The National Parks Project!

Women’s Rights National Historic Park

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Pretend the gauzy shots are because its so inspirational, and not because there was schmutz on my iPhone

I got sick of writing about Arizona, and now, more than ever we need to highlight one of the most important national parks - the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.  It is, of course, the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention which was held in Seneca Falls, NY on July 19-20,1848.  As the NPS says, “it is a story of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality, global struggles that continue today.  The efforts of women’s rights leaders, abolitionists, and other 19th century reformers remind us that all people must be accepted as equals.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  

Obviously the Seneca Falls convention was a watershed in American and women’s history.  It was here that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony et al drafted the Declaration of Sentiments to outlign the need for women’s rights - the most important of which was the right to vote.

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The Declaration

 The site consists of a small museum dedicated to the Convention and other women’s history movements and moments, the restored chapel where the convention took place, in which they now hold functions (interestingly, when I first went to the park, there was just the crumbling walls of the chapel - they rebuilt it in the ten years between my visits), and a lovely fountain/pavilion that serves as a memorial to what transpired here.  You can also drive over and take tours of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s nearby house.

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The Stanton House

The museum is the best part, with a decent video and a number of interesting exhibits.  But it’s also pretty cool to sit in the chapel and imagine being there when the sisters started doing it for themselves.  There are some great life size statues, that evidently cannot help posing with - I do it everytime I go —

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Me in 2005 

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Me in 2015! I am the one with the Yosemite shirt.

It was incredibly to fun to bring my kids here and make them think about women’s rights.  It was, perhaps lost on my daughter, what with her being two at the time, but her whole life is a feminist extravangaza  so I’m not too worried.

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If I have any complaints about the site, it’s that I wish there was more here.  This is the room where it happened, but there isn’t so so much to see.  The chapel had to be rebuilt, as I mentioned above, so it’s not like it’s preserved as it was back then - it’s more just an empty space.  The museum is nice but it is small.  I wish there was even more!!  Women are 50% of all history!! We deserve an amazing national park.  This is fun to visit, but it’s not going to compete with, like Yosemite or anything.  But it’s an important place and I’m glad it’s preserved.  Plus, they have some neat t-shirts at the gift shop (mine says, “I would have been a Suffragist.”)                                                           

Location: In downtown Seneca Falls, New York.  Seneca Falls is upstate.

Operating Hours:  The Visitor Center is open Wednesday - Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 year-round. The park grounds remain open 24-hours a day all year. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Um, obviously I am not going to say that it is bad for kids.  Your kids need to learn about feminism.  That having been said, there isn’t so so much for them to do.  If you have museum-y kids like mine, absolutely.  If your kids get so bored at museums you worry about the exhibits, maybe no.  BUT you do need to teach them about feminism in some other venue.

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Me, fighting the good fight.

Cacti National Parks

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The Monkeys in Saguaro National Park

As you may know, we escaped the Northeast and went on a mini-parksapalooza in southern Arizona this winter (yes, twice to Arizona in one year. We are odd).  Today I am here to talk about two of the parks we’ve saw, grouping them together because both of them are dedicated to preserving the natural desert landscape of the area, and in particular to protecting the fauna.  Or, as I said above, cacti national parks.

A word on nomeclature.  The plural of cactus is either cacti or cactuses.  My husband says cacti is pretentious.  I say it’s more fun to say.  Also, while we are talking, in Arizona they pronounce Saguaro without the hard “g” - Sa-war-o (or whatever that would be in that fancy pronuncation writing).  And it’s also more fun to say it that way.  So I’ve picked it up, and I’m sticking with it.

Ok, back to the park.  I have grouped two parks together here - Saguaro National Park and Organ Pipe National Monument, because both are very similar, and because, as you will see below, I have a strong opinion about which one you should visit, unless you are absolutely a “must see all the parks” nut like me.  

Let’s start with Saguaro.  Saguaro is a real National Park, by statute, and it’s pretty great.  It’s right outside of Tucson, Arizona.  Actually there a two parts, and east and a west, one on each side of the city.  We went to the east, which is the more popular, but I hear both are wonderful.  For an east-coast girl like myself, I found it pretty amazing.  The landscape is so, so different from what we know, and I found myself falling in love with the cacti.  It turns out that monkey number one had studied cacti in second grade, and was an excellent guide in delineating the different kinds.

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 Saguaro, the classic cartoon cacti

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Prickly Pear

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Barrel cactus (pointed out by cacti expert monkey number 1)

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My favorite, teddy bear cactus.

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oooh look at them spines

Don’t write me if I got these wrong.  My point is, there are lots of different kinds of cacti.  And there are some great hikes, both small (as we did) and larger if you are so inclined.  I would warn you that if you go in the summer, etc. you will have to get up pretty early to actually hike and enjoy the park before the heat goes bonkers.  “Luckily" for us, the weather was gray and in the high 50s the whole time we were there, so we were able to explore to our hearts delights.

Oh! And other than cacti and natural beauty, the park also has petroglyphs! Who doesn’t love a petrogylph??

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Very interesting to compare them to the petroglyphs in St. John’s, no?

Oh! And we also saw some coyotes! We didn’t get a picture of the one we saw in the wild, but here is a snap from the one we saw later that day at the Arizona Desert Museum, a really fantastic zoo right near the park.  The two of them together make a great day of learning about desert ecology.  Highly recommended.

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 The one in the wild was slightly more mangy.

So, in sum, Saguaro National Park is a great place to visit.  You can do some amazing hiking around a landscape that is totally different from anything you are used to (well, unless you live in Arizona or New Mexico, in which case I suggest you come east and visit Acadia).  The cacti are fascinating, there is wildlife, petrogylphs, a nice visitors center, a junior ranger program, all with in a short drive of a nice small city.

Location:  The physical address is 3693 S Old Spanish Rd, Tucson, AZ 85730.  It’s right in Tucson.

Operating Hours:  In the Tucson Mountain District (west), the park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset daily. (Actual times vary throughout the year). The Rincon Mountain District (east), the park is open to vehicles from 7:00 a.m. (if staffing permits, gates may open earlier) to sunset daily. You can walk or bike into the park 24 hours a day. Visitor Center - Both Districts are open 364 days per year. Operating Hours: Monday - Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (closed Christmas day) 

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Yes! As long as you go when it’s cool enought to enjoy it, there are great little hikes, and lots to see.  And everyone is fascinated by cacti!!

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See how much fun we had???

Ok, now is the time when we start to talk about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is an International Biosphere Reserve.  It is a beautiful desert preserve, saving an area, the Sonora Desert, that is chock full of biodiversity and some of the rarest flora and fauna in the world.  It is also, thanks to it’s proximity to the Mexican border “one of the most dangerous national parks” - indeed it was closed for years after a ranger was shot and killed in an interaction with a drug runner.  It is dedicated to the Organ Pipe cactus, a rare cactus species that flourishes there, but also is home to numerous other rare and endangered species.  The scenery is lovely.

BUT - you do not need to go there.  Honestly, unless you are like, an intense birder, or an absolute nut like me who wants to see every single national park (or monument, or battlefield, or whatever), there is simply no need to drag yourself to Organ Pipe.  Because it is so so far away.  It is far far away from civilization, in Western Arizona on the Mexican border.  The nearest town is called Why.  As in Why would anyone live here.  I made us travel from Tuscon to Organ Pipe and then back up to Phoenix and it was basically a five hour detour into the middle of nowhere.  Like, we got out and had a nice time and stamped my book, and bought a patch.  And we did a little hike that was great fun.  And saw the organ pipe cacti.  But I cannot in good faith recommend you go there.  It is just not different enough from Saguaro to put yourself through the agony of getting there.  And particularly if you have kids.  I have made my kids endure a bit in my quest to see all the parks (remember “Not another battlefield?”), but this is the first time I felt guilty about it.  Like, I bought them toys the next day to say sorry guilty.  It was just a looooong boring drive to get there, and I can’t say I regret it (because I am monomaniacal).  But I can’t recommend anyone do the same.  Go to Saguaro, and then look up an Organ Pipe cacti on line.

Anyway, since I did drag them, here are some photos.

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A Border Checkpoint.  Get used to them, America.

and finally, a famous organ pipe cactus.  

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See how different it is from a Saguaro? totally worth a five hour drive, no?

Look, I’m being a little snarky.  It is beautiful here and we loved our hike, but is just so, so, so far away.

 Location: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is located in southern Arizona, south of Ajo, west of Tucson, and east of Yuma. From the NORTH: follow Arizona Highway 85 through Ajo and Why. The Monument entrance is four miles from Why. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is 22 miles (35.4 km) south of Why. From the EAST: take Arizona Highway 86 to Why, then turn left on Arizona Highway 85, heading south. From the WEST: follow I-8 to Gila Bend or I-10 to Buckeye, then turn south on Arizona Highway 85. From Sonoyta, MEXICO: travel north towards Lukeville, AZ on Mexico Route 2. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is five miles north of Lukeville on Highway 85.

Operating Hours:  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is open every day of the year. The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving and Christmas the visitor center is closed but the park remains open.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? If your kids live in Why, Arizona, then definitely yes.  Otherwise, and it pains me to say this, go to Saguaro.

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Wupatki National Monument

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Our next stop after the Grand Canyon was Wupatki National Monument.  It was, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the Indian (I think we say Indian now, not Native American? Please know my intention is to be respectful regardless of terminology) ruins that we saw on our trip.  It is an almost complete 800+ year old Pueblo, in an absolutely breathtaking setting.  The views from Wapatki cannot be beat - it’s a classic Western scene and it’s gorgeous.

In fact, I’m going to steal language from the NPS website, because they put it more beautifully than I ever could:  "Nestled between the Painted Desert and ponderosa highlands of northern Arizona, Wupatki is a landscape of legacies. Ancient pueblos dot red-rock outcroppings across miles of prairie. Where food and water seem impossible to find, people built pueblos, raised families, farmed, traded, and thrived. Today, if you linger and listen, earth and artifacts whisper their stories to us still.”

Yes, that.  Wupatki National Monument was established in 1924, to preserve Citadel and Wupatki pueblos, and now includes additional pueblos and other archeological resources on a total of 35,422 acres.  Less than 800 years ago, Wupakti was the largest pueblo around. It was home to 85-100 people, and several thousand more lived within a day’s walk. Human history here spans at least 10,000 years, but in the 1100s the landscape became densely populated, likely due to the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano (SPOILER for my next post!)  a century earlier. By about 1250, the people moved on.  

But still - imagine.  These are some of the oldest buildings in the country - and they still stand.  It’s amazing.  And on top of the incredible history, it’s just cool looking.  Let me show you:

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Them views! 

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Junior Rangers, exploring

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And Junior Rangering!

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Seriously, tho, dem views!!

Location:  Waputki is about 45 minutes outside of Flagstaff, AZ. From Flagstaff take US-89 north for 12 miles (19 km). Turn right at the sign for Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. The Wupatki Visitor Center is 21 miles (34 km) from this junction. The drive time from Flagstaff to the Wupatki Visitor Center is 45–60 minutes. 

Operating Hours:  The park is always open - the Visitor’s Center is open everyday but Christmas

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Yes.  It’s the most accessible of the ruins we visited, and it has a great Junior Ranger Program.  The walk around the Pueblo is totally do-able, and it’s pretty cool to see.

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We loved it!

Grand Canyon National Park

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The Grand Canyon. THE GRAND CANYON.  Oh my god, the Grand Canyon.  When I first saw it, I cried.  I actually drew tears.  You think you know about the Grand Canyon from movies or T.V., and then you actually see it and your heart swells.  I don’t know, it made me feel proud to be an American.  I’ve decided that, while I obviously feel you should visit every National Park, that to be an official American human, you need to see 1) the Statue of Liberty, 2) the Lincoln Memorial and 3) the Grand Canyon.  They are more than National Parks - they are emblematic of the Nation.  If you can afford to do it, you should.

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A junior ranger, rangering

In case you live in a cave, NPS describes the Grand Canyon as "Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.”  Yup, that about sums it up.  A geographical wonder, caused by the Colorado River.  It’s just overwhelming - you can’t stop looking at it. Even the kids (who do not appreciate gorgeous scenery in the way grownups do) were entranced.

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We could not stop taking pictures, even though you can’t really capture it on film.

We stayed inside the park, which was amazing.  I had wanted to stay at the El Torvar, which is the fancy old fashioned lodge, but the rooms didn’t really accomodate my family, so instead we stayed at El Kachina, a motel that is attached to the lodge.  It was great - a nice room with two queen beds, so we could all stay together, a tv (because even in the midst of wonder, sometimes we need a tv break when we are 5 and 7), and best of all, a view of the canyon from our window.  I recommend El Kachina highly if you are travelling with family - it’s a short walk to 3 different restaurants, it’s right on the Canyon (try to get a room with a view), and it’s very comfortable.

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You even get to register at the fancy pants hotel

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And you can still dine there - but make reservations! It fills up fast.

So what did we do at the Canyon? We didn’t hike to the bottom, obviously, but we still had a killer time, and two days was barely enough time to see all we wanted to see.  The South Rim (which is where most of the action is - the North Rim is much more isolated, and indeed, often closed in winter), has a trail that goes alone the edge of the Canyon and you can walk as much or little as you like (there is a very good bus program - you definitely want to park your car and then ignore it for the length of your stay).  So one day we hiked (well, walked - it’s a paved trail) from our hotel to the Nature Center, with the breath-taking views of the Canyon the whole way.  AND we ran into a herd of elk on the way.  

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 We were VERY close to the Elk.

The kids did the Junior Ranger program, which included a requirement that they attend a Ranger talk, so we all learned about the California Condor, which has been reintroduced to the park. 

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Demonstrating a condor’s wing span

We took a bus to almost the end of the canyon and then walked a trail that was so unfenced that  I almost had a panic attack.  One thing about the canyon is that it is very unAmerican in it’s lack of big fences and signs warning you about falling.  Which makes it totally more beautiful, but also a little unnerving when you have small folks.  My husband and I spent the time alternating between enjoying ourselves, and worrying about someone tumbling over.  Luckily, the small lady was in her stroller most of the time.

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The end of the trail, Hermit’s Rest.

And we just generally had a blast, walking around, enjoying the breathtaking views, watching the very good film at the Visitor’s Center, looking for wildlife.  It was undescribably beautiful, and I am so, so glad I finally saw the Grand Canyon.  Seriously, if you haven’t been, GO!

Location:  Grand Canyon is in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada.  A 277 mile long (446 km) canyon separates the park into South and North Rims. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is a mile-deep, (1.6 km) and creates a barrier that bisects the park. Even though the average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles/ 16 km, be aware that it is a five-hour drive of 220 miles/ 354 km between the park's South Rim Village and the North Rim Village.  Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim is located 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona (via route 64 from Interstate 40) and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff (via route 180). The Grand Canyon lies entirely within the state of Arizona.

Operating Hours:  The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, though many facilities are closed in the winter.  The North Rim is open from May 15 - Oct. 15 and closes during the winter.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? OH YES.  I mean, make sure they don’t fall in, but other than that, it is DIVINE. 

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The River!!

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Tuzigoot National Monument

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The second stop on our parks jaunt was at Tuzigoot National Memorial.  Located in Camp Verde, Arizona (between Flagstaff and Phoenix), it consists of a 1000 (!!) year old pueblo that was inhabited by the Sinagua people from about 1000-1400 A.D.  So, you know, some of the oldest buildings in the country.  No big deal.  

It’s located up on a hill, near a lovely little creek.  And, unlike Montezuma’s Castle, you can walk right up to it, and even get inside one of the rooms.  It’s amazing that such a thing survives, and what’s more, it’s located a gorgeous location, where the views alone would be enough.  The Visitor’s Center has a nice collection of artefacts to bring the whole thing into perspective and help you imagine what it was like when people lived there.  The Junior Ranger program really engaged my kids, too.  It made me want to learn more about Native cultures in the America (particularly pre-invasion), so I bought a book called 1491, and of course, have not even turned one page yet.  Nonetheless, it’s a small National Memorial, but a lovely one and I recommend it, highly. (though, actually it is 42 acres, and there is probably some lovely long hikes we didn’t do, because we were travelling with a two year old)


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A Junior Ranger, hard at work (note the pencil behind the ear)

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The ancient walls

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What a view!

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Hard at work, rangering.

Location:  Tuzigoot National Monument is 52 miles south of Flagstaff, Arizona via U.S. Alternate Highway 89A, or 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Operating Hours:  Generally open 9-5 except on Christmas - but they recommend you get there by 4, to have time to see the site.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Well, mine liked it.  It’s interesting to imagine the past (my kids like anything with rooms - they immediately start divvying them out - “this is your room, that’s one’s mine”) andn they enjoyed the Great Junior Ranger program.

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So, my kids got up at about 4 in the morning that day, because we were still on Eastern time, and we ended up checking out of the hotel at about 5:30 with time to kill.  So we went to Jerome, Arizona, a “ghost town” (it was a huge mining operation, then abandoned, and now has been reclaimed by art galleries and tourist attractions).  We were so early the town wasn’t open, but we got some cool snaps, and eventually had breakfast, and Jerome looks reasonably cool, so I thought I’d throw it in here.

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The town

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The old brothel

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 See the “J” on the hill? This is a thing they do out there. Whatever, life is a rich tapestry.

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 The new West.  How lovely.

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My dad on a camel.  No, this isn’t Arizona, I just think it’s funny.

Montezuma’s Castle National Monument

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As anyone who reads this blog probably knows, we just returned from a 7 day, 8 park National Parkapalooza in Arizona.  It was so, so much fun, that, for once, I’ve decided to blog about our stops in order, and with a bit more vigor than lately.  It was just what our family needed (long story short we were supposed to do this last June and health nonsense intervened), but I think anyone who loves the American West would love this trip.

So, our first stop was between Flagstaff and Phoenix at Montezuma’s Castle National Monument (and Montezuma’s Well, which is part of the park a brief drive away).  First things first, this park has NOTHING to do with Montezuma.  Dumb whiteys in the 1880 decided these were Aztec ruins.  They are not, but the name stuck.  What it is, is an 800 year old cliff dwelling/ pueblo built by the Singua tribe, who lived in this area before they dispersed (for reasons that are still unclear).  Still, many modern Native Americas consider the Singua to be their ancestors.  Until 1951, you were allowed to climb up into the cliff dwelling, but now, alas, we know better. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see one of the oldest buildings in the United States.  And, even better it was National Parks week the week we travelled (just a coincidence, but super fun), so not only did the boys get to do the normal junior ranger program, there were additional fun things to do.

Like grounding maize!

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Becoming Junior Rangers

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Taking photos

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Being lovely….

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And avoiding snakes!

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A few more castle shots (it’s really amazing)

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The second part of the park is Montezuma (HIM AGAIN)’s well.   Montezuma Well is a collapsed limestone sinkhole from which water springs up.  Very unusual in the desert environmbnet for sure, and the unique aquatic habitat found incontains organisms found nowhere else in the world which have evolved in response to the unique mineralization of the water.  But mostly, it’s prettttty - that splash of blue green in the middle of the desert.

There is a short hike you can do around the rim, or a longer one down to the well.  Seeing as we’d woken up in Boston at 4, and one of our party is two, we opted for the latter.  Still amazing.

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Grumpy junior ranger!

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Oh, Dang! It’s got cave dwellings too!!

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Important Info:

Location:  Castle - Follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Drive east (through two traffic circles) for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking red light. Turn left onto Montezuma Castle Road.

Well - Directions: Follow I-17 to exit 293 (4 miles north of the exit for Montezuma Castle). Continue through the towns of McGuireville and Rimrock, following the signs for four miles to the entrance to the Well. There is no fee to enter Montezuma Well.

Operating Hours:  Generally open except on Christmas - but if you go in the winter they close early, so double check

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Yes.  Mine loved it.  The hikes are doable, and seeing the pueblo is amazing.  Great Junior Ranger program, beautiful walks.  Take them!!

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Don’t we look happy!!!

Manzanar National Historic Site

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Ok, this is the real America is terrible National Park.  But I said I’d blog about it next, and in honor of its recently being honored by the NPS, I finally got off my duff and started writing.  And honestly, in light of the current political climate it is more important than ever that we appreciate this place and the was we as a country failed ourselves and our values.

Manzanar is an internment camp.  During the Second World War, we as a nation decided that Japanese citzens (but not Germans!) were not to be trusted, and without any due process or crimes charged, forced them from their homes and businesses (many of which they lost and never recovered) to remote, isolated internment camps.  George Takei, of Star Trek fame, is perhaps the most famous American to have spent time in a camp, but thousands of American citizens had their liberties taken from them for no reason, just because of their ancestry.

There are many sad National Parks - Antietam or any battlefield, the site of the Johnstown flood, Pearl Harbor, the slave shacks at Fort Caroline are a few that just pop into mind. But to me, this is the saddest - because it is here that America failed itself, and what we stand for, because of fear mongering hate.  The very best part of the American experiment was tested and we did not pass.

The park itself is both eerily beautiful, and hard to handle.  It’s set on a dusty field surrounded by breath taking mountains.  The Visitor’s Center is amazing, and really immerses you in the experience.  There is also a very good Junior Ranger program and room for children.  It really left a mark on Son #1, who to this day (we were there two years ago), will ask me if I remember Manzanar, or remind me that “nothing is as sad as Manzanar.”  It’s really a breathtaking experience, and though it is pretty isolated, everyone should go.

Some photos

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This is the iconic memorial at the graveyard.  Not many people died at Manzanar (small favors?), but a few did and now people leave stones at the base of the memorial to commemorate.

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It is reeeeeally isolated here

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The truly amazing Visitor’s Center

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With activities for children, too.

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A reconstructed barrack, where families lives cramped together (ignore my inappropriate goofy grin).

Important Info:

Location:  5001 Highway 395 Independence, CA 93526. It’s a pretty isolated part of California, but it can be done on a trip to Yosemite (which is what we did)

Operating Hours:  Generall open except on Christmas - but if you go in the winter they close early, so double check

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Yes.  It is important for our children to know what we’ve done.  And, as I said, the educational programs for kids - even young ones (ours were 3 and 5) are outstanding.  And yes, it left a lasting impression on my sensitive older son - but that is the point of it.


This post has been a bit of a bummer, but let me throw in a bonus story.  The day we went to Manzanar, we started in LA, and drove around through the desert to get there.  It’s a pretty isolated part of the world, and a certain point, my monkeys were getting antsy, so we needed to stop.  According to Trip Advisor, the nearest, and indeed, only thing to see was the local Boron mine.  So we got out of the car, in 100 degree weather and toured a Boron mine, in Boron California.

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As you can see, the boys looooooved it.

And on that vacation day we saw pit mining and concentration camps.  BEST. PARENT. EVER.

Fort Caroline National Memorial

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I decided to write about Fort Caroline National Memorial because Facebook reminded me that we were there almost exactly four years ago today.  And its cold and snowy here in Massachusetts, so I thought, why not Florida? We went here on a National Parks-A-Palooza, the same trip we went to Castillo San Marcos.  And its a beautiful place, though, you should be warned, it’s a little bit of an “American is terrible” National Park.

It’s located in Jacksonville, Florida.  And there are actually two parts - before I arrived I was only aware of the Fort Caroline part of the park.  Fort Caroline is a reconstruction of a 16th century French fort in Florida, and it’s reasonably interesting for a wooden fort reconstruction.  There is a very good visitor’s center, 

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where you can put gross things in your mouth

Because it’s also an ecological preserve, there’s a really lovely small hike

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lookit that Spanish moss!!

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There is a reconstruction of a Timucan Indian village

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And, of course, the Fort itself.  In the  the sixteenth century, France wanted to expand its empire. Spain, of course, already had a foothold in the Americas (see Castillo De San Marco), and France wanted a share of the riches the Spanish were getting. It turns out that France’s first attempt to stake a permanent claim in North America was at La Caroline, a settlement near the mouth of the St. Johns River in Florida.  The NPS built a reconstruction of the Fort (all wood so nothing original is left!)

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Classic NPS signage!!

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OH MY LORD, were my men ever that small??

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So, all that was pretty cool.  BUT there was more NPS to go! Bonus parkage - Kingston Plantation! That is the American is terrible* part, because, of course, this is a straight up slave plantation, and while it’s got pretty parts, it’s pretty damn grim.  But it’s worth visiting - you learn a lot, and it’s interesting, even as it’s sad.  And at least NPS doesn’t pull any punches on what happened here. 

And it’s an interesting place, too, because it has a slightly complicated back story, an complications are interesting.  The original owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, moved to Fort George Island in 1814 and what is known today as the Kingsley Plantation. He brought his wife and three children (a fourth would be born at Fort George), but his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was actually from Senegal, West Africa, and was purchased by Kingsley as a slave. She actively participated in plantation management, acquiring her own land and slaves when freed by Kingsley in 1811. But, don’t get excited about complicated racial politics, because then later on it was all slavery all the time, so don’t get too excited.  Anyway, photos!

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The slave cabins.  It’s so sad, it almost feels haunted.

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*The most America is terrible National Park we’ve ever been to is Manzanar, the internment camp in California. I’ll write that one up next, but as son number one always says, “Oh is it as sad as Manzanar?”  This is, cause  slavery is even worse and sadder than Japanese internment. 

Important Info:

Location:  Jacksonville, Florida.  The visitor’s center is at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, Florida.

Operating Hours:  Basically it’s so big that at least some part of it is open every day from 9-5. If there are specific things you particularly want to see, I’d double check the website, though, especially if its, like a Federal Holiday.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Yes! The fort/ecological part are amazing, and they’ll love it.  The plantation is beautiful, but even more so, it’s important for them to learn about slavery.  Maybe that part isn’t good in a Disneyworld sort of way, but it’s good for them to grow up to be moral people.  And the other parts are good in a more jolly way.

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Weir Farm National Historic Site

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This is a totally random choice of a National Park to blog about, but it popped into my head the other day, and I thought, why not.  It’s a farmhouse belonging to J. Alden Weir, an American Impressionist, and you can learn all about him here.  Plus, it’s quite pretty.  According to the NPS website it is “the only National Park dedicated to American painting,” but, actually, NPS has a joint venture with the Thomas Cole Home (Cole was a Hudson River school painter) so that is hogwash.  What it is is the only National Park in Connecticut, and I know almost everyone has a relative in the Nutmeg State (or in nearby Westchester), so if you are wondering what there is to do in Connecticut, you can go here.  (Or, honestly, there is a pretty good aquarium in Norwalk and you can go on a real submarine in Groton).

So, we of course took the house tour and learned about Weir - but frankly, I think he’s a pretty obscure artist - I’m reasonably well informed about art and had never heard about him (I mean, it’s not Pollack, or Hopper, or even Mary Cassatt).  Classic National Park “they donated this to us so we took it” versus “this is extremely important to America so we preserved it.” So the house tour was moderately interesting.  But what made the park fun to visit is that it’s on 60 acres of beautiful landscape, and you can go hiking, and we saw a snake and wild turkeys (which were more exciting before I moved to Newton, Ma, which is basically wild turkey-ville).  So, if you are National Park person, or if you are more into American Impressionists than I am, you will love this.  But if you just want to walk around somewhere pretty in Connecticut, it’s a decent place to stop.

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On our hike!

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See? Pretty.

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The house is pretty, too!!

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Important Info:

Location:  735 Nod Hill Road Wilton, Connecticut 06897

Operating Hours:  The grounds are open year round, but the house, and studio and visitor center are open May 1 - Oct 31.  So I’d go then,

Official Park Website

Good for kids? The house/studio tour is a little dull for kids, but the little hikes are lovely.  I’d say it’s pretty fun (especially for Connecticut! Damn, threw some New England shade!)

Ford’s Theater National Historic Site

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So, I got to go to D.C. for 24 hours this week, and in between squeezing in as many old friends and delicious food as possible, I had an hour or so to kill, and thought I’d either buy myself some new shoes to replace my hole-y ones, or go to Ford’s Theater.  What do you think I chose?

I’d been before, years ago (according the ranger, it must have been before 2009) but they have majorly renovated it (well, the museum part - not the theater itself!), and it’s pretty great now.  I mean if you can handle how terribly sad it is that we lost Lincoln (which, it’s been 150 years, so you can probably handle it), it’s pretty amazing to be in the room where it happened.  And the museum has nicely been redone to focus on Lincoln and his whole administration, with just a small part devoted to the conspirators and the assassination.  So, of course, I recommend it wholeheartedly.  Go to Ford’s Theater, guys - it’s worth it.

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                       Our man, Abe.

In case you didn’t know, Ford’s Theater is the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  There he was, watching Our American Cousin with his wife and a few friends, when John Wilkes Booth, actor and Confederate scumbag, came into the presidential booth, shot him in the head, screamed Sic Semper Tyrannis, and escaped (breaking his leg in the process).  Lincoln died from his wounds - now he belongs to the ages (or angels?) - Booth was caught in a barn, where he died, and the rest of the conspirators were caught and hung, except for Samuel Mudd (the doctor who set Booth’s leg, and claimed he was innocent), who ended up at my dream NPS spot, the Dry Tortugas (SOME DAY I WILL GO THERE).  It is also a still working theater, where you can go see the Christmas Carol every year.  The site includes a very fancy museum (definitely a public/private joint enterprise there, as it is nicer than most any NPS place I’ve been), with some amazing artifacts - see below, the actual theater where it happened, and the house across the street, where Lincoln actually died.  All pretty great.  Now, some photos (all from my most recent trip - I think when we went before it was pre-iphone!).

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                            The Lincoln Family

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                                    Honest Abe

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                                       The Virginia Creeper (we hates him, precious)

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                               Damn, you Booth!

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                                  I feel an obligation to introduce you to the hot conspirator, Lewis Powell, in case you’ve not met him before.  The worst, obviously, but a looker.

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                            The actual gun what did it.  How nuts is that??

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                               And the suit he was wearing!! Amazing.

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                     A date which will live in infamy.

And finally -

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                       The room where it happened.

Important Info:

Operating Hours:  You need to get a free, timed ticket to enter. I just walked up on December 8 at 10 AM, but I think to be safe, you might want to get one in advance.  The theater/museum is open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving, but, because it is a working theather, the actual theater is closed because of rehersals or performances.  Also, the guide told me they don’t always let you go up and look closely at the actual box when it’s crowded, so you might want to choose a time that’s a bit slower to go.

Official Park Website

Good for kids? Well.  It’s a museum about an assassination.  BUT, Abe Lincoln is the best and my kids really love him.  So I’d take my kids, but understand that it’s a little grim - I mean, its a murder site, really.  

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© Carrie Dunsmore 2017