The Land That Made a President

On his 22nd birthday, in 1880, Theodore Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway Lee. Their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, was born on February 12, 1884. Two days after his daughter was born, his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house. Distraught, he escaped to a cattle ranch in the Dakotas.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the 26th President of the United States, and his time in North Dakota, in an area now known as Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – National Park Service Website

Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation -National Park Service Website

Muir, Roosevelt, and Yosemite: A Camping Trip That Changed the World – Our podcast episode on the time Roosevelt ditched his secret service detail to go camping with John Muir, planting the seed for the National Park idea.


Transcript

Click the arrow to read the full text of this episode.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean.

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Not many realize that Theodore Roosevelt, one of our country’s most famous tough guy cowboy personas, grew up a feeble child who suffered from debilitating asthma and generally poor health. He experienced sudden nighttime asthma attacks that created the feeling of being smothered to death, which terrified him and his parents. Nevertheless, he was an energetic and mischievously inquisitive child. Born in New York City, young Theodore grew up homeschooled by his parents — socialite Martha Stewart “Mittie” Bulloch and businessman Theodore Roosevelt Sr. At age seven, he saw a dead seal at a local market, managed to procure its head, and formed the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” with his two cousins. He learned the basics of taxidermy and filled his “museum” with animals he caught or hunted … it was a different time.

Family trips included tours of Europe, and when hiking with his family in the Alps in 1869, Teddy found that he could keep pace with his father, who he thought to be the greatest man alive. The physical exertion actually minimized his asthma, beginning his lifelong devotion to exercise. After an altercation with two older boys on a camping trip, he had lessons from a boxing coach to teach him to fight and gain strength.

On his 22nd birthday, in 1880, Theodore Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway Lee. Their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, was born on February 12, 1884. Two days after his daughter was born, his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house. Distraught, he escaped to a cattle ranch in the Dakotas.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the 26th President of the United States, and his time in North Dakota, in an area now known as Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

_____

A twenty-four-year-old Theodore Roosevelt first took the Northern Pacific Railroad to the Dakota Territory the year before the tragic loss of his wife and mother. The New York City tenderfoot didn’t receive the warmest of receptions from the local frontiersmen, but Roosevelt’s pocketbook quickly convinced twenty-five-year old Joe Ferris — a Canadian living in the Badlands — to serve as Roosevelt’s guide.

Roosevelt came to the Dakotas to hunt Bison, which proved challenging to find. Commercial hunters had slaughtered most of the herds. But Roosevelt’s grit and determination impressed Ferris. They slept outdoors on the ground for the most part, except through terrible weather when they stayed at the ranch cabin of Gregor Lang. Roosevelt and Lang spent late evenings debating politics and discussing ranching, sparking a fire in Teddy’s mind — he became obsessed with the idea of raising cattle in the northern plains.

Cattle ranching was booming in the area at the time, mainly because of the depleted bison population. Cattle were being driven north from Texas to graze the Dakotas’ nutritious fields. The railroad provided speedy delivery to the east, avoiding the long drives that diminished the quality of the meat.

To Roosevelt, it was a sound business opportunity. He put down an investment of $14,000 in the Chimney Butte Ranch, more than his annual salary, and went into business with a couple local cattlemen. More than just an investment, though, Roosevelt saw this venture as an opportunity to immerse himself in the western lifestyle that he had long romanticized.

Roosevelt returned to New York, resuming his legislative duties in Albany. He was a member of the New York State Assembly, where he acted more like an investigator than a legislator. He took on corporate and government corruption, exposing high-profile figures, including a federal judge, making newspaper headlines in the process.

His political career was gaining traction. He was becoming a key player in the 1884 presidential election, when, on February 12, 1884, a telegram arrived announcing the birth of his first child. He celebrated with his colleagues until he received a second telegram that would hurry him home. His wife and mother were had both taken ill. On Valentines Day morning, Roosevelt sat by his mother’s side as she succumbed to typhoid fever. That evening he held his wife’s hand as she died from kidney failure that had been masked by the pregnancy. Devastated, Roosevelt wrote a large ‘X’ as that day’s diary entry, along with “The light has gone out of my life.”

Roosevelt never spoke of his wife Alice again, even to their daughter. He set out to erase her memory, destroying any letter that mentioned her name.

Roosevelt single-mindedly immersed himself in his work, and then, when the legislative session ended a couple months later, he left his newborn daughter in the care of his sister and went west again. His new profession would now be his escape, and he set forth with the idea that he would eventually spend the rest of his life as a rancher.

Roosevelt had instructed his partners to build a cabin before he left, and he found it easily upon his return. It was dubbed the Maltese Cross Ranch, but, only seven miles from the town of Medora, it wasn’t quite remote enough for the solitude Roosevelt required. He headed north along the Little Missouri River another 30 miles and built a second ranch he named Elkhorn, which would become his home. He threw himself into badlands cowboy life. He helped stop stampedes, he participated in month-long roundups, arrested thieves, even punched out a drunken gunslinger in a bar.

He had been riding for enjoyment through the western part of the Dakota Territory and into eastern Montana Territory for many days when he stopped at a hotel bar for the night. Roosevelt described the incident in his autobiography:

“It was late in the evening when I reached the place. I heard one or two shots in the bar-room as I came up, and I disliked going in. But there was nowhere else to go, and it was a cold night. Inside the room were several men, who, including the bartender, were wearing the kind of smile worn by men who are making believe to like what they don’t like. A shabby individual in a broad hat with a cocked gun in each hand was walking up and down the floor talking with strident profanity. He had evidently been shooting at the clock, which had two or three holes in its face.

…As soon as he saw me he hailed me as ‘Four Eyes,’ in reference to my spectacles, and said, ‘Four Eyes is going to treat.’ I joined in the laugh and got behind the stove and sat down, thinking to escape notice. He followed me, however, and though I tried to pass it off as a jest this merely made him more offensive, and he stood leaning over me, a gun in each hand, using very foul language… In response to his reiterated command that I should set up the drinks, I said, ‘Well, if I’ve got to, I’ve got to,’ and rose, looking past him.

As I rose, I struck quick and hard with my right just to one side of the point of his jaw, hitting with my left as I straightened out, and then again with my right. He fired the guns, but I do not know whether this was merely a convulsive action of his hands, or whether he was trying to shoot at me. When he went down he struck the corner of the bar with his head… if he had moved I was about to drop on my knees; but he was senseless. I took away his guns, and the other people in the room, who were now loud in their denunciation of him, hustled him out and put him in the shed.”

By the next morning, the man had left town on a freight train.

On a more political level, Roosevelt led efforts to organize ranchers to address overgrazing and other shared concerns, forming the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association. He coordinated conservation efforts, establishing the Boone and Crockett Club, whose primary goal was the preservation of large game animals and their habitats.

He split his time between New York and his Dakota ranches over the next few years. Not yet 30 years old, New York Republicans tapped him to run for mayor of New York City in 1886. He accepted, despite having little hope of winning. He campaigned hard, but took third place with 27% of the vote. He thought the loss spelled the end of his political career, and focused his attentions to ranching again.

He began writing “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman,” the first of three books on his experiences ranching and hunting. He wrote, fatefully, about how the cattle industry in the Dakotas was unsustainable. With no regulation, the region became overgrazed. That year, a late thaw and sweltering summer delivered a brief growing season. Wildfires raged, and the cattle were underfed. Ranchers were ill-prepared to feed their livestock through the winter. As fate would have it, the winter weather would also present a challenge. Blizzards piled on top of one another, burying the grazing land, and cattle were found “frozen to death where they stood” in temperatures that reached as low as -41°. Once the snow melted, Cows were found dead in trees having climbed snowdrifts to reach anything edible. Nearly 80% of all cattle in the Badlands died. Roosevelt lost over half of his herd.

Roosevelt was not around for that winter, however. He had been in London, where he married his childhood friend Edith. He was unaware of the devastation until he returned to the U.S. in late March of 1887, where, in the spring thaw, an unimaginable number of cattle carcasses floated down the flooded Little Missouri river. His investment destroyed, he cut his losses and decided to be done with cattle ranching. He sold his interest in the Maltese Cross. He began to divest from Elkhorn, but still used the cabin as a basecamp for excursions and hunting trips, as he returned to New York to focus on politics. In the next 14 years, he would rise from New York City Police Commissioner to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, to the Governor of New York, Vice-President, and President.

Although ranching in the Dakotas proved a financial disaster, the experience fed the rest of Roosevelt’s life — as a steward of the land, as a politician, as a person. Roosevelt’s last visit to North Dakota came in the fall of 1918, just a few months before his death at the age of 60.

“I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota,” he once said. “It was here that the romance of my life began.”

____

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was named in honor of the man who felt the North Dakota lands he roamed so vital, but also for the man who would double the number of sites in the National Park system, creating Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde, and then passing the antiquities act enabling Roosevelt and succeeding Presidents to proclaim national monuments. By the end of his presidency, he had proclaimed 18 of them.

During Roosevelt’s time in office, the Maltese Cross cabin was hosted in St. Louis at the Word’s Fair, before traveling to Portland, Oregon, for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. It then headed back to Fargo, and then Bismarck, North Dakota, and in 1959, twelve years after the park was established, the Maltese Cross Cabin returned home, restored to its original state behind the South Unit Visitor Center.

Only the foundation stones of the Elkhorn Ranch residence remain, still sitting where they were originally laid, accessible by a long gravel road in a detached unit of the park.

Visitors to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park can experience the land much as Roosevelt did. A diverse array of wildlife – Elk, Bison, Deer, Pronghorns, and Golden Eagles – roam the nearly treeless plains. “Prairie dog towns,” where hundreds of prairie dogs conduct their business, amuse the 500,000 visitors a year that take the short detour from Interstate 94 through western North Dakota.

Isolation is on the menu in these wild lands. In fact, the entire state only has about 250,000 more people than the number that visit the National Park each year. The prairie skies are free of light pollution, allowing infinite stars to shine through the night. And it’s palpably quiet. The silent sunsets are an out-of-body experience.

Two primitive campgrounds are available, with most sites first-come first-served. Backcountry camping is nearly limitless, and an incredible way to see the park, sleeping on the ground, just like Teddy Roosevelt did.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Unleashing a Tamed River

Over the past century, the United States has led the world in dam construction. There are at least 90,000 dams over six-feet tall in this country and over 2 million shorter than six feet. More than a quarter have passed their 50-year average life expectancy; by 2020, that figure will reach 85 percent. On average, we have constructed one dam over 6 feet tall every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the removal of the dams on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park. And if you think it just takes a little dynamite, it doesn’t.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Olympic National Park – NPS Website

America’s Rivers – River cleanup, restoration, and conservation group


Transcript

Click the arrow to read the full text of this episode.

Over the past century, the United States has led the world in dam construction. There are at least 90,000 dams over six-feet tall in this country, and over 2 million shorter than six feet. More than a quarter have passed their 50-year average life expectancy; by 2020, that figure will reach 85 percent. On average, we have constructed one dam over 6 feet tall every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Dams are set in place for irrigation, electricity generation, water storage … they have lots of society benefits. But it’s undeniable that dams cause significant harm to natural ecosystems. They prevent fish migration and limit access to spawning habitats. They decrease the flow of the river. Many fish such as salmon and river herring depend on steady flows to guide them. Irregular releases of water destroy natural seasonal flow that signals the start of growth and reproduction cycles in certain species. They trap massive amounts of sediment, blanketing rock riverbeds where fish spawn. Larger objects, like rocks and logs, get trapped, keeping them from creating complex habitats downstream. Sometimes the river is stopped entirely behind the dam for periods of time, leaving the riverbed dry.

In the reservoir, the water gets warmer than it should, affecting sensitive species and leading algae to bloom. When water is released, it’s often released from the deep, cold, oxygen-deprived depths.

Once past the half-century mark, dams begin to decay. The earth around them erodes and seeps, gates rust, concrete loses tensile strength, and the accumulating settlement reduces the capacity of reservoirs. A feeble dam could fail, causing dangerous flooding.

As costs to maintain dams rise, the economic return is decreased. Many older dams are obsolete. In few other places were these effects so evident than on the Elwha River in the northwest corner of Washington, where 100lb salmon once ran freely upstream from the Pacific Ocean. For millennia these fish thrived in the river and provided food for the indigenous people who lived along its banks until two dams were constructed.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the removal of the dams on the Elwha river in Olympic National Park. And if you think it just takes a little dynamite, it doesn’t.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

In the late 1800s, a growing nation looked to the Northwest to supply the lumber needed to build new cities. Thomas Aldwell was the first to see an opportunity for economic gain in the taming of the Elwha River, making plans to harness the water to generate electricity. With the financial backing of investors, he bought land along the river and began construction of the Elwha Dam in 1910. A state law demanded fish passage devices be built into dams, but Fish Commissioner Leslie Darwin offered to waive that provision if Aldwell built a fish hatchery adjoining the dam. It was abandoned by the state in 1922.

The concrete dam was secured to the walls of the canyon, but not the underlying bedrock, causing the foundation to blow out in 1912 shortly after the reservoir (called Lake Aldwell) filled. It was plugged by adding fill material to the river below and above of the dam.

The Elwha Dam became operational in 1913, bringing electricity to a remote area, spurring economic growth. As demand increased, two additional turbines and a second powerhouse were installed, and then, another dam eight miles upstream in Glines Canyon. Its narrow passage and high bedrock walls promised a large energy yield.

Prior to the dam construction, all five species of Pacific salmon ran the Elwha, along with other river-spawning fish. The failure to build fish ladders left the River with only five miles of available habitat for spawning. Over time, fish populations diminished to less than 10% of their early 1900s levels. The dam flooded lands sacred to the indigenous people of the area, who have long identified with the river, the salmon, and the land.

For decades, experts agreed that removing the two dams were essential for the watershed, in particular, for its trout and salmon. But the idea of eliminating two sources of inexpensive electricity was universally panned by the public.

“Thirty years ago, when I was in law school in the Pacific Northwest, removing the dams from the Elwha River was seen as a crazy, wild-eyed idea,” Bob Irvin, president and CEO of the conservation group American Rivers told National Geographic.

In the 60s, tribes began to protest the loss of the fishing rights promised to them by a federal treaty signed in the 1800s. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that Washington tribes were entitled to half the salmon catch in the state. In the wake of the court victory, the tribes began to partner with conservation groups to fight for the restoration of salmon runs and the removal of the Elwha River dams. The Olympic Peninsula had long ago been connected to the regional power grid, and the dams now provided only a small portion of the power used by its residents and industry.

The missing fish passage structures that had never been installed would cause a reduction in energy creation at the dams, sending the power they produce soaring above market prices.

In 1992, the federal government purchased the dams from the timber companies that owned them and ordered a study of removing them. Two decades of planning began for what would be the largest-ever dam removal project in the world.

Still, the timber industry and local communities opposed the demolition, and Senator Slade Gorton blocked federal funding until he was voted out of office in 2000.

The dams would have to be taken down in several stages, allowing for a relatively gradual release of the 27 million cubic yards of sediment that had built up over the course of a century. If the sediment flowed too quickly, it would damage the existing riverbed downstream, and could affect the water quality. Two treatment facilities would be built to protect local water supplies.

Different demolition methods would be used at the two dams because of their unique structural requirements. At the Glines dam, an “in the wet” process would be used, meaning the dam would be removed without diverting the water around it. First, water levels in the Lake Mills reservoir were lowered to the bottom of the spillway gates. Then, on September 15, 2011, giant barge-mounted hydraulic hammers began to remove the top 17 feet of the dam down to the waterline. The next 173 feet would be removed using a notching process. The dam was “notched down” on alternating sides, creating temporary spillways that would gradually drain the reservoir. Demolition was regularly paused for weeks at a time to allow the sediment to run through, and to avoid salmon spawning periods. Other structures were removed during these windows of halted deconstruction.

The Elwha dam would be removed “in the dry” by diverting water around it through a newly excavated channel. The first step was to lower the reservoir’s water level by using the existing water intakes and spillways by approximately 15 feet. The process began on June 1, 2011 following the closure of the powerhouse. The temporary channel was then excavated through the left spillway to allow Lake Aldwell to be further drained. Temporary dams were then installed to direct reservoir outflow into the temporary diversion channel. This allowed the remaining water immediately behind the dam to be pumped out. The fill material behind the dam could then be removed under dry conditions, followed by the concrete dam itself using diamond-wire saws.

35,000 cubic yards of concrete–more than half the amount used to construct the Empire State Building–would need to be broken up and recycled, along with hundreds of tons of metal.

Once the dam was deconstructed, the temporary dams were removed, allowing the river to flow through its original channel for the first time in a century. Earth fill and crushed bedrock was used to reshape the slopes around the dams to their original contours.

On August 26, 2014, the last 30 feet of Glines Canyon dam were reduced to rubble with a final blast of explosives. The largest dam removal in history was complete. The national park service began the process of reintroducing plants to the now barren reservoir bed, and tagging and tracking salmon.

Over the course of the last few years, the sediment has washed downstream, rebuilding riverbanks and gravel bars and creating some 70 acres of new beach and riverside habitat for creatures of all types. Shellfish began to return to the mouth of the river.

Salmon populations continue to recover, and scientists expect the whole food chain to benefit. Almost as soon as salmon returned to the river, birds began to follow the fish and to eat salmon eggs and young, providing essential nutrients. Bigger birds are bearing more young, and moving in to the area permanently. Elk stroll and munch on the vegetation buffet where there used to be a lake.

The river that emerged when the dams were removed didn’t follow orderly down a forgotten channel, however. It was chaotic and wild. Its movements were difficult to anticipate and useless to control. Logs tumble and stack, building complexities into the river’s flow. It has destroyed two campgrounds and washed out a road. But the channel is stabilizing, and the river has gained a teal green color it hasn’t seen in 100 years.

It’s rare that humans have the opportunity to set a river wild again, but on the Elwha, it happened.

——-

Dams continue to be a hot-button issue along many important waterways, but the public is getting more and more behind their removal. In Washington, the four lower Snake River dams are in the crosshairs of conservationists who are looking to preserve more salmon runs. A recent poll shows that the majority of Washington voters would rather see increased wild salmon runs than preserve the dams, even if it means paying a few dollars more a month on their electric bills.

Visiting Olympic National Park you’ll find a million acres full of several different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. It’s a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, serving as a living laboratory for scientists and students, as well as an incredible natural playground for visitors. Millions of people visit Olympic each year to experience its beauty, diversity, and many opportunities for adventure, exploration, and recreation.

Rustic cabins, historic lodges, and charming resorts are available for visits, along with 14 National Park campgrounds, only two of which accept reservations.

Olympic is very large and there are no roads that cross the park, so it takes time to get everywhere, and you need to plan accordingly. June through September, when the weather is mild, are the busiest time of year.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Acadia National Park and the Year Maine Burned

Strange weather patterns set in 1947 in the state of Maine, as a quick and early spring thaw preceded months of endless rain. Finally, at the end of June, the sun broke through the clouds as temperatures climbed bringing about a warm summer. Mother nature had apparently used up all the rain in the spring, as the state went through 108 days without any appreciable rain. Everything became exceedingly dry in the hot sun and water supply dwindled. Recognizing the dangers of the dry conditions, officials began implementing preventative measures. By the second week of October, a Class 4 state of danger was declared, and Fire watchtowers, normally closed at the end of September, were reopened by the State Forest Service. Mountain Desert Island, home to a glorious National Park, reported the worst drought conditions on record.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, Acadia National Park, and the year Maine burned.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Acadia National Park – NPS Website

“Wildfire Loose” – Joyce Butler’s book on the Maine fires


Transcript

1947 is one of those years where a lot of history happened. As the US looks to help Europe with post-war reconstruction, tensions with Russia set in, and the term “The Cold War” is coined. McCarthyism spreads as ten men refuse to co-operate with the House Un-American Activities Committee concerning allegations of communist influences in the movie business. They are blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios on the following day. Jackie Robinson signs a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American major league baseball player in the modern era, and world series games are broadcast on TV for the first time. UFO sightings are reported at Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier, and in a little New Mexico town called Roswell a supposedly downed extraterrestrial spacecraft is reported. Tennessee Williams’ A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE performs on Broadway, and the Tony Awards are held for the first time at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Howard Hughes completes the maiden flight of the Spruce Goose, the largest fixed-wing aircraft ever built. The trip lasts only eight minutes, and the “Spruce Goose” is never flown again.

But something else was happening in the far northeast that year. Strange weather patterns set in in the state of Maine, as a quick and early spring thaw preceded months of endless rain. Finally, at the end of June, the sun broke through the clouds as temperatures climbed bringing about a warm summer. Mother nature had apparently used up all the rain in the spring, as the state went through 108 days without any appreciable rain. Everything became exceedingly dry in the hot sun and water supply dwindled. Recognizing the dangers of the dry conditions, officials began implementing preventative measures. By the second week of October, a Class 4 state of danger was declared, and Fire watchtowers, normally closed at the end of September, were reopened by the State Forest Service. Mountain Desert Island, home to a glorious National Park, reported the worst drought conditions on record.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, Acadia National Park, and the year Maine burned.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—–

On Friday, October 17th, 1947, at 4 p.m., Mrs. Gilbert reported smoke rising from a cranberry bog between her home and Dolliver’s dump on Crooked Road west of Hulls Cove. No one knows what started it. Some speculate that it was sunlight shining through a piece of broken glass in the dump. Whatever the cause, once ignited, the fire smoldered underground. By October 19th, many Maine communities were filled with a smokey haze and the smell of burning wood as reports of small fires across the state began to pour in. Careless backyard debris burning, campfires, and even arson are believed to be the sources. The state was so dry, it seemed the slightest spark could cause a massive fire.

Strong winds began to fan the flames, spreading the blazes rapidly out of control. In North Kennebunkport, a fire jumped Route 1 toward the coastal villages, forcing residents onto the beach and into the water for safety. “800 homeless as fire sears Kennebunkport,” an article in The Boston Daily Globe read the next day. “Only chimneys and foundations of houses, and twisted iron of stoves and plumbing and tools remain — silhouetted like weird distortions against a pall of smoke that covers the land and reaches a fog bank far out to sea,”

Personnel from the Army Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, University of Maine forestry program, and Bangor Theological Seminary joined local firefighting crews. National Park Service employees flew in from parks throughout the East and experts in the West were put on standby.

The pace intensified, and on October 23 all hell broke loose. It was a day which would become known as “Red Thursday.” Hurricane force winds fed fires in York, Oxford, and Hancock counties. Families often only had a few minutes warning before they had to leave their homes. One Mainer described the roaring fire folding over a home, like a wave breaking on the shore. Flames crossed Route 233 and continued along the western shore of Eagle Lake. The wind shifted, pushing one finger of fire toward Hulls Cove. Firefighters moved their efforts in an attempt to thwart the threat to the community, but in the afternoon, the wind turned again as a dry cold front moved through, sending an inferno directly toward Bar Harbor.

In just over an hour, the wildfire drove six miles, leaving behind a three-mile-wide scar of destruction. Sixty-seven estates in the assortment of upper-class cottages called Millionaires’ Row were razed. 170 homes and five historic hotels were destroyed in the area surrounding downtown Bar Harbor. All roads from the town were blocked by flames, so fishermen from nearby towns helped to evacuate 400 people by sea. At 9p.m., bulldozers broke through the rubble on Route 3, making way for 700 cars carrying 2,000 people to escape. The caravan drove through the rolling flames, as cars were pelted by sparks and flying debris.

The governor of Maine declared a state of emergency that evening, and a similar declaration was made by President Harry Truman, making help available from the Army and Navy.

John Smith, of Waterboro, who had only recently returned from World War II, said “I think I was as scared during the fire as any time when I was over there. You just figured that you weren’t going to get out of it. Because you figured there was nothing that was ever going to put this fire out, you kinda were getting the feeling the whole state was going to burn. In fact, there wasn’t much that stopped it until it got to the ocean.”

In fact, the Bar Harbor fire scorched the coast almost to Otter Point, before blowing itself out over the sea in a massive fireball.

The Maine fires were declared under control four days later, but nearly 2,000 more acres would still be destroyed. Hearty soil and vegetation on the forest floor and the matted tree roots reaching deep around granite boulders, fueled stubborn underground fires for weeks, even as rain and snow had fallen. The fire was pronounced completely out on November 4th at 4 p.m. nearly one month after the first reports of individual fires came rolling in.

In her 1979 book, “Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned,” Joyce Butler described the damage, saying “nine communities had been practically wiped out, four more had suffered severe damage, and scores of others had lost buildings. Property damage was estimated at $30 million. Fifteen people had died. In many sections the earth itself had been consumed. Maine had become an armed camp, her roads patrolled by the National Guard, Legionnaires, the police, and self-appointed vigilantes.”

More than 200,000 acres, 851 permanent homes, and 397 seasonal cottages were destroyed in “the year Maine burned.”

10,000 of the acres that burned were in Acadia National Park, nearly obliterating the pine forest. An unknown number of animals died, but park rangers believe that most outran the fire and found safety in ponds and lakes.

Two logging crews, one hired by the park and one hired by the Rockefeller family, worked areas of the park for timber salvage and clean-up. Some fallen logs were left in place to prevent soil erosion, still visible today. But it was mother nature that restored the island. Wind spread deciduous seeds into the burned areas creating the forest we see today.

The park services points to fire’s essential role in nature, saying the 1947 blaze “increased diversity in the composition and age structure of the park’s forests. It even enhanced the scenery. Today, instead of one uniform evergreen forest, we are treated to a brilliant mix of red, yellow, and orange supplied by the new diverse deciduous forests.”

But the pine trees will eventually reign again, as Birch and Aspen create a shaded nursery for their growth.

Most of the permanent residents of Bar Harbor rebuilt their homes, but many of the seasonal families in the grand summer cottages never returned. The fire on Mount Desert Island was announced in headlines around the world because the island was a famous summer retreat for the rich. The opulent lifestyle had already been waning from the effects of the newly invented income tax and the Great Depression, and the fire delivered the final blow. The estates on Millionaires’ Row were replaced by motels and tourist attractions, launching an era of family travel to the wonders of Acadia. The community became less dependent on the summer elites, creating a more diverse economy.

Even today, you can see the contrast between the unburnt, dark green spruce trees, and the bright tones of the beech and maple that have dominated in the 70 years since, along with the ruins of cottages where the winds turned, and firefighters made their last stand.

—–

In the aftermath of the fires, municipalities across the state modernized their fire departments, getting state and federal funding to purchase trucks and equipment. Firefighters began to be trained under rigorous standards. In 1949, the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission was founded, first including the New England states and New York, and later including the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick.

The Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States, and a diverse abundance of habitats. Rocky coastline, mountains, forests, ponds, marshlands fill the 47,000 acres. It’s home to an array of native species, including whales, seals, moose, foxes, peregrine falcons, herons, salamanders and toads.

It’s a popular place. Each year, more than 3.3 million people explore the seven peaks, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads. Crowds of visitors in the summer and, increasingly, into the fall and spring, are making it difficult for people to experience the best of Acadia. The park has seen a 60% increase in visitors over the last decade, and a plan is being developed to increase bus transportation and require timed-entry reservations for vehicles.

Plenty of camping is available, but it books up fast. An unreserved campsite is a rarity. Several roads are restricted to RVs or other large vehicles, so getting around using a car, bike, boat, or the park’s buses is required.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Gateway to Arizona

If there’s one place in our travels that has seemed a nearly hidden gem — a place where hardly anyone goes, yet is full of incredible beauty — it’s the confluence of the northern tip of Grand Canyon National Park, where miles of the Colorado River are protected before they enter the canyon, and the southern tip of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s a serene place called Lee’s Ferry, where the Colorado gently winds through vermillion cliffs. Rafters hit the first rapid here to begin the 88-mile journey to Phantom Ranch, the historic camping oasis nestled nearly a mile below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Wild horses roam the hills and can be spotted frolicking in the riverbed.

But alongside the glorious beauty of the red rock set against the dark river and blue skies, long before it was the launching point for Grand Canyon rafters, this historic place was the gateway to Arizona. It’s the only place along the river for 700 miles that the riverbanks are directly accessible by land, making it an ideal crossing point, and today, the only place where you can get down into the deep cuts of the Colorado without hiking in.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Lee’s Ferry, part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area – NPS Website

Grand Canyon National Park – NPS Website

Wilderness River Adventures – Grand Canyon Rafting Guide


Transcript

If there’s one place in our travels that has seemed a nearly hidden gem — a place where hardly anyone goes, yet is full of incredible beauty — it’s the confluence of thr northern tip of Grand Canyon National Park, where miles of the Colorado River are protected before they enter the canyon, and the southern tip of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s a serene place called Lee’s Ferry, where the Colorado gently winds through vermillion cliffs. Rafters hit the first rapid here to begin the 88-mile journey to Phantom Ranch, the historic camping oasis nestled nearly a mile below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Wild horses roam the hills and can be spotted frolicking in the riverbed.

But alongside the glorious beauty of the red rock set against the dark river and blue skies, long before it was the launching point for Grand Canyon rafters this historic place was the gateway to Arizona. It’s the only place along the river for 700 miles that the riverbanks are directly accessible by land, making it an ideal crossing point, and today, the only place where you can get down into the deep cuts of the Colorado without hiking in.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Lee’s Ferry, part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

______

Franciscan’s were the first Europeans to view the future Lee’s Ferry in October 1776, though the first human inhabitants were the Ancestral Puebloans, whose history in the area dates back to at least 1125 A.D. The area’s history as a river crossing really begins when Mormon explorer and missionary Jacob Hamblin crossed the river for the first time in 1858. Hamblin was attempting to warn Navajos to stop raiding Utah. His men built a raft that could carry 15 men, their supplies, and horses across the Colorado.

Hamblin realized that the site could be the gateway to Mormon pioneering into Arizona, and convinced Mormon church president Brigham Young to establish a permanent crossing. Young agreed, and chose John D. Lee to build and run it.

Lee was trying to lay low, after playing a key role in perpetrating the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre, where 120 pioneers from Arkansas were slaughtered by Mormons. Lee falsely accepted their surrender leading them to their death. In an attempt to make it look like an Indian attack, all but the very youngest were killed so that no one would talk. Federal authorities were seeking Lee’s capture, so he and his two wives gladly moved to the site an launched a ferry named the “Colorado” in January of 1873.

Between 1873 and1875, the ferry proved successful, as Mormon migration to Arizona and the southern territories increased, and its popularity grew, Lee wasn’t able to outrun the law anymore. He was captured by authorities in 1874 and eventually executed for his role in the massacre.

The responsibility for the ferry was temporarily turned over to Lee’s oldest wife, Emma. The Mormons continued to develop the site, and built what became known as Lee’s Fort in 1874, serving as a trading post and home to the ferry operators.

After construction of the St. George temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was finished in 1877, many couples from the south made the journey north to consecrate their marriages in the temple. The route became known as the “Honeymoon Trail.” A crossing cost $2 at the time for Mormons, and $3 for other travelers.

The Mormon church chose Warren Johnson to replace Lee as the operator of the ferry. Johnson, however, was entirely unqualified, having no experience in ferries, but Emma Lee helped ensure a smooth transition.

The Navajo people began to frequently utilize the ferry, and Johnson became friendly with them, establishing a positive relationship and trade. He quickly became an expert on river crossings and the Colorado River’s subtleties. His concern for safety led him to require wagons be disassembled to fit on a smaller raft during periods of high water, frustrating many travelers.

In 1876, a party led by Daniel H. Wells, counselor to Brigham Young, wanted to hurriedly cross the river to return to Salt Lake City after visiting the Arizona settlements, but Johnson thought the water too high and turbulent, recommending the wagons be disassembled and placed aboard the smaller skiff. Wells was impatient and refused. His party began crossing on the larger boat, and the first two trips across made it safely, but the river wasn’t so forgiving on the third. Bishop Lorenzo Roundy succumbed to the Colorado’s current, along with a handful of wagons and provisions.

Johnson tried to convince the church to provide for a smaller, easier to manage one-wagon capacity ferry, but was refused. Instead, they provided him with a 47 foot boat. He knew it was a disastrous idea, so he built his own one-wagon ferryboat in the winter of 1886.

The ferry wasn’t entirely a lucrative business for Johnson. He had to do the work of several people, tending to crossings and managing the farm. Some travelers would pay for their crossing with their labor, which he encouraged. He built shacks for their overnight stays. He convinced his brother-in-law, David Brinkerhoff, to be his partner, and had him take over the farm so he could focus on the ferry.

Johnson, like Lee, had two wives. Polygamy was falling out of favor with the Mormons, as it was constantly a point of friction between the church and the government, and Johnson knew it. The church produced a manifesto in 1890 that effectively ended their defense of the practice. Not wanting to give up one of his two wives and their families, he left the ferry in 1896, settling in Wyoming where he lived the final years of his life paralyzed after he broke his spine in a wagon accident.

In the late 1800’s, flecks of gold were spotted in the sands near the ferry, leading to a period of prospecting that rarely produced enough gold to exceed expenses.

In 1899, Robert B. Stanton built a mile-and-a-half long road along the river above the ferry and installed a dredge to extract gold, but by 1901, Stanton abandoned the operation.

Around the same time, Charles H. Spencer hoped to use high-pressure hoses to remove the gold from around Lee’s Ferry. He had a San Fransisco company build him a steamboat, the “Charles H. Spencer,” to transport coal along the river as fuel for his equipment. It was 92 feet long, 25 feet across and had a draft of 18 to 20 inches with a boiler powered 12-foot stern paddle. The parts were manufactured in San Francisco and shipped by rail to Utah, where they were conveyed by ox-cart to the mouth of Warm Creek, where the boat was assembled. When the boat arrived, it was clear that it didn’t have the power to face the Colorado river. It was permanently docked, then sank during a flood. The structure was stripped of its lumber, and its boiler remains in the river today. Spencer’s entire operation ended by 1913.

With the emergence of train travel, crossings at Lee’s Ferry slowed drastically in the early 1900s, mostly transporting locals. The LDS church sold the ferry to the Grand Canyon Cattle Company in 1909 and the state of Arizona took it over a year later. By the 20s, it was decided that a bridge would be constructed over Marble Canyon just downriver, which would eventually render the ferry useless. On June 7, 1928, an accident killed three men, including Warren Johnson’s grandson Adolph, and the ferry closed for good, even before the bridge was finished.

In the1930s and 1940s, as sport fishing became popular, the site saw a resurgence as a recreation destination, and in 1972, Lee’s Ferry joined the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

_____

Lee’s Ferry is about 45 Miles from Page, Arizona, a haven for outdoor travel. From Page, you can visit many parts of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and surrounding sites, including the famous Horseshoe Bend overlook, the waving rock of Antelope Canyon, the historic Navajo bridge, and of course, Lee’s Ferry.

Lee’s Ferry is one of the few places you can park a car for multi-day hiking and rafting trips, and there’s a small first-come, first served campground with water and a dump station, but no electricity. There are plenty of trails to explore, as well as rock formations, and some of the historic mormon structures.

Rafting trips that set in at Lee’s Ferry can go for as long as 6 or 7 days, traveling 188 miles to Whitmore Wash. The trips include world-class whitewater and serene stretches of river winding through the heart of Grand Canyon National Park. On some of the longest trips, after Lava Falls rapid, a helicopter takes you over the rim to a ranch for a shower and lunch before your return flight to your car.

Marble Canyon is at the entrance to the Lee’s Ferry Site, where you can cross the historic Navajo bridge, and just might catch one of the California Condors hanging out on the superstructure. There’s lodging and fuel nearby.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Alcatraz and the Civil War

In the late 1840s, the U.S. government seized control of California from the Republic of Mexico and immediately went to work on protecting the new land. Located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, an island called Alcatraz was identified as a place of exceptional military utility. Nearly surrounded on all sides, it was ideally positioned to protect the entrance to the bay.

You may know Alcatraz as the so-called inescapable prison which housed Al Capone and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and then was immortalized in the film Escape from Alcatraz, but its history began long before.

On this episode, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Alcatraz Island, and its role during the civil war.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Golden Gate National Recreation Area – NPS Website

Ferry Tickets to Alcatraz Island – Alcatraz Cruises


Transcript

In the late 1840s, the U.S. government seized control of California from the Republic of Mexico, a consequence of the Mexican-American war, and immediately went to work on protecting the new land. Located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, an island called Alcatraz was identified as a place of exceptional military utility. It’s position, nearly surrounded on all sides, would make it easily defensible and ideally positioned to protect the entrance to the bay.

You may know Alcatraz as the so-called inescapable prison which housed Al Capone and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and then was immortalized in the film Escape from Alcatraz, but its history began long before.

On this episode, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Alcatraz Island, and its role during the civil war.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

Construction of America’s third generation of sea forts during the mid-1800s involved cutting the site down to sea level and then building a multi-tiered embattlement of thick stone and brick. The characteristics of Alcatraz Island’s geology made such a fort impossible, but its natural height was already a great start towards fortification. Instead of cutting the rock and soil down to sea level, the Army Corp of Engineers included Alcatraz’ rugged stone into its design.

Construction commenced in 1853. Laborers created steep walls around the island by blasting rock and laying stone. The army encircled the island with 111 cannons to attack incoming ships, along with smaller guns to protect the sides of the island itself. Any ship entering the bay would have to pass within one mile of Alcatraz’s impressive battery.

A lighthouse was built — the first on the Pacific coast. And near it, a guarded barracks called the Citadel, with rifle-slit windows, living quarters, kitchens, dining halls, and storage for supplies and ammunition. Entrance was gained by crossing a drawbridge over a deep moat. It was to be the final defense if the island was invaded, and was designed to hold up to two hundred soldiers securely facing up to a four-month-long siege.

Once occupied, the Army used the basement cell to detain soldiers who had perpetrated crimes. The island’s escape-resistant location in the middle of the Bay prompted other army bases to send their worst enlisted prisoners to the custody of the Island. By the time the Civil War broke out, the US government named Fort Alcatraz as the official prison for the entirety of the Pacific region. In fact, it was the only completed military fortification west of the Mississippi. The Union also used the island as a training ground for soldiers headed for the western frontier, but it wouldn’t be used for just the military much longer.

The discovery of gold little more than a decade prior made San Fransisco a wealthy town and launched it into the public consciousness. Rumors began to swirl about Southern sympathizers plotting to take San Francisco and its treasure from the Union. The government began to use the Alcatraz guardhouse to jail private citizens accused of treason, alongside soldiers. Treason included anyone who advocated pro-Confederate sentiments. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing people to be imprisoned without trial in a court of law. Some plotted and worked for the Confederacy, some simply refused to pledge an oath to the union. Local politicians and citizens were arrested and jailed on Alcatraz based on perceived notions of their loyalty, without ever facing a judge or jury. Alcatraz became a national symbol as allegiances were put into question, pitting friends and family against one another.

And it wasn’t just private citizens who were under scrutiny. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, born in Kentucky and raised in Texas, served in three different armies: the Texas Army, the United States Army and the Confederate States Army. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, considered him the finest officer in the country. Johnston remained with the Union when the war broke out, however, and was appointed Commander of the Department of the Pacific in California, including Fort Alcatraz.

Notwithstanding his military prowess, his southern roots and association with Jefferson Davis weakened the public’s faith in his commitment to defending San Fransisco from southern attack. Many citizens spread rumors that local Confederates had approached him to seek his help in attacking the city.

Johnston fulfilled his post honorably, but the Army feared he was still vulnerable to potential Southern influence, so they relieved him of his post, at which point he returned to the South and joined the Confederate Army, dying at the battle of Shiloh.

In March of 1863, the Union government discovered that a group of Confederate sympathizers planned to arm a schooner and use it to capture a steamship to blockade the harbor and lay attack to the fortifications at San Fransisco. The plans were thwarted when the ship captain bragged about the plan in a pub. The U.S. Navy seized the ship, arrested the crew and towed it to Alcatraz, where they found cannons, ammunition, supplies, and fifteen men hiding in the stow, one of whom, a prominent local businessman, had papers signed by Jefferson Davis offering him an officer’s commission in the Confederate Navy as a reward.

The ringleaders were arrested and confined in the Alcatraz guardhouse basement. A quick trial was held, resulting in a conviction for treason, until they were granted a pardon from President Lincoln. The incident only spurred additional distrust between locals who thought Confederates were plotting all around them.

Later that same year a legitimate warship entered the San Francisco Bay. There was no wind, so its flag hung limp, and men in rowboats were towing it. The ship did not head toward the San Francisco docks, as ships did every day. Instead, it headed towards the army arsenal and navy shipyard at Angel Island.

Captain William A. Winder, Post Commander at Alcatraz, had a blank charge fired from a cannon as a warning signal for the ship to stop, but the men in rowboats pressed on. Winder then ordered an empty shell fired toward the bow of the ship, and which point it responded with gunfire of its own, which was thankfully recognized as a 21-gun salute. When the smoke cleared, the British flag was visible over the ship, and Winder responded with a return salute.

The ship carried the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron, who told Winder that he was displeased by this reception. Winder defended his actions, saying the ship’s direction was so unusual, he deemed it his duty to bring it in. The U.S. Commander of the Department of the Pacific agree and replied that Brits had ignored the procedures for entering a foreign port in wartime. Local residents were thrilled by Winder’s actions, as it was known that Great Britain favored the Confederacy.

Winder, like Johnston, also had Confederate ties. His father was, in fact, a Confederate officer, in charge of prisoner-of-war camps for Union Soldiers, which were notorious for their starvation rations and unhealthy conditions. One local newspaper asserted that he “was feeding the rebel prisoners held there on the fat of the land and off of silver plates.” So when Winder allowed photographers to make 50 different images of the island for sale, the War Department questioned his motives, and ordered the prints and negatives to be confiscated in the name of national security. Winder was transferred to a small post on the mainland.

On April 9, 1865, the guns at Alcatraz sounded to mark the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. The Civil War was over. The city of San Fransisco erupted in celebration. Less than a week later, the shocking news that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated swept the city, which now plunged into anarchy as Confederate sympathizers celebrated and pro-Union mobs attacked anyone thought to be a confederate. The military sent soldiers from Alcatraz into the city to maintain order. They began arresting people who celebrated Lincoln’s death throughout California, imprisoning them at Alcatraz.

Alcatraz’s final act of the Civil War period was to sound the guns in remembrance of President Lincoln.

——-

In 1876, the Centennial of the United States was to be celebrated in the bay with a show of military might. Cavalry and infantry units performed on the mainland, followed by a choreographed battle over the bay. The Army forts, including Alcatraz, and navy warships were to shoot at a flag on Lime Point and at an old schooner loaded with explosives. As the battle wore on, embarrassment settled in as the Alcatraz cannon were not accurate enough to hit the boat. Under cover of smoke, an officer was sent in a small boat to light the fuses on the schooner. The explosion was anticlimactic to say the least.

It was becoming more and more clear that Alcatraz’s ideal purpose was to be an inescapable prison. The island continued to be developed by the military. In 1893, a hospital was added, and a new upper prison was built in 1904. In 1908, the citadel collapsed. The military constucted a new prison a few years later, which was then modernized in 1933 to become the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, housing some of America’s most dangerous criminals for the next 30 years.

Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s open year-round, closing only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Various locations on the island are closed off to the general public certain times of the year, due to the nesting of a variety of seabirds.

A ferry, located at Piers 31-33 will take you to the island. You’ll need to make your reservation in advance because the ferries sell out about a week in advance.

Golden Gate is also home to several other important sites to explore, including the Muir Woods National Monument, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

The Curse of the Petrified Forest

In a small section of the painted desert of Arizona, you can find forests of crumbled trees, preserved as stone. Over 200 million years ago, these large conifers were uprooted by floods, then washed down from the highlands and buried by silt. Water seeping through the wood replaced decaying organic material cell by cell with multicolored silica. The land was lifted up by geological upheaval, and erosion began to expose the long-buried, now petrified wood.

In the modern age, the trees have their own stories, having become one of the iconic road trip destinations along Route 66. On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Petrified Forest National Park and the curse of the Petrified Forest.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Petrified Forest National Park – NPS Website

“Rewriting the Story of Arizona’s Petrified Forest” – azcentral.com

Conscience Letters – badluckhotrocks.com

Legends of America – info on the “curse” of the Petrified Forest


Transcript

In a small section of the painted desert of Arizona, you can find forests of crumbled trees, preserved as stone. Over 200 million years ago, these large conifers were uprooted by floods, then washed down from the highlands and buried by silt. Water seeping through the wood replaced decaying organic material cell by cell with multicolored silica. The land was lifted up by geological upheaval, and erosion began to expose the long-buried, now petrified wood.

They almost look like logs sawn into evenly sized chunks, just days ago. But their age is nothing short of spectacular. To put it into perspective, they had already turned to stone and had returned to the surface when the T-Rex roamed nearby 66 million years ago.

In the modern age, the trees have their own stories, having become one of the iconic road trip destinations along Route 66. On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Petrified Forest National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.
_____

Between 1910 and 1920, automobile ownership in the united states increased from 500,000 cars to nearly 10 million. The impracticality of the rambling trails across the country began to turn into a numbered road system under the federal highway administration. An Oklahoma real estate agent and coal company owner advocated for a diagonal roadway to run from Chicago to Los Angeles. It would be a boon for the sooner state, ushering motorists away from Kansas City and Denver. Route 66 it was called.

Thousands of unemployed youths were put to work as laborers during the depression to pave the final stretches of the road. 210,000 people traveled it to California to escape the despair of the Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms that damaged the ecology and agriculture of the prairies during the 1930s. For them, Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity.”

John Steinbeck proclaimed it the “Mother Road” in 1939s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was then immortalized in the 1940 film.

After World War II, Americans were more mobile than ever before. Servicemen who trained in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas abandoned the harsh winters of Chicago and the Northeast for the warmth of the Southwest and the West.

Route 66 became the quintessential American road trip, taking tourists across the nation to see the ever-changing landscape, including the painted desert scenes of Arizona, which they had only seen in pictures, and Petrified Forest National Park.

People were enamored by the uniqueness of the petrified wood, especially because Route 66 drove right through the park. You could have your top down in the convertible and drive by the massive collections of petrified trees in the park.

Travelers have long carried away pieces of the stone wood as memorabilia. Before it was outlawed, wagon-fulls would be hauled off for sale. When the Petrified Forest became a National Monument in 1906, it had been illegal to remove petrified wood from the park, yet that didn’t entirely stop people.

Many thought no one would notice one little rock missing, and eventually came to realize they made a terrible mistake – because of the Curse of the Petrified Forest.

In the 30s, people began to relate that, after taking a piece of petrified wood from the park, they were stricken with bad luck. From divorce to legal struggles, to car trouble, to medical conditions, and unemployment. Cat attacks to financial losses and even a plane crash.

How did the park find out about these afflictions? People would return the stolen petrified wood, usually via anonymous mail with a confession attached. They felt that bad luck came to possess those who took souvenirs and that their only salvation would come from giving it back.

“My life has been totally destroyed since we’ve been back from vacation. Please put these back so my life can get back to normal! Let me start over again!” said one such letter. The park has received endless accounts over the years from thieves. Notes often requested the wood be returned to the spot it was taken from, with hand-drawn maps describing the location.

“It was a great challenge sneaking it out of the park,” another thief wrote. “Since that time, though, nothing in my life has gone right.”

“Take these miserable rocks and put them back, they have caused pure havoc in my love life. By the time these rocks reach you, things should be back to normal. If not, I give up. Dateless and Desperate.”

“My girlfriend of three years finished with me on the drive home. So here’s your damn wood back.”

“Dear Park Rangers, Here’s your rock back. We never should have taken it. Maybe now the Giants will win a few games next year.”

Unfortunately, returning the rocks after they were taken is not something rangers can do because they are out of “scientific context.” The park is an active research site, and moving rocks undermines the scientific study. When a piece of wood is returned, the park puts it in a rusted metal box at the main office. When the box is full, a ranger takes the so-called conscience rocks to a pile on a service road closed to the public. Rangers have collected over 1200 confession letters dating back to 1935.

By the time the National Monument became a National Park in 1962, the stories of stolen rock had become nationally known. It was commonly thought that a ton of petrified wood a month, 12 tons a year, was being swiped from the park.

So much petrified wood was being stolen, that it was rumored that the park was on it’s way to extinction. Park officials intoduced stringent enforcement procedures. Vehicle inspections were implemented at the entrance and exit gates. Gloomy posters and leaflets warned visitors. Trail closures blocked up-close access to the formations. The film at the visitors’ center touted the 1-ton-a-month number, warning of the fines and damage removing petrified wood would generate.

The park did such a great job at getting the word out about stealing wood, that many people believed there was no reason to go to the park anymore. Most of the wood was already gone. And if you did go, you were admonished and warned at every turn — hardly a positive experience with nature. Going to the diminishing petrified forest was selfish.

The thing is, none of it was true.

Sure, people had taken plenty of pieces of petrified wood over the years, but the decommissioning and removal of Route 66, combined with the expansion of the park to include the painted desert meant that the new park road didn’t weave through roadside formations anymore, so return visitors thought that the petrified wood they remembered peppering the drive was gone. It wasn’t.

And nobody could pinpoint where the myth of losing a ton of wood a month came from. The lasting impression left with visitors was a ranger checking them for wood when exiting the park.

But theft was still an issue, and the park still needed to protect against it. In 2006, a team of Arizona State University psychology researchers observed peoples’ reactions to different kinds of messages. One of the experiments conducted at Petrified Forest National Park had researchers experimenting with the wording on signs meant to stop theft and found that the news that massive amounts of wood were being stolen was the least effective.

The park didn’t make any changes, though, until Superintendent Brad Traver took over. He decided that the focus needed to shift from wood thefts to history and interpretation of the 225-million-year-old historical record of the petrified wood. And he needed to eliminate the perception that the wood was all gone.

The park began photographing popular sites and compared the pictures with photos nearly a century old. Most formations looked identical, right down to individual small pieces of logs.

Instead of admonishing would-be thieves, the park now appeals to visitors’ sense of ownership of the land and its treasures. Long-closed trails have been re-opened, and a new narrative, focused on science and discovery is in place.

Conscience rocks still get mailed in to this day. Most no longer mention a curse, just profound guilt over the theft.

“To whom it may concern,

During my visit to the Petrified Forest, I took the enclosed rock. It was wrong, but I didn’t think one small rock would make a difference.

However, my parents have helped me to understand that it doesn’t matter how small it is, and is still wrong.

Sincerely,

Ryan. (Age 11)”

——

There’s a website called “bad luck hot rocks dot com” where you can see photographs of the conscience letters the park has received over the years. Many are very moving. “Sorry for my father” one short but meaningful one says.

Most people spend up to a full day at the park. Interstate 40 (the old Route 66) drives right through the North End – the painted desert area. It has its own exit, number 311, which you should take if you’re heading westbound, and then drive the 28-mile park road to the south end of the park. You can then take highway 180 to rejoin with I-40 at exit 285. If you’re heading eastbound, reverse the process. There’s no camping available, unless you’re willing to hike at least a mile into the backcountry. Outside the south entrance of the park, two privately owned gift shops allow overnight parking in their parking lots.

The north visitors center has a decently priced counter-service restaurant and fuel station with gas and diesel. Big rigs can easily drive the park road, but may not be able to park at a couple of the pull-outs.

Most sites can be seen just off the road, but a few short trails allow for a more up-close and personal experience. Take lots of water, it’s exposed and usually hot. You have to exit the park by 5pm, so make sure you get there in plenty of time to explore.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Drunken Subterranian Terrorism

Elevators might seem like a strange topic for a National Park Podcast, but today we’re going to talk about a special elevator. In 1931, the National Park constructed what was then the second highest (or shall we say deepest) elevator shaft in the world — descending tourists 754′ into the wonders of Carlsbad Caverns National Park — and it’s been at the center of some pretty wild incidents.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Carlsbad Caverns – National Park Service Website


Transcript

What kid isn’t fascinated by elevators? I know I was, probably still am. My oldest son was obsessed when he was younger. Is it glass? Is it fast? Can I push the button?

Elevators might seem like a strange topic for a National Park Podcast, but today we’re going to talk about a special elevator. In 1931, the National Park constructed what was then the second highest (or shall we say deepest) elevator shaft in the world – descending tourists 754′ into the wonders of Carlsbad Caverns – and it’s been at the center of some pretty wild incidents.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

______

Deep below the surface in the Guadalupe Mountains at the border of Texas and New Mexico lies one of the world’s greatest wonders – Carlsbad Caverns. When the park opened, the only way to enter the cavern was to be lowered in a large bucket that had been previously used to harvest bat guano. Shortly after, a staircase and trail were constructed to takes visitors in through the natural entrance — a one and a quarter mile strenuous hike down winding switchbacks.

The 30s brought innovation to the Caverns, allowing one of the more difficult parks to enter to become one of the easiest – an elevator shaft was blasted 750 feet into the ground. On December 29, 1930, around the clock excavation began from both above and below. It took 12 tons of explosives to clear out the 4,000 cubic yards of rock. On December 23, 1931, the state of the art Otis elevator was finished. It cost an additional 50 cents, causing usage to be limited until the end of the great depression.

On January 25, 1939 at 12:31 PM, Ranger Leslie Thompson was working the elevator shift, and had just returned to the surface where a group of 11 visitors were buying tickets. Assistant Electrician Claude Carpenter took control of the elevator from Thompson to bring the chief clerk and the auditor down ahead of the tourist party. Thompson stood by the oil heater to warm up while awaiting the tourists.

Ranger Thompson began his speech to the tourists, similar to the one still given today. He opened the elevator door and turnied to the crowd to see their tickets as he backed into the elevator. In those days there was no failsafe to keep the door from opening when there was no elevator car in place. The tourists tried to stop him, but it was too late; Thompson plunged down the elevator shaft.

Thompson quickly grabbed on to the cables to try to slow his descent. Thanks to the thick cable grease he was able to decelerate without harsh friction burns. Thompson stopped himself just 140 feet into the 750-foot elevator shaft, clinging to the cable in the dark.

Unlike most elevators covering a large distance, there are only two “floors,” and a rescue with only two entrances into the shaft is challenging.

Employees brought the second car down the adjacent cable, and pulled him in, with only a well-greased uniform and a few blisters to show for it.

The Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Thomas Boles, wrote to Robert Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” and Floyd Gibbons’ “Headline Hunter” radio program about the unbelievable story of a ranger falling down a 754 foot elevator shaft and surviving. The Associate Director of the National Park Service quickly squashed the publicity, pointing out that such an accident could scare visitors away. The story was buried in the National Park Service records, only to be found at the National Archives in Denver 3 years ago.

Visitation steadily increased after World War Two. By the 1950s, the Park Service blasted a second elevator shaft for a pair of larger elevators.

On July 10, 1979, a ranger was working the underground information desk and had just checked the clock. Nearly 200 visitors and Park Service employees were down in the cave. the Ranger glanced into the elevator lobby. An elevator had just come down, and a long black object stuck out of the elevator door. It looked like a gun barrel. No way, he thought. It must be a cane.

Two men got off of the elevator, accompanied by a ranger. The men were both carrying rifles. He first thought was that some sort of law enforcement situation was going on. Then he saw the look of terror on his colleague’s face. She came over to the desk, followed by the men, and picked up the microphone to announce that the cave was being taken over and everyone needed to leave out the natural entrance as the men brandished their weapons.

Two more assailants joined, with enough weapons for a small militia. And they were drunk. They had been drinking since the night before, stayed up all night, and were carrying fifths of whisky as they took the cave hostage. They fired off dozens of shots at what they thought were approaching rangers in the dark. They trapped over a hundred nearby in the Big Room in 56-degree temperatures, for the next five hours. A woman on her first day of work at the caverns suffered a series of epileptic seizures. A claustrophobic man with a heart condition managed to be snuck out by park officials.

The terrorists demanded a million dollars, a flight to Brazil, and a reporter to record their words. Less than an hour and a half after the first hostage was taken, authorities brought the publisher of the local newspaper, The Carlsbad Current-Argus, to meet the third demand, but when he attempted to call from the surface, the men refused to talk.

“Get your ass down here,” one of the men said. “They’re screwing us around. We want to tell the world exactly what we need. I’ll guarantee your life.” The FBI hesitated to let the reporter into the cave, but the journalist was up for it and took the elevator down to the underground cafeteria.

A special agent trained in hostage negotiations came the 110 miles from El Paso. A SWAT team was at the ready. The reporter started notating the story that would be picked up by papers all over the country:

“I’m tired of Mexicans coming in and taking our jobs. No, make that all aliens. They ought to kick them all out. They’re making $20 billion in welfare . . . ” complained one of the terrorists. The most articulate of the bunch, a Native American, talked about how the United States was oppressing his people. They complained about rising gasoline prices.

The men fired off several more shots and told the reporter they didn’t plan on making it out alive. They came there to die.

Once the liquor ran out, the men proposed to trade the reporter to the FBI for a bottle of vodka, but then released the reporter and the ranger they still held hostage on their own accord.

The FBI negotiated to knock the charges down from a felony to a misdemeanor for attempted false imprisonment, and at 8:47 p.m the men surrendered up the elevator. On August 2nd, all four men pled guilty to misdemeanors for false imprisonment and the destruction of federal property and were sentenced to a year in prison. In August of 1980, the perpetrators of America’s only subterranean terrorism incident were freed.

The vast majority of visitors access the elevators at some point during their visit. Constant monitoring and upkeep are required for visitor safety. Each morning, mechanics run a check on the elevators before allowing visitors to ride, and from time-to-time, the elevators are not available. In November 2015, a six-inch motor shaft unexpectedly sheared off in the primary elevator system. Both the primary and secondary elevators were deemed unsafe. The secondary elevators re-opened in May of 2016, and have been the only functioning elevators since.

Earlier this year, in March, one of the two operating elevators failed, trapping a family of three. The Carlsbad Fire Department began training for elevator incidents after the primary system failed in 2015, and once they arrived on the scene, they brought the second car down, using a ladder to land on the roof of the first and rescuing the trapped tourists.

And yet, after 87 years the not once person has lost their lives. Certainly there have been moments of great peril and fear, yet the elevator remains the main route of access for millions of people, and a way to help ensure all visitors to the park have a chance to see the wonder underground.

____

The best way to visit the Caves at Carlsbad Caverns National Park is to walk down in through the Natural Entrance, and then take the elevator back to the surface. Once you’re down in the main cave, much of the trail is wheelchair accessible. You do not want to miss the journey down through the Natural Entrance – some of the best wonders of the cave are along the switchback trail. If you’re up for a steep vertical hike, you can go the opposite direction, taking the elevator down, and walking up and out. Your entrance ticket gets you as many elevator rides as you want for the day, so you can come back up for lunch and then head back down. No pets are allowed in the cave, nor can you leave them in your vehicle, so a kennel service is provided for a small fee.

There’s more to the park than just the cave. Rattlesnake Canyon is a beautiful crevice in the Guadalupe Mountains. You can hike a trail through it, or see it from an overlook on a scenic drive.

One of the best attractions at Carlsbad Caverns is the nightly flight of thousands of Brazillian free-tailed bats from the entrance. The park service has built an amphitheater to view the creatures—which are the fastest animals on earth—at the mouth of the Natural Entrance. The bats are in residence at Carlsbad from late April through October, and the park service begins a nightly ranger-led program each year on Memorial Day.

You can check the status of the Elevators, which are still unavailable from time-to-time, on the park’s website.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Dred and Harriet Scott

On April 6th, 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott walked into the unfinished St. Louis Courthouse in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, and in an act of bravery, filed separate petitions against Irene Emerson for their freedom.

On that day, one of the most important lawsuits in American history, one that would ultimately hasten the start of the Civil War and divide an already divided country, began. It would take ten years and reach as far as the supreme court before it ended.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Dred Scott Case, and Gateway Arch National Park.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Gateway Arch National Park – National Park Service Website

Dred Scott Case Collection – Washington University in St. Louis

Dred Scott Case Collection – Library of Congress

Scott v. Sanford – Thoroughly detailed Wikipedia entry

The Dred Scott Decision – Video and info from The History Channel


Transcript

On April 6th, 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott walked into the unfinished St. Louis Courthouse in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, and in an act of bravery, filed separate petitions against Irene Emerson for their freedom.
On that day, one of the most important lawsuits in American history, one that would ultimately hasten the start of the Civil War and divide an already divided country, began. It would take ten years and reach as far as the supreme court before it ended.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Dred Scott Case, and Gateway Arch National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue
—–

Dred Scott was born to enslaved parents in Southampton County, Virginia sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century. Their owner was a man named Peter Blow. After a failed farming stint in Alabama, Peter Blow settled his family and six slaves in St. Louis in 1830, where he ran a boarding house. Within two years, both Peter Blow and his wife were dead.

Just before his death, Peter Blow sold Dred Scott to Dr. John Emerson. Emerson served as a civilian doctor at Jefferson Barracks before being appointed as an assistant surgeon in the United States Army. He left St. Louis on November 19, 1833, to report for duty at Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois, taking Dred Scott with him.

Of course, slavery was prohibited in Illinois, both under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Illinois state constitution, which had been in place for 15 years prior to Scott’s arrival at Rock Island. Assuming Scott knew all this, he could have sued for his freedom in Illinois, but he didn’t, and he moved to Fort Snelling in the new Wisconsin territory with Emerson in 1836. Wisconsin was governed by the 1820 Missouri Compromise, prohibiting slavery north of 36 and a half degrees latitude, except for within the boundaries of Missouri. Scott could have again sued for his freedom, but he did not.

In the late 1830s, Dred Scott married Harriet Robinson, who was owned by the Indian agent for the Wisconsin territory. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Dr. Emerson.

Emerson requested from the Army a transfer back to St. Louis, which was granted. On October 20, 1837, Emerson left Fort Snelling, traveling down the Mississippi by canoe, since steamboats had ended operations for the season. He left behind most of his possessions, including Dred and Harriet Scott, in the care of an unknown party.

Upon arriving in St. Louis, Emerson was transferred to Fort Jesup, Louisiana. In April 1838, he sent for Dred and Harriet Scott to join him and his new wife Irene Sanford in Louisiana, a slave state. That September, the Emersons and the Scotts returned to St. Louis, then traveled back to Fort Snelling in October for a short time, before returning to St. Louis again. All of these movements will become incredibly important for the Scotts’ future attempt for freedom. On the trip back to Fort Snelling, Eliza Scott was born on a steamboat in free territory.

The Army then transferred Emerson to Florida. He left Dred and Harriet behind with Irene’s father, Alexander Sanford, who owned a plantation in north St. Louis County. Emerson was discharged from the Army in 1842 and returned to St. Louis for a short time, and then settled permanently in Davenport, Iowa. Irene Emerson joined him and gave birth to their daughter Henrietta in November 1843.

On December 29, 1843, Emerson suddenly died at age 40. A record of his Iowa estate mentioned slaves, but it is impossible to determine if this reference was to the Scott family. The Scotts never joined them in Davenport. There is no mention of slaves in Emerson’s Missouri estate inventory.

Irene Emerson and her daughter returned to St. Louis.

Dred and Harriet Scott had been hired out to several parties over the years, and in 1846, they were working for Samuel Russell, the owner of a wholesale grocery.

Even though slavery was legal in Missouri, the law allowed enslaved people to sue for their freedom if they were held wrongfully. First, a petition to sue had to be filed in the circuit court. If the petition contained sufficient evidence that the plaintiff was being wrongfully held, the judge would allow the case after provisions were provided to cover court costs by the plaintiff. The judge would also order that the enslaved person could be allowed to attend court and not removed from the vicinity.

The legal principle that affected the Scotts was the idea that once a person was free, they could not be enslaved again. The Missouri Supreme Court had ruled that a master who took his slave to reside in a state or territory where slavery was prohibited thereby freed him. “Once free, always free” was standard judicial practice.

On April 6, 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott each filed petitions against Irene Emerson in the St. Louis Circuit Court to obtain their freedom. The identical documents indicated that the Scotts were entitled to their freedom based on their residences in the free state of Illinois and the free Wisconsin Territory. But the Missouri courts had been gradually turning more and more pro-slavery. From 1844 to 1846, twenty-five freedom suits had been filed in the St. Louis Circuit Court and only one resulted in freedom. Pro-slavery Judge John M. Krum approved the petitions, which Dred and Harriet Scott signed with their marks, an “X.”

Attorney Francis B. Murdoch helped the Scotts initiate their freedom suits, and posted the required security for them. For some reason, he moved to California in 1847 before their cases came to trial.

At this point, the children of Dred Scott’s first owner became involved. The 7 Blow children became well established in St. Louis society by marrying into notable families: The abolitionist publisher of the first newspaper west of the Mississipi. A drug store owner. An attorney who would later play a role in creating Missouri’s 1865 constitution, stripping rights from southern sympathizers. Peter E. Blow married into a French banking family. His brother-in-law was a St. Louis County sheriff and another was a St. Louis attorney. The Blows provided financial and legal assistance to the Scotts. Samuel Mansfield Bay, former Missouri legislator and attorney general, became the Scotts’ attorney through a connection with the Blow family, who also signed for the Scotts’ court fee security.

The case came before the St. Louis Circuit Court on June 30, 1847. Judge Hamilton presided. He had replaced proslavery Judge Krum and held sympathy toward slave freedom suits. Missouri law was clearly on the side of the Scotts. Bay only needed to prove that Emerson had taken Dred Scott, and then Harriet, to reside on free soil.

Henry Taylor Blow testified that his father had sold Dred Scott to Dr. John Emerson. Depositions were presented from both military posts, establishing that Dred and Harriet Scott had resided there in service to Emerson. Samuel Russell testified that he had hired the Scotts from Irene Emerson and paid her father, Alexander Sanford, for their services.

On cross-examination, though, Russel revealed that his wife Adeline had, in fact, made the initial arrangements to hire Dred and Harriet from Irene Emerson. His testimony was dismissed as hearsay, by the judge and because of this technicality, the jury decided against the Scotts. In an absurd twist of the legal system, they did not hear testimony sufficient enough to prove that Irene Emerson claimed Dred and Harriet Scott as her slaves…so they were returned to her ownership.

Bay moved for a new trial, arguing that a technicality in the legal proceedings that could be easily remedied should not hold the Scotts in slavery. Judge Hamilton granted. Irene Emerson had the sheriff take charge of the Scott family. He was responsible for their hiring out, and maintained the wages until the outcome of the freedom suit was determined.

There was a lengthy delay before the new trial took place. A year and a half, due to a heavy court schedule. Then a fire that swept through St. Louis and a cholera outbreak. The case was finally heard on January 12, 1850, a little over two years after the retrial was granted. In the meantime, Irene Emerson moved to Massachusetts and married Dr. Calvin C. Chaffee. Chaffee, an abolitionist, was apparently unaware of his wife’s involvement in a slave freedom suit and was elected to the United States Congress shortly after their marriage.

The Scotts had new attornies, again through the Blow family, Alexander P. Field and David N. Hall. Field was an expert trial lawyer and prominent figure in Illinois and Wisconsin politics. Hugh Garland and Lyman D. Norris represented Emerson.

Field and Hall again established the Scotts’ residence in free territories. They presented a new deposition from Adeline Russell, who indicated that she hired Dred and Harriet Scott from Emerson. Samuel Russell appeared in court to testify that he paid to hire the Scotts.

Garland and Norris tried to claim that the two free-territory residencies were not subject to civil law since they were on military bases, but precedent from a previous case wasn’t in their favor. The jury found for the plaintiffs. Dred and Harriet Scott were free.

At this point, the Scotts’ case was just another successful Freedom Suit. There was no national or even local attention paid to it. But Emerson’s attorneys appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which granted a hearing. All parties agreed that only Dred Scott’s case would be heard and that whatever decision applied to Dred would apply to Harriet.

In the State Supreme Court trial, Emerson’s attorneys forwarded the argument that military law was different from civil law when slave property was involved. They claimed that because Emerson was ordered to the military posts, there was no consent on his part to willingly take his slaves into free areas.

The Missouri Supreme Court had, in essence, decided the case in advance. William Napton, James H. Birch, and John F. Ryland were looking for a case that would allow them to hand down a pro-slavery decision, and overturn all previous supreme court opinions that recognized slavery prohibitions. An election of new judges between the trial and delivering a supreme court opinion further complicated things. Napton and Birch were both voted off the bench, and new justices Hamilton Gamble, and William Scott joined Ryland.

On March 22, 1852, the new court rendered their 2-1 decision reversing the lower court’s findings. Justice William Scott wrote the opinion, claiming that Missouri should not have to recognize laws that were in opposition to its own. He acknowledged the right of slaves to obtain their freedom when taken to free states but determined that slavery status was regained upon return to a slave state. The opinion, with a thread of racist rhetoric, was clearly politically motivated.

The next day, Irene Emerson Chaffee’s attorneys filed an order back in the circuit court for the Blow family’s bonds to cover the court costs, and that the Scotts be returned to them, along with slaves’ wages of four years at 6% interest. Judge Hamilton denied the order, and no explanation was recorded.

But Dred Scott and Harriet Scott were not done. Their friends helped them file a suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri. The Blow family decided they could no longer financially support the Scotts, especially once the case seemed hopeless. Tensions over slavery were at a boiling point in the United States, less than a decade before the Civil War broke out. Attorney Roswell M. Field took on the case for no fee.

At this point, Irene Emerson’s brother John Sanford claimed ownership of the Scott family, in what was likely a political move to help ensure the rights of slave owners, and so that Irene’s abolitionist husband would not find out. The court found in favor of Sanford, leaving Dred Scott and his family in slavery. Field appealed to the United States Supreme Court for the December 1854 term.

The United States Supreme Court did not hear the case until February 1856. Roswell Field arranged for Montgomery Blair, a high-profile St. Louis attorney living in Washington D.C., to argue Dred Scott’s case.

Reverdy Johnson, a nationally-known constitutional lawyer and Henry S. Geyer, U.S. Senator for Missouri represented John Sanford. In May, arguments, much along similar lines as the previous trials, were concluded. The justices called for the case to be reargued in December. At that time, the brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis assisted Blair in arguing the constitutional questions of the case. A final decision was delivered on March 6, 1857. Eight of the nine justices wrote separate opinions. Seven justices, primarily pro-Southern, followed individual lines of reasoning that led to a shared opinion that, by law, Dred Scott was still a slave. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote what is considered to be the majority opinion, stating that African-Americans were, quote: “beings of an inferior order. so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The opinion decided that slaves were not citizens of the United States and had no right to bring suit in a federal court. In addition, the court ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, stating that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in the federal territories.

Shortly before the decision was handed down Irene Emerson’s second husband, Dr. Calvin Chaffee, now a Massachusetts congressman, found out his wife owned the most famous slave in America, and so did his opponents. He was chastised for his perceived hypocrisy on the house floor. Chaffee immediately worked to free the Scotts. Since Missouri law only allowed a citizen of the state to emancipate a slave, he transferred ownership of the Scotts to Taylor Blow. On May 26, 1857, Dred and Harriet Scott appeared in the St. Louis Circuit Court and were formally freed before Judge Hamilton. Dred Scott took a job as a porter at Barnum’s Hotel at Second and Walnut street, where he became a local celebrity. Harriet ran a laundry out of their home. Dred Scott died on September 17, 1858 of tuberculosis, only 16 months after gaining his freedom. Harriet Scott died on June 17, 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which argues the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.

——

President James Buchanan‘s supporters considered the Dred Scott case a final answer to the sectional controversy, although Buchanan had influenced Justice Robert Grier of Pennsylvania to join the southern majority so that it would look less like a sectional decision.

The case contributed heavily to the divisions that lead to Abraham Lincoln‘s election and the Civil War.

St. Louis’s Old Courthouse is now the visitors’ center for the Gateway Arch National Park, the Nation’s newest park, which is about to finish a massive redevelopment, linking the Arch with the courthouse on a grand front lawn for the city. The Old Courthouse was the site of the first two trials of the Dred and Harriet Scott cases. It was also where Virginia Minor’s case for a woman’s right to vote came to trial in the 1870s. You can tour this historic structure and visit the restored courtrooms, along with exhibits related to St. Louis history.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Legends of Denali

In 1896, the highest summit in America was named by a gold prospector in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who became president the following year. Of course, for centuries before, it had gone by a different name.

On this week’s episode of America’s National Parks, Denali, the 20,310 Alaskan summit, and the six million acres of land that surround it in Denali National Park.


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Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Denali – National Park Service Website


Transcript

In 1896, the highest summit in America was named by a gold prospector in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who became president the following year. Of course, for centuries before, it had gone by a different name.

On this week’s episode of America’s National Parks, Denali, the 20,310 Alaskan summit, and the six million acres of land that surround it in Denali National Park.

Up first is the late Chief Mitch Demientieff of Nenana, and the legend of Denali.

(Transcript not available)

Denali may not be the highest summit on earth, that, of course, belongs to Everest in the Himalayas. But Denali is actually a taller mountain from base to peak, rising 18,000 feet. That’s about the equivalent of 14 empire state buildings. Everest rises only 12,000 feet.

The climb up Denali is nowhere near as technical as Everest, but its sheer elevation change and its location still make it one of the most challenging climbs.

Mountain climbing tales in history tend to read like fish stories, so it’s not a surprise that there has long been controversy around the first person to reach the top of Denali.

The first claim was laid in 1906 by an explorer, Dr. Frederick A. Cook. In fact, he took a camera and had pictures to prove it. The photo was published in 1908 along with Cook’s account of how he had braved avalanches and ice cliffs to make the first ascent of the then titled Mount McKinley. ”At last!” Cook wrote. ”The soul-stirring task was crowned with victory. The top of the continent was under our feet.”

A couple years later, Cook also claimed that he was the first to reach the North Pole, But a guy named Robert Peary really did reach the North Pole, and challenged Cook’s claim to have gotten there first, putting the Denali claim in doubt as well.

Not many believed Cook’s story, save for a few historians and family members over the years that tried to prove it. Many of his photos seemed like they were taken elsewhere, and finally, in 1998, the negative of the summit photo was discovered. It showed that the published photo had been heavily cropped, and in fact showed Cook at a spot only 5000 feet up the mountain.

Meanwhile, back in 1910, four Alaskan gold miners were sitting in a bar debating Cook’s claim to have reached the top of McKinley. They were unconvinced, and bragged, that they, as Alaskans, would fare far better on the mountain. The bar owner bet them $500 that they couldn’t do it.

Now, these guys were not climbers. They were middle-aged, overweight, and had no real climbing experience. Yet in mid-February, 1910, these four miners set out to climb Mt McKinley. And on April 3, they made it to the top where they planted a flag.

Or so they said.

Their claims were a little far-fetched. Honestly, who could believe they really did it? For example, they said they climbed the last 8,000 feet in one day. Hikers today take 10 to 15 hours to do the last 3-4000 feet, which they save for the last day. And even though they brought a camera, none of the photos they took were at the summit. But they were so adamant that they did.

A couple weeks later, the New York Times Magazine published expedition leader Thomas Lloyd’s story of their climb. It filled three pages, including notes from his journal, and it convinced a lot of people, but for others, the claim was still very much in doubt.

So, another expedition set out in 1913 to reach the summit, and to verify Lloyd’s story. And, in fact, they reached the North summit and found the flag that Lloyd’s party had planted. Four overweight miners with no hiking experience actually did it!

Not so fast.

It’s important to note here that Denali has two peaks. The South, which is the tallest, and the North is about 300′ shorter. It would appear that Lloyd and the miners only made it to the North. Now, the story changes a bit. The miners claim that they only put the flag on the North peak because it would be visible from below (which it wasn’t), and they actually reached both peaks. Many years later, a couple of the miners admitted that they only reached the North peak, but claimed that it was the more challenging climb of the two.

The story would have been incredible enough without the lie, but now it taints their claim forever. That said, the climbers that set out to verify Lloyd’s story actually did reach both peaks, and are credited with the first summit of Denali in 1913.

On the 100th anniversary, in 2013, Jay Elhard of the National Park Service described the first summit and explored the reasons why climbers climb.

(Transcript unavailable)

Denali national park didn’t actually include the mountain when it was set aside to protect Dall Sheep in 1917. It was expended over time, and is now a massive wilderness, with very few trails, intentionally, to preserve hiking and backpacking in a trail-less landscape. The marked trails that do exist are centered mainly around the two visitor centers.

There’s one road through the park, it’s 92 miles long, but only the first 15 miles of it are paved. That portion, leading from the park entrance to Savage River, is open during the summer for vehicles. Travel beyond mile 15 is limited to bikes and hikers, and park buses. It can snow heavily almost any month of the year, so the road in spring or fall may be open or closed depending on conditions.

You can see a lot from the park road, including the namesake mountain and incredible wildlife. One of the best ways to see the vastness of the park is a “flightseeing tour,” where a small private plane or helicopter soars you over gentle foothills, along meandering glaciers, up to the rugged peaks of the Alaska Range.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty stands out in New York Harbor, bearing her torch, welcoming tourists and immigrants with the American spirit of Liberty. Her story is complicated, and many apocryphal tales abound of her sitting disassembled for years while Americans tried to figure out how to assemble it. The truth is much more interesting.

Today on America’s National Parks, The Statue of Liberty and the history of Liberty Island.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Statue of Liberty – National Park Service Website


Transcript

The Statue of Liberty, a symbol of America as recognized as the bald eagle, the American Flag, or the White House, stands out in New York Harbor, bearing her torch, welcoming tourists and immigrants with the American spirit of Liberty.

Her story is complicated, and many apocryphal tales abound of her sitting disassembled for years while Americans tried to figure out how to assemble it. The truth is much more interesting.

Today on America’s National Parks, The Statue of Liberty and the history of Liberty Island.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.
______

Liberty Island–the home of the green lady overlooking New York Harbor–hosted its first inhabitants in the year AD 994. One of the three so-called “Oyster Islands,” Indigenous Americans found a major source of food from the numerous shell beds in this place.

Over 600 years later, Henry Hudson landed in New York Harbor and the now-named Hudson River estuary. Europeans colonized the area, including the Oyster Islands. Occupation, war, and disease during forced the Native Americans to move both north and west.
The Island was claimed by a man named Isaac Bedloe, who called it Love Island until his death when it was renamed Bedloe’s Island and then sold by his widow to New York Merchants to avoid bankruptcy in 1732.

Now a strategic trading post, ships coming in and out of New York City needed to be inspected for contamination and disease. The city took possession of Bedloe’s Island, using it as a quarantine station. In the following years, leading up to the American revolution, it was host to the Summer residence of an Earl, a hospital, and again a quarantine station after an outbreak of smallpox.

When the revolutionary war broke out, the British used the island as an asylum for American colonists loyal to the crown, until 1776, when insurgents laid siege to Beldoe’s Island and burned its buildings to the ground.

In the years following the war, tensions rose between the United States, England, and France, and the government began to construct fortifications on Bedloe’s Island. Fort Wood, in the shape of an 11-point star, aided in the protection of the New York Harbor, garrisoned with artillery and infantry until the outbreak of the Civil War when it became a recruiting station and ordinance depot for the North.
—–
In 1865, just after the end of the Civil War, a young French sculptor named Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi attended a banquet near Versailles, where he met Edouard de Laboulaye, a historian and authority on the U.S. Constitution. De Laboulaye mused that America’s centennial was approaching in 1876 and that France ought to present the country with a commemoration of the occasion. Bartholdi, fascinated with the idea of creating colossal works, proposed a giant statue of some kind, which he would dream about for the next six years. The two agreed to work together on the project, and that Bartholdi would sculpt it.

Bartholdi came to the United States to promote the idea, gain interest, and scout locations. He focused on Bedloe’s Island, noting the ships arriving in New York had to sail past it. He was happy to discover that it was owned by the United States government, thus “land common to all the states.” Bartholdi visited prominent New Yorkers, and President Ulysses S. Grant, who assured him that it would not be difficult to obtain the site for the statue. He then crossed the country twice by rail, meeting Americans who he thought would be sympathetic to the project.

Bartholdi returned to France and formed with De Laboulaye the Franco-American Union to oversee fundraising for the Statue. In the spirit of cooperation, it was meant to be a joint effort. The French would fund the statue if the people of the United States would agree to fund the pedestal. Now it just needed to be designed.

Bartholdi and De Laboulaye considered how best to express the idea of American liberty. A female representation adorned most American coins of the time, and she appeared in popular and civic art, including Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom atop the dome of the United States Capitol Building. A figure of Liberty was also depicted in French political art, yet she was a revolutionary often wearing armor, and Bartholdi wanted to depict peace, so he imagined a figure dressed in flowing robes and bearing a torch representing progress, and a crown evoking the sun to light the world.

Bartholdi’s early models were all fairly similar. According to popular accounts, the face was modeled after that of his mother, Charlotte. He designed the figure with a strong, uncomplicated silhouette, which would be set off by its dramatic harbor placement and allow passengers on vessels to experience a changing perspective on the statue as they proceeded toward Manhattan. He gave it bold classical contours and applied simplified modeling, reflecting the huge scale of the project and its solemn purpose. He wrote: “The surfaces should be broad and simple, defined by a bold and clear design, accentuated in the important places. The enlargement of the details or their multiplicity is to be feared. By exaggerating the forms, in order to render them more clearly visible, or by enriching them with details, we would destroy the proportion of the work. Finally, the model, like the design, should have a summarized character, such as one would give to a rapid sketch. Only it is necessary that this character should be the product of volition and study, and that the artist, concentrating his knowledge, should find the form and the line in its greatest simplicity.”

The end of slavery and the achievements of Lincoln were a major force behind the statue. Bartholdi considered having Liberty hold a broken chain, but decided this would be too divisive in the days after the Civil War. Instead, the statue would stand above a broken chain and shackle. In the left hand, Bartholdi would place a tablet to evoke the concept of law, inscribing the date of the Declaration of Independence upon it.

Bartholdi’s friend and mentor, architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, became the chief engineer of the project. He designed a brick pier within the statue, to which the skin would be anchored. He consulted with a foundry to chose the metal which would be used for the skin–copper sheets–and the method used to shape it–heat and wooden hammers.

Although plans for the statue had not been finalized, Bartholdi moved forward with the construction of the right arm, bearing the torch, and the head, and then took it to the United States as a member of a French delegation to the Centennial Exhibition. It proved popular, and visitors would climb up to the balcony of the torch to view the fairgrounds. After the exhibition closed, the arm was transported to New York, where it remained on display in Madison Square Park for several years before it was returned to France to join the rest of the statue.

Meanwhile, committees to raise money to pay for the foundation and pedestal were formed in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The New York group eventually took on most of the responsibility. One of its members was 19-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, the future governor of New York and president of the United States. On March 3, 1877, on his final full day in office, President Grant signed a joint resolution that authorized the President to accept the statue when it was presented by France and to select a site for it. President Rutherford B. Hayes, who took office the following day, selected the Bedloe’s Island site that Bartholdi had proposed.

In 1879 Eugène Viollet-le-Duc died. and Bartholdi turned to Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, to complete the project and overcome some obstacles surrounding the Statue’s structure and assembly, including its height, weight, unusual shape, and the high winds in New York harbor. Eiffel devised an ingenious support system: a 98-foot inner iron framework that would support the Statue’s copper plates. The first plates were completed and assembly began in Paris. The French people fell in love with her, referring to her as the “Lady of the Park.

The American Committee commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design the pedestal; within months he submits a detailed plan. He proposed a foundation 114 feet, containing elements of classical and Aztec architecture. It’s essentially a truncated pyramid, with an observation platform near the top, above which the statue itself rises. Construction on the 15-foot-deep foundation began in 1883, and the pedestal’s cornerstone was laid in 1884. In Hunt’s original conception, the stand was to have been made of solid granite. Financial concerns forced him to revise his plans; the final design called for poured concrete walls, up to 20 feet thick, faced with granite blocks. The height was also reduced to 89 feet. The concrete mass was the largest poured at that time.

On July 4th, 1884, hundreds of people gathered at the feet of the completed Statue in Paris to watch as she was formally presented to Levi P. Morton, the U.S. minister to France. The Statue was scheduled to arrive in the United States in 1885, but funds for the pedestal project ran out and work on the pedestal stoped. New York World publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, came to the rescue with a fundraising campaign to complete the project.
The Statue was disassembled in Paris and shipped to the United States aboard a French navy ship, arriving in New York Harbor on June 17th to tremendous fanfare and a naval parade, but had to be placed in storage for a year while the pedestal was completed.

Once the pedestal was complete, the dangerous and challenging task of reassembling the Statue on Bedloe’s Island began, and the workers, most of whom were immigrants, assembled it with precision and speed.

In mid-October, the final fingers clasping the handle of the torch were installed, and a heavy canvas was dropped over the Statue’s face in preparation for the inaugural celebration. On October 28th 1886, New York City held a Ticker-Tape Parade in honor of the dedication of the statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ which over one million people attended. A water parade of approximately 300 vessels passed in front of the Statue even though visibility was less than a quarter of a mile due to fog and rain throughout the day. The Statue of Liberty was formally unveiled at the dedication ceremony attended by over 2000 men. The New York State Woman Suffrage Association, unable to obtain tickets as they were unaccompanied women, chartered a boat to view the ceremonies from the water.

During the ceremony, Bartholdi released the French flag draped across the Statue’s face prematurely, and guns sounded, and people began to whistle and applaud. President Grover Cleveland formally accepted the Statue of Liberty on behalf of the United States of America as a gift of friendship from France.

Since the weather was foul, the fireworks display and illumination of the torch were put off until November 1st, when Lady Liberty celebrated her birth for a second time.

In the coming years, many changes took place to the Statue. A spiral staircase was constructed, and later an elevator, allowing visitors to climb to the crown and view out. The entire statue was illuminated in 1916. In 1924, it became a National Monument, designated by President Calvin Coolidge. It came under the protection of the National Park Service (along with other National Monuments) by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Roosevelt would preside over the Statues 50th Anniversary 3 years later.

The Statue’s torch was extinguished under the blackout regulations of World War II. The American Museum of Immigration began construction inside the pedestal in 1962, on the now named Liberty Island. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1960 at the statue, abolishing the national origins quota system and stating that all who wish to immigrate to America shall be “admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationships to those already there.”

Johnson later signed a Presidential Proclamation, adding neighboring Ellis Island to the National Park Service, under the administration of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

Protestors from Vietnam Veterans Against the War occupied the Statue of Liberty for three days in1971. In 1977, Puerto Rican nationalists draped the Puerto Rican flag across the Statue’s forehead. In 1980, a bomb detonated in the base of the Statue The FBI suspected Croatian Nationalists advocating Croatian independence from Yugoslavia. Although no one is injured, the National Park Service increased security measures. In 1982, demonstrators opposing the U.S. military intervention in Grenada chained themselves to the support structure of the Statue’s crown.

From 1982 to 1986 a restoration project took place, including a new Statue of Liberty Exhibit in the pedestal.

On October 28th, 1986, The centennial of the Statue of Liberty was officially celebrated as the statue re-opened with officials from France and the United States in attendance.

Words from Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” were inscribed on a plaque and mounted to the base in 1903. She wrote the poem as a gift to one of the American fundraisers for the pedestal:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Today, Visiting Liberty Island is one of the most rewarding experiences for any American. However, visitors who wish to enter the museum, pedestal, or crown must secure tickets, and it’s highly recommended that you procure them well in advance. You have to access it by boat, and you can get passage on a ferry that takes you to both the Statue and Ellis Island from either New York or New Jersey.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

Delicate Arch, and the Strange 1950s Schemes to Reinforce…

There’s one natural rock arch that’s known better than all others in the US, in fact, it’s on the state of Utah’s license plate. It had its own postage stamp, and the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay passed through it. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Delicate Arch, and the strange history of attempts to protect it at Arches National Park.


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Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Arches National Park – National Park Service Website

The Stabilization of Delicate Arch – Ranger Jim Stiles’ article on his findings

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society


Transcript

Rock arches are one of my favorite wonders of the natural world. The idea that they were organically formed seems almost impossible, but of course, they are. The technical definition of a natural arch is a “rock exposure that has a hole completely through it formed by the natural, selective removal of rock, leaving a relatively intact frame.”

There are about 2000 significant natural arches in the US. A “significant” natural arch has two orthogonal opening dimensions with a product of 10 square meters or more. Of course, there are many more smaller arches. This stuff gets intense.

There’s actually an entire society of arch-lovers, called the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, whose $16 membership fee gets you four issues annually of “Span” magazine. You can find more info than you ever thought you could find about rock arches on their website. From the different classifications, measurement techniques, how they’re formed, how they get named… it’s a fascinating rabbit hole to go down if you have some time to kill.

There’s one arch that’s known better than all others in the US, in fact, it’s on the state of Utah’s license plate. It had its own postage stamp, and the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay passed through it. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Delicate Arch, and the strange history of attempts to protect it at Arches National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue:

_____

Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 natural arches that have been carved from tall, fin-like sandstone formations over the course of millennia.

Sandstone is made of grains of sand cemented together by minerals, but not all sandstone is the same. Entrada Sandstone was once a massive desert of fine-grained shifting dunes. The nearly spherical grains, when compressed together, formed a rock that is highly porous.

The Carmel layer, just beneath the Entrada, iss composed of a mix of sand and clay. Clay particles fill in gaps between the sand grains, making the rock denser and less permeable.

Deep below the surface rests a thick layer of salts. Compressed by the tons of rock above it, the salt projected upward, creating domes. The rock layers covering the domes cracked into a series of parallel fins.

Drops of rainwater soaked into the porous Entrada sandstone dissolving the bonds between the sand. The water then puddled just above the Carmel layer, eroding a cavity. The two layers expand when frozen, prying the rock apart, forming an opening. Wind then takes over, like a sandblaster, enlarging the opening and wearing away the exterior of the arch.

The most famous of these arches is the 60-foot tall rock structure that was called by local cowboys “the Chaps” or “the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers.” Today we know it as Delicate Arch, and it attracts nearly 1.5 million visitors per year. The opening is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making it the largest free-standing arch in the park.

Delicate Arch wasn’t within the boundaries of the original Arches National Monument in 1929; it was added when the monument was enlarged in 1938. Still, even then, it was the most recognizable feature of the park.

As its name suggests, Delicate Arch is fragile, and the National Park Service goes to great lengths to ensure that visitors don’t degrade it. But despite their best efforts, the same forces that shaped Delicate Arch will one day destroy it, just like the nearby Wall Arch, which collapsed in 2008.

During his first winter at Arches, ranger Jim Stiles spent his days ransacking file cabinets and soaking up every bit of information he could find. One day he came across a folder labeled “Delicate Arch Stabilization Project.” Inside he found a decade of letters and reports discussing the state of the Delicate Arch, and whether or not it should be saved from eventual collapse by the Park Service.

Stiles found that, in 1947, a park custodian wrote to the regional director about the eroded condition of the east leg of Delicate Arch, suggesting that measures be taken to stabilize it.

For the next few years, Park Service officials would discuss the idea, but it was never taken very seriously, except by those who were concerned it could fall on a group of tourists.

But the idea gained traction when Southwest Regional Assistant Director Hugh Miller visited the arch. Miller backed a plan to apply a plaster jacket over the weak point, and then painting it to match the red rock of the arch. The National Park Service’s citizen advisory board opposed stabilization of any formations, but Davis was adamant that Delicate Arch should be an exception for its unique qualities, comparing it to a museum exhibit, according to one of the letters Stiles found.

The decision had been made by park service brass. The arch would be stabilized. But the question of how was still up for debate. A plater cast likely wouldn’t last long in the elements. Representatives from the Engineering Division and the Landscape Architectural Division met to discuss. Ridiculous ideas were floated, such as spraying it with a fixative, perhaps Elmer’s Glue or Lady Clairol Spray-Net. More serious options were a concrete collar, like the plaster jacket, or, most promising, a silicone epoxy spray.

But Park Superintendent Bates Wilson wasn’t sold. He, and others saw that messing with the arch could backfire. Not only would any attempt to stabilize it most certainly cause lasting damage, but the whole thing could also collapse during the effort. Besides, the real danger to the arch wasn’t its imminent collapse, which a band-aid would barely delay. It was graffiti. “The increasing desire of fools to carve their names in public places has reached the highest level possible in Arches at Delicate Arch,” he wrote.

But the regional office ordered the park to test the silicone epoxy, and dozens of samples were ordered from manufacturers. Instead of arguing with the bosses, Bates took a different approach. The slow roll. In fact, the many memos and letters that Stiles found were curiously void of Bates’ name, and the entire staff of Arches remained fairly quiet on the matter.

Memos kept coming in from the regional office asking for updates. Arches did not reply. The regional office asked if more money was needed. Arches did not reply. Finally, the General Superintendent sent Bates a memo saying “Will you please make a special report on this project at your very earliest convenience?” The park staff finally responded, saying they mixed the solution back in February and it was supposed to be applied within 90 days. Now, with winter closing they’d need to order a new mixture. A fine excuse.

Arches successfully fended off the General Superintendent. His memos ceased, but then, a few years later a concerned citizen wrote the National Park Service Director suggesting that a clear, erosion-resistant material be sprayed on the arch. Everyone remembered again.

Bates fended it off again, convincing his senior officials that exposure to the weather had caused the tested coatings to turn white, or scale off, and that much more experimentation would be needed.

And that’s where the idea died, as Bates Wilson outlasted his superiors.

One day, Delicate Arch will fall, as all free-standing arches do. It could be tomorrow, it could be a thousand years from now, but it will now fall as a part of its natural life cycle.

______

Arches National Park hosts over 2,000 natural stone arches, along with hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks, set under the blue skies of southeast Utah.

It’s part of the Colorado Plateau, a “high desert” region that experiences temperature fluctuations over 40 degrees in a single day. The most popular seasons are spring and fall, when daytime highs average from 60 to 80 degrees. Summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, making hiking difficult under the unshielded sun. Winters bring snow and cold, offering the chance for photos with the arches draped in a blanket of white.

For the quick visit, there’s a scenic drive and short trails to viewpoints. But a longer visit is much more rewarding, because some of the best formations take a bit longer of a hike. Arriver early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as parking at most trailheads is full for most of the day. You can even check the park’s webcams to see the current line at the entrance station.

At Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, you can see Delicate Arch at about one mile’s distance. The nearby Upper Viewpoint, a half-mile walk with stairs, offers a slightly less obstructed view.

The trail to see Delicate Arch up close is 3 miles roundtrip and climbs 480 feet in elevation. On busy days, there is additional parking at the Delicate Arch Viewpoint parking lot. You’ll have to hike an additional mile along the road to the trailhead. The trail can be very busy, with hundreds of people at Delicate Arch for sunset.

Make sure to carry plenty of water and a proper hat and clothing for the hot summer sun or cold winter air.

Devils Garden Campground, 18 miles from the park entrance, is open for reservations March 1 – October 31. All sites are usually reserved months in advance. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

There are many commercial campgrounds in the Moab area, and backcountry camping is permitted in a select few locations within the park.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Muir, Roosevelt, and Yosemite: A Camping Trip That Changed…

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt ditched his secret service detail to go camping in the woods of Yosemite with celebrated naturalist John Muir. Through his writings, Muir taught the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural world. That camping trip changed the face of conservation in the United States. Together, sleeping on the forest floor below the sequoias, they laid the foundation for the next century of federal land preservation.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Yosemite, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and a man who was along for the ride, in their own words.


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You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Yosemite National Park – National Park Service Website

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias Set to Re-Open June 15 – RV Miles Article

Digital John Muir Exhibit – The Sierra Club

Roosevelt, Muir, and the Camping Trip – Library of Congress

America’s National Parks, Ken Burns – PBS John Muir Page

Roosevelt and Muir – Undiscovered Yosemite

Hiking in Teddy Roosevelt’s Footsteps in Yosemite – Perceptive Travel

John Muir Biography – The Sierra Club

 


Transcript

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt ditched his secret service detail to go camping in the woods of Yosemite with celebrated naturalist John Muir. Through his writings, Muir taught the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural world. That camping trip changed the face of conservation in the United States. Together, sleeping on the forest floor below the sequoias, they laid the foundation for the next century of federal land preservation.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Yosemite, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and a man who was along for the ride, in their own words.

First, here’s Abigail Trabue, with John Muir’s portrait of the land he loved the most.

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“Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely rugged, with its main features on the grandest scale in height and depth, it is nevertheless easy of access and hospitable; and its marvelous beauty, displayed in striking and alluring forms, wooes the admiring wanderer on and on, higher and higher, charmed and enchanted. Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows like a countenance hallowed in eternal repose; and every one of its living creatures, clad in flesh and leaves, and every crystal of its rocks, whether on the surface shining in the sun or buries miles deep in what we call darkness, is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God. All the world lies warm in one heart, yet the Sierra seems to get more light than other mountains. The weather is mostly sunshine embellished with magnificent storms, and nearly everything shines from base to summit,—the rocks, streams, lakes, glaciers, irised falls, and the forests of silver fir and silver pine. And how bright is the shining after summer showers and dewy nights, and after frosty nights in spring and autumn, when the morning sunbeams are pouring through the crystals on the bushes and grass, and in winter through the snow-laden trees!

Of this glorious range the Yosemite National Park is a central section, thirty-six miles in length and forty-eight miles in breadth. The famous Yosemite Valley lies in the heart of it, and it includes the head waters of two of the most songful streams in the world; innumerable lakes and waterfalls and smooth silky lawns; the noblest forests, the loftiest granite domes, the deepest ice-sculptured canyons, the brightest crystalline pavements, and snowy mountains soaring into the sky twelve and thirteen thousand feet, arrayed in open ranks and spiry pinnacled groups partially separated by tremendous cañyons and amphitheatres; gardens on their sunny brows avalanches thundering down their long white slopes, cataracts roaring gray and foaming in the crooked rugged gorges. and glaciers in their shadowy recesses working in silence, slowly completing their sculpture; new-born lakes at their feet, blue and green, free or encumbered with drifting icebergs like miniature Arctic Oceans, shining, sparkling, calm as stars.

Nowhere will you see the majestic operations of nature more clearly revealed beside the frailest, most gentle and peaceful things. Nearly all the park is a profound solitude. Yet it is full of charming company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain-building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity. During the last glacial period, just past, the former features of the range were rubbed off as a chalk sketch from a blackboard, and a new beginning was made. Hence the wonderful clearness and freshness of the rocky pages.”

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In 1868, Muir walked through the waist-high wildflowers of the San Joaquin Valley into the high country for the first time. He wrote: “It seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.”

He made his home there, and explored. He found living glaciers and conceived his theory that the Yosemite Valley was carved by them. In 1874, a series of articles entitled “Studies in the Sierra” launched his career as a writer. He eventually re-joined civilization and began traveling our great landscapes – from Alaska to Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Japan.

President Roosevelt was touring the country, and some of our prized wilderness including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, when he wrote to Muir asking him to accompany him in Yosemite. The Yosemite Valley at the time had been returned from federal management to state management, and it was a wild west of ramshackle hotels and tours. Ranchers and developers were destroying the land for their own interest. The natural resources were virtually a free-for-all with no money or will to enforce laws in place to protect the area.

Roosevelt noted in the letter, “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” Muir, however, knew it was all politics, and this was the chance for him to gain for Yosemite the support of the most powerful person in the country. It wasn’t hard.

There’s really only one account of the famous camping trip Roosevelt and Muir took, by Charlie Leidig, one of the few civilian rangers to accompany Roosevelt during his 1903 visit. Here is Leidig’s recorded account:

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They broke camp at Mariposa Grove and were on horses by 6:30 a.m. The president directed Leidig to “outskirt and keep away from civilization.” Leidig led the party down the Lightning Trail. They crossed the South Fork at Greeley’s and hit the Empire Meadows Trail. They especially avoided approaching the Wawona Hotel for fear the President would be brought in contact with members of his own official party which had remained for the night at Wawona. They had a cold lunch on the ridge east of Empire Meadows. There was lots of snow as they crossed towards Sentinel Dome; they took turns breaking trail through deep snow. In the Bridalveil Meadows the party plowed through 5 ft. of snow. The President mired down and Charley had to get a log to get him out. It was snowing hard and the wind was blowing.

On May 4, the party went down to Glacier Point for pictures that had been prearranged. As they left Glacier Point, the President rode in front dressed in civilian attire. The rangers wore blue overalls, chaps and spurs. They went into Little Yosemite Valley for lunch. Here they encountered a considerable crowd of valley visitors, since it had been widely advertised in the papers that the President was visiting the park.

There was considerable disagreement in the matter of plans for the Presidential visit. The President wanted a roughing trip and through Muir such a trip had been worked out. On the other hand, Mr. John Stevens, Guardian of the Valley under State administration, and certain of the commissioners, especially Jack Wilson from San Francisco, had made plans for a large celebration. The Chris Jorgensen studio home had been set aside for the President’s official use. A cook had been engaged from one of the best hotels in San Francisco to serve a banquet. The commissioner had arranged a considerable display of fireworks, which John Degnan claims amounted to some $1800 worth.

So there was considerable party awaiting the President at the top of Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite. The President requested that all the people be kept at a distance in order that he could carry out his desire for a “roughing trip,” so everybody was kept at a respectful distance.

When the party reached Camp Curry at 2 P.M., they found a big crowd of women in front of the camp. They had formed a line across the road in an attempt to stop the President. They all wanted to shake hands with him. Charlie Leidig states he was riding second in line with a Winchester rifle and six-shooter. His horse was a high spirited animal. The President said, “I am very much annoyed, couldn’t you do something?” Leidig replied, “follow me.” He gave spurs to his horse and as he reared, women fell apart and the President’s party went through the gap. The President waved his hat to the group in the road.

Accompanied by five or six members of his party, the President walked back across the Sentinel Bridge to his horse. Muir had accompanied the President to the Jorgensen studio. The original party of five mounted their horses and started down the valley to pick a campsite near Bridalveil Falls where Muir had suggested they spend the last night in camp. They went down the south side of the river followed by a big string of people on horseback, in buggies, surries, and others on foot. Leidig stated there must have been between 300 or 500, or possibly 1000 of them in the crowd, filling the meadows. As they reached their camping places on a grassy slope just south of the present road through Bridalveil Meadows, the President said to Leidig, “These people annoy me. Can you get rid of them?” Charlie said he walked out and told the crowd that the president was very tired and asked them to leave. They went — some of them even on tiptoe, so as not to annoy their President.

When Charlie returned to the campsite the President said, “Charlie I am hungry as Hell. Cook any damn thing you wish. How long will it take?”

Charlie told him it would take about 30 minutes, so the President lay on his bed of blankets and went to sleep and snored so loud that Leidig could hear him even above the crackling of the campfire.

After dinner, Muir and the President went out into the meadow until way after dark. When they returned they sat around the campfire where the President told them of his lion hunting trips.

People came again in the morning. Crowds could be seen all through the brush. Leidig kept them away. The stage came down containing the President’s official party. After breakfast, the President and Muir got into the stage and as they left the President called Leidig and Leonard to him and said, “Boys, I am leaving you. Good-bye, and God Bless you.”

__________

There’s one other account, that of Roosevelt himself. Part he wrote for a periodical, and then re-worded for his memoirs.

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Our greatest nature lover and nature writer, the man who has done most in securing for the American people the incalculable benefit of appreciation of wild nature in his own land, is John Burroughs. Second only to John Burroughs, and in some respects ahead even of John Burroughs, was John Muir. Ordinarily, the man who loves the woods and mountains, the trees, the flowers, and the wild things, has in him some indefinable quality of charm, which appeals even to those sons of civilization who care for little outside of paved streets and brick walls. John Muir was a fine illustration of this rule. He was by birth a Scotchman – a tall and spare man, with the poise and ease natural to him who has lived much alone under conditions of labor and hazard. He was a dauntless soul, and also one brimming over with friendliness and kindliness.

He was emphatically a good citizen. Not only are his books delightful, not only is he the author to whom all men turn when they think of the Sierras and northern glaciers, and the giant trees of the California slope, but he was also – what few nature lovers are – a man able to influence contemporary thought and action on the subjects to which he had devoted his life. He was a great factor in influencing the thought of California and the thought of the entire country so as to secure the preservation of those great natural phenomena – wonderful canyons, giant trees, slopes of flower-spangled hillsides – which make California a veritable Garden of the Lord.

It was my good fortune to know John Muir. He had written me, even before I met him personally, expressing his regret that when Emerson came to see the Yosemite, his (Emerson’s) friends would not allow him to accept John Muir’s invitation to spend two or three days camping with him, so as to see the giant grandeur of the place under surroundings more congenial than those of a hotel piazza or a seat on a coach. I had answered him that if ever I got in his neighborhood I should claim from him the treatment that he had wished to accord Emerson. Later, when as President I visited the Yosemite, John Muir fulfilled the promise he had at that time made to me. He met me with a couple of pack mules, as well as with riding mules for himself and myself, and a first-class packer and cook, and I spent a delightful three days and two nights with him.

The first night we camped in a grove of giant sequoias. It was clear weather, and we lay in the open, the enormous cinnamon-colored trunks rising about us like the columns of a vaster and more beautiful cathedral than was ever conceived by any human architect. One incident surprised me not a little. Some thrushes – I think they were Western hermit-thrushes – were singing beautifully in the solemn evening stillness. I asked some question concerning them of John Muir, and to my surprise found that he had not been listening to them and knew nothing about them. Once or twice I had been off with John Burroughs, and had found that, although he was so much older than I was, his ear and his eye were infinitely better as regards the sights and sounds of wildlife, or at least of the smaller wildlife, and I was accustomed unhesitatingly to refer to him regarding any bird note that puzzled me. But John Muir, I found, was not interested in the small things of nature unless they were unusually conspicuous. Mountains, cliffs, trees, appealed to him tremendously, but birds did not unless they possessed some very peculiar and interesting. In the same way, he knew nothing of the wood mice; but the more conspicuous beasts, such as bear and deer, for example, he could tell much about.

All next day we traveled through the forest. Then a snow-storm came on, and at night we camped on the edge of the Yosemite, under the branches of a magnificent silver fir, and very warm and comfortable we were, and a very good dinner we had before we rolled up in our tarpaulins and blankets for the night. The following day we went down into the Yosemite and through the valley, camping in the bottom among the timber.

There was a delightful innocence and good will about the man, and an utter inability to imagine that anyone could either take or give offense. Of this I had an amusing illustration just before we parted. We were saying goodbye when his expression suddenly changed, and he remarked that he had totally forgotten something. He was intending to go to the Old World with a great tree lover and tree expert from the Eastern States who possessed a somewhat crotchety temper. He informed me that his friend had written him, asking him to get from me personal letters to the Russian Czar and the Chinese Emperor; and when I explained to him that I could not give personal letters to foreign potentates, he said: “Oh, well, read the letter yourself, and that will explain just what I want.” Accordingly, he thrust the letter on me. It contained not only the request which he had mentioned, but also a delicious preface, which, with the request, ran somewhat as follows:

“I hear Roosevelt is coming out to see you. He takes a sloppy, unintelligent interest in forests, although he is altogether too much under the influence of that creature Pinchot, and you had better get from him letters to the Czar of Russia and the Emperor of China, so that we may have better opportunity to examine the forests and trees of the Old World.”

Of course I laughed heartily as I read the letter, and said, “John, do you remember exactly the words in which this letter was couched?” Whereupon a look of startled surprise came over his face, and he said: “Good gracious! there was something unpleasant about you in it; wasn’t there? I had forgotten. Give me the letter back.”

So I gave him back the letter, telling him that I appreciated it far more than if it had not contained the phrases he had forgotten, and that while I could not give him and his companion letters to the two rulers in question, I would give him letters to our Ambassadors, which would bring about the same result.

John Muir talked even better than he wrote. HIs greatest influence was always upon those who were brought into personal contact with him. But he wrote well, and while his books have not the peculiar charm that a very, very few other writers on similar subjects have had, they will nevertheless last long. Our generation owes much to John Muir.

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JASON: Roosevelt returned to Washington enthusiastic about conserving America’s wild lands. While other’s thought the resources of the West could never be depleted, he now knew better. He pushed Congress to pass laws to protect wilderness. He transferred the management of the forest reserves to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, establishing the U.S. Forest Service. He created national monuments, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries — saving approximately 230 million acres of public land.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias has been closed to the public since July 2015 for a major renovation, which is nearly finished. Located near Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance, the area receives more than 1 million visitors a year and includes roughly 550 giant sequoia trees, some of which are among the largest trees in the world, reaching 285 feet tall and 2,000 years old.

During the rehabilitation phase, crews have torn up asphalt surrounding trees, replaced pit toilets with modern flush toilets, and removed the gift shop and tram rides, which featured a chugging diesel truck pulling wagons full of tourists through the area. The project includes improvements to natural hydrology, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, an improved welcome plaza and a new energy efficient tram.

The nearly $40 million project, which was scheduled to conclude in late 2016 but was delayed due to heavy winter conditions, is set to re-open June 15th at 9 AM.

Along with the ancient giant sequoias, Southern California’s Yosemite National Park is known for its waterfalls, deep valleys, grand meadows,=, and much more within its 1,200 square miles of mountainous scenery.

The park is open year-round, but millions of tourists visit in the summer, so if you’re not staying in the park, it’s best to get there early. In the park, you can stay at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel or one of the private lodgings nearby.

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds; some are reservable while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. From April through October, reservations can be difficult to come by, and the first-come, first-served campgrounds often fill up early each day. 95% of Yosemite National Park is designated as wilderness, making backcountry camping a very popular activity. A permit is required.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.

 


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

California Condors

How do you save a species of bird with a population of 22 living? A controversial plan hatched nearly three decades ago has condors soaring over Pinnacles National Park again. How they did it, and why there is still trouble ahead, on this episode of America’s National Parks.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Pinnacles National Park – National Park Service Website

Profiles of the Pinnacles Condors – Pinnacles National Park Website

Condor Viewing Tips – Pinnacles National Park Website

Navajo Bridge – Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Website


Transcript

Thirty-five years ago, we almost lost North America’s largest bird. There were 22 known in existence. A controversial choice was made to save them, that lead to years of grudges between conservationists’. And the fight for its survival is far from over.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the California Condor, and one of their magnificent homes, the rock spires of Pinnacles National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

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The California condor was described by English naturalist George Shaw in 1797 as vultur californianus. They are a uniform black, except large, triangular patches or bands of white on the underside of the wings. They have gray legs and feet, a white bill, brownish-red eyes, and a ruffle of black feathers that stand out around their neck. The skin of their naked, vulturous head and neck can flush red, an emotional signal to others.

Their glorious wingspan ranges from about 8 to 10 feet – the largest of any North American bird. Condors are so large that, gliding with their wings spread stiff, they are often mistaken for a distant airplane.

Condors are scavengers. Feasting on the carcasses of large mammals. Before humans settled North America, when mammoth and other mega-creatures roamed the land, the California Condor thrived across the continent. As those giant mammals died out, the condor’s territory was reduced and their numbers shrank. Five hundred years ago, they still roamed across the American Southwest and West Coast. They live in rocky shrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savannas, often hanging out near cliffs or large trees, which they use as nesting sites. They have been known to travel up to 160 miles in search for food, and can live for up to 60 years.

As the human development of the west expanded, the territory of these magnificent birds was encroached upon. They would often eat the lead bullets used to kill their meal by a hunter, poisoning them. They flew into power lines, and were poached. By 1982, there were 22 known California Condors in the wild.

The US Fish and Wildlife service set out on a controversial mission to save the Condors from extinction. Over the following four years, all the known living condors were trapped and brought into captivity. Condors no longer roamed the skies of Southern California.

The goal was to breed the captive condors and release their offspring into the wild. They were taken to the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoos where a breeding program began. Some conservationists thought that this was the end of the Condor. That, even if the breeding were successful, the captive-born offspring wouldn’t be the same. Conservationist David Brower said that they would be nothing more than “flying pigs.”

But the efforts pressed on. Condors form long-term pair bonds, producing one egg per nesting attempt and, if everything goes well, a chick every year and a half. Through careful breeding by the zoos and a Conservation Genetics team, sufficient numbers of chicks were produced to allow the first releases of California condors back to the wild in 1992.

Flash forward to today, there are nearly 450 living California Condors, 230 of which are in the wild. All released birds have number tags and radio transmitters so biologists can track their progress in the wild. The captive breeding programs have expanded to other zoos, and nests in the wild are now producing chicks. It’s one of the greatest species recoveries ever made.

It’s not all good news though. The reintroduction has brought challenges. Some of the released condors did have behavior issues. Being in such close contact with humans made them social and comfortable with us. A small gang invaded a home, destroying a satellite dish and ripping up a mattress. In Arizona, a young condor invaded a campsite, where he pulled a loaded gun from a backpack and walked around holding it by the trigger. These behaviors led to new breading protocols, keeping human interactions to a minimum, and the birds released today are more like their captured predecessors.

And danger still lurks around every corner. Condors are still dying. Wildfires have become a huge challenge for them as climate change reshapes the land that fires consume. Collisions with power lines are still common. Adults find bits of undigestable trash and try to feed it to their young. Conservationists go as far as removing trash from the nest and replacing it with bone chips, which the young eat as a source of calcium.

Their eggs are thin, still a product of the DDT that was dumped in the ocean through the early seventies. Marine mammal carcasses still have derivatives of the chemical, which the condors then eat.

And it’s very clear that lead poisoning is still their leading cause of death. 85 condors died between 1992 and 2009, 35 due to lead toxicosis. A portion of the population is trapped and treated for lead poisoning every year, and many conservationists say the species will not ever be self-sustaining until the lead problem is addressed.

Carcasses are left at provisioning stations for the birds to feed on, but ironically, the birds that are the most independent are the ones most likely to encounter a lead bullet, particularly during deer hunting season.

Without human intervention, the California condor would once again face extinction. Over 5 million dollars is spent annually on the effort, and the funding is on shaky ground. Most of it comes from private sources such as zoos and wildlife funds. Less than a million comes from the federal government.

Central California’s Pinnacles National Park joined the California Condor Recovery Program as a release and management site in 2003. The park currently hosts 86 wild condors, with biologists managing and monitoring the population. Juvenile condors are transferred to Pinnacles from the captive breeding facilities at the age of about a year and a half. They are placed into a flight pen with an adult mentor bird and allowed to acclimate to their new environment for at least two months. This is one of the ways biologists instill safe behavior and keep the birds from interacting with humans. They’re outfitted with their transmitters and ID tags, and leave the pen one at a time. Park biologists closely monitor the condors as they take their first wild flights, ensuring they find appropriate roost and feeding sites.

Condor staff and volunteers can often be seen tracking along the trails within surrounding areas, communicating with other biologists as they watch the entire California population. They are can recover deceased condors from the field and submit them for analysis, so that they can determine the cause of death and monitor the threats facing the condors. The birds are trapped twice a year when transmitters are repaired and blood is tested for lead.

In the late fall, park biologists work to identify potential breeding pairs for the following spring. They are monitored for breeding displays and are observed to determine breeding territories. Once a nest is identified, biologists do monthly health checks on the chick until it is four months old, at which point it gets its own transmitter and tag.

Lead has already been removed from waterfowl ammunition in the US, and some California and Oregon legislation is in place to reduce its availability for hunting big game, but there are no restrictions in the other states condors roam. If efforts to eliminate lead bullets succeed, the condors could one day be removed from the endangered species list. It’s a realistic goal, but one that will require legislative action before the 5 million dollar per year funding for condor recovery dries up.

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A few million years of explosions, lava flows, and landslides created the 30-mile wide volcanic field that was then split down the middle by the San Andreas Fault, followed by water, wind, and chemical erosion, forming what we know today as Pinnacles National Park, 70 miles southeast of San Jose.

The serene rock formations are visited by 250 thousand visitors hikers, climbers and nature lovers each year. Overhead, Rocks the size of houses, tower above as you make your way through cool, dark caves formed by massive boulders wedged in ravines, providing a home for Townsend big-eared bats and red-legged frogs. 32 miles of trails are decorated during the spring with a variety of wildflowers, pollinated by more species of bees than any other known place in the world. Bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and mountain lion all call Pinnacles their home, as well as, of course, the California Condor.

There are 27 free-flying condors managed by Pinnacles National Park. They have joined with the 35 condors that soar over Big Sur, forming one central California flock. Since they don’t migrate, they can be observed in the park year round, but are still a rare site. With a little luck and some patience, you might spot one.

One of the most common viewing areas is the High Peaks in the early morning or early evening. The High Peaks can be reached from either entrance to the park, but the hike is strenuous. Another location that the condors spend time around is the ridge just southeast of the campground. Two spotting scopes have been placed in the Campground that may help you get a closer look.

Pinnacles is most popular in the cooler months, especially the spring when the grasses are green and a variety of wildflowers can be seen along any trail. Fall and winter are also excellent times to visit.

The campground is located on the eastern side of the park and is open year-round. It offers family and group tent sites, as well as RV sites with electric hookups. Flush toilets and drinking water are provided, and showers are available for a fee. A general store with basic foods and camping supplies is located on-site. A swimming pool is located within the campground and is open from April through September.

Condors are spotted from time to time in other national parks, like Zion and the Grand Canyon. A great place to spot one is on the historic Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, at the south end of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. They like to hang out on the girders that support the bridge. It’s where I saw my first wild condor, the one that inspired this episode.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.





An Island Prison

If you only know the name Geronimo from the call that paratroopers in old war movies and Bugs Bunny cartoons shout, it’s a nickname bestowed upon a Native American hero by Mexican soldiers. During repeated conflicts, The Apache warrior attacked them with nothing but a knife, surviving each time despite being continually shot at. The soldiers would plead to Saint Jerome as they faced him. Geronimo is Spanish for “Jerome.”

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Geronimo, and his imprisonment at Fort Pickens, now a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola, Florida.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

or download this episode (right click here and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Gulf Islands National Seashore – National Park Service Website

Chiricahua National Monument – National Park Service Website


Transcript

If you only know the name Geronimo from the call that paratroopers in old war movies and Bugs Bunny cartoons shout, it’s a nickname bestowed upon a Native American hero by Mexican soldiers. During repeated conflicts, The Apache warrior attacked them with nothing but a knife, surviving each time despite being continually shot at. The soldiers would plead to Saint Jerome as they faced him. Geronimo is Spanish for “Jerome.”

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, Geronimo, and his imprisonment at Fort Pickens, now a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola, Florida.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

One of the leading causes of the Civil War was westward expansion, and whether new states like Kansas would be slave states or not, tipping the scales of power toward to the North or South. After the Civil War ended and the question of slavery was decided, the U.S. government turned its military prowess towards the native people of the West. Tribes gave up most of their traditional lands and ways of life as they were forced onto reservations.

Eventually, the reservations were encroached upon as miners and settlers moved in and demanded more land. The Chiricahua Apache reservation shrank to nearly one-third of its original size. Bands of Apaches hostile to one another were forced to live together on the shrinking lands, and as conditions on the reservation deteriorated, some bands escaped. Including a band led by a man named Geronimo, who lost fear when he lost his family during a Mexican raid. In the summer of 1850, a contingent of Apaches went on a trading mission into Mexico. While the men were in town, a force of Mexican troops attacked the lightly-guarded camp. When Geronimo returned, he found his mother, his first wife, and his three children all dead.

Geronimo became the #1 target of the U.S. Army and President Grover Cleveland, who made Geronimo’s capture his personal mission, saying “I hope nothing will be done with Geronimo which will prevent our treating him as a prisoner of war…if we cannot hang him, which I would much prefer.”

In 1886, Cleveland dispatched a full quarter of the U.S. Army, 5000 soldiers, in an effort to capture Geronimo, who was also evading 3000 Mexican soldiers as he raided across the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Eventually, the Army hired 500 scouts from rival Apache bands to track Geronimo, two of which found his band and negotiated a surrender to General Miles in Arizona’s Skeleton Canyon.

After the surrender at Skeleton Canyon, the entire Chiricahua tribe were exiled to Florida where they were to be held as prisoners. President Cleveland publicly stated that they were “guilty of the worst crimes known to the law, committed under circumstances of great atrocity, and public safety requires them be removed far from the scene of their depredations and guarded with strictest vigilance.”

His orders to the Army commanders stated that “all the hostiles should be very safely kept as prisoners until they can be tried for their crimes, or otherwise disposed of.”

Three days before the dedication of the Statue of Liberty — October 25th, 1886. A train arrived in Pensacola, Florida. Onboard, 16 Apaches who surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona. Their leader – the renowned warrior Geronimo.

The rest of the Chiricahua were sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, but it was claimed that Geronimo himself and his warriors would be better guarded at Fort Pickens than at the overcrowded Fort Marion. However, an editorial in a local newspaper noted that Geronimo would be “an attraction which will bring here a great many visitors.” Upon their arrival, the paper’s editor said: “we welcome the nation’s distinguished guests and promise to keep them so safely under lock and key that they will forget their hair-raising proclivities and become good Indians.” In fact, it was local business leaders that lobbied for the move. President Cleveland himself approved the petition, separating the men from their families, breaking the terms of the surrender.

In February 1887, tourists from all over the country began arriving in Pensacola, crossing Pensacola Bay on a ferry to visit the island fort and see the Apache prisoners and the famed warrior Geronimo. Admission was fifty cents for adults and twenty-five cents for children. Visitors talked with the captives, bought souvenirs from them, and brought them gifts. Geronimo learned his part. He became a genial sideshow attraction, doing what he could to coax tourists to hand over a few nickles. He was well-liked, particularly by the women who visited. A writer from the local paper gave this advice to visitors: “We think that the ladies who visit these savages indulge in too much gush, and we are certain they would not do it if they were to pause and reflect upon the barbarities practiced upon the people of their own race by these cutthroats.” One woman asked a guard what kind of gift would be appropriate for Geronimo, and he responded by saying “a piece of lead in the forehead.”

Now that Geronimo was of no concern for harm, he was a celebrity. Were he alive today, he’d be making the talk show circuit and guest-judging on cooking shows. But Geronimo was still a prisoner. He and his warriors spent many days working hard labor at the fort, another violation of the agreements made at Skeleton Canyon. “they put me to sawing up large logs,” Geronimo said. “There were several other Apache warriors with me, and all of us had to work every day. For nearly two years we were kept at hard labor in this place and we did not see our families until May 1887.”

The families of the warriors were moved to Fort Pickens, creating an even bigger attraction. The Indians held traditional dances. Soldiers would put pennies on the posts for the Indian boys to shoot off with their arrows.

After Grover Cleveland left office, Geronimo, his warriors, and their families were moved to Vermont, Alabama, where they stayed another five years, working for the Government. “We were not healthy in this place,” Geronimo said, “for the climate disagreed with us. Many died, others committed suicide.

They were then sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where, though imprisoned, houses were built for them by the Government. They were also given cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens. They were operating upon the understanding that they could raise the stock and sell grain in order to establish their own support system, but again the government had misled Geronimo. Part of the money was given to the Indians and part was placed in what the officers call the “Apache Fund,” to go towards clothing and other care, but the government-issued clothing eventually ceased, and the Apache were never given account of their earnings.

Geronimo lived the rest of his days as a prisoner. He visited the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and according to his own accounts made a great deal of money signing autographs and pictures, though he could do little with it. He died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The captivity of the Chiricahua Apache ended four years later.

To the settlers of Arizona, Geronimo’s band were raiders and murderers. The Apaches’ exile and captivity eased their fears. The price of Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache’s resistance was lost loved ones, lost lands, lost traditions, and 27 years their freedom. From 1850 to 1914, the Apache population dropped 95%.

On his deathbed, Geronimo confessed that he regretted his decision to surrender to the U.S. His last words were reported to be “I should have never surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

_____

The Gulf Islands National Seashore protects a chain of barrier islands between Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, several with intact fortresses from the early 1800s. On the eastern end, you can take a ferry from Gulfport, Mississippi to West Ship Island, for swimming, hiking, and touring the historic Fort Massachusetts. In nearby Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the Davis Bayou portion of the seashore offers trails through the wetlands, with plenty of opportunities to view alligators and other wildlife. There’s a developed campground on site, with water and electric hookups and a modern bathhouse.

In the Florida panhandle, historic Fort Barrancas lives on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Crossing the Pensacola Bay Bridge into the town of Gulf Breeze, you can find the park headquarters at the Naval Live Oaks area. This is the first piece of federally managed land in the United States. The Live Oak trees with their thick, crooked branches, were excellent for ship-building. The original United States Naval fleet was built largely from this grove of trees.

Crossing a $1 toll bridge onto the community of Pensacola Beach you’ll find a typical Florida beach town full of sugar sand, sunbathers, and outdoor eateries. But as you pay your entrance fee at the gate for the Gulf Islands and drive the 6 miles to the end of Santa Rosa Island, the world changes. The party atmosphere, the music, and the people disappear, but the sugar sand remains. You can explore miles of pristine beaches, watching osprey hatchlings leave their tiny footprints while the wide-winged adults loom overhead. Ghost crab almost disappears into white shores, and dolphin leap in the bay. At the end of the island is Fort Pickens, Geronimo’s tourist-attraction prison, which offers self-guided and ranger-led tours. All around the island are cannon batteries that developed over time as the armed forces protected Pensacola Bay, an important naval harbor. The giant cast-iron cannons of the 1800s and large-caliber disappearing grey gun batteries of the early 1900s are set among the palm trees and sand dunes all over the island. It’s like being in an episode of LOST, as you climb and play on the deprecated war equipment, almost wondering what decade you are in.

The campground near Fort Pickens at the end of the island is one of the best places to camp in all the National Park system. For $25 a night, you have water, electricity, and private access to the sugar sand beaches and trails to the fort and gun batteries. The legendary Blue Angels team of stunt jets is based across the bay at the Pensacola Naval Station, and they regularly practice right overhead and fly low over the water. It’s a particularly interesting affair since warplanes are the entire reason the gun batteries along the island are no longer necessary.

National Park Service sites across the southwest also relate closely to Geronimo’s history, especially Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona, which is also a place of wondrous natural beauty.

The tradition of yelling “Geronimo” comes from the forties, when the Army was testing parachute jumps. A unit had gone out drinking and watched the 1939 film “Geronimo.” As fellow soldiers were harassing a young private who was acting tough about the jump. Early paratroopers didn’t have the greatest survival rates. His comrades said he’d be so scared, he wouldn’t remember his own name. He told them that to prove he wasn’t scared, he’d yell “Geronimo” as he jumped, referencing the warrior’s bravery in battle against the Mexican Army. He did, and his company followed suit, starting the tradition of making the expression in the face of death.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. 

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media. 

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC. 


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.



The Voyageurs

On the northern shores of Minnesota lies a remote waterscape steeped in history, nature, and tradition. Named for the wild men who paddled its waterways in the Canadian fur trade, Voyageurs National Park is home to nesting bald eagles, moose, grey wolves, black bear, loons, owls, otter, and beaver.

Most of its hidden waterways are untouched, pristine boreal forest, where on a cloudless pre-dawn morning under the northern lights, you can almost hear the songs of fur traders traveling in their massive canoes.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Voyageurs, the legendary wild and hearty men who traversed the waterways of the great north for two hundred years.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Voyageurs National Park – National Park Service Website

Grand Portage National Monument – National Park Service Website

The Voyageurs – a film from the National Film Board of Canada, that serves as the visitor’s center film at Voyageurs National Park:


Transcript

On the northern shores of Minnesota lies a remote waterscape steeped in history, nature, and tradition. Named for the wild men who paddled its waterways in the Canadian fur trade, Voyageurs National Park is home to nesting bald eagles, moose, grey wolves, black bear, loons, owls, otter, and beaver.

Most of its hidden waterways are untouched, pristine boreal forest, where on a cloudless pre-dawn morning under the northern lights, you can almost hear the songs of fur traders traveling in their massive canoes.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Voyageurs, the legendary wild and hearty men who traversed the waterways of the great north for two hundred years.

______

As the demand for fur from North America peaked in the second half of the 17th century, the French established trade with the native people, developing routes into the eastern great lakes region and beyond. The Hudson Bay company was founded in 1670, setting up trading posts along the shores of its namesake bay.

Nearly 100 years later, as the supply of fur in the east diminished, the North West Company was formed to explore the northwest territory and engage the indigenous people in trade.

No route was passable by ship. Instead, the North West Company hatched a plan to send out brigades of canoes to traverse New France’s waterways. They hired men, called Voyageurs, to paddle, 10 to a boat, along a 3000-mile route between Montreal and Lake Athabaska. It was known as the Voyageur’s Highway.

Most voyageurs were French Canadian, recruited before marriage from the villages and towns along the route. To make room for the cargo, many were of shorter stature, around five foot four or less, and wore distinctive white cotton shirts and red felt hats, with a red sash around their waist. They were strong and healthy, with a lively disposition.

They were legendary heroes, celebrated in songs and stories. They reached almost a celebrity status, and the jobs were highly coveted. But the life was not as glamorous as the folk tales would lead people to believe.

The men paddled from before sunrise until after sunset along the Voyageur’s Highway, where 200 treacherous rapids awaited, as well as 50 lakes, on which the canoes were laid open to any passing storm.

The great “Montreal” canoe the Voyageurs paddled stretched 36 feet long. Weighing 600 pounds itself, the Montreal could carry 4 tons of crew and cargo. It was built with only yellow birch bark, an axe, a knife, an awl and some spruce roots and pitch.

The spring brigades of five canoes each left Montreal on May first. Each canoe had a bowman, who steered from the front and led the crew, a steersman who stood in the rear, taking the bowman’s commands, and the eight middlemen, all paddling in unison. The middlemen were the least experienced of the crew.

At 120 different points along the route, the canoe could not pass the waterway due to land obstructions, shallow water, or dangerous rapids. Voyageurs would have to portage their cargo, unloading the canoe and carrying 90-pound bundles of fur two at a time or more down a trail, as well as the waterlogged canoe. They wore a leather sling across their forehead and attached the first bundle to it, hanging low on their back. A second bundle or more were placed on top, and the voyageur walked hunched over for at least a half mile, before returning for more bundles.

Setting out before sunrise, they kept a pace of 55 strokes a minute. They would cover 100 miles in a 14-hour day, with a 10-minute rest every hour. Some days would include three miles of portages. At the ten-minute rest stops, the Voyageurs would each smoke a pipe. Distances would come to be measured in pipes. A three-pipe lake was equal to three hours’ travel.

They had no time to hunt, gather, or fish, yet needed 5000 calories a day. They carried their food with them and re-supplied along the route. They typically ate two meals a day from a very small menu of food that was high in calories and would not spoil. One of the staples was pemmican, a dried buffalo or caribou meat pounded into small pieces and mixed with fat.

The voyageurs were often looked upon as wild, mannerless men, often eating their food from their pockets or hats. Swarms of Black flies and mosquitos were kept at bay with long hair, and anointment made from bear grease and skunk urine. They were loud, jolly men. Music was a part of their everyday life. Songs passed the long days, and kept the rowers in unison. They were gamblers, fighters, and drinkers.

The day of paddling ended between eight and ten PM. They would have their second meal, make repairs to equipment, prepare breakfast, then tell stories and sing until it was time to sleep.

Shelter was often an overturned canoe, a bed of moss, and a blanket of furs. They’d sustain a smokey fire to keep the flies and mosquitos at bay. Only if the weather was bad would they erect a simple tarp tent. They awoke around 3 AM to start their day all over again, paddling for three hours before eating their breakfast.

The route from Montreal to Lake Superior and back would take 12 to 16 weeks. Drowning was common, as well as broken limbs, twisted spines, hernias, and rheumatism. The smokey fire that kept the bugs away caused respiratory, sinus and eye problems. Most voyageurs would start working when they were twenty-two and continued until they were in their sixties. They never made enough money to consider an early retirement from the grueling lifestyle.

Some voyageurs stayed in the back country over the winter and transported fur to farther-away French outposts. They also helped negotiate trade in native villages. In the spring they would carry furs from these remote outposts back to the rendezvous posts.

At Rainy Lake, on the present boundary between Minnesota and Ontario, voyageurs on the eastward journey from the interior met crews on the westward journey from Montreal, exchanged cargoes, and turned around at the Grand Portage. The rendezvous was also a time for rest and revelry. The voyageurs ate hearty feasts and celebrated their travels.

The epic journey was repeated annually over a span of decades. Traversing the border lakes country in what is now Voyageurs National Park.

From the beginning of the fur trade in the 1680s until the late 1870s, the voyageurs were the blue-collar workers of the Montreal fur trade. At their height in the 1810s, they numbered as many as three thousand. By the mid 19th century, the Hudson Bay Company, now merged with the North West Company, ruled an inland empire that stretched from the Bay to the Pacific. England now ruled Canada and the Mounted Police began to extend formal government into the fur trade areas. As the end of the century approached, the voyageurs grew obsolete with the coming of railways and steamships. Fur animals became less plentiful and demand for furs dropped as products such as silk became fashionable.

Ohio Senator James Heaton Baker was on was once told by an unnamed retired voyageur:

“I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any man I ever saw. I have been twenty-four years a canoe man, and forty-one years in service; no portage was ever too long for me, fifty songs could I sing. I have saved the lives of ten voyageurs, have had twelve wives and six running dogs. I spent all of my money in pleasure. Were I young again, I would spend my life the same way over. There is no life so happy as a voyageur’s life!”

______

Voyageurs National Park is a place of interconnected waterways that flow west, and eventually north as part of the arctic watershed of Hudson Bay. It’s a place of transition, between land and aquatic ecosystems, between southern boreal and northern hardwood forests, and between wild and developed areas.

Here in the heart of the continent lies a unique landscape formed by ancient earthquakes, volcanos, and glaciers. Exploded rock half the age of the earth encrusts the shorelines.

Over this landscape drapes the night sky. On a cloudless night in northern Minnesota millions of stars glow brightly. On occasion, the greens, yellows, and reds of the Northern Lights flare overhead.

Voyageurs National Park was established in 1975 but is filled with evidence of over 10,000 years of human life and use. Signs of Native Americans, fur traders, and homesteaders are scattered throughout the park.

As park visitors travel the lakes today, it is easy to imagine the voyageurs of the past dipping their canoe paddles into the clear, dark waters to the rhythm of their songs, gliding past the rock and pines of this northern landscape.

The park shares its northern boundary with Canada and lies just west of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. The park visitor centers are accessible by car but in order to truly experience the park, one must leave their vehicle behind and access the park by boat.

The park service offers daily tours, and commercial operations rent boats for self-guided touring. Houseboat touring is a favorite activity, and docks for overnight stays on the inner islands can be rented from the park services. You can use a park service canoe to travel the inner waterways of some of the untouched island landscapes, and remote island campsites offer overnight tent stays. RV camping is available from nearby commercial campgrounds, who also offer boat rentals.

In the winter, you can drive a road that crosses the hard-frozen lake, and visit the islands on foot or by cross-country ski trail.

At the far northeast corner of the state, you can visit Grand Portage National Monument, the historic rendezvous point of the Voyageurs.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.





Pirates and Parks

Piracy, the act of seizing a ship or its cargo from its lawful owners, has been a plague since people first set sail on the high seas. By the Elizabethan Era, English piracy entered a Golden Age, as pirates plundered its coastal waters unchallenged. As Spain gradually increased its wealth through its own savagery in the New World, English pirates feasted on Spanish ships, eventually spreading piracy to the Carribean Sea.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Pirates, and their role in the creation of America, immortalized at National Park Service units up and down the East Coast.

In fact, there are so many stories of piracy and privateering in today’s National Parks, that choosing just one was difficult, so we settled on two – centered around Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – with many more to touch on in a future episode.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore – National Park Service Website

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site – National Park Service Website

Pirates and Privateers – National Park Service Website


Transcript

Piracy, the act of seizing a ship or its cargo from its lawful owners, has been a plague since people first set sail on the high seas. By the Elizabethan Era, English piracy entered a Golden Age, as pirates plundered its coastal waters unchallenged. As Spain gradually increased its wealth through its own savagery in the New World, English pirates feasted on Spanish ships, eventually spreading piracy to the Carribean Sea.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Pirates, and their role in the creation of America, immortalized at National Park Service units up and down the East Coast.

In fact, there are so many stories of piracy and privateering in today’s National Parks, that choosing just one was difficult, so we settled on two – with many more to touch on in a future episode.

First off, here’s Abigail Trabue with the story of the lost colony of Roanoke.

_____

In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh, known for bringing tobacco and perhaps the potato to England and laying his cloak on the ground for the Queen to avoid puddles, was authorized to search out and take possession of, for himself, “remote, heathen and barbarous lands.” He sent his a party to Roanoke scout a suitable location. Colonization ventures were extremely speculative at the time, so Raleigh lured investors by combining colonial plans with privateering enterprises, the disruption of Spanish shipping having been officially sanctioned by the English Crown. The colony was to be a base, underwritten by English investors, for attacks on Spanish shipping in the western Atlantic. Roanoke was ideally suited to prey upon Spanish treasure ships as they sailed up the coast from the Caribbean to catch the Gulf Stream to cross the Atlantic.

Raleigh settled a self-governing community in Roanoke bent on privateering. They were led by John White, an artist and friend of Raleigh who had accompanied a previous expedition. The were told they were to settle the Chesapeake Bay and had been ordered to stop at Roanoke to pick up the small contingent left there the previous year, but when they arrived on July 22, 1587, they found nothing except a single skeleton. The master pilot refused to let the colonists return to the ships, for unknown reasons, and they were forced to settle Roanoke.

The business of settling and the business of plundering ships were in direct conflict with each other, and the colony was failing. The colonists persuaded White to return to England to explain the colony’s desperate situation and ask for help. Left behind were 115 colonists – the remaining men and women who had made the Atlantic crossing — and White’s newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas.

In England, White procured two supply ships and set out to return to Roanoke after the winter. The ships and their crews were distracted by a piracy attempt of their own on the Journey back to Roanoke, but they lost the battle. They were badly damaged, and their supplies were seized. White was forced to return to England, and when he finally made it back to Roanoke in 1590 with another privateering squadron on his granddaughter’s third birthday, the colonists had vanished.

There was no sign of struggle, and the only clue was the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post of the fence around the village, and the letters C-R-O carved into a nearby tree. The houses had been dismantled, which signaled that their departure had been intentional and unhurried. White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search.

Some evidence of English living among the Croatoan Native Americans has been found, but nothing conclusive. The fate of this “lost colony” remains one of the world’s great mysteries.

______

England’s first outing to Roanoke — the one that left the Skeleton behind for White’s colony to find — was actually rescued by another pirate: Sir Francis Drake.

Having pillaged the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean through the spring of 1586, Drake arrived at Roanoke in June of that year in time to rescue the 115-man military detachment from starvation and an impending Algonquian attack, transporting them back to England.

Drake made a name for himself as the second man to circumnavigate the globe, plundering Spanish shipping along the way. In 1588, he led an English fleet of warships to destroy the mighty Spanish Armada off the coast of England, paving the way for England to become a global superpower it is today.

Our next story, over 150 years before the Lost Colony, involves a pirate so famous that most pirate lore — especially all of those Pirates of the Caribbean movies — is drawn from him and his men, even though he was only an active pirate for two years.

_____

Edward Teach served England as a privateer in Queen Anne’s War until turning to piracy in 1713. His career in piracy began in the Caribbean with fellow pirate Benjamin Hornigold. In 1717, after Hornigold rewarded him with a hijacked ship, Teach set out on his own.

Queen Anne’s Revenge, Teach called the ship, which carried a crew of 40 cannons and 300 men. He always introduces himself as Edward Teach, but those who knew him or feared him called him Blackbeard.

Blackbeard and his men sailed the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of North America, torturing merchant ship crewmen and passengers, stealing cargo, and gaining a reputation as one of the most notorious pirates in history.

Blackbeard developed a reputation for being superhuman in battle, partly because he knew the importance of image. For battle, he dressed in all black. He strapped 6 pistols to his chest, and swords to his waist. His beard was wild, covering most of his face up to his eyes. He would twist colorful ribbons into it, and slow-burning cannon fuses that would flash and smoke, enveloping him in a supernatural fog that lit his wild eyes.

Most of his victims simply surrendered their cargo rather than fight, which was good business for Blackbeard — he rarely lost any men taking over a ship, and he often rewarded a quick surrender with respect. A damaged ship was less useful to pirate than an undamaged one, and if a ship sank in battle, the entire prize would be lost. So pirates sought to overwhelm their victims without violence, by building a frightening reputation.

Blackbeard vowed to butcher anyone who resisted and to offer tolerance to those who resigned civilly. He built his reputations on acting out those promises: killing resistors in horrible ways. Those who surrendered survived, and lived to spread the stories of mercy or revenge.

Despite the terror Blackbeard inflicted, he only spent two years as a pirate. After the Queen Anne’s Revenge sank, Blackbeard and his crew approached North Carolina’s governor Charles Eden for an official pardon. Eden, who was likely paid handsomely, granted their request. Blackbeard settled in the coastal town of Bath marrying and joining local society. But the temptation to plunder again was too strong, and one day, he set sail out of Bath and came back with a loot-filled French ship. He swore it was abandoned at sea when he found it.

Blackbeard’s pardon only fueled piracy in North Carolina, which was commonly ignored, as Blackbeard and several other pirates found the coastal waterway an ideal target. Eden helped Blackbeard appear legitimate, and Blackbeard returned to piracy and shared his takings.

After tolerating Blackbeard’s terrorism for eighteen months, North Carolina residents and merchant sailors begged Virginia’s colonial governor Alexander Spotswood for help. Acting in secrecy, Spotswood arranged an ambush of Blackbeard, offering a bonus for Blackbeard’s death.

The end of Blackbeard came at the hands of the Royal Naval Lieutenant Robert Maynard, sent by the Governor of Virginia. The legality of the intrusion of one colony on another was questionable, but North Carolina residents had begged for help. On November 22, 1718, Maynard cornered Blackbeard with two ships, Jane and Ranger, which were immediately fired upon by Blackbeard and his crew, severely damaging the Ranger. When the Jane began to take damage, Maynard ordered the crew to go below deck, creating the illusion of an abandoned ship.

Blackbeard took the bait. Leading a charge aboard the vessel, he and his men were surprised by Maynard’s crew. When he was finally killed, Blackbeard was found with twenty-five stab wounds and five gunshots. He was decapitated, his head hung on the Ranger’s bowsprit, and his body tossed overboard, bringing a literal end to Blackbeard and a symbolic end to Atlantic Coast piracy.

The governor of Virginia had it mounted on a pole near the intersection of the Hampton and James Rivers, where it stayed for years as a warning to other pirates.

______

On November 21, 1996, a private research company found the wreck of the famous Queen Anne’s Revenge, just over a mile off the shore of the Fort Macon State Park in North Carolina. The ship proved to be one of the most successful diving sites in the entire world, bringing to the surface over 250 thousand artifacts, including the combat gear and personal belongings of the pirate crew.

Blackbeard and his gang, as well as dozens of other pirates, ruled off the coast of North Carolina in an area now set aside as Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A 70-mile portion of the of barrier islands that rin from New York to Mexico.

The main activities are sunbathing on the pristine beaches, exploring the historic structures, fishing and birdwatching. From the third Friday in April through Columbus Day, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse are open for climbing. Those with off-road vehicles can access the ocean and the sound with a permit seasonally.

Four campgrounds offer tent and RV sites near the ocean. No water, sewer, or electric hookups are available.

At the north end of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is Roanoke Island, home of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, where you can see the now partially restored raised earthwork of the Lost Colony. There’s an interpretive nature trail, and a play entitled THE LOST COLONY has been performed since 1937 at the adjacent Waterside Theatre, telling the story of the settlement by the Roanoke Island Historical Association. The First Light of Freedom monument commemorates the Roanoke Island Freedman’s Colony that was set up during the Civil War. The colony provided a safe haven and education for former slaves to help prepare them for a new life.

While you’re in the area, make sure to also visit the neighboring Wright Brothers National Memorial, where you can follow the path of the first powered flight.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.



37 Days in Yellowstone

Two years before the creation of our first National Park, Truman C. Everts got lost in Yellowstone. He lost not one, but two horses. He set not one, but two forest fires. He waited out a mountain lion in a tree. He slept in a bear’s den. He fell through the crust of a hot spring and burnt his hip. He keeled over into his campfire while hallucinating. All in all, he spent 37 days battling against insurmountable odds, and he survived.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, we present our abridged version of Everts’ 10,000-word essay, which shocked the nation – complete with the sounds of Yellowstone from the National Park Service’s archives.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Or Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Full text of Everts’ Thirty-Seven Days of Peril” from Scribner’s Monthly Vol III Nov. 1871

Yellowstone National Park Official Website

Sound Library of Yellowstone National Park


Transcript

In 1870, 14 men led by Henry Washburn, Surveyor General of Montana, set out to explore the Northwestern region of Wyoming, an area known as Yellowstone. During their explorations, they made detailed maps and observations, exploring the numerous lakes, climbing several mountains, and observing the wildlife. They visited the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, and after observing the regularity of eruptions of one geyser decided to name it Old Faithful.

For a 54-year-old U.S. assessor, the expedition through unknown lands was a chance of a lifetime. He fell ill for a few days a week into the journey, having to separate from the party a few days to recover, a precursor of what was to come. The expedition reached Two Ocean Pass, near the headwaters of both the Snake River and Yellowstone River on September 9th, 23 days into the journey. It was in camp that evening that the party discovered that Truman Everts was gone.

On this Episode of America’s National Parks, Truman C. Everts and the harrowing tale of his 37 days alone in Yellowstone.

This is a wild story – almost unbelievable, but the account we’re about to share is our faithful adaptation of Everts 10,000 word account that he shared in the November 1871 issue of Scribner’s Monthly. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Here’s Abigail Trabue

The Washburn expedition to Yellowstone, having already spent 23 days exploring the various wonders, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its falls, was circling Yellowstone Lake, forging through a dense growth of pine forest and occasional large tracts of fallen timber, rendering progress nearly impossible. From time to time, each man in the party would make their own passage through, because there was no other possible way.

The 54-year-old Truman Everts, during one such attempt, found a passage, and continued into the forest, out of sight and sound of his comrades. The day had been hard. The afternoon had drawn late, and Everts continued on unalarmed confident that he would rejoin the company or find the camp soon.

Riding his own horse, he was also spurring along a pack horse, laden with some of the party’s provisions, but Everts was having trouble getting the riderless horse to cooperate. He left it behind, intending to return later with his companions’ to retrieve it.

Knowing the pack horse would be a needed addition to the camp, Everts accelerated his pace, pressing on in the direction he supposed had been taken, until darkness overtook the dense forest.

Still unalarmed, he had no doubt of rejoining the party at breakfast. He selected a comfortable spot, picketed his horse, built a fire, and went to sleep.

The next morning he rose at early dawn, saddled and mounted his horse, and headed toward the intended camp. A beach on the shore of a lake had been the agreed upon destination. But on this morning, the forest was dark, and the trees were thick, and Everts could only very slowly get through them. He became confused.

The falling foliage of the pines obliterated every trace of travel. He frequently dismounted and examined the ground looking for the faintest indications of someone traveling ahead.

Everts came upon a clearing, from which he could see several vistas, and dismounted, knowing he was near the beach and had to confirm the direction. He walked a few yards to look about and was startled by the sound of his horse taking flight, turning in time to see it disappear at full speed into the trees, carrying away his blankets, guns, fishing tackle, and matches. Everything, except a couple of knives, a small opera-glass and the clothes on his back, was gone.

Still, the idea of permanent separation from the company hadn’t crossed Everts mind. Now knowing the way to camp, he turned, back into the forest, in pursuit of his horse.

After searching most of the day for his horses, Everts was convinced of the impracticality, and turned back to hike on foot to camp. As the day wore on without any discovery, alarm began to take the place of anxiety at the prospect of another night alone in the wilderness, this time without food or fire. But even as hunger began to set in, he thought about the laugh his companions would have upon reuniting.

Looking at the negative side of a misfortune was never Everts way, and he banished from his mind the fear of an unfavorable result. Seating himself on a log, he recalled every step he had traveled since separating. Having left several notes along the way, he figured the expedition must have run into one of them by now, and would surely be waiting near a spot he had already traveled.

But it was late, and he still must spend the night alone amid the tree trunks before his return. He resigned to lay upon a bed of pine needles, as he looked up at the near-black sky. The wind sighed mournfully through the pines. The forest seemed alive with the screeching of night birds, the angry barking of coyotes, and the prolonged, dismal howl of the gray wolf. With no fire and no blanket, he felt more exposed than the night before. These familiar sounds, now full of terror, kept him awake through the night. Still, the hope that he should be restored to his comrades the next day kept Everts going.

He arose the next morning, unrefreshed, and began the trek over the fallen timber. The sun was high in the sky as he reached the spot where his notices were posted. No one had been there. For the first time, Truman Everts fully realized he was lost.

A crushing sense of destitution suddenly hit him. He had no food, no fire, and no means to procure either. He was alone in an unexplored wilderness 150 miles from the nearest human abode, surrounded by wild beasts, and famishing with hunger. The calamity elevated his mind — breaking free from despair he resolved not to perish in that wilderness.

He spent another sleepless night forming a plan. Attempting to reunite with the party still seemed the most logical move. He rose and pursued his way through the timber-entangled forest, set on finding the peninsula on the lake where he could see the entire shore, perhaps even getting ahead of the party, as they made their way towards Madison Valley.

As Everts continued, a feeling of weakness took the place of hunger. He was conscious of the need for food, but felt no cravings. Occasionally, while scrambling over logs and through thickets, a sense of faintness and exhaustion would come over him, but he would suppress it with the audible expression, “This won’t do; I must find my company.”

He thought of home—of his daughter—and of the possible chance of starvation, or death in some more terrible form; but as often as these gloomy thoughts came, he would strive to banish them in order to focus on the immediate necessities.

Mid-day, he I emerged from the forest into an open space at the foot of the peninsula — exactly where he planned to be. A broad lake lay before him, glittering in the sunbeams — a full twelve miles in circumference. It was one of the grandest landscapes he ever beheld. An impenetrable mountain range directly across the lake, the vapor and smell of the hot springs and the spray of a single geyser set off the magnificent vista. Large flocks of swans were sporting on the quiet surface of the water; otters in great numbers performed aquatic acrobatics. Deer, elk, and mountain sheep stared at him, manifesting more surprise than fear at his presence.

But jaded, famishing and distressed, Truman Everts was in no mood for ecstasy. He longed for food, friends and protection. He gave the lake the name Bessie Lake, after his daughter, and waited.

For the next two days, his fear of meeting natives gave him considerable anxiety, but as desperation became worse, he began to long for someone, anyone to find him. Just then, to his amazement, across the water, he saw a canoe, with a single oarsman rapidly approaching. He ran to the beach to meet his salvation. As he reached the shore, the approaching mass spread dragon-like wings and flew off to safety. The pelican, as if mocking, took it’s own solitary point further up the lake.

Nearly unhinged, Everts looked for a sleeping spot. He came across a small green plant with a striking, lively hue. He pulled it up by the root, which was long and tapering, not unlike a radish. He tasted it, and then devoured it. The thistle root was the first meal he had in four days, and a discovery that would nurture him until he rejoined his companions.

Overjoyed, he stretched out in the crook of two trunks under a tree and fell asleep. How long he slept, he did not know, when he was awoken by a loud, shrill scream, that of a human being in distress, poured, seemingly, into the very portals of his ear. There was no mistaking that fearful voice. He had been deceived by and answered it a dozen times while threading the forest. It was the screech of a mountain lion, so alarmingly near as to cause every one of his nerves to thrill with terror.

Adrenaline pushed him hurriedly up the tree, until he was as near the top as safety would permit. The savage beast was snuffing and growling below on the very spot he had just abandoned. He answered every growl with a responsive scream. Terrified at the pawing of the beast, he increased his voice to its utmost volume, broke branches from the limbs, and madly hurled them at the spot where it paced.

Failing to alarm the animal, which now began to make a circuit of the tree as if to select a spot for springing into it, he shook the slender trunk until every limb rustled with motion. The mountain lion pursued his walk around the tree, lashing the ground with his tail, and prolonging his howlings almost to a roar. It was too dark to see, but the movements of the lion kept him apprised of its position. Whenever he heard it on one side of the tree, he moved to the opposite — an exercise which, in his weakened state, could only have performed under the impulse of terror.

Expecting any moment it would take the deadly leap, Everts tried to collect his thoughts and prepare for the fatal encounter which he knew must result. Just at this moment, it occurred to him to try a new tactic — silence.

Clasping the trunk of the tree with both arms, he sat perfectly still. The lion, at this time ranging around, occasionally snuffing and pausing, and all the while filling the forest with the echo of his howlings, suddenly imitated his example. This silence was more terrible than the clatter and crash of his movements through the brushwood, for now, Everts didn’t know what direction to expect his attack. Moments passed like hours, until the beast sprang screaming into the forest.

His strength decimated by the encounter, Everts climbed down and unwillingly fell asleep in the same spot, not waking until morning. The experience of the night seemed like a terrible dream; but the broken limbs on the ground in the daylight confirmed the reality.

Knowing that such an encounter was bound to happen again, Everts faced a new challenge — a change in weather. A storm of mingled snow and rain set in, the wind piercing the tears in his clothing. He began to realize that reuniting with his friends was a fool’s errand, and he must escape the wilderness on his own accord.

The accomplishment of that task seemed impossible, as he sheltered below the branches of a spruce tree for two more days as the storm continued to rage unabated. While laying exhausted, and again starving, a little bird, not larger than a snow-bird, hopped within his reach. He seized, killed it, and, plucking its feathers, ate it raw.

On the morning of the third day, the storm lulled. Everts rose early and started in the direction of a large group of hot springs in the distance. He knew the spot unmistakably and could see it in the distance. It was at the base of a mountain that Henry Washburn had named after him – Mount Everts. The journey was only 10 miles, but the storm raged again long before he made it to the clearing. Chilled to the bone, with his clothing thoroughly saturated, he lay down under a tree upon the heated crust of the hot springs until completely warmed.

After one of the worst storms he ever saw subsided, Everts found a place for revival. Thistle roots abounded, and a boiling hot spring allowed him to cook them. The vapor which supplied him with warmth saturated his clothing. He was enveloped in a perpetual steam-bath. At first, this was barely preferable to the storm, but he soon became accustomed to it, even enjoying it.

For days he thought of little but escape. The want for fire filled his mind, knowing he would need it to leave the warmth of the hot springs. He knew it would keep the wild beasts away, and he knew another storm would kill him if he had no way to recover from the cold. He recalled everything he had ever read or heard on producing fire, but none of them seemed within his reach.

As he lay anxiously awaiting the disappearance of the foot of snow which had fallen, a gleam of sunshine lit up the lake, and with it, a thought flashed through his mind. The opera glass. He quickly dismantled it, removed a lens, and focused the suns rays. As the smoke curled from the bit of dry wood in his fingers, all thoughts of failure were instantly abandoned, and he made preparations to leave.

As he slept on that third night, a toss and turn broke the crust of the hot spring, pouring steam upon his hip, scalding it severely. This, in addition to his frost-bitten feet, kept Everts from setting out again for seven days.

He was now able to make fire, but both of his knives had been lost on the way to the springs. He made a convenient substitute by sharpening the tongue of a buckle he cut from his vest. He used it to cut the legs off his boots, forming them into slippers. He mended his clothing by unraveling a handkerchief for thread, which he also fashioned into a fishing line, along with a fish hook made from a pin on his coat. With the leftovers of his boots he made pouches to carry food, which he fastened to his belt.

On the morning of the eighth day, Truman Everts bade the springs a final farewell and started out, back for the lake. It was a beautiful morning. The sun shone bright and warm, and there was a freshness in the atmosphere. Hope returned.

As the day went on, he became aware that his sanity was under attack. He’d drift off into dreams of the subconscious, and quickly shake them off, in full understanding of the malnourishment taking over his mind. A change in the wind brought an overcast sky, and as the afternoon drew on, he was unable to get a ray of sun to light a fire. A freezing night set in, again exposing all its terrors. After a week of warmth, suddenly death felt eminent. He struck his numb feet and hands against logs to awaken them. After everything he had endured, this seemed the longest and most terrible night of his life, and he was glad when dawn approached.

He made his way quickly to Bessie Lake, arriving at noon, and built a fire on the beach. He remained by it and again recuperated for the next two days, preparing for his escape.

Everts had three directions he could travel if life and strength held out. He drew a map in the sand of the different courses and considered the difficulties of each. He could follow Snake river 100 miles or more to Eagle Rock Bridge. He could cross the country between the southern shore of Yellowstone Lake and the Madison Mountains, scaling them to reach the settlements in the Madison Valley. Or he could retrace his journey over the long and discouraging route by which the expedition had entered the country. This was the least inviting, if only because he was familiar with it. He had heard of the violent waters of the Snake River and decided — most unwisely — that the shortest route, over the mountain barrier, would be his quest.

He set out over timber heaps, and through thickets. By noon, he took the precaution to light a torch, which he kept alive until he made camp in an impervious canopy of trees. The shrieking of night-birds, the supernatural scream of the Mountain lion, and the prolonged howl of the wolf set the tone for another difficult night. The burn on his hip was so inflamed that he could only sleep sitting up. The smoke from the fire almost enveloping him, his imagination ran wild with terror. He could see the blazing eyes of a monster through the trees. Rousing in and out of hallucinations and sleep, he fell forward into the fire and inflicted a wretched burn on his hand.

A bright and glorious morning succeeded the dismal night, and Truman Everts, again, resolved to banish the thought of peril, and now the hallucinations, from his mind. Resuming his journey, in a few days, he arrived at the far end of Yellowstone Lake, finding a camp last occupied by his friends on the beach. He found no note or food, but a left-behind dinner fork proved to be a very worthwhile root-digging tool, and a yeast powder can converted into a drinking cup and dinner pot.

He left the camp in deep dejection, now knowing that his friends did not leave food behind. He intended to follow their trail to Madison, pursuing signs of travel downstream. The wind howling, he built a shelter of pine boughs and built a fire to sleep for the night.

Everts woke in the middle of the night to the sound of the snapping and cracking of burning foliage, finding his shelter and the adjacent forest in a broad sheet of flame. His left hand badly burned, his hair singed off, he made his escape from the semi-circle of burning trees, leaving his buckle-tongue knife, fish-hook, and line behind.

He hastily forged on as an immense sheet of flame leaped madly from tree-top to tree-top. The roaring, cracking, crashing, and snapping of falling limbs and burning foliage was deafening. On and on he raced the destructive flames, until it seemed as if the whole forest was enveloped in flame, spread rapidly by the howling wind.

Knowing he could search for a trail no longer, Everts aimed for the lowest notch in the Madison Range. All the day, until nearly sunset, he struggled over rugged hills, through thickets and matted forests, with the rock-ribbed beacon constantly in view. Half way there, he stopped for the night.

The next day, another new wave of hope set upon him as he grew closer and closer to the mountains until he arrived at the base and scanned hopelessly its insurmountable difficulties. It presented an endless succession of peaks and precipices, rising thousands of feet, sheer and bare above the plain. No friendly gorge or gully or canyon caught his weak eyes.

Thinking his journey over the last two days was in vain, he turned his sights down the Yellowstone River. He knew what lay down that route. Dreary miles of forest and mountain. He was surely only 20 miles from the Madison Valley. He was already out of the supply of thistles he carried from the lake, thinking they would be in abundance on his journey, but none were to be found here.

While considering whether to remain and search for a passage or return to the Yellowstone River, an old friend, whose character and counsel he had always cherished, suddenly appeared before him.

“Go back immediately, as rapidly as your strength will permit. There is no food here, and the idea of scaling these rocks is madness.”

“Doctor,” Everts said, “the distance is too great. I cannot live to travel it.”

“Say not so. Your life depends upon the effort. Return at once. Start now, lest your resolution falter. Travel as fast and as far as possible—it is your only chance.”

He did just that. His friend returning time and time again for guidance, Everts made his way back to the lake, back toward the Washburn Expedition’s entrance to these lands. Distances were greater than anticipated. He did not eat until the 4th day, and once again, laying down by his fire near the river nearly abandoned all hope of escape.

He pressed on. “I will not perish in this wilderness,” he continued to say, even as his wish for life wavered. He lost all sense of time. Days and nights came and went. The thistle roots that gave him life now failed to digest and packed in a mass in his stomach. Though he was starving, he experienced little hunger and little pain. His hours of sleep were filled with beautiful hallucinations as his mind seemingly settled in for death.

After another terrible cold night with no fire, he pulled himself into a standing position and realized he could not move his right arm. His other limbs were so stiffened with cold as to be almost immovable. Fearing paralysis would suddenly seize the entire system, he dragged himself through the forest to the river. He anxiously awaited the appearance of the sun. He kindled a mighty flame, fed it with every dry stick and broken tree-top he could find, and without motion, and almost without sense, remained beside it several hours. The great falls of the Yellowstone roaring within three hundred yards.

He plodded along, starving, foot-sore, half blind, and worn to a skeleton. As weakness increased, more imaginary friends came, traveling companions he so long desired.

He ate a raw minnow, and though tasty, his stomach would have none of that. He spent hours trying to catch trout with a hook fashioned from the rim of his broken glasses to no avail. He saw large herds of deer, elk, antelope, occasionally a bear, and many smaller animals. Numerous flocks of ducks, geese, swans, and pelicans inhabited the lakes and rivers. But with no means of killing them, their presence was a perpetual aggravation.

One afternoon, he came upon a large hollow tree, which, from the numerous tracks surrounding it, and the matted foliage in the cavity, he recognized as the den of a bear. Instead of fearing its return, Everts’ warped mind saw the den as the most inviting couch. Gathering a needful supply of wood and brush, he lit a circle of fires around the tree, crawled into the nest, and passed a night of unbroken slumber. He rose the next morning to find that during the night the fires had burned a large space in all directions, doubtlessly intimidating the bear’s return.

He left the river for the open country of sagebrush and desolation. He awoke one morning after a snowfall to completely lose his bearings. No tracks or objects showed which way he came or where he was headed. He scrambled until he found the river again and stayed until the snow melted. He filled his pouches with thistles, knowing he would find none in the open country, and set out one last time.

A few days into this final journey towards civilization, he collapsed ascending a steep hill, without the power to rise. He soon woke, having no idea how long he slept, and scrambled to his feet to pursue his journey. As night drew near, he selected a camping place, gathered wood, and felt for his lense to light the fire. It was gone.

This, more than any moment, Truman Everts thought was his last. The struggle was over. He rapidly ran over every event of his life in his mind, and said: “I SHALL NOT PERISH IN THIS WILDERNESS.”

5 miles stood between him and his lens. Through the night, he staggered back to the spot where he collapsed, and in the morning found the lens, on the spot where he slept. It was the most joyful moment of his journey.

A storm came in, but something in his mind told Everts he would be saved if he didn’t stop. He must continue. With torch in hand, he fought to travel through the storm. He would count on the lens no longer. He would keep a torch going. He went on another day. And another. A storm came on, and a coldness took hold unlike any other he had felt. It entered his bones. He attempted a fire but could not make it burn. He stumbled blindly on, knowing that death was very near. He heard whispers: “struggle on.”

Groping the side of a hill, he looked up through half closed eyes to see two rough but kind faces.

“Are you Mr. Everts?” a man asked.

“Yes. All that is left of him.” He replied.

He fell forward into the arms of his preservers and lost consciousness.

He soon awoke, his saviors having restored his consciousness. One made the 70-mile journey to Fort Ellis to get help, while the other stayed by his side and nourished him to health. In two days the now barely 50-pound Everts was sufficiently recovered in strength to be moved twenty miles down the trail to the cabin of some miners who offered every possible attention. For four days they abandoned their work to aid in his restoration.

The night after his arrival at the cabin, while suffering the most excruciating agony, and thinking that he had only been saved to die among friends, a loud knock was heard at the cabin door. An old man in mountain garb entered—a hunter. He listened to the story of Evert’s sufferings, and tears rapidly flowed down his rough, weather-beaten face. He left the cabin, returning in a moment with a sack filled with the fat of a bear which he had killed a few hours before. From this he rendered out a pint of oil. Everts drank the whole of it, and the next day, freed from pain, with appetite and digestion reestablished, began his path to recovery.

In a day or two, A carriage took Everts to Bozeman, Montana, where he was reunited with old friends, who gave him every attention until his health was sufficiently restored to allow him to return to his home in Helena.

Two years later, Yellowstone National Park was established. Truman Everts was offered the position of superintendent but turned it down because it included no salary. He moved to Maryland where he worked in the U.S. Post Office, dying of pneumonia at age 85 in 1901, 30 years after his 37 days of peril in Yellowstone.

The thistle which gave him life is now known as Evert’s Thistle, and a Mountain Peak still bears his name.

Truman Everts learned that his friends cashed food wherever they could for him that he never found, including right on the beach where he found the fork and the powdered yeast can. They recovered the pack horse, and fired their guns in the air when they could to try to telegraph their location.

It took him a month to recover fully. But by the second week of November, General Washburn decided that he was well enough for an official celebration and invited the cream of Helena society to a gala banquet at the fanciest restaurant in town.

Everts’ story, when published less than a year later became legendary, and was major part of the Yellowstone lore that led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is an out of this world experience, with way too many sights and activities to list here. It covers nearly 3,500 square miles in the northwest corner of Wyoming, with small portions in Montana and Idaho. There are five entrance stations, and several are closed during winter. Hundreds of thousands of people visit during June, July, and August, the only months short on below-freezing temps and snow. May and September are best to avoid crowds. There are plenty of campgrounds both in the Park and just outside the entrances, with the majority of private facilities in West Yellowstone. Backcountry camping abounds, and the only electrical hookups inside the park are at the Fishing Bridge RV Park. You can also stay at one of the many National Forest campgrounds just outside the park. Campgrounds and lodges fill very quickly, so plan ahead.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and produced by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.”

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

The Grand Dame of the Everglades

At the southern tip of Florida lie the Everglades, a crucial ecosystem to America and the world. Everglades National Park has spent its entire life under siege, with Marjory Stoneman Douglas out front as its chief warrior.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Or Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

“The Everglades: River of Grass” -by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Buy the seminal text on Amazon

“The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service”
A great collection of stories from National Park Service rangers and employees.

Everglades National Park Official Website

Friends of the Everglades Website
A great bio of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and a timeline of her life

Everglades Digital Library 
Audio interviews with Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Wikipedia
One of the more thorough Wikipedia biographies you’ll find

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Donate to Marjory’s namesake school, which suffered one of the worst school shootings in history in February.


Transcript

“Back in 1870, when only eighty-five people lived along the coast of southeastern Florida, an estimated two million wading birds inhabited the Everglades during dry seasons. During the late nineteenth century, plume-hunting reduced these birds to only several hundred thousand. This dramatic loss spurred protective laws in Florida — and in New York, where the plumes had been shipped to millinery houses. Thus protected, the wading-bird population rebounded to near its original level. Then, in the 1940s and after, the character of the Everglades itself began to change. As South Florida grew, the Everglades shrank, its waters controlled for man’s uses. By the mid-1970s, wading-bird numbers had dropped back to a few hundred thousand, about 10 percent of what it had been a century before. Biologists actively study these birds, looking for clues that might lead to stopping or even reversing the decline. As yet the only thing that is certain is that life in the Everglades is more fragile than anyone ever thought.”

That’s a passage from Jack de Golia’s “Everglades: The Story Behind the Scenery,” from 1978.

I’m Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks, Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of Florida’s southern tip. It’s the first federal land protected not for beauty but, but for conservation, but the creation of the park was only the beginning. The Everglades have spent the last 100 years under siege. Our story is of the woman who protected them time and time again, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

These are the opening words from Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ seminal book “The Everglades: River of Grass”:

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them…”

An apt description of the land, but also of Marjory herself. A true American hero, whose story is anything but average.

As a young child in Minnesota, before the turn of the 20th century, Marjory Stoneman’s father Frank read her “The Song of Hiawatha,” Longfellow’s Native American lore poem, set in the Pictured Rocks on the south shore of Lake Superior. The young Marjory burst into tears upon realizing a tree would give its life to provide Hiawatha the wood for a canoe.

At the age of six, Marjory’s parents separated. Her father’s failed business ventures caused her mother Lillian, a concert violinist, to take Marjory to her grandparents Massachusetts home, where she lived with her mother, aunt, and grandparents, who disparaged her father whenever they had the chance. Throughout her childhood, Marjory, who suffered from night terrors, would watch as her mother battled with mental illness, a battle she was never fully able to overcome.

Marjory escaped the turmoils at home in books, eventually beginning to write herself. By her late teens, she had multiple short stories published and had been awarded a prize by the Boston Herald for a story about a boy who watches a sunrise from a canoe.

But as her mother’s health declined, Marjory took on many of the family responsibilities, eventually managing the family finances. Despite her burdens, her aunt and grandmother sent her off for Wellesley College in 1908 recognizing that she needed to begin her own life. A model student, she graduated with a BA in English in 1912 – her mother died of breast cancer shortly after.

Marjory Stoneman met Kenneth Douglas, a newspaper editor 30-years her senior in 1914. In a whirlwind romance, they married in three months. It’s not exactly known what his misdeeds were, but it became clear that Kenneth Douglas was a con artist. Marjory stayed with him while he spent six months in jail for writing a bad check, but when he tried to scam her estranged father, she ended the marriage.

The con turned out to be fortuitous, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas was reunited with Frank Stoneman, whom she had not seen since moving away. In the fall of 1915, she left Massachusetts for Miami to live with her father who was the editor of the paper which would eventually become the Miami Herald.

Already an accomplished writer, Marjory joined the paper as a society columnist, but since fewer than 5,000 people lived in Miami at the time, the news was slow, and she’d have to make up many of the people and stories. Residents would ask about the characters they had never met, and she’d concoct elaborate accounts of their recent arrival to Miami.

In print, Frank Stoneman intensely attacked the governor of Florida, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, for his endeavors to drain the Everglades. When Stoneman ran for a circuit judgeship and won, Broward refused to certify the election. Frank Stoneman was referred to as “Judge” for the rest of his life without ever taking the bench.

In 1917, as World War I was raging in Europe, the Navy sent a ship to enlist men and women into the reserves. Marjory was assigned to cover the story of a local woman who was to be the first Miami woman to enlist. The woman didn’t show, so Marjory decided that she would take her place. She joined the Navy, became a yoeman first class, and was stationed in Miami.

Already leading a tough life, forced into early maturity, the military didn’t suit Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She was no fan of rising early, and the officers were not fans of her grammar corrections. She requested and was granted a discharge, at which time she joined the American Red Cross, who sent her off to Paris. There, she cared for refugees until the war ended and her father cabled for her to come home and take over as the assistant editor at the now Miami Herald.

Her new column, “The Galley,” made Stoneman Douglas a local celebrity. “The Galley” was about whatever she wanted it to be about that week. She spoke out for responsible urban planning when Miami’s population increased ten-fold in a decade. She supported women’s suffrage and civil rights, and opposed prohibition and tariffs. She began to talk about Florida’s landscape and geography.

By 1923, her success and the pressure of writing her column and conflicts with the paper’s publisher got to Marjory. She began to experience blackouts and was diagnosed with nerve fatigue. She left the Herald and began to recover by sleeping late and writing short stories. The Saturday Evening Post published 40 of them, along with those of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Most were fiction. Her protagonists were often independent women who encountered social injustices. The people and animals of the Everglades were the background of others, and some were non-fiction. “Wings” addressed the slaughter of Everglade birds for fashionable ladies’ hats.

She was commissioned to write a pamphlet called “An argument for the establishment of a tropical botanical garden in South Florida, causing her to become a fixture at garden clubs where she delivered speeches. She became a part of the Miami theater scene, writing one-act plays, one loosely modeled on the life of Al Capone, who’s henchmen showed up to check in on it. In 1926 she designed and built the cottage in which she lived for the rest of her life. Becoming ever more the socialite, she became a forceful pioneer in the fights for feminism, racial justice, and conservation. She fought against poverty, slumlords, and poor sanitation.

And she fought for the Everglades.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas served on the committee that argued for the creation of Everglades National Park, along with the force behind the idea, Ernest F. Coe. In 1934 Everglades National Park was designated by Congress, but it took another 13 years to acquire land and secure funding.

In the early 40s, Douglas was approached to contribute to a book series called the “Rivers of America.” She was asked to write about the Miami River, which she said was about “an inch long,” and instead persuaded the publisher to allow her to write about the Everglades. She spent five years researching the little-known ecology of the area, spending time with a geologist who discovered that South Florida’s sole freshwater source was the Biscayne Aquifer, which was filled by the Everglades. “The Everglades: River of Grass” was published in 1947 and sold out in a month. The book’s first line, “There are no other Everglades in the world” is easily the most famous line written about South Florida. She wrote about an ecosystem inescapably connected to South Florida’s people and cultures.

Everglades National Park officially opened in 1947, the same year River of Grass was published. The book became one of the most famous environmental calls to action in history, causing citizens and politicians to take notice. It was, in fact, a blueprint for many of the Everglades restoration projects that are still on-going today.

By the 1960s, the Everglades were in imminent danger of disappearing forever. In response to floods caused by hurricanes in 1947, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project was established to construct flood control mechanisms in the Everglades. 1,400 miles of canals and levees were built over the course of 20 years. The C-38 canal, the last built, straightened the Kissimmee River, inflicting catastrophic damage on the habitats and water quality of South Florida.

Douglas initially gave the project her approval, as it promised to deliver much-needed water to the shrinking Everglades. But, in reality, it diverted water away from the Everglades to meet sugarcane farmers’ needs. The Army Corps of Engineers refused to release water to Everglades National Park until much of the land was unrecognizable.

Douglas fought fervently against the Corps of Engineers and Sugarcane Farmers, saying “their mommies must have never let them play with mud pies, so now they play with cement.” She was giving a speech addressing the harmful practices of the Army Corps of Engineers when the colonel in attendance dropped his pen. As he stooped to pick it up, she stopped her speech and said, “Colonel! You can crawl under that table and hide, but you can’t get away from me!”

In 1969, at age 79, Douglas formed Friends of the Everglades. Dues were $1.00, and the purpose was to raise awareness of the potential devastation a huge jetport slated for construction in the fragile wetlands would cause. Due to Marjory’s perseverance, and the support of her 3000 Friends of the Everglades members and other environmental groups, President Nixon scrapped funding for the project after one runway was built, which still exists today.

Douglas spent the rest of her life defending the Everglades. In his introduction to her autobiography “Voice of the River,” John Rothchild described her appearance at 1973 at a public meeting as “half the size of her fellow speakers and she wore huge dark glasses, which along with the huge floppy hat made her look like Scarlet O’Hara as played by Igor Stravinsky. When she spoke, everybody stopped slapping mosquitoes and more or less came to order. She reminded us all of our responsibility to nature and I don’t remember what else. Her voice had the sobering effect of a one-room schoolmarm’s. The tone itself seemed to tame the rowdiest of the local stone crabbers, plus the developers, and the lawyers on both sides. I wonder if it didn’t also intimidate the mosquitoes. . . . The request for a Corps of Engineers permit was eventually turned down. This was no surprise to those of us who’d heard her speak.”

Douglas also opposed the drainage of a suburb in Dade County named East Everglades. After the county approved building permits, the land flooded as it had for centuries. Homeowners demanded the Army Corps of Engineers drain their neighborhoods, and Marjory was the only opposition. At a 1983 hearing, the 93-year-old was booed and shouted at by the residents. “Can’t you boo any louder than that?” she said. “Look. I’m an old lady. I’ve been here since eight o’clock. It’s now eleven. I’ve got all night, and I’m used to the heat.” County commissioners eventually decided not to drain the land.

Until the day she died Douglas continued to fight for her causes. She served as a charter member of the first American Civil Liberties Union chapter organized in the South. She spoke on the floor of the Florida state legislature, urging them to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. She bolstered the Florida Rural Legal Services, a group that worked to protect migrant farm workers employed by the sugarcane industry. She co-founded the Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Libraries and served as its first president.

The Florida Department of Natural Resources named its headquarters in Tallahassee after her in 1980, to which she said she would have rather seen the Everglades restored than her name on a building. In 1986 the National Parks Conservation Association instituted the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award, honoring individuals who advocate and fight for the protection of the National Park System. And in 1991, at the age of 100, blind and near deaf, Douglas was visited by Queen Elizabeth II, to whom she gave a signed copy of “The Everglades: River of Grass.”

Douglas asked that trees be planted on her hundredth birthday in lieu of gifts, resulting in over 100,000 planted across the state of Florida, including a bald cypress on the lawn of the governor’s mansion.

In 1993, President Clinton awarded Marjory Stoneman Douglas the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian. She donated it to Wellesley College.

Douglas once said that “Conservation is now a dead word… You can’t conserve what you haven’t got.” She died in 1998 at the age of 108. Her ashes were scattered in the Everglades she worked so tirelessly to preserve.

That was Abigail Trabue.

Daniel Beard, who would be the first superintendent of the Everglades National Park, wrote in 1938 that “The southern Florida wilderness scenery is a study in halftones, not bright, broad strokes of a full brush as is the case of most of our other national parks. There are no knife-edged mountains protruding up into the sky. There are no valleys of any kind. No glaciers exist, no gaudy canyons, no geysers, no mighty trees unless we except the few royal palms, not even a rockbound coast with the spray of ocean waves — none of the things we are used to seeing in our parks. Instead, there are lonely distances, intricate and monotonous waterways, birds, sky, and water. To put it crudely, there is nothing (and we include the bird rookeries) in the Everglades that will make Mr. Jonnie Q. Public suck in his breath. This is not an indictment against the Everglades as a national park, because “breath sucking” is still not the thing we are striving for in preserving wilderness areas.”

The sentiment aside, Daniel Beard was wrong. There’s plenty to suck in your breath at in the Everglades. No, you won’t be brought to your knees like many are at the first sight of the Grand Canyon, but I challenge anyone to tell me of another national park with such an array of wildlife immediately on display. It is, indeed, a magical place. But it’s true, more than beauty, The Everglades National Park is an important place.

There’s a great book called “The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service.” It’s a collection of stories from park service employees and volunteers. In it, Ranger David Kronk talks of a 1990 visit to the Everglades from President George H.W. Bush. Kronk lead the President and some children who were finishing a 3-day educational program on a walk. He asked the children to tell the President what the Everglades meant to them. Among some other pithy answers, one girl described the limited water supply in South Florida, saying we need to conserve and share the water so that there is enough for the animals and plants in the park.

Later that month, President Bush would mention meeting some budding young environmentalists at the Everglades in his State of the Union address. An eight-year study was commissioned by Congress the following year, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project was authorized in 2000. At a cost of more than $10.5 billion and with a 35-year timeline, it is the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

To help restore water flow, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in 2011.

Though the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project continues today, it has been compromised by politics and funding problems, and the Everglades are still in danger.

The primary access to the Everglades National Park is through Florida City, 30 miles southeast of Miami, at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. A few miles into the park is the Royal Palm Visitors Center, where you can hike two popular wheelchair-accessible half-mile trails, seeing the marshes, alligators and wading birds, along with Royal Palms and Gumbo-Limbo trees with their peeling bark.

You can then journey on the main park road 38 miles to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the southern tip of the state. On the way, you’ll wander through the parks various ecosystems, and can stop at three short walks, including an overlook where you can get a view of Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s “River of Grass,” and another, where you can see the largest Mahogany tree in the U.S.

At Flamingo, you’ll see the true diversity of the park’s waterfowl. Spoonbills, ibises, snowy egrets, blue herons, and the like, wading among the mangrove trees. The area was heavily damaged during hurricane Irma, but the campground has partially re-opened. Boat tours that depart here have been suspended, but canoe and kayak rentals are now available again.

From the north on US 41, visitors can enter the park at Shark Valley, named because its water flows southwest toward Shark River. Here, you can walk, bike, or ride a tram along a 15-mile loop road and see some of the park’s best wildlife concentrations. The Shark Valley observation tower offers a 360-degree view of the Everglades, and a bird’s-eye view of alligators, turtles, fish, and birds.

From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in the town of Everglades City, you can launch your boat or take a scheduled sightseeing boat tour to explore the vast mangrove estuary of the Ten Thousand Islands.

Backcountry camping, accessible by boat, is available from both the Flamingo and Gulf Coast areas. You can take an 8-day canoe trip down the maze of waterways, camping on elevated platforms along the way.

The park is open year-round, but summers can be steamy, hot, and buggy.

You may have heard Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s name in the news recently. The Florida high school that suffered one of the world’s deadliest school shootings on February 14th is named after her. You can donate to the school at msdstrong.us.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and produced by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.”

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


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Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar

Deep within Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, one can find so much more than rock formations. The shale-capped mass of 400 known miles of caverns holds the history of America, told by the Black enslaved cave guides that made it one of the country’s top tourist attractions, then and now.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

In Kentucky, a Family at the Center of the Earth
A 2014 in-depth interview with Jerry Bransford and New York Times reporter Kenan Christiansen.

bransfordmemorial.com

Jerry Bransford’s dream is to build a memorial in the Bransford cemetery at Mammoth Cave as a tribute to all the past slave guides and the entire Bransford family, especially Mat and Nick. He also would like to pass on his stories and memories to his future descendants utilizing the cemetery and memorial. You can the website to contribute, and it’s also full of much more detailed information on the Bransford family history at Mammoth.

Ranger Lore: The Occupational Folklife of Parks – Jerry Bransford Discusses Family Legacy

A YouTube interview with Jerry Bransford about visiting Mammoth as a child with his family:

Mammoth Cave National Park Website

Info on all of the cave tours, camping, and other activities at Mammoth Cave National Park.


Transcript

PROLOGUE: HOUCHINS AND THE BEAR

According to legend, at the turn of the 19th Century, a Kentucky hunter named John Houchins found a black bear, and shot. He failed to kill the bear, and it ran, wounded, while Houchins gave chase until it led him to the entrance of a cave. Some say the bear chased Houchins, who, either way, is credited with the modern discovery of a cave system that sprawls for nearly 400 documented miles, so large that it is yet to be fully mapped, and may go on for up to 1000 miles.

On this episode of America’s National parks, the world’s largest cave system, Mammoth Cave.

On the ceilings and walls of Mammoth, one can find thousands of names written in smoke from a time when such a thing was encouraged. One of the oldest and most prolific names — sometimes written backward — is simply “Stephen.” Stephen Bishop, Mammoth’s most famous explorer, would take his candle to the ceiling and trace his name, sometimes in reverse due to the mirror he was looking in to avoid the wax dipping in his eyes.

In 1838, the 17-year-old Bishop was brought to explore and lead expeditions into Mammoth by the cave’s new owner Franklin Gorin, a lawyer from nearby Glasgow, Kentucky, who purchased the property, seeing the cave’s potential as a public attraction. Previously, the cave had been used as a Saltpetre mine during the War of 1812, when slaves mined valuable potassium nitrate, a primary ingredient in gunpowder.

Bishop quickly got to work, guiding tourists and exploring the depths of the cave, and creating its first map. This is what Gorin had to say about Bishop: he was “handsome, good-humored, intelligent, the most complete of guides, the presiding genius of this territory. He has occupied himself so frequently in exploring the various passages of the cavern, that there is now no living being who knows it so well,” Gorin said. “The discoveries made have been the result of his courage, intelligence, and untiring zeal. He is extremely attentive and polite, particularly so to the ladies, and he runs over what he has to say with such ease and readiness, and mingles his statement of facts with such lofty language, that all classes, male and female, listen with respect, and involuntarily smile at his remark. His business as a guide brought him so often in contact with the intellectual and scientific, that he has become acquainted with every geological specimen in the cave.”

Stephen wore a chocolate-colored slouch hat, a jacket for warmth, and striped trousers. Over his shoulder on a strap swung a canister of lamp oil. In one hand he carried a basket of provisions for the longer trips – fried chicken, apples, biscuits, and often a bottle of white lightning for refreshment. In the other hand, he carried an oil lantern – a tin dish holding oil and a wick, with a small heat shield held above the flame by wires.

A visitor described Stephen bishop’s “perfectly chiseled features,” his “keen, dark eye and glossy hair, and mustache. He is the model of a guide” the visitor said, “quick, daring, enthusiastic, persevering, with a lively appreciation of the wonders he shows, and a degree of intelligence unusual in one of his class…I think no one can travel under his guidance without being interested in the man, and associating him in memory with the realm over which he is chief ruler.”

But a ruler of Mammoth, Bishop was not. Quite the opposite, Stephen Bishop, like the saltpeter miners before him, was an enslaved, black man.

Each week, on the America’s National Parks Podcast, we plan to focus on a specific story or two behind a National Park Service unit. But for this, our first episode, The epic tale of Mammoth Cave was too juicy to pass up. It’s really the story of America, warts and all. We begin, as most National Park histories do, with the first people to call America home.

ACT I: NATIVE AMERICANS

The hunter John Houchins may be credited with Mammoth Cave’s modern discovery, but Stephen Bishop quickly found that man had been deep within the cave long before him.

In the summer of his first year in the cave, Stephen began to probe the obscure passageways. In what was then known as the Main Cave, behind an enormous rock called the “Giant’s Coffin,” he squeezed into a small room and down through a crack into a maze of passages beneath. Here he found the fragments of a burned cane torch and grapevine ties left by natives who had explored Mammoth Cave long before.

Nearly one hundred years later, in 1935, Civilian Conservation Corps workers Grover Campbell and Lyman Cutliff were exploring a new passageway. They climbed a ledge and discovered the unnerving scene of an ancient tragedy. A human head and arm, the only visible parts of a body pinned beneath a six-ton boulder. A digging stick lay nearby, the cause of the boulder’s collapse – its owner had dug too deeply.

Like the cane torches found by Stephen Bishop, the twenty-three-hundred-year-old body had been well preserved by the cave’s steadfast temperature and humidity, and by the salt in the soil.

Thousands of ancient artifacts have been found in Mammoth — gourd bowls, pottery, woven cloth, and a handful of petroglyphs. From 4,000 years ago until nearly 2,000 years ago, Native Americans explored at least six miles of the cave, until one day, for reasons unknown, they disappeared.

ACT II: THE SLAVE GUIDES

Stephen Bishop and the other slave guides such as Materson and Nick Bransford continued to escort the curious along their choice of two routes. The short route, a 6-hour journey, and the long route, a 14-hour journey, took visitors through all the curious formations, rooms, and obscurities Mammoth had to offer.

For a nickel, they’d lash a candle to a stick and write your name upon the ceiling. Theywould journey down Echo River in small boats and entertain tourists with songs in a round with the echo of the cave.

On one such tour, Bishop’s boat full of travelers capsized, and all the oil lamps were extinguished. In complete darkness, he led his party through the neck-deep water for five hours, until Materson Bransford arrived to save them.

Materson went by Mat, with one T. He was the son of affluent Tennessean Thomas Bransford and a slave woman named Hannah. He began guiding at Mammoth Cave in 1838, and ultimately became the property of his own half-brother after the death of his father. He married a slave girl named Parthena, and built a home for her and their four children. As the children grew, however, Mat was powerless to stop his wife’s owner from selling first his two daughters, and then his youngest son.

Mat Bransford

Many did not view such an act as horrendous, including opponents of slavery. In the 1860’s Mat guided abolitionist John Fowler Rusling on a tour. Rusling remarked, “I don’t suppose you missed these children much? You colored people never do they say.” Mat was quick to inform him differently.

Just months before the civil war ended and slaves were emancipated, Mat used his life savings from cave tour tips to buy back one of his daughters, who was fifteen years old and pregnant at the time. His other two children were never found.

Mat remained a Mammoth Cave guide for the remainder of his life. His Eldest son Henry became a guide, and then his grandson, too, whose name was also Matt, but with two “T”s. Matt with two Ts Bransford decided that, after the civil war, Black people shouldn’t just work Mammoth Cave, they should visit it. Blacks were still not welcome in most establishments. They were not allowed to be on the same tours with whites or stay in the same hotel. Matt traveled to larger cities to appeal to the African American community to visit the world-famous Cave. He led Special tours for them, and provided lodging and meals for black visitors with his wife Zemmie at their home called the Bransford Resort. White visitors had been touring Mammoth for a century, and now, thanks to the younger Matt Bransford, Black visitors could share the experience.

ACT III: CAVE WARS

There are more cave attractions throughout the Midwest than you can shake a stick at, but Mammoth is different.

“A grand, gloomy and peculiar place,” Bishop called it. Instead of the elaborate configurations of drip formations that you’ll find elsewhere, Mammoth is full of gigantic rooms formed by ancient underground rivers that sculpted the sandstone and limestone, capped by a shale roof. It’s more labyrinths and domes than wedding cakes.

As the industrial revolution raged on, railways brought more and more visitors to Mammoth. By the 1880s, tens of thousands of yearly visitors were arriving by a rail line built specifically to accomplish that task. The Mammoth Cave Railroad would operate successfully for 50 years, making runs from Glasgow Junction every 25 minutes in the summer.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the great National Park idea had taken hold. Half a dozen parks had been proclaimed by Congress, including one cave — South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park. Interest in protecting Mammoth in the same fashion began to spring up, but by 1920, a war of economics had broken out in the Kentucky Cave Country. The Mammoth Cave Estate and dozens of other caves that had been discovered in the area competed for the massive profit in showing tourists the wonders below the earth.

Colossal Cave, Long Cave, Short’s Cave, Great Onyx Cave, Indian Cave, Salts Cave and Crystal Cave all tried to snag motorists bound for the world-famous Mammoth, often by stopping them on the road using ringers dressed as authorities saying that Mammoth was the other direction, or that Mammoth was flooded.

An oilman named George Morrison believed that the Cave’s length extended beyond the surface boundaries of the Mammoth Cave Estate. He searched for clues in the cave and above ground until he got word of a sinkhole where kids played in the summer because cool air came up from below.

Morrison bought the property and drilled until he found a cave that was revealed to have a direct connection to the rest of Mammoth. He dubbed his site “the New Entrance to Mammoth Cave” and began selling tickets to motorists on their way to the Old Entrance.

The Kentucky cave wars were not without casualty. When cave owner Floyd Collins was exploring for a more profitable cave and became lodged underground in 1925, a circus atmosphere developed around his entrapment, as the story drew national attention. Thousands of sightseers descended on Cave City, hawkers sold food and souvenirs. Reporters drafted hourly updates for the nation, including aviator Charles Lindbergh, who delivered news reports by air as federal troops were dispatched to keep order.

Rescue attempts failed, and Collins died on his eighteenth day below the surface.

Rampant commercialism aside, Kentuckians held a deep pride for the caves at Mammoth, and many initiatives were floated to transition the area into a National Park. For 30 years, surveys were taken up, bills were introduced and passed, land was purchased, and finally, in 1941, Mammoth Cave National Park was dedicated.

ACT III: JERRY BRANSFORD

On Memorial Day and 4th of July weekends, a young Jerry Bransford — the great-great-grandson of a Mat Bransford — would ride the half-hour drive from his home in Glasgow to visit Mammoth with his family in the back seat of their ’49 Chevy.

On those holiday family Picnics, Jerry’s father, David Bransford Sr, would tell him the history of his family at Mammoth — how the cave is a part of their heritage, even though they still weren’t allowed to go inside the hotel for refreshments. The staff, who still knew Jerry’s father, would give them ice creams and Cokes at the back door.

Post-slavery, the Bransfords, and other black men were still the preeminent tour guides at Mammoth, famous even, but when the cave became a National Park, those guides had to look for new jobs. Many of their homes were forced to be sold to the government. The great act of protecting the underground wonderland turned away the people who knew it best.

When Jerry retired — nearly 200 years after the slaves mined the saltpeter for the War of 1812 — he began discussions with the National Park Service to return the Bransford family to the park. Jerry Bransford is now a 5th generation cave guide, and a National Park Service Ranger. His mission? To tell the stories of the great Black cave guides who were so instrumental in the discovery and interpretation of Mammoth Cave, so that they should never be forgotten again.

EPILOGUE: VISITING MAMMOTH

Today, when Jerry Bransford gives tours, he always notices the names scratched into the walls that were made by his ancestors. He’s found 14, including, the one that says simply, “Mat 1850.”

“Whenever I see a signature from my kin, I feel awed by what they did,” he told the New York Times. “But when I see Mat’s, it just knocks me down. I don’t know how anyone can have their kids taken away and never get them back.”

Mammoth Cave is one of the most conveniently located national parks, along I-65 just 30 miles outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Several different daily cave tours provide visitors with a wide range of sights to see, including the Gothic Avenue Tour, where you can see Stephen Bishop’s candle-written signature, and hundreds more. The more adventurous visitors can climb, crawl, and squeeze through the 6-hour Wild Cave Tour, seeing places only a small number of humans have visited. Along with the half-dozen or so paid cave tours, visitors can experience a wide array of above-ground activities, including, hiking, biking, kayaking and horseback riding. There’s still a small hotel on-site, as well as several primitive campgrounds. Several private campgrounds are just a stones’ throw from the park as well.

Jerry Bransford still gives cave tours on a seasonal schedule — he swore our three sons in as Mammoth Cave Junior Rangers. He’s raising money for a memorial to better honor the many Bransfords and other Black cave guides buried at the simple cemetery in the park. You can donate at bransfordmemorial.com.


Music

Music clips from this episode ar provided from artists via a Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0). You can check out their full works below:

From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters

Welcome to the home of the America’s National Parks Podcast. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to explore our nation’s treasures, their history, their people, and their stories. From Denali, the tallest mountain peak, to Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. 2000 pound bison that roam Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, and the nightly flight of hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats from Carlsbad Caverns’ gaping opening. Redwood trees approaching the height of a 40-story building. Bronze and Marble temples in Washington, D.C., honoring the founders of our nation, and battlefields where the blood of too many of the next generations would be reclaimed by the earth. Nearly 90 million acres of land, 18,000 miles of trails, 75,000 archaeological sites, 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures, and the 20,000 rangers and 246,000 volunteers that protect it all, at over 400 individual National Park Service units.

We’ll begin soon with our first full episode exploring a 400-mile cave system that is more than an underground dreamland, it’s the embodiment of American History, from ancient native people to the civil rights movement.

Until then, listen to our “episode zero,” a preview episode of sorts:

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

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