Tag Archives: park

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.
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Tiff with our guidebook in the Catacombs.
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This is what Lava Beds looks like above the surface.

Explore More – How did 60 Modoc warriors led by Captain Jack keep 1,000 U.S. troops at bay for six months in the 1870s?

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Buffalo National River

Overview

Designated as the nation’s first National River by Congress in 1972, the free-flowing Buffalo River winds 135 miles across northern Arkansas.  It is noted for its sandstone bluffs and tall waterfalls, as well as its three designated wilderness areas.  Multiple concessionaires rent canoes and offer shuttle service for those who wish to float the river during the high spring flows.  There are many hiking trails to be found in this National Park Service site and in the adjoining Ozark National Forest.

Buffalo

Highlights

Boxley Valley Historic District, Hemmed-in Hollow, elk herd, Ponca Wilderness, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Steel Creek to Pruitt Landing is a 22-mile float through Class I rapids on the Buffalo River through the Ponca Wilderness past rock bluffs up to 500 feet tall.  Wildflowers and birds abound in the spring, the only time the upper river is deep enough to float.  Numerous outfitters provide rental gear, guides, and car shuttles.

Best Trail

A short 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from a river pulloff, Hemmed-In-Hollow is a 210-foot tall waterfall, also accessible on a much more strenuous trek starting on top of the bluff in Compton, Arkansas.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While not technically within the National River boundaries, Hawksbill Crag is an image that shows up on many tourism advertisements for Arkansas.  Go in early November for fall colors.

Tiff on the edge of the famous point in the Buffalo National Forest

Peak Season

The water flows best in the spring and is often not deep enough for paddlers in the river’s upper reaches other times of year.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Many of the dirt roads are steep due to the park’s rugged backcountry nature and may require high-clearance vehicles when muddy.

Camping

Twelve campgrounds accessible by car, with Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point Campgrounds offering showers.  Backcountry sites are mostly reached by canoe or kayak.

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Explore More – Why is a river in the forests of northern Arkansas named for buffalo (or bison)?

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Overview

“The green desert” is home to dense stands of saguaros, ocotillos, and its namesake organ pipe cacti.  The monument’s 330,689 acres sit on the Mexican border of Arizona and were recognized as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.  The park has a reputation for being dangerous, which it can be for NPS Law Enforcement due to its border location, but tourists should encounter no problems while enjoying the beautiful landscape.

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Highlights

Ajo Mountain Loop, Alamo Canyon, birding, earn an “I Hike For Health” pin

Must-Do Activity

The namesake cactus is more common further south and shares this landscape with 27 other species of cacti, including the famous saguaro.  To see the cacti at their best, I recommend driving the 21-mile dirt road Ajo Mountain Loop in the evening before turning in for the night at the campground.

Best Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) runs a shuttle some mornings to Senita Basin from where you can hike back to the visitor center (with an optional side trip to the abandoned Victoria Mine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park’s Ajo Mountains are mostly volcanic rhyolite and their jagged outlines photograph well in the twilight hours with the famous saguaro cactus silhouetted in the foreground.

Saguaros and Diaz Peak

Peak Season

Anytime but summer when temperatures regularly soar above 100°F.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The highway is paved to Kris Eggle Visitor Center and Twin Peaks Campground, but most of the dirt roads are passable for all vehicles.

Camping

The park has the very nice Twin Peaks Campground (with solar showers) where you can pick up free hiker shuttles that allow for one-way trips back to your tent.  There are also a couple dry campsites (permit required) on Alamo Canyon Road.  A permit is required for backcountry camping.

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Tumacácori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Lots of organ pipes
Organ pipe cacti
A cristate formation on an organ pipe
An organ pipe cactus with a unique cristate formation.
Sunset on the Green Desert
Estes Canyon
Phainopepla
We saw unique bird species like this phainopepla, in addition to Scott’s orioles, Gila woodpeckers, black-throated sparrows, and, of course, ravens.
The border wall under construction in January 2020
It is a steep 2-hour long scramble up to this arch
Raven about the park in the Sonoran Desert

Explore More – Why is the Visitor Center named for Park Ranger Kris Eggle?

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