Tag Archives: tour

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?

Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


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

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Sitka National Historical Park

Overview

Sitka National Historical Park offers a good introduction to the Russian and native influences on this region, as well as a forested trail past beautifully carved totem poles.  Created in 1910, it was the first National Park Service (NPS) site in Alaska, nearly 50 years before statehood.

Highlights

1843 Russian Bishop’s House, Russian Orthodox cathedral, totem poles

Must-Do Activity

Two miles of trails wind through the spruce forest passing more than a dozen totem poles and the site of Kiks.ádi Fort where the 1804 battle took place between Russian fur traders and the native Tlingit community.  To further experience the Tlingit culture, attend a traditional dance at Shee’tka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House. 

Best Trail

The adventurous can summit 3,354 foot Mount Verstovia for unsurpassed views of the harbor and the mountainous heart of Baranof Island.  This steep route takes all day, starting with numerous switchbacks before the trail disappears and scrambling over rocks to the top.  Also scenic, Indian River Trail is a flatter alternative.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jagged peaks and tiny forested islands make Sitka the most beautiful spot in Southeast Alaska.  Bald eagles abound in trees around the town’s quiet boat docks, while the volcanic cone of Mount Edgecumbe sits zen-like off to the west. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There are no roads to Sitka, so you have to take an airplane, cruise ship, or ferry.  The main road on Baranof Island is paved and it is less than a mile walk to access the NPS visitor center from downtown.

Camping

Campsites are available at Blue Lake down a dirt road east of town in Tongass National Forest or at Old Sitka State Historic Park near the ferry terminal.

Explore More – When did the official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the U.S.A. take place on Castle Hill in Sitka (then known as New Archangel)?

Mesa Verde National Park

Overview

The impressive and numerous (around 600) cliff dwellings here were built by Ancestral Puebloans 600 to 800 years ago before their abandonment.  After a day or two at Mesa Verde, you will understand why since 1906 it has remained the only “National Park” dedicated to preserving an archaeological site.

Highlights

Chapin Museum, Spruce Tree House, Petroglyph Point Trail, Cliff Palace, Step House, annual open house with luminaria

Must-Do Activity

Purchase tickets for guided tours of the ruins at the shiny new visitor center off Highway 160 before driving 20 miles to Long House, Cliff Palace, or Balcony House (the best tour for families).   Leave time to explore Chapin Mesa Museum first, where a high-quality film introduces the history of the region.  When it finally reopens years after a rock fall, you can then take a quick but steep hike to Spruce Tree House, accessible without a paid tour, where you have the opportunity to climb down a ladder into the dim interior of a reconstructed kiva. 

Best Trail

After driving to the less-trafficked Weatherill Mesa, bike or walk the paved road to Nordenskold No. 16 Trailhead, numerous pit-houses, and Step House Loop Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

We think Square Tower House is the most photogenic ruins in the park and can be viewed from an overlook off Mesa Top Loop Road.  In summer 2018, we made reservations for a special guided tour of only 10 people to enter these ruins.

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get hot with little shade atop the mesas.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but some are closed in winter when tours are not offered.

Camping

Morefield Campground has more than 400 campsites atop the mesa; 15 with full RV hookups.  No backcountry camping is allowed.


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

Explore More – What month does the NPS host an evening open house with thousands of candle luminaria, free food, and live music?

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Overview

These expansive ruins built in the desert between AD850-1150 represent the best collection of Ancestral Puebloan architecture in the southwest U.S.  Over 400 miles of historic roads led to this ceremonial center.  Its multiple great houses were first protected in 1907 and can take days to explore fully. 

Highlights

Pueblo Bonito, Chetro Ketl, petroglyphs, supernova pictograph

Must-Do Activity

Walking through the short doorways inside D-shaped Pueblo Bonito, you can admire the intricacy of the walls that have stood over 1,000 years.  So much effort was put into building monumental structures in this challenging locale, then it was mysteriously abandoned, making this remarkable park is an awesome place to ponder human civilization, past and future.

Best Trail

A free backcountry permit is required to hike all trails in the park.  Our favorite passes Kin Kletso and Casa Chiquita 3 miles one-way to a unique pictograph that may depict a supernova that occurred in AD1054.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While mostly made of mud bricks, the wood used in the structures had to be carried over 50 miles from the nearest forests to reach this spot.  An estimated 200,000 trees were moved over 300 years of construction without the use of pack animals or wheels.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be hot with no shade.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads to the park are dirt, with the recommended entry route via County Roads 7900 and 7950, 21 miles west of Highway 550.  The roads from the south are more difficult, especially when wet.

Camping

The small Gallo Campground lies within the park, but we recommend the free campground in Angel Peak Recreation Area run by the Bureau of Land Management east of Highway 550.

Explore More – Why do visitors strive to arrive for the summer and winter solstices each year?