September 17, 2017 marked the 150th anniversary of the Antietam National Cemetery and 155th anniversary of the battle of Antietam in the United States Civil War. Cacia and I made the journey to Antietam and Monocacy battlefields to make sure she got her anniversary stamp for her passport and to see the festivities.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend stopping at a battlefield for the anniversary celebrations. As we exited the car at Antietam, the fife and drum corps was marching up the street to one area of the battlefield. As we went into the ranger station and gift shop to pay the fees, there was a giant tent with old-fashioned outdoor games for children (and really adults too) to play. The gift shop was packed full of anniversary souvenirs, and there was a packed full events calendar as well. There is really not a better time to visit.
Cacia and I decided to attend a reenactment where they showed the different muskets and positions the armies would have used. It’s no wonder that Antietam had the highest death toll in American history for a one-day battle. Muskets were slow to load, and you could barely hear the people screaming commands.
After watching this, we decided to take on the driving tour of Antietam. With names like “cornfield,” this driving tour fell a little short on our expectations, and we would love to see stronger signage like Yorktown battlefield had. However, there were stills some interesting places to pull off.
After journeying through Antietam, we drove a few miles to Monocacy battlefield. Monocacy is a much smaller battlefield than Antietam, but one place it excelled was in the visitors center. The second floor of the visitors center had a very well done exhibit about the battle, including maps of soldiers’ routes and uniforms of the time.
After stopping in the visitors center, we started along on the driving tour. This battlefield has many farms included in the battle, and there are 5 stops along the driving tour.
Throughout our visit to these places, I could not help but notice that these would be great places to visit in the fall while the leaves change! It seems like these battlefields would be wonderful in the fall when it is cooler, the leaves are changing, and there are fewer bugs.
While Monocacy is free to visit, it is $10/vehicle to visit Antietam. This brings the value of my National Parks pass up to $212/$80.
Thanks so much for reading my blog this week! During the last weekend in September, Cacia and I made a weekend trip to eastern Pennsylvania to see Steamtown, the Delaware Water Gap, Gettysburg, and the Eisenhower Farm. My next few blogs will focus on this trip to Pennsylvania.
Bryce Canyon is one of the most remarkable and memorable sights I have ever seen in my life, and I feel so lucky to have visited. Bryce Canyon has the largest collection of hoodoos IN THE WORLD. That’s right- you can see this crazy wonder of nature hiding away in Utah. What are hoodoos, you ask? Hoodoos are non-uniformly shaped pillars of rock that are created through erosion. While I do have a variety of pictures in this post, the only way to truly experience this park is to visit.
When you drive into this park, you really have no idea what you are about to see. The Aspen trees and open fields keep the major sight a mystery. If this is your first visit to the park, I recommend taking a stop in the gift shop to take a bathroom break, stamp your passport, and buy your souvenirs.
To see the hoodoos, one should start heading towards the lodge, either via the park shuttle or by parking in the parking lot. If you are not interested in hiking, the views from the overlooks alone are spectacular.
In my advanced research, I knew exactly which hike I wanted to do in Bryce Canyon. The Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail comes in at 2.7 miles with a change in elevation of 679 feet. This hike is considered a moderate hike, however, I think this is only because the end of your hike is the upwards part to come out of the canyon. Throughout this hike, one hikes down into the hoodoos, and you get to see everything up close and personal.
After walking between the rocks in the photo above, I barely could believe I was not in a dream! Bryce Canyon just feels like a magical land, and the Navajo and Queens loop let you fully enjoy the magic. You can see the changes in foliage as you get further and further into the canyon, and there are a few picnic tables at the bottom if you want to pack a picnic.
Usually, switchbacks are a little intimidating, but as I looked up and down along the switchbacks in Bryce, I was still blown away by the beauty of this park. If a park is so beautiful that you enjoy the switchbacks, you know you have found somewhere special.
Overall, this hike is really fun and probably one of the most interesting hikes I have ever been on. While Bryce Canyon is a larger park than just this area, this is definitely the main area of the park to visit.
After the hike, Dallin, Henry, and I did a little driving to look out from other overlook areas. We saw some active wildlife on our hike, aside from just chipmunks looking for leftover sandwiches. While driving along, we saw an elk running across a field, and this was in the middle of the day. In non-peak seasons, there are probably many interesting animals to see.
Bryce Canyon normally is $30/vehicle to visit. Thanks to my National Parks pass, this was another free visit, and this brings my pass value to $202/$80. The value of this pass really shows itself in the western part of the United States since there are so many larger parks to visit.
This post is my final post from my Utah trip. After a week visiting Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon, I definitely am feeling a bit of a travel bug! The parks in Utah were so amazing, and I would highly recommend visiting these parks when you get a chance!
Thank you so much for following along on my National Parks journey. The day I got back from Utah marked the 150th anniversary of the Antietam National Cemetery and 155th anniversary of the battle of Antietam in the United States Civil War. Despite being exhausted, Cacia and I made the journey to Antietam and Monocacy battlefields. To catch back up a little bit, this will be a two blog week, with my next blog discussing this visit.
In honor of the upcoming Fall 2017 White House Garden Tour (October 21 and 22, 2017), this seemed like the perfect time to post a bonus blog this week about visiting the President’s Park, also known as the White House. The President’s Park requires some significant planning to see, but some ways to visit are easier than others. All of these ways to visit are free. Here are the ways we have found to see and visit the White House.
1. The Visitors Center
The easiest way to learn about the White House is to visit the Visitors Center. Essentially, it is a museum of past presidents’ artifacts, although most of the really interesting ones are in the American History Museum. This is where you obtain your cancellation stamp for the NPS Passport. It is across the street but adjacent to the White House.
2. Spring or Fall Garden Tour
The Garden tours are the easiest way to get up close and personal with the White House. The Garden tours are offered two weekends a year, one in the end of April and one in mid-October. We attended the spring tour on Saturday April 22, 2017, which was a 50-60 degree all-day rain day. Cacia and I got to the pavilion to get tickets between 8:30 and 8:45 AM, and there was no line. We got tickets for 10:30 AM, and we went for coffee and breakfast to pass the time. We got in line around 10:10 AM and were on the White House grounds around 10:35 AM.
Essentially, being up close and personal with the White House is the highlight of this tour, not really the gardens. If you want to get an exterior picture of the full White House, this is the tour that will allow you to do so. The lawn is in perfect condition, and we saw the biggest tulips ever. But it’s mostly lawn and not gardens. The most popular site to see within the gardens is the Michelle Obama vegetable garden.
The President’s Own Band performs, and they are absolutely excellent. Once you are on the grounds, it takes about 30 minutes to see the gardens.
3. Scheduling a visit through your representative
Residing in the District of Columbia, you would think that we could somehow get priority access to seeing the White House since we suffer through constant motorcades. We do not. Cacia and I requested a tour on April 16, 2017, and we did get a tour successfully on October 7, 2017. We were told to request at least 6 months in advance, although I have heard of people getting in on less notice. You do have to give quite a bit of information to security before you arrive so be sure to talk to your party in advance about how best to handle this. We saw many people get pulled out of the line because they spelled their names wrong or used nicknames.
Unlike the garden tour, the White House tour is actually more chaotic. You are supposed to enter the line 15 minutes before your tour, but the tourists do not understand rules so they all line up early. Since people are in line 2 hours before they should be, the line drags on. If you plan to be rude and do this, you should know that you will be pulled out of the line and lose your place. (Don’t suck! Follow the rules!) We got in line at 10:50 AM, and we got past security around 11:50 AM.
My favorite views of the White House were the ones that you do not usually see in pictures, the views from the inside to the outside.
Once inside the White House, the Secret Service and Park Rangers can answer all of your various questions about the White House, and they are more than happy to do so. It seems like the Secret Service should be scary, but my interactions with them at work and here are that they are a really nice group of people. Have a question about the picture on the wall or the china you are looking at? Ask them, and they know!
The east room was probably my favorite room we visited, as it is grand and beautiful, and it is one of the rooms you often see featured in pictures. This room also has the famous full-length portrait of George Washington, and it has been here since 1800!
The tour of the White House only spans about eight rooms, and we comfortably saw everything in 30 minutes. After our long wait in line, it felt a little anti-climatic, but I would recommend it to anyone. When else will you get to see where the President lives?
I hope this blog helps you plan your visit to the White House! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them below. Thanks for reading!
National Memorials are a funny thing under the National Parks service because each one can be so different. Cedar Breaks was not what I was expecting, but this Memorial seems to be easily overlooked. It’s well worth pulling over to see this interesting point.
Depending on where you are coming from, visiting Cedar Breaks can occur very easily on your way to visiting Bryce Canyon if you are visiting from the western side of the state. As you get off the highway, you pull into an unassuming little parking lot and pay at the ranger station. After walking past the ranger station, you can take a walk into the gift shop to get souvenirs and a National Parks stamp.
After leaving the gift shop, you walk along a short path to an overlook called Point Supreme, which is at 10,350 feet. And what I saw next surprised me.
After driving through forests to get here, I had no idea I would come upon this beautiful sight. At 9:43 AM, there was one other group of people, but we mostly had the area to ourselves. Cedar Breaks had a 10:00 am geology informational session when we visited, but most people were using a telescope that the rangers provided to look at the sky. For being a smaller park in Utah, the rangers offer many sessions. There are also a few trails to walk around, but we just took in the sights on our visit.
Cedar Breaks, unlike many parks, only has a per person rate. Since Henry is a baby, it was free for him to visit, but Dallin and I each would have owed $6/person without the National Parks pass. My pass gained both of us admission to Cedar Breaks, bringing the value of my pass to $172/$80.
Next week I have some amazing photos from Bryce Canyon to share with you. Thank you for reading my post this week!
Zion National Park is probably one of the most interesting National Parks I have visited to date, and this blog is loaded up with pictures from my five hikes, including the well-known Angel’s Landing hike, and fun in Zion over a three day period. I could have easily spent three straight days in this park and done every hike, but time did not allow for that. Since this blog post is so much longer than normal, it only seems appropriate to introduce you to my companions.
The picture on the left are my friends Kaitlin, Dallin, and their son Henry. Dallin and I attended graduate school together, and we have all been friends ever since! I stayed with them for my entire week in Utah. The right picture is with my friend Josh, and I met him through Dallin. Josh comes to D.C. to advocate for the arts with his students once a year. These amazing people made my time in Zion so memorable and also helped drive me around to all of the National Parks I visited.
My first day hiking into Zion National Park was at the northern part of the park with Kaitlin and Henry. After driving into the park, we pulled into the parking lot for the Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail. This is an easy trail over 5.2 miles with a 1,699 feet elevation gain. While easy, this trail is not dog-friendly.
The end destination of this hike is to the Double Arch Alcove and a Grotto. This trail is jumps back and forth over a creek, which was really fun. The path to the Grotto is not marked, and you will need a friend or a map to help you get there. It’s very small, but it was cool to see! After stopping in to see the grotto, you can head back over to the Double Arch Alcove to see the major site of this hike. Pro tip: Bring a picnic to enjoy while you take in the sight.
While you are hiking mostly to see the end destination and the red rocks on the way, we saw quite a bit of wildlife on this hike. There were lots of lizards and cool bugs, and apparently we walked right past a rattlesnake! (I’m glad we did not see it up close- a group going the other direction was waiting for it to pass!) This hike is exposed and requires quite a bit of water for that reason, but it’s a great hike for anyone! Before leaving the park, we took a look at Kolob Canyon, which is visible from an outlook very close to the Taylor Creek trail head.
A few days later Dallin, Kaitlin, Henry, and I made a trek down to Zion proper. The main part of Zion is a bit like Disney world, with narrating shuttles running every 3 minutes to escort you throughout the park. While this area of the park has a general parking lot, arriving in the early afternoon required parking in town and taking another free shuttle into the park. The good news is that Zion free shuttles are clean and comfortable, and they run more often than rush hour public transportation in Washington D.C., which is quite impressive. If you took one of the shuttles from Las Vegas airport to Zion, you could make an April-September visit happen completely with public transportation.
We opened our day with a walk down the Riverside Walk, which is an easy 1.9 walk with only a 344 feet elevation gain. The dominant use of this path is to get to the Zion Narrows, but we saw lots of people using it as a pleasant nature walk too. Like many of the easy paths here, the walkway was packed.
After a brisk walk up and down this path, we headed back to the shuttle to see Weeping Rock. At only .4 miles and a 173 feet elevation gain, this was another easy walk to make, and this trip will allow you to bring a dog! While this walk is really easy, Weeping Rock is just a crazy thing to see. It’s kind of a big and misty waterfall that you walk under. It’s indescribable and difficult to photograph so it is well worth seeing in person.
Our final hike on Zion Day #2 was the longest. There are 3 pools on the Emerald Pools hike, which is an easy 2.3 mile hike with an 833 feet elevation gain, although most of the elevation gain is on the way to the last pool. If you want something shorter, you can take the 1.3 mile hike and only 154 feet elevation change to visit just the Lower Pool. Unfortunately, this is another hike that does not allow dogs.
The Emerald Pools hike is a little strange because I found the pools to be relatively unimpressive. They are really just dirty little ponds, and the trip to each pond was much more interesting than the actual pool. This is a hike where the journey is more interesting than the sights. Nonetheless, we visited all 3!
The first pool looks similar to Weeping Rock, as a small waterfall pours over the walkway into the first pool. As you continue heading up, there are two more pools. The second pool is a very little and shallow pool but probably the cleanest of the three. The third and upper pool is just under 1/2 mile away from the middle pool, but this is definitely the hardest part of the journey, as it is mostly uphill with fewer flat areas. The third pool is a big pond in a type of alcove, and it kind of looks like a dirty sandy pond. Henry really liked playing in the sand! I had fun on this hike, and it was a nice way to finish off the day.
The peak of my visits to Zion was on the third trip there, and this one was to hike Angel’s Landing. With a 9:30 am arrival on a weekday, we did successfully park in the Park’s parking lot. Angel’s Landing is a 4.4 mile hike with 2,073 feet of elevation gain that is marked as difficult/strenuous. Josh and I took this hike by storm.
It definitely was not the hardest hike I have done, but the opening switchbacks are not easy. The first 2/3 of the hike are made up of two separate sets of switchbacks, and the last 1/3 is a rock-scramble experience with chains for balance. The rock-scrambles get very large lines and back-up so doing this trip on a weekday and early is an absolute must. We started at 9:30 AM, made it to the rock-scrambles by 10:30 AM, reached the summit by 11:10 AM, hung out on the top for about 30 minutes, and finished at 12:45 PM. We could have made it from the rock-scrambles to the summit in half of the time had we not waited in line so much.
While this hike was so painfully overcrowded, even with a 9:30 am start time on a Friday, it was so worth it.
If there is one hike that you MUST do in Zion, this one is it. The views are stunning, and it is just one of the coolest experiences. I highly recommend it!
After conquering a hike as cool as Angel’s Landing, you should definitely stop in the gorgeous gift shop and pick up a souvenir. The gift shop had the most reasonable prices I have seen for a National Park ($2.99 for magnets- score!), and there were so many things to choose from. The main Zion gift shop was nicer, but both visitor’s centers have their own passport stamps if you are looking for those.
It is $30/car to enter Zion, and the non-transferable vehicle passes are good for 7 days. Without my National Parks pass, I would have paid $60 in fees since we utilized two different cars throughout the trip. I’m now at $160/$80 for my National Parks pass.
You might be asking yourself, “A day of hiking is great, but what should I do with my evenings?” Just a half hour away from Kolob Canyon is the Utah Shakespeare Festival! I had the luxury of attending three shows during my visit (Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and they were all so different but well done. The Festival also does some non-Shakespeare if you would prefer that. It’s well worth it to make a visit to this awesome Festival after a day (or three!) of hiking.
Are you still there? Thanks for reading this extra EXTRA long blog this week. This will most likely be my longest blog ever, but I just wanted to take you along for the full journey. Next week’s blog for Cedar Breaks will be much shorter, but Dallin and Henry joined me on that adventure too! Don’t forget to subscribe and comment with any questions. See you next week!
Spring and summer are my favorite seasons, and it always feels like I am trying to squeeze everything in at the end of August. As the pools close and the weather gets cooler, I am always disappointed. To enjoy one last touch of summer, I made two separate day trips to Harper’s Ferry in the last weekend of August and first weekend of September.
The first trip to Harper’s Ferry was to go on a tubing adventure with my friends, Cacia and Nathan. There are lots of different companies that offer tubing experiences, generally flat water or white water. We choose to do the $31 all day flat water experience, which allowed us to float down the river as many times as we wanted in a day. We ended up only doing it once, as the water was a little cool and the sun was hiding, but we had fun!
Not so shockingly, you cannot take anything with you in the tube, as it would get ruined when it got wet. What was shocking was the amount of awkward paddling we did to not hit off of any rocks, as the Shenandoah river is very rocky! If we did it again, I think we would do the white water since it moved a little faster. This is definitely not a lazy river experience (It’s MUCH slower!), but we had a lot of fun!
With being chilled from rafting, we went to find food for lunch and wandered the town just a little bit. When my parents and Hudson came the next weekend, our goal was to explore the town. I don’t think I have mentioned yet that my dad LOVES trains. He loves them a lot, and we have taken rides on many trains throughout Pennsylvania. As you can see in the picture above, there is a train tunnel, and I knew I needed to bring my dad here.
With my parents and Hudson, we set out to explore the town of Harper’s Ferry. Harper’s Ferry is a bit like Jamestowne, except many buildings are still standing. You can enter and explore many buildings, and there are signs explaining the various ways historians have learned about Harper’s Ferry. My favorite building explained how one can tell from the foundation and various wall markings how houses expanded and modernized.
The park was very quiet the day we visited, and that was perfect since Hudson’s nickname is Sir Woofs A Lot for a reason. The paths throughout the historic district are small so coming in non-peak time is a plus. After exploring the various buildings along the main street, we stopped at the doggy-friendly patio of Cannonball Deli. This was one of the nicest dog-friendly patios I have seen, and we loved our meals. If you have a dog, you do not want to miss this place!
After eating lunch, we continued exploring the town. The entire town of Harper’s Ferry is on a hill, but we decided to take a little trip past the two churches of the town to Jefferson’s Rock, where Thomas Jefferson himself stood on his visit to Harper’s Ferry. After taking a few flights of rocky stairs, we arrived to a stunning view from above the town.
As we walked away from Jefferson’s Rock, we decided to walk across the rail bridge over to the C&O Canal towpath (Yes, this is the same towpath that I was on a few weeks ago at Great Falls. It’s very long.). We walked a little along the water, but we were really hoping to see a train on the bridge, as we had seen quite a few go by that day between the Amtrak and freight trains. With no luck, we headed back down along the water to walk back to the car.
On the walk back, there were smaller train tracks, and my dad was really interested in them. He said they were older tracks, and thought maybe a scenic railroad used them since we had seen the other trains on the Amtrak lines. To his surprise and delight, we found out that these tracks are still in use.
After watching the train go by, we made our trip back to the car. Parking was a very different experience between my first and second trip to Harper’s Ferry. On the first trip, we parked at the Visitor’s Center, which has a huge parking lot, and we took one of the many shuttle buses down to the historic area. There is a 4-5 miles walk if you choose not to take a bus. With the Hudson dog on the second trip, it took a little more planning. I dropped my dad and Hudson off to go find parking since dogs are not allowed on the shuttle bus. We lucked out and found a parking spot in a small NPS parking lot along Shenandoah Street, but this was the complete luck of going on a cloudy Friday.
While I did not utilize it, Harper’s Ferry is public transportation accessible! From Washington, D.C., one can take the MARC train (Brunswick Line) or the Amtrak (Capitol Limited). The MARC train is a commuter train so it would take some planning to use this train, as it goes to Harper’s Ferry in the evening and back to D.C. in the morning, and it does not run on weekends. The Amtrak train runs once a day each way, and it also passes through Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago. You would need to take a bike on the train or utilize another means of transportation, as there were no rental cars or cabs at the train station. However, if you wanted, you could make a weekend trip here utilizing only public transportation!
Two trips to Harper’s Ferry just over a week apart would have been $20 ($10/trip) without my National Parks pass, but it was free for us! I’m at $100/$80 for my National Parks pass as of this trip. If you are not parking and come in on the train, the service does not appear to collect the fee, although the signs do say people without a vehicle must pay $5/person. Cacia and I are hoping to make one more trip here to hike the Maryland Heights loop, which is supposed to have a great view of the town and lots of Civil War sites to see! Hopefully we will be back in mid-October.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or let me know if you have had a great experience at Harper’s Ferry too. Next week’s blog will be packed full of pictures from my trip to Zion National Park.
Great Falls National Park is located in Virginia, but you can access the view from Virginia or Maryland. When I first moved to D.C., I visited Great Falls from the Virginia side at the end of October, and then I really wanted to return and visit the Maryland side to do some hiking and see the other view (Check out my previous blog to learn about the Maryland side!). When I returned to hike the Billy Goat Trail, I decided to head over to the Virginia side again to take a look from over there. This blog describes my experiences from both times of the year (summer and fall) so you can decide for yourself what time of the year is the best time to visit.
The Virginia side of the falls had a lot more traffic in the summer than the fall. A sign when we turned down the entrance road told us to expect a wait of 45 minutes to get in. Luckily, we only waited about 30 minutes, and there was plenty of parking to choose from when we did finally get past the ranger station. There is a food stand and lots of picnic tables, and many people were taking advantage of both things. This side of Great Falls is more green and grassy than the Maryland side.
Since I had already visited the Virginia side, my friend Cacia and I just went for the overlooks. The crowds at the overlooks were actually smaller in the summer than my fall visit, and I was happy to see that the falls had quite a bit more water flow than the first time I saw them.
After taking a quick look from Overlook #1 and Overlook #2, Cacia and I headed back to the car to get some dinner. However, when I visited in the fall, there was far less traffic and people floating around than in the summer. My friends, Jessica and Meg, and I pulled right into the parking lot, and while a few people were getting hot drinks from the food area, people were mostly visiting the park to see the falls and leave. The leaves were beautiful, and a few people were trying to kayak up the falls. The falls are very small in the fall and look like rapids from the three outlook points.
There were lots of dogs and families out on the nature paths in October. I would not consider there to be any hiking on this side of the falls, but there are lots of nature paths to take a leisurely and flat walk along. While wandering down one, we discovered that we could get closer to the water on one path, and it was fun to sit on the rocks and enjoy the water sounds. We also enjoyed walking along a different path looking at the autumn leaves.
While I prefer the Maryland side of Great Falls since there are hiking trails, the Virginia side has the benefit of being more friendly for Hudson the little Poma-Poo. This summer trip to Great Falls also lead to the break-even point of my America the Beautiful National Parks pass! After saving $20 to enter Assateague Island in May, $25 at Shenandoah in June, $25 at the Everglades in July, and $10 at Great Falls in August, I am at $80/$80 spent for my National Parks pass. It’s all a bonus from here! It should be interesting how much overall savings this pass leads to.
I hope you enjoyed my blog post for this week. I just returned from Utah, and I had so much fun visiting so many amazing sites in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon! I will be working on those blogs to post over the next few weeks, but next week’s post is all about my two recent trips to Harper’s Ferry to tube and see the historic town. See you next time!