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Update to Our Guidebook: A Park to Yourself

Since White Sands National Monument was upgraded to the 62nd National Park on December 20, 2019, we decided to update our guidebook to the parks.  If you already bought your copy on Amazon, please find the new page 308 posted below.  White Sands is one of our favorite of the many National Park Service units in New Mexico.  You can read more about the park on this blog

White Sands

New Mexico

148,558 acres

Established 2019

603,008 visitors in 2018

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially when the sand is wet.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  Follow markers on the five-mile roundtrip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes and provides views of the San Andres Mountains.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot bleached earless lizards that evolved to camouflage in the gypsum.  The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you attend the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll or backpack camp.  There is no campground and only ten backcountry campsites, and their availability is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight, so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground in a beautiful setting south of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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Wishing You All Happy Travels in 2020

2019 was the first complete year of our National Parks travel blog and it was a big year for us.  We wrote 112 blog posts and finished drawing our 50th logo for a National Park (see them all here).  In November, we published our first hard copy guidebook to visiting the 61 National Parks (which is available on Amazon). Then on December 20, White Sands was named the 62nd National Park so we will soon be working on a 2nd Edition (see our new logo on Cafe Press).

In 2019, we also worked toward our goal of visiting at least 400 of the current 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  In April, we took off two weeks to see all five NPS sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Virgin Islands NP, VI Coral Reef NM, Salt River Bay NHP, Buck Island NM, and Christiansted NHS).  We crossed off 29 NPS units from our list on a September blitz through Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.  In December, we made it to our final NPS sites in both Florida and Georgia.

We have now visited 364 of 419 NPS units, but most of the remaining sites are far flung, so it will take many separate trips to see the rest.  We hope to return to Washington, D.C. soon to see the leftover NPS sites there and in the surrounding states.  We are very grateful for the opportunity to travel and see some of the most wonderful parts of America. 

We wish you all happy and safe travels in 2020.

Thank you for reading our travel blog. 

Tiff at Christiansted NHS on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands
This design we created to celebrate the new White Sands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Top 10 Museums Run by the National Park Service

Some National Park Service units stick with the “go outside and play” philosophy, but these selected parks do a great job of interpreting human and natural history inside a museum.  You might recognize some names from our Top 10 National Historical Parks, National Monuments, and National Historic Sites.  We previously created a Top 10 list of our favorite museums at the 61 National Parks.

10. Colonial National Historical Park (Virginia)

An indoor French frigate makes Yorktown a must-visit museum

9. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Ohio)

Follow the Aviation Trail to the Wright Brothers cycle shop and National Parachute Museum

8. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

This museum opened in 2017 to explain this incredible woman’s life

7. Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

A balanced look at a controversial U.S. President housed in his former barn

6. Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York-New Jersey)

Ellis Island and Lady Liberty (new museum opened in 2019) make an unforgettable day trip

5. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The museum opened in 2008, and pay extra for the excellent film and the Cyclorama painting

4. Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)

A superb use of videos and kiosks to provide four different characters’ perspectives on the events of the American Revolution in Upstate New York

3. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Two entire airplane hangars full of aircraft and displays about these Civil Rights pioneers

2. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

The best natural history museum in the entire National Park Service system

…and finally our #1 museum at a National Park Service site:

1. Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Visiting the National Prisoner of War Museum is a powerful experience

    

Honorable Mentions

Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado-Utah)

An indoor mountainside full of dinosaur fossils makes this place special

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

An excellent museum interprets the start of the global French and Indian War in 1754

Hopewell Culture National Monument (Ohio)

A small museum, but the artifacts are wonderfully displayed (and it has a great film)

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Like New York’s Women’s Rights NHP, this museum makes you think about modern issues

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

This museum will help you solve the mystery of the “Lost Colony” of 1590

Top 10 Museums in National Parks

We recently published our 307-page guidebook to the 61 National Parks (available on Amazon), so we thought it would be a good time to rank our favorite museums in the parks.  The National Parks typically stick with the “go outside and play” philosophy, but these selected parks do a great job of interpreting human and natural history inside a museum.  Our photograph options are limited and mainly include Wondon the Traveling Bunny (who has his own blog).  We will rank our Top 10 museums in other National Park Service (NPS) units in a future list (check out all our Top 10 Lists here). 

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennesee-North Carolina)

Sugarlands Visitor Center has a nice natural history museum, plus the historic structures at Cataloochee, Elkmont, and Cades Cove serve as outdoor museums.

9. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

If this is your first visit, after you buy your tour tickets at the park entrance head directly to the Chapin Mesa Museum that overlooks the ruins of Spruce Tree House.

8. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Great Basin Visitor Center is in Baker, outside the park boundaries, but it is worth a stop to see a cross-section of Prometheus, a nearly 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine tree.

7. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is home to an excellent museum interpreting the natural history of the “river of grass.”

6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Boston Store and Canal Visitor Centers both have excellent hands-on exhibits and, taking a page from Parks Canada, you can play dress-up, too.

5. Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

Part of the reason this became a National Park in 2018 was due to the opening of its new museum beneath the arch, but do not miss a visit inside the colorful Old Courthouse.

4. Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

There are great exhibits on wildlife at Denali Visitor Center near the park entrance and Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 on the main park road (only accessible by bus).

3. Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

Fordyce Bathhouse on Central Avenue is now entirely a museum with multiple stories of exhibits and plenty of stories to tell.

2. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

There is an excellent interpretive museum inside the visitor center for the world’s longest cave.

… and finally our #1 museum in a National Park:

1. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Learn all about the Yellowstone Supervolcano at Old Faithful and Canyon Village Visitor Centers, but also check out the Museum of the National Park Ranger near Norris Junction.

Honorable Mentions

Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

It can be easy to miss the museum that is downstairs from the park bookstore and tour ticket booth, so do not make that rookie mistake.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

The Main Park Visitor Center is located on the Richardson Highway, but the main attraction requires you to brave the drive to McCarthy and cross the pedestrian bridge to the Kennecott ghost town.

Top 10 Guidebooks to National Parks

Every major travel publisher (Fodors, Moon, Lonely Planet) has a guidebook to America’s National Parks, which all say the same things about where to go.  We recently published our first book to offer alternatives for those readers seeking to have unique National Park adventures.  You might guess where that one ended up on our Top 10 list, but we also recommend the following guidebooks. 

10. Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist & Daniel S. Licht (2013)

Tips abound in 12 chapters that cover the best spot to see wildlife each month of the year with excellent color photos.

9. 10 Best of Everything: National Parks: 800 Top Picks From Parks Coast to Coast by National Geographic (2011)

Brief descriptions of parks in a variety of categories introduce readers to units in the National Park Service (NPS) system beyond the 61 National Parks.

8. 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass (2016)

A historian chooses his top 50 iconic American spots to visit, many of which are in the NPS system.

7. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into National Parks by Toney Allman, Jahnna Beecham, et al. (2007)

Beyond the funny stories, this book is actually full of interesting tidbits of information on National Parks that you might not learn anywhere else.

6. Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See for Yourself by Kenneth L.  Feder (2016)

Many NPS units focus on archaeology and this succinct guide provides a solid background on many of the best sites spread across the country.

5. The West Less Traveled: The Best and Lesser Known Parks, Monuments, and Natural Areas by Jan Bannan (1996)

Out-of-print guide focused not solely on units in the NPS system that contains good detail on geology and ecology.

4. Guide to the National Park Areas: Eastern States by David L. Scott & Kay W. Scott (2004)

Out-of-print two-volume set includes all NPS units at the time, with great information for RV campers.

3. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald (2017)

An ambitious and in-depth exploration of the National Parks, including great detail on hiking trails and full-color maps.

2. Complete National Parks of the United States by National Geographic (2016)

Provides a brief description of all 400+ units in the NPS system, plus some of the affiliated sites.

1. A Park To Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks by Scott Sink & Tiff Sink (2019)

As far as we know, our guidebook is the first one to include Indiana Dunes National Park, established February 15, 2019.

Honorable Mentions

National Parks: A Kids Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks by Erin McHugh (2012)

This full-color, graphic-oriented children’s book is perfect for anyone collecting the 56 quarters in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful collection.

Guide to the National Parks of the USA by National Geographic (2016)

Of the major publishers, National Geographic does the best job of summarizing each park, plus they include color photographs.

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