Tag Archives: wildlife

Big Bend National Park

Overview

The park is named for a curve in the Rio Grande which forms the international border with Mexico.  This corner of Texas is not easy to get to, so when you do decide to visit plan on staying for at least a few days.  The weather can be very pleasant in the winter months.

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Highlights

Chisos Basin, Hot Springs, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Located down a short dirt road from Rio Grande Village Campground, a quick walk takes you to a riverside hot springs, a great spot to relax after a day of hiking in the dry Texas desert.  While soaking there, you are literally a stone’s throw from another country.

Best Trail

From Chisos Basin it is a short two mile canyon hike to The Window for a gunsight view to the west.  This trail is especially popular at sunset.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The most popular back road is Grapevine Hills Road which accesses the short Balanced Rock Trail and passes a couple of the most accessible of the 70 primitive backcountry car campsites (which require a permit from a visitor center).

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Peak Season

Spring and fall, but we have had good weather during visits in December and early March.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

We found that many of the dirt roads are passable with a mini-van, but some are four-wheel-drive only, so check with a ranger first.

Camping

There are many choices of campgrounds and backcountry campsites (permit required) throughout the park, but we recommend the Chisos Basin for its roadrunners and nightly ranger programs.

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The trail to Balanced Rock is also beautiful, especially in the golden hours.

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Hot springs on the Rio Grande (with Mexico in the background)
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View looking west through The Window.

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The ruins of Mariscal Mine make for a neat place to explore.
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This design we created to celebrate Big Bend National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What rare migrant bird do birders annually “flock” to see in this park?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

Congaree National Park

Overview

The last uncut bottomland hardwood forest in the southeast was originally preserved as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 then became a National Park in 2003.  These forests once covered 52-million acres of the southeastern United States and today this park contains some of the tallest examples of its native tree species in the world.

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Highlights

Baldcypress trees with knees, hiking, birding, paddling

Must-Do Activity

Hop in a canoe or kayak to explore remote sections of this primeval forest.  As you might imagine, all of this standing water is a great breeding ground for mosquitoes; just another reason to come in the winter.  At the visitor center, a handy rating system helps prepare you for the onslaught or the “All clear.”

Best Trail

Even if the ground is flooded, stick to the wheelchair accessible boardwalk and you can still hike through the forest for 2.4 miles without getting your feet wet.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our favorite tree here is the baldcypress, one of the few deciduous conifer trees (meaning it loses all its needles every autumn).  Baldcypress trees are famous for their “knees” which rise from their roots up to seven feet in the air, helping the roots breathe when underwater.

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Peak Season

We prefer the winter when mosquitoes are absent, but anytime is good at this park that only saw 159,595 visitors in 2017.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except right at the Cedar Creek Landing boat launch.

Camping

Longleaf Campground has 8 sites and Bluff Campsite has three about a mile from the visitor center.  Backcountry camping is allowed with a free permit.

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Paddle a kayak or canoe for a special look into these primeval floodplain forests.

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Winter is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the “ruthless” mosquitoes.
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The boardwalk keeps your feet dry even if the forest is flooded.
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This design we created to celebrate Congaree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How tall are the record-holding water tupelo, cherrybark oak, and swamp hickory trees in the park?

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WONDON WAS HERE

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Overview

In 1976, Platt National Park was combined with the nearby reservoir at Arbuckle National Recreation Area to form Chickasaw National Recreation Area, named for the neighboring Chickasaw Nation of central Oklahoma.  The trails and infrastructure in the park were predominantly built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

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Highlights

Natural springs, bison herd, Lincoln Bridge, reservoir

Must-Do Activity

Visitors should start at the Travertine Nature Center, then visit the bison pasture and “take the waters” at Vendome Well.  Other diverse recreational opportunities include camping and water sports on the Lake of the Arbuckles.

Best Trail

Take the trail from the Travertine Nature Center to Antelope Springs and photogenic Buffalo Springs.  There is also loop trail around the bison pasture.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The U.S. Mint quarter (see photo below) for Oklahoma depicts the Lincoln Bridge built by the CCC, but it can be difficult to photograph through the trees.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except in Bluestem Prairie.

Camping

Multiple campgrounds, including several on the shores of the Lake of the Arbuckles.

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The adventurous road to Travertine Nature Center.
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There is a lot to learn inside the Travertine Nature Center.

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The acorn caps from bur oak trees are huge.
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You have to try the sulphurous water fountain at Vendome Well.

Explore More – What was the original name for this federally protected area in 1902?

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Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Overview

The Appalachian Trail (or A.T.) is one of only three National Scenic Trails that the National Park Service (NPS) includes in its total of 417 units, despite there being many other affiliated trails (some with their own Visitor Centers).  The trail stretches 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, crossing 14 states, 6 NPS sites, 8 National Forests, and countless other parks.

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Highlights

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Mount Washington State Park, Baxter State Park

Must-Do Activity

Even if just for a short stretch, gets a taste for the A.T. by following the white rectangular blazes going north or south anywhere along its length.  The trail through Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is especially popular.

Best Trail

The last stretch of the trail ascends Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  My impression from the surly park employees is that they would rather not be the official end of the Appalachian Trail.  For instance, they fined record-setting Scott Jurek for public alcohol consumption and littering when he spilled some champagne celebrating his accomplishment atop Katahdin in 2015.  The funny thing about the A.T. is that it ends (or begins) on top of a mountain where you have to turn around and hike out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The views on top of Katahdin are unsurpassed and you might get to celebrate with a thru-hiker finishing the 2,185-mile journey.

At the top!  The mountain looks similar to many of the 14ers in Colorado

Peak Season

Most thru-hikers go in the summer due to snow.  Baxter State Park closes in the winter, but most of the trail is accessible year round.

Hours

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

Fees

Free to hike, but some parks (like Shenandoah National Park) charge for admission and camping.

Road Conditions

Trailhead access can be both paved and dirt (which is the case in Baxter State Park).  The trail is only paved in a few portions like atop Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Camping

There are more than 160 trail shelters along the A.T. and in some places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park backpackers are required to utilize them.  Otherwise dispersed camping is mostly allowed along the entire length of the trail.

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Raven about the Katahdin summit!

At the peak and end of the AT

Group shot!

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A view of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
A view looking east at the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Explore More – Approximately how many steps must a human take to cover 2,185 miles?

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