Muir Woods National Monument

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

Muir Woods National Monument is an old-growth coastal redwood forest and is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 12 miles north of San Francisco. Being the most accessible redwood grove to tourists visiting San Francisco, it is insanely popular.

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Because the crowding and traffic up the narrow, winding mountain roads were becoming unmanageable, the NPS has recently implemented a policy that requires all visitors to either reserve a paid parking space in advance or buy a ticket on a shuttle bus (also reserved in advance.)

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The last time we visited Muir Woods was 2012 and it was definitely busier than it had been on any of my previous visits. We had to park on the road quite far from the visitor center and hike in, hoping no one would hit our car while we were gone. (Did I mention the roads are narrow? And winding?)

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But once we got past the throngs at the entrance, we enjoyed a peaceful walk on the loop trail, past Redwood Creek and through the awesome Cathedral Grove. The loop trail is level, easy and a great way to experience these magnificent giants.

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We’d picked up a junior ranger booklet and helped my daughter fill it out as we followed the trail. It was a sort of scavenger hunt to figure out a code to unlock the junior ranger box back at the visitor center and get the ‘badge’…really just a lame sticker, no ‘swearing-in’ ceremony with a ranger like at other parks. There are just too many visitors here for that, but I thought the scavenger hunt was a unique alternative.

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The woods were shrouded in fog as we began, typical due to the proximity of Muir Woods to the ocean. It lifted at some point on our hike back.

Muir Woods was saved from destruction by William Kent, a US Congressmen in the early 1900s. In order to save the last Redwood Groves in the area from being cut down by the logging industry, he purchased the land. When a water company took him to court because they wanted to build a dam on Redwood Creek, he donated the land to the federal government on the condition that they protect it and name the new monument after John Muir, the naturalist.

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Interesting fact: the remade Planet of the Apes movies were partially set in Muir Woods (that’s where the evolved apes make their new home at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) but those scenes were mostly shot in British Columbia. The monument does make a cameo or two, though.

So, bottom line…If you are planning on exploring the Marin County side of the bay, do incorporate Muir Woods into your plans. But advance planning is required because of the new reservation policy and this park should not be your ultimate destination for visisting a redwood grove in California.

We have seen groves in Redwoods National Park in the far north of the state and in State Parks south of the Bay Area….all of them were far more peaceful and immersive experiences than getting to and walking through Muir Woods.

That said, Muir Woods was where I saw my first AMAZING giant redwood back in the 80s, and for some it might be their only chance to see one…if that is the case, you can’t miss a visit to Muir Woods.

Location: 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Designation: National Monument

Date designation declared: January 9, 1908

Date of my visit: 8/11/2012

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Portland: Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.
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The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum operates out of the former Portland Company Marine Complex, which built railroad equipment from 1846 to 1978.
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The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company is a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1992, whose mission is to preserve the history of the 2 ft narrow gauge railways that ran in the state of Maine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Carrying both passengers and freight, these railways served the smaller communities in Maine, connecting with the full size lines in cities like Portland.
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There is a 1½ mile long railroad that runs along the waterfront of Casco Bay and parallels Portland’s Eastern Promenade. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad company runs rides on these tracks in their restored train cars. In the winter, they run the Polar Express here.
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We arrived just in time to take the short ride down the tracks. At the end of the line, the conductor stopped the train and let us off to peer over the barrier at the abandoned rail bridge.
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When we returned to the museum, we explored the other trains and artifacts inside the building. Sheldon Cooper and little kids who love trains would really enjoy this place. Our group isn’t really into trains, but we still had fun at this stop.
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You can see my other Portland posts by clicking: Portland Observatory, Portland Head Light, and Casco Bay National Estuary.

Location: 58 Fore St, Portland, Maine

Designation: Museum

Date designation declared: 1800s railway, 1993 museum

Date of my visit: 8/18/2015

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Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area: Boston Light

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We were scheduled to be in Boston for a long weekend and so I checked the National Park Service website to see what park units we could visit while there. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that the NPS run tours out to some of the islands in Boston Harbor!
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We chose the Boston Light tour out to Little Brewster island. The Boston Lighthouse was built in 1716, which makes it the oldest working light in the United States…over 300 years old. It was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War and subsequently destroyed by the Patriots.

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Since the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1783, it is not the oldest US lighthouse…that honor goes to the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey. In 1989, the Senate passed a law requiring that Boston Light always be manned. The NPS maintains the Light in cooperation with the Coast Guard, though the actual beacon is automated now.
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We met the park rangers at the visitors center kiosk in town, near the carousel and Quincy Market. They led our group to a boat docked behind the aquarium.
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The ride through the harbor to Little Brewster took about 45 minutes. One of the rangers talked about the history of the various islands during our journey. Along the way, we passed a fort from revolutionary war days, the Long Island Light and other sights. We had fantastic views of Boston as we pulled away.

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When we arrived at Little Brewster Island, Sally, the light-keeper greeted us, dressed in colonial-era attire. Sally is the 70th keeper of Boston Light…and the first woman in the role in its long history. She and her coast guard husband live alone out on that isolated island!
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Sally, her husband and the rangers each led the tour through the various stations on the island.

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We climbed the steps inside the lighthouse for a close-up look at the inner workings and the view from the top.

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We explored tide pools below the keeper’s house and  a cistern that provides the light keeper’s house with collected rain water.
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Some tips…there is no shade on the island. Wear sunscreen, a hat, bring water. There is no public restroom on the island and the boat does not stay docked while you tour the island…use the boat’s facilities on the journey.

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Location: Boston, MA

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 11/12/1996

Date of my visit: 7/17/2015

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This abandoned lighthouse is visible from Little Brewster Island
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Airplane landing at Logan as we cruise out of the harbor
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Passing by the Long Island Light on our way to Little Brewster
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Exploring Little Brewster Island
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Sally’s garden

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Montezuma Castle National Monument

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Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

We stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument to break up a long travel day. We’d flown into Phoenix from the New York area, stopped for a quick flight of bacon at the Oink Cafe, and then hit the road for the four hour drive to Page.

After about 90 minutes of driving, we took the exit for the Montezuma Castle visitor center, desperately needing to stretch our legs.

Montezuma Castle National Monument protects a set of well-preserved dwellings in Camp Verde, Arizona which were built and used by the Sinagua people around 1100 AD.

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It cost $5 per adult to get in (this has since doubled)…we didn’t mind paying it to help preserve this treasure. We enjoyed the pleasant 1/3 mile loop where we read some of the interpretive displays. And then we turned the bend and saw the amazing castle high up on the cliff walls.

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This was one of the first National Monuments designated under the antiquities act. Access to the interior of the structure was discontinued in the fifties due to safety issues, but you can still see a virtual tour of the inside on the park website.

Location: Montezuma Castle Rd, Camp Verde, AZ

Designation: National Monument

Date designation declared: 12/8/1906

Date of my visit: August 2014

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Glacier National Park: Two Medicine Lake

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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We spent our first day in Glacier National Park exploring the Two Medicine area. After our Aster Falls hike, we headed down to Two Medicine Lake for our ride with the Glacier Park Boat Company.

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Two Medicine got its name from the Blackfeet Indians. Each year, the clan seer would have a vision quest to determine where the tribe should build its ceremonial medicine lodge. One year, two seers from separate clans had visions of the same place which became known as Two Medicine Lodge (later shortened to Two Medicine.)

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We boarded the Sinopah, a 92-year-old enclosed wooden boat which has been cruising Two Medicine Lake from the park’s beginnings. Built in 1926 for the Great Northern Railway’s tourism company, it was named after the daughter of Blackfeet chief Lone Walker. Sinopah is also the name of one of the mountains towering over Two Medicine Lake.

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On our 20 minute ride to the other side, naturalist Hailey named the mountains we were passing and shared the tribal folklore behind some of the names. She told us that there are no glaciers on the Two Medicine side of Glacier National Park, even though we could see large snow fields that appeared to be glaciers. To be considered a glacier, it must be 25 square acres, 100 feet tall and show some signs of movement.

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We docked at the Twin Falls trailhead and hiked it with our boat captain/naturalist Nathan. We rode the 3:00 boat back, this time with Nathan providing commentary (along with some groan-worthy jokes) and Hailey driving. As we approached the general store and other buildings, Nathan pointed out the Swiss-inspired architecture.

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The general store, which carries souvenirs, camping necessities and has a small snack bar, was originally one of the park’s lodges. Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, built most of the lodges like Swiss Chalets because he considered Glacier National Park to be the ‘Alps of America.’ He wanted to encourage wealthy easterners to use his trains to ‘See America First’, rather than voyage to Europe.

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To see my other Glacier NP/Two Medicine Posts, click the following links:

Location: 2 Medicine Rd, East Glacier Park, Mt 59434

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/23/2018

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This is the boat house where the Sinopah spends the icy winters

Grand Canyon National Park: South Kaibab Trail

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

On our third day in the park, we had to rearrange our itinerary a bit. Originally we’d planned to take the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride out of Bright Angel in the morning and then hike a bit in the afternoon. But the previous day, our misguided tour guide had attempted to enthrall our group with spooky tales of mule mishaps in the canyon while driving us from point A to B. Never mind that in the entire history of the mule train, there has been only one related fatality, the 12-year-old was freaked out and hysterical at the thought of us plunging to our untimely deaths on the back of a mule. The concessionary gladly refunded us as there was a long list of people eager to take our places.

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And so we went off to the South Kaibab trailhead first thing in the morning. Private vehicles are not allowed on the road to South Kaibab, so we took the shuttle bus from the visitor center to Yaki point.

When planning our Grand Canyon vacation, we’d agreed that we really wanted to hike into the canyon, at least part of the way. Out of 5 million visitors per year, only 10% venture below the rim. My husband really wanted to hike all the way to the river and back, but I was concerned that my 12-year-old and I might not make it out. Every official website and sign in the park warns against attempting to hike to the river and back in one day. ESPECIALLY in the summer, which is when we visited. The danger of dehydration or heat stroke is real.

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After some research, we’d selected the South Kaibab trail. It is steeper than Bright Angel but has more dramatic vistas. The hike down to Ooh Aah Point (yes, it’s really named that) was an easy one mile descent…we considered going to the next stop, Cedar Ridge. But then I saw how far below Ooh Aah it was and I looked back the way we’d come and saw what looked like an almost vertical cliff that we’d have to climb to get back to the trailhead and decided against continuing on.

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A mule train making its way up the steep switchbacks

The hike back up from Ooh Aah Point was challenging. While it had been cool and comfortable at the top (7k ft elevation), it was considerably hotter inside the canyon. The ascent was so steep, it made our calves burn. We had to rest and drink water frequently, and of course, take pictures. The scenery was fantastic!

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Halfway back up the trail, we had to yield to a mule train. There are signs along the trail reminding you of the proper mule etiquette.

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A little further up, we spotted a large black bird circling and coming in for a landing. I got out the telephoto and saw that it was a rare California Condor with a tag number. Condors had been nearly extinct in the wild in the 80s and the US Fish and Wildlife Service started breeding them and reintroducing them into the wild in the 90s. At the time of our visit, there were approximately 70 living in the Grand Canyon. We showed the photo to a ranger in the visitor center on our return and he identified her as an 8-year-old female who had spent time recovering from lead poisoning.

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A rare California Condor circles overhead
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California Condor #9

Back up at the trailhead, we visited the mule corral. They were beautiful, friendly and not scary at all. Maybe we didn’t get to ride them this trip, but we did make friends with them. And the change in plans turned out for the best as it would have been too hot to hike into the canyon in the afternoon. And we got to explore the Western edge of the park later that day. My post on that Hermit’s Rest trip can be found here. And my post on Bright Angel is here.

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Location: Arizona

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 1/11/1908

Date of my visit: 8/21/2014

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Pipe Spring National Monument

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.
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Pipe Spring National Monument is in Northern Arizona, just south of the Utah border. It is a National Park Service gem off the beaten path.  The natural spring made this land home to the Kaibab Paiutes. Mormons, driving cattle from St. George Utah were attracted to the oasis in the 1860s.  A fort called Winsor Castle was erected over the springs in 1872 which was then purchased by Brigham Young for the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
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The fort was never actually used for defensive measures in any battle, but instead became a thriving outpost for Westward travelers and even had its own telegraph. Pipe Springs served as a ranch and dairy farm, shipping fresh cheese and other provisions back to the settlement at St. George.
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The church lost ownership of the Pipe Springs as a penalty to the federal government in 1887 over a dispute involving polygamy.
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We arrived at the monument just in time to take the tour of Winsor Castle. Ranger Julie was a great guide…she taught us a lot about the history of the area, but kept it fun and interesting, even for my teen. The highlight was the cool room in the basement with the spring running through it and the remnants of the cheese-making operation.

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The story of how this area, which was once a rich grassland, gave way to high desert because of over-farming is a sobering tale…and a cautionary one of what could happen if we don’t take better care of the environment.

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After the tour, we hiked the short Ridge trail which starts just to the west of the fort. It’s a short loop, a little over half a mile, that climbs the short ridge behind the fort on a series of long switchbacks. The elevation gain is 130 feet, but it feels steeper in the hot desert sun. It is in the high desert though, so the base is already around 5000 feet.

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The Kaibab Paiute Reservation was created in 1907 and the land surrounding the monument is part of the Reservation. At a few points on the trail, we ran into fencing and signs warning off trespassers from Paiute land.

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The trail then descends down the other side to arrive at the fort, corrals, garden, and orchard. We visited the oxen and horses in the corral and stopped in the gift shop.

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Location: 406 N Pipe Spring Rd, Fredonia, AZ 86022

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/31/1923

Date of my visit: 4/14/2017

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