Tag Archives: wildlife

Update to Our Guidebook: A Park to Yourself

Since White Sands National Monument was upgraded to the 62nd National Park on December 20, 2019, we decided to update our guidebook to the parks.  If you already bought your copy on Amazon, please find the new page 308 posted below.  White Sands is one of our favorite of the many National Park Service units in New Mexico.  You can read more about the park on this blog

White Sands

New Mexico

148,558 acres

Established 2019

603,008 visitors in 2018

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially when the sand is wet.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  Follow markers on the five-mile roundtrip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes and provides views of the San Andres Mountains.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot bleached earless lizards that evolved to camouflage in the gypsum.  The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you attend the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll or backpack camp.  There is no campground and only ten backcountry campsites, and their availability is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight, so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground in a beautiful setting south of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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.

Arkansas Post National Memorial

Overview

Arkansas Post National Memorial is in the southeastern section of its namesake state near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers.  The French first settled this area in 1686 in order to trade with a large village of Quapaw Indians.  From 1763-1800 the fort was controlled by the Spanish, who were attacked by the British here in 1783 in what became known as the Colbert Incident, considered one of the final battles in the American Revolution.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, cannons, wildlife, fishing

Must-Do Activity

Following the Louisiana Purchase, the post briefly served as the territorial capital, then that moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1821.  It fell into decline until Fort Hindman was built during the Civil War, after which time much of the shoreline was washed away by the Arkansas River.  There are not many human structures left to see at the site, but the bayou offers great opportunities for birdwatching.

Best Trail

A trail passes Park Lake through the Old Townsite to shoreline views of Post Bayou and the Arkansas River.  A trench dug by the Confederate army during the Civil War is also visible from the trail and a side road north of the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are plenty of cannons around to pose with, but Tiff was most excited about the original location of The Arkansas Gazette newspaper that started right here in 1819 and is still printed today in Little Rock (which is where she grew up with Wondon).

Peak Season

Spring and fall when there are less mosquitoes.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Camping is not allowed within the park, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages campgrounds at Pendleton Bend and Merrisach Lake Park.

Related Sites

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi-Tennessee)

Explore More – Following the 1863 Civil War battle to take the fort, how many Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner?

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park

Overview

This relatively undeveloped section of Maryland’s Eastern Shore might still be recognizable to Harriet Tubman, who was born here as Araminta “Minty” Ross in 1822.  After her own solo escape to Philadelphia using the Underground Railroad network in 1849, she returned thirteen times to conduct approximately 70 people north, as well as to provide detailed instructions that enabled another 70 to find freedom.  During the Civil War, Tubman served as a Union spy and became the first woman to lead an armed U.S. military assault.

Highlights

Museum, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Bucktown Village Store

Must-Do Activity

Harriet Tubman lived a hard life, as described in the exhibits at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park (museum opened in March 2017), managed in association with the National Park Service.  Pick up a map at the museum, then make as many stops as you wish along the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which offers a free downloadable audio guide.  You will definitely be inspired by the story of this brave conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Best Trail

Near the museum at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see ospreys and overwintering birds. The Key Wallace loop trail is 2.7 miles long.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bucktown Village Store has been restored to its 1800s appearance and is open to visitors.  Harriet Tubman accomplished amazing feats despite suffering seizures throughout her life from a skull fracture suffered at the Bucktown Village Store during her youth (see the photo below for the full story). 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is only $3 per vehicle and accepts America the Beautiful passes.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved on the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the driving route is well-maintained through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 

Camping

There are developed campgrounds at the northern end of Assateague Island National Seashore on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast.

Related Sites

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Explore More – Before it became a National Historical Park, when was Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument established?

Acadia National Park

Overview

Acadia National Park in Maine is famous for its 45 miles of Carriage Roads and watching a sunrise from atop 1,530-foot tall Cadillac Mountain.  We recommend you plan your visit around attending a Star Party to view the night sky through dozens of telescopes.  We visited on a September weekend, and even though it was not yet leaf-peeping season, the main park road across Mount Desert Island was jam packed and parking spaces were difficult to come by.  [This is also one of 50 National Parks covered in our new guidebook]

Highlights

Cadillac Mountain, Precipice Trail, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

If you don’t like crowds, then visit on a weekday and avoid Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, Precipice Trailhead, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.  We preferred our time spent on the Schoodic Peninsula with its nice campground and unoccupied overlooks across the bay towards busy Mount Desert Island.

Best Trail

Iron rungs and ladders assist those who wish to climb the aptly named Precipice Trail.  The trail provides awesome Atlantic Ocean views from the cliffs on the way up to Champlain Mountain.  A 2.5-mile loop can be formed when combined with Champlain North Ridge and Orange & Black Trails.  Other “ladder trails” in the park include the Beehive and Perpendicular Trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Photographers hang out for hours waiting for sunset on the rocks below Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Most roads paved with the notable exception of the one that summits Schoodic Head.

Camping

There are several campgrounds in the park and we enjoyed our stay in the forested Schoodic Peninsula Campground, which opened in 2016.

Related Sites

Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site (Maine)

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (Vermont)

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

Explore More – What was the original name of this park when it was created on February 26, 1919 (the same day as Grand Canyon National Park)?

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.