Tag Archives: driving tour

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

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.

Saguaro National Park

Overview

The only U.S. National Park within the expansive Sonoran Desert is divided into two separate districts east and west of Tucson, Arizona.  Its namesake cactus can reach 50 feet in height and weigh more than 16,000 pounds when swelled with water during the rainy season.  Saguaros do not typically branch their first arms until age seventy-five and they can live over 200 years.  They share their home with other cacti that have cuddly names like teddybear cholla, hedgehog, barrel, staghorn cholla, and prickly pear.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Cactus Forest Drive, Desert Ecology Trail, Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers in both the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.  In each district, opportunities for visitors include scenic drives, handicap-accessible nature trails, and more strenuous hiking options.  Much of the wildlife is nocturnal in the hot desert, but watch for unique species like javelinas, ringtails, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, phainopeplas, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Best Trail

Hikers can find great overlooks of the surrounding mountains along the short Ridge View Trail in the eastern Rincon Mountain District of the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Winter is a great time to come to Saguaro National Park due to mild temperatures, but to see the desert in bloom the spring is best.  Saguaros typically bloom in early June, though their large white blooms are hard to photograph at the top of the tall cacti where moths, bats, and other pollinators can find them.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

In the Rincon Mountain District the Cactus Forest Drive is all paved, but in the Tucson Mountain District the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is mostly a graded gravel road.

Camping

Only backcountry camping in designated sites (with a permit) is allowed in the National Park, but campgrounds are available at Tucson Mountain County Park just outside the western district and throughout Coronado National Forest which borders the eastern district.

Related Sites

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

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

Explore More – Tohono O’odham Indians utilized saguaro fruit for jam, syrup, and wine; at what age do the cacti start flowering?

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.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Overview

You may not recall the 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana, but most Americans (even children) recognize its label “Custer’s Last Stand.”  For such a relatively minor skirmish in the bloody 1800s, it has an outsized legend that only grows with time.  At this site more than 140 years ago, a large portion of the 7th U.S. Cavalry met their demise for tactical reasons still debated to this day.  The blame is generally placed upon Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer who was believed to be jockeying for a presidential nomination in the 1876 election.  Today this National Park Service (NPS) site is located on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, just off Interstate 90.

Highlights

Museum, Custer National Cemetery, driving tour, Last Stand Hill, Indian Memorial

Must-Do Activity

On June 25, 1876, with only 600 soldiers, Custer attempted to defeat a temporary village composed of multiple tribes numbering over 7,000 individuals.  Never before had so large an American Indian encampment been collected anywhere on the Great Plains.  Renowned war chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and many others have their words memorialized at the Indian Memorial, not built at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument until 1997 near the mass grave on Last Stand Hill.  Be sure to come in late June for the opportunity to witness a historical reenactment of the famous battle, which is held on the Crow Indian Reservation adjacent to the 765-acre National Monument.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment is a two-hour, fully narrated presentation explaining the significance of the Battle of the Greasy Grass (as the American Indians call it).  The site of the reenactment is a ford where Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s battalion came closest to the encampment where 1,800 warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Nations were gathered to protect their families.  American Indian riders go bareback, leaping on and off their ponies with ease, while saddled 7th U.S. Cavalry re-enactors splash through the fast-flowing Little Bighorn River astride powerful horses.

Peak Season

Summer (the best time of year to visit is around the June 25 anniversary when a reenactment of the battle is held)

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a small, private campground at the exit from Interstate 90, but the nearest NPS campground is 40 miles away at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Explore More – When was Custer National Cemetery originally established and when did it become part of a National Monument?

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Overview

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is composed of two separate sites located 14 miles apart in Johnson City and Stonewall, Texas.  Museums here highlight the significant legislation that passed during his presidency from 1963-1969, including the pivotal Civil Rights Act, and, for nature lovers, the Wilderness Act.  Additions to the National Park Service (NPS) system during his presidency were extensive, including five sites in his home state of Texas (see Related Sites below).

Highlights

Johnson Settlement, films, Texas White House, Johnson Family Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

The 36th President of the United States is typically referred to as LBJ.  Birders know an “LBJ” as an acronym for those hard to identify “little brown jobs” that flit away before you can focus them in your binoculars.  Fittingly, President LBJ’s wife was named Lady Bird, and together they did much to preserve our public lands for native plants and animals.  Around the boyhood home where LBJ grew up in Johnson City, there are plenty of birds to watch, as well as longhorn cattle.  A driving tour through the Stonewall property (14 miles west) requires a permit from the LBJ State Park and Historic Site.  Once you get that, tickets for a guided tour of the Texas White House are available at the NPS visitor center located inside the Airplane Hangar.

Best Trail

A walking tour through Johnson City includes stops at Withers and Spauldings General Store, LBJ’s boyhood home, and barns and cabins that date back to the 1800s within the Johnson Settlement.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Longhorn cattle can be seen at the Johnson Settlement in Johnson City, Texas.  Hereford cattle are still raised at the working ranch in Stonewall.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None except for the Texas White House tour ($3 per person or free with the America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

East of Johnson City, Pedernales Falls State Park has a campground, as does Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Related Sites

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Explore More – Which resort in Florida (later owned by a future U.S. President) was designated a National Historic Site under the Johnson administration (then eventually sold and disbanded)?