Tag Archive | National Park System

SW National Parks Trip: Landscape Arch at Arches NP

After Delicate Arch, we went up to another trail head to take a short hike – 1.6 miles round trip – to Landscape Arch. The hike takes you past several fins, which are the intermediate rock formations between a slab of rock and an arch. The stone begins as a solid slab of sandstone, and then over time cracks form in the block of stone. Water erodes the rocks, eventually forming fins and arches. The last stage in the process is when the arch collapses. Of course, this process takes millions of years, but since 1970, 43 arches in Arches National Park have collapsed.

Fins of Sandstone - Which one do you think will become an Arch?

Fins of Sandstone – Which one do you think will become an Arch?

Landscape Arch is the longest arch in the park – but very fragile.  In fact, it is thought to be the longest arch in the world; measuring 290.1 feet in 2004.  In 1991, after several days of unseasonably heavy rains, a large piece of rock, approximately 60 feet long, fell from Landscape Arch and landed below. No one was injured or killed, but the Park Service closed the trail below to prevent the potential for future incidents.  Landscape Arch could last another million years, but it could come crashing down at any time.

Landscape Arch is on the Devil’s Garden Trail, which is the longest maintained trail in the park.  It is 7.2 miles round trip, and it passes by eight named arches, with many more visible in the distance.  If you want, you can hike past Landscape Arch and do a loop on a primitive trail past several more arches.

We set out on a paved path that goes up and down some hills along the way.  At the very beginning, you are sheltered from the wind, but early in the hike you step into an area that acts as a wind tunnel if there is any sort of breeze.  Unfortunately for us, this area also has quite a bit of loose sand.  The wind was really blowing the day we were there, so we both got sandblasting face washes at a couple of points.  To add further insult to injury, we both had our hats blown off a couple of times. I guess this is why hikers wear those hats with the chinstrap strings.

Jon hits the Devil’s Garden Trail – always walking ahead…

Jon hits the Devil’s Garden Trail – always walking ahead…

A little further up the trail, you reach a fork in the trail that will take you to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.  I would have liked to have taken the detour, but we weren’t sure how far away they were and we were already going to be hiking almost five miles for the day as it was.  Next time, I will definitely go see them though!

The view from the Devil’s Garden Trail

The view from the Devil’s Garden Trail

As you get closer to Landscape Arch, the trail turns to soft sand; it made for more difficult hiking for the last little bit.  And the loose sand kicked up quite a bit in the wind too.  But when we got to the viewpoint, I was impressed with the Arch.

Landscape Arch – The World’s Longest Natural Arch

Landscape Arch – The World’s Longest Natural Arch

We also saw Partition Arch which is right next to Landscape Arch, and spent a little while just taking in the view.  Even though you can no longer hike up underneath Landscape Arch, it is still really impressive.  And knowing that in my lifetime, I will never see an arch that is longer than this one… well, that’s pretty neat too.

Partition Arch – the one next door to Landscape Arch

Partition Arch – the one next door to Landscape Arch

Have you ever hiked to Landscape Arch?  Did you see the other arches on the trail?

Fort Vancouver: A Step Back in Time

After my mom, my cousin and I visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, we got back on the road and continued on our way to Portland.  We weren’t sure if we would have enough time for our second destination – Fort Vancouver, a National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.  The traffic gods were with us, and we made it there an hour before they closed!  I had been there before, so I knew that an hour would be enough time to visit.

When we got to the Fort, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center to check out the souvenirs (I had to get a few postcards!) and of course, we needed to get a stamp for my National Parks Passport! And then, we headed over to the site of the Fort.

Fort Vancouver was founded during the winter of 1824-1825 by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  If you are close to the Canadian border, like I am, you have probably heard the radio commercials for the Canadian department store, The Bay.  Same company.  The Hudson’s Bay Company began as a fur trading venture by England into Canada.  In 1670.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest commercial corporation in North America, and one of the oldest businesses in the world!  When the Hudson’s Bay Company began operations in North America, it served as the de facto government in the areas where it did business, and at one time, it was the largest landowner in the world.

Fort Vancouver was set up to protect the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company along the Columbia River and to serve as a hub for their fur trading operations in the West.  The fort served as a collection point for the beaver hides that trappers in the West were bringing in.  The site also offered fertile soil along the river, while lying just outside of the flood plain.  The intention was for the fort to be self-sufficient, producing all of its own food and most other provisions, as goods were very expensive to ship.

Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver

The fort was built with substantial palisades; the walls were 750 feet by 450 feet, and 20 feet high.  Inside there were homes, and a school, library, chapel, pharmacy, blacksmith shop, warehouses and a manufacturing facility.  Outside the wall were more homes, an orchard, gardens, a shipyard, distillery, tannery, sawmill and a dairy.  At its height, Fort Vancouver oversaw 34 outposts and about 600 employees.

 The Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver


The Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The beginning of the end of Fort Vancouver under the ownership of the Hudson’s Bay Company came in 1846.  That year, the United States and Canada signed the Oregon Treaty, which set the border between the two companies at the 49th parallel – right up near my home!  Although the treaty ensured that the Hudson’s Bay Company would be allowed to continue operations at Fort Vancouver, the treaty and the number of Americans moving into the area effectively stifled the fur trade there.  At that point, beaver trapping had continued a such a high volume for so long that beavers were nearing the point of extinction.  The Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned the fort in 1860 and moved north; the U.S. Army immediately took over the fort.

The Porch of the Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Porch of the Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Army had already had barracks right next to Fort Vancouver, but they built more barracks.  During this era, the Indian Wars were happening in the West and Civil War heavies Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan were stationed there.  The Vancouver Barracks continue to house troops through World War I and World War II, and even continued to serve as home to the Army Reserve and Washington National Guard until it finally closed as an active military installation in 2011.

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The buildings that are inside the fort now are reconstructions of the original buildings from the periodic of occupation by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Archeological digs at the site showed historians where the original buildings were and the size of the structures, so the reconstructions were built directly over the historical structures.  We had the opportunity to wander around at our leisure – some of the buildings are open and you can go inside, but others are only open during special events.

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The friendly ranger explained that there are two other sites in Oregon City, Oregon, the Barclay House and the McLoughlin House, which were the homes of two employees of the Hudson Bay Company in their retirement.  We didn’t have a chance to go there on this trip, but one day I’m going to make it over there to check them out too!

California Road Trip: Point Reyes National Seashore Wildlife

The next day of our trip was devoted to Point Reyes National Seashore.  Jon had visited Point Reyes Station (the town nearest to the park) when he lived in California, and was so struck by the little town that he wanted to visit again.  Of course, when he first told me, I thought he meant he had actually visited the National Seashore and not just the town, but that’s neither here nor there.  I was interested in seeing the National Seashore, so onto the itinerary it went.

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of ten National Seashores in the National Park System.  It was authorized in 1962 by John F. Kennedy, who sadly didn’t live to visit it.  Californians were concerned about protecting their coastline as early as the late 1920s, and encouraged the federal government to take steps to create a park, but the Great Depression got in the way.  So a private group began buying the land and deeding it to Marin County.  This private protection of pieces of the land continued until the late 1950s, when legislation was finally proposed federally to create a National Seashore at Point Reyes.  This park does not disappoint.

We drove from Petaluma on a scenic two lane highway – it was a gorgeous sunny day, so we followed several convertibles with their tops down.  There are also a million bicyclists on the roadway, so if you go when the weather is nice, watch out!  And try to be more patient than Jon about bicycles…  Once we got there, we stopped in at the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center and got a map and figured out where we would be headed.  There were a million school kids there, but they largely disappeared once we were actually in the park.

Outside the Visitor’s Center, I got my first wildlife photos of the day – a blue heron was hanging out in the field outside the Visitor’s Center.  I watched him for a little while, and then noticed a quail couple making their way across the field.  I love quail!  I was able to get several good photos of the pair, and was so pleased to have seen them.

Great Blue Heron at Point Reyes National Seashore

Great Blue Heron at Point Reyes National Seashore

Female California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

Female California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

First, we made our way to the McClure’s Beach Trailhead, and the Tule Elk Reserve.  We had spotted some elk in the Redwood National Forest, but we were zipping along on the highway and I didn’t have a chance to get a picture.  Also, the elk in Point Reyes National Seashore are Tule Elk, where the elk in Redwood National Park are Roosevelt Elk – Tule Elk are smaller and lighter in color.  Along the way  to the elk reserve, we passed several dairy farms, which seems unusual, until you know the story.

Back in the mid 1800s, an attorney owned most of the land on which Point Reyes National Seashore now sits.  He divided the land into 26 tracts, named them with each of the letters of the alphabet, and rented them out to tenant farmers from all over the world, including farmers from Switzerland, Portugal and Ireland.  The farms are still there, passed down from generation to generation and all are marked with their original letter name and the year that they were established.  We saw farms that dated anywhere from 1852 to 1869.

Near the McClure’s Beach trailhead, we found the elk that we were looking for, and watched them for a little while, and got some photos.

Tule Elk at Point Reyes National Seashore

Tule Elk at Point Reyes National Seashore

The elk were cool, but once we started to head back down the road we got the surprise of a lifetime.  Jon spotted a bobcat!  He was walking across the field, away from us.  I was really surprised, because I didn’t think that bobcats were active during the day, but there he was, just minding his own business!  The photos aren’t great, but I did manage to get a picture of him.  He was so neat!  That was the first time I have ever seen a bobcat in the wild.

Bobcat at Point Reyes National Seashore

Bobcat at Point Reyes National Seashore

After seeing the bobcat, we continued our drive to the other side of the park to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse.  I’ll tell you about that next!