Pinnacles National Park

We have been on the move visiting three more national parks, and with so much travel and activity, I haven’t had time to write about what we’re seeing.  Well no more; here is the first of the four parks we are visiting in Winter 2016 in southern California.  [We visited the five parks in central and northern California in Spring 2015.]  Incidentally, it doesn’t feel like winter here — this coming week the highs will be in the 80s every day!  Now on to the park visit….

Pinnacles NP

The newest national park in our country’s collection of 59, Pinnacles National Park, established just three years ago, had been one of the country’s oldest national monuments.  Originally established in 1908, it was approved by Congress for a status change in January 2013 and is now a national park.  Regardless of the designation, NP or NM, it is yet another magnificent one in our country’s collection of national park units.

The pinnacles of Pinnacles National Park
The spectacular remains of part of an ancient volcanic field, these are the jagged pinnacles of Pinnacles NP

Plate tectonics and an old volcano are responsible for this park that has a rather strange story behind it.  It begins with the formation of the Pinnacles Volcano some 22-23 million years ago.  What is remarkable is that the volcano was born nearly 200 miles away from where we find the park today.  Pinnacles was believed to be some 8,000 feet high and the range some 15 miles long.  Over millions of years plates shifted directly below the volcano, splitting up the volcanic field and carrying two-thirds of the volcanics with it from the area that is today Lancaster, California, (down by Los Angeles) up some 175 miles north and west along the San Andreas Fault line to where the park is found today.  It is fascinating when you think of the geology behind this place… these rocks were all moved here v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y with the force of shifting and smashing tectonic plates, and that is why the unique spires and rock formations stick out, literally, from the more smooth foothills of the Gabilan Mountains surrounding these seemingly out-of-place pinnacles.

Laura in the High Peaks at Pinnacles NP
Laura atop the High Peaks in Pinnacles NP

There are two entrances to Pinnacles; one on the west side and one on the east side.  No roads traverse Pinnacles NP, but hikers can connect the two sides via hiking trails up and over and around and through the rocks.  We visited the east side of the park on our way up to Salinas, then the west side on our way back down the California coast.  We hiked on the more popular west side, finding a combination of trails that made a nice, albeit very strenuous loop trail that took us up Juniper Canyon along a seasonal stream in the morning fog.  Through a patchy mosaic of native habitats (riparian, chaparrel and oak woodlands) we passed, making our way back and forth through the switchbacks and up some steeps to get up into the jagged pinnacles known as the High Peaks.  Along a particularly steep and narrow part of the High Peaks Trail, it was evident that the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) had been here, for they surely left their marks.  Steps had been carved out of hard rocks in some particularly challenging spots, and pipe handrails were installed to keep hikers from toppling off the sides.  If not for these aids, hikers would not be able to loop around these spires and high peaks, and once more we are grateful for the hard work of these CCC boys back in the 1930s and ’40s.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

California CondorWe experienced a couple more signature items in the park — some early wildflowers were in bloom, prairie falcons could be spotted, and amazingly we saw four rare California condors.  While my photos from my smartphone are pretty poor, they are proof, nonetheless, that these magnificent creatures with 10-foot wingspans are making a comeback from their once near-extinct status.  And I gotta tell you, it was absolutely exhilarating to hear the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the wingbeats I heard three times as three different condors took off from their hidden perches atop the volcanic pinnacles.  I stood in awe as I saw one, then a second, then a third condor take to the skies for the day; a fourth that didn’t take off could be seen atop a spire.  It was absolutely breathtaking…!

While this park is relatively isolated and can be hiked in its entirety in two days, it shouldn’t be overlooked.  Between the enormous rock spires and crags, the challenging hiking, and the condor sightings, the quiet beauty of this park could become addicting.

Three National Park Units in Oklahoma

As we look to wind up our two-turned-into-two-and-a-half-year road trip in October of this year, we are now paying more attention to routes, remaining national parks (16 at the time of this post), missing states (five) and figuring out how to efficiently get to all of our remaining sites before turning Charley back to the Midwest and calling our trip “complete.”  It was with this in mind that we pointed north to Oklahoma.  Being in Texas, we were close, and we weren’t sure how we’d loop back to this area in these next several months if we didn’t do it now.  So with that we drew up our plans to visit Oklahoma, our 46th state.  [Our remaining states now include only Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota.]

We took in all three of the national park units in Oklahoma during our time there, each being very different in place and purpose.

Chickasaw NRAPublic art to honor the Chickasaw in Sulpher, OKChickasaw National Recreation Area — Located in the town of Sulpher in Southern Oklahoma, this NRA preserves natural mineral springs and nearly 10,000 acres of forest land and recreational lakes.  Initially preserved as Platt National Park, it is today Chickasaw NRA in honor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation and in recognition that the lake as a recreation area serving northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.

As with many old national park units, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a hand in building many of the picnic shelters, campgrounds, dams, and bridges here.  It is, indeed, a beautiful area — from the town’s public art that honors the rich Native American history to the Travertine Nature Center built over Travertine Creek to the hiking trails, springs and lakes.  We are, once again, grateful that many saw fit to protect this special place.



Oklahoma City National MemorialOklahoma City National Memorial — This solemn place remembers April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a bomb in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.  One-hundred sixty-eight people were killed in the attack and now 168 chairs sit empty next to the reflecting pool representing those who died.  The memorial also remembers the survivors, the rescue workers, and all those who have been forever changed by this event.  A survivor wall, memorial fence, children’s area, and old elm tree that survived the blast also sit on what is now sacred soil and make up this memorial.

Written on one of the twin Gates of Time, “We have come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.  May all who leave here know the impact of violence.  May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.”  Amen.

Oklahoma City National Memorial



Washita NHS
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site — The word ‘battlefield’ should be removed from the official title of this national park unit; this was a massacre, not a battle, of an Indian village full of defenseless women and children by the U.S. Army who was directed to make war on the Cheyenne people.

In the mid-1800s, decades of conflict had been playing out across the southern plains that are now Oklahoma.  In the name of Manifest Destiny, early settlers moved westward though these lands, assisted by the newly-laid railroad lines that brought more and more people through the area.  Feeling threatened by the Native Americans who were protecting the land that rightfully belonged to them, tensions increased as fundamentally different cultures clashed over who should live on these lands and how they should be used.  As the U.S. government attempted to force Native American tribes to reservations, inter-tribal battles took place as did rebellions by revenge-seeking young Native warriors avenging the attacks against their ways of life.

Washita NHSWhile the exact events of the morning have been debated, it is a fact that peace-inclined Chief Black Kettle, his wife, and scores of Cheyenne woman and children were killed in a surprise attack at dawn’s early light on November 27, 1868 at the hands of Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his men.  In a particularly brutal move, Custer also ordered the slaughter of some 800 Indian horses and mules, a move which crippled the remaining Cheyenne communities.  Washita NHS protects this sacred site, and while it is not a busy park unit, it is a very important place for reflecting on the price of progress and the cost of peace….


For a more in-depth accounting of this tragedy, read here.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest NP

There are many parts to Petrified Forest National Park, from the namesake petrified logs that are strewn across the landscape… to Triassic treasures that show the fossil record of Ancient Arizona some 200+ million years ago… to petroglyphs and solar calendars left behind by Ancestral Puebloan people… to a historic inn that commemorates the nostalgia of Route 66… there’s a lot to like here in this park!

Predecessors here in the areaTwo-hundred million years ago forces conspired to give us much of the desert grassland park that we see today.  But it was not always like this.  Once hot, humid, lush and green in the Triassic Period, this area was a prehistoric rainforest with abundant ferns, horsetails, cycads and ginkgoes.  Early reptiles and dinosaurs roamed in these parts as evidenced by the fossil remains found here, and giant conifers dotted the land.  But then time changed everything.  Tectonic plates shifted, moving the continents apart.  Giant regions uplifted.  Waters parted.  The climate changed.  And these plants and animals were buried by layers and layers and layers of sediment.

Petrified logPetrified / Mineralized woodFor millions of years, fallen conifers were buried beneath layers of sediment, thus cut off from the air and protected from decay.  Over time – lots of time! – these buried tree trunks were permeated by water that contained silica which crystallized as quartz, thus turning the soft wood into a hard mineral.  Today remnants of this prehistoric forest lay in sections of the park, giving it its name.

In addition to the petrified tree trunk pieces strewn across the desert sands, the desert sands themselves are a huge part of the park.  This whole area is known as the Painted Desert, which features eroded cliffs of wonderfully red-hued volcanic rock known as bentonite; an absorbent clay.

The Painted Desert
The beautiful red-hued Painted Desert
The blue rock at Blue Mesa
The blue rock at Blue Mesa

In addition to all of the geological beauty that is found here in Petrified Forest, man-made beauty is present here, too.  Thousands of years ago, Native American peoples roamed these lands, and while most of the stories of their lives here have been lost, some remnants remain including pueblos, pottery pieces, projectile points, and messages in stone.  There are more than 1,000 archaeological sites here in the park.

The Painted Desert Inn in Petrified Forest NP
The Painted Desert Inn

Finally, the Painted Desert Inn is another man-made treasure; certainly a worthy stop in the park to learn some incredible history about the trails, rails, and roads that came through this area.  Take the story of Fred Harvey.  He was a railroad man in the late 1800s, and increasingly dissatisfied with his meals and accommodations while traveling, he set out to revolutionize the hospitality industry.  Beginning in 1876, his “Harvey Houses” were popping up all along the Santa Fe Railroad line, ensuring quality and comfort to traveling guests.  

The Painted Desert Inn was built right next to historic Route 66 and the BNSF Railway between 1937-1940 by our national park heros, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boys who were stationed here from 1934 to 1941 to help improve the then-designated National Monument.  In 1947, Fred Harvey took over operations of the Painted Desert Inn and immediately set out to update and enliven the place.  Harvey Girls served at the dining counters, and thanks to the opportunities Fred Harvey gave them, were able to achieve financial independence through their work.  For this and other contributions he made, Fred became known as the “Civilizer of the West.”

Hospitality along Route 66
The Painted Desert Inn, one of Fred Harvey’s “Harvey Houses” provided meals and accommodations to guests traveling along Route 66 from 1947 – 1963

The Painted Desert Inn closed in 1963 after the romance of travel along Route 66 wore off, and a faster and more direct interstate highway system was  built.  Demolition was proposed in the mid-1970s (gasp!) but public protests prevented its razing, and it was reopened for limited use in 1976.  In 2006, after extensive renovation and restoration, the Inn opened as a museum and bookstore.  Today visitors can see efforts of the restoration, and beautiful murals on the walls, commissioned by Fred Harvey and painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie back in the 1950s.  While overnight accommodations and food service are currently not available at the inn, we can only hope that these services might one day be restored, as well.

Indeed, there is a lot to see and history to explore here in this wonderful place, Petrified Forest National Park.

Natchez Trace Parkway and National Scenic Trail

Natchez Trace Trail & ParkwayThe Natchez Parkway is a quiet (at least when we were on it) stretch of pristine roadway that stretches from Natchez, Miss., up the state through Jackson and Tupelo, then traverses through the northwest corner of Alabama before coming to an end in Nashville, Tenn., some 444 miles later.  Without a billboard in sight, it passes through low-lying marshes, cypress swamps, forests, agriculture fields, and pastoral pastures of grazing animals.  While it has been a real treat to drive along segments of this beautiful parkway at several places during our travels here in Mississippi, the interesting part of this story is how this corridor came to be. 

One needs to go back centuries to find the beginnings of what is referred to as the Old Trace.  [Trace means ‘path’ or ‘road’.]  The Trace as we know it today began not as a single trail, but a weaving of animal and Indian paths following the quickest and easiest way through the land.  Ancient Indians had the same transportation and communication needs as we do today, and over the centuries they followed the Old Trace pathways to get to where they were going.

Natchez Trace HistoryNative cultures flourished in this region prior to European colonization. The Natchez, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and other American Indians had their homes here when the Europeans came.  Of special interest to us, Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto, whom I wrote about in a previous blog (De Soto National Memorial), made contact with the Chickasaw near the Old Trace back in 1540.  Brute that de Soto was, he demanded Chickasaw slaves, but the tribe refused and attacked de Soto and his army, forcing them to flee.  

KaintucksFast-forward 240 years to the late 1700s, when pioneer homesteaders were crossing the Appalachian Mountains into the Old Southwest to settle the Mississippi River Valley and points further westward.  The Old Trace was most heavily used between 1785-1830.  Farmers from the Ohio Valley River, called Kaintucks, built flat-bottom boats and floated them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, carrying goods to be traded in the southern markets of Natchez and New Orleans.  When their goods were sold, these Kaintucks broke apart their boats and sold the logs, then used the Old Trace to return to their homes back up north on foot.

In 1800, The Old Trace was designated as a federal post road, making mail delivery between Washington, D.C., and Natchez and the Old Southwest much faster.  During the War of 1812, the Old Trace was a vital link for getting U.S. troops into position, and then back home again after the war.  During these busy years, simple way stations, or "stands," were built to aid travelers on the move during this time when the Old Trace was most heavily used.  Slaves often traveled the Old Trace with their owners between Natchez and Nashville.  Outlaws and bandits, too, used the Old Trace, but for bad; they targeted and robbed travelers of the money they made from selling their goods at the southern markets.

Over time, other roads were built to connect bigger cities, and these were faster and safer for traveling.  Then with the advent of the steamship, the Kaintucks could return to their northern homes much more quickly.  By 1830, the Old Trace path was virtually abandoned.

Natchez TraceIn 1905, the Mississippi Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) wanted to preserve the slowly dying out Trace, for they recognized its value as a cultural treasure.  As they set out to gain support, a Mississippi congressman proposed a road as a way to give tribute to the original Natchez Trace.  Established as the Natchez Trace Parkway in 1938, and administered by the National Park Service, it was, once again, the magnificent work of the CCC who labored to build the long stretches of this two-lane road.  The markers and monuments that the D.A.R. began placing along the Trace some 80 years ago are still in place today, and they identify significant features like ancient Indian burial mounds and villages, the gravesite of explorer Meriwether Lewis who died here in 1809, and beautiful picnic areas, waterfalls, and other natural elements on either side of the roadway – all the way from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River.

In 1991, the Federal Government started the National Scenic Byways Program to recognize roadways with outstanding scenic views and valuable historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archeological significance, and the Natchez Trace Parkway received this designation.  The Parkway was mostly completed in the 20th century, but two gaps remained.  Finally in 2005, money was appropriated to complete these two segments, and with that, this scenic roadway was finished.  Grateful are we, and so, too, the other 7,500,000 people who annually drive along this old corridor with the exceptional views, that so many before us worked to preserve this national treasure.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Many sections of the original footpath are visible today, and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, a separate national park unit, features 65 miles of the Old Trace trail.  It is open for hiking, and in some places horseback riding.

Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge ParkwayFor the first time in three days I have semi-reliable connectivity, so I’m hoping I can catch up on a few posts – hurray!  :)  This post dates back to Friday, November 7th. — We continue to make our way south.  We have a couple more national parks to visit before we take our Thanksgiving break back up in Chicago and Appleton with family and friends; visits we are very much looking forward to!  As we were planning our November travel, we learned that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Scenic Byway, making it a must-see/must-drive on.  It connects Shenandoah NP in Virginia all the way to Great Smoky Mountain NP in North Carolina – how convenient as that’s exactly our itinerary!

Not so fast, though… upon further study, we didn’t think we wanted to drive the whole thing.  Even through this is an All-American Road noted for its scenic beauty, we didn’t feel the need to enjoy all 469 miles of the parkway as the maximum speed limit is just 45 m.p.h. – a bit slow, even for Charley!  It seems to be a dream for motorcyclists, though.  Driving along the crests of the southern Appalachian Mountains through ancient bedrock, rolling forests, and 200+ small towns… not seeing a single billboard or road sign… marveling at the 151 bridges built by the WPA/CCC over several decades (construction on the parkway began in the 1930s, but it was not finished until the 1980s)… stopping at some of the 275 scenic vistas along the route… experiencing an untouched and untamed oasis of calm… while all of this would be lovely, we don’t have the time for it to take four days!  We decided to drive a few portions of it, so planned our itinerary accordingly.

View from atop our mountain at our campground in Asheville, NC
View from atop our mountain at our campground in Asheville, NC

We spent a couple of nights in a great little campground on a mountaintop just outside of Asheville, NC.  We had a few ‘big city’ errands to take care of there – got an oil change for Toad at the Subaru dealer and had some PC issues taken care of at Office Max – places we hope not to be too near any more than we have to on this trip.  As we left Asheville, we stopped in at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center for yet another stamp in our NPS Passport books, then headed on down the road, er, parkway….  Next stop:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"Fransel" Adams at work
Fred, a.k.a. Ansel Adams, hard at work (note beer in hand) at our Asheville campground
Fierce clouds
Fred’s shot of the fierce clouds over the mountains – these are what caused our overnight temperatures to dip into the low 30s and, for the first time, have us unhook our water hose overnight to keep it from freezing
Sunset in the mountains
Fred’s capture of the sunset in the Blue Ridge mountains

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park
One of many splendid views from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

October 27 – 31 — Just 75 miles west of Washington D.C., in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lies Shenandoah National Park.  This park was established in the 1920s and ’30s as a response to the development of large national parks in the West.  With automobiles making getaways from big cities possible (‘within a day’s drive for millions,’ as it was touted), and large population centers in the East seeking places to visit, the demand for ‘an Eastern park in the Western tradition’ was answered by establishing this park.

Scenic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
Scenic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah’s boundaries are ragged, for it was created through an amalgamation of a 19th century resort, Skyland; a Rapidan River fishing camp; a large meadow, Big Meadows, which was purchased by the state of Virginia and turned over to the Park; and most controversially, small plots of land that were taken away from local residents in less-than-compassionate ways.  Running like a spine through the park is Skyline Drive – 105 miles of a lovely, winding roadway that runs essentially north to south through the park.  It ranges from 13 miles at its widest point to just over a mile at its narrowest.  Along this beautiful scenic parkway are 75 overlooks which offer views that stretch for miles.

A couple of U.S. Presidents are linked to this area.  First, President Herbert Hoover built Rapidan Camp – a.k.a. Camp Hoover; a.k.a. the Brown House (in contrast with the White House) – in these mountains and used it as a summer rustic retreat during his administration from 1929-1933.  Then in 1933, just months after he took office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for the creation of this National Park to help cure the ‘Depression Blues’ and bolster public confidence in the public works programs that we was establishing.

"Iron Mike" the CCC worker at Shenandoah National Park
“Iron Mike” statue that commemorates the CCC workers who created this park

We owe much of what’s in Shenandoah today to President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) works program.  I’ve talked about this group before in previous posts as we are indebted to them and their service in many of the national parks, and Shenandoah National Park is arguably their most extensive work.  Between May ’33 – March ’42, ten CCC camps were established to work on the park.  At any one time, more than 1,000 boys and young men lived in these camps.  They planted trees and shrubs; built trails, fire roads, and towers; built log comfort stations and picnic areas; and, most notably, built the stone walls that line parts of Skyline Drive.

On July 3, 1936, President Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park.  In his remarks, he stated, “We seek to pass on to our children a richer land—a stronger nation. … And so, my friends, I now take great pleasure in dedicating Shenandoah National Park, dedicating it to this and succeeding generations of Americans for the recreation and for the re-creation which they shall find here.”

Indeed, much recreation is found here.  There are 500+ miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail (the A.T.).   Forty percent of the park is designated federal wilderness area, protecting 1,400+ plants and over 300 species of animals including one of the largest concentrations of black bears in the U.S.

As we are wont to do, we took two nice hikes in Shenandoah.  Our first was a 6-mile “moderately difficult” out-and-back trail to see Overall Run Falls – a 93′ waterfall.  The second, two days later, was the renowned “very challenging” 9.2-mile hike and rock scramble to the summit of Old Rag – a 3,291′ rock mountain created some 1.1 billion years ago.  This hike offered many spectacular panoramic views, but it’s best known for the rock scramble.  Challenging and steep, it requires squeezing between cracks in rocks, ducking through a rock cave, and navigating many narrow passages with several spots requiring hand over hand climbing.  It’s not for the novice hiker!

Here are a couple of pictures from our Old Rag hike:

A resting spot on our hike up Old Rag
A resting spot and beautiful vista about halfway up Old Rag


Part of the rock scramble up Old Rag
A section of the mile-long rock scramble up Old Rag
We made it - 2,510' up to the Old Rag summit at 3,291'
We made it – 2,510′ of climbing up to the Old Rag summit at 3,291′
The fire road trail back down from Old Rag
A lovely fire road with a pretty carpet of leaves on the forest floor; part of the trail back down from Old Rag

We visited the park from the north entrance – Dickey Ridge – then we dry camped (no water or electricity) in the park for three nights about halfway down Skyline Drive at Big Meadows Campground.  After three mostly-overcast days and very cold evenings in the middle of the park (with no power to run the furnace regularly, and following campground rules, only being able to run our generator a bit in the morning and a bit in the evening, and only until 8p – thank goodness for the flannel sheets I had recently purchased!!!), we drove the rest of the way down Skyline Drive and out of the park, then without passing Go!, we proceeded directly to our next campground with electric hookups to supply our heat source!

Layers at Shenandoah National Park
Layers of mountains extend out into the horizon at Shenandoah National Park


Starved Rock State Park

September 24-27 — We had perfect fall weather the four days/nights we camped in Starved Rock State Park – in fact, we had a perfect camping trip!  Starved Rock is a beautiful state park less than 100 miles south and west of Chicago.  It derives its name from a legend in which, after a battle among two Native American rival tribes, the Illinois tribe took refuge atop this 125′ sandstone butte, but with no way to escape got starved out by the surrounding Ottawa tribe.

Even back in the mid 1700’s when all this took place, the tribes realized the value and beauty of this special place along the Illinois River.  In the 1800’s this site was developed for vacationers with a hotel, dance pavilion, and swimming area.  In 1911, the State of Illinois purchased the site and turned it into the state’s first recreational park.  In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Lodge and trail systems present in the park today – hurray for the CCC and all they did for our state and national parks!!!

Starved Rock boasts a wonderful Visitor Center where we checked in and watched an informative video about the history of the park, as well as the current plant and wildlife in the area.  It features lots of well-marked hiking trails, canyons, sandstone bluffs, seasonal waterfalls, the river, and the beautiful lodge.  The one thing we did miss – perhaps the most unique feature of this park – is the bald eagles; they winter along the river.  We vow to come back to see them.

We are still new at this camping-in-an-RV stuff, so we are still trying out new things.  We had the awning out and nightly fires – I’m still not doing campfire cooking yet, but I’ll get there….

Saguaro NP-Tuscon Mountain District

March 1, 2010 — We spent a lovely day hiking around this beautiful desert landscape in the Tuscon Mountain Region of the Saguaro NP, otherwise known as the West Region of the park.  Icon of this area, the giant saguaro cactus stands up to 50 feet tall and can take 100 years to reach full height.  Here in this park, approximately 1.6 million saguaros can be found.

After an enjoyable and informative visit to the Red Hills Visitor Center where we viewed a movie about the Sonoran Desert and learned more about this amazing ecoregion, we selected several hiking trails and set out for our day in the desert. We saw only one hiker all day long, making this park feel like it was ours alone – a truly special experience.

Each trail was spectacular as we wound our way past all kinds of cactus varietals including barrel cactus, ocotillo, staghorn cholla, prickly pear, hedgehog, and fishhook, and, of course, the mighty saguaro, whose human-like arms reach to the sky or twist and contort into odd shapes.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch during which Fred read and I sketched in a wonderful ramada (open shelter) built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers during the 1930s.  We truly owe a debt of gratitude to this organization, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and funded by Congress during the Great Depression.  Ninty-four of our nation’s national parks benefitted from the projects some two million men worked on — from fighting fires; revegetating and landscaping; constructing trails, roads, bridges and dams; stabilizing ruins; building picnic and campground facilities; and building restrooms, tables, and ramadas such as ours.  As the placard at this site noted, although it lasted less than ten years, the CCC left a legacy of good will and good works, and we should all take pride in these historic structures and help protect and preserve them for future generations.

Another highlight of our day was our short hike to Signal Hill.  Here we saw centuries-old petroglyphs that had been etched into volcanic rock by the historic Hohokam people.

Hover your pointer over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through our photos from Saguaro.