Category Archives: Journey

Virgin Islands National Park: Sunset at Ram Head

To close out our first full day at Virgin Islands National Park, and to raise a toast to Saint Patrick’s Day [2022], we hiked to the southeastern most point on St. John, the sheer-cliffed peninsula of Ram Head. The hike to Ram Head is splendid, and it was a highlight of our first visit to the National Park. But first we had our first dip into the Caribbean Sea of the trip, an afternoon swim at Saltpond Bay.

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Virgin Islands National Park: Returning to a Crossroads of the World

Trunk Bay

Established in 1956, Virgin Islands National Park encompasses some sixty percent of St. John, smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands. About 5,500 of its over 14,000 acres is underwater, protecting coral reefs, sea grass beds, and other marine habitats. One of two National Parks in a U.S. Territory (the other is National Park of American Samoa), it is the only of the sixty-three National Parks in the Caribbean. In many ways, it is the absolute epitome of what a National Park should be: spectacular land and seascapes, abundant nature and wildlife, and preservation of deep cultural heritage and still-unfolding history.

The continuing legacy of colonialism is everywhere in the Virgin Islands, both USVI and the British Virgin Islands, adjacent to St. John to the north and east. Danish colonizers began arriving in the late seventeenth century, and the three islands officially became a Danish colony in 1754. All three were dominated by sugar plantations worked by African slaves until Denmark outlawed slavery in 1848.

In 1917, the United States purchased the islands from Denmark in order to prevent a German toehold in the Western Hemisphere should Germany conquer Denmark in WWI. Citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens, although like other territorial citizens, they cannot vote for president, have no representation in the U.S. Senate, and their at-large U.S. House member can only vote in committee. According to the 2020 census, seventy-one percent of U.S. Virgin Islanders are Black or Afro-Caribbean. Seventeen percent are Hispanic or Latino, thirteen percent are White, and fourteen percent are other ethnicities.

A recent (March 2023) poll found that sixty-three percent of USVI residents support becoming a U.S. state.

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Return to Virgin Islands National Park: Planning

Sergeant Majors, Blue Tangs, Branching Fire Coral, Sea Fans, Sea Whips, and Sea Rods at Brown Bay

In March 2022, Sean and I returned to Virgin Islands National Park on St. John nine years after we’d first visited. In March 2013 we had ventured to the island with Bethany, Adam, and Phil. It was only the fifth Park on Sean’s and my odyssey. With thirty-three Parks racked up in between, we were now going back, this time with Josh, Nick, and Jimmy. The intervening nine years had been rough for the Park. In addition to the slow advance of climate change and its effects on coral reefs and other marine communities, plus the COVID-19 pandemic and its horrors and disruptions, in 2017 the U.S. Virgin Islands had been hit hard by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In many ways, the islands were still emerging from the hurricanes.

Nevertheless, between our two trips, Virgin Islands National Park now holds the record as the National Park Sean and I have spent the most time in. And for both of us, it is in our top five favorite National Parks of the sixty-three.

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Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

Late afternoon on Sunday, February 13 [2022], we capped our time at Arches National Park with the hike to Delicate Arch, one of the iconic views in the entire National Park system. Strategically, we decided to do the hike not only on Superbowl Sunday, but actually during the playing of the game. It was a smart move. We had gorgeous late afternoon light and there were only about a dozen folks there with us.

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Arches National Park: Devils Garden Trail

Landscape Arch

On Sunday, February 13 [2022], we spent the second of our two days in Arches National Park. We centered the day around two celebrated hikes: Devils Garden and Delicate Arch. Devils Garden Trail is a loop route twisting through a broken landscape at the end of the Park Road. In some portions it is a broad path. In other sections it involves scrambling over slickrock. The complete hike with all side trails to see arches and other formations is a solid 7.8 miles.

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Arches National Park: Park Avenue, Double Arch, and After

Park Avenue

By early afternoon of Saturday, February 12 [2022], we were halfway through our first of two days exploring Arches National Park. Already we’d gotten in a solid two-hour hike and checked out some of the famous roadside formations. We knew that we would be doing the longer hike at Devils Garden the next day. And our plan for the extremely popular Delicate Arch hike was to go at the end of the day on Sunday, during the Superbowl. So for the rest of that Saturday afternoon, we decided to check out the Visitor Center and more short hikes and formations along the Park Road. But first lunch.

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Arches National Park: Tower Arch Trail

On the morning of Saturday, February 12 [2022], we decided to do our first real hike at Arches National Park, an out-and-back to Tower Arch. The sandy, sometimes steep hike is a very scenic 3.4-miles ending at an arch that spans an impressive ninety-two feet. Tower Arch is one of the most remote large arches in the Park, so getting over to the trailhead was fun too.

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Arches National Park: Balancing Out on the Colorado Plateau

Balanced Rock

Our long weekend on the Colorado Plateau began on Friday, February 11 [2022] after a very busy week. I would have a little trouble keeping Bold Bison work at bay until the weekend properly started (in Pacific time because of some cool projects we had in the works). We’d also had a later-than-usual night the previous evening with dinner out and a program of Barber, Rachmaninoff, and Elgar at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But even with some distractions, it felt great to be going on a trip!

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Arches National Park: Planning

La Sal Mountains from Arches National Park

Arches National Park was established as a National Monument in 1929 and upgraded to National Park status on November 12 (my birthday), 1971. It protects 76,679 acres of the Colorado Plateau in eastern Utah just north of the town of Moab. It also protects the highest concentration of natural arches on the planet. Over 2,000 arches with an opening of at least three feet exist in the Park. With over one and a half million annual visitors, the Park is quite popular (sixteenth among the sixty-three National Parks). It is, therefore, often quite crowded. So we always knew we wanted to be a bit strategic about when we visited. It turns out that an unhappy circumstance ended up offering us a great opportunity.

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