Tag Archives: Washington Monument

When is a National Memorial a National Park?

There are three national memorials in this photograph from 2010 - but what makes a national memorial a national park?
There are three national memorials in this photograph from 2010 – but what makes a national memorial a national park?

Writing about the World War II Memorial has gotten me to thinking about what makes a national memorialnational park.   According to the National Park Service, there are 30 national memorials in the U.S. National Park System.  However, as with so many things in counting national parks it isn’t quite as simple as that.  Under Federal Law, only Congress has the exclusive right to designate a national memorial.  This means that there is no provision like an Antiquities Act for designating national memorials the way that there is for the President to designate national monuments.  Moreoversimilar to national monuments, not all national memorials have been assiged to the National Park Service for inclusion in the U.S. National Park System – in fact with there being 64 national memorials that I have been able to identify, the National Park Service is only directly responsible for around half of them.

NPS National Memorials in Washington, DC

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial during peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Photo from 2011.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial during peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Photo from 2011.

Let’s take a closer look at national memorials by starting with the 12 national memorials listed by the National Park Service that are in or around the nation’s capital in  Washington, D.C.:

  1. Arlington House, the Robert E. Memorial (the issue of a national memorial dedicated to Lee is a topic for another post on another day)
  2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  3. (*)Korean War Veterans Memorial
  4. Lincoln Memorial
  5. (*)Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
  6. (*)Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  7. (*)Theodore Roosevelt Island
  8. Thomas Jefferson Memorial (I’ve never been able to determine why Jefferson gets his first name in the name of the memorial, but Lincoln and Washington do not!)
  9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  10. Washington Monument
  11. (*)World War I Memorial (new! – to be located in Pershing Park near the White House)
  12. World War II Memorial

There are also two more memorials in the above category that are planned for future construction.  The Eisenhower Memorial(*) has recently received final design approval, and is hoping to complete construction in the next few years.  The Adams Memorial(*), a tribute to the remarkable family that produced the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, is still in the design and fundraising stages.

So overall, this first set of memorials are dedicated either to “great Americans” – primarily former Presidents of the United States, or else to those who served, and in many cases, gave their lives, in one of the major wars of the 20th Century.

However, there is still the small matter of those asterisks above.  What becomes a little tricky here is that five of these twelve memorials (as well as the two under development) have actually not been specifically designated as national memorials by Congress  – as national memorial is a rather specific legal honor and title that can only be conferred by Congress.  However, each of those memorials is of a sufficent size and distinction that the National Park Service has determined that each of them should count separately as individual national parks in the National Park System.  As such, in listing all of the different units in the National Park System, the National Park Service goes ahead and lists all of the above as national memorials.

Given that recognition, its hard to be pedantic about the the specific legal distinctions.  Take for example, the case of the World War II Memorial.  The fundraising drivde  by the American Battle Monuments Commission to build this memorial was explicitly called the National World War II Memorial Cammpaign.  The non-profit partners of the memorial calls themselves “Friends of the National World War II Memorial.”  Regardless of the technical legal status, almost all Americans, including, I would imagine, almost all Members of Congress, consider it to be the National World War II Memorial.  So in the interests of simplicity and clarity, I’m going to conside each of the above memorials to also be a national memorial, if for no other reason than by popular acclamation and by the de facto designation as such by the National Park Service.

So those twelve constitue the first entries on the list of national memorials.   Let’s look at a few more:

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The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence in Constitution Gardens features the signatures of each of the signers. This photo, from 2011, is of the signatures from the famed Massachusetts delegation.

In addition to these twelve, seven other national memorials in the greater Washington, DC area are included as part of other, larger units of the U.S. National Park System:

  1.  the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence can be found on an island in the lagoon of Constitution Gardens in downtown Washington, DC;
  2. the Lincoln Museum in Ford’s Theatre is considered to be a national memorial, and is part of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, DC;
  3. the House Where Lincoln Died, also known as Petersen House, is also considered to be a national memorial, and is also a part of Ford’s Theatre NHS in downtown Washington, DC;
  4. the United States Marine Corps War Memorial is more popularly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, and is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington, Virginia;
  5. the United States Navy Memorial is part of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in downtown Washington, DC;
  6. the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial is also part of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in downtown Washington, DC – but it is one of only two of these sseven sites without its own Passport stamp;
  7. the Seabees of the United States Navy Memorial is located along the George Washington Memorial Parkway at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery, and also does not have its own Passport stamp.

This second group is a bit more of a mixed bag than the first group.   The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence is straight-forward enough, and in keeping with the theme from the first group of honoring the “Founding Fathers” of the Nation.  The Nation’s desire to honor the Preisdent who saved the Union is evident by there being two designations relating to Abraham Lincoln, in addition, of course, to the Lincoln Memorial itself in the first group.  Four others are dedicated to specific groups of people who served, or more accurately, to specific types of service.  The mixed-nature of this list is perhaps most-highlighted by the absence of the Air Force Memorial from this list, which has apparently not been formally designated a national memorial, and resides on Department of Defense land at the Pentagon, and so is outside the National Park System as well.   With neither official recognition by Congress as a national memorial, nor listing by the National Park Service as a national memorial, there just was no way to include it on the list.  Even though, with all due respect to the service of the many U.S. Navy Seabees over the years, it seems inconsistent to have the Seabees Memorial on this list, but not the Air Force Memorial.

Indeed, there are many other memorials in the National Park System which are also not on that list, and in some cases, it almost seems to be simply a paperwork oversight that they have not been designated as national memorials, while many similar memorials have been.   For more on them, check out Sidebar#1.

NPS National Memorials Outside Washington

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is better known as the St. Louis Arch, and is one of several national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks. Photo from 2004.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is better known as the St. Louis Arch, and is one of several national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks. Photo from 2004.

Outside of Washington, DC, however, the National Park System includes 18 other national memorials that are also individual national parks.  All of these were designated by Congress as a national memorial in their very name, however, so their inclusion on the list is straightforward.  The 18 are:

  1. Arkansas Post National Memorial – marks the first permanent European settlement in the Mississippi River Valley;
  2. Chamizal National Memorial – marks the peaceful resolution of a border dispute with Mexico in El Paso, Texas;
  3. Coronado National Memorial – marks the explorations of Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, at the approximate site where he entered the present-day United States on Arizona’s border with Mexico;
  4. DeSoto National Memorial – marks the explorations of Hernando de Soto, at the approximate site where he entered the present-day United States, just south of Tampa, Florida;
  5. Federal Hall National Memorial – marks the Nation’s first capitol building in New York City;
  6. Flight 93 National Memorial – a site that needs no introduction, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania;
  7. Fort Caroline National Memorial – marks the short-lived attempt by the French to colonize north Florida;
  8. General Grant National Memorial – the most famous tomb in America is the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife;
  9. Hamilton Grange National Memorial – marks the home of the Founding Father (for now) on the ten-dollar bill in New York City;
  10. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – you know this site as the St. Louis Arch, commemorating everyone and everything involved in America’s westward expansion;
  11. Johnstown Flood National Memorial – marks the site of the tragic disaster that killed more than 2,000 people in central Pennsylvania in 1889;
  12. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial – marks the place where Abraham Lincoln spent a few of his childhood years in southern Indiana;
  13. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – the famous faces in one of America’s most-famous places;
  14. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial – commemorates Commodore Oliver Perry’s famous victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, marked in the resort town of Put-in-Bay, Ohio;
  15. Port Chicago National Memorial – marks the site of a tragic explosion on the American Home Front in the East Bay of San Francisco during the Second World War, in which the victims were largely African-Americans;
  16. Roger Williams National Memorial – commemorates the pioneer for religious liberty who founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636;
  17. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial – preserves the boarding house where this Polish patriot and hero of the American Revolution briefly stayed while in Philadelphia during the winter of 1797-1798;
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial – marks the site of humanity’s first powered flight on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Once again, this set of national memorials also appears to be quite the mixed bag, although some themes definitely emerge.  Many of the sites are associated with the earliest days of America’s exploration and settlement – although San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument is notably absent from this list as it is a national monument rather than a national memorial.  Several of the others, such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Lincoln Boyhood are on the list because they primarily rely upon reconstructions, rather than actually-preserved historic resources – or in the case of Hamilton Grange, have been moved from their original location.  Three others are the site of major tragedies, with significant loss of life.   Others, like Mount Rushmore, are truly memorials in the traditional sense.

For some more related facts to national memorials that count as national parks, you can again check out Sidebar #2.

USS Oklahoma - Bruce-001
The USS Oklahoma Memorial is a national memorial and part of World War II / Valor in the Pacific National Monument around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Photo Credit: B. Johnson

There are also three other memorials that are part of larger national parks outside of the Washington, DC area:

  1. White Cross World War I Memorial is a white cross that was erected in 1934 in California’s Mojave Desert, and is now located on private land within Mojave National Preserve in order to settle an “establishment of religion” claim against the memorial;
  2. (*) U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is the most-famous memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – it is now part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument;
  3. U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial is also in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and is also part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  (Note: the U.S.S. Utah Memorial is also located in Pearl Harbor, but it does not appear to have been designated a national memorial by Congress. ) The U.S.S. Missouri Memorial, which is the ship that hosted the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, is also located in Pearl Harbor.  Although it is not part of the National Monument, it too has its own Passport stamp.

At the risk of getting too far into the weeds, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was previously a stand-alone unit of the National Park System.  As such, the National Park Service listed it as a national memorial, for the reasons I described above for the WorldWar II Memorial and others.   In 2008, however, President George W. Bush designated it as part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and so the National Park Service now lists it as a national monument, rather than a national memorial.  However, since there was clearly no intention to de-designate the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial as a national memorial, I’m going to continue to include it on this list.   You can read about four other national parks that arguably could be included on this list, despite not having the word “memorial” in their name in Sidebar #3.

The Rest of the National Memorials

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Philadelphia is an Affiliated Area of the National Park System. Photo from 2012.
The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Philadelphia is an Affiliated Area of the National Park System. Photo from 2012.

In addition to all of the above, four other national memorials are officially considered to be Affiliated Areas of the National Park System, along with two others that have unofficially had that status.  Status as an Affiliated Area makes the site eligible for additional technical assistance on preservation from National Park Service staff, as well as for inclusion in the Passport to Your National Parks program:

  1. Benjamin Franklin National Memorial – in the rotunda of the Franklin Institute Science Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  2. Red Hill, the Patrick Henry Memorial – the home of “give me liberty or give me death” in rural southern Virginia;
  3. Father Marquette Memorial – marking the explorations of the famed French Jesuit priest  located just past the Mackinac Bridge between  the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan;
  4. Oklahoma City National Memorial – marking the tragic terrorist event of April 19, 1995.

In addition, the (5) AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco California and the (6) David Berger Memorial (an American-Israeli dual-citizen who was killed as a member of the Israeli Olympic Team at the 1972 Munich Olympics) in suburban Cleveland, Ohio both have been incorrectly listed as Affiliated Areas by some sources in the past.  As such, both have previously been part of the Passport Program, but no longer receive official Passport stamps from Eastern National.  In any event, both appear to continue to benefit from National Park Service technical assistance from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, respectively.

The Albert Einstein National Memorial is not part of the National Park System, as it is on the grounds of the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, DC. Photo from 2007.
The Albert Einstein National Memorial is not part of the National Park System, as it is on the grounds of the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, DC. Photo from 2007.

Finally, the following 18 national memorials have no connection with the U.S. National Park System, but round out the complete list of national memorials:

  1. Albert Einstein Memorial – on the grounds of the National Acadamies of Sciences in Washington, DC;
  2. Astronauts Memorial–  at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida;
  3. Battle of Midway National Memorial – which is now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in far northwestern Hawaii, and which unfortunately has been closed to visitation in recent years – although you can take a virtual tour;
  4. Bosque Redondo National Memorial – marking the forcible removal of the Navajo (Dine) and Apache people, in Fort Sumner, NM;
  5. Buffalo Soldiers Memorial – which was authorized in 2005 to be constructed in New Orleans, Louisiana;
  6. Disabled Vietnam Veterans Memorial – in Angel Fire, New Mexico near Taos ski country;
  7. Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial – designated in July 2014 at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California;
  8. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – in Washington, DC, which was formerly part of the National Park System, but is now independently managed;
  9. Military Divers Memorial – which was authorized in 2013 and is planned for the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC;
  10. Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial – a large cross located in San Diego, California, in a situation similar to the Mojave Cross mentioned earlier;
  11. National D-Day Memorial – in the southwest Virginia town of Bedford;
  12. National Fallen Firefighters Memorial – in Emmitsburg, Maryland near Catoctin Mountain Park;
  13. four separate memorials, collectively known as the National Medal of Honor Sites –  in Pueblo, Colorado; Riverside, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
  14. Prisoner of War / Missing in Action Memorial, which is also located in Riverside National Cemetery, alongside one of the Medal of Honor Memorial Sites;
  15. Robert L. Kohnstamm Memorial Area – the only memorial on this list dedicated to a conservationist, located on Mt. Hood in Oregon;
  16. National Civil Defense Monument – also located in Emmitsburg, Maryland;
  17. U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial – located in its namesake city and commemorates the last ship in the U.S. Navy to sink during the Second World War;
  18. World War Memorial in Guam – marks the site where Japanese sodliers raped and massacared Guamanian civilians at the Fana Caves during the closing days of World War II.

There is a distinctly military theme, not surprisingly, to many of the memorials on this list.  It is amazing, however, to think that Riverside, California, of all places, is tied with New York City for the most national memorials of any place in the country outside of Washington, DC.  It is also interesting to note the three memorials on the above list that are dedicated to American civilians outside of public service.  Albert Einstein is such a towering figure in the history of science, that a national memorial to him is completely unsurprising.  The Bosque Redondo Memorial is in keeping with the list of National Park System national memorials that commemorate tragedies in our Nation’s history – although it is worth noting that this event gets a national memorial, whereas the removal of the Cherokee from the eastern United States gets the Trail of Tears of National Historic Trail commemorating the full route.   Finally, the most unusual entry on this list is Robert L. Kohnstamm, whom I’m not sure many readers of this past will have previously been familiar with.  For example, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry!   He apparently played a role in preserving the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and in opening Mt. Hood to recreational skiing.  A full article about him can be read here.

Conclusion

The Lincoln Memorial. Photo from 2011.
The Lincoln Memorial, which is a personal favorite of Parkasaurus.. Photo from 2011.

So, after this exhaustive summary of national memorials here is a summary of the results:

  • 12 national memorials recognized by the National Park Service as stand-alone national parks in Washington, DC;
  • 7 other national memorials in Washington, DC that are managed by the National Park Service;
  • 18 other national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks, outside of Washington, DC;
  • 3 other national memorials located inside the boundaries of national parks outside of Washington, DC;
  • 6 national memorials that are either formally or informally affiliated with the National Park System;
  • 18 national memorials that are located outside the National Park System entirely.

That makes a total of 64 national memorials!

Out of these 64, 26 of them are dedicated to wars, military victories, military service, or public service (I’m including the Astronauts Memorial and Civil Defense Memorial here.)

19 more national memorials are dedicated to U.S. Presidents (incluing four to Abraham Lincoln alone), other U.S. Founding Fathers (I’m including Federal Hall in this group ), or to Robert E. Lee.

Eight more national memorials are dedicated to the exploration and settlement of the United States.

Seven of the national memorials are dedicated to the memory of national tragedies.

Finally, four of the national memorials are dedicated to civilians primarily for civilian accomplishments in the areas of science, conservation, or civil rights.

By no means do any of the above seem to be complete lists.  The closest might be the memorials to the Founding Fathers, although if Kosciuszko is on the list of national memorials, then the names of Lafayette, Rochambeau, and von Steuben are conspicuous by their absences.   The list of explorers with national memorials, however, seems far too short, and almost random in its selection.   While hardly anyone could object to a national memorial to the scientific achievements of Albert Einstein or the Wright Brothers, that area of achievement can only be described as under-recognized.  As with many things in the National Park System – there will no doubt be more to come in the future.  In the meantime, the list of 64 national memorials provides an interesting starting point for those looking to remember our Nation’s past and history, going even beyond just those sites managed by the National Park Service.

Sources: National Park Service Site Designations List, last updated 13 July 2015; Title 16 US Code Section 431, including Notes, retrieved August 15, 2015

Bonus Fact: Congress has actually passed a resolution calling for the final resting of place of the RMS Titanic to be designated as an international maritime memorial to the men, women, and children who perished aboard her.  Of course, the Titanic sank in international waters, so its not at all clear who would have the jurisdiction to carry this out, but it is fun to think about.

 

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30 for 300 – Part III

And now, here is the conclusion of my 30 for 300 series with my Top 10 Memories from visiting my first 300 national parks!

In case you missed it, you may also be interested in Part I with #’s 21-30; Part II with #’s 11-20; and the Honorable Mentions.

#10) Exploring Ellsworth Rock Garden at Voyageurs National Park – July 2012

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.

Ellsworth Rock Gardens is one of hidden gems of Voyageurs National Park, and indeed, of the whole U.S. National Park System.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens is one of hidden gems of Voyageurs National Park, and indeed, of the whole U.S. National Park System.

 

#9) Picnic Under the Cherry Blossoms at National Capital Parks

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.

Even with the well-deserved crowds of people around you, it is still possible to find spots to enjoy the pure clouds of cherry blossoms.
Even with the well-deserved crowds of people around you, it is still possible to find spots to enjoy the pure clouds of cherry blossoms.

 

#8) Hiking to Cathedral Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – May 2006

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.

Cathedral Rock is one of the most-impressive natural features on the Lake Superior coastline.
Cathedral Rock is one of the most-impressive natural features on the Lake Superior coastline.

 

#7) Climbing the High Dune by Moonlight at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve – July 1999

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 dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve under the sunlight, rather than the moonlight.  Photo from a return visit in April 2015.
The dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve under the sunlight, rather than the moonlight. Photo from a return visit in April 2015.

 

#6) “Baby Moon” on the Blue Ridge Parkway – October 2010

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.

Mrs. Parkasaurus picking out a baby from the cabbage patch on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mrs. Parkasaurus picking out a baby from the cabbage patch on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

#5) Hiking the Lamar Valley at Yellowstone National Park – August 2006

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.

A solitary bison in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park.
A small group of bison in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park.

 

#4) Finding Incredible Isolation at American Samoa National Park – September 2005

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.

The one hiking trail on the island of 'Ofu doesn't get a lot of foot traffic, so the author found that a machete came in handy.
The one hiking trail on the island of ‘Ofu doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, so the author found that a machete came in handy.  Some of ‘Ofu’s beautiful beaches can be seen in the background.

 

#3) “Ocean in View, O the Joy!” at Lewis & Clark National Historical Park – July 2005

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.

The author and his friend celebrating at the reconstructed entrance to Lewis & Clark's Fort Clatsop
The author and his friend celebrating at the reconstructed entrance to Lewis & Clark’s Fort Clatsop

 

#2) Interning at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – Summer 1999

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…

The author, performing some trail maintenance as a Ranger intern in his younger days at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
The author, performing some trail maintenance as a Ranger intern in his younger days at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

 

#1) Wedding Day at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – July 2008

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.

The author and Mrs. Parkasaurus get their first Passport stamps together as an (almost) married couple just before their wedding ceremony.
The author and Mrs. Parkasaurus get their first Passport stamps together as an (almost) married couple just before their wedding ceremony.

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!

The happy couple and the scenary of Harpers Ferry National HIstorical Park.
The happy couple and the scenary of Harpers Ferry National HIstorical Park.

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.

Top 10 Stamps

If you missed it, here is Part I with #’s 21-30; here is Part II with #’s 11-20; and here are the Honorable Mentions.

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30 for 300 – Part II

In continuing celebration of having reached my milestone 300th U.S. National Park visited, I’m posting about 30 of my favorite memories from my national park visits thus far.

Click here for Part I – #21-#30.

#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.

The author, catching a fleeting glimpse of the glaciers on Mount Olympus, midway through a massive 20-mile hike.
The author, catching a fleeting glimpse of the glaciers on Mount Olympus, midway through a massive 20-mile hike.

 

#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!

The author and his friend, escaping the mosquitoes any way they can – with the help of some kind Park Rangers.

 

#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.

The Savage River heads off into the Alaskan wilderness, and the untapped possibilities ahead.

 

#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!

The statue of the Minute Man, located just off Lexington Green, in the soft glow of sunrise on Patriots’ Day.

 

#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.

Sequoias often grow best on the edges alpine meadows, which create particularly picutresque settings.
Sequoias often grow best on the edges alpine meadows, which create particularly picutresque settings.

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.

Sequoias remain larger than life, even in death.
Sequoias remain larger than life, even in death.  Yes, that is young sequoia from the next generation in the distance.

 

#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!

With a site like this right outside your tent, you don't even need to wait for your coffee in the morning!
With a site like this right outside your tent, you don’t even need to wait for your coffee in the morning!

 

#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.

A trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a joy for kids both big and small.  Photo from 2005.
A trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a joy for kids both big and small. Photo from 2005.

 

#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.

Three friends celebrating a successful hike to the back-country
Three friends celebrating a successful hike in the Death Valley back-country with some sight-seeing at the lowest point in North America.

 

#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.

The view from the top of the Lincoln Memorial at night is one to be savored. Photo from July 2011.

 

#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.

Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park is where history happens. Photo from April 2015.

I hope you enjoyed Part II of my 30 for 300 retrospective.

In case you missed it, here is a link to Part I with #’s 21-30, here is Part III with #’s 1-10, and here are the Honorable Mentions.

Part II Pictures

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Extraordinary Outdoor Art Exhibit: Out of Many, One

The National Park Service has approved a truly extraodinary outdoor art exhibit in Washington, DC along the south side of the Reflecting Pool in what is formally known as West Potomac Park*.   Cuban-American Artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada took dozens of photographs of ordinary people in Washington, DC and used those photographs to create a composite image. That composite image was then used as the template for the landscaped image installed by the Reflecting Pool.  Incredibly, satellite navigation is used to ensure that the lines are precisely drawn.

See this video for more on how it was built.

The website DesignBoom.com has several great photographs of the completed work of art.  You will want to check it out as the image really is striking.  Also included at the link are photographs of how the work appears at ground level, showing how the visual image that appears from a distance is created.

Finally, the Washington Post has an excellent infographic on the installation, including photographs of a similar installation that Rodriguez-Garada did in Northern Ireland.

“Out of Many, One” will be in place throughout the month of October.  After the end of its run, the sand and dirt will be tilled back into the soil.   A visit to the mounmental core of Washington, DC is always a special experience.   For the next month, visitors will get an extra dose of the extraordinary.

* – As a little bit of National Park trivia, although this exhibition is generally referred to as being on the National Mall, technically the National Mall is legally the open greenspace between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol Building.  Of course, in popular usage, the National Mall now includes the entire monumental core of Washington, DC including the Washington Mounment grounds, West Potomac Park, and the area around the Tidal Basin.

 

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Just What Is a National Park Anyways? And How Do You Get 401 of Them?

Whenever I tell people that I’m trying to visit all of the U.S. National Parks at least once, one of the first questions that inevitably follows is: “How many national parks are there?”

When I answer that “there’s 401 of them,” their eyes often grow big, as many people have no idea there’s so many.  That reaction is then often followed by something along the lines of “Oh, so you mean that you are trying to visit not just national parks, but also all the national monuments, and national historic sites, right?”

Well, yes and no.   There are indeed only 59 places with the designation national park,  which are places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, which most people think of when they hear the term national park.  However, there’s nothing simple or straightforward about what are the other kinds of designations that make up the U.S. National Park System.  Its pretty much the case that there’s a list, and you just simply have to know what’s on the list.  I’ll try and give a brief overview of what I mean here, and from time to time I’m planning to come back to this topic to explain more of the details.

So, without further ado, her are the designations that make up the National Park System:

National Parks – You can’t go wrong with this one.  There are 59 of these, and not surprisingly, all 59 count towards the list of national park sites.

National Historic Sites & National Historical Parks – There are 125 of these – the most of any type.  In theory, a national historical park is simply a larger, or more-expansive, national historic site.  In practice, I find there isn’t often a clear line of distinction between the two, (as with so many things!)  In any event, the vast majority of these areas count towards the list of national park sites, but there are a few exceptions, which I’ll discuss in a future post.  The 125 sites also includes one International Historic Site.

National Monuments – Just to make things confusing, would you believe thate the Washington Monument is notnational monument? There are 75 of these.  For the most part, a national monument is an outstanding natural area or historical/archaeological area that was protected by a Presidential proclamation – although there are exceptions to that too.  A great many national monuments are national parks, but a great many are not as well.  In fact,  there are no fewer than six different Federal agencies that manage national monuments.

National Memorials – Most of these are national park sites, and many of the 29 of those that are national park sites are in Washington, D.C.   The Lincoln Memorial is one, as is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and so is the Washington Monument.

National Battlefields & National Military Parks – Quick, think of the name of a famous Civil War or Revolutionary War Battlefield.  Odds are, the place you thought of is a national park site.  There are 25 of these.

National Recreation Areas – Just like national monuments, many of these are national park sites and many of them are not.  There are 18 of these that are national park sites, and they generally come in two varieties: many of them are reservoirs created by hydroelectric dams for water-based recreation, the others are scattered areas of urban parklands that were created to “bring the national park experience to the people.”

National Seashores & Lakeshores – There are 14 of these, and they are pretty much what the name says they are.   As near as I can tell, all of them are national park sites.

Parkways – The are actually four road-based national parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway probably being the most-famous (and also being one of my favorite national parks.)   The National Park Service actually operates several other parkways – but there’s only four that count as stand-alone national park sites.

National Scenic Trails – There are eleven long-distance national scenic trails out there, but only 3 of these that are national park sites, the most-famous of which is surely the Appalachian Trail.

National Rivers – If you thought this list was inconsistent up until now, the rivers in the National Park System only add to the confusion. This category includes some places designated as wild & scenic rivers, some as scenic & recreational rivers, some as wild rivers, and some as just plain national rivers.  Whatever their designations, all are considered part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System to protect their wild & scenic nature, or outstanding recreational opportunities.   Many of them are managed by the National Park Service, while many others are not.   Out of those managed by the NPS,  15 have risen to the status of being full-fledged national park sites.

National Preserves & National Reserves – Most of these, but not quite all, are national park sites, a total of 20 to be exact.  These are protected areas that generally allow a greater amount of human activity, such as hunting and trapping, that generally are not allowed in other national park sites.  Perhaps most-confusing is the fact that 9 out of the 20 of these are actually part of a bigger “national park & preserve” – which is a large national park that effectively “counts twice” towards the total of 401 national parks.

Odds & Ends – Finally, there are 11 national park sites that don’t fit into any of the above categories.  Some of them are just plain unique sites.  For example, did you know the White House is managed by the National Park Service?  Many of the others are parklands around the Greater Washington, DC Metropolitan Area that just happen to be managed by the National Park Service for historical reasons.

So there you have it!  That’s how you get to 401 national parks.

Thus, if you say that you are going to try and visit all 401 national parks, you can say that you will be visiting all the national parks,  as well as all the national seashores & lakeshores, and all the national battlefields & national military parks.  You can also say that you will be visiting most of the national historic sites & national historical parks, as well as most of the national memorials, and most of the national preserves  national reserves.   Beyond that, you can say that you will also be visiting many national monuments and many national memorials, as well as many other places that don’t fit nice and easy classifications.

What you can say, however, is that almost every visit to one of the 401 national park sites in this country will be special, and will reflect that National Park Service’s special commitment to visitation and interpretation of America’s most-important treasures.

 

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