When it comes to memorials, I’ve never thought twice about simply taking for granted that wading in the pools of a memorial is simply against the rules. However, Tim Krepp, writing at the blog Greater Greater Washington, makes a very interesting, and even a persuasive case, that the National Park Service should allow wading in the large central fountain of the World War II Memorial. On the hot and humid days of a typical Washington, DC summer that would certainly be refreshing for both adults and kids alike – but really, wading in a memorial? That can’t be right, can it?
For sure, I have to imagine that there would be some large practical obstacles to this. After all, if the large summer crowds that descend upon Washington’s Monumental Core during the spring and summer all started cooling their feet in the pool, then a much more advanced system of water treatment would surely be needed. Just as importantly, the central pool was designed with a large number of fountains, and before people could safely wade in the pool, I imagine that those structures that create the beautiful spires of water in the foundtain would need to be removed:
However, Krepp’s argument isn’t primarily a practical one but a reflection on the nature of how a memorial’s design influences what a memorial design. Definitely go over to the Greater Greater Washington blog and check it out yourself. In a nutshell, however, Krepp points out that the design of the World War II Memorial isn’t really one of quiet contemplation. Instead its collonades draw visitors in to a wide open plaza and gathering space. In this sense, it really stands in contrast to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as the Vietnam Wall. As Krepp points out, hardly anyone needs a sign to know that the atmostphere at the Vietnam Memorial is one of quiet contemplation.
I find it hard to argue with that point – and if the atmosphere of the World War II Memorial is one of welcoming and gathering, then wouldn’t letting kids (and parents) wade in the pools on a hut summer day just fit in with the very design of what the memorial is trying to do? Its certainly counter-intuitive, but it is straight-forward to see the case for how a place for Americans to gather, relax, and refresh, in the heart of downtown Washington would in fact be a celebration of the very freedom that so many gave their lives in the Second World War to defend.
That’s not to say that the memorial doesn’t aim for reflection. Each end of the memorial contains a pavillion inscribed with the names of the major battles of the Atlantic and Pacific theatres of the war, respectively. Moreover, the back wall of the memorial has a small reflecting pool and some 4,048 gold stars – one star for every 100 Americans who died during the war. Certainly, I think it would be hard to support wading in this particular area of the memorial. Yet, as staggering as it is to contemplate more than 400,000 lives lost in the fight for freedom during the Second World War, there’s no question that this memorial’s vast spaces and towering pillars somehow seem to overpower the overall impression of contemplation and rememberance that the stars are designed to invoke. If you look at the first photo in this post, taken from the top of the Washington Monument, you can see the “Freedom Wall” of gold stars in the center back of the memorial, and how it fits into the overall space and design of this memorial, and I think you will see what I (and Tim Krepp) mean.
Correction: This post was originally published stating that David Koch, who also blogs at Greater Greater Washington had written the post on wading in the World War II Memorial. In fact, the post at Greater Greater Washington was written by Tim Krepp. The above post has been corrected.
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area preserves almost all of the off-shore islands in Boston Harbor, including a few that are now connected to the mainland. The stamp for Little Brewster Island is the fifth active stamp for this park. It joins a stamp for “Boston, MA” on the mainland at Long Wharf in dowtown Boston, as well as stamps for Georges Island, Peddocks Island, and Spectacle Island. The 34 islands that comprise this park include a mix of natural scenery, historic resources related to 19th century harbor defenses, and outstanding recreational opportunities. Little Brewster Island is the most-distant of the four islands with stamps, located some 8 miles from downtown Boston.
(As a side note, it should be noted that Boston Harbor Islands NRA previously had a stamp for the Gateway Pavillion information center in downtown Boston, but that stamp has not been available since 2013. Meanwhile, according to the Park map there are Ranger Stations on at least four other islands, so this park may yet add additional stamps in the months and years to come.)
Olympic National Park is one of the true gems of the U.S. National Park System, located on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. This stamp for the concessionarie at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is one of 14 cancellations available around this large national park. The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is located in the temperate forests on the northern side of the park in the valley of the Sol Duc River.
The new stamps for North Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore makes for five cancellations at this national park located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the western part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Three of those stamps are on the mainland, and now there is a stamp for both South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island located off-shore in Lake Michigan.
The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail connects sites in Arizona and California along the route taken by de Anza in 1776 to establish the settlement of San Francisco. Fort Ord National Monument was established by President Obama in 2012 on the former site of the military base of the same name on Monterey Bay. Thus, this month marks the first two stamps in the Passport Program to be located in the world-famous scenic destination of Monterey, California. The Big Break Regional Park preserves some of the land on the San Joaquin River Delta at the base of San Francisco Bay.
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail marks Smith’s voyages of exploration in the Chesapeake Bay from 1607-1609. This month, stamps appear to have been added for just about every Virginia State Park located on the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, Chickahominy Riverfront Park is a local park located in James City County, Virginia. Henricus Historical Park commemorates a famous #2 – it recreates the second successful English settlement in the New World. It was established 80 miles up the James River in 1611 by settlers departing from Jamestown. Mathews County Virginia has a Visitor and Information Center for its network of water trails to explore. Reedville, Virginia is located at the end of Virginia’s Northern Neck, on the Chesapeake Bay. Its Fisherman’s Museum is also a stamping location for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. Vienna, Maryland is the launching point for the Nanticoke River Water Trail, which runs along the Nanticoke River all the way into southern Delaware.
The Thomas Stone National Historic Site is also an outright national park, located in the small town of Port Tobacco in southern Maryland. It preserves the home of one of Maryland’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. It probably would not have made it in to the National Park System on its own, but for the fact that the house was damaged by fire in 1977, and designation as a national park site the next year was about the only way to save it from the wrecking ball. The new stamps for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail both replace existing stamps that were already at the site, reflecing both the site’s scenic location on the Potomac River and on the route of the British invasion of Maryland during the War of 1812. This site also had a generic stamp listing all the states of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, but this its first stamp specific to the site itself. This trail marks the route of American General George Washington and the French General Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia at the end of the Revolutionary War. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and the Underground Railroad: Network to Freedom are two National Park Service partnership programs, reflecting this park’s location on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and as a former plantation were slaves lived, worked, and occasionally, escaped to freedom.
The National Park Travelers Club is a social Club that provides networking for Passport stamp collectors. They now have nine passport stamps that will be available at their member-meetups, one stamp for each Passport region.
Its amazing to think that less than one year ago, there were not any national parks specifically dedicated to mammoth fossils – and now there are two! The first is the Tule Springs Fossil Beds near Las Vegas, Nevada, which was established by Congress in December 2014. The second is the newest unit of the National Park System, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, which was established by Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act on July 10, 2015. Prior to 2014 there were six national parks specifically dedicated to fossils in the name of the park, but all of them from eras predating the age of the mammoths:
By contrast, mammoths lived in North America during the Pleistocene time period, from about 2 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago. Specifically, the mammoths at Tule Springs died approximately 250,000 years ago and the mammoths at Waco died approximately 68,000 years ago. The mammoths at both sites are considered to be Columbian Mammoths, a species of mammoth that is related to the smaller, but more-famous, Wooly Mammoths that lived in Siberia and northern North America. Likewise, both sites would predate the arrival of the first humans to the Americas, which different theories date as occuring anywhere between 12,000 years ago to as much as 40,000 years ago.
In addition to the age of their respective mammoth fossils being hundreds of thousands of years apart, two other things distinguish Waco Mammoth National Monument from Tule Springs National Monument and make them each unique in their own way. First, Tule Springs is currently almost completely undeveloped. It has no visitor center, and no displays of exposed fossils, whether in situ (still in the ground) or anywhere else. Visiting it requires some hiking and some imagination. The second is that the Waco site preserves a nursery herd of mammoths – the only known such fossils of its kind in the United States. This makes the fossils here especially valuable, as they tell us a great deal about how mammoths reproduced, raised their young, and how they lived with others.
Although these are the first two national parks specifically dedicated to mammoth fossils, it turns out that mammoth fossils can be found as a secondary feature at a few other national parks. Among the most notable is Channel Islands National Park. Although most visitors to Channel Islands National Park, located off the cost of Los Angeles, California, either go for the scenery, or perhaps for activities like sea kayaking, hiking, or whale watching, 40,000 years ago the Channel Islands were home to the Pygmy Mammoth, a species found nowhere else in the world.
There are also two other national parks that are dedicated to the archeology of the peoples who hunted mammoths. Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is in one of the remotest corners of western Alaska, and preserves the archeological legacy of the first American settlers who likely followed herds of wooly mammoths across the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last ice age. The second is Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in the panhandle of north Texas, where some of the earliest Americans obtained flint for their spearheads with which to hunt the Columbian Mammoths found at Waco and at Tule Springs. Naturally, the presence of humans at both sites indicates that they are much more recent than the two new national monuments dedicated to mammoths.
Likewise, it should be mentioned that perhaps the most-famous mammoth fossil site in the United States is not part of the U.S. National Park System. Mammoth fossils have been found at the La Brea tar pits near Los Angeles, California which is now part of the Page Museum. The fossils there also date from relatively recent history, from between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Nevertheless, very few visitors to these Parks would have come away with any deeper appreciation for the way in which mammoth fossils are found, or for the ways in which mammoths lived and thrived in this country, literally for millions of years. Waco Mammoth National Monument in particular will provide an outstanding opportunity for education about these wonderful creatures.
Its fascintating to think about how sites like Waco Mammoth connect to our present-day world. Although these were not the Wooly Mammoths of Siberia, its still amazing to think of these giant beasts living in places like central Texas, Las Vegas, and southern California. In fact, these giant beasts roamed here “only” a few tens of thousands of years, which really puts into context the tens of millions of years that separate us from the other fossil-focused national parks in the National Park System.
Due to some extensive travels, I never made a post on the new June stamps, so here in one big post are all the new stamps from Eastern National for June and July – a grand total of 18 over the two months!
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015
Dinosaur National Monument | 100th Anniversary 1915-2015
Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve | Cave Junction, OR
Golden Gate National Recreation Area:
Golden Gate Bridge
Nike MIssile Site
Point Bonita Lighthouse
Juan Bautista de Anza NHT
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail | Falmouth, VA
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Cherokee Removal MEM Park, TN
Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area
Highway 61 Blues Museum
Birthplace of the Frog
Badlands National Park | White River VC
North Country National Scenic Trail | Lowell, MI
Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail |
The new stamp for Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve reflects its new name and expanded boundaries. In December 2014, Congress expanded the boundaries to include some of the unspoiled scenery and pristine waterways surrounding the Oregon Caves as a “Preserve.” Somewhat confusingly, however, Congress did not make this yet another national park that “counts twice,” unlike most of the other “& Preserve” parks in the National Park System.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area includes numerous parklands and historic sites within the city of San Francisco and its immediate suburbs. Indeed, this park has Passport stamps scattered across 21 different locations, and all 8 of this month’s locations previously had stamps. The Golden Gate Bridge Pavillion received its first stamp for the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th Anniversary in 2012, and so now appears to have a permanent stamp of its own. Additionally, Fort Point National Historic Site, located below the Golden Gate Bridge, and Muir Woods National Monument, located in nearby Mill Valley, are actually separate units of the National Park System. They previously had stamps for Golden Gate NRA that read “San Francisco, CA” on the bottom, but now have place-specific stamps of their own for their dual status under the management of Golden Gate NRA.
Badlands National Park preserves spectacular scenary in South Dakota. The White River Visitor Center services the less-visited Stronghold Unit in the southern portion of the national park, and is located with the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Previously, this visitor center had a non-standard stamp courtesy of the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority, which operates the visitor center, but this is the location’s first official stamp.
The North Country National Scenic Trail does not count as its own national park, but will run an impressive 4,600 miles (once completed) across the northern United States from Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border to Lake Sakakawea in central North Dakota. Lowell, Michigan is the site of the headquarters offices of the North Country Trail Assocation, which is helping to make this route a reality.
Finally, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trali is the National Park Service’s main program on the Chesapeake Bay. Officially, it’s a set of water routes that commemorate the explorations of the Bay and its tributaries by John Smith between 1607 and 1609. Fort Monroe National Monument is now its own unit of the National Park System near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, Wrightsville, PA is at the far northern end of John Smith’s explorations, on the banks of the Susquehanna River near present-day York, Pennsyvlania.
With these new additions there are now 1,915 active Passport cancelations out there, or 1,827 if you exclude the various anniversary and special program stamps.
In Part I of my Valley of the Hohokam Trip Report, I described how the National Park Service is responsible for two national monuments in southern Arizona.The first visit was to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, which is famous for its Great House. The Great House has been a landmark for visitors to central Arizona since the earliest Spanish contacts. The Juan Bautista de Anza expedition to San Francisco passed through this area in 1775, and de Anza himself took a side trip to visit the Casa Grande. His trip was a follow-up to the reports of Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kindo, who noted the Casa Grande in an expedition to the area all the way back in 1694.
(As an interesting side note, six years after visiting Casa Grande, Father Kino would found the mission Church of San Jose de Tumacacori south of present-day Tucson, Arizona, and which today is preserved by the National Park Service as Tumacacori National Historical Park. )
If we imagine taking a virtual time machine backwards from the days of Father Kino in 1694, we know that the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins was built in the early 1300’s, and was used for a period of 50-75 years. By the year 1450, the distinctive cultural identifiers of the people who lived at Casa Grande Ruins, such as pottery patterns and the settlement pattern around irrigation canals, no longer appear in the archeological record. Thus, archeologists date the end of the “Hohokam culture” to that date.
Going back even earlier, we know that sometime in the 900’s, the structure referred to as a ball court was built at Casa Grande Ruins. There is some debate as to whether this ball court was used for the ball game that was played a thousand miles to the south, in southern Mexico, or was actually used for ceremonial dances. The first permanent settlement at what we now call Casa Grande Ruins probably dates from around this time, or a little before.
Our time machine would have to go back much further to reach the origins of Hohokam Pima National Monument, however, which is located about 25 miles to the north and west of Casa Grande Ruins. This national monument preserves a site that archeologists call Snaketown. That site dates back as far as 300 B.C., and it is likely that it was inhabitated continuously through the year 1200. That would have been long enough for many of the inhabitants of Snaketown to have been contemporaries with the first permanent settlements at Casa Grande Ruins. Although the people who lived at Snaketown would not have seen the construction of the Great House, maybe its possible that they would have attended games or dances at the ball court there.
Fast forward to the present-day, however, and almost everything about Hohokam Pima National Monument is an anomaly – starting with its name. As mention in my last post, the word Hohokam comes from a mistransliteration of the word Huhugam from the language of the O’odhom people; Huhugam can probably best be translated as “our ancestors who have perished.” The word Pima, ironcially appears to be an even worse linguistic crime by the first Spanish-speakers to encounter the O’odhom people, as it appears to have originated from the O’odhom phrase for “I don’t know.” As we might imagine, the phrase “I don’t know” was surely used a lot during the first contact between two peoples from opposite sides of the world. Nevertheless, when this national monument was established by Congres in 1972, this is the name that was chosen. I would imagine that if this site were being designated for protection today, its likely that another name would have been selected instead – perhaps something along the lines of Huhugam O’odham National Monument.
This monument is also unique because the decision has been made to rebury the excavated ruins of Snaketown. By itself, this decision is not that unusual. Exposure to the elements is typically not going for archeological resources, which is why a protective shelter was built for the Great House at nearby Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Thus, archeologists frequently make the decision to rebury resources in order to preserve them for a future generation of archeologists, who may have investigative techniques that we can’t even imagine yet. Additionally, this site is located entirely on land owned by the Gila River Indian Community of the O’odham people, who consider the site to be the sacred land of the ancestors. I would imagine there is also some resentment of the Federal government asserting some control over this site as well.
In any event, what is unusual is that these ruins were reburied in a National Park site that is dedicated to preserving them. A major reason for that is surely the simple fact that in 1972, when Congress established this national monument, all national monuments were turned over to the National Park Service for management. It wasn’t until 1978 when Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska were established on US Forest Service Lands, and left under the US Forest Service for management, that national monuments would be managed by an agency other than the National Park Service. Were this site to be established today, I would also imagine that it would possibly be given to another Federal agency to manage, or else would simply be designated as an extension of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and so not given status as its own national park.
Nevertheless, Hohokam Pima National Monument poses a dilmma for anyone trying to visit all of the national parks in the U.S. National Park System, as it remains the only national park site that is closed the public – with no plans to ever open it to visitation. So not only is there nothing to see there, as the archeological ruins have been completely and thoroughly reburied, but attempting to visit Hohokam Pima National Monument directly is also trespassing. Yes, as it turns out, Interstate 10 technically takes you through the boundaries of this national monument right around mile 170 (and where Goodyear Road crosses the Interstate) – but most people would hardly consider that to be a meaningful visit (and stopping on the side of the road of the Interstate would not only also be illegal, but also not safe).
Nevertheless, to the extent that anyone would want to “count a visit” to a national park that is closed to the public, a visit the Gila River Indian Community’s Huhugam Heritage Center arguably checks all the boxes. The Huhugam Heritage Center has no affiliation with the National Park Service, so there’s no passport stamp or any of the other usual accountrements of a national park visitor center, but it actually fulfills most everything else that anyone would want out of a visit.
The highlight of the Huhugam Heritage Center is that the University of Arizona returned much of it Snaketown collection to the Gila River Indian Community a few years ago, and some of the most-spectactular artifiacts from that collection are now on display in the Huhugam Heritage Center. Included in the display are a number of very-large and perfectly-intact pots and jars that were excavataed at Snaketown. Seeing these artifacts in-person really gives a sense for the impressive accomplishments of these people. Unfortunately, the Center does not permit photography of the exhibit, and the Center does not have photographs online. The best photo I could find online of the pottery is included in this nice interactive multimedia program on Snaketown that was produced by the East Valley Tribune. Click on the link for “Crafts and Trade” in the presentaiton to see an example of the type of pottery on display. You can also find five photos of pottery excavated at Snaketown at this site from the Arizona State Museum.
Additionally, on the roof of the Huhugam Heritage Center is an observation deck. From this deck, it is quite possible to view and appreciate the desert landscape where the ruins of Snaketown are now reburied, and where the people who built Snaketown once had a thriving community more tha 700 years ago. The Center also includes a central plaza modeled after the ball courts found at Snaketown and Casa Grande Ruins.
Overall, a visit the Huhugam Heritage Center is fairly satifying for anyone interested in visiting the national parks. The artifacts on display in the Center have plenty of “wow” factor to illustrate why Snaketown is so archeologically significant. Moreover, the exhibits also connect the people who first made the desert bloom with their crops to the people of Gila River Indian Community who are still living there today. And you can get a good view of what the landscape looks like today.
If you do plan to visit, be sure to call ahead for the latest hours. As of this writing,their hours are Wednesday through Friday, 10am to 4pm. they currently have special extended hours on the first Friday of the month when they have a special heritage market. Our schedule did not align with the heritage market on our visit, but that would surely make for an interesting enhancement to any visit.
Taken together, both Hohokam Pima National Monument and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument remind us that we are not the first people to settle in the valleys of the Gila and Salt Rivers in Central Arizona.
Many people think of the Phoenix, Arizona metopolitan area as a place that only became habitable to human beings after the invention of air conditioning in the early 20th Century. In truth, however, there is a story of human habitation in the valley of the Salt and Gila Rivers that stretches back more than 2,000 years.
The National Park Service manages two National Monuments in this area that preserves the legacy of the first settlers here, a people that archeologists call the Hohokam. Other than that, however, that is where the similarities end, as the two national monuments could not be more different. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument showcases excavated ruins from the period just before European contact that have been attracting visitors for hundreds of years. By contrast, the ruins at Hohokam Pima National Monument ruins date from a much earlier period of settlement, have been reburied for their own protection, and the whole area remains completely closed to the public – but more on that in Part II.
The word Hohokom is actually a mistransliteration of the O’odham word Huhugam, which is generally translated as “those who are gone” or “those who have come before.” In the bookstore of Casa Grande Ruins, they helpfully sell copies of the Fall 2009 special issue of Archeology Southwest, which was dedicated to topics relating to Casa Grande Ruins. This issue contained a helpful essay by Barnaby V. Lewis, one of the tribal elders of the Gila River Indian Community. He describes the word Huhugam as more accurately meaning “those who have perished,” specifically in reference to those from whom one is descended. This speaks to the connection that the O’odhom people, of which the Gila River Indian Community is one of four Federally-recognized tribal governments, feel to the people archeologists call the Hohokam, and who lived in the prehistoric communities that are now Hohokam Pima and Casa Grande Ruins National Monuments.
In many respects, the Hohokam are part of a much broader group of American Indians called the Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi. The legacy of the Ancestral Puebloans are preserved in prehistoric pueblos all around the southwestern United States, most famously at Mesa Verde National Park. The word Anasazi comes from the Navajo language, and is a word which can be translated as “ancestors of our enemies.” Thus, the National Park Service prefers to use the more-cumbersome phrase Ancestral Puebloans to refer to these people, although many archeologists still use the term Anasazi.
Its worth remembering that the American Indians did not live in nation-states as we know them today, but rather in individual communities connected to other communities by things like a shared language, religious beliefs, cultural traditions, trading relationships, and ways of life. Archeologists thus choose words like Hohokam or Mogollon (used for certain pueblo-dwelling prehistoric peoples in New Mexico) or Anasazi to try and describe some of the meaningful differences between peoples in different places, even though there were rarely bright-line differences separating one from the other. Thus, archeologists will often disagree about where and how to draw the lines. In fact, some scholars use the term oasisamerica to be inclusive of all of the pueblo-dwelling peoples of the arid southwestern United States, including the Ancestral Puebloans of the Four Corners area, the Hohokam of Arizona, and the Mogollon of New Mexico, among others. Although I must admit that I rarely see the term oasisamerica used by the National Park Service, it certainly is one that makes sense. As one travels through the national park sites of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah the similarities are unmistakable. These were clearly all peoples who had some sort of contact with each other, and who shared similarities in their way of life with each other, and in how they adapted to pre-European Contact life in the deserts of the American Southwest.
The pueblo at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument was just one of numerous American Indian pubelos located in the valleys of the Salt and Gila Rivers in Central Arizona. The Hohokom people who lived here constructed an extensive network of canals to grow crops in the desert, and they thrived in these valleys for hundreds of years. No doubt these canals surely also helped link together their communities with one another, and those linkages may have been what made the settlement at Casa Grande Ruins so important.
Archeologists date the “Great House” at Casa Grande Ruins to around the year 1350. The structure is four stories high, and contains 11 total rooms. According to archeologists, there may well have been other “great houses” at other pueblos in central Arizona, although this has not been proven. If so, its possible that the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins survived because it was built a little sturdier or a little more robustly than the others. On the other hand, it just may have been lucky. Or indeed, it is possible that it was unique. Whatever the reason, the helpful guidebook to Casa Grande Ruins from the Western National Parks Association contains this description of the Great House from archeologist Cosmos Mindeleff, who surveyed the well-known site for the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology in 1890: “it is found easily by anyone looking for it.” Indeed, there is no question that it rises startlingly above the nearly-flat desert landscape that surrounds it.
Of course, another important reason that Great House at Casa Grande Ruins has also survived to the present-day is thanks to the now more than 100-years worth of efforts to preserve and protect it. Just two years after the above quote from Cosmos Mindeleff, President Benjamin Harrison set aside the Great House and 480 surrounding acres as an archeological preserve. This prescient act of preservation in 1892 came nearly 25 years before the establishment of the National Park Service, and nearly 15 years before the Antiquities Act of 1906 would formally give Presidents the authority to set aside national monuments as protected areas on Federal lands.In this way, just 20 years after Yellowstone became the United States’ (and the world’s) first national park, Casa Grande Ruins became this country’ first archeological preserve.
Archeologists still debate what the ultimate purpose of the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins was. Clearly, the building was important to them. Five different kinds of wood were used in its construction, including ponderosa pine and white fir. That sort of timber could only have been obtained from mountains at least 50 miles away! Moreover, the building also contains openings that carry astronomical significance. Various openings align with the sun on the summer solstice and on the equinoxes. Perhaps most fascinating to me, however, is that there is one opening aligned with the setting moon once every 18.5 years! Considering that the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins is believed by archeologists to only have been actively used for about 50-75 years (although the surrounding pueblo was inhabited for much longer than that), such alignment strikes me as being truly remarkable.
Putting the pieces together its clear that the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins was important. It was bigger than any other structure in the village, was built with imported timbers, and was constructed with great care to align with the heavens. Its easy to imagine that it provided some sort of religious or political center, possibly connected to the system of canals that was so vital to linking together these desert communities with that most-previous of all commodoties – water. Beyond that, with now written records left to us by these people, it is hard to say.
On our visit to Casa Grande Ruins, we first spent about 30 minutes going through the exhibits in the visitor center. The visitor center includes exhibits on the history of the place, what life would have been like for the Hohokom people who lived here, and a few artificats from the archeological excavations here. A door out the back of the visitor center takes you to the Great House and the surrounding pueblo ruins.
After spending another 30-or-so minutes walking around the vicinity of the Great House, however, it is important not to overlook that another section of this park is open to the public on the far side of the visitor center parking lot. There is a very short paved trail there that takes you to what many archeologists believe was a ball court. The American Indian ball game originated among the predecessor civilizations of the Mayas and Aztecs in southern Mexico and central America. If the ball game was played here in Arizona, it would indicate a cultural connection spanning nearly a thousand miles!
Visiting the ball court at Casa Grande Ruins today requires a bit of imagination. If it was used for the mesoamerican ball game, archeologists calcualte that the court could have accomodated some 500 spectators. This would be truly remarkable when you consider that the entire settlement at Casa Grande Ruins probably only had around 1,500 residents at its peak. Its possible to imagine people coming from surrounding pueblos on the system of irrigation canals coming to what we now call Casa Grande Ruins for important ball game matches.
It should be noted, however, that not all archeologists agree with this interpretation. Moreover, the oral tradition of the Akimei O’odoham (Pima) people, is that these places were in fact used for ceremonial dances. There is also evidence from the “ball courts” at nearby pueblos that they were used for ceremonial feasting, based on the large number of hornos, or clay ovens, found near the “ball courts.”
My guess is that as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between. I suspect that the construction of ball courts in the pueblos of the Hohokam people almost certainly resulted from cultural contact across the Mexican desert. On the other hand, it seems likely to me that across such great distances the actual ball game itself really didn’t take hold. Thus, as fun as it would be to imagine the champion of a Hohokom division playing the champion of an Aztec division in a World Series of mesoamerican ball game – that almost surely did not happen. Nevertheless, it seems quite possible that the structure itself was imported, and was then adapted into the culture of the Hohokam people. Perhaps for games, perhaps for dancing, or perhaps even both.
Interestingly, the ball court at Casa Grande Ruins was likely built around the year 1050. Its actually possible that, whatever its purpose, the ball court at Casa Grande Ruins was one of the last ball courts built by the Hohokom, as by the year 1100, no more ball courts were being constructed anywhere by the Hohokom. Something had shifted or changed in the Hohokom culture, and the use of the ball court was fading in to history. Indeed, it is worth noting that the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins would not be constructed until some 200 years later.
Thus, even though today we visit the Great House and the ball court at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and see them almost side-by-side with each other, the two structures actually represent centuries of habitation here by the Hohokam people.
In Part II of the Valley of the Hohokam Trip Report, I’ll delve a bit further into the history and present of the Hohokom people as I write about the experience of visiting Hohokam Pima National Monument, which preserves a settlement whose significance in many ways predates that of Casa Grande Ruins.
Eastern National has released its list of new cancellations for the month of May, and the list is quite a doozy! A total of 25 new stamps are listed, although many of them are replacements for already-existant stamps. Let’s take a look….
Sequoia National Park | 125th Anniversary 1890 – 2015
Kings Canyon National Park | 75th Anniversary 1940 – 2015
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015
Its starting to look like Parks Passsport enthusiasts may well remember 2015 as being the “Year of the Anniversary Stamps.” At least one new anniversary stamp has been issued each month in 2015, and the trend shows no sign of letting up. I’m still not sure that it makes sense to be making Passport Stamps with adjustable dates that are good for seven years with a single year permanently etched in the bottom text of the circle, but they seem to be popular for the moment!
Its interesting to note the Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park share more than just a a new Passport stamp this month. The two parks share a common superintendent, have a single joint brochure for both of them, and even share the same website (just click the links if you don’t believe me!) In fact, it sometimes appears that the only think keeping Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park from being listed as a single Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park that counts twice is the force of tradition. Still, until these stamps were issued, I’m not sure if I had ever realized that these two national parks were created 50 years apart, almost to the day. Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890 and Kings Canyon National Park was established fifty years and six days later on October 1, 1940. If you are in to anniversary celebrations, it sounds like a trip to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks the last week of September could be a lot of fun!
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area wouldn’t come along until 1965, and so celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Delaware Water Gap NRA preserves a particularly beautiful section of the Delaware River as it flows past the Pocono Mountains on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The “water gap” refers to the southern end of this park where the river literally cuts through one of the mountains, creating a “gap” in the mountain. Today, this park is within an easy day’s drive of both the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas, making it a great place for residents of those urban areas to get out into the parks.
Stamps for New National Parks
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument | Nevada
Pullman National Monument
Historic Pullman Foundation
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
National Pullman Porter Museum
First State National Historical Park
Beaver Valley – Woodlawn Tract
Fort Christina – Wilmington
Old Swede’s Church – Wilmington
The Green – Dover
John Dickinson Plantation
Ryves Holt House – Lewes
Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was one of four new parks established by Congress in December 2014. Located outside of Las Vegas, NV it preserves the desert landscape as well as fossils of mammoths and other creatures from the last ice age. Right now it doesn’t have any visitor facilities, so its passport stamp is being kept at the Alan Bible Visitor Center for Lake Mead National Recreation Area in nearby Boulder City, Nevada, just to the south of Las Vegas.
Pullman National Monument is an even newer national park than Tule Springs Fossil Beds, having been established by Presidential proclamation in February 2015. I’ve written about Pullman twice already, here and here. Similar to the way in which Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument / National Historical Park in Maryland was established by relying upon other preservation parterns in the area, it appears that Pullman National Monument is following a similar model Pullman NM actually already had its first Passport stamp, reading Chicago, IL on the bottom available at its dedication ceremony, in which President Obama signed his proclamation establishing the new national park right on site. That cancellation is available at the Historic Pullman Foundation’s Visitor Center, which will surely now also have the stamp recognizing the role the Foundation is continuing to play in preserving and interpreting this site. The Foundation is curently offering tours of the site on the first Sunday of the month, and will continue to own and manage some of the historic buildings on the site, including the Market Hall. Likewise, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will also continue to own and manage some of the historic properties at this site, including the architecturally-significant (and beautiful) Hotel Florence. Finally, until the National Park Service is able to open its own visitor center at the site, one of the best ways to learn about the history of the Pullman company town, which is now a national monument, will be a visit to the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which is also located on-site.
First State National Monument was originally proclaimed by President Obama in March 2013 with three sub-units, Dover Green in the State Capitol, the old New Castle Courthouse in New Castle, and the Brandywine Preserve in Wilmington. In December 2014, Congress renamed this parkFirst State National Historical Park, and also authorized expanding its boundaries to include a few additional sites. In February 2015, new stamps were issued for the original three sites with the new name, First State National Historical Park, as well as for two of the new sites. This month, it appears that new stamps have been issued with new bottom text for four of those first five sites (only the New Castle Courthouse site is not listed), as well as for two new sites, both in Wilmington. One is for the Old Swedes Church, which claims to be the oldest continuously-used house of worship as originally built in the United States, with a history stretching back to 1698. The other is for nearby Fort Christina, the site of the colony of New Sweden way back in 1638. The story of Swedish settlement in the United States is not one that is often told, so these should be very interesting additions to the National Park System.
Stamps for Existing National Parks
Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area | Helenwood, TN
Gateway National Recreation Area | Ryan VC – Floyd Bennett Field
Yellowstone National Park | Wyoming
St. Croix National Scenic River
St. Croix River
St. Croix Visitor Center
Namekagon Visitor Center
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in northeastern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky has recently been adding Passport cancellations for visitor facilities in its gateway communities. In addition to the long-standing three stamps for the Park’s three visitor contact stations at Oneida, TN; Stearns, KY; and Blue Heron (a historic coal mininng community near Stearns, KY) the Park added stamps for Crossville, TN and Historic Rugby, TN in August 2014. Helenwood, TN is also a gateway community, and is the latest addition to this program. You can check out a Parkasuaurs Trip Report from this Park here.
Gateway National Recreation Area includes a number sites in the immediate vicinity of New York City in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and northern New Jersey. Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport, and now provides urban recreational opportunities, including campaing. The Ryan Visitor Center is the National Park Service’s main visitor facility there, and this stamp replaces a previously-existant stamp.
Its not clear what to make of a new stamp for Yellowstone National Park that simply says “Wyoming” on the bottom. Yellowstone currently offers 13 different Passport cancellations throughout the Park, and it appears that this would be the 14th.
The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway includes the St. Croix River and its main tributary, the Namekagon River. Its hard to tell what to make of the stamp that simply reads “St. Croix River,” but the “St. Croix Visitor Center” will likely replace the existing stamp at the visitor center in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border; and the the “Namekagon Visitor Center” stamp will likely replace the existing stamp at the visitor center in Trego, Wisconsin in the northern part of the state. This park also includes older stamps for the “Marshland District” and for “Minnesota-Wisconsin” that are kept under the counter at the Namekagon Visitor Center. There is also one other stamp at Prescott, WI at the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center in Prescott, Wisconsin where the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway meets the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area.
Stamps for Park Partners
Old Spanish National Historic Trail | Canyons of the Ancients NM
With these new additions, Parkasaurus now counts 1,900 active Passport cancellations currently available, or 1,818 stamps excluding anniversary stamps and other special event or special program stamps.
Well, I should have figured when I first set out to do this series that it would provide to be nearly impossible to pick just 30 favorite moments from the hundreds of visits that I have made to the first 300 national parks that I have already visited. Or even worse, that I would get to the end and realize, “how could I possibly have left out that?” So sure enough, I have a few national park memories that got left on the figurative cutting room floor that I just couldn’t leave unmentioned.
Thus, as a postscript to my “30 for 300” series, here are five “honorable mentions” that I just couldn’t leave out.
#5) Searching for Starfish in the Tidepools at Olympic National Park – August 2003
Olympic National Park is often called “three national parks in one” for its combination of rugged alpine scenery, lush temperate rainforests, and spectacular Pacific coastline. The day after that 20 mile hike I mentioned earlier in this series, I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – seeking out the fabulously colorful starfish like these guys:
Or else enjoying the absolutely amazing sunset behind the rock spires of the coastline:
#4) Walking Among the Ruins at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument – February 2003
This trip was memorable in large part simply because my friend and I were not supposed to be there. We were only visiting this Park because a major snowstorm had cancelled all flights to the East Coast, giving us an unexpected extra two days in New Mexico. Salinas Pueblo Misssions was the first national park I visited that primarily preserves the civilization of the prehistoric pueblo-dwelling peoples, so it will always be special to me for that reason. What makes Salinas Pueblo MIssions particularly distinctive, however, is that at each of the three prehistoric pueblos preserved in the park, the Spanish had also built a large mission church right in the middle of the pueblo, which is also preserved. Thus, this park preserves the moment of contact between two cultures, and is a place where you can really feel the sweep of history beneath your feet.
#3) Special 100th Anniversary Commemorative Programs at Mesa Verde National Park – June 2006
By the time I visited Mesa Verde National Park three and a half years afte rmy visit to Salinas Pueblo Missions, I had started to become abundantly familiar with the story of the Ancestral Puebloan people, or as they are sometimes called, the Anasazi. Since the ancient pueblos are largely permanent structures that were built in a desert environment, the U.S. National Park System includes quite a few of them.
Mesa Verde National Park, of course, preserves some of the most-spectacular abandoned Ancestral Puebloan ruins out of all of them. In 2006, Mesa Verde also celebrated its 100th Anniversary with numerous special programsthroughout the summer. One program my friends and I were particularly lucky to catch was a Ranger providing costumed interpretation as J. Walter Fewkes, one of the first archaeologists to study the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde.
#2) Rafting with Au Pairs on the New River Gorge National River – June 2003
One of my former co-workers used to be, as he described, a “den mother” for au pairs working in our area. Essentially this meant that he had some responsibility for looking out for them, helping them deal with any problems they may have, and also organizing a social activity for them each month – so that they could have some regular time together with peers while adjusting to life in a new country.
For three years, one of the biggest events he organized as a “cap” to their year in this country was a whitewater rafting trip on West Virginia’s New River Gorge, and for those years he invited me to come along as an additional chaperone and driver (since the au pairs generally did not have their own car in this country, naturally.) It was an offer that I couldn’t refuse. A two-day trip on the New River Gorge in late spring or early summer is perhaps the perfect river for “newbie” whitewater rafters. The first day provides some light rapids to get used to the water, and the second has enough big rapids to provide a real adrenaline rush without requiring too much in the way of technical maneuvers from the paddlers. Plus, the trip provided a great opportunity to make new friends with young women from far away places like Poland, Hungary, and Germany without ever leaving this country.
#1) An Evening Walk on the Beach at Assateague Island National Seashore – August 2007
There’s nothing like walking on a beach at sunset in the summer, when there is no longer a harsh sun beating down on you, and the sand is cool underfoot, and the water is still warm to the touch. I snapped this picture by wading into the water and taking this picture of the future Mrs. Parkasaurus by looking back towards the shore, and the sunset off in the west.
And that’s a “wrap” for the series. If you missed any part of it, you may want to go back and check out:
My 2012 trip to Voyageurs National Park was magical in multiple ways. This trip was one of the first camping trips I did with my Jr. T-Rex, who only 20 months old at the time. Voyageurs is also one of the best places in the country to see bald eagles in the wild, and we saw them seemingly everywhere. Then, once evening sets in, the star birds of this Park are the loons, whose haunting calls echo over the lakes in the twilight hours.
The top highlight of this trip, however, was discovering the Ellsworth Rock Gardens. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, a gentleman by the name of Jack Ellsworth from Chicago vacationed on Kabetogama Lake in the summers and constructed a vast and elaborate set of terraces, flower beds, and fanciful rock sculptures. This site is truly “off-the-beaten-path,” as it is only accessible by boat – which also means no crowds. We literally had the site to ourselves when we visited, despite being the middle of the summer tourist season. To find something this elaborate quite literally in the middle of nowhere was truly one of the most surreal experiences of my travels.
Since the Parkasaurus Family lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC this has become an annual tradition for us – and so this is the only one of my “30 for 300” without a specific date attached to it. Yes, the Tidal Basin area gets absolutely crowded during cherry blossom season – but for good reason. There really is nothing like strolling under the cherry blossoms at peak bloom. The trees form a sea of puffy white bloosoms above you, with iconic accents provided by the visages of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the other monuments and memorials around the Tidal Basin. The cherry blossoms are fleeting, though, with peak bloom lasting only 3-5 days each year. So each year we monitor the reports closely of when the peak bloom will be, and we always make sure to find time in our schedule to head downtown with a blanket and a picnic basket and enjoy the spectacular scenery of one of the Nation’s Capital’s rites of spring.
Located way up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is another of my favorite hidden gems of the National Park System. In fact, if it were rebranded as Pictured Rocks National Park instead of national lakeshore, it would probably get a lot more of the attention that it so richly deserves.
My visit to this Park in 2006 included one of my all-time favorite hikes. From the trailhead at the end of Chapel Road, there is a choice of two trails, one leading to Cathedral Rock and Chapel Beach, the other leading to Mosquito Beach. I must admit that I never took the trail to Mosquito Beach, but this seems like an easy choice, right?
The full loop trail to Cathedral Rock and Chapel Beach is 9 miles, so it makes for a substantial day hike. Additionally, one of the few drawbacks of this hike is that a substantial portion of those 9 miles leads you through relatively non-descript pine forest. The payoff at the end is worth it, however. After spending an hour and a half walking through the forest, the sensation of going over that last rise and seeing the pristine waters of Lake Superior and the spectacular rock formations on its coastline open up before you is truly breath-taking.
Sand dunes in Colorado? This National Park certainly provides the unexpected. There are few sights that can compare to seeing North America’s tallest sand dunes nestled against the base of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. On my trip to this park in the summer of ’99, I arrived relatively late in the evening and claimed a campsite in the Park’s Pinyon Flats Campground. I then took advantage of the full moon that evening to go out and climb to the top of the High Dune under the soft glow of the moonlight. Reaching the dunes involves crossing a shallow stream, and from there, with the benefit of the cool night air, bare feet were definitely the order of the day. While most people who visit this Park in July have to deal with the scorching sunshine and heat on the dunes, my trip was a magical mystery tour in an other-worldly landscape with cool sand under my feet and the full moon high in the sky.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has been one of my absolute favorite national parks ever since I drove it end-to-end in August 2001. If you love a good road trip, as I most certainly do, then the Blue Ridge Parkway’s 469 miles with no traffic lights, no stop signs, and almost never-ending series of overlooks, historic sites, and waterfall hikes is almost like a little slice of heaven. In the Fall of 2010, as Mrs. Parkasaurus and I were preparing for the birth of our Jr. T-Rex, we decided to take a “baby moon” trip together before the baby arrived. A trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway during Fall colors season, and to enjoy a corn maze in the shape of the Parkway’s 75th Anniversary logo was a logical choice. On the way back home, we happened to discover a cabbage patch growing right up next to the Parkway, which seemed like the perfect symbol for our trip.
Yellowstone National Park, in my estimation, is one of the ten most amazing places in the world, and thus rightfully attracts its fair share of visitors. Away from the geysers and thermals however, and away from the traffic jams caused by the bison and the grizzly bears, there are still places in Yellowstone where you can get off the beaten path. On my second trip to Yellowstone, in 2006, that place for me was the Lamar Valley in the far eastern end of the Park. I no longer even remember what inspired me to do so, but I set off on a hike in this part of the Park without even so much as a marked trail – and just spent a couple hours taking in the grand scenery of the American West and a little quiet solitude.
I could easily fill an entire blog post about my trip to American Samoa National Park (which for some reason is officially called the National Park of American Samoa) – and in fact, I may just try and do that sometime down the road. Suffice to say that just visiting American Samoa National Park involves travelling to what is far and away the most-remote location in the National Park System – located as it is some 4,500+ miles southwest of Los Angeles in the Southern Hemisphere. However, even within a Park like this, there is remote, and then there is really remote. Only a handful of visitors each year are able to make it out to the island of ‘Ofu. For the lucky few who make it, it is a true tropical paradise. Dramatic rainforest-covered cliffs drop down to white sand beaches, with a pristine coral reef literally almost close enough to touch. I’ve traveled to many different places, but I’ve never felt further away from the cares of the world than when I was on the island of ‘Ofu.
In addition to dinosaurs, I’ve always had a soft spot for national parks dedicated to explorers. In the summer of 2004, my best friend and I decided to celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s Cexpedition by taking three weeks to travel the entirety of the National Park Service’s Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, which now marks the route. Nearly two weeks into the trip, we finally reached what was then-called Fort Clatsop National Memorial and is now called Lewis & Clark National Historical Park. Whatever you call it, the ending point of the Trail is the National Park Service’s reconstruction of the small fort that Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their men (along with Sacagawea and her family) built to pass the winter of 1805-1806. Our sense of relief at reaching the end of our road trip was of course nothing compared to the relief that Meriwether Lewis and Wiliam Clark must have felt when writing the words in his journal, “Ocean in View, O the Joy!” Still, our trip following in their footsteps, and listening to an audiobook of their journals along the way, and traveling from one end of our country to another was full of memories that are not soon to be forgotten.
As an undergraduate, I double-majored in geology and economics. As I entered college, my dream was to some daydevelop a career studying fossils as a paleontologist. By the time my college days were over, however, I had recognized that my future calling lay in economics, rather than geology or paleontology. Still, I stuck it out and completed my double major, and before beginning a career in economics, I took advantage of my geology degree to spend the summer after graduation as an intern with the National Park Service.
It was actually that summer internship which set me on my journey of trying to visit all of the U.S. National Parks. You see, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is an absolutely incredible place, with beautiful Rocky Mountain alpine scenery and 35 million year old fossils of insects so perfectly preserved that you can still see the veins in the wing of a fossilized wasp. Yet, before taking this internship, I had never even heard of it. Thus, it occurred to me – how many other incredible places that I have never heard of could I discover if I started visiting national parks? And so the journey began…
If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed a pattern with my 30 for 300’s #’s 21-30 and #’s 11-20. Sure enough, 10 months after getting engaged at Harper’s Ferry, we returned to the Park to get married at Historic St. Peter’s Chapel.
We made the most of the experience, including getting Passport Stamps together to mark the special day, and then climbing the old stone steps to the Chapel’s location on the cliff above the lower town. Since the Appalachian National Scenic Trail runs along those steps, my wife can say that she hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in her wedding dress!
Thank you very much for joining me on this trip down memory lane through some of my favorite moments from visiting my first 300 national parks. I obviously continue to love both visiting parks for the first time, and revisiting the parks I have been to before, and I hope you will continue to join me in sharing that journey on this blog.
#20) Hiking to Mt. Olympus Viewpoint at Olympic National Park – August 2003
National parks are often places for testing our limits. On a visit to the vast Olympic National Park in Washington, my friend and I naturally hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount Olympus. The only problem was that reaching any of the viewpoints for Mount Olympus required an extensive hike in to the interior of the Park. My friend and I compounded the problem by insisting upon going for a loop trail – in this case, one that was a whopping 20 miles. Suffice to say, we were neither suffiicently prepared nor properly conditioned for a hike of that length. By the time we dragged ourselves back to the car, a couple hours after sunset, we were both completely and utterly exhausted. Still, we did catch that glimpse of Mount Olympus! Well, just barely, as we had to look for it between breaks in the clouds.
#19) Landing at Portsmouth Village on Cape Lookout National Seashore – July 2002
By coincidence, I have two hikes in a row that were both a little more than I had bargained for. As mentioned in this Parkasaurus post, Portsmouth Village is one of the best-preserved ghost towns and one of the most-difficult to reach Passport cancellations on the East Coast. Just to get to the site, you need to take a ferry from the mainland to Ocracoke Island in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and then from there hire another boat to take you over to Portsmouth Island. The ghost town of Portsmouth Village was interesting enough, but what my friend and I were completely unprepared for were the absolute clouds of mosquitoes! I remember applying multiple layers of high-strength Deet, and still seeing the mosquitoes line up on my blue jeans trying to find a way in! Fortunately, the kind Park Rangers on the island took mercy on my friend and I gave us a ride on their Gator to help speed along our visit! No, they didn’t actually let us drive it – but they did let us pose for this photograph!
#18) Hiking the Savage River Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve – September 2008
By contrast, I have nothing but fond memories of this hike in Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve. Our first day in Denali, my wife and I took an all-day bus tour out to Wonder Lake, which of course has been made famous by the photography of Ansel Adams. Although we weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mount McKinley on that day, we had enough exciting encounters with Alaskan wildlife to fill a scrapbook full of memories. For our second day, we decided to head out on our own to enjoy some of the Alaskan solitude. The Savage River Trailhead is the furthest point into the Park that you can drive your own vehicle without a special permit, and this late in the season, we seemingly had this part of the park all to ourselves. Even though it was only Labor Day weekend, this was already pretty late in the visitaiton season for Denali – indeed, the plants on the tundra were already beautiful fall colors of red and gold. The image that sticks with me from this trip, however, is reaching the end of the marked trail and seeing the Savage River valley stretch off into the seemingly infinite Alaska wilderness.
#17) Patriot Day at Minute Man National Historical Park – April 2005
The American Revolution began with the “shots heard ’round the world” in the villages of Lexington and Concord, an event now marked every year as Patriots’ Day in the State of Massachusetts. Normally, visiting a national park in the morning is a good way to beat the crowds – but not on Patriots’ Day in and around Minute Man National Historical Park. A reenactment is held each year on Lexington Green (technically not part of the National Park Service’s property), followed by commeorative ceremonies at Old North Bridge in Concord. The event begins in Lexington at 5:30am – and literally every parking lot in the village of Lexington is packed. Savvy locals get there even earlier than that with step ladders to provide viewing points for their young children. The reenactment event itself, true to history, only lasts a few minutes; the Americans fire a few shots, the British fire back, and the Americans run, Afterwards, it seems that almost everyone heads over to the local Catholic Church, located just off the Green, to enjoy a pancake breakfast sponsored by the local Boy Scout Troop. Smart thinking by those Scouts!
#16) Sequoia National Park, Home of the Big Trees – August 2009
In 2009, I attended my first Convention of the National Park Traveler’s Club, held that year at Sequoia National Park. It was great to spend the weekend with so many people who were dedicated to visiting the U.S. National Park System, especially in such a stunning setting. Although I had previously seen the world’s tallest trees at Redwood National Park, it was little preparation for seeing the true giants of the Kingdom of Life growing on the edges of alpine meadows. Looking up, it can be somewhat hard to comprehend the soaring heights of the Redwood. On the other hand, when you stand at the base of sequoia that is many times the circumference of any other tree you have ever seen, there is no mistaking that you are in the land of giants.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the sheer size of these trees quite like this picture of a toppled sequoia. Even laid flat on its side, the sequoia still towers over the trees around it.
#15) Waking up to Bison at Breakfast at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – July 2004
If you talk to enough travelers in the U.S. National Parks, many of them are likely to agree: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (of all places!) is one of the true hidden gems of the whole U.S. National Park System. I previously blogged a little bit about this Park back in December 2014. and highlighted the spectacular scenary, the history of Theodore Roosevelt’s days as a rancher in this area, and the unusual rock concretions in the shape of mushrooms. On my trip in 2004, however, the biggest surprise was waking up in the morning in the Juniper Campground in the Park’s North Unit to the sounds and smells of herd of bison wandering their way through the campground! I guess that when you are bison, you go where you please, and in this case, that was right past our tent! Normally, Park Rangers wisely advise everyone to keep a very respectful distance from bison – but in this case that wasn’t an option! Suffice to say that I got as close to the snorting and grunting bison as I will ever want to be. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the memories were unforgettable!
#14) Father’s Day Riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad at Cuyahoga Valley National Park – June 2013
Like many young boys, my now-four-year-old Juniot T-Rex has long had a love affair with trains. So when travels to visit family took us through northeast Ohio on Father’s Day weekend in 2013, there was an obvious way to combine daddy’s love of national parks and son’s love of trains – a trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Suffice to say my little T. Rex was beside himself with joy to be riding the train. The conductors even let him help punch the tickets while on board. The train railroad provides service from nearby Canton to various stops throughout the Park, and runs frequently enough that it can even be used to support a short visit or hike within the Park before being boarded for a return trip.
#13) Backpacking with Friends at Death Valley National Park – January 2009
On my first visit to Death Valley National Park, in January 2005, I remember feeling profoundly small. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering that Death Valley has one of the largest vertical elevation gains in the country, from 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin to more than 11,000 feet in elevation on nearby Telescope Peak.
In January 2009, I returned with two of my friends from college for an overnight trip in the Death Valley backcountry. Backpacking is itself a humbling experience, especially in a desert park like Death Valley, as everything you need for survival in the loneliness of the backcountry must be carried in with you. After our excursion, we did take some time to take in the salt flats in Badwater Basin and enjoy the otherworldly landscape of the lowest point in the United States.
#12) New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial – December 2007
I’ve previously blogged about my love for the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve actually twice spent New Year’s Eve at the Lincoln Memorial. The first time, in 1999, was for Washington’s commemoration of the turning of the Millenium. That event was nice enough, with the highlight being when they shot fireworks off the scaffolding that was then-surrounding the Washington Monument. The down-side is that it was very much a made-for-TV event. So, when the TV Network went to a commercial break, everything stopped and you were reminded that you were standing in the cold and in the mud, with nothing to do until the commercial break ended. So that event doesn’t make my Top 30.
However, eight years later I returned to the Lincoln Memorial on New Year’s Eve, with my then-fiancee, the future Mrs. Parkasaurus. Many people may not realize, but Washington actually does not normally have an outdoor New Year’s Eve event. So on December 31st, 2007 it almost felt like my fiancee had the illuminated Memorials on the National Mall to ourselves. As we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before midnight, we shared that special moment transitioning from one year to the next with just the security guard and two other couples who had similar ideas. It was a fantastic New Year’s Eve like no other.
#11) The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – September 2012
For the past four years, the National Park Service has put on a number of events marking the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Although as a family with two young children, we have attended fewer of these events than I might otherwise have liked, we definitely made it a special point to go to some of the events marking the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Harper’s Ferry, given our special connection to this Park. We’re glad that we did.
On the night of September 12, 2012 costumed interpreters from the National Park Service helped recreate several scenes from the night of September 12, 1862. That was the night that Union troops, recognizing that their position was indefensible, abandoned the town of Harpers Ferry to be captured by the Confederates the next day. Visitors were led by lantern light to various locations around the historic downtown where the costumed interpreters using material from actual letters and diary entries from 1862 really helped recreate some of the thoughts and emotions that various townspeople in Harpers Ferry must have been feeling on that night – both those who would be leaving, as well as those who would be left behind. Quite simply it was not a night that I will not soon forget.
I hope you enjoyed Part II of my 30 for 300 retrospective.