Tag Archives: film

Camp Nelson National Monument

Camp Nelson National Monument


Managed by National Park Service

Established 2018

525 acres

Website: nps.gov/cane


Camp Nelson National Monument occupies 525 acres where a Civil War fort was located 20 miles south of Lexington.  During the war, Kentucky was technically a Union state so the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not apply to the state’s slaves.  Many local slaves were impressed by the U.S. Army to build the camp and their owners were compensated for the work.  In May 1864, when freedom was offered to any black man to join the United States Colored Troops, thousands of escaped slaves brought their families (who were not granted freedom) to this supply depot, which led to numerous conflicts between refugees and Army officials. 


Museum, film, Oliver Perry House, barracks, Fort Putnam, Fort Jones, Home for Colored Refugees Site

Must-Do Activity

Unlike many new National Monuments, this one was already developed as the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park so it has a historical museum, hiking trails, and interpretive film (that made our Top 10 list for NPS films).  The Oliver Perry House is the only original structure on site, although a barracks building and the earthworks of Fort Putnam have been reconstructed.  A living history weekend is typically held during the summer in the park, which is adjacent to Camp Nelson National Cemetery (see photos below) where hundreds of Civil War soldiers are buried.

Best Trail

There are four miles of trails in Fort Nelson National Monument with numerous interpretive signs and flags placed to identify the former locations of the bakery, prison, stables, Quartermaster Office, and other structures.  The Fort Jones/Overlook Trail accesses extensive stone revetment walls that provided defenses for the eastern side of Camp Nelson.  There is little shade in this grassy landscape, so come prepared on hot summer afternoons.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Built in 1846, the Oliver Perry House (also called the White House) is the only remaining original structure on site, which served as officers’ quarters.

Peak Season






Road Conditions

All roads paved


There is no campground on site, but there are some nice ones found throughout the Kentucky state parks system and Daniel Boone National Forest (where we recommend Cave Run Lake).

Related Sites

Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)

Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument (Kentucky)

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Explore More – When was Army policy changed at Camp Nelson to allow the families of United States Colored Troops to have a mess hall, school, and housing?

Top 10 Films at National Park Service Visitor Centers

This fall we have driven all over the country and stopped at a handful of National Park Service (NPS) sites that we had never visited.  We have been surprised at the quality of the introductory films shown at some of these lesser-known spots, so we decided to put together a list of our all-time favorites.  Not every NPS site has a film, nor have we watched every one available at the 385 units we have visited, so there is a good bet we have missed some excellent ones.  Please let us know if you have a recommendation, as quite a few of the films are now available for free through the NPS app or on YouTube.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including some lists of movies not made by the NPS.

10. Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a cowboy hat is probably the best reason to watch this film about the “Buffalo Soldiers” (click to watch it on YouTube)

9. Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Reenactors in kilts holding swords make this seem more like Braveheart than the historically-accurate Revolutionary War scene that it is

8. Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky)

This recent addition to the NPS system has a great film about how a Civil War fort became a haven for runaway slaves

7. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Most of these films emphasize history, but this one focuses on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities in this forested wonderland

Scott with the 42′ x 377′ Cyclorama mural

6. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The only movie on this list that charges an admission fee, it is well-produced and pairs well with viewing the Cyclorama painting

5. Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington-Montana)

The Nez Perce have a thriving nation as shown in this documentary that emphasizes the present more than the past (it plays at the visitor center in Spaulding, Idaho)

4. Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

A short, modern film (on YouTube) that thoroughly and artfully explains the battle with long, uncut shots and realistic depictions of bullet wounds

3. Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho)

New film covers the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, not just the 13,000 imprisoned in central Idaho

2. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

The excellent documentary Close To Home (on YouTube) focuses primarily on the former First Lady’s inspirational career after her time in the White House

…and finally our #1 film at a National Park Service visitor center:

1. Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Multiple screens with props in the foreground make for an unforgettable telling of Paul Revere’s ride at the visitor center in Lexington


Honorable Mentions

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)

This film is less than six minutes long, but it is very informative and available on YouTube

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This film is very dated to the 1970s, so it is unintentionally funny while still being informative

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Interviews with the former President highlight this retelling of his childhood in the small town of Hope where he was born to a widowed mother under the name Billy Blythe III

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

We did not watch the whole film, but this must be the most pleasant theater in the NPS system

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

There are actually two films shown at the visitor center in downtown Philadelphia, but only one stars a young Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars and Disney’s Frozen)

El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument

New Mexico

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1906

1,278 acres

Website: nps.gov/elmo


A small pool of reliable water at the base of a sandstone bluff has attracted humans and animals for centuries in this arid region.  Ancestral Puebloans built a village atop the 200-foot-tall mesa and Spanish explorers carved their names alongside petroglyphs at a place they dubbed “el morro” (the headland).  Today, El Morro National Monument is located about 125 miles west of Albuquerque, about 42 miles off Interstate 40.


Inscription Rock Trail, Atsinna Pueblo ruins, Mesa Top Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center offers a 15-minute film and the half-mile paved Inscription Rock Trail loop to view the carvings.  Pick up a free guidebook that provides details on the earliest European inscriptions that date back to 1605 and the petroglyphs that may be around 1,000 years old. 

Best Trail

The Mesa Top Trail loop climbs to the top of the bluff where there are Ancestral Puebloan ruins and great views of the volcanic El Malpais National Monument.  The hike is about two miles roundtrip, with interesting steps carved into the soft sandstone in places.  The trail may be closed during thunderstorms during the summer and after heavy snowfalls in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is worth the short but steep climb to check out the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo (built in the late-1200s) atop the sandstone bluff.

Peak Season

Spring and fall





Road Conditions

The short entrance road is paved from Highway 53.


The small primitive campground at El Morro National Monument is open year round (except during snowstorms), plus there is a private RV park located near the entrance.

Related Sites

El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

Cibola National Forest (New Mexico)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – Who were the first Anglo-Americans to inscribe their names at El Morro in 1849?

Top 10 Movies Filmed in National Forests

Many classic movies have been filmed within the boundaries of America’s National Forests due to their natural beauty (or maybe their state’s favorable laws and tax breaks).  Our ranking is partially based on the quality of the movie and partially on the prominence of the setting to the story.  We hope this list brings back some fond cinematic memories.  Click here to check out all our Top 10 Lists, including our favorite movies filmed in National Parks.

10. Fire in the Sky (1993) Umpqua National Forest (Oregon)

This terrifying alien abduction story took place in Arizona, so naturally they filmed it in Oregon

9. The Thing (1982) Tongass National Forest (Alaska)

John Carpenter’s book The Thing is set in Antarctica, but this parasitic alien preferred a temperate rainforest

8. ¡Three Amigos! (1986) Coronado National Forest (Arizona)

This comedy was filmed close enough to Mexico to stand in for it

7. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) Santa Fe National Forest (New Mexico)

50 years after its original release, this remake had its tunnel scenes filmed in this National Forest

6. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)

The 1920 version was filmed in California’s San Bernardino National Forest (see Honorable Mentions below) so they’re getting closer to the book’s northeastern U.S. setting

5. Homeward Bound (1993) Deschutes, Mt. Hood, Wallowa-Whitman, and Willamette National Forests (Oregon)

The incredible journey of three beloved pets was filmed across the state of Oregon

4. The River Wild (1994) Kootenai National Forest (Montana-Idaho)

A wet and wild thriller that featured this National Forest’s whitewater rivers

3. The Hunger Games (2012) Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)

The forests of District 13 are where we first witness Katniss’ skills with a bow and arrow

2. A River Runs Through It (1992) Gallatin National Forest (Montana)

Beautiful scenery helped this film win the 1993 Academy Award for best cinematography

…and finally our #1 movie filmed in a National Forest:

1. Dances With Wolves (1990) Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota-Wyoming)

This Academy Award-winning film separately inspired both our families go west to see bison in 1992

Honorable Mentions

Glory (1989) Osceola National Forest (Florida)

The famous 54th Massachusetts fought at Olustee in 1864 and they filmed on site, which is also true of Ocala National Forest’s The Yearling (1946) based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel

Dante’s Peak (1997) Idaho Panhandle National Forests (Idaho)

Not the greatest movie, nor are we sure which of the three National Forests were featured: Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, or St. Joe

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Angeles National Forest (California)

Given its proximity to Hollywood, you would have thought more films would highlight this National Forest…

Dr. Doolittle (2001) San Bernardino National Forest (California)

…but directors seem to prefer to go a little further east based on these classic titles: Heidi (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lassie Come Home (1943), The Yearling (1946), Shane (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and Old Yeller (1957)

Hovenweep National Monument


Partially surrounded by Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (run by the Bureau of Land Management), Hovenweep National Monument occupies a remote area on the southern Utah-Colorado border.  Established in 1923, it is composed of six units, the largest of which has a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center on the rim of Little Ruin Canyon, the location of the variable architectural styles of Square Tower Group. 


Square Tower Group, Holly Group, Cajon Group, Hackberry Group, Cutthroat Castle Group

Must-Do Activity

At Square Tower Group a two-mile loop hike takes visitors past an impressive collection of structures that date back to the 1200s, the same period that Ancestral Puebloans inhabited nearby Mesa Verde National Park.  The variety of building styles in this narrow canyon is remarkable, from Square Tower and Hovenweep Castle to Twin Towers and the unique Eroded Boulder House.  There is almost no shade to be found on the sagebrush plain of Cajon Mesa, so visiting in the heat of summer may not be as enjoyable.  The good news is that it makes for boundless vistas, especially to the south where Sleeping Ute Mountain looms.

Best Trail

The loop trail at Square Tower Group is paved and wheelchair accessible to the first overlook at Stronghold Point, but then gets much rougher over its two miles, especially at the end where it drops into Little Ruin Canyon.  A four-mile one-way trail connects this area to the Holly Group of ruins.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Little Ruin Canyon has one of the highest density collections of ruins anywhere in the southwest U.S., including the cool Eroded Boulder House, a part of the Square Tower Group.

Peak Season

Spring and fall





Road Conditions

Despite its remote location, roads are paved to Square Tower Group, but accessing most of the other units requires driving or hiking rough dirt roads.  Further east in Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, visitors can drive well-maintained roads to the Escalante Ruins and Lowry Pueblo, as well as the two trailheads for Sand Canyon.


The NPS runs a 30-site campground (for a fee) at its visitor center near Square Tower Group.  Dispersed camping is allowed in many parts of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Related Sites

Yucca House National Monument (Colorado)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Hovenweep is a Ute-Paiute word that translates as what?