Tag Archives: park

Vicksburg National Military Park

Overview

During the Civil War, control of the Mississippi River was “the key” (in President Abraham Lincoln’s words) to preserving the Union by dividing the Confederacy and limiting its supply movement.  By 1862, Vicksburg and Port Hudson were the only fortifications not under U.S. control.  The numerous failed attempts to take Vicksburg by force are evidenced by the 17,000 soldiers buried in the National Cemetery here.  Following a 46-day bombardment, the city finally surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Vicksburg

Highlights

USS Cairo ironside ship, museums, 1,330 monuments, interpretive film

Must-Do Activity

The most fascinating exhibit in the park is the partially reconstructed USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat which was carefully salvaged from the Yazoo River during the 1960s.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails with interpretive panels, but instead you might consider hiring a licensed guide to ride along with you for 2 hours on the auto tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Gates close precisely at 5 p.m. for the 16-mile auto tour, but the end of the day provides the best lighting on the Shirley House, the only surviving structure inside the park from the time of the Civil War.

The only house still standing from 1863

Peak Season

The weather is nicest in spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

27 miles to the south, the National Park Service runs the Rocky Springs Campground (with running water) on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Sunset over the battlefield

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Tiff on steps of Illinois Memorial
The Illinois Memorial is the largest of approximately 1,330 located inside the park.
Mural of Illinois Memorial dedication day
A mural along the Mississippi River depicts the opening day for the Illinois Memorial
Scott with USS Cairo
USS Cairo is a well-preserved specimen of an ironclad ship, and the museum next door displays thousands of its artifacts.

Tiff with cannon

Explore More – Why did many residents flee their houses to live inside hand-dug caves during the Civil War?

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Catoctin Mountain Park

Overview

This park was purchased in 1935 during the Great Depression as part of a demonstration program to rehabilitate poor agricultural land under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  They worked on a visitor center, campground, rental cabins, and 25 miles of trails now run by the National Park Service.

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Highlights

Chimney Rock, Blue Blazes Whiskey Still, hiking, camping

Must-Do Activity

Hiking.  Also consider a stop just south of Highway 77 at Cunningham Falls State Park (entrance fee) on your visit to Maryland’s mountains.

Best Trail

A loop hike can hit both Chimney Rock and Wolf Rock, though the views from the latter are not quite as sweeping.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chimney Rock offers a stunning overlook of Maryland’s forests.

Chimney Rock

Peak Season

Summer for camping and autumn for changing foliage.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Stay at the historic CCC campground or south of Highway 77 at Cunningham Falls State Park.

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Blue Blazes whiskey still
Tiff at the historic Blue Blazes Whiskey Still from the Prohibition Era

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Some fall colors above 1,400 feet elevation
On top of Wolf Rock

 

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Don’t miss a stop at Cunningham Falls State Park on your visit to Maryland’s mountains.

Explore More –What famous presidential retreat is located within the boundaries of the park, but is not shown on maps and includes plenty of warning signs about stopping anywhere near its driveway?

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Effigy Mounds National Monument

Overview

This site in northeastern Iowa contains 206 prehistoric earthen mounds, thirty-one of which are in the form of bears and birds.  Some of the rounded mounds have been dated back 2,500 years, but the images of animals (called effigies) began only about 1,400 years ago.  In addition to blades and beads inside the mounds, there is often evidence of fires burned in the effigy’s head, heart, or flank, perhaps as part of a burial ceremony.

Echo with Effigy Mounds

Highlights

Marching Bear Mound Group, Little Bear Mound Group, Mississippi River overlooks

Must-Do Activity

After perusing the museum inside the visitor center, take the steep trail that leads past Little Bear Mound Group to multiple overlooks from 300-foot tall bluffs above the Mississippi River.

Best Trail

Located a short drive from the visitor center, a trail in the South Unit climbs 2 miles one-way to the impressive Marching Bears Mound Group, the densest collection of effigies in the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is very difficult to photograph the effigy shapes, so the best shots are found at overlooks of the Mississippi River.

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Peak Season

Summer, but on our second visit during April we found the animal shapes were easier to discern.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All paved except the parking area for the South Unit which may not be suitable for large RVs.

Camping

No campground in the monument, but nearby Pikes Peak State Park has RV hookups and Yellow River State Forest offers more primitive sites.

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Little Bear Mound
The mounds can be hard to discern in the summertime

Tiff next to two of the tallest mounds in the park

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In April, we saw these bear shapes located at the end of the Marching Bear Group, a 4-mile roundtrip hike.
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There is a picnic area at the southern trailhead on the banks of the Mississippi River.
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Coots in the Mississippi River

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Explore More – What is the wingspan of the largest effigy bird?

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Weir Farm National Historic Site

Overview

Weir Farm National Historic Site is the only National Park Service site in the state of Connecticut.  It is built around the art studios of Julian Alden Weir, an American impressionist painter that were later utilized by the Mormon sculptor Mahonri Young who made the This Is the Place monument in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Weir

Highlights

Free guided tour, free use of colored pencils/pastels, Artist in Residence program

Must-Do Activity

A unique opportunity the park provides is the use of colored pencils and pastels for each visitor to create their own artwork when they visit.  In this way they continue to allow the farm to inspire artists to capture the landscape in their own way, regardless of age or ability.

Best Trail

Pick up a self-guided walking tour pamphlet at the visitor center then walk (1.5 miles roundtrip) to Weir Pond, where the family loved to spend time in the summer fishing, swimming, and, of course, painting.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Get into the artistic spirit by posing with your face to the window like Weir’s wife did for a portrait in the family’s living room that you can see hanging inside the house.

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Peak Season

Open year round, but this was Weir’s summer home because that is the nicest time of year here.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but Nod Hill Road is steep and narrow which may be difficult for RVs and other large vehicles.  The small parking lot cannot accommodate large RVs.

Camping

None

Sketching at Weir Farm

These bison cutouts were painted and posted around the farm

A outside view of the sculpture studio

One of the other artists that lived here was a sculptor

On the porch of the Weir Farm House
Scott waiting on the front porch for our ranger guided tour inside the painter’s house.

Explore More – Julian Alden Weir studied impressionism in the country it was founded in, where is that?

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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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