The Great National Park that is Florida

While National Parks are relatively few on the East Coast (only seven east of the Mississippi), there are three in Florida alone. The recent storms and devastation along the Florida coast highlight the high human habitation in the area, but in our weeks there we were amazed at the wildness and wildlife concentrated at America’s southern tip, so alive it felt like a fight against encroaching mankind.

Fort Jefferson, capstone of the Dry Tortugas National Park

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40 National Parks Done! Countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7….

So while our blogging is woefully behind, by Halloween we’ve hit 40 of our 50 National Parks and made a full circle around the United States!  We are now counting down our final 10 parks as we round the corner on November and winter.  (See live map here.)  To sum up, here’s where we’ve been after 40,000 miles on the road since January: Continue reading “40 National Parks Done! Countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7….”

Great Smokies: Just what is a Wildflower Pilgrimage?

Birding with nerds at Great Smoky National Park

The timing was just right for our week in the Great Smoky Mountains. It was the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, a Smokies tradition almost 70 years in the making. We assumed it would be mostly amateur outdoor enthusiasts giving ranger talks similar to what we have seen in other national parks, just focused on flowers.

Trilliums, the most popular of all the wildflowers in the park.

We vastly underestimated this Great Smoky Wildflower Extravaganza. The line to register was absurdly long, and people were nervous wrecks fretting over programs that filled up too fast (the Night Owl Prowl walk is the crowd favorite) and eager to snatch up the last few programs spots. I too, panicked and grabbed slots like a women possessed, if nothing else so as to keep pace with my fellow pilgrims.

Crested dwarf irises on the trail

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50 in 50: Month Four in 30 Seconds

 

The month of May saw us enjoying the Sunshine State at the Southernmost tip of the US in Key West, and knocking out three National Parks in Florida. Then we started our procession up the East Coast, stopping by Jacksonville – Seth’s old stomping grounds – and other lovely beaches before exploring the floodplains (i.e. swamps) of Congaree in South Carolina.  Moving north, we checked out T.J.’s Monticello on the way to Shenandoah, where I saw my first bear and we weathered a big storm with friends and babies alike squeezed into the Whale. Continue reading “50 in 50: Month Four in 30 Seconds”

Unpacking the Whale

Our lives as wanderers means that with each stop, we have to pack up and strap down our home, and make home afresh at each new campsite.  Sounds tedious, eh? But as you can see, from setting up the kitchen to pouring in drain cleaner and fluffing pillows, it takes no time at all…

 

Favorite Campsites in the National Parks (1st-25th)

1. Backcountry/Boondocking sites (Big Bend National Park)

Boondocking in the wild of Big Bend

Big Bend is a huge national park, with several good campsites for trailers, included our shady site in Rio Grande that provided some shelter from the 104 degree heat. But one special thing in Big Bend we have yet to see at another National Park are designated boondock sites for RVs.  Essentially, these are backcountry camping sites that are accessible by car (“Primitive Roadside Camping”). This means there are a dozen or so scenic spots scattered around this huge park where you can pull your trailer off-road — and provided you make it down the gravel side roads with trailer intact — you find yourself completely alone under the shadows of the Chiso Mountains.

Room with a view

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Hot Springs: Our first National Park (Unit)

Filling up on mineral water in Hot Springs.

I had no idea that Hot Springs National Park would be just that – a National Park that centers on the hot springs alone. It’s the smallest of the National Parks, and perhaps the oddest, as the park originated to protect the spring’s waters, and the park’s lands are surrounded by the charmingly preserved resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. There are many hot springs, but these magical springs are intensely hot (at 150 degrees), incredibly pure (the water used now fell as rain during the time when Egyptians built pyramids), and delightfully odorless (not being volcanic springs, there is no sulphur, and no rotten egg smell). To top it all off, their slow journey from rainfall 4000 years ago through 1 mile of mineral-rich rock has given this mineral water enviable health properties. Continue reading “Hot Springs: Our first National Park (Unit)”

Big Bend: Big Walls?

Magical sunsets at the top of the Chiso Basin

Big Bend is massive. While not as large as Death Valley in acres, something about the variety of terrain (they claim it’s three parks in one), the 100+ miles of Rio Grande it borders, and the fact that the park contains one whole mountain range within it all make it a grand statement on nature and the beauties of West Texas.

View of the Rio Grande, and Mexico on the other side.

But one human-scale question looms all of the nature that is on display here. Big Bend, on the South border of Texas, is a national park that shares a 110-mile border along the Rio Grande River with Mexico. The political overtones of this border are hard to avoid. There are signs everywhere noting that it is illegal to cross the Rio Grande anywhere except the official border crossings.  In my mind, the Rio Grande was, well, Grand with a capital G, but in reality, much of the river here in the park is shallow and not more than 20-30 feet wide. Thus college boys on Spring Break seemed to take great pride violating the stated law by wading across the narrow strait to do a little dance on the Mexican shore. Continue reading “Big Bend: Big Walls?”

50 in 50: Month Three in 30 Seconds

Month Three had us moving through the Southeast, enjoying Arkansas’s hot springs and seeing the world’s longest cave system in Kentucky.  We managed to sneak some culture in at the museum at Crystal Bridges and caught a show at the famous Ryman Auditorium (home of the Grande Ole Opry!) in Nashville. We enjoyed Spring wildflowers and visits from friends in the Great Smokies, after which we dove south and traversed the very long state of Florida. From Payne’s Prairie through Orlando and Miami, I saw my first alligator and romped through Harry Potter world.  But that wasn’t south enough.  We drove the Whale all the way to the Southern tip of America to Key West and enjoyed a week of turquoise waters and learned there is no such thing as too much Key Lime Pie.

Hurray for Month Three!

In the belly of the Whale: Mid-meal Messy Mayhem

So, in my last post on my kitchen, I showed what it looked like closed up and ready for driving, and what it looked like open and ready for some action.  What I didn't show was what it looked like while I was actually cooking…

As you can see, it's a tiny space indeed! But with some acrobatics and a balancing act on whatever tiny ledges are available, we make it work. The good news is that in cleaning my whole kitchen, I don't need to take a single step.