Tag Archives: geology

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

There are three units of this National Monument named for the John Day River that drains this region in the rain shadow of the Cascades.  It is less green than much of Oregon, but that lack of vegetation allows the wonderful colors of the soil to show through in places like the Painted Hills and Blue Basin.

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Highlights

Scenic views, geologic formations, fossils, museum

Must-Do Activity

The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gets our vote for the best museum in the entire National Park Service System.   Across from Sheep Rock, it has awesome exhibits on the 40-million years of mammalian history this monument protects.  Plus, watch real laboratory specimens being prepared by archaeologists.  Across the highway, have a picnic at the James Cant Ranch Historic District and learn about sheep and cattle ranching in this region.

Best Trail

The Blue Basin is accurately named at the end of the one-mile Island in Time Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you can only see one unit of the monument, make sure it is the surreal Painted Hills. Stunning colors on large clay hills with several interpretive loop trails describe the geological history and fossils found there.

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Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can cause road closures.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Dirt roads at the Painted Hills are passable with most vehicles when dry.

Camping

None within the monument, but there are several campgrounds in the area, including a nice one we stayed at in the town of Fossil, Oregon.

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The John Day River running through the National Monument.
Rock formations like the ones at Devils Postpile NM
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gets our vote for the best museum in the entire NPS System.
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The blue badlands at the end of the one-mile Island in Time Trail. 

Group shot

 

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There are several trails through the Painted Hills for up-close views of the colorful soil.

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Explore More – Which unit of the National Monument is known for its fossil plants in mudstone?

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Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Overview

The Appalachian Trail (or A.T.) is one of only three National Scenic Trails that the National Park Service (NPS) includes in its total of 417 units, despite there being many other affiliated trails (some with their own Visitor Centers).  The trail stretches 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, crossing 14 states, 6 NPS sites, 8 National Forests, and countless other parks.

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Highlights

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Mount Washington State Park, Baxter State Park

Must-Do Activity

Even if just for a short stretch, gets a taste for the A.T. by following the white rectangular blazes going north or south anywhere along its length.  The trail through Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is especially popular.

Best Trail

The last stretch of the trail ascends Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  My impression from the surly park employees is that they would rather not be the official end of the Appalachian Trail.  For instance, they fined record-setting Scott Jurek for public alcohol consumption and littering when he spilled some champagne celebrating his accomplishment atop Katahdin in 2015.  The funny thing about the A.T. is that it ends (or begins) on top of a mountain where you have to turn around and hike out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The views on top of Katahdin are unsurpassed and you might get to celebrate with a thru-hiker finishing the 2,185-mile journey.

At the top!  The mountain looks similar to many of the 14ers in Colorado

Peak Season

Most thru-hikers go in the summer due to snow.  Baxter State Park closes in the winter, but most of the trail is accessible year round.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/appa/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Free to hike, but some parks (like Shenandoah National Park) charge for admission and camping.

Road Conditions

Trailhead access can be both paved and dirt (which is the case in Baxter State Park).  The trail is only paved in a few portions like atop Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Camping

There are more than 160 trail shelters along the A.T. and in some places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park backpackers are required to utilize them.  Otherwise dispersed camping is mostly allowed along the entire length of the trail.

Raven flyover
Raven about the Katahdin summit!

At the peak and end of the AT

Group shot!

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A view of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
A view looking east at the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Explore More – Approximately how many steps must a human take to cover 2,185 miles?

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City of Rocks National Reserve

Overview

In the high desert of southeast Idaho stands a collection of granite spires that served as a welcome rest stop along the California Trail.   At the height of the gold rush in 1852, some 50,000 pioneers passed this site in a single year.  Many left their names painted in axle grease, still legible on Camp Rock and Register Rock.  Today it is a popular destination for rock climbers from around the world, but also has 22 miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

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Highlights

Rock climbing, Register Rock, Window Arch, primitive camping

Must-Do Activity

Rock climbers flock here from around the world to take on the granite spires that inspired emigrants on the California Gold Rush Trail to name it City of Rocks.  The grippy granite is fun for any skill level to clamber around on and easily accessible from all campsites.

Best Trail

Trails snake through this area leading to different climbing routes, especially around Elephant Rock, which is a great place to watch other climbers.  Keep watching the skies, too, as a variety of raptors (and pigeons) enjoy the thermals here.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Window Arch is a great place to watch the sun come up, just try not to wake up campers in the neighboring sites.

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Peak Season

Summer, since it is very cold at this elevation (7,000 feet) in other seasons.  Autumn briefly turns aspen leaves yellow.

Hours

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

Fees

Free to enter and only $12.72 to camp per night (so bring exact change)

Road Conditions

A dirt road winds through the park and is accessible to passenger vehicles.

Camping

78 primitive campsites located off the dirt Emery Canyon Road, with several nice sites sit right next to Window Arch.  For more upscale accommodations try the Lodge and Bunkhouse at nearby Castle Rocks State Park.

Lots of fins

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One of the more famous inscriptions
Emigrants on the California Trail passed right through here.

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Explore More – How many billions of years ago did the oldest granite here form?

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Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Overview

Located on the remote northern peninsula of Molokai, in the Hawaiian Islands, this isolated spot was selected by King Kamehameha V in 1865 as a quarantine area for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy).  It is fairly noncontagious and successful treatments were developed, meaning patients have not been forced to live here since 1949.  There are still no roads to the settlement, so you will have to get the necessary permits through Father Damien Tours to fly, hike, or ride mules into the restricted-access park.  Nobody under age 16 is allowed.

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Highlights

Kalaupapa Trail, St. Philomena Church, Kalawao Settlement

Must-Do Activity

“Must do” in this case means you are only allowed to enter this park on the 4-hour bus tours led by Hansen’s disease patients who choose to remain living here, which truly enhances your experience.  From them you will hear the amazing stories of the exiles and those who helped them, including two saints: Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope.

Best Trail

Hiking down the 1,600-foot high cliffs is an exciting introduction to the land, or you can ride a mule on the same trail.  Permits required.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tour stops for lunch at the long-abandoned Kalawao Settlement at the end of the road, which offers stunning views of the 1,600-foot cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

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Peak Season

The weather is nice year round in the tropics, but always be prepared for rain.

Hours

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

Fees

Permits are required to enter this park and the only concessionaire is Father Damien Tours.  A day trip including flights from Honolulu cost $249 per person in 2016, but cheaper options are available if you are already staying on Molokai Island.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads are bumpy, especially in a bus, but you won’t be driving so just enjoy the scenery.

Camping

None

A view of Kalaupapa from near the top of the trail
Tropical jungles and extraordinary overlooks are two reasons to enter the park via the Kalaupapa Trail.

Tiff on the downhill

Scott with an awesome tree

Tiff at the restored church built by Father Damien in the 1800s
Father Damien served here at St. Philomena Church in the later abandoned Kalawao Settlement; he was canonized in 2009.

Active Catholic church in Kalaupapa

Tiff boarding our plane to get topside on Moloka'i
Small airplanes are used to fly in and out of Kalaupapa, offering great views of Molokai.

Explore More – Since 1865, how many Hansen’s disease patients were buried in Kalaupapa?

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Lava Beds National Monument

Overview

Near California’s northern border lies isolated Lava Beds National Monument.  There are 700 lava tubes within the monument and many of them are open for self-guided caving.  Lava tubes form when the rapidly cooling surface solidifies into rock and free flowing lava drains out beneath.

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Highlights

Skull Cave, Golden Dome, Petroglyph Point, Captain Jack’s Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

Only one cave near the visitor center is lit, the others all require flashlights, with hardhats and kneepads recommended for some of the tighter squeezes.  Explore as many lava tubes as you have time for, like Skull Cave with its wide entrance or one of several caves that contain ice year round.

Best Trail

1.5-mile roundtrip hike to top of Schonchin Butte where a fire lookout offers panoramic views across lava flows to Tule Lake, Glass Mountain, and Mount Shasta.

Instagram-worthy Photo

All you need is a flashlight to walk less than half a mile underground to Golden Dome, the most spectacular feature of the park.  The gold flecks are actually colonies of hydrophobic bacteria that thrive in this humid, lightless environment.  Other caves containing them include Thunderbolt and Blue Grotto.

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Peak Season

Open year round, but due to its elevation (5,000 feet) the aboveground surface can get a bit hot in summer and cold in winter, but it is usually nice inside the lava tubes.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The entrance road from Oregon and Cave Loop Road are paved, but most are dirt south of the park in Modoc National Forest.

Camping

Indian Well Campground is located near the visitor center and Cave Loop Road.  Dirt roads in the neighboring Modoc National Forest provide free dispersed camping.

 

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Standing in the wide entrance to Skull Cave.

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Lavasicles hang from the ceiling inside a narrow section of lava tube.
Hydrophobic bacteria light up in Golden Dome
Group shot under the Golden Dome.

Explore More – How did 60 Modoc warriors led by Captain Jack keep 1,000 U.S. troops at bay for six months?

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