Tag Archives: hiking

Tumacácori National Historical Park

Overview

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.

Highlights

Historic mission, historic museum (built in 1937)

Must-Do Activity

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 church.

Best Trail

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.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of the day in the winter months, trees surrounding the mission cast interesting shadows on its stucco walls.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$7 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Patagonia Lake State Park has more than 200 campsites northeast of Nogales, Arizona.

Explore More – Why was the Jesuit order expelled in 1767 and their missions assigned to Franciscan friars?

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Overview

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.

Echo at Tallgrass Prairie

Highlights

Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd

Must-Do Activity

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.

Best Trail

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.

Instagram-worthy Photo

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.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

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?

Castle Mountains National Monument

Overview

Designated in February 2016, this small monument borders Nevada and is surrounded by the much larger Mojave National Preserve on its other three sides.  Its highest point is Hart Peak (5,543 feet), named for James Hart who discovered gold here in 1907 and founded a boomtown that reached 1,500 residents. 

Highlights

Hart Peak (5,543 feet), Hart Mine ghost town, view of Castle Peaks

Must-Do Activity

This new National Monument is undeveloped with no trails, no visitor center, and little signage.  Drive or walk its network of dirt roads to get a feel for the Mojave Desert.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Joshua trees are always photogenic, especially when the jagged Castle Peaks are in the background (though they are outside the monument’s northern boundary within Mojave National Preserve).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

There are visitor centers in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve that have hours posted here:

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Walking Box Ranch Road is a groomed dirt road passable to any vehicle from Highway 164 west of Searchlight, Nevada.  Access roads from Mojave National Preserve require high-clearance.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed within the monument.  Hole-in-the-Wall Campground within Mojave National Preserve is accessible by paved road from Interstate 40.

Explore More – Piute Spring is charged by the aquifer within Castle Mountains National Monument; when researchers tested it, how long ago did its water fall as precipitation?

Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


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

Explore More – How many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?

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Devils Tower National Monument

Overview

Devils Tower was named the United States’ first National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.  Legend has it that its deep stripes were made by the tearing claws of a giant bear attempting to climb after seven girls who were saved when the rock grew from three feet high to its current 867 feet.  You can see the girls today as the constellation Pleiades.  The bear came to rest in Bear Butte State Park in South Dakota.

Highlights

Tower Trail, Joyner Ridge Trail, Prairie Dog Town

Must-Do Activity

Devils Tower is a distinctive 50-million-year-old volcanic plug, whose steep sides have been an irresistible challenge to rock climbers for years.  Watch for them as you complete the 1.3-mile loop trail around the entire tower, as it looks different from every angle.  Also look for the colorful prayer cloths left by Native Americans, many of whom would prefer this sacred site be renamed Bear Lodge National Monument.

Best Trail

Joyner Ridge Trail provides a unique view of the tower and forms a 1.5-mile loop or connects to the longer Red Beds Trail that circumnavigates it.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Visit in late September for fall foliage: golden quaking aspens and red chokecherry bushes.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Long vehicles must park just below the visitor center and hike a short ways up.  The short West Road to Joyner Ridge Trailhead is a good dirt road.

Camping

On the prairie below Devils Tower, a 50-site campground is located within a grove of cottonwood trees, with running water available May through October.  A private campground with RV hookups is located near the park entrance.

Explore More – How is park connected with the classic 1978 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind?