Monday, April 4, 2011

A Day at the Park

Hey, are you looking for a great way to save money on a spring getaway this year? I'll give you two: rent a timeshare, and visit a U.S. National Park. If you're a follower of my blog - you are following my blog, aren't you? - you know all about saving money by renting timeshares instead of staying at typical hotels. But you may not be aware that April 16 - 24 is National Parks Week and admission to all 394 national parks is free. As in zero dollars. That's right, 84 million acres of the world's most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks, and cultural treasures, absolutely without charge.

Now when you think of the national parks, you probably think of millions of acres of wilderness like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, and you'd pretty much need the whole week to properly visit these places. But did you know that the White House, Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are all managed by the U.S. National Parks Service? Yeah, the list of sites managed by the NPS includes national monuments and landmarks - as well as parks - some of which are right in the heart of the most populated areas of the country. Take Castle Clinton in New York City, for example. Never heard of it? It lies at the southern tip of Manhattan island in an area known as the Battery. Named after Governor Clinton (no not Bubba) it was built to protect NYC during the War of 1812. Since then it has seen time as an opera house, a station for processing immigrants, an aquarium, and its present configuration as a source of education and entertainment for visitors to lower Manhattan. Ironically, a site that was originally built to keep people out is now the most visited national monument in the country, accepting visitors from all over the planet. Its numbers may be a bit inflated since Castle Clinton is the starting point for the journey to both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, but it certainly holds its own as a NYC travel destination. Check out the Manhattan Club or The Hilton Club New York for timeshare rentals.

But you may want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities for spring break, and that is understandable. If rolling mountains, crisp air, and long hikes among springtime flora and fauna are more your speed, the NPS has you covered again. In fact, the most visited park in the entire NPS system is famous for all of these attributes. Do you know which park it is? If you guessed Great Smoky Mountains National Park (without the assistance of Google), give yourself a gold star. Located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the park lies right in the heart of Appalachia. It boasts over 800 miles of hiking trails, camping, wildlife, and a window back in time to southern mountain culture. And according to the NPS website, the park is home to the greatest level of biodiversity to be found anywhere in the world's temperate zones. It's no wonder that over 9 million visitors stop by each year.

You can base yourself out of Gatlinburg, TN, where plenty of timeshare rentals can be found, and visit Pigeon Forge and Dollywood too. That's right, Dolly Parton's got her own theme park in the town of her birth. So if you want a break from the natural splendor of the Smokeys and you've got a hankerin' for some good old country music, spandex, and rhinestones, head on over. You won't be disappointed.

If you want to get even further away from it all, I cannot think of a place more remote and beautiful as Dry Tortugas National Park. It's located 70 miles off the cost of Key West at the edge of the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. The Tortugas (turtles in Spanish) are seven small islands or keys, among a scattering of hundreds of smaller rocky outcroppings and coral reefs. This helped make this area an extremely hazardous - but much coveted - trade route for early European colonists. So it should come as no surprise that there are over 100 shipwrecks in the immediate area of the Tortugas. Combined with crystal-clear water, coral reefs, and thousands of species of fish and marine life, you've got yourself a snorkeling paradise. But there is more than just natural splendor on display here. There is also Fort Jefferson, whose construction was begun by the U.S. in the mid 19th century to protect this valuable trade route. Although never actually completed, it later did time as a military prison and today is an extremely rare example of early American masonry coastal forts. It's most infamous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, noted for setting the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth in the hours after killing President Lincoln, and aiding in his near getaway. He was eventually pardoned by President Johnson, but not before serving nearly four years in Fort Jefferson. In an ironic twist, the man convicted of conspiring to kill the Great Emancipator served out his punishment at a prison managed by the 82nd United States Colored Infantry, a unit comprised almost entirely of freed slaves.

Now you won't find any timeshares, or development of any type on Dry Tortugas. The only way to get here is by seaplane or ferry from Key West, which is fortunately loaded with fantastic timeshare rental options. So plan a trip over to Dry Tortugas and leave some time for exploring Key West's rich history, including the Winter White House and the homes of both Tennessee Williams and Ernest "Papa" Hemingway. If you visit the Hemingway House, keep an eye out for the Hemingway polydactyl cats. Do you know about these critters? Polydactyl cats are noted for having six or seven seven toes on each paw, and all of these cats are said to be descendants of Papa's six-toed pet "Snowball". I wonder if they pay extra to get those buggers declawed?

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