Dog Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The Chihuahuan Desert is home to many unique plant species,so start with the Pinery Trail behind the visitor center and learn to spot the differences between lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and the many species of cacti. 

Best Trail

Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet and the steep trail to its summit from Pine Springs Campground crosses through several ecosystems providing wonderful views of El Capitan and the surrounding landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Autumn is a great time to visit to catch the vibrant red leaves of bigtooth maple trees.  Find them by hiking from Pine Springs Campground on Devil’s Hall Trail or further north through McKittrick Canyon to secluded Pratt Cabin, built in the 1920s. 

Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can shut down large portions of the park.

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, including the 60 mile drive to Dog Canyon at the north end of the park, except the last 7.5 miles to Salt Basin Dunes (good dirt road) and Williams Ranch (4×4 road).

Camping

Pine Springs Campground and remote Dog Canyon Campground both have running water, but no RV hookups. Free backcountry permits provide camping opportunities at designated sites, though trails tend to be very steep and strenuous.


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

Explore More – Why are the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains full of marine fossils?

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Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

 

Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Statue of Liberty National Monument

Overview

By the time the Statue of Liberty was completed in 1886, New York City was already the gateway to America for millions of “homeless, tempest-tost” immigrants.  Between 1855 and 1890, Castle Clinton on Manhattan Island served as a landing facility for 8-million people.  The federal government took control of immigration in 1890, within two years opening a processing station on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Ferry service to Ellis Island and Liberty Island is available from Castle Clinton National Monument in New York City or Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

Highlights

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, ferry ride

Must-Do Activity

Approximately 12-million people were screened on Ellis Island between 1892-1924, though nearly 10% were turned away.  Reopened to tourists in 1990, it is a haunting place to visit.  The National Park Service museum offers excellent exhibits and films highlighting the travails of immigrants over the centuries. 

Best Trail

None, but a special ranger-guided tour of Ellis Island will take you to areas you cannot see on your own.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the U.S. ally France, intended to mark the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876.  By the time the 151-foot tall,225-ton copper woman was ready, the U.S. was scrambling to come up with money to build its 154-foot tall pedestal. Pocket change was collected across the nation, a truly grassroots effort that allowed even schoolchildren to claim a part of the monument. 

Peak Season

Summer, but these world-renowned monuments are busy year round.

Hours

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

Fees

$18.50 per adult for ferry to both sites, plus a parking fee at Liberty State Park.  While free timed tickets are available to access the pedestal, you must reserve months in advance if you wish to climb to the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

Road Conditions

Paved, but you will likely have to deal with traffic.  There is plenty of parking at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

Camping

None

Explore More – Why is there a boundary on Ellis Island that divides it between the states of New Jersey and New York?

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White Sands National Monument

Overview

You might know gypsum as the white powder inside drywall panels.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms sand dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  The white color of the dunes does make for extra intense albedo, so be sure to bring sunglasses and carry plenty of water.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot a lizard species evolved to camouflage in the sand. 

Highlights

Scenic views, sledding, Interdune Boardwalk, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially after a rainfall.  It is fun to see children wearing T-shirts and shorts sliding down the sparkling white slopes.

Best Trail

Follow markers on the five-mile round trip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes with views of the San Andres Mountains.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you decide to backpack or take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Peak Season

Spring and fall, since it can be very hot in the summer.

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Mostly paved and the packed dirt road is drivable by all vehicles.

Camping

Only backcountry camping is allowed in 10 designated sites for $3 per person, but that is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground south of Alamogordo.

Explore More – What happens to the deep root system of a soaptree yucca when the dune it is growing on blows away?

Death Valley National Park

Overview

Death Valley is our favorite of the 9 National Parks in California.  Ghost towns and abandoned mills abound throughout its 3.4-million acres, including Leadfield on the one-way dirt road through Titus Canyon.  Most of the attractions are found in and around the historic Furnace Creek Inn: watch sunrise at Zabriskie Point or sunset at 5,475-foot Dantes View; hike through gorgeous Golden Canyon or under Natural Bridge; drive to the ironic Devils Golf Course or the colorful Artists Drive; and walk into Badwater Basin, which at -282 feet below-sea-level is the lowest point in North America, even more impressive since it sits directly beneath 11,049-foot Telescope Peak. 

Highlights

Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon Trail, Devils Golf Course, Artists Drive, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Titus Canyon, Telescope Peak, sand dunes

Must-Do Activity

Death Valley averages less than 2 inches of precipitation annually, yet less than 10,000 years ago Badwater Basin was the bottom of a massive inland lake, the remnants of which be found along Salt Creek Interpretive Trail.  Here tiny desert pupfish survive in the salty, hot water. The related and endangered Devils Hole pupfish can be seen at a disconnected part of Death Valley National Park surrounded by Nevada’s Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Best Trail

There are great trails throughout this park, but we prefer walking wherever we want on the many sand dunes.  The best are the Panamint Dunes; tucked on a mountain slope they require a three mile hike to reach.   That means when you drop your sleeping bag on top you will likely have the place to yourself.  More centrally located are the popular Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  In the northern section of the park the steep Eureka Dunes have a free primitive campground at their base.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A dry, flat lakebed in the northwestern corner of the park provides a racetrack for rocks of all shapes and sizes.  High winds and ice crystals are the key to their movement, which is clearly shown in their wake.  Do not let the 26 mile dirt road stop you from visiting this spectacular site.  It is passable by most vehicles when the road is dry (we drove our mini-van there)and when the Racetrack is wet you should refrain from walking on it anyway. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall, with summer’s being incredibly hot except at the highest elevations.  However, it can snow just about any month of the year.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but to really enjoy the park you should drive a high-clearance vehicle (rental 4x4s are available near Furnace Creek).  As of December 2018, Scotty’s Castle is still inaccessible due to flood damage on the road.

Camping

There are campgrounds, but a unique aspect of this National Park is that you can disperse camp for free along many of its dirt roads.  Backcountry camping is also free and does not require a permit.


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

Explore More – What is the connection between Death Valley, 20 Mule Team Borax, and Stephen Mather (who in 1916 became the first Director of the National Park Service)?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE …THRICE …FORCE? …FIF!

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