Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Road Trip to the National Parks

This week I read something in the news about the possibility of the National Parks having to close unless the government reaches a deal on the budget. I remember we went through this last year as well, and it was no fun thinking about the gorgeous parks having to close due to the fact that selfish people are in charge of making decisions.

Anyway, because of this fact, and because I had already thought about writing a post on National Parks, here is my little shout out to “Americas Best Idea.”

The first time I went to a National Park was back on 2009, after Joe and I spent the summer in San Francisco. After the end of Joe’s summer program, we had a full month before the start of the school semester. As a result, we decided to take that time to slowly drive back to Minnesota, and to camp in parks along the way.

We left San Francisco and started the drive west. As soon as we left the Bay Area, we started to really notice the August temperatures soaring up as we ventured farther into the valley and into the desert. Our first stop was at a regional park on Lake Isabella, by the Kern River. Paradise Cove Campground served as an overnight stop on our way to Death Valley.

Sometime before we started this trip, I had read on an issue of National Geographic, that the best locations to stargaze in the United States were Arches National Park in Utah, and Death Valley National Park in California. As we drove to the park, I couldn’t wait to see the stars at night. Little did I know that I would have to wait almost 3 years for that wish to come true!

We barely got to Death Valley as our car started to act out on the way up to cross the mountains. Well, it started to massively overheat and we had to stop every quarter of a mile or so to let it cool down. Yes, it was that hot. In fact, it was 122 degrees Celsius, so hot, we were not allowed to camp in the park! Instead, we had to keep driving all the way to Las Vegas, where we ended up spending the night!

After Las Vegas, we drove to Grand Canyon National Park and we were lucky enough to get the last campsite available on the first-come-first-serve campground! We spent about a week here, split between the South and North rim. We especially loved the more remote, harder to reach, quieter, North Rim. Here we saw the endemic Kaibab squirrel, a treat for us, nature lovers!

It was also at the Grand Canyon that we got totally hooked on hiking! In our desire to explore the park and get away from the masses of people (especially on the South Rim!), we started going on longer hikes, which tend to be emptier. Turns out, people don’t want to walk 10 miles to gorgeous vista points, or secluded picnic spots! All the better for us, I guess!

After considerably increasing the mileage under our hiking boots, we got in the car again and started making our way to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

The whole feel of this road trip was living the moment, enjoying out time and our freedom, so we were not too concerned with being efficient about the routes we took to get to places. And, because of this flexibility, we were able to make detours along our routes.

Two fun detours we took were Monument Valley in Utah, and Four Corners in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona! Both places were marked by reddish rocks, lots of tourists, and pretty nice weather! Lovely places, both of them!

We arrived to Mesa Verde in the evening and, after seeing our site and the beauty that surrounded us, we decided to extend our stay at the park for an additional 2 days, to stay there for almost a week.

Mesa Verde was such a pleasant surprise to me. I had no idea ruins existed in the United States. Ancestral Puebloans made Mesa Verde their home from about A.D. 550 to 1300. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here. It was very powerful and incredibly amazing to tour these sites and to see these adobe constructions. Mesa Verde is one of my favorite National Parks because it offered history, gorgeous scenery, and fabulous hiking! Also, during our time in Mesa Verde, we spotted a variety of wildlife, some of which we had never seen before, like the Collared Lizard.

From Mesa Verde we continued making our way south, this time to go meet up with friends in New Mexico. We didn’t camp in a National Park in New Mexico but on a campground ran by the Bureau of Land Management. Our campsite was right next to the Rio Grande and driving distance from the historical town of Taos.

Our original plans were to head to Texas after our stay in New Mexico, however, we had been so happy with the cooler temperatures we had been experiencing in high altitudes, that we started questioning our plans. It was on a nice clear evening in Santa Fe, that we decided to change our plans and, instead of driving south east to Texas, we started driving north west to Yellowstone!

Oh, Yellowstone! If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! We spent a week in Yellowstone and it was magical! Seeing the geysers, the mountains, the lakes, the animals, it felt like traveling back in time, to a place where animals roamed free, and nature had not been touched by humans.

Yellowstone was the first of the National Parks and the one that led to the creation of more parks. In fact, Yellowstone is credited with being the first national park in the entire world!

After hiking as much of Yellowstone as we could, being stuck in wildlife jams, and seeing wolves, foxes, bison, and even bears, we started driving east, back to Minnesota.  On our way, we passed the Bad Lands in South Dakota but we didn’t stop. We had been on the road for 31 days, 23 of which we had camped, and we were ready to get home, to our bed!

A year later, Joe and I decided to spend Spring Break at a National Park. We looked all around and found out that we needed to drive about 14 hours to the closest national park that didn’t have snow in the ground! That park was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave National Park, containing over 390 miles (630 km) of passageways, has the longest cave system known in the world. The official name of the system is the Mammoth-Flint Ridge Cave System for the ridge under which the cave has formed. While visiting the park, we went into many of the caves that had been formed because the water in the area (the Green River) goes underground through sinkholes and then runs underground, forming caves. As the water has seeped through the ground, it’s continued to create caves lower into the ground. Walking around these caves was an amazing – and sometimes scary – experience!

On December 2010 we decided to give Death Valley National Park a second try. This time, we were allowed to camp, to hike and to stare at the stars at night. There was an average of 60 degrees Celsius of difference between the first time we visited the park and this visit. While in August I had been wearing almost nothing, this time I was wearing every single piece of warm clothing I had brought with me.

It was cold but, the stars, oh the stars… they were gorgeous! To be fair, you can see the Milky Way from most of the parks in the West, at least the ones I’ve visited.

A few months ago, I wrote about our latest visit to a national park, this time in Maine, where we visited Acadia. As I said before, Acadia National Park was beautiful and offered fabulous coastal views, and amazing hiking in the coniferous forest of its mountains!

Hope you enjoyed this week’s photos. I love parks and I’m happy to pay them a little tribute! For more fun photos, visit my Etsy store at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/WorldPhotosByPaola

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