national park

Great Basin National Park, one of the least visited National Park in the United States, was our first stop on our trip. We researched a little bit and decided when to start our trip based on two things: one was not too early to Great Basin as the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive might still be closed (according to the ranger who I called) but not too late that it may get too hot when we arrived at Utah as we planned to do lots of hiking there. It was already May 22nd so we didn’t bring our snowshoes for our trip (although we thought about it but ditched them to save room as GBNP might be only place we could use them.) When we arrived at Great Basin, we realized that it was a mistake as the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive was not completely open and many trails were still covered in snow.

We attempted to hike a little bit but gave up after 50 yards due to thick snow. We migrated down to the lower elevation and was greeted with much better climate and lots of flowers and even a snake. The little hike was enjoyable before we moved on to the Lehman Caves, one of the most decorated caves in the world. The caves can only be entered via a tour, thus we joined one. Five minutes into the tour, Kadia who just became potty trained recently wanted to go so Susan had to take her out which left me carrying Bryden with the front pouch. So always remember to put a diaper on the little ones for a cave trip.

The cave itself was impressive. It had a lot of stalactites, stalgmites, flowstone, popcorn, bacon and many other things I didn’t know the name. It was not big like the Mammoth caves, nor complex like Wind Caves nor unreal like Jewel Caves (other caves we visited later on during the trip) but it was beautiful with its abundant different formations everywhere; I especially like the draperies formation. I highly recommended the tour.

The last thing I remember from there was the night sky; the stars practically lit up the whole sky. There was only one other time I saw so many stars: there bound to be other intelligent beings out there.


We saw some pictures of Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario before the trip and was impressed by its scenery but wasn’t sure if we would want to drive an additional 500 miles to see it. However, after arriving at Ontario, the choice was obvious as we found out that we could take a boat across the Lake Huron at Tobermory, therefore, without the extra driving. We were excited with the opportunity.

Susan and Kadia at Bruce Peninsula NPWe arrived at Bruce Peninsula National Park early Friday morning to get a campsite and, Ralph & Kadia at Bruce Peninsula NPto our surprise, it was full. We went into Tobermory and found a private campground instead. After set up the tent, we went back to the Park to do some hiking. We hiked out to the lakeshore on the Horse Lake trail and was greeted with a great view, crystal clear blue water and rocky shoreline. We hiked on the Bruce Trail (The longest footpath in Ontario) along the shoreline. It was beautiful and quiet.

A Jumper at Bruce Peninsula NPBruce Peninsula NP near Grotto There weren’t many people until we got to an area known as Grotto. There were lots of people down by the beach, either lying for a suntan or playing in the water. Susan & Bryden at GrottoWe had a great view from above. There were also many people diving off rocks into the beautiful Georgian Bay below. It must be refreshing to be swimming in a lake that felt like an ocean in size but without the smell of the sea.

The hike along the coast was rocky with the trail paved completely in rocks. The park was clean and the water was clear and warm for swimming. No wonder there were no camping sites left. This place looked like a great place for kayaking as well, a quiet lake with many beautiful rock formations. Next time when we come back, we will be doing some kayaking. We completed our loop hike along the Marr Lake trail back to our hiking starting point. It was a beautiful hike.

After walking through the Vietnam Memorial, we visited the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln MemorialI have always admired Lincoln for bringing an end to the slavery but I learned this time that the abolition of slavery was a byproduct of the civil war. Lincoln had said, “I would save the Union… My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” I was surprised but it was the right thing to do. It was important to keep the country together first then there would be time to take care anything else afterwards. We had him to thank for the strong America we have today.

Korean War Memorial was up next. Korean War MemorialThis was a war America and many other nations helped South Korea to fight off the North Korea. Although everyone may have defended the South Korea for its own reasons, it was still a noble cause. The memorial had a bunch of soldiers in their full military fatigues with their rifles. Korean War, if there is such thing as a good war, was considered a successful war. As a result, M.A.S.H. comedy was such a hit. There was also a wall with faces of 2000+ service men and women supporting the war sandblasted on it. It was not as a somber memorial as the Vietnam one.

Kadia at FDR MemorialRalph & Bryden at FDR MemorialThen there was another new memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This one was my favorite as it told many stories through statues and plaques. Back in the 30’s and 40’s, lives in America were not so rosy. Susan and Kadia at FDR MemorialI can only imagine what the Great Depression was when people lost their life-long saving and unemployment rate was over 30%. That was a difficult time for FDR and everyone. Then there was the World War II. If we had lost the World War II, the world would be very different now.

Another new memorial, George Mason Memorial, was just beyond the FDR Memorial. George Mason is called “The Father of Bill of Rights”. The original Bill of Rights gave us the first 10 amendments of the United States Constitution. George Mason MemorialThe freedom we enjoy and take for granted today came from the high price of American Revolution. We have so much to be thankful that sometimes we forget. All these memorials and monuments are a great reminder of past struggles. We all should come visit here every few years.

We finally arrived at American Museum of the Natural History. I was looking forward to spending some time at the museum but soon we discovered it was not a good idea. Kadia would run around and we lost the sight of her a few times. After about 30 minutes, we gave up and headed for our cousin Robby’s house. We will just have to come back to see all the museums when the kids are older.

Washington DC is a great place for students and people who like history. There are a lot to see at the National Mall and they are all free. It had been 9 years since I was last at Washington DC during the cherry blossom season that year. It has the highest concentration of memorials, monument and museums which can take many weeks to see them all. I was looking forward to going back there again to see great museums and memorials such as National Museum of Natural History and National Air and Space Museum.

Kadia at Washington MonumentWe arrived there by Metro on a Friday morning. The first place we visited was Washington Monument. I noticed there were as many people there as last time we visited when there was a long line to go to the top. Soon I realized that tickets were required to go up to the top. Unfortunately the tickets for visiting the monument was all gone for the day. I didn’t remember that we had to get tickets ahead of time for Washington Monument the last time I visited the place. Perhaps it was due to the impact of the 9/11.

Kadia at World War II MemorialAs we headed toward the Lincoln Memorial, there was something different from what I remembered. Right before the Reflecting Pool, there was something new: World War II Memorial. It was opened in 2004 and it honors the 16 millions who served in World War II and over 400,000 who died defending freedom. It has a pool in the middle with two half circles of granite columns enclosing the pool on two ends. Each stone column represents a state or a territory of United States who had people participated in WWII. It was a beautiful architecture piece and it was special because I felt peaceful there unlike many other memorials.

Vietnam MemorialWe next visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A simple V shape granite wall with names of military people who died fighting the Vietnam War. One wall points toward the Washington Monument and the other points toward the Lincoln Memorial. There were over 58 thousand names on the wall and there were still many names listed as MIA (Missing in Action). I felt for all of them. It was a war that cannot be won just like the current Iraq war. I understand the need to defend freedom and hard to watch others suffering but we need to find a better way than interfering with the business of other countries. There probably will be an Iraq Memorial the next time we visited there with thousands of people dying needlessly and. So sad.

One morning when we camped at Mammoth Cave, I heard a distinct knocking sound that could only emanated from a woodpecker. Pileated WoodpeckerI walked around looking for it, not really expecting to find it because of past experiences. I saw a black bird with a red crest but it was too big to be a woodpecker I figured. However, it was standing like a woodpecker, on the side of a tree with the head facing the tree. Soon, there was no doubt as it quickly pecked its beak into the tree trunk, producing the unique knocking sound. I was surprised as all the woodpeckers I have seen on the West have been small. This woodpecker was at least twice as big as any I had seen before.

I found out from a neighbor camper that it was a pileated woodpecker, one of the biggest woodpeckers in the world. It was beautiful with a pointing red crown. Woodpeckers on the groundSoon it flew away from the tree trunk and was joined by another one. They poked around on the forest floor, probably looking for some deadwood or insects. Eventually they flew away together. Graceful flyers they were too.

I am always fascinated by woodpeckers. I always wonder why they didn’t get headaches from all their hammerings on trees. I read somewhere that it can strike a tree trunk at 20 times a second with a deceleration force of 1200 g with each impact. Just thinking about it is giving me a headache. The woodpecker species has a unique suspension in the head structure to absorb the force of each stroke. There are many natural features that are unparalleled and we can only marvel at their ingenuity. We were able to duplicate some but fail to replicate many. Nature is constantly teaching us lessons and we need to open our mind and heart to observe and to discover. We need a woodpecker helmet for bikers, football players, snowboarders, etc.

I remember the first time I saw Bryce Canyon 20 years ago I was completely taken back by its scenery: it was different from anything I had seen before. I didn’t know anything about it at the time and was there with a few friends. If I had seen a picture or a drawing of it, I would have guessed it was a prank. Nothing in this world could have looked like this: orange columns and walls stood like soldiers, menacing and impregnable, filled the canyons. I have been back a few times since and was amazed each time I saw it. Hoodoos

Again, we could not resist its magic and charm; we planned our trip so we could visit it again. Kadia and Susan at Bryce CanyonThe orange columns, called Hoodoos and the rest of the formations are made of sandstone. Over millions of years, erosion sculpted the landscape to form its current glory. The erosion continuously alters the landscape every day. Every time we went, the scenery was slightly different. Queen’s Garden Trail
Some columns or walls might have collapsed and some new arches might have formed. This time, the Wall Street section of Navajo Loop trail collapsed just the day before we arrived. It was unfortunate as I remember it well from 13 years ago and was looking forward to hike in it again.

As we were unsure what route we could take on Navajo Loop trail, we started our hike from Queen’s Garden trailhead at the Sunrise point. We slowly descended down the canyon as the trail snaked through hoodoos and spires. The color was more than just orange, a spectrum of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and almost whites in some places. We had to go through a few archways as we walked along the narrow trail in the canyon. Bottom of Queen’s Garden TrailOn the bottom, we saw a sign pointing to a hoodoo that was supposedly resemble a queen’s head, thus the trail name. Even with the description, I had a difficult time recognize it. The trail could have been named many other things as each hoodoo can resemble different things to different people. We had our lunch there with a Steller’s jay eyeing our lunch the whole time.Queen’s Garden Trail

We hiked along the bottom of the canyon with a number of trees. It felt like an easy stroll through the park. Although we carried two backpacks, one for Bryden and one for Kadia, Kadia seemed to enjoy this hike, running back and forth from time to time and didn’t ask for a ride. Eventually we reached the Peek-a-boo junction where the Queen’s Garden trail joined the Navajo Loop trail. One section of the trail toward the Wall Street was closed so we followed the other section to the Sunset point. Navajo Trail

There was a steep section with many switchbacks up a wall (see left) and, when we finally emerged from it, we were treated to the famous Thor’s Hammer (see below), still proudly standing and seemingly sparkling, Navajo Trailand a canyon filled with a high concentration of spires and pinnacles. Along this final climb up to the Sunset point, we marveled at them all, every angle is a perfect shot. The picture on the right shown the Sentinel in the background. I hope it will still be there next time we visit. Finally when we reached the Sunset Point, we hiked back toward the Sunrise Point along the rim and continuously savior the fantastic views beneath us. We ran into a bunch of rangers walking excitedly and hurriedly toward the Sunset point so I asked them what was going on. One ranger told me that they were heading down to the Wall Street to look at the collapse. They were like excited kids going on a field trip. This was Kadia’s longest hike, 3 miles, a record that she would top many more times on the trip. We will be back.

I remember seeing Mount Rainier for the 1st time and was smitten ever since. We were in Seattle just made a right turn looking for a freeway entry and there was Mount Rainier stood majestically right in front of us. Mount Rainier and Sunrise Visitor CenterWe were at least 100 miles away from it and it was still huge like someone painted a half of the horizon with it. It came out of the blue and seemed so surreal that I had to rub my eyes a few time to confirm what I saw.

We had been to Mount Rainier a couple of times but we wanted to go again. We decided to camp at the Sunrise campground on the east side of the park. We soon realized why it was called the Sunrise because it has the best view in the morning. In the afternoon, with the sun in the back plus haze and smoke from nearby fire, it was hard to make out the mountain.

Mount Rainier is a beautiful but deadly mountain. Mt RainierMany people have died from climbing it. I remember looking at it on a clear day thought to myself, “It doesn’t look difficult to reach to the top” because it was so big that it distorted the perspective. In reality, it is a difficult mountain to climb and it usually takes 2 to 3 days for people to summit. When we set up our campsite, we noticed a warning sign about the area being a pyroclastic flow zone that we could be in danger anytime. Mount Rainier has not erupted for over 100 years but it is still active and when it does erupt again, it can be devastating. We made a mental note to run if we felt any earthquakes.

We hiked to Dege Peak in the morning starting from the Sunrise Visitor Center. Last ClimbThe visibility in the morning was great. We hiked away from Mount Rainier and were able to get many good views of the mountain. The slope of the mountain that we hiked on was green and beautifully decorated with beargrass. The hike had a gentle climb along a ridge with valley on both sides until the last 100 yards where it steeped (see right) before we reached the top. At the top we had panoramic view of the surrounding. To the north, it was a valley (see far below); To the east, it had layers of mountains (see near below), reminded us of Smoky Mountains; and to the west, it was the Mount Rainier, peacefully capped with glaciers, enticing mountaineers to go. Perhaps next time we will attempt to climb it.

Hazy in Horizons
North Side

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