Spend Independence Day in a national park

Celebrate Independence Day in the National ParksThe Fourth of July holiday has always been a popular one in the U.S. This coming weekend, millions of people across the country will gather with friends and family to celebrate the day our country won its independence with food, music, and fireworks. It is a tradition like no other, and one that is made all the better when combined with another great American tradition – the national parks.

With the three-day holiday weekend nearly upon us, the National Park Service has a number of activities planned across the entire park system. For instance, Valley Forge National Park will play host to the annual community picnic, which features plenty of hamburgers and hotdogs, arts and crafts for the kids, Revolutionary War reenactors, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson himself. Festivities get underway at 11 AM and run throughout the afternoon.

Similarly, Adams National Historical Park in Massachusetts has a full schedule of events planned for July 4th as well. Things will get underway at 1 PM with storyteller William Hogeland sharing the tale of how the Declaration of Independence was drafted and eventually signed. Later in the afternoon, visitors will have the opportunity to join the second Continental Congress itself and take part in the drafting of that document themselves. Finally, the evening will wrap up with a dramatic re-telling of the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. A friendship that not only withstood the test of time, but would also help forge a nation.Visitors to Mt. Rushmore will have two days to take in that park’s annual celebration, which is always amongst the best in the entire park system. Starting on Sunday, July 3rd and running through the 4th, there will be a variety of live music, and presidential reenactors wandering the park. On Sunday evening the U.S. Air Force will also conduct several dramatic flyovers, including a B-1 bomber. Other events include a flag folding ceremony, a salute to veterans, a military swearing in ceremony, and more.

Those looking for the ultimate in fireworks displays, should plan on dropping by the National Mall in Washington DC. Those that beat the rush, and get there early in the day, can claim one of the better viewing spots near the reflecting pool, and where the fireworks are launched on the evening of the 4th. Starting just after 9 PM, the night sky will explode in spectacular colors, illuminating the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, as well as the Capitol Building itself. It is truly a patriotic sight to behold.

There are, of course, plenty of other parks that are holding their own celebrations as well. Checkout the National Park Service website for more details on what is happening in your area, and start making plans to celebrate Independence Day 2011 in your favorite national park.

[Photo credit: UpstateNYer via WikiMedia Commons]

39 of America’s best drives

Summer is upon us, and that means it’s time for road trips. Even with gasoline prices nudging the three dollar mark, there’s no better way to spend a summer day or weekend than taking part in the American tradition of a great drive. With that in mind, Gadling has put together 39 great drives across the U.S. you’ll want to check out. So grab your keys and get out on the open road!

Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border

Heading northeast out of Duluth you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful waterfront drives. At Two Harbors, four lanes turn to two and the birch forest closes in. The next 130 miles include tunnels, waterfalls, a spectacular lighthouse and numerous other surprises that will make your day. Music: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan.

Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
An hour northwest of Denver, Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road in the United States, topping out well above timberline at 12,183 feet. The road is safe and easy to drive, but it’s only open during the summer months due to heavy snowfall. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for road conditions before making this trek. Music: Rocky Mountain High, John Denver.

Underground Chicago

Lower Wacker Drive is unlike any other street in the United States. For one thing, it’s underground. For another, it runs north, south, east and west. Immortalized in movies like the Blues Brothers, it allows you to cross under one of America’s busiest cities in a matter of minutes with virtually no traffic. Enter north of the river under Michigan Avenue or south of downtown at Congress Parkway. Music: Sweet Home Chicago, Robert Johnson.Flint Hills, Kansas
The 45 miles from Emporia to Florence along US 50 in the Flint Hills will take you by surprise. This is America’s last remaining tallgrass prairie and looks like much of the heartland used to look. Go in the springtime and you’ll think you’re in Ireland. Return in autumn for a completely different experience. Music: Dust in the Wind, Kansas.

Down on the Bayou, Louisiana
It’s 85 miles from Baton Rouge to New Iberia, Louisiana but a more interesting 85 miles you won’t find anywhere. Head west on Interstate 10 over the Atchafalaya Swamp before descending into Lafayette, the capital of Cajun culture. You’ll want to enjoy a meal here before heading south 20 miles on US 90 to New Iberia. Follow the signs to Avery Island, a unique wildlife refuge and the home of Tabsco-brand Louisiana hot sauce. Music: Zydeco Gris Gris, Beausoleil.

An Island in the Sky, Texas
The Chihuahan desert of west Texas is a stark, unforgiving place but in Big Bend National Park miles of sand and cactus give way to a lush pine forest high in the cool crisp air of the Chisos Mountains. This sky island is as different from the surrounding terrain as an island is from the sea. From Fort Stockton, head south on US 385 to the park entrance at Persimmon Gap. From here it’s still 35 miles to the Chisos Basin. In the summer months, it’s best to make this trip late in the day to avoid the extreme desert heat. Be sure to fill the tank….this is big country. Music: Into the Great Wide Open, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Merrit Parkwa
y, Connecticut
In the far, far suburbs of New York City you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful highways. The Merrit Parkway runs from the New York – Connecticut state line approximately 37 miles to Milford. It is one of just a handful of American highways to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to it’s natural beauty and many stone arch bridges. Music: I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Head north from Portland on Interstate 205 and pick up Washington state highway 14 before heading east to Beacon Rock State Park. Stop and climb the easy trail to the top for great views of the Gorge. Continue on to White Salmon and cross the bridge to Hood River, Oregon. From here it’s a straight shot back to Portland on Interstate 84. Stops at Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam are pleasant diversions. Music: Given to Fly, Pearl Jam

Pasadena Freeway, California

Also known as California 110, this is the state’s oldest freeway. It has twists and turns, bridges and tunnels, mountains and canyons and more excitement than its better known brethren in southern California. From downtown Los Angeles, follow the signs to Pasadena. When you reach the City of Roses, turn around and do it again. Make sure the top is down. Music: I Love LA, Randy Newman.

The Bridges of Parke County, Indiana
Parke County, Indiana has more covered bridges (31) than any other area of the United States. Most are accessible to passenger cars. If that’s not enough to entice you, rumor has it that there’s no better place to sneak a kiss than on a covered bridge. Head west 67 miles from Indianapolis on US 36 to Rockville. From here, take any of the five covered bridge routes on a journey back to a time when life was simpler and the pace was slower. Music: Small Town, John Mellencamp.

– The above was written by Baja Publishing, Seed contributor.



North Shore National Scenic Byway, Minnesota
The North Shore National Scenic Byway, along Minnesota’s coast of Lake Superior, thrills drivers with 154 miles of towering cliffs, tucked-away cobblestone coves, roaring rivers and waterfalls, a 100-year-old lighthouse, and killer views of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Thermopolis to Buffalo, Wyoming

Road-tripping from Thermopolis to Buffalo, WYspools past the rich reds of badlands and grassland greens before climbing into the deep browns of the dramatically rugged, beautiful Big Horn Mountains.

Road to Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii
It can feel like tumbleweed Texas, lush Ireland or thick forests of the Pacific Northwest as each elevation–and biome–changes the scenery on Maui’s road to Haleakala National Park. Highway 378 climbs 10,000 feet above sea level with exhilarating zig-zags, stellar scenery and sudden fog.

Highway One, California

Get a sampling of the stunning (and less crowded) California central coast with a trek along Highway 1 from Cambria and the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery up to spectacular hiking at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You’ll find a hidden waterfall, redwoods and may even spot a migrating whale while hugging the coast.

Highway 22 and 31, Michigan
Michigan’s Highway 22 and 31 wind through forest, dunes, orchards, wineries, harbors, and the quaint lakeside communities nestled along Grand Traverse Bay and the Lake Michigan shore: Glen Haven, Suttons Bay, Traverse City and Petoskey. Chicago’s turn-of-the-century elite families left a legacy pastel-colored Victorian mansions overlooking the gorgeous blue-green bays.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado
You don’t need a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy stellar alpine views. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, just outside Denver, Colo., claims to be the highest paved road in the country at more than 14,000 feet. The road to get there spins through valleys and climbs through the Arapaho forest, framing up perfect views of snowy peaks.

Highway 135, Indiana

An easy drive from Indianapolis, Indiana’s Highway 135 loops and roller-coasters through covered bridges, state parks, Brown County’s art colony and the dense hardwood hills of Hoosier National Forest between Nashville and Houston. You’ll be craving bluegrass music, guaranteed.

Great River Road, Minnesota

Cruise below sandstone bluffs that border the Great River Road as it follows the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities and through historic small towns on its way to Red Wing, Wabasha (remember “Grumpy Old Men”?) and Winona, Minnesota. Best bet: Go in March for world-class bald-eagle watching or in the fall for prime apple picking and antiquing.

Needles Highway, South Dakota

One of the nation’s most skillfully engineered scenic byways perfectly frames up views of Mount Rushmore like a postage stamp. South Dakota’s Needles Highway also spirals down pig-tail bridges, nudges past granite needles and purposely slows down drivers so they don’t miss the Black Hills scenery–or the mountain goats.

– The above was written by Lisa Meyers McClintick, Seed contributor.



Lake Superior Circle Route, Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan
This gorgeous stretch of road circles through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. This scenic tour takes you through picturesque villages, over crystal clear rivers, by spectacular waterfalls, over the highest mountains in the midwest, along panoramic beaches, and through towering forests. In addition, enjoy some great cafes, bakeries, and quilting shops.

Carson Pass Scenic Byway: Jackson to Woodfords
The Carson Pass Scenic Byway travels along through alpine forests and meadows and over the towering Caron Pass in the central Sierra Nevada region. Spectacular views of rocky peaks and lakes, coupled with volcanic landscapes, deep canyons and dense forests make this seventy-five mile long scenic drive as varied as it is beautiful.

Manitowoc Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This drive tours the Lake Michigan shore from Sheboygan to Algoma, passing sand dunes, high bluffs, lighthouses, farms, and museums. The area’s flavor and history are closely tied to the lake through fishing, sailing, and ship building. Stop at one of the many specialty shops along the way to get a souvenir.

Door Country, Wisconsin

A drive through Door County, Wisconsin will provide you with views of over 250 lighthouses. In addition, 130 miles of the rustic Lake Michigan shoreline, limestone bluffs, and rocky shores will keep you awestruck for hours. If you need to stretch your legs, consider taking a tour of one of the many cherry or apple orchards who call Door County their home. Finally, wrap up your trip with a visit to Peninsula State Park, one of the largest state parks in Wisconsin.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, located in northwest Montana, boasts some of the finest mountain scenery in the country. A drive through this mountainous terrain will provide you with views of more than 50 major glaciers and over 200 lakes. Top that off with a tremendous variety of trees and all colors of wildflowers in summer, and you have a natural setting of excellence.

Kettle-Moraine Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This 115-mile drive follows the Kettle Moraine, a long ridge of forested hills that mark where two great arms of the last glacier butted up against each other. The route follows the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive developed and maintained by the Kettle Moraine State Forest staff. Along the way you’re likely to learn more about glacial geology than you ever thought you’d know.

Amish Country: St. Charles-Harmony-La Crescent-Spring Grove, Minnesota

A stretch of road provides a 77-mile ramble through the wooded hills and intimate hollows of southeast Minnesota’s “bluff country.” Crossing the great rift valley of the Root River at Lanesboro, the drive passes through Amish farm country near Harmony and loops north and east through small towns and secluded valleys to the Mississippi River.

Sonoma-Napa Valleys Scenic Drive: Santa Rosa to Hopland, California
A scenic drive and wine tasting extravaganza! This 132 mile scenic drive loops through the wine country of Sonoma and Napa and follows three California highways. Winding through rolling mountains and dense forests, the scenic drive also passes through Clear Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within the state. Along with wine tastings, there are numbers state parks and sites including Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga.

Sonoma-Mendocino Coast Scenic Drive: Marin City to US 101, California
This California scenic drive starts on the Marin Peninsula just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and follows Highway 1 up the beautiful Pacific coast. The highway passes through historic sites, redwood forests, wave carved coves, quiet sandy beaches and much more. From Muir Woods to Point Reyes National Seashore there are tons of state parks and beaches to visit and be awed by.

Monterey, California to Morro Bay, California
Traveling through California from Monterey to Morro Bay is a scenic drive that tops them as the best of the west. Beginning south of Monterey, the highway takes you along the Big Sur where the Santa Lucia Range meets the Pacific Ocean. This scenic drives offers an abundance of marine life, sandy beaches and breathtaking views.

– The above was written by Kathryn Gierok, Seed contributor.



Ocean Parkway, Long Island, New York
Starting at Jones Beach in the west, you can cruise East along the Atlantic Coast dune line of Long Island. Multiple beach stops along the way include Tobay, Gilgo and Oak Beach. It’s straight, desolate, with magical salty ocean breezes.

Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, Northern California
There’s only one road that takes you through the sparse and exclusive community. Breathtaking views of the Pacific bluffs on one side and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the other. Multiple state parks for camping, hiking and sightseeing all along Highway 1.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Miles and miles of (super) natural rock sculpture. Endless arrays of wildlife, especially endangered and protected herds of buffalo. If you’re lucky enough to ride West towards Sturges during bike week, you’ll have an escort of 150,000 bad-ass bikers.

Independence Pass, Aspen, Colorado
One of the highest paved roads in the country, with an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Hairpin turns in bad weather combined with unforgettable views of the Rockies give you Ansel Adams beauty and pure adrenaline in the same ride.

Ecola State Park, Oregon Coast
Also an extension of the Pacific Coast Highway (named Route 101 in Orgeon). Breathtaking views of the Northwest Pacific Coast. March starts the spring run of brilliant whale watching.

2nd Avenue, New York City
After 10:00 PM, take the RFK Bridge (formerly the Triboro) into Manhattan with the stunning New York City skyline on your left. Take the FDR drive South, get off at 116th street. Make a left onto Second Avenue. Roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, drive all the way downtown and feel the city rhythm under your wheels.

Florida Keys, Route A1A, South Florida
A one lane road into and out of paradise. Traffic and roadwork can get ugly, but what’s the rush? Warm breezes, lazy palms and the bluest of blue water as far as the eye can see in every direction. Spring breakers on the move add a party flavor.

Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Classic road trip stuff. Grab your friends, pack all the necessary accoutrements, rent an old convertible and be the American Dream. Start in the afternoon, get that magic Sierra sunset and hit the Strip by nightfall.

I-87 North, Upstate New York
In September/October, the entire Adirondack region is afire with Autumn color. Beautiful side exits take you to Saratoga, Woodstock or Fort Ticonderoga. Stop for an hour to go apple picking – it’s a must.

The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii
This might be the most incredible drive in the United States. The first half is all flora, fauna and waterfalls. The ride back through volcano country is psychedelic, martian-like and wrought with peril if not taken seriously. The remote rainforest village of Nahiku is heaven on Earth.

– The above was written by Drew Moss, Seed contributor.

[Image credits: Nicholas T, Wolfgang Staudt, Mi Pah, puroticorico, thomaspix and [le]doo ]

Get a “vacation makeover” and visit Mt. Rushmore this summer

The Black Hills Visitor Industry and Kodak are joining forces to give five lucky travelers a “vacation makeover” this summer, sending them on a South Dakota adventure. All they have to do to win, is share their best vacation story ever, and we all know we have great travel tales to tell.

The Vacation Makeover: Destination Mt. Rushmore contest is designed to bring out the travel writer that is lurking inside all of us. The contest organizers want to hear are absolute best travel stories, whether they’re hilarious, adventurous, or just plain tragic, they want to hear them all. Better yet, they’re going to post the stories on BlackHills.travel for everyone to enjoy and comment on.

Contest chairman Brian Boyer says, “Over the years, we in Black Hills tourism have heard great stories from our visitors about their road trips, family vacations and outdoor adventures. We thought it would be fun to gather great tales like these into a single website. He goes on to add, “And no matter what your story, we think the Black Hills can give you a more memorable travel experience. That’s why we’re offering a Vacation Makeover.”

Visitors to the contest website will vote on their favorite stories, with the top four storytellers winning a trip to South Dakota. As a bonus, everyone who casts a vote will also be entered into a sweepstakes, with a fifth name being drawn to join the trip. Those five winners will be off to the Black Hills later this year. All five winners will be able to document their journey on a brand new Zx1 Pocket Video Camera courtesy of Kodak, and when they head back home, they can edit their vacation movies, with the best one being shown on the Kodak Jumbotron in New York’s Time Square.

So, head on over to the website and share your best travel story. If it is good enough, you could end up on a Black Hills adventure of your own this summer.

Hole N” the Rock in Utah, one-of-a-kind-roadside must see

There’s Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota that pays tribute to one man’s vision of turning solid rock into the faces of U.S. presidents. And there’s Hole N” the Rock in Utah–one man’s vision to turn a rock into a home and a gift shop.

Not far south of Moab, Utah on U.S. 191, along gorgeous red rock cliffs that glow almost neon against the blue sky, you’ll see billboards that shout out statements like “Hole N” the Rock, Must See Attraction!!!” Curiosity builds. What is it? What is this “Hole N” the Rock? you might think. I know I did when the Hole N” the Rock came into view as my family and I tootled along the highway on our way to Montana from New Mexico on July 1. Because it was right off the highway, 12 miles south of Moab, it would have been an easy stop, however, we were there after closing.

I craned my neck to see what I could for future reference. Besides the obvious large white lettering on the side of the mountain that said “Hole N” The Rock,” inside the fence was a cacophony of statuary and hard to place items. It is difficult to see exactly what’s there when going 70 mph.

After reading up on this place, I’m thinking we missed out on a must see roadside attraction. Twice. TWICE. How could we have passed by it twice?

On our way back from Montana to New Mexico, with a side trip jaunt to Colorado in our plans, we sped past Hole N” The Rock after closing as well. Too bad. It seems like it might have more heart than Mount Rushmore–and I love Mount Rushmore.

Hole N” The Rock is not just a Hole N” The Rock. It’s a 14-room house and gift shop that was created as a roadside attraction from the 1940s through most of the 1950s by Albert Christensen. To make such an attraction, Albert carved out 50,000 feet of cubic sandstone.

Unfortunately, Albert died in 1957 before he totally finished his masterpiece that includes a carved face of Franklin D. Roosevelt above the home.

His wife Gladys kept Albert’s project going. Even though she died in 1974, the attraction continues to grow. A petting zoo was recently added.

Regardless of what you can buy in the gift shop, the tour of the home would be worth taking the time for, in my opinion. I’m always interested to see what passions people have to create such places. I can’t imagine one day Albert noticed that the sandstone was carvable and merely thought, “I have nothing else to do today. Maybe I’ll start making a house.”

If you are going to stop here for a look, timing is key. Hole N” The Rock closes at 5 p.m.–even in the summer. It is open all year. If you don’t have time to stop, still look for it. The place is in-your-face obvious.

Next time we are ever in the vicinity, we are stopping. I’m not letting the opportunity pass by one more time.

Guided tours of the house cost: Adults $5; Children, 5-10, $3.50; under 5, free.

Restaurant Rant: Big Time Pizza – Keystone, SD

Big Time PizzaNo one likes writing restaurant rants including myself, but when I encounter very bad service it then becomes my obligation to all potential travelers to make such piss poor service known. Sigh. Before I begin with my rant let me set up the scene in Keystone, SD around this time of year.

For starters it’s off-season in Keystone and what may be a bustling little place right outside of Mount Rushmore in summertime it feels quiet and deserted for fall and even more so for winter. Here and there a few businesses have closed up operation already and will reopen later next year and those that have yet to close either offer discounted rates on goods, limited goods or shorten business hours. All of which makes perfect sense if there aren’t any tourists around to generate a buck. Knowing this and that we were traveling in the area at such a point in the season my companion and I planned to eat dinner as early as we possibly could and remained aware and flexible towards business operation in town. However, business operation and hospitality/service are not entirely one of the same. Here’s my spill:

The first evening we found ourselves at Big Time Pizza it was about 8:30 PM. We stepped in to what appeared to be a humble, cozy kind of family-owned spot that claimed to make all other pizzas jealous. Having had pizza two nights before, we were really interested in just munching on a salad or a sub. On the menu you’ll find half a page listing a variety of subs and half with different pizza selections. On the back there were roughly three salads listed. I had decided on the chef salad and my pal was going for the 6 inch veggie sub. Our server was an older woman (also part-owner) who peered over her glasses and smiled as she made everything we requested sound like an inconvenience. When I requested a slice of lemon for my water she made it sound as if I were in luck that they just so happen to have sliced one. Huh? She said no one had ordered salad in weeks and she would have to see if they had everything needed to make the chef salad. She returned and reported that the lettuce they had wasn’t the normal iceberg type or spinach kind, but it was still good and good for me. I asked if they could kindly serve the salad without the green pepper or the onions and she said told me they came on the side and that I could take it off. (I asked assuming their salads were freshly made as they were and not pre-packaged like a McDonald’s salad.) Thankfully she gave me a napkin so when my salad arrived I could pick everything I did not want off and place it on the napkin. When my friend put in his sub order she had little to say other than there was only one chef in the back and that she would have to see if he could make the sub. Um, fair enough I suppose. Anyhow, our food arrived and we gobbled it down. Having realized how delicious his veggie sub was my friend politely ordered a second serving. Our server as nice as can be told us the chef couldn’t without even consulting him. He was only making pizza. While I thought all of what we experienced strange I kept telling myself we were travelers at the mercy of the off-season business blues. We paid our bill and left.

However, my poor service story continues.On the following day we had consumed a large portion of the day exploring Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Needles Highway, and the whole shebang. The area was absolutely beautiful, but we were getting weary and concerned with time. We knew we had to get something to eat early before everything closed up. We returned to Big Time Pizza certainly not because of their great service, but because we didn’t know if anything else along the main drag was open and didn’t want to miss our chance at having dinner. On this second visit just a day after our first we found that Big Time Pizza was nothing other than a Big Time Let Down. We were seated by a cute little girl who had to have been around 8 or so and shortly afterwards greeted by our server from the previous day. Before we could put in our very same orders from the previous day she said there was no more salad and the chef was only making pizza. We left.

As we drove down the road in search of other restaurants we couldn’t help wondering if we had ordered a pizza if they would have had the kind we wanted? The thing that struck me most bizarre is everything on the veggie sub could be found on a pizza and much faster to fix than making pizza. Everything on the chef salad could be found on a pizza and faster to make as well. What was the issue? Even if it is off-season you’d think they’d go they extra-mile to make all the money possible before things really slow down, but obviously good service and making our money was unimportant.

We ended up having fantastic salads at the Ruby House though. If you’re ever in Keystone, SD go there first and don’t even deal with Big Time Pizza a.k.a Big Time Waste of Time. Note: Big Time Pizza is neither owned or operated by the Roosevelt Inn.

Big Time Pizza is located in the Roosevelt Inn on Highway 16A in Keystone and is open all year. Ph. 605.666.4443