Traveling the Northern Rockies – A Video

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Glacier National Park and the Northern Rockies

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Summer vacation began and ended with vegan pizza.  Specifically, vegan pizza at Allie’s Vegan Pizza in Spokane, Washington.  Even though it sounds weird, the mac and cheese pizza was fantastic, especially when dipped in ranch.  After a late arrival, our first real day of vacation included lots of driving, fueled with breakfast by Casual Friday Donuts, which has a plentiful selection of vegan donuts.  Happily full of maple bars and chocolate frosting, we aimed for the first National Park Site of our trip – Nez Perce National Historical Park.  Commemorating their culture as well as the flight of the Nez Perce from the U.S. Army during the Nez Perce War of 1877, this site is spread over many miles.  I’ve been curious to visit this site after reading, and teaching, the speeches, letters, and history of the Nez Perce, especially Chief Joseph.  We spent time at the visitor center in Spalding, Idaho and followed the Nez Perce National Historic Trail as we drove east, stopping at a canoe camp and “The Heart of the Monster” a site of cultural significance, where I scared a rattlesnake and we listened to a recorded story from a speaker.  We also stopped at Lolo Pass – which Anthony is very familiar with due to work.  Leaving our home mountains, the Appalachians, to visit these western mountains is a great change of scenery.  The Appalachians are worn down, green, and rounded.  The hills and fields we drove through from Spokane to Missoula (our stop for the night), were variously yellowed and then pine scented as we rose to higher elevations.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After a night in Missoula, especially poignant for me after just finishing Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, we drove on to Glacier National Park.  We have both wanted to visit Glacier for years.  Anthony has spent many days working on fires near the park, but has never had a chance to step inside.  I have dreamed of coming here after reading hiking stories in Backpacker and various other outdoor publications.  My parents also wanted to plan a trip here, so while we camped, they stayed in hotels near the park.  We began our week long visit on the west side of the park.  After setting up camp at Apgar Campground, which has nice, semi-private spots, we met up with my parents for a short hike along the shore of Lake McDonald.  Our first view of the lake was mind bogglingly beautiful.  Calm waters, lush woods, and pointy peaks in the distance.  We managed to collect some of our park stamps as well, and enjoyed watching the light change over the lake as the sun set.  

The next day, Anthony and I set out to hike to Avalanche Lake.  A moderately strenuous hike of about six miles, the end view is amazingly tranquil and yet wild at the same time.  A popular hike, we shared the trail with many others, but were still able to enjoy the peaceful nature of the lake and the multiple waterfalls cascading down from Sperry Glacier.  That afternoon, we drove through storm clouds and wind to Bowman Lake.  Following mostly dirt roads all the way, we were on a quest for another passport stamp.  

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After two nights at West Glacier we made our way to Saint Mary via the infamous Going-To-The-Sun Road.  I was driving, and constantly pulled over to marvel at the views.  Truly stunning, the road is also an amazing feat of engineering.  These views made us eager to come back someday to backpack more remote areas of the park, since we didn’t have enough time to do so on this trip.  After visiting with some mountain goats at Logan Pass (they were right on the side of the road and Anthony got amazing pictures out of the car window), we descended to the Saint Mary campground where our already reserved spot seemed to be the most exposed in the campground.  Many sites were privately tucked back, but ours butted right up with another site and offered much less space than many others.  I suppose we can’t complain too much, since we had to reserve so far ahead of time and this was the only space left!  Also, Glacier only charges half price for pass holders – which was a nice perk.  We spent the rest of the day meeting up with my parents again and driving down to the Two Medicine area of the park.  There we collected our stamp and hiked a short distance to the lake and then to Running Eagle Falls.  This waterfall cascades, in high water, from above and then within a cave.  Since we were there later in the summer, the water was only coming from inside the cave – which was really neat to see.  Dinner was at Serrano’s, a Mexican joint in East Glacier Park.  Awesomely, they had tofu specials on the menu and we ate happily alongside my parents.  

The following morning, we hopped in the car again and drove to Many Glacier.  First collecting our stamp, we then picked up our boat tour which motored us across Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine.  Beautiful, foggy views greeted us as we managed to dodge most of the rain.  After lunch in the lodge, we headed back to the Saint Mary area and Anthony and I hiked to yet another waterfall – Saint Mary Falls.  The turquoise water rushing over the small falls was beautiful, though we hiked through increasingly intense thunder, lightening, and rain to get back to the car.

Waterton National Park

Waterton National Park

Our next foray took us up into Alberta, Canada to visit Waterton Park, which is attached to Glacier National Park as an International Peace Park.  We were again plagued by rain, but still managed to see everything we could drive to in the park, and explore the little town within.  On our way to Cameron Lake (stunning in its own right), we saw a Grizzly bear!  The bear ran in front of the car (much happier to see it from the car than while out hiking), and proceeded to dig around in the dirt for a while on the side of the road.  We also made it out to Red Rock Canyon, though again rain kept us from enjoying it for too long.  

We said goodbye to my parents, the cooler Glacier weather, and long days in order to head south into Idaho.  We had two more stops in Montana first though.  Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site commemorates cattle and the people who created this industry in the west.  Much warmer weather greeted us as we walked around the site, peering into barns and watching a blacksmith demonstrate her skills.  We also sampled cowboy coffee and viewed many photographs detailing the history of the ranch.  We finished our day by driving to Butte, whose mining history fascinated me.  Many of the mining buildings are still standing and there are various memorials to those killed in mining accidents around the city.  

We began our next morning early at The Hummingbird Cafe where we were able to have a tasty vegan breakfast of potatoes, tofu scramble, vegan sausage, and toast with fresh made jam.  Great way to start the day!  Big Hole National Battlefield was our first NPS site of the day.  The visitors center included a sad yet realistic depiction of the battle and the history of the Nez Perce.  Continuing the path we began a week before, we learned more about the men and women on both sides of the Nez Perce War.  After the film, we drove down the battlefield and walked around the beautiful Big Hole River near the battlefield.  The past echoes in the sunshine, waving grasses, and whispering water.  

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Later in the day, we made it to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Very hot, especially with the sun reflecting off of the volcanic rock, we still managed to fit in a few short hikes through the landscape.  There were many others outside enjoying the park as well, and the visitors center was packed.  We hiked along the North Crater Flow Trail, up Inferno Cone, and to several caves that we were able to hike through.  It was much cooler underground!  The landscape is rugged and stark in comparison to the yellow hills surrounding it.

Since we stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho for a couple of nights, the next morning I woke up early and went for a run along the Snake River Canyon.  I kept stopping to admire the views along the pedestrian path the city has built along the rim.  I always appreciate a city that has a great running path!  Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site share a visitors center, so we went there before we visited either park.  At Hagerman, we walked around a little, seeing part of the Oregon Trail – you can still see the wagon tracks!! – and the hills where the fossils have been recovered.  The most famous fossil recovered is the Hagerman Horse, among 200 other species of plants and animals found.  Minidoka preserves a troubling time in American history, when the government moved people of Japanese 

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

ancestry to internment camps during World War II.  Part of the property has been preserved, as well as a few old buildings.  Most of the land was actually turned over to returning soldiers as homesteads after the war ended, but the National Park Service has saved enough space that we were able to follow about a mile long trail detailing where some of the buildings were.  Signs also offered historical data about the site while 13,000 internees were forcibly living there.  Quiet now, we were the only ones wandering around.  We baked in the sun as we observed the site and tried to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those interned here for years.  By the end of the war, the internees had changed the landscape into viable farmland and were producing most of their own food.  Asked to leave, many wanted to stay after becoming attached to the land, and knowing they had nothing to return to.  We took an evening visit to Shoshone Falls, driving down into the canyon in order to stand close to the huge falls.  

Our last stop of our vacation out west was City of Rocks National Reserve.  Mostly a haven for rock climbers, we drove through the park and stopped to admire the strange rock formations, meandering through some of them and watching climbers off in the distance.  A quiet spot, we felt very secluded, a nice conclusion to our time out west.  

We spent the night in Boise, Idaho and had a fantastic dinner at BBQ4LIFE, a restaurant with both vegan and traditional BBQ.  Dinner, and dessert, were seriously amazing.  We stuffed ourselves.  The next day, we stopped in Grangeville, Idaho to visit friends Anthony knows from working in fire, and then continued on our way to Spokane, vegan pizza, and our flight to Connecticut.  Before driving from Connecticut back to Asheville, we attended a cousin’s wedding in Rhode Island (on our wedding anniversary!), and visited Anthony’s stepfather at Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC.  Undergoing treatment for cancer, Allen is bravely facing a long recovery from the removal of a tumor in his shoulder.  After a long day of driving, we arrived safely back home to enjoy the rest of our summer.

Midwest National Parks – Part 3

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

We then made our way to Minneapolis, Minnesota to the visitors center for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  There were several areas along the river we could have visited, but we unfortunately did not have enough time.  We took a very short walk along the river, and spent some time in the visitors center, reading the literature and chatting with the rangers there.  Then we headed to an icon of Minneapolis culture, The Mall of America, where we marveled at the rides in the center of the mall and I managed to collect several new smashed pennies.  We managed to make room for another great meal, at Hard Times Cafe.  I had the seitan Philly sub, and Anthony had biscuits, sausage, scramble, and hash browns covered in gravy.  My mouth is watering now just thinking about it!

Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone National Monument

The next morning we drove all the way across the state of Minnesota in order to go to Pipestone National Monument.  Another small, yet really interesting, site, the unique topography of Pipestone really engaged us during our visit.  Pipestone was created in order to protect the ancient quarries of rock, that are still mined today by members of various tribes who claim connection to this land.  In the visitor center, we were able to chat with one of the men who still carves the pipes while watching him work.  Once outside again, we walked the circle trail, which leads visitors through some of the quarries and to Winnewissa Falls.  The pink quartzite and redder pipestone are prevalent among the restored prairie grasses.  A beautiful walk, we managed to finish up just as rain drops began to fall.

The following day, we began at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa.  We were pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this spot was.  We arrived early in the morning, and after visiting the visitors center and watching the introductory film, we hiked to Fire Point to check out the mounds.  Strangely, many Indian tribes have ties to the area, but the reasoning behind the mounds is lost in the mist of history.  The mounds are best seen from the air, but from the ground they are pretty amazing too.  From Fire Point and Eagle Rock, we had beautiful, unobstructed views of the Mississippi River.  With the early morning fog still lifting, and our elevation, we had a stunning view across the water.  That was our favorite part of the short hike.

Future birthplace of James T. Kirk

Future birthplace of James T. Kirk

Next we visited Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.  In West Branch, Iowa, Hoover grew up in what he claimed was an idyllic town.  Quiet and perfect for young children, he felt a great sense of community within his Quaker upbringing.  He held fast to the American Dream, and followed his success as a mining engineer all over the world, before he became the 31st president.  As well as visiting his birthplace, and several other restored buildings, we were able to visit his presidential library.  The museum there contains tons of exhibits detailing his life and political career.  We learned much more about Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou.  Their humanitarian efforts impressed us the most, both before and after his presidency.  Our last stop for the day was Riverside, Iowa to visit the future birthplace of James T. Kirk.  For those of you who are not Star Trek fans (myself included), he is a major character in the TV and movie series.  The town has capitalized on this and we posed by the sign marking the spot and by a recreation of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

The following day we drove to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, on the very southern tip of Lake Michigan, in Indiana.  This is a strange park.  It seems that the idea was driven by citizens who were concerned when proposals arose for a Port of Indiana in the sand dunes.  The arguments escalated between both sides until JFK proposed creating both the port and the national park in 1963.  So now, the dunes are surrounded by industry and mills, with the port in the middle of the park.  It’s a strange set up.  It’s wonderful that they managed to preserve the dunes, but a lot of the park acreage is actually marschland and though much of the lakeshore is preserved, the land directly across from the water is often not.  That meant that we could drive on Lakefront Drive, for example, but were constantly reminded by insistent signs that we could not park anywhere on the road, except for one small parking lot.  Also, the signage in the park wasn’t that great, the map in the brochure didn’t show all the roads and there signage we did see wasn’t always intuitive.  That being said, we enjoyed walking around inland at the Chellberg Farm and the Bailly Homestead.  Also, the Lakefront Drive was very pretty and we could get out at the parking lot and walk around on the beach.  In either direction though, we could see what looked like industrial buildings.  Chicago was visible across the water too – which was really neat.  We also really enjoyed seeing the 1933 Century of Progress Homes.  Nothing was said about them in the brochure, though they appear on the map and the park website, but they are from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and were built to showcase modern architecture.

Dinner that night was in Phoenix, IL, south of Chicago at Daisy’s Catering Cafe.  The decor and surrounding neighborhood weren’t all that fabulous, but the food more than made up for it.  Up there as one of the best vegan meals we’ve ever eaten, we stuffed ourselves with tasty sandwiches, battered tofu bits, and BBQ tofu bites.  Upon the recommendation of another customer, I had the P.L.T. (protein, lettuce, and tomato).  It was amazing.  Everyone who came in was friendly, and seemed to know each other.  We chatted with several other customers while there.  We left very happily stuffed.

The following day (which was our three year wedding anniversary!), our first stop was Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  You have to be on a tour to see the inside of the house, so our first stop was the visitors center to get free tickets.  While we waited for our tour to begin, we viewed a movie in the theater, telling us about Lincoln’s life in Springfield, Illinois.  This is the home that he and his wife bought and lived in until he left for Washington D.C. and the presidency.  Many of the original belongings of the Lincolns are no longer in the home, because they either put them in storage when they left or brought them to the White House.  Sadly, the Lincolns never lived there again, and it was maintained as a rental property until turned over to the people as a monument.  The tour was lively and I learned that fashion of the times dictated that the inside of the home be decorated in clashing fabrics to represent the frivolity of the colors in nature.  They considered it bringing nature indoors, and each fabric had differing patterns that always included a touch of either leaves, animals, or flowers.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

After an Indian buffet lunch, we turned for St. Louis and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the St. Louis Arch.  We declined to go up in the arch (tickets were sold out, though we could have reserved them ahead of time), but man made heights like that bother me to an extent anyway.  We spent our time there wandering the grassy park surrounding the arch and perusing all the exhibits in the museum underground.  The museum is quite impressive, with tons of material and information about Indian and new American conflicts and treaties, as well as information about the Civil War and other aspects of American History.  We also had a little time to check out the exhibits in the Old Courthouse, which focused on the Dred Scott case.

Our anniversary dinner was at Lulu’s Local Eatery, a vegan counter service restaurant with a really cute sitting area.  I think we both enjoyed the tater tots that came with our sandwiches the most!

Since we arrived early the next morning at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site just south of St. Louis in Missouri, we were the only ones on our tour of his home.  It is actually the childhood home of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent.  Once the two were married, they settled in the Dent family home, which was a farm that utilized slave labor.  Apparently, Grant and his father in law had heated debates often about slavery, since they were on opposing sides of the issue.  Poor Julia must have had some fun with that.  Julia wanted to stay in the house with her family, since Grant was gone so often with the army, but although they did live other places throughout their marriage, they always called this “home”.  The house is beautiful and painted bright green – which was apparently very fashionable at the time.

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

We then went to George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Indiana.  An historical figure we knew nothing about before our visit, Clark was instrumental in opening the midwest to settlers during the Revolutionary War.  The story of the march he and his men made during the cold winter in order to defeat the British and their Indian allies west of the Appalachians, is one of fortitude and perseverance.  Wading through icy waters up to the their necks for days, while starving, this small band of men managed to take a much larger force down and open up American expansion to the west.  The monument itself is very large and imposing.  Inside, we were able to listen to a recording describing all of the seven murals of George Rogers Clark.

Before returning home the next day, we stopped at our last NPS site of our trip – Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  This is where Abraham Lincoln grew up, and where his mother died.  According to historians, this is where he learned to work hard, study literature, and love his family – all traits he carried throughout his entire life.  At the site, we were able to watch a film, wander through the small museum, marvel at the sculpted panels on the outside of the memorial depicting places that Lincoln lived, and walk out to the site of his cabin.  After this, it was home to Asheville!

Midwest National Parks – Part 2

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Keweenaw National Historical Park

The next day we drove to Keweenaw National Historical Park.  A park site that we really knew nothing about, besides a cursory glance at the website when we planned the trip, as always we were pleasantly surprised by how informative and interesting this site was.  We began our trip at the Quincy Unit where we visited the Quincy Mine and Hoist.  There were tours through the mine itself, but we wanted to get to the Calumet Unit, and unfortunately did not have time for both.  We did have time to wander around the grounds of the Quincy Mine.  At the Calumet Unit Visitors Center, there was a great museum that we spent over an hour wandering through.  The rangers have done a wonderful job restoring the building that houses the museum, as well as setting up the exhibits.  There were so many informative pieces of literature to read about the mines, which mainly worked with copper, and the history of the people of the town.  The story of the Italian Hall Disaster was especially striking.  Many of the miners were striking in 1913, and in a room full of protesters, someone falsely yelled “fire”.  In the ensuing melee, 73 people were trampled.  Woody Gutherie even wrote a song about it; “1913 Massacre”.  When the Italian Hall was demolished in 1984, the people of Calumet and the surrounding area, especially those who had a history in mining, decided to band together to preserve the unique history of the area, which led to the creation of the National Historical Park.  It’s always great when a group of citizens are the impetus for the creation of an NPS site.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

That afternoon we drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin and camped in a town campground right on the shore of Lake Superior.  Bayfield was an adorable small town, set on a hill, with a marina at the base.  The Victorian homes were charming and the downtown area was compact and eclectic.  I’m sure that it doesn’t look so charming in the winter under several feet of snow, but during the warm summer evening, it appeared idyllic.  In the morning, we woke up to go to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Apostle Islands was all over the news this past winter because the lake froze deeply enough to allow access to the ice caves for the first time in years.  As amazing as those would have been to see, I was glad it was much warmer for our visit.  Because almost all of the park is on the islands, and we don’t have kayaks, we were unable to see most of it.  Another for our list to go back to.  We were able to visit both visitors centers and hike a short trail from Meyers Beach to see the sea caves.  Though very cool, I am sure they look so much better from the water, and we will definitely have to go back to explore the islands.  Almost all of them have camping, and trails to trace along the beaches and through inland.

That night we spent in Duluth, Minnesota.  Duluth recently beat out Asheville in Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Live in America Poll.  We couldn’t believe it.  Though we only spent one night in Duluth, we didn’t get the same amazing vibe we get from Asheville.  Granted we didn’t spend enough time there to be fair judges, but we weren’t feeling it.  We did eat out at Pizza Luce, which caters to vegans with vegan cheeses and meats, and was delicious.  The next morning, I went for a quick run on the Duluth Lakewalk.  It was all along the lakeshore and absolutely beautiful.  Early in the morning, there were scores of people out, riding bikes to work, walking and running the paved path, or exercising in groups on the grass.  For the most part, we noticed that this section of the midwest had tons of running/riding trails.  Many of them double as snowmobiling trails in the winter, but there were miles of trails wherever we went.

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

Next, we drove even farther north to go to Grand Portage National Monument.  Tucked away in northern Minnesota, almost on the Canadian border, this was another park site that we really enjoyed and really knew nothing about before visiting.  This is where we learned the most about beavers.  The Grand Portage, and the Voyageurs who traveled it, were all based on the fur trade of the late 1700’s.  Apparently, beaver fur hats were all the rage in Europe and the North West Company, owned by Scottish citizens, capitalized on this.  They built the largest trading post in the center of the continent, and traded with the Ojibwe Indians.  The Voyageurs were the men who carried these furs along the trail from the traders to the waterfront post.  Now, there is a recreation of the trading post and interpreter volunteers acting the traditional roles of the trading post – including the Ojibwe Indians.  This site was one of the first that I have been to, that tells a peaceful story of relations between Indians and new Americans.  They traded together and lived in harmony in the area together.  The relationship was mutually successful for both peoples.  Unfortunately, the post was relocated 1803 because the property lines between Canada forced them to go further north onto Canadian soil.  We wandered through the exhibits in the visitor center and walked down to the recreated post – observing interpreters build canoes, manipulate baskets, and make food in the kitchen before watching some brave local children jump into icy Lake Superior.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

That night we camped out in the Superior National Forest, and weathered an extremely nasty thunder and lightning storm during the night.  The next morning we decided to drive into Ely, Minnesota to wander around.  The town is based on the Boundary Waters nearby, and boasts several outfitters and outdoor stores.  We happily browsed the shops and had a Thai lunch before starting our drive to Voyageurs National Park.  Another park best seen by boat, we did the best we could on foot.  We checked in first at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, disappointed to find out that the canoe trip tour for the following day was already full.  We definitely should have made reservations ahead of time.  After checking out the Ash River area, and getting our stamps at the visitor center, we set up our tent at the Woodenfrog State Forest Campground.  We also took a brief walk to overlook a beaver pond.

The next day we checked out the Rainy Lake area.  We tried to take a hike, but the trail was flooded – as is a lot of the park.  Much of the water is above its usual level.  After lunch in International Falls, we started driving south again.  Our stop for the night was in Iron Mountain, where we eschewed a normal dinner and instead ate popcorn at the movie theater while watching Planes.  Since Anthony is a wildland firefighter, this movie was especially poignant for us.  We both enjoyed it very much.

The following morning I went for a run on the Mesabi Trail, a fantastic paved path which was unfortunately full of biting flies.  They only served to make me run faster, so that we could get on with our packed day.  After driving for some time, our next stop was St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  Again, if we had boats, we would have been able to enjoy this park site even more.  We visited the visitor center and were able to see the Dalles from the riverbank.  The Dalles were created by water blasting through the rock during the formation of the river, and they rise above the waterline creating a gorge.  While driving through the town of St. Croix Falls, we happened to spot a sign advertising vegan food.  We hadn’t even looked online beforehand because we didn’t expect there to be anything in such a small town.  We were very mistaken.  The Vegetarian, an Indian restaurant, offered up perhaps one of the best meals of our entire trip.  We left completely full and happy.

To be continued…

Midwest National Parks – Part 1

The theme of our summer vacation was twofold: we need kayaks and beavers changed the path of American history.

For vacation this summer, Anthony and I decided to loop through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and a little of Missouri.  Our industrious plan covered 18 National Park Sites.  Collecting stamps, magnets, and park brochures, we made our way through some beautiful and depopulated countryside.  Mostly, we were on backroads – the blue highways that William Least Heat-Moon famously enlivened for the American public.  Many of the parks we visited we have placed on a list of “need to return to”, and in these cases, we need a boat to fully enjoy them.

Our trek began in Shepherdstown, WV, where Anthony was attending a class.  Once he was released on Friday afternoon, we made our longest drive of the trip to Detroit.  Anthony lived in Detroit for a short period of time, and our first stop was for some authentic Mediterranean cuisine at Al Ameer.  We feasted on falafel, mujadara, garlic dip, and hummus.  The food was absolutely fantastic, and we left completely stuffed.  Arriving at 9pm, the restaurant was fully packed and echoed with laughter and the frantic movements of the waitstaff.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

The next morning, still kind of full, we backtracked south to visit River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  The site is still being developed, since it was only determined to be an NPS site in 2009.  So far there is an informative visitor center and a short walk to the battlefield.  There are also some monuments in the park.  Until recently, the battlefield was covered by an abandoned paper factory.  Through the efforts of citizens, the city of Monroe, and the state, now River Raisin (Remember the Raisin!) will be protected.  A war of 1812 site, the rangers will be quick to point out, River Raisin demonstrates a time when we were battling against Canada through the British and their Indian allies.  Not only were the Americans ultimately beaten at River Raisin, there were such casualties and fear of retribution, that the dead soldiers remained unburied for months after the battle.  An horrific image to say the least.  So many of these historical sites we visit offer a sobering view of American history, and I feel (as does the National Park Service) that it is immeasurably important to remember and preserve these moments in history.

Afterwards, we met up with friends at Cafe Muse in the Royal Oak neighborhood north of Detroit.  On our way there, we were amazed to see so many burned out and abandoned homes along the freeway through downtown.  Detroit is obviously losing its population in the downtown and southern areas, and I have heard city officials are discussing turning some of that land back into farmland.  Hard to know what can be done, since crime is so high and the city has declared bankruptcy.  Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in years and to enjoy a delicious meal.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

We departed Detroit to head up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the first of all four National Lakeshores that we would visit on this trip.  It was a long drive through rural Michigan, cutting north and west across the state, but we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes, just in time to snag one of the last campsites at D.H. Day Campground.  We explored the nearby Glen Haven Historic Village and the small town of Glen Arbor nearby, where we visited Cherry Republic, sampling cherry hummus and cherry root beer.  As rain began to fall we dashed back to our campsite, hoping the storm would break long enough for us to make dinner on our camp stove.  Thankfully it did, and we were able to sleep dry in our tent.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The next morning we set out to complete the dune climb, a 3.5 mile hike over shifting sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan.  It was quite a tough hike, over and through the dry, drifting sand, but the view of the lake at the end was well worth it.  We were right on the shore of the lake, looking out over the pristine (and freezing!) waters of Lake Michigan.  It was a fun hike, though we were both pretty tired by the time we completed it.  We then finally made our way to the visitors center, and eventually to drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  We were rewarded with more great views of the dunes and the lake, this time from the top of a sand dune.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After stopping for some Thai food in Petoskey, we stayed the night in Mackinaw City, next to the Mackinac Bridge, which took us over to the Upper Peninsula the next morning.  While driving the back roads of the U.P. we continuously saw signs for pasties and wild rice.  The scenery was stunning, and the uncongested roads were a treat.  Our next NPS stop was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  We first stopped in the Grand Sable Visitor Center for information, and our cancellation stamps.  As we chatted with the ranger, she told us there was no longer a ranger at the Lightkeepers House Museum.  We mentioned we were hoping to go there in order to get the lighthouse stamp, and the ranger asked if we’d like her to mail it to us!  So we left our address and when we arrived home, there was our lighthouse stamp with a great note from the ranger.  So sweet of her!  We set up camp that night in the Hurricane River Campground, which was not even half full.  In fact, when we set up our tent, there was no one else on our loop!  We were introduced to the frenetic and persistent mosquitos of the U.P.  They do not quit, and even a layer of Deet does not always keep them away.  Temperatures dropped into the 40’s the night, and didn’t rise much the next day – and still the mosquitos were attacking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

While there, we also took a short walk to the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers used to slide trees down the dunes into the lake for transport.  The view of the dunes was stunning from the angle of the overlook.  We also visited the Munising Falls Visitor Center, and the Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Munising.  Another short walk took us to Munising Falls, which we observed crowded by senior citizens on a bus tour.  We then walked down to see Miners Castle, which is where you can best see the Pictured Rocks (unless you have a boat).  Miners Castle is a unique rock formation, and the walkway takes you right to the edge of it.  One of my favorite American poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote beautifully about this area of the country in The Song of Hiawatha.  The exposed layers of rock in the sandstone and the streaks of minerals along the face are what make the area so notable.  As we walked out onto Miners Beach, the rain that had been threatening throughout the day finally started to fall.  There were other waterfalls we wanted to see, but the chilly temperatures and wet weather kept us from doing so.

To be continued…

Congaree National Park

 

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

Though Congaree National Park is only about three hours from our home, we had yet to visit it together – and I had never been there.  Congaree is a smaller National Park, but full of diverse plant and animal life.  Designated to protect wetland and old growth bottomland forest, many of Congaree’s visitors see the park by boat.  Since this was not an option for us, we planned our visit around camping and hiking.

Arriving midway through a Saturday, we quickly set up our tent in the Longleaf Campground.  Camping is free, with a permit, and the sites in this campground were nicely spaced and easily accessible by a short trail to the parking lot.  The weekend we chose to visit in May was perfect weather for camping, and the campground was almost full.  The group campground was overrun with a very boisterous group of Boy Scouts.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

After camp was set up, we took a walk on the boardwalk to observe the swampland and the knees of the Bald Cypress trees, as well as the trees themselves.  Many sections of the boardwalk were flooded and we sloshed through several puddles on our hike.  Chatting with other park visitors, we made our way off the boardwalk and took a longer, circuitous hike through the woods.  Almost entirely flat, the trails were well maintained, and wove through and around trees, waterways, and swamp.  We connected the Weston Lake Trail to the Kingsnake Trail for a quiet, peaceful hike by Cedar Creek.

The next morning we woke up to cloudy skies and a forecast for rain.  As soon as we packed up our tent, the rain hit and we decided to spend the day hanging around Columbia, South Carolina, the city closest to Congaree.  Our first stop was to try a restaurant we’d never been to before, Arabesque on Devine.  Advertising Lebanese cuisine, we were excited to try their falafel (Anthony) and grape leaves (me).  It turned out to be super tasty and reasonably priced, with a cozy interior seating area full of pillows and colorful artwork.  We left stuffed.

On our way through town the previous day, we had seen signs for The South Carolina Book Festival.  Curious, since I love books just as much as I love National Parks, we drove down to the convention center.  The festival was free, and there were many vendors set up including antiquarian booksellers, new authors, independent publishers, and writer workshops.  We wandered through the aisles and spent a lot of time looking through old books in the antiquarian section.  There were a lot of fun old pamphlets and documents to peruse, and first editions that we’ll probably never be able to afford.  We managed to make minimal purchases, but really enjoyed looking at the old texts.

Our last stop before heading home was at Heroes and Dragons, a comic book store.  We happily spent a lot of time searching the cases and shelves.  Anthony was looking at vintage toys, while I was searching the bookshelves.  They had a huge selection of used books, and an entire room dedicated to books that only cost a dollar.  Happy with new purchases, we headed back to Asheville after a quick, nice weekend away.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park.  We spent over a week there, part of it backpacking, and part of it with my parents – who were gracious enough to plan a vacation to Yosemite and then invite us along!  Yosemite is crowded, the valley is mobbed, especially in the middle of summer, but there is a reason that it is so full of humanity – and that is the sheer, unadorned beauty of the monolithic granite rising up out of the valley.  No one can deny the heart stopping views, and it is not surprising that people flock here, clogging the roads and filling the lodging.  Unfortunately, some people do very stupid things here – you put together a lot of humans who do not go out into nature often, within arm’s reach of animals and hiking trails, and you tend to have clashes.  I like to think that most people though, leave Yosemite with a renewed sense of the importance of preserving nature, and a reverence for the sublime – John Muir called this area the “range of light”.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The backpacking portion of our trip included 50+ miles over five days and four nights in the backcountry.  We applied for our permit months in advance.  In fact, we had our permit in hand long before we even had plane tickets!  Still, we had to wrangle our hike because so many permits had already been taken.  We hiked out of Wawona on the Chilnualna Falls Trail.  That meant we gained approximately 3,000 feet on our first day of hiking.  We started around 4,000 feet and on our third day, topped Red Peak Pass at a little over 11,000 feet.  Our first night was spent at Johnson Lake, falling asleep to the gentle plopping of fish in the otherwise still lake, where we awoke to frost on the ground.  As the sun rose, it quickly melted, but I still registered my complaints and refused to leave my sleeping bag until the sun hit our tent.  Late on our second day of hiking, we spotted our first views of the high Sierra, where the peaks are barren and covered in moraines.  Through fields of wildflowers and forested hills, we spent the day rolling up and downhill until we reached the final push to the Ottoway Lakes.  We spent the night camped on the shore of the lower lake, enjoying the tinkling of a small creek through the evening.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Day three took us up and over Red Peak Pass, and though the temperature hovered in the 60’s the mountain sun was intense.  That, combined with the altitude, made for slow going up the pass.  The area is above tree line, therefore completely exposed.  We arrived at the summit around noontime, and while Anthony huddled in the shade, I tried in vain with my camera to capture the sun on the rocks and the view of the various tarns dotting the horizon.  The hike down from the pass seemed to take much longer than it should have, but we did stop several times to dip our feet in mountain streams, or swim in lakes.  Anthony swims, I am the toe dipper.  The freezing cold glacier meltwater does not seem to bother him.  Our third night was spent next to Triple Peak Fork, which eventually dumps into the Merced River.  We hadn’t seen another human since the night before, and we were camped completely alone out in the woods.  It’s amazing to be able to do that in a park that sees over four million visitors a year.  The following day we followed Triple Peak Fork down to the trail junction at Merced Lake, where there is a campground with platform tents.  We spent some time resting on the shore of Merced Lake, enjoying the quiet beauty.  From this point on, we were on a highly traveled trail down to the valley, so our days were not as peaceful.  Up until we arrived at the Merced Lake area, we’d seen less than a dozen people total.  After Merced Lake, I stopped counting as we ran into people backpacking up to the platform tents, mule trails, and as we got closer to the valley – day hikers.  I found a secret camp spot up above the Merced River that night, and we enjoyed a warmer night in the shadow of a granite dome.  Our hike out was stunning, even though we had to share the trail with so many others.  Following the Merced River was magical, and we found many places to cool off in its waters.  We hiked down the grueling steps by Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, admiring the views with literally thousands of other people, to end our hike back in the valley.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

We spent the next couple of days with my parents, enjoying the less rigorous pursuits in Yosemite – a short walk to Lyell Fork in Tuolumne Meadows was a highpoint.  We also took a drive up Tioga Road, and then down to Mammoth to visit Devils Postpile National Monument.  60 foot high towers of basalt rock, that look like french fries to me, are the reason this was declared a protected area in 1911.  Another day we drove to Glacier Point for unobstructed views of Half Dome and the valley below.  It was a wonderful few days in an amazing park and I am glad we spent an abundance of time here, especially since we were able to enjoy such a wonderful place with my parents.

Upon leaving Yosemite, we made our way back to the San Francisco area.  We spent a morning at John Muir National Historic Site.  It was really fun to go there right after being at Yosemite, since John Muir loved Yosemite and was integral in pushing to get it protected.  He adored Yosemite, and spent days upon days wandering footloose through the peaks, with barely any supplies and a carefree regard for the natural world.  At the site, we were able to walk around his family home and read much of his original work.  As always, the park rangers were helpful, friendly and talkative.

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Our next stop was Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.  When Anthony and I first met, our first date began at the Oakland Airport.  We had planned a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast.  Before we headed up north in our rental car, Anthony suggested we check out the new National Park Site that had just opened – Rosie the Riveter.  A memorial sculpture had already been built, which is what led to the designation and participation by the NPS.  We both remember going to the site, and wandering around the memorial, but at that point, in 2007, there was nothing else there yet.  Now there is a gorgeous visitors center, with amazing exhibits, films, and photographs – all commemorating the women who worked and toiled in the war effort of WWII.  The Rosies are inspiring and the history presented and the care given to preserving it, make this site a very special place.  Dinner was at Souley Vegan, in Oakland, where we ate piles and piles of starchy goodness.

Our last day on vacation began with a visit to Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.  Open rarely, and only accessible by park shuttle, we had made reservations the previous morning, but the shuttle never appeared – so we waited the next morning, a Saturday, for a shuttle that did not require reservations.  In the meantime, we discovered Ike’s Place, an amazingly tasty sandwich shop.  It’s not an all vegan place, or even vegetarian, but they have an extensive vegan menu that includes all kinds of meats and cheeses.  I think both of us would agree that these were some of the best sandwiches either of us has ever had.  Back at the site, the lives of Eugene and his family made for an incredibly interesting tour of his house.  Being an English teacher, I was of course fascinated to see his library and hear about his writing practices.  He was very reclusive while writing, and “trained” his wife Carlotta to ensure his privacy while working.

Our last stop of vacation before flying a red eye out of SFO, was Jelly Belly, where we took a factory tour and bought a lot of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  Anthony spent a lot of our visit on the phone with his work, because within the hour of us arriving home from vacation the next morning, he left for Alaska with work!

All in all, an amazingly wonderful three week vacation – lots of memories, good food, and beautiful scenery.  An added bonus was spending time with my wonderful parents!

Northern California

Whiskey Town NRA

Whiskey Town NRA

We left the cool weather of the Bay Area behind, and headed north to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, where temperatures soared over 100 degrees.  Most come to Whiskeytown to enjoy the lake, and we were no exception.  We went swimming twice, once at Crystal Creek Falls, and then again in Whiskeytown Lake.  Since the temperature was so hot, it was a welcome relief.  We also took a short walk to a few relics of the mining past surrounding the area.  Even walking less than a mile was taxing in that weather!

Lave Beds National Monument

Lave Beds National Monument

Our next stop took us on a drive up to Lava Beds National Monument.  We spent two nights camping there in the Indian Well Campground.  A smaller park, we had a great time exploring.  Lava Beds is known for the extensive system of caves located beneath the surface of the park.  We trekked through three of them, some of the easier ones to walk through.  We didn’t attempt any of the more serious caves.  Golden Dome is so named for the glowing bacteria on the ceiling.  It really does glow golden in the light!  We also walked the length of Sentinel Cave, and climbed down into Skull Cave.  There is a permanent ice floor when you get all the way to the base.  The temperature in the caves is a cool 50ish degrees all year, a welcome relief from the sun and heat of the rest of the park.  While staying there, we also experienced a hail storm so severe we feared for the paint job and dinging of our rental car.  One night we ventured down to the amphitheater to listen to a ranger led discussion of the Modoc people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.  We also visited the remaining petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point, which were actually created by people on boats, though now the area is dry.  We didn’t know what to expect from Lava Beds, and were greatly impressed by the array of landscapes to be explored within its borders.  Far from other cities, it is also pretty secluded, so we took a ride up to Klamath Falls one evening for dinner and the movies, something we both enjoy doing anytime.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

While in the area, we were also able to explore one unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  A relatively newer site, set aside in 2008, the Tule Lake Unit encompasses sites were both prisoners of war and Japanese internees were housed during World War II.  A sobering part of our history, it was powerful to stand on the grounds where Japanese citizens were kept and basically imprisoned during the war.  As the wind ceaselessly poured down from the hills, we read inscriptions about the difficulties the POW’s and Japanese had adapting to this harsh environment.  The visitors center has a comprehensive museum of the area, that includes many exhibits and relics from this time period.  Fascinatingly, after the war was over, and the interns sent away, many people repurposed the barracks into homes.  As we drove around Tule Lake (sometimes written as Tulelake), we were able to pick out these houses by their characteristic rectangle shape.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Our next drive took us to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Beautiful, remote and not very crowded, Lassen was a direct contrast to other, more popular National Parks.  We were both amazed and surprised by just how stunning the scenery was in Lassen, and by how calm and quiet it was compared to other National Parks.  We camped at Manzanita Lake for two nights, and though the campground was full, it was still pretty peaceful and did not feel overly crowded.  Upon arrival, and acquiring our stamps at the entrance station, we set up our tent, and then embarked on a drive around the park.  There is one long road that goes from entrance to entrance.  Within the park, there are also many miles of backcountry hiking, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Sierra Nevada in California.  It is a life-long dream to hike this entire trail, which is 2,650 miles long.  Unable to climb to the top of Lassen Peak (which is only open a few times during the year), we settled for a walk down to Bumpass Hell, a geothermal area.  It is a fascinating, smelly area with steam rising into the air and muddy sludge bubbling out of the ground.  You can hear the hiss of the steam and the burping of the water as it boils beneath the surface, as well as observe the varicolored ground and impressive array of features within a small area – all accessible by boardwalk.

The next morning we went on another short hike, this time to Paradise Meadow.  The climb to the meadow was well worth the effort, as the view was stunning.  We spent some time laying in the meadow, eating snacks, and chatting with other hikers.  It was an absolutely beautiful spot, and I think we could have laid there for hours.  We truly enjoyed our time in Lassen, and we would love to return and spend more time there.

To be continued…

Cumberland Island National Seashore

When I first heard about Cumberland Island National Seashore, it seemed like a magical place full of wild ponies, sea birds, maritime forests, and peaceful beaches.  The reality was that magical.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

On our drive to St. Mary’s, Georgia we stopped for dinner at Tios in Columbia, South Carolina.  They served meat and vegetarian food, but offered vegan cheese for any order on the menu.  We took advantage of that and were very happy with the results.  Yummy tacos and burritos!  Upon arrival in St. Mary’s, a precious, quiet town on the water, before we could take the ferry to the island, we stayed the night at the Riverview Hotel, a relic of the past, replete with the requisite ghost stories and lounging cat.  All the rooms are unique, and are named after different people or things.  We stayed in the Nimitz Room, named for Admiral Nimitz, a naval officer during WWII.  We saw no ghosts, but did see the cat.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

In the morning, we explored the visitors center while waiting for our ferry to Cumberland Island.  The weather was warm and sunny, wonderful conditions for a weekend on the beach.  The ferry ride itself was lovely, as we chugged across Cumberland Sound from the St. Mary’s River.  We landed at the Sea Camp Ranger Station, where we were given some rules and regulations before being given our camping permits.  We were planning to stay on the island for two nights, and were able to get both of the camping spots we wanted.  As soon as we were told we could camp at Stafford Beach our first night, we shouldered our packs and headed into the interior of the island to follow the Parallel Trail to the Pratts Trail.  Not an overly taxing hike, no hills, we hiked the three or so miles through maritime forest relatively quickly and set up camp at a large site right off the trail.  I spent the entire time looking for any of the feral ponies that roam the island.  It wasn’t until dusk that I heard, and then caught a glimpse, of two trotting by our campsite.  By then we had made our way to the ocean to touch our toes to the Atlantic waters and collect shells.  There is an abundance of shells on the island, and since they are considered a renewable resource, visitors can take home as many as they can carry.  We spent a peaceful night sleeping under the stars, lulled to sleep by the pounding waves.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The following morning, we meandered south along the beach, looking for sand dollars and picking up shells.  By the time we arrived back at Sea Camp, I had amassed a huge stuff sack full of shells!  I later decorated our dining room table with them – so we always have a reminder in our home of this truly magical place.  Anthony found two intact sand dollars.  We pretty much had the beach to ourselves, and it was a gorgeously sunny day, magical indeed!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Back at Sea Camp, we established camp once again, in a secluded spot surrounded by trees.  Even though this is the most popular spot, and many people haul tons of stuff off the ferry to this nearby campground, it was still quiet during the night.  Once we had set up our tent, we took a walk to the ruins of Dungeness – which was a Carnegie mansion built in 1884.  It burned down in 1959, but the ruins of this magnificent house with beautiful views and solitude are still standing.  Rumored to be infested with snakes, visitors cannot actually enter the ruins, but can wander through the grounds and appreciate the lifestyle the Carnegies and their friends lived on this out of the way island.  They threw lavish parties that lasted for months, and enjoyed summers of leisure.  Only populated with the wealthy (and their slaves and servants) before it became part of the NPS system, Cumberland Island has always been a special place to its residents.  While walking around the property I spotted a small herd of feral ponies, and spent lots of time photographing them and refraining from approaching them.  Though used to people, they are wild animals.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

We crossed back to the Atlantic side of the island and walked up the beach in the fading light of the day.  After enjoying our couscous over our camping stove, and playing cards, we settled down onto our camping pads for our last night on Cumberland Island (at least on this trip – I hope we can come back and explore the rest of the island sometime).  The next morning we boarded the ferry, with some sadness.  The following day meant back to work and impending winter.

On our way home, we were able to stop at one more NPS site – Fort Pulaski National Monument.  Built in the mid-1800s, Fort Pulaski was first occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Fort Pulaski was believed to be impenetrable, but new weapons had been invented, and the Federals took advantage of this.  Fort Pulaski was attacked from Tybee Island and the Federals were able to get the Confederates to surrender within 30 hours.  The fort has been preserved and restored enough so that we were able to walk through many of the underground tunnels, as well as examine all the interior rooms.  After this stop, we headed back home to Asheville.

Shining Rock Wilderness

A few months ago we hiked the beautiful Shining Rock Wilderness, located on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. We went from Black Balsam to the top of Cold Mountain, enjoying the amazing views the whole way. Carrie is a huge fan of the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, so she was thrilled to hike this influential mountain. I strapped my GoPro camera to my chest and took several thousand photographs along the way, this is the end product.

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