National Parks

Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.

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Father Baraga’s Cross

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Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.

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Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater

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Grand Marais Light

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Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.

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Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right

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Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.

 

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Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.

 

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Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument

 

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View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center

 

But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.

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Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge

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Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.

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The Warehouse

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Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal

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Entrance to the Buildings Complex

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The Great Hall

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Pelts in the Great Hall

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Birchbark Canoe

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The Great Hall

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Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.

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Turn to Come By Chance

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Cabins at Come By Chance

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Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.

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Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.

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We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

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Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario

 

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The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Mauna Loa and Kilauea, on the island of Hawaii, are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and is due to erupt again. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. In addition, Mauna Loa is actually the tallest mountain in the world standing 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) when measured from the ocean floor rather than sea level. These two volcanoes comprise Volcanoes National Park and a UNESCO  World Heritage site. In my opinion, this was the single most important “not to be missed” sight on our Hawaiian cruise and for this reason, we booked an excursion to Volcanoes National Park through the cruise line. For $139 per person, we were transported to the national park, we hiked the crater of Kilauea Iki with a guide, and visited Akaka Falls, too.

The Pride of America docked in Hilo where our excursion began. Our bus stopped first at the Kilauea Visitor Center which interestingly, was built in 1941 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC was a New Deal program established during the Great Depression in 1933 that taught young unemployed men many valuable skills while improving the infrastructure of the United States.

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Kilauea Visitor Center, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We began our 4-mile hike at the Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea) Trailhead. The trail followed the rim of the crater through a lush tropical rainforest, then descended 400 feet (122 m) by switchbacks and stairs to the floor of the crater, crossed the crater, and ascended again.  Our guide led us through the hot, wet, humid, tropical rain forest telling us about the vegetation as we hiked. Periodically, we had stunning views into the crater.

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Our guide telling us about the rain forest on the Kilauea Iki Trail

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Kilauea Iki Trail

 

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View from Kilauea Iki Trail

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Tropical rain forest vegetation

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Fern fiddleheads in the tropical rain forest

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Kilauea Iki Overlook

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Looking into the crater of Kilauea Iki

Kilauea Iki last erupted in 1959. Prior to the eruption, the floor of the crater was 800 feet deep and covered with forest.  When a lava lake of 86 million tons flooded the crater, the floor raised 400 feet. Today the lava lake is solid but steam vents indicate it’s still hot inside.

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Reaching the floor of the crater with rain to welcome us

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Hiking into the crater at Kilauea Iki

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We made it to the bottom but still had to hike across the crater and back up the other side

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Lori and our group hiking the crater

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The trail is marked by ahu (stacks of rock)

One of the advantages of an organized tour is the interesting facts the guide shares that you may otherwise never discover. One of those tidbits was Pele’s hair. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and Pele’s hair is the thin volcanic glass threads produced when molten lava blows through the air.

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Pele’s hair

Our guide also showed us a steam vent which honestly, I would have told my husband to stay away from if we didn’t have a professional with us.

The incredible resiliency of our earth amazed me with the amount of impressive vegetation that sprouted in cracks and crevices of lava rock.

 

When we ascended back to the rim of the crater, we visited nearby Thurston Lava Tube, named after the discoverer in 1913, Lorrin Thurston. A lava tube is formed when molten lava flows through walls hardening around it. The Thurston Lava Tube is about 600 feet long.

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Thurston Lava Tube

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Thurston Lava Tube

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Inside Thurston Lava Tube

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Thurston Lava Tube

Our final stop in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to eat a sack lunch at the Jagger Museum offered views of the active Kilauea caldera from a safe distance. Active lava flows were only visible from the air during our visit. You can check the park website to find out whether views are safely available during your visit.

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Steam rising from Kilauea Caldera

Next time I’ll show and tell about Akaka Falls. But let me just offer a spoiler alert right now. Our excursion to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Akaka Falls was the highlight of our visit to the Big Island and indeed, a top highlight of our entire trip.

 

Based on events from November 2015.

Categories: cruise, History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Upcountry Maui

The slopes of Mt. Haleakala, or upcountry Maui as the locals call it, is considered the most laid-back area of the island. But honestly, the entire island seemed pretty laid-back to me.

We rented a car ($50) for Day 2 of our stay in Maui and drove upcountry to Haleakala National Park first thing in the morning. Although it’s one of the top recommended sights, we decided against getting there for sunrise for two reasons. First of all, the clouds often obscure the sun and secondly, driving hairpin turns in the dark on unfamiliar roads to 10,000 feet didn’t appeal to any of us.

The soaring views on the drive to the summit were every bit as impressive as we saw on the Road to Hana. Fortunately for us, we were driving up as the bikers were headed down so we missed most of the traffic, too.

It was especially poignant to spy sugar cane growing in the fields because, after 140 years, the Hawaiian sugar industry which began in Maui, is shutting down. By the end of 2016, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar will close operations.

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Sugar cane growing in upcountry Maui

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Driving upcountry Maui

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View nearing the top of Haleakala

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Driving upcountry Maui

Tourists are advised to wear warm clothes because it’s really cold at the top of the volcano but I was unprepared for just how cold and windy it was. A down coat would have been welcome.

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Laura and Lori at Haleakala National Park

The terrain on the summit is other-worldly. I’d love to have hiked one of the over 30 miles of trails, especially the one to see Waimoku Falls, but the conditions there are dangerous and I was still fighting a virus with chills and fever. I was content with these views then got back in the car to warm up while the others did a short trail on the summit.

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Haleakala National Park view of the crater

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Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala National Park

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Haleakala National Park

We spent the entire morning on the drive up to Haleakala National Park and back. Afterward, we explored Iao Valley State Park but that’s the subject of my next post so check back next week. If you have to choose between Haleakala and the Road to Hana, I would choose Haleakala but if you have the time, by all means, do both.

 

Based on events from November 2015.

 

 

Categories: cruise, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pearl Harbor Sacred Site

On December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” according to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor.  Nearly 2500 men died and another 1100 were wounded that day and nearly 20 ships and 200 planes in the Pacific fleet were crippled or destroyed. On December 8, the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered World War 2.

Today in this tropical paradise, it’s hard to imagine the chaos and carnage of that long-ago day. Displays at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center help to set the historical stage, then present and interpret the events.

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Entrance to World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor

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Interpretive historical displays at Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

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WWII historical displays at the visitor center

Each day the National Park Service issues 1300 free tickets on a first come, first served basis. The national monument opens at 7 am and visitors are encouraged to arrive early to secure a ticket. To plan ahead and ensure our access, we reserved our tickets in advance at www.recreation.gov for a convenience fee of $1.50 each. You must arrive one hour early to pick up your ticket or it will be re-issued to another visitor. The extra hour ensured time to tour the visitor center before our tour began. We scheduled our visit for 2:30 pm and took the city bus from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor for $2.50 one way. There are shuttles from Waikiki for $15 roundtrip or tour companies that charge considerably more but this plan worked well for us. While traveling, I often take the local bus to have an authentic experience.

Just before our appointed tour time, we lined up outside the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater for a brief presentation by a park ranger, then we watched a short film about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater featuring film on the attack of Pearl Harbor

After the film, we filed out to the boat dock and boarded the shuttle boat that took us to the USS Arizona Memorial.

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Boarding our shuttle boat

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The shuttle boat to the USS Arizona Memorial

The battleship USS Arizona was completely destroyed early in the attack and sank where it lies to this day. The memorial was built over the hull which entombs over 900 sailors whose bodies remain within it.

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Sign that shows placement of the memorial over the remains of the USS Arizona

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Arrival at the USS Arizona Memorial

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USS Arizona Memorial

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The USS Arizona Memorial

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Names of the 1177 crewmen who died in the attack

The memorial is a solemn and sacred place. Visitors are invited to contemplate here in silence or speak in a whisper. Men should remove their hats as a show of respect unless it’s part of their uniform.

An opening in the floor of the memorial offers a view of the sunken ship below.

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USS Arizona visible beneath the memorial

This was a moving experience and a sobering one. The USS Arizona Memorial conveyed the catastrophic loss of life in a personal and emotional way. Two facts brought tears to my eyes. First, there were 38 sets of brothers on the USS Arizona and 23 sets perished. Second, any survivor of the USS Arizona is entitled to have his ashes interred on the ship should he desire it. To date, 39 crew members have done so.

 

Based on events in November 2015.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” Great Sand Dunes National Park

“Totally Unique and Unexpected!” proclaims the sign at Great Sand Dunes National Park  quoting an unnamed visitor. Indeed. That says it all, accurately and succinctly. The 30 square mile dunefield at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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Approaching Great Sand Dunes NP

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Entrance to Great Sand Dunes NP

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View of the visitor center, dunes to the left, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind

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Mule deer along the road in the park

When I saw the dunes, two questions immediately came to mind: Where did all that sand come from? What keeps it there? The simple explanation is the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains to the west and around 440,000 years ago prevailing winds blew the sand from the San Luis Valley to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The sand was trapped there forming the largest dunes in North America. Countervailing winds occasionally push back keeping the dunes in essentially the same position. In fact, a display in the visitor center of photos taken 138 years apart shows hardly any overall movement of the dunes. It’s actually more complicated and new research continues to change and refine our understanding. You can read a more in-depth explanation here.

You, like me, may have visited beaches where signs admonish the visitor to stay off the sand dunes. The delicate ecosystem is easily disrupted and the sand dunes erode more quickly when disturbed.  Due to this prior experience, I was surprised to have full access to hike and explore these dunes. What an amazing experience that was!

To access the dunes, we first had to cross Medano Creek, which was virtually dry in September.

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Nearly dry Medano Creek bed

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Jim crossing the dry Medano Creek bed

Compare my photos to the ones with water in the park brochure here.  In springtime, when the water is flowing, the creek is another favorite feature of the park.

Walking across the flat creek bed was easy with the sand packed down, but the hike became more difficult as the sand got looser and the incline steeper. The highest dune is over 750 feet tall (228 meters) and the elevation at the visitor center is 8170 feet (2490 meters) so the air is thinner here, too.

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Great Sand Dunes

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Great Sand Dunes

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The Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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We’re going to climb THAT?

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Jim hiking the ridge

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Onward!

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Are we there yet?

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Jim’s enthusiasm is still evident

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I’m ready for a rest

On the photo above, note the kids on the ridge behind me. They’re sand boarding down the slope. Rentals are available nearby for sandboards and sand sleds.  The surface of the sand in summer can reach 150 degrees so this is better attempted  early or late in the day or in spring or fall. Watch my short video of these kids sandboarding here.

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View of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Great Sand Dunes National Park was the last stop on the Epic Road Trip of 2015. After two weeks on the road traveling 4300 miles (6900 km) visiting 12 national parks and monuments as well as 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, various state parks and other points of interest, it was time to head home. Until the next time.

Based on events of September 2015.

Categories: National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking to History at Mesa Verde

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was the farthest point from home on our epic western road trip of September 2015. As we turned back toward home, Colorado offered us a couple additional sites we hadn’t visited before. We thought we’d check out the “four corners” where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado meet. At the risk of sounding super cheap,  when we heard the entrance fee was $5 per person, we decided to pass. It just had the feel of a tourist trap.

On the other hand, Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906, and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, is no tourist trap. This amazing park contains nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) from 550 AD until the late 1200s.

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Entrance to Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is located in a valley at the foot of a winding road up to the mesa. Stop here first to plan your visit and purchase tour tickets.

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Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

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Visitor Center at Mesa Verde NP

The approximately 21-mile drive up to Chapin Mesa delighted us with breathtaking views.

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View from the park road into Mesa Verde NP

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View from park road into Mesa Verde NP

Five dwellings were open to the public in 2015; Spruce Tree House and Far View allowed self-guided tours but Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House required tickets for ranger-led guided tours. In September, Cliff Palace and Long House were already closed for the season but fortunately for us, Balcony House, the “most adventurous cliff dwelling tour” (Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide) was still open. We paid the $4 per person ticket price and scheduled our tour for the following morning. In 2016, only four dwellings remain open to the public. Spruce Tree House closed because of safety issues related to falling rock and will remain closed for the foreseeable future. How lucky for us to see this cliff dwelling before it closed.

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. The trail is short but steep, changing elevation by 100 feet in a quarter mile.

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Trail to Spruce Tree House

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View of Spruce Tree House

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Spruce Tree House

We saw only a fraction of the 120 rooms and 8 kivas at Spruce Tree House. A kiva is a chamber below ground that in modern day pueblos was used for religious, social, or ceremonial purposes. Because the Ancestral Pueblo people had no writing system, we can’t know for certain but archeologists believe the purpose was the same in prehistoric times.

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Kiva in Spruce Tree House

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Jim climbing down the ladder to a kiva in Spruce Tree House

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Inside a kiva at Spruce Tree House

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Spruce Tree House

As I said, Cliff Palace was closed for the season when we arrived. The largest and most well-known cliff dwelling in North America, Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 21 kivas and was inhabited by around 120 people. Fortunately for us, we could view it from a distance and photograph it even though we couldn’t tour it.

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Cliff Palace

Our ranger-guided tour of Balcony House the next morning was as much about the journey as the destination. The strenuous hike included steep stairs, three ladders, and a tunnel.

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Getting ready for the hike to Balcony House

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Our park ranger briefs us

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Trail to Balcony House

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One of the ladders on the trail to Balcony House

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My hips aren’t as wide as Jim’s shoulders and it was a snug fit for me going through the tunnel.

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We both made it without getting stuck!

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Bringing up the rear, quite literally.

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Catching my breath and taking a photo

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Jim nears the top

The destination was well-worth the effort, however. This cliff dwelling consists of 38 rooms and 2 kivas. Our ranger knowledgeably shared information about the site and the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.

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Balcony House

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Balcony House

 

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Kiva at Balcony House

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A room with a view at Balcony House

Because Long House was closed for the season, we decided not to drive the 12 miles over to Wetherill Mesa where it’s located. We did, however, hike the Far View area. The Far View sites are farming communities on top of the mesa rather than cliff dwellings.

National parks in the United States preserve and protect historical and cultural sites like Mesa Verde as well as our amazing and abundant natural resources. For a couple history nerds like us, Mesa Verde was a place to immerse ourselves in the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. As a result, we are better educated about and appreciative of the time and place of these early people.

Based on events of September 2015.

 

Categories: History, National Parks, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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