Category Archives: National Park

Estes Park Named Top Small Town to Visit

Prestigious Smithsonian.com 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,” Smithsonian.com 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.

WorldAtlas.com
WorldAtlas.com

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.

025

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.

New Franklin Museum & Franklin Events

America’s favorite founding father honored on his 308th birthday

BenFranklinOver coffee this morning, friends and I were talking about American history. My contention was that in the Northeast, the emphasis — at least when I was in school — was on the colonial and revolutionary eras. My theory is underscored by news that Philadelphia is  honoring Ben Franklin’s 308th birthday on January 17-19 with a variety of celebrations. Free admission to new Benjamin Franklin Museum, a Franklin-themed getaway giveaway, birthday parties and appearances by Ben himself are among the festivities to honor the man the city calls America’s favorite Founding Father.

Here’s a look at how Philadelphia will mark Ben’s big day a week from now:

Fun & Free

  • In honor of the frugal Founding Father’s birthday, Visit Philadelphia is providing free admission for up to 1,250  visitors to the new Benjamin Franklin Museum all birthday weekend (January 17-19) long. History buffs can explore Franklin’s life and accomplishments through interactive activities, artifacts, video  presentations and more.  318 Market Street; 267-514-1523.
  •  Franklin left a legacy of sayings that are repeated dozens of times each day. But which are people’s favorites? During the week leading up to his birthday, Visit Philadelphia is conducting daily Facebook polls that encourage fans to vote for a quote. Each day  from January 13 to January 17, Visit Philadelphia will post two quotes. Every Facebook follower who votes for their favorite will be entered to win a Franklin-themed getaway prize package, including hotel  accommodations, admission to various Franklin-themed attractions, gift certificates for Franklin-inspired meals and more.
The Benjamin Franklin Museum opened last August. (Visit Philly photo)
The Benjamin Franklin Museum opened last August. (Visit Philly photo)

Parties, Processions, Tours & Tales

  • The American Philosophical Society (APS), one of the organizations created by Ben, honors its founder during Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday 2014 Celebration – Observing the  World. Representatives from various organizations bearing a  Franklin birthright gather at APS on January 17 and proceed to Franklin’s grave at Christ Church Burial Ground for a wreath-laying and tributes. The procession starts at 427 Chestnut Street and ends at 5th  & Arch Streets.
  • At the National Constitution Center, visitors can get their photos taken with a life-size statute of Ben in Signers’  Hall, sign a birthday card and then enjoy some birthday cake. In honor  of Franklin’s 308th birthday, guests also enjoy $3.08 off   general admission tickets on January 17525 Arch  Street, 215-409-6700,
  • The over-21 set joins a Colonial guide for the “Tippler’s  Tour with Ben Franklin, “a rollicking pub crawl, on January 17  and 18, with stops for  drinks and snacks at four Old City establishments. A Franklin re-enactor joins  the tour along the way and stays for a chat at City Tavern, the final stop. Historic Philadelphia  Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets, 215- 629-4026.
  • Throughout the 18th and 19th  centuries, Philadelphia was a publishing powerhouse, thanks in large part to      Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allan Poe. The “Franklin and Poe: Philadelphia’s Adopted Literary Sons” program in the Second Bank  of the United States on January 17 and 19 shares the duo’s literary accomplishments and their roles in shaping American culture. 420 Chestnut Street, 215- 965-2305.
  • More than three centuries after his birth, Franklin remains ageless in his many portraits. Ben buffs can join a National Park Service ranger for the “Happy Birthday Benjamin Franklinprogram  in the Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank of the United States on January 17-19. It  highlights photos of Franklin and his contemporaries and touches on how  their contributions continue to impact the world. 420 Chestnut Street; 215-965-2305.
  • At the Historic Philadelphia Cemter, there are family-friendly activities all weekend long. including more free birthday cake at 1:00 p.m. on January 17.  Historic Philadelphia Center, 6th & Chestnut Streets; 215-629-4026.

If Philadelphia does all this for Franklin’s 308th, I can hardly imagine how it will celebrate the 310th or 325th.

Wind Cave National Park’s 110th Birthday

South Dakota cave was world’s first under national park protection

NatlParkServiceLogoOn January 9, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation to create Wind Cave National Park between Hot Springs and Custer in southwestern South Dakota. It is an understatement to note that mid-winter is not the prime time to visit this area, but come summer this region offers a lot to see and do. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, the Wounded Knee Museum, Mammoth Site and more.

Skywalk Lake in Wind Cave National Park, now celebrating its 110th year under National Park Service protection. Photo: National Park Service
Skywalk Lake in Wind Cave National Park, now celebrating its 110th year under National Park Service protection. Photo: National Park Service

Wind Cave National Park encompasses 10,522.17 acres, not just the remarkable cave itself — one of the world’s longest — but also 30 miles of hiking trails, camping, interpretive programs and prairieland. In the summer of 2003, Wind Cave celebrated its centennial and the return of the bison. I don’t know what, if anything, might be planned for this summer, but let’s just say that eve though underground temperatures are the same year-round, this national park’s actual 110th will be a quiet birthday.