Saturday, September 24, 2016

Time Capsule - September 1991 - Vicente Perez Rosales National Park

     Twenty-five years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Vicente Perez Rosales National Park in the Los Lagos Region, Llanquihue Province in southern Chile. The park covers 2,530 km2 almost entirely within the Andes mountain chain. The park contains the Todos los Santos Lake, which has a surface area of 178.5 km² and a maximum depth of 337 meters. From this lake flows the Petrohue River. Due to its protected status, the water in this river is an absolutely stunning turquoise color. A short ways downriver, the river flows over the Petrohue Waterfalls. Although the Falls are beautiful in their own right, when framed against the background of Volcan Osorno, they are absolutely gorgeous. The eastern slope of the volcano is located within the park boundaries. Volcan Osorno is 2,652 meters tall, and sits on the southeastern shore of Lake Llanquihue. It is one of the most active volcanoes in southern Chile, with 11 historical eruptions between 1575 and 1869. It is also the second most conical volcano in the world (after only Mount Fiji in Japan). The upper slopes of the volcano are almost completely covered in glaciers.
Petrohue Falls
Petrohue with Volcan Osorno in the background
Another waterfall

Petrohue Rapids

turquoise waters
Flora in Vicente Perez Rosales NP
Snowball fight on the slopes of Volcan Osorno

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Spotlight: Washington DC - Ford's Theatre

Spotlight: Ford's Theatre was originally the site of the First Baptist Church of Washington, opened in 1834. In 1861, John T. Ford rented the building and turned it into a theater - Ford's Atheneum. When the Atheneum burned down in 1862, Ford rebuilt it on a grander scale and called it Ford's Theatre. John Wilkes Booth was one of many actors who performed at the Theatre, and Lincoln even watched him perform in The Marble Heart in 1963. On April 14, 1965, during a performance of Our American Cousin, Booth snuck into the President's box and shot him. From there, he leaped onto the stage, breaking his leg and yelling "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" From there he fled the scene and made his way to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd to have his leg set. He hid out along the Maryland/Virginia border for 12 days until soldiers found and shot him in a standoff.
Theatre stage with Lincoln's box above right
     After he was shot, Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the following morning. The room has been restored to appear as it did the night Lincoln died.
     After the president's death, the theater closed down and was sold to the War Department, which eventually converted it into a three-story office building. In 1932, the first floor of the former theater was converted into a museum displaying artifacts and exhibit memorializing Lincoln's presidency.
     In 1965, renovations were made to restore Ford's Theatre to it's 1865 appearance a century before. In 1968, the non-profit Ford's Theatre Society launched the reintroduction of live performances at Ford's Theatre after a 103 year hiatus. In 1988, the National Parks Service modernized the museum to better meet the needs of a growing tourist base. In 2007, the Theatre was closed for major renovations to better serve the public as a working theater. It reopened on Feb. 11, 2009 - to celebrate Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Location: Ford's Theatre is located in downtown Washington DC at 511 10th St.

Cost: free (same day tickets); $3/ticket for reserved tickets; tickets for performances are variable

Time: The Historic Site is open daily typically from 9:00 am - 4:30 pm. You should plan on spending about 2 hours visiting the various sites.

Description: Self-guided tours of the Ford Theatre National Historic Site usually includes access to the following: the museum, the Theatre, the Peterson House, and the Center for Education and Leadership.
     The Museum houses a collection of historic artifacts and interactive exhibits that teach visitors about Lincoln's presidency. Some of the interesting items on display include: Lincoln's clothing he wore the night he was assassinated, John Wilkes Booth's Deringer, various other items carried by the conspirators, Booth's diary, a poster for Our American Cousin - the play Lincoln attended that night, and various items used by the Lincolns while in the White House - including their china.

medical instruments used to set Booth's leg
     The Theatre is open for tourists during the morning and early afternoon hours. Here you can attend a Ranger Talk or the play One Destiny - featuring costumed actors who portray two historical figures in attendance the night of the assassination. In the evening, the Theatre hosts a variety of performances and events.

     The Petersen Boarding House was constructed by William Petersen, a German tailor who made a small fortune during the war making high quality suits for officers during the Civil War. In 1896, Lincoln enthusiast Osborn Oldroyd moved into the home to display his large collection of Lincoln memorabilia. This collection was purchased by the government and moved to the Theatre Museum after Oldroyd's death in 1930. In 1933, the National Parks Service acquired the house and have maintained it as an historic house museum.
Petersen House parlor
Bed where Lincoln died
     Next door to the Petersen House is the Center for Education and Leadership. This center explores the aftermath of the assassination and Lincoln's legacy. Visitors can follow the route of the funeral train from DC to Springfield, Illinois and learn about the hunt for Booth and his fellow conspirators. They can learn about Lincoln's legacy and how it helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Perhaps the most impressive display is the 34-foot tower of books - all unique, but each one written about Abraham Lincoln.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - Ford's Theatre is a working theater today. For a list of upcoming performances and events, check their calendar.
-   A limited number of free same-day tickets are available at the Ford’s Theatre Box Office beginning at 8:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. However, during the tourist season, these are often gone by 9:00 am. Therefore, you may want to reserve tickets ahead of time. 
- Click here for directions and information on parking.

Nearby: Landmark Theater, International Spy Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Madame Tussauds

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Spotlight: Washington DC - National Mall and Memorial Parks Part II (Monument Walk)

Spotlight: The National Mall is the United States' most visited National Park. It is filled with monuments and memorials that honor America's heroes from the past, and is a rallying spot for the social movements of the present. In 1791, city planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant proposed a garden-lined Grand Avenue to be constructed along a mile route from the Capitol Building to an equestrian statue of George Washington, which was to be placed directly south of the White House. Although L'Enfant's original vision was never completed, it was eventually replaced by what has become known as the National Mall.
     Instead of an equestrian statue, city planners decided to honor our first President with a large stone obelisk named the Washington Monument which, measuring 554 feet 7 11/32 inches, is the tallest stone structure in the world. Construction began in 1848, and city planners began developing several parks in the area surrounding the monument. Since then, monuments and memorials have been continually added to honor the heroes that have risen up through the decades of our nation's history. Every day, tens of thousands of individuals walk along the route through these magnificent monuments, either as part of an official tour, or on their own self-guided tour, choosing how long to linger at each of these inspiring landmarks.

Location: The National Mall and Memorial Parks extends from the Lincoln Memorial in the west, to the Capitol Building in the east and everything in between, including the parkland around the Tidal Basin.

Cost: free; most official tours cost extra

Time: The Mall is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Rangers are on hand from 9:30 am - 10:00 pm to answer questions. Most tours of the Mall run about 2-3 hours, which is enough time to see the highlights. You could spend most of the day exploring the monuments and parks that make up the Mall.

Description: There are dozens of monuments and memorials that make up the National Mall. However, the highlights on almost anyone's tour (whether formal or informal) include the following:
     The Washington Monument is the tallest true obelisk in the world. There is an observation deck at the 500 foot level, and tickets are required for anyone 2 and over to enter. It takes 70 seconds to take the elevator to the observation deck. Once they are done enjoying the view, visitors go back down the stairs to the 490' level which contains exhibits before boarding the elevator for the trip down.
     Dedicated in 1943, the Jefferson Memorial is a neoclassical monument dedicated to the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence, and third President of the U.S. The monument consists of circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic columns, and a shallow dome. Inside is a 19 foot, 10,000 lb. bronze statue of Jefferson surrounded by excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, and other famous quotes.
     Dedicated in 1997, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is dedicated to the only president to serve for more than two terms. The monument, which extends over 7.5 acres, consists of four "rooms" (one for each term of office) which highlight the presidency of the man who led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II.
     Completed in 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is dedicated to the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The memorial covers 4 acres, and is dominated by a 30 foot relief of King - which represents the Stone of Hope protruding out of the granite mountain of despair mentioned in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (given in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial). A 450 foot long Inscription Wall contains excerpts from many of his various speeches and sermons.
     Dedicated in 1995, the Korean War Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served their nation by fighting in the Korean War. The main memorial is a large triangle that intersects a circle. The walls, 164 feet long and 8 inches thick, contain more than 2,500 photographic images, sandblasted into the highly polished "Academy Black" granite, which represent the land, sea and air troops who participated in the conflict. Within the triangular wall are 19 stainless steel soldiers representing a squad on patrol.
     Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial forms the western edge of the National Mall. The building is in the form of a Greek Doric Temple, and contains a massive statue of President Lincoln, who liberated the slaves and preserved the Union, seated among inscriptions from two of his famous speeches - the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. The Memorial has also been the site of many famous modern speeches and rallies.
     The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was constructed from 1922-1923. The 2,029 foot long, 167 foot wide pool extends from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and is one of the most prominent features of the National Mall. Filled to a depth of approximately 18 inches, it holds approximately 6,750,000 gallons of water and is featured in many pictures of both monuments.
     Completed in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the men and women who served their country in that conflict. The memorial consists of three parts - the Three Servicemen Memorial, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The wall is made up of two 246 ft. 9 in. gabbro walls etched with the names of the servicemen and women being honored. The walls are sunk into the ground, reaching 10 feet high at their apex and tapering down to 8 inches at their extremities. The surface of the wall reflects the image of the viewer as he/she searches for the names of friends or loved ones.
     Dedicated in 1976, the Constitution Gardens are a 50-acre "living legacy American Revolution Bicentennial Tribute." In July 1982, the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence was dedicated on the small island of the lake.
     Opened in 2004, the National World War II Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who served their country in both the armed forces and as citizens during that conflict. The memorial consists of 56 pillars and a small pair of triumphal arches that surround a plaza and a fountain. The 17 foot tall pillars form a semicircle around the plaza and are inscribed with the names of the 48 states and 8 territories that formed the United States during the conflict. The 43-foot arches are dedicated to the two fronts of the war - the Atlantic and Pacific. The Freedom Wall on the west side of the memorial includes 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the conflict.
     Some of the other memorials and monuments within the National Mall include: the African American Civil War Memorial, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, the Belmont-Paul National Women's Equality National Monument, the District of Columbia War Memorial, the National World War I Memorial, the Old Post Office Tower, and the Pennsylvania Avenue NHS and Park.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - DC by Foot is the city's most popular tour group and offers "free" walking tours of several different sites around the Washington including a highly acclaimed National Mall tour. They are listed as free, because you can name your own price; but you are expected to pay what you think the tour was worth.
- Free same day tickets to the Washington Monument are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th St. Since they go fast, you may want reserve tickets ahead of time for a fee at this site.
- I would recommend going to the National Parks website to help plan your visit.
- During the summer, it gets very hot. Since drinking fountains aren't always readily available, make sure you bring plenty of water.

Nearby: Tidal Basin Paddle Boats, Smithsonian Museums, The White House, Teddy Roosevelt Island

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Spotlight: Washington DC - National Mall and Memorial Parks Part I (Smithsonian Institution)

Spotlight: The National Mall is the United States' most visited National Park. It is filled with monuments and memorials that honor America's heroes from the past, and is a rallying spot for the social movements of the present.
     The Smithsonian Institution is the name given to the collection of 17 world-renowned museums, galleries, and a zoo. The collection consists of nearly 140 million objects, works of art, and specimens from around the globe. The British scientist, James Smithson (1765-1829), left his huge fortune to a nephew with the stipulation that should he die without heirs, the money would go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” As a result, the Smithsonian Institute was created by an act of Congress in 1846. The first building, the distinctive neo-Gothic Smithsonian Castle, was designed by James Renwick and completed in 1855. Since then, many other museums and galleries have been added, each with their own designated theme.
Smithsonian Castle
Location: The National Mall and Memorial Parks extends from the Lincoln Memorial in the west, to the Capitol Building in the east and everything in between, including the parkland around the Tidal Basin. The Smithsonian Castle is located at 1000 Jefferson Drive SW. The other museums and galleries that compose the Institution are within walking distance, and can be located via an interactive map to each of the Institution's locations.

Cost: free

Time: Most museums are open daily from 10:00 am - 5:30 pm. The American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery are open from 11:30 am - 7:00 pm.
- You can spend a full week exploring the Smithsonian Institute and still not see everything. Therefore, you might want to choose a few that catch your interest and spend a couple of hours in each to see the highlights.

Description: The Smithsonian Castle, with its sandstone walls, dark interior wood and Victorian arches, originally held the entire collection. The collection quickly outgrew its original digs and other buildings, each with it's own specialization, were added along what is now known as the National Mall. Today, the Castle houses a modern Visitor Center complete with interactive 3-D maps detailing the Institution's various collections.
     We spent the most time in the Air and Space Museum. It contains 23 galleries which exhibit hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and other flight-related artifacts. It also has lots of fabulous interactive exhibits that teach the principles of flight. Some of the highlights include: the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, SpaceShipOne, Sputnik, the Apollo 11 command module, and the Hubble Telescope test vehicle.
Spirit of St. Louis
flight simulator
The Wright Flyer
Apollo mission artifacts
Amelia Earhart exhibit
     Another museum we really enjoyed was the American History Museum. It is devoted to preserving relics related to the scientific, social, cultural, technological and political development of the United States. Some of the highlights include: the Star-Spangled Banner, General Washington's uniform, Lincoln's top hat, Dorothy's ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, Superman's outfit, the golden spike, and much more.
ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz
Pres. Lincoln's top hat

golden spike
Model T
     The third museum we decided to explore was the Natural History Museum. It has exhibits on early man, the development of world cultures, full scale replicas of animals (both modern and extinct), and gems and minerals. Some of the highlights include: the Sant Ocean Hall, the Hall of Human Origins, dinosaurs, the Hall of Geology, Gems and minerals, including the Hope Diamond and the world's largest crystal ball, the Hall of Mammals, the Butterfly Pavilion, and Q?rius interactive learning space.
Hall of Mammels
Hope Diamond
replica termite hill

world's largest crystal ball

     The other museums and galleries included in the Institute are: the African American History and Culture Museum, African Art Museum, Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, American Art Museum, American Indian Museum, Anacostia Community Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Freer Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Zoo, Portrait Gallery, Postal Museum, Renwick Gallery, and the Arts and Industry Building.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - Most kids can only spend a limited amount of time in museums before they begin to get bored. With that in mind, the Smithsonian Institution created a webpage highlighting various activities which are very popular for children.
- Another great resource for kids is the Official Kids' Guide to the Smithsonian Institution.
- You should also check out the Events and Activities calendar to help you plan your adventure beforehand.
- One thing my wife did to extend our daughters' interest was create a scavenger hunt booklet with pictures of items to find while exploring the museums.
- 9.9 million digital records are available online through the Collections Search Center.
- The Smithsonian Mobile App lets you quickly locate the highlights of each museum, access tours, podcasts and other apps.

Nearby: Holocaust Memorial Museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Ford's Theatre, International Spy Museum

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Travel Tip #47 - Preparing for a Backpacking Trip

     To someone who has been backpacking before, this tip is obvious. However, even an experienced backpacker usually ends up taking too much stuff on backpacking trips. What seems essential while you're sitting in your living room packing your pack may not seem so essential as you're lugging your 40 lb. pack up the side of a mountain. So here are some tips to consider when packing for a backpacking trip.
     1. Get a sturdy, lightweight pack. When I was a boy scout, all backpack were large, clunky, and had external metal-framed. In recent years, the much preferred backpack is more compact with a sturdy, yet lightweight internal frame. Not only are they better balanced, but they force you to pack lighter - which is essential for a successful trip.
     2. Remember the 10 essentials. According to Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, there are ten essentials that any backpacker needs access to in order to have a fun, safe hike. Other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, have adopted the list. The revised 2003 edition of the list identifies the 10 essentials as: Navigation, Sun Protection, Insulation, Illumination, First Aid supplies, Fire, Repair Kit and Tools, Nutrition, Hydration, and Emergency Shelter. For more detailed information on the 10 essentials, I'd encourage you to check out the following checklist.
     3. After the 10 essentials, bring only the bare necessities. When packing clothes, your main goal is to stay warm and protected from the sun. You don't want to bring an outfit for every day; rather, you will want a spare set of dry clothes to change into if they get wet. Other than that , try to reuse what you have. When packing food, plan your meals beforehand, relying heavily on lightweight dehydrated food. If you plan on fishing for your meals, make sure you have enough nourishment to get by in case you don't catch any fish. Remember, you don't need to eat like kings; eating like peasants will do. If you will be hiking where there are plenty of streams, don't carry enough water to last the whole trip; rather, carry enough for a day, and bring a lightweight water purifier to refill your bottles. (Just make sure you know how to use it ahead of time). Know how much fuel will need in order to boil water and cook your meals, so that you bring enough, but not too much. Let nature be your entertainment. The last thing you want to do is lug around unnecessary weight. A good rule of thumb is: If you can't decide whether or not you'll need it, you probably will not need it.
     4. For a long trip, it is worth the extra money to get lightweight equipment. Usually, I tend to buy things in bulk because they are cheaper. However, when backpacking, smaller, lightweight items are often worth every dollar. This principle is most easily applied when preparing toiletries - buy travel sizes. But it also applies to tents, sleeping bags, cameras, clothing, food, and fuel. I know hikers who cut the handle off of their toothbrushes to cut weight. After eight hours of carrying a pack, you will realize that every ounce counts.
     5. Be familiar with your map/navigation system. The last thing you want to do is get lost. That's how you die. So make sure you can use your navigation system. You also need to know how far apart water sources are so that you can carry enough water to get you from one source to the next. Also, make sure that someone else, who's not in your group, knows your route so that if you don't come home at the appropriate time, they can send help.
     For more ideas on how to prepare, you might want to check out this site. Have fun and be safe!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spotlight: Sierra Nevada Mountains - Sequoia National Park

Spotlight: Sequoia National Park is named for the Giant Sequoia tree which is only native to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sequoia trees are the world's largest living organism by volume. On average, they grow to between 164 and 279 feet high, with a record of 311 feet. The widest known sequoia (at chest height) measures 27 feet in diameter. The oldest known giant sequoia (based on ring count) was 3,500 years old. To protect these giants, Sequoia National Park was established on Sept. 25, 1890, and spans 404,064 acres, including Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States.
     The Monachee Native Americans inhabited the area prior to the arrival of European settlers. They left many pictographs at several sites within the park, most notably at Hospital Rock. Unfortunately, the native population was decimated by small pox. The first European homesteader within the park's boundaries was Hale Tharp, who famously carved his home out of a fallen Sequoia tree. Tharp's Log can still be visited today in the same location in the Giant Forest. The Kaweah Colony attempted to derive economic success by harvesting lumber from the Giant Sequoias. Thousands of trees were chopped down before they realized that Sequoia wood wasn't suited for building since it splintered easily. Logging operations ceased completely after the national park was established.
     There is a wide variety of wildlife within the park's boundaries including: coyote, badger, black bearsheepdeerfoxcougar, woodpecker, turtles, owlsopossum, various species of snakewolverineroadrunnerbeaverfrogs, and muskrat.

Location: Sequoia National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about six miles east of the town of Three Rivers.

Cost: $30/vehicle, $20/motorscycle or $15/individual for a week-long pass which is also good for Kings Canyon; free entry with the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass.
     Tickets to Crystal Cave are $16/adult, $8/youth (6-12), and $5/child (0-5).

Time: Sequoia and Kings Canyon are open 24 hours/day, 365 days/year weather permitting. Plan on spending between 2-7 days exploring the parks.

Description: The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park is arguably the best sequoia grove on Earth. It is home to 5 of the 10 largest trees on Earth, including the General Sherman - the largest living tree on the planet. The Big Trees Trail is designed to be an easy hike for families and is wheelchair accessible.
     The Moro Rock to Crescent Meadow Road leads to several key attractions including Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, and the High Sierra Trail.
    Cedar Grove lies in one of the deepest canyons in the country. This grove is generally warmer, and thus doesn't have any giant sequoias; but it is the starting point for many backcountry trails. A rustic Visitor Center issues wilderness permits to visit these remote areas.
Hiking in the back country

     Mineral King Valley is the highest place accessible to park visitors and is reached via a steep, windy road that leads to high elevation wilderness areas. Be prepared because there is no gasoline or electricity in the valley. It is only open from late May to October.
     Crystal Cave is run by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy. It offers several tours including: The Family Tour, Early Bird Tour, Discovery Tour, Wild Cave Tour, Junior Caver Tour, and Halloween at Crystal Cave.
     The Generals Highway connects Sequoia NP with Kings Canyon NP. The Grant Tree Trail in Grant Grove in Kings Canyon NP leads to the General Grant, the second largest tree in the world, as well as many other beautiful giants. It also offers gorgeous vistas deep into the park's wilderness area.
Hamilton Lake
     Here are some photos of Sequoia's beautiful back country including Hamilton Lake and Precipice Lake:
Nothing like a cold, refreshing swim after hiking all day

Precipice Lake

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Things You Should Know: - There is a difference between Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park. Although both are beautiful, most visitors are looking for Sequoia NP, so plan accordingly.
- Over 80% of the parks is designated as wilderness area. You must obtain a wilderness permit if you stay overnight in these areas, which are only accessible on foot or horseback.
- Shuttles are a great way to explore the park while cutting down the pollution that is affecting these gentle giants. The Sequoia Shuttle can be accessed from Visalia or Three Rivers, and runs from May - September for $15/person (which includes park admission). There is also a free in park shuttle from Giant Forest Museum to Dorst Campground, and within the Lodgepole and Giant Forest areas.
- There are several Visitor Centers throughout the park that can help you make the most of your visit.
- There are plenty of camping, lodging, and restaurants in or around both national parks. However, campsites are difficult to get on summer and holiday weekends.
- Snow and ice are common on national park roads from early fall until late spring, so be prepared with tire chains if you are visiting during this period.
- Crystal Cave opens annually in May. Tickets must be purchased online and are not available at the cave entrance.
- Bears are active year-round in the park. You will need to store food and scented items in bear boxes so that they can't break in and get them.
Bear Country
- Several advisories are in effect for vehicles over 22 feet in length since they pose a danger on narrow, windy roads.

Nearby: Mount Whitney, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park