Tag: travel

Secrets of the National Parks

Secrets of the National Parks Book Review

Summer is here. Travelers are flocking across the country and many of them are headed to National Parks. If you are among the many heading to the great outdoors, consider purchasing Secrets of the National Parks. I found this guide-book edited by National Geographic on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble for under ten dollars. But I think it is worth more.

My parents did not enjoy camping. However, both felt it was important that we were well-rounded in our education. Trips to National Parks played a key role in exposing us to the wonders of nature. Thus, as my kids were growing up, I made sure they also experienced some of our great national treasures.

I wish I had found Secrets of the National Parks sooner. The book offers a comprehensive guide to 32 of the most popular of the parks. Following this major portion is a small section of snippets about smaller, off the beaten path sites. Last, some of the Canadian National Parks are covered in a similar fashion to those United States sites which comprise the bulk of the work.

Maps and Photos

The editors facilitated the use of the book by placing a map of the United States at the beginning. Each of the 32 National Parks high-lighted in the work are positioned on the map. Then, the page number where each park is detailed is located in red beneath the park name. Thus, those wanting a quick look at a specific site have an easy reference. Maybe the next edition could represent the Canadian Parks in a similar fashion.

Maps are a key characteristic of the books. Each park description includes a map. The editors use a numerical system to indicate both the most visited and the secrets of each park. Thus, the first suggested site described by an author is located on the map with a 1 within a red circle. I found this a very useful feature of the book as many of the parks are vast.

The photos included in the book entice the viewer. The ones featuring the parks I have visited bring back great memories. Those of the places I have yet to see are beckoning. Each captures the essence of the individual locations. Some focus on landscape such as the photo of Delicate Arch. Others highlight the inhabitants from coyote to roseate spoonbills.

Plant life is often depicted with the magnificent natural formations as backdrops. One of my favorites was Sunflowers and Buttes included in the Capitol Reef National Park section. This site is now on my list to visit.

Secrets Detailed

Perhaps the best attribute of the guide are the secrets shared by the writers. While the sections cover the most visited trails, sites, and visitor centers, each includes at least one lesser known, off the beaten path choice. I appreciate this. My enjoyment of nature is heightened if I am not surrounded by throngs of people.

Details include the degree of difficulty of the various hikes. The book is quite useful in this way. Both hikers with very young children as well as those with aging ankles or knees benefit with forehand knowledge.

Updates to the sites are also related. For example, Mesa Verde which I have visited many times has additional attractions since my last visit in 2009. I need to make a return trip in the not too distant future in order to view the new visitor center and participate in the just established “Backcountry Hikes” program.

Nature has a tendency to change over time. Therefore, individuals using Secrets of the National Parks need to check before travelling long distances. Most notable of ongoing change at this moment in time (summer of 2018) is the volcanic eruption at Kilauea.

National Geographic has produced an easy to read guide that is appealing. On a recent trip, I shared the guide with two of my companions. One I asked to verify Wind Cave National Park was on the way to Sturgis. The other is weeks away from a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Both individuals enjoyed Secrets of the National Parks. I think you will too.

Twenty States In 2017

Wedding couple2017 was a year of travel. I recorded time in twenty states. Since the United States has fifty states altogether, I reached forty percent of the country. Others look forward to overseas trips (and I do have some favorite spots overseas) but I love travelling through this vast country. The landscape and people vary so much from one shore to the other. I am sharing the highlights of all that travel in alphabetical order.

Alabama

I spent three different nights in Alabama and visited four towns; Dauphin Island, Dothan, Huntsville and Selma. Since family members from both sides reside in the state the overnight stays were easy on the budget. The National Park Service has a small but well done museum documenting the march from Selma to Montgomery. This center shares many stories from the Civil Rights era and is on U.S. 80 west of Montgomery just before you reach Selma. I was travelling the back roads of America when I came upon the historical site. The time spent there gave me a nice break from driving.

Dauphin Island is a barrier island in the Gulf of New Mexico. My quick overnight trip allowed me the chance not only to walk barefoot along the shore but also to hike a marshy area. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary is a designated National Trail System and starts with ocean dunes, winds through maritime forests and includes marshes and swamp land. This is an off the beaten path gem. If you are in the area please take some time to explore and learn. Interpretive signs line the trail.

Arkansas

Unfortunately my time spent in Arkansas was brief. I love this state, not just because my maternal family is from there, but for the beauty of the land. If you haven’t spent time in Arkansas I highly recommend a trip.

California

Just a quick weekend trip to California this year. I shared some highlights in this blog post Sampling San Diego. I now live in a land locked part of the country so I like indulging in watching ocean waves. The Pacific Ocean is vast and not where I grew up, but still gives me a sense of home.

Colorado

There is so much to do in Colorado. Highlights included visits to Denver and Boulder. The largest metropolitan area in the state centers on Denver. My favorite place to stay is in the Tech Center area. There is good proximity to some great shopping. Furthermore, the hotel rates on weekends are better than the downtown hotels.

However, downtown is the heart of the entertainment district whether you are interested in sports or the arts. The city has four professional sports teams with arenas in or adjacent to downtown. If you are a soccer fan, your stadium is further east. Downtown is home to both a performing arts center as well as several museums. However, you won’t want to miss the Natural History located near the City Zoo a few miles east of downtown. The National Stock Show is held each January just to the north of downtown. Finally the 16th Street Mall has shopping and dining. The street has free mass transit from one end to the other.

Boulder houses the University of Colorado. A visit to this campus is well worth the time. The architecture is unique and the location against the Flat Irons is dramatic. One of my favorite parts of the campus are the planet markers which are part of the Colorado Scale Model Solar System. After touring the campus you can eat and shop along Pearl Street, part of which is pedestrian only.

Florida

I made repeated trips to Florida last year. Highlights included a family member’s wedding in Tampa. The Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area is growing and has a bit of sprawl. There are beautiful beaches, some professional ball teams and a racetrack. While the area is home to both the Tampa Bay Rays and Buccaneers, it is also host during spring training to the Yankees. People can watch batting practice for free at the George Steinbrenner Field.

Georgia

My Georgia destination was the small town of Plains. The 39th President of the United States of America, Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn are both natives of this rural farming community. While many would not go out of their way to reach Plains, I made the effort. Plains reminds me of the many small towns surrounding my current home. The population is below 1000 and the commerce is home-grown not Big Box.

Even though I visited on a cold windy day, the warmth of the populace was evident. I enjoyed being a tourist. The small Main Street catered to the intrepid visitors willing to divert from the beaten path. However, those of us from the west would not consider the town isolated since the travel time to the interstate is less than an hour.

Hawaii

I spent close to a week on two of the Hawaiian Islands. Check the posts on the Big Island and Germaine’s Luau. This is a place I would love to visit again but I probably won’t. Unlike the continental 48 states, you can’t drive there.

Kansas

I love Kansas even, the seemingly endless drive along Interstate 70. The state rainfall varies so much from east to west. The eastern third of the state receives enough rain that the land has trees, rivers and lakes everywhere. The western section of the state reflects the Dodge City landscape of the movies. Dry, windy climate, the land peppered with small towns similar to Plains, Georgia. But many of the towns require drives of several hours to reach an Interstate. Some of the state highways allow you to drive 70 M.P.H. and traffic outside of the cities and major highways is light. This is a slower paced part of America I truly appreciate.

Kentucky

Many nights were spent in the Bluegrass State. If I had to live east of the Mississippi River again, I would choose Kentucky. I love the farms. Agriculture is an important industry in the state. Crops include corn, hay, hemp, tobacco and wheat. The state has a large cattle industry but is better known for the numerous horse farms.

My favorite part of the state is the area surrounding Lexington. If you tour the area, make plans to visit horse farms in the mornings and then utilize the afternoons for shopping, site seeing and touring distilleries. A favorite town outside of Lexington is Midway. This burg has great shopping and eating along a railroad divided downtown. Parking is sometimes tight during peak times. Midway College was the last all women’s college in the state. The fall of 2017 ushered in the first class to admit men to the day college. After spending time in Midway, the Woodford Reserve is in the general area so that is a possible destination.

Louisiana

New Orleans is not the only place to see in Louisiana. Like most of the twenty states, I spent the night while visiting. Again, I took advantage of staying with a relative instead of a hotel. The Shreveport-Bossier City area is in the northwest part of the state. The Red River separates the two entities as well as serving as the location of gambling riverboats. History buffs can download the N LA Byways app from iTunes or Google play for a GPS guided tour.

Mississippi

I drove through Mississippi twice last year. I count is as one of the twenty states but I did not spend the night within the borders. However, this is a state that I love to travel off the beaten path. Highway 49 from Jackson to Gulfport should be driven in a relaxed frame of mind. There are lots of places along the route to stop, eat and stretch your legs. Another drive I like is from Tupelo into Memphis. The road is good, but it helps if you know your way around Memphis. I consider this route a hidden gem.

Nebraska

My visit to Nebraska was centered on the solar eclipse of 2017. I loved being in the path of totality. Several posts were written about this event which was a highlight of 2017. Nebraska is another of the twenty states where I spent the night.

New Jersey

Another flying weekend trip landed me on the Jersey Shore. I experienced gorgeous weather mid-summer and had a chance to dig my toes in beach sand while taking in my beloved Atlantic Ocean. Even though brief, and not entirely successful from a business standpoint, I still rank New Jersey at the top of my travels. Perhaps it was the company, or the graciousness of the hosts who lived beach side or maybe just the weather, warm but not hot, thanks to the ocean breeze. I would repeat this trip at a second’s notice.

New Mexico

Unfortunately my time in New Mexico was fleeting. However I plan to visit again very soon. Check back next week to read my thoughts on the town of Santa Fe.

New York

Upstate New York, specifically Saratoga Springs is my second favorite spot in New York. The town is just shy of 30,000 which is large enough for amenities but not too large. The area of mineral springs has long been a favorite getaway for those living in more populated parts of the state. I have never had a bad meal at any of the restaurants although reservations and long wait times are part of the experience. Many boutiques and some nice jewelry stores can be found downtown.

Oklahoma

Several nights were spent in Oklahoma including a couple in Oklahoma City. I experienced my first Escape Room which you can read about by clicking here. I love the state having lived in McAlester many years ago. My favorite highway is 412 which runs the entire east-west length, dropping slightly south towards Clayton, New Mexico.

Pennsylvania

We flew in and out of the Pittsburgh airport and stayed nearby. Away from the city is a rural area experiencing development but we still managed to lose our way winding along the back roads. Western Pennsylvania blends into a jutting point of West Virginia. This is one of the interesting parts of travelling in the United States. Very rural areas are just not that far from populated city centers. For those who like to explore quiet back ways with the convenience of flying in an out, consider Pittsburgh as a starting point.

Tennessee

The juxtaposition of city and country life is also evident in the state of Tennessee. You don’t need to venture far from the major cities to experience rural life. I find Nashville a little easier to navigate than Memphis but that may be because in the past I have spent more time in Nashville while I usually just drive through Memphis. However, I encourage you to visit the Riverwalk in Memphis. I love the scaled map of the lower Mississippi River in the same way I like finding the planet markers on the CU Campus.

Texas

Another state I used to live in but last year just traversed. US 287 which runs northwest to the panhandle from Dallas is another of the alternative routes I like to take. The Texas Panhandle fits in with the high plains with respect to rainfall and topography. Again, you will find many small towns along the route. If you prefer staying in major cities, Amarillo would be a good choice.

West Virginia

I visited a part of West Virginia I had never been to. The locals call the area the Northern Panhandle. This geographical area has the Ohio River as its western boundary. A drive along state route 2 along the Ohio River is quite scenic. Small towns line both sides of the river. I enjoyed the beauty of the area and it was an easy drive from the Pittsburgh Airport.

Those are the twenty states I was in during 2017. I thought I would slow down this year. However by the end of January I will have reached four states. I still lack visiting Alaska, who knows maybe this will be the year. I have placed just a few photos in the slider below. Feel free to share some of your favorite travel spots.