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Hiking Under the Sea: Badlands National Park

Seventy five million years ago a shallow sea covered today’s Great Plains area. It spanned north to south from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and east to west from western Iowa to western Wyoming. Sea creatures that died sank to the bottom of the sea and became fossils, as well as a gray-black layer of sedimentary rock. This layer is just one of the bands of rock comprising today’s Badlands National Park area, formed as the sea retreated and the climate dried. The Lakota called it mako sica, and French trappers called it les mauvaises terres a traverser, both meaning “bad lands.” We spent three days in the park exploring the badlands rock formations and viewing fossils, while hiking on several trails under the ancient sea, including an overnight trip to a tree-filled ridge in the backcountry.

Voyageurs National Park

50 Hours by Foot and Paddle: Voyageurs National Park

In the 18th century, French Canadian adventurers, known as voyageurs, traveled by canoe on today’s boundary waters between the United States and Canada. They were primarily fur traders transporting beaver pelts, known as “soft gold,” between the northwestern portion of Canada and Montreal. From there, the pelts were shipped to Europe, where beaver hats were the rage. Today’s Voyageurs National Park, established in 1975, encompasses 56 miles of the former trade route. In order to best experience a park whose primary access is by water, we arranged to be dropped off on the Kabetogama Peninsula and make our way into the backcountry for 50 hours by foot and paddle.

A Majestic Island in an Inland Sea: Isle Royale National Park 

Lake Superior is the northernmost of the five Great Lakes. The largest freshwater lake in the world by area, it seems more like an ocean or an inland sea, measuring 350 miles wide and 160 miles long. In its northwest corner lies Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior. It is part of Michigan, 55 miles away, but even closer to Minnesota and just off the coast of Ontario, Canada. Its remote location and winter park closure makes it the least visited national park in the lower 48 states.

Urban Nature and History: Cuyahoga Valley National Park 

Ohio’s 85 mile long Cuyahoga River flows between Akron and Cleveland and into Lake Erie. Meaning “crooked river” in the Mohawk language, the river area was home to Native Americans, and later, European explorers and trappers. Homesteaders followed to further settle the land. By the 20th century, the Cuyahoga River became one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The sad state of the river culminated with it gaining national attention when it caught on fire in 1969. This incident contributed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water Act.

Tuesday Quiz: Match Cities to U.S. Rivers

We are traveling through Minneapolis, Minnesota, which lies on the Mississippi River. This week’s Tuesday Quiz tests your knowledge of U.S. Rivers and the cities that lie on their banks. Can you match the correct city with its river?

Anything but Barren: Acadia National Park

In 1604 French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed along the coast of today’s central Maine and noted an island that he called “Isle des Monts Deserts” because of the barren appearance of its mountains. Craved by glaciers, the granite mountains looked devoid of any vegetation from a distance. Today, Mount Desert Island (pronounced “Dessert” as in cake) is the centerpiece of Acadia National Park. Different from the wide open spaces we were used to seeing in the national parks of the west, we found Acadia not to be a barren place, but a delightful patchwork of forest, mountain, lake, and seashore.

​On the Mountain Top: Shenandoah National Park 

On the mountain top the views can be awe-inspiring and humbling, making you feel on top of the world in one moment and insignificant compared to your surroundings in the next. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park sits on the top of the Appalachian Mountains’ Blue Ridge Range. Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles through the park along the crest of the Blue Ridge, and the views from its 75 overlooks are more like those seen from a plane than a car. The popularity of passenger cars was a factor in the national park’s creation, allowing automobile travelers to see views from the mountain top before air travel was common. We spent four days in the park being awe-inspired and humbled by the views while hiking several trails, with a focus on Shenandoah’s waterfalls.