New York National Park Properties

IMG_4739It is such a long drive from Missouri to Maine.  We broke up the trip with a little shopping (of course!) and stops at three National Park Service properties in New York.

The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls commemorates the first Women’s Rights convention in 1848.  It only took 72 more years before women were granted the right to vote!   The museum was well-done but they almost lost us with the introductory video.  It was a reenactment of the Women’s Convention but was interspersed with clips of teens and kids talking about gender stereotypes.  The problem was the film was obviously made in the 1980’s and the kids looked like the worst of DJ and Kimmie from Full House.  So distracting!

In Rome, New York, we stopped at Fort Stanwix National Monument.  The fort was significant during the 1700’s and was known as the fort that never surrendered during the Revolutionary War.  The fort itself is a re-creation.  The most interesting thing to me were the exhibits about the decision to rebuild the fort.  The decision to do so was part of a massive urban renewal partnership project between the community and the National Park Service.  The vision included the fort re-creation as well as development of museums and period pieces in the downtown, trying to build a tourist destination that would revitalize the community.  Part of that  downtown revitalization included a parking deck and pedestrian mall a la Kalamazoo, Michigan and Springfield, Missouri.  It’s not immediately clear whether Rome implemented the whole vision and it didn’t succeed or if they didn’t do enough to make a difference.  In any event, the fort was recreated and there’s a City parking deck across from it (although it was closed the day we visited) but downtown otherwise was pretty dead.  Another interesting thing was the fact that the community and NPS were sponsoring community talks about the urban renewal process and what went wrong.



My favorite stop was the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo.  TR was inaugurated at a private home in Buffalo after President McKinley died from a gunshot wound he suffered while speaking at the Pan-American Fair in Buffalo in 1901.  The private home is magnificent but it is only a backdrop to a really good guided tour that describes the Fair, President McKinley’s assassination, TR’s inauguration and the policies and ethics he brought to the presidency.

I’ve always been a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt’ s conservation ethic,  particularly for how he contributed to the preservation of some of our great natural areas such as Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest as well as cultural areas such as Mesa Verde.  He sought refuge in the great outdoors in times of despair and defeat.  There are some great books out there about him, particularly River of Doubt, written about his journey down an uncharted Brazilian river after he lost the presidential election.  That being said, some of his views were unquestionably racist.  I think it was the same day that we visited this site that VP Pence compared the current president to TR.  It’s hard for me to fathom how someone who is trying to de-list National Monuments and treasures such as Grand Staircase Escalante can be compared to Teddy Roosevelt who truly appreciated our natural resources and took positive action to protect them.  Perhaps it was the less positive TR attributes VP Pence was thinking of???

Here’s a silly picture of me in the mock-up of TR’s White House office to end my political rant.


Acadia National Park

IMG_4786This is what I imagined Maine would look like!  It’s the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park.  Quintessential Maine.  We spent the better part of a day exploring the park by driving the loop road and stopping at virtually every stop.  But first – obligatory campsite photo with master fire builder Sarah.


The Rockefeller family funded miles of carriage roads throughout Acadia.  We walked out from Jordan Pond and saw some of the historic rock bridges.DSC_3555DSC_3559DSC_3549

We timed our visit to Thunder Hole for high tide but the conditions weren’t prime for the tide to “thunder” as it rolled into the slot.  Still a pretty sight.  And can you believe the folks laying on top of the cliff overlooking?DSC_3509DSC_3505

Peaceful scene from Sieur de Monts Wild Gardens of Acadia.DSC_3564

The two food groups in Maine are lobster and blueberries.  Wild blueberries grow outside the Jordan Pond House and they let you pick them!DSC_3562

And then there’s lobster.  First picture is of Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, recommended by Jan Fisk and featured on CBS Sunday Morning the weekend before we left.  We waited in line for 2 hours for amazing lobster rolls.  The second was a more refined lobster event.  🙂



Beehive Trail

Blame it on Ryan Mooney!  We wouldn’t have attempted this trail except that Ryan said it was “fun”.  I should’ve checked before we started.  It describes Beehive as “moderate to difficult,” “using iron rungs on ledges of exposed cliffs and is very steep, offering spectacular views of Sand Beach and the surrounding area.”  I bailed on the trail shortly after this ascent but Sarah made it almost to the top before turning back.  It was exhilarating when it wasn’t terrifying.  I’m sure the views are “spectacular” except that I was hugging the rock ledges all the way plus it was foggy.  Probably wasn’t a good idea for someone with no depth perception to attempt.  Sarah said that some of the moms of families she encountered higher up seemed to share my hesitation (aversion?) to the heights and exposure.  After we got back down, we found out that there was an easier trail to the top.  Of course!





Baker Island


One of my favorite Acadia adventures was the boat ride to and tour of Baker Island, led by a National Park ranger who was a descendant of the family who pioneered the island and occupied it for over a century.  The Gilley family moved here to be closer to good fishing when it was just William and Hannah and their three small kids.  Eventually they had 12 children (!); many remained on the island after marrying.  Great stories of their island life as well as the history of the island.  We also got a different perspective on the rest of the National Park since we were seeing it from the water instead of looking from the Park to the water.  Great lighthouse trivia too – did you know lighthouse keepers are presidential appointments?  The Gilley family predated the lighthouse but were naturally hired to be keepers when the lighthouse was built.  That changed when the Whigs took the White House and William refused to pledge allegiance to the Whig party.  To retaliate, he and his family charged the new lighthouse keeper a toll to walk up the lane to the lighthouse!  Not that he was bitter….  Now there is only one lighthouse in the United States that is manned.  All the rest are automated.  According to our Park Ranger, President Jefferson decreed that the Boston Lighthouse will always be staffed.


Baker Lighthouse
Low tide with US Coast Guard Station in background on Cranberry Island
The “Dance Floor”. People used to come to Baker Island just to see this phenomenon.
Low Tide at the Dance Floor
Forest path to the Dance Floor
Lobster floats
Otter Cliffs
Otter Cliffs
Our boat and the dinghy that took us to shore


Sunrise Sunset

One of the “must do’s” in Acadia National Park is to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain.  In the fall and winter, it’s the first visible sunrise in the U.S.  I’m not sure I would’ve gotten up at 3:45 to get to the top before sunrise if I’d known it wasn’t the first sunrise in August!  Even so, it was beautiful!

Our campground sat on the west side of Mount Desert Island so we were treated to sunsets too on the couple of days we happened to be back in the campground.


Niagara Falls

IMG_4742A picture is worth a thousand words.

Photo credit:  Sarah Smith

Niagara Falls never ceases to amaze although it would be so much nicer to contemplate with just a few friends and not the seemingly tens of thousands!  We’d wanted to do the Canadian Hornblower or its counterpart Maid of the Mist boat ride but the rain set in so we just enjoyed the view from the terrace on the Canada side.  (I know – we would’ve gotten wet on the boat ride!)



Town Names, West Virginia Detour & KOAs

IMG_4713This!  This is the bridge from East Liverpool, Ohio to Newell, West Virginia.  It’s very long, very high and very scary.  And we paid to cross it!

Have you ever looked at the shape of West Virginia?  It has a skinny finger that stretches northward separating Ohio from Pennsylvania.  When you’re at Cuyahoga Valley National Park  – even though you’re very close to Cleveland and Lake Erie – you’re only about 1.5 hours from Newell, West Virginia.  To get to Newell, you have to take an international journey through southern Ohio, passing the towns of Palestine, Calcutta and Lisbon and ending up in East Liverpool where you cross the scary bridge.  Why make the trip?  Because Newell is where Fiesta is made!  Sarah and I both have Fiesta dinnerware so naturally we had to make the pilgrimage to the factory where the outlet has bins of seconds, some obviously flawed and others with indeterminable blemishes.  Thank goodness we read the tips and brought rags to wipe off the dishes as we searched for treasures.    Between Fiesta and Blenko, it’s a good thing I don’t live closer to West Virginia.

I used to be a campground snob and looked down on staying in KOAs.  Last year, Sarah and I stayed in several either in their camping cabins or pitching our tent.  For the most part, we found them clean, safe alternatives for a couple of women travelers.  Our first night on the road this year we stayed in probably the nicest one we’ve visited. It was outside of Dayton and was shady and spotless with a shower house rivaling a high quality hotel bathroom.  Looked like there were lots of activities for folks who were staying more than overnight.  Our luck changed dramatically the next night.  Be warned – don’t book the Streetsboro KOA outside of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  It is little more than a trailer park with full-time residents who are none too tidy.  We had planned to tent-camp but ended up bailing on that one in favor of a hotel room.  Very creepy!  Hoping our reservations in Bar Harbor/Acadia are more like the Dayton KOA and less like Streetsboro.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

DSC_3401If Sarah and I hadn’t made such a big dent in the 59 National Parks last year, we probably wouldn’t have made the extra effort to go to Cuyahoga Valley.  It’s a pretty park but it seems like it’s trying to do too much to the detriment of having a real identity.  Part of that may be due to the fact that it’s a somewhat linear park centered on the Ohio and Erie Canal and the scenic railroad but I think the bigger problem is that it lacks adequate way finding and storytelling.  I’m sure part of the problem was my navigation skills but it was very frustrating trying to get around to see the “marquee” sites.  While there are two main roads that constitute the park’s spine, there aren’t many directional signs on those roads.  If you can figure out your first turn off the road, then there are signs to the destinations.  Unlike the NPS to have such lousy way finding.  On the other hand, the park is a great resource if you live in Cleveland or Akron since it connects the two communities with both the Towpath Trail (bike and pedestrian) and the scenic railroad.  Great day trip from either city.

Sarah and I enjoyed a couple of short hikes to Brandywine Falls and Blue Hen Falls and wandered through The Ledges.  The rock outcroppings were very reminiscent of Missouri.  Found a friend on one of the paths.

Brandywine Falls
Blue Hen Falls
The Ledges
The Ledges
The Ledges
The Ledges


Summer 2017 Road Trip

We’re taking the window between Sarah’s summer internship and second year of law school for a quick road trip east.  Primary destination – Acadia National Park.  We veered off I-70 to Casey, Illinois, lured by the sign promising the World’s Largest Wind Chimes.  How could we resist when last year we saw the World’s Largest Buffalo in South Dakota?  Casey has gone all-in on their theme of “Big Things in a Small Town”.  In addition to the World’s Largest Wind Chimes, they also boast the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, Pitchfork, Golf Tee, Crochet and Knitting Needles and Wooden Shoes.  Who knew?  The interesting thing is that they have combined these oddities (absurdities?) with luscious landscaping and beautiful flowers as well as oversized nicely-executed art pieces such as pencils and rulers, bike racks, etc.  I wonder a) how they decided on this theme and b) who funds all of the oversized pieces and the beautiful landscaping.  Gotta admire the way they’ve embraced this idea.  Dinner and a little retail therapy at a very nice mall in Indianapolis – unlike any Simon property I’ve seen but I guess you’d expect the best in Simon’s hometown.  Overnight in a cabin at a pretty little KOA outside of Dayton.



Here it is – July 13 – and we’re home.  Wait – let me say that again  – – we’re home!  Safe and sound.

It has been an incredible opportunity to spend the last 6 weeks touring some of the great American National Parks.  We live in an amazing country with such diverse landscapes.  A long day’s drive can result in a change from the high desert to alpine-like mountains and then onto beautiful coastlines.   I was privileged to share this journey with my beautiful daughter and great driver, Sarah.  It was a fun time and we made wonderful memories.

By the numbers:

23 – National Parks visited (out of 59)

10 – Other National Park Service units visited

15 – States visited

34 – Lowest temperature (Olympic National Park)

117 – Highest temperature (Death Valley National Park)

-282 – Lowest elevation (282 below sea level) (Death Valley National Park)

12,183 – Highest elevation (Rocky Mountain National Park)

11,372 – Total miles driven

2.35 – Cheapest premium gas (St. Joseph, MO – 7/13)

3.65 – Most expensive premium gas (Baker, CA – outside Death Valley National Park – 7/2)

40 – Days on vacation

39 – Nights on vacation