Tag Archives: wildflowers

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

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.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Overview

Big Cypress National Preserve was originally planned to be a part of Everglades National Park (established in 1947), but this wild area to the north did not gain federal protection until 1974.  There are few roads and trails in the 729,000-acre preserve, which makes it ideal habitat for the endangered Florida panther.  The easiest access points are along Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) or the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41).  While many of the “trails” require route-finding and slogging through deep water, there are also designated ATV and canoe trails located throughout the park.

Highlights

Kirby Storter Roadside Park, Big Cypress Bend Trail, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Many of the baldcypress and pond cypress trees that once stood here were logged in the 1930s and 1940s.  At the Kirby Storter Roadside Park, you can still see some large examples of these trees famous for their buttressed boles and root nodules, or “knees,” that stand above the high water level.  We previously reported on these unique deciduous conifers at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, but here they grow right alongside tall palm trees that we typically associate with sandy beaches. 

Best Trail

Many of the trails in the park are underwater and require slogging.  Two exceptions with boardwalks are at Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Big Cypress Bend (technically within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wherever you look, you are likely to spot an alligator or two in this wild section of south Florida.  An extra photo-op can be found at the smallest post office in the United States, a former irrigation pipe shed located in Ochopee, Florida since 1953.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None (except for off-road vehicle permits)

Road Conditions

Highway 41 and Interstate 75 are paved, but just about every other road in the park is sandy (and/or submerged) and should only be attempted with an ATV or swamp buggy.

Camping

The NPS offers two campgrounds along Highway 41 (there is also one in Collier-Seminole State Park), as well as designated primitive wilderness sites.

Related Sites

Everglades National Park (Florida)

De Soto National Memorial (Florida)

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Explore More – What are the five main habitat types protected within the preserve?

Saguaro National Park

Overview

The only U.S. National Park within the expansive Sonoran Desert is divided into two separate districts east and west of Tucson, Arizona.  Its namesake cactus can reach 50 feet in height and weigh more than 16,000 pounds when swelled with water during the rainy season.  Saguaros do not typically branch their first arms until age seventy-five and they can live over 200 years.  They share their home with other cacti that have cuddly names like teddybear cholla, hedgehog, barrel, staghorn cholla, and prickly pear.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Cactus Forest Drive, Desert Ecology Trail, Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers in both the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.  In each district, opportunities for visitors include scenic drives, handicap-accessible nature trails, and more strenuous hiking options.  Much of the wildlife is nocturnal in the hot desert, but watch for unique species like javelinas, ringtails, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, phainopeplas, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Best Trail

Hikers can find great overlooks of the surrounding mountains along the short Ridge View Trail in the eastern Rincon Mountain District of the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Winter is a great time to come to Saguaro National Park due to mild temperatures, but to see the desert in bloom the spring is best.  Saguaros typically bloom in early June, though their large white blooms are hard to photograph at the top of the tall cacti where moths, bats, and other pollinators can find them.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

In the Rincon Mountain District the Cactus Forest Drive is all paved, but in the Tucson Mountain District the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is mostly a graded gravel road.

Camping

Only backcountry camping in designated sites (with a permit) is allowed in the National Park, but campgrounds are available at Tucson Mountain County Park just outside the western district and throughout Coronado National Forest which borders the eastern district.

Related Sites

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

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

Explore More – Tohono O’odham Indians utilized saguaro fruit for jam, syrup, and wine; at what age do the cacti start flowering?

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.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Overview

Many retaliatory acts occurred in the aftermath of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, leading the U.S. Army to launch a campaign against the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa following the signing of several peace treaties.  In November 1868, after unsuccessfully seeking protection at Fort Cobb, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle and Arapaho Chief Big Mouth returned to their winter villages in the Washita River Valley.  The very next day a surprise attack was launched by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, capturing 53 and killing thirty to sixty Cheyennes, including Black Kettle and his wife.  Under Major General Philip Sheridan’s policy of “total war,” approximately 800 horses were then slaughtered and the village burned. 

Highlights

Museum, film, interpretive trail

Must-Do Activity

The events that took place the morning of November 27, 1868 in western Oklahoma have been described either as a battle or a massacre.  A small National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with exhibits on the events is shared with the U.S. Forest Service’s Black Kettle National Grassland.  Located just down the road on Highway 47 is a self-guided walking tour of the prairie battlefield. 

Best Trail

The 1.4-mile hiking trail through the battlefield leaves from an overlook of the historic site down to the Washita River where trees grow.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The vegetation is typical of Oklahoma prairie with grasses, yucca, and Indian blanket (in bloom in late May).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, or you can head 25 miles southeast to Foss State Park.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Explore More – When was this National Historic Site authorized by Congress?

Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Overview

While there was some limited European settlement on the west coast prior to her journey, the popularization of the Oregon Trail for families can be traced to publication of the letters of Narcissa Whitman after her journey in 1836.  While in the Black Hills she wrote, “It is astonishing how well we get along with our wagons where there are no roads.  I think I may say it is easier traveling here than on any turnpike in the States.”  Narcissa came with her doctor husband and other Protestants to establish missions among the American Indians.  The Whitmans did much to open the west to emigrant families and you can visit their graves at this 138-acre National Park Service (NPS) site in Walla Walla, Washington.

Highlights

Museum, film, millpond, Whitman Memorial, Oregon National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Whitmans set up near Waiilatpu, which translates to “place of the people of the rye grass.”  The main Oregon Trail would eventually detour south of their mission, but the couple would still care for stragglers, even adopting 10 children.  Following a devastating 1847 measles epidemic they and eleven others were killed by grieving Cayuse families who blamed the doctor for poisoning them.  News of the November 29 attack and subsequent retaliations spurred Congress to create the Oregon Territory within the year. 

Best Trail

A self-guided interpretive trail leads up to an overlook of Waiilatpu from atop the Whitman Memorial hill.  The trail passes a restored millpond and the Great Grave where 13 victims were buried in 1847, including Narcissa Whitman and her husband.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A portion of the Oregon Trail passed through Waiilatpu until rerouted south after 1844.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is not an NPS campground, but private campgrounds are located in Walla Walla, Washington.

Related Sites

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In addition to those killed in the attack at Whitman Mission on November 29, 1847, how many others were held hostage for a month until their ransom was paid?