Featured

Water

Perhaps it’s because we’re born from water that we are drawn to it in nature, or maybe we are fascinated because its power can destroy as well as sustain life. In our travels we choose to cautiously enjoy the beauty of water while never daring to take it for granted. Today we are sharing some our favorite photographs of water. Dive in and enjoy.

“A calm water is like a still soul.” – Lailah Gifty Akita
Mirrored greens of spring. Hamilton Pool, Texas.
“Water is the most perfect traveler because when it travels it becomes the path itself!” – Mehmet Murat ildan
The milky Virgin River becomes The Narrows Trail. Zion National Park, Utah.
“Grace is finding a waterfall when you were only looking for a stream.” – Vanessa Hunt
We had no idea of what we might find when we set off on the trail, but we were thrilled to find ourselves alone with a stream and these beautiful waterfalls. Sabbaday Falls, New Hampshire. (Shot from an iPhone 10.)
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” – Loren Eisley
Magical Caribbean blues with sparkles and steam. Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.
“The power of nature can make fun of the power of man at any time!” – Mehmet Murat ildan
The muddy Ruidoso River surges angrily past the bridge its floodwaters destroyed. Ruidoso, New Mexico, 2008. See our post on Ruidoso here.
“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Sunrise reflections. Lake Mackenzie, Texas.
“Be like water. Flow, crash, fly!” – Md. Ziaul Haque
The sapphire hued Atlantic plays happily among the rocks. York, Maine.
“The fall of dropping water wears away the stone.” – Lucretius
The water-worn stone creates a perfect pour off for this little fall. Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire. See our Franconia Notch State Park post here.
“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.” – Laura Gilpin
Early morning at John Dunn Bridge. Rio Grande River, New Mexico.
“An iceberg is water striving to be land.” – Salman Rushdie
Brilliant blue bergy bit. Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska
“The earth, the air, the land, and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.” –  Gandhi
Solitude and reflection. Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
“Water is the driving force of all nature.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Wildfire smoke created a filter for this hazy evening shot on the Colorado River. Moab, Utah.

We are certainly not professional photographers although we do enjoy photography. Our method is to aim and shoot, and we rarely ever use filters or enhancements for the shots we post. We might crop a few, but we don’t know how to do any other editing. So, what you see is what we saw when we clicked. And once in a while we get lucky! It is a pleasure to share our photos and road trips, and we hope you enjoy seeing them. Let us know which one is your favorite. We would love to hear from you.

Need some road trip inspiration? Click on these great national park sites:

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park
10 Amazing Things to See and Do at Big Bend National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

 

Thank you for joining us!

Mike & Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022

Featured

Pecos National Historical Park

Pecos National Historical Park is located near Pecos, New Mexico. The park protects the National Historic Landmark site which is composed of the ruins of an ancient pueblo and a mission church.

Getting There

Albuquerque, New Mexico has a major airport, so our road trip will begin there. Drive time between Albuquerque and Pecos National Historical Park: 1.25 hours.

From Albuquerque, take I-25 north to Glorieta, New Mexico. At Glorieta, take Highway 50 to the town of Pecos. Proceed through Pecos on Main Street (Highway 63) and follow the signs to the park.

Bonus stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico. The capital city of New Mexico is not only beautiful, but it is also the second oldest city in the US. We enjoy visiting Santa Fe for its colorful history, outstanding art, and fabulous food. The natural beauty of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Santa Fe National Forest just enhances the city’s appeal.

Quintessential Santa Fe – Photo courtesy of Matt Briney

Things to do in Santa Fe:

  • Santa Fe Plaza
  • Palace of the Governors
  • Loretto Chapel
  • San Miguel Chapel
  • Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
  • Canyon Road art galleries
  • Santa Fe Railyard
  • Meow Wolf
St. Francis of Assisi statue stands in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Now let’s continue on to Pecos National Historical Park…

Destination: Pecos National Historical Park

Website link: Pecos National Historical Park

Park features:

  • Visitor center, museum, giftshop
  • Two picnic areas
  • Three hiking trails
  • Fishing (reservation required)
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Scheduled ranger-guided tours

We recommend stopping first at the visitor center to get information, pick up a trail map, and view a short film about the park. The outstanding museum is one of the best we have seen at any park, so allow time to view the exhibits.

Pretty scenery surrounds the park
Ancestral Sites Trail

Ancestral Sites Trail is the most popular trail in the park and takes visitors on a 1.25-mile loop through the pueblo ruins and the mission church. Most visitors choose to do the self-guided tour; however, some ranger-guided tours may be offered. Plan to spend at least an hour walking the trail and longer if you’re like us and take a lot of pictures.

Kiva – a ceremonial structure used for religious rites and/or tribal meetings. Twenty kivas remain intact on the pueblo site.

The trail guide and wayside information boards ensure that visitors get a comprehensive overview of where the pueblo buildings stood. There were actually two pueblos on the site – a north and south. Evidence shows that the site has been occupied since 11,500 BCE, though the first pueblo buildings, which were made of rocks and mud, were constructed around 1100 CE. The last buildings were four to five stories tall and were occupied by up to 2,000 people.

More ruins along the Ancestral Sites Trail

Native people occupied Pecos Pueblo (known historically as Cicuye) until 1838 when the last occupants moved to Jemez Pueblo where the people spoke the same Towa language. Jemez Pueblo, which is still occupied as a thriving community, is located approximately 59 miles west of Pecos. Towa is still spoken by the Jemez people, though there is no traditional written form of the language due to tribal regulations that prohibit transcription.

Pecos Mission Church
Pecos Mission Church

Franciscan missionaries arrived in the area in 1617 and built the first mission church, but it was too far from the pueblo to interest the residents. A second mission consisting of a church and Convento (storage rooms and living quarters for residents of the mission) was built on the site of the current mission church in 1625. As with most Spanish missions in the Southwestern US, the missionaries oversaw the construction, but the native people provided the slave labor.

The Convento ruins lie next to the mission church.

Disgruntled with the missionaries’ mistreatment of their people and disrespect of traditional native religious practices, the Pecos people joined thirty other pueblos in a revolt against the Spanish government. During the revolt, referred to as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Pecos Mission Church and Convento were destroyed. The Pueblo Revolt was successful in driving the Spanish missionaries and settlers out of the area. However, the Spanish returned to claim what is now New Mexico twelve years later. This was due to fears that the French, who were making their way west of the Mississippi River, would get there first.

Mission Church

The current Mission Church was completed in 1717, and interestingly, missionaries did convert some pueblo people to Christianity. However, the Puebloans never did fully give up their traditional ceremonies and religious practices. Jemez people continue those traditions today, and Pecos Pueblo endures as a sacred site.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass
From the park looking toward the battlefield area with Glorieta Mesa (also known as Rowe Mesa) in the distance

The Battle of Glorieta Pass is perhaps one of the lesser-known Civil War Battles, but it ended in an important victory for Union Troops and the Northern New Mexico Territory. Here’s an excerpt from the National Park Service:

“Although many associate the Civil War with eastern battlefields like Antietam or the Wilderness, the fight over slavery in the United States extended much further west. In March of 1862, the war brought a battle to Glorieta Pass. Some refer to the battle as the Gettysburg of the West due to its overall significance to the war. The Confederates campaigned to take control of the West, which would have greatly improved their chances of success. However, in just three days of tough fighting, the Union Army ruined the Confederate plans and sent them retreating back southwards.”

For additional information about the battle, click here: Battle of Glorieta Pass

The park maintains the 2.25-mile Glorieta Battlefield Trail. Those who want to hike this trail will need to check in at the visitor center to purchase a trail guide and obtain a gate code. The trailhead is a 7.5-mile drive from the visitor center.

Forked Lightning Ranch

Our visit to Pecos National Historical Park unfortunately did not take place on a day when they were offering tours of the Forked Lightning Ranch. Perhaps we will go back one day to take the tour because the ranch has a colorful past that includes a rodeo legend as well as some Hollywood royalty!

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Now part of the park, this building was originally Kozlowski’s Trading Post. Built in 1810, the trading post and stage station was a popular stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
Tex Austin

The original ranch was established by rodeo promoter Tex Austin in 1925 after he purchased 5,500 acres of land near the banks of the Pecos River. Austin operated a dude ranch on the site for several years, hosting only elite guests such as Charles Lindbergh and Will Rogers. Unfortunately, with the onset of the Great Depression, Austin and the ranch fell into bankruptcy. Other owners held the ranch for a few years but lived in the old Kozlowki’s Trading Post rather than in the ranch house.

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The Forked Lightning Ranch house is part of the Pecos National Historical Park
Buddy Fogelson

Buddy Fogelson, a Texas rancher and oilman, purchased the property in 1941. He married Hollywood actress Greer Garson in 1949, and they made the working cattle ranch their home. The couple hosted lavish parties and skeet shoots, making the ranch a gathering place for their celebrity friends. Upon Buddy’s death in 1987, a portion of the ranch, including the house, was left to his wife, Greer, and a separate portion called Los Trigos Ranch was left to his nephew. Greer sold her land to The Conservation Fund in 1991. The fund then donated the property to enlarge what would later become the Pecos National Historical Park. The nephew’s parcels were sold to private purchasers.

For additional information click here: Forked Lightning Ranch

Bonus side trip:

Fort Union National Monument. From Pecos, take I-25 north to Watrous via Las Vegas, New Mexico, then take Highway 161 north 12 miles to the park. Driving distance between Pecos National Historical Park and Fort Union National Monument: 1 hour. Thank you for joining us on our road trip to Pecos National Historical Park! We hope we have inspired your wanderlust. Leave us a comment below and tell us about your own journeys. We would love to hear from you.

Need more road trip inspiration? Click on these exciting national park sites:

Colorado National Monument
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Craters of the Moon National Monument

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our opinions are our own. ©2022

Forked Lightning Ranch photo credits: Chris English, Wikimedia Commons.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Where is it?

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site lies along the banks of the Washita River in southwestern Oklahoma. The site is also part of the Black Kettle National Grassland which is managed by the National Forest Service. Twelve miles north of the park is the Black Kettle Recreation Area featuring: 

  • Tent camping sites (no reservations/no fee)
  • Hiking and interpretive trails
  • Picnic Area
  • Lake with boat ramp
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife viewing

Cheyenne, Oklahoma is the nearest town and is located 23 miles north of I-40 and Sayre, Oklahoma via US Highway 283. 

For additional information, here is a link to the park’s website: Washita Battlefield

The park’s pretty landscape

We visited this park in early March, and while the temperatures were in the mid-60s, so were the winds. At least it felt that way. The gusts were so high, we couldn’t hold the camera still. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in Oklahoma where the “wind comes sweepin’ down the plain”. Despite the blustery gusts, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit surrounded by the peaceful setting and gorgeous landscape. Our photos don’t do justice to the park’s golden and red tinged grasses, russet bluffs, and gently rolling hills. 

This battlefield photo is a victim of the wind, but we included it because it reminded us of an old painting of the pristine landscape

Significance of the Site

Southern Cheyenne leader Chief Black Kettle and approximately 250 of his tribespeople were encamped for the winter in a village here on the banks of the Washita River. More than 5,000 other Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa were also peacefully encamped in villages farther down the river. Following hostile attacks by bands of Cheyenne on white settlers in Kansas, renowned Civil War general, Philip Sheridan, ordered a retaliatory attack, and his (likely unwarranted) target was Black Kettle’s village. On November 27, 1868, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer led 800 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry in the surprise early morning raid, killing scores of village’s occupants including women and children. The assault would become known as the Battle of the Washita. 

This monument, located near the encampment site, tells the story of the Battle of the Washita. Offerings of remembrance and prayer line the top of the monument.

Casualties of the Battle

Upon hearing of the attack, warriors from the larger villages downstream had rushed to aid Black Kettle and his people. Their help was probably too little and too late, and sadly, both Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later were killed in the battle. The death toll remains sketchy, but approximately 103 Cheyenne and 22 US Army personnel perished, along with the Cheyenne’s herd of ponies. Survivors of the battle included fifty-three Cheyenne women and children who were captured and taken to Fort Hays in Kansas. Custer’s soldiers were instructed to destroy all evidence of the village, therefore all fifty-one of the Cheyenne’s lodges were burned and most of their ponies were slaughtered. When all was said and done, nothing remained of the village except the bones of 800 ponies, which were finally removed from the site in 1935.

George Armstrong Custer – photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Custer’s Destiny                                            

In an ironic twist of fate, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer met his demise almost eight years later in June 1876 during the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. The US Army (7th Cavalry) suffered defeat against a band of thousands of Native American warriors composed mostly of Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux. Little Bighorn is considered the most significant battle of the Great Sioux War, which was a series of conflicts and unkept agreements between Native American tribes and the US government. Perhaps most famously, the Battle of the Little Bighorn is remembered as Custer’s Last Stand.

Identifying exactly where the lodges stood is difficult because everything was burned. However, some archaeological evidence points to this area along the southern bank of the Washita.

Why Visit This National Park Site?

Washita Battlefield tells just one story of the many adversities the native peoples suffered, especially as our country expanded westward into their homelands. Though we tend to turn our sympathies more toward Black Kettle and his people, the park does an excellent job of explaining what happened from each side’s point of view. Besides, we’re never too old or too young to learn, and where better to learn something than at a free national park. Plan to spend at least an hour in the visitor center because there is a film and a museum that are interesting as well as educational. From the visitor center, drive about a quarter mile to the village site and then walk the 1.5-mile interpretive trail to learn more about what took place on that fateful day in 1868. 

Looks like another painting. Isn’t it pretty? Not a telephone pole, billboard, cell tower, or wind turbine in sight.

Thank you so much for joining us on our quick trip to Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. 

Looking for more history? Check out these historic sites:
Fort Union National Monument
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022  

Featured

Zion National Park

We covered Zion National Park several years ago. This is a new post with enhanced content and updated information.

Zion National Park is approximately:

308 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah427 miles from Los Angeles, California377 miles from Phoenix, Arizona — 159 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada

The closest city with a major airport is obvious. So, pack your bag, stash some cash in your pocket, and get ready for a ride because our first stop is Las Vegas!

Iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada sign – Photo by Pixabay

Las Vegas

For first time visitors to Las Vegas, we recommend checking out the hotels/casinos on the Strip (officially Las Vegas Avenue). Each hotel has something different to see and do, and each one is worthy of a visit. Less expensive accommodations can be found off the Strip as well as downtown, and there are many RV campgrounds in and around the city.

Restaurant recommendations are difficult because we’ve never had a bad meal in Las Vegas. However, we think Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand and the buffet at the Wynn Las Vegas are definitely worth mentioning. As far as attractions go, there are too many to list here, but here’s a great link for things to do in Las Vegas.

Now, on to Zion National Park…

Leaving Las Vegas

Getting There

Take I-15 North toward Mesquite, Nevada and the Arizona state line.

Bonus stop: Valley of Fire State Park. Exit I-15 at Crystal, Nevada then take the Valley of Fire Highway to the park’s entrance. The park road is a Nevada Scenic Byway, and the park features hiking trails, spectacular red rock formations, and petroglyphs. RV and tent camping are available. Drive time between Las Vegas and Valley of Fire State Park: 47 minutes.

Continue on I-15 to St. George, Utah. Drive time between Las Vegas, Nevada and St. George, Utah: 2 hours.

Interstate 15 traverses the scenic Virgin River Gorge through northwestern Arizona into southwestern Utah.

Numerous hotel, dining, and camping options are available in St. George, Hurricane, and Springdale, Utah. Drive times to the park:

  • From St. George: 1 hour
  • From Hurricane: 32 minutes
  • From Springdale: 3 minutes. The park provides free shuttles around the town of Springdale and to the park for visitors who wish to use them.

Travel tip: the closer the hotel is to the park, the higher the rates.

From I-15, take Highway 9 east toward Springdale, Utah and Zion National Park.

The Watchman, Zion National Park

Destination: Zion National Park

Ahh…Zion! From finding peaceful solitude, to hiking, climbing, canyoneering, backpacking, or simply enjoying the beautiful scenery, Zion has an adventure for every visitor. It is also one of five national parks in Utah. So, depending on how much time you have, a visit to Zion could lead to visits to Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks.

  • Website link: Zion National Park.
  • Accommodation in the park: Zion Lodge.
  • Restaurant and seasonal cafe at Zion Lodge.
  • Three campgrounds in the park.
  • Free shuttle. (Mandatory in Zion Canyon from spring through fall.)
  • When to go? Anytime. We like September.
  • Advance permits by lottery are required for hiking to Angels Landing. Check website for details.

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No filters…the color is real!

Zion Canyon

 We highly recommend getting to the park early in the morning. Parking can be difficult during peak tourist seasons and the parking lots fill quickly. Overflow parking is available in Springdale, and the Springdale shuttle runs to and from the park. Hop-on hop-off shuttles inside the park run the length of Zion Canyon with nine different stops. We never waited longer than ten minutes for a shuttle in the park, however, we waited in line for almost an hour to get on one of the first shuttles of the day. Did we let that bother us? Absolutely not! The park was definitely worth the wait.

Travel tip: carry a backpack with everything you will need for a full day in the park, including lunch, snacks, and plenty of water. Now get ready to say “Wow” about a million times!

View from the canyon floor

Riverside Walk

From the visitor center, take the shuttle all the way up the canyon to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. This is where the Riverside Walk trail begins. The paved trail, which follows the Virgin River, is easy, and it is the gateway to the Narrows. The Narrows is a ten to sixteen-mile hike in the river, and it is strenuous, but it is one of the most popular hikes at Zion. Check with the visitor center regarding river conditions before attempting the Narrows. After Riverside Walk, work your way back down the canyon by hiking other trails (check out Weeping Rock Trail) or by taking the shuttle to another stop.

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View of the river from Riverside Walk

Entering the Narrows

The Grotto Trail to Zion Lodge

This is an easy, one mile hike, and the scenery is so much more spectacular from a trail than from a vehicle. The shuttle stop at The Grotto is also the trailhead for Angels Landing, which is another one of the most popular trails at Zion. Angels Landing trail is long, strenuous, and not for everyone, but we hear the views are incredible. Advance permits are required for Angels Landing.

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Zion Lodge

Angels Landing

View from the Grotto Trail

Lower Emerald Pool Trail

From the Grotto trail, take the Lower Emerald Pool trail. This trail is just a little over a mile long, and it’s easy, though there are some inclines along the way.

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Lower Emerald Pool trail

Waterfall view, Lower Emerald Pool trail

Another view from Lower Emerald Pool trail

Kayenta Trail

Return to the Grotto shuttle stop via the Kayenta trail (moderate, 1.5 miles) for great views of the Virgin River and Zion Canyon.

Kayenta trail passes through a slot between the rocks

Tiny waterfall on Kayenta trail

Zion Canyon from Kayenta trail

Kolob Canyons

Drive time between the park’s Springdale/South Entrance to Kolob Canyons: 47 minutes via Hurricane, Utah and I-15.

This underrated section of the park, which is much less crowded than Zion Canyon, features:

  • Visitor Center with restrooms and a water filling station.
  • Breathtaking scenery in a designated wilderness.
  • 20 miles of hiking trails for all levels of hikers.
  • Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway – scenic drive. The road is five miles long with viewpoints and trailheads.
  • Kolob Terrace Road – another scenic road that begins in Virgin, Utah and runs for 21 miles in and out of the park. There are no services along this road.

Beautiful scenery awaits at Kolob Canyons

Adventurous hikers may want to venture into Kolob Canyons’ backcountry to view Kolob Arch. The arch, which pans 287 feet, is one of the longest natural arches in the world. The 14-mile roundtrip hike is rated strenuous. Check with the visitor center for recommendations on other hikes in Kolob Canyons.

Stunning Kolob Canyons view

Obviously, we have barely scratched Zion’s surface. There are many additional hikes, short trails, a museum, ranger led programs, and much more available in the park. Zion is a place where you can find your own level of adventure. We hope you have a fantastic trip! Leave us a comment below and let us know what made you fall in love with Zion. We would love to hear from you. Until the next trip…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye  

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022

Featured

Yellowstone National Park

We covered Yellowstone National Park in a seven-part series several years ago. This is an enhanced and updated single post highlighting the sections of the magnificent park which is also UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting There

Our journey began by flying to Salt Lake City, Utah and renting a car for the road trip. The distance between Salt Lake City and West Yellowstone, Montana, which was our home base, is 320 miles/4.5 hours via I-15. We chose to break up the trip by spending our first night in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

From Salt Lake City, take I-15 north toward Ogden, Utah. Continue north toward Pocatello, Idaho. Stay on I-15 to Idaho Falls.

Drive time between Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls is 3 hours through gorgeous scenery.

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Falls on the Snake River, Idaho Falls, Idaho

From Idaho Falls, take US Highway 20 north toward Rexburg, Idaho. Continue north to West Yellowstone, Montana, which is the west entrance into the park. Drive time between Idaho Falls and West Yellowstone: 1.75 hours.

Must-do stops in West Yellowstone include the Museum of the Yellowstone and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Destination – Yellowstone National Park

The scenic Grand Loop Road through Yellowstone is laid out in a figure eight as shown on the map below. The highest speed limit we saw was 45 miles per hour, but that doesn’t mean much. When there are animal sightings, traffic stops. Bison jams are common, and visitors are at a standstill until the big beasts decide to move out of the way. Heavy traffic also slows travel, especially in the summer months.

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Madison Area

The Madison River meanders lazily past Mount Haynes

Trivia: the Madison is one of the three rivers that converge near Three Forks, Montana to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. The other two rivers are the Gallatin and the Jefferson.

Gibbon Falls

Steamy water and brilliant colors from the runoff of Blood Geyser in the Artists’ Paint Pots area of the park

Other points of interest in the Madison area of the park include:

  • Terrace Springs
  • Fountain Paint Pots
  • Midway Geyser Basin
  • Fairy Falls
  • Firehole River
  • Madison Information Station

Norris Area

The Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest area of Yellowstone National Park, in volcanic terms that is. Visitors will find geysers, hot springs, mud pots, steam vents, pools, and lakes at Norris. Steamboat Geyser, the largest geyser in the world, is also located here, though its eruptions are irregular and unpredictable. Hiking and walking trails are the best way to see everything this area has to offer.

Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin

Green and yellow thermophiles (hot water loving bacteria) create a spilled paint effect

Other points of interest at the Norris area of the park include:

  • Norris Geyser Basin Museum
  • Norris Bookstore
  • Norris Campground
  • Museum of the National Park Ranger

Canyon Village Area

The canyon village area is home to the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. These are some of the most popular sights in the park.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls

Trivia: Lower Falls is 308 feet tall, which is twice as high as Niagara Falls, and it is the highest waterfall in the park.

Points of interest in the Canyon Village Area include:

  • Overlooks on North Rim Drive and South Rim Drive
  • Uncle Tom’s Trail – 328 stairs to a Lower Falls viewpoint
  • Canyon Lodge and restaurant
  • Campground

Driving south from Canyon Village toward Lake Village and West Thumb Geyser Basin, visitors will pass through Hayden Valley. This area of the park is a great place to see wildlife and early mornings and evenings are best for sightings.

The Yellowstone River meanders through Hayden Valley

Just past Hayden Valley is Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. The area is super interesting and super sulphur-y! Take it from us, the intriguing sights will make you forget all about the smell.

Mud Volcano’s pit of boiling mud of is difficult to see in this shot because of the steam

Some of the sights on the Mud Volcano Trail include Mud Cauldron, Mud Geyser, Sizzling Basin, Cooking Hillside, Black Dragon’s Cauldron, Grizzly Fumarole, and Sour Lake. All are aptly named, but don’t be afraid of the smells. This where Yellowstone shows off some of its best volcanic features.

Dragon’s Mouth Spring. This spring not only spews steam and emits boiling water, but it also roars!

Six miles south of Mud Volcano is the Lake Village area which includes the Fishing Bridge, Visitor Center, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and marina.

West Thumb Geyser Basin Area

The West Thumb Geyser Basin and Grant Village areas of the park are located approximately 28 miles/30 minutes southwest of the Lake Village area. Located on the banks of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb, which is a small caldera, has some of the most colorful pool features of the park.

Lots of shades of blue, and not a cloud in the sky – Yellowstone Lake

West Thumb features hiking/walking trails (boardwalk), a bookstore and information station, as well as a campground. Grant Village includes a hotel and visitor center.

Bluebell Pool

Black Pool

Abyss Pool

Upper Geyser Basin Area and Old Faithful

This area of the park sits halfway between West Thumb and Madison and is the most popular section of the park.

Old Faithful Geyser

While it is not the biggest or most frequently erupting geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is certainly the most popular. Visitors flock to the grandstand viewing area to watch it erupt, which it does about every 90 minutes.

Built in 1904, the Old Faithful Inn is a National Historic Landmark

Things to do in the Upper Geyser Basin:

  • Hiking/walking (boardwalk) trails
  • Old Faithful Visitor Education Center
  • Gift Shop
  • Eat – there are five restaurants and/or grills in the area
  • Biscuit Basin
  • Black Sand Basin
  • Morning Glory Pool

The Upper Geyser Basin has over 150 hydrothermal features and approximately half of the geysers in the world!

Trivia: the chalky white substance around the geysers in Yellowstone is called geyserite.

Midway Geyser Basin Area

Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the third-largest hot spring in the world, is the star of the Midway Geyser Basin.

Nature’s art. Up close view of the thermophiles – Grand Prismatic Spring

Excelsior Geyser

Excelsior Geyser once spewed hot water hundreds of feet into the air, but it hasn’t erupted since the mid-1980s. Today 4,000 gallons of boiling water per minute pour from its crater into the Firehole River.

Turquoise Pool can also be found in the Midway Geyser Basin

We are including Fountain Paint Pots as a sub-area of the park because we thought the area had some interesting sights, especially the geysers. The area is located between Midway Geyser Basin and Madison.

Silex Spring

Clepsydra Geyser erupts almost constantly

Trivia: a clepsydra is a water clock, and the name in the Greek language means water thief.

Mammoth Hot Springs Area

The springs in this area have created a series of travertine terraces. A boardwalk trail takes visitors through this amazing wonderland of minerals, water, and thermophiles.

Minerva Terrace

Palette Spring

Rustic Falls can be seen from an overlook near Mammoth Hot Springs

Other highlights in the Mammoth Hot Springs area include:

  • Historic Fort Yellowstone
  • Albright Visitor Center – museum
  •  Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel
  • Gardiner, Montana
  • Heritage and Research Center (in Gardiner)
  • Historic Roosevelt Arch at the North entrance to the park

Roosevelt-Tower Area

Note: parts of the north and northeast sections and entrances to the park may be closed due to flood damage. Check the website for information about road and trail closures.

The northern part of the park has rolling hills, meadows, and wildlife – what a thrill!

Bison jam!

Trivia: Yellowstone’s bison were once on the verge of extinction due to unenforced hunting in the early years of the park. The current genetically pure (haven’t been bred with cattle) herd, which now numbers in the thousands, are descendants of the original twenty-four that were diligently preserved and carefully bred by the park.

Calcite Springs and the Yellowstone River

Columnar basalt decorates the cliffs overlooking the Yellowstone River.

Tower Fall, 132 feet tall

The Roosevelt area of the park features Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, a campground, and restaurant. A general store with fast food and a gas station can be found at Tower. The Tower Fall trailhead is next to the store.

Lamar Area

Unfortunately, we were unable to visit this section of the park. The Lamar Valley is reportedly one of the best viewing areas for wolves and other wildlife at Yellowstone. Located in the Northeast corner of the park near the Cooke City entrance, the scenic drive features mountains, the Lamar River, and trailheads for several trails. The drive from the northeast entrance to the Roosevelt-Tower area is 28 miles/1 hour.

Thank you for staying with us through this long post. Yellowstone is the one U.S. National Park that everyone should get to see at least once in their lifetime. And it’s the only one we want to revisit because once wasn’t enough for us! We are going to close the post with an up-close shot of one of the formations at Palette Spring.

Travertine icicles drip from a ledge while tiny water droplets create dangling strings of pearls. The icy-looking landscape is enhanced by the cascading colors of the thermophiles.

Looking for more national park adventures? Click on these:

Death Valley National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road!

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true products, vendors, and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own. Photo copyright infringement is not intended. Our written content and photos are copyrighted and may not be published without our permission.

©2022

 

 

Featured

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Getting There

Carlsbad Caverns is: 150 miles from El Paso, Texas, 200 miles from Lubbock, Texas, and 300 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico

El Paso is the closest city with a major airport so our road trip will start from there.

From El Paso, take US Highway 62/180 east toward Carlsbad, New Mexico. Distance between El Paso and Carlsbad Caverns: 150 miles/2.25 hours.

Travel tip: fill up with gas, use the restroom, and grab a few drinks and snacks before leaving El Paso. Services are very minimal along this desert highway. Watch for the salt flats and beautiful mountain peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park along the way.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park – view from the highway at Guadalupe Pass

Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Information

  • Timed entry reservations are now required to enter the park. The free passes can be obtained by calling 877-444-6777 or online at recreation.gov. Timed passes are only for reserving a time to enter the park and cannot be obtained at the park. Entry fees are paid upon arrival at the park’s visitor center.
  • Basic Entrance Fee: $15.00 per person for a 3-day pass. Kids 15 and under are admitted free, and baby strollers are not allowed in the cavern.
  • Parts of the Big Room Trail are wheelchair accessible.
  • Ranger guided tours to other sections of the cave (or other caves) may be available for additional fees. Advance reservations and proper footwear are required for guided tours.
  • Hours vary depending on the season. Check the website for information.
  • A cafeteria is available in the visitor center, and a snack bar is located in the cavern near the elevators and restrooms.
  • Hotels and restaurants are available in the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
  • RV/tent camping is available in White’s City, the city of Carlsbad, and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands near the park. Backcountry camping requires a permit. Check the website for additional information.
  • When to go? Anytime.
  • Website Link: Carlsbad Caverns

Learn Before You Go

Do you know the difference between stalagmites and stalactites? A stalagmite grows on a cave’s floor, so watch where you’re walking, or you might (mite) trip over it. Stalactites grow from a cave’s ceiling, so if they don’t hang on tight (tite) they could fall. A park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns told us this years ago, and we haven’t forgotten his wise words!

Travel tip: the temperature in the cave is a constant 56 degrees, so a light jacket is recommended, along with sturdy, closed toe walking shoes with non-slip soles.

The Dolls Theater is a perfect example of columns and soda straws

Carlsbad Caverns

Prepare to descend seventy-five stories beneath the earth into a dark and magical place like no other in the world. Stalagmites, stalactites, domes, totems, mirror-like pools, and even chandeliers make for breathtaking sights (as well as exceptional photo ops) on your journey through Carlsbad Caverns. Walk into the caverns via the natural entrance if you are up for the challenge or take the speedy elevator to the entrance of the Big Room. The Big Room Trail is a little over a mile long, and it is definitely worth every step. Plan to spend at least two hours in the cavern.

Huge drippy “fountains” of calcite grow from the floor of the cave
Interesting drapery formations seem to cascade out of the cavern’s walls
This gorgeous dome started out as a tiny stalagmite on the cavern’s floor

The Park is More Than a Cave

Most people visit Carlsbad Caverns to see the caves, but the park has much more to offer such as:

  • An amphitheater from which to watch up to 500,000 bats come out at night during the months of May through October
  • Walnut Canyon Scenic Drive – 9.5 miles on an unpaved road
  • Ranger led night sky programs
  • Picnic areas
  • Hiking trails
  • Shopping, exhibits, and a nature walk at the visitor center
A stalagmite “Christmas tree” inside the cavern’s wall is framed by calcite popcorn and soda straw “icicles”

Carlsbad Caverns National Park and neighboring Guadalupe Mountains National Park are part of an ancient reef that was created by an inland sea about 250 million years ago. Approximately 300 known caves have been found in the areas surrounding the parks with 119 of them in Carlsbad Caverns National Park alone. The parks lie in the Chihuahuan Desert which covers 250,000 miles and reaches into parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, although ninety percent of the desert lies in north-central Mexico.

Chihuahuan Desert heat and haze as far as the eye can see

Discovery of the Caverns

Indigenous people are said to have known about the caves long before modern exploration, however, cowboy Jim White is credited with the discovery of the caverns. In 1898, sixteen-year-old White was searching for stray cows when he saw smoke rising up from the ground. Upon approach he quickly realized the smoke was actually thousands of bats emerging from a large hole. Jim fashioned a rickety ladder from fence wire and sticks, and a few days later he climbed down into the hole carrying nothing but a lantern and an axe. How terrifying it must have been to take those first steps into the unknown! Jim continued to explore and map the caverns throughout the years and even assisted with building the improvements to make the cave accessible to visitors. White also served as Chief Ranger of Carlsbad Cave National Monument from 1926-1929.

Jim White’s ladder can still be seen in the cavern today

Creation and Sustainability of the Park

  • President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation designating Carlsbad Cave National Monument in October of 1923.
  • Congress formally established Carlsbad Caverns National Park in May of 1930.
  • Citing its caves’ natural beauty, unique features and formations, and ongoing geologic processes, UNESCO proclaimed the park a World Heritage Site in 1995.

The park averages almost half a million visitors per year which may be detrimental to the cave. Visitors are instructed not to touch the formations because the build-up of bodily oils causes them to die. Carbon dioxide from our breath can even damage the delicate ecosystem of the caverns. During our visit we saw park volunteers using small paintbrushes to painstakingly remove lint, yes lint, left behind from visitors’ clothing and skin. Lint builds up in nooks and crannies along the trail and also attracts unwanted insects, so the park has it removed – about 44 pounds of it per year in the Big Room alone!

These draperies remind us of bacon
Rock of Ages
Dagger-like stalactites and soda straws dangle from the Big Room’s ceilings.

Lechuguilla

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is also home to another one of the deepest and most beautiful caves in the world – Lechuguilla. The cave’s name (pronounced letch-uh-ghee-a) comes from a type of agave plant that grows only in the Chihuahuan Desert. Bat guano was mined from the cave’s entrance through the early 1900s, but after mining operations ceased the area was basically forgotten. A Colorado exploration company, suspecting another large cave lay hidden beneath the park, got permission to begin digging in 1984. In 1986, they broke through to discover a virtual fairyland. So far, explorers have found huge draperies, delicate chandeliers, cave pearls, and colorful pools, though their explorations continue. Lechuguilla is not open to the public and is only accessible to scientific researchers and authorized exploration teams. Click here for a National Park Service photo gallery: Lechuguilla Cave Gallery. Click here for a YouTube video: Lechuguilla Cave Video.

The lechuguilla plant, also called shin dagger, looks like it could cause some pain! The plant flowers once in its life then dies.

Nearby Attractions:

  • Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park – located in the city of Carlsbad
  • Brantley Lake State Park. Water sports, RV and tent camping – located 20 miles/30 minutes north of the city of Carlsbad via US Highway 285
  • Lake Carlsbad Beach Park. Water sports, playground, swimming, fishing, and miles of walker-friendly sidewalks – located at 708 Park Drive, Carlsbad, New Mexico.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park – 56 miles/1 hour south of the city of Carlsbad, and 25 miles/30 minutes south of Carlsbad Caverns National Park via National Park Highway.
  • Sitting Bull Falls – 57 miles/1 hour southwest of Carlsbad in the Lincoln National Forest via US Highway 285 and State Highway 137.

Also check out our Quick Stop post that features Carlsbad’s famous flume. The “It’s a Fact, Jack” section is interesting too. Here’s the link: Quick Stop – The Flume

Chinese Theater

Want to lean about other national parks sites? Click on these exciting destinations:

10 Amazing Things to See and Do at Big Bend National Park
Gettysburg National Military Park
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Grand Canyon National Park
Last look: draperies, like clusters of jellyfish, appear to spill from a hole in the ceiling of the cave. It’s hard to believe that slow dripping water created these amazing formations!

We sincerely hope our road trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park inspires you to grab your camera, hop in the car, and head that way.

Mike and Kellye

 

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our opinions are our own.

©2022

 

Featured

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Our road trip begins in Johnson City, Texas where the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park Visitor Center is located. Johnson City is:

  • 48 miles/1 hour west of Austin, Texas – Website link: Visit Austin
  • 64 miles/1.25 hours north of San Antonio, Texas – Website link: Visit San Antonio

The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is divided into three sections: the Johnson City section, the state park section, and the LBJ Ranch section. The state park and ranch sections are 14 miles west of Johnson City in Stonewall, Texas via U.S. Highway 290. We recommend visiting all three of the park sites to get a complete overview of Johnson’s life and legacy as the 36th president of the United States. 

Website link: Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Bridge on the path between Johnson Settlement and Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home

Johnson City

The park’s visitor center museum in Johnson City features a timeline of the president’s life, photos, and other historical information. Artifacts from Lyndon Johnson’s presidency as well as some items that belonged to his wife, Lady Bird, are also on display. Johnson’s boyhood home sits across the street from the visitor center, and down the street is Johnson Settlement where his grandparents settled after the Civil War. Easy trails, sidewalks, and wayside information boards make an interesting and pleasant walk between the sites. 

Johnson’s Boyhood Home 
Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on what is now the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas in 1908, and the family moved to Johnson City when he was five years old. The Johnsons lived in the home for 24 years while raising their five children, including three girls and two boys. In the early 1970s, the modest family home was restored to its 1920’s style by the National Park Service with help from the former president. The property also features a shed, a windmill and cistern, and a small barn surrounded by gorgeous old oak trees. Check the park’s website for tour information.

Windmill behind Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home

Lyndon’s father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., was a Texas legislator for 12 years, and his mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, was an educator. LBJ attended Texas State Teacher’s College. For a short time, he worked as a teacher and principal to earn money to continue his college education. After graduation from college, he attended one semester of law school at Georgetown University before dropping out. 

Shed behind Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home
LBJ the Politician

In 1937, Johnson announced his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives for the 10th District of the State of Texas from the east porch of his boyhood home. He won the election and later went on to serve in other capacities primarily as a U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader. LBJ ran for president in 1960 but lost the Democratic nomination to John F. Kennedy. Johnson was asked by Kennedy to be his running mate due to LBJ’s popularity with the southern Democrats who weren’t especially fond of JFK. The duo won the election, and the rest, they say, is history. On November 22, 1963, while standing aboard Air Force One at Dallas’s Love Field airport, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president two hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The east porch of LBJ’s boyhood home
Johnson Settlement

A block west of Lyndon Johnson’s boyhood home is Johnson Settlement, which is the site of his grandparents’ original home. In the mid-1800s, Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr. and his brother Tom settled on 320 acres in what is now Johnson City and began a successful cattle driving business. Sam returned to Texas after serving the Confederacy in the Civil War and married Eliza Bunton in 1867.

LBJ’s grandparents, Sam and Eliza Johnson, lived in this cabin from 1867-1872
This barn was added to the property by James Polk Johnson for whom Johnson City is named and who was a nephew of Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr.
This cooler house, windmill, and cistern were also added to the site by James Polk Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site

The next stop on our road trip is in Stonewall, Texas at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. The park is located 14 miles/15 minutes west of Johnson City on U.S. Highway 290. 

State Park
The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park Visitor Center

The state park site is adjacent to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park/LBJ Ranch along the banks of the Pedernales River. This park features:

  • Visitor center and gift shop plus memorabilia from LBJ’s presidency 
  • Olympic-sized swimming pool – open in the summer
  • Historic cabin tours
  • Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm
  • Hiking trails
  • Tennis courts
  • Fishing (no license required if fishing in the state park) 
  • Longhorn herd
  • Bison herd

Website link: Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site

Bison at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site
Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

Located within the state park is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Here rangers and park volunteers dress in period clothing and take on the chores of managing an early 20th century home and farm. Volunteers give tours of the buildings, grow gardens and cotton from heirloom seeds and take care of the animals that live on the farm. 

Barn and blacksmith shop
Sheep and other animals live at the historic farm

It’s about a 10-minute walk from the visitor center to the farm. The farmhouse, which was later added on to, was built in the late 1800s by the Sauer family. Interestingly, one of the Sauer’s older daughters was the midwife who attended Lyndon Johnson’s birth in 1908. The Beckmann family bought the farm in 1900, and they remained neighbors of the Johnsons until the property was sold to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1966.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Stop number three on our road trip is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park/LBJ Ranch. The drive from the state park visitor center to the ranch entrance takes about ten minutes, and the auto tour through the ranch takes about 1 to 1.5 hours depending on stops.

Lyndon and Lady Bird

After his short stint at Georgetown Law, Lyndon met University of Texas graduate, Claudia Alta Taylor. As an infant, Claudia had been called Lady Bird by her nanny, and the nickname followed her throughout her life. LBJ asked Lady Bird to marry him on their first date, and she promptly declined. More proposals and refusals were made over the next ten weeks until Lady Bird finally said yes. The couple were married in November of 1934. LBJ liked being known by his initials, and he also like having them attached to everything he owned, including his ranch and cattle! Having a wife with his initials must have been quite a boost to LBJ’s reportedly huge ego. They named their children Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson. Even the family’s dog, Little Beagle Johnson, had the same initials. 

LBJ Ranch 

Upon approach to the park visitors will see Trinity Lutheran Church which sits just across the river from the LBJ Ranch entrance. The church was registered as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1989.

Trinity Lutheran Church, built in 1904
The final resting places of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson in the family cemetery on the ranch

As a kid, Lyndon spent summers on what is now the LBJ Ranch helping his aunt and uncle work cattle and doing odd jobs. After her husband died, LBJ’s aunt asked if he wanted to buy her floundering property, and he jumped at the opportunity. He quickly began purchasing registered Hereford cattle. Over the years, Lyndon and Lady Bird expanded the ranch by purchasing additional land, growing the ranch to over 2,700 acres. When the historical park was being established, the Johnsons opted to donate a portion of the ranch to the National Park Service. Their only condition was that it would continue as a working cattle operation. The park service agreed, and descendants of LBJ’s original prizewinning Herefords still thrive on the ranch today. 

Some of the descendants of LBJ’s prizewinning Hereford cattle
LBJ’s Texas White House
LBJ’s Jetstar, nicknamed Air Force One-Half. This smaller jet was used to carry the president home from a nearby airport where Air Force One had landed because the runway at the ranch couldn’t accommodate a large jet.

The buildings surrounding the airplane hangar (now a visitor center) pictured below are garages, offices, and a secret service command post. These buildings sit behind and to the side of the ranch house. The runway is now the visitor center parking lot. 

Airplane hangar, now visitor center, on the LBJ Ranch

The media began referring to his home as the Texas White House because Johnson spent so much time at the ranch during his presidency. The president held meetings on the lawn under a large live oak tree where members of the cabinet conducted government business from lawn chairs. Foreign ministers, former presidents, and other dignitaries spent time at the LBJ Ranch, and the president even held press conferences from the porch. 

The Texas White House/LBJ Ranch house
The pool and pool house sit in the side yard next to the house
Final view of the Texas White House

Nearby Points of Interest

Click the links below for information on these points of interest in the Texas Hill Country beginning from Johnson City:

Thank you for joining us on our Texas Hill Country road trip! We hope you enjoyed the visit to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.

Want to learn more? Click to see these other exciting historical sites: 

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Eisenhower National Historic Site

Antietam National Battlefield

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our opinions are our own.

©2022

 

Featured

Devils Tower Road Trip: Things to Do

Black Hills, South Dakota

This airport to destination road trip to Devils Tower begins in Rapid City, South Dakota. Distance between Rapid City and Devils Tower: 107 miles/1.75 hours. In this post we will be highlighting four bonus stops along the way and listing things to do at each stop. We’re even including a bonus road trip! Let’s check out Rapid City before we hit the road.

Badlands National Park

Lying just east of the Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota, Rapid City was settled by prospectors during the Black Hills Gold Rush days of the late 1800s. From its humble beginnings on the banks of Rapid Creek, Rapid City has grown into a flourishing metropolitan area. Nicknamed the City of Presidents because bronze statues of every U.S. president can be found on downtown streets and because of the city’s proximity to Mount Rushmore. As a vacation hotspot, Rapid City has practically anything a visitor could want in the way of accommodations, dining, shopping, and entertainment.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Things to do in Rapid City

Click the venue name for information about these family favorites:

When to go? Anytime, but we recommend May, June, July and September. Note that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place during the first two weeks of August. Visiting during this time is not recommended unless you plan to participate in the rally.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Things to Do near Rapid City

Rapid City is also a perfect road trip “home base” due to its proximity to several state and national parks. (Click the park name for information.)

Now, let’s begin our road trip to Devils Tower…

Getting There

Take I-90 west toward Sturgis via Black Hawk. Distance between Rapid City and Sturgis: 29 miles/30 minutes.

Bonus Stop: Sturgis, South Dakota. Home of the world’s largest motorcycle rally. The city has some interesting stops whether you are interested in motorcycles or just a little history.

Things to do in Sturgis

  • Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame – 999 Main St, Sturgis
  • Saab Heritage Car Museum USA – 940 Dickson Dr, Sturgis
  • Black Hills National Cemetery – 20901 Pleasant Valley Dr (3 miles east of Sturgis)
  • Old Fort Meade Museum – 50 Sheridan St, Fort Meade, SD (1.5 miles east of Sturgis via Highways 34 and 79)

No road trip to Sturgis would be complete without a visit to the world’s largest biker bar. Full Throttle Saloon (19942 Hwy 79, Vale, SD) is the real deal. While you’re there, grab a bite to eat, an ice-cold beverage, and a souvenir or two. Most of the time the bar is open from 8:00 am to around 8:30 pm. If in doubt about the hours, give them a call – (605) 423-4584. Distance between Sturgis and Full Throttle Saloon: 20 miles/20 minutes.

Continue west on I-90 toward Spearfish. Distance between Sturgis and Spearfish: 21.7 miles/22 minutes.

Bridal Veil Falls, Spearfish Canyon

Bonus Stop: Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway via Exit 10 or Exit 14 off of I-90. US Highway 14A is the 19-mile-long Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Without stops, the drive takes approximately 30 minutes, but we recommend allowing 1-1.5 hours for sightseeing along this beautiful byway. The canyon features three waterfalls, wildlife, and hiking trails as well as steep cliff walls and a variety of trees and other plant life. Free to visit.

Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

Things to do in Spearfish

  • High Plains Western Heritage Center (museum) – 825 Heritage Dr, Spearfish
  • D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery – 423 Hatchery Cir, Spearfish
  • Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center (water park) – 122 Recreation Ln, Spearfish

Bonus Road Trip: Deadwood, South Dakota. Back during the gold rush Deadwood was a rambunctious Old West town that catered to the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Their gravesites in the Mount Moriah Cemetery are a popular stop for tourists. Today, this National Historic Landmark town features a lively Main Street with gun fight reenactments and plenty of shopping and dining.

Things to do in Deadwood

  • Gambling resorts and gaming halls
  • Museums
  • Gold mine tour
  • Tatanka, Story of the Bison – exhibit featuring bronze sculptures depicting a bison hunt
  • Northern Plains Peoples Interpretive Center

Distance between Spearfish and Deadwood: 15 miles/18 minutes – via US Highway 85 south.

Continue west from Spearfish on I-90 toward Beulah, Wyoming. Distance between Spearfish and Beulah: 15 miles/15 minutes.

Welcome to Wyoming

Wyoming’s welcome centers are definitely worth a stop. The Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center at Beulah includes museum-type exhibits, free maps and other tourist information, clean restrooms, and extremely helpful employees. Travelers can also enjoy a paved walking trail and wayside information boards that detail interesting historical facts about the area.

Bonus Stop: Vore Buffalo Jump. This active archaeological site is located approximately 3 miles west of Beulah on the US Highway 14 access road. See archaeologists at work recovering bison bones and other artifacts left by the Plains Indians in a trap/sink hole dating to 1500-1800 AD. The site is open daily June 1 through Labor Day, but tours may be able to be arranged during other times of the year by calling (888) 945-7676.

Continue west on US Highway 14 toward Sundance, Wyoming. Distance between Beulah and Sundance: 18 miles/20 minutes

Statue of the Sundance Kid in Sundance, Wyoming

Bonus Stop: Sundance, Wyoming. Sundance is the county seat of Crook County, Wyoming. Harry A. Longabaugh was an outlaw who served time in the Crook County Jail for theft. He joined Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch Gang after being released from prison around 1896 and became known as the Sundance Kid. It is widely believed that Butch and Sundance both died in Bolivia in 1908 during a shootout with the Bolivian army. Crook County Museum – 120 North 4th Street – holds an array of historic relics from the area, including some exhibits about Longabaugh, and also features an art gallery. Admission is free and the museum is well worth the stop. Allow 1-1.5 hours.

Continue west on US Highway 14, then take Highway 24 north to Devils Tower. Distance between Sundance and Devils Tower: 27 miles/31 minutes.

Destination: Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower as seen on approach to the park

What is it? The result of ancient volcanic activity, Devils Tower is a rock butte rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. The National Park Service explains:

“We know that the Tower is formed of a rare igneous rock, phonolite porphyry, and is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world.”

Devils Tower is sacred to Northern Plains Indian tribes who traditionally refer to the butte as Bear Lodge. The tower has been called by other names, but Bear Lodge or Bear Lodge Butte is what appears most commonly in early explorers’ notes and maps. Somehow through explorers’ translations of Lakota Indian words, the probable misinterpretation of “bad gods tower” evolved into Devil’s Tower. The government entity that manages place names officially proclaimed the monument Devils Tower and dropped the apostrophe due to their policy against possessive names. President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as our country’s first national monument in 1906.

View of Devils Tower from Tower Trail

  • Website link: Devils Tower National Monument
  • The park is open 24 hours every day
  • Cost: $25.00 per car for a 7-day pass – credit card only or purchase pass online

Note that parking at the visitor center is limited and can be difficult for maneuvering long RVs and travel trailers. Check the website for information regarding RV parking.

Another trail view of Devils Tower

Things to do at Devils Tower

  • Stop at Devils Tower Trading Post just before entering the park to pick up snacks or souvenirs and then take some postcard worthy shots of the tower
  • Camp – RV and tent camping available at the Belle Fourche River Campground – first come only, no reservations
  • Picnic – large picnic area with tables
  • Hike – several trails available
  • Join a ranger program or night sky program
  • Visit the park’s resident prairie dogs at Prairie Dog Town
  • Climb. Climbing is permitted with registration of climbers. Note: during the month of June when Native American rituals and religious services take place, climbers are asked not to climb due to the sanctity of the site.

One last Devils Tower shot

Thank you so much for joining us on our road trip to Devils Tower!

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road or at a national park.

Mike and Kellye

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Need more US road trip inspiration? Click on these other exciting destinations:

Abilene, Texas Road Trip: Things to Do

Albuquerque to Taos Road Trip: Things to Do

 

 

 

 

 

10 Amazing Things to See and Do at Big Bend National Park

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Ruidoso Road Trip: Things to Do

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Sierra Blanca Peak, Ruidoso, New Mexico

Looking for a road trip adventure with things to do for the whole family? Ruidoso, New Mexico is a great bet! Tucked snugly beneath towering mountain peaks and fragrant whispering pines, the quaint alpine village is a perfect getaway destination. We started going there as kids with our parents and grandparents, and we’ve been going back ever since!

Fall aspens near Ruidoso

The area offers skiing and other snow sports in the winter, along with the smoky-sweet aroma of pinion pine woodfires. Summer brings the thrill of horse racing as well as outdoor adventures such as hiking, fishing, horseback riding and golfing. While visiting Ruidoso, be on the lookout for the band of beautiful wild horses that roam around town. We love Ruidoso any time of year, but if we had to choose our favorite month to visit, we would choose October. We’re anxious to share this road trip with you, so let’s get going!

Ruidoso is approximately:

140 miles from El Paso, Texas180 miles from Albuquerque, NM250 miles from Lubbock, Texas

This airport to destination road trip is going to start in El Paso since it is the closest city with a major airport. Drive time between El Paso and Ruidoso: 2.5 hours.

City view of El Paso, Texas

Things to do in El Paso:

  • Chamizal National Memorial
  • Franklin Mountains State Park
  • Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site
  • Museum of History
  • Zoo and Botanical Gardens
  • Museum of Art
  • Mission Trail
  • Water Parks
  • Children’s Museum

Getting There

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From El Paso, take US Highway 54 north toward Tularosa via Alamogordo, then take US Highway 70 northeast to Ruidoso.

⇒Alternate (recommended) Route: from El Paso, take I-10 north to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Drive time between El Paso and Las Cruces: 49 minutes

Bonus stop: Las Cruces

Stop for an hour or two to visit Old Mesilla Village. Walk the plaza which is a National Historic Landmark. Mesilla offers shopping venues as well as dining with a serving of history on the side. If a hike sounds appealing, check out the Dripping Springs Natural Area at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument for scenic trials. While in Las Cruces, look for the mural-painted water tanks and the giant roadrunner sculpture made from an array of recycled junk such as old sneakers and computer components.

Organ Mountains near Las Cruces – photo by Jason Pofahl

From Las Cruces take US Highway 70 north to White Sands National Park. Drive time between Las Cruces and White Sands: 52 minutes.

Bonus stop: White Sands National Park

Currently $25.00 per vehicle to enter the park. The gift shop at the visitor center sells sand discs for sledding on the dunes. Even if sledding isn’t your thing, the scenery is out of this world. There are plenty of places to park along Dunes Drive, so get out of the car and climb the gypsum dunes for spectacular views and photo ops with the mountains as the backdrop. Here’s the link: White Sands National Park

Travel tip: before you go, check the website for temporary park and highway closures due to testing at White Sands Missile Range. Closures typically last three hours or less.

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White Sands National Park

From White Sands, take US Highway 70 to Alamogordo. Drive time between White Sands and Alamogordo: 17 minutes

Bonus stop:  Alamogordo

Plan to spend a couple of hours at the New Mexico Museum of Space History/International Space Hall of Fame, as it is a fantastic museum that both kids and adults will love. Alamogordo offers many hotel and restaurant choices, as well as a state park, wineries, and a zoo. While you’re in town, be on the lookout for the world’s largest pistachio! 

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International Space Hall of Fame, Alamogordo, New Mexico

From Alamogordo, take US Highway 54 north to Tularosa (13 miles), then take US Highway 70 northeast to Ruidoso. Drive time between Alamogordo and Ruidoso: 1 hour

⇒Alternate (recommended) Route: from Alamogordo, take US Highway 82 east to Cloudcroft. (19 miles of steep two-lane road.) This route through the Lincoln National Forest is very scenic. Drive time between Alamogordo and Ruidoso via this route: 1.5 hours without stops

Travel tip: when approaching the “Tunnel Ahead” sign, slow down for a pull out. The view of White Sands from the viewpoint is pictured below.

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Continue east on US Highway 82. Right before you reach the village of Cloudcroft, there is another pull out. Stop and get out of the car, stretch your legs, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. (The elevation is about 8650 feet.) Learn about the historic Cloudcroft Railroad/Mexican Canyon Trestle pictured below. This only remaining portion of the old rail line is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Bonus stop: Cloudcroft.

Stop and have a look around the village that is home to Ski Cloudcroft. The village also has shopping, restaurants, history, and a totally laid-back atmosphere. *Recommended restaurant in Cloudcroft: Dave’s Cafe – 300 Burro Ave. Good food and good service.

Bonus Road Trip: Sunspot Solar Observatory

Head south from Cloudcroft on Highway 130 toward Sunspot via the Sunspot Highway (aka Highway 6563). It is an extremely scenic drive (a total of 19 miles in the Lincoln National Forest) that ends at the observatory.  Along the road, be sure to stop at the scenic viewpoint pull out for fabulous views of White Sands and the Tularosa Basin. At the observatory, stop in at the visitor center then take a self-guided tour of the telescopes. The elevation at Sunspot is about 9200 feet.

Travel tip: Google Maps for directions to Sunspot are not reliable.

From Cloudcroft, take Highway 244 north to US Highway 70 to Ruidoso. Highway 244 is also a scenic route through the Lincoln National Forest. Drive time from Cloudcroft to Ruidoso: 1 hour.

Travel tip: watch for deer and elk along this road.

Did we mention why we like this area in October?

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Fall colors just outside of Ruidoso in Lincoln National Forest

Destination: Ruidoso, New Mexico

As for places to stay in Ruidoso, Inn of the Mountain Gods is our first choice. The resort has everything visitors want, including a gorgeous yet challenging golf course, restaurants, a casino, and an RV campground. Here’s a link: Inn of the Mountain Gods

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We also recommend:

  • Hampton Inn – preferred chain hotel in Ruidoso
  • Casa Blanca – preferred Mexican Food – 501 Mechem Dr.
  • Ranchers Steak and Seafood Restaurant – preferred splurge restaurant- 2823 Sudderth Dr. – make a reservation for dinner
  • Wendell’s Steak and Seafood at Inn of the Mountain Gods – preferred splurge restaurant – make a reservation for dinner
  • Anaheim Jacks – preferred lunch stop – 1097 Mechem Dr.

Things to do in Ruidoso:

  • Bet! Enjoy the excitement of summer horse racing at Ruidoso Downs. The adjoining Billy the Kid Casino is open year-round.
  • Gamble! Play the slots or try your hand at one the gaming tables at Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino.
  • Shop! Ruidoso’s walkable downtown offers a variety of great shops and art galleries. There is bound to be something for every heart’s desire.
  • Play! There are public golf courses, a public swimming pool, tennis courts, public parks, a bowling alley, miniature golf, bumper boats, go-carts, Wibit Water Park, and horseback riding stables, just to name a few.IMG_4710
  • Ski! Head to Ski Apache for wintertime fun in the snow. There is also a site for sledding and tubing near the ski area.
  • Learn! Check out the Hubbard Museum of the American West, located just east of Ruidoso Downs racetrack.
  •  Hike or Bike! There are many hiking and biking trails in the area. Here’s a link for trail information: Ruidoso Trails
  • Enjoy the Water! Area lakes provide the perfect setting for canoeing, kayaking, or fishing.
  • Drive the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway. Stop in at the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway Visitor Center in Ruidoso Downs (next to the Hubbard Museum of the American West) before traveling to the following sites. Here’s a link: Billy the Kid Scenic Byway.

Things to do on the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway

First stop:

For nostalgia buffs, head northeast on Highway 48 from Ruidoso to Capitan for a visit to Smokey Bear Historical Park. Spend an hour touring the museum and nature area and see Smokey’s final resting place. Tickets are $2.00 per adult and $1.00 for kids between the ages of seven and twelve. Six and under are free. Cash only.

Second stop:

Head east on US Highway 380 to Fort Stanton Historic Site. Take a tour of the grounds and learn the importance of this historic fort. Allow 1-2 hours to visit the site. Here’s a link: Fort Stanton.

Third stop:

Lincoln, New Mexico is a great stop for some Old West history. (East on US Highway 380 from Fort Stanton.) Learn about the Lincoln County War, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and Billy the Kid, while touring the historic buildings in town. Tickets for entrance into the museum and designated buildings are $7.00 per adult at the visitor center. There is also a nice hiking/nature trail along the Rio Bonito. Allow 1-2 hours to visit Lincoln.

Old Lincoln County Courthouse

Fourth Stop: 

Head southeast on 380 from Lincoln to Hondo. At Hondo turn right on to US Highway 70 to San Patricio, home of artists Peter Hurd, Henriette Wyeth-Hurd, and Michael Hurd. The family’s ranch features guest homes, a winery and tasting room, and The Hurd la Rinconada Gallery. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:00 to 5:00 – 105 La Rinconada in San Patricio, New Mexico, 25 miles east of Ruidoso.

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We’re going to end this post with one last road trip idea. See it all, do it all, right?

Just a one-hour drive east from Ruidoso is the city of Roswell, New Mexico. Remember the 1947 Roswell incident? Well, whether or not you believe a flying saucer crashed there, a trip to the International UFO Museum and Research Center might be a fun stop to add to your itinerary.

Hopefully we have inspired your wanderlust, and if a trip to New Mexico is on your radar, we sincerely hope that you will make plans to visit Ruidoso and surrounding areas in the future. Until the next trip…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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(This is an updated and enhanced version of a prior post published on October 27, 2018.)

Need more inspiration? Click the links to view these other great road trip destinations:

Amarillo, Texas

Albuquerque to Taos Road Trip: Things to Do

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022

Featured

Money Saving Tips for Road Trippers

Can we afford it? That seems to be a universal question when planning a road trip or any vacation for that matter. Money definitely determines when and where we go, especially if we are flying somewhere to begin a road trip. We have found some ways to make travel more cost-effective for us, and today we are sharing our best money saving travel tips with you. We hope that our suggestions will help you become a more frugal and frequent traveler!

Save those pennies

Plan for travel as a regular part of your monthly budget by setting aside a certain amount of money earmarked specifically for vacations. Get creative about how to raise some extra money. (We once funded round-trip cross-country airfare for four with the proceeds of a garage sale.) Every dollar saved puts you one step closer to an awesome vacation but remember to budget wisely! Everything from food to gasoline to hotel rooms is more expensive nowadays, and prices don’t appear to be coming down anytime soon. 

         

Make plastic work for you

Use an airline points credit card for all of your purchases and pay it off every month. Another choice is to opt for a card that pays you cash back on every purchase. Weigh the cost of airfare as opposed to what your cash back card will earn then decide which method will work best for you. Additionally, if you visit a lot of national or state parks, make their plastic work for you too by purchasing park passes. 

Sign up

Become a member of a hotel loyalty rewards program in order to earn free hotel stays. It takes a lot of stays to earn a free one, but just one free night can save money for other things. Consider joining AARP (if you’re 50 or older) or become a AAA member. The fees for joining are nominal, and members can receive discounts on hotels and restaurants as well as other benefits. For those traveling to a specific destination to spend several days or for those who travel in larger groups, Airbnb or VRBO properties may be more cost-effective than hotel rooms.

Eat right

Stay at hotels that offer free breakfast and enjoy picnic lunches on the road. Roadside and even parking lot picnics have been some of our favorite travel experiences. Another trick is to pick up a couple of low denomination ($10.00 – $20.00) gift cards for your favorite chain restaurants on grocery shopping trips then stash them away to use when traveling. Gift card purchases won’t add much to your shopping bills, but they will come in handy for “free” meals on the road. Starbucks, McDonalds, Subway, Sonic, Dunkin’, Dairy Queen, and other chains can be found almost everywhere in the U.S., even airports.

Limit shopping

It was a hard habit to break, but we no longer buy souvenirs while traveling except for a Christmas ornament at major destinations. Ornaments are inexpensive, they pack easily for the trip home, and we get to remember the trip every year when we decorate the tree. Other options are magnets, post cards, and guidebooks. If you like to write, doodle, paint or sketch, make your own travel journal or scrapbook. 

Find money saving souvenirs such as Christmas ornaments

Dare to be different

Travel during the off season (or mid-week) when airfare and hotel stays are less expensive but be prepared for possible tourist site closures and less than optimal weather. Another big bonus for traveling in the off season is that the crowds are usually much smaller in tourist hotspots. Check websites or call ahead to ensure that the places you want to visit will be open when you arrive. Also, if a particular city is your destination, Google to see what is on that city’s events calendar during the time you’re going to be there. If a festival, major concert, rally, etc. is going on, hotel room prices will skyrocket or sell out. This happened to us recently, and we had to redo our entire itinerary in order to avoid a particular city – all because of a concert and no available hotel rooms!

Do your homework

Google for money saving coupons to amusement parks, zoos, and other entertainment venues.  Amusement parks and zoos periodically offer reduced prices, two for one, or free admission. Take note of free national park days which can be found here: National Park Free Days. Look for restaurant coupons and specials too. A little research can go a long way to saving money on dining and entertainment.

Life lessons for kids

Leading up to the vacation, let kids earn their own spending money by helping out around the house. Teach older kids how to budget their allowances to pay for special activities while on the trip. Give kids their own travel budget for souvenirs and treats. Put a set amount of money into an envelope for each child and explain that when it’s gone there will be no more – and stick to it. 

Be brave

Ask for discounts when making hotel reservations or entering tourist sites. Military, senior, government employee and other discounts may be available just for the asking. Even if you have made a hotel reservation online, ask for a discount when you check in. We asked for a discount at a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama last year, and the manager cut the cost of our stay almost in half! Alternately, if your service or accommodations are not up to par, don’t hesitate to ask for a discount or refund when you check out.

Go for the freebies

Most cities have wonderful things to do for free. Google “free things to do” in the city you’re going to visit. It’s amazing how many great parks – even some national park sites – museums, historical sites, botanical gardens, and other points of interest are free. 

Our #1 money saving tip: find something to do for free

A thought on rental cars

While most rental car loyalty programs will give you points, it takes a lot of them to earn anything tangible. Some programs may have some other money saving perks too, but we think the best reason to be a member of a loyalty program is that it could keep you from standing in line for an hour (or two) when picking up a car.

That cute sports car might be fun, but the cost-effective, fuel-efficient model is your best bet

In closing, we hope our information has given you some ways to become a money saving traveler. If you have additional money saving or road trip tips, please share them with us in the comments section! We also hope you will come by again for more tips, tricks, road trip destinations, Quick Stops and other features. Until next time…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road!

Mike and Kellye

Need some road trip destination ideas? Click on these: 

Assateague Island National Seashore

Franconia Notch State Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Scotts Bluff National Monument

 

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022  

Photo Credits: maitree rimthong, Pixabay, Dominika Roseclay, Oleg Magni, Vova Krasilnikov, Printexstar, vjapratama, Andrew Neel, Karolina Grabowska, Ammy K, Pexels.com