Redwood National & State Parks


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Redwood National Park is unique in that it is a spread out confederation of state parks along the Northern California coast. It was established to protect not only the giant redwoods, but prairies, rivers and coastline.


In order to experience as much of the park as possible, we stayed in the White Rock Resort, just south of the Oregon Border, for a few days. What a wonderful, homey cabin, right on the Pacific! It was the perfect jumping off point for our daily activities. We had cabin 9  with an ocean view and our cousins were in the cabin next door. The freshly baked bread in the bread maker when we arrived was such a nice touch. The kids slept upstairs in the loft and were kept occupied with the TV and movie library up there. We all enjoyed the hot tub on the deck… Glorious! We went for a walk on the beach each morning.

For our first day in the park we took an awesome 1/2 day kayaking tour through  the Redwoods with Redwood Rides

Our group is not the most physically fit, so this was the perfect excursion for us. We met the Redwood Rides van by the Chevron station and were driven upstream so we could paddle with the current. Our excellent guide showed us how to paddle more efficiently, how to navigate the small rapids and no one capsized!
Our guide spoke about the surrounding geology and nature as we enjoyed this serene and scenic journey. No motorboats are allowed on the Smith River, so it really was peaceful. We encountered only a handful of people swimming, fishing, and tubing along the way.

Mid-way into the ride, we pulled up to a beach and took a short walk with the guide into the Stout Grove of redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. He was so knowledgeable about these trees and wow, are they amazing! Pictures can’t do this place justice (especially since all I had with me was a waterproof point and shoot.) It’s amazing to walk among some of the world’s oldest living things. And there weren’t throngs of tourists here as we have seen in Muir Woods, so it was peaceful.
I highly recommend Redwood Rides… They made this the most rewarding experience of our vacation. You will be sore, you will get wet (waterproof cameras only and wear river sandals) but you will have fun and learn a thing or two.

Day4-IMG_5833The next day, when our sore muscles had somewhat recovered, we drove to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (under joint operation with the NPS.) We went into the visitor center, got the pin I collect from every park we visit and got our bearings for our hike. We intended to take the Prairie Creek trail and loop back on Cathedral, but a mile down prairie creek trail it became too much for our disabled cousin and we turned back. This is a flat wide trail, so don’t be discouraged… Most can easily make it. The part that we did walk was beautiful with many big trees (though not the official ‘Big Tree’) a couple of bridges, a cut out in a fallen tree to walk through, the creek and myriad photo opportunities. We encountered maybe three other families along the way, having the park to ourselves most of the time.


While in the area, we also visited the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. This light is only accessible at low tide. It is continuously staffed by a different couple in residence each month.
We did have to wait a bit to get in as they can only take 8 people at a time. They have the tour organized so that one group gets in as the previous group moves to the next room of the tour. Well worth the suggested donation of $3 per adult, the tour lasts about 45 minutes, culminating with a visit to the tower.

Location: Humboldt & Del Norte Counties, California

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 8/27/1969

Date of my visit: August 2016




Big Cypress National Preserve


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We stopped at Big Cypress National Preserve on our way to Orlando after spending the morning at the Gulf Coast side of Everglades National Park.


First we stopped at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, got my pins and walked out on their boardwalk to see if we could spot manatees. They weren’t there. so we drove about a half-hour further down Tamiami Trail to the Oasis Visitor Center.

At this visitor center, we learned about the rare Florida panther and in the swamp in front of the center, we saw more alligators than we’d seen all morning in the Everglades. And some turtles too!

Location: 52105 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141

Designation: National Preserve

Date NPS designation declared: 10/04/1974

Date of my visit: April 2016


SOL National Monument: Ellis Island

The Great Hall/Registry Room in the Museum of Immigration


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Ellis Island is a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, but is its own island with its own history and worthy of separate exploration. Twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island for over 60 years starting in 1892.

IMG_4842When you buy a ticket on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, it includes a stop at Ellis Island. Most folks just stay on the boat, itching to get to the main attraction. Lady Liberty is inspirational, the symbol of our collective hopes and dreams. But there is something pretty awesome about walking the halls where our ancestors first set foot on American soil.

IMG_4830I have been here several times before. The first time, a friend sneaked me aboard a park ranger boat so I could see the main building, still under renovation at the time, before it was open to the public.

Thirty years later, I was back with a photography group and signed up for the hard hat tour of the south side of the island. After a quick run through the Museum of Immigration, I met up with the group at the back of the park where a guide took us through the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. These buildings housed the quarantined arrivals. They are in bad repair…poison ivy and decay have reclaimed much of the structures. A private organization is raising funds to preserve as much as they can.

On many of the surfaces French artist JR has installed (in conjunction with the Save Ellis Island group) black and white murals of immigrants derived from photos of the period. They are life-size and lend an eerie, haunted feeling to the place.

Location: Jersey City & New York City

Designation: National Monument

Date NPS designation declared: 5/11/1965

Date of my visit: 5/15/2016


Bryce Canyon National Park


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Before we ever set foot in Utah, I realized that Bryce Canyon National Park , famous for its rock formations called hoodoos, deserved far more time than we’d alotted on our initial plans. But how to fit in everything and still be back in the Northeast for Greek Easter (lest we incur the wrath of Yia-yia?) I inquired on switching our last Zion Lodge night to Bryce Lodge, but alas, they were already booked up. So we made the most of it and spent an action packed day traveling from Zion to Capitol Reef. Here are the stops we were able to make inside Bryce NP in about 4 hours:
Bryce Canyon Visitors Center
A typical NPS visitors center with restrooms, gift shop and interprative displays. We dashed inside to check maps, get the pin I insist on collecting from every park we visit, fill our water bottle and peruse a display of Native American history and hoodoo ghost stories.
Canyon Trail Rides: 2 hour trail ride

Since we knew we had limited time to explore Bryce, we had booked in advance the two hour AM horse-back ride into the canyon.
None of us were experienced riders and were feeling some trepidation…how do I get up in the saddle, how do I steer, what if I drive my horse off the cliff?? We needn’t have worried. The horses (and some mules) know the route and the staff helped us the whole way. My horse was Peanut and he was sweet and surefooted.
It was a little scary when we first came over the ridge and looked down into the canyon. But the scenery was so beautiful and the horses so calm, that our fears quickly evaporated.
The guide kept us entertained with information about the canyon and cheesy cowboy humor.
You can’t bring a backpack or anything except a small camera (which I recommend you hang around your neck ) but they have a small shed for people to leave their belongings.

Bryce Canyon Lodge Dining Room

We had lunch in the lodge dining room after taking the morning trail ride into the canyon. The place is pretty laid back and casual…no one seemed to mind that we were dusty from riding horses..but with the classic elegance of a historic park lodge.
I had the elk chili (just the right amount of heat, very tasty) and we also had the chicken noodle soup (fresh, nice big pieces of chicken) and the bison burger.
Waitress was cheerful, service was efficient and we were on our way to our next adventure in good time.


Sunset Point

The view from the point is stunning, but my husband didn’t get to see it because he let us out to go see it and then circled the lot for a long time, hoping in vain for a parking spot to open up.

My daughter and I walked along the rim trail and took some photos. There is a trail down into the canyon there too. You’d need to get there early in the morning to beat the crowds, I guess. We were there too early in the season for the shuttle bus…it wasn’t running yet.  That would be a much less stressful way to get around the park.

Bryce Point

A short hike out onto an observation platform and you can pretty much see 360 degree views of the whole park.
It’s difficult to find parking in the small lot at the trailhead and rangers were ticketing improperly parked vehicles, so we did have to wait a bit before a spot opened up. But it wasn’t as bad as the lot at Sunset Point, and we did eventually get a spot so we could all enjoy the awesome scenery.

Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT-63, Bryce, UT 84764

Designation: National Park

Date NPS designation declared: 2/25/1928

Date of my visit: 4/12/2017



Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area


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The Columbia River Gorge NSA is managed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. We knew we had to see the famous waterfalls while we were in Oregon and we decided to tour the gorge with Sea to Summit tours. We met our guide Shahn by Pioneer Square in Portland and loaded into a comfortable minibus for our full day tour.
Shahn drove us along the Historic Columbia River Highway stopping at numerous waterfalls, vista point, a dam and salmon ladder, an orchard and other picturesque places, culminating with a stop at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Shahn kept us entertained during drive time and at each stop with the history of the places we saw and advising the best places for photos, snacks, etc… We never would have fit all of this into one day if we’d tried to do it on our own, and my husband would have been cranky from all the driving and trying to find parking. I highly recommend seeing the area with Sea to Summit.

Day9-IMG_6369Vista House: Our first stop was the Vista House at Crown Point. This historic landmark observatory was built in 1916 and has views up and down the Columbia River from its perch on the Cliff.

0Day9-IMG_6376Latourell Falls: The first waterfall we stopped at was Latourell Falls. There is an easy path from the parking lot to the base of the falls. It was here that I discovered that I’d packed the wrong foot for my tripod, so no pretty long exposure waterfall pics for me.  And I felt pretty foolish having lugged the heavy thing across the country and up and down the pacific northwest for no good reason.

0Day9-IMG_6393Multnomah Falls: The most visited tourist attraction in Oregon, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state and proclaims itself to be the second tallest in the US. We walked up the path to the bridge over the lower tier and explored the small museum in the historic lodge0Day9-IMG_6433

Horsetail Falls: This skinny waterfall, resembling a horse’s tail is only a few steps away from the parking lot. We jumped out, snapped a few photos and moved on to the next stop.

0Day9-IMG_6449Bonneville Lock and Dam: This Dam on the Columbia River is managed by the US Army. The visitor center has some interesting displays and an underwater viewing area of the salmon bypassing the Dam via the salmon ladder. We stood outside for a while watching the salmon jump up the ladder (and the birds of prey swooping in for an easy lunch.)0Day9-IMG_6454


Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

IMG_8676Location: 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 84741

Designation: National Monument

Date NPS designation declared: 9/18/1996

Date of my visit: 4/12/2017

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At the time of our visit, this monument covered a vast 1.8 million acres of the geological ‘staircase’ which has its bottom step in the Grand Canyon in Arizona and its top step in Bryce Canyon, Utah. In December 2017, Trump reduced the size of this monument by 47%. The Sierra Club and other conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the president’s authority to undo monuments declared by other presidents under the antiquities act.

Aside from its size, this National Monument also differes from most of the others in that it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. What we saw of this park was from our drive on Route 12, a Scenic Byway, and various roadside stops between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef.

IMG_8572Red Canyon Tunnels: We actually stopped for this Scenic Byway 12 placard and photo opp just before entering Bryce Canyon. These tunnels were carved through the red rock to create the road to the new ‘Utah National Park’, Later named Bryce Canyon. They were referred to as the Gateway to Fairyland.



Powell Point: Upon leaving Bryce Canyon, we stopped at the Grand Escalante visitor center in Cannonville, but it was not yet open for the season. So we continued along Route 12 until we found a promising rest stop, which turned out to be Powell Point. In 1871 this was the last uncharted land in the continental US and the second Powell Expedition set out to put it on the map. From this point, you can see the topmost layer of the Colorado Plateau, the pink cliffs.



Escalante Petrified Forest: It was getting to be late in the afternoon when we reached the town of Escalante, so we could choose to go to the visitor center and get my pin or opt outdoors. We chose the Escalante Petrified Forest. It was $8 for the car load (part of Utah’s great State Park system.) We hiked a short, but very steep trail to the top of a butte or mesa. At the top, there were pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout and nice views of a lake or reservoir nearby. We hadn’t taken the time to read the explanation of how the trees turned to stone before going up because we really needed to stretch our legs. My daughter was fascinated by it, so we had to stop by the displays on


IMG_8671the way back down to read all about it. A nice one hour edutainment stop! Tip: Bring lots of water…it was only April, but this may have been the hottest hike we took in Utah.

Hell’s Backbone Grill: I’d reserved us a table by e-mail long before we left for this trip and boy was I glad I did. We got there right as the restaurant opened and there was already a line of people waiting to see if they could get in without reservations. This was the best dining experience of our entire Utah trip. We made reservations and stopped here for dinner on our way from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef. We got there right when they opened for dinner and we were glad we had reservations because there was a line of people waiting to get in.
The two ladies who own this cafe are wonderful. Both of them stopped by during the course of our meal to see how we were doing…we just really got a great vibe being in this cheery, fun atmosphere.
The food is locally sourced, organic and prepared to perfection. We had a steak, spicy mac and cheese (pure comfort) and lamb meatballs. We should have shared a dessert because the three of us could not finish two we ordered: lemon poppyseed bread pudding and a sinful pot of chocolate. YUM





Golden Gate NRA: Lands End

Location: 680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date NPS designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: August 30, 2017


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I got off the plane in SFO, picked up my rental car and my cousins and drove us to the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center near the historic Cliff House. This center wasn’t here on my previous visits to the bay area and is one of the newer additions to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

We had lunch in the Lookout Cafe attached to the NPS visitor center. They had some nice sandwiches, tuna and pasta salads to choose from as well as organic teas. We ate standing at the bar near the window for fear of being attacked by the birds outside. We stopped in the visitor’s center to peruse the displays, get my pin and then we walked the trail from the Sutro Baths to Land’s End

This is an easy trail along the coast with great views of the Golden Gate bridge, sailboats, marine life, etc…a perfect place to get my Pacific Ocean fix. I never realize how much I miss it until I’m standing on a bluff with wind in my hair and the smell of the sea in the air.

You can almost forget you’re within city limits except for the litter and graffiti here and there. Also, beware of leaving valuables visible in your car…there are signs posted in the lot warning of frequent break-ins.

You can make out part of the Sutro Bath ruins on the lower left hand side of this photo.