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.
Historic mission, historic museum (built in 1937)
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
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.
At the end of the day in the winter months, trees surrounding the mission cast interesting shadows on its stucco walls.
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.
Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd
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.
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.
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.
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?
One of the many things that makes this country great is its willingness to remember inglorious moments in its past, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the detention of more than 110,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first of 10 internment camps built throughout the western U.S. It held about 10,000 citizens (mostly from Los Angeles, California) in 36 blocks of wooden barracks across a one square-mile fenced enclosure.
Museum, film, reconstructed barracks, gardens, memorial
Opened in 2004, the National Park Service visitor center is
located inside the former camp auditorium, which now houses an excellent
museum. Self-guided walking and auto
tours take visitors to two reconstructed barracks, the camp gardens, and a
cemetery with the Manzanar Memorial.
You can walk or drive the 3.2-mile auto tour with 27
Located in the camp’s cemetery, the Manzanar Memorial is
often swathed in origami paper cranes.
Summer, though temperatures can get hot with little shade.
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.
Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon Trail, Devils Golf Course, Artists Drive, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Titus Canyon, Telescope Peak, sand dunes
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
The geothermal features here inspired the creation of the world’s first official “National Park” in 1872. Most of Yellowstone is actually a supervolcano where the magma heats up underground water producing 10,000 hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots on the surface, as well as 300 geysers. Incredibly, over 50% of the geysers in the world occur within this one park, which is equally famous for its wildlife diversity, including grizzly bears, bison, gray wolves, and elk.
Old Faithful geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, waterfalls, wildlife
The most famous geyser here is Old Faithful, which can shoot water up to 185 feet in the air. Since the occurrence of several earthquakes it is no longer as consistent as its name suggests, but its eruptions can be accurately predicted every 60 to 110 minutes throughout the day. Arrive early to get a seat or take the trail up the nearby hill to watch it from above. Afterwards, hike the boardwalks through colorful Upper Geyser Basin.
A hike into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Glacial Boulder Trail is one way to find the solitude lacking at the drive-up overlooks (you should still hike to the Brink of Lower Falls with the crowds). Instead of staying in the packed campgrounds, consider getting a permit to backpack camp in the canyon.
The trail is steep, but paved down to the Brink of Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River for unforgettable view of the canyon, especially on sunny days when a rainbow appears in the spray.
Summer, but Old Faithful Village can seem busy in the winter with all the snowmobiles during the day.
Very few roads are not paved, but the majority close for seven months in the winter.
There are many campgrounds in the park, but they fill up quickly the summer (especially at primitive Slough Creek). The surrounding National Forests offer campgrounds and dispersed sites as well. We have enjoyed backpacking at designated campsites in the park with a permit, especially in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Explore More – How many of the park’s 4-million annual visitors arrive in June, July, and August?