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.

Zion National Park

IMG_8147Location: Springdale, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date NPS designation declared: 11/19/1919

Date of my visit: April 2017

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After visiting the Northern section of Zion called Kolob Canyons (separate post here) we drove to the Southern entrance to Zion Lodge to explore the main part of the park.

We spent 3 nights in Zion Lodge and so were able to experience a lot here. Staying inside the park meant we were able to get most places quickly via the shuttle system or on foot. We had motel rooms in the Watchman building. The rooms were very comfortable with king size bed, TV and quiet ac unit. We had a private balcony with red rock views and rocking chairs. Vanity separate from the bathroom. There is a common area with a fireplace and board games where families can spend time together.
Everything was clean and in good condition. It’s no luxury resort but the convenience of being right in the park can’t be beat. There are long lines of cars during the day waiting to get into the park because the NPS hasn’t figured out how to make one lane for people who already have the park pass and another for those who need to purchase one. And this park is becoming increasingly popular…it just isn’t equipped for the droves of visitors flocking to the famous hiking trails and beautiful canyon.

IMG_8163Lower Emerald Pool Hike

We hiked to lower emerald pool our first evening in the park. The trail is paved and easy and leads to a trickle of a waterfall (which you can walk under) spilling into a bright green pool. Because it’s across from the lodge, everyone takes this trail. It was difficult to enjoy nature with hordes of rowdy, obnoxious tourists.

Zion Adventure Company

IMG_0046We headed into Springdale early morning on our second day to try out canyoneering. We opted for the half day family Canyoneering trip. Because there were only three of us, they asked if we could pair up with a mother-daughter team which worked out great since they were similar in age and ability to me and my daughter. Our guide, Chad, drove us through some undeveloped areas of Zion to a slot canyon just outside park boundaries (rope work is not allowed within the confines of the park.) Chad was excellent and so patient, helping us rappel, climb and squeeze through the canyon.
Most of us were not in top physical condition, but Chad made it easy for us to accomplish what we’d thought was impossible going in. He took pics throughout and sent us the jpegs in email soon after our tour finished.
This was a great bonding experience for us.

IMG_8261Hidden Canyon Trail

We asked Chad to suggest a good afternoon activity in the park that wasn’t as crowded as the Emerald Pools. He suggested the Hidden Canyon Trail hike.
This hike starts at the trailhead to the more ambitious Observation Point, but then splits off to the right. It is fairly strenuous going up, with switchbacks, so just take it slow and enjoy the view. It’s not a very long trail, maybe a mile each way. Near the top, it becomes a rocky path with chains bolted into the cliff for climbers to hold onto. My teen and I stopped at this point, while my husband continued on to the end and Hidden Canyon. He says this part is not as daunting as it seems because the walk is banked in towards the cliff wall and the chains…not as scary or as crowded as Angel’s landing.

IMG_8419Scout Lookout/Angel’s Landing

We started the hike to Angel’s Landing at 8 AM on our third day in the park. After a brief pleasant flat stretch along the river, we began to ascend. For those of us not in great shape, we had to take frequent breaks to catch our breath. The higher up we got, the more beautiful the view.
When we got up through the tight switchbacks called Walters Wiggles, we came to an IMG_8445open area called Scout Lookout with gorgeous views and plenty of places to rest. Only my husband made it the final half mile to Angel’s Landing. This stretch is a steep scramble over rocks and a narrow ridge with chains set in the ground to hold onto. My teen attempted it, but quickly turned around when she realized that everyone had to use the same chain…going up or down. With so many people on the trail, it was more than a little chaotic and scary. It took my husband over an hour to come back because of having to wait for people to come up before going down. Several people have died falling off the ridge, the most recent is a 13-year-old girl a few months ago. I’m really glad my daughter stayed with me and took photos from the safety of Scout Lookout.
The views from Scout’s Lookout were stunning, so I didn’t regret not finishing the hike.

IMG_8552Pa’Rus Trail

We were exhausted from that strenuous hike to Angel’s Landing, so after lunch, we rode the shuttle to the visitors center and picked up the Pa’Rus trail there. It winds through campgrounds at first and then by the Virgin River. There are several river access points along the way if you want to get right down by the river. The water was really high and fast during our visit, which caused the NPS to shut down the park’s other epic hike, The Narrows (part of which must be hiked IN the river.)
As you near the end of this trail, you need to look downstream for the iconic view of the Watchman towering over the river. The trail ends close to another shuttle stop, which we hopped on back to the lodge.
For being an easy trail, I was surprised by how peaceful it was. We only encountered a few cyclists and pedestrians along the way.


Red Rock Grill: We ate here twice during our stay at the Zion Lodge. With days chock full of physical activity, we simply could not muster the energy to drive into town for dinner.
The ambience here is not as stuffy as some of the other Nps historic lodges. We went in our hiking clothes, no problem.
The food is ‘clean’ and is ok. Nothing spectacular, but nice. We had the pork chop, bison meatloaf, sirloin and bison burger. All well prepared and prices what you would expect inside a national park.
They have a nice seating area outside too.

Castle Dome Cafe: We came down from the Angel’s Landing hike hungry. We just beat bus loads of people arriving at the cafe so we didn’t have to wait too long. Burgers were ok, fries were decent and we had some mango smoothies from the ice cream stand. Sat at a table on the patio under the red rocks

Spotted Dog Cafe: Nice local restaurant, we reserved via open table. Lovely server. Red Rock views. Nice decor. We were grubby from hiking in the park, but it didn’t matter. It says casual dining right on the door.
I had pasta purses filled with pear and ricotta in a butter sage sauce…heavenly! We also had the NY strip with parmesan fries. Those fries were very tasty. The Panna Cotta with strawberries and balsamic glaze for dessert…delicious. Prices were fair for the experience we had.

Cafe Soleil: Stopped at this cute little cafe for lunch after a morning of canyoneering. We were starving and Cafe Soleil did not disappoint. They have a vast selection of tea which I appreciated.
We had the chicken pesto Panini, California blt, and chicken pepperoni panini. All served with a nice bag of chips, a slice of melon, and a smile. We were in and out of there pretty quick so we could get on with our day.