Category Archives: Park Comments & Trip Advice

Lincoln Memorial and Great Speeches

Photo by Parkasaurus from May 2010

Today’s post is about the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC after being reminded that earlier this week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Memorial anchors the West end of the National Mall in West Potomac Park of downtown Washington, DC.  Inside the Greek-style Temple with Doric columns is, of course, the famous sculpture of Abraham Lincoln carved by famed American sculptor Daniel Chester French.  Inside the temple are two of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, on the north and south walls, respectively.   As I like to describe them, one of the speeches is the greatest speech in American History, the other is the Gettysburg Address.

That “greatest speech in American History,” is, of course, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.   Indeed, it is a remarkable testament to Lincoln’s brilliance that he would have not just delivered not one, but two of the speeches in the canon of all-time greats in American History, but that both of them would also be short enough that they could be carved in their entirety into the walls of a Memorial.

Perhaps even more amazing is that the only other real contender, in my mind, with these two speeches for the title of “all-time greatest speech in American History” was delivered on the steps of this very Memorial.  This is, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, a speech which begins by directly referencing Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and echoing the famous opening of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

All that is definiately fitting because as far as I’m concerned, the list of  greatest-speeches in American History would have to have these three speeches, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, King’s “I Have a Dream,” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as 1, 2, and 3 in some order – and you really can’t go wrong with whatever order you choose.   Yes, there are some other notable speeches in American History, such as John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address – “ask not what your country can do for you,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1st Inaugural Address – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Lou Gehrig’s Farewell – “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” and Ronald Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”; but in my view these four are all in a second tier below the first three.

"I-have-a-dream-site" by ProhibitOnions - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -
The National Park Service has marked the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood while delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with this inscription in the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.   “I-have-a-dream-site” by ProhibitOnions – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons –

Top honors, for me, however, go to Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address – the 150th Anniversary of which is being marked this week.   Back in the 19th Century, Presidential Inaugurations were held on March 4th each year (unless it was Sunday), before being moved to the present date of January 20th (unless its a Sunday) in the 1930’s.

Back in 1865, when Lincoln was delivering this speech, the Civil War had raged for nearly four years since the first shots had been fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.   What everyone thought would be a short war at the 1st Battle of Manassas had proven to be anything but.   By this point, some 700,00 soldiers on both sides lay dead, with many more civilian casualties on top of that.  All of this in a Nation that had numbered just 31.5 million in the 1860 Census, including nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans.

Over the years of warfare, as technology advanced and war-fighting tactics improved, a new kind of total warfare had developed.   By the time that Lincoln was delivering his Second Inaugural Address it was clear that the end was imminently near.  Indeed, Lee would surrender at Appomattox Courhouse just one month later, on April 9th.   At this time, though,  General Ulysses S. Grant was entering the 10th month of his siege campaign to surround the Conferederate capital of Richmond, and its adjacent railroad hub of Petersburg.   This was an intense trench warfare campaign of the sort that would prefigure the terrible trench warfare of the First World War that would come some 50 years later.

With the Nation having suffered so much, Lincoln chose this occasion to try and make some sense of the sensless carnage which had ravaged the country and to try and give some meaning to all the suffering the Nation had endured.   One year into the war, in April 1862, Lincoln famously wrote in a letter to New York City newpaperman Horace Greeley “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”   Now, nearly three years later, Lincoln uses this occasion to articulate that a war which had been begun to save the Union, was now definitively also about the higher purpose of ending the institution of slavery.   And although there is not really any evidence that Lincoln was himself a religious man, he finds in allusions to Biblical texts that would have been well known by his audience, some semblance ofan answer as to why this war had lasted so long and caused so much suffering.

Lincoln then ends the speech with his famous closing lines, “with malice towards none, and charity towards all,” articulating a vision for how the Nation should be reunited, and directly rebuking those in the North who wanted to inflict punitive retribution on the South.  In a way, this is Lincoln articulating his own dream, a dream that would ultimately not be realized.  His Vice President that day was Andrew Johnson, unusually, a Democrat (Lincoln was,  of course, a Republican), and a Southerner, from Tennessee.  With the election of 1864 being conducted during wartime, and with half the country in open rebellion, Lincoln had sought to run on a “national unity” ticket.  As such, he had dropped his Vice President from his first term, the Republican Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, and replaced him with Andrew Johnson, who had been a Senator from Tennessee, and whom Lincoln had apointed as military governor of Tennessee when the Union Army had largely recaptured the State.

The task of carrying out Lincoln's vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.
The task of carrying out Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.

Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s dream would largely die with him after being shot at Ford’s Theatre.  Less than two months after Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, Andrew Johnson would find himself President of the United States.  As the ultimate outsider, however, a Southern Democrat who had largely been elected by Northern Republicans, he would quickly find himself largely unable to execute Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction.  In that sense, Lincoln’s unfulfilled dream prefigures the more profound unfilfilled dream of a country where “all men are created equal,” and a country where his “four little children… will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” that would be echoed some 98 years later on August 28, 1963.

Indeed, those connections still echo today.  As I write this post on March 7th, earlier today the National Park Service  held a commemorative program marking the 150th Anniversary (plus two days) of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, on the same day that so many people gathered in Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March to Montgomery back in 1965.

So with all that being said, here are the words of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, some 150 years later:

Fellow Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.




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Congratulations to Poverty Point National Monument

Poverty Point is an amazing site that also requires a bit of imagination.
Poverty Point is an amazing site that also requires a bit of imagination.


I’m a little late in getting to this news, but congratulations are in order for Poverty Point National Monument which was recently designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is quite an honor.  I like to think of the list of U.S. national parks as the 400-or-so most significant natural, historical, and cultural places in the United States (although there are some notable exceptions).  To be inscribed on the list UNESCO World Heritage Site, however, a place must be judged to be of “outstanding universal value” to all of humanity.  Although Poverty Point today may not be jaw-dropping to look at it, it is nevertheless the place of a remarkable story –  the location of the largest complex of preshistoric earthworks from its era in North America.

There are currently just over one thousand  sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list (1,007 to be exact), although more are added  each year.  Of those, Poverty Point is just the 22nd site from the United States to be included.   Of those 22, its not surprising that 13 of them are outright national parks.  This includes two of the first twelve World Heritage Sites designated in 1978, Yellowstone National Park and Mesa Verde National Park.   Others on the list include Grand Canyon National Park, Olympic National Park in Washington State, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Five more on the list, including Poverty Point, are also part of the National Park System as a national monument or national historical park.

An unusual case is Papahanaumokuokea (try pronouncing it as Papa-hana-umo-kuo-kea) Marine National Monument in Hawaii.   This area consists of the unpopulated northwest Hawaiian Islands and the surrounding ocean areas all the way out to Midway Island in the central Pacific Ocean.  Instead of being managed by the National Park Service, it is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

That leaves three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States  that aren’t operated as Federal sites at all.    One such site is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.   Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate, is operated by a non-profit foundation, and the University of Virginia, of course, is operated by the State of Virginia.   The second such site is Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, a remarkable American Indian community that has been continuously inhabited for 1,000 years.   The last such site is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois – which preserves the remains of the largest known American Indian city in the present day United States.   At its height, Cahokia covered six square miles and had between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Although the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is by all accounts doing a good job of preserving this extraordinary site for future generations, there nevertheless just seems to be something incongruous about a site simultaneous being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also part of a state parks system, rather than the U.S. National Park System.   No question thatbeing a state historic site, rather than a national historic site in the National Park System gives Cahokia a lower national profile than you might otherwise expect, and so there is in fact a local campaign underway to try and make it a national park.

Interestingly, Cahokia’s situation  bears an uncanny similarity to Poverty Point in this respect as well.   It turns out that although Poverty Point is designated as a national monument, it is still operated as State Historic Site by the Louisiana State Park Service.  This is due to a quirk of history and legislation.  Normally, when Congress wishes to declare a site a new national park it normally first authorizes creation of the park, and then specifies that the park will be effectively created once the Federal government is able to acquire the land for the park.  In this case, however, the Poverty Point National Monument Act of 1986 first established the park, and then authorized the National Park Service to acquire the land for the park either by donation or from willing sellers.   Apparently, at the time the Louisiana Congressional Delegation thought that a deal had been worked out whereby the State of Louisiana would donate the Poverty Point Site to the National Park Service for management as a national park.   Its not clear what happened then, but somehow there was a miscommunication, and the State of Louisiana decided that  they wanted to continue to manage this important site themselves.   Thus, today Poverty Point National Monument is a real anomaly in the National Park System – a national park where you won’t find any sign of the National Park Service.

Now that Poverty Point has taken its rightful place as a World Heritage Site, there’s certainly no question that it merits the national significance to be included in the U.S. National Park System.  In fact, as part of the dedication ceremonies this month, the State of Louisiana has officially renamed it from Poverty Point State Historic Site to Poverty Point Point World Heritage Site, in a ceremony that included National Park Service director John Jarvis.   Despite the unusual status, in my mind, the National Park System is a better place with Poverty Point included than without it.  Still, it would be nice to see an agreement worked out where Poverty Point could take its place as a full-fledged national park, with the consistent management provided by the National Park Service.

In the meantime, a trip to Poverty Point is truly a trip back in time.  Its a rarity in the United States to visit a place where the story is told in thousand-year time scales.   For example, at nearly 3,000 years old, the settlements at Poverty Point predate the famous Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado by some two thousand years!   Three thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks were developing their alphabet, David and Solomon are kings in ancient Israel, the ancient Chinese are developing mathematics ink painting, and at Poverty Point in Louisiana, American Indians are building a major center – a place whose purpose remains a mystery to this day, but which still speaks to those who came before us in this place.

A walking trail has been constructed over the remains of the major mounds at Poverty Point.

A walking trail has been constructed over the remains of the major mounds at Poverty Point.

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Fully Reopens

Alamo Canyon in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Credit:

Alamo Canyon in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Credit:


Visiting all the national parks in the United States can take you to some very remote places.   Few of them in the contiguous United States are as remote as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the U.S.-Mexico border some 2.5 hours west of Tucson and an equal distance south of Phoenix.    Fortunately, this park is about to become a little more accessible, as for the first time in more than 10 years, this park is now fully open to visitation.

More than 300,000 acres of this park were closed to visitiation  in 2003 in the wake of one of the most tragic events in National Park Service history.  Park Ranger Kris Eggle was fatally wounded while tracking down drug smugglers illegally crossing the border through the Park.   In response, large areas of the Park were closed to visitation due to the poor security situation.

In the ten years since this tragedy, there have been substantial improvements in border security.  If you’d like to know the specifics, the National Park Service has a great FAQ about what has changed between 2003 and now.   Additionally, Congress has very appropriately named the Park Visitor Center after Kris Eggle.   You can read more about the life of this public servant killed in the line of duty at the National Park Service’s memorial page

Fortunately, with the improvements in security, the most dangerous activities you are likely to encounter while visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument these days are driving your car and not drinking enough water.

If you would like to get a better sense of what areas are being reopened, this article on the reopening from National Parks Traveler has a couple nice photos of the Quitobaquito area in the western area of the park.  On the other hand, if you are planning a more typical visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the National Park Service has this helpful brochure online for how to plan your visit, based on whether you have just one hour, or else a full half day, or even longer.

The truth of the matter is that the closed areas in the park were predominantly in the undeveloped back country of this park  – areas where relatively few casual visitors were likely to tread.   Nevertheles, even for those visitors primarily planning to visit the paved scenic roads or the developed hiking trails, just knowing that some parts of the park were closed due to illegal border crossing activity likely continued to cause some potential visitors to make other plans.  That makes this unquestionably good news for the park.

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More to See at Ellis Island

Ellis Island, as viewed from the ferry to Governor's Island National Monument.
Ellis Island, as viewed from the ferry to Governor’s Island National Monument.


Ellis Island, which is operated by the National Park Service as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, is one of those national park sites that needs almost no introduction.   The site of the immigration inspection station through which millions of new arrivals first came to the United States between 1900 and 1954 is on many peoples’ bucket lists – not just those of national park completists.   Not only has Ellis Island become almost synonymous with America’s European immigration story itself, but the Ellis Island Immigration Musem, run by the non-profit Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, is a world-class museum meriting a place on anyone’s New York City itinerary.

Unfortunately, Ellis Island suffered severe damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and was closed for almost exactly a year in the aftermath.   As of this writing, it still has not fully re-opened.

There is good news, however, in that the National Park Service has just announced that the hospital buildings on Ellis Island will be opened to the public for the first time starting October 1, 2014.

This map from the official NPS Brochure shows the location of the hospital buildings on Ellis Island relative to the Main Building, which is now the famous Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
This map from the official NPS Brochure shows the location of the hospital buildings on Ellis Island relative to the Main Building, which is now the famous Ellis Island Immigration Museum.


If you want to take in the hospital buildings, however, it will take some planning ahead.   Access is to be limited to just four 90-minute daily tours of 10 persons each.   The ticket price for these tours of $25 will go towards funding additional preservation efforts on Ellis Island.  With only 40 tickets per day, though, I expect that many of them will sell out well in advance.

Still, it will be an interesting situation to monitor.   Also, as an interesting bit of trivia, in 1998 the Supreme Court ruled that since most of Ellis Island sits on landfill on the New Jersey side of the river, the island is technically part of the state of New Jersey.   On the other hand, the hospital buildings that are newly being opened to the public sit on the original, “natural,” Ellis Island, and so are part of the state of New York.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument generally has two Passport cancellations available, one for the Statue of Liberty and one for Ellis Island – although different variations on those cancellations have been found over the years.  For example, stamps reading “Ellis Island,” “Ellis Island National Monument” (which is technically incorrect), and “Ellis Island Immigration Museum” have all been found just within the past year on the island- some may find those differences in the Passport cancellations meaningful, whereas others may not.

In any event, if you’ve already been to Ellis Island, the opening of the hospitals may provide a good reason to make a return visit and experience a new corner of this park.   On the other hand, if you haven’t been yet, the new buildings to explore provide another reason to make the visit and walk in the footsteps of so many who left one life behind to start a new life in a far away land.

Even if you can't land one of the tickets for the tours of the hospital buildings, the Great Hall at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is still a sight to behold.
Even if you can’t land one of the tickets for the tours of the hospital buildings, the hallways of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum are still a sight to behold.


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Undiscovered America Conversation with Erica Rosenberg

Although its only four episodes old, the Undiscovered America Podcast has already become one of my favorites. The podcast is done by blogger Zack Frank, who runs the blog of the same name, and is scheduled to have new episodes releaed on a biweekly basis.  Each episode features a converation between Zack Frank and a traveler or park advocate.  Although I am a little late in getting to writing a post about it, Episode #3 with Congressional staffer Erica Rosenberg was particularly interesting. You can give it a listen by downloading it from Itunes or Stitcher, or by listening to it directly here:

As readers of this blog know, I’m a big advocate for new national parks, in the belief that the National Park System should be inclusive of all of the Nation’s most-significant natural, historical, and cultural places. Erica Rosenberg, in an earlier phase in her life, founded an organization called People United for Parks. Sadly, one of the lessons she learned from her experience with that organization is that there isn’t a national constituency for establishing new national parks. Zak Frank pointed out that although organizations like the National Park Foundation, the National Parks Conservation Asasociation,  and the Sierra Club all advocate for the creation of new national parks as part of their broader advocacy efforts, none of those organizaitons place the creation of new parks at the top of their agenda.

The truth of the matter is that “all politics is local,” and this is especially true of national parks.  The residents of the community and state where a new national park will be created will be most impacted by the setting aside of that land, so their support is crucial.   Moreover, the core visitors of any national park unit (with the exception of a few “destination” parks) are visitors from the immediately surrounding community, and likewise, it is their support that will be crucial for advancing the proposal.

Along the way, the conservation highlights a few of my favorite proposals for new national parks in the eastern United States, including Maine North Woods National Park in Maine and High Allegheny National Park in West Virginia.   In particular, these proposals are not just for new national historic sites, which are relatively easy to create, but true national park national parks that would be full-fledged, full-service national parks.

The discussion continues with another good discussion on the balance between the desire and to designate wilderness, which is the highest-level of preservation that can be established in the United States, and the inherent need to establish facilities in national parks “for the enjoyment of the people” – to quote the inscription on the gateway arch to Yellowstone National Park.

Anyhow, the whole thing is a great conversation, I encourage you to listen to it, and also to subscribe to the Undiscovered America Podcast through your favorite podcast service.

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Celebrating Cabrillo

This statue of the Portugese explorer Juan Rodriguez Explorer Cabrillo is the iconic centerpiece of Carbillo National Monument in San Diego. Picture is from the author’s visit in 2012.

Next weekend, September 27th-28th, 2014, Cabrillo National Monument will be joining in San Diego’s 51st Annual Cabrillo Festival.   The Festival commemorates the explorer’s arrival in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 – just 50 years after Christopher Columbus’ first arrival in the “New World.”

Cabrillo National Monument is one of three units of the National Park System that is dedicated by name to European exploration of the Americas.   The Coronado National Memorial on the Arizona-Mexico border commemorates the 1540 arrival of Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado – an expedition that would reach as far north and east as Kansas, before returning to Mexico.   The De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida commemorates the 1539 arrival of the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto – an expedition that would reach as far north and west as the Mississippi River before returning to Mexico.

From a “counting the parks” perspective, its interesting to note that the Cabrillo site is designated a National Monument, whereas the other two are National Memorials.    This is because the Cabrillo site was originally established via a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 under the Antiquities Act, and all sites designated under the Antiquities Act are established as national monuments.  By contrast, Congress authorized establishment of the Coronado National Memorial in 1941, and the De Soto National Memorial was authorized by Congress in 1948.  As near as I can tell, there hasn’t been any movement to normalize Cabrillo’s designation by redesignating it as a national memorial.   Then again, maybe I’m one of the few people who worry about such things…

This festival caught my attention because it made me wonder if this might not be the earliest date that is marked annually by the National Park Service.  I know that’s kind of an interesting concept to think about.   None of the American Indians in the present-day United States, so far as I know, left us with a written calendar that could correspond to an actual date.  Thus, the “earliest date” marked in the National Park System, would have to date back to the age of European exploration of the Americas.

Right now, I am not aware of any similar “arrival day” celebrations at Coronado or De Soto.  By contrast, the British wouldn’t arrive at Jamestown, which is now part of Colonial National Historical Park, until May 4, 1607.  Three years before that, in 1604, the French attempted to establish a colony on the present-day border of Maine and New Brunswick, at what is now Saint Croix Island International Historic Site.   Even earlier than that was the famous “lost colony” of Roanoke, established by the British in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1586.  That site is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – but that is still 42 years later after these expeditions by the Spanish explorers.

It turns out, though, that to find the earliest candidate date in the National Park System, you have to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  There, Salt River Bay Ecological & Historical Preserve marks the spot where Christopher Columbus himself landed on his second voyage to the Western Hemispher, on  November 14, 1493.   So there you have it, as near as I can tell, this is the earliest date marked in the National Park System.

As a postscript to this story, its interesting to note that of the three early Spanish conquistadors/explorers comemorated in the National Park System, 1542 was a rough year.   Hernando de Soto would die of a fever somewhere near the Mississippi River in Arkansas or Louisiana on May 21, 1542.  Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo would shatter one of his legs on sharp rocks later that year in November, and he would pass away on January 3, 1543.  Only Francisco Vasquez de Coronado would safely return to Mexico from his expedition, and he would ultimately live until 1554, when he would die at the age of 43 or 44.  Ironically, this was roughly the age of De Soto and Carbrillo when they met their demises as well.

Mama, don’t let your kids grow up to be conquistadors…..




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New Video on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

The Temple of the Patriarchs is one of the iconic landmarks of Zion National Park.
The Court of the Patriarchs is one of the iconic landmarks of Zion National Park.


Thanks to the Undiscovered America Podcast, I recently discovered the Unboring Exploring YouTube video series – which are a set of videos designed to encourage people to explore the outdoors.   The latest episode of Unboring Exploring is on the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park, and its a real gem.

Angel’s Landing has a reputation as being one of the most-spectacular and also one of the scariest trails in the national park system.   People can and do fall from this trail – but that is surprisingly also true for a great many other trails that are not as famously-vertigo-inducing.

Anyhow, if you are unable to make the trip out to Zion, or if like me, you decide that your natural fear of heights recommends taking some of the other amazing trails in the park, then Unboring Exploring’s video is a great way to experience some of what you miss on the Angel’s Landing trail:

As I mentioned, on my own trip to Zion National Park in 2006, I opted for a hike with a slightly wider trail to it than Angel’s Landing.   If you do choose to pass up the crowds on the Angel’s Landing Trail, then the Echo Canyon Trail is a great choice.   The walk up Echo Canyon provides some nice respite from the heat, and the views of Zion Valley at the top are also spectacular.   Here’s my picture from the top, you can see Angel’s Landing in the center of the valley directly behind and to the right of my left elbow.  You can also get a good view of the narrow path up to the “top” (the trail continues past this point as the East Rim Trail, but many day-hikers turn back from this point, as I did.)

The view from the overlook at the top of the Echo Canyon trail gives you a chance to gaze back on Angel's Landing

The view from the overlook at the top of the Echo Canyon trail gives you a chance to gaze back on Angel’s Landing.


As you can see from the video and these pictures, the scenery in Zion National Park will never fail to impress.

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Carter Woodson Home Set to Finally Open in August 2015


One of the newest national parks is the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, located in Washington, DC’s historically African-American Shaw Neighborhood.   Carter Woodson is the founder of Negro History Week, which today we celebrate as African-American History Month.

Of course, it is one thing to establish a national park, it is another thing to make it open to the public.   The house was in pretty bad shape when the National Park Service acquired it and saved it from the wrecking ball.   This close up shot of the front door is illustrative of the general condition of things:


Thus, even though  Carter G. Woodson Home NHS became the 390th Unit of the National Park System back in February 2006*, it has pretty much been closed to visitation ever since.  That has made the claim of “visiting” this national park something of a philosophical question ever since then.  For many, the most that could be reasonably expected for a visit has been simply standing on the front stoop, and checking out the small exhibit on Carter Woodson at the nearby Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.   Beyond that, another option is that with a little planning ahead, the National Park Service has begun offering some very interesting walking tours of the neighborhood.

I was actually lucky enough, however, to get a relatively rare “sneak peak” inside the home before the National Park Service had had any opportunity to do any restoration work.   Suffice to say, it wasn’t much to look at:



…and then there is this look down the main hallway – where the ceiling was literally falling in!



Anyhow, the good news to come out this past week is that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in Congress, and who led the charge for establishing this national park, has announced that the park will be ready to open in August 2015.   The opening of the park will include the house itself, as well as the two homes immediately adjacent to the historic home, which are being converted by the National Park Service into a full-fledged visitor center for the park.    The opening will also be a fitting way to mark the centennial of Dr. Woodson founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.

Although I’m not actually aware of any plans in this regard, that may actually open an opportunity for this site to also serve as the visitor center for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS, which is only a few blocks away.  Right now, visitor services for that site are crammed into a downstairs room within the house itself.   Indeed, given that Carter Woodson and Mary McLeod Bethune were contemporaries of each other in the greater Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, it might be intriguing for Congress to consider down the road merging the two national park sites into a single “Washington African-American Heritage National Historical Park” that would tell the broader story of the path to civil rights for African-Americans living in the nation’s capitol in the earlier 20th Century.

At any rate, this is certainly good news for anyone trying to offficially visit all of the national parks.   I’ll have to consider writing a future post on national parks that are closed to the public.   In the meantime, hopefully this announcement means that signs like this will be soon be a thing of the past:



* – As an interesting historical footnote, the very day that the NPS acquired the Carter Woodson Home, thus making it an “official” national park (albeit not open to the public), President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to establish the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City as the 391st national park on the same day.  The significance of the “lost history” of the African Burial Ground in colonial New York City becoming a national park on the same day as a national park dedicated to the founder of African-American History Month was established was certainly in the front of everyone’s minds who were involved in that designation.

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The Best Places in Dinosaur National Monument

When starting a blog with a name like Parkasaurus, I immediately began thinking about at what point I would blog about Dinosaur National Monument – which is the only national park site dedicated to interpreting dinosaur fossils.   Fortunately, the folks over at the Destination Isolation Blog have just put up a great post on their Top 8 Sites in Dinosaur National Monument, and it is very much worth checking out.

The centerpiece of Dinosaur NM is the Carnegie Quarry Hall where around 1,500 dinosaur bones have been left in situ, in the rock, just where paleontologists would have found them. Destination Isolation’s post is a good reminder, however, that Dinosaur NM is about so much more than just gazing at dinosaur fossils and exhibits.  This park actually has more than 300 square miles to explore, including petroglyphs, desert peaks, and rafting on the Green and Yampa Rivers.   In fact, the #3 site on their list is the rock art at Echo Canyon, about which they write: “we have seen many rock art sites in our travels but this was our favorite. There are not many but they sure are unique.”   I have to agree, be sure to click on their post to see the photograph.   This will definitely be a site on my “to-do list” the next time I am able to make a return visit to northeast Utah and northwest Colorado.

For those of you in the Passport to Your National Parks program, Dinosaur National Monument has traditionally had two passport stamps to collect:

  • Jensen, UT – at the Quarry Visitor Center on the western side of the park, in Utah; and
  • Dinosaur, CO – at the Canyon Area Visitor Center on the eastern side of the park, in Colorado.

Ironically, despite the name of the town in Colorado, if you are primarily interested in seeing the dinosaur fossils, you need to go to the Utah side of the park at the Quarry Exhibit Hall.  After being closed for more than two years due to structural damage to the old Quarry Exhibit Hall, a brand new Exhibit Hall and brand new Quarry Visitor Center were opened in 2011.

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