Tag Archives: Great Sand Dunes

30 for 300 – Part III

And now, here is the conclusion of my 30 for 300 series with my Top 10 Memories from visiting my first 300 national parks!

In case you missed it, you may also be interested in Part I with #’s 21-30; Part II with #’s 11-20; and the Honorable Mentions.

#10) Exploring Ellsworth Rock Garden at Voyageurs National Park – July 2012

My 2012 trip to Voyageurs National Park was magical in multiple ways.   This trip was one of the first camping trips I did with my Jr. T-Rex, who only 20 months old at the time.   Voyageurs is also one of the best places in the country to see bald eagles in the wild, and we saw them seemingly everywhere.  Then, once evening sets in, the star birds of this Park are the loons, whose haunting calls echo over the lakes in the twilight hours.

The top highlight of this trip, however,  was discovering the Ellsworth Rock Gardens.    Back in the ’50s and ’60s, a gentleman by the name of Jack Ellsworth from Chicago vacationed on Kabetogama Lake in the summers and constructed a vast and elaborate set of terraces, flower beds, and fanciful rock sculptures. This site is truly “off-the-beaten-path,” as it is only accessible by boat – which also means no crowds.  We literally had the site to ourselves when we visited, despite being the middle of the summer tourist season.   To find something this elaborate quite literally in the middle of nowhere was truly one of the most surreal experiences of my travels.

Ellsworth Rock Gardens is one of hidden gems of Voyageurs National Park, and indeed, of the whole U.S. National Park System.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens is one of hidden gems of Voyageurs National Park, and indeed, of the whole U.S. National Park System.

 

#9) Picnic Under the Cherry Blossoms at National Capital Parks

Since the Parkasaurus Family lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC this has become an annual tradition for us – and so this is the only one of my “30 for 300” without a specific date attached to it.  Yes, the Tidal Basin area gets absolutely crowded during cherry blossom season – but for good reason.   There really is nothing like strolling under the cherry blossoms at peak bloom.  The trees form a sea of puffy white bloosoms above you, with iconic accents provided by the visages of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the other monuments and memorials around the Tidal Basin.  The cherry blossoms are fleeting, though, with peak bloom lasting only 3-5 days each year.  So each year we monitor the reports closely of when the peak bloom will be, and we always make sure to find time in our schedule to head downtown with a blanket and a picnic basket and enjoy the spectacular scenery of one of the Nation’s Capital’s rites of spring.

Even with the well-deserved crowds of people around you, it is still possible to find spots to enjoy the pure clouds of cherry blossoms.
Even with the well-deserved crowds of people around you, it is still possible to find spots to enjoy the pure clouds of cherry blossoms.

 

#8) Hiking to Cathedral Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – May 2006

Located way up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is another of my favorite hidden gems of the National Park System.  In fact, if it were rebranded as Pictured Rocks National Park instead of national lakeshore, it would probably get a lot more of the attention that it so richly deserves.

My visit to this Park in 2006 included one of my all-time favorite hikes.  From the trailhead at the end of Chapel Road, there is a choice of two trails, one leading to Cathedral Rock and Chapel Beach, the other leading to Mosquito Beach.  I must admit that I never took the trail to Mosquito Beach, but this seems like an easy choice, right?

The full loop trail to Cathedral Rock and Chapel Beach is 9 miles, so it makes for a substantial day hike.  Additionally, one of the few drawbacks of this hike is that a substantial portion of those 9 miles leads you through relatively non-descript pine forest.  The payoff at the end is worth it, however.  After spending an hour and a half walking through the forest, the sensation of going over that last rise and seeing the pristine waters of Lake Superior and the spectacular rock formations on its coastline open up before you is truly breath-taking.

Cathedral Rock is one of the most-impressive natural features on the Lake Superior coastline.
Cathedral Rock is one of the most-impressive natural features on the Lake Superior coastline.

 

#7) Climbing the High Dune by Moonlight at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve – July 1999

Sand dunes in Colorado?   This National Park certainly provides the unexpected.  There are few sights that can compare to seeing North America’s tallest sand dunes nestled against the base of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado.   On my trip to this park in the summer of ’99, I arrived relatively late in the evening and claimed a campsite in the Park’s Pinyon Flats Campground.   I then took advantage of the full moon that evening to go out and climb to the top of the High Dune under the soft glow of the moonlight.  Reaching the dunes involves crossing a shallow stream, and from there, with the benefit of the cool night air, bare feet were definitely the order of the day.   While most people who visit this Park in July have to deal with the scorching sunshine and heat on the dunes, my trip was a magical mystery tour in an other-worldly landscape with cool sand under my feet and the full moon high in the sky.

The dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve under the sunlight, rather than the moonlight.  Photo from a return visit in April 2015.
The dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve under the sunlight, rather than the moonlight. Photo from a return visit in April 2015.

 

#6) “Baby Moon” on the Blue Ridge Parkway – October 2010

The Blue Ridge Parkway has been one of my absolute favorite national parks ever since I drove it end-to-end in August 2001.  If you love a good road trip, as I most certainly do, then the Blue Ridge Parkway’s 469 miles with no traffic lights, no stop signs, and almost never-ending series of overlooks, historic sites, and waterfall hikes is almost like a little slice of heaven.   In the Fall of 2010, as Mrs. Parkasaurus and I were preparing for the birth of our Jr. T-Rex, we decided to take a “baby moon” trip together before the baby arrived.  A trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway during Fall colors season, and to enjoy a corn maze in the shape of the Parkway’s 75th Anniversary logo was a logical choice.  On the way back home, we happened to discover a cabbage patch growing right up next to the Parkway, which seemed like the perfect symbol for our trip.

Mrs. Parkasaurus picking out a baby from the cabbage patch on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mrs. Parkasaurus picking out a baby from the cabbage patch on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

#5) Hiking the Lamar Valley at Yellowstone National Park – August 2006

Yellowstone National Park, in my estimation, is one of the ten most amazing places in the world, and thus rightfully attracts its fair share of visitors.    Away from the geysers and thermals however, and away from the traffic jams caused by the bison and the grizzly bears, there are still places in Yellowstone where you can get off the beaten path.  On my second trip to Yellowstone, in 2006, that place for me was the Lamar Valley in the far eastern end of the Park.  I no longer even remember what inspired me to do so, but I set off on a hike in this part of the Park without even so much as a marked trail – and just spent a couple hours taking in the grand scenery of the American West and a little quiet solitude.

A solitary bison in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park.
A small group of bison in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park.

 

#4) Finding Incredible Isolation at American Samoa National Park – September 2005

I could easily fill an entire blog post about my trip to American Samoa National Park (which for some reason is officially called the National Park of American Samoa) – and in fact, I may just try and do that sometime down the road.   Suffice to say that just visiting American Samoa National Park involves travelling to what is far and away the most-remote location in the National Park System – located as it is some 4,500+ miles southwest of Los Angeles in the Southern Hemisphere.   However, even within a Park like this, there is remote, and then there is really remote.  Only a handful of visitors each year are able to make it out to the island of ‘Ofu.  For the lucky few who make it, it is a true tropical paradise.  Dramatic rainforest-covered cliffs drop down to white sand beaches, with a pristine coral reef literally almost close enough to touch.  I’ve traveled to many different places, but I’ve never felt further away from the cares of the world than when I was on the island of ‘Ofu.

The one hiking trail on the island of 'Ofu doesn't get a lot of foot traffic, so the author found that a machete came in handy.
The one hiking trail on the island of ‘Ofu doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, so the author found that a machete came in handy.  Some of ‘Ofu’s beautiful beaches can be seen in the background.

 

#3) “Ocean in View, O the Joy!” at Lewis & Clark National Historical Park – July 2005

In addition to dinosaurs, I’ve always had a soft spot for national parks dedicated to explorers.   In the summer of 2004, my best friend and I decided to celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s Cexpedition by taking three weeks to travel the entirety of the National Park Service’s Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, which now marks the route.   Nearly two weeks into the trip, we finally reached what was then-called Fort Clatsop National Memorial and is now called Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.  Whatever you call it, the ending point of the Trail is the National Park Service’s reconstruction of the small fort that Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their men (along with Sacagawea and her family) built to pass the winter of 1805-1806.  Our sense of relief at reaching the end of our road trip was of course nothing compared to the relief that Meriwether Lewis  and Wiliam Clark must have felt when writing the words in his journal, “Ocean in View, O the Joy!”   Still, our trip following in their footsteps, and listening to an audiobook of their journals along the way, and traveling from one end of our country to another was full of memories that are not soon to be forgotten.

The author and his friend celebrating at the reconstructed entrance to Lewis & Clark's Fort Clatsop
The author and his friend celebrating at the reconstructed entrance to Lewis & Clark’s Fort Clatsop

 

#2) Interning at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – Summer 1999

As an undergraduate, I double-majored in geology and economics.   As I entered college, my dream was to some daydevelop a career studying fossils as a paleontologist.   By the time my college days were over, however, I had recognized that my future calling lay in economics, rather than geology or paleontology.  Still, I stuck it out and completed my double major, and before beginning a career in economics, I took advantage of my geology degree to spend the summer after graduation as an intern with the National Park Service.

It was actually that summer internship which set me on my journey of trying to visit all of the U.S. National Parks.  You see, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is an absolutely incredible place, with beautiful Rocky Mountain alpine scenery and 35 million year old fossils of insects so perfectly preserved that you can still see the veins in the wing of a fossilized wasp.   Yet, before taking this internship, I had never even heard of it.  Thus, it occurred to me – how many other incredible places that I have never heard of could I discover if I started visiting national parks?   And so the journey began…

The author, performing some trail maintenance as a Ranger intern in his younger days at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The author, performing some trail maintenance as a Ranger intern in his younger days at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

 

#1) Wedding Day at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – July 2008

If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed a pattern with my 30 for 300’s #’s 21-30 and #’s 11-20.   Sure enough,  10 months after getting engaged at Harper’s Ferry, we returned to the Park to get married at Historic St. Peter’s Chapel.

The author and Mrs. Parkasaurus get their first Passport stamps together as an (almost) married couple just before their wedding ceremony.
The author and Mrs. Parkasaurus get their first Passport stamps together as an (almost) married couple just before their wedding ceremony.

We made the most of the experience, including getting Passport Stamps together to mark the special day, and then climbing the old stone steps to the Chapel’s location on the cliff above the lower town.  Since the Appalachian National Scenic Trail runs along those steps, my wife can say that she hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in her wedding dress!

The happy couple and the scenary of Harpers Ferry National HIstorical Park.
The happy couple and the scenary of Harpers Ferry National HIstorical Park.

Thank you very much for joining me on this trip down memory lane through some of my favorite moments from visiting my first 300 national parks.  I obviously continue to love both visiting parks for the first time, and revisiting the parks I have been to before, and I hope you will continue to join me in sharing that journey on this blog.

Top 10 Stamps

If you missed it, here is Part I with #’s 21-30; here is Part II with #’s 11-20; and here are the Honorable Mentions.

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When Does a National Park Count Twice?

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This sign in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve in Alaska helpfully tells you when you are walking the line between areas designated as national park and areas designated as national preserve.

Editor’s Note: This is the latest in our Counting the Parks series, for more on this topic, check out our page at: http://www.parkasaurus.com/?cat=4

In December, when four new parks were added to the national park system, it was widely reported that there were now 405 U.S. National Parks.   What most people don’t realize about this number is that it includes nine national parks that count twice.   This list of nine national parks that count twice are all parks that bear the designation of “& Preserve” at the end of their name.  Seven of them are designated “National Park & Preserve” and two of them are designated as “National Monument & Preserve.”

The reason for this compound designation comes down to land management in general, and sport hunting in specific.   National parks (and national monuments within the National Park System) are generally managed by the National Park Service with a prohibition on sport hunting.   On the other hand, the National Park Service has generally allowed sport hunting on lands designated as a national preserve.   Thus, there have been several cases where a single area has been designated as a combination of a national park for some areas and a national preserve for other areas in which recreational sport hunting will be allowed.  Here are the nine of them:

  • Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve – President Carter used the Antiquities Act to protect the Aniakchak Caldera in southeast Alaska’s Aleutian Peninsula as a national monument in 1978, and two years later the area was expanded by the addition of a national preserve in the areas surrounding the caldera in 1980.
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve – President Coolidge used the Antiquties Act to set aside dormant lava fields in central Idaho.  This area was expanded by President Clinton in 2000, and then in 2002 many of these expanded areas were redesignated as a national preserve to allow for recreational hunting.
  • Denali National Park & Preserve – Mount McKinley National Park was established in central Alaska back in 1917, but the original national park did not even include the summit of Mount McKinley.  President Carter used the Aniquities Act to designate Denali National Monument in 1978.  Then in 1980, these two areas were combined, the area designated as a national park was expanded, and two small remnants of the combined area were designated as national preserve.  Today, the national preserve areas are in the far southwestern corner and far northwestern corners of the Park, far from the developed visitor infrastructure.
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve – President Carter set aside Gates of the Arctic in northern Alaska as a national monument using the Antiquities Act in 1978.  In 1980, the area was designated as a national park, except for two areas in the northeast and southwest corners of the park, which were designated as a national preserve.
  • Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve – President Coolidge used the Antiquities Act to set aside Glacier Bay in coastal southern Alaska as a national monument in 1924.  This area was later expanded by Presidents Roosevelt and Carter.  In 1980, the area was redesignated a national park, except for a small strip of land near Dry Bay in the southeastern corner of the park, which was designated a national preserve.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve – President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to Antiquities Act to proclaim the enormous sand dunes in southern Colorado at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains a national monument.  In 2000, legislation was passed redesignating the area as a national park, and vastly expanding the park to include much of the scenic Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a national preserve.
  • Katmai National Park & Preserve – In 1918, President Wilson used the Antiquities Act to set aside a volcanic area in southeast Alaska known as “The Valley of 10,000 Smokes” as a national monument.  President Hoover would later expand this area to include the area around Brooks Falls – which is some of the best grizzily bear habitat on the planet (and is the source of many iconic photographs and videos of grizzly bears fishing for salmon.)  This area would be expanded four other times.  The last of these expansions, in 1980, redesignated the national monument as a national park, and set aside a strip of land in the northern end of the park as a national preserve.  Somewhat unuusually, not even subsitence hunting was permitted in the area designated national park, instead both subsistence hunting and recrational hunting are restricted to the area designated as a national preserve.
  • Lake Clark National Park & Preserve – This area just west of Anchorage  and Cook Inlet was also proclaimed a national monument by President Carter in 1978, and then redesignated as a national park and a national preserve  in 1980.  The national preserve consists of the western 1/3rd or so of this park.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – The largest protected area in the national park system was etablished in 1980 and covers most of the Wrangell Mountains in eastern Alaska, stretching down into Alaska’s panhandle, where it borders Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.  In order to preserve recreational hunting and other traditional activities, the national preserve exists as a patchwork of five separate land parcels, mostly around the edges of this park.

So there you have it, there are the nine.  Obviously, there are some common themes with these parks.   All of these combined designations date from 1980 or later.   7 of them are in Alaska – resulting from the Alaska National Interests Land Conservation Act of 1980, which greatly expanded the National Park System in Alaska.    Also,, these combined designations arose not out of any kind of separation of the resources in these areas, but out of a desire to maintain separate land uses within different parts of the overall park.

Indeed, in many of the above cases, the area designated as a national preserve consists of land on the fringes of the park as a whole.  For the most part,  the area designated as national preserve does not include the overall park’s “core resources” that merited the designation.  Even in cases where the preserve designation is relatively large, such as in the case of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, the national preserve primarily functions to help preserve the overall landscape and environment of the larger area, without necessarily applying the highest-level restrictions on land-use to the whole thing.

 

The newly-expanded Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve will only be counting as one national park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

All of this is particularly interesting because in addition to creating new national parks, the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 also included a number of other national parks provisions.   One of these expanded and redesignated Oregon Caves National Monument to Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve.  Oregon Caves was originally set aside by President Taft in 1909.  Most caves are typically formed in limestone, but the Oregon Caves are somewhat unusual in having formed in marble (its worth noting that marble is formed from limestone that has been metamorphosed under heat and pressure).   With this expansion, however, this park goes from a mere 400-or-so acres surrounding the cave to well more than 4,000+ acres including the surrounding watershed.  Once again, part of the motivation is to continue to allow recreational hunting in the new parklands.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, this time Congress arguably avoided the “mistake” it made in previous legislation – Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve won’t be counting twice.  Instead, it explicitly remains a single park in the U.S. National Park System.

In this regard, it joins two other parks that appear to be “& Preserves,” but yet only count once.   Salt River Bay National Historical Park & Ecological Preserve in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve.   Neither of these areas have the clear-cut land management distinctions of the above 9 “& Preserves.”   In this respect, Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve will be unique in following this sensible approach, despite the land management distinctions.   In the meantime, although visiting all 405 (for now) national parks will be life-long bucket-list ambition for many, the list itself will remain one with plenty of idiosyncracies, thanks to the unusual situation of the nine national parks that in fact count twice.

Update: The original version of this post inadvertently listed Craters of the Moon as a National Park & Preserve, despite listing it as a monument in the previous paragraph.  In fact, it is a National Monument & Preserve.

 

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