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.
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.
In the United States, we elect a new Congress every two years. As of late, Congress has rarely been able to agree on much, which has meant that relatively few laws have been enacted, including laws relating to national parks and other public lands. In practice, this has meant that every two years, as one Congress is about to leave office and a new Congress prepares to take office the following January, there has been a mad scramble to enact legislation relating to public lands and national parks that hasn’t been able to get voted upon during the previous two years. That’s because once a new Congress takes office, generally speaking, any bills that have not yet become laws have to start over from square one – the bill has to be reintroduced, the bills gets referred back to a Commitee for new hearings, and the bills once again has to be passed by the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Back in 2010, as Congress was leaving office, it passed the “Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2010” which established three new U.S. National Park Sites, along with numerous other public lands provisions. Similar action was taken two years before that with another “catchall”, or in the words of Washington, “omnibus” law that authorized the creation of one new U.S. National Park Site, in addition to many other public lands provisions. Two years ago, however, was the exception – no major public lands legislation made it out of the last Congress, which means there’s now a four-year backlog of public lands legislation waiting for passage.
That wait finally appears to be over, however, with the announcement on Wednesday that the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 would include a large number of public lands provisions. The Defense Authorization Act is a law that is passed by Congress every year that sets priorities for spending by the Department of Defense, and is generally considered to be “must-pass legislation.” This particular version of the Act will cover the governments 2015 Fiscal Year, and in addition, appears to be the vehicle for clearing some of the backlog in public lands legislation.
It should be noted that right now this is still “just a bill.” As this blog post was being written, it had been passed by the House of Representatives, but was still awaiting passage by the Senate, and then, of course, signature by the President. However, numerous media reports indicate that this bill seems to be very likely to be enacted. So, with that being said, here’s a quick summary, including authorization for six new national parks:
This park would not be established until the National Park Service is able to acquire the land from donors or willing sellers.
4) Authorizes the establishment of Manhattan Project National Historical Park at facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington related to the development of the first atomic bomb.
The legislation gives the National Park Service one year to work out the details with the Department of Energy for how exactly to establish the Park.
The law appears to establish this as a national park right away, transferring it immediately from the Bureau of Land Management, so this may well be the 404th national park in just a few days.
It is interesting to note, however, that this site was included in the legislation, whereas the Waco Mammoth National Monument was not. For many years, the Waco Mammoth Site appeared to be a slam dunk for national park status, until a change in the local Congressional designation appears to have caused the effort to lose steam. Now that Waco Mammoth has been passed over for inclusion in this legislation, its best route to national park status may be through a Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act.
7) Designates Pershing Park in Washington, DC as the National World War I Memorial, and authorizes its expansion to include additional memorial elements.
Update: The National Park Service has confirmed that Blackstone River Valley NHP, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the World War I Memorial are considered to be immediately established, thus taking the total number of national parks to 405.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated after its original posting to include the item on the National World War I Memorial, which was missed in our original reading of the law, and to also include the Update on the Park counts listed above.