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Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Little Niagara
Little Niagara

Chickasaw NRA felt different from the other National Park units I’ve been to. I found it difficult to navigate due to the lack of signs leading to the park. Once I arrived at the Travertine Nature Center I noticed the large amount of visitors meandering about, hanging out at the Nature Center, and playing in almost every bit of water visible. The Travertine Nature Center Park Rangers offered visitors information about the park, stamps, suggestions for hikes, and were incredibly patient with long winded visitor monologs.  I noticed many families congregating at Little Niagara, a small waterfall and swimming area. This would be a fun place for photography if you can get there early before it is packed with families swimming and setting up camp for the day. I would suggest seeing this particular part of the park first thing in the morning before the crowd hits it around mid-day. The park is free of charge and visitors are allowed, even encouraged, to frolic in the water. It was a hot Saturday morning and people were everywhere.

Buffalo Spring
Buffalo Spring

Once we left the crowded areas it was actually pretty enjoyable. The Antelope and Buffalo Spring hike was an easy/moderate 1.2 miles through a beautiful forest setting. While the trees are delightful it seems water is the main reason people are drawn to this park. If you happen to have a camera that is waterproof, dunk it and get some underwater photographs. The Buffalo Spring provided a calm shady place to sit and rest. The spring was constantly bubbling and I lingered here for a while relaxing in this quiet spot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADon’t forget to check out the Bison Pasture Trail, a 1.9 moderate hiking loop, early in the morning as well. I went around 1pm and it was so incredibly hot that I couldn’t walk the entire trail. I was unable to see bison as I am sure they were hiding from the blazing heat.  I bet when they are out grazing it is a beautiful sight!

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is worth seeing if you can explore without the crowds. Be sure to chat with the Rangers before heading out as they can provide you with a plethora of information about the park.

Death Valley in Summer – crazy or awesome? Stay tuned!

Death Valley in Summer – crazy or awesome? Stay tuned!

At 8pm as I type this, the temperature at Furnace Creek in Death Valley is 100F with 5% humidity. The overnight low is 80, and the high tomorrow is 113. So why then, would we want to visit mid-August?

1. Timing – off season there are less crowds. cheaper rooms, and more vast desert to yourself. The night is also warm for exploring – just be aware of wildlife you may encounter!
2. High elevations – won’t be as hot, so you can explore there during the day!
3. The hottest place in the US. Who wouldn’t want to experience it, for a minute or two?

Check back next week as we review our whirlwind weekend trip from Vegas to Los Angeles, visiting 4 NPS sites along the way!

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission San Jose - water well
Mission San Jose – water well
Saturday, June 18th San Antonio Missions National Historical Park offered a free open house and picnic at Mission Concepcion. The public was encouraged to bring in lawn chairs, food, and cameras for the community event. Live music was provided by Horizon, food trucks offered tasty treats for purchase, and kiddos were provided activities to keep them occupied! It was a hot Texas Saturday, nevertheless people were out enjoying the park. I had originally thought the missions were in close proximity to one another, but it turns out you need to drive to each one. They are not terribly far from one another, but it is something to consider if you are short on time or have other plans for the day.

 

Mission San Jose is spacious and well maintained. I was able to take my time looking around and snapping photos. My exploration was not hindered by other visitors due to the vastness of the grounds. The church (open to the public) displays some of the first examples of Baroque architecture in the U.S. including a beautiful piece of artistry called the Rose Window. “The Rose Window is known as the premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the United States”. Historians are unsure as to the significance of the window, however, there are a few theories out there explaining the mystery. Mission San José gives visitors a glimpse of what missions might have looked like some 250 years ago.

Mission San Jose - church
Mission San Jose – church

Mission Espada was about a fifteen minutes away so I headed there next. I found the Spanish detailing on the small church doorway, the stone archways, and remaining mazelike irrigation structures to be picturesque. The Espada Aqueduct and Dam are still functional and is said to be the oldest aqueduct of Spanish influence in the U.S. The system is about two-centuries-old and can be explored if you are so inclined.

Mission San Juan was significantly less busy than the other missions and it didn’t take me long to explore the grounds. The church, partially restored, is a smooth whitewashed stone façade which is drastically different in appearance from the other three missions. Due to recent structural issues the church is not open to visitors.

I would suggest visiting San Antonio Missions National Historical Park if you are in town. Parking was easy and the visitor centers were helpful and loaded with information. Perhaps combine visiting the park with one of their events!

Mission San Jose- stone walls
Stone walls surrounding the mission