Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park/ Boulder/Denver/Colorado Springs. June 2018

National Park Counter: 6

First of all, I logged in today and see that I have likes and views! If you all see this, thank you! I did not actually expect anyone to have stumbled upon my humble site yet! I have not posted it on any of my social media places yet, so even my friends and family have yet to see this!

So, very soon after getting back from the trip to Northern Georgia I was off again! The genesis of this trip was an idea to do a solo trip on my own. I had never done that. I was sitting at a Rays game with a trumpet player colleague and good pal of mine and was discussing this plan with him. (I had pegged down Colorado but I was thinking more in the fall.) He told me he and his wife were planning on going out to Colorado to visit a pal out there in June and I should tag along for part of the trip! I thought about it for a couple days and booked it! We would be flying separately and I was still going to be doing part of this trip on my own, and was excited about it!

I believe I flew in on Tuesday. A couple things immediately came to my attention as not meeting expectations, First of all, it was about 9 million degrees out. Secondly, I was not entirely sure I had not mistakenly landed in Kansas and thirdly, WHERE WERE THE MOUNTAINS?! Contrary to popular belief Denver is actually not in the mountains. There are mountains past Denver, but Denver is not in the mountains at all. Mind blown! So, I hopped in the lyft to get to a car rental place in Denver proper. Protip: it is sometimes MUCH cheaper to rent from a site far enough removed from an airport to get around their sphere of fee influence. In this case it was like more than a 100 dollar difference, even with 60 bucks in lyft rides! Anyway, I got my rental car and it was go time!

From Denver I stopped for a case of water (you will drink water like its going out of style out there) and drove straight to Estes Park. This was actually unplanned but I was to be staying that evening in an airbnb in Boulder and could not get in until sometime later in the afternoon and I had several hours to spare, so I thought, hmm…let’s check out this Rocky Mountain National Park thing! The drive between Boulder and Estes Park was pretty damn cool. It basically follows a small river, through a canyon with no cell signal for large swaths of the drive. And when you get over the last hill going into Estes Park what a view! At an elevation of around 7500 feet or so and surrounded by these huge peaks it was quite the sight! Even though I had a few hours to kill, of course that wasn’t much time to do anything. I drove up the main road, Trail Ridge Road, through the park all the way up to its highest spot at just over 12000 feet. I jogged to the top of a hill at 12005 and surprisingly had no elevation problems! As a reminder of what a small world it can be, there was a lady working in the visitor center at that spot who actually lives nor far from me here in St. Petersburg, FL and had even seen a performance of the big band I play with! So then I headed back down toward Boulder.

Elk on the side of the Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by the Adventurer.

After getting unloaded at the airbnb I found myself in downtown Boulder to get some supplies and grab a couple beers at a local bar. Be sure to check out Midnight Sun and Pub in downtown. Boulder is a cool little place to visit for sure! The next morning, Wednesday, I got up and it was hiking time! So that airbnb I picked wasn’t just any random airbnb, I picked it for its location within walking distance of the trailhead for Bear Peak, an 8500 feet elevation mountain that I wanted to hike. The hike started off not too exciting. I did the NCAR trail which is mainly a fireroad and the first 30 minutes or so (and last 30 minutes or so) are just in the blazing sun. Once in the forested area it is much nicer! I did attempt the summit trail, but I was alone, and there did not seem to be many people at all and I shied away. I also had to meet up with the friends in Denver in the afternoon so I couldn’t dilly dally. I do regret not finishing that peak and it might be on a return trip some day! But anyway, I did hike the entire length of the fire road and got some pretty killer views at the top, including of Denver which was a decent distance away! On the way down I took a side trail up another area of the mountain toward a Batcave. Seriously. It was a cave for bats! That was a pretty fun trail with some scrambling. I believe it is called Mallory Trail or Mallory Cave. I found a hiking buddy and I am glad I did because I think I would have got lost…and I think she was a little lost as well, but with both of us paying attention to the land we got up there and back down. Despite the boring fire road part, this was a really cool hiking area for sure!

Start of the Bear Peak Hike.
View over Boulder from Bear Peak. National Center for Atmospheric Research in the foreground. HIke started somewhere on the middle right side.
Photo by the Adventurer.

After finishing that hike I met up with my pals in Denver. We hit an area of town called RINO which is big brewery/hipster kind of area. It is a fun spot for sure and there is some really good beer going on there! I enjoyed Ratio Beerworks, and there was a cool outdoor beer market, if you will, in that area as well. This is a neat spot to visit if you get a chance to be in Denver!

The next morning the crew got up and headed south to Colorado Springs. We had a date with a whitewater rafting company in Canon City. We used Royal Gorge Rafting and Ziplining Company. This stretch of the Arkansas river is usually pretty challenging but I understood the snow pack that winter was light so the run was mainly class III, but it was still super fun and the Royal Gorge itself was a great experience! I actually got knocked out of the raft on this one….it wasn’t my fault! We went askew and the guy across from me fell into me from across the boat…my buddy also went out there too! Despite the fear of going out in a rapid, I actually was mulling over staying in the water! This trip was HOT. It was 108 or 109 air temp…and the water was in the 60s. It felt great! But alas we had to be back in the boat to finish her up!

Oops! That’s my leg. The head is my pals.
The whoopsie moment is about 2 minutes in

So all fun and games aside there was one scary moment, though, and a cautionary tail. An older lady, probably mid to late 50s, and not in great physical shape, went out in a rapid and had to be rescued…it was alarming! She ended up ok and in our raft, but she went out in a legit rapid and then managed to get caught in some rocks but in a spot where we could get to her. As fun and exhilarating as it is, don’t do it if you are not in great shape, at least not the harder, more technical runs! It was a super fun trip, I would have preferred a little more difficulty, but what can ya do?! After finishing up and grabbing lunch, we all stopped at the Garden of the Gods and did some exploring there for a couple hours. The group split again. My friends went back to Denver and I stayed in Colorado Springs. My airbnb was near a brewery with some delicious pizza called Cogstone Brewing Co., and also a city park called Palmer Park. If you ever get a chance to hit Colorado Springs, there are several other cool things to do there but I highly suggest both Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park. Both have some good outdoor activities and killer views of Pike’s Peak. Garden of the Gods will offer you the quintessential Pike’s Peak through the GoG rock formations while Palmer Park will give you the mountain looming over the city view!

Pike’s peak over Garden of the Gods. Photo by the Adventurer.

I really cram things into short periods of time! My last full day in Colorado got me up super early to make the drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak. What a cool experience! Some gorgeous scenery, pretty lakes, and a pretty crazy drive up to 14K plus feet! Despite no troubles with altitude at 12K, 14k was a totally different story. I got out of the car and almost fell down! I was quite concerned! After slowly acclimating in the visitor center (BTW, the donuts they make there are well known, and they are legit!) I was ready to venture back out again. I had planned to hike about a mile down from the summit to see a particular feature down the trail…I made it a couple hundred feet and was feeling ok, but then I turned around to go back to the car and get my back. And, that was all she wrote. As soon as I started back up the spins came back. So, I just hiked around the summit for a while, taking in the views! Side note, it’s COLD and windy AF at the top of these mountains! It was 42 degree and gale force (at least) winds up top, and about 90 and fairly calm at the bottom! At the bottom of the mountain is this tourist trap called the Cave of Winds. I stopped in briefly and was on my way. I took side roads from Pike’s Peak back to Denver which took me to another hiking spot in a tiny town with no cell service.

Summit of Pike’s Peak.

The last night in Denver and I think we went back to the Rino area. The next day was my flight home but we weren’t done yet! We got up early and made a quick stop to visit Red Rocks Amphitheater. Super cool place! Loved the vibe and energy of the Saturday morning yoga and exercise crews there! Plus there is a museum of sorts open and free to the public inside the bowels of the Amphitheatre!

Overall impressionsPros: Pretty much everything. The drive and experience to the top of Pike’s Peak, while not as ideal as hiking the whole thing, is a must do. RMNP is world class and a serious competitor for coolest place ever.  Cons: Not many. The air is very dry. That causes lots of issues for me, but that’s about it. If anything, not a con for Colorado but a con for me, there is so much to do that it’s hard to filter out things to do to maximize enjoyment rather than number of things done, but yet, I would not have cut any of these experiences from my trip!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! I do not particular care for the city stuff, but the outdoor stuff is superior and Colorado is super cool to visit!

Clayton, GA/Asheville, NC. June 2018

In early June, my troupe and I (3 humans and 2 dogs) crammed into an old Rav 4 and headed up ten or so hours to Northeast Georgia. Why you might ask? Well, my best friend’s old dog was ill and she wanted to do a last hurrah with the pup, so that meant a road trip! We looked for cool spots within a reasonable drive and found Tallulah Gorge just outside of the small town of Clayton, GA. Further investigation found a world class, serious white water rafting outfit based in Clayton, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a very close proximity to Asheville, some ziplining, and some great hiking! So Clayton and Asheville it was!

We stayed at a pretty amazing AirBNB on top of a mountain called Screamer Mountain in Clayton. I cannot rave enough about this place. It is called Halfway to Heaven, at an elevation of about 3000 feet. The place was 3 stories built into the side of the mountain, each level had bedrooms, a bathroom, AND a balcony looking out into the mountains. For three of us for 6 nights its was only like 1000 bucks, so not bad at all (fewer nights actually is not a good deal with a hefty cleaning fee).

View from the AirBNB taken by the Adventurer

One day was reserved for a 6 or 7 hour Whitewater rafting excursion with Southeastern Expeditions. It was a class 5 run, and it was not messing around. That was some fun ass, dangerous stuff, and I LOVED IT. We found some pretty awesome restaurants and bars in the town as well. Pro tip: there is a butter you can buy in bulk from the one restaurant called Fortify Kitchen that is OUT OF THIS world delicious! We spent a day visiting and hiking in Tallulah Gorge. This was sort of the big draw for this area. They call it the Grand Canyon of the east, and it sure is spectacular! We also spent a day going to Saluda, NC to zipline with a company called The Gorge. I had done one previous zipline in Florida, of all places. It was pretty much a flat zip ten feet above the ground. This was a serious (to me) zipline experience for sure.

Short dramatic clip of a class 5 in the Chattooga River. GoPro on my head!
Ziplining, well, rappelling The Gorge. Photo from the company.
Tallulah Gorge and Hurricane Falls, taken by the Adventurer.

In addition to all of that, we took a two day diversion up to the Asheville area. It was my first visit there and…it’s ok…little too dirty, hippie scene for me to be sure. But, there was some good beer, of course! We also went to check out the Biltmore House. Granted we got there close to closing of the ticket office, but for 70 dollars a ticket, I feel it’s overpriced. It’s cool to look at, the inside is definitely some good American history, and the gardens are pretty…but 70 bucks? Naw. Protip: Go to the FREE balcony overlook at the Omni Grove Hotel, but buy a drink to be nice!

Me enjoying a tasty beer at the Omni Grove Hotel, taken by the Adventurer Sidekick.
View of Asheville from the Omni Balcony, taken by the Adventurer.

We also ventured up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain and explored! I hiked to the top of the peak from the visitor center, my first mountain summit! To get there is a hike with a lot of exposure on some ladders and ropes. Awesome technical hike. It’s listed as difficult but I don’t think it’s that bad. The girls sat in the parking lot, drank beers, and staged pictures to look like they actually did the hike :)!

Trail info sign, taken by the Sidekick
You can hike the Mountain from quite a bit down below. We chose to drive up to the visitor center and the Mile High Suspension Bridge and then I hiked the 2 mile round trip from there. The peak in the picture is the one I went to. Taken by the Adventurer.
So, the trail is a lot of ladders and cables. Look closely and you will see that is a ladder in the back of that crevasse. I was not even all that easy wedging into there! Taken by the Adventurer.
And example of one of the cables on an exposed edge. Taken by the Adventurer.
Killer views for miles and miles up top! Taken by the Adventurer.

One more day back in Clayton to prepare for the journey back. I explored a little more out on my own and drove up to the top of Black Rock Mountain. I saw some good hiking opportunities there and actually found myself back a year later! More on that one later!

View of Clayton from Back Rock Mountain.

Overall impressionsPros: Clayton is a nice and not too touristy mountain town. The whitewater rafting is KILLER. The ziplining in Saluda was great. Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge parkway are beautiful and the hiking was great. Cons: As nice as Clayton is you will probably find yourself at the same two or three places if you are going “out” and there is not a lot to do outside of what I did. Asheville is not as great as advertised. The Biltmore house is underwhelming for the price.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! I definitely suggest this mountain get away if you need a short week or an extended weekend that’s no more than a state or two away! EDIT. I initially gave this one 4 stars for the drive. However, as fun as the trip was and the fact that it IS within one day drive, I am revising to 5 stars. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I made it a point to come back to the area the very next year and would like to make it an annual stop at some point!

Alaska. Girdwood/Seward/Denali National Park/Talkeetna. June 2017

National Park Counter: 5

SUPER AWESOME TRIP. This was my first “major” trip: furthest I have ever been away from home base, longest ever flight, probably the most different spot I have been to, and the place with the most “things” I have ever done on a vacation. This is a lengthy post, and I apologize for those reading it, but there were lots of things on this trip to document!

Firstly, it was myself, my best, Nicki, another great friend, Katie, and two other pals, Bob and Lori. Nicki, Katie, and I flew together and arrived in Anchorage in the evening, maybe 8 or 9ish. Nicki mistakenly thought I would be blitzed from the travel day. That’s not how I work! I figure when traveling do as much as possible and recover when back home! So we landed, got the rental pickup, checked into the hotel and went for downtown. We found a cool spot called Humpy’s. I had a great Rudolph Burger and my first (of many) Alaskan beer. It was June 17th, and wouldn’t you know it, we found a damn SOLSTICE Party and partied until 1 or 2! And guess what!? STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE. I can see why alcohol is a problem in Alaska (it is, especially in the villages) – it’s either depressingly dark for long swathes of time, or the nighttime drive to go to bed doesn’t exist because it’s so light out the rest of the time!

Anchorage…not a great shot, but on a 2015 model phone! Photo by the Adventurer

The next morning the 3 of us met up with the other 2 and made our way to Girdwood, a bit southeast of Anchorage, along the Seward Highway. The highway itself is quite scenic and parallels a river/glacier spillway/inlet. Girdwood is gorgeous! There is a ski resort there on Mt. Aleyeska. From there one can take a tram up a couple thousand feet to a delicious restaurant called Seven Glaciers. Super tasty food but its expensive, but oh soooo good!! I also found a trail at the end of a road in the town called Virgin Creek Falls. This is a pretty simple trail, short, but has a neat waterfall with both a pool at the bottom and higher vantage point above. Neat little rainforest trail! We also encountered a black bear that had broken into the local bar. But the highlight of Girdwood was the adventure that Katie found for her, Nicki, and I with an Iditarod dog musher. We got to have an adventure just the three of us with dog musher Nick Petit. This was SUPER FUN and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done! The drive up to his spot was neat enough, going through the Alaska rainforest into the area between all these mountains where he and his dogs were. There was no snow but he had them pull us on a sleigh with wheels through and abandoned gold mine. How cool!

The Adventurer, himself, in the Seven Glaciers Restaurant. In case the snow deceives, it is, indeed, June. Taken by the Sidekick.
Dog Sledding in Girdwood. Gopro still by the Adventurer

The next day the entire crew went further down the road to Seward to catch a whale watching cruise. That was a pretty neat experience as well! Seward seems like a pretty cool place to return to! There is a national park there as well, Kenai Fjords, which I was unaware of at the time. Oops. I will be back. Anyway, the cruise was definitely neat. There was a lunch stopover on an island, lots of golden seal viewing, and then, after a bit, THAR BE WHALES HERE!

Golden Seals Lounging about. Taken by the Adventurer.

After a quick return to Anchorage to swap out the truck for a proper RV, it was off to Denali National Park. The drive up took a few hours and was very scenic. We had reserved a campground spot in Riley Campground and basically did some glamping for several days. We did some hiking around the campground, The McKinley Station Trail, around a lake called Horseshoe Lake, took the tour bus over Polychrome Pass and the 60 miles to Eielson Center to get a good view of Denali…if it weren’t hidden in the clouds! We did get a quick peek at some point, but the mountain was mainly shrouded in clouds. Additionally I went on my first ever white water rafting trip! Not too bad for the first trip, on the Nenana River in Alaska! We also saw some kitschy dinner theatre shows at the Alaska Cabin Nite and also the Music of Denali. My friend Nicki used to actually work there back in the day! A couple other noteworthy spots: The Salmon Bake, which is a must visit for food, drinks, and some late night partying, Lynx Creek Pizza for some great pies and another great pizza place but has the pizza bar tap I think I had ever seen, of all Alaskan beer is Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse.

Polychrome Pass in Denali NP, taken by teh Sidekick.
A local staple in Denali Park. Good food, good beer! Taken by the Adventurer.
White water rafting the Nenana River north from Denali Park to Healy. Photo from Rafting company.
So this picture was taken by the Adventurer at 1:30 AM on June 21, summer solstice.

When we finally departed Denali we were not actually done with Denali! We saddled that big ole RV into a spot in Talkeetna for a couple nights. When we got there Katie, Nicki, and I headed to the airport and got on a bush plane through K2 Aviation to fly and land on a glacier right below Denali. That was super cool, too!

The peak of Denali! Pic taken from flightseeing plane by the Adventurer.

At long last we headed back to Anchorage and ate at a local mainstay, the Moosestooth (great pizza and beer!) and the next morning back to Florida!

Overall impressionsPros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, a different take on life (it really seems different up there) . Cons: pretty much the only con to this is the distance to travel the dollars to spend!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, everything. It was all great and worth doing more than once!

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ. March 2015

National Park Counter: 4

Ok! Here we go! So, firstly, this was not my trip and was not planned by me. I was accompanying my best friend on a personal journey. This was her trip. That being said it was an EYE OPENING experience for many reasons.

This was my first journey west. We flew into Phoenix and landed while it was still light out, but by the time we got the rental car and began the trek to Flagstaff en route to the Canyon, it was totally dark. There was nothing to see, and was BLACK. We rolled into the national park late in the evening as we were lodging in the park. The only thing along the journey that was noteworthy to me were the occasional elevation signs, which were different, yet totally insignificant….but growing up in Indiana and then living in Florida, one changes elevation by about 15 feet maximum, ever, so those elevation signs don’t really exist. The last sign was 7000 feet!

The first morning was the walk up to the rim of the Canyon. A friend of mine (who I have previously mentioned, and will mention again in the blog) once told me it was a big hole in the ground and not much else. My experience was wholly different! First, it was hard to breath. At this point I was pushing 300 pounds and had never been anywhere near this elevation my entire life! But, I digress. The most noticeable thing was that as you approach you are walking uphill and you actually start seeing the FAR side of the canyon rising up over the horizon … and it is IMPRESSIVE. Also, there are trees. I kinda thought the canyon was in the middle of the desert, but there is a national forest there called Kaibab. Who knew!? So, after getting to some various lookout points and exploring the views and some harrowing climbs off the trail, we had lunch at a pretty neat restaurant that looks out into the canyon.

Taken by the Adventurer.
The Adventurer and Sidekick, on a biking excursion. Taken by a passerby.
The rare guardrail! Taken by the Sidekick,
This is called the Battleship. Taken by the Adventurer.
A little off trail hiking in the canyon! This was taken on a phone in 2015…so not the best quality.

After those initial hours we did some of the bus tour to see some other view points. We did a super fun and awesome bike excursion. I cannot recommend this enough, super awesome way to see the canyon! We had a fancy dinner, met a Shoshone couple (more on this in a minute), saw some mule deer, did some minor hiking, found a thing called the Desert View Watchtower, and I did some mid night sky watching when the moon went down (awesome!).

Desert View Watchtower from below, taken by the Adventurer.
Hiking down and off the path from Desert View Tower, again, taken from phone.

A really neat part of the trip was meeting that Shoshone couple. My friend and I had reservations at a nice restaurant and we got there a bit early. As we are prone to do, we found the bar to have a couple drinks. We were looking for a nice quiet secluded spot for her journey but were having trouble navigating the crowds. That couple at the bar next to us overheard us and pointed us to this spot called Shoshone Point. It’s off of a trail outside of the the main tourist area and was unmarked with a small, very easy to miss parking spot. They told us one of their myth stories and that this was a very special spiritual place to their people. SUPER COOL!

Shoshone Point. Photo (not a great one) by the Adventurer

Overall impressions: Pros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, great weather in the Spring, important cultural heritage. Cons include it’s a bit far off of a convenient lodging path, and lodging there is expensive, it’s pretty touristy, and with that comes crowds.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, an absolute must see.

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.