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  1. #1

    Default NPS Centennial Road Trip - Summer 2016: Hot Spots

    On Thursday, July 28 we left Tucson heading East for our NPS Centennial Road Trip - Summer 2016. On August 25, 2016 the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years of preserving America's unique treasures from natural to cultural sites. On Saturday, August 20 we'll be in Philadelphia for the National Park Travelers Club annual meeting. In the meantime we'll meander our way there taking in the sites and enjoying our hobbies; camping, collecting NPS passport stamps, postal cancellations, letterboxing, photography, smashed pennies, Quest Scouts' activities, wildlife viewing and yes, Pokemon Go.

    Instead of doing a day by day Field Trip Report I will give 'Hot Spot' reports. Reports will be sporadic and not continuous, but will highlight 'hot spots' along our way. In the meantime, I am regularly posting to Instagram account - SrJrRanger.

    On our first day we headed east on I-10 then north through Silver City, NM. We stopped at the Silver City Visitor Center for a new passport stamp for the Continental Divide Trail National Scenic Trail.

    We continued up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument following the twisty, turny road. The hummingbirds were thick around the feeders. I could sit and watch them for hours.

    Great start to our cross-country trip!

  2. #2

    Default Northern New Mexico

    July 30 & 31, 2016

    After visiting Gila Cliff Dwelling NM we started working our way to I-25 and ended up camping in an USFS campground along NM 152 in the Mimbres Mountains, a nice small campground along a babbling brook. While fixing breakfast we found this interesting beetle on our table.


    Once we reached I-25 we drove north and made a stop at Bosque del Apache NWR, near San Antonio, NM. Besides getting a passport stamp for the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro NHT we got the NWR stamp. Not many birds this time of year out on the refuge so we enjoyed watching the hummingbirds at several feeders around the visitor center. Adjacent to the parking area is a sculpture garden and picnic area.

    Bosque del ApacheSculpture Garden

    Continuing north on I-25 we stopped in Albuquerque for gas, then bypassed Santa Fe. We arrived at the Bandelier National Monument campground late afternoon and got a great campsite. This campground never fills, they told us not even on 4th of July. It rained off and on during the evening.

    Saturday AM we first drove down the road to the Bandelier NM Visitor Center. Before 9 AM and after 3 PM you can drive your car (handicap-tags can drive down there anytime) down to the Visitor Center. During the day a free shuttle runs from nearby White Rock or from a stop across from the campground. I enjoyed a morning walk behind the visitor center, seeing some great wildlife, as well as through some of the nearby ruins.

    Bandlier NM
    Abert's Squirrel with cone

    Abert's Squirrels

    Small kiva

    A beautiful drive west on NM 4 brought us to Valle Caldera National Preserve. This is a spectacular natural area that had been preserved by a private trust until it was designated an NPS site a couple of years ago. Permits are required to drive back in and most days you can arrive and secure a permit. When it gets busy they now have a van that will drive you in for a short distance to enjoy this vast landscape. As the word caldera indicates, this is the collapsed center of a volcano that erupted about one million years ago.

    Valle Caldera NPres
    Entrance sign

    Barn Swallow

    View across caldera

    Back east on NM 4 we went into Los Alamos to visit one of the newest NPS sites, Manhattan Project NHP - Los Alamos. There are 3 sites to this park; Los Alamos, Handford, WA and Oak Ridge, TN, all part of our history to develop nuclear. The Los Alamos site is under development and uses a town visitor center for a small display. There is a great walking tour through the area with many of the building from the 1940s preserved and identified which we enjoyed after lunch.

    Just before leaving on this trip Pokemon Go became the Summer of 2016 activity. After seeing some posts by the NPS and NWR encouraging the game at their sites. I had a friend's kids show me the ropes before I left and decided to give it a try. Within the game you can photograph the virtual critter in the real-world. Along the trip I thought it would be fun to capture them at different locations.

    Los Alamos
    Visitor Center entrance

    Pokemon Go critter in bookstore

    Dr. Oppenheimer & Gen. Groves statue

    Back at camp we enjoyed fixing dinner for a friend who lives in the area. Just as she was leaving a nice evening rain began.

    All three of these sites can easily be visited as a day trip from the Santa Fe area.

    Wildlife Viewing - up to this point of the trip
    Desert Spiny Lizard
    Mule Deer
    Least Chipmunk
    Cottontail Rabbit
    Black-tailed Prairie Dog
    Burying Beetle

    Common Raven
    Red-tailed Hawk
    House Sparrow
    Rufous Hummingbird
    Wild Turkey
    Turkey Vulture
    Black-chinned Hummingbird
    American Crow
    Northern Flicker
    Western Kingbird
    Gambel's Quail
    American Robin
    Scrub Jay
    White-breasted Nuthatch
    Mountain Bluebird
    Barn Swallow
    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

  3. #3

    Default Colorado

    July 31 & August 1, 2016

    The drive north out of Los Alamos on US 84 through Abiquiu, past Ghost Ranch Conference Center, is a great opportunity to experience the New Mexico sky and light that has attracted artists. We continued into Chama for another Continental Divide NST stamp and picnic at rhe town's visitor center. Continuing on US 84 we entered Colorado near Pagosa Springs. It was a hot, mid-80s, and the San Juan River was full of people enjoying the water, lot of people using rental tubes with a shuttle provided.

    The drive east along US 160 across souther Colorado I think is one of the most beautiful drives. Outside of Pagosa Springs you climb and cross over Wolf Creek Pass. This pass was made famous by Harry Chapin with his song "Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas". This route takes you past South Fork, which AZBuck recently visited and highlighted the area's summer activities.

    We ended the day at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Their campground has 88 sites and fills on most days, even Sunday. One half of the campground is reservable and the other half is first come-first served. We arrived at 3 PM and found a number of available sites, even a few in the reservable section. The views from the campground are panoramic.

    Critter in the campground

    Morning view

    Compass sculpture

    On Monday AM after spending some time in the park we headed east on US 160 and stopped at Fort Garland State Museum, just a short distance up the road. There is an entrance fee, however you can get the passport stamp for the Old Spanish Trail and Sangre de Cristo NHA in the gift shop. The buildings date from 1858 and represent a frontier outpost.

    We headed across eastern Colorado to La Junta, CO. We enjoyed another tasty meal at Felisha's Mexican Restaurant. We had eaten there a couple of years ago and enjoyed the food and prices. From there we went a short distance out of town to Bent's Old Fort NHS. It was our first hot day and while making the long walk in from the parking lot we happily accepted a golf cart ride from a ranger. There is a phone in the parking lot which anyone can call an ask for the golf cart to come pick up you up. Walking through the front doors of the fort is always a step back in time. This fort is a re-creation; the rangers dress in period costume and period-related activities are happening within the fort. Lots to explore.

    Bent's Old Fort NHS
    Old Entrance Gate

    Fort entrance

    Our third stop for the day was Sand Creek Massacre NHS, definitely a place you have to want to visit - it is very out of the way. While at Bent's Old Fort NHS we realized Sand Creek closed at 4 and it was a 1-1/2 hour drive. Just east of Bent's Old Fort NHS we passed a Zebra farm, yep, a pasture of zebras.
    We made it there, about 20 minutes before it closed. We had visited before and had walked out to the memorial. That was a good thing because the biting flies were thick and viscous. A ranger walks out and meets you at your car, on this day he asked us to walk quickly into the visitor center - before we got to the door we were swarmed and they all made it in the door! While my husband stamped I swatted the flies, the ranger provided the flyswatter.

    Sand Creek Massacre NHS
    Visitor Center

    Memorial - in the distance on the hill

    The day ended with a drive into Kansas and a Motel 6 in Colby, KS, too hot to camp.

    Wildlife Sightings

    Cottontail Rabbit
    Black-tailed Prairie Dog

    Turkey Vulture
    Scrub Jay
    Canada Goose
    Duck, ?
    Black-billed Magpie
    Rock Pigeon
    Hawk, ?
    American Crow
    American White Pelican
    Western Meadowlark
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Ring-necked Pheasant

  4. #4

    Default Happy Birthday NPS!

    Wow - time flies when you are having fun! Today begins the 5th week of our trip and the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. I thought I would be able to post every few days along the way, but that hasn't happened. A very quick update;
    -after touring the MIdwest we dropped down to Tennessee to drop our Chevy Express Cargo van off at my sister's house.
    -Picked up a rental in Knoxville. Had reserved a standard car, but got upgraded to a Jeep Patriot. Still small enough to handle in traffic on the east coast, but plenty of room to hold our gear which included a cooler, hot pot and food to supplement meals out.
    -Made our way to Philadelphia for our club's meeting on 8/19-20.
    -Continued north into New York and over to Rhode Island, then headed south.
    Today we are in New Jersey with plans to visit Morristown National Historical Park, Great Swamp NWR and then into Delaware to visit First State National Historical Park. Over the weekend we'll spend time in and around Washington, DC, then head back to Knoxville. Once we are back in our van we'll head west to finish visiting all of the NPS park sites in Texas and New Mexico during this Centennial year.

    I have missed our van and camping, but the weather has been, except for 2 days, hot and muggy. We have had to drive through a couple of heavy downpours, but nothing sustained. Google maps navigation on the iPhone has been an excellent tool to get around on the East Coast. As we drive between sites, that aren't always along major routes, it has guided us well. And yes, I have used the Rand McNally Road Atlas as well to organize the route and at times when signal is not available.

    To date the trip has been excellent and it looks like the trip report will continue at some time in the future, probably when we return to Tucson in 2 weeks - just having too much fun in the meantime!

    Happy Birthday NPS and thanks for all of the joy, information and travels you have provided. As of yesterday there are now 413 sites, Katadin Woods and Waters National Monument was designated yesterday. Thanks to the family of Burt's Bees who donated 87,000 acres AND a $20 million endowment, pristine woods and waters of Northern Maine are protected. We'll visit there in 2018.

  5. #5

    Default Kansas -Nebraska - Kansas

    Made it back home last week after 6 weeks on the road. The trip was a great!

    August 2-3, 2016

    Our first stop of the day is a small NPS unit in north central Kansas, Nicodemus NHS. This site commemorates an African American settlement after the Civil War. When we arrived they were cleaning up from the annual reunion held for the descendants of the settlers. Today it is practically a ghost town on the Kansas plains. A few buildings, scattered around the townsite, are part of the site.

    Visitor Center

    Display inside

    On our drive there we saw a flock of Wild Turkeys, not easy to photograph from the car. This turkey was mounted inside the visitor center and the closest I got to the many flocks of turkeys we saw on our trip.

    After lunch in a small town cafe we entered Nebraska and stopped at Homestead NM of America in Beatrice, south of Lincoln. This site celebrates the pioneers who homesteaded our country. The inside and outside displays are very well done. A short distance, down the toad or by trail, from the main visitor center is the education building. Outside large signs highlight the many Americans who were born on land homesteaded, Homestead Legacies.

    Homestead Cabin

    Pokemon Go at wagon - the parks sites were great for Pokemon Go and definitely added to the fun.

    The park was getting ready for a big event the next day, American Solar Car Challenge, and had created this Minon greeter.

    Minion greeter

    The next day our first stop was to the NPS Midwest office in Omaha, NE along the Missouri River. This office has a small display area and bookstore, plus it had its own NPS Centennial stamp. Nearby was a large sculpture - Monument to Labor

    While at Homestead the day before we realized we had a chance to see the solar cars that were traveling west from park site to park site. In 2001 I followed the cars across northern AZ, along RT 66 with my father and his college buddy. Their alma mater, Rose-Hullman Polytechnic Institute had a car in the race. These cars cost over $1 million and are not exactly the car of the future. The race this year started at Cuyahoga Falls NP, OH and ended at Wind Cave NP, SD with stops at a total of 8 NPS sites, as part of the NPS Centennial celebration. So we set off to Topeka, KS to see the cars and get the special passport stamp for this event. We arrived at the time posted for the cars to begin arriving, after 1-1/2 hr of waiting and being told they were still 40 miles away we left, plus the heat index was over 100 degrees.

    While waiting around we explored the poignant exhibits inside the school building.

    Brown vs Board of Education NHS

    Solar Car Challenge - Summer 2016

    Solar Car passport stamp

  6. #6

    Default Kansas - Missouri - Illinois

    August 3 - 5, 2016

    After leaving Topeka we made a quick stop at the Truman site in Independence, MO and then drove down to Fort Scott, KS to be in place for the next day. Our preferred motels are Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn, but neither were available, in this small town. We stayed at the Fort Scott Inn which was excellent; good in-room appliances and a basic continental breakfast the next morning, for less than $75.

    Fort Scott NHS has original buildings which date back to 1842 - 73 when this was truly a frontier fort. Right across from the parking lot is a couple blocks of a charming, small downtown area.

    Fort Scott NHS - Welcome critter

    Fort Scott bricks

    Fort Scott buildings

    Crossing into Missouri we returned to a favorite NPS site of mine, George Washington Carver National Monument. Outside the visitor center is a wonderful walk through a natural area, out to the location of the house (recreated) in which he was born and raised. Inside is a science lab used for student events. He was known as the Peanut Wizard, he basically introduced this easy to grow product as a cheap, protein-rich food.

    George Washington Carver NM - Diamond, MO
    Science lab for today's scientists

    Continuing through Missouri we made a stop at Wilson's Creek NB, which had been a stop on the Solar Car Challenge. We were able to get the passport stamp for this special event with their site name, and spent some quality Pokemon Go time.

    Wilson's Creek NB - Republic, MO

    In south central Missouri is a beautiful park site which protects the Ozark River system as the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. There are several sites stretched out along the river and its tributaries. A place, Alley Spring, takes you back in time. After parking by the old-time store you walk down the hill past the school house, cross a bridge and arrive at the mill on a pond with a gushing spring.

    Ozark NSR -Alley Spring, MO
    School room

    Alley Mill

    Mill mechanics

    Leaving this area and heading to the St. Louis area took us over some very rural roads. After checking the online navigation, I reviewed the atlas and altered the route - a combination of routes. Wow - we saw some beautiful countryside. We stayed overnight outside of St. Louis and made our way to the Ulysses S Grant NHS. The museum next door covers both his and Julia's life very well, they had a full life during difficult times. Their life started together at this beautiful setting. On the end of the museum is an open-air barn display.

    Ulysses S Grant NHS - St. Louis, MO


    Grant House

    And now crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois we headed to Springfield for another visit to Lincoln Home NHS. The walk through the neighborhood where Lincoln lived before the Presidency is always enjoyable, especially when young ladies are walking around in period costumes, on another hot day!

    Lincoln Home NHS - Springfield, IL

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    You drove right past Joplin and didn't tell me?

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    You drove right past Joplin and didn't tell me?
    Sorry, we were moving fast. When we stay overnight in the area, I'll be in touch.

  9. #9

    Default Illinois - Indiana

    Illinois - Indiana
    August 7-8, 2016

    We spent 2 nights camping at Kickapoo State Park, on the eastern edge of Illinois for a 2-day letterboxing event. As I've explained before letterboxing is a fun hobby which has you follow clues (not GPS) to find a box hidden which includes a hand-carved stamp and logbook. When you find the box you exchange your personal stamp by putting your image in the logbook found and their stamp into your personal logbook. The weather had cooled off and gave us 2 comfortable and quiet sleeping nights, always better than any motel.

    While letterboxing at a beautiful nature preserve, Homer Lake Forest Preserve, we ran across a piece of Lincoln history. On the northern edge of the preserve is a sign and monument giving information about Lincoln's judicial circuit through the area prior to his political career.

    Lincoln's 8th Judicial Circuit

    After a couple days off the road we struck out on the road in search of more NPS Centennial stamps! We journeyed north to Pullman National Monument, a fairly new NPS site which honors the labor movement and train transportation. This site is on the SE edge of Chicago, only a few blocks off of I-94. On both visits the area appears to be very safe, a police precinct is between the freeway and the visitor center. The visitor center is still under development, but has some display related to the Pullman train cars.

    Visitor Center

    Pullman display

    The neighborhood remains as private homes, beautifully maintained. George Pullman designed this as a planned community, providing homes and services for his workers. The main plaza is beautifully landscaped with the Hotel Florence on the north edge. Across the main road is a factory complex, one of the buildings is in the process of being renovated to serve as the main Visitor Center for this national monument.

    Pullman neighborhood


    Hotel Florence

    As long as we were that far north we crossed into Indiana and stopped by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. While there I found a critter inside the visitor center. The flowers outside were beautiful. As we headed south we drove along US 2 to view some of the dunes, mostly covered in vegetation.
    Indiana Dunes NL Visitor Center

    Flowers at Indiana Dunes NL

    We ended the day in Vincennes, IN at a Red Roof Inn. They advertised the largest rooms in the area - the room was very large, not sure why it was ever built that way. I was born in Vincennes over 60 years ago, we moved away when I was 3 so I don't have any memories. The hospital where I was born is still in business.

    The next morning we visited the George Rogers Clark NHP. This park is set on the banks of the Wabash River and bridges the French and Indian War into the Revolutionary War. The memorial was built on what may have been on the site of Fort Sackville, the original fort. The grounds are beautiful and always enjoyable to walk around, even on a hot and humid day. While in the visitor center while we were complaining about the heat and humidity a ranger made the following statement about the humidity; "the air that you wear"!

    George Rogers Clark Memorial

    Critters about

    Bridge across Wabash River

    Nearby, in the old town square, is Indiana's Whispering Giant by the sculpture Peter Toth.

    After visiting Vincennes we went back into Illinois to visit family for the afternoon. We ended the day outside Evansville, IN.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Lightning bugs
    White-tailed deer
    Fox Squirrel
    Cottontail Rabbit

    Downy Woodpecker
    White-breasted Nuthatch
    Great Blue Heron
    Great Egret
    American Robin
    Northern Cardinal
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Turkey Vulture

  10. #10

    Default Indiana - Ohio - Kentucky

    August 9 - 10

    In southern Indiana, near Santa Claus ( a place my grandparents took me to as a child), is another NPS site dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is a location without any building remains of his time spent here, so it is considered a memorial not a historic site. It is a significant part of his history as this is where his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of milk fever. She is buried in a cemetery within the the site. The main building is a memorial to Lincoln, completed in 1943, with elaborate sculptured panels depicting his life. Inside is an active post office. A 1820s re-created homestead brings to life a typical farm back in the 1820s when Lincoln lived here. A 1/2 mile walk from the cemetery to the homestead is called Trail of Twelve Stones, pieces of buildings/stone significant to Lincoln's life are placed along the trail with bronze plaques explaining the significance of each stone. The stone pictured below is the rock from where the President stood when he delivered the Gettysburg address. Other pieces include architectural stone pieces from the White House.

    Lincoln Boyhood Memorial Home
    Memorial building

    Nancy Hanks Lincoln memorial

    Trail of Twelve Stones - Gettysburg Address

    From here we headed east using interstates to Seymour, IN where we continued east along US 50. We stopped at Muscatatuck NWR. They have a very nice visitor center which not only identifies the wildlife in the area, but also the early human cultures beginning 8,000 - 10,000 years ago.

    Further along US 50 we went south to reach the headquarters of Big Oaks NWR. The refuge is part of an old military site and is only open a couple of days a week and you have to gain access after viewing a safety film. To reach the headquarters you drive through the former Jefferson Proving Grounds, coming in from the west we saw some of the big oaks - impressive! The staff at the office were very enthusiastic. It is a significant Monarch Butterfly area during the summer.

    Continuing along US 50 we came to Ohio and eventually headed north on I-75 and ended the day on the eastern edge of Dayton. The next morning we first stopped at Huffman Prairie Flying Field part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage NHP, site of the fields the Wright Brothers used to test their designs for airplanes in 1904-05. There is a memorial to mark this location, this area is surrounded by the active Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Closer to downtown Dayton is another section of the park, the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. Inside the visitor center was an impressive jet model made by a local park ranger. Just across the patio from the visitor center is the Wright's Cycle shop which they leased in 1895 for their bicycle business.

    Huffman Prairie Flying Field memorial

    Model jet - approx 4 ft tall

    Cycle Shop

    In between visiting Huffman Prairie and the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood is the most impressive air museum I have ever visited, our Pima Air Museum in Tucson is considered exceptional, but the one in Dayton is superb! Next time you are near Dayton check out the National Museum of the USAF, and it is free! If you are really into aviation history, plan on at least a day. The memorial park which borders the parking area was beautiful and an enjoyable walk. Once inside the museum there is so much to see, four massive hangars plus a theatre. To reach the hangars you walk through a very large gift shop, which we were told 'pays' your admission. We didn't buy anything, but my husband did get 2 sets of smashed pennies. I believe there were 4 machines scattered around the shop.

    Besides the hangars there are smaller displays connecting the rooms together. I found the displays about the Holocaust and on a lighter note, Bob Hope very interesting.

    National Museum of the USAF
    Memorial Park



    Bob Hope

    Just as we were leaving Dayton and heading south on I -75 the skies opened and dumped on us for about 15 minutes, never fun on a busy, multi-lane interstate. In Cincinnati we visited the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, his mansion where he lived before becoming involved in national politics. The displays in the visitor center are minimal and house tours are offered about our 27th President. He had a tough act to follow, Theodore Roosevelt. He was later named Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, the only person to hold both offices.

    Citizen Taft

    Taft home

    We entered Kentucky and made our way to Central Kentucky to begin working on the Kentucky Pentathlon, an NPS Centennial program we had planned to complete on this trip. Outside of Louisville we stopped at a WalMart for a needed oil change.

    Wildlife Sightings
    Fox squirrel
    Monarch Butterfly
    Yellow butterfly
    Brown & orange butterfly
    White butterfly

    Northern Cardinal
    Wild Turkey
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Canada Goose
    American Crow

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