A Collector’s Journey Across America
Now that we are both retired, and our dog GG has passed on, my wife, Linda, and I decided to take a road trip across America. Mainly we visited National Parks and Monuments, with several other points of interest along the way.
During our journey, I took many photographs, too many to post here. I’ve decided to share (with a few exceptions) just one image from each of our many stops. It has been difficult selecting the one photo from each location to best convey the entire experience. I am also including a description of each site visited along with some personal observations.
Here are the many sights I’ve seen on our trek around the country.
Prospect Peak, Great Cacapon, West Virginia
As you can see, I immediately broke my rule of “one photo per site” but it is fairly apparent why I included the image of the sign posted at this vista.
From Prospect Peak, you can see the confluence of the Potomac and Great Cacapon rivers, with Maryland on the far side of the Potomac and, on a clear day, Pennsylvania beyond that. Unfortunately, the humidity prevented Pennsylvania from showing up on the photograph. I was, however, able to discern it (barely) with the naked eye between the dips in the two ranges visible in the photograph.
Burlington, West Virginia
On our first night, before we started “motel-ling” it, we stayed with Linda’s brother in Burlington, West Virginia. This is a picture of his log cabin in which we spent the night.
The Mound Cemetery, Marietta, Ohio
Marietta is located on the northwestern side of the Ohio River. It was the location where the first settlers landed in what was then called the Northwest Territory. It served as the first seat of government for the territory. The settlers decided to place their cemetery around an Indian burial mound, thus the name of the cemetery. As you can see, this was a rainy day.
Wayne National Forest, Ohio
Just northeast of Marietta is the Wayne National Forest. Running up through the forest is State Route 26, and along this route are several old covered bridges. Unfortunately, this side trip was rain shortened as well. If you haven’t guessed, the lady in the past two photos is Linda.
In our journey west, we traveled through rural Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota. The main thing we noticed was that there are three main crops throughout this region: corn, soy, and wind. We drove for hours with at least one wind farm within view. We decided to get this photo to remind us of this part of the voyage.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Starved Rock State Park is the most popular park in Illinois. It has well-kept hiking trails and scenery well worth the hike. The photo I selected is of a waterfall at the end of a rather long trail in the St. Louis Canyon. As you can see, it is a very popular spot.
Taliesin, Wyoming County, Wisconsin
Taliesin was the home of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It, and the nearby visitors’ center (formerly a restaurant), were designed by him. I couldn’t resist including a photo of the (former) entrance along State Route 23. Where the driveway was originally being now a field of grass.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
This Indian burial ground is laid out along a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River. The mounds range in shape from simple circular mounds, extended lines, animals, like bears and birds, and other complex shapes. While the mounds are impressive up close, photos do not do them justice. Instead, I decided to include a photo of the view looking down on the Mississippi.
A few days before we arrived, the park and the nearby town of Marquette were devastated by a derecho that passed through the area. Because of that fact, more than two thirds of the parks trails were closed to the public due to fallen trees and unsafe conditions.
Falls Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
This park, in the center of town, contains Sioux Falls’ namesake waterfall. I couldn’t resist including it on my photo tour. For an urban park, it is very pretty and well-kept. The park is connected to other parks in the city along the Big Sioux River by a sixteen-mile-long paved path for biking and hiking.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The Badlands are well-named since they appear almost totally inhospitable, although we did see several antelope (with radio collars) in the few grassy areas. The landscape is both alien and beautiful.
Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
Compared to the Badlands, the Black Hills are full of life and greenery. Inside, and adjacent to, the forest are several points of interest. Four of which I document below. Appropriately, while we were driving though the forest the radio station which we were listening played the Beatles “Rocky Racoon”.
Crazy Horse Monument, South Dakota
This massive monument is under construction in the Black Hills. The face and part of a pointing arm have been completed. A rough drawing of where his horse’s head will be also is seen in the photo I selected. At the visitors’ center is a large sculpture of what the monument will look like when completed. This entire effort is paid for by entrance fees and donations by visitors.
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
This is a multilayered park with grasslands above and a massive cave system below. Currently over 140 miles of this cave network have been mapped making it the sixth longest in the world. A type of calcite deposit known as boxwood is the Wind Cave’s claim to fame, with about 95% of the world’s boxwood formations found here.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
On our drive up from Wind Cave to Mt. Rushmore, we passed through Custer State Park and faced our first (but not last) buffalo roadblock. The bison own the road here and they know it. These majestic bovines enjoy moseying across the road and stopping unexpectedly. They even sometimes lay down right in the middle of the road. A fact which we found later in Yellowstone.
Mt. Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota
This iconic monument needs no description other than it is immense. The visitors’ center and promenade are beautiful. One thing that really impressed me was the fact that it only cost one million dollars to carve. Labor was cheap back then.
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Devils Tower, or as the Indians referred to it, Bear Lodge, is an impressive butte composed of volcanic rock. It stands 867 feet from summit to base. Originally named Devil’s Tower, for some unknown reason the apostrophe was dropped from the official name.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
As everyone knows this is the site of Custer’s Last Stand at the end of the Battle of Little Bighorn. This battle pitted the U.S. 7th Calvary against the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. During the battle, five of the 7th Calvary’s twelve companies were annihilated. 268 officers, enlisted men, and civilians, mostly scouts, were killed.
This was the only battlefield where the soldiers were buried where they fell. Later, the bodies were exhumed with the officers being sent to their home towns and the enlistees buried in a proper cemetery at the battlefield. (Custer is buried at West Point.) The original headstones were left as markers on the battlefield. This means, at least for the enlisted soldiers and scouts, they have two headstones. In the photo, Custer’s original headstone has the black placard on it.
Glacier National Park, Montana
While crossing Glacier National Park on the “Going to the Sun” highway the most striking feature we noticed was the almost complete lack of snow. Linda had been here forty-one years ago, also in July, and remembered snow-capped peaks. She experienced temperatures in the thirties while we had them in the seventies. Despite this fact, the grandeur of the park was inspiring.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Here is where I really must ignore my “one photo per site” rule. The variety of sights (and sounds) was nothing short of amazing. The park is so large and the sights so numerous that after exploring it for two and a half days we barely scratched the surface.
Besides the photos below, we saw many wondrous things both within and surrounding this massive volcanic caldera including: waterfalls, mud volcanos, hot springs, geysers, cliffs, and grasslands filled with bison and elk. We even saw a pond right on the continental divide filled with floating water plants. As to the pictures I’ve included, here they are with a brief description of each:
Of all the waterfalls in the park, the scariest to reach was the Virginia Cascades. To reach it, we needed to drive on a narrow, one-way road with no side barriers for a few miles on the side of a cliff. If you have a fear of heights (like I do), think twice before following this side road.
The Dragon’s Mouth Spring is a hot spring inside a cave. It is constantly roaring with steam and waves of hot water coming out of it. It really has the look and feel of a cave with dragon living inside.
No one can go to Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt. This is probably the most famous geyser in the world and is synonymous with Yellowstone itself. I caught a rather good eruption. From what I heard, the one before this one was only half as high.
The Fountain Paint Pot in the Lower Geyser Basin is as colorful and otherworldly as its name implies. Here is just one picture that shows a few of the many colors on display in this area.
The Sapphire Pool is a hot spring with water so clear that you can see down to a great depth. It is also located in the Lower Geyser Basin. In the photo, you can hardly see the water. In my opinion, this is another must see at the park.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Wyoming
This small park connects the larger Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It has a quaint beauty all its own. The photo is of the Flagg Ranch Information Station.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
This park has forests, grasslands, and lakes; but the star of this parkland is its namesake mountain range. There are also two chapels within the park; one of which, the Chapel of the Transfiguration has a large window behind the altar with a beautiful view of the mountain range. One obvious thing we noticed about the Teton Range is that it had a lot more snow than the mountains of Glacier.
Idaho Falls, Idaho Falls, Idaho
This is another urban waterfall in a city’s center. Unlike Sioux Falls however, this one is mostly manmade. The 20-foot falls run a thousand feet across the Snake River. There are additional rapids below the drop.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
This National Monument is a 618 square mile series of lava flows dating back 15,000 years. The two main lava fields in the park are only 2,200 years old, however. These lava fields lie along the Great Rift of Idaho. The black, volcanic rock fields are so widespread they can easily be seen from space.
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, Idaho
This park has two overlooks. The first one has a view of the Snake River while the second has a vantage of the Oregon Trail. As a matter of fact, 3.2 miles of the road through this site are on the Oregon Trail itself. If you want to see the fossils, however, you need to stop by the visitors’ center in the town of Hagerman.
The city of Kuna, where my oldest daughter lives with her husband and our five grandchildren, is a fast-growing area outside of Boise. Every year, in early August, they have a fireworks’ display to celebrate the city’s founding, Kuna Day. “Kuna” is a Shoshone word that means “green leaf, good to smoke”.
We spent a couple of weeks in Kuna with family, resting up for the next leg of our trip, and preparing for the “Great American Eclipse”.
Yellowstone Bear World, Rexburg, Idaho
During our respite in Kuna, my son-in-law, two oldest grandsons, and I took a trip across Idaho to Yellowstone Bear World. There, in a drive-through park, we saw bears (both grizzly and black) and many other animals including elk, mountain goats, bison, moose, and deer.
They also had a petting zoo with goats, chickens, ducks, geese, pheasant, fawns, and a potbelly pig. There was also an area with bear cubs where you could get close, but not touch.
Total Solar Eclipse, Weatherby, Oregon
No words can describe the awesome beauty. Perfect weather and perfect location. Unfortunately, I am a lousy photographer. None of my photos did this event justice.
Great Salt Lake, Willard, Utah
After leaving my daughter’s home in Idaho, we headed south to take our two oldest grandsons home to the Houston area. Since they were due to start school in six days, we were pressed for time. While passing the Great Salt Lake, I took a “drive by” photo of it from the car.
Zion National Park, Utah
In a shortened stop at Zion National Park, we visited the Kolob Canyons region in the northern section of the park. This area has some impressive mountains and cliffs, but we had to forgo any long hiking due to our deadline.
The Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
In another “drive by”, we drove down the “Strip” as we passed through Las Vegas on our way to our next stop. We also wanted to limit our grandsons’ exposure to the wilder side of “Sin City”.
The Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona
This was one of the most impressive man-made structures I have ever seen. The saying “you’ve seen one dam, you seen them all” does not apply here. Unfortunately, my photographs do not do it justice.
Dolan Springs, Arizona
Our next planned stop was the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the south side of the canyon in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Unfortunately, a severe thunderstorm had washed out the road in several places and it was impassable. Due to our time constraints, we were unable to go to another section of the canyon. With great disappointment, we turned back and headed to our next stop.
Barringer Meteor Crater, Winslow, Arizona
This half-mile wide hole in the ground was the first confirmed meteor crater on Earth. From its rim to the crater floor, it is 550 feet deep. The visitors center and museum are on the crater rim to allow easy viewing of the site.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
In a major change of plans, our journey to the Houston area was delayed for what turned out to be four additional days due to hurricane Harvey. Heading back west and north, we got to visit the Grand Canyon after all. We got to see the canyon from the South Rim. In addition to the majestic vistas, the park contains several Puebloan ruins.
Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona
While keeping the kids away from the storm, we added this location to our itinerary (and I’m glad we did). While lacking the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, this site is still rather impressive and was home to the cliff dwelling Sinagua people. These were Hopi ancestors. Their ruins are still easily seen from across the canyon.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
This park turned out to be three parks in one.
The southern end of the park is the aforementioned Petrified Forest. These trees grew in the Triassic Period when early dinosaurs roamed the planet. They toppled, were buried, and then fossilized. After millions of years the rock surrounding them wore away leaving them just laying around.
The middle of the park contains a wealth of Puebloan ruins and petroglyphs. Whereas the southern end of the park is for paleontologists, this part of the park is an archeologist’s dream.
At the north end of the park is the famous Painted Desert. There are several viewing points at this end, as well as the Painted Desert Inn, a building in Pueblo style that is a historic landmark.
Very Large Array, Magdalena, New Mexico
While heading east through New Mexico on our way to our next National Park, we happened to pass through the Very Large Array. This radio telescope complex consists of 27 large dishes laid out in a Y shape. Working as one, these dishes give a resolution of an antenna 22-miles across.
Trinity Site, White Sands, New Mexico
Still further east, we drove by Trinity, the site of the first atomic bomb test. Not much to see now, but on July 16, 1945 this view would have been spectacular.
Roswell, New Mexico
After a long day’s travel, we happened to stop in Roswell for the night. By this time the boys were getting tired of riding (and their grandparents). I tried to see if the aliens would take them off our hands, but no luck.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
After taking an elevator 850-feet down into the caverns, we took a mile-long, self-guided tour through the “Hall of Giants” and the 8.2-acre “Big Room”. The enormity of this cave is mind boggling. If you want to read more about Carlsbad, try the January 1924 issue of National Geographic.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Just south of Carlsbad is another National Park, this one in West Texas. The Guadalupe Mountains not only contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,751 feet, but also the famous “El Capitan” which I have shown here.
After ten days cooped up in a car with their grandparents, the boys were happy to be home. By a quirk of fate, they live in the same town as a fellow ‘Corner member who graciously let us spend the night. His collection is most impressive, to say the least.
Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas
After an exhausting journey from Idaho to Texas, and with the weather looking dismal for our planned southern route, we decided to cut our journey short and to head back home. However, we did find several places to visit on our new route. First stop, Hot Springs National Park.
The park not only contains the row of bath houses for which it is famous, but also a forest on the north side of the city. After a long, winding drive to the top of a mountain, you reach an observation tower. From its top, you can see all the city and the park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
This park is divided in two between the two states. On the Tennessee side, there is a road that parallels the Little River. Then another road cuts across the park, taking you up into the mountains. On the North Carolina side, there is a Mountain Farm Museum.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
This park contains a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway known as the Skyline Drive. It takes you 105 miles through the park. There are numerous overlooks both on the west side and the east side depending on which side of the ridge you happen to be at your point of the journey.
From there, it was a relatively short ride back to Catonsville, Maryland, and home sweet home. All told, it took 47 days and 9,158.0 miles on the odometer. In addition, the round trips to Bear World (650 miles) and the eclipse (200 miles) put my journey over 10,000 miles.
Well done Tom!
Thank you for sharing.
That is quite the journey. Thanks so much for sharing the photos and commentary.
Mark Van Winkle
Very nice trip Tom.
Twice as fun by having the grandkids with you!
Have a great weekend!
What a beautiful vacation you had to see all those wonderful National Parks and the eclipse....