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]

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.

More reasons to head to South Dakota: The Black Hills

Catherine’s already told us about South Dakota having the geographical center of the United States. I thought of this last night when a friend was telling me about her road trip by herself to Montana from Ohio. There are many reasons to head here. My friend mentioned the Black Hills and the Badlands as high points. I’ve been through this part of the U.S. a few times myself and can say, it is truly spectacular and worth a trip or two. Both my friend and I said that this is a part of the U.S. to visit more than once. You can’t possibly take in all that’s fantastic in one sweep.

There’s a new blog to help travelers plan out their trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. It’s easy to remember the name of it. The Black Hills Travel Blog is one of those that shines. Here you’ll find info about the attractions, tips, traveler’s tale and features.

I remember after we left Mt. Rushmore (I recommend it. There’s a reason why it’s a National Park), I thought that the area around it would be a fine place to park for a few days of exploring. Nice to know there’s another resource to help plan a trip. This is a slick, well done Web site with lush photos and videos.