The Splendor of the U.S. National Parks

Thanks largely to the foresight and dedication of geologists, activists, planners, the general public, and U.S. presidents, the United States National Parks are a treasured part of our national heritage. The Parks are extremely well-managed and make a visit comfortable or difficult, depending on whether you wish to drive or hike to a summit. There are currently 63 national parks in the United States.

The first U.S. national park, Yellowstone National Park, was founded when President Ulysses S. Grant signed The Yellowstone Act on March 1, 1872. Although Yosemite preceded Yellowstone as a park when it was established in 1864, the former was considered to be a “state” park at that time.

Listed in alphabetical order, the following is a brief account of my 10 best-loved National Parks, followed by 10 Tips for Visiting U.S. National Parks.

Acadia National Park

The Acadia National Park is my favorite national park in the United States. Located in Maine, the Acadia National Park is a 47,000-acre recreation area on Mount Desert Island.

I recommend that you begin your visit at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. You will have to climb 52 steps to get to the Center from the parking lot. However, there is access through a back entrance for those with special access needs. The Center has a film that runs every 30-minutes and you should plan on this viewing.

Drive up to Cadillac Mountain to watch a sunrise or sunset, hike the paths, or take a carriage ride. Tip: Drive the Park Loop twice; scout out and plan the places to stop on the first drive, and then on the second drive make your stops. For the more adventurous, I recommend the Precipice Trail. Not for kids or those with a fear of heights. If the "intimidator obstacle" [boulder outcropping with a couple of iron rungs] intimidates you, I suggest you turn around as you are close to the start of the trail. I also hiked the Beehive Trail [highly recommended] but the Precipice Trail is longer and designated as strenuous.

Arches National Park

Located in Utah, the striking red rock features you see at the Arches National Park were once buried thousands of feet underground. Geologic forces led to the folding of the sandstone and the region began to rise from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. Water now shapes the environment at the Park wherein small recesses have been transformed into fins and fins to arches [a 3-foot opening in any direction]. There are over 2,000 arches inside the Park. These arches collapse over time which gives them the nature of impermanence that I am constantly drawn to.

Traffic jams are not uncommon in Arches National Park between March and October. Get there early and you can also beat the crowds at the Delicate Arch. Take your time at the Park and wear hiking shoes. The Park is open year around, 24 hours a day. Summer temperature at the Park can exceed 100° F [37° C]. From spring through fall, the Park offers guided walks and evening programs. Devils Garden is the only campground [23 miles from Moab] in Arches National Park. Get your reservation in advance and make sure you have supplies with you.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is open year around, 24 hours a day. In winter, some of the roads going through the Park are closed due to weather conditions. Stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a map or speak with a park ranger. If you are interested in frontcountry camping, there are two official campgrounds. Backcountry camping is permitted anywhere in the Park as long as you are .5 miles from a road or trail but not visible from a road or trail.

I recommend the sunrise and sunset hours to enjoy the splendor of the Badlands National Park. The Park has an Open Hike Policy, which means you are allowed to hike off trail. The Door Trail and Window Trail are easy hikes. The 10-mile round trip Castle Trail passes through a few badlands formations. Bicycles are permitted on designated dirt, gravel, and paved roads within the Park. If you would rather drive, take the paved loop road. The Loop State Scenic Byway is 31 miles one way and has 10 overlooks.

Bryce Canyon National Park

You may have seen photos of the crimson-colored hoodoos [rock formations due to physical and chemical weathering] of Bryce Canyon National Park located in southern Utah. The most famous hoodoo in the Park is Thor’s Hammer. Hoodoos are found all over the world but the ones at the Bryce Canyon National Park “are the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth.”

The Park is open year around, 24 hours a day. Check out the Ranger Programs board at the Visitor Center that lists programs for the day and week. If you want a short and easy hike, take the Mossy Cave Trail or Bristlecone Loop Trail. If you happen to be at the Park on a full moon night, I recommend the Full Moon Hike. (Photo credit: Kelsey Johnson)

Denali National Park and Preserve

Six million acres and a road! Yes, that is Denali National Park and Preserve waiting for you in Alaska. Remember that your mobile phone might not have service depending on where you are in the Park. Disconnect; that’s the point. Plan to spend 3-4 days at the Park.

The first thing you need to decide is when you wish to visit the Denali National Park and Preserve—spring is short, a matter of days; summers [early June to mid-September] are short too and it gets crowded; winters are harsh but beautiful. Please note that there are no National Park Service-run accommodations in the Park and Preserve. There are six campgrounds—three for tents and vehicle camping and three for tents only.

I recommend the 92-mile Denali Park Road. You can drive up to Mile 15 on the Park Road and then take the National Park Service bus. Better yet, book a narrated bus tour with a trained naturalist. If you can, take a fixed-wing plane ride. It is worth the price. If you want to land on a glacier, remember to book a ski-equipped airplane.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is probably one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Plan to arrive early or late afternoon because visitor traffic gets quickly overcrowded at the Park. The same is advisable if you plan to hike in the Park because summer temperatures can exceed 111° F [44° C]. The South Rim [most popular with tourists] is open year around, 24 hours a day. Approximately 10% of visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park travel to the North Rim and this might appeal to some. Please note that there are fewer viewpoints from the North Rim and the Grand Canyon is not in all its splendor from there. The North Rim is closed during winter.

The Park offers several activities—air tours, biking, hiking, mule trips, white water rafting, etc. The lines for these activities are long and paperwork for permits take time. If you prefer a 4-5 day guided backpacking tour, the Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute offers several possibilities. Tip: If you are driving, I recommend the Desert View Drive, which is a 25-mile scenic route along the South Rim. There are six viewpoints and four picnic areas, including a Tusayan ruins site and museum. Desert View lookout is at the end of the drive. A 70-foot watchtower provides great views of the canyon, Colorado River, Painted Desert, and San Francisco Peaks.

Mt. Rainier National Park

Located in Washington, Mt. Rainier National Park is open year around. Remember to check on road conditions during the winter months. Summer is a busy time at the Park and I recommend visiting mid-week. The Park has two inns and there are several lodging options outside the Park. There are four National Park Service campgrounds in the Park.

If you are driving from Seattle, you will arrive at the Nisqually Entrance that will take you to Paradise village on Route 706. The Visitor Center at Paradise is an ideal place to get more information about a hike [pick up a Trail Map] or to take part in a Ranger Program. Since this area is popular, I recommend getting here early in the day or visiting during the shoulder season as I do for my travels. There are several trails. Choose one that fits your activity level. You don’t need a permit for day hiking. Pack a picnic lunch. Carry a mosquito repellent. I went on the 5.5-mile [moderately strenuous clockwise loop] Skyline Trail from Paradise, which climbs 1,700 feet in elevation. The view from Panorama Point is worth the hike. (Photo credit: Vlada Karpovich)

Saguaro National Park

A symbol of the American west, the giant saguaro [pronounced sa-wa-roe] is protected by the Saguaro National Park in Arizona. A drive through the park gives you the opportunity to see these enormous cacti. According to the U.S. National Park Service, "the average lifespan of a saguaro cactus is 150 years, but some plants may live more than 200 years. A 20 foot tall saguaro weighs approximately 1 ton (2000 pounds)."

Saguaro National Park offers guided walks and informative talks. The winter season—November through March—is busy. The informational programs vary from easy strolls to strenuous hikes. Carry water. Wear a hat. March and April are the best months to view wildflowers in the Saguaro National Park. In late April, the Saguaro begins to bloom and by June the fruits begin to ripen.

There are several trails in the Park. The lower elevations of the Saguaro National Park encompass Sonoran Desert vegetation. The higher elevations contain desert scrub and desert grassland. Common wildlife in this area include the desert tortoise, coyote, and Gambel’s quail. You can bike around scenic loop drives to enjoy the park: a) Cactus Forest Loop Drive is an 8-mile paved loop, and b) Bajada Loop Drive is a 6-mile gravel loop.

Yosemite National Park

Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. Open year around, reservations [for vehicles, not number of people] are required to enter the Park and there is an entrance fee. If you plan to stay at a lodge, camp, or just backpack, make your reservations in advance. Permits are required if you plan to hike to the top of Half Dome.

The diverse landscape of the park supports over 1,000 plant species. The giant sequoias in the Park can live up to 3,000 years. The Yosemite Falls is made up of three separate falls—Upper Yosemite Fall, middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. There's a lot to do at Yosemite National Park and a 1-day visit will probably feel rushed. Make use of the free shuttle buses. Some tour operators offer overnight stay packages.

Zion National Park

The Zion National Park in Utah has plenty of visitors year around. If you plan an overnight visit to Left Fork [The Subway] and/or Mystery Canyon, there is an advance online lottery system for permits. Check the National Park Service website for details.

I recommend hiking The Narrows, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This hike requires hiking in the Virgin River. If you prefer a paved path, use the Riverside Walk [from the Temple of Sinawava], wheelchair accessible. The Virgin River water is cold and the rocks can be slippery. If you plan to hike downstream, you will require a permit and also arrange transportation. My favorite hike at the Park is the 6.5 mile Lower Subway Hike. Zion National Park is also a great place for canyoneering and you will also need a permit. Advanced skills are highly recommended [or a technical expert with you] to pass through some areas of the canyon that are barely wide enough for a human to squeeze through.

10 Tips for Visiting U.S. National Parks:

Based on their respective locations, the U.S. national parks offer a wide range of activities for the visitor. The following are some tips to help you plan your visit:

  1. Decide when you plan to visit a national park. I prefer a quieter experience at the parks, which is why I visit during early fall or spring.
  2. Plan how much time you wish to spend at a park. Some national parks are huge! For example, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. Research to build an itinerary and plan activities. Remember to share your itinerary with family members or friends.
  3. Most national parks have camping and/or lodging facilities. Some have glamping facilities at a distance. For example, near Lake Powell in Southern Utah. Make your reservations well in advance.
  4. Entrance fee to national parks can add up. Therefore, I recommend purchasing the U.S. Park Pass if you plan to visit a few during a period of 12 months. In addition to the national parks, the Park Pass provides access “to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country.” There are also Free Entrance Days at participating national parks.
  5. Stop by the visitor center at a national park. They have plenty of information to share. There are short films that run every half-hour or so. I recommend viewing these films because they provide valuable information about the park—how the efforts began, what it has to offer, etc.
  6. National parks have free programs and activities. Some of these are for children only while others are open to all ages.
  7. Chat with a Park Ranger. They are a source of excellent information regarding the park.
  8. Bring a daypack and carry an extra bottle of water. Please don’t leave traces of your visit.
  9. Maintain distance from and be respectful of the park’s animals.
  10. Explore travel ideas on the National Park Foundation website. The National Park Service website is also a good source of information. Get the National Park Service app. It’s free. Download the information you want before you visit a park and you won’t have to worry about phone signal.

California: Overview of San Francisco and Los Angeles

California is quite different from any other state I have visited in the continental U.S. There is diversity in all aspects: topography, language, food, ethnicity.

From my point of view, here is an outline of what you can cover in a week in two major cities—San Francisco and Los Angeles. Consult a guidebook for details. Look up reliable sources online.

A ride from the airport to the city will be expensive, between $45-$75, depending on location and traffic delays. You might want to look into a rideshare option.

Take a conducted tour because it’s an easy way to get to know a city. You can then decide where you would like to spend more time within the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay is the city of San Francisco. Plan to spend 3-4 days. This will allow you to take day trips outside of the city. Bring a light sweater or sweatshirt. You'll need it during the summer months. Warmer clothing is needed for winter. Depending on what you wish to do in the city, plan on your hotel location -- Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf, Cow Hollow, etc.

Golden Gate Bridge

Be ready for crowds on the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer months so get an early morning start. Pedestrians are allowed between sunrise and sunset, only on the East Sidewalk. The 1.7 mile span can take approximately 45-60 minutes to walk. Bicyclists are allowed on East and West Sidewalks.

Alamo Square Park

From this vantage point we see the contemporary San Francisco behind the pre-earthquake architecture. The houses in the "Postcard Row" were built between 1892 and 1896. They are painted in three or more colors to enhance its architectural details and are called "Painted Ladies."

Muir Woods National Monument

A few miles north of San Francisco is the Muir Woods National Monument. It is one of the last remaining redwood forests in the Bay Area. Some of the redwoods reach heights of more than 250 feet and are nearly 1,000 years old. Reservations for parking are required. A paved/boardwalk trail begins at the entrance plaza and leads you into the redwood forest alongside Redwood Creek. When staffing permits, rangers and volunteers present 15-minute interpretive talks and guided 1-hour tours.

On your way back to San Francisco, you might want to visit the quaint city of Sausalito.

Yosemite National Park

Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. Reservations [for vehicles not number of people] are required to enter the Park and there is an entrance fee. If you plan to stay at a lodge, camp, or backpack, make reservations in advance. Permits are required if you plan to hike to the top of Half Dome. There's a lot to do at Yosemite National Park and a 1-day visit will probably feel rushed. Make use of the free shuttle buses. Some tour operators offer overnight stay packages.

Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is located 50 miles south of San Francisco. Pigeon Point is the tallest lighthouse in the West Coast. This double-walled lighthouse supports a four-ton lens. When staffing permits, a 30-minute guided history walk is available at 1:00 p.m. I recommend a stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel [shared bathrooms with hot showers, fully-equipped kitchens, and living rooms]. Each house has male or female bunkrooms. Separate bunkrooms may be reserved for families and couples.

Monterey

If you can, take a day trip to Monterey for a small-town experience, beaches, and a wide range of outdoor activities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is worth a visit but it is expensive. Check if your hotel has a pass. Cannery Row has a history of immigrants who came to work in the canneries and fisheries. Humpback whales and blue whales can be seen year-round in the Monterey Bay area.

Los Angeles

One way to approach Los Angeles is to plan your activities and stay in the same area, otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time commuting, sometimes in slow-moving traffic. Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood can take 2-3 days to visit, depending on what you wish to cover. If neither is on your itinerary, other places to visit are Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the iconic Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, among others. You can cover these places of tourist interest in two relaxing days.

The Getty Center

The Getty Center is a favorite of mine and it's free! Neither ticket nor reservation is required but there is a parking fee. The Center offers several free tours based on architecture, garden, exhibitions, etc. There is a restaurant and café on site.

Traveler

As a traveler, I am drawn to quieter locales. The big cities attracted me when I set out as a tourist in my early years. I still like to explore big cities and discover hidden gems. But, as William Least Heat-Moon said, "I like the digressive kind of traveling, where there's not a particular, set, goal."

Coastal Maine: The DownEast Acadia Region

If it weren’t for the harsh winters and chilly springs, Maine would be my favorite state in the U.S. I highly recommend a drive to explore coastal Maine, especially the DownEast Acadia region. There are several good facilities for hiking, sailing, and recreation.

There are several guidebooks to choose from for your trip to Maine, and the state’s information centers are great places to browse a wealth of brochures. My favorite information center is located in Yarmouth, a 15-minute drive on I-295 N from Portland. There are travel counselors to help you plan your Maine visit.

Lighthouses

Drive along the coast of Maine stopping at lighthouses, fishing villages, and then onward to Lubec, the easternmost point in the contiguous U.S.

DownEast Maine

My favorite part of Maine is DownEast—from Acadia National Park to Lubec. The small fishing villages, lighthouses, islands, etc., might seem remote and bleak for many, but not for me.

Parks

The Acadia National Park in Maine is a 47,000-acre recreation area on Mount Desert Island. Plan on viewing the video presentation at the Center. It’s shown every 30-minutes. Drive up to Cadillac Mountain to watch a sunrise or sunset, hike the paths, or take a carriage ride.

Hiking

Maine has several hiking trails that range from easy to extreme on the difficulty scale. Mount Katahdin Loop, a 17 mile moderately trafficked loop trail, is rated as difficult. The Wells Reserve trail is rated easy and features signs to help you find your way, identify plants and animals, etc. Acadia National Park has over 125 miles of hiking trails.

Sailing

The shoreline of Maine is dramatic. Take your time to explore. The 3,478-mile tidal shoreline is the fourth-longest in the U.S., surpassing those of Texas and California. There are over 4,000 islands off Maine’s coast. 15 of them are unbridged and support year-round populations. Spend a day at sea on a chartered sailboat or go on a lobster boat tour and learn to haul in lobster traps from a fisherman.

Lobster

You’re in Maine; you have to try lobster. There are several good places all across the city of Portland and beyond to enjoy lobster. Your lobster meal may be priced depending on the day’s catch. Hence, it is okay to ask the price for the day as you decide on your order.

Fishing Village

Cutler, a small fishing village on Route 191, felt authentic to me and is a must-visit if you wish to experience Maine that has been untouched by tourism. Fishing vessels and lobster boats base at the harbor. There are no hotels, motels, restaurants, or stores. The Cutler Coast Preserve has a remote 1.5-mile loop hike with a leg that hugs the Bold Coast and offers wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Pemaquid Point Light

The name “Pemaquid” is of Micmac origin and pem/pemi means “extending” while equid means “situated.”

The Pemaquid Point Light is open to the general public for climbing. I recommend the climb on a spiral staircase to enjoy a wonderful view of the surrounding seascape and a working fourth-order Fresnel lens. The height of the present tower, built in 1835, is 38 feet and shows a flashing white light every 6 seconds that is visible 14 nautical miles.

Bell House

The bell house originally contained a hand operated fog bell, which was replaced with a bell operated by duplicate Shipman oil burning steam engines to ring it. This lasted for a year and was replaced by a Stevens machine. The adjacent tower contained the weights. At the onset of poor visibility the light keeper would wind up the Stevens machine, which brought the weights to the top of the bell tower. As the weights slowly descended, the bell rang at regular intervals for approximately 6-8 hours.

West Quoddy Head Light

The easternmost point of the contiguous United States is West Quoddy Head in Maine. Located in Quoddy Head State Park, West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was originally built in 1808 but the tower you see today was built in 1858. The height of the tower is 49 feet with a third-order Fresnel lens. There are two white flashes every 15 seconds and the fog signal has two blasts every 30 seconds.

Red stripes on the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse help it to stand out against snow. The only other lighthouse in the United States with horizontal red and white stripes is Assateague Light in Virginia.

Exploring Maine

“I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.”

Standing along a coastline of Maine, I am reminded of 7th grade in northeast India where I first read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Arrow And The Song. Little did I know then that several years later I would be walking through the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland, Maine. It’s sublime when life makes such interconnections.

Located in the northeast of USA, Maine is known for its coastlines, heavily forested interiors, moose, blueberries, lobsters, and more. You can fly into Portland to explore the city or state, or fly into Bangor if you wish to use the city as your base while you explore the different regions. You can also fly into Boston and drive up to Maine. Be warned that road traffic can be slow during the months of May through August.

During my travels in Maine, I found people to be genuine and generous.

Coastline and Lighthouses

Maine has a rocky and rugged coastline. If you have time during your visit, I would recommend a drive along the coast with stops at lighthouses, fishing villages, and onward to Lubec, the easternmost point in the contiguous U.S. If you are visiting for 2-3 days, Portland can be a good starting and end point. A 25-minute drive from Portland to Cape Elizabeth will bring you to Portland Head Light. The adjacent Fort Williams Park has good facilities for picnic, hiking, and recreation.

Old Port

On July 4, 1866, an intense fire destroyed over 1,500 buildings and left over 10,000 people homeless in Portland. The fire transformed the city, now a mix of small business owners who take pride in their offerings—food, clothing, arts and crafts, etc., and an equally hardworking fishing community. I would recommend taking the guided Walking Tour with the Maine Historical Society.

Seafood

You’re in Maine; you have to try lobster. There are several good places to eat all across the city of Portland and beyond. Your lobster meal may be priced depending on the day’s catch. Hence, it is okay to ask the price for the day as you decide on your order.

Travel Brochures

Just as there are several guidebooks to choose from for your trip to Maine, the state’s information centers are great places to browse a wealth of brochures. My favorite information center is located in Yarmouth, a 15-minute drive on I-295 N from Portland. There are travel counselors to help you plan your Maine visit or you may choose to browse through the wide range of brochures for lodging, activities, and sightseeing. All this and more for free; the U.S. is amazing!

Forested Interiors

Approximately ninety percent of Maine is forested. The state is a perfect destination for recreationists to canoe, fish, hike, ski, etc. My travels in Maine took me to forested interiors and I was pleasantly surprised to find secondary roads to be compact but this can change during the rains or winter months. The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has limited services at this point but it has tremendous potential for public good.

Waterfalls of Maine

The northwest border between Maine and New Hampshire has several waterfalls that one can easily reach by driving or hiking. Some of these waterfalls are along the roadside, which are easily accessible. A search for "Maine waterfalls" on the web will provide you with results that can help with planning for your day hike or a drive visiting waterfalls.

Shaker Village

A unique opportunity for me was to visit a Shaker Village in New Gloucester. The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, established in 1783, is home to the only active Shaker Community in the world today. Do take a guided tour of the village. Your ticket gives you access to the museum. A shop in the village sells Shaker herbal products, oils, yarns, baskets, etc.

Art, Film, Lectures

Some of the most overlooked places to visit in the U.S. are institutions of higher learning, especially small liberal arts colleges. They have an abundance of offerings—art, film, lectures, etc.—that are free and open to the public. In Maine, the colleges of Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby have an excellent art collection. Their museums are free to the public and you will be pleasantly surprised by the collections. If you cannot make it to the colleges, visit the Portland Museum of Art.

National Parks

The U.S. has an impressive list of national parks it can be proud of as a part of its national heritage. These national parks are extremely well-managed and make a visit comfortable or sweaty, depending on whether you wish to drive or hike to a summit. If you plan to visit several national parks in the U.S., buy the National Park Pass for $80. There is a free Annual Pass for the U.S. Military. A Lifetime Senior Pass costs $80 and the Annual Senior Pass is $20. Note: Read my "10 Tips for Visiting U.S. National Parks."

The Acadia National Park in Maine is a 47,000-acre recreation area on Mount Desert Island. I would recommend that you begin your visit to Acadia National Park at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. You will have to climb 52 steps to get to the Center from the parking lot. However, there is access through a back entrance for those with special access needs. The Center has a film that runs every 30-minutes and you should plan on this viewing. Drive up to Cadillac Mountain to watch a sunrise or sunset, hike the paths, or take a carriage ride. Tip: Drive the Park Loop twice; scout out and plan the places to stop on the first drive, and then on the second drive make your stops.

A Personal Note

If it weren’t for the harsh winters and chilly springs, Maine would be my favorite state in the U.S. Currently occupying this slot is New Mexico but I could be persuaded to change this ranking. Maine, like New Mexico, has a lot to offer. As interesting as Portland is as a city, my favorite part of Maine is DownEast—from Acadia National Park to Lubec. The small fishing villages, lighthouses, islands, etc., might seem remote and bleak to many, but isn’t so for me. Go there. You will know what I mean.

New York City: 10 Quick Tips

There isn’t another city quite like New York City.

New York City [NYC] consists of five boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Over 60 million tourists visit NYC annually.

Discover neighborhoods, enjoy a show, satisfy your food cravings, visit a museum, and much more. Given the wide range of activities and attractions in NYC, it might seem overwhelming at first. The following tips will help you plan your visit.

1) Book your hotel early

There's no lack of hotel rooms in NYC. Manhattan itself has over 90,000 hotel rooms. Any room in one of the boroughs will cut down your expenses considerably. New Jersey might seem like a good option but be prepared to spend a lot of time getting into Manhattan.

2) Bring your walking shoes

I like to walk in NYC. Bring your walking shoes.

3) Enjoy the green spaces

Central Park is known all over the world and is the most visited urban park in the U.S. It might comes as a surprise that the park is almost entirely landscaped, including its seven man-made bodies of water.

Located in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, I recommend the High Line. Also known as the High Line Park, it is a 1.45-mile-long linear park built on an elevated section of a disused railroad spur.

4) Take the subway

The New York City Subway is a fast and reliable method of transportation. It is the largest rapid transit system in the world by number of stations – 472 stations in operation. If you use the hop-on hop-off buses, be prepared to wait around at street corners. There are several apps for the subway and bus system.

One easy and helpful tip is the difference between a local and express train – local trains stop at every station while express trains can skip 3-4 stations. Another tip is the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, which is quite handy if you are a solo traveler or traveling with your family.

5) Look up

If you like architecture, you're going to love NYC. The city is filled with noteworthy buildings in a wide range of architectural styles and from distinct time periods.

The Chrysler Building is an example of the Art Deco style, with ornamental hub caps and a spire. The spire also satisfies a 1916 Zoning Resolution that required setbacks and restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size in order to allow sunlight to reach the streets below.

6) More than what meets the eye

Grand Central Terminal or Grand Central Station or Grand Central; the word is Grand. It covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world. All the platforms are below ground.

There is more than what meets the eye in Grand Central. Read up before you visit or download a paid audio tour. There is a free guided tour on Fridays [look up Grand Central Partnership].

7) Visit a museum or two

If you plan to visit museums [and you must], my recommendation is to start early. Check for opening times on museum websites.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, is regarded as one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world. Avoid free entry nights, usually Fridays, because of the long waits and crowds on the inside.

If you have time to visit only one museum, choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

8) Times Square

Times Square is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions, drawing over 50 million visitors annually. It is also the hub of the Broadway Theater District. Most of the area around Times Square is geared towards tourists.

Personally, I think Times Square is overrated but that's me. Well okay, you have to be there once. I prefer heading out towards the side streets that have a lot of good eating places.

9) Skip the chain restaurants

I think NYC has the best food options from all over the world. From food carts to cafés to restaurants, NYC caters to every palate and this includes peanut butter concoctions to "Indian Chinese" food.

10) View from the top

Be it the Empire State Building or One World Observatory or Top of the Rock, you must see NYC from the top, either during the day or night. Lines can be long at these venues but it's worth the wait.

My favorite is the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building. Mid-week visits are best. Buy your tickets in advance. Download the app.

High Road to Taos and Beyond

The way to Taos from Santa Fe is the High Road, a scenic route through the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The High Road to Taos provides a much deeper sense of history of the region. The valley seems like a series of plush oases. Small, traditional Hispanic villages surrounded by orchards and meadows make the drive worthwhile.

El Santuario de Chimayó

The word "chimayó" comes from the Indian word for "hot springs" that were sacred for the Tewa Indians. Built of adobe, El Santuario de Chimayó is a National Historic Landmark and has been referred to as the "Lourdes of America". El Santuario de Chimayó was built between l8l4 and l8l6; the "miraculous" crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas was found around l8l0. A small room called el pocito [the little well] contains a round pit, the source of "holy dirt" that is believed to have healing powers.

Ortega's Weaving Shop, Chimayó

Ortega's Weaving has carried on its handcrafted tradition for nine generations. Gabriel Ortega passed on his knowledge of weaving to his son, thereby starting a tradition of Chimayó weaving that continues to this day. Ortega's Weaving produces a wide range of items, from rugs to blankets to placemats. Be sure to stop there.

Church of San José de la Gracia, Las Trampas

The village of Las Trampas was established as a Spanish-American community in 1751 by 12 families. A model of the Spanish colonial church architecture and a National Landmark, the Church of San José de la Gracia was built from 1760 to 1776.

High Road to Taos

Take advantage of the many overlooks along the High Road to Taos.

Blanket Woven in Ute Style, Millicent Rogers Museum

An example of an earliest style of Navajo blanket made from wool and dyed using native plants. These blankets are called "Ute Style" because the Navajos traded them with their northern Ute neighbors. The Millicent Rogers Museum is worth a visit.

Mimbres Pottery Bowl, circa 1100

This Mimbres pottery bowl features two human figures with a bird flying over their head. This bowl was ceremonially "killed" at the time of burial by having a hole punched to the bottom.

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church, Ranchos de Taos

Completed in 1816, the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church has four "beehive” shaped buttresses that support the back of the church structure and two support the front. A thick adobe wall surrounds the church, cemetery, and forecourt.

The Church is the subject of several paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, photographs by Ansel Adams, Ned Scott, and Paul Strand. Georgia O'Keeffe described it as "one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards." The Taos Chamber of Commerce states that the building is "one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world."

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Spanning 1,272 feet, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at 565 feet above the Rio Grande, is the seventh highest bridge in the United States. Located near Taos, New Mexico, the bridge was completed in 1965 and received the American Institute of Steel Construction’s award for “Most Beautiful Long Span Steel Bridge” of 1966.

Rio Grande Gorge State Park

Looking down at the Rio Grande from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The Rio Grande Gorge State Park runs along the banks of the river and has four camping/picnicking areas. In addition, throughout the deep canyon, the Rio Grande offers whitewater boating.

San Geronimo Cemetery and Church, Taos Pueblo

The cemetery stands on the ground where the San Geronimo Church once stood. The Taos people were forcibly converted to Catholicism in order to become "civilized", which led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. [Note: Indians who had lived and worshiped independently for centuries were forced to abandon their religions, adopt Christianity, and pay tribute to Spanish rulers.]

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people. The multi-storied residential complex of reddish-brown adobe was built from 1000 to 1450. Approximately 150 people make their homes full-time in the pueblo. The Taos Pueblo is a sovereign nation governed by a Tribal Council of elders which appoints a governor and war chief.

Eagle Nest State Park, New Mexico

From Taos, you can take an excursion to the Enchanted Circle Loop, a 84-mile drive centered on Wheeler Peak, which is the highest point in the state of New Mexico. Outdoor recreation is abundant around the Enchanted Circle. You can stop for lunch at Red River or Eagles Nest, or bring your picnic basket and enjoy a spot by a stream or lake.

New Mexico: A Park and Monuments

Not far from Santa Fe, the remains of pueblos, cliff dwellings, and volcanic eruptions stand as meaningful reminders of the passage of time.

New Mexico’s natural beauty captivates me.

The Pecos Valley has been continuously unfolding a story of human culture for over 10,000 years. The Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of this country, as well as evidence of a human presence that dates back to over 11,000 years. Ancestral pueblos were established around the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument during the 14th and 15th centuries.

All of these reminds us of the passage of time with an opportunity to reflect on where we came from and where we might be headed.

Kudos to U.S. National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management for their work in preserving these treasures for now and generations to come.

Kiva and Mission Church, Pecos National Historical Park

The Pecos National Historical Park is located 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe in New Mexico. Before you venture into the park, stop by the Visitors Center for a short film. They have laminated trail guides that is provided for free and must be returned.

The pueblo ruins and the mission church reveal the story of those that called Pecos Pueblo their home. In the foreground is a kiva. Kivas are ceremonial and social spaces for Puebloan people. In the background is a mission church that was completed in 1717. After years of oppression, the people of Pecos rebelled against the Spanish authority and destroyed the mission church, which was a symbol of Spanish power.

Kiva

Although shapes and sizes of kivas may vary, most kivas comprised of a deflector, firepit, ventilator shaft, and a sipapu. A sipapu is a hole in the floor that symbolize a) place of humans' emergence, and b) point of access to the spirits dwelling below.

Pecos Valley

The Pecos Valley lies between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Glorieta Pass. The people of Pecos farmed for generations and the village's strategic location became a critical meeting and trading place for Native Americans and Plains Indians. Another important aspect of its location was access to water from Pecos River, Glorieta Creek, and springs. The pueblo sat atop a narrow ridge that provided clear views to warn of an enemy approach.

Foundations of the Pueblo

An admirable aspect of historical preservation in the USA is to stabilize and repair the existing buildings to reflect the history of the site appropriately. The intention is not to reconstruct. In Pecos, these efforts began in the early 1900s.

Bandelier National Monument

Established in 1916, Bandelier National Monument covers 33,000 acres, with several hikes, a campground, and an opportunity to be a part of the 13th-century Puebloan ruins.

The Ancestral Pueblo people settled in the Frijoles Canyon. The area around the canyon is part of the Pajarito Plateau that was formed by the volcanic eruptions of the Jemez volcano more than a million years ago.

Cliff Dwellings

The pinkish volcanic rock in Bandelier National Monument weathers easily and produces holes. The Ancestral Puebloans would enlarge these holes for storage and living quarters. As you continue on the trail and along the Long House, you will see homes that were built along the base of the cliff. These homes were usually 3-4 stories tall and you can tell by counting the rows of holes on the cliff walls.

Cavates

Cavates, or cave/carved rooms, were common behind the rooms built at the bottom of cliffs. In spite of the tuff being soft and malleable, carving these rooms using stone tools would have been quite the task. The lower walls of the cavates were usually plastered and the ceilings smoked to make it less crumbly. The cliff dwellings were built into a south-facing canyon wall to catch the warming winter sun.

Alcove House

One of the trails in Bandelier National Monument leads to the Alcove House, formerly known as the Ceremonial Cave. You can access the Alcove House by a steep 140-feet climb on a series of ladders, steps, and narrow paths. The cave was enlarged by ancestral dwellers and includes clusters of rooms and a kiva. After long hikes plus a steep climb, the Alcove House was my perfect spot to pause and ponder.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

The words "Kasha-Katuwe" means "white cliffs" in the Keresan language spoken by the Chochiti Tribe. the traditional language of the nearby Pueblo de Cochiti

Located on the Pajarito Plateau, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument includes a trail that ranges from 5,570 to 6,760 feet above sea level. Start early and you can have the monument to yourself. There are two trails – Slot Canyon Trail and Cave Loop Trail. I recommend the Slot Canyon Trail first and it can be quite narrow at places.

Slot Canyon Trail

Approximately 6-7 million years ago, volcanic eruptions occured in the Jemez Mountains. White and silver-gray pumice and ash fell from the sky and formed an igneous rock called "tuff" while large fragments of igneous rock called "rhyolite" and these range in color from light gray to red. Between eruptions, wind, and water, the volcanic material also picked up soil, sand, and gravel that resulted in the sedimentary rocks layers of various colors – gray, tan, and orange.

Note: Small, rounded pieces of obsidian, also known as "Apache tears," are common. Please do not collect them.

Tapering Hoodoos

Boulder caps can be seen atop the tapering hoodoos and they protect the softer pumice and tuff. The cone-shaped tent rock formations can rise up to 90 feet. These hoodoos, erosional cones, and pedestal rocks form as the result of differential erosion.

The Evolution of Time

Once you reach the end of the trail on the mesa top, you are once again reminded of the remarkable layers of volcanic rock and ash that resulted from a volcanic eruption 6-7 million years ago. If you pause and pay attention, you will see Cochiti Lake in the distance. Take a moment to reflect on where we came from and where we might be headed.

Off the Beaten Path: A Covered Bridge

We often wander through the landmarks of a town or city without going off the beaten path. Sometimes it is the limited time on hand or access to the location; other times it is the lack of knowledge of that unusual landmark.

A culmination of points of interest converge at the Covered Bridge at Sugar Creek in Glenarm, Illinois. It’s a short drive south from Springfield, off of Interstate 55, on to the historical Route 66, and into the heartland of USA.

Route 66 and Interstate 55

Going south on the historic Route 66 and veering just a little over a mile off the Mother Road will take you to two sites of interest: 1) Sugar Creek Covered Bridge and 2) Pioneer Park. The small park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park is the site of the first settler's home in Sangamon County built by Robert Pulliam. Perhaps due to his checkered life the park isn't spoken of much but the city of Springfield honors Pulliam with this historical marker and a plaque located downtown.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

This wooden trussed bridge was constructed by Thomas Black in 1827 and served the early settlers of Sangamon County. The Illinois Department of Transportation rehabilitated the bridge in 1965. Only two wooden covered bridges remain in Sangamon County and this is one of the five remaining in Illinois.

Burr Arch Truss, Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

Theodore Burr is credited with the Burr Arch Truss bridge design. The principle behind a Burr arch truss is that the arch is capable of bearing the entire load on the bridge and the truss keeps the bridge rigid. A slightly modified version of the Burr truss is used in the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge with an "X" diagonal within each panel. The truss span of this covered bridge is 60 feet.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

During the repairs in 1965, the lower chord of the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge was jacked and straightened. These lower chords rests on metal piers at each end. All material used during the restoration is the same as the original structure.

Sugar Creek

Sugar Creek is a tributary of the Sangamon River, which comprises of an upper and lower section. In Sangamon County, Sugar Creek refers to the 100-square-mile upper section.

Sugar Creek Covered Bridge

Twenty four feet approaches lead into the east and west portals of the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge. The portal height and width are constructed with the same measurements. The handrails were erected during the reconstruction process in 1965.

"I took the one less traveled..."

A section of a trail near Sugar Creek reminds me about life in general. Figuratively, I have taken a path that is less traveled. Literally, I have walked the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail during summer and winter; driven the Robert Frost Memorial Drive; and visited the Bread Loaf School of English. All thanks to a teacher for whom I had to memorize and understand Frost's The Road Not Taken, and for which I am forever grateful.

Cornfields of Central Illinois

You are in the heartland of the USA as you head back from Sugar Creek Covered Bridge to either Route 66 or Interstate 55. Corn and soybean fields adorn the landscape of central Illinois. Contrary to the proverbial idiom, corn is nowadays more than knee-high by the 4th of July. Perhaps the corn along this road is a genetically modified crop.

Lake Springfield

Last call to Lake Springfield before you head back Interstate 55. A reservoir, Lake Springfield was formed by building a dam across Sugar Creek, which is a tributary of the Sangamon River. The lake serves as a local recreation spot but there are sites to keep clear of the crowd.

Kansas City: More Than BBQ, Chiefs, and Royals

A city on rolling hills with parks, fountains, museums, jazz, and more, Kansas City is a jewel in the Midwest.

In Kansas City, there’s something for everyone, coupled with an array of free activities including the KC Streetcar. Bike KC is a network of on-street bicycle facilities.

Renowned for its rich jazz and blues legacy, Kansas City offers several nightclubs that feature jazz on a regular basis. For a sports fan, Kansas City offers the best of baseball, football, and soccer.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Opened in 1933, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art maintains a collection of more than 35,000 works of art and is especially known for its Asian holdings. The Museum, overlooking a vast sloping lawn, was transformed by the addition of the Bloch Building — an irregularly shaped building in boxes of translucent glass that cascade down the side of a hill, yet a striking complement to the original neoclassical building.

Apart from its premier art collection, one of the best things about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is that it's free -- admission is free [you pay for parking]; free tours are available every day; iPads are on loan for a free audio tour [highly recommended]. Do take time to enjoy the 22 acre Sculpture Park.

End of the Trail, James Earle Fraser

"The trail is lost, the path is hid, and winds that blow from out the ages sweep me on to that chill borderland where Time's spent sands engulf lost peoples and lost trails."

These words by Marion Manville Pope is said to have inspired End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser. This piece evokes emotions of subjugation, displacement, and loss.

The Community Bookshelf

The Community Bookshelf of the Kansas City Central Library parking garage is a striking feature. Running along the south wall, the Community Bookshelf showcases 22 titles ranging from Tao Te Ching by Lau Tsu, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Truman by David G. McCullough, and more.

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden

A small garden with a lot of beauty in its flowers and serenity. The garden showcases several designs: Green Garden, Orangery, Parterre Garden, and Secret Garden. Among the lush and colorful annual and perennial plantings of the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden are bronze sculptures by Tom Corbin. Admission is free and so is parking. If you have a bike, enjoy the adjacent trail.

Liberty Memorial, National World War I Museum and Memorial

“In honor of those who served in the world war in defense of liberty and our country.” [Inscription on the Liberty Memorial Tower in Kansas City, Missouri, USA]

The Liberty Memorial is located at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. It is a regarded as "America's leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community."

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts' two symmetrical half shells of concentric arches open toward the south with a façade made entirely of glass. Each shell houses one acoustically independent performance venue with a shared backstage area. In the Helzberg Hall, you almost become a part of the musical ensemble. At the Muriel Kauffman Theater, the setting provides a sense of closeness with the actors on stage.

Public tours are offered at $10, which highlights the architectural aspect and historical overview of the project.

Crying Giant by Tom Otterness, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by Gunnar Birkerts. The Museum has a permanent collection of contemporary art and balances it with exhibition programs. The collection includes works by Chihuly, Coyne, O’Keeffe, Warhol, and more. Located within the Museum is Café Sebastienne, which serves lunch, dinner, and brunch. Overall a great place to spend a couple of hours, with free admission and parking.

American Jazz Museum

Preserving the history of the American jazz, the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City features exhibits on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and more. Visit the Blue Room, a jazz club on the site of the Museum. The same building houses the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which aims to preserve the history of Negro League baseball. In the history of Negro Leagues, the Kansas City Monarchs were the longest-running franchise. Do not miss the Field of Legends! Entry is $10 to either of the museums or $15 for both.

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

A 20-minute drive takes you from Kansas City to Independence, Missouri. The 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, returned to Independence to live at the Wallace home, which he enjoyed before, during, and after his presidency.

The tour offered by the National Park Service is highly recommended. Currently a free tour but you need to reserve your tour at the Truman House Ticket Center located on Main St. The grounds of the Truman Farm are open year-round for free self-guided tours. [Audio tours also available.]

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum provides a great insight into America's 33rd President. In addition to the main and lower level of the Library and Museum, a courtyard features the gravesite of Harry and Bess Truman, along with their daughter and husband. An American Legion Flame of Freedom is also featured in the courtyard.

For many, Truman might seem flawed. For me, Truman was a great man who went from humble beginnings to being the President of the United States. During his presidency, he renounced isolationism, rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan, assisted in the formation of United Nations, issued Executive Orders for racial integration in the military and federal agencies, and much more. Post-presidency, Truman returned to his humble beginnings, living on his old army pension of ~$112 per month, without any pension from his Senate service.

1827 Log Courthouse

Harry S. Truman held court in the 1827 Log Courthouse during the 1930s. For more than forty years, this was the only courthouse between Independence, Missouri, and the Pacific Ocean. The courthouse was once a Mormon mercantile store.

Independence Temple

Located in Independence, Missouri, the Independence Temple of the Community of Christ was designed by Gyo Obata. The Independence Temple evokes the spiral shell of a nautilus. The Temple has a wide collection of traditional and modern religious art from around the world. Guided tours are available.

Obata studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, which was the only university in the United States willing to accept Japanese nationals in the 1940s.

Dickson Mounds Museum: Interpreting a Past for a Better Future

Dickson Mounds Museum is an on-site archaeological museum located on the grounds of Dickson Mounds State Park. The purpose of the Museum, which is a branch of the Illinois State Museum, is to document the journey of American Indians in the Illinois River Valley.

I did not see a “No Photography” sign, therefore I took a few pictures at the Museum. These pictures of exhibits and artifacts are a glimpse at the history and culture that resides within the Museum.

Dickson Mounds Museum

The Dickson Mounds Museum is located on a bluff near the Illinois River between the towns of Lewistown and Havana. The Museum is around 60 miles northwest of the city of Springfield, along routes 97 and 78. Although the museum might seem out of the way for visitors to Illinois, I highly recommend a visit.

Architecture

The architecture of the museum blends into the message and its location. The building is constructed in the form of a flat-topped mound with distinctive sloping sides. Your visit through the museum begins at the top of the three floors and you work your way down.

Illinois River Valley and Mounds

A short film introduces you to the story of the land and the people who occupied it. When you step outside the "River Valley Gallery", you can witness the panorama in front of you and imagine how the people of the valley lived on the land.

Reflections on Three Worlds

The Reflections on Three Worlds gallery shows archaeology, life, and culture of the Mississippian people whose sites surround the Dickson Mounds Museum.

Pottery at Dickson Mounds Museum

Pieces of pottery can be the most important evidence for identifying and dating the cultures associated with the sites discovered.

Ceremonial Mace

Ceremonial maces during the Mississippian period were elite objects and were reserved for those who wielded the highest authority and speak of superiority and dominion, which were essential attributes of a ruler in warrior society. The mace displayed here on the left, a remnant of Illinois' prehistoric culture, was discovered in 1915 and dates to circa AD 1200-1400.

Effigies and Totem

Mississippian statues provide a glimpse into their beliefs. Pottery was made from locally available clay sources, which was tempered with an additive to keep it from shrinking and cracking during the drying and firing process. The precise uses of stone human effigy pipes remain unknown but there is high probability of it being used for ceremonial significance.

The River Valley Gallery

The River Valley Gallery of the Disckson Mounds Museum traces interactions between the Illinois River Valley and its inhabitants who have lived in this area from the end of the Ice Age to today.

Mississippian Spider Gorget

The spider was an important symbol to the people of the Mississippian culture. The spider symbol, perhaps associated with women, symbolizes weaving, fertility, balance, and harmony.

The People of the Valley

The People of the Valley exhibit shows cultures from Ice Age hunters to the tribal groups that left Illinois in the ninth century.

The People of the Valley

The Mississippian period begins 1,100 years ago and continues in Illinois until 550 years ago. Mississippian people lived throughout Illinois. There are 2,379 Mississippian sites documented so far in Illinois.