Spring Break is not long enough to go too far away and we’ve done a lot of the parks east of the Mississippi River, so for this break we decided to drive to Arkansas to visit Hot Springs National Park. I’d never seen the Mississippi River before, so it was very cool to check that off my list. This was another park that was unusual because it is in the middle of civilization. The hot springs themselves feed into bathhouses, and there’s only one spring you can walk up to and see (yes, I touched the water and yes, I burned my fingers).
Hot Springs is my least favorite park that we’ve visited so far. I tend to like the parks with more nature and less civilization more than the ones that butt up to a town or city. We also went in early March, so the trees didn’t have leaves which makes a big difference in how a place looks. However, it was cool to have a spa day and visit one of the bathhouses. My favorite part about the park was the observation tower that had a little museum in the top of it with the history of the area.
On the way back home we stopped in Memphis and had lunch on Beale Street before walking around the shoreline of the Mississippi River a little. I’m not sure I would go back to Hot Springs, but it was a cool experience anyway.
2017’s ski trip to Utah took us to two parks, Great Basin and Arches. Of course, I’ve been to Arches before, but I definitely wasn’t going to turn down the chance to return to my favorite park!
Our first stop was Great Basin National Park, a little park in eastern Nevada (almost Utah). I think that of all the parks I’ve visited, this is the most remote one. The park ranger told us that the closest towns with decent grocery stores were Cedar City, Utah (near Zion, about 2.5 hours from Great Basin) or Las Vegas (4.5 hours away). Getting to this one from Salt Lake City was a long process, but absolutely worth it. The road to the park is Nevada Highway 50, which was referred to at the gas station on the state line as “The Loneliest Road in America”. I can absolutely believe it. The roads in that area were the epitome of what I think of when I think of the west–mountains in the distance and huge, flat plains in front of them. It was absolutely incredible. We left shortly after sunset, and the sky was so pretty when we left.
I was excited to visit Great Basin. It’s home to bristlecone pines, which I learned about in my horticulture class last year. Unfortunately, going in the winter means that the road going up the mountain is closed. I’m still sad about that, but it just means I get to go back! We did get to do a tour of the Lehman Caves, though, and those were very cool. The caves there were much smaller than Mammoth Cave (obviously, since Mammoth is the largest cave system on Earth), but they were beautiful. We learned on the tour that Native Americans used to bury their dead in the caves and were able to see the natural entrance and the light of day when they shut the lights completely off.
On our way back to Salt Lake City, we stopped back at Arches. I was determined to see the Delicate Arch in the snow, so we went to the visitor center to buy crampons. For the most part the hike was dry and easily doable, but there were a few steep spots that were almost solid ice. There were a lot of people trying to do it just in normal tennis shoes which looked really scary. It was worth the scary hike to return to one of my favorite places I’ve ever been!
I’ve been to a lot of national parks (well, not that many, but for having started this journey less than two years ago it’s a lot!), but Cuyahoga Valley National Park was the first one I visited that was in the middle of civilization. It was a very new experience for me, and it was not one of my favorites.
Cuyahoga Valley sits right outside of Cleveland, Ohio and is very different from what you’d typically think of for a national park. It has some beautiful natural features, like Brandywine Falls, but it also has so much in it that was not natural. People still live in the park, and Interstate 271 cuts right through it.
We got out of the car to hike to Blue Hen Falls, and the highway was right beside the parking area. You could hear the traffic noise along the entire hike, which was just so odd to me. My experience with the parks so far has been the peace and quiet of hard-to-get-to areas.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Cuyahoga Valley. Its natural features are very beautiful, and I think it’s great that the people living in the area cared enough about the river and land to get it protected. I’m happy whenever there are natural features protected. I would like to return to this park in the future and see it when it’s nice and green. It was beautiful in the fall–the leaves had just started to turn, and it was a little bit windy. Every now and then a gust would blow through the trees and these amazing yellow leaves would come down like rain. I stood there for a few minutes just watching and soaking in how peaceful that looked.
Cuyahoga Valley is not my favorite park, but I’m glad I was able to go. The trip was short, but we enjoyed it!