The Barren Years 2006-2014

Ok, so they were not totally barren but you remember that part on the frontpage about not doing too much exploring? Well, this is the decade. To be fair, between 2006 and spring 2015 I did managed the following (I think): A really short weekend trip to NYC, a weekish in Boston, a weekend in Rochester, NY (and Niagara Falls), a weekend in Savannah, GA/Hilton Head, SC, a week in the Lake Norman, NC area, a weekend in Knoxville (most of those were for weddings). I also did do some exploring of this nut case state of Florida: couple trips to the panhandle, Orlando area, and St. Augustine. In any event, I have pictures and memories of these but nothing really substantive stuff to blog about!

Dry Tortugas National Park, FL, Dec. 2005

National Park Counter: 3

Ok! This was the first National Park I visited that was an official “national park,” though I still did not really know exactly what a “national park” really was! My old high school pal (who had also accompanied me to Indiana Dunes and the Gateway Arch at least once) took a road trip straight from the hometown in Indiana to New Port Richey, FL, where I was living at the time. We slept a few hours, then got up and drove down to Key West. That’s an unhappy amount of driving! The intention was just to check out Key West. While down there, though, we saw this ferry out to the Dry Tortugas and thought “Hey, that looks cool, let’s do that!” It was late December, just before New Years but we were able to get a walkup ticket for the ferry. I understand that is not really possible anymore.

So the trip was fun! This was the first time I had actually ever seen the blue waters of the Caribbean and how awesome! Key West was different for sure, but Fort Jefferson and the Tortugas was a really cool part of the trip. If you don’t know much, there is a very large brick fort out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico called Ft. Jefferson. It is one of the largest of these old forts in America and I believe it was left unfinished as well. Of note, a few men convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of Lincoln ended up spending some time detained here.

Inside of the Fort, taken by the Adventurer.
The area surrounded by the fort. Some parts are in ruin but most of the fort is still in good shape! Taken by the Adventurer.
A verrrrry long passageway inside the fort. Taken by the Adventurer.
The fort is partially in the water as you can see here. Taken by the Adventurer.

The Tortugas have some very good snorkeling and water activities as well, but I was not into that or interested. It’s definitely a neat and different spot. It is also one of the harder to get to national parks in the nation as A) Key West is still like 4 hours south of Miami through the keys and then B) a ferry or seaplane is required to get the 70 or so miles offshore of Key West, and neither are particularly cheap!

Overall impressions
Pros include stunning water views, great snorkeling and a cool camping experience (at least that’s what I hear – I did neither of these!), not terribly crowded, neat American history, and great winter weather!
Cons: The biggest drawback by far is accessibility. You have to first get to Key West, which is a pain in itself. Then there is the pricey trip to the island and, unless you get one of the few campsites, you only have that day to visit. But that’s probably enough because there really isn’t a ton to see or do.

The Adventurer Final Word:
3 Stars. If you are in Key West and want an interesting day trip off the island this might be a good option!

Indiana Dunes National Park, IN August 2004

National Park Counter: 2

So, here we have another one that I visited long ago! I was near the Dunes for a wedding in 2004 with a buddy who made the drive with me. Note: This was a National Seashore at the time I was there. I remember that it was simple to get to from the road, it was windy AF, and for August, it was pretty DAMN CHILLY. That being said, there is absolutely no place in Indiana anything like this at all. The dunes themselves were quite the anomaly; one does not really associate Indiana with sand, or really beaches at all! Also, the area outside of the Dunes themselves, but still part of the park is quite different from the rest of the state as well. Neat place. Bonus: pretty killer views of the Chicago skyline across the lake! I do not anticipate a return visit there, but who knows! I would guess it’s an hour train ride from the city. The headline picture is not mine. If I took pictures while I was there, who knows!

Indiana Dunes Becomes Indiana's First National Park | Midwest Living
Some of the non dunes part of the park. Again, photo is not mine.
A view of Chicago From the Treetops a Indiana Dunes | Flickr - Photo  Sharing! | Indiana dunes national lakeshore, Skyline silhouette, Indiana  dunes
Chicago skyline from the Dunes. Not my photo.

Overall impressions
Pros: A great view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, a surprisingly non Mid-West and definitely non-Indiana looking environment, great bird watching, and easily is accessible from Chicago (there is a stop on the train there). 
Cons: It is still in Indiana. It was actually pretty chilly even in August. It’s not terribly scenic as there is a lot of industrial areas surrounding this very small park. There is not a lot to do unless you want a day at the beach, and a cold one at that!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Two Stars. This one is good if you are in Chicago or the barren wasteland that is northeastern Indiana and need a quick escape to some nature.

Gateway Arch National Park, MO

National Park Counter: 1

Ok, post number 1! So, I have not been to the Arch since it became a National Park, but I have been there at least 3 or 4 times. It’s an arch. It’s tall. It’s in St. Louis. It used to be called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. I think the designation as a national park is lame. It’s a modern man-made thing, and a memorial would suffice. Picture…in case you …haven’t…seen the arch before?

Arch, stock photo.

Overall impressionsPros: Easily accessible from I-70 if you are driving cross country and need a place to stop for a pee, or a sandwich. Cons include the white elephant in the room of why this is even a National Park. I get there is some historical importance to this monument. A national monument maybe, but not a a full fledged national park, and even that is pushing it for monument a mere 60 years old.

The Adventurer Final Word:
One Star. It’s not terrible as a tourist attraction, but you aren’t going to St. Louis specifically to see it unless you live near by. Cahokia Mounds is actually nearby and a trip there with a side excursion to arch might be warranted.