New Items in Online Store

I’ve added some new items to my online store. Ornaments, mugs, coasters and more featuring National Parks as well as nature in general. I’d like to ask you to take a look. You may find the perfect gift for someone on your list or perhaps for yourself. Have a wonderful day!

Go to or click on the button to the upper right.

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Congaree National Park

IMG_2880In our quest to visit all 61 National Parks, Congaree National Park in South Carolina became our 54th National Park. “Congaree Swamp” is a large floodplain swamp on both sides of the Congaree River, in the heart of which is the 26,000+ acres of Congaree National Park. Originally established as Congaree Swamp National Monument, Congaree gained national park status in 2003 at which time the word “swamp” was dropped from the name. The number of visitors increased significantly without that unappealing appellation, but the park is rather off the beaten path and the day we were there, we had the trails very nearly to ourselves. Congaree is one of the 15 least-visited national parks, having only 145,929 visitors in 2018.IMG_2896

Being a floodplain and flooding about ten times a year, the park is truly a swamp much of the time. A 2.4-mile elevated boardwalk loop trail from the visitor’s center allows access during times of high water. When we visited  the area had been experiencing a drought so water depth was not an issue at that time.IMG_2883

We took the boardwalk trail and added the Weston Lake Loop Trail to make a good 5-mile hike.  The trail was easy to follow with no elevation change and surprisingly few mosquitoes. It was very warm and humid and we luckily finished our hike and were back in the car when it started to rain heavily.IMG_2895

Congaree includes the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  There are 93 species of trees in Congaree. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain with nutrients and sediments that support this ecosystem and the growth of national and state champion trees. Having seen the Redwoods and the Sequoias, I’m afraid we weren’t as impressed with the sizes as we could have been but the diversity and density was fascinating. As Tom said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”IMG_2894

The Loblolly pines and the Bald Cypress are easily identifiable. The pines tower above forming a super-canopy. One of the few needle-leaved deciduous trees, the bald cypress with its Spanish-moss covered limbs, its buttressed base and its weird knees epitomizes the image of a swamp. Cypress knees are  distinctive structures forming above the roots but the function of the knees is unknown.IMG_2900

Congaree is home to nearly 200 bird species including 8 species of woodpeckers. I was really hoping to see a red-cockaded woodpecker and, even though we could hear the rat-tat-tat nearby, we never caught a glimpse of the bird itself. Similarly, there are 40 species of mammals in the park and 45 known species of reptiles and amphibians but we only saw a small black snake and a lizard – the green anole.IMG_2892

Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. Only three out of 2,000 species of fireflies experience synchronous flashing.  We were a little too late to take part in the Firefly Festival (organized by the park not the fireflies). The ranger told us there were still some fireflies in the park but not many and not synchronously flashing.IMG_2898

People have been using this floodplain for over 13,000 years as a home and a refuge. From prehistoric natives to Spanish explorers (DeSoto and the conquistadors in 1540) to Revolutionary War patriots (including Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”) to escaped slaves (establishing maroon communities) to loggers and conservationists, people have played a role here.


This old-growth forest was actually saved by an unlikely source – a lumber company.  In the 1880’s Santee River Cypress Lumber Company, founded by Francis Beidler, acquired large tracts of swampland for the purpose of harvesting the virgin cypress. The lumber operation did not prove to be profitable. For some reason, the Beidler family kept much of the swampland they owned, the so-called “Beidler tract” of Congaree,  and it sat idle for decades.  Through the efforts of journalist Harry Hampton and local conservationists, the Congaree Swamp National Monument was created in 1976.


We only saw a small portion of Congaree National Park as much of it is wilderness but we enjoyed its old-growth forest, trees standing in ponds of water brown from tannins, variety of flora and its solitude.IMG_2904

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Grand Canyon National Park -the “Big Reveal”

IMG_2744We’ve been to the Grand Canyon a number of times but this spring we took two grandkids who had not been there before. Of course in describing the Grand Canyon, it is always “no matter how many pictures you’ve seen it’s not the same as seeing it in person.”

I told Grand-daughter that I was excited about seeing her face when she saw it for the first time. Her response was classic – “We’ll drive by it, won’t we? So it won’t be like somebody opens a curtain and it’s the big reveal, right?”  I responded, “Oh, it’s the big reveal all right.”

We entered the south park entrance and on the way to the village, there are a couple of glimpses of the canyon, but we warned her not to look and she didn’t. So when we walked to the canyon rim behind Bright Angel Lodge, it was the “Big Reveal” and she was totally impressed, as was Grandson.IMG_2707

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. It became a National Park on February 26. 1919 and in 2018 was the second most-visited national park with 6,380,495 visitors, over 90% of them to the South Rim. The park encompasses 1,217,403 acres or 1904 Square miles.IMG_2762

The size of the canyon is hard to comprehend, even standing there on the rim. The canyon in the park is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep.IMG_2769

Viewing the Colorado River from the rim, it appears to be maybe 10 feet wide. In reality, its minimum width is 76 feet and the average width is 300 feet. Average depth is 40 feet and greatest depth is 85 feet. It’s a big river!IMG_2758

The Grand Canyon has to be a geologist’s dream come true.  Rock dating back 1.8 billion years lies at the bottom and layers from numerous geologic eras are exposed above that. For a photographer, the unique combinations of geologic color and eroded forms present vistas that change with the changing light.

As inhospitable as it is, the canyon has had human activity for over 3000 years. Prehistoric artifacts and ruins have been found throughout the canyon. The first recorded view of the Grand Canyon was as a part of the 1540 Coronado expedition. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach the bottom, they reported that the canyon was immense and the river big. In 1776, there were two Spanish expeditions led by priests in this general area but the Grand Canyon remained largely unexplored until the late nineteenth century. The Ives Expedition in 1857 attempted to travel upstream from the Gulf of California in a 54-foot steamboat. They made it several hundred miles and then traveled overland a bit further at which point Ives declared the region “altogether valueless” and wrote “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”IMG_2751

In 1869, John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, became the first known man to descend the Colorado River through the canyon with ten men and four tiny wooden boats. They covered a distance of over 1,000 miles in a little over three months. Powell was the one who called the place Grand Canyon. His journal and numerous other books chronicle this expedition and Powell’s many other accomplishments.IMG_2724

In the 1880’s prospectors came to the canyon where they mined copper and asbestos even though it was not easy to access. By the early 1900’s tourism became the main commercial venture on the South Rim. Even though there were earlier efforts at preservation, it was not until 1919 that Grand Canyon National Park was established.IMG_2732

The Hermit Road west of the South Rim Village is closed to personal vehicles but the shuttle bus system works well. It is free and you can get off and back on at various places. We rode the bus and then got off at several stops and hiked along the rim trail to the next stop. The road ends at Hermit’s Rest which serves as the obligatory souvenir and quick food shop.IMG_2765

Hermit’s Rest, a limestone building with an amazing fireplace, was designed by Mary Jane Colter. Ms. Colter, an early female architect, also designed Bright Angel Lodge, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch and Desert View Watchtower. The main Bright Angel lodge features a “geological fireplace” made of layers of stone repeating the layers found in the canyon from river to rim.IMG_2828

There are various lodging possibilities in the park and we stayed at the Yavapai Lodge – reservations are necessary and, even more than a month before our trip, there was extremely limited availability. We also made reservations well in advance for dinner at the El Tovar, which is always a treat.IMG_2783

The Grand Canyon is wondrous, beautiful and dangerous. Each year there are fatalities in the park, most because someone is trying to get the “perfect picture” and plummets over the edge. In this day of “selfies” that has become even more of a problem. Much of the rim does not have guardrails and even when there are guardrails and warning signs, people often venture beyond them. An amazing place in which common sense needs to prevail.IMG_2742

There are several adventurous ways to see the Grand Canyon including raft trips on the Colorado, mule trips to Phantom Ranch at the bottom, and hiking down and back or rim-to-rim. All of these require a certain degree of fitness as the canyon can be very unforgiving.IMG_2743

Grand Canyon National Park is one of our premier parks which, unfortunately, is being “loved to death.”  The National Park Service is exploring ways in which to deal with continually increasing visitor numbers while maintaining the “wow” experience. The South Rim is overcrowded, parking is difficult, the walkways are crowded and long lines are typical in gift shops and restaurants.

The North Rim has somewhat fewer of these issues since, even though the average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles, it takes five hours to drive the 215 miles between the park’s South Rim Village and the North Rim Village.  The South Rim is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The North Rim is only open May 15 through October 15. The North Rim is more difficult to get to and has a much shorter season but is our favorite as there are far fewer people and it is incredibly beautiful.North Rim Grand Canyon National Park resized

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Posted in Arizona, Colorado River, geology, Grand Canyon National Park, History, John Wesley Powell, Mary Jane Colter, National Park, National Park Travels, National Park Units, Nature Photos, scenery, Southwest History, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saguaro National Park


We visited Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona years ago before we embarked on our quest to visit all the U.S. National Parks. We happened there when the desert was in bloom and it was incredibly beautiful. With that in mind and an extraordinarily wet winter, I called the park to see if the wildflowers were in bloom, and was told that they were “popping” so we set out to see. We were somewhat disappointed in the flower display, or lack thereof, but even so we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the park.

In 1920, interest was first expressed in preserving the “cactus forest” in southern Arizona. Members of the Natural History Society of the University of Arizona as well as academics, local businessmen and politicians worked to try to obtain land for preservation and future study.

Finally, March 1, 1933, President Herbert Hoover signed a proclamation establishing Saguaro National Monument 15 miles east of Tucson (now Rincon Mountain District). Since that time, an additional area west of Tucson (now Tucson Mountain District) has been added and in 1994 Congress officially elevated Saguaro National Monument to Saguaro National Park. It currently encompasses 91,445 acres.

Fairy Duster                                                                      Brittlebush

The saguaro is an iconic symbol of the American West. In reality, it will only grow in the Sonoran desert, primarily southern Arizona. The saguaro will grow from sea level to about 4000 feet in elevation so its range is rather limited. Further north or higher in elevation, it is restricted to warmer, south facing slopes.

Saguaro and Ocotillo

In the 1937, Tucson suffered record low temperatures and a few years later many saguaros started dying. After another killing freeze in 1962,researchers figured out that temperatures below freezing for more than 20 hours could kill saguaros. In combination with grazing and consequent trampling of young saguaros by cattle, it was feared that saguaros would go the way of the Old West and die out. In 1979 the National Park Service acquired grazing rights and halted grazing. Young saguaros began to sprout under palo verde and mesquite “nurse trees.”  In general, it seems the saguaros are younger and smaller in the east Rincon Mountain district than in the west Tucson Mountain district.

Occasionally a saguaro, rather than rising in a straight column, forms a crest in which the tip spreads outward in a large fan. These cristate (crested) saguaros are abnormal but not diseased. They are not common and no one really knows why they do this. We saw two of them during our visit.

Saguaro National Park is home to 25 species of cacti.

Engelman’s Prickly Pear                                      Staghorn Cholla & Brittlebush

Three of the young cacti (saguaro, pincushion and hedgehog) resemble each other enough that you have to look closely to discern the difference. The saguaro spines emerge from a long ridge, pincushion has fish-hook shaped spines and hedgehog has a series of knobs. They all take advantage of the shelter of the nurse trees. Other cacti are more independent.

Saguaro                                                       Pincushion (top)  Hedgehog (Bottom)

Chain Fruit Cholla                                                 Ocotillo and Teddy Bear Cholla

Staghorn Cholla and Prickly Pear                                               Fishhook Barrel

The saguaro germinates from a tiny seed and takes about twenty-five years to grow to about a foot tall. They don’t produce flowers until they are seven or eight feet tall and are fifty to sixty years old. The growth rate slows and at the age of seventy-five to a hundred years it may be twelve to twenty feet tall and arms begin to appear.  The new arms begin to produce flowers within two to three years. The arms give each saguaro its own individual identity and no two look alike.

There are a number of trails in Saguaro National Park but, since we had our dog with us, we were a bit limited as to where we could go and take him along. Some national parks limit dogs to parking lots and tethered in campsites. Saguaro does have several trails that we could take him on a leash so we took advantage of that. He enjoyed our hikes and was a perfect gentleman.

Phainopepla                                                                                   Cactus Wren

March is a nice time to visit Saguaro. Although our first day was very windy and quite chilly, the second day was sunny and very pleasant. The east and west districts of the park are about 35 miles apart with the city in between so it was nice to visit them on separate days. The variety of cacti and desert plants we encountered on our hikes provided plenty of photo opportunities. A summer visit to this park would certainly be a different experience with temperatures well over 100°.


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Posted in Arizona, cactus, hiking, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, Saguaro National Park, scenery, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks, Western U.S. National Parks, wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New National Park

They did it again! We are so close to having visited all the national parks and then a new one is designated. February 19, 2019 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan became Indiana Dunes National Park – the 61st National Park.  So with 53 parks to our credit, we now have eight left. Maybe we’d better hurry before more pop up.

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Mesa Verde National Park

IMG_1307resizedWe’ve been to Mesa Verde National Park a number of times but this was the first time in the winter. We very nearly had the park to ourselves, the sun was shining brightly and there was only a slight wind so it was just about perfect. It was also easier without the crowds to try to visualize in your head what it must have been like to live at Mesa Verde about a thousand years ago.

IMG_3201Climbing up and down the cliffs using finger and toe holds and carrying everything needed for daily life seems like an extremely daunting task. Some water seeped into the back of some of the caves but most would have to be hauled as would foodstuffs from mesa-top plots. With our nice warm coats  our day seemed just about perfect, but it’s hard to imagine trying to keep warm during the cold winter months at over 8000 feet elevation.

Spruce Tree Houseresized                                                          Spruce Tree House

Twenty years or so ago when we visited Mesa Verde, we were told that the Anasazi lived here for over 700 years and then just mysteriously “disappeared.” With no written record, an understanding of the people who lived here is dependent upon archaeological excavation, analysis and comparison. This work is an ongoing process. These people are now called Ancestral Puebloans. They did not just suddenly disappear; in the late 1200’s they moved away and merged with other Pueblo people. The question of why they moved away is still unanswered although there are numerous theories.


Navajo Canyon Overlookresized                                                     Navajo Canyon Overlook

There are over 4700 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, in Mesa Verde National Park and many more to yet be excavated. From a non-archaeologist , it appears that there were three major shifts in living accommodations at Mesa Verde. The earliest settled inhabitants (about AD 550) built pit houses which were dug into the ground and used a stick-and-wattle type roof construction.  About AD 750 some began to build houses above ground beginning with upright walls of posts and adobe and evolving into stone masonry. Around AD 1200 the people shifted into the cliff dwellings in which they used the protected alcoves and masonry construction.

Square Tower Houseresized                                                               Square Tower House

By about 1300 Mesa Verde was abandoned. Maybe it was because of extended drought and crop failure, maybe the population had grown and depleted necessary resources, or perhaps there was social or political strife. There seems to be little evidence of outside threat but it’s possible as the cliff dwellings were much more defensive in nature than the previous dwellings.


New FIre House resized                                                               New Fire House

Local ranchers first reported the cliff dwellings in the 1888 and they have attracted attention ever since. Unfortunately for eighteen years there was no protection of the sites and with a ready market for artifacts many cliff dwellings were ransacked. Even those with an understanding of the archaeological value of the sites lacked modern scientific methods so true research was at best difficult.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906, establishing the first general legal protection of cultural and natural resource in the United States. On June 29,1906, Mesa Verde National Park was established to “preserve the works of man”,  becoming the first national park of its kind.

Cliff Palace2resized.jpg                                                                 Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in the park. Ranger-led tours allow visitors to walk the edge of this impressive structure. There are many steps down and several ladders to climb back to the mesa top. To access Balcony House, Cliff Palace and Long House, you must be a part of a ranger-led tour and tickets are available at the visitor center from late spring through early fall.

The new visitor and research center (which actually opened in 2012 so not really so new) is quite impressive. It’s located just inside the park entrance and is the only place you can get tickets for the cliff dwelling tours. The old visitor center was located 21 miles from the park entrance so you had already made a certain commitment before you even got to that center.

Driving through the park, the evidence of wildfire is ever present.  Seventy percent of the park has been burned by wildfire since its formation in 1906. Historically, over ninety-five percent of wildfires within the park have been caused by lightening. In an area with very little moisture and high elevation, it takes a long time to recover from a fire.

Chapin Mesa Fire 2006 resized                                                 Seventeen years after a fire

Mesa Verde and its mysteries are fascinating. It’s a place that begs return visits.


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Posted in Anasazi, Colorado, hiking, History, Mesa Verde National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, prehistoric ruins, scenery, Southwest History, U.S. History, U.S. National Park Unit, U.S. national parks, Western U.S. National Parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Malpais National Monument

img_0680In September on our way to Phoenix, we made a slight detour to visit El Malpais National Monument and National Conservation Area southwest of Grants, New Mexico. El Malpais – the “badland” – is a landscape that encompasses volcanic cones, craters, natural arches, ice caves and the “river of stone” that we explored.

img_0683El Malpais was created by lava flows from some forty volcanoes and over eighty vents and spatter cones. The most recent lava flow occurred between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago pouring out of McCarty’s Crater. All four major types of volcanoes can be found here – basalt cones, cinder cones, shield volcanoes and composite volcanoes.


For more than 10,000 years people have interacted with this landscape. Peak human occupation occurred between 950 and 1350 when this area was on the fringe of the Chaco Canyon political and economic system. Each of the native tribes living in the vicinity of El Malpais has their own distinct legend and name for the lava. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led expeditions in this area in 1540. When New Mexico became a territory in 1848, El Malpais was basically seen as a hindrance to travel. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s some homesteaders and sheepherders moved into El Malpais.

IMG_0738.jpgSince we had limited time, we decided to explore the eastern side of El Malpais. The Sandstone Bluffs Overlook provided a view of the broad valley which was covered with lava. Since this most recent flow area occurred about 3,000 years ago and there is limited vegetation even now, it was easy to see how volcanic activity changes a landscape for millennia. It seemed a river of lava had covered the valley and was contained by the sandstone bluffs.

La Ventana Natural Arch was a very short hike from the road and is one of New Mexico’s largest natural arches.


We took a longer hike in the Lava Falls Area. There is always something slightly eerie about hiking in lava. Many of the features bear Hawaiian names as early scientific knowledge of volcanoes was developed in Hawaii. Kīpukas are undisturbed areas that lava encircled but did not cover, thus creating islands of native plants and animals. The two types of lava present different hiking challenges. Smooth, ropy lavas are pāhoehoe and sharp, jagged lavas are `a`ā.

The trail was quite well marked with cairns but it would certainly be easy to get off trail and difficult to determine the correct path. This most certainly would not be a place to hike in midsummer with absolutely no shade to be had and heat radiating off the lava.

img_0725We enjoyed our brief visit to El Malpais and would like to return to explore the western portion, hike, and visit ice caves and lava tubes.


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Posted in badlands, hiking, History, national monument, National Monuments, National Park Units, New Mexico, Southwest History, Travel, Western U.S., wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment