National Park Service Experience
1981 – 1984 : Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
- Being my first park makes Mesa Verde especially dear to me. Though the backcountry is generally closed to visitors, there remains plenty to do. The museum is always a great place to start. Spruce Tree House below the museum offers relatively easy access. But don’t miss the chance to climb a 40 foot ladder and crawl on your hands and knees during a visit to Balcony House. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling and a spectacular site. If you are able to experience any special tours or the Luminarias, don’t miss the chance. Click here to access the park’s website to help plan your visit. Don’t forget nearby is Durango and the spectacular Route 550 north to Silverton and Ouray, easily one of the most awesome stretches of highway in America.
1984 : Death Valley National Park, California
- I worked up at Scotty’s Castle in the northern part of the park. It is a stunning estate and offers a great interior home tour. The grounds are neat too, as well as the jaunt up to Windy Point. While in the area, be sure to see Ubehebe Crater as well. To the south, be sure to visit Badwater, Devil’s Golf Course, Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, and Artist’s Drive. Death Valley is one of only two places I have ever visited where I could genuinely look around and convince myself I was no longer on planet earth (the other being Glacier Bay in Alaska). To learn more about this incredible park, click here to connect to the park’s website.
1988 : Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- My duty station at Grand Canyon was at Desert View. This amazing overlook on the east end of the park is not to be missed. At this point, the canyon opens up and one has tremendous views to the Painted Desert to the east. This is the site of the famed Watchtower, where inside one finds the famous paintings of Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. I gave tours at nearby Tusayan Ruin, a small Pre-Puebloan site. Thirty miles west of Desert View, the Grand Canyon Village is where most of the tourist facilities are located. I personally love Kolb Studio, which often has delightful special exhibits as well as being a cool historic structure. When at the canyon, TRY to hike below the rim if possible. Few visitors do, and I feel it is the only way to BEGIN to understand the scale of this immense place, or to develop any sort of relationship with it. One of my favorite hikes is on the South Kaibab Trail to the aptly named Ooh Aah Point. BRING WATER and give yourself twice as long to hike up as you took to hike down! To better plan your visit, click here to connect to the website for this world wonder.
1989 – 1991 : Blue Ridge Parkway (James River), Virginia
- Imagine driving 469 miles without a stoplight or stop sign. This beautiful roadway connects Shenandoah (one of my favorite words) National Park with Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I worked at James River, the lowest point of elevation along the parkway. Though very different from my experience at large western parks, the Parkway is still beautiful - especially during Fall foliage or Spring blossoming of redbud, dogwood and azaleas. Be sure to take advantage of the hiking trails that traverse the parkway and highlight the flora and fauna of the Appalachians. Enjoy your trip down this wondrous road by clicking here for the park website.
1995 : Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
- This hidden gem of Pre-Puebloan sites and charming canyons is located on the Pajarito Plateau northwest of Santa Fe. Be sure to take the entire Main Loop Trail, including the hike/climb to Alcove House. Hikes abound in the park. One of the coolest experiences is the Nightwalk if they are still doing it (inquire at the park). The Bradbury Science Museum in nearby Los Alamos is worth a stop. If a dance is going on at a nearby Pueblo, GO! This is a phenomenal chance to experience sacred elements of Pueblo cultures. The August 4th Corn Dance at Santo Domingo will blow you away! To learn about this hidden gem of a park, access the park’s website by clicking here.
1996 : Blue Ridge Parkway (Peaks of Otter), Virginia
- Peaks of Otter along the Blue Ridge Parkway offers visitors a chance to stay at an overnight lodge next to a lovely little lake. The restaurant on site has a delicious Sunday Buffet including southern fried chicken if you time it right. Sharp Top is the most famous of the 3 peaks that make up the Peaks of Otter. There is a hiking trail that will take you to the summit for terrific views (summer can bring gnats and haze though). The Johnson Farm is a chance to experience life for locals circa 1930. Click here to be connected to the park’s website. The quaint nearby town of Bedford is home to the National D-Day Memorial.
2003 – 2006 : Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
- This underground wonder is so isolated you must really make an effort to visit. But Carlsbad Caverns makes any effort worthwhile. If you have the time and stamina, the Natural Entrance to the main cave allows you to truly appreciate its scope and the challenges faced by early cave explorers. The Big Room cannot fail to impress! King’s Palace tour is a must in order to see some of the more delicate speleothems and to experience a black-out. But the REAL fun awaits those lucky enough to experience the excitement and rewards of a ranger-led caving trip. I led groups to amazing places that challenged them physically and mentally – crawling on hands and knees and sliding on bellies! Check the park website by clicking here for more detailed information. Oh – and don’t forget the 400,000 bats that spiral from their seasonal cave home in the evening. Give a shout out to number 212,469 – his name is Boris.