2021 Wrap up and looking ahead!

Happy 2022 fellow Adventurers! This post sums up my 2021, looks ahead to 2022, and will have some of my favorite pictures from my travels this year! 2019 was a very busy travel year. I did not think it would be topped! Of course with current events, 2020 was a low travel year and who knew what 2021 was going to bring. At the beginning of 2021 travel was still very uncertain. That being said, my 2021 ended up being my busiest travel year ever!

To wrap up:
February saw the Adventurer and Sidekick check out Zion National Park, UT and the Valley of Fire State Park, NV. March saw the duo brave winter weather in Arizona to check out Sedona, the Petrified Forest National Park, Tucson, Saguaro National Park, and Mt. Lemon. April saw the Adventurer explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH. In June the Adventurer and Sidekick went west again! This time Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming (and MT) were our target. The very next week a road trip saw the Adventurer’s loyal 4 legged friend become a Bark Ranger for the first time at Little River Canyon National Preserve and also at Russell Cave National Monument, both in Alabama. July saw the Adventurer and Sidekick brave the wilds of West Virginian and explore New River Gorge National Park. In September we hit the skies again to watch a pro beach volleyball tourney in Chicago, and then found ourselves in beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine. In November I embarked on a solo trip out west to see White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks in New Mexico and Texas. What a slate! I might add that nearly all of these flights were free!

How about 2022? Unlike last year, I came in to this January with one trip planned and at least 2 more in the works! First up will be a ridiculously short trip to Maui to see Haleakala National Park. Spring break in March is WIDE OPEN right now and I have no idea what is going to go there! In June I have booked a trip to Homer and Seward, AK to visit a small park of Lake Clark and Kenai Fjords National Parks. And then there is the rest of summer break! Those trips are just me. The Sidekick and I are planning tentatively to get to Fairbanks, AK for fall colors and hopefully some northern lights! I am going to guess that this will not be nearly as travel heavy as year as last, but I am super excited to check out some of Hawaii for the very first time and getting back to Alaska is super important to me! In addition to that free flight to Hawaii, I will have the June AK flight totally free with perks from my new Alaska Airlines business card. That card also gives a perk of a once a year companion fare for 120 dollars, so the second trip will essentially be a bogo. I will still have enough points on my Southwest account to sneak in at least one more free Southwest flight before I run dry!

In terms of this travel blog, I have a few new ideas. I am going to make a section featuring the entrance signs of and of the park units I stumble upon. I also really have enjoying getting good sunrise or sunset pictures in the parks as well, so I am thinking of doing a feature on those as well! And I still have catching up to do on some other travels, and posting itineraries in the hopes that they might be useful to someone in some way!

Here are my top pictures of the year, either taken by me or taken of me!

Along the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park, UT
Valley of Fire State Park, NV.
The Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.
Saguaro National Park, AZ
Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga National Park, OH
Lower Falls of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, WY.
Grand Teton and the Teton Range from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park, WY.
The Sidekick and I in front of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, WY.
The newly appointed Bark Ranger Bella.
The Sidekick and I underneath the New River Gorge National Park Bridge, WV.
Acadia National Park overlooking Bar Harbor, ME.
Salt Flats looking into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX.
Cool scene in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM.
Cool foliage spot in Guadalupe Mountains.
White Sands National Park, NM.

Let’s have a great 2022 and do some cool shit and keep adventuring!

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone had a great Hanukkah, Christmas, or merely off-of work days last week and a great upcoming New Year! I haven’t done too much blog-worthy in a bit but I did get a short drive and a new “National Park” sign picture at the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, and the Bark Ranger got her THIRD badge and the Sidekick has two Bark Rangers now! More on those to come! Meanwhile, the picture is one of my new favorites, taken on the beach in Gulfport, FL, only a few minutes from homebase! Enjoy the rest of 2021 and see you more in 2022!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM. Nov 2021

National Parks Count: 26

Hey there fellow adventurers! If you have read any of my most recent entries, you know I did a New Mexico/Texas national park extended weekend trip! If not, then now you know and you can check out my entries on White Sands National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Park number 3 of this trip was Carlsbad Caverns National Park, found in a remote spot in southeastern New Mexico. There is no other way to say it: this place is spectacular!

This is about 10 minutes long, but there really was no way to give sense of scale or the route using pictures alone!

Also a Unesco World Heritage Site, this National Park was established as such around 1930 and is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, near the later designated Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There is a really neat native history to this cave and geologically the cave was once a part of the same reef leftovers that now make up that mountain range.

I can count on one hand the number of caves I have been to and none have been this stunning. I have been to Mammoth Cave and I rated it 3.5 stars out of 5 🙂 Nothing against Mammoth…it was cool and all, I just wasn’t that impressed. That being said, I went with my mother and we did a lite tour and now I am thinking a return and more serious tour might be in order. Anyway, back to Carlsbad! And, spoiler alert this one is a hands down 5 star spot! Firstly, I guess I was a little surprised at how undeveloped the area is, which is good! But still, it seems like a place that sees a half million visitors a year there would be a little more around, but I digress! I was also a little surprised that the drive to the cave was UP. I guess cave, down in the earth? Anyway, once completing the couple miles of that road to the visitor center I arrived at the visitor center.

The required entrance sign selfie 🙂 Simple, yet powerful!

At this point I should point out the travails of this park with the covid situation. You absolutely must have reservations for the cave through recreation.gov. I have seen others saying that you can get walk up tickets…I did not see anything indicating that was possible. Also, the last tour must be started by 2.30 and the earliest tour starts no earlier than 8.30. Once you are in the cave you can stay until 4 or 4.30, I believe and you have to take the elevator out. To get into the cave you can choose the elevator down or to take the natural entrance.

I was very interested in taking the natural entrance. However, I had already hiked almost 7.5 miles earlier, and the natural entrance is a mile or so at 750 feet descent, and supposedly takes an hour. A) I was tired and B) I wanted to be back at my campsite at Guadalupe Mountains National Park before it got dark and my timeslot was the last of the day. So down the elevator I went: 750 feet straight down! At one point this was the second longest single lift elevator in the US!

The 3D model of the cave inside the visitor center. You can see the natural entrance and that path and also the elevator shaft. And I took about half a dozen pictures of this entire model to try to trace the path through the whole Big Room

Here is where the jaw dropping started! Getting off the elevator you are in a fairly large open room with a gift shop, restroom, snack bar. I was already impressed! To be fair, Mammoth Cave is LOOOOOONG. Like, longest in the world and number 2 isn’t even close…but a lot of those tunnels are just that, tunnels, and the rooms are not particularly massive in size. This first stop was a BIG room. The “tour” I was on was the only one available in the time of Covid: The Big Room Trail. Fun fact, this room wasn’t actually even “it”! After going down the path a bit and seeing some cool stuff…you go through a small tunnel and then….here it is! The BIG ROOM. But even then, this STILL isn’t the biggest or most impressive part, not by a long shot! After going through this spot the Big Room finally opens up to a gigantic size! The path through all of this was 1.25 miles and I think the NPS makes it at the equivalence of SIX football fields! The one thing that I found to be really different between this cave and Mammoth is the sheer number of features/structures/formations, or whatever you want to call them. Mammoth seemed more tunneled out and with more floor space that was flat and walkable. I do not know if I am describing it correctly, but in Carlsbad it seems every surface, save for the path, contains some kind of formation or feature! I managed to get some decent pictures with my phone set to the night setting. Using flash was not producing any good results, and neither was adjusting the ISO, interestingly. Either that or my photo skills are lame ;)! The only thing about the pictures, is that they do not seem to really do any justice to the scale of this cave since there is not anything way to judge perspective. I took some video (see the youtube link up top!) and that really helps with perspective in my opinion! I am going to do a bit of a photo dump here now…I hope you enjoy!

This is an area early on, before the tunnel that takes you into the first part of the “Big Room.”
These were called the Lions Tail.
Hard to get a sense of scale here, but these formations are MASSIVE. This was called the Hall of Giants.
This area was called Fairyland.
This is called The Temple of the Sun.
The Totem Pole and The Chandelier. Apparently I was a little shaky here…but this thing was tall…like 20 or 30 feet tall.
That rope hanging there is a fun story. They hung that rope to a balloon and let it ascend into a hole or crack in the ceiling. The rope then got hung on a rock or something and they deemed it safe to climb up and explore a new chamber above the Big Room!
And this contraption is what one of the earliest explorers of the cave used to get into that hole…no, thank you!
This is the Mirror Lake which is reflecting an Alien monster….
The Rock of Ages. Also HUGE.
The Chinese Theater, which was near the end of the Big Room Tour.

As I wrap up this entry, I should make note of the fact that this park is probably the first one that my experience may have been drastically altered by covid. There are normally other tours, including more “adventurous” ones that go down into the holes and further depths of the cave that I would absolutely love to come back and check out!

Overall impressionsPros: The cave is amazing. Simply otherworldly. Cons: None for the cave. Not having ranger led guides and the other tours available is a temporary thing and in no way detracts from the experience!

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Really awesome spot. I never knew I would be so damned impressed with a cave…but this did it. This is definitely a unique spot that is well worth the trip just on its own!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX. Nov 2021.

National Parks Count: 25

The second national park of my recent El Paso loop was Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Found about 90 minutes east of El Paso, in the middle of nowhere extreme western Texas desert, this park has been a National Park since the early ’70s. This park features the highest points in Texas and also the iconic El Capitan, Texas style. The mountains here are the leftovers of an ancient reef when this entire area was at the bottom of the sea.

Historically the area that became this park was utilized by the Apaches up until about the US civil war when the area became a part of a mail route and some very small settlements were made. Logistically, this is the most remote park I have visited so far. There are basically no roads running through this park, just the one that runs on the edge of it. There is running water found in the two different visitor centers and one bathroom at a trailhead. There are two campgrounds. The one I stayed in is called Pine Springs, it has space for 20 sites, no fires are allowed, there are no lights, and the shitter is a composter. There are a limited number of RV spots nearby as well. There is one more campsite but it is found on the other side of the park and it is even MORE remote. Cell service is extremely spotty but the main visitor center does have wifi, surprisingly. That is it for any services. The closest gas is about 45 minutes away and the closets store is probably closer to an hour. If you plan on making a trip of this one, you need to bring everything you need with you!

The Pine Springs Campground is somewhere in this picture out of sight middle left side. I took this from a creek bed near the old mail station ruins. This is the backside El Capitan. Taken by The Adventurer.

I arrived to the park and my campsite after dark. I had hoped to get there a bit sooner and do some exploring, but it was not to be. In any event, I got myself situated and chilled at my site with some beer and just sat and watched the gorgeous array of unfiltered stars above my head! The campsite is actually not far from the visitor center and is also the near the trailhead for several trails and from that spot you can access every trail in the park, but most people use it to summit Guadalupe Peak or El Capitan. The following morning I did attempt the summit trail. I was fully intent to complete the hike, however, I was on the fence about it until the night before due to some timing considerations. This is an 8.4 mile round tripper with a 3000 some feet elevation gain. Alltrails said the hike should take a little under 6 hours. I was needing to be 6 hours for sure from when I started (a little late admittedly), so I rushed the start. Oops. The first 1 km saw a 1300 feet plus elevation gain. I was blaming myself for lack or prep, but all trails says the same spot is only 500 or so feet of gain, totally inaccurate. Anyway, I gassed myself and it still took me 35 minutes to do that. There was no way I would get up and down in the 6 hours I needed. I turned around and went back down.

If anything I got a nice sunrise pic from the Guadalupe Summit Trail!

Despite the desert mountain type terrain there is a hidden world in this park. A couple of them actually. I got to experience one of them. The one I did not, is referred to as the “bowl.” If you hike up to the 8000 feet feature you can find a forest that is apparently similar to a Colorado type forest. After changing up my hiking aspirations for the day I did get to enjoy one of the other “hidden worlds” here. I had no idea at the time that my Sunday morning hiking plans actually were not going to work out either. With the change in my hiking plans I was able to make it to a spot called McKittrick Canyon. This other hidden world here is found deep within the canyons of the park. This hike can be as long as you want it to be, with measured lengths to certain spots. I had intended a Sunday morning early hike before getting back to El Paso for a noon check in at the airport thinking what I wanted to see was only a couple miles round trip though it turned out to be a lot longer. Although this trail starts in the desert, the hidden world here is a world devoid of desert once you get into the canyon proper. There are streams and special maple tree forests that were changing colors! I actually did not know about this when I initially booked the trip. Quite by accident I was there during prime time leaf season. Although this year the peak was a little later, I still got to see some gorgeous colored trees! I had thought the colors would be closer to the trailhead which is why I had planned for Sunday morning. However, the rangers there informed me that I was going to have to go at least to the old homestead (right?) tucked away in the canyon. This was 2.6 miles in, so 5.2 round trip. The hike started like everything else, hot, desert-y, and with the sun beating down. I chilled with a tarantula for a bit and made my way through the canyon and experienced the very extreme change in environment. Once I got to this house I found out that apparently at one time the trail I was on, which was very rocky, but mostly flat, was actually the way this guy named Pratt actually DROVE to his house in the early/mid 1900s. There was some foliage color on this stretch but not much. RATS! However, the ranger stationed at the house told me that there was some good color happening toward the next point on the trail, the “Grotto.” This spot was at 3.4 miles. I had time, so I did it! While definitely not peak, there was still some beautiful spots in the section of the canyon! I made it to the Grotto, stopped for a beer and snacks, and then made my way back. The entire trail is flat, so I made really good time. Even with a snack break at the Pratt Lodge, the snack at the Grotto, several picture breaks, and my visit with the tarantula, I made the nearly 7 mile hike in right about 3 hours.

Part of the McKittrick Canyon Trail before entering the canyon (which is behind me in this photo). Taken by The Adventurer.
The Pratt Lodge, just off of the McKittrick Canyon Trail. This was a 1930s era homestead. That trail apparently once was a road to get to this house. Somehow. Taken by The Adventurer.
The barn of the lodge. Taken by The Adventurer.
I got a nice family to snap this pic of my in the colors in front of the canyon walls. I really like this shot!

Later in the day I found another hidden part of this world: The springs. Obviously, I knew there were springs. My campground was called Pine Springs. That being said, there was no spring that I could find near my campground. However, there was any area called Frijole Ranch where there was a settlement that included a house, a barn, a spring building, and even a (very) small school! This was the place to be 150 years ago! Again, this was a consequence of the mail route going through here. The families that lived here would actually grow crops using the handful of springs in the are and drive them to markets dozens of miles away! Pretty neat! I saw a couple of these springs along the Smith Spring Trail, and they really aren’t impressive compared to the massive springs we have in here in Florida; however, out in the middle of the desert they were essential to early settlers’ lives!

The Frijole Ranch, or at least one building of it. Taken by the Adventurer.
The “school” and other use building on the ranch grounds. Taken by The Adventurer.
If you look carefully you will see Manzanita Spring there. Taken by The Adventurer.
The little spring at the ranch is flowing to this little patch of bright green in the desert. Taken by The Adventurer.

Bookending this evening and the next morning, I found a spot to catch the sun setting on El Capitan, and also the same spot for a sunrise…I guess the orientation of the mountain and the time of year made it a good spot for both times of day. It is definitely a super neat icon in the desert here! Before I departed the following morning I explored some ruins of the old mail stop facility, and headed back to El Paso. Along the way I found a cool spot, these salt flats in the approach to the mountains. Water is standing in the middle of the desert here, for some reason! Beautiful spot to view the landscape! And then I went WAY out through a sand road for about 10 miles and came up to another spot that gave a great view of the mountains rising out of the sand. This was not worth drive time to be honest! I think it took nearly an hour off the road to get to this point and then the parking spot was a mile or so from the actual dunes out there…I was on a time crunch, so I couldn’t go any further. On a plus, I got to chase cows out of the road, which I haven’t done in years and years :). And that was a wrap on this trip!

It took an awful long time to get to this spot. And judging by the cows on the road and no other vehicles to be found for miles, not many do. The side is a little hard to read here, but if you zoom in you can see the names of the peaks at least. The small print refers to that small patch of white sand. Don’t see it? It’s at 10/11 o’clock at the base of the mountains. Also, that spot is totally open to humans but about an hours or so walk from this spot -in addition 2.5 hours ro so round trip drive time back to the highway. Taken by the Adventurer.
Sunrise on El Capitan. Taken by The Adventurer.
The salt flats looking toward the Guadalupe Mountains. Guadalupe Peak is the highest peak. El Capitan is the cliff on the far right. This is actually right off the road! Taken by The Adventurer.

Overall impressionsPros: Beautiful night sky. Really quite stunning. If I lived in El Paso I would be out here every moonless night! Great hiking opportunities with great variety in topography. I personally find the history of the area to be interesting as well! Cons: The only cons I can think of is the park is not very accessible other than by hiking, but that’s ok to me. My biggest gripe would be the fact that there is a smallish visitor center that is loaded with souvenirs, but not much for anything else. Really, everything must come with you!

The Adventurer Final Word:
4.5 Stars! Really awesome spot. Great for hiking and stargazing. If I am ever back in the area I would definitely stop back and do at least one other hike!

White Sands National Park, NM. Nov 2021

National Parks Count: 24

Hey there fellow adventurers! I went on a solo trip to White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks (and one other NPS unit, Chamizal National Memorial) in early November! It was a whirlwind trip but a fun one nonetheless! I am going to do this post different than my usual format with multiple stops in one trip. Instead of one big text wall of the entire trip I am going to break it into each park, even though it will be a little disjointed. I spend a lot of my free time planning out trips just for grins, mostly. Occasionally, I get to pull off some of my plans. In my quest for visiting national parks, there are certain routes that have always appealed to me to catch many parks in one trip, based on good logistics. For various reasons, mostly due to time, I haven’t really got to pull off any of them. A few months ago I saw some Southwest gimmick offering to extend my companion pass a couple months if I actually spent money and bought a ticket. I actually had a 100 dollar voucher from them and I found a Tampa to El Paso route that cost me a grand total of 135 dollars round trip for the first weekend in November. This gave me a perfect chance to do one of my trip loop ideas!

First up: White Sands National Park! Formerly White Sands National Monument, this is one of the newest parks with the National Park moniker having been a national park since the end of 2019, though its national monument status was secured in the 1930s. The park itself is composed of sand dunes made of gypsum. These are the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world and were created due to the area being under the sea long ago, then uplifted, and the surrounding mountains being stripped away by later water into an area where the water could not escape other than by evaporation, leaving these beautiful gypsum sand dunes behind.

But first, I had to get there! After landing in El Paso , I had some BANG ASS tacos at the El Paso Brewing Company. This place is a stone’s throw from the fence, the beer is ok, but the tacos the bartender cooked up…DELISH. After that I booked it up the road about 90 minutes to White Sands. There was a border patrol stop involved :/….he asked me if I was a citizen and if I had anyone hiding in the back of my vehicle. That was it. I feel like at least an ID check was in order…oh well! So back to White Sands! Ok. So this is a newer National Park. The newest ones in the system are Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, New River Gorge, and this one. New River is most certainly worthy of the national park moniker, in my opinion. Indiana Dunes is a small question mark. Gateway Arch is a huge question mark to me…White Sands is hitting somewhere between Indiana Dunes and the Arch. It is some cool white sand for sure. I get that its gypsum sand…but we have white sand here in Florida. The dunes are definitely not impressive, being 60 feet high at the highest. Indiana Dunes has big dunes, Florida has bigger dunes in places, and Great Sand Dunes is on a whole different level altogether. I feel like White Sands was best a National Monument…it is a beautiful place and very unique, but there really is not a whole lot of variety of things to do here.

A got a nice fellow to snap this of me. Not going to lie, this sign has inspired me to make a new section of my blog dedicated to National Park Signs. I feel like a child came up with this one. Terrible…..
And the original. Not super artistic, but at least it seems to fit with the area! Comeon NPS…you all can do better! Taken by The Adventurer.

The park is actually pretty small. There is a road that starts at the visitor center and runs a couple miles through the park and and comes back out where it starts. There are a couple trails of sorts, but nothing noteworthy other than one boardwalk. It seems that you can walk pretty much wherever you want, but I felt a little weird about doing that. Other activities that can be done are sand sledding, but again, compared to the sledding options at Great Sand Dunes, this would be a let down. Kids might love it though! There are some backcountry options if that’s your thing. I think camping out here would be AWESOME!

Basically this is the view from the drive throughout the entirety of the park. Taken by The Adventurer.
A large amount of nothingness for as far as the eye can see in most directions. Which is actually pretty awesome! Taken by The Adventurer.

This was a short visit, only a couple hours. Honestly, this is probably my shortest ever national park visit. It’s a beautiful area, and it is understandable why it’s in the NPS system. Not every spot that deserves preservation is one that is a great place to visit, however, and I just don’t actually feel like it was a spot I would ever want to go out of my way to visit again.

Overall impressionsPros: Beautiful area, and different for sure! If you don’t like people, this is a good spot! Cons: For a spot that is really off the beaten path of anything else you would probably be gearing up to do, there are not a lot of activities to fill in your time, at least not in my opinion. My opinion is probably jaded by the fact that there is currently not much in the area. You drive an hour and a half to the middle of nowhere. Experience the park. There didn’t seem to be much in the area, so it was a drive back, or a long drive to the next stop!

The Adventurer Final Word:
3 stars! Beautiful and remote, but a little lacking in a variety of things to do, compared to other national parks.

Chamizal National Memorial

NPS Unit Count: 46

Hey there fellow Adventurers! I am going to start a new part of the blog. I am laser focused on visiting all of the “national parks” (63 and counting as of 2021). I have maintained that I will not go out of my way for the other 360 NPS units and I still will not. I am not made of money! However, I do run across them and if they are near I am going to stop. They will probably mostly be quick visits and that’s it, but I am calling myself the Parks Adventurer, so I guess I better get them when I can and jot down my thoughts about them as well. (This also means I might be playing catch up, again, on my posts!)

I recently flew into El Paso to visit White Sands, Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns. In my research before the trip I knew that Chamizal National Memorial was in El Paso but I had never heard of it and was totally ignorant of the events it was established to commemorate. It was a short visit, and to be honest, I have spent much more time at other non “national park” NPS units than this one, but as I have decided to start chronicling these as well, here we are! Anyway, being in El Paso, and this park has a view of the fence, there is some interesting history with Mexico here.

Just pic to show the fence, and how close it is to the park. Taken by The Adventurer.

Growing up in southwest Indiana, I was intrigued as a youngster by why it was that when going to Kentucky from my home city you actually entered Kentucky BEFORE getting to the Ohio River, which is generally the border between the two states. However, there is enough land in Kentucky before the bridges that there is a horse track and a gas station despite being north of the river. The reason for this is because rivers do not stay on their course! I had never thought of the ramifications of this for international borders but this same thing is what led to the creation of Chamizal. The Rio Grande changed course between El Paso and Juarez and Chamizal commemorates the peaceful land exchange that the two nations engaged in to settle the issue.

Here is the gist of what happened. This display is found in the visitor center.
One side of this marker.
The other side.

I am not doing ratings and final thoughts on NPS units. The reason being that for me, I am more interested in amazing outdoor and natural wonders and an awful lot of the other NPS units are more about history and other things, which is cool, but not what I am really looking for. Also, for me, they will be quick visits, so I may or may not be getting a “full” experience of those parks.

Leaving on a jet plane (again, and hopefully?)!

Hey Adventurers! I am embarking on another trip this weekend! It’s gonna be a whirlwind solo trip! Leaving tomorrow morning, I arrive in El Paso around 10 AM. I really, really, really hope for no issues with Southwest this weekend as the trip really cannot be any shorter! I am hoping to stop by a brewery near the border and stop briefly at Chazimal National Memorial (might as well!) before heading off to White Sands. I plan on spending a small amount of time there, drive through the park, walk on some sand, check out the visitor center, and snap some pictures! Then I am off to Guadalupe Mountains. I have a reserved campsite for two nights. I am not yet sure of my path to get from White Sands to Guadalupe just yet. I kind want to go to Roswell, but it’s a little far. Also, my third stop is Carlsbad Caverns. Because of covid stuff the timing of that is not convenient at all. But those are my stops! If I do not go the Roswell direction Friday afternoon, then I will try to get in one shorter hike in at Guadalupe before the sun goes down. I am hoping to get a big hike in Saturday morning, head to the cave, and then maybe go to the town of Carlsbad to visit a brewery. Maybe an early sunrise hike on Sunday and back to El Paso for an early afternoon flight back to Tampa! Once I get around to the post trip post we’ll see how the planning for this super short trip went!

Adventurer National Park Tips 1

Hey there fellow adventurers! Thanks for checking out part 1 of the Adventurers park visit tips! Part 2 is coming soon and will be focused on how to visit parks CHEAPLY! It was my 2018 trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which was a super brief drive-through, that I decided that this national park thing was pretty awesome, and a bit after I decided to make visiting all 63 (60 at the time) a travel goal. At that point I had Gateway Arch and Indiana Dunes (both of which were not among the 63 when I visited them), Dry Tortugas, Grand Canyon, and Denali under my belt. In 2019 I would visit 8 more parks. Then covid hit, and soon after the massive exodus to America’s great outdoor spaces began in earnest. During this time I was blessed to be able to visit 10 more National Parks! But, what I am getting at is that I definitely was not early to the National Park scene, but I got started well before the covid craze started. I am embarking on another National Park trip this weekend and I thought I would take a moment to gather my thoughts on how to travel the U.S. National Parks in the current climate! The most important thing is that your trip is your trip, done your way, and have a blast! But here are my tips to have an outstanding experience!

Planning and preparation. Do not assume you can just stroll into a park anymore. Due to crowd control, many parks now require ADVANCED tickets or reservations for entry, campgrounds, some key sites, roads, and even some trails now. (And by advanced, I mean advanced – not the day you show up.) This might even depend on the time of year. What season are you wanting to visit? Is the park fully open at that time, at all, or even just partially? Park websites should be your first line of research for any visit, and check them often, as conditions can definitely change on a daily basis. Be sure to join online communities of the park you are going to visit. Lodging and rental car arrangements should probably be made WELL in advance. Many of the parks are highly visited or in remote areas where lodging is limited, and advanced planning may very well be for next year, or even further out than that! Car rentals, as of late, have become suspect. When I booked a trip to Yellowstone this past June I booked a car in March for about 100 bucks a day. I noticed by early May it was up to nearly $500 a day, and by early June I noticed it was no longer possible to even rent a car by the day and it was 3 grand for a week. EEK! I hate itineraries as a general rule. However, when visiting a park it is best to have some sort of game plan, but it is important to not over schedule yourself. Always check your routes to avoid road closures or unnecessary backtracking. And probably most important, especially now, is to get a general sense of how busy that thing you want to see is and what times it is less busy and also know what parks you can get in through the gates 24 hours or not. I saw Old Faithful go off with maybe 100 people total rather than 1000. I also saw it at 7:30 AM. I got an awesome experience at the Grand Canyon with not one single person around, and I was near the visitor center. It was also 2 AM. Be willing to do that if you don’t want crowds. And always, ALWAYS be willing to call an audible. Don’t fuss. Don’t stress. Just go with it. Remember that the ENTIRE national park is amazing, whether or not the stars align to see that main draw or not.

Arrival. You are now at the park, or at the area near the park. Recon is your friend. Get a unigrid (the map) and open it. I recommend a drive through the immediate area to see drive times, turns, what crowds might look like in real life. Maybe that one thing you wanted to see is straight away, from the road, not that impressive and that one thing you didn’t even hear about piques your interest. You should have stocked up on any supplies at the furthest point away from your park that you could to save money and to make sure what you need is in supply (getting a cooler in West Yellowstone is not going to happen – and getting one is Bozeman was difficult and not cheap). Early and late are ALWAYS the best times to visit. Your best chances to see wildlife are during these times and most people often come into a park conveniently during visitor center hours but that’s it. Speaking of visitor centers, CHECK THEM OUT. ALL OF THEM. If there is any kind of Park Facility for visitors, it is probably there for a reason and worth a visit. Talk or listen to rangers! Plus, if you are a passport stamp fiend like myself, there is probably a stamp at each and every one of them. People also tend to have a habit of being lazy. Do not be this person. These people tend to go into a park just a bit, or go down a trail just a bit and then turn around and do something else. A spot that might be jammed up might be jammed because it’s the turn around spot for many. Wait it out and go past to probably clear sailing. Partially for this same reason, you DO NOT NEED TO STOP AT EVERY SINGLE OVERLOOK. I have been guilty of this one, but I am breaking myself of this habit. Again, people will flock to the first few overlooks and then the crowds with taper off the further in you get. Also, you can waste a ton of time stopping at 15 overlooks that are actually looking at essentially the same thing, just from a different angle. Do you really need to stop at one more overlook half a mile away? Probably not. Get into the habit of going to your furthest destination in the park and working your way back (since you have to anyway). More than likely you will get to that spot and have it more to yourself and as you go through the day you will get the earlier stuff after the morning crowds, and will also avoid that same crowd all trying to come back at the same time. If you are hiking, make sure you hike smart, most of those trails in the park have an info placard and I snap a pic on my phone in addition to taking the trail map there. Practice leave no trace, and get there EARLIER than you think for popular trails. Most importantly, be willing to be flexible. This is nature. Animals and weather may very well not cooperate. If you can find a substitute activity or rearrange your schedule do it. Most importantly, ENJOY your time and relish the opportunity to see and experience some of the most amazing spots on the planet!

Outside the Park. There are often lots of cool things to do outside of any given park. If you are staying in a “park town” or run into a local place somewhere near, don’t hesitate to stop in and chat with the locals. Doing this gave me the opportunity meet a bartender who also wrote a book about Ernest Hemingway’s time in Yellowstone (including a signed copy of his book) and provided me with a route to a little visited point well off of the road at the Grand Canyon, along with stories of this person’s Shoshone tribe! You might also be in a locale that has unique foods or drinks that you should try! And yes, sometimes this equals $$$ but you are probably spending a decent chunk already, so don’t skimp on this part. There are often state parks or national forests nearby that sometimes equal or even surpass the national park you are visiting (Valley of Fire vs Zion?)! Make sure to check these out as well! Many fun excursion opportunities are found outside the park boundaries (reservations?), and quite frankly, you might have missed them in researching. These also cost $$$ but…. A great way to experience Denali is to pony up the 400 bucks to fly and land on a glacier for an hour or so looking straight up at the summit! Maybe try white water rafting through New River Gorge. Chances are you are not coming back to this area ever again, or at least not for a long time, and now is not the time to be cheap.

Leaving. You have had a blast! Don’t forget to talk to your companions about your trip or journal your experiences. Maybe you loved it! Maybe it was very underwhelming! Maybe some event colored your experience in a negative way. Those are all great! Why? Try not to allow a previous “more spectacular” park experience to jade this particular trip. Two of my earliest park visits were the Grand Canyon and Denali. It is pretty dang hard to top those two! You probably took a bazillion underwhelming-to-real-life pictures. Without context these memories might fade. And, chances are the internet has better ones of the same thing you photographed. So, definitely find some way to chronicle your trip! You got your unigrids, passport stamps, and postcards (did you send them from inside the park to get the park’s cancellation?). On your way out don’t forget to get that 50 dollar thing in the first gift shop you stopped in. You know, that thing that grabbed your interest but was too expensive, or you wanted to see if another gift shop had something similar for cheaper? You didn’t find it anywhere else and you forgot it until you got home and then lo and behold the internet doesn’t have it, or at least not the one you saw in the gift shop…and what is available online is probably not any cheaper.

Reflecting. Lastly, get home and reflect on the wonderful opportunity you just had. Honestly, I have 600 “friends” on Facebook. I RARELY see any of them post trips to national parks. Most people don’t really get to experience the best idea the United States ever had! Sure, many will go to Yellowstone. Many go to Yosemite. Many go to the Smokies. Many go to the park they are lucky enough to live a hundred miles from, and that might be it. Whether this is park 1, 63, 3, 58; whether you decided to go outside for the first time in your life because of covid events; whether you never see another national park again….you probably saw something amazing and beautiful that changed your perspective in some small way!

Acadia National Park, ME, Sept 2021

National Park Count: 23

Hello fellow adventurers! I have never seen the fall colors in the Northeast! In fact, since I moved to Florida in 2004, I have seen the tail end of the leaves changing just ONCE, and that was last year, past peak in Hot Springs, AR. In May, the Sidekick and I decided to pull the trigger on a fall trip to Maine! The idea was to avoid crowds but still get some color changes, so late September was the chosen date!

I will begin with some general things to know about visiting Acadia! It seems many are unaware of the rules and procedures of many parks until they arrive and it’s too late to adjust. Acadia is another one of those National Parks steeped with lots of history and surrounded by and somewhat coexisting alongside functioning towns, so there are many places to stay and eat. The park itself is MOSTLY contained on MDI, Mt. Desert Island, off the central coast of Maine. There is a spot to the northeast on the mainland and some smaller islands off the coast that are also part of the park that we did not stop by. MDI itself is sorta divided in half by a sound that makes its way nearly half way into the island. The east side contains most of the big features of the park and also the big tourist town, Bar Harbor. The west side, where we stayed, contains some smaller towns and some other less visited parts of the park. It is also known as the quiet side. The east side of the park has one big loop road that accesses many of the big features. It is very important to note that it is ONE WAY and that can mean you end up doing it more times than you want. Which is sorta what happened to us. There are other roads that help, but if you wanted to plan your trip to do say, Jordan Pond, Beehive, Thunder Hole, and some other spots, be prepared to try to get them all in one day or you have to drive the loop multiple times. Also, the park itself is one of the most visited in the nation and does require some advanced planning for rentals and such. In addition, if you want to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, you absolutely must have a pass reserved on recreation.gov and the sunrise one especially is not easy to snag. The pass you get is time specific and you must be there during the 30 minute window. On top of that you do need a parks pass or an Acadia specific pass to get in. And if that all isn’t enough, the pass actually must be displayed in the vehicle at all times from the rear view mirror. I am guessing this is to prevent people from sneaking their vehicles in for free on some of the other roads throughout the island. So to recap, if you want to visit Acadia: You must have a pass displayed at all times and if you want to drive Cadillac Mountain you must have a separate pass only purchased online

We flew, surprise, Southwest (11.20 round trip per person thank you very much!) from Tampa to Portland, ME. It was a late arrival on a Friday night and we picked up the rental car and stayed the night in Portland. Weather was looking suspect for Saturday and Sunday. We had booked a hiking excursion outside of Acadia with a pack of German Shepherds! Awesome right!? Well, canceled. Bummer! If you are interested, it was an excursion found through AirBNB in Penobscot, ME. Due to the cancellation of that hike we decided to find some breweries and wound up a a cool spot with FIVE different breweries all in one spot, including Allagash Brewing which is a big one up there, and I had actually had their beers before from a mail order beer service. The grounds are beautiful and I highly recommend it!

Allagash Brewery, taken by the Sidekick.

We continued on our way up the coastal highway to Acadia. Despite the name, the road is only strictly along the coast for a bit and it’s never right along the water. The good news is the time difference between that road and the interstate is negligible. We did find a spot to stop for a brew, a view, and a photo op! Then the rain came. We checked into our AirBNB, an awesome spot in Southwest Harbor right on the water! The weather was kind crummy, but despite that, what we could see looked awesome. But there was a surprise hiding until the next day! That evening we checked out a couple local spots. I highly recommend a place called Peter Trouts!

Lobstah Fun in Lincolnville, ME, right on the coast.

The next morning it was pouring, and pouring. BUMMER. Our good weather streak came to an end! But never fear! We had a plan! We drove into Acadia proper and visited the Thunder Hole. It’s a cool spot that’s going to get a person soaked anyway! I had researched that 2 hours prior to high tide was the best time. The water rises with the tide and catches a sea cave and makes a distinctive And we did get wet. But, after that we were driving along the park road and the skies cleared up to a gorgeous day! We stopped for an appetizer and a drink at the Jordan Pond House and chilled there for a bit. This facility is right next to Jordan Pond, which gives great views of some large hills called the Bubbles. I might have taken a silly dude picture posing with them! Then, it was off to the first of two trips up cadillac mountain. I had a reservation fopr the later afternoon if we wanted to catch the afternoon sun view. I also had a pass for an early morning visit the following day, so we went up that afternoon to see what was happening up there. The Sidekick and I hiked around the northern and eastern facing side of the summit for a bit, it was very crowded, but the views of the ocean and Bar Harbor were spectacular. Then we drove down a bit to a very empty spot of the mountain facing the sinking sun to the west. We chilled up there and had some snacks. I have to say that I was quite surprised at how empty this spot was. It looks over most of the park and faces the setting sun. And with almost no one there at all, it is a PRIME spot if you are looking for some damn peace and quiet! Afterward we came down and headed toward Bar Harbor. I will tell you that personally I feel it’s a cool town with a beautiful setting, but it is WAY too crowded. We found a stellar restaurant though, Galyn’s, and I had a KILLER halibut. It cost a fortune… but when in Maine!

Weather not great? No problem for this! Taken on the ole trusty Galaxy 9.
Fun with the Bubbles at Jordan Pond. Taken by the Sidekick.

That evening in Southwest Harbor was quite beautiful. The room is essentially on this cusp of a “dark sky” area. The stars were out and beautiful with just a very faint offering of Milky Way view. It has been a long time since I have seen that many stars. Had I wanted, I am sure I could have got a killer Milky Way view just a few minutes down the road! If you are looking for a star viewing place, take a slightly disappointed look at a light pollution map, and are discouraged, never fear! This is a spot to see some great star views for sure!

The following morning was entirely opposite the previous morning! Although we were not able to get sunrise tickets up Cadillac Mountain, the dock protruding from the AirBNB grounds gave a killer sunrise! That, and the scenery and mountains all around were visible after hiding in the rain the previous morning! Soon after sunrise though, we did have a 7 o’clock pass up the mountain, so off we went. Though we missed sunrise by about 45 minutes, the view in the morning was spectacular! The Sidekick and I hiked around to a part of the summit that was devoid of humans and just took it in. Next up was the Beehive Trail! This is a short trail but is easily the most treacherous hike I have ever attempted and completed! Though short it is basically a climb straight up the side of the mountain. Sometimes there are iron rungs and handholds hammered into the rock, sometimes it is just hand over hand on rock. Though scary, the views were astounding of the ocean, one of the beaches and some of the gorgeous foliage colors! At the top we stopped for a beverage and some snacks before heading down on the more traditional trail on the back side. We had planned to stop for lunch at Jordan Pond House again, but there was a CRAZY long line just to get on the waitlist, so we decided to head back to the room and relax. After a brief nap we went to the south of of this side of the island. We stopped at another spot considered to be in the park, a rock formation from the road out into the sea called aptly enough, The Seawall. There were a couple trails down here as well that we were going to do the next day so we drove past them, then continued on to the famed Bass Harbor Lighthouse. So this lighthouse is very well photographed, and the backdrop is gorgeous of course….but, as far as lighthouses go? I live in Florida we have beautiful, tall, and climbable lighthouses all over the state. While this one was pretty, I was not that impressed. But check it out if you are there for sure!

Sunrise from the dock of the Airbnb, taken by the Adventurer.
Adventurer and Sidekick on Cadillac Mountain. The cover image is also from Cadillac Mountain.
That “trail” going up the left side of the mountain is the Beehive trail going up to the summit.
The Adventurer on top of the Beehive! Taken by the Sidekick.
Raw footage of the “main” part of the Beehive “hike” taken from my GoPro.
The Famous Bass Harbor Lighthouse, taken by the Adventurer. It’s not a great picture…light wasn’t good and there were a ton of people, but here it is!

We had hoped to do a little more the next day but unfortunately events conspired against us, so a return trip might be warranted!

Overall impressionsPros: Absolutely stunning scenery. The loop road is a great national park drive. There a lots of things to do. Cons: Lot of logistics involved in planning for this one. Other than that, really none.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! This is in my top parks for sure and is probably a “must return to” park. Even if weather had cooperated as planned I think I would still want to come back! Definite must visit!