Flashback to 2008 – a trip to Houston to visit a friend turns into a 2 day whirlwind tour of San Antonio and Austin. First stop – the San Antonio Missions! There are FOUR Missions in San Antonio and it is absolutely possible to visit them all in a single day!
It was my first EVER trip to Texas, and I remember thinking how flat everything was compared to the east coast. Now living on the west coast, I think the east coast is flat too! San Antonio is about 3+ hours from Houston and 4+ hours from Dallas.
Even in November, the weather was hot – a very welcome change from New England. We arrived from the south and made our way towards the center of the city.
Our first stop was Mission (San Francisco de la) Espada, the southernmost mission. Founded in 1690, it was the first mission in Texas. It relocated to its present location in 1731. I remember wandering among the foundations and random doorways standing by themselves, and an aqueduct behind this façade. The doors are all very short, btw.
Next up was Mission San Juan (Capistrano), founded in 1716 and moved to its present location in 1731. The façade has been restored to a whitewashed stone since my visit. The was a lot of open space at this mission, and little shade – a good tip for a hot summer day!
Next up was my favorite mission, Mission San José (y San Miguel de Aguayo), the home of the Rose Window. Founded in 1720 and completed in 1782, it was the largest mission in the San Antonio area. It has beautiful gardens and an active church.
Last but not least was Mission Concepción (Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña), founded in 1716, and moved to the current location in 1731. The church was dedicated in 1755 after 15 years of construction, and is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. There are beautiful frescos on the inside of the church.
Since my visit, the city of San Antonio has completed the Mission Riverwalk Hike & Bike trail – over 8 miles of protected trail along the river that runs from the Alamo to Mission Espada. There are water fountains along the route and signs indicating where to exit for each Mission. Check it out!
The Alamo, the most well know San Antonio Mission, is not park of the National Historic Park. It is, however, part of the San Antonio Missions UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a great trip for fall, winter or spring, when the weather is not unbearable. Have a great trip!
2009 Flashback: Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Flashback to an overcast April day, a relatively empty Pu’ukohola Heiau NHS, my camera and a few hours to explore before I met up with friends. I decided to visit Pu’ukohola Heiau alone as my friends preferred shopping to a rainy morning adventure. I was determined to visit the Park and get a passport stamp before I left the island. Also, I had heard black-tipped reef sharks could be seen in Pelekane Bay (early morning is usually the best time). Upon arrival I spoke with a park ranger to gather information about the park. I was told to walk around, stay on the trails, read, and listen. I wasn’t sure exactly what the listen part meant, but I left the Visitor Center pretty certain the ranger meant the cell phone audio tour.
I began walking, read all the posted signs, and occasionally listened to the cell phone audio tour. Eventually I just walked the trail, observed, and listened. Not to the audio tour, but to the sounds of this beautiful place. I sat on a bench for a while in the light rain and watched black-tipped reef sharks swimming in the bay! Watching the beauty of the sharks was worth the visit and by far the most fulfilling experience of the day. I tried to take photographs, but the rain made it a complicated process. Eventually I put my camera away and simply existed in the moment. I walked down to the shoreline to get a closer look at the sharks, unfortunately, it didn’t allow for a better visual on this low tide day. I sat near the shore under tall palm trees and listened to the water, rain, and wind.
I cannot tell you how long I was there as I had lost track of time in the peacefulness of the Park. I was sitting by the water when I heard other visitors in the distance and decided it was time to head back to the car. Without realizing that I hadn’t explored the whole park I acquired my stamp and departed. I would like to revisit Pu’ukohola Heiau again, learn more about its historical significance, and explore its entirety as I missed a lot of it the first time. Though I wonder if the experience would be as powerful the second time around.
National Mall and Memorial Parks – so many stamps!
Last week I had the chance to visit DC, 11 years after I first lived in the area, and 9 after I left. It was the week leading up to Memorial Day, so the city was bustling with school field trips, tourists, and of course, workers in suits. The stage was set for the annual PBS Memorial Day concert on the Capitol Lawn (filmed Sunday evening, dress rehearsal Saturday). The summer heat suddenly appeared after weeks of cold rain, with daytime temperatures in the mid 80’s, but thankfully – no humidity. Summer gets pretty muggy, which is why the spring and fall seasons are so popular. Winter can be beautiful, especially the peace and calm right after a snow storm, but it’s really only accessible if you are staying downtown. Roads and the metro are a nightmare for a while after snow.
Walking along the National Mall was one of my favorite activities on a day off. It is such a peaceful green space in the midst of a busy city, with so many monuments to visit. Back in 2005/2006, the Washington Monument was closed for renovations. It reopened in 2007 just before I moved away. It’s a wonderful, extremely popular, view of the National Mall and monuments. Timed entry tickets are FREE the day of so get to the visitor center by 8:30am daily to try to get one, or you can pay a fee to reserve online in advance (limited supply here).
Many of the National Mall and Memorial Parks passport stamps can be found at the Washington Monument bookstore, which is not attached to the actual monument but on the east side. Other bigger memorials (Jefferson, Lincoln) that have gift shops will also have a passport cancellation on site. For me, I was thankful for the trove of stamps at the Washington Monument bookstore. I had visited all of these sites in DC well before I bought my first passport book, and due to my limited time this visit, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to each monument for the stamps.
Getting to the National Mall is easy by metro, if you are willing to walk a little bit. Take the red line to Farragut North or Metro Center and walk in from the White House, take the Orange/Silver/Blue Line to Smithsonian, Federal Triangle or even Foggy Bottom, or the Green/Yellow line to L’Enfant Plaza.
Chicago’s Pullman National Monument is a newly designated unit of the National Park Service. George Pullman was a railroad juggernaut who decided to build a company town for his employees. The idea was for his workers to have a “town” that provided them with a better standard of living and in turn he could retain those skilled workers. However, the town did not become quite the success Pullman had hoped for. The demand for railcars slowed and to make up for the loss of revenue Pullman lowered his workers wages, but kept the cost of living the same, inciting unrest within the community. The downfall of the Pullman legacy, company, and town was inevitable following a strike, a boycott, and riots.
Few buildings of the company town still remain, albeit some in a state of disrepair. The factory buildings have long suffered from neglect, a fire, and the elements. The Pullman Factory Administration Building, Greenstone Church, and Hotel Florence seem to have withstood the test of time, but were unavailable for touring. Luckily I visited on a Bio Blitz day and was allowed access to explore part of the grounds usually protected behind locked gates. I came across an adorable community garden. Members of the community can request (after going to a meeting) a raised bed and cultivate it to their liking! The Factory Administration Building and Greenstone Church stood tall and illustrated the architecture of the time. Hotel Florence is currently under renovations, but the outside of the building and the surrounding areas were nice to walk around and photograph. It was a beautiful day, everyone at the park was so kind, and I was able to take my time walking around. If you are in Chicago and have time to visit their only National Monument I would definitely recommend it.
In celebration of the NPS centennial, Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego is hosting special events all summer, in partnership with the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation (CNMF) and Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy (CNMC). Many of these events are after-hours and extremely special, since the park normally closes at 5pm. Visitors have a chance to experience sunset from the park, one of the best vantage points of San Diego (in my opinion).
Extended hours on Memorial Day, Monday May 30th. 12pm-8pm. Check out the Open Bunker Day and a special Ranger guided sunset walk!
Sunset Yoga in the Park, sponsored by the Cabrillo National Monument Conservancy. Join Cabrillo’s resident yoga instructor for an all-levels sunset yoga classes overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Recently I had to opportunity to visit Waco Mammoth National Monument in Waco, Texas. The monument was added to the National Park System in 2015. It includes a shelter that is climate controlled and protects the dig site while ongoing scientific studies are conducted. It also offers visitors an overhead view of the fossils via a suspended walkway. Visitors can roam the grounds for free, while a $5 fee allows you to see the dig site and partake in a guided tour.
This paleontological site is unique in that it is the only discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths in the nation. It has been hypothesized that the nursery herd of 24 adult and juvenile mammoths arrived at their early demise by means of drowning together “in a single natural event between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago”. The shelter houses fossils not just from Columbian mammoths (distant relatives of the wooly mammoth which lived in significantly colder northern regions), but also other Ice Age animals including a Western camel, dwarf antelope, giant tortoise, and a saber-toothed cat. The majority of the excavated bones are stored at Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex. Baylor has been instrumental in the exploration of this site since the initial stages in 1978.
It was interesting to learn about various Ice Age animals and the catastrophic event that annihilated this herd of Columbian mammoths. If you are in the area add this monument to your list of places to visit.
So you are planning a trip to Maui and you want to capture some great photos of the stars and sunrise on Haleakala. What should you bring?
-A camera capable of taking long exposures. Any DSLR, GoPro, point and shoot with a manual mode, and even an iPhone (with the right app) will suffice. This trip I used an Olympus Tough TG-4 and a GoPro. Photo above taken with the Olympus Tough TG-4, Live Capture mode. Exposure was only about 8-10 minutes since the sky was becoming lighter close to sunrise. Arrive 2-4 hours before scheduled sunrise for dark skies and light trail photos.
-A tripod & camera mount. There are tons of options out there, from tiny Gorillapods to traditional Manfrotto tripods. Just be sure you have the mount you need for the camera.
-A cable/remote release. You don’t want to ruin your stable photo on the tripod by stopping the photo with an unsteady hand. Newer point and shoot cameras (including the TG-4 Tough) can be controlled with your smartphone. DSLRs typically have associated cable releases that cost $15.
-A headlamp, preferably with a red light option, to preserve your night vision and everyone else around you!
-Any time lapse tools. GoPro Hero 3 and newer have a Time Lapse Photo mode, which takes sequential timed photos, which you can import in the GoPro software to make a time lapse video. The newer GoPro Hero 4 models also have a nice Time Lapse Video feature, which will stitch all your photos together in camera and make an MP4 file in GoPro Studio. If you want all of the individual photos and a higher res video, you should use Time Lapse Photo mode.
-A snack and water. There are no restaurants in the park, so you must pack food in and out. You can grab pre-packaged food at local grocery stores the day before your trip, or stop at the 24-hr Zippy’s in Kahului before you head up the mountain. Also, at 10,000 ft elevation, you will become dehydrated much faster so be sure you have plenty of water, especially if you are sticking around a while.
-Something soft to sit on. The lava rocks are pretty sharp and if you get tired of standing you will be grateful for something to sit/lay on.
-A hat, gloves, jacket, long pants, closed toe shoes and hand warmers. It is very cold at 10,000 ft every night. Even colder if it’s windy. You likely won’t want to leave your camera, so you will be glad you have something to help keep you warm.
-Patience, an extra camera and something to keep you occupied! Time lapse shots take a long time for nice star trails – 30 minutes minimum. You will want a second camera for taking other shorter shots as the light improves.
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park would like to invite you to practice yoga in their park, for free! Sounds like a great excuse to get some friends together and experience your park in a new way. A little yoga in the sun, bonding time, and a few laughs in a national park is a recipe for an epic outing! Heather and I are huge fans of yoga and have both practiced for a few years now. Both of us were drawn to yoga for different reasons and at different times, but we share a passion for its physical and mental benefits.
There isn’t one reason I enjoy yoga, rather it’s a multitude of them. It provides me with a moment of stillness, relaxation, and quiet all while moving in and out of postures. It not only strengthens my physical body, but my mind as well. Whether you are a beginner or advanced yogi there is always something new to learn about your practice and yourself. My go-to posture is Lord of the Dance (often referred to as Dancer pose) because it requires complete concentration while balancing and strengthening. I find this posture to be empowering when I am properly aligned, balanced, and breathing. It affords me the opportunity to cultivate the ability to stay in the moment.
“I love yoga because it is a way for me to recollect and focus my thoughts on myself in a world of constant, continuous information and multi-tasking. It is my peaceful time, free of interruptions. Physically, it relaxes and opens areas of my body, like my shoulders, that become tense during the course of the work day. I was drawn to vinyasa style yoga because I love the constant movement and dance between postures and the strength I have gained from the practice. I especially love yoga in nature because I am already disconnected from some (or all!) technology, and the yoga takes the peace to the next level. One of my favorite postures when I am outdoors is reverse warrior, because I love feeling the opening of my hips and rib cage, and it’s relatively safe to do close to the edge of a mountain! It took me a while to really master the posture and refrain from doing a back bend, focusing on the side bend instead.” ~ Heather
There are many opportunities to yoga in your park.
Grab your mat, a friend, and get your yoga on!
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
Dates: Every Saturday from June 4th – July 30th
Location: Mound City Group Visitor Center
What to bring: Mat, water, and towel
Contact and RSVP: Melinda Repko (740)774-1126
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
5/24: 7am at Mission Concepcion
6/28: 7am at Mission San Jose
7/26: 7am at Mission San Juan
8/23: 7am at Mission Espada
What to bring: Mat, water, and towel
Park Contact: Natalie Campbell (210) 534-8875 ext 231
Flashback to my first national park visit – Shenandoah National Park
Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside and at the shore, but always close to my home in South Jersey. So it wasn’t until college that I began to travel and visit national parks, starting with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
I remember the drive from Williamsburg, VA to the southern Rockfish Gap entrance to the park, because it was one of my first drives in the Appalachian mountains. The flat terrain and straight roads you could see for miles ahead gave way to foothills and winding roads, the Appalachian
mountains visible in the distance. Surrounded by the lush, green forests of towering chestnut and red oak trees, we entered the park and weaved our way north on Skyline Drive.
We got a campsite at Loft Mountain campground, the largest in the park, towards the southern end of the park. It has an amphitheater with beautiful eastern and western views of the mountains. This was my first camping experience, and there was a rumbling of bear sightings near the campground the night before, so needless to say every rustle of a leaf or branch was amplified in my mind as I tried to sleep that first night. Alas, I slept and did not have a bear encounter.
The following day we drove north to our destination for the day – mile marker 45.6 to hike the very strenuous 8.2-mile Whiteoak Canyon-Cedar Creek circuit, past numerous waterfalls and cascades. It was summer so the trees were lush and offered ample shade as we descended from the road. The cascading waterfalls serenaded hikers beside the trail, and the smells of the creek lingered in the cool air. At one point, a brown bear was spotted drinking at the creek far below.
The water in the pools was cold, even in the summer, but refreshing for a quick dip after a long descent. Occasionally, we passed other hikers on the trail, especially around the crystalline pools, but most of the time we descended to the sounds of nature and the rhythm of our own footsteps.
The hike took 6 hours, even though we descended the steep side and ascended the “easier side,” which was recommended in an old hiking book. This is the opposite of what is recommended on the NPS site, possibly because you hit the waterfalls early and there is not as much to see on the difficult ascent. Sore and exhausted, but feeling accomplished, sleep came shortly after and the thought of bears in the campground didn’t phase me this time. The beauty of the hike stayed with me and I visited Shenandoah National Park many times after.
Year established: December 26, 1935 (Authorized May 22, 1926)
Size: 197,438.76 acres (79,579 acres of wilderness)
Annual visitors: 1,321,873 in 2015 (Peak 2,411,500 in 1970)
Hours: 24 hours
Best activities: Hiking, camping, fall foliage, spring wildflowers
Where to find the passport cancellation stamp: Two visitor centers – Dickey Ridge (North) and Harry F. Byrd Sr. (South)
I just returned from a family trip to Maui. We arrived Saturday evening and the rest of our party arrived on Sunday afternoon, so on our first morning there, Sam and I made the trek to the summit of Haleakala National Park to watch the sunrise at the top of the world. It is a breathtaking, magical experience, and below are some tips for your trip!
Plan your visit at the beginning or end of your trip. It will give you something to do when you are jet lagged, or can help you adjust back to your time zone. Depending on where you stay (see next tip), you could be leaving your hotel at 3am or 4am!
Plan to stay closer to the park. The drive times to the summit are: 60 minutes from Kula and Makawao, 75 minutes from Paia, 90 minutes from Kahului, 100 minutes from Kihei, 2 hours from Wailea, 2 hours 15 minutes from Lahaina, and 2 hours 30 minutes minutes from Ka’anapali. We stayed at a comfortable but cheap hotel in Kahului, but you could also find an Airbnb in Kula, Makawao or Paia.
Plan to arrive a minimum of 1 hour before scheduled sunrise. This is a popular trip, so the two parking lots (summit at 10000ft and visitor center at 9700ft) will be full close to sunrise. We arrived about 40 minutes before sunrise and we were the last car allowed up to the summit lot. If you arrive 2 hours beforehand on a night with little or no moon, you can stargaze under some of the darkest skies in the country (hence the presence of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy observatories – also at the summit, but unfortunately closed to the public. Easy to admire from afar!). Be sure to check the local sunrise and moon phase before you go!
Plan to be freezing. It is cold (30s) and windy at night at 10,000 ft, every month of the year. A warm under layer, a wind proof top layer, a warm beanie, warm gloves, socks and closed shoes are key! You will be happy you packed those hand warmers and jacket. I like to wear yoga pants under my wind proof hiking pants, a tank/hiking tee under my hoodie and insulated jacket, along with my hiking sneakers. My face and my hands are always the coldest. Many people will wear shorts and wrap up in a beach towel – this is not enough to keep you warm! At the summit lot is a glass-enclosed hut that will protect you from the wind, but it gets crowded fast, so if you don’t have the proper clothes, try arrive early to grab a spot in front.
Plan to bring enough food and water with you. There are no restaurants in the park, so you must pack food/trash in and out. You can grab pre-packaged food at local grocery stores the day before your trip, or stop at the 24-hr Zippy’s in Kahului before you head up the mountain. Also, at 10,000 ft elevation, you will become dehydrated much faster so be sure you have plenty of water, especially if you are sticking around a while.
Plan other activities from the summit. You can hike into the crater along the sliding sands trail, take a bike tour down crater road starting at the park entrance, or rent a mountain bike and ride down the spine of the crater along the Skyline trail. On a previous trip after the sun came up, I hiked into the crater to Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o cinder cone. It was lovely until I had to hike out. They call it the sliding sands trail for a reason – I was envious of the people on horseback (which they no longer operate inside the crater). Be aware it will get very warm as the sun comes up, so dress in layers. Also remember to pack sunscreen! Lower down the mountain you can zip line, take a horseback ride, visit lavender farms, and shop in upcountry towns.
Plan to pay the park entrance fee of $15. It is good for 3 days, so if you want to visit the coastal area of the park near Hana, plan that day close to your Haleakala trip.
You can also visit the park for sunset, but be aware you will have to drive down the mountain switchbacks in the dark.
Quick facts and overview: Haleakala National Park
Year established: 1916
Size: 34,294 acres
Annual visitors: 1.2 million in 2015
Best activities: Sunrise/sunset viewing, stargazing, hiking
Where to find the passport stamp: The Haleakala visitor center at the summit (9740 ft.) has a passport station in the far back corner. The posted hours are sunrise-3pm. The headquarters visitor center down the mountain at 7000 ft. also has passport stamps, open 8am-3:45p daily.