Category Archives: US National Parks & Monuments

Isle Royale National Park 07-Jun-2017

Lake Superior North Shore Minnesota

Since we’d all journeyed way up to the North Shore, almost everyone agreed that we needed to behoove ourselves of this oppotunity for a daytrip to Isle Royale National Park. The park is only accessible by boat and we lucked-out in that the transportation boat, the Seahunter III, was starting its season the week we would be visiting.  The Seahunter III is a 65-foot twin diesel vessel that provides passenger service between Grand Portage, Minnesota and Windigo, Michigan, the park headquarters on the southwest end of the island.  There was some trepidation about riding a small boat across a large lake but conditions on our day of travel were sunny, clear, and glass smooth.

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks (New Mexico) 23-May-2017

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

For our last day in the Southwest, we decided to visit Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The Monument, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, a short distance off Interstate-5. It’s notable for the cone-shaped tent rock formations that are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. Also visible are numerous hoodoos of various sizes, most protected by a precariously perched boulder cap of harder, less erodable rock. A potentially apocryphal story suggests that Doctor Seuss was inspired by some of these formations.

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Santa Fe Trail (New Mexico) 22-May-2017

Our second day in Santa Fe dawned bright and clear but for some reason we couldn’t gather the enthusiasm for a hike. Perhaps that second helping of southwestern chili peppers at dinner – while delicious – was ultimately ill-advised? But what to do – other than air-out our hotel room? Fortunately, I’d been reading Hampton Sides’ excellent Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (Doubleday, 2006) which recounts the history of Kit Carson, the Santa Fe Trail, and our appalling treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest who got in the way of Manifest Destiny.  So we thought it might be good to visit two extremes of this story along the Santa Fe Trail: Fort Union National Monument to the east and, a little closer to Santa Fe, Pecos National Historical Park.

Fort Union

What struck us most about Fort Union, which was in use between 1851 and 1891, was the huge wind-swept area in covered and how poorly its adobe block construction has stood the test of time.

Fort Union National Monument New Mexico

The remains of the main post and depot

Fort Union National Monument New Mexico

The parade ground with the remains of the Post Commander’s house beyond

Fort Union National Monument New Mexico

The remains of Officer’s Row

The most enduring part of the fort is the maximum security block of the military prison, because it was constructed of native limestone.

Pecos Pueblo (Cicuye)

By the late Pueblo period – the last few centuries before the Spainards arrived in the Southwest – people in the valley shared by the Glorieta Creek and the Pecos River had congregated in multi-storied towns overlooking the streams and fields that nourished their crops. In the 1400s, these groups gathered into Pecos Pueblo, which became a regional power. Needless to say, the arrival of the Spainards, with their religion and their diseases, changed all of that. Although Cicuye had a population of around 2,000 and extended for a quarter-mile along the ridge, what stands out today are the remains of the mission church that the Spainards plopped down on top of the pueblo’s remains.

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Remains of the Spanish mission church atop Pecos Pueblo

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Wall detail, Spanish mission church

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Door detail, Spanish mission church

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Roof beam detail, Spanish mission church

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Convento foundations in the foreground, Spanish mission church to the left

It’s not until you walk to the end of the tour path that you find an obvious pre-Spanish construct, a renovated kiva.

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Renovated kiva, with the Santa Fe Mountains in the distance

Pecos National Historical Park New Mexico

Interior of the kiva

We found the lessons from history these visit provoked to be an instructive way to spend a fine day in New Mexico. Another important lesson from recent history was to go easy on those chili peppers…


Bandelier National Monument 21-May-2017

Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

After our hike in Great Sand Dunes National Park, we did a scenic drive through Chama, New Mexico enroute to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, we gave two Continental Divide Trail (CDT) thru-hikers a lift to their resupply point in Chama and stopped for lunch in Taos. The last time we were in Taos was when we came out (years ago) to climb New Mexico’s highpoint – Wheeler Peak. At that time a major utility outage reduced our meal choices to cold burritos and warm G&Ts, but we endured.  Arriving in Santa Fe, it was a bit of a shock to see how much the city had sprawled-out over the years from the still walkable and interesting old town area around the Plaza to wide, tresless avenues lined with strip malls. Sadly, Oregon’s idea of urban growth boundaries doesn’t seem to have caught on here. Sigh.  But we were here to hike, not comment of urban planning, so after some map pondering, we decided to visit Bandelier National Monument, just northwest of Santa Fe.

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Great Sand Dunes! (Colorado) 19-May-2017

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado

After our hikes at Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas, we roadtripped north to Alamosa, Colorado, gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park.  When we’d lived in Colorado years ago, we’d driven by this park several times enroute to climbs of nearby 14teeners, but never actually stoped for a visit. We were going to rectify that omission on this trip.  You can hike on the dunes themselves – a la Beau Geste – but there are other hiking trails in the park.  The most accessible of these – it starts almost at the visitor center – is the Mosca Pass Trail and that was the one we chose. It also tops out at around 9,800 feet and would thus be snowfree by now (unlike some of the surrounding peaks).

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Parsnip Lakes (Cascade-Siskiyou NM) 09-May-2017

Parsnip Lakes Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon

The Parsnip Lakes, located within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, are a series of water bodies formed by natural springs and wetlands, and partially maintained by beavers. The Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa), a species in steep decline throughout its historic range, was seen here again in 2003, after having been unobserved for some 40 years.  It was recently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. These lakes lie just to the east of Hobart Bluff, a popular local hiking destination along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  I first saw them on the map when we were planning our March 2017 snowshoe hike along the PCT to the Bluff (post) and that got me to wondering if the lakes were hikeable.  These musings lead me to a 2011 post of a hiking loop past the lakes and the Bluff, so I sketched  out a similar route and waited for the snow to melt.

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Discovery Point Snowshoe (Crater Lake NP) 08-May-2017

Crater Lake National Park Oregon

We live about an hour and a half from Crater Lake National Park and, while we’ve visited several times, we don’t get to it (or at least the Rim) as often as we should. Too busy with tourists in the summer months; too challenged by snow and weather in the winter months. A little touch of guilt here – particularly now that there’s talk of privatizing National Parks and abolishing National Monuments (so sad, so stupid). So, yesterday, with the LovedOne mostly recovered from a bout of bronchitis, we went for a short – but amazing – snowshoe hike to Discovery Point on the lake’s west rim.

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