32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience!

When’s the last time you visited a National Park?

Did you know there’s 60 of National Parks; at least one in every state? That’s ‘just’ the National Parks since 1916! There’s also countless National Monuments, Historic Landmarks, Battlefields, Military Parks, Seashores, Lakes and Rivers. They’ve grown to epic numbers of visitors. It’s fairly inexpensive, fun and a great way to get in touch with nature and the wild. At the same time, it’s a great way to learn about our Country’s history, geography and geology. Are you ready for your amazing experience?

Continue reading “32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience!”

Hiking Tips and Advice for Beginners

Wander…Explore…Discover…Imagine…HIKE!!

One of our favorite things to do in our RV adventures is search for good day hikes near new destinations!  As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons we choose for destinations.  Most of them are in National Parks and State Parks, but others, we find either by driving or location research (i.e. word of mouth, Google, fellow like-minded RVers, etc.).

 

Petrified Forest National Park & Painted Desert

This is one of those ‘less visited’ National Parks that deserves a lot more attention and praise.  As with any of the others, Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert displays the most intriguing beauty where there is no other like it.

 

I remember as a young teenager, my mother, brother and I boarded a Greyhound bus from Erie, PA to trek across America destined for San Diego, California (Coronado really).  This was my first experience with petrified wood as I picked up a small 4″ x 3″ piece in a souvenir store as a momento of our trip.  However, we came no where close to the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert.

Anyways, we parked Liberty for a couple nights in Holbrook, Arizona knowing this was one of the things we wanted to do while there…this and to go “Stand on the Corner of Winslow, Arizona”.

As always like the others, the night before visiting this National Park, we did a little Googling prior to plan our day. We researched what to expect and how to prepare ourselves for the elements (ie. weather, terrain, food/water availability, etc.).

The next morning, we took our showers, had breakfast, packed a cooler lunch, grabbed our hiking gear and patted our fuzzyheads on the heads telling them we’d be back later.

Entrance to the Park…

 

 

Once we got to the entrance, Dan pulled out his National Park Access Pass and the Park Ranger gave us our information packet, smiled huge and sent us on our way.

 

 
We posted our first stop at the Visitor’s Center to obtain more info, see where the best trails are, points of interest, etc.  We also like pick up a few post cards that I usually send out…a year later.  Most importantly, we get our National Park Passport stamped.

 

Our adventure began…

The first exhibit wasn’t very far up the road; this is the beginning of the Painted Desert.  The Painted Desert is a desert of badlands in the Four Corners area from close to the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park.  Before we knew it, we were looking down into a massive bowl of colorfully layered sandstone and it seemed there were miles and miles of it.  We felt so tiny in comparison to the vastness of the landscape.

The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, that not only include the more common red rock, but even shades of pale purple.

 
Off topic, isn’t it scary when you hand your camera over to someone, praying they get a good photo?  Well, this one did well, didn’t they?  I’m always leary of that. I really should master using my selfie stick.

 

 

Our next stop, we happened upon the Painted Desert Inn; originally constructed of petrified wood; dated back to the early 1920’s and renovated a decade later with adobe facade.  The inn is now a museum with displays of Route 66, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the history of the building.  There were also a few local featured artists showcasing their handcrafts and art.

 
We hopped back in Captain America to drive to our next stop…

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs

 
Unfortunately, it was difficult to see them. We didn’t have our binoculars with us so, I used my DSLR Camera zoom lens instead to find them.  If you click on each photo and then enlarge, you can see them.  Or, you can trust me in telling you that they really are there.

 

 
Visitors are prohibited to go down to see them up close as its part of the preservation of the Petroglyphs.

Along the trail, there were placards telling us about habitants, dangers and what lurks on the grounds at night…or even while we were there.

 

We noticed this little guy scamper away at our feet.

 

 

After we finished hiking this trail, we got back into the truck, meandered our way through more of the park and found this spectacular beautiful view!

 

 

 

These wind-carved mounds reminded me of giant, color-layered candy corn…

How they are formed…

The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible shale, mudstone, and  siltstone of the Triassic Chinle Formation. These sandy rock layers contain abundant compounds of iron and manganese which give the mounds layered colors. The mesas are formed by volcanic lava and debris remnants and thin resistant lacustrine limestone layers. Numerous layers of silicic volcanic ash occur in the Chinle and provide the silica for the petrified logs of the area. The erosion of these layers has resulted in the formation of the badlands topography of the region.

So, in layman’s terms, the silica along with the arid climate is what dries the wood causing it to petrify.

 

 

Click on the below photos to learn about what the layers mean…

 

 

There really wasn’t very much vegetation.  Afterall, the Painted Desert is a very barren and unforgiving place for growing green things.  But we did find these little pricklies; some species of the Cholla family.

 

Time was marching on that we had to move on.  So, in Captain America, we go again for our next stop.  I couldn’t help but to keep looking in my side rear view mirror at the beauty behind us.

 

 

And then…BOOM!!!  Our very first glimpse of real petrified wood; just like the small stone-like piece I bought forty-some years prior at that souvenir shop!  The wood was buried in the layers over tens of thousands of years.

 

 

 

 

 

This was only the start of it.  The deeper we went into the forest, the more petrified wood we saw.  We found this ADA (American Disabilities Act) trail that was actually awesome even though it was asphalt paved.

 

We trekked down to the bottom of the bowl and were surrounded by hoodoos, more layers and large sections of petrified wood stumps from trees.  Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rocks that have risen from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland…kind of like a stalagmite in a cave. They are carved by the wind.

 

 

 

 

This was an important sign, and believe me, they watch.  There were Rangers walking the same trails; most likely to watch for thieves. That left me wondering if that piece I bought at the souvenir shop when I was 13 was illegally acquired?  Let’s hope not.  Or maybe it was and that’s why they have these signs now.

 

 

Here’s more samples of our ten thousand photos we took. It was incredibly amazing and I wanted to take them all home with us but well, Liberty has a weight limit and I surely didn’t want to go to the pokey for collecting.  So, these photos will be our memory…

 

 

 

Now interestingly, you’ll notice the wood logs look like they’ve been cut.  Well, read on…

 

 

 

 

Oh, now before we go, we have to show you more of what we learned about the wood.  Long story short, as the wood ‘petrifies’, minerals contaminate the wood causing these beautiful colors and composition. They appear like quartz and the wood is hard as a rock.

 

 

 

 

I would have loved to have this piece.  It was so beautiful and vibrant with colors.

 

 

This Petrified Forest National Park is at the top of our list because, there is no other like it.

 

Sunset was nearing and we needed to get back to Liberty and our fuzzy nomads.  But the memory of this wonderful place will be etched in our memories forever like the petrified wood we just saw!

 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado

 

In the summer of 2015, we relocated from the Air Force Academy Campground to Haggard’s RV Park in Pueblo, Colorado to visit our son who also lived in Pueblo.  While parked there, we also met up with our RV friends, Brittany and Eric (also a Coast Guard Vet) of RV Wanderlust some comraderie and campfires.

 

When our RV friends weren’t working their remote jobs, we’d get together for an outing and vittles.  One morning, we all rose early to drive out to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for some hiking, sightseeing and to get our National Park Passports stamped.

Brittany and Eric gladly agreed to drive if we packed a picnic lunch for the trip.  It was about a three hour drive to the Dunes.

About the Great Sand Dunes…

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is actually quite young; established in 2004. It sprawls some 150,000 acres; across part of Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, a broad and plain between the San Juan Mountains on the west and the Sangre de Cristos on the east. The tallest dune towers over 750 feet.

 

Streams and creeks flowing out of the San Juan Mountains over millennia carried gravel and sand into shallow lakes in the San Luis Valley. During drought periods, these lakes dried, releasing the sand particles to the action of the wind. Strong prevailing southwesterly winds carry the tiny grains toward the Sangre de Cristos, piling them up against the foothills.

 

The resulting dunes are the tallest in North America, covering more than 30 square miles. Adults hike across them and marvel at their beauty; children run and slide down their steep faces, enjoying a playground of fairy-tale proportions.  You can read more about how they formed and their geological natures here.

 

Welcome to the Dunes…

Once we got to the entrance, we stopped for photos because, in our world, it didn’t happen unless there were pictures!

 

After getting parked, we got our passports stamped at the Visitor Center and viewed a video and hands-on informational exhibits.

All four of us headed to the picnic area where we sat down to enjoy some fellowship while chowing down on our cooler full of vittles. We were blessed with beautiful weather too.

After packing up leftover crumbs of our lunch, we all trekked out to the base of the Dunes and climbed up the first that led to the rest of them.

 

Our exciting adventure…

It was already a very warm day so it seemed like it was a little more work but that didn’t stop Dan and Brittany from doing the inevitable; climbing to the top of the dunes.  Being that Eric has bad knees and I have knee and back issues, we hung out at the top of the smallest dune to watch Brittany and Dan challenge themselves.Now remember, we were already 6000′ above sea level, so this was a bit more challenging than just taking a stroll up a 750′ hill, not to mention, it was loose sand. The kind that gets-in-your-shoes-sand.

While Eric and I stood there chatting for what seemed forever (because we stood there in the heat for all of it), Brittany and Dan disappeared over the crest of the first dune. They looked like little ants the further they hiked.  We’d see them again and then loose them doing down another…and another…and another.

Brittany’s words upon their return, ‘it was quite exerting; one step forward, three steps back and doing it at higher altitude, we just couldn’t catch our breath’.

Dan said they had to stop often to empty their shoes which weighted them down.  Traipsing through loose sand, Eric and I could only imagine how much work that would be.  Adding to that, it was a very warm day; about 85 degrees.

A few times, we’d see one of them, bend over in the distance during their climb and stop for awhile.  They said they were offered water by some passerby’s (hikers that were faster and more in shape as them?!).  Then we’d see them start up again.

The finish line…

An hour and a half later, they successfully made it to the top and another hour and a half after that, they came back tired, weary but celebrated.  They were red-faced and a bit dehydrated so Eric and I sacrificed our own water bottles to get them back to looking a normal color.  But LOOK at them!!

It was a fun day trip with great friends!  A little ‘RV Family Bonding’ is what we call it.  Dan and Brittany felt celebrated and accomplished.  I bought them each their own ‘I climbed the Great Sand Dunes’ sticker for their vehicles (if there were trophies, I would have bought them too!).

 


On the drive back, our tummies were growling so Eric took to googling places to eat in Pueblo.  We agreed on the Bingo Burger which turned out to be a very deserved and pleasant meal.  Fantastic burgers!Best friends!  Good times! Fantastic memories!