The 5 Best National Parks for Sunrises and Sunsets

Similar to yesterday’s top 5 National Parks feature, by their very nature all National Parks have amazing sunrises and sunsets. Having said that, some are a little better than others. Without further ado, here is today’s list.

5) Shenandoah National Park: Fighting off strong challenges from Canyonlands National Park and Haleakala National Park is Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive runs north/south atop the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains giving a gorgeous sunrise on one side of the road and an amazing sunset on the other side. Fog is common in the mornings creating a fabulous sunrise.

Sunrise in Shenandoah National Park.

4) Acadia National Park: Next on this list is Acadia National Park. From the summit of Cadillac Mountain you can be the first in the USA to see the sunrise. Really the views from any of the mountains in this park are amazing.

View from Champlain Mountain.

3) Grand Canyon National Park: 3rd on our list is also one of the most visited. Sunrise and sunset bring out amazing colors in the rocks that washed out by the bright sun during the day.

Mather Point.

2) Saguaro National Park: The final two entries on our list are very close. Both are amazing and beautiful. At #2 is Saguaro National Park. A sunset here with a giant saguaro cactus in the foreground is almost as good as it can get.

Saguaros can grow over 40 feet tall!

1) Joshua Tree National Park: California’s Joshua Tree National Park has the best sunsets in the National Park system. Look at this sunset and try to disagree. Congratulations Joshua Tree National Park!

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park.

National Park Half Marathons! How did I not know about this before?

During my recent visit to Yellowstone NP, I was made aware that they had a half marathon weekend in the park planned for the following weekend.    My wife is an avid runner (while I am more of a hiker), but we were shocked that we were not aware that this was a thing.   After doing some more research, we found that there are races in many of the National Parks.   Having said that, it is difficult to find information about National Park races online.   The NPS website doesn’t even mention them unless you want to scroll through long lists of activities which could take a lot of time.   No one organization seems to sponsor the races either, so there is not one central place to find out information about the races.

We are considering doing the Joshua Tree Half Marathon which is on November 4th 2017, and matches up well with our anniversary trip we do every year.   Also, it is a night race so the opportunity to stargaze during this race will be incredible.  If you’d like to join us at this race then check out:


I will say that I am not familiar with runsignup or Vacation Races (which I am not sure if they are separate organizations or just link to each other).  I will have to update you after I participate in one of their races with how they handle the logistics of the race.   This group does offer a long list of half marathons that they sponsor in or near the National Parks (I noticed that some are not technically in the NP’s so check for that carefully).   You can find more information here:

Now some of the National Park’s seem to have locally sponsored races.   For example, Acadia National Park in Maine just had their annual race sponsored by the Mount Desert Island YMCA:   That looked to be a gorgeous race following the rocky coastline of the Park.   Think of all the lobster rolls you could eat after burning off calories doing a 10K or half marathon!


Rocky Coastline in Acadia National Park

If you like to participate in these kind of events, then I encourage you to do some research online or reach out directly to the National Park you want to visit and run through.   This does seem to be a great way to experience a National Park in a new way.   As always, thank you for reading.   rk

Sunday Hikes: Mastodon Peak Loop Trail

This hike was my favorite hike during my recent trip to Southern California.   The 2.3 mile long Mastodon Peak Loop Trail is on the far southern end of Joshua Tree National Park near the Cottonwood Visitor Center.   We were lucky to have warm weather in the low 80’s and blue skies with puffy white clouds.   After parking in the Cottonwood Springs parking lot, we took off down the Cottonwood Springs Trail.   The Mastodon Peak Loop follows this trail for approximately a mile before veering left and looping back around towards the campground.

pic 1

Following the Cottowood Trail before the Mastodon Peak Loop veers off

The beginning of the trail goes right by the Cottonwood Spring which is a virtual oasis in the desert.   The massive Cottonwood trees surrounding the spring look so out of place in the surrounding desert.   After passing the spring, the desert returns in force with cactus, rocks, and sandstone.   After taking the left to follow the Mastodon Peak Loop and leaving behind the Cottonwood Trail, we started to pick up some elevation.   Once we ascended to the peak, there was one of the signature giant rock piles that you see in Joshua Tree NP.   Of course Josh had to climb to the top, so Anya and I followed him as he picked his way up through the rocks.

pic 2

Starting to ascend to the high point of the Mastodon Peak Loop Trail

Climbing rocks in Joshua Tree NP is incredibly fun.   It is part rock scramble and part hopping from rock to rock.   We ended up circling around the peak and coming up the back side of the rock formation.  We admired the view with the surprising sight of a large body of water to the south.   After looking online, I think it was the Salton Sea, but I’m not 100% sure of that.   We found a shaded spot in the rocks at the top.   We each had a granola bar and chilled for a bit.   I then made my way down so I could take some pictures of Josh and Anya on the top.

view from top

View from the top of Mastodon Peak with the Salton Sea? in the distance

josh and anya.JPG

Josh and Anya at the top of Mastodon Peak in Joshua Tree NP

After taking the pictures, I went ahead a bit while Josh and Anya worked their way down.   Almost immediately around the corner is the entrance to a gold mine.  The gold mine is barred but you can easily look down into it.   There is a partial structure beside it which looked to be in the process of being rebuilt.   It was cool to think that under the Mastodon Peak we had climbed was a gold mine.   Josh and Anya caught up then and checked out the mine as well.

gold mine

Mastodon Mine sign and barrier

gold mine 2

Peering down into the Mastodon Mine

After leaving the gold mine area, we quickly finished the loop and made our way back to the car.  This hike was amazing and I can’t recommend it enough.


Sunday Hikes: Lions, Tarantulas, and Giant Hares on the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree NP


I went to Joshua Tree NP in November 2016 with my mom; we only spent a half a day, which only gave me a tiny taste of what the park has to offer! Mom and I drove around and looked for the best hike for our short time! One of the trails we looked at but did not have the chance to do was the Boy Scout Trail. This is an eight mile, one way hike that starts in desert surrounded by Joshua Trees and goes into a mountain, small Valley and ends with more desert. Not really my kind of hike because of the 16 miles round trip. The trail caught my eye because of the “warning” sign that was informing hikers of sick bighorn sheep spotted on the mountain portion of the trail. Rangers wanted hikers to call in if they saw any ill bighorn, so they could get them medical help. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do the hike in November.

When Dad, Josh and I decided to go back to Joshua Tree in March, the only thing I wanted to do was the Boy Scout Trail. Dad and Josh agreed and we were all so excited and anxiously awaiting the small chance we could see a bighorn!

We decided it would be a cool evening hike! Instead of doing the 8 miles in and 8 miles out, we parked our car at ranger station by the exit of the trail and took an Uber into the park to the trailhead. I thought it was a clever idea! Our Uber driver was very friendly and chatty- a little too chatty. By the end of the 30 minute ride, we knew just about his whole life story. We told him we were hoping to see a bighorn and he proceeded to tell us we probably wouldn’t but to watch out for mountain lions and good luck; we laughed as he drove off.

We started the trail around 6 pm. We were having a blast talking, joking and enjoying the scenery. I loved seeing the Joshua Trees in bloom and seeing all the plants in  the desert! About a mile into the hike we saw a couple of jackrabbits, which dad tried to chase down to get a good picture of. I don’t think he succeeded.


The sun started setting around 7 and it was beautiful. The silhouette of the Joshua trees in front of the sunset was very pretty and unique! The sunset was a bright pink and orange and made a glow on the rocks which formed the start of the mountain.


Before the mountain portion of the trail began, we climbed a big rock and brewed some coffee at the top. One of my favorite memories from the entire trip was watching the sunset on top of the rock while making the coffee. It was getting dark quickly, so we took our coffee and snack to-go on the trail!


We hiked the mountain portion of the trail and started entering the valley. There is always some point of a longer hike where everyone is quiet for awhile and you focus on the trail, the views and take in the sounds of nature- or in this case, the silence of nature. We were at that “point” of the hike.

It was quiet when all the sudden, within a few seconds, so much happened. I ran into Dad and Josh who were walking a few feet ahead of me, and there was a loud noise. I had no idea what the noise was, but quickly caught along when the boys started screaming, jumping, and throwing rocks. There was a mountain lion 4 feet away from us. We had startled it since we were being quiet. I quickly joined Dad and Josh, trying to scare the mountain lion away. I was so scared! The lion eventually creeped out of our sight, but did not go far. I grabbed a rock for protection, just in case!  We kept hiking, terrified and confused. We all took turns explaining what we saw and heard to process what happened.

Not long after our encounter, we saw a tarantula. In any other circumstance, I would not be thrilled to see a big spider, but I would choose a tarantula over a mountain lion any day! Josh and I wanted to keep moving and get as far away from the lion, but Dad tried to stop and take a photo. Josh and I were not pleased with that.

We hiked quickly, played music, and talked at a loud volume to insure our “friend” left us alone. The three of us were paranoid and ready to see that car. Thankfully, we never saw the mountain lion again!

We finally reached the car around 9:30 and I don’t think I have ever felt so relieved. We ditched our rocks that we carried the last 4 miles of the hike for protection and hopped into the car to head back to the hotel!


Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park


One of the most fun parts about Joshua Tree National Park is the rock climbing.   If you have never been there, it is an amazing sight to behold the piles of rocks that look to have been stacked up by giants.   I’m scared of heights, but I impressed myself in climbing up some of the rock scrambles.   Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for the serious rock climbers with all the accompanying equipment or for people like me who are basically jumping from rock to rock.   Some of the best places to climb in the park are near Hidden Valley, near Skull Rock, and on the Cottonwood Spring trail.

rock climber

This rock climber is more brave than me.   He is climbing in the Hidden Valley area of the park.

hidden valley

The Great Burrito rock formation