Category Archives: National Park

Endless Winter in Colorado’s Iconic National Park

Trail Ridge Road just opened for the park’s centennial summer.

Logo_FINAL_BLUE_4CP_NEWTrail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park between Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west is one of the country’s iconic drives. Cresting at an elevation of 12,183 feet, the road is usually plowed out by Memorial Day. But not this year — the park’s centennial — when high road opened today but with probably night-time closures for a while.  The snows have been coming, and the plows and shovelers are still at it.

May 29, 2015, on Trail Ridge Road.
May 29, 2015, on Trail Ridge Road.
Still all sorts of snow at the Alpine Visitor Center.
Still all sorts of snow at the Alpine Visitor Center.
Aerial view of Trail Ridge Road today.
Looking down at Trail Ridge Road today.

The park’s centennial celebrations kicked off in low gear last fall, were confined largely to historic exhibits, workshops, presentations and such that lent themselves to indoor venues.  An RMNP exhibit  will continue for some indefinite time at the History Colorado Center in Denver, the state’s wonderful historic museum.

Rocky Mountain National Park artifacts and memorabilia.
Rocky Mountain National Park artifacts and memorabilia.

With the approach of summer, summer events are coming into view.  A group of Model T enthusiasts plans to car-camp in August with old-style canvas tents; the Colorado Mountain Club is organizing a series of hikes, climbs and wildflower walks, and the Rocky Mountain Conservancy has a passel of commemorative activities planned too, including a John Denver tribute concert by local musician Brad Fitch in Estes Park on July 25 and in Grand Lake on August 1.

Click here FoMoInfo on Centennial celebrations, which conclude with a rededication of the park at Glacier Basin Campground on September 4, the Friday before Labor Day. I plan to be there. You too?

Homage to the Oklahoma City Bombing Victims

Twentieth anniversary of Murrah Building bombing.

MurrahMemorial-sealTwenty years ago today — before the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, assorted school shootings and other horrific acts of violence, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols set off a massive explosion next to the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City. The blast killed 168 people and injured 680 others, including children, and sent shockwaves through the nation. At first, makeshift memorials of plush toys, crucifixes, photographs, flags and other personal items were hung on the chainlink fence surrounding the site by grief-stricken citizens.


Chainlink fence remaining at the site honors the original makeshift memorial.

Then, plans were made for an official memorial. When the call went out, 624 entries from all 50 states and 23 countries were received. A commission narrowed them down to five finalists, and the selected design is by Butzer Design Partnership (then of Berlin, Germany, and later of Oklahoma City). Designers Hans and Torrey Butzer with Sven Berg created what is now the Oklahoma City National Memorial. 

Back in 2008, I was a speaker at a conference in Oklahoma City. I arrived in the evening and walked the few blocks from the historic Skirvin Hotel to the Murrah memorial. The sight of the memorial and its empty glass chairs atop illuminated glass pedestals at night was powerful. Being there by myself added to the sense of tragic loss of life.

First look at the Murrah Memorial was at night. The haunting sight of empty chairs atop lighted glass cubes remains with me.
First look at the Murrah Memorial was at night. The haunting sight of empty chairs atop lighted glass cubes remains with me.

Two days later, my speech out of the way, I returned to visit the museum. It was, of course, poignant too, with chronologically arranged curated photographs and artifacts from the explosion artfully displayed, multi-media displays and interactive exhibits too. At the Murrah site, the clock has permanently stopped at 9:03, the morning hour when the truck bomb went off two decades ago.

The museum is located at 620 N. Harvey Ave., Oklahoma City. The outdoor memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year; entry is free. The museum is open daily. Admission is adults $15; senior (62+) $12; military (with ID) $12; student (6 to 17 or college student with current ID) $12 and child (5 years and under) free.

Estes Park Named Top Small Town to Visit

Prestigious selects its top 20.

EnjoyEstesParkEstes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is less than an hour from our door. Predictably, we visit frequently — to hike, to snowshoe, to show off to visitors. We love it for lots of reasons, but we take it a bit for granted because it is so close. In assembling its list of “The Best 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2015,” selected Estes Park as its top town. Here’s why:

“Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park has beckoned visitors since the 1860s, when an inspired Welshman named Griff Evans established a local dude ranch. Today the town serves as base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, which marks 100 years of existence in 2015. A year of wilderness-themed art exhibits, classes, films and concerts celebrates the park’s highlights—which include some of the tallest mountains in the continental United States and more than 300 miles of hiking trails. The park’s sights and sounds are particularly stunning in the fall, when the leaves blaze with color and bull elks fill the air with haunting mating calls.

“While the town of Estes Park itself is relaxed (elk have been known to wander downtown streets), there are marked touches of class—notably the historic Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s book The Shining. This April, the hotel is adding a giant hedge maze, the result of an international design competition to create one honoring the maze in the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, who actually filmed external shots at a lodge in Oregon and used a soundstage for internal shots. (Neither hotel ever had a maze until the Estes Park addition, confusing some horror fans). Visitors can also enjoy several new breweries and a new distillery, or just meander the scenic riverwalk alongside the Big Thompson River—but watch out for the elk.”

Actually, Estes Park is hardly in “the heart of the Rocky Mountains.” It is on the far eastern edge of the northern Colorado portion of the range. But it is still a neat little town. I overlook the tourist kitsch and instead enjoy the summer festivals in Bond Park and elsewhere in town and the great community spirit. If I had written this post, I might have noted that the Stanley Hotel is going to put in a maze on its broad, south-facing lawn

Estes Park was mightily impacted by the September 2013 floods. For a time, with all access routes from the east washed out, the only way into town was via Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake on the west side of the Continental Divide. Trail Ridge Road that links the two communities is the highest continuous paved road in the world. It is closed in the winter, due to deep snow and fierce winds. Visitors to Estes Park now see few scars from those floods. I would honor the town for its resilience too.


Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners

Southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico sites worth seeing.

My son has lived in Durango since he went there for college in 2001, and I’ve been there often. I’ve driven by the Chimney Rock ancient site (now a National Monument), and my husband and I hiked up on a splendid fall day some years ago and explored the site, I’ve driven past the signs on US Highway 160 pointing to Ignacio but never turned off the highway. I knew about the Aztec Ruins National Monument just outside of Farmington, New Mexico, but hadn’t been there, and I’d driven past Shiprock to the west. My husband and I recently went to the Four Corners area to see my son and also our friend, Mary, who had just moved to Bayfield from Seattle. We did several day trips, both to introduce Mary to her new turf and to revisit it ourselves. Some highlights of what I think of as the eastern half of the Four Corners — that is, southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico but not Arizona or Utah.

Downtown Bayfield

A cute little town that still maintains its rural flavor, though now there’s a brew pub and a couple of cute restaurants.

An appliance store with a sense-of-humor front yard display.
A main street Laundromat with a sense-of-humor front yard display.

Weminuche Wilderness

At 488,210 acres, this is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. It is just 15 miles from Durango. The nearest access is from a campground just north of Vallecito Lake, a lake  surrounded by cottages, resorts, outfitters and other small commercial businesses. This area was devastated during the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. It also made headlines a couple of years ago when young Dylan Redwine disappeared while visiting his father a decade later; his remains were eventually found. The area is considerably more tranquil in early spring, when few visitors are around. We started up a trail from a seasonally closed campground and hiked a short distance up Vallecito Creek. Looks like a promising hike later in the year.


Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.
Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.
Vallecito Creek.
Vallecito Creek.

Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum

Ignacio, the main town on the Southern Ute Reservation, has an obligatory casino that I’d never bother with and the excellent Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. The dramatic building encompasses includes many symbols of Native life in the Southwest, and the exhibition inside calmly and poignantly documents the history of the Four Corners’ people. No photos inside.

The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.
The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.
Soaring entrance lobby.
Soaring entrance lobby.

Continue reading Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners

Shuttle Between Bozeman Airport & Yellowstone

Shuttle service eases a winter stay at America’s first national park.

Park entrance sign in winter. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.Yellowstone National Park is a magical but challenging place in winter, so anything that makes it easier to visit is a very good thing. One is Yellowstone National Park Lodges‘ convenient airport shuttle service from Bozeman.

Now in its second season, it runs when the only two winter lodges in the park are open.  The Old Faithful Snow Lodge opens on December 20 and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel the following day. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel closes for the season on March 2, 2015, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge closes a day earlier. The historic Old Faithful Inn is among the park lodges that do not operate in winter.

In addition to the challenges of winter driving for some people who do not live in snow country, a rental car is really superfluous. Except for the road between Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana in the northern part of the vast national park, winter travel on park road is limited to snowmobiles and enclosed heated snowcoaches that offer daily transport between a variety of locations.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts also offers half- and full-day snowcoach, ski and snowshoe tours and ski and snowshoe rentals and instruction. Visitors to Yellowstone can catch the shuttle from the Holiday Inn near the airport at 1 p.m. It returns to the airport to pick up arrivals for a 1:45 p.m. departure to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. The shuttle leaves Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel daily at 8:30 a.m. and arrives at the airport at 10:30 a.m. and can drop people staying in at the Holiday Inn. The fare is $53.50, plus taxes and fees, each way. Guests who have booked a winter package receive a special rate on the airport shuttle of $39 plus taxes and fees, each way. FoMoInfo: 307-344-7311 or 866-GEYSERLAND (866-439-7375).

Mt. Norquay Launches 89th Season

Smallest and oldest of the Banff area’s Ski Big 3 group.

Norquay_LogoColorado’s Winter Park Resort is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, but up north in Alberta, Mt. Norquay was a teenager when Winter Park was born. The ski area within Banff National Park is closer to its centennial than to its diamond jubilee as it launches its 89th season today. Earlier this month, the ground was bare, and Norquay actually pushed back its opening date. But that was then and this is now, and the season start is starting with an abundance of powder. The area reports that “snow has been falling continuously for the past 48 hours resulting in more than 45cm of accumulation.” That’s a foot and a half of snow.

What a way to start the season. Mt. Norquay's 89th kicks off with abundant new snow.
What a way to start the season. Mt. Norquay’s 89th kicks off with abundant new snow.

Norquay is part of the Ski Big 3 consortium that promotes skiing in the Banff/Lake Louise area, markets a joint three-area lift ticket and operates free bus service between Banff and all three. Of the trio, Norquay is the smallest, oldest and closest to town. Many visitors focus on the enormous Lake Louise Resort and high-elevation Sunshine Village. This has given Norquay a reputation as a  local’s favorite known for its flexibility and family-friendly services. And there are the eye-popping views — when it stops snowing, that is.

New this year are expansions of the beginner area within the extensive terrain park and the on-site tubing park.  Located at the top of the North American Chair, the recently renovated historic Cliffhouse Bistro will open to skiers and sightseers alike on weekends and holidays throughout the season. Chef Morne Burger (isn’t that the best name for a chef?) will be serving up fresh flavors, craft brews and a unique wine list.

Sand Creek Massacre Commemorations Begin

150th anniversary of proclamation that set off senseless slaughter.

SandCreekMassacre-sign2Let’s remember that the United States Park Service not only protects wild and beautiful places but also historic sites, documenting the good, the bad and the ugly in American history. It has been 150 years, since war between Volunteer U.S. Army units and the Cheyenne and Arapaho boiled up and swept the High Plains. To seek public support for his war efforts, Territorial Governor John Evans issued a June Proclamation asking “peaceful Indians” to report to U.S. Army forts, most Cheyenne and Arapaho had just received that message before he offered a new declaration to the settlers in Colorado. It was ill-intentioned in the first place, but then went wrong besides.

A modest memorial commemorates a dreadful event.
A modest memorial commemorates a dreadful event.

As the Park Service explains, “The August 11 proclamation stated that Evans authorized the citizens of Colorado ‘to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country… all hostile Indians.’ This edict argued that peaceful Plains Indians had received sufficient time to report to the forts; therefore independent citizens were justified in attacking hostile Indians and seizing goods from them.

“As a consequence of these actions, war on the Plains continued even as peace chiefs sought a way to negotiate with Colorado’s leadership. Soon, elements of the First and Third Regiments attacked Sand Creek’s peaceful village, killing women and children, poisoning relations, and destroying the peace process for years.”

Dramatic skies over the Plains that the been home to the Cheyenne and other groups forever, but when they were in the white pioneers' way, tragedy ensued.
Dramatic skies over the Plains that the been home to the Cheyenne and other groups forever, but when they were in the white pioneers’ way, tragedy ensued.

The proclamation set off the Massacre that occurred in November and has been a stain on Colorado’s history for a century and a half. The Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site commemorates the tragedy. Click here to read more about the fatal proclamation and the Third Colorado Cavalry, or better, visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado. I cannot help but find tragic parallels between the Sand Creek tragedy and the events going on now in Gaza.

Washington Monument Reopens

Rare D.C. earthquake damaged iconic capital obelisk.

Washington Monument.
Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument, which was damaged in a 5.8 earthquake and has been closed since August 23, 2011, is scheduled to reopen on May 12. Repairs to the tune of $15 million (half from philanthropist David Rubin via the Trust for the National Mall, matching the public funds allocated by Congress) have been made to more than 150 cracks in the structure. opens for tours at 1 p.m.

Access is free, but tickets are required. Opening day tickets are available  on a first come-first served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge, 15th Street (between Madison and Jefferson Drives). Thereafter, for those who prefer not to wait for the distributing of daily tour tickets at 8:30 a.m., they are available online at NPS reservation website.

Plans for a national monument began as early as 1783 when the Congress passed a resolution to erect an equestrian statue to honor George Washington. Instead, a soaring, 555-foot obelisk of marble, granite and gneiss honors Washington and his namesake capital. Construction started in 1848 and faced continuing construction challenges due to political turmoil and a lack of funds. What else is new? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Monument’s construction in 1884, and along with the Washington National Monument Society, opened it to the public in 1888.

Michigan Dunes Now Under National Wilderness Designation

Nearly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore protection upped. 

NatlParkServiceLogoSome 32,557 acres of the 71,199-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are now protected as a National Wilderness area, thanks to a bill sponsored by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Thursday. In an all-too-rare acknowledgment by a politician from one party of the accomplishments of the other, Representative Dan Benishek, a Republican who represents the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, issued a statement that said. “Today is a huge win for Sleeping Bear Dunes, our economy, and for the citizens of Northern Michigan.” And it is an accomplishment —  the first wilderness protection bill to pass both chambers since 2009.

The Dunes boast 35 miles of miles of sand beach on the mainland, bluffs that tower as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan, off-shore islands, lush forests, two rivers (the Platte and the Crystal), 21 clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in the town of Empire is open year-round, plus seasonal attractions that include an island lighthouse, US Life Saving Service stations, the historic Glen Haven General Store, Glen Haven Blacksmith Shop and three museums (te Empire Historical Museum, the Cannery Boat Museum and the Sleeping Bear Maritime Museum). The whole area’s sweet coastal villages and picturesque farmsteads reflect a rich maritime, agricultural and recreational history.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely on Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service
Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely under Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service

The Dunes remain under National Park Service jurisdiction with additional wilderness parameters. The NPS stated that will not limit public access, which understandably peaks in spring, summer and fall. Roads, highways, boat launches and other structures are excluded from the wilderness designation. Park visitors will continue to be able to hunt, fish, hike and camp in designated areas.

Arguably the most distinctive activity in the park is the Dune Climb, a windblown ascent that can be strenuous, especially for out-of-shape adults, though the run back down to the picnic area is a blast. Hiking through the dunes all the way to Lake Michigan can take as long as 3 to 4 hours. Sightseers take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile loop road with 12 numbered interpretive signs at spectacular overlooks of Lake Michigan, Glen Lake and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Other things to do in the warm months include various ranger programs, kayaking, hiking (100 miles of trails), road cycling on paved roads, fishing, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Such motorized activities as ATVing and snowmobiling are no-go in the wilderness.

Some years ago, when on a winter assignment in nearby Traverse City, my ski-writer friend Michael Terrell urged me to borrow some skis or  snowshoes and explore the Dunes. I went there on a quiet, sunny weekday. I can’t begin to remember which route I followed, but I do recall that it more or less paralleled the lakeshore. I also remember enjoying the undulating terrain, the water views and breeze that differed from a sea breeze only in that it wasn’t salty.

The park spans Benzie and Leelanau counties in northwest lower Michigan, and  in 2011, even before it received wilderness designation, it was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by “Good Morning America.” Following recognition on national television, visitation grew nearly 14 percent to a record 1.5 million in 2012. It fell 12.5 percent in 2013, due in part to the federal government shutdown, which I’m guessing Senators Levin and Stabenow did not support. I don’t know about Representative Benishek.