Redwood National and State Parks: Across a Bridge and Up the Coast to a Hidden Beach

Gold Bluffs Beach, Redwoods National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks protect over 138,000 acres of far northern California coast, old growth Redwood groves, second growth coastal forest, and watersheds large and small, including the mouth of the Klamath River. Interest in protecting the fantastic groves began in earnest with the creation of the Save the Redwoods League in 1918 (only two years after the creation of the Park Service). In a pattern that mirrors the creation of Indiana Dunes National Park, first National Park Service director, Stephen Mather, was involved in some of the early protection efforts, but corporate lumber interests blocked creation of a National Park. Also like Indiana Dunes, the state stepped in, creating four California State Parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s to protect the trees: Jedediah Smith State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and (a bit further south) Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Again like Indiana Dunes, federal protection would not come until the 1960s when Redwood National Park was established by Congress in partnership with the Johnson administration. Ten years later, in 1978, 48,000 acres were added to Redwood National Park to protect the watershed of Redwood Creek before it entered the Park. Unlike Indiana Dunes, in 1994, the administrative functions of the National Park and the three northernmost state parks were combined.

Journeying from San Francisco to Redwood National Park was our adventure for Tuesday, September 10. It’s a long drive (some five and a half hours) even going the most direct route. We intended though, to take the opportunity to drive up the California coast on Highway 1. This would at least double the driving time. But here the journey was absolutely the destination.

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Detour: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Balclutha

It was the middle of Monday afternoon, September 9, and Sean and I had finished our trip to Alcatraz Island. With the rest of the afternoon in front of us, we decided to walk over and have a look at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. The Park, established in 1988, celebrates San Francisco’s history as a major port city, as well as seafaring traditions along the entire West Coast.

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Alcatraz Island: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Perhaps this is what our national parks hold for us: stories, of who we have been and who we might become—a reminder that as human beings our histories harbor both darkness and light. To live in the United States of America and tell only one story, from one point of view, diminishes all of us.

– Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land

Monday, September 9 was our trip to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The twenty-two acre island, now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was once a rounded hill in the valley that would become San Francisco Bay after sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age. During the Gold Rush in the middle of the nineteenth century, the island held a lighthouse and a military fort. Later, the fort was converted to a military prison with a cellhouse at the top of the island completed in 1912. In 1934, the Federal Department of Corrections took control of the island and turned it into the nation’s first and most notorious maximum security prison. It served that function until 1963 when it was shut down by the Kennedy Administration. The island languished for over six years until it was occupied by Native American rights activists in November 1969. The occupation lasted nineteen months. The following year, the National Park Service purchased the island to add it to the newly established Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Shortly after taking ownership of the island, the Park Service began offering tours of the facilities in what had been intended to be a short term use while the agency decided what to do with Alcatraz. The tours proved to be so popular that they have continued for some forty-five years with annual visitation now topping 1.4 million tourists.

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From Chicago to Lands End: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Lands End, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

On Friday, September 6, Sean and I began what was our longest trip since our honeymoon in 2015. The night before, we had quietly toasted at home my final day as Director of Communications at Openlands. After our trip, I’d be starting a new adventure as the founder of Bold Bison Communications and Consulting. We had a lot of packing to do, so we celebrated with a couple drinks and some delivery Brazilian food for dinner. We were both behind on our packing since he’d had to spend a portion of the previous week in Philadelphia for work and I’d been wrapping things at my former employer.

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“Shasta,” a West Coast Adventure in Two Cities and Three National Parks: Planning

Banana Slugs on Redwood sapling, Redwood National Park

Ponderosa Pine stump near Butte Lake and Fantastic Lava Beds, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wolf Lichen on Whitebark Pine snag with Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

For a long time, I’d known that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So I’d always be able to answer the question, “Which Parks are you going to do next?” with a nod to a distant trip to Guadalupe Mountains. Then it became the next Park, and then that trip came and went. Afterward, we weren’t sure where exactly we would focus for the next big trip, but a grand trip that had been percolating in my mind soon became the clear frontrunner. In early 2019 we began planning a trip with great bookend cities and some iconic Parks: flying into Portland, doing the three Parks that surround northern California’s Mount Shasta, and flying home from San Francisco. Redwood National Park just sounded magical. Crater Lake National Park is one of the iconic early Parks. And Lassen Volcanic has long been one of the Parks in the system I’ve been most excited about.

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Indiana Dunes National Park: Cowles Bog Trail and Bailly Homestead

After our lunch on August 24, Sean, Angela, Mary, and I set off on our afternoon adventures at Indiana Dunes National Park. Since the morning, we had slowly been making our way west from the easternmost point of the Park. Our next stop was the Visitor Center, and then we’d do some more hiking. It was already clear to us that we would not be able to do all the hikes on our list in one day, but we knew we’d be back to this out-our-backdoor Park time and again in the future.

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Indiana Dunes National Park: Mount Baldy, Great Marsh, and Dune Ridge

Mount Baldy

Yellow Garden Spider in Great Marsh

On August 24, exactly a month after our visit to West Beach, we were back at Indiana Dunes National Park. This time, we were again there as part of our Let’s Go Outside group of mostly Chicagoans who pick places near the city to go for day hikes six times a year. The group had last done Indiana Dunes in July 2015. Four years earlier, we’d run into some issues finding parking, so I suggested to the group via Facebook earlier that week that we try and get an early start. Our plan was to begin at the Park’s far eastern edge, Mount Baldy, and work our way west with a series of short hikes. If people wanted to join us later, they could text and find out where we were. Also, if people needed to get back to the city early, they could peel off whenever they needed to.

Ultimately, there were four of us who explored the Park that day: Sean, Angela, Mary, and me. It was our first time exploring a National Park with Mary!

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