Tag Archives: film

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Ancient mammal bones from Agate Fossil Beds can be found in museums around the world.  Excavations began at Carnegie Hill in 1904 and soon thereafter at University Hill to be shipped back to Lincoln, Nebraska.  You would never guess at the thousands of fossils removed from these nondescript hills while hiking the 2.7 miles across the prairie from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.

Highlights

Museum, film, Daemonelix Trail

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center has an excellent display of the 20-million-year-old inhabitants of this spot, as well as a great collection of American Indian artifacts.  You can also learn about the mystery of the daemonelix, a corkscrew burrow which baffled researchers until it was eventually discovered to have been formed by palaeocastor, an ancestral land beaver.  

Best Trail

The Daemonelix Trail on the west side of the National Monument allows you to get an up close view of one of the palaeocastor’s corkscrew burrows.  A cast of this exact same formation is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Northwest of the National Monument in Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool Geologic Park is a beautiful badlands that is best photographed at sunset.  While exploring its trails, look for fossilized bones and trackways, plus be sure to visit the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center, which is open in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Highway 29 in the west and through the park is paved, but turns to well-graded gravel east of the National Monument.

Camping

No camping within the National Monument, but there is a free primitive campground at Toadstool Geologic Park in Oglala National Grassland.  Fort Robinson State Park offers camping, cabin rentals, and accommodations in former military barracks.

Explore More – How did the frontiersman James H. Cook collect the impressive array of American Indian artifacts now on display in the NPS visitor center?

Fossil Butte National Monument

Overview

One-hundred years after the creation of Yellowstone National Park, another Wyoming site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972: Fossil Butte National Monument.  It is dedicated to 50-million-year-old fossils found in an ancient subtropical lakebed, including plants (like palms and ferns) and animals (like turtles and lemurs). 

Highlights

NPS museum, film, Fossil Lake Trail, Historic Quarry Trail

Must-Do Activity

Even 50-million years ago it was windy in Wyoming!  The excellent preservation of the fossils may be in part due to high winds that kept surface water well-oxygenated while deeper waters were stagnant.  If you need to get out of the wind, head into the visitor center to see fossil fish, turtles, and other species on display.  On the deck outside there is an awesome timeline that traces CO2 levels and life on Earth throughout geologic time.

Best Trail

Take the steep steps up the Historic Quarry Trail to find fish fossils still in the rocks.  There is no shade along the trail, but even in the summer the weather is usually not that hot at 7,000 feet in elevation.  From the picnic area, the 1.5-mile Fossil Lake Trail leads to aspen groves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Get up close with fossils that stand out against the white bedrock in the NPS museum or on the Historic Quarry Trail.  On private land nearby, you can pay to excavate your own fish fossils that you get to keep.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

None within the National Monument, but to the north Bridger-Teton National Forest provides opportunities for dispersed camping.

Explore More – Kemmerer, Wyoming is home the very first example of which well-known department store?

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Overview

Rather than blast a canal through the mountains, this unique railroad carried sectioned canal boats 36 miles up and over the Alleghenies on a series of 10 inclined planes run by stationary steam engines.  It only ran between 1834 and 1854 before becoming obsolete when the Pennsylvania Railroad provided continuous service to the Ohio River Valley.

Highlights

Museum, film, Engine House 6, Lemon House, Skew Arch Bridge

Must-Do Activity

After watching the film in the visitor center, follow the boardwalk through a stone quarry to Engine House 6 Exhibit Building to see a life-sized model of a stationary steam engine and its cable system.  Continue on to Lemon House on Cresson Summit, built around 1832 to serve as a home and tavern. 

Best Trail

From the Engine House 6 Exhibit Building, you can walk a trail through the forest or the mowed incline less than half a mile down to Skew Arch Bridge, or you can drive there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Skew Arch Bridge was the only road bridge purposely built along the portage.  The “skew” comes in because in 1833 the bridge design was changed to accommodate a bend in the Huntington, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike Road.  The arch is 22 feet tall and demonstrates the excellence of stone masonry at the time as it was built without mortar.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Explore More – What is Staple Bend Tunnel famous for being the first example of with railroads in the United States?

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?

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Overview

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and learned to read despite rules against teaching slaves.  He later escaped his bondage and published his autobiography in 1845, becoming the leading African-American voice for the abolitionist movement.  He lived at the nine-acre Cedar Hill estate in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. from 1877 until his death in 1895.

Highlights

Historic home, great views of D.C., retro educational film

Must-Do Activity

There is a small museum at the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center and there is an educational film which seemed like it was recorded in the 1970s.  There are limited tickets for each tour inside the Cedar Hill estate which are reserveable online or you can show up and hope to get in like we did.  You are allowed to take photos inside the house.  Spoiler alert: Frederick died in the front hallway where your tour starts.

Best Trail

No trails, but you can walk the grounds of Cedar Hill where picnicking is allowed.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After you tour inside the home, be sure to stop at Frederick’s “man cave” which his family dubbed “the Growlery.”

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, but a timed ticket it required for the tour inside the house.

Road Conditions

All roads paved with a small parking lot at the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are NPS campgrounds in Greenbelt Park (Maryland) and Prince William Forest Park (Viriginia).

Explore More – Frederick Douglass served as U.S. Minister to which Caribbean nation?