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Valley Forge National Historical Park

Overview

The winter of 1777-78 was actually mild by Pennsylvania standards, but for 12,000 poorly-clothed rebels it was hard enough.  Following a retreat from Philadelphia, General George Washington’s army arrived at Valley Forge on December 19 to keep British soldiers from scouring the countryside for winter provisions.  Soldiers quickly set about building log cabins and cutting firewood, establishing the fourth-largest city in the colonies. 

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed cabins, National Memorial Arch, Washington’s headquarters

Must-Do Activity

The Encampment Tour is a 10-mile driving route that takes you to reconstructed cabins, earthwork redoubts, and General George Washington’s headquarters which contains 80% original artifacts.  Primarily due to a lack of food and hygiene, approximately 2,500 soldiers died at Valley Forge, many from typhus, influenza, and pneumonia.  This represented about 7% of the army’s total fatalities during the Revolutionary War.  Those that survived the hardships became an elite fighting force; however, many of them would spend the remaining years of the war waiting for orders that never came to attack British-held New York City. 

Best Trail

A paved trail follows much of the driving tour route and is popular with joggers and bikers.  The Schuylkill River Trail goes all the way from Valley Forge to Philadelphia.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The National Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1917, one more reason this beautiful park is frequented by local joggers.

Peak Season

Summer.  Although it would be more authentic, you may not want to visit this park during the cold and snowy winter months.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but freeway traffic in this Philadelphia suburb can be congested during rush hour.

Camping

French Creek State Park (next to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site) offers a campground 25 miles northwest of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Explore More – What was the name of the Prussian general that led the troops through months of drills?

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Following meetings in regards to development in North Las Vegas, the Protectors of Tule Springs was founded in 2006 and successfully preserved 22,650 acres of federal land eight years later.  The area contains fossils of Columbian mammoths, ground sloths, American lions, ancient camels, dire wolves, sabre-toothed cats, bison, and three ancient species of horse ranging from 7,000- to 250,000-years-old.  There are plans to open a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at the end of Aliante Parkway.

Highlights

Upper Las Vegas Wash, natural bridge, trash cleanup

Must-Do Activity

The actual Tule Springs are a desert oasis contained within Floyd Lamb Park, operated by the City of Las Vegas.  The Bureau of Land Management formerly controlled the acreage that became the National Monument and it was heavily impacted by garbage dumping, off-road driving, and shooting.  Your “must-do activity” here is to remove some trash.  The Protectors of Tule Springs have hosted several cleanup events.

Best Trail

There are no trails within the National Monument yet, but there are two access points to Upper Las Vegas Wash from Durango Drive and Aliante Parkway.  The wash contains Joshua trees and several patches of the rare Las Vegas bear poppy, and provides habitat for threatened desert tortoises, burrowing owls, and kit foxes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hike the Upper Las Vegas Wash about a half-mile east from the end of Durango Drive and look for a natural bridge carved in the soft mudstone wall. 

Peak Season

Winter when snow dusts the top of the Sheep Range and Las Vegas Range of mountains.

Hours

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is open sunrise to sunset.  Information is available at visitor centers in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. https://www.nps.gov/tusk/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to access points at the north end of Durango Drive and at the end of Aliante Parkway.  Look for wire barriers and small brown NPS signs at the two parking areas.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but free dispersed camping is allowed within Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the north.  There are campgrounds in nearby Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Explore More – In what year did National Geographic conduct a 4-month study here to catalog thousands of Ice Age mammal fossils?

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Overview

On May 10, 1869, there were actually four commemorative spikes (made of both silver and gold) to celebrate completing the monumental task to lay 1,776 miles of track connecting Sacramento and Omaha, linking west to east.  In front of a crowd of thousands that gathered at Promontory Point in Utah, Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad, missed when attempting to drive the final spike.

Highlights

Replica train engines, museum, film, Chinese Arch

Must-Do Activity

Thanks to the National Park Service, each day in the summer you can see working replicas of two steam engines, burning wood and coal, come together for a daily photo op.  It took some effort just to figure out where the junction occurred, since it was moved by 1870, in 1904 a shorter causeway was built across the Great Salt Lake, and during World War II the track here was ripped up. 

Best Trail

Big Fill Loop Trail (1.5 miles) leads to a ravine filled by hand to create a gentle grade for the trains.  Two unpaved auto tours (2 and 14 miles) follow the rail route, with the highlight stop being the natural limestone Chinese Arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Central Pacific Railroad’s locomotive Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119 are both beautiful reproductions, but they only run between May and mid-October.  Please note that you are not allowed to mush pennies on the train tracks but they do have a 51-cent mushed penny machine inside the visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, but also May 10 annually (especially in 2019, the 150th anniversary)

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per vehicle or free with America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main road to the visitor center is paved, but the two auto tour routes follow graded dirt roads.

Camping

None within the park, but Hyrum Lake State Park, Willard Bay State Park, and Box Elder Campground (U.S. Forest Service) are located near Brigham City, Utah.

Explore More – How many miles of parallel grades did the two greedy companies (that got paid by the mile) lay out before Congress stepped in to establish Promontory Summit as the official meeting place?

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)?

1WonsTiny2

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

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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Overview

Twenty-one of the 22 islands within this archipelago jutting from northern Wisconsin into Lake Superior are part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  This region is famous for its lighthouses and concessionaires offer tours to see them if you do not have your own boat.  Kayakers come for the sea caves carved into Sand Island, Devils Island, and the mainland (accessible on foot after the lake freezes in winter).

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Highlights

Islands, lighthouses, boating, camping, sea caves

Must-Do Activity

Even though this is a freshwater lake, Sand Island has sea caves carved into the billion-year-old sandstone cliffs by constant wave action.  Located only 4 miles from shore, the Sand Island sea caves are carved nearly 50 feet into the rock and can be carefully navigated by kayak.

Best Trail

Sand Island was closed at the time of our visit due to black bear activity, but it is one of the few islands that has a hiking trail (Stockton, Basswood, and Outer being others).  Lakeshore Trail on the west side of the Bayfield Peninsula offers a trail on the mainland.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You will need a kayak and a steady hand to take photographs while paddling through the sea caves on the east side of Sand Island.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None to visit, but there are fees to camp on the islands and for concessionaire boat tours.

Road Conditions

Most roads on the Bayfield Peninsula are paved and the sandy roads through Chequamegon National Forest were passable by all vehicles.

Camping

Many visitors come with their own boat to camp on one of the 18 islands with sites (permit required and reservations recommended).  Car camping is available at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island (ferry service) and throughout Chequamegon National Forest on Bayfield Peninsula.

The outside of the Apostle Island Visitor's Center
Pick up your camping permits at this historic Visitor Center.
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Sunset on Lake Superior.
The sandy beach at York Island
York Island
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Our campsite on York Island.

Tiff taking pictures on Bananas (with Wondon in his baggies)

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Sand Island Lighthouse
They were pretty stunning
Sea caves on Sand Island.

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It looks alien
A view of the sea cave arch from underwater.

Explore More – When was Long Island added as the twenty-first island in the park?

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WONDON WAS HERE