Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site

Visited: August 2020

Accommodations: Holiday Inn, La Junta, Colorado

Duration: 2-3 hours

This Fort built in 1833 (originally called Fort William) by traders Charles and William Bent and their partner Ceran St. Vrain sought to establish a base for trading to include trappers from the Rocky Mountains, plains Indians buffalo traders and the Santa Fe trail travelers. This place became known as a haven to the travelers of the Santa Fe trail, after 2 months on the trail this was a great site to see. This was our main reason for stopping at this historic site. We have been following the Santa Fe trail since Old Franklin, Missouri. It was a great site for us to see as well.

By 1846, now called Bent’s Fort, it was used for more than trading. It was now used as a military outpost and was used as staging point for the United States’ invasion of Mexico.

We started out here first thing in the morning, Colorado afternoons can get hot. It was a beautiful cool summer morning to enjoy. We walked up to the fort from the parking lot and got some great views of the fort.

As you enter the fort you turn to your left and a ranger will get you your Junior Ranger books and send you off to watch the park film. Cancellations can be found in the way back of the fort in the bookstore. Don’t miss this bookstore it surprised me how nice it was at this little fort. We watched the park film and then self toured the fort answering questions in our booklets. The Junior Ranger books have maps to follow so you know what each room is, this is a nice bonus to have as the kids tell you as we enter each room.

We did the first floor and the the second floor. The setup here is great Grandma and Hunter even enjoyed a game of checkers in the quarters.

Gunnar LOVED the blacksmith shop! He was able to run the equipment and forge a nail.

View from the upper deck with rangers dressed in period clothing to aid in the authentication of the fort.

And my favorite picture I took here, I was waiting for the boys to finish up their junior rangers around the fire ring and I got this one. I love it. Perfect ending to a great morning on the Santa Fe Trail.

If you haven’t been following us along the trail you can do so here:

Santa Fe Trail

We went back into the trade room to earn our badges and we were off. Thus ending our tour of the Santa Fe trail on this trip and finishing out all NPS sites in Colorado. Check back for those.

We got everything we needed here and have never been more thankful that NPS sites are opening back up from Covid. Junior Ranger badge and cancellations, bookstore open for purchases. Our day was made.

Have you been here? We loved it here, everything was perfect after dealing with places shut down or at half capacity due to Covid. This made us feel somewhat normal again.


Tennessee state line sign, #32 out of 50. This one we picked up on the way home from our Florida Spring Break Trip in 2019. We pass it all the time now and I giggle because there is always a traffic jam here and I can’t believe we stopped. Good thing it was early in the morning so it wasn’t too bad. This location is just west of Chattanooga, Tennessee on I-24 North.

We also got the one below on our way south to Florida at a rest stop heading into Tennessee from Kentucky. It was on I-75 South at the Tennessee Welcome Center just over the border. We loved this one.

While in Tennessee we have (and are planning) to visit all of the National Park Service Sites, we will list them as we go, so check back frequently because this is a pass through state for us so we plan to stop and get one each time, if time permits

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Stone’s River National Battlefield (check back when I catch up on my blogging)

I love this state, it is gorgeous with lots of things to do. Have you been to Tennessee, what else do we need to see while we are here??

Great Smokey Mountains

Visited: November 2020

Accommodations: Spring Hill Suites, Pidgeon Forge (Free with Time share promo)

Duration: 2-3 days

This was a long weekend trip planned during Covid, as stated in my previous post we answered a phone call for a Marriot Time Share Promo and off we went to Tennessee. We did NOT buy into the time share it was a complete rip off. It would have cost what a house would have cost and then we were limited on where we could go and stay. Back to the adventure, nobody came here looking for time share info.

We spent 3 days in Gatlinburg/Pidgeon Forge. Lots to do and see, we didn’t get everything on my list done, but we sure gave it 100%.

We started out at Sugarlands Visitor Center getting our map of the park and Junior Ranger books, this is a great place to start your adventure.

We then drove down the Newfound Gap Road to Clingman’s dome to start our day. We had heard the parking lots fill up fast and the road gets busy so we started this early in morning and will work our way back towards Gatlinburg.

We hiked up to Clingman’s dome, which I thought I was going to die, be prepared for this trip. My kids ran it….showoffs.

Beautiful views from up here. We stopped in the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center for some souvenirs and then headed back the way we came. Stopping for several photo opportunities along the way.

Once back up to close to where we started we headed down the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, this was already packed with people but we were able to get some great pictures. I would love to come back in earlier fall, this place is gorgeous.

Finished up that loop and headed down Little River Road, this is a LONG, twisty road that leads to Cades Cove Visitor Center and Cades Cove. There are several places to stop and get beautiful photos on this road.

When we arrived a the Cades Cove loop we saw our first black bear on the side of the road. We stopped at the visitor center for even more souvenirs and passport stamps.

Lots more photo ops on this road as well. Back to back traffic here. We stopped off at the Ranger Station outside of Cade’s Cove to earn our Junior Ranger. The Ranger there was super excited to help us, he says he doesn’t ever get to do Junior Ranger badges that often, so we were glad we popped in here.

We did take a short cut back to Pidgeon Forge by taking Highway 73 out of the park. After trying to drive through Gaitlinburg and Pidgeon Forge, I would suggest to anyone trying to visit this park to stay away from those towns if you don’t like people and traffic. There are nice little campgrounds and hotels around the park off of the smaller highways that I would suggest looking at. We didn’t know, now we do.

We didn’t get down to Oconaluftee Visiter Center in the southern part of the park, we do plan to come back, its on our way to several southern states so completely doable. We will be back for more passport stamps.

We spent the rest of our time doing some fun experiences in Gatlinburg and PF. By far our favorites were, Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theatre (not to be missed), Sugarlands Distilling Company Shine Tasting, and we really enjoyed Hillbilly Golf.

Hope you enjoyed our visit to the most visited National Park in America. We think it is beautiful and is not to be missed if you are in Tennessee. Have you been there?? We would love to hear what your favorite part was so if we missed it we can do it when we re-visit!

Gateway Arch National Park

Visited: November 2020

Accommodations: Driving from home to Gatlinburg, TN this was a stop on the way

Duration: 3-4 hours

This National Park was a great stopping point on our way to our final destination of Great Smokey Mountains National Park. During Covid we got so bored being quarantined and working from home we started answering telemarketing calls. My husband won a free weekend in Gatlinburg if we listened to a time share spiel. What else were we going to do this year?? We signed up and we are on the way.

We parked on the street over by the Old Courthouse and wandered around. The Courthouse was closed for visitors to the park but the Arch was open. The Courthouse is still beautiful to get pictures around the outside. There is an amazing park to relax at just to the West of it and a great place for pictures.

We usually get a National Park sign at the entrance to the park. We look all over and this one pictured below was all we could find. If you know of one let us know, we would go back.

We wandered on over to the Arch and it was like trying to get in to Fort Knox. My goodness this place was like being at the airport and going through TSA. It took some time but……..They let us in! Woo Hoo. We purchased tickets ahead of time to go to the top of the arch, we watched the movie Monument to the Dream (it was really good, I highly recommend this), we hit the gift shop, and we visited the museum while doing our Junior Ranger. The Junior Ranger was a tough one, it takes a lot of work and looking for the answers in the museum.

The museum is gorgeous and wonderfully done. It is divided into 6 areas; Jefferson’s Vision, Riverfront Era, Building the Arch, Colonial St. Louis, Manifest Destiny and New Frontiers. As you go through the museum you will need to complete one activity in each of the six galleries to earn your Junior Ranger.

If you aren’t doing the Junior Ranger the museum is still a really neat place to walk through. We really enjoyed the Building the Arch section. Also I am going to highly recommend watching the film Monument to the Dream. It was nicely done and kept my kids attention the whole time. Amazing how this Arch went from an idea to being built to becoming a National Park and Gateway to the West.

After we had hit all of the good stops we saved the best for last. The ride to the top. Here we are waiting for our little tin box to take us up 630 feet into the air. It takes 4 minutes to go up and 3 minutes going down.

We all crammed in and made it to the top. See below for some of our views of St. Louis. On a clear day you can see 30 miles from the top. Highlight was seeing the Cardinals baseball stadium.

Fun facts:

Gateway Arch is the tallest human built monument in the US.

It is 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at the base.

The Arch is designed to sway up to 18 inches in high winds or an earthquake.

This park was formally known as Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (1935) and in 2018 became a National Park named Gateway Arch National Park

There were 172 proposal designs, Eero Saarinen’s proposal was chosen.

Construction costs totaled 13 million dollars.

We made it down from the top, earned our Junior Ranger badges, got our Passports stamped in the gift shop and we are headed East to Tennessee for the night.

Not bad for a days work. This was a nice park to visit, we really enjoyed our stop here, we have driven by so many times it made it fun to stop and see it.

Hope you enjoyed our visit. Have you been to the Arch?? It’s pretty amazing once you learn all of the information about how it came to be.

Check back for the most visited national park in America.


State line sign # 37 for us. We got this clear back in 2019 and I am just now getting around to posting it. It took us awhile but we have visited some National Park Service Sites in Kentucky and now we can blog them.

This picture was taken on I -24 North leaving Tennessee on a trip home from Florida.

National Park Service Sites we have visited in Kentucky:

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

As much as we enjoyed the parks in this state our highlight was The Louisville Slugger Museum, so glad we stopped and the kids say “it was the best part of the trip so far”. Ha ha, we just started the trip yesterday.

As soon as you get to the Museum/Factory you are greeted with the giant bat, you can’t miss it.

Once inside they have a fantastic museum of how bats originated, how they are made, what they are made and everything else. The boy’s favorites were the wax statues of the legends of baseball. Here is Hunter making Babe Ruth look short.

We wandered around the museum for about 20 minutes, watched a guy teach us how they burn the emblem into the bats and now we are off to go into the factory (this is a must do).

When done with your tour you get a free mini bat! Kids were pumped about that. But what they really loved was getting a regular sized personalized bat for themselves in the gift shop.

While the bats were being made we wandered around and found the batting cages. The boys had a blast hitting with the wood bats. They were heavy and slick, not quite ready for the MLB yet, but getting closer.

This place was a home run!! We all loved it. We are off to visit some more Abraham Lincoln sites just 45 minutes south of Louisville. We really recommend a stop here at the Slugger Museum and Factory.

We think Kentucky is a beautiful state and we are cabin a great time learning about our 16th President.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Visited: July 2020

Accommodations: Staying with family in Ohio

Duration: 5 hours

Our trip to Mammoth Cave was a Covid trip, we did this park in the summer while visiting my brother’s family in Cincinnati. Not everything was open on our trip but we were lucky that some things were. Some parks had shut down completely and weren’t even open during this time. The Visitor Center was open and you could do the Historic Tour and………. that was about it. Historic tour was a do it yourself walk with Rangers in the middle and at the end answering questions. We also had to purchase tickets in advance, not sure if you need to still do this or not now.

We began our visit to the park in the visitor center getting all of our goodies we get at every park. We then exited out the back of the visitor center and waited for our tour to start, in the meantime we worked on our Junior Ranger books we picked up at the VC.

Mammoth Cave National Park is the most extensive system on Earth. 4,000 years of exploration here still doesn’t cover the full length of the caves. There is 365 miles of surveyed passageways with is twice as long as any other known cave. Geologists think there could be 600 miles of undiscovered passageways. This vast cave system holds one of the world’s most diverse cave ecosystems with 130 forms of life. Most of these inhabitants are very small. Most of these are special cave dwellers that cannot live anywhere else.

Prehistoric peoples explored 10 or more miles of the cave 4,000 years ago. Cave exploration ceased 2,000 years ago, not to resume until the cave was rediscovered in 1798.

It’s time for our tour! Down the walkway we go into the cave.

We walked down steps to get into the cave.

Don’t forget to bring a coat, it’s cold in the cave.

The walk down was gorgeous, I would like to come back to explore what this park has to offer above ground.

We walked our way through the cave and back, not much to see and its hard to take pictures. We stopped for a great talk with a ranger about the ceiling art, was fun to listen to, otherwise you were on your own on this tour.

It was nice that we could move at our own pace, but without a tour guide we really didn’t learn much on this “tour”. Back to the entrance to go up the steps and out. I think we are done here for the day.

Due to Covid we had to send in our Junior Ranger books. This is the only park that doesn’t send them back with the badges!!!! WHAT???? Yes, we got our badges back but not our books. Oh well you live and you learn. Passports stamped, badges earned, we are heading back to Cincinnati.

I think this is a great park with lots of perks, things to do and cool things surrounding it, I just think we need to re-visit when there isn’t a pandemic going on.


We already had a Kansas sign (taken at an exit on the turnpike) but we wanted a official state line sign. This was our 8th state if we counted the turnpike pic. The state line picture was taken at the border of Colorado and Kansas while we were following the Sante Fe Trail through Kansas.

Kansas National Park Sites we have visited:

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Santa Fe Trail Central Terminus

Santa Fe Trail Mountain Terminus

Santa Fe Trail

As of the time of this posting we have no plans to do any of the rest of the Kansas parks unless we are passing through to go somewhere else. However plans are always a changing with this crew. Check back for more Kansas sites.

I think our favorite was the Santa Fe Trail through the state.

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Visited: June 2020

Location: Fort Scott, Kansas

Accommodations: day trip from home

Duration: 1-2 hours

We had bought a new horse trailer and it just so happened to be in a town that had a National Park Service Site, how fun is that. We took off early in the morning with our old trailer and headed down to Fort Scott. While they were getting our new trailer ready we had lunch with some friends and then spent about an 1-1.5 hours walking the grounds at Fort Scott National Historic Site. Due to Covid-19 not many things were open. We had to knock on the door at the Visitor Center, to get Junior Rangers, cancellations and a brochure. .

Fort Scott is an important site because of its history in Indian Removal, westward expansion, Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, and the Railroad years. Its story spans one of the most critical eras of our nation’s history. It was a beautiful summer day and we enjoyed our walk around the site.

We started at the Visitor Center and went clockwise around the site. Follow along.

Infantry Barracks (now houses a museum)

Dragoon Stables – The original stables were built in 1843, it housed over 80 stalls for horses and several rooms for the storage of hay, grain and tack. This is a reconstruction.

Dragoon Barracks – The Barracks were first occupied by Co. A of the 1st Dragoons in 1844. Soldiers were bunked in the upper level and they had their meals on the ground floor in the mess hall. This is a reconstruction.

Post Headquarters – This held the offices of the commanding officer and his adjutant, a court-martial room and artillery storerooms. This is a reconstruction.

Officers Quarters/Wilson-Goodlander House – This is where officers and their family lived. This is a restoration.

Quartermaster Storehouse -All of the military supplies needed were delivered and stored here. This is a restoration.

Post Bakery – a staple of a soldier’s diet is bread. The daily ration was baked in ovens here by bakers chosen from each company on a rotating basis. This is a restoration.

Guardhouse- This is where any military discipline would take place. Solitary confinement and a diet of bread and water were common punishment. This is a reconstruction.

Powder Magazine – The magazine, completed in 1844 and demolished in 1868 was the storage to the fort’s explosives. This is a reconstruction.

Below is the canopy well, situated in the middle of the fort grounds.

Back at the Visitor Center we handed in our Junior Ranger books, earned our badges and we were off. We made another trip down here in 2021 to get repairs done on our trailer and the Visitor Center was open for us to buy our magnets and other items. Another site done…….

Until next time……which I hope is soon. 3 months in the pandemic and this is getting old.

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Visited: July 2020

Location: Larned, Kansas

Accommodations: Holiday Inn, Great Bend, Kansas

Duration: 2-3 hours

Fort Larned National Historic Site was a stop on our way through Kansas while driving the Santa Fe Trail. Follow along on the trail at the following blogs.

Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Trail Eastern Terminus

Santa Fe Trail Central Route

Santa Fe Trail Mountain Route

Santa Fe Trail Western Terminus

We happen to visit this site during Covid so we were lucky they were open to the public. The visitor center was closed but we had checked before hand and knew what to do. We had them send us our Junior Ranger books and we knew to go to the blacksmith to get our cancellations. However he put them on separate pieces of paper so I just sent in extra pages when sending in our Junior Rangers to be checked and they sent us them back as well.

We started out walking into the entrance of the site, we were able to go in most buildings. This Junior Ranger required a lot of scavenger looking/hunting and finding things in each building. No problem for us. We only needed a couple of hints.

Fort Larned was established to help protect the U.S. mail and commercial traders attacked on the Santa Fe trail by the Indians, who resented the invasion of their homeland.

Fort Larned housed a mix of every culture: soldiers, plains indians, European Americans, Hispanic teamsters, hide hunters, scouts and railroad workers. The fort even housed African Americans known as Buffalo Soldiers. The fort is one of the best preserved western forts. The appearance of the fort today mirrors that of the later 1860’s. From 1865 to 1868 over 200 civilians worked to build ten sandstone buildings at the fort. Today nine of these building still stand.

We visited all buildings and enjoyed comparing the officer’s quarters to the barracks. For our Junior Ranger we had to be on high alert in all buildings to find objects, this helped to get the kids interested.

Blacksmith shop – kids LOVED Ranger Ben
People that stayed at the Fort engraved their names on the walls of the buildings
Courtyard at the fort

Well that pretty much sums up our stop at Fort Larned. We received Junior Ranger badges and cancellations in the mail. We are off to the next stops on the Santa Fe trail, it is so much fun. When you stop here make sure to stamp your cancellation in the Santa Fe Trail Junior Ranger as well and get your Junior Wagon Master Booklet signed, visiting this site gets you a completed task!!

Check back soon for more of National Park Trip Season 5, we veer off the Santa Fe Trail and explore the rest of the Colorado parks we haven’t visited yet.

Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail starts in New Franklin (pictured above) and ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was used to transport goods from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe. The trail was also used to transport military freight to the many forts in the Southwest. Once the railway made it to New Mexico the existence of the Santa Fe trail ended.

We picked the Santa Fe Junior Ranger booklet up at Fort Union National Historic site but we visited all of the sites along the trail. Here they are with links to the posts about our visits.

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Fort Union National Monument

Pecos National Historic Park

Also if you are planning to travel the trail or part of the trail I highly recommend doing and following the Junior Wagon Master Program, there is a book to follow and you will earn a certificate and some really cool patches to go with.

The Junior Wagon Master Program can be found following the link below

Junior Wagon Master Program

If interested in the program above follow our family through the book on the following blog posts:

Eastern Terminus of the Santa Fe Trail

Central Route of the Santa Fe Trail

Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail

Western Terminus of the Santa Fe Trail

Here is what you earn completing the Junior Wagon Master Booklet

Stopping at the above National historical sites and doing some general trail activities plus each park listed above activity will get you a Santa Fe Junior Ranger.

Not interested in Junior Rangers or Junior Wagon Master. Just stop in at any Santa Fe Trail National Park Service Site and grab a brochure. It comes with a map of the trail and you can just head out. All along the trail are highway wayside markers to stop at and find more information about each site on your way along the trail..

There are also cancellations at every NPS stop along the way as well, start collecting those, they add up.

That concludes our trip along the trail, we have done Santa Fe Trail, California, Oregon, and some of the Mormon Trail. We really enjoyed the Santa Fe Trail and we hope you do too.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Trails!!

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