30 for 300 – Part I

I’m going to take a brief break from my usual postings on this blog to engage in a little self-indulgence.   Careful readers may have noticed in my recent Trip Report that my trip to Petersburg National Battlefield marked my milestone 300th national park visited.  To mark this occasion, I’ve decided to put together a brief retrospective on 30 of my favorite moments from the visits to my first 300 national parks.   These are not necessarily my 30 favorite national parks, but rather they are 30 of my favorite moments from visiting national parks – in fact, some national parks that have had more than one special moment in my travels to them may even appear more than once.   For simplicity, I’ve limited the choices here to parks that I visited after 1998, when I first discovered the Passport Program and first started to conceive of the possibility of visiting all the national parks, and all the way up to my trip to Petersburg just a couple months ago.    To make this more readable, I’ll break this up into three posts of 10 favorite memories each.  So without further ado, here are #’s 21-30 of my “30 for 300” in the national parks.

#30) Yosemite National Park in the Snow – March 2006
I figured that I should start this off this series with a  national park that would rank as many people’s favorite.   Back in 2006, I met up with a friend of mine from college who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time, and we headed out to Yosemite National Park for the weekend.  After our first night in the Curry Village, we woke up to find that our spring day in Yosemite had been turned into a Winter Wonderland.   The snow cover made the iconic Yosemite Falls especially spectacular.

Yosemite Falls in the snow made this national park visit especially memorable.
Yosemite Falls in the snow made this national park visit especially memorable.

#29) Discovering George Rogers Clark National Historical Park – May 2003
When you set out to visit all of the national parks in the United States, one of the many rewards is the discovery of the unexpected places that you never even knew existed before the journey began.   Perhaps no place symbolizes that “discovery of the unexpected” for me more than George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in tiny Vincennes, Indiana.  Most Americans have never heard of George Rogers Clark, although most have probably heard of his “little brother,” William Clark, of the famous Lewis & Clark expedition.

During the heart of the American Revolutionary War, however, it was older brother George who would stake first claim to the history books.   In the dead winter of mid-February 1779, George Rogers Clark would lead 170 volunteers out of Fort Kaskasia in Illinois on a daring sneak attack.  Together they would march across 180 miles of flooded prairie, sometimes wading through icy water that rose to their shoulders, to surprise the British garrison at present-day Vincennes.  Their arrival caught the British completely by surprise – understandably given the extraordinary conditions – and he was able to force their surrender.  This victory helped cement American control of the whole territory from Ohio to Illinois.  This control would then be formally recognized four years later in the Treaties of Paris that ended the American Revolution, making this territory part of the fledgling United States, rather than part of Canada .  Younger brother William would make his own way into the history books some 14 years later, but this extraordinary effort under incredibly harsh conditions demonstrated that there was more than one Clark brother with “Undaunted Courage.”

Today, Vincennes, IN is a location that is truly “off-the-beaten-path,” but the impressive memorial to George Rogers Clark commemorates his story – a story that I would likely never have learned had this national park not existed.

The George Rogers Clark NHP in Vincennes, Indiana memorializes a forgotten hero. Photo Credit: National Park Service
The George Rogers Clark NHP in Vincennes, Indiana memorializes a forgotten hero. Photo Credit: National Park Service

#28) Playing in the Surf at Cape Hatteras National Seashore – July 2002
Sometimes we visit a National Park to pursue solititude, and sometimes national parks are best visited with a friend.  In the summer of 2002, my best friend from college and I took a road trip through all three of the national seashores in the middle of the Atlantic Coast.   At Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, we particularly enjoyed playing in the surf, tossing a football to each other, with the waves crashing around us.   Approriately enough, we named this particular game “Hatteras,” in honor of how much we enjoyed the pristine sandy beaches at this park.

#27) Counting Alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve – May 2014
The spring of 2014 found me travelling across south Florida from Miami to Naples with my family on the Tamiani Trail.  Along the way, Big Cypress National Preserve proved to be the perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch.  Right outside the picnic area, there is a boardwalk running alongside a canal that was also the perfect place to look for alligators with my then three-year old son.   I can still hear him saying, “Dad, there’s another one!”

You don't have to look hard to find alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve.
You don’t have to look hard to find alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve.  There are at least six in this photograph.

#26) Cajun Culture at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve – May 2004

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve in southeast Louisiana is something of a grab-bag of a national park, covering New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Barataria Nature Preserve just west of New Orleans,  the Chalmette Battlefield from the War of 1812 just east of New Orleans, and then three Acadian Cultural Centers in the nearby cities of Eunice, Lafayette, and Thibodaux.  Back in 2004, I was heading out to the Prairie Acadian Culture Center in Eunice, some 2.5 hours west of New Orleans, to try and catch a scheduled demonstration of cajun music.  Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, I was running late getting out there, and ended up missing it.  As it turned out, though, I had no worries.  The Ranger on duty that day said that she was in a cajun music band herself, and that her band was playing a gig that evening at a nearby restaurant called Bubba Frey’s.  Arriving there, the special that evening was “boulet” – a dish that reminded me of a hush puppy, only with seafood mixed in.  Acadian Cultural experiences rarely get more authentic than that!

#25) Looking Up at the World’s Biggest Trees in Redwood National Park – March 2001
In 2001, I was only two years out of college and making my first trip to the State of California.  While visiting two of my friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, we decided, almost son the spur of the moment, to make the long day trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to Redwood National Park.  This was my first encounter with the Pacific Coast Rainforest and with the giant trees.  There’s a reason why these giants have inspired generations of conservationists.  Standing under some of the tallest living things anywhere on the face of the Earth is always awe-inspiring.

Its hard for a photograph to do justice to the towering heights of some of the world's tallest trees, which are found in Redwood National Park.
Its hard for a photograph to do justice to the towering heights of some of the world’s tallest trees, which are found in Redwood National Park.

#24) Sailing to Dry Tortugas National Park – December 2002
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the harder-to-reach places in the U.S. National Park System.  Its location says it all – 70 miles west of Key West.  The centerpiece of the park is historic Fort Jefferson, which straddles the tiny island of Garden Key like a behemoth – so much so that its walls seemingly stretch right over the edges of the key and plunge into the ocean.   The Fort was built in the early 19th Century to protect the shipping passage around the Florida Keys into New Orleans, and was later used as an Alcatraz-style prison. Today, on a day trip out of Key West, not only do you get to tour this impressive historic fort, but the boat operators also provide snorkeling gear to discover the coral reef that has grown up around the walls in the ocean below.  To top it all off, nearby Long Key, which is frequently connected to Garden Key by a sandbar, is a major seabird rookery.  From my vantage point standing on the walls of Fort Jefferson, Long Key looked like it was a scene out of Jurassic Park, surrounded as it was by a virtual cloud of nesting seabirds.

For those prone to seasickenss, Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park can also be visited by seaplane. Long Key can be seen in the far back of this image. Photo Credit: National Park Service
For those prone to seasickenss, Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park can also be visited by seaplane. Long Key can be seen in the far back of this image. Photo Credit: National Park Service

#23) Discovering Petroglyphs at Arches National Park – July 1999
I could probably fill a whole blog post with my stories from Arches National Park, a true gem of the National Park System.  On this trip, I was travelling by myself, on my way to Salt Lake City, and was camping on Bureau of Land Management Land along the Colorado River, just outside of the National Park.  While there, I ran into a young woman who was also travelling solo.  We agreed that it would be fun to go hiking together in the Park.   It turns out that she had heard that there was a “secret” petroglyph panel in Arches National Park.  Its “secret” because there is no marked trail to the panel, and the Park Rangers will not provide directions to it. This is due to the relatively small number of petroglyphs in the Park and the very high number of visitors that this “destination park” receives every year.  Nevertheless, her directions were good, and when we arrived at the location, we found this simple sign from the National Park Service, “You’ve Found Something Unique – Please Preserve It.”  Really – that sign could be placed almost anywhere in the National Park System, but it was particularly poignant here.  This was the very first time I had ever encountered petroglyphs, and I was enthralled.  Moreover, more than 15 years later, in an age when almost all information is available on the Internet, it seems amazing that a place with unpublished directions like this can still exist.  You can see some good photos of the Dark Angel Petroglyphs, including that sign, here.

#22) The World is Big and Small at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – September 2008
Since Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is one of those odd national parks that “counts twice,” I’m going to cheat a little bit and include two moments from this trip.

The main visitor center for this Park, located in Copper Center, AK, is set up somewhat unusually. The theatre with the park movie is actually located in a separate out-building from the rest of the visitor center.  So after planning my hike in the main building, I went out to watch the move.  I was so floored by the stunning aerial photography in this film that I just had to go back into the main building and ask the Rangers about how the photography was done, and hopefully purchase a take-home copy – something I had never done before (or since!).  That ended up being a most-fortuitous decision.  While I was talking to the Rangers back in the main building, the phone rang.  A nearby flight-seeing operation had someone who was interested in going up for a tour, but they needed someone else to split the cost of the plane.  The Rangers said that this had never happened before all summer – so clearly this was “meant to be.”  The following hour spent flying above the glaciers in the Wrangell Mountains was one of the most memorable hours of my life.

Few experiences can compare to seeing the rugged peaks of the Wrangell Mountains up close from a flight-seeing tour.
Few experiences can compare to seeing the rugged peaks of the Wrangell Mountains up close from a flight-seeing tour.

Shortly after the flight-seeing tour ended, I proceeded to drive the rest of the way towards my planned hike.  Along the way, I stopped at an overlook like this one, with the aspens in full fall colors.   I checked my phone at one of these stops, and I had a text message with a picture of my new nephew, Aiden, who had been born just an hour or two earlier more than 3,800 miles away, on the other side of the continent, in Florida.  This day had shown that the world was both larger and smaller than I had imagined.

Even in the middle of the wilderness, modern technology meant that news of a birth on the side of the continent could still reach you.

#21) “She Said ‘Yes!'” at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park – October 2007
As things were getting serious with my then-girlfriend, it only seemed natural given my second love for the national parks that I should ask the big question in a national park.  I was lucky to pick a beautiful fall colors day in West Virginia.  We began the day with a quiet picnic lunch away from the crowds on Bolivar Heights in the western end of the Park.  Then we headed to the historic downtown, where we discovered that the recently-rennovated Historic St. Peter’s Chapel was open for the first time that I had seen in my several years of having visited this Park.  Since we are both Catholics, that ended up being the perfect place to combine faith, hope, and love and to ask her to spend the rest of our lives together. I’ve felt a special connection to this national park ever since.

The author and the future Mrs. Parkasaurus capped off their big day by happily celebrating at the top of Maryland Heights in Harper’s Ferry National HIstorical Park.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, if you’d like to keep reading, here are links to Part II with #’s 11-20,  Part III with #’s 1-10, and the Honorable Mentions.

Stamp Collage 1-001

 

Edit: This post was updated after original publication to add the stamp collage image at the end.

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Petersburg: The Penultimate Act of the Civil War

 

Petersburg National Battlefield was the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee's Army of Norther Virginia before surrendiering at Appomattox Court House.
Petersburg National Battlefield was the ultimate siege campaign of the Civil War and the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before surrendering at Appomattox Court House.

I recent had occasion to visit Petersburg National Battlefield, the national park that commemorates the penultimate engagement of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and therefore, of the Civil War itself.  The siege here lasted for more than nine long months.   When Lee was finally defeated on April 2, 1865, he would retreat west towards the small village of Appomattox Court House, the place where he would surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

The City of Petersburg, located 26 miles to the south of the Confederate capitol of Richmond, was a strategic transportation hub, crucial for sustaining the Confederate defenses around their capitol.   In many ways, Richmond was the great white whale of the Union war efforts.  Early in the war, in 1862, Union General George McClellan had sailed his army down the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia Tidewater area.  From there, he marched inland to make a direct assault on Richmond, and hopefully bring an early end to the war in what has become known as the Peninsula Campaign.  As it so happened, he was defeated in the Seven Day’s Battles on the outskirts of Richmond.  This forced him to retreat back north to Washington, setting up  the Second Battle of Manassas later that summer, which I covered in a previous Parkasaurus post.   In December of 1862 and again in May of 1863, the Union Amry of the Potomac towards Richmond under the commands of General Ambrose Burnside and General Joseph Hooker, respectively.  They would in turn both be defeated 60 miles of the north of Richmond, trying to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Finally, in 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant would again approach Richmond from the north, having succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock River by defeating Robert E. Lee in the Battle of the Wilderness (near Chancellorsville) and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, to the south of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in May 1865.  (Today, all four battlefields, Fredericskburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House are preservered as part of the cumbersomely named Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park – the longest park name in the U.S. National Park System!)  Even the great General Grant, however, would at first be defeated in his attempt to directly take Richmond.   As he continued what is now known as the Overland Campaign south from Fredericksburg, he would commit the blunder of making a direct frontal assault on Robert E. Lee’s troops at Cold Harbor, just 12 miles outside of Richmond, which is now part of Richmond National Battlefield Park, along with several sites from McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign two years earlier..

Having failed to take Richmond by direct assault, Grant circled his troops around Richmond to the city of Petersburg to the south.  Petersburg was a key transportation hub with five railroad lines meeting there, crucial for resupplying the Confederate forces in Richmond.   If Grant could capture Petersburg, the Confederates would be unable to resupply Richmond, and thus would be forced to abandon their capitol.   Grant’s forces arrived in the vicinity of Petersburg in June 1864, and began to settle in for a long siege.

Appomattox Plantation served as the Quartermaster's Offices at Grant's Headquarters. Grant himself stayed in the same temporary cabins as his soldiers.
Appomattox Plantation was already 100 years old by the tim of the Civil War and it served as the Quartermaster’s Offices at Grant’s Headquarters.

Although the main visitor center for Petersburg is closer to town, the first stop on our visit was, appropriately enough, Grant’s Headqauraters at City Point.   City Point was a small village located where the Appomattox River meets the James River, and is roughly where the James River becomes significantly wider as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean.  Richmond is located approximately 17 miles upstream on the James River to the northwest, and Petersburg is located approximately 8 miles upsteam on the Appomattox River to the southwest.  This strategic location would be the base from which Grant would conduct the siege of Petersburg for the next nine months.

The most-imposing remaining historic structure here is an old plantation house, the ironically named Appomattox Plantation.  Grant, however, opted not to use the large house for himself.  Instead, he actually stayed in the same tents as his soldiers, at least until a primitive cabin was built for him several months later as winter was approaching.   This left the Plantation House to be used by the quartermasters, who were responsible for coordinating the continual massive daily influx of all sorts of food and supplies to sustain the Union siege forces.

Grant's Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.
Grant’s Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.

Today the Plantation House serves as a mini Visitor Center for the Park.  There is a short movie about the Park and a few exhibits inside the building.  There are also a handful of wayside exhibits scattered around the property, which attempt to give some perspective to the absolutely massive logistical operations that occurred here during the siege.   In addition to serving as the Union’s logistics hub and the headquarters for its senior leadership, the City Point area also supported the primary hospital caring for the sick and wounded soldiers being brought in almost daily from the front lines of the siege.

From City Point, the next stop was the Eastern Front Visitor Center, which is really the main visitor center for the Park, and is located seven miles to the southwest on the outskirts of town.   This Visitor Center has the main Park movie, as well as some more extensive exhibits.  From here, a short loop trail of less than a mile takes you  to a replica of the cannon known as “The Dictator.”   The Dictator was a 13-inch mortar that was used by the Union in the siege of Petersburg, and was one of the largest of its kind.   Its not known what happened to the original, but it may not have survived.  Contemporary accounts indicate that The Dictator was a truly terrifying and powerful weapon.  The unusual profile of this cannon has since become one of the iconic images of Petersburg, and appears frequently in Petersburg National Battlefield’s promotional materials and merchandise.

 

The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.
The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.

From the Eastern Front Visitor Center a short driving tour takes you through seven additional stops in the main section of the Park.  The stops variously take you to the locations of additional preserved earthworks from the siege lines, and the sites of various engagements that occurred as part of the siege.   This area contains several miles of hiking trails, which connect to each of the stops, but these trails seem to primarily cater to locals from the city of Petersburg and from the nearby Fort Lee U.S. Army Base, rather than to national tourists.

In any event, the moral of the story from this driving tour is that from his headquarters and supply depot at City Point to the northwest, Grant was seeking to use his army to extend his siege lines and surround Petersburg to the south, and ultimately to the west.   By surrounding Petersburg to the south and west, Grant hoped to sever the railroads that were supplying Petersburg, and ultimately Richmond. This would be a long, methodical effort, which would consume the more than nine months that the siege lasted.

Proceeding through Eastern Front Driving Tour, its worth making particular note of Stop #5, Fort Stedman.   While much of the action on the Eastern Front takes place in June and July of 1864 while the siege is just beginning, Fort Stedman would rise to prominence in late March of  1865 as the siege was nearing its conclusion.  Here is the place where Lee would make one last attempt to break the Union’s siege lines, and in so doing, set into motion the closing act of the Civil War – but more on that at the end of this post.

The last stop of the Eastern Front driving tour takes you to the place for which the siege of Petersburg is the most famous – the site of the Battle of the Crater.  On July 30, 1864 the Union hatched a creative plan for breaking through the Confederate siegeworks, and hopefully bringing an early end to the siege.   In the early morning hours before dawn on July 30, 1864 a massive mine was detonated below the Confederate earthworks, instantly killing nearly 300 Confederates.   Left behind was a massive crater measuring nearly 170 feet long by 80 feet wide, and at least 30 feet deep.  Two Confederate cannons, each weighing more than 1,700 pounds, had been hurled completely into the air and out of the earthworks.

Despite that early success, and the sheer ingenuity of the plan, almost everything after that moment was a disaster for the Union Army.  The force of the explosion was so massive,  and so unprecedented, that forces on both sides were slow to react.  Contemporary accounts indicate that it took nearly 15 minutes both for the Confederates to return fire and for the Union forces to press their advantage.  At that point, whether due to poor planning by the immediate commanding Generals, or poor training, or both, thousands of Union forces rushed into the resulting crater.   However, instead of the crater being a defensive position from which to press their advantage against the Confederate forces on the surrounding remaining earthworks, the crater instead became a death trap.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone would call it a “turkey shoot,” and Grant would later write that “it was the saddest affair that I have witnessed in this war.”   At the end of the day, nearly 4,000 Union soldiers had been killed, wounded or captured against fewer than 1,500 Confederates.

150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.
150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.

After the war, the site of The Crater was naturally one of the first tourist attractions at the Petersburg Battlefield.   After 150 years of erosion, weathering, visitation, and growth in vegetation, it is admittedly no longer the site that left soldiers on both sides gawking in amazement.   Visiting the site today, however, one can still capture the sense of what truly close quarters these Civil War engagements were fought in.  In an era before aircraft, and before mechanized warfare, battles were truly intimate affairs, with soldiers in close quarters seeing those who would kill and be killed.  80 feet wide was surely a significant crater for those soldiers fighting on foot, but with thousands of Union soldiers pouring into that space, only to meet whithering Confederate fire from above the rim, it must have felt like very tight quarters indeed.

The Crater marks the end of the Eastern Front driving tour.   From there, a tour of the park takes you to the four-stop Western Front Driving Tour.  Unlike the Eastern Front, where the National Park Service manages a large contiguous parcel of land, the National Park Service only manages a few, small, disconnected parcels on the Western Front.  Nevertheless, the story here remains largely the same.  Grant is continuing to extend his siege lines around Petersburg to the south and to the west to encricle Petersburg and cut the supply routes into the city.  The Western Front driving tour takes you to several areas of preserved historic earthworks from the siege, and the sites of engagements that occurred during the siege.   These range from engagements fought in August 1864 in the aftermath of the Crater to the final push that occurred on April 2, 1865 which finally broke the siege – but again, more on that in a moment.

Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.

The Western Front Driving Tour also includes Poplar Grove National Cemetery.  Poplar Grove was established in 1866 to provide a final resting place for around 5,000 of the Union soldiers that had been buried around Petersburg during the siege.  The National Park Service operates a small Visitor Contact Station here during the summer.  The grave stones here are all flat to the ground, but are clearly marked.

The National Park Service also encourages travelers to visit historic downtown Petersburg.  Although none of the historic properties in downtown Petersburg are actually managed as part of the national battlefield, there is apparently a whopping 64-stop auto tour available.  We were only making a day trip to the park so did not have time for this particular side-trip, but it is good to know that it is available.

Our visit to the National Park Service areas at Petersburg National Battlefield, however, concluded with a visit to the FIve Forks Unit, which is located approximately 15 miles to the west of Petersburg.   After Lee’s failed assault on Fort Stedman (back in the main portion of the Park) on March 25, 1865, Grant knew that he now had an opportunity to press his advantage.   He dispatched a mobile force under Major General Philip Sheriden out to the west to try and cut the last remaining railway line into Petersburg.   Lee dispatched General George Pickett (he of the famous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg) to try and hold the lines.   The two forces met on March 31st in the vicinity of Five Forks, an area where five roads come together just two miles south of the railroad line.  By the evening of April 1st, the Union forces had won the battlefield.   The next day, Sunday April 2nd, Grant ordered a number of assaults on the entrenched Confederate lines around Petersburg, and the nine month siege was over.  Lee’s forces were retreteating to the north and to the west towards Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War would effectively end one week later on April 9th.

As it so happens, April 9th was Palm Sunday that year, the day on which Christians all over the world simultaneously mark both the triumphant entrance of Jesus of Nazareth into Jersualem and his subsequent crucifxtion at the hands of the Romans, an act that Christians believe was in atonement for the sins of the world.   Just five days after that, Abraham Lincoln would be shot in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday.   Thus, the two climactic events of a war that Lincoln was already growing to understand in increasingly religious terms, as he had articulated just one month earlier, would occur on two massively symbolic religious anniversaries.

On a personal note, this visit to Petersburg National Battlefield also had symbolic importance to me.  This visit marked the 300th Unit of the U.S. National Park System that I have visited at least once.  It was also the last of the National Park Service Units primarily dedicated to the Civil War that I had not yet visited, and also the last National Park Service Unit in the Mid-Atlantic Region that I had not yet visited.  So this visit carried a sense of accomplishment in my personal travels as well.

Our visit also included all five of the Passport Cancellations currently available at Petersburg National Battlefield:

  • Grant’s Headquarters at City Point (in the Appomattox Plantation House)
  • Petersburg, VA (at the Easter Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Siege of Petersburg | 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (also at the Eastern Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Poplar Grove National Cemetery (at the Eastern Front Visitor Center in the winter when the Poplar Grove Contact Station is closed)
  • Five Forks, VA (at the Five Forks Contact Station)
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
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April Stamps – Ready for the Beach!

Assateague Island National Seashore has enjoyed 50 years of sunsets like this one.  Photo from 2007.
Assateague Island National Seashore has enjoyed 50 years of sunsets like this one. Photo from 2007.

There are four new stamps on Eastern National’s list for April, three at two national parks, and one at a national historic trail:

  • Assateague Island National Seashore | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore | Great Island Cabins
  • Cape Lookout Naitonal Seashore | Long Point Cabins
  • Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail | Philadelphia, PA

Additionally, there were two other stamps that were previously reported, but were listed as “new” on the list for the first time this month.  One was for the Civil War Defenses of Washington | 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, which was used to commemorate that 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington, DC back in July 2014, and the other is for the National Park Service’s Washington Support Office in downtown Washington, DC.

With the new stamp for Assateague Island National Seashore, this actually marks the fourth straight month that a new anniversary stamp has been issued.  While anniversary stamps used to be an occasional novelty in the Passport Program, there’s no question that they now seem to be a definite trend.  While some people like having the extra anniversary cancellations available, at Parkasaurus, we don’t see how it makes sense to make a stamp for a one-year anniversary with a seven-year adjutable-date wheel.  Traditionally, collecting all the passport stamps at a national park  would be a way of ensuring that you visited all the major sites within the park,  but an Anniversary stamp arguably falls into a different category.  Ideally, we’d like to see parks celebrating anniversaries to offer creatively-designed anniversary bonus stamps instead.

Anyhow, it is interesting to note that three of the four new stamps this month are for National Seashores.  There are 10 national seashores and 4 national lakeshores in the U.S. National Park System.  The first, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, was established way back in 1937.  The other 13 national seashores and national lakeshores, however, were all established in a 14-year period from 1961 to 1975, starting with Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts on August 7, 1961 and ending with Canaveral National Seashore in Florida on January 3, 1975.

This burst of activity in protecting pristine seashore and lakeshore environments is often attributed to the influence of Lady Bird Johnson,   During her husband’s Presidency, Lady Bird Johnson was known as a prominent advocate of the U.S. National Park System, and she famously envisioned a system of national seashores as a “string of pearls” along the coast of the United States.   The 1960’s were obviously a period of tremendous growth in the post-World War II “vacation culture” in the United States, and development of coastal areas in the United States.  Nevertheless, it is amazing to think that for more than a decade up to the very beginning of 1975 nearly one new national seashore or national lakeshore was established, and that there has not been a single new one since.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is an iconic feature of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The two new stamps for Cape Lookout National Seashore are to be located at the Ranger Stations associated with each of two separate groups of rental cabins available on the Seashore.   Both sets of cabins are fairly rustic.  The Great Island Cabins are wired for electricity, but incredibly are “BYOG” – bring your own generator.  The Long Point Cabins do have electricity and air conditioning.  However, neither set of cabins includes a refrigerator; bring your own cooler, and ice is available for purchase on the island.

With these additions, Cape Lookout National Seashore now has six stamps.   The Beaufort, NC stamp (just released in September 2014) and the Harker’s Island, NC stamp at the park’s main visitor center are both located on the mainland.   The remaining four stamps will all require a ferry ride.  The Light Station Visitor Center stamp at the Keepers Quarters for the iconic Cape Lookout Lighthouse is accessible by ferry from the Harker’s Island area.   The Great Island Cabins and the Long Point Cabins are accessible by ferries from Davis, NC and from Atlantic, NC, respectively.  Finally, the stamp for Portsmouth Village actually requires two ferries, a ferry to Ocracoke Island on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and from there, a ferry to Porstmouth Village – making it one of the most-remote stamps in the Passport Program.  Portsmouth Villlage is the best-preserved ghost town east of the Mississippi River, having formerly served as a “lightering village” – a way station to transfer cargo from heavy ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean on to lighter ships traversing the Ocracoke Inlet through the Outer Banks.  The village was slowly abandoned after the shifting sands of the Outer Banks and changing technology rendered the lightering system obsolete, and today it is now also famous for having perhaps some of the most vicious mosquitoes in all of the U.S. National Park System – but that is perhaps a blog post for another day.

Appropriately, historical French Flags and historical American Flags both fly at the Yorktown Battlefield Unit of Colonial National Historical Park.  Photo from 2007.
Appropriately, historical French Flags and historical American Flags both fly at the Yorktown Battlefield Unit of Colonial National Historical Park. Photo from 2007.

The fourth stamp this month is for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.   In 1780, the nascent United States took its informal alliance with France in the Revolutionary War to a new level with the arrival of a few hundred French ground trips in Newport, Rhode Island under the command of General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau.   This national historic trail (which is not one of the 407 national parks) commemorates the route that Washington and Rochambeau took with their forces to Yorktown, Virginia and the last major military action of the Revolutionary War.  There, perhaps even more significant than the presence of French ground forces, the presence of the French Navy effectively cut off British General Charles Cornwallis’ avenue of retreat by seas.   With no other option, that forced General Cornwallis, in 1781, to surrender to General Washington, the American Army played “The World Turned Upside Down,” and two years later the war would officially be over with the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1783.

There previously have been two stamps available for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route NHT.  One of them lists all the States through which the trail passes, “CT DC DE MA MD NJ NY PA RI VA,” available at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and Thoms Stone National Historic Site in Maryland.  The other just lists “DC, MD, VA;” available at the George Washington Memorial Parkway‘s Headquarters at Turkey Run Park in Virginia.   This new stamp will simply say “Philadelphia, PA” on the bottom and will be the first place-specific stamp for this Trail.  It will presumably either compliment or replace the existing stamp listing all the States at Independence NHP.

Speaking of the end of a war, there was also a new stamp discovered this month that was not on the monthly list.  This stamp was for Appomattox Court House NHP | 150th Anniversary of the Surrender.   The village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia is, of course, the place where the Civil War effectively came to an end with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses. S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac, 150 years ago this month.

With the addition of these five new stamps, by our calculations there are now 1,886 active cancellations to collect, with 79 of those being for anniversaries or special events.

Update: This post was updated on April 13th to add the paragraph clarifying that the new Washington-Rochambeau NHT stamp at Independence NHP will be different from the generic stamp that has already been available there for the last couple years.

 

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