Tag Archives: ocean

Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

Overview

Established in 2001, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument covers 12,708 acres of ocean around Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.  The National Monument consists of four separate areas in the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Caribbean Sea.  Its primary access point is in Coral Bay where it touches the island’s shoreline and kayaks can be launched from the road at Borck Creek, Princess Bay, and Haulover Bay.  

Highlights

Borck Creek, Princess Bay, Haulover Bay

Must-Do Activity

We rented a tandem kayak from Crabby’s in Coral Harbor and paddled east into Hurricane Hole to access the monument.  We found the snorkeling to be best around Borck Creek.  Guided kayaking and snorkeling trips can be arranged with concessionaires on the island.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed a large portion of the red mangroves surrounding the bays within the monument.  However, even the dead roots provide structure for coral and fish.  The best way to see this is to snorkel in the shallow water, but be careful not to touch a mangrove jellyfish which can trigger a group response when the first one stings.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

These are the hours for the Virgin Islands National Park visitor center on St. John:

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

No roads in this completely underwater monument, but watch for potholes and oncoming truck traffic if you drive to Princess Bay on Centerline Road from the ferry terminal in Cruz Bay.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

There are overnight moorings (no anchors allowed) for boats in Water Creek and other bays around St. John.  There are currently no campgrounds open on the island.

Explore More – Why do barracudas often follow snorkelers and divers?

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Cabrillo National Monument

Overview

Cabrillo National Monument is named for a Spanish explorer that sailed the California coastline in 1542 before mysteriously dying in the Channel Islands.  Located on Point Loma peninsula west of San Diego Bay, the steep cliffs offer great overlooks of Coronado Island and the city beyond. 

Highlights

Cabrillo statue, 1854 Old Point Loma Lighthouse, tidepools

Must-Do Activity

To find out more about the history of Spanish exploration in this region, check out the museum and talk to one of the costumed actors (it is southern California after all).  The national monument is a great place to imagine life at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse or learn the military past of the strategic defense post Fort Rosecrans. 

Best Trail

Follow the road downhill to the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula to a great spot to explore tidepools.  Watch for migrating gray whales in the winter and the many unique bird species that migrate up and down the coast.  There is also the 2.5-mile roundtrip Bayside Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Old Point Loma Lighthouse was built in 1854, but due to that famous California coastal fog it was retired from service in 1891.  Climb its circular stairs for a unique photo that looks like the inside of a seashell.

Peak Season

Year round, but less likely to be foggy in the winter.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Mission Trails Regional Park off Highway 52 and other private campgrounds are located nearby.

Explore More – You would expect that Spain purchased the statue of Cabrillo, but which country actually did?

De Soto National Memorial

Overview

Why create a memorial to a genocidal Conquistador when he was not the first Spaniard to land in Florida?  Good question.  Juan Pónce de León and Pánfilo de Narváez had both already met their demise in this region, but that did not deter Hernando de Soto from trying again in 1539.  He did not die until three years later, after he led his soldiers all the way to the Mississippi River leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Highlights

Camp Ucita, film, Memorial Trail, Holy Eucharist Monument

Must-Do Activity

De Soto made landfall in Florida somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Bradenton, Florida where the Manatee River reaches Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.  He left behind 100 men there in Camp Ucita, a replica of which was built on the site of the 27-acre De Soto National Memorial.  In the winter (a.k.a. touristy) months, costumed interpreters work at the replica Camp Ucita.

Best Trail

Hike the half-mile Memorial Trail through the mangroves to the Holy Eucharist Monument.  Then cool off in the air-conditioned visitor center to watch a 22-minute film on the Spanish expedition. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you visit around Halloween, a scary skeleton Conquistador atop a skeleton horse will greet you at the entrance to the National Park Service visitor center.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

A paved road leads through a residential neighborhood to the visitor center, so watch out for dog walkers and joggers on the road and trail.

Camping

Myakka River State Park is southeast of Bradenton (where private campgrounds are also available).

Explore More – The Spaniards brought many diseases to the indigenous peoples, but the introduction of which domesticated animal had the longest lasting ecological impact?

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Overview

Broadway in Skagway, Alaska still looks much like it did during the 1897 gold rush, lined with boardwalks and bustling with activity, especially when a cruise ship is docked.  Paved streets instead of mud are one major difference between now and when 30,000 stampeders came here aboard ships from Seattle.  The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the old railway depot and the NPS owns several other historic structures including the Mascot Saloon and Jefferson “Soapy” Smith’s Parlor.  The NPS also runs a free museum in downtown Seattle, Washington inside the historic Cadillac Hotel.

Highlights

Mascot Saloon, Gold Rush Cemetery, Lower Reid Falls, Chilkoot Trail, Cadillac Hotel museum (Seattle)

Must-Do Activity

Start at the visitor center with the 25-minute introductory film then wander the boardwalks up Broadway to see historic false-front buildings that never burned since the 1897 gold rush.  If you want to learn more about the infamous “Soapy” Smith and laugh really hard, then I recommend purchasing tickets to the Days of ’98 Show offered multiple times daily in the summer. 

Best Trail

The NPS cooperatively manages the Chilkoot Trail with Parks Canada who issues all permits (in Skagway) for backpacking the 33-mile trail.  The trailhead is in the ghost town of Dyea, about 12 miles west of bustling Skagway.  Almost every trekker takes 3 to 5 days to hike one way into Canada and return on the White Pass Railroad.  It is cheaper to only hike the U.S. side and spend two nights at the always empty Pleasant Camp.

Instagram-worthy Photo

During the winter of 1897-98, over 30,000 people hauled one-ton of food and gear per person over the 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Yukon Territory.  Photograph the 100% slope of the “Golden Stairs” in the summer, as it can be nearly impossible to access in winter.

Peak Season

Summer due to cruise ships and the fact that the rest of the year experiences heavy snowfall.

Hours

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

Fees

It is free to explore downtown Skagway’s buildings, but overnight backpacking on the Chilkoot Trail has fees ($20.30 per person for U.S.-side only) and is limited to only 50 permits per day to cross the border into Canada.

Road Conditions

Paved to Skagway and the dirt road to Dyea is good enough for all vehicles.

Camping

There is a car campground in Dyea.  Specific backcountry campsite permits (like Sheep Camp) can fill up early.

Explore More – How many times did the average stampeder have to ascend the Golden Stairs to haul one-ton of food and gear over 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass?