National Parks Offer At-Home Learning Resources for the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has turned many parents into teachers and the National Park System has a rich collection of teaching materials they can use

Remembering 9/11 

We will remember every rescuer who died in honor.  We will remember every family that lives in grief.  We will remember…

—George W. Bush

Good morning. Today, we’re pausing to reflect on two events that forever changed the world: 

  1. It’s the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans. 
  2. Exactly six months ago, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. More than 900,000 people around the world have died from COVID-19.

To all those who’ve suffered or lost loved ones in these tragedies, we’re thinking of you and sending strength.

No day shall erase you from the memory of time.

—Virgil

August is gone, classrooms are in flux as some are open, many are not, and many parents are being recast as homeschoolers. Looking for some additional content to keep your kids busy? Look to the national parks.

According to the National Parks Traveler, the National Park System (NPS), 419 units strong, is rich with educational materials touching biology, botany, biodiversity, wildlife, paleontology, archaeology, and so many more “oligies.” And that’s not to overlook the cultural and historical resources to be found in places like Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Arizona, Saratoga National Historical Park in New York, and Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re hunkered down during the coronavirus pandemic on the East Coast or in the West or somewhere in between, there are virtual programs developed by the National Park Service and friends groups and cooperating associations you can tap into to not only keep your children busy but learning from a wide range of subjects.

Saratoga National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike in the early days of the pandemic when school systems first shuttered and only offered a review of previously covered material for the rest of the school year, this fall school systems have vowed that there will be new content and curriculum and that it will be more rigorous and engaging.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, I have major concerns about an educational system that relies on students sitting in front of a computer screen for many hours. I also have concerns about how to keep them engaged and motivated for many weeks and possibly months. Although we’re told how resilient children are, and that’s often true, they are struggling to adjust to a new normal like the rest of us and I’m concerned about their emotional health and level of academic engagement.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supplemental educational resources from the National Park Service are welcome because I believe that in many areas of the country it will fall to parents to help their children find more opportunities for learning and projects that are interesting and engaging. Some families already are aware that the National Park System is a source of knowledge and inspiration. Their children are aware of and participants in Junior Ranger programs so plugging into NPS materials would be a no-brainer for them.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington’s National Park Fund is offering a new series of virtual field trips to Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. Virtual Field Trips can be a great resource for home-schooling parents and teachers especially since all the past field trips are recorded. The ones labeled ‘Junior Ranger’ are especially good for younger children while all the other field trips are relevant for Middle and High School students.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating educational materials for school-age children is nothing new for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the driving force behind the popular Kids in Parks program, a particularly useful program if you can head out to a nearby park for outdoor learning. The Kids in Parks program has a suite of materials that can be used by teachers, parents who are now teaching, and students to engage them in outdoor activities that promote learning in nature.

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids in Parks works with individual parks to convert their preexisting hiking trails (and other types of trails) into ‘TRACK Trails’ through the installation of signs and brochures that turn an ordinary hike into a fun-filled, discovery-packed adventure. Each TRACK Trail has four brochure topics students can use to learn about and connect with nature: Flowers, Lichen, Dragonflies, Nature’s Relationships, Birds, etc. (They have a catalog of 30+ brochures).

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Children that register their adventures through the website earn a series of prizes designed to make their next outdoor adventure more fun and encourage repeat use of the program. Over the past 11 years, Kids in the Parks have had 700,000 children and 1.7 million people hike their trails.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Congaree National Park TRACK Trail is a flat 2.4 mile loop through a floodplain forest on boardwalks. Congaree National Park is home to one of the few old-growth floodplain forests east of the Mississippi River. With trees an average of 130 feet, the forest at Congaree is one of the tallest broad-leaved (or deciduous) forests in North America. Grand bald cypress, water tupelo, and loblolly pine trees surround you along this trail.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation has converted some of their most popular TRACK Trail brochures into e-Adventures that youngsters can do on a smart phone or tablet. They can complete these e-Adventures in their backyard, schoolyard, local park, on an official TRACK Trail, or anywhere in between.

Worth Pondering…

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

High Country Adventure: Tailor Made Activities for the Summer of 2020

An Arizona bucket list of adventure in the high country for the summer of 2020

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020, it’s just how quickly things can change. Usually when summer rolls around, the vacation options seem endless. But due to the new coronavirus pandemic, many popular getaways are off-limits.

Yet with a little careful planning, high-country escapes—with social distancing—are still an option. So here’s an Arizona bucket list of adventure appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Hiking Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Sedona

Like every other corner of Arizona, the Red Rock Country of Sedona undergoes a remarkable transformation during summer monsoon season. Towering clouds fill the sky. The light turns wild, and colors grow even more vivid. The haunting scent of moisture in the air floats through desert and forest. Each shallow dip and trough fills with water like brimming ponds. Dusty washes turn into creeks while water gushes down from high cliffs.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there is no bad time to be hiking in Sedona, monsoons add a splash of magic. Here is a Sedona trail I enjoyed on our last visit to Red Rock Country.Just be safe out there. Carry snacks and plenty of water. Don’t hit the trail if thunder or lightning are present. Keep your distance from fellow hikers.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is one of the first identifiable red rock formations you see when entering Sedona from Highway 179. It is quite clear how it received its name; it looks like a giant red bell melting into the landscape. There are a few trails that go around and near the base of Bell Rock as well as one that leads you onto the rock itself. The trails around Bell Rock are short in distance and provide moderate hiking for visitors who want to take their time and enjoy the excellent views.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is said to be one of the larger vortex sites in Sedona. Vortexes are said to be sites with heavy concentrations of energy spiraling upward from the Earth. Many people believe that vortex sites have physical, emotional, and spiritual healing properties. If you are open to the idea, go and feel it out for yourself.

Granite Dells along Constellation Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Prescott

With close to 200 established trails, Prescott is a hiker’s paradise. The Constellation Trail is a tangled web of pathways around the stunning Granite Dells. Near the trailhead is a commemorative plaque honoring the five crewmen of the Air Force Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation who perished when their plane crashed nearby in 1959. Cause of the crash is still unknown. Signs with maps are posted at each junction and all trail segments together total less than 2.5 miles as they wind their way through the Dells. Brutish boulders rise in sudden thrusts while others lay about in jumbled heaps.

Granite Dells © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a land of dramatic textures. The trail slithers among rocky clusters and gains just enough elevation to offer wide-ranging views. Small grottoes and narrow passageways make this a fun hike for kids. If you do it after some monsoon rains you will be rewarded with some lush riparian vegetation as well as some chaparral and many rocky granite outcroppings.

Arizona Highway 89A as it climbs Mingus Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Drive

Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the greatest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way. 

Arizona Highway 89A as it approaches Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.

Arizona Highway 89 with the red rocks of Sedona in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful and satisfying drive, Arizona 89A passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.  You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment, you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. I’ve seen RVs navigate this narrow, twisty stretch but it’s not my idea of a fun time.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town, fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.

Tuzigoot National Monument with Cottonwood in the distance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave Jerome, the town of Cottonwood is in the broad valley below the mountain range.  There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east. For more incredible beauty continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown, then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of the Mogollon Rim and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet altitude. 

Arizona Highway 89A from Cottonwood to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

These are some of the best places to hike in the United States from Virginia to Utah and South Dakota to North Carolina

Many Americans are rediscovering favorite pastimes during the COVID-19 pandemic including exploring outdoor areas. Because you can breathe fresh air and get away from enclosed spaces, this can be a great time to plan a hiking trip. Being outdoors is one of the most effective ways to avoid close contact while enjoying exercise and leisure.

It’s possible to explore a natural marvel in your backyard or scratch a national park off of your bucket list. You may also try to find little-known hiking trails to avoid large crowds and to make a memorable road trip.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The National Park Service maintains the Blue Ridge Parkway which is 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. While the visitor centers and campgrounds are not open, most hiking trails are. Some notable landmarks to hike include:

  • Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Humpback Rocks Trail (MP-6; Length: 1 mile one-way)
  • Peaks of Otter, Sharp Top Trail (MP-86; Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Moses Cone Park (MP-294)
  • Linville Falls Visitor Center, Erwins View Trail (MP-317; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Craggy Gardens, Craggy Gardens Trail (MP-364; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Mount Pisgah, Mount Pisgah Trail (MP-408; Length: 1.6 miles one-way)
Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 369 miles of hiking trails are in the parkway. Some portions of the parkway are near the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. You might be able to hike on these trails if time allows.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian Trail

Serious hikers dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail spanning 14 eastern states. As life is different this year, you won’t be able to hike the full trail at one-time easily. Most shelters are not open, so you may have to avoid an overnight hiking trip. Each state from Maine to Georgia has its unique gems. You can explore “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia with its 28-mile stretch near Harpers Ferry.

Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

National parks offer many travel opportunities but several state parks are great too. South Dakota’s Custer State Park has driving and hiking trails. You may enjoy seeing the buffalo and hiking in the Black Hills. Four hiking trails include:

  • Cathedral Spires Trail (Length: 2.3 miles return)
  • Little Devil’s Tower Trail (Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Prairie Trail (Length: 3 miles loop)
  • Sylvan Lake Shore Trail (Length: 1 mile loop)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Utah has plenty of things to do outdoors. Zion National Park is one of the state’s hiking paradises and has the privilege of being Utah’s first national park. But there are some temporary restrictions to be aware of before traveling. First, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible via park shuttle with reservations required in advance. Second, the Kolob Canyons area is not open until further notice.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may also need to avoid contact with park streams due to toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Make sure you bring plenty of extra drinking water for this hiking trip. Despite these restrictions, there’s plenty to see by foot in Zion including:

  • The Grotto shuttle stop, Angels Landing Trail (Length: 5.4 miles round trip)
  • Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, The Narrows (Length: 5-9.4 miles round trip, depending on how far you go)
  • Zion Lodge shuttle stop: Emerald Pools Trail (Length: 1.2 mile round-trip loop to Lower Pool; 2 miles round trip to Middle and Lower Pool; 2.5 miles round trip to Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools)
  • Trailhead on UT-9 beyond first tunnel, Zion Canyon Overlook Trail (Length: 1 mile round trip)
  • Watchman Campground, Watchman Trail (Length: 2.7 miles round trip)
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, consider hiking Utah’s Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, or Arches National Park if you want to try something different. Utah has laudable state parks as well, including Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summary

National parks tend to have the best hiking trails, but state or local parks are hidden gems as well. You may try to explore lesser-known areas to avoid large crowds. You can still enjoy the great outdoors and the views may rival those of the most popular hiking trips.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne

Hiking Arizona

Your boots were made for walking through some of Arizona’s most awe-inspiring scenery

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure in the Grand Canyon State.

The Arizona landscape is so diverse from the desert and mountain hiking trails in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson areas to the cool high country of Northern Arizona, Arizona Lakes, Rivers, Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, White Mountains, Slot Canyons, and wilderness backcountry.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Arizona trails is a magical experience whether you choose short, easy hikes or long strenuous hikes. There are beginner trails, day urban hikes, and trails that only the experienced should attempt.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With year-round sunshine and breathtaking scenery, Arizona is widely considered one of the best places for hiking adventures. From the epic chasm of the Grand Canyon and the giant Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert to the magnificent monoliths that make up Monument Valley, Arizona is the red-hued epicenter of America’s adventure scene.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, one of the biggest draws is the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it welcomes more than six million visitors each year. However, only one per cent of these walk further than the South Rim viewing platforms and miss the real wonders of the Canyon.

Mother Nature has blessed Arizona with more than just the Grand Canyon. A hundred miles north, on the Colorado plateau, is the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument—striped waves of colored sandstone rippling through an arid landscape. The best way to experience it is to grab a hiking permit from the visitors’ centre and explore the towering stone cliffs and deep, ruddy canyons on foot as condors glide overhead.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona is famous for its fossilized logs, which date back more than 225 million years. Explore the Rainbow Forest or hike through the badlands to Red Basin and Martha’s Butte. Don’t miss the Blue Mesa trail for outstanding vistas.

Red Rock Country near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hundred miles south of the Grand Canyon is Sedona, a charming, artsy enclave famous for its huge sandstone formations which blaze brilliant reds and fiery oranges. It makes a great base for an adventure trip with everything from mountain biking through Red Rock State Park and wild swimming in Oak Creek to hikes around Cathedral Rock. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

Cathedral Rock near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south still is Phoenix and its sister cities which also draws numerous hikers and mountain bikers. It offers moderate to advanced trails through this rugged corner of the Sonoran Desert across White Tank, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Down in the southernmost flanks of Arizona, Tucson is a desert city sheltered by the Santa Catalina Mountains. Explore both units of Saguaro National Park, home of the giant Saguaro cacti. An iconic emblem of the Southwest, these spiky beasts can grow to more than 50 feet tall. The park offers 165 miles of hiking trails including the Signal Hill trail which leads to rock art of the ancient Hohokam people.

Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a hike up to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Lemmon and spend the evening at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, a prime spot for stargazing. Alternatively, head 25 miles south to Madera Canyon and hike the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains easily accessible from the canyon campground.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, 100 miles southeast of Tucson is the Chiricahua National Monument, an ethereal landscape scattered with ancient rock spires. There are 17 miles of hiking trails each winding through the giant and amazingly balanced boulders, where you’ll follow in the dusty footsteps of the early pioneers of American adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey