Tag Archives: trees

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Overview

Central Arizona’s Montezuma Castle was one of the first four National Monuments established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.  Conveniently accessible just off Interstate 17 on the way to Sedona or the Grand Canyon, it is a great place to stretch your legs after the 90-minute car ride from Phoenix.  Located in the scenic Verde River Valley, it is one of several sites related to the Sinagua people managed by the National Park Service (also see Walnut Canyon, Tuzigoot, and Wupatki).

Highlights

Cliff dwelling, Montezuma Well

Must-Do Activity

Protected in a cliff recess above Beaver Creek, the five-story tall ruin is not accessible to tourists and can only be viewed from below.  Its name “Montezuma” refers to the mistaken belief that it was somehow connected to the Aztec Empire of Mexico, but its inhabitants had more in common with the Sinagua people living in around Arizona in the 1400s.  Continue on the paved walkway to the ground-level ruins of Castle A and views of Beaver Creek.

Best Trail

To investigate a separate unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, drive 11 miles north to Montezuma Well, a limestone sinkhole filled by a natural spring that produces 1.5-millions gallons of 74°F water daily.  The trail is only a half-mile long loop, but it is worth the trip to see the historic irrigation ditches and the 55-foot deep sinkhole.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is unclear why the Sinagua people abandoned the cliff dwelling around 1425, but it may have been due to disease, drought, or climate change.  There were 35 to 50 inhabitants of Montezuma Castle and even more at Castle A, which had approximately 50 rooms.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass; Montezuma Well is free

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is no campground at the National Monument, but many located within massive Coconino National Forest, which also allows dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – In what year did the National Park Service stop allowing visitors to climb ladders to walk inside Montezuma Castle?

Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

Fort Frederica National Monument

Overview

The colony of Georgia was established by James Oglethorpe to be an alcohol-free utopia open to commoners in debtors’ prison back in England.  The aristocrats quickly discarded those ideals and introduced slavery after founding a town on the Savannah River in 1733.  That same year, to the south the Spanish constructed Fort Mose as a sanctuary to slaves who fled the British.  In response, Oglethorpe created Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, with a palisade and 10-foot wide moat around the entire town.  Further, he led an unsuccessful siege of St. Augustine, Florida in 1740.  The Spanish retaliated, but were defeated at Bloody Marsh despite owning a two-to-one advantage in soldiers.

Highlights

Museum, ruins of colonial fort, Bloody Marsh Battle Site

Must-Do Activity

Fort Frederica’s regiment was disbanded in 1749 and the town was abandoned within a decade when it was mostly destroyed by fire.  Today, visitors can walk the ruins underneath picturesque live oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  Fort Frederica National Monument is part of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that honors the unique traditions brought by slaves from West Africa and retained over the centuries on these isolated Atlantic coastal islands.  Cooking gumbo with okra, weaving sweetgrass baskets, and using the word “guber” for peanut are all examples of how the Gullah/Geechee culture has survived into modern times. 

Best Trail

A self-guided tour passes excavated foundations of the town underneath Spanish moss-draped live oak trees.  During our visit in 2016, Hurricane Matthew had knocked down trees closing some of the trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The British established Fort Frederica to stop Spanish encroachment from Florida into their American colonies.  The town that formed around the fort peaked at a population of 1,000.  Today it is a beautiful setting with tabby wall ruins and Spanish moss-draped trees.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None, there is no longer a toll for the F.J. Torras Causeway that accesses St. Simons Island.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Jekyll Island State Park offers camping 13 miles southeast of Brunswick, Georgia.

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Explore More – Fort Frederica was named for which member of the British royalty?

Everglades National Park

Overview

Everglades National Park covers most of the southwestern corner of Florida.  The ’Glades are very flat, with elevation topping out at 8 feet above sea level.  This region is important to many unique species of wildlife, imperiled by sea level rise and the introduction of exotic species.  Incredibly close to the city of Miami, the Shark Valley tram tour offers a great opportunity to see alligators.  Near the campground at Flamingo, Eco Pond and Mrazek Pond are both good spots to watch for wading birds like ibis, egret, heron, wood stork, and roseate spoonbill.

Highlights

Eco Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley tram tour, Wilderness Waterway

Must-Do Activity

There are few roads in Everglades National Park, so the best way to experience this “river of grass” is from the water.  There are guided tours out of Flamingo and Thousand Islands, or you can get a permit to explore the untamed Wilderness Waterway and the keys of Florida Bay.  We had a blast navigating the mangrove channels to our chickee (elevated camping platform) and did not see another person for two days. “Hell to get into; hell to get out of” is how old-timers described the mazelike route to Hell’s Bay.  Good navigation skills are required and you should come prepared for mosquitoes every month of the year.

Best Trail

On the Anhinga Trail, its namesake birds stretch their wings to dry in pond apple trees while alligators swim right under your feet beneath the boardwalk. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wildlife abounds so you will want to remember to bring your binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera.  You can get good photos of alligators while remaining safe and dry on the Anhinga Trail boardwalk.  We also got very close to a barred owl and several black vultures on the same trail in April 2014.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The major entry roads are paved to access Flamingo, Thousand Islands, and Shark Valley.

Camping

Camping in the park, at Long Pine Key or Flamingo, provides quick access to trails that come alive with wildlife during the crepuscular hours (sunrise and sunset). 

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

Explore More – Who was the woman instrumental in the creation of Everglades National Park when she published The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Overview

In the remote southwest corner of Oregon, this marble cave system has been federally protected since 1909.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked extensively on the trail system and chateau-style lodge in the 1930s.  In 2014, an additional 4,000 acres were added to preserve the surrounding old-growth forests, the most biodiverse conifer-dominated ecosystem in the world.

Highlights

Cave tours, Oregon Caves Chateau, Big Tree, Mt. Elijah

Must-Do Activity

The Oregon Caves Chateau is currently closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen to guests in 2021.  That means the main reason to visit is to take a tour inside the cave, but bundle up because it remains a brisk 44°F year round.  The standard tour is 90 minutes, has a height requirement of 42 inches, and includes 500 stairs, which can be strenuous at 4,000 feet in elevation.  In the summer, a candlelight tour, off-trail “wild caving” tour, and family-friendly tour (for those with small children) are also offered.

Best Trail

The Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail covers 9.2 miles and gains 2,390 feet in elevation while providing the best views of the surrounding mountains.  At a minimum, you should try to hike the Big Tree Trail 2.6 miles roundtrip to the largest diameter Douglas-fir tree in Oregon.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After your cave tour exits far uphill from its entrance, continue on the Cliff Nature Trail for a great view of the lush Siskiyou Mountains.

Peak Season

Summer, since cave tours are only offered from late March through November.

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entrance fee to the park, but there is a charge for all cave tours (which can be reserved in advance).

Road Conditions

The paved entry road is winding and climbs steeply.  Most surrounding Forest Service roads are unpaved and one climbs to provide access near the top of the Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail.

Camping

Cave Creek Campground is located 4 miles from the cave entrance.  Trailers are only permitted at Grayback Campground, further down the hill.

Explore More – Which native conifer tree provided the siding for the Oregon Caves Chateau?