In the Beginning ...
I was a kid, maybe about five years old, when I saw for the first time the explosion of Old Faithful. Little did I know then what a strange and twisted journey that heralded ...
Okay, that might be a tetch melodramatic. After all, it wasn't as if I had any say in the matter. My parents decided to go to Yellowstone, so they packed up us kids and hauled us off on a great summer adventure. It must have been in the late 1960's, and I think we saw several interesting places along the way. In particular I remember putting my hands and feet on Four Corners and thinking how cool that was.
Another Monument I'm pretty sure we visited on the trip was Dinosaur National Monument, on the Utah-Colorado border. I remember seeing a man, dressed in khaki with a hammer or chipping tool in hand, standing next to a rock wall. There were dinosaur bones partially excavated, and he explained to us how this particular dinosaur had lived and died millions of years ago, and the sediment-filled bones were all that remained.
I've loved dinosaurs ever since then ... what boy hasn't?
My final memory of that trip is of a glacier. Well, to my mind it was a glacier. It certainly was a sheet of ice on the side of a mountain, and we were able to run at least ten feet underneath the tongue on the rough gravel, avoiding (or maybe splashing in) a trickle of a stream that carried meltwater to our parents down below. Was this Glacier National Park? I can't say for sure. We also saw Busch Gardens in Canada, or so I think. However, at the time I'm writing this I can't find any kind of Garden in Canada that rings a bell. I'll get back to you on that. (Psst -- it's later, May of 2009 later -- that would be Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island)
A little later, we took a waterskiing trip to Lake Powell. That was pretty cool too, and I must have been around 8 or 9. We found some handholds someone had carved in a wall, five above the water level, three or four below.
Anyway, to recap -- when I was about five, I definitely saw Yellowstone, and I think Dinosaur National Monument, and a few years later Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. And then, for the next 25 years, what was my National Park experience?
Zip. Nada. Zilch. Here I was, living in Arizona, home to one of the most famous natural wonders of the world, and did I ever visit the Grand Canyon? Nope. There I go, driving from Phoenix to Provo, Utah and college, making the trip four or six times a year, and did I ever stop at Zion or Bryce? Did I think about zooming down US 89, seeing the North Rim? How about stopping in Flagstaff, seeing Sunset Crater Volcano, or Wupatki, or Walnut Canyon? I think you can guess the answer on that.
Why, for heaven's sake, when some buddies and I mountain-biked the slickrock trail in Moab, Utah (three times), why on earth did I not drive FIVE MILES to Arches National Park? When we drove out to Dead Horse State Park (I laugh at myself -- state park!), did I go the extra mile to the Canyonlands visitors center?
On any NUMBER of trips, over seven or eight years of college and law school, did I ever turn off the freeway once, drive two miles, and look at Montezuma Castle National Monument? Uh, that's a no.
Now, after I was married with three kids, my wife and I did take a five-year anniversary trip to Hawaii, and that was fantastic. Unbelievable. If you've never gone to Hawaii, and you get the chance, go! You won't regret it. We did see the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial (I admit to being parochially startled by the number of Japanese visitors) and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ... but check this out. On the trip of a lifetime, I knew nothing about stamps, or Passports. I did pick up a piece of lava rock (from OUTSIDE the Park boundaries), and have it still. It's behind the printer, two feet from my right hand.
There were other hints of mania, but nothing that leaped out and took me by the throat and told me, "This will consume your life, boy!" My wife and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. She dismissed it as a hole in the ground. A few years later I drove up with my then-four-year-old son. He was a good sport, especially considering that he thought we were going to see the Grand Cannon.
But that was it. Until six years ago, when we started building this house in Gilbert, Arizona, and we lived with my Mom for six months. Five kids, two parents, one grandmother -- we had to get out.
Okay, okay, I told that story already. So read on, dear Listeners, fear and tremble at my history of Parks!
Starting in December of 2001, I've gotten a few stamps in my Passport. The very first stamp, the ultimate place of honor, goes to Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona. On December 1, 2001, the seven of us drove north from Gilbert and dropped in. That visitors center is where I first saw a Passport, bought it, and got it stamped. Ta-Da!
Now I began investigating National Parks near my home. That same month, a day before Christmas, I took the kids to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. That's right, the day before Christmas our family split up -- my wife stayed home. She pushed us out the door -- "It's 45 minutes away? Go! Go! Have a great time!" And we did. The only problem I encountered came with the stamp itself; I put it in upside-down in my passport. Rookie mistake.
Now I'm into National Parks full swing. Three days after Christmas, 2001, the whole family troops down to Tucson and visits Saguaro National Park, which, as you may note, was the first actual National Park we saw. Now, I'd grown up around cactus; there were five or six saguaros in my front yard. This was nothing new. But it was a stamp, and it would have to last a long time.
We got into our new house in February of 2002, and that took a lot of our time. It wasn't until a kind of annual trek to San Diego in the summer that I got my next stamp.
I'd been to San Diego, growing up, every summer. I'd probably spent parts of 20 summers, easy, in that beautiful place, but I'd never really explored the area. So off we go, checking maps, driving down the peninsula to Cabrillo National Monument. WOW! What a view of the harbor! What a view of the airfields! And the visitors center was pretty nice, too.
The next month, back in Arizona, I took some of my kids and we drove 90 minutes out to Roosevelt Lake and Tonto National Monument. Here we met with our first disappointment of my growing mania. There is a trail that leads up to the Indian ruins, and you can't see the ruins unless you take the trail. Well, on August 24, 2002, the trail was closed about 80 yards short of the ruins. Why? Bees. A hive had sprung up, and the Rangers weren't letting anyone go past a certain point until the bees went away. Now, the path was only blocked by yellow 'caution' tape, so I could have run past the buzzing hive, but I had kids with me. So, I was responsible. No photos, but responsible.
The Great Dull Period
How can this be? Nearly a year between National Park visits? What kind of mania is this? Well, I have no explanation, none at all. So let's go. On July 5, 2003, we took a trip to San Francisco, and my mania was restored. We went (with my wife's cousin) to Golden Gate Park, where a stampaholic can go crazy. First we visited Fort Point National Historic Site, right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. You know, it can be windy there.
We then went to the Presidio at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and wandered through the visitors center, which at one point apparently was the Officer's Quarters. We enjoyed a winding drive through the park, and had lunch on the pier.
Two days later we returned to Golden Gate Park, this time to see the six ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. It's a great trip for the kids and adults alike. We crawled all over three or four of the ships before the kids got tired. And, I got a stamp.
The next day we took another car trip, this time a little further, to Muir Woods National Monument. Wow. Let me say that again -- wow. Huge trees, dappled shade, near-total quiet. You've got to go, if only to get pictures of your kids climbing over the wood sculptures of bears.
But that wasn't all, oh no, we kept driving! On we go to Point Reyes National Seashore, and only my second regret of National Parks. The day was growing late, the kids' patience was thin, so we stopped at the inland visitors center and walked the Earthquake Trail (think 1906), and saw the horses at the stables, discovered some white european deer, if memory serves. But we didn't have time to actually see the seashore, and someday I hope to get back.
Once or twice, it may come up in my ramblings that I regret the lack of time we had at a park. I must emphasize this -- my family is extremely patient with my mania. They indulge me in all these trips, and I couldn't be more grateful. The kids accept the learning experiences in good grace, but most importantly of all, my wife loves me. She has to, because she puts up with all this. She encourages me to plan a trip, she packs, she keeps the kids happy, she makes the trip go smoothly. So when I complain about this or that, it's with the knowledge that I am blessed with a loving family and a patient and adorable wife, and without them none of this would have come to pass. For that, I thank them, and I love them. My grumblings are under my breath.
Time to Hit Arizona
That's right, the mania is now full-blown, and I'm looking for excuses to travel the state. I plan trips, count highway miles, propose and discard and figure out better travel routes and places to stay. It's August 30, 2003, and Gilbert is HOT! We need to get out of town, so off to Flagstaff we go. Our first stop was at dry Walnut Canyon National Monument, another ancient Indian ruin site. The kids loved the medium hike, and so did I. I tell you, looking at where they built their houses, steep on the mountainside with cool water 500 feet below, it gives me new appreciation for indoor plumbing.
That same day we zoomed a few miles north to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. My oldest son Michael and I hiked the one-mile trail, while the others climbed a nearby mountain. We got the better deal, because we learned cool things about lava, and they, once they got to the peak, had no view for the trees.
One day I was reviewing my map of Parks in Arizona, and realized there was one within striking distance, if I wanted a day journey -- Tuzigoot National Monument. My wife desired a day alone, so I packed up the kids on October 26, 2003, and drove up to Clarkdale. She was the smart one. Tuzigoot, an Indian ruin, has earned the nickname in our family "The Ruinest of the Ruins". It was the first Park to rate only one Subbie on this site, but it wouldn't be the last.
The First National Park Trip
That's right, now it's time for the first trip taken for the express purpose of seeing National Parks and getting stamps. We drove down to southern Arizona, past Tucson, and took two quick days to see four parks. Right after Christmas, on December 27, 2003, we visited interesting Tumacacori National Historical Park. We toured the old Catholic church, explored the grounds and cemetary, even ate some delicious beans in a hot tortilla. Definitely a worthwhile stop.
But that wasn't all. Later that same day, after a long drive across the grasslands of southern Arizona (you heard me right -- I was surprised too), we found Coronado National Memorial. It celebrates the trip of discovery made by Coronado. I understand it's important to know the past of our land, but it's difficult to make such a site interesting when they left nothing behind. We did explore a cave up in the mountains, the view was nice, and our sons even got photographed in some old chain mail armor.
We slept well that night, and got up bright and early to see Chiricahua National Monument. Now, I'm a natural sciences fan, and these rocks were just amazing. Balanced atop each other, one after the other, they seemed to mock gravity. The rest of the family didn't share my enthusiasm. "Dad, it's just a rock", Katie pointed out. She was eleven. So that was a quick trip. Good thing we had an exciting Fort ahead of us.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is only a short drive from Chiricahua, and we were even a little gung-ho for the 1.5 mile hike there and back from the parking lot. That is, we were gung-ho until we saw the remains of the Fort. Stumps of adobe wall. One empty room made of rock -- "Munitions were stored here 130 years ago". Not exactly riveting stuff, and it earned one Subbie. But -- I got my stamp.
The last stamp of 2003, and the first in the rear section of the Passport (I'd filled up the Western Region with Fort Bowie) was a repeat. I went back to Montezuma Castle National Monument with a digital camera for better pictures and another look at my sentimental favorite.
The Website and a Wild and Crazy Year
2004 started off innocuously enough, with another repeat visit, this time to nearby Casa Grand Ruins National Monument. But more importantly (for anyone still reading along this tedious journey), I started my National Parks website. Now, this may not be a big deal to you, dear reader, but I am not a programmer. So I feel quite proud of what I've accomplished here, just with the benefit of a book or two (and trial and error). HTML 4.01 Weekend Crash Course, by Greg Perry, is a blessing for novices. The praise is his, the mistakes are mine.
Okay, on we go. At the crack of 2004 I had 19 stamps in my Passport. Excluding repeats and in-the-Park bonus stamps, I'd seen 17 National Park Service sites. Not bad, not bad at all, for just over two years of activity. Well, 2004 would break new records, as I got down and serious. By this time I'd started working on a map that now hangs in my office. This U.S. map, about 3.5 by 2.5 feet, is taped to cardboard and laminated. And, I have numbered pins. Red pins put on places that I've visited. Green numbered pins for places I definitely want to see. Yellow numbered pins for places that, if I happen to be passing by on a freeway, I might stop and visit for five minutes. That map's been a source of entertainment and frustration for over a year now, but I'm pleased with it. I finally printed out a list of what all the numbers mean, and that's good.
In March of 2004 we took the family to Disneyland. Okay, the trip was kind of a bust, but I got several stamps. Disneyland ... We've been four times now, and we think we're done. It was hot, there were lines, the kids are getting older, just getting around the park is a pain, blah de blah blah. But! On an off day, when everyone else was going to the beach, I drove out to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The visitors center was a little hard to find, but it had a great view. That's all I had time for, unfortunately, and I think that's all I'm pretty much going to do at NRA's in the future.
The next day, March 19, was the day we were going to leave. For some bizarre reason I braved the traffic (I think it was a Saturday) and drove all the way out to Ventura and got the Channel Islands National Park stamp. The visitors center is old but cool, with a couple of telescopes on a second-story cupola. The harbor was completely socked in with fog, so I had no hope of seeing any islands. One day I hope to go back and hitch a boat ride out there. I also got a second stamp at that center, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. I've done no website work on any Trails yet. Hmm ...
On the way back to Arizona, I begged my very patient wife for a quick detour. Right off the freeway is Joshua Tree National Park. I went to the southern visitors center, not much more than a nice mobile home, got the stamp, took some quick pictures, and we left. I rectified this in 2005.
My sister-in-law and my five nieces and nephews came for a visit from the Seattle area in April, and we decided to make a trip to the Grand Canyon. Finally, a chance to take the buses, spend a couple of days, see the visitors center. We didn't hike down, but that remains a goal of mine. That was on the 14th, and on the way back on the 15th I showed them Montezuma Castle National Monument again.
Ten days later, I took some of the kids up north again. I really wanted to hit all of Arizona's parks, and on April 24th we saw Walnut Canyon National Monument again, spent some quick time at Sunset Crater National Monument for pictures, but the bulk of the trip was spent enjoying Wupatki National Monument. It was another picturesque Indian ruin site that I enjoyed. The round court was interesting, as was the blowhole. But beware of the rock walls -- they're fragile, so don't lean against them. In the end, this was my first three-stamp day. Not bad, not bad at all, and I don't feel guilty about rushing that day, because I had seen two of the sites before. It would have been a four-stamp day, but Agua Fria National Monument is run by the BLM and had no visitor center on-site, and thus no stamp. Agua Fria is right off I-17 coming home from Flagstaff, so the boys and I made a five-minute pit stop and got some photos.
But an idea was forming. My wife had conceived a plan to go to Europe this summer with her cousin, and they'd take our two daughters. So, why shouldn't the boys and I take a trip of our own? To ... Utah, perhaps? Before I got serious about that major undertaking, however, I really wanted to see all the other parks in Arizona that I'd missed. So on May 2, 2004, I took Katie and Nick and Luke to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Those guys are great traveling companions. It was a nice trip, but as I've said, I grew up around cactus. The drive on the east side of the Park was nice, it was no big deal, but I got my stamp.
Then on May 29, 2004 I returned to Tonto National Monument, again with Katie and the two younger boys. This time the bees were gone, and we carefully explored the ruins. Roosevelt Lake was very low because of the drought. Next month, The Trip.
I waved goodbye to my wife and Katie and Lexi one evening at Sky Harbor International Airport, and the next day Michael, Nick, Luke and I piled into the Suburban. First stop, on June 20, 2004, was Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Sure, I'd crossed that bridge maybe 20 times in my life, going to college at BYU and back, but today we took the Tour of the Dam. It's a great tour, not to be missed. We saw the huge turbines that spin with the flow of Colorado River water, sparking the electricity that powers Phoenix and other cities. We also drove around to Marble Canyon and the site of the old bridge, now a pedestrian bridge. That was fun, seeing our shadow way below on the quiet Colorado.
The next day we cut around to Pipe Spring National Monument. The weather was good, maybe a little warm, but for June I had no complaints. The Monument is well-run, quiet and small, and a real nice stopover. We learned of the importance of water in the dry West, and met a very big Texas longhorn. From the old fort, the area still seems as bare of human habitation as it must have appeared to the settlers 100 years ago. This stamp now finished the second page of stamps in the "Additional Cancellations" section of my Passport, but never fear -- Utah beckons, and that's in the Rocky Mountain Region of the Passport. I have 20 fresh spaces to fill!
After Pipe Spring, we drove on back roads to Utah's coral pink sand dunes, which is a state park, and we had fun running up and down the dunes, burning off some energy. Off in the distance we heard the roar of quads racing around, but just down the road lurked only the second 5-Subbie park in my rankings -- Zion National Park. Words don't do it justice. Photos don't do it justice. Zion is a treasure that must be experienced. Go, if you ever have the chance. I know I have to go back again; we never got to explore the Narrows.
We stayed the night in Springdale, got up bright and early to get another stamp at the Kolob Canyons section of Zion. It was nice, but it paled next to Zion itself. One highlight came when we stopped for a picture, and heard a rumbling noise above us on the hillside. We looked up, and saw a cloud of dust 100 feet higher on the slope. Well, the road wandered around to that spot, and when we got there we discovered the source of noise and dust. A bulldozer had dumped dirt over the side of the road to shore up an eroding slope. With the wild itinerary I had, we didn't have much time for hiking or exploring -- we had tons of parks to visit. So, we spent that night in Cedar City. I planned this as an easy day, and we spent half of it watching a movie, going to Deseret Book, and just playing around the town. I think we missed the city's Shakespeare festival by a week.
June 23, and on to Cedar Breaks! I'm so glad we saw this one before Bryce Canyon. Cedar Breaks offers a fantastic palette of color, from yellow to orange to red to purple. We did take the two-mile alpine loop trail, and though it was at 10,000 feet, I heartily recommend it. There was still snow in some spots, and little yellow flowers from green green plants brightened the trail. A pond at the halfway point was a great resting place for the boys; the younger ones loves spotting minnows, and the little insects that ran across the surface. Scowling clouds threatened us at times, but no rain fell, and we had a great time.
The drive from Cedar Breaks to Bryce Canyon is beautiful. I'm afraid to say, however, my memories are tainted by the blowout I had on a narrow mountain road. I got the tire fixed, but something was wrong with the brakes. I limped in to Bryce Canyon (actually the mini-town outside of the park, Ruby's Inn), got the Suburban into a shop, and took the Park tram (thank heavens for that!) and we saw the park. It's gorgeous. Fantastic. We walked a 1.3-mile loop down into the canyon and it was unbelievable. It was even worth altitude sickness that hit me that night.
We had planned to go on, to Capital Reef and Canyonlands and Arches, but alas it was not to be. The Suburban's woes were too serious for any simple repair shop, and eventually we had the good ol' Subbie towed back to Cedar City and the dealership there. Although the trip was cut short, I was very proud of my boys. They were good sports and never complained once, and even with the trip cut in half, I called it a success.
Family Reunion and Second Chances
In early July we had a family reunion in Provo, Utah. My wife and daughters had returned successfully from Europe, we were a family again, so off we went. We took my Honda Pilot to Cedar City, picked up the healed Suburban, and arrived in Provo with no problem. On the way, we stopped at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument headquarters in Kanab, got a stamp and some pictures, on July 4, 2004. Wow, 4th of July? I didn't realize that ... I guess when you drive through in the middle of the day you miss the fireworks.
The next three days were a blast with the family. Cousins scattered over Janice and Chad's yard, grandparents were there, everyone had a good time. We went out for dinner, visited a natural history museum, even got up close and personal with a brushfire on the slopes of a mountain. I can't believe how much a place can change in 20 years. Why don't things stay the way as I remember them? Life isn't fair. On the 6th, my wife and I even escaped for 90 minutes up the canyon to get a stamp at Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Okay, I didn't take the hike, I didn't see the cave, I still have to do that. But ... I got my stamp.
The next day we headed home, and I managed to get a Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument stamp just before Page. It's a stark beauty. The visitors center is new, well-made, and out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Well, so it seems, although Page isn't that far down the road, but I can't imagine that it's a desired locale for BLM employees. As a matter of fact, when we stopped around noon, I'm pretty sure the one guy on duty had been napping.
The Crazy Trip
Now we had a problem. I'd left the Honda up in Utah for tactical reasons on our drive back from the family reunion, and I wanted my car. Hmm, Park potential. So on July 9 I flew up to Salt Lake City, picked up my car, and drove down to some town (Price, I think) in the middle of Utah. I bet the drive from Provo to Price is a nice one, but it was night when I took it, and I didn't see a thing. The next day, all by my lonesome, I went to Canyonlands National Park. I only had time for the Islands District, but it was fantastic. I also revisited Dead Horse Point State Park, a place I'd been to 20 years earlier on a mountain bike trip to Moab. I love rock formations like these.
Right across the highway, north of Moab, was Arches National Park. I saw that the same day as Canyonlands, and I've got to tell you, Arches is wonderful. I loved the color of the rock, and the huge sheer formations remind me in a way of Zion. They're building a new visitors center, and it can't come fast enough. This was my fourth time to Moab, the first since college and the first non-mountainbiking trip. Moab had at least doubled in size, and is actually a nice little town now. Crowded, though. I spent the night further south, in Cannondale I think.
The next morning, July 11, I got up at the crack of dawn and drove south then west, over to Natural Bridges National Monument. Three good bridges of rock span what was at that time a dry river. I had time to see the nearest one up close and personal, and had visions of rock splintering off the thin span and crashing at my feet. But, all was quiet. A distant view had to suffice for the other two bridges. Today was going to be -- crazy.
Drive, man, drive! Down south past Medicine Hat, through Monument Valley, there isn't a stamp so pull I off the road long enough for a few shots, and keep driving. Never mind all the movies filmed here, there are stamps I need to claim.
Arizona, and Navajo National Monument beckon. I took the short hike down to an overlook at Navajo, got some photos and a stamp and, you guessed it, got on my way. At this point I'm hearing a very interesting and dangerous little voice in my head. Why not go on? Why head home to Gilbert now, when there are still three Parks within striking distance?
Could I resist that voice? Heck no. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, here I come. And wow, was it striking. Sheer pastel cliffs, flat river bottom, ruins carved into the sides, what a sight. I was running by this point, sweating in the early afternoon sun, taking photos like a madman and racing back to my car.
On to Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site! Never mind the two radio stations I could get, one religious, one Navajo. The drive was wonderful. Ganado was enjoying scudding clouds and I found the Post no problem, got some pictures, spent 30 minutes enjoying the little town, and went on my way.
Down, south, to the freeway, and clouds are raging. Quick, get on I-40, drive some miles to the turnoff through a fierce downpour. I got off at Petrified Forest National Park during a break in the weather, got my stamp, got a few, very few pictures of the Painted Desert, just as the rain caught up with me again. Back in the car, it's late, drive for home! I arrived in Gilbert late that night, exhausted, exhilarated. Seven Parks in two days. I got the stamps, but I know I have to go back and enjoy them in depth.
A Relaxing Six Months
Well, the Utah trip, though interrupted, was successful. But I was backlogged on my website, so I took a break from visiting parks. Okay, okay, I did take some of the boys down to Tucson again for better pictures of Saguaro National Park on October 15, 2004. But that was it until Christmas.
For the Holiday we drove out to San Francisco to stay with my wife's cousin again. She has a wonderful house in a great location, and a dog that suffered a little stress from seven loud visitors. But I got more stamps, and really, isn't that all that matters? On December 19, 2004, Nick and Luke and I went out to Martinez and explored the John Muir National Historic Site. It was pretty cool, and it was foggy and beautiful to this desert boy. I also got another stamp for the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.
Through some exploratory work, and lots of driving, we finally found Richmond city hall south and the temporary home of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park. I learned about Rosie, we got some pictures ... but the lady in charge took my Passport and stamped it for me! I was so stunned I didn't have time to stop her. The real problem was that she stamped the wrong date. No one had visited in about ten days, apparently. Grr.
On the drive home, we took time to explore Joshua Tree National Park more completely. I feel better for having driven all the way through, to both visitor centers. That was on December 30, 2004.
In February of 2005, I drove up to Tonto National Monument, just for another trip with some kids. Lexi, Nick and Luke joined me in exploring the ruins, and learning how to grind meal from corn.
That was it, folks, as of March 1, 2005. In the year 2004, I got 34 stamps. Excluding duplicates and revisits, that's 25 completely new Parks that we visited. Not bad, not bad at all.
Late in March of 2005, we went camping in Pinetop/Lakeside, in the Arizona mountains. I drove my kids and some cousins up to Petrified Forest National Park again, and this time we finally were able to see some petrified rocks! It was pretty cool, much more impressive than the Painted Desert.
Sometime in July I thought to myself, you know, it's really hot. Maybe I should drive around in the desert on a dirt road in the middle of the day. So I did! Actually, I'd realized by this time that the National Park Service did not have a stranglehold on all National Monuments. The Bureau of Land Management has recently been assigned more and more large tracts of undeveloped land, to protect and cherish. But not necessarily to make accessible to your averate National Park fanatic. So I figured out that Sonora Desert National Monument and Ironwood Forest National Monument were only about an hour south of our house, and one day I drove out there. Yep, they're in the desert all right. There were no visitor centers, naturally, and so no stamps, but at least I have the photos.
(I'm writing this in May of 2009, as I'm updating the web site. It's interesting, as I was sure I'd seen Sonoran Desert and Ironwood Forest on the same day. But as I go through my pictures, that's not the case. Ironwood was in July, and Sonoran was in September. So much for my memory.)
After that, though, I hit another dry spell. There were to be no more stamps for about 11 months. The kids were getting older, school was becoming more difficult to schedule around, what with activities and sports. And, since I'd hit all the Parks in the immediate vicinity, I knew any more new stamps would have to be the result of a planned, long trip. Finally, over spring break of 2006, we got away, to lovely Death Valley, California. But first we drove to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where I learned that the Dam is not run by the National Park Service. The nerve.
We slept outside of Vegas and early the next morning drove through Death Valley. Did I mention that it's huge? It took all day just to end up in Lone Pine, and I didn't get to see half of what I'd hoped to. Oh well, perhaps I can persuade my wife to go again.
Manzanar National Historic Site was next, in dry dusty Owens Valley, at the base of the majestic Sierra Nevadas and Mt. Whitney. What a backdrop for a sad place. We finished the trip by driving home through Mojave National Preserve, which struck me as more of the same desert I grew up in.
And that, dear readers, is the story to date, as of March 2006. If you'd like to see a chronological list in neat formation of the parks I've seen, why, here it is.
Now that I'm refurbishing this website, in February of 2008, I'll have to tell you about the summer 2007 trip to northern New Mexico. But it's late tonight, and I want to get this page back up, so you'll just have to wait. So there.
Wait ... Wait! I can't believe this. In my rush to 2007, I forgot about another quick trip the boys and I made to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This must be the third time I've gone, but I keep wanting better pictures. So at least Nick accompanied me on the 40-minute drive, and we got some more pictures. He's getting better at taking my picture in front of the sign.
Wait ... Wait! Did I jump ahead to 2007, skipping over July of 2006? Did I just forget a trip to the east, across the Mississippi, the first time I've touched U.S. soil east of Texas? Why yes, I think I did. Through my job I got to go to Florida for a seminar, so in July I flew into Miami for three days. The seminar was good; I took a lot away from it. But what made the trip wonderful was that I had time to speed over to three NPS sites. You can bet that was the first thing I was thinking about, when the Florida seminar opportunity came along. The third day of my trip was the first day with any free time, and I made the most of it. I raced south of South Miami Beach where I was staying, turned left at a Speedway, and soon found myself at Biscayne National Park. I'd scheduled a trip on a boat, and we went out ot an island, where the mosquitos attacked in droves. Luckily, I'd brought repellant.
There was still daylight, so I had time to check out the Everglades, and so I did. It was fascinating to learn that most of southern Florida is under water. Apparently a river, about one to two feet deep, covers most of that part of the state, and flows slowly either to the Caribbean or the Atlantic. Trees and bushes have learned how to grow through it, but it seems an inhospitable place for people. That's just me. I'm not a fan of living among the alligators. Or mosquitos.
The next day I had enough time before my afternoon flight home to zoom out to Big Cypress National Preserve. That's where I saw an alligator up close and personal. They're very impressive, even when they're babies, like an eight-inch fellow some tourists spotted. I drove a dirt/coral road around the Preserve, and saw more birds and alligators, but I couldn't stay too long, or I'd miss my flight. And I missed my family; it was time to go home.
Now that I continue to refurbush this website, in May of 2009, after moving to a new server in early 2008, I'll have to tell you about the summer 2007 trip to norther New Mexico. Of course, now that all the sites are up, you can skip this boring travelogue and go see for yourself. But if you haven't fallen asleep yet, read on!
2007 and New Mexico
Finally, in the summer of 2007, we had some time. Between basketball camps and EFY and Scout encampments we found a week, and I took it and ran. Northern New Mexico really isn't that far from our house in Gilbert, so we knew it was doable. We hit the road! The first leg led us to northeastern Arizona, cutting through the Mogollon rim and into wonderful pine forest country. It sure looks good to desert eyes. We cruised, hit New Mexico, and stayed the night in Gallup, which happened to be the nearest town of any size to our first couple of destinations. Now, I'm sure Gallup is a wonderful place to live. But our motel was close to the railroad tracks, and apparently there was a big rodeo going on that night. So we retired early and plugged our ears all night long.
Bright and early, off we headed to El Morro National Monument. Let me say this from the beginning: I'd never been to New Mexico in my life, excluding one childhood trip to Four Corners. So I really didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought it would be somewhat like Arizona; but luckily I found it more attractive in many ways. Generally speaking the scenery was good, the drives were interesting, and the weather very cooperative. Every day that summer the clouds came over for at least a few hours, and usually in the afternoon, when it should have been hottest. I thank the clouds for that, because we were doing a lot of walking and hiking. Especially today, at El Morro. We found the place with no problem, got my stamp, and set off to see the inscriptions. After we'd seen a few carvings in the wall, some of us thought about turning back, but since the rest of us wanted to circle around the great rock, we all did. I lagged behind, taking pictures, gasping for breath, but boy was it worth it. We climbed all the way to the top where the remains of an Ancestral Puebloan village was, and the view was wonderful. Two thumbs up for El Morro!
Wish I could say the same for El Malpais, our next stop that afternoon. Not that El Malpais was bad; it just didn't have the same charm as El Morro, although it was very close to the Continental Divide, which I found fascinating. We did see some huge lava tubes, we did take a short hike of a few hundred yards, but the flat lava plain just didn't thrill my kids that much. I convinced them to drive around and see a great arch, and they kind of liked that. But they were pleased to be done, and the drive north and east to Albuquerque was quiet. We stayed in a very nice hotel, one with a pool that we used a lot; there was a kitchenette and a lounge in our suite that the kids found a good place to relax.
But we didn't have time to relax! We have more sites to see! So the next morning we headed off to Petroglyph National Monument, and boy, we thought Arizona was ugly? Petroglyph reminded us of home. Lava rocks spattered one atop another, sparse vegetation growing between the cracks, a hot dry wind blowing off my shoulder ... Petroglyph was a stamp. And I got it. And we were done. Well, not entirely true, because at the visitor center they happened to have a wolf-dog in attendance, and for the kids that was the highlight of the site. We left pretty quickly, though, after Luke bought a stuffed animal at the gift store, and made our way to Santa Fe. Now, that drive was nice. The clouds came in again, I thought it was going to rain, but it never did. It's really a short drive between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and we were in our hotel in no time, relaxing the rest of the evening. We did drive around Santa Fe, and it's a charming city, for the most part. The unfortunate thing for me is that it's not laid out on a grid. I'm from Phoenix. I like my streets to intersect at right angles, thank you very much.
The next morning we got up bright and early and drove north and west, past the nuclear research area, to Bandelier National Monument. It was a nice place, with a little stream running through, and we took the easy trail around to see the caves and dwellings where Ancestral Puebloans lived hundreds of years ago. It was at Bandelier that we began to see signs of bottle-balancing. Strange. I know. But we couldn't wait, because although it was getting warm, we had another site to see. On to Pecos National Historical Park, on the other side of Santa Fe! Once again, the weather cooperated, and clouds rolled in for the afternoon. I liked Pecos, for the colors, and for the combination of Ancestral Puebloan ruins, the Catholic Church ruins, and the ruts of the Santa Fe trail. We went back to Santa Fe that evening and drove around again. The downtown, or maybe the old downtown, was very interesting.
We were now heading into the final phase of the trip. We packed up the next morning and drove north and west, to the town of Aztec, close to Farmington. By necessity, we had to drive past Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Although I would have loved to see it, I understood the road was mostly dirt, and my lovely wife was not thrilled about going 40 miles on a possible washboard. So Chaco will wait for another day. Aztec, however, was a good town, and a worthy alternative. I liked how Aztec Ruins was right inside the town; it made it easy to find. My family was getting a serious case of Ancestral Puebloan burnout by this time, so a couple of them simply stayed in the visitor center and watched the movie while the rest of us wandered around the site. The highlight of Aztec Ruins is, by far, the reconstructed Great Kiva. It's huge. There was a Ranger inside who answered all our questions, as we gazed around in wonder. That alone was worth making the trip. That, and the stamp. Oh, and we also saw what I think were original ruts from the Old Spanish National Historic Trail.
A night in Aztec, and in the morning we were off to Colorado! On the way to Mesa Verde we went through Durango, which seemed to be a true mountain town. Back when I was 4 or 6, my parents took us on the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge train, and I remember it well. I especially remember the music we heard one night after a barbeque dinner -- four cowboys sat around singing cowboy songs, and we bought their album and took it home. I must have played it 100 times over the next couple of years. "Cool, Clear Water" is a song I still remember, along with "Get Along, Little Dogies (Kip-E-Yi Yi-Yay)". There was even one about a cowboy kissing a cowgirl, and how they were each missing several teeth, so the kiss resulted in toothlock.
How did I get off on this tangent? On to Mesa Verde! Which, unfortunately, was not the last in a long line of cliff-dwelling Ancestral Puebloan sites. We walked down to see the Spruce Tree House, very nice but very crowded, then we drove around to look at others from across the canyon. Fine and dandy. The kids were done, and I wasn't expecially thrilled either. After a few stops, one for lunch by the side of the road, others so I could get pictures of pithouses, we were on our way. But were we done? No sir we were not, because I had discovered something wonderful -- a stamp for Yucca House at the Mesa Verde visitor center. My lovely wife took one look at my shining face, sighed, asked how far away it was, and said why not. So off we drove, through Cortez, through farmland, on dirt roads turning hither and yon, and before we knew it we were at unexcavated Yucca House. It was strange parking next to someone's barn while they washed a truck, waving, and walking off to see some rubble mounds. But I got over it. I got the pictures, I already had the stamp, I was good. We spent the night in Farmington again, then headed home the next day, weary but exultant. Well, I was exultant, anyway.
So that's it, as of early summer 2009. Yep, that's right, I glossed right over 2008, because in 2008 nothing NPS-worthy happened. The kids are growing, there's camp and after-school jobs and well life just happened and National Park sites didn't. But that's okay, I'm sure we'll make a trip soon to northern California again, and if I can't wrangle a stop at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, I don't maintain a website named Corbitt's National Parks!