Disney and the National Parks

While I was writing a blog post yesterday about our Florida trip, I had some thoughts. I know a lot of people that travel often and visit many natural places do not like the Disney parks. They find them “fake” and “commercialized.” I have always loved the Disney parks, movies and TV shows and find them to be an experience in Americana and American history. 

The first time Craig and I visited Yellowstone, the way it was run seemed so familiar. We had been going to the Disney parks for years and even worked at Walt Disney World. The concessionaires, international workers and staff from all over the country, the restaurants- even the trams and shuttles at some of the parks are very “Disney like.”

Zion shuttle stop

                         Zion shuttle stop

When we visited places like Bryce Canyon in Utah and Route 66, we realized how many details the Disney Imagineers placed in the parks. I love Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and The American Adventure in Epcot. While our hearts always prefer nature and wild places over man made, we can still appreciate the Disney parks as fun places to vacation. Now Adventures by Disney trips are even visiting some of our National Parks!

I do hope all Americans visit their National Parks and we definitely think they are much more important to see than Disney World. I really feel every American should at least see Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. If you have been visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland year after year maybe you should branch out. There is a lot to see in our world and our country. We made the mistake of waiting way too long to see our parks-now we have to catch up!   

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National Parks Visited

  2014-Grand Teton and Yellowstone

2015-Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Acadia, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon

    

Future:

2016-Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Everglades, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas

2017-Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Congaree

2018-Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon (planned so far!)

Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is like visiting another planet! There are so many amazing boulders, rock piles, old mines, trees and desert plants and animals there. I think it is funny when John Carter wakes up on Mars and he thinks he is still in the desert. We had such a blast climbing the rocks and boulders and taking pictures. The park is named for Joshua Trees or Yucca brevifolia, a member of the Agave family. “By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward.” 

It was very hot when we were there-106-but we really wanted to see the park on our California road trip. Because it was so hot, it was not crowded at all. We got up early and went back to the hotel pool in the afternoon. Craig and I stayed at the 29 Palms Inn. It was a great base and right near the Oasis of Mara. I held the Old Frame 1 & 2 cabin and it had a private deck overlooking the Oasis! The restaurant there is also great. 

 

I got several new National Park passport stamps in Joshua Tree. Next time we visit we may go when it is a little cooler and try to see Death Valley as well.

 

Alcatraz-Golden Gate NRA

Last time Craig and I visited San Francisco, we did not have enough time to visit Alcatraz. I was really looking forward to it for our June 2015 trip. I booked our boat tickets 90 days ahead of time. The only way to get to Alcatraz is by a ferry operated by Alcatraz Cruises on Pier 33. Give yourself plenty of time to get there. The waterfront area is huge! The views of San Francisco on the boat and on the island are amazing. Our trip started out foggy, but then it turned sunny and the fog lifted. There is also a very popular night tour.

Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and has a few stamps for your National Parks passport. I love the lighthouse one!  

There is a garden tour you can do on certain days of the week if you get an early boat. You can also get a headset with a self guided tour. The narrators are former inmates and guards. The headsets are included in your entrance/boat fee. You can walk all over most of the island at your leisure and get a boat back when you feel like it. We even saw the cell from Escape From Alcatraz that had Frank Morris’s fake head in it. Before our trip we watched a few movies like The Rock and that made the visit even better.

The baby Seagulls we saw were very cute. Give yourself a few hours to see it all.

 

Book tickets and day trips to Alcatraz

The Ahwahnee Hotel

One of the places we stayed at on our California road trip was the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. We only booked a night since it was so expensive, but we really wanted to have time to check it out.

The Ahwahnee is in the Yosemite Valley in an amazing spot. It is in a meadow surrounded by The Royal Arches. Ahwahnee means “Place of a Gaping Mouth” which the Miwok Indians called Yosemite Valley. It opened in 1927 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The Ahwahnee was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood who also designed the Zion Lodge and Bryce Canyon Lodge. It was a real undertaking at the time to build the Ahwahnee because Yosemite was so remote.

The interior designers were Dr. Phyllis Ackerman and Professor Arthur Upham Pope. Several artists also worked on murals, floors, beams, etc.  Some of the Ahwahnee interiors were used as templates for the sets of the Overlook Hotel in the film The Shining.

We stayed in one of the newer cabins towards the back of the hotel. It was nice and quiet and the cabin was large. There is a small pool, a beautiful restaurant with floor to ceiling windows, a smaller tavern, outside dining and a few bars. A shuttle stops in the parking lot, but it can get crowded in the summer with people visiting.  

I look forward to staying at The Ahwahnee Hotel again in the future! The Sunday Brunch was great.

 

We Are Back!

National Park stamps

So our California road trip was a success! We flew into San Francisco and stayed 3 nights. Then we drove to Yosemite and stayed there 5 nights. Next, we drove down to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and stayed a night in each. Joshua Tree was next for 2 nights, followed by a night at Disneyland and 3 nights in San Diego with friends.

I got so many new Western Region National Park Passport stamps I had to use some of the back pages! Along with the larger National  Parks, we visited the Golden Gate NRA, Alcatraz and Cabrillo National Monument. I will be writing some future posts on all of them. The parks are truly amazing and I highly recommend seeing as many as you can in the great state of CA!

   

America the Beautiful Annual Pass.

As Craig and I head off for our two week California road trip, one of the first things we will buy at the Golden Gate NRA or Alcatraz is the America the Beautiful annual pass. Most of the larger National Parks cost around $25 or more during peak times to enter.  This fee is usually good for 7 days. The America the Beautiful annual pass is $80. US Military can get a free annual pass. If you are a senior a lifetime pass is $10!

These passes are a great deal if you are planning on visiting several National Parks in one trip like we are. If you plan on visiting some this year and next year, try to time it so you can use your pass for both trips.

“Each Annual Pass admits pass owner/s and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas; and pass owner + 3 adults, not to exceed 4 adults, where per-person fees are charged. (Children under 16 are always admitted free).”

Here is a list of places where you can get the America the Beautiful annual pass.

I will be posting pictures to our Facebook site as we travel. Lots of National Park Passport stamps to collect on this trip!

Muir Woods National Monument

The last time Craig and I were in San Francisco we did a tour of Sonoma. On the way we stopped at Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods NM is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is about 11 miles north of San Francisco and a great half day trip if you are visiting the city. Muir Woods celebrated its 100th Anniversary on January 9, 2008! William and Elizabeth Kent donated the land to the government. They wanted it named after naturalist and writer John Muir. The park gets very crowded especially on the weekends. There is a park and ride from San Francisco if you do not want to worry about trying to find parking. 

The Redwood trees are so amazing to see in person. Coastal Redwoods can grow over 300 feet and they are the tallest trees on Earth. Redwoods have been around for about 240 million years! They are only found on the Pacific Coast.

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”- John Steinbeck

It was very peaceful walking around and enjoying the trees. Get there early to beat the crowds! There is a lovely gift shop on site with US made gifts and art. We will have to go back soon because we did not have our National  Parks Passport at the time. We need to get a stamp!

Yosemite is 125!

yosemite

On October 1st, 2015 Yosemite National Park turns 125. In 1890 Yosemite became the country’s third National Park. Over 1,500 square miles were put aside for people to love and enjoy. Some areas like Hetch Hetchy were changed by development, but it is amazing what people fought to preserve.

Craig and I had been talking about visiting Yosemite for a long time, but other trips kept happening. We have been to California many times and I felt bad being so close to Yosemite, but not having enough time to visit. After seeing Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in 2014, we realized what we had been missing and putting off for so long. I am sorry we waited so long to see our parks. I do not regret any of the wonderful vacations we have had, but now that Craig has more vacation time we are able to spend more time at the parks. I work from home so I can adjust my schedule. This year we are so excited to visit several of California’s National Parks. There are events, shows and displays going on for Yosemite’s 125th. There is also a new passport stamp!

I started my planning at the library and on TripAdvisor. I love that I can look up books on our online library database and have them shipped to our local library. I really like the Moon Handbooks and Lonely Planet guide books. If we like the books, we buy them and pass them on to help others planning a trip.

TripAdvisor has forums for most popular vacation areas and the people on there are a great help! They answer questions about driving directions, lodging, activities, restaurants, hikes, etc. I have always lucked out with hotels that are top rated on TripAdvisor too. Even though I started looking at hotels about 9 months in advance, most of the rooms in the Yosemite Valley were booked. The reservations for park lodges often open up over a year in advance. For Yellowstone they open May 1st for the whole summer. You can check on the official websites and call for the exact dates to book. They will charge a nights deposit to hold a room. If you have your heart set on in park lodging, but everything is sold out, keep checking the web site and calling. Rooms do open up when people’s plans change. Wawona, Camp Curry and Housekeeping Camp have more options as well. I have all of our rooms held for our Grand Circle Tour in October except one night at the Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon. I keep checking for a room every few days. More on that trip in a future post!

Since the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls was booked and the Ahwahnee only had rooms here and there, we decided to book at the Evergreen Lodge near the Big Oak Flat entrance. Evergreen Lodge is a little far from the Valley, but it had very good reviews and we will be spending time all over Yosemite. We did decide to splurge and spend one night at the Ahwahnee so we could see a lot of the Valley and have their amazing Sunday Brunch!

Evergreen Lodge Cabin

Evergreen Lodge

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After reading several guide books and TripAdvisor forums, we decided on five nights in Yosemite, one night in Kings Canyon, one night in Sequoia and two nights in Joshua Tree. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are also celebrating anniversaries of 125 and 75 years! We are flying into San Francisco to spend three nights at the beginning of our trip, stopping at Disneyland for their 60th anniversary and ending the trip with three nights in San Diego to visit friends! One day in Yosemite will be spent at Hetch Hetchy and the Evergreen Lodge, one at Glacier Point, one on Tioga Pass Road/Tuolumne Meadows, two in the Valley and one morning in Wawona/Mariposa Grove.

If you have any questions about our planning just ask in the comments!

 

Find Your Park

The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25th, 2016! They made a great new website called Find Your Park to help everyone join in the celebration. On the website you can watch videos, view people’s favorite pictures, take a quiz to find out what park you should visit, support your parks, learn about new experiences at the parks and 100 year tours and celebrations. I love the videos they have on the site.

So start planning and get out there and Find Your Park! I will be doing some posts on how to plan a park vacation soon.