Adventures on the Alpine Loop: Cruising to Colorado – Day Six

On our sixth day in Colorado, Cody and I had big plans for the day. Our goal was to enjoy the day traveling through the Alpine Loop, situated in the San Juan National Forest, something we had been planning for months in advance. Before this day, we had loosely followed the schedule we had planned for the trip. That was about to change because Alpine Loop was calling our names and we weren’t about to say no!

(Click on the following days to read more of my “Cruising to Colorado” series. Blog post: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Five)

We packed our camping gear into the truck and said our farewell to our campsite at Molas Lake. To reach Alpine Loop, we drove back into Silverton and took County Road 2 past the Mayflower Mill in the direction of Animas Forks ghost town.

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Alpine Loop Map

There was something in the air that made us both believe that everything would work out one way or another during this adventure. We were ready to explore and accomplish our goal of reaching Engineer Pass before leaving Colorado.

As we traveled along the trail to reach Animas Forks, the scenery was already breathtaking. We saw chipmunks, marmots, deer and even wild horses. Everything was awe-inspiring and words truly can’t describe the beauty–it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life.

The Animas River snaked along the trail, its rushing clear water moving fluidly. The day was beautiful with great weather and clear skies. There was a chance of rain that could hit us but even that couldn’t bring our spirits down. We kept making our way through the winding trail enjoying the views.

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Animas River

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A Peaceful Weekend Retreat

There are a majority of people who live in other states that believe Oklahoma is just filled with a bunch of country folk and dusty plains. In reality, yes we have country folk, but we also have city people. Yes, we have dusty plains, but more than that we have so many beautiful state parks, recreation areas and wildlife refuges that make Oklahoma the gorgeous, unique state it is.

 

In particular, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is something that can’t be missed. The wildlife refuge is located near Lawton, Okla., and offers stunning views from Mt. Scott and the chance to see all types of wildlife unique to Oklahoma making it perfect for a refreshing weekend getaway! According to the Medicine Park website, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the second most visited wildlife refuge in the country.

View of Mount Scott.

View of Mount Scott.

 

Cody, who spoke in my post 10 Tips for Camping at a National or State Park, has visited the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

 

“When I visited the Wichita Mountains I drove up onto this hill near Medicine Park. It was directly facing Mount Scott. The views were incredible, you could see an all-around view of the lake with Mount Scott in the background,” says Cody.

 

Be prepared to see hundreds of little prairie dogs popping up out of the ground. Bison and Texas longhorns are sure to be seen. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer, river otters, wild turkey and many more all reside in the wildlife refuge.

 

While visiting the wildlife refuge there are many activities to enjoy during your stay.

According to Travel Oklahoma, some activities available for your enjoyment are:

  • Mountain biking
  • Rock climbing
  • Rappelling
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing

Furthermore, Travel Oklahoma also lists additional attractions to visit:

  • The Holy City of the Wichitas
  • Mount Scott
  • Quanah Parker Lake
  • The Parallel Forest
  • The Forty-Foot Hole

After seeing Mount Scott from afar Cody wanted to get an even better view from the top of the mountain rather than just looking at it.

 

“I drove my standard Honda Civic hatchback up the narrow road leading to the top of Mount Scott, it was an interesting ride especially because I was following a couple on a motorcycle making some sharp turns,” says Cody. “Once I finally reached the top I could tell how the air was thinner, but the views were amazing. You could see for miles and miles.”

On top of Mt. Scott. The view is breathtaking!

On top of Mt. Scott. The view is breathtaking!

 

Also, if you’re planning a trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, you’ve got to make a pit stop at Medicine Park located outside the entrance to the wildlife refuge. Medicine Park is a quaint town with cobblestone buildings and cute shops. According to the Medicine Park website there are five music festivals in the town each year. The town also has art galleries, restaurants, an ice cream and candy store and the swimming hole that many visitors enjoy. There are plenty of places to stay from the popular resort to charming bed and breakfasts.

 

You can enjoy the picturesque Medicine Park and then visit the beautiful Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for a refreshing nature trip with some luxury added in by staying in town.

The Castle Ruins of Ha Ha Tonka State Park

During the fall, I visited a small, beautiful state park called Ha Ha Tonka State Park located near the town of Camdenton, MO. I had never heard such a strange name for a park, so I knew I had to check it out.

View from an overlook at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

View from an overlook at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

 

It turns out there are castle ruins located in the park. According to Missouri State Parks, Robert Snyder began building his castle, or mansion, in 1905. He died tragically in a car accident in 1906 before his castle was finished being built. His sons finished building the castle, but in 1942 a fire began inside the house and left only ruins behind.

The castle ruins.

The castle ruins.

I was so intrigued by the ruins. You could tell how much thought was put into building the castle. I can only imagine how beautiful it was when it was completely built. I recommend visiting during the fall. The weather was perfect and the trees have all begun to change from green to beautiful oranges, yellows and browns.

ha ha tonka 3The hiking trails leading to the castle ruins are also easily accessible for anyone. Parking is limited near the ruins, but down the road is another parking lot that you can take and either walk up the road or take a trail to the castle.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park may be small, but the beautiful views and interesting history the park contains makes it well worth a trip. If I ever am back in the area I will definitely be stopping by again!

Showing Local Love

Showing pride for the state you’ve grown up in is always a great thing. Each state has different, unique landscapes that add to their individuality. When you begin exploring the state you live in it can help you realize that your state carries its own hidden gems that show their true beauty.

If you happen to live in Oklahoma, or enjoy a good road trip, visiting the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a must. When you think of a national park or national recreation area your mind may immediately jump to the big leagues such as the Grand Canyon National Park or Yellowstone National Park, but sometimes smaller parks near you can have attractions and history just as great as the bigger national parks.

Joe, father of two and longtime outdoorsman, always appreciates traveling to new places and being out in the wilderness. He has visited the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and enjoyed his time there.

“My favorite part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is how remote it seems, even when it’s so close to civilization,” says Joe.

Travertine Creek Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

Travertine Creek
Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is located in Sulphur, Okla. It along with The Artesian and many other new businesses have given Sulphur a new name for itself. The town is becoming a great place to take a little getaway to enjoy nature or do some shopping at some of the upscale shops.

Dan Winings, a park ranger at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, has knowledge and firsthand experience working in the area.

“The Park was originally established as Sulphur Springs Reservation in 1902, in order to preserve the natural mineral springs found in the park. The land was purchased from Chickasaw Nation. In 1906, the U.S. Congress designated the area Platt National Park. In 1976, 9,000 acres were added to the park and it was renamed Chickasaw National Recreation Area, in honor of the Chickasaw that originally owned the land,” says Dan.

According to the Sulphur Chamber of Commerce, streams and lakes cater to boaters, swimmers and anglers, while its forests and prairies reward hikers, wildlife photographers and campers.

“The most unique feature of the park is its location within the Cross Timbers area of Oklahoma. This area is where three different ecosystems meet together. The eastern deciduous forest, the tall grass prairie to the north and the mixed grass prairie to the west,” says Dan. “This makes Chickasaw National Recreation Area one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.”

Little Niagra Source:  Jonathan C. Wheeler

Little Niagra
Source: Jonathan C. Wheeler

Little Niagra is considered one of the hot spots at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It draws several visitors, especially during the summer months, to its refreshing and clear water. I remember spending several great summer days enjoying the cool water at Little Niagra and relishing in the nature surrounding me.

“My favorite memory is when I was young we would travel there and campout, fish and hike. I loved Travertine Creek, it is a beautiful place to take the family,” says Joe.

There is definitely no shortage of activities to participate in when you visit the area. Dan says some of the most popular activities are:

  • Auto touring
  • Biking
  • Bird watching
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Swimming
  • Water skiing

With so many activities to choose from boredom doesn’t exist during your time at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Whether you are traveling alone for a peaceful retreat or planning a memorable trip with family and friends, there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed in choosing the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Always remember to show appreciation for local parks in your state, some of the best memories can be made at them!

Top 3 Most Visited National Parks in the United States

I was curious to see what the top visited national parks were in the U.S. To my surprise, I had been to two of the three. Although every park shines in its own uniqueness these three draw the most visitors.

 

  1.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the Great Smoky Mountains attracted 9,354,695 visitors to its park in the year of 2013, compare that to the 4,564,840 visitors that visited Grand Canyon and it’s a huge difference.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

  1. Grand Canyon National Park

My own experience at the Grand Canyon was unforgettable. I remember arriving there right around sunset. My family and I walked through a gift shop to be able to reach a point where we could view the Grand Canyon. When I walked through the doors and saw the sun setting over the canyon it looked just like a painting. It almost didn’t look real. The sunset illuminated the Grand Canyon with colors of pink, yellow and orange. It is a sight I will never forget.

Grand_Canyon_Panorama_2013

Source: Wikipedia

 

  1. Yosemite National Park

As I mentioned in my recent post, “A Park for All Tastes,” Yosemite National Park is a vast and beautiful park. I remember standing near Bridalveil Falls and feeling the water spray on me while I took in the view. According to Monica Wachman of USA Today, “Yosemite National Park is home to several waterfalls. Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest in North America. Bridalveil Falls is aptly named because of the wind’s tendency to blow the falling water sideways, making it look as delicate as a bride’s veil. The tallest waterfall in North America, Ribbon Falls, is also within park boundaries.”

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Statistics found from National Geographic Travel.

A Park for All Tastes

Rushing waterfalls, peaceful meadows and majestic mountains all can be found in one unique national park. Yosemite National Park offers a diversity of sights for all ages to enjoy.

Tunnel_View

Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

Things to do and places to see.

Sheila, mother of two and an enthusiastic traveler, visited Yosemite National Park and has never forgotten her time at the park.

“My favorite thing about Yosemite was having a picnic lunch atop Glacier Point looking at Half Dome and down into the valley. You could see the major waterfalls too. It was amazing,” says Sheila.

Half_Dome_from_Glacier_Point,_Yosemite_NP_-_Diliff

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

Kari Cobb, Public Affairs Specialist at Yosemite National Park, says, “Yosemite has so much to offer. It’s a park that anyone can enjoy regardless of how comfortable you are in the wilderness. For those that want a more natural visit, with less crowds, no development or stores, there’s Tuolumne Meadows, in the northern part of the park to explore. For those that aren’t as comfortable letting go of civilization, Yosemite Valley is the place to be. And for those who want a quieter experience, but still not let go of all the human comforts, Wawona is the place to be. No matter what your comfort level with the outdoors is, Yosemite can provide it.”

According to National Geographic, the park’s giant sequoia trees can live to be more than 3,000 years old. The towering sequoia trees can make you feel so small standing next to their majestic height. When you really focus on how amazing the environment is at Yosemite it can make any bad thing seem good.

redwood grizzly giant

Grizzly Giant in Yosemite National Park; Source: Wikipedia

One day at Yosemite.

“We were on a nine day road trip from Oklahoma to California with many places to see. So what do you do when you only have one day at Yosemite? You do what we did, we took a guided tour,” says Sheila. “It was amazing. Our tour guide had our shuttle bus at each stop at the right time and knew how to maneuver through all the traffic which would have taken us so long to find all the highlights of the park. He even spent extra time with us that day making sure we saw all the best spots.”

Extended stay at Yosemite.

When planning to stay a prolonged time at Yosemite rather than just one day you may wonder, “Where should I stay?” It all depends on whether you want to be inside or outside. If you prefer sleeping under the stars then camping at one of Yosemite’s campgrounds is the ideal choice. But if you fancy a more luxurious stay at Yosemite a vacation at one of Yosemite’s lodges is also a great choice.

According to TripAdvisor, the Ahwahnee lodge is the number one hotel in Yosemite. Yosemite also offers several vacation rentals that offer a more private option.

“Most people want to camp in Yosemite Valley, as it’s the most popular part of the park to visit,” says Kari.

Winter, spring, summer or fall–when is the best time to visit Yosemite?

“Each season has something to offer. Spring–the temperatures are still cool. The waterfalls are at their peak and the flowers are starting to bloom…summer–the temperatures are great for swimming and relaxing in the sun. However, this is our peak visitation season and it can be very busy in Yosemite Valley…fall–the temperatures are still warm during the day but cool at night. The entire park is still open….winter–visitation is very minimal. Often times the park is covered in snow and the scenery is absolutely stunning,” says Kari.

No matter when you choose to visit Yosemite National Park it is guaranteed it will be stunning any time of the year. I’ll never forget my own time at Yosemite and would go back in an instant. Yosemite National Park is a park that has almost everything about nature encompassed into one place.

Vintage National Park Posters

National parks are promoted in several different ways. According to Rangerdoug.com, between 1935 and 1943 the Works Project Administration, known as WPA, created thousands of posters to endorse education, travel and the arts. Most of these posters didn’t survive through the test of time.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ranger Doug has faithfully reproduced the WPA National Park posters and continues to create unique pieces for the parks. These particular posters appeal to me, because something that is vintage and thought to be lost was found and restored beautifully.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

The great thing about these posters, which feature a great variety of the U.S. National Parks, is you can purchase them from Ranger Doug’s website.

If you’ve visited any of the parks it is incredibly neat to look through the posters and find the one’s you’ve been to. It evoked memories I’ll never forget when I saw the famous monuments of each national park.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

To learn more about the WPA National Park posters or to purchase any of the pieces, you can visit rangerdoug.com.