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Posts Tagged ‘National Parks’

I have been doing tours in Colorado for years but for some reason have never been to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park is only a 2 hour drive from Denver but it is to the north and we don’t usually go that direction.   However we have recently changed one of our tours to include this park and I was really excited to get a chance to visit.
A popular summer resort and the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River. The town has a population of just over 6,000 and it’s elevation is 7,522 feet.
There is early evidence of Native Americans living in the area for hundreds of years. In the 1850s, the Arapaho spent summers camped around Mary’s Lake, where their rock fireplaces, tipi sites, and dance rings are still visible. They also built eagle traps atop Long’s Peak to get the war feathers coveted by all tribes.  They battled with the Apaches in the 1850s, and also fought with the Utes who came to the area to hunt bighorn sheep.
Whites probably came into the Estes Park valley before the 1850s as trappers, but did not stay long. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded the community in 1859. Estes moved his family there in 1863.
Griff Evans and his family came to Estes Park in 1867 to act as caretakers for the former Estes ranch. Recognizing the potential for tourism, he began building cabins to accommodate travelers. Soon it was known as the first dude ranch, with guides for hunting, fishing, and mountaineering.
In 1884, Enos Mills (1870-1922) left Kansas with his family and came to Estes Park, where his relative Rev. Elkanah Lamb lived. That move proved significant for the area because Mills became a naturalist and conservationist who devoted his life after 1909 to preserving nearly a thousand square miles of Colorado as Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mills was a sickly boy and he believed he gained strength form the pure mountain air.  He opened an inn and led many hikers through his beloved mountain range.  Between logging and a chance encounter with John Muir (the “Father of the National Parks”) after Muir died in 1914, Mills began lobbying Congress to save the land as a National Park. He succeeded and the park was dedicated in 1915.
Today, Estes Park’s outskirts include The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909. An example of Edwardian opulence, the building had Stephen King as a guest, inspiring him to change the locale for his novel The Shining from an amusement park to the Stanley’s fictional stand-in, the Overlook Hotel.
The town was also the site of the organization of the Credit Union National Association, an important milestone in the history of American credit unions.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved highway in the United States, runs from Estes Park westward through Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching Grand Lake over the continental divide.  It is a forty-eight mile road and you reach the summit where the Alpine Visitor Center is located at 12,183 feet.  Wow…talk about cold and windy but breathtaking.
The park is one of the most visited and with it’s location so close to Denver one can understand why.  There are 56 mountains over 14,000 feet in Colorado and as you travel through the park you can see Long’s Peak to the south; the northernmost “fourteener” as those mountains are called, at 14,259 feet.
One third of the park is above timberline and that makes sense with over seventy 12,000+ foot high peaks in the area.  As you drive the Trail Ridge Road the first stop is Horseshoe Park, full of wildlife, especially elk.  And the Bighorn Sheep feed regularly at Sheep Lake.
There are many places you can stop to hike or camp but just driving the road can also be exciting.  Once you get past timberline you can see the importance of this park in protecting the fragile alpine tundra, where trees can not grow due to such very harsh conditions.  Over three hundred very hardy alpine plants make up this area.  Twenty fiver percent of these plants can also be found in the arctic.  This is also a wildlife sanctuary for the many Bighorn sheep who are a symbol of the park.
After you reach the summit, the road descends to Grand Lake and the Colorado River.  The river starts in the park and if you travel on I-70 you can follow it to Grand Junction where it turns south to the Grand Canyon and beyond.
If you are interested in reading more about Colorado be sure and check my two part articles called “Colorado by Trains.”  Colorado is truly an exciting state to visit.  Although it is not known as “The Mountain State”–that title belongs to West Virginia–it is truly a wondrous mountain state.

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I recently did a tour up the coast of the Pacific Northwest and there is so much beauty in that area it inspired to write about a few of the wonderful sites I saw.  First up is the giant Redwoods of California.

Along the coast of Northern California is Redwood National Park as well as several Redwood State Parks.  Starting north of San Francisco as you go over the Golden Gate Bridge you will be astounded by Muir Woods.  As you walk through the grove of Redwoods over one hundred feet tall, you can’t help but marvel at the old growth forest

If you have been to Yosemite National Park, which I have written about in a previous article, the trees living there are the giant sequoias.  They are slightly shorter but more massive than the trees in Muir Woods and along the coast.

The trees in Muir Woods and as you travel up the California Coast are called Coast Redwoods.  These trees grow in the moist climate of this area with winter rains and summer fog.  They keep so much water in their trunks that even a fire won’t burn them down.

About 120 miles south of Crescent City, which is close to the Oregon border, is where all the Redwood Parks begin.  Coming from San Francisco the first park you enter is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the largest remaining old growth forest in the world.  This park has a road that parallels Highway 101 for 32 miles and is called “The Avenue of the Giants.”

If you have all day you can make many stops but if your time is limited I would recommend two stops.  A third stop you might want to consider is where you drive through a giant redwood tree.  I have never been able to do that because I always go through the area on a motor coach and it can’t fit through the tree.

A very important stop in this area is the Humboldt Interpretive and Welcome Center where Charles Kellogg’s “Travel Log” is on display.  Kellogg was a vaudeville performer who imitated bird songs.  He later campaigned for the protection of the California redwood forests.

Kellogg constructed a mobile home, called the “Travel Log”, out of a redwood tree, and drove it around the country to raise awareness of the plight of the California forests. Its maximum speed was 18 mph.  Looking at it you can just picture the man driving around in his log.

There is also a lot of other information about the redwoods at this visitor center and a short but very nice trail you can walk through just across the street.

I also like to make a stop at “The immortal Tree.”  It is so massive and has been hit with lightening and floods but just keeps on growing.  There is also a nice gift shop there where you can actually purchase Redwood products.  There are several other stops you may enjoy but with our limited time, these are the two stops I make.

Coast Redwoods are the tallest known tree species in the world.  They can average from 150-250 feet tall and some are even over 350 feet tall.  They can have diameters of 12-20 feet.  Sometimes it’s fun to take a picture of several people around one of these massive trees.  I not only do this to show the height but especially to see how many people it takes to form a ring around the tree.

These trees can live several hundred years with some even living over 2,000 years.  The bark can be over one foot thick and has resin making for a strong resistance to disease and fire.  However the shallow root system grows latterly rather than down so they are susceptible to high winds and flooding.

Lightening can cause the trees to hollow out and I stood in one once that was totally hollow but standing over 100 feet tall.  It was a very unique experience.

Redwood has a rich red bark and is easy to work with and resistant to rot.  With the lumber industry so important in this area it is amazing there are so many groves left today.  Thank goodness the state of California preserved these giant wonders by creating so many state parks.

So if you are ever out in San Francisco or anywhere in northern California take a detour up the coast to see these giant wonders. It will definitely be worth your while.

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Do you know the least visited National Park?  While the Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the US, Olympic National Park in Washington State is the least visited.  If you are staying in Seattle there are two ways to get to the peninsula.  You can drive south towards Olympia and take Highway 101 or you can take the ferry to Bainbridge Island.  Then follow Hwy 112 to Hwy101.  Along the way you will cross over the Hood Canal.  This is the longest fjord and floating bridge in the US.  After crossing the bridge you continue driving to the park’s visitor center in Port Angeles.

Olympic National Park has tremendous natural diversity and breathtaking beauty with over 922,651 acres of preserved wilderness. Little has changed since it first became a home for Native American tribes.  In the 1500s European settlements appeared. President Grover Cleveland designated the area as the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897 and in 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the act establishing the area as a National Park.  Finally in 1981 the area was named a World Heritage site in recognition of its exceptional natural beauty and outstanding diversity of plants and animals.
If you go in early summer the green grass and white & yellow wildflowers along the highway seem to go on forever.  The park contains the only rain forest type flora in the contiguous U.S—265 inches of rain per year and sometimes even more than that. The peninsula is home to the only rainforests in the Continental United States. These forests are among the rainiest places in the world.
Bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Hood Canal and on the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the peninsula has as a backdrop the majestic Olympic Mountains.  At 7,980 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest peak in the park and is easily spotted.
It is also the site of the restoration of the upper reaches of the Elwha River–the largest dam removal project in the U.S. The last of the two very illegal and century old power dams on the Elwha will finally be removed.  This should restore fish habitat and what had been a legendary salmon run of five to six foot King and Sockeye salmon might even have a chance to return.  Although if this happens the salmon will probably not be the size nor numbers of the past.  Both dams were illegally built on the Elwha with no fish ladders. The city of Port Angeles will also benefit from this project with safer drinking water.
Spectacular waterfalls as well as herds of Roosevelt elk are found in this area.  Just passed Port Angeles is a pristine 10-acre natural lake over six hundred feet deep called Lake Crescent.  The first time I drove by the lake, the beauty took my breath away.  It is a glacial lake and the deep blues and greens are amazing.
The way you can always spot a glacier lake is by its colors.  What happened was as the glaciers moved the ice scraped against the surrounding stone.  This stone became ground up into a fine silt called “rock flour.”  As it entered the rivers and streams the silt of the rock flour was suspended in the water.  The reflection of light off the particles eliminates all the colors of the color spectrum except for the beautiful blues and greens. In the Canadians Rockies you find lakes such a beautiful emerald green it literally takes you breath away.
Just passed the lake is Marymere Falls.  If you visit in the summer you will notice large Western Red Cedars and fields of grass loaded with daisies stretched before you.  Then you can take a short but steep one and a half mile hike to the viewing bridge. The waters of Falls Creek drop nearly 90 feet from a cliff into a small plunge pool near the trail below.  And if you are lucky and the sun hits the water just right you will see rainbows.
If you continue west you arrive at Neah Bay.  At this point the road turns south.  When I traveled to that town I drove straight for two miles and ended up on a dirt road for another five miles.  When the road ended I was at the overlook of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  I could see Tatoosh Island in the distance.  This is where the waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the waters of the strait.  I had arrived at the Northernmost spot in the contiguous US.
Whether you like hiking, backpacking or just enjoying the scenery this area should be on your bucket list.  There are so many things to do and see in the area and pictures do not do justice to the incredible sights.  This next summer I will be conducting a tour to this area in July.  If anyone is interested, email me at kileenp@gmail.com for details.  And don’t forget to check out “Journey Beckons” on Amazon to read more about this area.

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This last February my brother and I took the train to Yosemite National Park (well sort of…).  We got on the Pacific Surfliner
at 8:00 a.m. from Oceanside, California to L.A.   The ride from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was awesome.  We followed the Pacific Ocean sometimes high up on bluffs and other times right down next to the beach.  We saw a lot of surfers with pelicans circling around them

San Juan Capistrano was a mission established in 1776 and the swallows used to come back every year on March 19th on their migration from Argentina.   Unfortunately since 2009 the swallows now migrate a little further north.

After the train stopped at Capistrano, we headed inland towards L.A.   There we boarded our thruway bus to Bakersfield.  Then it was another train, the San Joaquin, up to Merced, the gateway to Yosemite.   We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rent a car before going to our hotel for the next two nights.

The next morning we were up early because we had a lot of miles to cover.   The area we stayed in is referred to as the Valley and many of
California’s fruits and vegetables are raised in this area.  The land is very flat and we drove the long way south to Madera before cutting over towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Yosemite is located.

Our plan, in order to see as much of the park as possible, was to drive in the south entrance and drive out the west entrance.  Yosemite’s elevations start at just under 3,000 feet and are as high as 13,000 feet so we had a steep climb from the valley floor to get there.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, beautiful meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.   Over 95% of the park is wilderness with the main part of the action in Yosemite Valley where hotels and campsites are located.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its geographic and biological diversity.  Most of the trees are the Western Red Cedars (the Sequoias) and Ponderosa Pines.  The Ponderosas were so round and tall I thought they were 200 years old (since they tend to grow a foot a year in most areas) but a ranger told me they were 300 hundred years old.  There are not many places left in the U.S. today that you can see old growth forests like we saw in Yosemite.  There are also two rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, that begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley.

For tens of thousands of years humans have lived in this area. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many of these early travelers who came by horseback or stagecoach.   By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation.  Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold.  And, today 3.5 million people enter the park every year to explore.

John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.  He was also instrumental in getting Sequoia and the Grand Canyon named as National Parks.   In 1869, Muir landed a job as a shepherd which gave him the opportunity to study the flora and fauna.  When he saw that the grazing sheep were destroying the area, he lobbied for a National Park.

Yosemite was also a favorite place for photos by Ansel Adams and you may want to read more about both Adams and Muir since space here is limited.  A third person important to the area if you would like to read more is Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park idea in important new directions when he saw how poorly the parks looked in 1914.  He even hired staff to help him and paid them out of his own pocket.

When you arrive in the valley area you see El Capitan, the 3,000 foot monolith and it is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers.   You can only climb up because it is way too dangerous to go back down so the trail must be taken.  And right by El Capitan you can gaze upon the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.  Across from El Capitan there are some other granite monolith rocks, like Half Dome.  These rocks were carved out by the glaciers that came through the area.   But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

We drove for almost an hour after we entered the south entrance and it truly was wilderness.  The only bad thing was it was February and we were over 5,000 feet and there was no snow!  That does not bode well for this summer’s fire season.  Finally we entered a tunnel.  The tunnel was constructed by the WPA in 1933 but as people came out of the tunnel there were so many accidents and the Overlook was a very dangerous place to pull over.  So the Tunnel View Overlook was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.

The Tunnel View scenic overlook is a historic site, and has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. Both the Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary designs.  The overlook is such a popular site that there is an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people who visit every day during the
height of the tourist season.  But even more special to us when we pulled off onto the Overlook was the sun was positioned in such a way it created a huge rainbow on the distant Bridalveil Falls that was an incredible site to behold.

If you ever get to a National Park there is a book about the great lodges of the West.  I have written about the lodges at both Yellowstone and Glacier.  Whenever I get to a new Park, I always try to visit the famous lodge built there.

The lodge in Yosemite is called the Ahwahnee and is quite unique since it was Mather who lobbied for it to be developed.  Many of the
other famous lodges were built with materials found in their areas.  But all natural resources in National Parks are protected now and building materials cannot be used from the parks any more.  Since the lodge was not built until 1926, trucks had to haul all the building materials in over primitive roads seven days a week.  The lodges in Glacier and Yellowstone used existing timber and stone but that can no longer happen.  The primary building materials were steel, granite and concrete and then the outside of the granite and concrete was stained to look like redwood.

There is a central tower several stories tall and three separate wings with huge fireplaces.  The west wing has a dining room that seats 350 people.  The room is 130 feet long, over 51 feet wide and the ceiling reaches 34 feet.    It is a massive room and very beautiful.   During World War II, the Ahwahnee was a rest and relaxation hospital for the Navy.  Over 90,000 troops rested there and almost 7,000 patients were treated at the lodge.

Not too far from the Ahwahnee is Curry Village where you can rents tents and Yosemite Lodge where you can also stay.  There are also little towns just outside the park with lots of hotels and motels so you have a lot of choices when visiting the park.

As the sun was setting we drove down out of the park and back to our hotel in the Valley.  The next day we headed home and that also turned into an adventure.  Our Amtrak train was late; almost an hour by the time we got to Bakersfield.  We were rushed onto out thruway bus to LA.  Our driver was excellent and took several back roads in LA to avoid rush hour.  We actually made our train back to Oceanside with ten minutes to spare!

 

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Summer is almost upon us and with the brutal winter many had to endure, the thoughts of vacations, can’t be too far away.

Do you know the most visited National Park? … Great Smoky National Park.  Why is this true?  50% of the U.S. population lives within a 500 mile radius of that park so it is easy to get to and there are no entrance fees. But the granddaddy of them all and America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be on many bucket lists.

If you have read my previous articles you know how much I love Glacier National Park.  I have written articles about that Park including about the lodges there.  Realistically, since it is so remote, most travelers will go to Yellowstone before Glacier.  Therefore an article about the accommodations you will encounter there should be useful.  

There are several towns around Yellowstone and if you don’t want to overnight in the Park, you may want to read my previous articles about the area for other ideas. 

Remember, however, when you are in Yellowstone you do not realize how remote you are.  There are five areas for hotel and camping accommodations and the road makes a big loop to get to these regions.
Even though that is where all the action is, the areas surrounding the road and villages only comprises 10% of the park.  So if you are not into hiking the back country, you will miss 90% of this vast wilderness.  It is a huge area that stays untouched by humans for the most part, which adds to its mystique. 

Before we begin–a tip: always make an advanced reservation.  However for your informtion all the big tour companies reserve a certain amount of rooms every year in advance so if  you are told they are sold out and you can wait, you might still get a room.  Tour companies have to release their unsold rooms at least two weeks in advance or pay for them.  And some even give them up earlier than that.  So it doesn’t hurt to call once or twice a week ahead of time and see if any vacancies have come up. 

Yellowstone is divided into five regions for hotel accommodations.  Most people want to stay in the Geyser Country by Old Faithful and that is a great area with several  choices but those rooms fill up the fastest.  There is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in the early 1900’s.  If something happens to this place (fire almost took it out in the 1980’s), it could never be replaced with the environmental laws we have today.  They would not be able to cut down the trees to rebuild.  It would have to be constructed with other materials. 

Even if you don’t stay at the Inn, go and see the structure and if you have time take the tour that runs twice daily and is free.  Dinner is reservation only but you can always eat lunch there. There are also cabins available.  Next is Snow Lodge and cabins.  Snow Lodge is a favorite place of mine to stay and one of the few places where dinner is first come, first serve with no reservation required.

They also have the log cabin style of rooms (like the Inn) that have that wonderful rustic look.  Finally, there is the Old Faithful Lodge and cafeteria where you can eat sandwiches, salads and regular entrees.   Don’t confuse the Old Faithful Lodge with the Old Faithful Inn.  These are two separate places and Snow Lodge makes three.  All are situated around the Old Faithful geyser.

If you are traveling and come into Yellowstone on the Northern route, you enter the Mammoth area.  The elevation is not as high here so the weather is warmer.  This is the park headquarters because the weather is not as severe in the winter.  The Hot Springs Hotel and cabins can be found here and the hotel is opened year round.  There is both a dining room and a grill and no reservations needed.  And most of the time, the elk are lounging about the grassy areas during the warm summer months.

Continuing south from Mammoth along the east side of the park are two more areas with lodging.  The Roosevelt area has cabins some with baths and some without.  In the summer this area has cookouts that you travel to either by horse or by wagon.  Or you can continue south to the Canyon area. When here, you are close to the lower falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  There are both lodge rooms and cabins with a dining room, cafeteria and deli.

Finally you come to the Lake area.  The easiest way to get to this areas is from Cody to the East or Jackson Hole from the South.  You will come to Grant Village first coming from Jackson Hole.  There are 6 two story buildings with fifty rooms in each building.  

Grant Village is situated on the Southwestern shore of Yellowstone Lake about twenty miles from Old Faithful.  There is a gift shop, general store, and a lounge located in the dining room. The dining room overlooks the lake, and the Lake House with pub style dining, can be found down on the shore of the lake.  If you want dinner in the dining room you definitely need reservations.

Lastly, a place I hope to stay at some day is Lake Yellowstone Hotel and cabins.  This classic hotel is painted a bright yellow and sits right next to the lake on its northern side.  It has been restored to its 1920’s grandeur.  I could sit in the lobby half the day watching the world go by with the awesome views.  There is a dining room where reservations are definitely recommended.  The whole place has the feel of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island or the Greenbriar in West Virginia but on a smaller scale.  Maybe, just maybe someday I will get a chance to stay there.

As for winter only Snow Lodge at Old Faithful and the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs are opened. Since the roads are closed you can only get in by the big Snow Coaches– reservation only– or snowmobile.

Hopefully, you are now well informed and realize you have several choices where to stay in the Park.  As long as you make reservations in advance, you should be able to find accommodations.

And don’t think you can get in without reservations in the fall.  That is when the tour buses roll in with all the seniors traveling since the kids are back in school.  And, weather wise, early to mid September can be very nice in the Park.

 

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Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona (next to Phoenix) but it has more of a small town atmosphere.  The population in the city is a little over 400,000 and over 750,000 in the greater metro area.  The city boasts that it has 3,800 hours of sunshine a year and although hot in the summer, it is usually a little cooler than Phoenix.  There are mountains nearby you can drive to and get cool when the heat is too much in the summer.

The University of Arizona is located here and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and aircraft storage facility.  Because the air is so dry, they ship lots of old airplanes here because they won’t rust, and there is a  a wonderful museum.  Hughes Aircraft and IBM also have a presence so the city has a good economic base.

            Tucson is in a high desert valley and was once the floor of an ancient inland sea.  It is surrounded by four mountain ranges.  Because the Santa Cruz River runs through the area, they can trace human habitation back 12,000 years.
            In 1700 a Jesuit priest, Father Kino, established the San Xavier Mission when he laid the cornerstone of his church.  Today you can visit the newer church that took fourteen years to build starting in 1783.  There are twin towers and the one on the right was purposely left unfinished.  The prevailing theory is at the time you didn’t pay taxes on uncompleted buildings.  There are very poor Indians who live in this area, and you can find many of them sitting around the church yard during the day selling frye bread and other items to earn a living.
            At one time, Tucson was on the stage route between San Antonio and San Diego and offered a safe haven against the feared Apaches.  By the 1950’s dude ranches brought many wealthy people to the area.
            There is definitely an Old West flavor to the area and not too far away are Tombstone, where the famous shoot-out at the OK corral and Boothill Graveyard are located.  Another little town tucked in the mountains and close to the Mexican border is Bisbee.  It is about 90 miles from Tucson and known for its mining history.  Today you can still see the beautiful Victorian homes and businesses that were built with the gold, silver, and eight billion pounds of copper that were mined in this area.  The town’s elevation is 5,300 feet so you don’t get the heat like you do in the other nearby desert areas.
            If you are driving around this region there is another town you may want to visit.  About 45 miles south of Tucson and right next to Nogales, Mexico is the oldest European settlement in Arizona.  Tubac, established as a presidio in 1752, is a pretty little area with old adobes, studios, galleries, and shops.  There are over 120 stores and Kevin Costner filmed the golf movie, Tin Cup, here so you can also find a golf course to play.
            If you are staying in Tucson there are plenty of things to do right in the town.  You can visit Old Tucson, where many movie sets still stand when they made all those old Western movies.  And there is a National Park that sits right on the edge of the city, Saguaro National Park.
            The Saguaro are protected in Arizona.  You may not realize it but these cacti only grow about 1/2″ a year.  When you see the tall cacti they are at least 50 or more years old.  And if they have arms, those don’t start growing until somewhere between 50-75 years.  There are hundreds of these cacti in many shapes and sizes growing in this park and I love driving through the area.
            You may also want to visit the DeGrazia Gallery.  He was a famous artist who died in 1982 and his paintings are very distinct.   Being fascinated with the desert colors and cultures, he is famous for his portrayal of Indians with big black eyes, sticky hair and round faces.
            Finally Sabino Canyon is another must go to place in the area.  The canyon is in the foothills northeast of Tucson so it’s always cooler there.  In the 1930’s CCC workers built bridges and a 3.8 mile road up the mountain.  You can take a narrated 45 minute shuttle ride and get off and walk around, visiting saguaro up close and personal.  But I need to warn you to be careful.   One time I had a driver who was standing outside the door of the bus waiting for our return when he heard a rattle.  He was smart enough not to even look around.  He jumped up the stairs of the motor coach and closed the door.  It wasn’t long when he saw a rattlesnake slither by the front of the coach.
            But then again, that is all part of the adventure when you are in the desert Southwest.

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I am visiting my son in Yuma, AZ for the  winter so I thought I would write about a few places out in this area, especially since I come here on tour quite frequently.

            First up, Palm Springs, CA.  But before we talk about this city, a little bit of knowledge about the Southwestern deserts is probably in order.  There are four deserts that comprise what we call the Southwestern Desert region and so in no particular order…
            First up, The Great Basin Desert encompasses most of northern Nevada, western and  southern Utah, the southern tip of Idaho, and a bit of eastern Oregon. It’s the  most northern of the Southwestern U.S. deserts and is know as the “cold desert.”   This desert has mountains, valleys, lakes and,  of course, basins.  Some of the plant life found here is mountain mahogany, juniper, quaking Aspen  and many types of pine. In addition to plant life, the Great Basin also has a  variety of animals, including jackrabbits, mule deer and mountain  lions.  This is where you find the fabulous National Parks of Bryce and Zion, some of my favorite to visit.
            Just below this desert is The Mohave Desert which includes southeastern and central California, southern portions of Nevada and Utah, and  northwestern Arizona. The Mojave is home to many popular areas, including  Las Vegas, Death Valley and Los Angeles
            Many cacti plants live in the Mojave as well as the desert lily and star,  juniper and prairie clover. The Mojave also has a variety of lizards and  snakes, as well as coyotes, jackrabbits, tarantulas and bighorn  sheep.
            Another desert, The Chihuahuan Desert, encompasses a small part of southeastern New Mexico and  western Texas, and extends south into Mexico. This is the second  largest desert (after the Great Basin) in North America.  Common plant life in the Chihuahuan includes agave, peyote and mesquite and is also know for its yucca.  If you are not sure of what yucca looks like, think small palm tree.  The animals found here are the scorpion, kangaroo rat and  the elf owl.
            The fourth desert, The Sonoran Desert, is located just south of the Mojave Desert. The Sonoran covers  large sections of southern California, Arizona, Baja, California and parts of  northwestern Mexico and Palm Springs is located in this desert.
            It is the hottest desert in North America and it would take two countries of England to fit into it.  It is home to the only Jaguar population in the U.S.  Other animals of the Sonoran Desert include: the tortoise, kingsnake, desert  iguana, coyote and 350 species of bird., including hummingbirds. The desert is also home to the saguaro cactus,  prickly pear and bur sage.
            When people think of deserts, they always think of the giant saguaro cactus with it’s protruding arms, but these cactus are only found in the Sonoran desert and I’ll talk a little more about them in my Tucson article.
            Palm Springs has been a fashionable resort and its mineral springs have attracted visitors for years.  It’s population is only around 45,000 and because of its smallness, Hollywood stars have always been attracted to the area.    I had an area guide tell us that locals will walk down the street and not pay any attention to the celebrities they see.  Because of this the rich and famous are comfortable hanging out here.
            Perched high on a mountain is Bob Hope’s home.  It was a second home for him and is now on the market for only $50 million.  I would always look up and see the house when on the motor coach and wondered about all the people and parties that went on there.
             The 23,366-square-foot home was designed in 1973 by the California Modernist architect John Lautner. It was built to resemble a volcano, with three visorlike arches and an undulating concrete roof, a hole at its center opening a courtyard to the sky. The roofline has been described as one of the most distinctive works of architecture in the area. The house has also been likened to a giant mushroom but it also looks like a UFO. Its has 6 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, 3 half baths, indoor and outdoor pools, a pond, putting greens and a tennis court.
             Frank Sinatra has a home in the mountains for sale for about $4 million but you can drive right by his first home.  It is very unpretentious and is now in line for historic landmark designation.  You can imagine all the wild happenings that went on in that house, especially during the JFK heyday.  You can also wind through the streets and see Elvis’ house, Marilyn Monroe’s, Peter Lawford’s, Liberace’s and the list goes on and on.
            You can visit the Palm Springs Air Museum or take a ride 2 and 1/2 miles up the San Jacinto Peak on the Aerial Tramway.  You will be over 8,516 feet when you get to the top.  This is a really fun ride because the floor of the tram slowly revolves 360 degrees on its journey up the mountain which gives you views of the mountain and desert floor below.
            The Living Desert is another great attraction where you will find desert plants and animals and can even ride a camel.  And, don’t forget to stop at a date farm for a nice cold date shake.
            No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without going to the Fabulous Follies.  However after 23 years of entertainment, sadly this is the final year.   So I guess you better put Palm Springs at the top of your travel list, and if you want to venture further, both San Diego and Los Angeles are a hop, skip or jump away.

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