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Flashback to 2008 – San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Flashback to 2008 – San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

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.

The bells at Mission Espada

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!

Mission San Juan, 2008. It has since been restored to a whitewashed stone façade.
Mission San Juan, 2008. It has since been restored to a whitewashed stone façade.

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.

Mission San Jose, my personal favorite, due to the exceptional gardens
Mission San Jose, my personal favorite, due to the exceptional gardens
The Rose Window
The Rose Window









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.

Mission Concepción

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!

Remember, the not part of the National Historic Park, but is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Remember, the Alamo….is not part of the National Historic Park, but is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
National Mall and Memorial Parks – so many stamps!

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.

Korean War Memorial
The Korean War Memorial
Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Wall
Vietnam Veterans War Memorial Wall







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).

Washington Monument western view
The view from the west windows of the Washington Monument

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.

Pullman National Monument

Pullman National Monument


Greenstone Church
Greenstone Church

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.

Community Garden
Community Garden


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.Pullman-mural

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Mammoth Sign 2016Recently 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.

Inside the Dig Shelter
Inside the Dig Shelter

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.

Mammoth fossils
Mammoth fossils

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.





Share the Experience Photo Contest!

Share the Experience Photo Contest!

Attention all outdoor enthusiasts! The Official Recreational Federal Lands Photo Contest – Share the Experience – is now open! They are seeking photos from amateur photographers that highlight the best of America’s federal lands, national parks and historical sites. The winner will grace the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Pass in 2017.

Here is a basic rundown of the details.

  • There are six categories for photo entries: Adventure & Outdoor Recreation; Historical & Cultural; Scenic, Seasons & Landscapes; Every Kid In A Park; Wildlife; Night Skies.
  • The photos must be taken on the lands or within the facilities of these participating agencies: National Park Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Photographs must be taken between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016 and contest entries are accepted from April 28, 2016 to December 31, 2016.
  • Eligible to legal residents of the 50 United States and DC, who are at least 13 years of age or older as of April 28, 2016.  Amateur Photographers (less than 20% of your total income is from photography)only. Photographs must be taken by you and you must have the rights to the photo.
  • Prizes include more than $30,000 in cash and other great prizes sponsored by ACTIVE Network, Celestron and Historic Hotels of America. Winners will be announced Spring 2017.

For more information, or to enter, visit the Share the Experience website here.

Yoga in the Park

Yoga in the Park

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.

Dancer's pose on the beach at sunset
Dancer pose in Costa Rica 2015

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.

Reverse warrior on Jungfraujoch
Find peace at the top of Europe in reverse warrior

“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

© Hopewell Cultural NHP 2015
© Hopewell Cultural NHP 2015

Dates: Every Saturday from June 4th – July 30th

Time: 9am-10am

Location: Mound City Group Visitor Center

What to bring: Mat, water, and towel

Cost:  Free

Contact and RSVP: Melinda Repko (740)774-1126

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

© San Antonio Missions NHP
© San Antonio Missions NHP

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

Cost: Free

Park Contact: Natalie Campbell (210) 534-8875 ext 231

Flashback to my first national park visit – Shenandoah National Park

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.

SIgn for Loft Mountain Campground
Loft Mountain campground

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.

Sunrise from Shenandoah National Park from Loft Mountain
Sunrise to the east from Loft Mountain

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.

A cascading waterfall along the Whiteoak Canyon Cedar Creek circuit in Shenandoah National Park
One of the many cascades along the Whiteoak Canyon-Cedar Creek circut

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.

A hiking trail in the forest at Shenandoah National Park
Hiking through the lush forests to the sounds of nature and 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.

Shenandoah National Park Quick Facts

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)

USPS Centennial Stamps

USPS Centennial Stamps

On August 25, 2016 the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of existence! In honor of this momentous occasion they have decided to celebrate all year long. The National Parks Services is hosting a myriad of events and free park days throughout the year. Today, however, I would like to discuss stamps. Yes…Stamps!

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Copyright: 2016 USPS)
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Copyright: 2016 USPS)

The United States Postal Service has decided to join in on the Centennial festivities! On April 25th, the USPS unveiled the 16th, and final, stamp in a brilliant collection to commemorate such an epic birthday. This pane of stamps doesn’t just showcase national parks – it also features a national monument, national historical parks, an aquatic garden, as well as national seashores, allowing for a richly satisfying representation of the parks system. Each stamp has been previewed individually (and alphabetically) since April 4th.

The first week of April previewed five sites including: Acadia National Park, Arches National Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, Bandelier National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The second week, the USPS previewed: Everglades National Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Grand Canyon National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Haleakalā National Park.

The final six stamps were previewed the week of April 18th. This unveiling celebrates Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Mount Rainier National Park, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Yellowstone National Park (one of the most-visited parks in the system).

The set of National Park Service Centennial stamps will be available on June 2, 2016! (Copyright: 2016 USPS)
The set of National Park Service Centennial stamps will be available on June 2, 2016!
(Copyright: 2016 USPS)

The June 2, 2016 first-day-of-issue ceremony will be held at New York City’s Javits Center (11am) as part of the once-in-a-decade World Stamp Show NY-2016. The show will run from May 28th-June 4th and admission is free. Can’t make it to NYC for the philately (the study of stamps and postal history) event? Dedication ceremonies will also be held at or near each park depicted in the stamp collection.

Want to know more?

Read the USPS press release.

Adventure on Earthlings ~ Tiffany

Passport to your National Parks!

Passport to your National Parks!


National Park Passport Book

The Passport to your National Parks book is a great way to keep track of your National Park visits. The traditional book has 104 pages, is priced at $9.95 and can be purchased in most visitor centers (unless they are out of stock) or online.  A special edition is available in 2016, honoring the National Park Service centennial.

The book breaks down the parks into regions, with a map and list of sites at the beginning of each region, and brief park descriptions. It lists National Parks, National Historic Sites, National Monuments and National Recreation Areas.  There are spaces on each page for the annual park stickers, and also the cancellation stamps, which you can get at most visitor centers. The stamps are dated, so it’s a lot of fun to look back and see exactly when you lasted visited a park.

Region maps and park descriptions
Space for cancellation stamps and park stickers






If you plan on visiting many parks, your pages will fill up rather quick with cancellation stamps, and it may be worth considering the Explorer Edition.

Passport to your National Parks,                 Explorer Edition and Traditional Book

It is binder style with removable pages, so you don’t have to carry the entire thing with you on short trips.  It also has larger maps, better descriptions and more space for cancellation stamps!  Get your Passport to your National Parks today!

Larger regional maps and more park details
Removeable pages and more space for cancellation stamps