The Search for Dark Skies

80 percent of the world’s population lives under what’s called “skyglow.” In the United States and Europe, 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night.

Light is helpful to people, of course, but it’s also one of our greatest pollutants. Artificial light brings disastrous consequences to wildlife, especially birds, bats, insects, and sea turtles.

This episode is a little different than most of our shows. Today, we travel to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where for generations, the night sky helped the original Polynesian sailors find their way across the sea.

The audio comes from the park’s Voices of Science audio series, hosted by Brittni Connell, who talks with experts about light pollution and how the park is working to eradicate it.


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Learn More

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

Voices of Science Audio Series: https://www.nps.gov/nature/night.htm

https://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm


Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Extending from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s yet to become an official International Dark Sky Park, but nearly 30 National Park Service sites enjoy that designation, as well as a couple dozen state parks. 

In most of these places, the National Park Service hosts night sky programs, where you can view the wonders of the solar system with the guidance of a ranger and high powered telescopes. 

Ahwahnee

Who doesn’t love a majestic National Park lodge? Splendid craftsmanship on a grand scale surrounded by the wonders of nature. In my mind, There’s really no better way to explore a national park.

Some of these lodges are full of just as many stories and secrets as the park that surrounds them.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Yosemite’s Ahwahnee hotel, and its service in World War II.

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Learn More

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

https://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/historyculture/navy-hospital.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahwahnee_Hotel

https://www.travelyosemite.com/lodging/the-ahwahnee/


David and Jennie Curry were Indiana schoolteachers who traveled extensively in their summers off. In 1899, they arrived in California to see the beauties of Yosemite National Park. The couple had previously given camping tours to other teachers at Yellowstone and decided they would do the same in the Yosemite Valley to offset some of their vacation costs.

The Currys brought with them a cook, seven tents, and their three children. Despite the two-week, round trip travel period from the nearest town, the camp registered 292 guests its first year. Camp Curry, as it became known, was a hit.

The Currys were adept at promotion and revived an old tradition started by James McCauley on the Fourth of July 1872. At sunset, piles of burning logs were pushed off Glacier Point, creating what was known as the Fire Fall. David Curry died in 1917 and left the management of The Curry Company to his widow Jennie.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service’s first director Stephen Mather had his eyes set on a grand hotel experience in the Yosemite Valley.
In 1915, he convinced a man named D.J. Desmond to convert old army barracks into the modest Yosemite Lodge. Desmond also began a hotel at Glacier Point the following year, when the newly formed National Park Service began a concerted effort to attract visitors to the parks. But Mather was still thinking of his grand hotel.

He made an attempt with another concessionaire to build near Yosemite Falls, but the project was underfunded, and the Sentinel, as it was named, was looked down on by socialites as primitive.

In 1925, unhappy with the declining concessions situation within the parks, Mather decided to grant a monopoly to single entities to run the hotel and food services in each park. The Curry Company and The Yosemite Park Company (which ran Yosemite Lodge), were merged to create one larger company to operate the hospitality in Yosemite National Park. As part of this reorganization, the newly formed Yosemite Park and Curry Company were charged with building a new luxury hotel.

Yosemite Park & Curry Company went on to build much of the park’s service structure. The new accommodation was originally dubbed the “Yosemite All-Year-Round Hotel,” but it was changed just prior to opening to reflect the site’s native name—Ahwannee.

The Ahwahnee did not attract many guests immediately. The Yosemite Park and Curry Company began lobbying the National Park Service for self-contained recreational facilities at the hotel: a dance pavilion, golf course, swimming pool, tennis and croquet courts, a “Kiddie Kamp,” and “the building of bridle paths and footpaths.” By 1930, the golf course and tennis/croquet courts had been added.

In spite of these additions, The Ahwahnee continued to struggle. The Great Depression significantly reduced visitation to Yosemite, and the Ahwannee was hit especially hard. Tourism gradually began to improve after 1939, but the outbreak of WWII in 1941 proved to be disastrous for many of the park concessionaire’s operations. Fuel rationing sent automobile traffic and visitation spiraling downward once again. The Wawona Hotel was closed, and the Glacier Point Hotel severely curtailed its services. The Ahwahnee, which had been barely profitable even in the best of times, was finding it difficult to keep its doors open.

In a strange twist of fate, it would be the War, that saved The Ahwahnee from its financial struggles thanks to the Department of the Navy offering a long-term arrangement to rent the entire facility. Even before Pearl Harbor, the Navy had anticipated a drastic need for increased medical facilities. The Ahwahnee was one of several sites the Navy surveyed in the summer of 1941 and by 1943, the Navy had leased The Ahwahnee with the first staff arriving at the end of May to begin refitting. With guest still being lodged at the hotel, the transition was not an easy one, but by June 25, 1943, the “U.S. Naval Convalescent Hospital Yosemite National Park, California” was commissioned. Eleven days later, the first patients arrived.

Initially intended as a a neuro-psychiatric rehabilitation center for patients suffering from “shell-shock,” The Navy believed patients would respond well to the peaceful and isolated setting, the Ahwahnee however, soon proved to be the complete opposite.

The towering cliffs caused many to become claustrophobic. Isolation and lack of social interactions and entertainment often left them overwhelmed with the very memories the Navy hoped to erase. Within a few months, hospital administrators decided to phase out psychiatric treatment at and convert the Ahwahnee into a general physical rehab facility. It was a new direction, but the same problems persisted. As one early staff member recalled, “If the patients weren’t nuts when they got to Yosemite, the boredom there soon sent them over the edge.”

In August 1943, A change in Navy leadership saw a dramatic change in the hospital’s rehabilitation strategies. Under commander, Captain Reynolds Hayden, a seasoned veteran with years of experience managing military medical units, the Navy began aggressively expanding the hospital’s recreational and rehabilitation resources.

Simultaneously, the National Park Service and a number of local and regional civic organizations began improving the plight of the staff and patients stationed at Yosemite. By successfully scrounging, begging, borrowing, and politicking, Hayden’s staff expanded hospital facilities to include a library, a six-lane bowling alley, an extensive crafts department, a pool hall, daily excursions to Badger Pass during the winter, a re-opening of the Camp Curry toboggan run, on-site publication of the hospital’s own newspaper, a Ship’s Service store (complete with soda fountain), a Welfare Fund, machine and wood shops, and transportation facilities. An adjustment of Navy regulations also allowed patients and staff to take leave outside the park.

Hayden also made hospital improvements, included tripling the hospital’s physiotherapy facilities and equipment, significantly improving available housing for families of patients and staff, forming a staff/patient dance band at the hospital, organizing regular guest appearances by orchestras and USO entertainers, acquiring a projector and screen to show Hollywood movies on a regular basis, constructing new concrete tennis and basketball courts, and, last but not least, building the only authorized pub in any Naval hospital around the world.

This newly renamed “Special” Hospital had dramatically changed from what the first patients experienced a year and a half earlier. Treatment priorities shifted from simply warehousing and physically fixing up patients to a more holistic approach of healing them body and soul. Administrators realized treatment needed to include mainstreaming patients back into a non-military social environment, rather than isolating them from it.

Because it was impossible to move the hospital to a more community social setting, Captain Hayden focused on creating a community at Yosemite. By providing housing, recreational facilities and activities, along with outlying community support, Hayden fostered an environment where social interactions could bloom and camaraderie could grow.

The Yosemite Special Hospital experiment proved to be a watershed event in the development of U.S. military medical rehabilitation techniques.

The hospital was decommissioned in 1945, and shortly after the Ahwahnee began accepting travelers again. Yosemite Park and Curry Company operated the hotel until 1993 when the property was then sold to Delaware North.

What started out as a simple campsite begun by two Indiana schoolteachers ended up as the sole concessionaire for the park for over six decades. Over the years, the Ahwahnee has played host to Presidents Obama, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Reagan, Walt Disney, the Shah of Iran, and Queen Elizabeth II, who rented the entire hotel for herself. But of all its guests, the military staff and patients who called the Ahwahnee home from 1943-1945 remain some of its most lasting and more influential visitors.


The Ahwahnee sports influences from many styles, including Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Its towering ceilings, massive stone fireplaces, intricately hand-stenciled beams, and hand-made stained glass windows harken back bygone eras and cultural traditions—all masterfully combined under one roof.

With ceilings over 30 feet high and massive windows that take in the surrounding views, the dining room evokes a feeling of grandness and opulence. It’s the setting for some of the world’s most famous food and wine events: The Yuletide Dinner at Yosemite, The Grand Grape Celebration, and A Taste of Yosemite.

At nearly 80 feet long and over 50 feet wide, and with 24-foot-high ceilings, the hotel’s lounge is as spacious as it is inviting. Grand windows, stained glass details, and an immense natural-stone fireplace invite guests to settle in for an afternoon of relaxation.

The hotel rooms have been recently rehabbed, and go for about $550 a night. And they book up fast.

Castle on the Coast

Situated along the shores of St. Augustine in northeastern Florida stands the only surviving 17th-century military construction in the United States, Castillo de San Marcos.

A product of forces both political and technological, the fortress is evidence of empirical competition that defined so much of the colonial era. Its history is woven into the fabric of America.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the many faces of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, as told by Rangers who preserve and protect this historic fort.

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Learn More

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

https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/photosmultimedia/videos.htm

https://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm


In 1673, Manuel Cendoya had arrived in St. Augustine, at one of a series of wooden forts that had been destroyed and rebuilt many times over. He was charged by Mariana, Queen of Spain, to repair the fortifications of St. Augustine.

The wooden structure was in a dilapidated condition. St. Augustine was an outpost that indirectly defended the Spanish Caribbean and New Spain, but it was never self-sufficient. The viceroy of New Spain (Mexico today) was supposed to send a subsidy from his coffers each year to support the garrison and town. However, for many years, this subsidy never came. The people of St. Augustine were close to starving, and there were no funds to repair the old fort.

In 1668, a pirate ship, under disguise penetrated St. Augustine’s meager defenses. In the confused darkness, the pirates seemed everywhere as they stormed ashore. The Governor and a meager handful of soldiers were able to take refuge in the wooden fort. Others and civilians ran into the woods as the pirates systematically sacked the town. By the time the pirates left the next day, 60 people were dead.

The sack of St. Augustine was a blessing in disguise, for it shocked Spanish officials into action. The governor of Cuba, as well as the viceroy of New Spain, finally sent money and troops to bring St. Augustine up to strength. Back in Spain, Queen Mariana commanded the viceroy to pay the Florida funds on time and ordered a permanent fortress and to support a full 300-man garrison in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s tenure in Florida was ending, and the Queen appointed Manuel Cendoya to the governorship.

Arriving in Veracruz, he proceeded to Mexico City to confer with the viceroy. He asked for 30,000 pesos for the construction of one main and two auxiliary fortifications. In December word arrived of an even greater threat than that of pirates. The general council of finance discussed the matter and allowed Cendoya only 12,000 pesos to begin construction of just one fort. If suitable progress was made, they would consider sending 10,000 pesos yearly until completion.

On assuming the governorship, he moved promptly on the matter of fortifications. For more on the Pirate influenced design, here’s Ranger Allen Arnold.

The fort itself was constructed of a unique material that has ensured its survival over the last 350 years. Here’s Ranger Jill Leverett.

When Britain gained control of Florida in 1763, St. Augustine became the capital of British East Florida, and the fort was renamed Fort St. Mark until the Peace of Paris when Florida was transferred back to Spain and the original name was restored. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821; who designated it an Army base named Fort Marion in honor of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion.

Over the decades, coastal forts have been used for many purposes, one of the most nefarious being prisons for Native Americans. Fort Marion was used to incarcerate Plains Indians, Geronimo’s Apache, and most notably, 200 Seminole, 20 of whom escaped.

Ranger Jill Leverett again.

Today, the St. Augustine area is a haven for recreation, especially golf, featuring several championship courses. But the first golf course in the State of Florida was carved right into the grounds of the fort. Jim Purdy, Park Interpreter.

The fort was declared a National Monument in 1924, and after 251 years of continuous military possession, was deactivated in 1933. The 20.48-acre site was subsequently turned over to the United States National Park Service. In 1942 the original name, Castillo de San Marcos, was restored by an Act of Congress.

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States. It’s open every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All visitors must exit the Castillo no later than 5:15 p.m. Tickets are required and can be purchased in advance online. The city of St. Augustine operates a pay parking lot that can accommodate vehicles up to 21′. A free parking lot for larger vehicles is available a few blocks away.

It’s also worth noting that as this episode airs, the monument is closed in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, which only recently received category five status. All are keeping all those in the path of this storm in our thoughts.

10 Days, 1,800 Miles

For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:


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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.

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Learn More

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

https://www.nps.gov/poex/learn/historyculture/index.htm

National Pony Express Association


For 18 short months, a group of riders carried letters from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, and they did it in just 10 days. Crossing 1800 miles of rough western terrain, at breakneck speeds, the Ponny Express tied the east to the west in ways that would become pivotal in the years to come.

I’m Abigail Trabue, filling in for a very sick Jason Epperson, and on this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the Pony Express National Historic Trail and the riders who have become synonymous with the American West.

Thanks to the Gold Rush of 1849, the 1847 Mormon exodus to Utah and the thousands who had moved west on the Oregon Trail, the need for fast mail service beyond the Rocky Mountains had become vital.

Originally the need was filled by outfits such as the Butterfield Overland Mail Service and private carriers, but then postmaster general Joseph Holt scaled back service to California and the central region of the country in 1858, and an even greater need arose.

Enter in the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company created by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell. It would later be known as the Pony Express.

In January 1860, with only two months to make the Pony Express a reality, the team had their hands full. Over 100 stations, 400-500 horses and enough riders were needed – at an estimated cost of $70,000.

In March 1860, an ad was placed in the Sacramento Union that read,

“Men Wanted”

The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers, or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages $50 per month and found.

On April 3, 1860, the first official delivery of the Pony Express took off in St. Joseph, Missouri. Surrounded by great fanfare, a mail pouch containing 49 letters, five telegrams, and miscellaneous papers was handed to a rider at 7:15 p.m. A cannon was fired, and the rider bolted off to a waiting ferry boat.

Because of the pace at which the riders took to the route, The Pony Express was set up to provide a fresh horse every 10-15 miles and a fresh rider every 75-100 miles. With an average speed of 10 miles per hour, it took 75 horses to make the one-way trip.

On April 9 at 6:45 p.m., the first rider from the east reached Salt Lake City. On April 12 at 2:30 p.m., the mail pouch reached Carson City.

From there the riders flew over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down through Placerville, California and on to Sacramento. On April 14, the first mail pouch delivered by the Pony Express arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

The New York Times wrote, “citizens paraded the streets with bands of music, fireworks were set off….the best feeling was manifested by everybody.” 

Despite the success and approval of the public, problems abound – weather, supply difficulties, rider fatigue, and war.

Fueled by white mineral seekers encroaching on traditional Indian lands, The Pyramid Lake War, crippled the operation of the Pony Express for months, an operation that was also guilty of encroaching on Indian territory, building relay stations at critical water sources that the native Paiute people depended on. As Prospectors continued to claim resources and land that wasn’t theirs to claim, conflict between whites and the Paiutes became inevitable.

On May 7, 1860, an old Paiute man and a younger Pauite woman went to a house owned by white man J.O. Williams. Inside four white men tied up the man and attacked the woman. They were later set free, but the Pauite man returned with friends who forced the four white men into the house and burned it to the ground.

As the conflict raged, Indian raids became more common at remote Pony Express stations in western Nevada, and in May of 1860 Simpson Park Station was burned to the ground, and the station keeper was killed.

By June the Pony Express had canceled operations between Carson City and Salt Lake City, which meant cash flow wasn’t coming in.

By July, with the help of federal troops and stepped-up security measures, the Pony Express resumed mail delivery to California, but delays had cost the company almost $75,000.

But the final blow to the Pony Express would come not from war, or delays, but from the advancement of communication. Fueled by the need to keep the west a part of the union as war loomed on the horizon, In June 1860, almost ten weeks after the first successfully delivered pouch, Congress authorized a bill instructing the Secretary of the Treasury to build a transcontinental telegraph line connecting the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. On October 26, 1861, San Francisco made direct contact with New York City and the Pony Express, was officially no more.

In June of every year, the National Pony Express Association takes to the trail in a re-ride covering 1,966 miles in ten days. The 750 volunteers ride for 24 hours straight in an attempt to faithfully deliver the over 1,000 letters received every year. You can follow the action 24 hours a day on an online feed provided by the Association. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Today, most of the original trail has either been erased by time or human activities. However, short pristine segments can still be seen in Utah and California., There are also 120 historic sites, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins that may eventually be available to the public.

For those who want to take to the open road, the National Park Service offers a state by state Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide featuring an overview of local trail history and driving directions to suggested sites and points of interest. The National Park Service stresses that this is a work-in-progress.

The Waving Girl of Savannah

The Savannah river twists and turns for 301 miles in the Southeastern United States, forming most of the border between Georgia and South Carolina, before it’s divided into channels by several islands near Savannah Georgia, and then spills into the Atlantic. The last of those islands holds a storied past, having played a role in both the revolutionary and civil wars, as well as World War II.

I’m Jason Epperson, and today on America’s National Parks, Cockspur Island, and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

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Before the rapid population growth and development of the Savannah area, spring tides covered the entirety of Cockspur Island. Behind it was a series of marsh islands, which have now been joined to Cockspur by the dredging of the Savannah River to accommodate modern shipping.

It’s strategic coastal location meant the island was ideal for military fortification. In 1761, an earth and hewn log fort was built, along with a quarantine station and customs checkpoint. It was called Fort George, and it protected the entrances to the city from foes but was more focused on shipping regulation.

During the Revolutionary War, American Patriots dismantled Fort George. It was too exposed for its size against the big British ships. The crown then established the island as a safe haven for Loyalists who fled there with the Royal Governor, Sir James Wright. Cockspur became, for a short time, capital of the colony of Georgia.

Once the Revolutionary War ended, the new United States would build a new fort on the site. It was constructed very much like Fort George – with earth and log – and would be named for the Revolutionary War hero, General Nathaniel Greene. The life of Fort Greene was short and tragic. In September of 1804, a hurricane swept across the island washing it away.

In the early years of the 19th century, the United States would embark on a massive coastal fortification project, which you can learn a bit more about in our Guardian of the Gulf episode. At Cockspur, the 5-sided Brick bastion Fort Pulaski was built, by free men and slaves under the command of Robert E. Lee.
The new fort was finished in 1847, only a couple of decades before it would serve in the civil war.

Situated off the southeastern tip of Cockspur Island marking the South Channel of the Savannah River, the Cockspur Lighthouse stands twelve miles east of the port of Savannah. The first brick tower, used as a daymark, was built between March 1837 and November 1839. In 1848, John Norris, a New York architect, was contracted to supervise construction of an illuminated station. Norris designed many of Savannah’s grand structures.

Norris’s duties were to “repair, alter, and put up lanterns and lights on Cockspur Island…and to erect a suitable keeper’s house.” This first tower had a focal plane 25′ above sea level. The beacon housed a fixed white light emanating from five lamps with 14″ reflectors visible for nine miles.

Tragedy struck again in 1854 when the structure was destroyed by a hurricane. The tower was rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation the next year. At the start of the American Civil War, the light was temporarily extinguished. On April 10, 1862, Union forces in eleven batteries stretching along the beach at Tybee Island, started a long-range bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Thirty-six guns participated in a thirty-hour siege of the fort with the Cockspur Lighthouse in direct line of fire.

Though much of the island’s story is a violent one, spanning decades of war and natural disasters, passing ships warmed by the dedicated cheerfulness of one special woman.


Florence Martus was the daughter of a sergeant stationed at Fort Pulaski. Her brother George was keeper of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse but soon transferred to the nearby Elba Island light, bringing Florence him. One day, while spending an afternoon with her father, a sailing ship docked at Savannah, and a few of the sailors rowed out to Ft. Pulaski, just a stone’s throw from the lighthouse. Florence’s father offered to give the sailors a tour of the island, and lighthouse and Florence went along for the ride where she and one of the sailors caught each other’s eye. During his time in port, he visited Florence three times and when he left promised to return and marry her. The morning that the ship left port, Florence stood in front of her cottage and waved a white handkerchief. The sailor never returned.

Life at the remote cottage was lonely for Florence whose closest companion was her devoted collie. She began to welcome each incoming ship in memory of her love with a wave of her handkerchief. Sailors began returning her greeting by waving back or with a blast of the ship’s horn. Eventually, Florence started greeting the vessels arriving in the dark by waving a lantern.

She became a well-known and welcomed sight for all mariners who came to expect her as they entered port. Many sailors brought her gifts. One even presented her with a llama from Peru.

Florence Martus continued her waving tradition night and day for 44 years without break, and it is estimated that she welcomed more than 50,000 ships during her lifetime. She grew to become a legend, known far and wide as the “waving girl of Savannah.”

Florence died in 1943, having never loved another. She was laid to rest next to her brother in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The headstone inscription resonates the admiration for their service to the harbor and its visitors, saying “in memory of the Waving Girl and her brother, keeper of the lighthouse on Elba Island for 35 years.” On September 27 of that year, the SS Florence Martus was christened in her honor. According to the Georgia Historical Society, it was the thirtieth of eighty-eight liberty ships built in Savannah and was eventually scrapped in Baltimore.

Despite the loss of her namesake ship, Florence’s legacy lives on thanks to a statue that sits in the Savannah Harbor created by renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, the artist behind the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The figure can be found at the eastern end of River Street, overlooking the Savannah River from the bluff. The captain of the ship that delivered the statue declined payment in her memory. 


The legend of Florence and her sailor love may or may not be true, there’s no concrete evidence, but her effect on sailors for nearly half a century is very real.

The Elba Island Lighthouse is gone to the sea, but the Cockspur light remains. It’s closed to visitors for restoration, but you can see it from the shore.

Brick forts like Fort Pulaski were a dying breed almost as soon as they were built. In the civil war, the Union army’s rifled cannon tore right through it, compelling the Confederate garrison inside to surrender. The outer walls are riddled with giant pockmarks from the bombardment.

After the Civil War, Fort Pulaski was unoccupied and neglected. The War Department finally made it a national monument in 1924 by presidential proclamation of Calvin Coolidge. The 1930s saw new activity on the island with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who worked to rehabilitate it and the surrounding landscape.

The Voice of Wilderness in the Storm

This episode was written by Lindsey Taylor, whose blog “The Curiosity Chronicles” follows her adventures around the world.

In the early days of Denali National Park and Preserve (formerly known as Mt. McKinley National Park), one park scientist stood out among the rest. He was known for his tough, adventurous spirit, ground-breaking biological research, and inspiring communication. His name was Adolph Murie.

Ade (as he was known to his friends) wasn’t the only person in his family to become a famous conservationist. His half-brother was Olaus Murie, also a biologist. The two half-brothers married two half-sisters: Olaus to Margaret, and Adolph to Louise. Margaret became known by some as the “grandmother of the conservation movement” for fighting to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She moved to Alaska when she was a small child, and in 1924 she was the first female graduate from the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (which is the University of Alaska-Fairbanks today).

We could do whole episodes on the Muries, but it was Adolph who would change the face of ecology forever.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, Adolph Murie and Denali National Park and Preserve.

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Olaus and Adolph Murie grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota. The town had around 5,000 people at the time with a private university founded in 1891: Concordia College. Olaus began his studies at Concordia and finished his bachelor’s degree at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon in 1912. A few years later, he was recruited to America’s last frontier: Alaska. The chief of the US Biological Survey (what we know today as the US Fish and Wildlife Service) was interested in studying caribou migration across the Brooks Range. In his time at Mt. McKinley National Park , he also classified much of the park’s flora and fauna, creating the first record of what plants and animals the park was actually protecting.

Adolph, while in the middle of his undergraduate degree back at Concordia – joined Olaus in Alaska for two summers capturing caribou bulls for mating with reindeer, to enhance the reindeer population.

Two years later Adolph graduated from Concordia with an undergraduate degree in biology. He got a job as a seasonal ranger in Glacier National Park where he spent two summers before heading to the University of Michigan to get his master’s degree. By that time, Olaus, his wife Margaret and their son, one-year-old Martin, were also in Michigan. Olaus was turning his field notes from caribou research into a master’s degree as well.

Adolph stood out early in his graduate program. One of his professors and mentors was Lee R. Dice, a leading figure in the relatively young scientific field of ecology.

Before the study of ecology, which is based on the interrelationships of living organisms and their environment, biologists had a straight-forward approach to nature based on collecting and cataloging. Little attention was paid to if or how species may influence each other. Murie’s mentor, Lee Dice, was one of the first ecologists to advocate that predators in our natural ecosystems are important and worth protecting. Throughout the country, predator control (the killing of carnivores such as wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions to protect prey and livestock) was a common and accepted management tactic. Ecology began to show biologists that every living thing had an important role in the environment, and Dice wrote an article explaining his thoughts, titled “The Scientific Value of Predatory Mammals.”

In 1929, Ade Murie received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He completed his first post-doctoral study on Isle Royale, observing the ecology of the moose that lived there. It was Murie’s report that convinced the director of the National Park Service to approve the creation of a new national park on Isle Royale.

In 1934, Adolph Murie was hired to work as a biologist with the Park Service in the new Wildlife Division, hired by George Wright, the division chief. His first assignment was in the Olympic Peninsula, where he recommended that the eradicated wolves be reintroduced into the area.

Three years later, Murie began a two-year coyote study in Yellowstone that culminated in a book: Ecology of the Coyote in Yellowstone. Never before had a wildlife biologist in the National Park Service completed a similar study about predators, and it was one of the first true studies of ecology in a national park. After this project, Murie was assigned to study the wolves of Mt. McKinley, where there was another predator controversy. After his summers spent in the park more than 13 years prior, he was thrilled to be heading back to Alaska.

Much of Adolph Murie’s work time in the park was spent out in the backcountry, collecting scat samples, skulls, and antlers, and taking photographs of tracks, wildlife, and habitats. Scat samples can tell biologists a great deal about what animals are eating, and bones can tell us an animal’s age, sex, and health.

One special mammal he studied was the Dall sheep: the only wild white mountain sheep on earth. The Dall sheep was, in fact, the reason that Mt. McKinley National Park was created in the first place. In the early 1900s, market hunters were harvesting mammals like moose, caribou, and Dall sheep to sell the meat to prospectors and local pioneers. But they were not harvesting animals from populations sustainably, and the Dall sheep population began to dwindle. In 1906, a visiting naturalist and game hunter named Charles Sheldon noticed the decline and worried about the possibility of extinction. So, when he returned to the east coast, he began lobbying for the creation of a game reserve to offer some protection for wildlife. Eleven years later, Mt. McKinley National Park was created, and it was the first national park to be created to protect wildlife as opposed to natural scenery or beauty.

A few years before Adolph Murie arrived, the park Dall sheep population began to wane again. But this time, the cause was unknown. A series of winters with more snowfall and colder temperatures lasting longer than average coincided with this decline, but wolves were blamed as the leading cause.

The park service went along with the theory and began culling the predator population to allow the prey population to rebound. This management philosophy had already succeeded at completely eradicating wolves from parks like Yellowstone and Olympic. But it raised some big questions for Mt. McKinley National Park. Should the park service favor one species over another? Or should it take an ecosystem approach, where all species are treated equally?

Predator control management continued, but in the late 1930s, Adolph Murie was assigned to the task of figuring out what was really happening to the Dall sheep population. His research revolved around the question: “What is the effect of wolves preying on big game species in the park?” While he was focusing on Dall sheep, he also studied the wolves’ relationship with caribou.

In April of 1939, he set out into the park and performed field research until October. He estimated that he walked more than 1700 miles in the park that summer alone. It’s likely that Murie was not using the road much: he was climbing mountains off-trail, crossing rivers, and bushwhacking through willow and alder shrubs, some taller than he was.

In April 1940, he returned to the park, this time completing field research for another 15 months. Spending more than a year observing the wildlife was critical to understanding how animal behaviors change through the seasons.

So what did Murie discover? His conclusion was that, though wolves did hunt the Dall sheep, the main reason for the population decline was the harsh winters. More snow means less food availability, so Dall sheep would have trouble finding enough to eat and could starve or succumb to disease more easily.

He also concluded that predators have an important role in our ecosystem. At this time, in the early 1940s, this was a very radical idea.
Adolph Murie concluded that the wolves were actually helping the Dall sheep population. He noticed that when wolves hunted Dall sheep, they only targeted individuals that were sick, injured, or elderly. By doing so, wolves were keeping the genetic population of the sheep healthy and robust. Out of this research came his book The Wolves of Mt. McKinley. Half research findings, half field journal, Murie takes his readers through the alpine tundra and boreal forests of the park to rediscover wolves alongside him. It was the first study to analyze wolves and their interactions with other species, and it was aiding in the beginning of a new scientific discipline: ecology. It was published in 1944 and is still being reprinted and sold in parks today. Other books Adolph Murie would later write include The Mammals of Denali, The Grizzlies of Mt. McKinley, and A Naturalist in Alaska.

Ade Murie describes one of his favorite wolf experiences in this last book:

“In the morning it was a crisp thirty-five degrees below zero. At a cabin on the lower Toklat River in Mount McKinley National Park, my companion and I started out at daybreak, he on snowshoes, and I on skis, each of us carrying a pack containing bedroll and food, en route to Wonder Lake along the north boundary of McKinley Park. We were making a two-hundred-mile winter trip to carry out general wildlife observations. Heavy frost covered the spruce trees. At intervals, we encountered overflow water on top of the ice, which necessitated detours to avoid getting wet.Enroute, we noted tracks of many kinds—fox, wolverine, wolf, caribou, moose, squirrel, and weasel—and gained general impressions on wildlife presence and abundance. It became dusk, and by the time we left the river and turned in on a trail it was dark and stormy. … Then we stopped, transfixed, for out of the storm came music, the long-drawn, mournful call of a wolf. … It started low, moved slowly up the scale with increased volume—at the high point a slight break in the voice, then a deepening of the tone as it became a little more throaty and gradually descended the scale and the soft voice trailed off to blend with the storm. We waited to hear again the voice of wilderness in the storm. But the performer, with artistic restraint, was silent.”

In 1945, Adolph Murie again checked on the sheep populations in the park. They were at an all-time low after another severe winter, and sportsmen’s organizations pressured the Park Service for action: the extermination of all wolves in Mt. McKinley National Park.

Though he believed in allowing nature to unfold on its own, Murie recommended that 10-15 wolves be killed to allow the sheep population to regrow, and satisfy the growing pressure from outside groups. Even with Adolph Murie’s research, predator control on wolves in the park continued into the 1950s. It is thought by some that Adolph Murie agreed to lead the predator control management in order to limit its harm on the wolf population. The last year of predator control in the park was in 1952.
Development in Mt. McKinley increased as more visitors made the trek to Alaska each year. In the mid-1950s, there was a movement to improve infrastructure throughout the nation’s national parks called “Mission 66”, a ten-year plan to create more visitor centers, roads, hotels, and gas stations, headed by Conrad Wirth, the director of the National Park Service. In Mt. McKinley, there were plans to widen and pave the park road out to Mile 66, where a new visitor center was being built, as well as building a hotel and gas stations out near the end of the park road at Wonder Lake, 85 miles in.
Adolph and Olaus Murie were very opposed to these developments. In 1958, as road construction had started, Adolph Murie argued that it damaged the “purity of wilderness atmosphere.” Construction of the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 began two years later, which Murie called a “monstrosity” and “Dairy Queen” because of how it stood out on the tundra landscape. Olaus warned, “the national park will not serve its purpose if we encourage the visitor to hurry as fast as possible for a mere glimpse of scenery from a car, and a few snapshots.”

The Park Service responded by saying, “the road must be widened to minimum safety standards” due to increased visitation. In the spring of 1963, Murie and a group of other conservationists retaliated. They published an entire issue of National Parks Magazine dedicated to Mount McKinley, arguing through multiple essays and articles that the new road would not allow visitors to receive full enjoyment and that it was a detriment to the park.

Construction continued in the park, and in July 1965, Adolph Murie wrote another article for the National Parks Magazine, calling on conservationists to write to officials expressing their concerns about the park road. Replies flooded in, which triggered intra-agency correspondence. Two months later, construction slowed and finally stopped. The park service had constructed 15 miles of pavement and 30 miles of road widening.

It was through these efforts to protect the character of the park’s wilderness that Ade Murie became known as “Denali’s Wilderness Conscience.” He retired from the Park Service in early 1965 and received the highest honor in the Department of the Interior: the Distinguished Service Award, recognizing his cutting-edge ecological studies, passion for proper park management, and dedication to conservation values in Denali and other national parks across the country.

Margaret and Olaus had moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1927. Olaus was studying the elk populations in the Teton Mountains. In 1937 Murie became a member of the Wilderness Society council, and only eight years later became the director of the Wilderness Society. He lobbied against the construction of dams in Glacier National Park and helped drive the movement to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a 9-million-acre ecosystem bordering the Arctic Ocean. Adolph and Louise, along with Olaus and Margaret, purchased a ranch in Moose, Wyoming in 1945. Today, it is home to the Teton Science Schools, whose mission is to inspire curiosity, engagement, and leadership through transformative place-based education.

In Denali, the Murie Science and Learning Center was dedicated to Adolph Murie in 2004. It’s the hub for science communication and education in the park. In the summer, the center hosts a park scientist weekly to share their research conclusions with local employees and visitors. Together the center and the scientists carry on Murie’s legacy of communicating scientific findings directly with the public.

Today, the park road in Denali is still 92 miles long, and the first 15 miles of paved road are the only areas visitors are allowed to take a personal vehicle. The rest of the road is still gravel. Today it is traveled by bus via a shuttle system that was put in place in 1972 to keep the park as wild as possible.

Restoring the Giants

Awe-inspiring giant sequoia trees are among the largest living things on earth, but the opportunity to experience them is rare. Approximately 75 groves exist, and only along the southern Sierra’s western slope on moist sites between about 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation. Giant Forest, one of the largest groves, was saved from logging by the establishment of Sequoia National Park in 1890. But national park status did not fully protect the big trees. 

On this episode, the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. 

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The road that brought visitors to Giant Forest also brought camping, cabins, commercial development, and congestion. The impacts of this development, both to the giant sequoia ecosystem and to the quality of visitor experience, conflicted with the National Park Service mandate to conserve park resources and values and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of present and future generations. 


Commercial recreational use of Giant Forest began in 1899 with the construction of a tent camp that was reached by a pack mule train. In 1903 a proper road was completed and the tent camp grew accordingly. The end of the road at Round Meadow became the location for a ramshackle collection of semi-permanent summer camps, along with administrative and concessionaire buildings. Ensuing campaigns to draw people to the national parks — and to see the “big trees” in particular — generated a massive increase in visitation. From 1915 to 1930, lodges, four campgrounds, dozens of parking lots, a garbage incinerator, water and sewage systems, a gas station, corrals, and over 200 cabins were built, along with, restaurants, office, retail, and bath-house structures. Many of these were located directly among stands of monarch sequoias. 

By the late 1920s, this disturbing human impact on the Giant Forest was noted by many, including Emilio Meinecke, an eminent forest pathologist who was commissioned by National Park Service Director Stephen Mather to study the “effects of tourist traffic on plant life, particularly big trees” in Sequoia National Park. In 1926, Meinecke reported that humans were heavily impacting the Giant Forest. A second voice was that of Colonel John White, superintendent of Sequoia National Park. He was appalled by the congestion and over-development of the grove. In 1927, he suggested that the Giant Forest Lodge cabins be removed. 

Another voice to arise in the late 1920s was that of the park concessioner, the Sequoia and General Grant National Parks Company. This fledgling company immediately recognized the commercial value of the Giant Forest, and was at odds with those who would favor conservation. 

The outspoken Colonel White was to be Superintendent of the parks for two decades. During his tenure, his conviction regarding the restoration of the Giant Forest would grow in nearly equal measure to the power of the Sequoia and General Grant National Parks Company. But the conscessionaire won nearly every battle. In 1931 Colonel White drew a line in the sand, refusing the concessioner’s proposed addition of five new cabins to the Giant Forest Lodge on the grounds that “the company should not be in the sequoia grove in the first place.” 

The Director of the National Park Service overruled White’s decision, but chose to institute limits on guest capacity — a decision that would mark the first occasion that the Park Service would limit tourism development in any of its parks. The concessioner was able to construct additional development before hitting this limit, and within a few years of Colonel White’s retirement, the grove would contain more than 400 structures.

In the 1920s, Emilio Meinecke put considerable effort into understanding the human impact on the big trees, even as other scientific research on the trees was stagnant. During these years, landscape architects directed most land-use planning. The science of ecology was in its infancy, as was landscape architecture. It was geared toward swift, visually appealing results instead of preservation. 

It wouldn’t be until 1954, when the National Park Service instituted a dramatic change in land management policy, that giant sequoia groves would begin to receive protection fitting their importance. That year, the Yosemite Report, commissioned by the Yosemite superintendent, concluded that human impacts were harming the roots of sequoias, and recommended removal of development.

In 1962, scientist Richard Hartesveldt found that altered hydrology in the Mariposa Grove and increasingly dense competing vegetation without natural fire was causing the most severe impacts to sequoias. The most damage was caused where major roots had been cut for road construction. 

In 1963 came the Leopold Report, which had an enormous influence on science in the parks. The Leopold Report was the product of an advisory panel headed by Dr. Starker Leopold, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. In essence, the report called for maintenance or restoration of natural systems to the greatest extent possible. This had direct implications for the Giant Forest, which was specifically mentioned in the report. The Secretary of the Interior issued an order that the report’s recommendations be followed, lending tremendous backing to the movement to restore the Giant Forest.

Colonel White’s vision of a natural Sequoia National Park wouldn’t begin to be realized until the turn of the millennium. After years of planning, design, and construction, the process began to restore the forest to its natural state.

The first challenge was to demolish and remove infrastructure without causing further damage to vegetation and soils. Over 282 buildings, 24 acres of asphalt, dozens of manholes, a sewage treatment plant and spray field, and all exposed sewer and water pipe, aerial telephone and electric lines, and underground propane and fuel tanks were removed delicately. Many of the buildings contained lead-based paint, asbestos insulation, and mercury light fixtures requiring extra care.

Asphalt pavement in roads, parking lots, and walkways was removed by lifting the pavement edges using the claw of an excavator or backhoe. To protect shallow roots, underground water and sewer lines were left in place unless portions were exposed during demolition. Underground propane tanks were purged of any remaining propane and removed completely. Telephone lines, electric lines, and light fixtures that were attached to live trees were delicately removed.

All overnight accommodations were relocated, and the entire grove has been converted from overnight-use to day-use. Once the home of nearly 300 buildings, the region now has four.

But the removal of human development was not enough. Paved roads, trails, and parking lots changed drainage patterns, allowing water to concentrate and create erosion gullies. Vehicle and foot travel compacted the soil and quickly broke down needles and twigs on the soil surface, depleting the topsoil of organic matter. Groups of mature trees were cleared for buildings and parking lots. There were very few grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, or tree seedlings due to the lack of fire and human trampling.

A massive restoration project was needed to recover the regions ecological integrity. The park service regraded roads, trails, parking lots, and other altered landforms to resemble the original topography and drainage patterns, using soil that approximated the surrounding, undisturbed soils.

The vegetation would then begin to be restored, largely by letting natural fire do its work, bringing new trees to life. 

Today’s restored Giant Forest results from the efforts of countless dedicated personnel, from biologists to heavy equipment operators. But the monumental accomplishments of this project stem from the unwavering ideals of managers and planners beginning with Colonel White.


The dramatic landscape of Sequoia National Park, and its sister park King’s Canyon, is full of huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and, of course, the world’s largest trees. The two parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley. The elevation ranges from 1,370′ to 14,494′. The largest and finest groves of giant sequoias grow at the sometimes snowy mid-elevations.

Giant Forest is one of many sequoia groves in the parks, but it’s the largest of the unlogged giant sequoia groves and contains more exceptionally large sequoias than any other, including the largest living sequoia, the General Sherman Tree. 

Giant Forest has an extensive network of hiking trails that range from 1-2 hour hikes to half-day or longer explorations. 

Throughout the summer, free in-park shuttle service will get you around without the pains of finding parking. There are fourteen campgrounds in these parks, including three that are open year-round. Most campgrounds are first-come, first-served. Check vehicle-length limits on park roads before deciding which route to take in. There are no RV hookups in the parks, but many of the campgrounds can accommodate RVs. There are also 4 lodges for those wanting the National Park Lodge experience. 

Rangers Make the Difference III

Being a National Park Service Ranger is a multifaceted job, one that requires you to call on all your skills to bring a park to life.

Whether it be through music, research, education, conservation, or day to day administrative work, Rangers give their all to the places they have sworn to protect, which is why every year the International Ranger Foundation sets aside July 31st as World Ranger Day. If you’ve listened to past episodes, you know our “Rangers Make the Difference” series began in part to celebrate World Ranger Day and to highlight National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond. Today’s episode, while unique in its focus, is no different. 

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the roll the art of music has played in helping our rangers bring the parks to life.

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We start at the birthplace of Jazz – New Orleans, and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park where almost every day you can take in a live performance from a jazz artist, many of whom are Rangers.

Located in the heart of New Orleans French Quarter, the park’s primary visitor center is located at 916 N. Peters Street and is a good starting point to learn about the history and culture of New Orleans jazz. The New Orleans Jazz Museum, located nearby, features a world-class performance venue and jazz museum on the second and third floors. 

The vocals you just heard were by Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, a musician and composer, naturalist, a black-and-white portrait photographer, a television and film actor and a former professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs…and his musical talents aren’t limited to Jazz and piano. In fact he’s one of the worlds best Zydeco musicians. Oh, and he’s a full-time National Park Service ranger. 

Barnes travels to perform at parks throughout the south. Here he is at the Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve, discussing the importance of the islands, swamps and marshes south of New Orleans to Black Americans, and performing an improptu song with Underground Railroad Freedom Singers Erica Falls, Elaine Foster, and Joshua Walker on the visitor center trail.

Music plays an important role at so many of our historic sites. From the Star Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry, to the Folk Festival at Lowell National Historic Park. But music was also important before Europeans arrived. At the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota, Mandan/Hidatsa flute player and storyteller Keith Bear uses music and story to bring to life the culture of the Upper Missouri.

Music can tell us so much about our history, but rangers use music for other reasons, too. Ranger Tori Anderson, who now works at North Cascades National Park, was formerly a Wildlife Education Ranger at Yellowstone. Her interpretive programs feature music to help people think about their connection to the land. Here she is in Yellowstone’s Indian Creek campground, performing at the end of a program about grizzlies:

That recording is from Benjamin Evans.


Lincoln’s Throne

For more than 100 years, no national memorial had been contemplated for any president except George Washington, yet talk of building one to honor the monumental legacy left by Abraham Lincoln began even as he lingered on his deathbed. There was an obvious appropriateness to the concept that Lincoln, the preserver of the Union, should join Washington, the founder of that Union, in being honored on the National Mall.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Lincoln Memorial, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington D.C.

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In 1867, Congress passed the first of many bills establishing a commission to erect a monument for the sixteenth president. Sculptor Clark Mills was chosen to design the monument. His plans called for a 70-foot structure adorned with six equestrian and 31 massive pedestrian statues, crowned by a 12-foot statue of Lincoln.

The project couldn’t raise enough funds, and the plans went by the wayside until the start of the 20th century, when six separate bills were introduced in Congress for the incorporation of a new memorial commission. The first five bills were met with defeat. Remember, the country was still deeply wounded from the Civil War, and Lincoln, to many, was still derided. Nor was it American nature to diefy presidents at the time. The sixth bill, introduced on December 13, 1910, passed. The Lincoln Memorial Commission had its first meeting the following year, led by President Taft. By 1913 Congress had approved of the Commission’s choice of design and location.

Architect Henry Bacon was chosen to design the memorial. His Greek temple design was far too outrageous for some, who instead proposed a humble log cabin shrine. But Bacon prevailed. Until the late 1800s, the current site of the Lincoln Memorial did not exist and the Washington Monument marked the shoreline of the Potomac River. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deepened the river, the dredged silt deposited along its banks expanded the land to its current configuration. The reclaimed land was proposed as the site for a memorial

With Congressional approval and a $300,000 allocation, the project got underway. On February 12, 1914, a dedication ceremony was conducted and the following month the actual construction began. Work progressed steadily according to schedule. Some changes were made to the plan. The statue of Lincoln, originally designed to be 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, was enlarged to 19 feet (5.8 m) to prevent it from being overwhelmed by the huge chamber. As late as 1920, the decision was made to substitute an open portal for the bronze and glass grille which was to have guarded the entrance. Despite these changes, the Memorial was finished on schedule. Commission president William H. Taft – who was then Chief Justice of the United States – dedicated the Memorial on May 30, 1922, and presented it to United States President Warren G. Harding, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. Lincoln’s only surviving son, 78-year-old Robert Todd Lincoln, was in attendance.[8]

The Lincoln Memorial is almost an unworldly sight. Entering its presence quite literally can make your knees weak. To talk about his first time seeing the effigy, here’s Ranger Thomas Downs.

Jason – The Memorial’s interior is divided into three chambers by two rows of four Ionic columns. The north and south chambers display carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address.

Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the 19’ tall statue of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers under the supervision of the sculptor Daniel Chester French. It took four years to complete. Made of Georgia white marble, it weighs 175 tons and was shipped in twenty-eight pieces.

The Memorial is full with symbolic elements. The 36 columns represent the states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death; the 48 stone festoons above the columns represent the 48 states in 1922. With more, here’s Ranger Robert Healy JR

When the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922, the United States, although torn by the Civil War, felt unified as never before. Citizens of the North and South had fought together in a World War. They had shared the bloodshed and then the victory. As a result, the dedication ceremony celebrated, even reveled in the message of unity proclaimed by this memorial. Yet, as the ceremony exalted one thing, it largely overlooked another. Aside from the Union veterans in the soldiers’ section, those attending the 1922 dedication ceremony were segregated along racial lines. It seems that some of the people who dedicated the building failed to dedicate themselves to its full meaning. Some may have chosen to forget the meaning of equality represented here, but the memorial remained steadfast in its advocacy for equality.

The memorial would continue to echo truths about America’s racial relations through the years, and Ranger Gilbert Lyons lived through much of it.

https://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/ncr/linc/interactive/deploy/html/videos.html

Martin Luther King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech is the most memorable event to happen at the Lincoln Memorial – one of the most important events in American history. But years before, in 1939, singer Marian Anderson was denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because of her color. Instead, and at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt, she was permitted to perform at the Lincoln Memorial, in front of a crowd of thousands, including President Roosevelt. Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dr King, are all set to appear on the back the newly re-designed $5 bill, which should be printed in the coming years. Lincoln will continue to grace its front.

238,900 Miles from Idaho

This episode was written by Lindsey Taylor, whose blog “The Curiosity Chronicles” follows her adventures around the world.

Fifty years ago, in 1969, NASA sent astronauts to a remote location in southern Idaho. Their goal? To learn basic geology and study the local, relatively recent volcanic features located there in preparation for potential missions to the moon.

In the midst of flat plains and agricultural fields, lies the Great Rift, a series of fractures and deep cracks that start near the Snake River and stretch 52 miles to the northwest. 15,000 years ago, lava erupted from these fissures, sending molten rock burning across the landscape. The lava continued to erupt over the course of nearly 13,000 years, growing to cover 618 square miles, or 1600 square kilometers.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, Craters of the Moon National Monument.

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More than 200,000 people visit this remote park every year for it’s unique volcanic and geologic features, features that have not yet been weathered, eroded, or grown over by vegetation. Though the lava wasn’t always solid rock as it is today, humans have had a long history in this area.

People first inhabited the Snake River plains between twelve and fourteen thousand years ago. They were members of the Shoshone (a branch of the Northern Shoshone who lived in the upper Columbia River Basin) and Bannock tribes (a branch of the Northern Paiute), and their ancestors. Members from both tribes lived in this area together, traveling, hunting, and mixing often. In the summer, these humans lived in smaller semi-nomadic groups of a few families as opposed to a highly-structured tribe. Horses acquired in the 1700s allowed the Shoshone and Bannock tribes to hunt farther away from home, near present-day Montana and Wyoming.

Archaeological sites in the area include tools, hunting blinds, and rock shelters. Cut bones of deer and bison have been found in lava tubes throughout the Snake River Plains, indicating that the Shoshone and Bannock would have used these cool locations to preserve meat. According to archaeological sites, members of these tribes likely witnessed the most recent lava flows at Craters of the Moon. This story displays what they may have learned first-hand from the eruptions.

A legend tells the story of a serpent, miles and miles in length lying where the channel of the Snake River is now. Though peaceful, the people were terrified by it. One spring, it left its river bed and went to the large mountain in what is now Craters of the Moon. The serpent coiled its body around the mountain to sun itself, but a  storm rolled in angering the serpent. The serpent began tightening its coils around the mountain. The pressure became so great the stone began to melt and fire came from the cracks. Soon a liquid rock flowed down the sides of the mountain, and the serpent, to slow in its movements, was killed by the heat and roasted into the hot rock. The fire eventually burned itself out and the rock became solid again. Today, if one visits the spot and looks closely at the solidified rock, you will see the ribs and bones of the huge serpent, charred and lifeless. 

When pioneers, ranchers, and explorers traveled through what is now Craters of the Moon National Monument in the 1850s, it was a hard land to love. Miles of volcanic bedrock made travel challenging and there was little to mine or to graze on. An explorer named Robert Limbert had a different perspective. He traveled to the area in 1918 after hearing stories of grizzly bears roaming the rocks. In 1920, he and a companion, W.L. Cole, hiked the length of the Great Rift. It took them 17 days to travel 80 miles with cooking gear, binoculars, blankets, guns, a camera, and enough dried food to last the trip. 

The first few days passed slowly as they picked their way across 28 miles of jagged flows. Imagine trying to find a place to sleep on such uneven rock beds. Water was scarce, but they followed the flight paths of birds or old Indian or mountain sheep trails to find a watering hole.

Limbert would later promote the region to be a national park. One year after his trip along the Great Rift, Limbert brought ten scientists and civic leaders to Craters of the Moon to show them the unique volcanic features that existed there. Art was to be a medium of persuasion; he shot more than 200 still photographs and 4,000 feet of motion picture film. These photos were published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide, and in 1924 he published “Among the Craters of the Moon” in National Geographic. He wrote, “No more fitting tribute to the volcanic forces which built the great Snake River Valley could be paid than to make this region into a National Park.” President Calvin Coolidge even received a homemade scrapbook of photos from Limbert, and later that same year he signed a proclamation to create a national monument. 1,500 people were in attendance for the dedication ceremony on June 15th, 1924.

Years later, in 1969, the park received a new kind of visitor: astronauts.

Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan, and Joe Engle traveled to Craters of the Moon National Monument to train for potential future trips to the moon. In August that year, they landed at the airport in Arco and traveled to the park. So what were these men doing at a small monument in southern Idaho?

They were chosen to fly space missions because of their experience as pilots. But if they were to ever land on the moon, these men needed to know how to collect and record geologic data. Weight was limited on the lunar landings; only 850 pounds of material over six trips to the moon could be carried back to earth. With such limited space, it was extremely important that only the most valuable specimens were collected. NASA hoped that by sending a select group of men to Craters of the Moon, they would be able to learn enough about volcanic geology to understand how to observe the moon’s volcanic landscape correctly. Hopefully, they would be able to accurately describe geologic features to scientists back on earth. 

For the most efficient training, NASA needed a site with relatively recent geologic activity and a variety of volcanic features that had not been weathered or covered in vegetation. This is where Craters of the Moon National Monument comes in. The park has lava flows, spatter cones, lava lakes, fissure vents, cinder cones, lava tubes, explosion pits, basalt mounds, subsidence craters, and more that were all created in the last 15,000 years, some even as recently as 2,000 years ago. It was the perfect site to study basic volcanic geology.

Though they traveled to the park together, the four men did not go out on the same lunar missions. Edgar Mitchel landed Antares on the moon when he piloted the lunar module for Apollo 14. He also logged 216 hours and 42 minutes in space during a lone spaceflight.

Years before visiting the park in 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space. At 47, he was the fifth and oldest person to walk on the moon. When he walked on the moon as the commander of Apollo 14, he hit two golf balls on the lunar surface. He and Mitchell brought back almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for continued scientific research. During this adventure, they set the record for longest extravehicular activity (EVA): nine hours and 23 minutes.

Eugene Cernan piloted the lunar module for Apollo 10, which was a practice mission for the first moon landing. He wouldn’t reach the lunar surface until he commanded Apollo 17, where he became the last person to walk on the moon. Upon returning to Craters of the Moon in 1999, he said, “If I could take all the vegetation out of Craters of the Moon, I think there would be a very similar feeling to the vastness of it … just simply the vastness and emptiness of it all.”

Joe Engle was the only one of the four men who trained at Craters of the Moon to never reach the lunar surface. As a backup pilot for Apollo 14, he was chosen to pilot Apollo 17 but was replaced by a geologist when NASA decided to send a scientist to the moon.


The United States’ Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon, on 20 July 1969. Over the next 5 years, 5 more missions would follow. No human has been to the moon since December of 1972. 

In 1970 Congress created the Craters of the Moon Wilderness. The park is also an International Dark Sky Park, granted by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

The park is open year-round, though some park facilities and the loop road are closed during the winter. When the road is open to automobile traffic an entrance fee is required. 

A network of primitive roads through the Bureau of Land Management Monument offers backcountry driving opportunities and access to the National Park Service Preserve for those with high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Individuals seeking challenge and solitude will find both in the cross-country hiking available through the sage-brush covered flats and rugged lava flows of the Monument and Preserve.

There is no camping inside the park, though plenty of options abound outside and range from full hook-ups to boondocking. 

As for the volcano,  it is likely that an eruption will happen again–the volcanoes are dormant, not extinct, after all. Historically, this area has seen volcanic activity every 2,000 years or so, and it has now been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.

A $50 Bet

Rising high above the prairies of the Blackhills stands a tower of astounding geological feature. Considered sacred by indigenous people, it’s an impressive and striking monument against the flat lands of Northeastern Wyoming. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest climbing areas in North America, and for decades this remarkable wonder has drawn daredevils and thrill seekers alike, all hoping to stand atop the tower’s flat summit.

One person, though, took a very different approach, one that hasn’t been attempted since.

On this episode of America’s National Parks Podcast, the man who spent six days trapped atop Devils Tower National Monument and the attempt to rescue him.

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In the fall of 1941 professional parachutist, George Hopkins struck a unique wager with his friend Earl Brockelsby. Brockelsby bet Hopkins $50 he couldn’t parachute down and land on the flat summit of Devils Tower. It was a feat that had never been done before and Hopkins, who had a reputation for breaking records with his thrillseeking jumps, eagerly accepted the bet.

Parachuting into strange places was nothing new for Hopkins. His latest stunt would have him setting the record for the most jumps in one day, and a pre-publicity Devils Tower jump seemed like the perfect way to raise awareness. In the end, things didn’t exactly go the way, Hopkins planned.

Letting only a few local reporters in on his plan, under the condition they would not publish his story until the jump was complete, Hopkins took to the sky on the morning of Oct. 1, while a car full of people watched from below,

The plan was to land upon the one-acre top, then descend using a 1,000-foot rope which would drop from the plane after him. Hopkins exited the plane, flew through the sky, and hit his mark, but his rope did not. It landed just out of reach on the cliff face, effectively leaving the parachutist marooned on Devils Tower.

With no option for escape, National Park Service officials were brought in to rescue Hopkins from the cold, windy summit, but exactly how that would be accomplished was anyone’s guess.

While debating what to do with this man stuck on top of Devils Tower, newspapers around the country began picking up the story, and letters from concerned citizens, corporations, and even the military began arriving with suggestions for rescuing Hopkins. The Goodyear Company offered to loan the use of a blimp, while the Navy offered the use of a helicopter.

Airplanes dropped food, water, and warm clothing over the Tower, even a bottle of whiskey, which Hopkins claimed was for “medicinal purposes.” A new rope was attempted but that too didn’t go according to plan. After landing, it became tangled and later froze due to wind, snow, and condensation atop the rock. Try as he might, Hopkins couldn’t get the knots out of the 1,000 feet of frozen rope.

After a few days of discussion, Jack Durrance, one of the earliest technical climbers to scale Devils Tower, offered to lead a rescue party. The park service accepted. The problem was, Durrance was in Dartmouth, so a plan to get him to the tower, and quickly, had to be put into place.

In the end, bad weather forced Durrance to travel by train, which meant Hopkins would be stranded for at least a couple more days.

On October 5, Durrance and his party arrived at the monument and began laying out a safe climbing route for rescue operations. The following day, he led seven other climbers to the summit of Devils Tower where they found Hopkins who, in spite of his ordeal, was in good spirits and excellent physical condition. The team descended down quickly and with minimal difficulty.

Hopkins described his ordeal saying, “I bet I counted the big boulders on that damned mountain peak a thousand times, and I gave ‘em all names you couldn’t print if I told you what they were.”

George Hopkins ended up spending close to a week stranded on top of Devils Tower before Durrance could arrive and assist him down. During the six-day period nearly 7,000 visitors came to witness events first hand, events that started all because of a $50 bet.

“I had my hand out fishin’ for the dough when I hit the ground,” Hopkins said. “Earl paid off.”


Within a few months following the Hopkins episode, the United States entered World War II. National Park Service sites saw very little visitation during the war years. Hopkins would go on to work with the military training the new airborne infantry divisions for the war. It is believed he set his world record as he taught other young men to safely jump and land using a parachute.

Today, nearly 6,000 climbers come to Devils Tower to scale the 867 feet from its base to the summit. Climbing is voluntarily closed in June out of respect for the spiritual and cultural significance of the tower. Over twenty American Indian Tribes consider Devils Tower a sacred place. Activities and ceremonies occur in the monument throughout the year; however, the month of June is an especially meaningful time for traditional tribal ceremonial expression.

Designated in 1906 as our first National Monument, Devils Tower continues to be a popular destination for National Park enthusiasts and during the busy season, parking can be difficult, so plan to get there early if you can.

There is a seasonal first -come-first served campground with 43 RV pull-through sites and 3 group tent camping sites. Large cottonwood trees provide much-needed shade from the summer heat. There is no electric or sewer, and drinking water is available at designated water spigots. If full-hookup RVing is your thing, there are several private campgrounds outside the park.

The park is open year round, and so is the visitor center, however, operating hours vary with the seasons, so its best to call before you go.

Meaningless Without Sacrifice

The Emancipation Proclamation has been called one of the two most important American contributions to the world by Martin Luther King, Jr., yet was said to possess “all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading” by historian Richard Hofstadter. Its force and form have been the subject of countless books and papers. Was it a meaningless document? Or did it drastically change America? On this episode, a lecture from ranger Dan Vermilya at Gettysburg National Military Park breaks through the soundbites to shed light on the real significance of this important piece of history. 

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Alone on a Winter’s Island

Nestled at the top of Wisconsin sits a cluster of islands on Lake Superior that have been home to Native Americans, pioneer farmers, commercial fisherman and more. Today it’s a land that is mostly reclaimed by the wilderness, it is also home to what some call the finest collection of lighthouses in the country.

Guiding the way for ships on Lake Superior, Nine light stations stand upon the Apostle Islands. Though operated automatically today, there was a time when lighthouse keepers lived on the islands and tended the lights. It was a lonely occupation, and while some keepers were bachelors, many brought families to the islands. A Lightkeepers’ wife was faced with the difficulty of caring for a family in conditions that are unimaginable today.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Listen below, or on any podcast app:



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Anna Maria Carlson was one such woman. Born in Sweden, Anna Maria came to the U.S. as a teenager. At the age of twenty-one, she married Robert Carlson, the newly-appointed Assistant Keeper at the Outer Island light. Many years later, she told a newspaper reporter of how it felt to adapt to her new way of life:

I had three persons to talk to: my husband, who was assistant keeper, the head keeper, an old man with but one eye, and a fisherman who came that summer and lived in a shack down the shore.

Oh! The loneliness of those days on Outer Island! There was nothing to see but water, with the dim outline of other islands of the Apostles group behind the haze, and an occasional steamer way out on the lake. When my housework was done, my husband used to take me down the shore to the fisherman’s shack, where we would visit for a while. Or we would walk out into the woods.

That was my life, day in and day out. Going ashore to the mainland, 40 miles away, meant riding in a sailboat, which always frightened me. Nights I would look out of the window and see nothing but the dark water; no lights anywhere, not even in the fisherman’s shanty, which was too far away.

The old lighthouse keeper, dead these many years, was always very kind. He showed me how to cook, for I had never been used to much work. I have learned to do all kinds of housework since my marriage. A woman can learn to do anything if she sets her mind to it.

By the time Robert Carlson was promoted to Keeper of the Michigan Island light, Anna had given birth to three children: a daughter, Cecelia, and twin boys, Robert and Carl.

In her first year at Michigan Island, Anna faced a harrowing experience which gave her the opportunity to display an inner strength that proved she could overcome the worst that an unfamiliar environment could offer her.

Here is Anna’s own description of the incident, as transcribed by a reporter at the Detroit News in 1931:

We were trying a winter on Michigan Island, where my husband was head lighthouse keeper. His brother was assistant. When we decided to stay, our hired girl promised to remain with us through the winter. But she slipped away and went ashore with some fishermen, and didn’t come back.

[One day] they took the dogs and went fishing. I was always afraid to be alone on the island. A city-bred girl, the stark loneliness of it was appalling. As soon as they left the house I ran about and locked all the doors and windows. Yet there was nobody on the island but myself, and the children, a little girl past two, and the twin boys, nine months old.

For a few hours after they had gone that day I was busy setting the house in order. The tower was closed but there was lots of work to do in the house, and I was glad for that. I got the children’s lunch, prepared things for an early supper, as I knew the men would be very hungry when they came home, and then sat down to wait.

Women who wait in brightly lighted cities with people all around within call of the voice have no conception what it is to sit and wait for your man on a deserted island, with snow and ice everywhere and no light but the stars.

I watched the sun go down across the water, waited until its sickly yellowish light had disappeared and the stars came out. I kept stoking the fires, for I knew the men would be cold when they came in.

I did not even think of such a thing as their not coming. They had been gone since before daylight, and they would be home before six, I was sure. The wind was blowing a gale, but in my ignorance of such things I gave it no thought.

Six o’clock came, and darkness. It was so dark outside I could not bear to look out the window, but I kept watching for the men and the dogs. It began to snow. Seven o’clock and still my man had not come. I put the children to bed and waited.

All night long I sat by the fire, terror clutching my heart. I could not believe they would not come. Every time the wind rattled the branches of the trees around the lighthouse I would start up, expecting to hear my husband’s voice.

Morning found me on the verge of hysteria. But there was serious work to be done. I had to milk the cow because of the children. And I was afraid of the cow. Raised in Chicago, where one doesn’t even think of such things, I had never learned to milk, even after coming with my husband to Michigan Island, where a cow and chickens provided the main food for the children.

It was bitterly cold and still snowing. A winter fog shut us in. I went down to the barn and looked at the cow. She swung her head and made a noise and I knew I could never milk her as I had seen my husband do.

Running into the woodshed, I grabbed the ax, and in desperation began chopping at the wall of her manger. Making a hole through which I could put both hands, I started to milk into a little tin cup which I held with one hand, milking with the other. The cow kicked and I jumped away.

But the children had to have their milk. So back I went and I kept at it until I got enough for them. I fed the cow, and watered her, and looked after the chickens.

Then I went back to the house and waited. I waited and watched, and somehow kept my reason all through that terrible day, and the more terrible night that followed.

Things began to get a little hazy after that. Two nights of terror, and another night faced me. Somehow, I lived through them, looked after the children, got their milk, fed the chickens. That is about all that I remember of those days.

The ice had broken up while the men were fishing, carrying Robert and his brother out into the open lake. At this time of year, the lighthouse lamp would normally have been secured for the winter. Anna tried to signal her distress by hanging a white sheet from the top of the tower, but so many miles from the mainland shore, there was no one to see it wave.

On the third day, I could stand the house no longer. Leaving the little girl with the twins, I put on a hat and coat and went down the shore. You don’t know what the Michigan Island shore is, in winter. Unbroken trails through the woods, ice hummocks barring the way, deep gulches of snow into which I stumbled, the bitter, cutting wind from the lake lashing my face; and above all the sight of that white expanse which was holding my husband from me.

It seemed hours afterward that I came back to the house. The twins were asleep in the cradle. Little sister was rocking them. As I closed the door, I fell to the floor, screaming. I screamed at the top of my voice, until I was exhausted. And still my husband did not come. There was another terrible night before me.

You know how it is with us women. Sometimes, when we think we can’t endure any longer, it does us good to let go, like that. I think if I had not screamed I would have lost my mind.

That night I slept a little. On the fourth day the weather had cleared, but it was still bitterly cold. I went about the house in a daze. The same chores had to be done, the children had to be cared for. How I hated Lake Superior!

I was doing some task about the kitchen that afternoon when I heard my husband’s voice.

“I’m all right, Anna,” he called to me. “Don’t be afraid.”

The next moment I was in his arms, sobbing and laughing in real hysterics.

My husband told me that he had been afraid to come in without first calling to me. He said he was afraid– afraid. He thought I might have killed the children and myself.

The two men had drifted to Madeline Island when the ice broke up. Their sufferings from the intense cold, hunger and weariness were terrible. When the gale came up, it started the ice out into the lake, with them on it. By night the floe upon which they were riding, with the dogs, pushed up against Madeline Island. They had walked, and jumped from floe to floe, until their shoes were almost off their feet and the feet of the dogs were bleeding.

On the island they found some flour in a fisherman’s shanty, some dry wood and kindling, and, after building a hot fire, they boiled the flour into a sort of gruel. That was all they and the dogs had to eat during the time they were held on the island.

On the beach they found an old boat. In the shanty were oakum and pitch. They patched and caulked the boat and rowed across the eight miles of stormy waters to Michigan Island, and home. They were badly frosted, and it was two weeks before they recovered from the terrible experience. The feet of one poor old dog, the most faithful of the team, were so badly torn and frosted he had to be put out of his suffering. We never tried living on any of our island homes through the winter after that experience.

The 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland host a unique blend of cultural and natural resources. Lighthouses shine over Lake Superior and the newly protected wilderness areas. Visitors can hike, paddle, sail, or cruise to experience these Jewels of Lake Superior.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other site in the National Park System, and more than 240 species of birds breed in or migrate through the park.

Clear water, underwater rock formations, and fascinating shipwrecks combine to provide outstanding freshwater scuba diving opportunities, and 50 miles of trails keep hikers busy. The Lakeshore Trail on the mainland extends about five miles from Meyers Beach past clifftop overlooks of the mainland sea caves. Island trails provide access to lighthouses, abandoned quarries, old farm sites, historic logging and commercial fishing camps, beaches, campsites, and scenic overlooks. Camping is available on 19 of the lakeshore’s 21 islands.

The visitor center at the Bayfield Headquarters is a good place to begin your journey. Apostle Islands brownstone was used to construct this stately building, as well as many other elegant public buildings and residences throughout the Upper Midwest.

The text for this episode is adapted from an article by the National Park Service.

On the Oregon Trail

If you’re of a particular generation, you’re likely to remember the Oregon Trail video game. Long before kids were master Minecraft builders, or zipping around corners in MarioKart, they were leaders guiding settlers as they traveled from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The road was tough, and you had to make life-altering decisions, decisions that would lead to the success of the party or would lead to dysentery. No one wanted to die of dysentery.

But for the real-life 19th-century Pioneers, the adventure was anything but a video game.

If you listened to our two-part series on the Lewis and Clark expedition, then you know America was longing to find a passable route to the Pacific Northwest. And while Lewis and Clark were able to find a passage, it wasn’t a realistic one for families in covered wagons. Another route was required.

Enter Robert Stuart of the Astorians. Part of a group of fur traders who established Fort Astoria on the Columbia River in western Oregon, Stuart became the first white man to use what would become known as the Oregon Trail in 1810. The 2,000-mile journey from Fort Astoria to St. Louis took 10 months to complete, which admittedly, was a decent chunk of time, yet it was less rugged than Lewis and Clark’s, and it was accessible to covered wagons. It was, a game changer.

While the white man saw this land as wild and untamed, a collection of resources to be claimed and inhabited, many Indigenous tribes saw it as their home. The arrival of those from the east would be the beginning of the end for the Native American way of life.

Yet it would be another 26 years before the first wagons would carve a trail towards Oregon Country.

A missionary party headed by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman set out to reach the Willamette Valley in March 1836, eventually settling in eastern Washington at Waiilatpu in September of that year.

During that time Narcissa kept a journal at the suggestion of her mother, whom she would never see again. In it, she writes to her family of life on the trail, of the oppressive heat, the difficult terrain, the joys, and her faith.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and our slightly edited version of the August 1836 journal entries from a woman who would hold many “firsts” as she made her way on foot towards the Pacific Northwest.

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August 7th: Came fifteen miles without seeing water, over a dry parch earth, covered with its native sage as parched as the earth itself. Heat excessive but mitigated with a gentle breeze. We have encamped on a fine place plenty of good grass for our weary animals. Thus are blessings so mingled, that it seems as if there was nothing else but mercy and blessings all the way.

August 8th Mon. Eve. Snake River: Have an excellent campground tonight, plenty of excellent feed for our horses & cattle. Quite a change in the temperatures of the atmosphere since yesterday noon. It was so cool last night & we have such a wind today, that we and our animals have traveled more comfortably for it. Have come eighteen miles today & have taken it so deliberately that it has been easy for us. The hunters came in last night well loaded. They had been in the mountains two days after game. Killed three Elks & two antelopes. This is the first Elk meat we have had, & is the last opportunity we expect to have of taking any more game. We think ours will last us until we reach the Salmon fishery, at Snake Falls. Thus we are well provided for all the way, contrary to our expectations.

August 11th [Thursday]. Tues & Wed. have been very tedious days, both for man and beast. Lengthy marches without water. Not so tedious today for length, but the route has been rocky & sandy.

August 12th Frid: Raised camp this morn at Sunrise. Came two hours ride to the Salmon fishery, [and] Obtained & boiled for our breakfast find it good eating. Friday eve. Dear Harriet the little trunk you gave me has come with me so far, & now I must leave it here alone. Poor little trunk! I am sorry to leave thee. Twenty miles below the Falls on Snake River. Farewell little Trunk. I thank thee for thy faithful services & that I have been cheered by thy presence so long. The hills are so steep that Husband thought it best to lighten the wagon as much as possible & take nothing but the wheels. I regret leaving anything that came from home especially that trunk, but it is best. It would have been better for us not to have attempted to bring any baggage only what necessary to use on the way. If I were to make this journey again I would make quite different preparations. To pack & unpack so many times & cross so many streams, where the packs frequently get wet, requires no small amount of labour, besides the injury done to the articles. Our books what few we have, have been wet several times. The custom of the country is to possess nothing & then you will lose nothing while traveling. farewell for the present.

August 13th Sat: Dear H, Mr McKay has asked the privilege of taking the little trunk along so that my soliloquy about it last night was for naught. We have come at least fifteen miles & have had the worst route in all the journey for the cart. They were preparing to cross Snake River. The river is divided by two islands into three branches & is fordable. The packs are placed upon the top of the highest horses &in this way crossed without wetting. Two of the tallest horses were selected to carry Mrs S & myself over. Husband had considerable difficulty in crossing the cart. Both the cart & the mules were capsized in the water and the mules entangled in the harness. They would have drowned, but for a desperate struggle to get them ashore Then after putting two of the strongest horses before the cart & two men swimming behind to steady it, they succeeded in getting it over. I once thought that crossing streams would be the most dreadful part of the journey. I can now cross the most difficult stream without the least fear. There is one manner of crossing which Husband has tried, but I have not, neither do I wish to. Take an Elk Skin and stretch it over you spreading yourself out as much as possible. Then let the Indian women carefully put you on the water, & with a cord in the mouth they will swim & drag you over.(Edward how do you think you would like to ride this way.)

August 15th: Yesterday Mr McLeod with most of his men left us wishing to hasten his arrival at Snake Fort, leaving us a pilot & his weakest animals to come in with us at our leisure. This is a relief to us for it is difficult to bring our cattle up to the speed they wish to travel. We have had such a cool wind today & it has been so comfortable traveling that we have made better progress than usual. We passed the hot Springs just before noon which are quite a curiosity. Boiled a bit of dry Salmon in one of them in five minutes.

August 19th: Arrived at Snake Fort about noon. It is situated on Big Wood River, so called because the timber is larger than any to be seen this side of the mountains. Snake Fort is owned & built by Mr McKay one of company whom we expect to leave here. He with Mr McLeod gave us a hearty welcome. Mr McLeod was ready to leave on the morrow but said he would stay a day longer to give us the opportunity of doing some necessary work, for which we were thankful.

August 20th Sat: Last night I put my cloths in water & this morning finished washing before breakfast.I find it not very agreeable to do such work in the middle of the day when I have no shelter to protect me from the suns scorching rays. This is the third time I have washed since I left the states or home either. Once at Fort Williams & at Rendezvous. Mr McLeod call this eve to see if we were ready to leave. Observed that we had been so engaged in labor as to have no time for rest & proposed for our sakes (the Ladies) to remain over the Sabbath. This I can assure you was a favour for which we can never be to thankful for as our souls need the rest of the Sab, as well as our bodies.


Narcissa, along with her husband Marcus and the rest of their party reached the Walla-Walla Washington area on September 1, 1836. During that time she became one of the first two white women to cross the continent overland, and in 1837 she had the first child born of American parents in Oregon Country. Her journey proved women could cross the country on foot, opening the door for several generations of emigrants to embark on the Oregon Trail.

Narcissa and her husband lived in Oregan for over 10 years as missionaries, dispensing farming and medical advice while preaching to local tribes. Earlier fur traders had brought infectious disease to the area, so when an outbreak of measles took hold, tribal leaders blamed the settlers, and on November 29, 1847, several men, secretly bearing hatchets and guns, visited Marcus Whitman under the pretense of a medical visit. In the ensuing attack, Narcissa lost her life, along with her husband and 11 other emigrants. The attack horrified Americans and impacted the lives of the peoples of the Columbia Plateau for decades.

Today, the story of The Whitmans and their time in Washington lives on at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. The park is located in southeastern Washington, seven miles west of Walla Walla off of Highway 12. The grounds are open all year, sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor’s Center is open daily during the summer and closed Monday’s and Tuesday’s during the Winter. There is no fee to enter and the site includes the original mission, a mass grave where Marcus and Narcissa Whitman are buried, the Whitman memorial obelisk, and a small museum inside the Visitor’s Center.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and written 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 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.

“We Were Standing on Ground Zero of World War…

During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles was placed across the Great Plains. Hidden in plain sight, for thirty years 1,000 missiles were kept on constant alert; hundreds remain today. The Minuteman Missile remains an iconic weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It holds the power to destroy civilization, but is meant as a nuclear deterrent to maintain peace and prevent war. Today on America’s National Parks, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site near Wall, South Dakota.

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The audio for today’s episode is from two National Park Service films, which you can watch below:


Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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Cataloochee – The Center of the World

Nestled among some of the most rugged mountains in the southeastern United States is an isolated valley that was home to 1200 people in 1910, who made their living first at farming, and then, as tourism developed, by welcoming weary travelers to the Smoky Mountains. On today’s episode – the Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as told through the people who lived there.

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The audio for today’s episode is from the short film Cataloochee – The Center of the World, which you can watch below:


Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

A Presidential Barbecue

Barbecued meat has played a surprisingly important role in United States presidential politics over the years. George Washington was a Virginia-style barbecue enthusiast. He fed his soldiers a barbecue feast at the end of the Revolutionary War. When the cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid, he presided over the event that had a 500-pound ox barbecued old Virginia-style.

Adams wrote that barbecues “tinge the Minds of the People, they impregnate them with the sentiments of Liberty. They render the People fond of their Leaders in the Cause, and averse and bitter against all opposers.”

Recently, archaeologists discovered a barbecue pit on the south lawn of Montpelier that was in use during Madison’s lifetime. As President Jackson was traveling to Fredericksburg to attend a barbecue, the first recorded instance of physical assault on an American president occurred. A soldier who had faced a court-martial for misconduct stopped the President on the road and grabbed President Jackson’s nose and shook it as retribution, before running away.

After the civil war, and before television, when many Americans weren’t guaranteed three solid meals a day, a free barbecue dinner was a compelling incentive to listen to a politician pitch for votes.

But one President made barbecue an art form.

On today’s episode, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, the Texas White House as it’s known, in Stonewall Texas.

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As a teenager, Lyndon Baines Johnson spent summers helping out on his Uncle Clarence Martin’s cattle ranch along the Pedernales River. Johnson’s attachment to this land was strong, having been born down the road on a farm which had originally been settled by his grandfather. Young Lyndon’s fond memories of family gatherings at the Martin house and his daydreams of becoming a rancher were the genesis of his desires to one day own this piece of the Texas Hill Country.

In 1951, Johnson’s widowed aunt gave him that chance. In return for a lifetime right to Johnson’s mother’s house in Johnson City, Frank Martin gave her dilapidated 250-acre ranch to the then-senator. He soon began what became a continuous series of improvements to the newly christened “LBJ Ranch.” Not everyone was confident that Senator Johnson could become a successful rancher. When he applied for a loan to purchase cattle, Percy Brigham, Blanco National Bank President reportedly told him, “Lyndon, if you want to just walk around in yellow cowboy boots and proclaim yourself a rancher, that’s one thing. But if you intend to make money ranching, I hope you know something about cattle.”

But Johnson applied his prodigious energy and determination into creating a showcase 2,700-acre ranch, complete with 400 head of registered Hereford cattle. All at once, he acquired the image of a western rancher and a place to recharge his batteries. Both of these contributions from the LBJ Ranch would be invaluable as he entered the harsh spotlight of national politics.

During his demanding tenure as Senate Majority Leader, Vice-President and finally President of the United States, Johnson still managed to keep his finger on the pulse of the LBJ Ranch. His near-daily phone calls from Washington to check on the rainfall or the suitability of a pasture for grazing were often frustrating for Johnson’s ranch foreman, Dale Malecheck. But it was these discussions of routine matters that helped give Johnson a sense of control in a decade marked by divisive social issues and fracturing foreign conflicts.

The LBJ Ranch also served as Johnson’s stage. Visitors to the ranch included notable figures like President Richard M. Nixon, President Harry S Truman, then President-elect John F. Kennedy, Reverend Billy Graham, the President of Mexico and the Chancellor of West Germany. Guests would be loaded into one of the white Lincoln Continental convertibles for a personalized tour of the ranch, often at dizzying speeds.

No tour would be complete without a drive through the center of the Show Barn to admire the prizewinning Hereford cattle. Registered Herefords sold for breeding purposes constituted a large portion of a rancher’s income, and stock shows played a large part in determining the worth of select animals.

Cattle were painstakingly pampered and groomed for these shows in the Show Barn. Prize-winning cattle would command higher prices when sold as registered bulls or show calves to 4-H Club members, Future Farmers of America students, and other ranchers. Johnson was keenly aware of the practical advantage to winning such prizes. He would often drive past the scale and loading chute near the Show Barn, telling his guests, “That’s where the cattle go out and the money comes in.”

The Show Barn was a symbol of Johnson’s increasing sophistication. The center for Johnson’s early ranching operation was the Martin barn near the main ranch house. With cattle operations located so close to the main house, guests would often watch, and, more often than not, interfere with the ranch work. Mrs. Johnson did not relish the thought of someone getting hurt and she did not particularly care for the smells and noises of the nearby cattle. To alleviate his wife’s concerns, President Johnson moved his cattle operation in 1966 to a new Show Barn about a mile north of the house.

During his presidency, Johnson signed into law almost 300 bills dealing with environmental protection and other resource conservation issues. At the LBJ Ranch, he utilized new ranching practices that demonstrated these stewardship concepts and increased the revenue potential of the ranch. Pastures were fenced to allow grazing rotation, fields were terraced to prevent soil erosion, and “tanks” or ponds were constructed to catch surface water run-off. More than 1,100 acres were planted in improved varieties of grasses. Johnson built one of the first liquid fertilizer plants in this area and had the ranch soil analyzed to determine the proper ingredients for the fertilizer. With additional irrigation and fertilizer, a rancher could graze two cows and calves per acre, instead of the one cow and calf per sixteen acres that was more typical for an unimproved pasture. The LBJ Ranch became the flagship of the various ranching properties owned or leased by President Johnson.

But beef wasn’t just grown at what became known as the Texas White House. It was consumed there.

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson hosted large Texas-style barbecues along the Pedernales River in a grove of trees near their home. Guests-of-honor hailed from such places as Mexico, West Germany, Pakistan, and from nations throughout Latin America.

As his political career progressed, the barbecues got bigger and more elaborate, and as more important guests came to Hill Country, Lady Bird remodeled the home to host them in style. The ranch eventually included several guest suites, a swimming pool, a radio tower, and an airstrip capable of handling small jets.

Walter Jetton was his caterer of choice, and he fed a group of three hundred at the first barbecue state dinner. It was held on December 29, 1963 for the West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. LBJ would continue to host heads of state and diplomats at the Texas White House throughout his tenure.

One of the largest barbecues was on April 1, 1967, with 35 Latin American ambassadors and their wives. There was a huge re-enactment of the settling of Texas by Native Americans, followed by Spaniards, then Anglo cowboys, complete with buckboards and cattle. The menu included 30 gallons of ranch beans, potato salad, sourdough biscuits, stewed apricots, corn on the cob, brisket, spare ribs, half chickens, and beef turned over a fire on a spit. Ribs and little sausages were served as hors d’oevours.

The many civil accomplishments of the Johnson administration were overshadowed by his catastrophic handling of the Vietnam war. The president decided not to run for re-election and returned home to retire in 1969, where he grew his hair long, drank, smoked, and listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” over and over. When his daughter tried to pull him out of the funk, he said, “No, I’ve raised you girls, I’ve been president, and now it’s my time.”

Johnson recorded an hour-long television interview with Walter Cronkite at the ranch on January 12, 1973, in which he discussed his legacy, particularly with regards to the civil rights movement. He was still smoking heavily at the time, and told Cronkite that it was better for his heart “to smoke than to be nervous.” Ten days later, at approximately 3:39 p.m. Central Time on January 22, 1973, Johnson suffered a massive heart attack in his bedroom. He managed to telephone the Secret Service agents on the ranch, who found him still holding the telephone receiver, unconscious and not breathing. He was airlifted in one of his own planes to San Antonio and taken to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He was 64 years old.

The Johnsons donated the ranch to the nation, with the stipulation that it continue to be operated. To that end, the National Park Service maintains a herd of Hereford cattle descended from Johnson’s registered herd and manages the ranch lands as a living demonstration of ranching the LBJ way.

The Lyndon B. Jonson National Historical Park is located both in Johnson City, Texas, and 14 miles down the road in Stonewall. Visit Johnson City first, where you’ll see the National Park Service visitor center, with a museum containing many artifiacts of the Johnson presidency. Here you can take a 1-mile round-trip trail through the historic Johnson settlement – 1800s cabins and barns belonging to Johnson’s ancestors. You can also take a ranger-guided tour of Johnson’s boyhood home.

The Texas White House on the LBJ Ranch is located in Stonewall, and it is a National Park Service site, but to get to it, you have to make a stop at the LBJ state park visitor center, where you get a free permit to drive into the ranch. It’s a bit strange, but there’s also a nice film and some more Johnson memorabilia at the state park.

When you drive onto the ranch property, just outside the main entrance sign is the one-room schoolhouse Johnson studied in. He returned here to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with his grade school teacher at his side.

As you continue into the ranch, you’ll pass a recreation of of Johnson’s birth home, and then the modest Johnson family cemetary, where the President is buried.

You then drive through the pastures where Johnson’s still active herd of Hereford cattle roam, encircling the LBJ airstrip, and passing the infamous Show Barn. You’ll then park at yet another visitor center, which is hard to miss because it has a Lockheed JetStar — a former Air Force One — emblazoned in a presidential paint job sitting outside.

In the visitor center, you can sign up to take a tour around the Texas White House. They don’t allow people into the house anymore due to structural concerns, but you walk around it and see in the windows, and gaze at the famous swimming pool. There’s also a wonderful collection of Johnson’s favorite cars, including a firetruck just for the ranch, and a rare amphibious car he used to scare guests in, pretending the brakes were failing while driving into a pond.

The text for this episode was written in part by the National Park Service.


Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

River on Fire

In 2007, a young bald eagle took flight from its nest along the Cuyahoga River. It was the first successful nest in Cuyahoga County in more than 70 years. The eaglet grew up eating fish from the Cuyahoga River, where, throughout most of the 1900s, fish could not survive due to the pollution. Neither could the wildlife that depend on fish as a food source. On today’s episode, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the event that helped rally the world to the attention of polluted waterways.

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The Ohio EPA video celebrating the Cuyahoga’s comeback.

Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Guardian of the Gulf

When we think of America’s National Parks, we often don’t think of the oceans or the Gulf of Mexico, but along our shores are some of the most incredible places our country has to offer. Seven barrier islands along the southern coast protect the mainland, nature, and mankind as they form a damper against ocean storms. They’re teaming with life – scurrying ghost crab, majestic osprey, and loggerhead sea turtles, facing their 1 in 1000 survival odds. But humans have made their mark on these places, too, and history is a big part of any visit to these islands on the Gulf shore. One particular historic site, on the end of Florida’s Santa Rosa Island, played its part in our nation’s great internal struggle. On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Guardian of the Gulf, Fort Pickens; part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

A Race to a Tie

This episode was written by Lindsey Taylor, whose blog “The Curiosity Chronicles” follows her adventures around the world.

On May 10th, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah, two sets of ordinary railroad tracks met under extraordinary circumstances. Together the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad companies, building from Sacramento, California, and Omaha, Nebraska, joined to revolutionize travel. Before that day, a single person would pay $1000 to travel from east to west in the United States. On a steam engine train, it only cost $150. More than 1700 miles of track were laid in just seven years, across deserts, over plains, and through mountains. Its completion was one of the most defining moments in our nation’s history.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the Golden Spike National Historical Park, and the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, celebrating its 150th anniversary this May.

Listen below, or continue reading.


Asa Whitney, an entrepreneur from New York, was the first person to suggest a federally-funded railroad stretching to the Pacific. At that time, around 9,000 miles of trail existed east of the Missouri River. He presented the idea to Congress in 1845, but the plan hit many roadblocks and lacked support. Fifteen years later, Theodore Judah, an engineer, found the perfect place for a railroad to cut through the formidable Sierra Nevada mountains: Donner Pass. After gaining support from investors in Sacramento, Judah traveled to Washington to convince the president and congressional leaders.

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, he created the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies. The Central Pacific was based in Sacramento and the Union Pacific would start from Omaha, Nebraska, with plans for both companies to join their tracks somewhere in the middle. For each mile of track, the companies would get 6,400 acres of land and $48,000 in government bonds. The acreage was later doubled to 12,800. These rewards turned the plan into an intense competition.

Union Pacific started its journey west in May 1866. One of the biggest challenges for the company was losing employees in bloody battles with Native American tribes, including the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, who were likely feeling vulnerable as the industrial train tracks and white man’s “iron horse” cut through their land.

On the other side of the country, Central Pacific was facing its own challenges. Building tracks across the Sierra Nevada mountains proved to be more time consuming and dangerous than the plains of Nebraska. On top of dangerous conditions, many employees of the railroad company were leaving their jobs to search for gold and silver on the west coast.

Charles Crocker, the Chief Railroad contractor for the Central Pacific believed hiring Chinese workers would solve their problem. Discrimination and pervasive racism towards the Chinese led many people to believe they wouldn’t be able to handle the 10-12 hours shifts 6 days a week.

More than 11,000 workers were hired to lay tracks heading east. Chinese workers were excellent and were eventually able to lay 10 miles of track in one day, a record which still stands. They were exceptional builders and highly dependable but their superiors and other laborers treated them poorly, even though their work continues to hold up after 150 years. They were paid less than their European counterparts, too. As the Chinese proved their worth over time, wages increased to $30 per month (around $900 today). It was nearly equal to white workers, with a catch: While other workers’ daily needs were provided, Chinese laborers were still required to fund their own food, housing, and clothes out of pocket.

As the Central Pacific pushed east, employees continued to face harsh work conditions and environments. Canvas tents along the rail line were not ideal and were eventually upgraded to wooden bunkhouses, especially for mountain regions with less forgiving weather. High winds, frigid temperatures, blistering heat, and varied precipitation tested the will of everyone. While building through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a single avalanche took the lives of at least 100 Central Pacific workers, many of them Chinese. Injuries and deaths were not recorded as employees were viewed as a replaceable resource by supervisors.

A Chinese work camp on the railroad

Some elements of Chinese camp culture led to an even higher level of efficiency. Chinese work gangs each had a cook that prepared meals of dried vegetables, seafood, and different kinds of meat, which was a much healthier diet than the other camps. Frequent bathing and laundry proved to prevent disease. Their tradition of drinking tea throughout the day meant that cooks would boil all the water, killing any germs present.

By 1867, Union Pacific had already traveled four times as far as the Central Pacific. But once Central Pacific blasted through the last of the Sierra Nevada mountains, they began gaining speed towards Salt Lake City. When the two companies were building just miles apart in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant held back federal funds until a meeting location was established. A point was chosen 690 track-miles from Sacramento and 1,086 from Omaha, just north of the Great Salt Lake: Promontory Summit.

Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York built four locomotives for Central Pacific: Storm, Leviathan, Whirlwind, and Jupiter. The company dismantled them and shipped them to San Francisco by traveling south. Far South. All the way around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. They were then reassembled at the Central Pacific headquarters in Sacramento after being shipped upriver by a barge. All four were put into service in March 1869. Jupiter was then chosen to pull the train to Promontory.

Replicas of the Jupiter and the 119, used in reenactments at the Golden Spike Historical Site today.

In the week leading up to May 10th, 1869, canvas tents began popping up at Promontory Summit. Railroad agents, telegraph crews, construction camps, saloons, and restaurants all opened in preparation for the ceremony and the travelers that came to watch the tracks meet. Other towns along the railroad, like Reno, and Cheyenne, also started out this way. All that was left to do was wait for the two steam engines to arrive.

The Chief Engineers of Central and Union Pacific, Samuel S. Montague and Grenville M. Dodge, were present for the ceremony, as well as Union Pacific President Stanford and Central Pacific Vice President Thomas Durant. Andrew J. Russell, a special duty photographer sent by the U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps, took the most famous photo of the event, often known as “The Champagne Photo.” In it, workers and engineers are celebrating with the Union Pacific engine No. 119 and Central Pacific’s Jupiter in the background, so close on the tracks they are almost touching. Champagne bottles were broken on each locomotive, and Montague and Dodge can be seen shaking hands in the center.

Russell’s “Champagne” photo

Russell remembered the moment as a historic one: “Last Monday as I witnessed the driving of the last spike in this great work, I felt a pride in being in a certain sense a representative of the people… Standing amid ‘The Antres vast and Desert wild’ surrounded with the representative men of the nation, an epoch in the march of civilization was recorded, and a new era in human progress was ushered in.”

David Hewes, a contractor from San Francisco, used $400 of his own gold to cast a golden railroad spike, after failing to find anyone else to finance a commemorative item for the railroad’s completion. A small amount of gold was reserved for a small sprue that was attached to the top. Engravings covered all sides of the spike, including its top, which read “The Last Spike.” One side reads, “May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world. Presented David Hewes, San Francisco.”

Though the Golden Spike is the most famous, four separate spikes were present the day the railroad was completed: A silver spike from Nevada, a gold and silver spike from the Arizona territory, and a second gold spike from San Francisco.

Because the Golden Spike was made of 17.6-carat gold, the spike was not driven into the tie–it wouldn’t have survived. All four spikes were instead “gently tapped” into a polished laurelwood tie that was the last laid as part of the railroad.

After the ceremony, the spikes and tie were removed and replaced with a pine tie and ordinary spikes, but the ceremony wasn’t over yet. Union Pacific President Stanford took the first swing to drive in a spike and struck the pine tie instead of any spikes. Central Pacific VP Thomas Durant took a turn and missed both the spike and the tie. A railroad worker was brought forward to swiftly finish driving all four spikes. Engineers wired a telegraph line to the fourth iron spike, which was struck with an iron hammer so that the nation could listen to the final spike being placed.

The Golden Spike was personally owned by and given back to David Hewes and is now on display at the museum at Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, California. The sprue of gold that was attached to the spike was made into four small rings and seven small watch fobs. The rings were given to Leland Stanford, Union Pacific president Oakes Ames, President Ulysses S. Grant, and Secretary of State William H Seward.

A full 96 years after the completion of the railroad, Golden Spike National Historical Park was established on July 30th, 1965. Bernice Gibbs Anderson was the champion of the campaign to preserve the site, who spent 38 years of her life arguing for its protection. The legacy of the Chinese workers continues to live on through the historic park visitor center. When constructing facilities, administrators chose a stone that only exists in a local quarry and China to honor the Chinese workers: a light green Cuprous Quartzite.

The park is located about 80 miles from Salt Lake City on a paved road that has a fairly steep climb — it closes every now and then due to winter weather. Gas and other services are not available within 27 miles, and cell coverage is limited. Make sure to plan ahead.

The site where the last spike was driven is located within a hundred yards of the Visitor Center and is commemorated by a polished wooden tie with a plaque resting inches from where the 1869 ceremony was held.


Useful Links

Transcontinental Railroad – The History Channel

The Last Spike – National Parks Traveler

Golden Spike National Historical Site – National Park Service


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

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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

The Strange World of National Park Gift Stores

When we think about the people that help keep the gears turning in National Parks, it’s easy for us to think about the wonderful rangers that keep us safe and help us interpret and protect these incredible places. But we often overlook the thousands and thousands of other workers that make our visits possible. The cleaning and maintenance staff, the campground hosts, the construction contractors, the trail crews, the lodge employees…On this episode of America’s National Parks, a personal story from author Becky Mandelbaum who served several stints in National Park gift stores, and the price she paid for temporary refuge, immense beauty, and some unforgettable experiences. View the full text of her story here.

Becky Mandelbaum is the author of the award-winning “Bad Kansas” shorts. Her yet-to-be-titled first novel is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. Check out her other work at beckymandelbaum.com.


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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

The Night the Mountain Fell

The Yellowstone Supervolcano snores through the geysers and mud pots, and restlessly tumbles as multiple earthquakes hit the region nearly every day. We don’t hear a lot about Yellowstone earthquakes, but each year one to three thousand hit the park and surrounding area. Most can’t even be felt, but there have already been four this year in the lower-3.0 magnitude range. Enough to shake pots and pans on the wall. And a 4.4 hit to the west of Yellowstone just a couple days before this recording—right near the center of the biggest Yellowstone earthquake in recent history, a 7.5. Today on America’s National Parks, The Night The Mountain Fell — the story of the Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake of 1959, as told in the book with the same name by Edmund Christopherson. 

The following is just the first chapter of thirteen that twist and turn through the story of the quake. The rest can be read free here.


August is a busy month in the exciting mountain vacation area that centers in West Yellowstone, Montana, and includes Yellowstone National Park, the restored ghost town of Virginia City, the nationally famous trout fishing reach of Madison Canyon that runs through the Gallatin National Forest, plus dude ranches and lakes in the parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho where the three states come together.

Geologically, it’s a new area, where enormous forces are still thrusting up mountains, where volcanic craters still exist, and where the heat of the earth still spouts its imprisoned fury through the geysers that have made Yellowstone Park’s Firehole Basin famous.

At 11:37 P. M. on Monday, August 17, 1959, one of the severest earthquakes recorded on the North American continent shook this area. It sent gigantic tidal waves surging down the 7-mile length of Hebgen Lake, throwing an enormous quantity of water over the top of Hebgen Dam, the way you can slosh water out of a dishpan, still keeping it upright. This water—described as a wall 20 ft. high—swept down the narrow Madison Canyon, full of campers and vacationers who were staying in dude ranches and at three Forest Service campgrounds along the seven-mile stretch from the dam to the point where the canyon opened up into rolling wheat and grazing land. Just about the time this surge of water reached the mouth of the canyon, half of a 7,600-ft.-high mountain came crashing down into the valley and cascaded, like water, up the opposite canyon wall, hurtling house-size quartzite and dolomite boulders onto the lower portion of Rock Creek Campground.6

This slide dammed the river and forced the surging water—carrying trees, mud, and debris, back into the campground. The campers who’d escaped being crushed under part of the 44 million cubic yards (80 million tons) of rock found themselves picked up and thrown against trees, cars, trailers, the side of the canyon, etc. Heavy, 4,000 pound cars were tossed 40 ft. and smashed against trees by the force of the ricocheting water and the near-hurricane velocity wind created by the mountainfall. Other cars were scrunched to suitcase thickness and thrown out from under the slide.

And the water stayed—held by the earthquake-caused natural dam. It began to flood the lower end of the canyon. At the upper end, big sections of the road that would take the 300 people trapped in the canyon to safety crumpled and fell into Hebgen Lake, cutting them off from the world outside.

When the quake hit, summer Alternate Rangers Fred Tim and Lamont Herbold were on duty at the West Yellowstone entrance of Yellowstone National Park. They had just cleared a semi-load of Pres-to-Logs. As the truck pulled on through the gate, the plywood gatehouse shook so violently, with the lights flashing off and on, that Herbold shouted,

“Stop the truck, you ____, you’ve hooked the shack!”

Truck drivers Jack and Lyle Tuttle thought the frantic way their truck was flopping around meant the motor had broken loose from the mounts. Driving into the Park, they were halted by huge rocks blocking the road. Renewed shaking, with tons more rocks rolling down the mountainside sent them scurrying for cover behind trees. Lyle took refuge in a tree, where, he later said, the shaking seemed twice as rough.

When the quaking stopped briefly, they turned the truck around and were happy to get out before more boulders blocked their exit.7

In the confusion that followed when the first shock hit, Jerry Yetter, who operates the Duck Creek Cabins near West Yellowstone, jumped out of bed and knocked on all the cabin doors to warn the occupants of the quake. Only after he’d finished the job did he realize that he was wearing no clothes at all.

His wife, Iris, ran onto the front porch. The porch dropped into the basement. She climbed out, got into the car, and didn’t stop until she reached Bozeman, 90 miles to the north.

Just west of the Duck Creek Junction of highways 1 and 191, the first shocks wakened Rolland Whitman as it sent dishes and furniture crashing to the floor. When he couldn’t reach his wife’s folks in West Yellowstone, 10 miles south, by phone, he rushed his wife, Margaret, and their six children into the car, started out, and immediately crashed over a 13-foot drop-off scarp that the quake had jutted up between his home and the highway.8

On the night of the quake Mrs. Grace Miller, a widow who, in her seventies, is still sprightly enough to run, single-handed, the Hillgard Fishing Lodge cabin and boat rentals on the north shore of Hebgen Lake, found herself suddenly wakened about midnight. She didn’t know what was happening, but she felt she had to get out of the house. She threw a blanket around herself. The door was jammed, and she had to kick to get it open.

Outside the door she saw a big, 5-foot crevice. As she leaped across it, the house dropped from under her into the lake. More crevices kept opening in the moonlit ground as she walked away from the lake. “Rabbits were skedaddling in every which direction,” she said, but her Malamute dog, Sandy, was so frightened he wouldn’t even notice them.

After quite a spell of hiking in the nightmare-like night, she found refuge along with about forty other people at Kirkwood Ranch, which itself was considerably damaged, but a 9safe distance from the lake. She was safe there, while next day skin-divers, alerted by worried friends, searched her floating house for her body.

Later next day she boated past her 9-room home—which contained everything she owned, floating on the lake.

“I hope it stays upright,” she said. “My teeth are still on the kitchen counter, right next to the sink.”

When she arrived at the dam, she greeted an acquaintance with, “I’ve been a pretty tough old bird, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again!”

In a forest fire lookout on top of 10,300-ft.-high Mt. Holmes in Yellowstone Park, the first shock threw Penn State College student David Bittner out of his bunk.

“By golly, they’ll believe me this time,” he said with satisfaction as he picked himself up off the floor.

Several days earlier he’d phoned a report of substantial tremors, but no one would take his report seriously.10

Charles Godkin, chef at the Frontier, and his wife, Ruth, a waitress, were driving home at 11:37.

“We must have a flat,” she said as the car thumped and shook along the road.

When Godkin got out to look, the ground was bucking so strenuously that he could hardly stand up. Back at the Frontier, he found steak plates all over the floor. In the establishment’s walk-in freezer he found the floor covered with mayonnaise—a foot deep!

At the Emmett J. Culligan place, dubbed the “Blarneystone Ranch,” the Santa Barbara water softener tycoon spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a refuge from the possibility of atomic attack.

Ironically, the main fault of the earthquake rammed through one end of his building’s cement block foundation, raising the ground 15 ft., twisting and cracking the whole 150-ft. length of the building.

Ironically, too, Culligan’s spread was perhaps the only one reputed to be covered by earthquake insurance.

His caretaking family, John and Doris Russell, were trapped in their cottage and had to crawl out and pass their children through a chin-high 15-inch square window.

At the proud dude ranch, Parade Rest, where Bud and Lu Morris capitalize on the area’s superb fishing, the shock toppled chimneys atop the massive log buildings and sent the guests scurrying outdoors.

Huddled around a huge campfire in the courtyard, where it seemed safer, they felt bewildered and helpless as the ground continued to heave and writhe throughout the night. For hours, the shocks continued at the rate of one every minute.

By morning the kitchen was a shambles—“like a cabin a grizzly bear had worked over. Dishes, flour—everything crashed to the floor. The only thing to do was to clean it up with a broom and shovel,” Lu Morris said.

Elsewhere throughout the earthquake area, crockery and goods in glass containers were at a premium; drug stores, bars, groceries were shard-piled shambles.

After the quake, the proprietor of the antique shop next to the West Yellowstone Post Office took one look at the disheartening spectacle of his shop and took off. The shop floor was strewn with a fortune in broken antique glass and dishware.

“The ground just got up and bucked like a horse,” one West Yellowstone citizen put it.

The only man who was enthusiastic about the earthquake from the start was geologist Irving J. Witkind of the U. S. Geological Survey, who was living in a trailer on a rise to the north of Hebgen Lake, above the Culligans and Parade Rest, while he surveyed and mapped the area.

When the first shock hit, he figured his trailer had somehow broken loose and was rolling down the hill. He charged out, intent on stopping it. From the way the trees were swaying in the absence of any wind, he knew it was a genuine earthquake. He hopped in his jeep and headed down toward the lake. He saw the scarp that the Whitmans soared off just in time to stop.

“It’s mine! It’s mine!” he shouted as he got out of the jeep and realized the full measure of his fortune. His words will echo wherever geologists gather in years to come. Professionally, his once-in-a-thousand-lifetimes fortune in being on the scene of a major quake meant as much as discovering an unfound Pharaoh’s tomb would to an Egyptologist.13

At Mammoth, the old army post which is still headquarters for Yellowstone Park, Superintendent Lon Garrison was sitting up in bed reading when the quake hit. His wife and daughter were watching TV when the big chimneys and rocks from the massive old 1909-built masonry buildings began crashing through the porches and roofs.

“We got out and fast. We prided ourselves on being cool. It wasn’t for an hour or so that I remembered that I was still wearing my Park Service uniform coat over pajama pants.”

Every time there was a new tremor, the coyotes, abundant thereabouts, would let out a fresh howl. The phone lines to Old Faithful and West Yellowstone weren’t working. The quake had taken them out. The 18,000 people who were overnighting in the Park when the quakes began were on the edge of panic.

“What can we do?”

“How can we get word out?”

“Can we get out?”

Everyone wanted answers to these questions at once.

At Old Faithful, 800 people were in the recreation hall enjoying a college talent program. In the best entertainment tradition, the MC played it cool, continuing his patter while the Park Rangers opened the doors. Everyone exited in good order.

But there was to be little comfort that night. Everyone who’d made it to bed got up after the first shock.

At the massive, log-built Old Faithful Inn, the timbers gave out loud creaking and popping noises as the structural torment continued.

“We had to evacuate the building,” Superintendent Garrison said. “Hot water from a broken pipe in the attic was running down the floor of the east wing. Half an hour later the fireplace and chimney crashed through the dining room floor, activating the sprinkler system. The water damage was horrible.

“A few hours earlier, with the dining room full, the casualty list would have been gruesome.

“As it was, our only casualty was a woman who sprained her ankle leaping out of bed after the first tremor.

“Later in the week a ranger, exhausted from quake duty, skidded on a rain-slick pavement and went off the road.

“We feel that God had his arm around us all the way.”

The quakes continued with especial violence at Old Faithful. Evacuees from the Inn sat out the night, wrapped in hotel blankets, in their cars and in the big, distinctive Yellowstone Park Co. busses, trembling with fear at each new quake.

At the new Canyon Village, guests were reassured by the big-voiced man who, in the midst of the turmoil, marched up to the reservations desk and demanded accommodations for an additional two nights.

Canyon, too, was the place where, they say, another guest left a note on his pillow for the chambermaid, saying,

“An awfully rough bear stayed under my cabin last night. Had an awfully hard time sleeping. Better tell the night man to do something about it.”

As the shocks continued, the summons to exodus was clear. Quake-broken roads blocked all the exits from West Yellowstone except the route, 191, through Idaho south to Pocatello. For the rest of the night it was bright with the lights of cars streaming away from the earthquake country to the solid security and comfort of the outside world.

Continue the story on the web or free kindle download here.


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A Rescue in the Grand Tetons

Mountain climbing is surely one of the most dangerous of the extreme sports. It’s a trial of wills that takes a clear head, teamwork, and unflappable trust in your climbing partners. The challenge is magnified ten-fold when the climb is a rescue operation. On this Episode of America’s National Parks, a harrowing rescue of a climber at Grand Teton National Park.

August 21st, 1967. While climbing the 12,800 ft Mount Owen, two men heard an alarming distant call for help from the neighboring Grand Teton peak.

The men hurried their descent, and rushed to the Ranger’s cabin at Jenny Lake and knocked on the door.

It was one in the morning, and a lanky blonde boy answered. The men asked him if his ranger father was home. The boy informed them that he was the ranger — 22-year-old Ralph Tingey.

Tingey rushed to a scenic turnout with a line of sight to the north face of the mountain. He flashed his headlights in an S.O.S. — three short, three long, three short.

Faintly from high on the mountain, he saw a flashlight respond in kind.

Tingey informed other rangers and all agreed that nothing could be done until the morning. The stranded figures would be on their own for the night.

At the first light of dawn, Tingey returned to the pullout with a spotting scope. As the light increased, he spotted one climber walking around to keep warm and another in a sleeping bag, presumably injured and unable to walk.


In the 60s, climbing was in its infancy. Gear was hard to come by – much of it imported from Europe. There were no cell phones. There was no GPS. There weren’t as many established climbing routes. In fact, a rescue had never been attempted on the north face of Grand.

Lorraine Hough and Gaylord Campbell had nearly completed their climb the day before when their terrifying situation took hold. Campbell had taken the lead while Hough belayed 20 feet below him. Large rocks broke loose, striking him on the leg, and sending him tumbling below.

Hough rushed to tend to his injuries and made a make-shift splint with an ice pick and put him into a sleeping bag while she began to cry for help. She knew they would never make it down on their own.

Hours went by, and as night set in, lightning loomed in the distance. She began to click her flashlight in an S.O.S. She never saw Tingey’s headlights. He had just caught a glimpse of her signal, which she was sending less and less frequently as the batteries began to die out.


A helicopter had been called in, but it took most of the day to get there. When it finally arrived, the pilot flew rangers Rick Reese and Pete Sinclair up past the ledge, where Hough was waving frantically. By chance, Leigh Ortenburger, the world’s leading authority on climbing the Grand Tetons and author of a definitive guidebook, happened to be on the summit with Bob Irvine. Hearing cries for help, they looked down and spotted the stranded climbers. They were trying to figure out a way to notify rangers when the helicopter zoomed by.

Climbing rangers Sinclair, Reese, Irvine and Tingey, park employees Ted Wilson and Mike Ermarth, along with Ortenburger made up the rescue team. Tingey, Reese, Irvine and Wilson had grown up as young climbers together in Salt Lake City. They knew each other’s shorthand, having established some of the climbing routes together still in use today. The whole team was a group of some of the most experienced climbers in the US, but they were about to attempt something that many thought impossible.

Sent ahead to reach the injured climber, Reese used an inflatable splint to immobilize the leg. Had Campbell been suffering just a broken arm, they might have put him in a backpack-style carrier to evacuate him, but the badly broken leg presented the risk of a severed artery if it were jostled around. Reese radioed to the team that they’d need to remove him by basket.

An evacuation decision had to be made — whether to haul Campbell up to an easier route down the mountain or to lower the injured climber roughly 2,000 feet to the Teton Glacier. The team determined it would be too difficult to haul that much weight up the steep and loose-rock terrain and that Campbell might not survive it.

The North Face of Grand is tough and foreboding. In fact, no one had ever been up or down it. But the team decided their best option was to head straight down the North Face.  

First, they got Hough to safety, then radioed for more rope, a bolt kit and morphine. It was getting dark, and the supplies would have to wait until morning.

Wilson kept Campbell company throughout the night. They spoke of trips each had taken to Europe, routes they had climbed and climbers they knew.


At dawn, the helicopter delivered the rope and bolt kit and, hovering near the ledge, tossed a box of morphine to Ortenburger, who caught it.

The team set up a Austrian cable rig – just a quarter-inch-thick cable that would need to hold 500 pounds – Campbell, the litter that carried him, and a climber to keep it horizontal as they descended together, a few inches at a time.

Campbell was secured in the litter and a helmet was placed over his face to protect him from falling rocks. Numerous holes had to be hand-drilled more than four inches into the rock for security bolts to hold the winch, and a second system of belay ropes was set up as a safety backup.

They had 300 feet of cable, but weren’t sure if it was enough. Ortenburger and Irvine dropped rocks down the face and timed their fall, using the gravity velocity formula to calculate distance.

The math looked good, so Ortenburger went down first on a 300-foot rope. When he reached a large ledge big enough for everyone to stand, he yelled up, “It’ll reach.”

The rest went down, and they hauled Campbell down the ledge inch by inch as the steel cable jerked and made sounds as though it wanted to snap.

When everyone reached the ledge safely, they debated what to do next, and decided to go straight down again. They lowered Ortenburger down the 300-foot rope, which barely reached, and then they set up the rig again and tediously brought Campbell down again litter.

The rest of the climbers had to rappel down on a single strand of rope, across a knot joining two 150-foot ropes. They all made it, and prepared for a cold, hungry night on another ledge. There wasn’t enough room for them all to stay in the area, so they split up for Cambell’s third night on the mountain.

The team traveled 1,100 feet the first full day of the rescue, but were still a formidable 900 feet from their goal.


On the third day, they party reached Teton Glacier, where another team met them and all worked for hours to get the litter to a spot where a helicopter could finally pick it up at a level landing pad they had carved out of snow.

After a 20-minute helicopter ride, Campbell was in St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, where he recovered quickly.

When the helicopter brought the rescuers back down to the Jenny Lake cabin, they found the superintendent had left them a case of beer on ice.

None of the rescuers ever heard from Campbell again, until a 2016 documentary in which Campbell criticized the rescue, saying they should have carried him out backpack style, getting him to a hospital on the first day.

“The Impossible Rescue” made national headlines, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey wrote the rescuers a letter praising their courage. Stewart Udall, the Interior secretary, had the rangers flown to Washington, D.C. to receive gold medals for valor.

Several of the rescuers went on to become professors, Wilson would be elected mayor of Salt Lake City, and the lanky Ralph Tingey later became the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. Looking back, he says there are still times he wakes in the middle of the night clutching his pillow over how dangerous the rescue was over forty years ago.


Few landscapes in the world are as striking as that of Grand Teton National Park. Rising above pristine lakes teeming with wildlife, the Grand Tetons offer over two hundred miles of trails, a float down the Snake River, magnificent vistas, wildflowers, forests, and, of course, mountain climbing. The park also has a rich cultural history with old homesteads and cattle ranches to explore and photograph.

The park is open 24-hours a day, year-round. Most roads, facilities and services are all open or available during the summer, but may be closed at other times of the year.

Six campgrounds operate within the park and parkway during the summer. Most are available on a first-come, first-served basis, although reservations can be made for group camping, the Colter Bay RV Park and the Headwaters Campground and RV Sites at Flagg Ranch. Lodges and cabins are also available, along with restaurants and stores for provisions.

The park experiences long, cold winters, and snow and frost are possible any month.


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Apostle of the Cacti

If you’re a National Park buff—and you probably are if you listen to this podcast—you probably know of some of the famous people responsible for the very creation of many of our greatest parks. People like John Muir, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Teddy Roosevelt, and Stephan Mather. But we’re guessing you haven’t heard of Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, the hero of the Joshua Tree National Park and the California Desert who made sure they were protected for many lifetimes to come.

Minerva Hamilton was born on March 27, 1866 on a plantation near Durant, Mississippi to an upper-class family. Genteel finishing schools and music conservatories were the routine. She married Dr. Albert Sherman Hoyt, and moved for a time to New York, and then Baltimore, where she gave birth to two sons. In 1897, the family moved to South Pasadena, California, where Minerva immersed herself in southern California high society and civic causes. She developed a talent for organizing charitable events, and eventually became president of the Los Angeles Symphony and head of the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles.

She also developed a passion for gardening, which introduced her to some of the native desert vegetation commonly used in southern California landscaping. It was an alien terrain that fascinated her. She had another child, but it tragically died as an infant in 1918, followed by her husband’s untimely death. Among the Joshua Trees of Southern California she found comfort and solace. “During nights in the open, lying in a snug sleeping-bag, I soon learned the charm of a Joshua Forest,” she wrote in 1931 noting the scent of the California juniper, the eerie night winds, and the bright desert constellations. “This desert…possessed me, and I constantly wished that I might find some way to preserve its natural beauty.”

She was awestruck by the beauty and the inventiveness of desert plants that developed unique ways to thrive in the harsh climate. But she also saw the thoughtless and widespread destruction of native desert plants by people who dug up, burned, and otherwise destroyed so many of the cacti and Joshua trees that she found so beautiful.

She became alarmed by the rapid growth of the greater Los Angeles area, as more and more people and automobiles began to roam the Mojave desert to collect exotic desert plants. Whole regions were stripped bare as collectors transplanted palm trees, barrel cacti, and Joshua trees to their gardens.

The Joshua tree, once deemed “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom,” had become revered for its unique appearance, it’s clustered groupings, and its ability to thrive where few other plants could. The twisted, spiky Joshua trees are a member of the Agave family. Years ago the Joshua tree was recognized by Native Americans for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet.

By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in prayer. Ranchers and miners also arrived in the high desert with hopes of raising cattle and digging for gold. These homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals. Miners used them as a source of fuel for the steam engines used in processing ore.

The Joshua tree’s life cycle begins with the rare germination of a seed, its survival is dependent upon well-timed rains. Spring rains may bring clusters of white-green flowers on long stalks at branch tips. In addition to ideal weather, the pollination of flowers requires a visit from the yucca moth. The moth collects pollen while laying her eggs inside the flower ovary. As seeds develop and mature, the eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on the seeds. The tree relies on the moth for pollination and the moth relies on the tree for a few seeds for her young. The Joshua tree is also capable of sprouting from roots and branches.

The increasing popularity of the Joshua Tree was hurling it towards extinction as whole groves were moved to gardens or harvested for the pliable wood that made great splints and Hollywood prop furniture. At nearly 50,000 square miles, the Mojave Desert may seem almost unchangeable as its ecosystem survives one of the harshest climates on earth. But Joshua trees are anything but permanent when man gets involved.

Following the deaths of her son and husband, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt dedicated herself to the cause of protecting desert landscapes. She was a large, stately, and cranky Mississippi woman, hardly a weatherbeaten outdoorsman. But she used her wealth and social standing to raise public awareness of these growing threats to the desert.

At the time, the conservation of wooded wilderness, rivers, and other natural resources was becoming more important to people, but the desert was still seen as either a wasteland to be avoided or a barrier to be crossed. When Roger W. Toll, Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, inspected the area with Hoyt in 1934, he jokingly asked her when they would arrive at her “park.” Hoyt replied that Toll needed to learn to recognize natural beauty beyond that found in waterfalls, lakes, and forests.

Hoyt organized exhibitions of desert plants that were shown in Boston, New York, and London. She founded the International Deserts Conservation League with the goal of establishing parks to preserve desert landscapes. She was tapped by noted landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. to serve on a California state commission formed to recommend proposals for new state parks. She prepared the commission’s report on desert parks and recommended large parks be created at Death Valley and in the Joshua tree forests, among other places.

Her work helped transform an entire generation’s attitude toward the desert. It was said that after hearing Hoyt speak “No one who heard her talk could ever again regard the subject of conservation of desert flora with indifference.”

The International Deserts Conservation League prodded Mexico to announced the creation of a 10,000-acre cactus forest. The President of Mexico dubbed Hoyt the “Apostle of the Cacti.” At that point it was clear to Minerva that a California state park wasn’t enough for her vision. She needed to inspire the nation with a national park.

She hired well-known biologists and desert ecologists to prepare reports on the virtues of the Joshua Tree region. The Governor of California sent a letter of introduction on her behalf to President Franklin Roosevelt, and she flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with him. She sat on the White House steps until the president would see her. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration became active in the establishment of national parks and monuments as a jobs-creation initiative.

Minerva Hamilton Hoyt’s work paid off when President Roosevelt asked the National Park Service to prepare a recommendation on the site. Problems with the inclusion of certain railroad lands forced a reduction in the size of the proposed park from over one million acres to a more modest 825,000 in the final proposal, but on August 10, 1936, President Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation establishing Joshua Tree National Monument. Minerva had her grand desert park.

“I stood and looked. Everything was peaceful, and it rested me” reads the inscribed plaque at Inspiration Point on Quail Mountain, the highest peak in Joshua Tree National Park. More than 2.8 million people visit the park every year, and many summit that mountain and read the inscription, but the woman who spoke those words is not widely known. As a country, the United States has canonized the creation of our national parks as a masculine, Gilded Age venture to tame the wild frontier. But it is thanks to the overlooked work of Minerva Hamilton Hoyt that the United States preserved a desert bigger than the state of Rhode Island—a space that is increasingly at risk today.

Near Quail Mountain is the second tallest peak in Joshua Tree, now named Mount Minerva Hoyt.


In 1950, Joshua Tree lost one-third of its acreage due to mining interests. It took the work of more women to reclaim much of that land upgrade Joshua Tree to a National Park. Kathryn Lacey, legislative aide to Senator Alan Cranston, drafted the original Desert Protection Act in 1986, and Senator Dianne Feinstein steered it through Congress in 1994.

In fact, the rugged, masculine, outdoorsman image that Teddy Roosevelt championed has long been the lens through which we’ve seen the creation of many of our national parks. When in fact, women have led the charge for conservation and environmental protection for well over a century in the United States.

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.

This spring, Joshua Tree National Park is piloting a free shuttle service, called the RoadRunner Shuttle bus. This service runs throughout the day throughout the northern section of the park. During the two year trial period, all entrance fees are waived for park entrance for shuttle riders.


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9:02 A.M.

Twenty-four years ago, a Ryder truck packed with nearly 5,000 pounds of explosives was parked in front of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal building by Timothy McVeigh — a Gulf War veteran who, two years prior, had driven to Waco, Texas, during the siege of the compound belonging to the Branch Davidians to show his support. At the scene, he distributed pro-gun rights literature and bumper stickers bearing slogans such as, “When guns are outlawed, I will become an outlaw.”

On April 19, 1995, he delivered a bomb that killed 168 people, among them 19 children—most of whom were in the building’s daycare center. The youngest victim was 4 months old.

In a matter of seconds, the blast destroyed most of the nine-story concrete and granite building, and the surrounding area looked like a war zone. Dozens of cars were incinerated, and more than 300 nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The Oklahoma City Bombing remains the seminal event in Oklahoma City history, and the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil after 9/11. But on the grounds today, 24 years later, sits a memorial that brings Oklahomans together to remember the victims and the heroes on that fateful day.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and the investigation that remains one of the largest and most complex cases the FBI has ever undertaken.


Florence Rogers, head of the Federal Employees Credit Union, was in her office on the third floor of the Murrah building that morning. Seated around her desk were eight credit union employees, some of whom Rogers had known and worked with for decades. Although they were having a business meeting, spring was in the air, and there was talk of the women’s colorful seasonal dresses.

Special Agent Barry Black was at Tinker Air Force Base that morning tracking a fugitive in a stock manipulation case he had been working on for four years. Black was trained as an accountant, but since joining the Bureau seven years earlier, he had become a sniper on the SWAT team and had deployed to the Waco standoff in 1993—the event that had galvanized Timothy McVeigh’s hatred of the federal government. Black was also the newest bomb tech in the Oklahoma City Division.

He and his partner had received a tip that their white-collar fugitive was on the military base, and as they waited in their car for him, the bomb went off.

They were seven linear miles from the Murrah building. “I remember it was very loud and you immediately snapped your head toward town,” he said. “It was loud enough where you could see the people outside hunker down because of the noise.” It was later determined that the blast registered 3.2 on the Richter scale–very much like an earthquake.

Bob Ricks was the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Division in 1995. On the morning of April 19, he and many of his law enforcement colleagues were signed up for a charity golf event about 40 miles east of downtown sponsored by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. His counterparts from the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals Service were there as well.

“We were just getting ready to tee off, and all of a sudden everyone’s phones started going off. I got a call from my secretary saying that there had been some type of a bombing down at the Murrah Federal Building—didn’t know how bad it was.”

Evidence quickly led to Timothy McVeigh. Investigators determined the explosion was caused by a truck bomb and collected vehicle parts with telltale bomb damage. A vehicle identification number led to a Ryder rental facility in Junction City, Kansas. On April 20, the FBI released a sketch of the man who rented the truck. The owner of the Dreamland Motel in Junction City recognized him as a guest registered as Timothy McVeigh.

When the bomb went off, Special Agent Jim Norman was at his desk at the FBI’s Oklahoma City Field Office, located about five miles northwest of the Murrah building. “It shook everything in the office,” Norman recalled. “Files fell off people’s desks where they were piled up.” One of the Bureau’s senior bomb technicians, Norman, now retired, rushed into his supervisor’s office. “We looked toward downtown Oklahoma City and you could see a tan cloud of debris rising from that area. I told my supervisor, ‘I think a bomb detonated downtown. We need to go down there.’”

In his car on the way to the scene, a local radio station was reporting that the blast might have been caused by a natural gas explosion, but in his gut, Norman knew it was a bomb from the sound he had heard. “I never thought it was a gas explosion,” he said. Less than 15 minutes after the blast, he parked two blocks away from the Murrah building. It was as close as he could get because of all the debris.

McVeigh used a Michigan address when he checked into the Dreamland Motel. He listed the same address—which belonged to a brother of Terry Nichols—when he was arrested shortly after the bombing. Terry Nichols was one of McVeigh’s Army buddies also known for his anti-government sentiments, and the investigation showed that Nichols helped McVeigh buy and steal the material for the bomb and helped mix the ingredients.

Investigators discovered plenty of other evidence. The clothes McVeigh was wearing when he was arrested—along with a set of earplugs in his pocket—tested positive for chemical residue used in the explosive. McVeigh’s fingerprints were also found on a receipt at Nichols’ home for 2,000 pounds of fertilizer used to make the bomb. Other evidence linked McVeigh and Nichols to each other and to different elements of the crime.

The FBI initially had no idea how many people were involved. In 32 months, the Bureau logged more than 1 million hours of investigative work through the Task Force. During that time, investigators conducted more than 28,000 interviews, followed more than 43,450 investigative leads, collected nearly 3.5 tons of evidence, searched 1 billion records in 26 databases, and reviewed more than 13.2 million hotel registration records, 3.1 million Ryder truck rental records, and 682,000 airline reservation records.

In August 1995, McVeigh and Nichols were charged with the same 11 federal crimes.


Today, on the site of what was once the Murrah building, there is a memorial honoring the significance of that tragic day. The memorial was formally dedicated on April 19, 2000: the fifth anniversary of the bombing, and is cared for by the National Park Service and features two large bronze walls on either end called the “gates of time.” One is marked 9:01 am —the minute before the bombing, and the other is marked 9:03– the minute after. Between them sits a reflecting pool, and 168 empty chairs hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone represent those who lost their lives, with a name etched in the glass base of each. 19 of the chairs are child-sized.

The memorial is free to enter, but on site is a separate non-profit museum. Kari Watkins is the executive director.


This episode of America’s National Parks was compiled from the FBI’s website detailing their famous cases. It’s an excellent resource.

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Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Rover

On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his famous “Day Of Infamy Speech.” The United States had entered World War II. That evening, his wife would call on all Americans to focus on the war effort and to support the nation’s leaders in the difficult days ahead. She had also entered World War II.

Today’s episode of America’s National Parks: Eleanor Roosevelt—the only first lady to have a National Park Service Unit in her honor—and her critical role in World War II.

Shortly after her radio address, Eleanor was off to the west coast to help organize Offices of Civilian Defense. Meanwhile, she wrote newspaper columns titled “My Day,” filled with information about the efforts to prepare for the war on the homefront and seeking to rally citizens to do their part by volunteering for organizations like the Red Cross. Over the course of that year, she worked tirelessly to keep Americans informed, engaged, and joined together for the common good.

In the fall of 1942, at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth, she traveled to Great Britain to study the British home front effort and visit US troops stationed there. Her husband had not yet visited troops. He wouldn’t until the following January. In fact, no president had ever flown on a plane at this point.

Security and secrecy were essential to ensure the safety of the First Lady, so her name was not mentioned in official communications. Instead, she was given the code name “Rover.” Great Britain had been at war for more than three years. Eleanor spent almost a month inspecting factories, shipyards, hospitals, schools, bomb shelters, distribution centers, Red Cross clubs, evacuee centers and military installations in England, Scotland and Ireland. Food, water and fuel were rationed, and people spent hours in line waiting for supplies and transportation. The streets went dark half an hour after sunset due to blackout restrictions and barrage balloons hung low in the sky to trap Nazi planes. Air raid sirens sounded nightly.

A typical day began at 8:00 AM and ended at midnight, and she summarized her experiences in a daily column. She spent time with hundreds of wounded servicemen and offered to write to their families when she returned home. She collected hundreds of names and followed through on her promise. Despite the hardships, ER found the people determined to carry on. Their spirit, she wrote to FDR on October 25, “is something to bow down to.”

She returned to the United States more determined than ever to motivate the people on the homefront. It wouldn’t be her only visit to a war zone, however.

The summer of 1943 was a critical time for the Allies. The tide was just starting to turn as the Allied forces marked a series of hard-won victories. The capture of Sicily was a stepping stone to the invasion of Italy. German forces surrendered in North Africa, and the brutal island-hopping campaign in the South Pacific had brought American forces all the way to the Solomon Islands. The war in the Pacific stretched across thousands of miles, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska all the way to Australia.

On August 17th, Eleanor Roosevelt began a month-long journey to the South Pacific to visit our Allies in New Zealand and Australia, but more importantly to meet the soldiers and sailors stationed on remote islands cut off from their families and friends. With the story, Here’s Abigail Trabue.


“I am about to start on a long trip which I hope will bring to many women a feeling that they have visited the places where I go, and that they know more about the lives their boys are leading.” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her first “My Day” column immortalizing her South Pacific trip. She knew how those mothers felt. All four of her sons were serving in uniform, and two had been stationed in the Pacific. Her son James had told her to eat with the enlisted men, not just the officers, if she wanted to know what was really happening. And she did.

Eleanor was traveling as a representative of the Red Cross. She arrived on Christmas Island on August 19th and toured the island’s hospitals and Red Cross Center. Her itinerary was exhausting. From Christmas Island she traveled to Penhryn Island, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, Tutuliua Samoa, Fiji and New Caledonia in six days.

“I went through the hospital, saw the Red Cross man, the headquarters building, tents, and mess hall and day room and outdoor theatre in a colored troop area,” she wrote of Bora Bora. “There seems to be no trouble anywhere out here between the white and colored. They lie in beds in the same wards, go to the same movies and sit side by side and work side by side, but I don’t think I’ve seen them mess together, but their food is as good and everything just as clean in their quarters. Southern and Northern Negroes are in the same outfits.” Her previous efforts to end segregation in the military had not been successful, but she never stopped trying.

Military commanders, especially Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, were unhappy with the First Lady’s itinerary and were deeply concerned that she would be a distraction from the war effort. They would soon change their minds. Halsey had complained bitterly about the stream of military leaders, congressman and “do-gooders” who insisted their duties included a personal inspection of the frontlines. They were a drain on resources, took up badly needed space on planes and in barracks and distracted Halsey and his staff from the duties of fighting a war. But protocol required that he meet the First Lady on her arrival, and so he did. As she stepped off the plane wearing her Red Cross uniform the Admiral asked her what her plans were. Mrs. Roosevelt answered, “What do you think I should do?” In his war-weary voice he grumbled, “Mrs. Roosevelt, I’ve been married for some thirty-odd years, if those years have taught me one lesson, it is never to try to make up a woman’s mind for her.”

Eleanor then handed the Admiral a letter from the president asking him to let her visit Guadalcanal. In his autobiography he described their conversation: “Guadalcanal is no place for you, Ma’am” he answered firmly. U.S. Marines had been fighting valiantly to secure the island, and it had come to symbolize the struggle of ordinary boys in extraordinary circumstances.

Mrs. Roosevelt said she would take her chances, but Admiral Halsey insisted that with the battle currently raging he needed every fighter plane he had and “If you fly to Guadalcanal, I’ll have to provide a fighter escort for you, and I haven’t got one to spare.” Seeing how disappointed she was, the Admiral relented a little. “I will postpone my final decision until you return.” Eleanor was particularly interested in visiting Guadalcanal because one of her close family friends, Joe Lash, was stationed there, and she had promised his wife she would try to see him. She had already convinced the President to allow it.

Admiral Halsey’s initial misgivings were replaced with awe the next day. In less than 12 hours Eleanor inspected two Navy hospitals, traveled by boat to an officer’s rest house, returned and inspected an Army hospital, reviewed the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion (her son James had served with them) delivered a speech at a service club, attended a reception and was guest of honor at a dinner given by General Harmon. Halsey was impressed particularly with the incredible impact she had on the wounded in the hospitals. Many came to life, smiled and appeared rejuvenated by her mere presence. She spoke to everyone. Halsey recounted “I marveled at her hardihood, both physical and mental: she walked for miles, and saw patients who were grievously and gruesomely wounded. But I marveled the most at their expressions as she leaned over them. It was a sight I will never forget.”

Eleanor left the next day and arrived in New Zealand on the 26th where she was greeted by cheering crowds. The Auckland Star described her as dedicated to “the quest for a better way of life, not only for her own people of the United States, but for all the peoples of the world.” She made a determined effort to highlight the work women were doing while the men were off fighting the war. She visited Australia and was hailed as a beacon of hope. In Sydney she declared, “Perhaps here is the germ of an idea that in the postwar period women will be encouraged to participate in all activities of citizenship.”

When she returned to New Caledonia on her way home, Admiral Halsey agreed to let her visit Guadalcanal, and he expressed his new-found appreciation for her efforts. “I told her that it was impossible for me to express my appreciation of what she had done, and was doing, for my men. I was ashamed of my original surliness. She alone had accomplished more good than any other person who had passed through my area.”

The Admiral’s initial concerns, however, were well founded. The night before Mrs. Roosevelt arrived on Guadalcanal the Japanese bombed the island. She flew in a nighttime “lights out” flight to prevent detection by the Japanese in an unheated military transport.

She had already been traveling for a month, and was exhausted. She had lost thirty pounds. She was anxious about causing problems for the men stationed on Guadalcanal, and about seeing her good friend Sergeant Joseph Lash.

Eleanor’s friendship with Lash began five years earlier when she was finding ways to help the nation’s young people and he was a leader of the American Youth Congress. They had become political allies, friends, and more. He was like a son to her, and she kept his photo with her at all times. When he was shipped overseas, she wrote him, “All that I have is yours always, my love, devotion and complete trust follow you.” She was also very close to Trude Pratt, Lash’s fiancée, and had helped her decorate their apartment.

The First Lady arrived in the early morning and met with General Twining. Eleanor asked the general if she could see Sergeant Lash, and soon they were reunited, upsetting military protocol with a warm embrace.

Relieved to be with such a good friend after a month among strangers, Eleanor may have let him see the fatigue that she tried to hide from others as they talked privately of the war’s effect on the troops. Lash wrote Trude telling her he had seen “a very tired Mrs. Roosevelt, agonized by the men she had seen in the hospitals, fiercely determined because of them to be relentless in working for a peace that this time will last.”

A photograph of Joe Lash taken during the war was still in Eleanor’s wallet 19 years later on the day she died.

She visited the island chapel and the cemetery which made a deep impression on her. “On the island there is a cemetery and, as you look at the crosses row on row, you think of the women’s hearts buried here as well and are grateful for signs everywhere that show the boys are surrounded by affection,” she wrote. “On their mess kits their buddies engrave inscriptions, such as “A swell pal, a good guy, rest in peace.”

She also visited the hospitals once again, spending time with each and every patient. One reporter on the scene wrote, “Every time she grasps a new hand her face lights up with a resolute effort to feel sincere, not to leave this a mere empty gesture. She tries to feel a genuine impulse of friendship towards the person she is greeting.”

“Hospitals and cemeteries are closely tied together in my head on this trip,” she would say, “and I thought of them even when I talked to the boys who were well and strong and in training, ready to go wherever they had to go to win the war.”

The day after the First Lady left Guadalcanal, it was bombed again.

In her last column before returning to the United States she tried to find meaning in her experience, and in the experiences of the many people she had met. Her closing lines summarized her feelings and her hopes for a better world.

“Long ago a man told me the big thing men got out of a war was the sense of shared comradeship and loyalty to each other. Perhaps that is what we must develop at home to build the world for which our men are dying.”


“The greatest thing I have learned is how good it is to come home again.” Eleanor Roosevelt

This simple statement expresses her love for the modest house she called Val-Kill, the only National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady. Val-Kill was her retreat, her office, her home, and her laboratory for social change from 1924 until her death in 1962. During that time she formulated and carried out her social and political beliefs.

A visit to Val-Kill is by guided tour only. The tour begins with an introductory film, followed by a 45-minute tour of Val-Kill Cottage. You can also enjoy the gardens on the site.

During periods of high visitation (Summer weekends, Holidays, and October) it is not unusual for tours to sell out.

Nearby is FDR’s Springwood estate, which became the first US Presidential Library.

This Episode of America’s National Parks was adapted largely from an article for the National Archives by Paul M. Sparrow, Director of the FDR Library, and narrated by Abigail Trabue.


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“Goodbye, Death Valley”

In 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California and people from all over the United States packed their belongings and began to travel by wagon to what they hoped would be a new and better life. Since most of these pioneers began their exodus to California in 1849, they are referred to as the ’49ers — yep, that’s where the NFL team’s name comes from. One of the supply points along the trail was Salt Lake City, where pioneers prepared for the long journey across the Great Basin desert before climbing over the Sierra Nevada to the gold fields of California. It was important to leave Salt Lake City and cross the desert before snow began to fall on the Sierra Nevada, making them impassible. Only a couple of years before, a group of pioneers called the Donner Party was trapped by a storm, an event that became one of the greatest human disasters of that day and age. The stories of the Donner Party were still fresh on everyone’s mind when a group of wagons began their journey in October of 1849. It was much too late to try to cross the Sierra Nevada safely, and it looked like the wagons were going to have to wait out the winter in Salt Lake. It was then that they heard about the Old Spanish Trail, a route that went around the south end of the Sierra Nevada and was safe to travel in the winter. But no pioneer wagon trains had traversed this route, and they could only find one person in town who knew where to go and would agree to lead them. As they started their journey, no one knew that this wagon train—the San Joaquin Company—would have a harrowing adventure that nearly killed them all.

On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, the place that these prospectors would come to call Death Valley.


The going was slower than most of the travelers wanted, but the San Joaquin Company’s guide, Captain Jefferson Hunt, would only go as fast as the slowest wagon in the group. Just as the people were about to voice their dissent, a young man rode into camp with a hand-sketched map that showed a “short cut” across the desert to a place called Walker Pass. Most agreed that this would cut off 500 miles from their journey so a majority of the 107 wagons decided to follow it while the other wagons continued along the Old Spanish Trail with Captain Hunt. The point where these wagons left the Old Spanish Trail is near the present day town of Enterprise, Utah where a Jefferson Hunt Monument commemorates this historic event. Almost as soon as they began their journey, they found themselves confronted with an obstacle, a gaping canyon on the present day Utah-Nevada state line. Most of the people became discouraged and turned back to join Captian Hunt, but more than 20 wagons decided to continue on. It was a tedious chore getting the wagons around the canyon and took several days. Despite the fact that the group didn’t have a reliable map, they decided to continue on thinking that all they had to do was go west and they would eventually find the pass.

The group continued over summits and across barren valleys to Groom Lake, near the present-day town of Rachel. At Groom Lake they got into a dispute on which way to go. One group—the Bennett-Arcan party—wanted to head south toward the distant, snow-clad Mt. Charleston in hopes of finding a good water source. The other group—the Jayhawkers—wanted to stay with the original plan of traveling west. The group eventually split and went their separate ways, but they both were to have two things in common. They were saved from dying of thirst by a snowstorm and both ended up in present-day Death Valley Junction, where, together, they journeyed into a vast valley and found water in what would become known as Furnace Creek.

The lost ’49ers had now been traveling across the desert for about two months since leaving the Old Spanish Trail. Their oxen were weak from lack of forage and their wagons were battered and in poor shape. They too were weary and discouraged but their biggest problem was not the valley that lay before them. It was the towering Panamint Mountains that stood like an impenetrable wall as far as could be seen.

From Furnace Creek, the routes of the two groups diverged again. The Jayhawkers went north toward the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where they decided they would have to leave their wagons and belongings behind and walk. They slaughtered several oxen and used the wood of their wagons to cook the meat and make jerky. After crossing the Panamint Mountains via Towne Pass and dropping down into Panamint Valley, most of them turned south, making their way into Indian Wells Valley near the present day city of Ridgecrest. There they follow a prominent Indian trail heading south and eventually leading them to civilization.

Meanwhile, the Bennett-Arcan party struggled across the salt flats and attempted to pass over the Panamint Mountain via Warm Springs Canyon, but were unable to do so. They retreated to the valley floor and sent two young men, William Lewis Manly and John Rogers, over the mountain to get supplies. Thinking the Panamint was the Sierra Nevada, some expected a speedy return. Instead, nearly a month went by as the men walked more than 300 miles to Mission San Fernando, got supplies at a ranch and trecked back with three horses and a one-eyed mule. Along the way, one of the horses was ridden to death and the other two had to be abandoned. When Manly and Rogers finally arrived to the camp of the Bennett-Arcan party they found many of the group had left to find their own way out of the valley. Two families with children had patiently remained, trusting the men to save them. Only one man had perished during their long wait, but as they made their way west over the mountains, someone is said to have proclaimed “Goodbye, Death Valley,” giving the valley its morbid name.

They may have escaped the Death Valley, but it took another 23 days to cross the Mojave Desert and reach the safety of Ranch San Francisco in Santa Clarita Valley. The so-called “short cut” that had lured the Lost ’49ers away from Captian Hunt’s wagon train had proved to take four months and cost the lives of many.


In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres. Nearly 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads provide access to locations both popular and remote. Even so, 91% of the park is protected as officially designated Wilderness. That wild country includes low valley floors crusted with barren salt flats, rugged mountains rising as much as 11,000 feet, deep and winding canyons, rolling sand dunes, and spring-fed oases.

Autumn arrives in late October, with warm but pleasant temperatures and generally clear skies. Winter has cool days, chilly nights and rarely, rainstorms. With snow capping the high peaks and low angled winter light, this season is especially beautiful for exploring the valley. Springtime is the most popular time to visit Death Valley. Besides warm and sunny days, the possibility of spring wildflowers is a big attraction. Summer starts early—by May the valley is too hot for most visitors, average highs are over 110 degrees.

The text for this episode was provided largely by Death Valley National Park, and the National Park Service.

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A Century of Progress — Indiana Dunes National Park


America now boasts 61 National Parks. Technically all of the 400 plus units in the National Park Service are “National Parks,” but only 61 have the capital N, capital P designation from Congress. Buried within a massive spending bill protecting public lands signed by the President on February 15, 2019, was a provision that simply stated “Public Law 89-761 is amended by striking National Lakeshore each place it appears and replacing it with National Park.”

Today’s episode—the new Indiana Dunes National Park – which like many of our parks, is named for one feature of a multifaceted ecosystem.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established as a unit of the National Park Service in 1966, but the fight to protect this special place on the southern tip of Lake Michigan began at the turn of the 20th century. Botanist Henry Cowles published an article entitled “Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan,” in the Botanical Gazette that helped earn him the title “father of plant ecology” in North America, bringing international attention to the intricate ecosystems existing on and around the massive sand dunes that formed on the shores.

But if you know anything about Northern Indiana, a stone’s throw from Chicago, you know it’s a massive manufacturing corridor, and booming American midwest industry threatened this unique environment. Steel mills and power plants were being built, many of which still exist today. And glass manufactures. Glass is made from molten sand. The Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass fruit jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo carried the 200 foot Hoosier Slide, the area’s largest dune, away entirely in railroad boxcars while conservationists fought to protect the area to no avail.

Cowles and some other interested parties formed the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1908 in order to protect the dunes. They called to block commercial interests and maintain their pristine condition for the enjoyment of the people. Out of the Prairie Club came the National Dunes Park Association which touted the slogan “A National Park for the Middle West, and all the Middle West for a National Park.”

On October 30, 1916, only one month after the National Park Service was established, Stephen Mather, the Service’s first Director, held hearings in Chicago to gauge public sentiment. Four hundred people attended and 42 people, including Henry Cowles, spoke in favor of the park proposal; there were no opponents.

Unfortunately a few months later the United States entered World War I and priorities shifted. Indiana, however, wouldn’t wait. In 1926, Indiana Dunes State Park opened to the public. The State Park was still relatively small in size and scope and the push for a national park continued.

Another threat loomed, as the St. Lawrence Seaway connected the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and Indiana businessmen wanted to develop a massive Port of Indiana. As a result, Save the Dunes Council President Dorothy Buell and council members began a nationwide membership and fundraising drive to buy the land they sought to preserve, and they succeeded in buying several swaths of acres.

In the summer of 1961, those fighting to save the dunes began to see greater possibilities for hope. President John F. Kennedy supported congressional authorization for Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, which marked the first time federal monies would be used to purchase natural parkland. Kennedy put forth a compromise that would create both park and port.

The Port and its massive steel mills were constructed on top of what was once the Central Dunes region of the Indiana Dunes. But a park was created. The 1966 authorizing legislation included only 8,330 acres of land and water, but the Save the Dunes Council, National Park Service, and others continued to attempt to expand the boundaries. Four subsequent pieces of legislation (in 1976, 1980, 1986, and 1992) have increased the size of the park to more than 15,000 acres.

Like Joshua Tree, and Wind Cave, and Petrified Forest, Indiana Dunes National Park is much more than the singular feature it’s named after. It features more than 1,100 native plants ranking it fourth in plant diversity among all National Park Service sites. It’s full of mysterious wetlands, bright prairies, wandering rivers and tranquil forests. You can play on the massive sand dunes, but you can also harvest maple sugar from the park’s historic farm.

But one of the most unique features of Indiana Dunes National Park has little to do with nature at all. It’s a set of 5 houses with an interesting past.


The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, dubbed A Century of Progress celebrated the city’s centennial through a theme of technological innovation. The fair’s motto was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.” One description of the fair noted that, in the midst of the Gread Depression, the world could glimpse a happier not-too-distant future, driven by innovation in science and technology. Fair visitors saw the latest wonders in rail travel, automobiles, architecture and cigarette-smoking robots. They saw Cadillac’s V-16 limousine. They saw the Burlington Zephyr, a silver-bullet of a train which made a record-breaking dawn-to-dusk run from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes. They saw the first Major League Baseball All-Star game held as part of the fair at Comiskey Park. And they saw a German Zeppelin, which circled the fair for two hours, an unwelcome reminder for many of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power.

One of the most interesting displays, however, was the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition, showcasing modern innovations in architecture, design, and building materials. Several unique art deco and contemporary model homes were built, complete with futuristic furnishings and new technologies like central air and dishwashers. Architects and construction firms used the model homes to demonstrate techniques for pre-fabricated homes with new materials like baked enamel and Rostone — a man-made type of masonry that could be molded into specific shapes and produced in various colors.

Many of the plans were purchased by visitors, and homes were built across the country based on their designs. But the original model homes would be purchased by real estate developer Robert Bartlett and floated across Lake Michigan to the peaceful Indiana Dunes. Bartlett hoped that the high profile houses would entice buyers to his new resort community of Beverly Shores.

The Wieboldt-Rostone House is located on the north side of Lake Front Drive, east of Dunbar Avenue. It was framed in steel and clad in the experimental Rostone material. Rostone was composed of shale, limestone, and alkali. Its creators advertised that the material could be produced in a variety of colors and forms, including slabs and panels, to exact dimensions. Rostone was not as durable as originally predicted. The material had severely deteriorated by 1950. Residents repaired it by covering the Rostone with another synthetic material, a concrete stucco called Perma-stone. Visitors can still see remnants of the original Rostone surrounding the front door exterior, in the interior entrance area, and around the living room fireplace.

The Florida Tropical House lies east of the Wieboldt-Rostone House on Lake Front Drive. Miami architect Robert Law Weed, inspired by the tropical climate of Southern Florida, designed this house. Weed sought to blend the indoor and outdoor environments, bringing together a spacious two-story living room, with overhanging balcony, and large open terraces on the roof. The original specifications called for poured concrete walls, however, to save money, the house was framed in wood, and finished with a lightweight concrete stucco. The bright pink house became a well-known landmark for sailors.

On the south side of Lake Front Drive sits the Cypress Log Cabin. Architect Murray D. Heatherington designed this building to demonstrate the unique qualities and many uses of cypress. At the fair, the cabin presented a mountain lodge atmosphere with fences, arbors, and bridges decorated with cypress knees, carved to suggest animal heads, reptiles, and fantasy creatures. None of these details were replicated when the house was moved to Beverly Shores.

West of the Cypress Log Cabin is the House of Tomorrow, creation of Chicago architect George Fred Keck. The first floor was designed as the service area, originally containing the garage and an airplane hangar. World’s Fair optimists assumed every future family would own an airplane. The second and third floors contained the main living spaces and a solarium. The three-story, steel-framed building was originally clad in glass on the second and third floors. Keck defied mechanical engineers, who said that due to the expansive use of glass the house couldn’t be heated, and installed a floor to ceiling “curtain wall system”. Instead of heat loss during the winter, the level of solar heat gain actually reduced the need for mechanical heating, but during the summer the solar gain was too great for the home’s revolutionary air-conditioning system to handle, and it failed. When Bartlett moved the house to Beverly Shores, he replaced the glass walls with operable windows to allow for proper air circulation.

The Armco-Ferro House is the only remaining house from the fair that met the Fair Committee’s original design criteria; a house that could be mass-produced and was affordable for the average American family. This seemingly frameless house boasts a revolutionary construction system: corrugated steel panels that are bolted together. This system resembles a typical cardboard box; it could be placed on its bottom, side, or top without damaging the structure. The corrugated panels are clad with porcelain-enameled steel panels produced by the Ferro Enamel Corporation. This construction system later provided the inspiration for the post World War II prefabricated housing developed by the Lustron Corporation. Several Lustron houses can still be seen in Beverly Shores.

Today the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and have been leased to the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, who in turn has leased them to private residents who are restoring them. The small community of Beverly Shores is now encircled by the National Park.


The Century of progress homes are opened to the public to tour annually for one day each October. Tickets are required, and they sell out fast.

Enjoy the outdoors year-round at Indiana Dunes National Park. From swimming and sunbathing in the summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, each season offers visitors the chance to experience this unique park.

Hiking is rewarding in every season. Spring wildflowers are abundant along the Little Calumet River in April and May. Summer is an ideal time to build sand castles on the 15 miles of beaches and admire Lake Michigan sunsets. The colors of fall can be enjoyed from late September through October, with the peak color occurring around mid-October. Bird watching is popular during spring and fall migrations, and bike trails will zip you through the changing landscape. Fishing the Little Calumet River during the summer steelhead run is a worthy challenge and the Portage Lakefront fishing pier offers lakeside fishing.

Overnight camping is available from April through October at the Dunewood Campground. It’s first-come, first-served. It can accomodate smaller RVs, but has no service hookups. You can also camp at and visit the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is encircled by the National Park.


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Four Voices, Four Missions

The Alamo is certainly San Antonio’s most famous landmark, perhaps even the most famous building in Texas, due to its pivotal role in the 1836 Texas Revolution. But the Alamo was built over a century prior as Mission San Antonio de Valero by Spanish settlers on the banks of the San Antonio River. Beginning in 1690, Spanish friars established missions in what is now East Texas as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. The Alamo is a Texas state historic site, but right nearby, four sister missions, all still working Catholic churches, are protected by the National Park Service as the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

This episode of the podcast follows four people connected to the Missions: a stonemason, a historian, a descendant, and a former church administrator. Their stories comprise Michael Nye’s “Four Voices” exhibit on display at Mission Concepción.


Listen to the podcast below or on any podcast app:


The missions were built primarily by the native people of the area. As the Spanish Missions arrived, the Couchilticon people were suffering from disease, famine, and savage attacks from Apache tribes. The Franciscan Friars saw them as easy recruits and offered them a devil’s bargain. They could join the Mission, and be fed and protected, but they would have to give up essential parts of their being, converting to Catholicism and the Spanish way of life.

The missions flourished up until the 1780s, mostly through the work of the Couchilticon people. The Spanish had a caste system that said the further from Spain you were born, the less of a Spanish citizen you were, so it was hard to recruit Spanish settlers. Then Couchilticon were essential. They built these places and they are their legacy. Not only the churches but towering stone walls and arches, defense bastions, grain storage, apartments, and an aqueduct that still stands today – the only such structure in the US.

Mission San José

Raising livestock played an important role in mission life. The common lands between the missions were used for grazing. As herds grew, they began intruding into neighboring farmland and common lands, and eating the crops, so the livestock was sent to graze further away on ranchos in an area about 20 to 30 miles to the north and south of the missions along both sides of the San Antonio River.

Mission Indian men were taught to care for the livestock, and became known as the vaqueros. In a twist of the old-west cowboys and Indians trope the first real American cowboys, were actually Indians.

Increasing hostility from the Apache the Comanche, coupled with inadequate military support, caused the Mission communities to retreat behind the stone walls they built, and the never-solved problem of new European diseases reduced their numbers, and the missions slowly declined.

In the final years of the 18th century, Spain’s interests in the area waned, and support for the missions was eliminated. The five San Antonio missions were secularized, and the remaining native converts assimilated with nearby local populations or migrated to Mexico. But the churches lived on, and people lived at the missions for many more years.

Mission Concepción

The most intact and original of the five missions is Mission Concepción. It stands today nearly as it did in the 1700s, due to the fact that it was built directly on bedrock. The church walls are 45 inches thick; however only the inside and outside facings are of solid stone – between the two layers is a filling of small stones and building debris.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established on April 1, 1983, in partnership with the individual churches, still owned by the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The San Antonio missions are unique in that they are one of the few National Historic sites that still play a major role in the regular lives of the people that call the churches their place of worship. Many of whom have descended from the Spanish, and from the Native Americans. These buildings, once shining white adorned with colorful frescos carry the whispers of the people who once lived there and who have worshipped there for centuries.

Michael Nye says that “National Parks connect our past to the present. Sometimes they illuminate natural landscapes while other times they amplify and honor historical events. Our Parks are agreements between generations, symbols of significance, care and deep reflection.”

“The stories from The San Antonio Missions represent divergent and significant points of view: 17th Century explorers – Native American groups of the Southwest – Early Texas history – Spanish colonization – Stone masons and builders of the Missions – Battles of opposing interest – There is also the point of view of the land and creeks and pecan trees and the deep blue South Texas skies above. The history of the Missions did not end in the 17th, 18th or 19th century. No. History is energetic and invites present participation. In every corner, every room, in every mission, light grows brighter or dims. New emerging voices and experiences bring life and breath into a larger understanding.”

Yes, when you visit San Antonio, you should visit the Alamo, but perhaps much more rewarding is a day or two spent touring the grounds of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, just 10 minutes south of downtown. The missions are all connected via a trail and parkway system along the San Antonio river that begins with Mission Espada on the south end and culminates in the center of downtown at the Alamo. Entrance is free, and the hours are generally from 9am to 5pm daily, but vary slightly at the different facilities. The park’s headquarters and visitor center is located at Mission San José, where you can see the park film, visit the gift shop, and take a ranger-guided tour. Parking facilities vary at the different sites, especially for large vehicles. Large RVs and tour buses can park in oversized parking at Mission San Jose, but won’t be so lucky at the other missions.

Our many thanks to Michael Nye for loaning us the audio interviews for this episode. You can hear the full audio of the interviews at Mission Concepción, along with his photographs of the interviewees. You can also view the photographs on the National Park Service website. Please also consider visiting Michael Nye’s website for info about more of his work.


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A Great Obelisk

In 1833, a small organization formed with the purpose to fund and build a monument “unparalleled in the world” in honor of once commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States. Its completion, and its history, not unlike the Statue of Liberty, were fraught with funding issues, construction delays, and outside forces seemingly teamed against it. Today on America’s National Parks, the Washington Monument, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C.

As far back as the victory in the Revolutionary War, proposals began flooding in to commemorate American hero George Washington. In 1783, the Continental Congress had determined “That an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established.” But it wasn’t until his death in 1799 that a different type of monument would be considered. John Marshall, a Representative from Virginia, who later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitol. A lack of funds and disagreements over what type of vision for the memorial, coupled with the Washington family’s hesitation to move him stalled the idea. Still, Congress authorized a suitable memorial in the capital, but the decision was reversed when the Jeffersonian Republicans took control of Congress in 1801. Washington had become the symbol of the Federalist Party, their adversaries, and they were reluctant to construct an effigy in his honor. They also blocked his image on coins and the celebration of his birthday.

In 1833, a group of private citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society, and began raising funds. By 1836 they had raised $28,000 in donations, about $1,000,000 today, at which point a competition for the design of the memorial was announced.

“It is proposed that the contemplated monument shall be like him in whose honor it is to be constructed, unparalleled in the world, and commensurate with the gratitude, liberality, and patriotism of the people by whom it is to be erected” said the announcement. “[It] should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it. Its material is intended to be wholly American, and to be of marble and granite brought from each state, that each state may participate in the glory of contributing material as well as in funds to its construction.”

For the following decade, designs were solicited and more money was raised, until a winner was chosen, Architect Robert Mills. Mill’s design described a circular building 250 feet in diameter and 100 feet high from which raised a four-sided obelisk, another 500 feet tall. The obelisk was to be 70 feet square at the base and 40 feet square at the top with a slightly peaked roof. The top of the portico of the building would feature Washington standing in a chariot holding the reins of six horses. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes, and statues of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

With costs estimated at $20 Million in today’s dollars, however, it would be nearly impossible to fund. Mills made some design modifications to cut costs, and construction began on the Washington Monument in 1848, with funding still lagging. The cornerstone was laid on July 4 with nearly 20,000 people in attendance including President James K. Polk, Dolley Madison, Eliza Hamilton, and future presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, and Johnson. Builders started work on the foundation, an 80-foot square step pyramid. With the substructure completed, the builders then proceeded to the above-ground marble structure, using a system of pulleys, block and tackle systems, and a hoist to place the stones. By 1854, the monument had reached a height of 156 feet above ground.

In the previous year, a new group aligned with the controversial Know-Nothing Party gained control of the Washington National Monument Society. The change in administration alienated donors and drove the Society to bankruptcy. Without funds, work on the monument halted, and then the following year, Architect Robert Mills died. For more than two decades, the monument stood only partly finished, an embarrassment on the front lawn of the nation. Attempts were made from within Congress to intercede, but as the civil war loomed, they all failed. Not until the patina of history set in would our first president’s memorial be picked up again, when the country put itself back together after the Civil War.

A joint resolution passed both houses of Congress on July 5, 1876, which assumed the duty to fund and complete the Washington Monument. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, led by Lt. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey, was responsible for directing and completing the work. Casey’s first task was to strengthen the foundation of the monument, which he determined was inadequate for the structure as it was designed. For four years, builders shored up the foundation.

The quarry near Baltimore used for the stone during the initial construction had long been shuttered. A quarry in Massachusetts looked like a possible color match, but problems quickly arose with the quality and color of the stone, and the irregularity of deliveries. After adding several rows of this stone—a brown-streaked line one-third of the way up the monument—the builders shifted to a quarry near Baltimore that provided the stone for the upper two-thirds of the structure. The three slightly different colors from the three quarries are clearly visible today.

Casey reduced the height of the structure to ten times the width of the base, 555 feet. Plans for all the ornate embellishments and the ring of columns were scrapped in favor of what we see today: the simple, 4-sided obelisk. He also reduced the thickness of the walls from thirteen feet to nine feet between the 150 and 160 foot levels, visible in the monument’s interior. A steam-powered elevator was used to lift six tons of stone up to a movable 20-foot-tall iron frame.

470 feet above the ground, builders began angling buttresses inward to support the marble pyramid which rests at the top of the monument. On December 6, 1884, Lt. Col. Casey supervised as the 3,300-pound capstone was brought out through one of the windows, hoisted to the scaffolding at the tip of the monument, and set in place. He then placed the 8.9-inch aluminum tip that sits upon the capstone as crowds cheered below. The Washington Monument was complete, and it was the tallest building in the world at 555 feet, 5.125 inches.

An iron staircase was build in the monument’s interior, and it was opened to the public in 1886, For six months after its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 900 steps and 47 large landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered to carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly, and an average of 55,000 people per month were going to the top by 1888. Visitors could view memorial stones inset in the walls from various individuals, civic groups, cities, states, and countries from around the world.

The original steam-driven elevator, with a trip time of 10-12 minutes to the top of the monument, was replaced with an electric elevator in 1901.

In the early 1900s, material began to ooze out between the outer stones below the 150-foot mark, referred to by tourists as “geological tuberculosis.” It was caused by the weathering of the cement and rubble filler between the outer and inner walls. As the lower section of the monument was exposed to cold and hot and damp and dry weather conditions, the material dissolved and worked its way through the cracks between the stones of the outer wall, solidifying as it dripped down their outer surface.

The National Park Service was given jurisdiction over the Monument in 1933, after which the first restoration of the structure began as a Depression-Era public works project.

For ten hours in December 1982, eight tourists were held hostage in the monument by Norman Mayer, a nuclear arms protester. Mayer claimed to have explosives in a van he drove up to the monument’s base. U.S. Park Police shot and killed Mayer, and it was discovered later that the the van did not contain a bomb. The surrounding grounds were modified to restrict the unauthorized approach of motor vehicles.

The monument underwent an extensive restoration project in the late 90s. It was completely covered in scaffolding as the stonework was, cleaned, repaired, and repointed. The stone in publicly accessible interior spaces was encased in glass to prevent vandalism, while new windows with narrower frames were installed to increase the viewing space. New exhibits celebrating the life of George Washington, and the monument’s place in history were also added. A new elevator cab included glass windows, allowing visitors to see some of the 194 memorial stones embedded in the monument’s walls.

Just three years after the restoration, the monument closed for another renovation, which included numerous security upgrades and redesign of the grounds due to security concerns following 9/11.


“The storms of winter must blow and beat upon it … the lightnings of Heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations … but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure” shared Robert Winthrop at the dedication on February 21, 1885, a day before Washington’s birthday. It’s a quote that would be an omen of things to come.

At 1:51 p.m. on August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument shook forcefully for nearly three minutes as a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck 90 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Visitors inside the observation deck were thrown about by the force of the quake; falling mortar and pieces of stone caused minor injuries, but all the people inside exited safely. Over 150 cracks were found in the monument. Pieces of stone, stone chips, mortar, and paint chips came free of the monument and littered the interior stairs and observation deck. Two days later, Hurricane Irene hit Washington DC, and water streamed into the monument. It was in danger of complete collapse. The National Park Service announced that the Washington Monument would be closed indefinitely.

After over three years of repairs, the Washington Monument re-opened to visitors on May 12, 2014. Repairs cost $15 million, with taxpayers funding half and philanthropist David Rubenstein picking up the rest of the tab. But the monument was still plagued with problems. The earthquake had cause the elevator system to become unreliable, and just two years after re-opening, the Washington monument closed again. The $3 million project is ongoing today, this time entirely funded by David Rubenstein.

The Washington Monument, if you dare plan a visit with the intention of actually getting a chance to go inside, is scheduled to re-open in the spring of 2019.

Each year, millions of people visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks to celebrate presidential legacies, to honor our nation’s veterans, and to celebrate our nation’s history. For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation’s democratic values.

The great swath of green in the middle of our capital city is an exciting visit, but be prepared for lots of walking, and very expensive or non-existent parking. Luckily, DC has a great public transportation system that you’d be wise to take advantage of. If you’re flying staying in a DC hotel, you can usually just avoid getting a rental car altogether. Many campgrounds and suburban hotels have shuttles that will link you up with the DC metro train system. Wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for any weather.


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Fighting on Arrival, Fighting for Survival

During the Indian conflicts on the western plains after the Civil War, Native Americans gave Black regiments of the U.S. Army the name Buffalo Soldiers, after their short, curly hair, which to them, looked like a bison. The soldiers took a liking to the name, and it stuck.

The Buffalo Soldiers contributed to the U.S. in many ways over the course of nearly 90 years, but one of their most important was as the first caretakers of our national parks. Between 1891 and 1913, the Army was tasked with the protection of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Buffalo soldiers fought wildfires and poachers, ended illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and constructing roads, trails and other infrastructure. In 1903, Captain Charles Young led a company of Buffalo Soldiers in Sequoia and what is now Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, becoming the first African American park superintendent.

Gabriel & Arminta Young, an enslaved couple from May’s Lick, Kentucky, gave birth to son Charles on March 12th, 1864. That same year, Gabriel escaped enslavement and joined the 5th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery of the Union Army. The family relocated across the river into Ripley, Ohio, seeking a new life in the river town, which was also an important station of the underground railroad.

Young Charles excelled in school, particularly in foreign languages and in music. His mother had been educated while enslaved, a rarity, and she taught him lessons beyond his public schooling. Charles graduated with academic honors from an integrated high school in 1881 at age 17. Knowing the power of education, after high school, he taught the children at the African-American elementary school in Ripley for two years while he continued his own education by studying with renowned abolitionist John Parker.

Gabriel encouraged his son to take apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Charles scored the second highest on the exam but was not selected to the Academy that year. When the candidate ahead of him dropped out of West Point, Charles Young would receive his opportunity.

As a cadet, Young encountered racial insults and isolation. He suffered poor academic performance in his first year and was forced to repeat it. Starting over, he did well, until he was faced with a failing grade in engineering during his last semester. After tutoring from his instructor, he was allowed to re-take the exam. He passed and was awarded his diploma and commission in the summer of 1889. He was only the ninth African American to attend West Point, and the third to graduate.

African American officers were not allowed to command white troops. Young was assigned as the 2nd Lieutenant to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. After a year of isolation and hostility, Young transferred to a post in Utah, where the command and fellow officers proved more welcoming. Here he mentored Sergeant Major Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. who later became the first African American to attain the rank of General. He also served as director of the fort’s marching band.

Between 1889 and 1907 Charles Young served in the 9th Cavalry, now known as the Buffalo Soldiers, at posts in the west and rose to the rank of captain. He taught military science, served as a military attaché, and fought in the Philippine-American War, winning the praise of his commanders for his troops’ courage and professionalism, at which point he was assigned to a post in Wilberforce, Ohio.

He was to take over the planning and eventual teaching for the new Military Sciences & Tactics courses at Wilberforce University. Young built the program to just over 100 cadets by the 1898 class. He also helped establish the Wilberforce University marching band and became one of the most distinguished professors.

Young remained at Wilberforce until early 1898 when the war with Spain had begun with the sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Cuba. He did not re-join his troopers of the 9th Cavalry, however. Instead, he was appointed as Major and commander of the Ninth Ohio Battalion, U.S. Volunteers.

In the summer of 1903, Young and his troops were tasked to manage and maintain the recently created Sequoia National Park in northern California. Buffalo Soldiers were among the first park and backcountry rangers patrolling many parts of the West. Approximately 500 Buffalo Soldiers served in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks with duties ranging from evicting poachers and timber thieves to extinguishing forest fires. Their noteworthy accomplishments were executed despite the added burden of racism.

Even though the Buffalo Soldiers wore the uniform of the U.S. Army, racial prejudice made the performance of their duties quite challenging. In the early 1900s, African-Americans were routinely abused, or even killed, for the slightest perceived offense. They occupied one of the lowest rungs of the social ladder; a fact which served to undercut the authority of any black man who served in any position of power. Yosemite and Sequoia’s Buffalo Soldiers had to be simultaneously strong and diplomatic to fulfill the duties of their job but to avoid giving offense.

Upon arrival, Young’s troops proceeded to construct roads and trails that other troops were unable to do in the years before them. They completed the first usable road into Giant Forest and the first trail to the top of Mt. Whitney. As the leader, Young would inherit the title of Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park. He incorporated the local townsfolk to assist his troop’s efforts and he and his troops’ accomplishments from their summer of hard work were lauded by many throughout the area.

In 1904 Captain Young became the first Military Attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. He joined 23 other officers (the only African American among them) serving in these diplomatic posts in the Theodore Roosevelt administration. He won President Roosevelt’s praise through an introduction Roosevelt wrote for his monograph on the people and customs of Hispaniola. Young’s experiences in foreign service and as a commander in the Philippines formed the basis of his book, “The Military Morale of Nations and Races.”

From 1912 to 1916, he served as the military attaché to Liberia, helping to train the Liberian Frontier Force. After returning from Liberia, he then served as a squadron commander during the Punitive Expedition in Mexico against Pancho Villa. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Agua Caliente, leading his men to the aid of a cavalry unit that had been ambushed. By 1916, he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

The following summer, Young was medically retired and promoted to colonel in recognition of his distinguished Army service. He wasn’t ready, however, to stop. He was the highest-ranking African American Army officer in 1918, but despite an impressive leadership record, the Army refused Young’s request to command troops in Europe. To demonstrate his fitness to serve, the then 54-year-old hopped a horse and made a historic 500-mile ride from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. Afterwards, the Secretary of War gave Young an informal hearing but did not reverse the decision. Young was, however, sent back to Ohio to help muster and train African-American recruits for the war.

After the war ended, at the request of the State Department, Colonel Young was sent once more to serve as military attaché to Liberia, arriving in Monrovia in February of 1920. While on a visit to Nigeria, he became gravely ill and died at the British hospital in Lagos on January 8th, 1922. Due to British law, Young’s body was buried in Lagos.

In the year after his death, Young’s wife and many other notable African Americans lobbied the U.S. to repatriate Young’s remains from Nigeria so he could receive a proper burial in American soil. One year later, Young’s body was exhumed and transported back to the U.S.

Upon arriving in New York City in late May of 1923, Young’s body received a hero’s welcome. Thousands upon thousands celebrated Young’s life as he made his way to Washington, D.C. On June 1st, 1923, Colonel Charles Young became the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before he was buried alongside the thousands of other heroes in Arlington.


The Buffalo Soldiers went on to serve the U.S. Army with distinction and honor until the desegregation of the military and disbandment of the 27th Cavalry on December 12, 1951.

On March 25th, 2013, President Obama signed the document establishing the 401st unit under the protection of the National Park Service, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio. The proclamation set aside nearly 60 acres of land that includes the former home of Colonel Young. He purchased the house located at 1120 U.S. Route 42 East, with his wife Ada in 1907 and affectionately nicknamed it “Youngsholm.” The house would become the social hub of the Wilberforce University area for many years as notable African Americans, family, friends, and strangers would often gather there to enjoy the Young family hospitality. The house also serves as the face of the park.

“Youngsholm” is situated less than one mile west of the Wilberforce University and Central State University campuses, and is open for regular visitation on weekends but guests can view the historical markers on the park grounds at any time.


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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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The Chestnut Blight


At the turn of the 20th century, the eastern half of the American landscape looked very different than it does today. If you were to hop in a time machine to hike the Appalachian trail in the year 1900 – the wilderness you would find would be entirely different. A tree disease altered America, but a chance at rebirth is taking hold on the site of one of our nation’s greatest tragedies.

1 medium onion
1/4 cup margarine
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 quarts chicken broth
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water chestnuts

Sauté the onion in margarine. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Once the roux is ready, add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and strain. Add peanut butter and Worcestershire sauce and stir. Hold over
low heat until ready to serve. Garnish with chopped peanuts and water chestnuts.

That’s the Colonial Peanut and Chestnut Soup recipe from the historic Mount Vernon Inn, once part of George and Martha Washington’s estate. Except they wouldn’t have used water chestnuts. The Washington’s farm teemed with towering American chestnut trees. Thomas Jefferson also planted Chestnut trees on his Monticello estate, but he hardly needed to. American chestnut trees once blanketed the east coast.

Up to 100 feet tall and more than 9 feet in diameter, the American variety of chestnut trees were nearly as awe-inspiring as the redwoods of the west coast, and the tree’s natural range stretched from Ontario to Georgia, west through the mountains and highlands to Alabama, and north to the plains of Indiana and Illinois.

The leaves are long and narrow with parallel veins leading to large serrations on the edges. Its straight grain, strength, and rot resistance made the wood unsurpassed for splitting and building most of the early American barns, houses, telephone poles, fencing, and piers. It was lighter than oak, but just as strong. The tree was also the primary source of tannin used to cure leather. But it’s most unique feature was, of course, the edible nut.

Chestnuts were an important part of the diet of colonists, Native Americans, and wildlife alike. It was perfect for roasting over an open fire, or for stuffing a turkey.  Chestnuts were roasted, ground into flour for cakes and bread, and stewed into puddings. Native Americans used chestnut meal with corn to make breads, the leaves to alleviate heart troubles, and sprouts to treat sores. The nuts were taken by the wagonload for rail shipment to big city street corners where they were roasted on vendor carts. Farmers used mature chestnut lots to fatten pigs to bring the highest prices.

The nuts fed billions of birds and mammals. Chestnuts four inches deep on the forest floor were common as the tree’s flowers developed after the spring frost. Bears, deer, turkeys, and most other forest animals, including the now extinct passenger pigeons relied on the annual crop. When a chestnut tree died, it rotted from the inside out, creating the perfect den for the then plentiful bear population.

And just as important as their uses was the striking beauty of a grand, mature Chestnut tree.

An estimated 4 billion huge, ancient trees created dense canopies across the east. Grand trees shaded town squares, and city parks. It was said that a squirrel could travel from Main to Georgia by hopping from Chestnut tree to Chestnut tree, and never touch the ground. In fact, over 25% of all eastern American trees were chestnuts.

They were, quite simply, the most important plant in the United States.

And over the course of 50 years – they vanished.

The Bronx zoo was home to an impressive collection of American Chestnuts, and in 1904, this is where a problem was first discovered. The mature trees that lined the zoo’s avenues began to wilt, large cankers appeared, rupturing the bark, and then the tree’s trunk and upper limbs would die.

Trees in the New York Botanical Garden began to exhibit the same symptoms, and before anyone could figure out why, the mysterious malady infected chestnuts across New England. By 1906, it was reported to be in New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland. Spreading 50 miles a year, the blight worked its way across the east, killing virtually every chestnut tree in its path.

By the time it reached Pennsylvania, quarantine lines were carved. Chemical control options were explored in vain. The blight swept through Pennsylvania, hopping quarantine lines, and by 1950, even the remote forests in southern Illinois were decimated.

A decimated Georgia forest of chestnut trees

While some people were trying to stop the blight, others were making it worse. Lumber men scrambled to cut down the remaining trees for their wood before they were infected and began to rot. Farmers were implored to chop down trees with any signs of blight. “Woodman, burn that tree; spare not a single bough,” cried a Pennsylvania newspaper. In an attempt to stop the spread, people may have killed off trees that were immune to the mysterious disease. Trees that could have recovered the species.

The American Chestnut tree was virtually extinct just 50 years after it was so incredibly important to wildlife, the economy, and diets. Millions of acres of land that had once been shaded by the lofty boughs now stood shadowed only by leafless, dead remnants.

Howard Miller, interviewed in 1996 as part of an oral history of West Virginia for the American Folklife Center.

The problem, it was found, was a fungus imported from Asia that attached to animal fur and bird feathers. It may have even originated with trees imported from China to the Bronx Zoo. No quarantine was going to stop birds from perching in trees across the country.

The fungus does not kill the roots of the tree, but it doesn’t allow them to attain an appreciable height before reinfecting the trunks and killing them back to the ground. So the tree still existed, but could grow to little more than a shrub that could not to bear fruit, so the species could not reproduce. The only mature chestnut trees remaining were in scattered isolated groves planted in the far west by early settlers, well beyond the range of the blight, and a few groves in the east kept alive by applying a virus that killed the fungus.


Ever since the American Chestnuts all-but disappeared, there have been efforts to find a cure for the fungus and to bring them back. One method involves breeding American chestnuts with Chinese chestnut trees, which are resistant to the fungus, and then back-breeding the hybrids with pure American trees. Some scientists have began sequencing the DNA of the American chestnut and the fungus that causes the blight.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked, as four commercial airliners were hijacked in an attempt to strike targets on the ground. Nearly 3,000 people tragically lost their lives. One of those planes missed its planned target, the U.S. Capitol building, because of the actions of the 40 passengers and crew who bravely thwarted the hijackers plans, after getting word of the fate of the other planes.

The plane crashed into a field in southern pennsylvania, scarring a strip-mined land tract instead of a populated building. On the 10-year anniversary of the crash, an effigy was dedicated to those brave people who lost their lives –  Flight 93 National Memorial.

For several years following the memorial’s dedication, students, scientists, local community members, and family members of those who died braved the cold on those hallowed grounds, with buckets and mud and work gloves, to dig holes and plant trees — American Chestnut trees.

The volunteers worked with the American Chestnut Foundation – an organization dedicated to the return of the tree – to help re-create natural woodlands on the grounds where Flight 93 crashed. The seedlings, it’s hoped, will be the first in more than a century to withstand an invasive chestnut blight fungus. They are the latest batch using the “backcross” technique to hybridize American chestnuts with the blight-resistant Asian species, producing seedlings that are almost identical to the American variety — about 94 percent American chestnut, after generations of backcrossing and intercrossing with other hybrid offspring.  

The Foundation became involved with the Flight 93 project when they heard that the park was looking for trees that grow in thin soil. It seemed an ideal fit.

It’s an experiment. One that has a large chance of failing. And there’s no way to know if the trees will survive until they reach maturity. Meanwhile, scientests continue to breed more generations of American chestnuts in the hopes of sprouting a truly fungus-resistant strain. Each year more trees are planted at the Flight 93 Memorial. With a goal of 150,000 of various types by next year. Volunteers talk about bringing their grandchildren back some day to see the splendid forest they planted in the memory of American heroes.


The Flight 93 National Memorial visitor complex opened on September 10, 2015. It takes about 45 minutes to explore the exhibit space, Flight Path Overlook, and the bookstore. You can then drive about a mile to the Memorial Plaza, or take a walking trail.

The Memorial Plaza marks the edge of the crash site, which is the final resting place of the passengers and crew. It consists of various elements including the Wall of Names and is a self-guided experience. Interpretive panels provide an overview of the story and a cell phone/mobile tour provides for more in-depth exploration.

A massive 93-foot tall wind-chime type sculpture entitled the Tower of Voices is nearly complete, making sure those that perish will always be heard.

Parking is limited, and during peak visitation the lot may fill. Early morning is the best time to visit, and the Visitor Center is open 9:00 am-5:00 pm, weather permitting.


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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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The Great Smoky Homestead

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, where ancient mountains, covered in pine, glow in purple, pink and blue hues, as a smoky mist rises from their thick cloak of trees. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, this is also a place to explore what remains of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. This is America’s most visited national park — the Great Smoky Mountains.

On today’s episode, the story of 6 sisters who lived off this great land, all on their own.


Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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Learn More

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – NPS Website

How Five Sisters Kept the Old Ways Alive – Saturday Evening Post

The Strange History of the Walker Sisters in the Smoky Mountains – Visit My Smokies


Transcript

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, where ancient mountains, covered in pine, glow in purple, pink and blue hues, as a smoky mist rises from their thick cloak of trees. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, this is also a place to explore what remains of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. This is America’s most visited national park — the Great Smoky Mountains.

On today’s episode, the story of 6 sisters who lived off this great land, all on their own.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—–

Before the arrival of European settlers, the region now encompassing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was part of the homeland of the Cherokees. The first wave of westward expansion in the newly formed united states saw frontier people pushing into and over the Appalachian Mountains. As conflicts grew with Native Americans protecting their right to live where they had lived for centuries, President Andrew Jackson signed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, beginning the process that eventually resulted in the forced removal of all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Oklahoma.

As white settlers arrived, logging grew as a major industry in the area, and a rail line, the Little River Railroad, was constructed to haul timber out of the remote regions. Cut-and-run-style clearcutting was destroying the natural beauty of the area, so after the turn of the 20th century, visitors and locals banded together to raise money to preserve the land. The new National Park Service had also been wanting to establish a major park in the eastern United States.

Congress authorized the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1926, without the land to do so. It would have to be bought or taken over. John D. Rockefeller Jr. contributed $5 million, the U.S. government $2 million, and private citizens from Tennessee and North Carolina began to assemble the land for the park, piece by piece. Slowly, mountain homesteaders, miners, and loggers were evicted. Farms and timbering operations were closed. The park was officially established on 15 June 1934, and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and other federal organizations made trails, fire watchtowers, and other infrastructure improvements.

During the land purchase, hundreds of families were asked to move out of their mountain homes. If they owned the land, they were paid for it, and Some went willingly. Others fought against it, but most families moved immediately. A select few, including the six unmarried Walker sisters, received a special lifetime lease—a chance to live out the rest of their lives in the log cabin they were raised in. Their story is one of strength, hard work, and a love for the land of the Smokies.

The sisters’ father, John N. Walker, married Margaret Jane King in 1866 shortly after returning from the Civil War, where he fought for the Union and was imprisoned by the Confederacy. After marrying, John Walker obtained a house and property in Little Greenbrier Cove through Margaret’s family, later expanding his land by buying out her brothers and sisters. The house was made of logs from tulip-poplars, insulated with mud and rock. Other buildings on the Walker property included a barn, corncrib, smokehouse, pig pen, apple barn, and blacksmith shop. A springhouse situated on a nearby flowing creek kept dairy products such as milk and butter cool throughout the year, as well as provided storage room for pickled root vegetables.

An innovative man, John crafted ladderback chairs, looms, tools, and a small cotton gin. He also planted orchards that included more than 20 kinds of apples, as well as peaches, cherries, and plums. Chickens, sheep, goats, and hogs were all raised on the farm.

Together the Walkers raised eleven children—seven girls and four boys. All eleven children reached maturity — given the time period and lack of medical care, this was an extremely rare case. The sisters, from oldest to youngest, were Margaret, Polly, Martha, Nancy, Louisa (pronounced Lou-EYE-za), Sarah Caroline, and Hettie.

In 1881 John Walker and his son, James Thomas, helped build a small, log schoolhouse at the center of the growing Little Greenbrier community. It would also double as a Primitive Baptist church until 1925. Because there was so much work to do on the farm during the warm seasons, class was held in the winter for two to three months. School was a privilege; it was a chance for children to learn, see their friends, and escape their chores for a little while. Lessons included spelling, math, reading, and writing.

The Walker boys left home or married, while only one of the seven sisters—Sarah Caroline—married. The other six unmarried sisters stayed in Little Greenbrier with their father and inherited the farm after his death in 1921. He was 80 years old. One of the sisters, Nancy, died ten years later, and the remaining five sisters began to establish their life on the farm. They fed and clothed themselves, raised livestock, and maintained their mountain homestead for over forty more years.

For farmers like the Walkers in the Great Smoky Mountains during the nineteenth century, winter and early spring work included pruning fruit trees, repairing equipment, clearing new ground for future planting, and hauling manure from the barn to use as fertilizer, especially on the family garden.

Although some farmers considered spring the earliest time to start plowing, others plowed during winter to turn under old plant material and allow the winter freezes and thaws to help break up the soil. Many burned their fields before plowing to get rid of weeds and old vegetation, and to help control insects.

Frost could occur in the valleys as late as May, but several cold tolerant crops could be planted in March, including onions, mustard greens, turnips, potatoes, and cabbage. Farmers often looked to signs from nature to decide when to plant. Before planting corn, some waited for the first Whip-poor-will to call or oak leaves to grow as big as a “squirrel’s ear.”

Planting gardens and fields continued through the spring as the ground warmed and the chance of a killing frost diminished. Gardens were worked entirely with hand tools—mostly shovels, hoes, and rakes—while animal-drawn equipment was used in the larger fields. Through the spring and early summer, weed control consumed an enormous amount of time and hand labor.

The six Walker sisters did all of the farm and housework themselves for more than 40 years. Even the most simple meal represented hours of labor, a tremendous amount of sweat, and good luck with the weather. A typical meal at the Walker house almost always included pork and corn. Their garden also provided them with many other types of fresh vegetables in the growing season. In the winter, ham, bacon, and salt pork was cured in the smokehouse.

Pigs were the primary source of meat for mountain families for several reasons. For one, almost every part of the animal could be used. Secondly, pigs were self-sufficient and could be raised at little cost to the farmer. Pigs were especially good foragers and were allowed to roam the forest in search of food. They would eat things that other livestock could not. Hogs used their tough snouts or “rooters” to dig up plant bulbs, roots, and insects, and would also eat frogs, snakes, and lizards. In the fall, they feasted on chestnuts, acorns, and other wild nuts.

To keep the animals from wandering too far afield or becoming wild, many farmers would periodically take salt and corn to a feeding spot in the forest. This also made it easier to catch the animals in the fall when it was time to select hogs to be fattened before butchering. Older hogs were usually chosen, while younger animals were left for next year.

The sisters were also excellent spinners and weavers. Wool from their sheep was washed, carded, and spun using a spinning wheel, sometimes dying the yarn with berries or bark. They then wove the yarn into fabric. Flax and cotton were also grown at the Walker sisters’ farm to produce their own textiles using the cotton gin that their father had built, which they then used to sew their own clothing. Following in their mother Margaret’s footsteps, the daughters also kept a herb garden for mountain remedies, including horseradish, boneset, and peppermint for healing teas. Natural plants in the forests were collected, too. The Walker sisters once said, “Our land produces everything we need except sugar, soda, coffee, and salt.”

In 1926, after Congress approved authorization of the national park, parcels of land collected from families and timber companies alike were bargained for, haggled over, and eventually purchased, including the Walker sisters’ 122-acre homestead. Refusing to leave their mountain home, the sisters held out until 1940, when President Roosevelt officially dedicated Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a stone memorial at Newfound Gap. The sisters’ property was forcibly sold to the government for the sum of $4,750, but they were offered the opportunity to live out the rest of their lives at their home with a lifetime lease.

Living in the national park meant traditional practices such as hunting and fishing, cutting wood, and grazing livestock were now prohibited within the park boundaries. The sisters had to develop a new lifestyle. Visitors flocked to the park and visited what became known as “Five Sisters Cove.” The Walkers welcomed the curious newcomers and saw them as an opportunity to sell handmade items such as children’s toys, crocheted doilies, fried apple pies, and Louisa’s hand-written poems. The sisters were even featured in the Saturday Evening Post in April 1946, showcasing their mountain lifestyle to the rest of the country.

The year before the Post writer visited the homestead, Polly passed away. Hettie died a year later in 1947, and Martha died in 1951. With only two sisters left, Margaret and Louisa wrote a letter to the park superintendent asking if the “visitors welcome” sign—with information about the Walker sisters—could be taken down, explaining that they were getting too old and tired to get work done on the farm and greet visitors, too.Margaret was 82 and Louisa was 70. Margaret Walker died in 1962 at age 92, and Louisa stayed in the house until she died on July 13, 1964. The last sister, Caroline, who had moved away and married, died in 1966.

—–

Though the Walker sisters are now gone, their legacy lives on through their homestead, the objects they created and lived with, and the neighbors and visitors they interacted with well into the 1950s. By parking at Metcalf Bottoms, you can take the short half mile walk up to the Little Greenbrier schoolhouse, which John Walker and his son helped build. If you’re up for a little more, take the Little Brier Gap Trail a mile up to the Walker sisters beloved home. Stand on the porch and imagine what life was life for the five sisters when they trapped food in the forest, tended to their gardens and livestock, and openly welcomed visitors before and after the park was established. New visitors will not be greeted by fried apple pies, but instead by a reminiscent, peaceful atmosphere that surrounds the now-vacant homestead of the Walker sisters.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. Much of the text was written by Lindsey Taylor for the National Park Service. 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.


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Rangers Make the Difference II

As we release this episode, the longest government shutdown in American history is still underway, and 800,000 government workers are on furlough, including rangers and other protectors of our wildlife and national treasures. Those that remain on the job, mainly law enforcement rangers, are working without paychecks, and are facing protecting federal lands that remain open to visitors with very little support.

We thought this was an appropriate time to again highlight those rangers and other federal employees in the interior department.


Listen

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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.

Give to the National Parks Foundation’s Restoration Fund or sign up for info about volunteer clean-up efforts at nationalparks.org.


Transcript

JASON
As we release this episode, the longest government shutdown in American history is still underway, and 800,000 government workers are on furlough, including rangers and other protectors of our wildlife and national treasures. Those that remain on the job, mainly law enforcement rangers, are working without paychecks, and are facing protecting federal lands that remain open to visitors with very little support.

We thought this was an appropriate time to again highlight those rangers and other federal employees in the interior department.

We begin with a cowhand turned wildlife champion. Here’s Abigail Trabue.

ABIGAIL
For many years, Mark Haroldson lived as an old-western cowboy, riding a horse across the rugged landscape of Wyoming and Montana. But instead of wrangling cattle, he tracked and captured grizzly bears.

What started as a work-study job when he was 20 years old developed into a lifelong career of studying grizzlies. “It’s been a dream of mine as far back as I can remember,” he said.

Since he first started working with grizzly bears in 1976, Mark has served as a field biologist for the US Geological Survey, responsible for the handling and capture of bears throughout Yellowstone National Park. He currently spearheads the Interagency Grizzly Bear Team, a group of scientists responsible for long-term monitoring of the species.

Each time Mark captures a bear, he tries to obtain all the scientific information possible to “do right by the bear.” He first drugs the animal, takes fur samples for DNA and isotopic analysis, and marks it with a GPS collar — all of which help to determine survival estimates and population projections.

He then opens the bear’s maw and reaches between its massive teeth to pull out a small premolar in the back, which typically falls out naturally over time. By analyzing this single tooth, scientists can determine the bear’s age.

The sight of a bear’s open jaws would terrify most, but Mark works with calm and steady hands. “I’m anxious until I know the bear is ok and up and out of there,” he said.

Only then does he feel a sense of accomplishment.

Mark’s work was integral in reviving the grizzly bear population and bringing them off the endangered species list, which he views as a team accomplishment. While the grizzly’s recovery has had a tremendous impact, he continues to work towards long-term conservation of the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Given the chance, he wouldn’t trade anything for the field time he had in the Yellowstone backcountry. “It was the sense of being in the wilderness on horseback,” said Mark. “My boss would point to an area on the map and say go find some bears.”

Like a cowboy rambling across the Wild West, Mark continues to explore America’s great wilderness, still chasing the wild and magnificent North American grizzly bear.

JASON
Mark Haroldson was honored with the Interior Department’s Distinguished Service Award for his impactful work and lifelong dedication to grizzly bear research.

Next, we look back at the devastating 2016 fires in the Smoky Mountains, and the rangers that didn’t hesitate to save thousands of lives.

ABIGAIL
As smoke and soot filled the air on November 28, 2016, winds ranging up to 90 miles an hour hurled branches and burning embers on park staff at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They were exposed to snapping trees and falling live power lines while responding to a historic wildfire. Despite these dangers, the rangers forged ahead.

“No one asked that night what needed to be done. They just did it,” said District Park Ranger Jared St. Claire. Over the course of four hours, they evacuated over 14,000 Gatlinburg residents through the park, one of only two escape routes for the neighboring town.

Rangers and staff had to avoid falling trees while pushing broken-down cars and burning trees from the evacuation route. To clear the roads, they used chainsaws and snow plows to remove boulders, trees and other debris. If they had it, they used it to get the job done.

Some were rendered temporarily senseless, blinded by smoke and deafened by explosive noises. One ranger was injured after a falling tree limb hit him on the head. Yet, that didn’t stop him from completing the mission. After he received aid from another ranger, he picked up where he left off and continued clearing the roadway of debris.

“It affected everyone’s home and family, but nobody asked to go. Everyone stayed and pulled together to get it done,” said St. Claire.

Despite the significant risk, they saved countless lives during what would go down as one of the largest natural disasters in Tennessee’s history.

JASON
For their courage and heroism, the team was awarded the Valor Award, one of the highest honors in the Department of the Interior.

Interior Department employees can protect lands and people outside of the United States, too. One incident that could have been a mass tragedy was avoided thanks to the work of U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

ABIGAIL
On June 10, 1991, Mount Pinatubo, a volcano that had been dormant for nearly six centuries, erupted in the Zambales Mountains of the Philippines. While halfway around the world from the U.S., this eruption took place 10 miles west of Clark Air Base — one of our country’s largest overseas air bases. The eruption turned the morning sky into a firmament of thick ash and steam, threatening the safety of nearly 15,000 men, women and children.

U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Ewert played a critical role in saving these lives. He was one of the scientists on a team who forewarned of this cataclysmic event, allowing for the evacuation of everyone stationed at Clark Air Base and the locals in the surrounding area. The predictions made by the USGS team also saved $250 million in property damages.

Since that day, John has devoted himself to improving volcanic activity warning systems and minimizing destruction from volcanoes. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” said John. “We need to be ready to respond.”

He is a founding member of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, which designed a successful approach to reduce the loss of life and property during eruptions. He also established an accurate methodology for ranking volcanoes based on their societal threat. And — while serving as the Scientist-in-Charge at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory — John created a bi-national exchange for state and local officials to meet with their foreign counterparts in South America.

“The binational exchange is about having them meet with people and talk about their experiences,” he said “Firefighters meet firefighters. Teachers meet teachers. It’s about meeting people who lived through the firsthand experience.”

JASON
John’s lifelong dedication to the research of volcanic activity and protection of human life has earned him international recognition and Interior’s Distinguished Service Award.

One of the biggest concerns of the government shutdown is the inability of rangers to take proactive measures to prevent the loss of life, such as closing trails, issuing warnings, and evacuating areas facing severe weather. One such event a few years ago involved an entire Boy Scout troop completely unaware of the possibility of a coming tornado.

ABIGAIL
On May 16th, 2015, a tornado blew through the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, where Boy Scout Troop 955 from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, were camping. Federal Wildlife Officer Matt Belew anticipated the storm and evacuated all 65 Scouts and their leaders to the refuge headquarters basement about 30 minutes before the tornado hit.

The tornado traveled 10 to 12 miles across refuge land, causing major damage to the Fawn Creek Youth Campground and destroying nearly all the tents.

“One of those blue tents that was totally smashed by a large tree was the one my son was in,” one of the fathers told rangers. “We had no idea a severe storm was approaching when your officer came and had us evacuate for shelter at the headquarters basement. I fear my son and others would have died had we not left. So, thank you.”

Refuge manager Tony Booth said Belew “got in there when the tornado was forming. He took prompt action to go in there and evacuate them.”

“It looks like many boys and their parents are in your debt this morning,” wrote U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe to Belew. “As a parent myself I know I would be calling you a hero. Thanks so much for your foresight and action.”

The tornado touched down about a quarter mile from the campground. One refuge residence and a camper trailer were damaged but there were no injuries.

Belew was honored with the interior department’s Valor Award for his incredible courage and bravery. And it’s not the first time his emergency response capabilities have been highlighted. In 2013, he volunteered as an emergency medical responder following massive destruction from a huge EF-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. In a night and day of almost nonstop work with his team, Belew searched almost 50 houses for survivors.

JASON

As the shutdown marches on, public lands face damage from the lack of services that employees of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior provide.

Once the government reopens and rangers assess the full extent of damages, both financial resources and volunteers will be needed to help restore these great places. But, you can do something today to help your national parks recover.

The first is to give to the newly created Parks Restoration Fund with the National Park Foundation. The foundation will work with the National Park Service to assess needs and provide clean up efforts once the parks are back open.

The second way you can help is to sign up for information about volunteer efforts at nationalparks.org. We’ll provide a link in the show notes.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

,.

A White House Burns

One of the very symbols of our nation is a residence for our highest elected official, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban in the neoclassical style, using sandstone painted white. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Not long after, the house for our Nation’s president would almost be obliterated.

Today on America’s National Parks, The White House, part of the National Park Service’s Presidents Park, in Washington DC.

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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.

President’s Park – National Park Service Website


Transcript

One of the very symbols of our nation is a residence for our highest elected official, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban in the neoclassical style. Hoban modeled the building on Leinster House in Dublin, a building which today houses the Oireachtas, the Irish legislature. Construction took place between 1792 and 1800 using sandstone painted white. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Not long after, the house for our Nation’s president would almost be obliterated.

Today on America’s National Parks, The White House, part of the National Park Service’s Presidents Park, in Washington DC.

With more on the early years of the enduring symbol of the leader of the free world, here’s Rosie Teverow from the National Park Service.



Burn marks are still visible on the White House today. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed Executive Residence – it’s original name – in October 1817. Exterior construction continued with the addition of the semi-circular South portico in 1824 and the North portico in 1829.

As the presidency modernized, the White House was nearly always too small for its function. Overcrowding led President Theodore Roosevelt to have all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later in 1909, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office, which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. In the main mansion, the third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; Jefferson’s colonnades connected the new wings. East Wing alterations were completed in 1946, creating additional office space.

By 1948, the residence’s load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls. Once this work was completed, the interior rooms were rebuilt.

The modern-day White House complex includes the Executive Residence, the West Wing, the East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President, and Blair House, a guest residence. The Executive Residence is made up of six stories—the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The property is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service as part of the President’s Park.

If you want to visit the White House, there are some things you need to know. First off, you can’t get very close on the outside. The South Lawn can be viewed from a walkway along the fence, a good football field’s length from the actual building. Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the building is generally shut down to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The National Park Service does not schedule White House tours or provide tickets to enter the White House. Public tour requests must be submitted through your Member of Congress. These self-guided tours are generally available Tuesday through Saturday (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted). Tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. You are encouraged to submit your request as early as possible as a limited number of spaces are available. The White House tour is free of charge, but also subject to last minute cancellation.

The new White House Visitor Center is a couple blocks away to the southeast. Here you’ll find an accessible building with approximately 100 historical artifacts, interpretive panels, looping videos of photos and archival footage, and interactive elements for visitors of all ages.

Even though this building is not on the White House campus, a security screening is required to enter, just like at the Airport.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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

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A Rocky Mountain Tragedy

There are a million conspiracy theories about people missing or turning up dead in National Parks and other public lands. But really, when you break down the numbers, the number of disappearances, murders, and accidental deaths are on par with the rest of the country.

Still, a lot of those unfortunate events do happen. And many aren’t what they seem. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks the tragic death of a hiker at Rocky Mountain National Park that shocked the nation, and the investigator that unraveled a mystery in service to her country. 

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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.

The F.B.I. of the National Park Service – Outside Online

Harold Henthorn’s full 911 Call – Daily Mail

Rocky Mountain National Park – NPS Website


Transcript

There are a million conspiracy theories about people missing or turning up dead in National Parks and other public lands. But the National Park Service manages a LOT of land. 17 of them are bigger than Rhode Island. Three are bigger than New Jersey. If you combined them all, they’d make up the 14th largest state. So really, when you break down the numbers, the amount of disappearances, murders, and accidental deaths are on par with the rest of the country.

Still, a lot of those unfortunate events do happen. And many aren’t what they seem. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks the tragic death of a hiker at Rocky Mountain National Park that shocked the nation.

This episode may not be suitable for younger audiences.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


5:55 p.m. September 29, 2012. Harold Henthorn places a 911 call.

(911 Call Audio part 1)

Harold’s wife Toni had fallen 30 feet and sustained a severe head injury. She was alive but unconscious. The Henthorns had been celebrating their 12th anniversary with a weekend trip to the park. Harold was an entrepreneur and Toni, an ophthalmologist. They met on a Christian dating site in their 30s when such websites were in their infancy. They married after a short courtship and had a daughter, who was now seven.

The couple was staying in the Stanley Hotel, an elegant establishment that was the inspiration behind Stephen King’s THE SHINING. They had planned to hike to Bear Lake, a popular half-mile loop, but Bear Lake was pretty crowded that day, so they decided to hike the significantly more challenging Deer Mountain instead — a 6-mile out-and-back with more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The couple had hiked about two and a half miles in when the incident occurred.

After the 911 call was transferred to National Park Service rangers, help was sent, and the 911 dispatcher coached Harold through CPR. He hung up the phone to keep his dwindling battery from dying out, but updated family with text messages.

“Urgent…Toni is injured…in estes park…Fall from rock. Critical…requested flight for life. Emt rangers on way.”

Then “Pulse 60, Resp 5.”

By 7:30 p.m. the dark had set in, and Harold had built a small fire. Then another text: “Can’t find pulse.”

Ranger Mark Faherty was struggling over boulders and through pines to reach the couple. When he arrived to see Harold desperately attempting chest compressions on his wife. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. It was over.

More rangers began to arrive at the body, which couldn’t safely be removed at night. Faherty persuaded Harold to hike out, and the rangers would stay with Toni overnight until she could be evacuated. The two men hiked for two hours back to the trailhead after the unimaginable experience.

Incidents like this, unfortunately, happen from time to time in wild places. And Toni’s case, for a moment, was just another unimaginable tragic accident.

Then the letters and phone calls came.

Toni was Harold’s second wife. His first, they said, also died in a tragic accident in a remote location. The couples car fell off the jack onto Harold’s first wife as the couple tried to change a flat tire. Her death was ruled an accident, but one nagging piece of evidence bothered investigators: a footprint on the fender well near the wheel that was jacked up. As if someone had kicked the car. Harold received a half a million dollars from her life insurance policy.

Faherty noticed some strange things about Toni’s death, too. For one, her lipstick wasn’t smudged from the CPR, and a camera that she was carrying had somehow survived the 30-foot fall with no damage.

And then, Rangers found a map of the Deer Mountain trail in Harold’s car, with an X marking the spot where Toni fell. This death was no longer going to be investigated as accidental.

Ranger Faherty called in the Investigative Services Branch of the National Park Service, or the “ISB.” The ISB is a group of 33 elite Rangers whose job is to investigate complex crimes in the parks – our as Outside Magazine called them “the FBI of the National Parks.”

ISB agents are scrappy. They don’t have the massive infrastructure of the FBI. Usually, they work cases alone, and are almost invisible to other law enforcement. But they’ve solved all kinds of cases from homicides to poaching rings.

ISB agent Beth Shott, a 20-year Park Service veteran, was assigned to the case. Schott didn’t get a degree in criminal justice. She was an art major, who wound up in advertising. Eventually, as is so common with park rangers, she ditched the corporate life for the wild. After working 6-month stints at several parks, she decided to go into law enforcement. She went through Federal Law Enforcement training and became one of the thousand or so officers in the National Park Service. She discovered she had a knack for investigating, and applied to join the ISB.

Immediately, Beth Schott began to see Harold Henthorn’s story leak like a sieve. First, there was the strange decision to ditch the half-mile nature walk for a 6-mile climb. Shott learned that Toni had bad knees, and wasn’t known to be much of a hiker.

The Coroner’s report raised more questions. The injuries Toni’s body sustained were clearly fatal. Her head wound was extensive, among other things, and her body had bled out. The coroner had a hard time getting a blood sample because there was little left in her system. He estimated that Toni had died 20 minutes to an hour after the fall.

Then there was the spot that Toni fell from. It was well of the trail. Harold had told Faherty that the couple had ventured off for “romantic time.” Schott went out to retrace the couple’s footsteps, and when she left the trail where the couple did, she had to scrape her way back over stumps and rocks and through trees. She realized that Toni was in her 50s, the couple had been married for 12 years, and it just didn’t seem an ideal location for such activity.

Then, Harold said the couple climbed up to a cliff edge and stopped for lunch when Toni spotted a flock of wild turkeys she wanted to photograph, so she trekked gingerly down a rocky slope to a flat stone ledge over a large drop-off with only enough room for one person. Harold said he followed her down, and she asked him to take a photo of her. As she stepped backward, she fell.

Schott noted that the drop was not the 30 feet that Harold noted in the 911 call. It was more like 150 feet. When Schott looked down, Toni’s blood was still visible on the ground below.

This is the point in any investigation where it’s clear to law enforcement that a crime has been committed, but the evidence is, almost entirely circumstantial. Far from producing a slam dunk conviction.

The first snow of the fall soon came, blanketing the scene of the incident for the next several months.

Schott teamed up with other investigators, including the FBI, and they began to interview the Henthorn’s friends and relatives. They were often told that Harold was a good, church-going man. He raised money for his church and for several charities. In fact, that was said to be his job.

But Shott soon discovered that Harold’s business had no website or known clients. He claimed no income on his tax returns. In fact, there was no evidence that he held a job or received much income at all over the course of the Henthorn’s marriage.

Yet, Harold went to work every day. His cell phone records led Schott and the FBI to a Panera restaurant, where employees recognized his photograph instantly. Harold treated Panara as his office, often staying until close, and the employees feared him. The manager always took his order as a bugger for her staff.

Those she interviewed also told Schott that Harold frequently traveled on business trips. To where?

And then there were the life insurance policies. Harold had received over half a million dollars when his first wife died. Now, he and Toni were insured for a million each, in their daughter’s name. But then more policies were found – two more covering Toni for another $3 million, with Harold as the beneficiary.

Harold was controlling. He didn’t allow Toni to talk to her parents on the phone without him listening in.

And there was Toni’s near-death experience just months before. Relatives told Schott of the cabin the couple had been working on together. Toni had walked out the front door, and bent over when Harold dropped a massive beam on her back. Toni had told her mother that it would have killed her had she not bent over.

When the snow thawed, Schott brought FBI agents to the scene of the crime, with llamas, overnight gear, and investigation equipment. Some had never camped before. They used a high-tech laser to build a computer model of the scene for an impending courtroom drama. Schott took video of the trail and the fall site during the trip and several subsequent hikes with and without the FBI. She brought out a drone pilot to film overhead. She had been searching and searching for evidence that Toni was pushed – but it proved elusive.

Scott and the FBI felt they had all the evidence they were going to find, and finally, in the fall of 2014, the arrest was made.

The trial came a year later, but was swift, and Harold Henthorn was convicted of first-degree murder, largely due to Ranger Beth Schott’s detailed investigation and courtroom testimony.


Beth Schot and other investigators were presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the US Attorney General. It was a landmark investigation for both the National Park Service and the FBI.

We share this episode in the middle of a government shutdown, which has taken a drastic toll on many of our National Parks, particularly in California, where it’s one of the most popular times of the year at places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree national park. Yosemite is one of those parks that is about the size of Rhode Island, and just 12 law enforcement rangers are the only barrier between near record level crowds and our national treasures.

No matter what your feelings are about the shutdown, the few rangers who aren’t furloughed are doing the work of dozens each, and deserve our undying gratitude.


Music

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

A Gift from Tokyo

Each spring, an abundance of winter-weary locals and tourists flock to our nation’s capital, hoping to see the blossoming beauty of the famed Japanese cherry trees. You may know that the original trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 symbolizing international friendship, but you may not know that they are also a testament to one woman’s persistence and the value of never giving up on a dream.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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.

National Cherry Blossom Festival – Non-profit festival organization

Cherry Blossoms – NPS Website


Transcript

Each spring, an abundance of winter-weary locals and tourists flock to our nation’s capital, hoping to see the blossoming beauty of the famed Japanese cherry trees. You may know that the original trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 symbolizing international friendship, but you may not know that they are also a testament to one woman’s persistence and the value of never giving up on a dream.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


In 1885, 29-year old Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore returned to the United States following her first visit to Japan, where her brother George worked for the US Consular Service. While there, she developed a great appreciation for the Japanese people, culture, and the beauty of the Japanese flowering cherry trees. She brought back with her a desire to introduce the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms to the American people.

Upon returning to Washington, DC and resuming her life as an author, travel writer, newspaper correspondent, and photographer, Scidmore began promoting her idea of planting flowering cherry trees in Potomac Park on land recently reclaimed from the Potomac River. As she explained in a 1928 newspaper article in the Washington Sunday Star, “…since they had to plant something in that great stretch of raw, reclaimed ground by the river bank, since they had to hide those old dump heaps with something, they might as well plant the most beautiful thing in the world—the Japanese cherry tree.”

Over the next 24 years, she presented her idea to every Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, but her pleas were met with little interest.

One superintendent turned down her request, expressing concern that policemen would have to be in the park day and night when the cherries were ripe to keep boys from climbing the trees and breaking the branches. When she explained that the types of trees she was proposing produced only blossoms, not cherries, she recalled receiving the following response: “What! No cherries! No cherries! Huff! What good is that sort of cherry tree?” (The trees do produce a small inedible dark cherry sometimes eaten by birds.)

Scidmore recalled that her requests “were of no avail, no matter how fervent, long or often repeated to successive indifferent and obdurate Superintendents of Public Buildings and Grounds.”

During the later years of her efforts, Department of Agriculture Plant Explorer David Fairchild began experimenting with and advocating for the introduction of Japanese flowering cherry trees in the United States. Following the successful planting of several varieties on his personal property in Chevy Chase, MD and in the neighboring area, he began promoting the idea of planting Japanese flowering cherry trees along avenues in the nation’s capital. His efforts included supplying cherry trees to children to plant in Washington, DC schoolyards on Arbor Day in 1908.

On the day preceding the event, Scidmore talked with Fairchild about her dream of planting Japanese cherry trees on the newly reclaimed land of Potomac Park. Fairchild expressed enthusiasm for her idea, and invited Scidmore to attend the lecture he would be presenting at the conclusion of the Arbor Day event. At this event, he publicly promoted the idea of planting cherry trees along the Speedway (a popular roadway in Potomac Park, in the area of present day Independence Avenue.)

Both Scidmore and Fairchild began working on plans to acquire trees for the park. At the White House, First Lady Helen Taft was working on plans to beautify this area.
Fairchild offered to import Japanese cherry trees for the project.

Scidmore developed a plan to solicit annual subscriptions of one dollar from travelers who had personally experienced the beauty of the trees. She hoped to then be able to donate 100 trees each year, so that after ten years, “there would be a great showing in Potomac Park–a rosy tunnel of interlaced branches, a veritable Mukojima along the river’s bank.” She then sent a note to First Lady Taft, requesting her approval for the plan and assistance in acquiring the trees.

At long last, Scidmore experienced success. Two days after sending her note, she received a positive response from the First Lady. Not only did Taft like the idea, she immediately made arrangements to acquire some cherry trees for Potomac Park. The First Lady had also spent time in Japan where she had experienced firsthand the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

The day after Taft’s letter was written, noted Japanese chemist Dr. Takamine Jokichi learned of the plan to acquire cherry trees for America’s capital city. He was in Washington, DC at the time with New York’s Japanese consul general Kokichi Mizuno. Takamine asked Mizuno to inquire whether Mrs. Taft would accept a gift of 2,000 trees for the city. The consul general liked the idea and suggested donating the trees in the name of Tokyo. Takamine generously agreed, and Mrs. Taft accepted the offer.

The cherry trees were shipped across the ocean to Seattle and arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1910. A major setback occurred when U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors discovered that the trees were diseased and infested with insects. Following thorough inspections, USDA officials advised that the trees be burned to prevent harm to native plants.

Such an awkward situation was handled most graciously by Japanese officials. Not deterred, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki and other officials quickly made arrangements for a new gift of 3,020 trees. Twelve varieties of trees were prepared and carefully monitored to ensure that they were free of diseases and insects, before being shipped to the United States. After arriving in Washington, DC in March of 1912, the trees were successfully planted along the Tidal Basin and in other areas of Potomac Park and the city.

Fewer than 100 of the original trees survive today among the nearly 4,000 cherry trees growing in West and East Potomac Parks, on the Washington Monument grounds, and in several other park locations.

Today, these trees stand not only as a powerful symbol of friendship between nations, but as an inspiring reminder of the difference one person can make by faithfully pursuing a dream.

The blooming of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. has come to symbolize the natural beauty of our nation’s capital city. Each year, spring is announced by the explosion of life and color that surrounds the Tidal Basin in a sea of pale pink and white blossoms. Annually, this event is known as the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it has a rich tradition, particularly with our Nation’s first ladies.

So when does it happen? Forecasting peak bloom is almost impossible more than 10 days in advance. The cherry trees’ blossom development is dependent on weather conditions, which are inherently variable. National Park Service horticulturists monitor bud development and report the status of the blossoms. But the event is getting earlier and earlier each year. Here’s Patrick Gonzalez, a National Park Service Climate Change Scientist, to explain why.

The National Park Service and their partner, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, offer a wide variety of events and activities during the bloom including the Blossom Kite Festival, Japanese Street Festival, Southwest Waterfront Fireworks and more. There’s even a Junior Ranger program. The event takes place around late March and early April of each year. You can even view the blossoms on a dedicated Park Service webcam.

The National Park Service operates a slew of sites in DC, including the National Mall, the Presidents Park, war memorials, presidential effigies and more. If you go, make sure to plan on taking public transportation. There are few places more difficult to park than Washington DC. Luckily, the public transportation is affordable and efficient. Many people plan short weekend trips to the city, but there’s enough to do to last a month.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

Kitty Hawk

Otto Lilienthal was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the “flying man.” He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful flights with gliders. Photographs of his attempts were published worldwide, sparking a fever over the possibility of powered flight in many, including Orville and Wilber Wright.

Capitalizing on the national bicycle craze, the Wright brothers had opened a repair and sales shop, and eventually began manufacturing their own brand. Wilbur, particularly, toiled day and night at the bike shop over the possibility of building a flying machine, and the brothers began putting the money from their successful business into a research project.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Wright Brothers, the invention that would change the way we travel, and the National Memorial that bears their name.

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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.

Wright Brothers National Memorial – NPS Website


Transcript

Otto Lilienthal was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the “flying man”. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful flights with gliders. Photographs of his attempts were published worldwide, sparking a fever over the possibility of powered flight in many. In 1896, his glider stalled and he was unable to regain control. Falling from about 50 feet, he broke his neck and died.

Lilienthal’s flights caught the imagination of Orville and Wilber Wright. Capitalizing on the national bicycle craze, the brothers had opened a repair and sales shop, and eventually began manufacturing their own brand. Wilbur, particularly, toiled day and night at the bike shop over the possibility, and the brothers began putting the money from their successful business into a research project.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the Wright Brothers, the invention that would change the way we travel, and the National Memorial that bears their name.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.

-Wilbur Wright

After reading practically all available documentation on flight and experiments in human flight, the Wright brothers were certain that the solutions to lift and propulsion existed, and needed only refining. Otto Lillenthal’s thorough data was particularly useful. But no one had yet achieved lateral control.

The conventional wisdom was that control should be inherent to the machine. The Wright brothers rejected this idea. They wanted control to depend on the pilot, like a bicycle being balanced by the rider. Sparked by his observation of birds and the idle twisting of a box, Wilbur developed the notion of adjustable warping of the wings to rotate them and stabilize flight. While in Dayton, they tested wing-warping on a 5-foot biplane kite.

With the success of their kite, however, the brothers soon realized that weather conditions in Dayton were not suitable for extensive flying experiments. They wrote the National Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C., requesting a list of places on the east coast where the winds were constant. They chose Kitty Hawk, the 6th windiest location, not only for the steady wind, but also for the soft sand, high dunes, and isolation. In 1900, they began their journey to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a journey that would forever change the world.

Confident their design was sound, the Wrights built a 17-foot glider with a unique forward elevator and a wing design based on Lilienthal’s successful gliders. They arrived at Kitty Hawk in October hoping to gain flying experience, but the wings generated less lift than expected, and they flew the glider primarily as a kite, working the control surfaces from the ground and collecting data they could use to make their own scientific tables. It was essential to gather data with a passenger on board, so local resident Tom Tate was given some exhilarating rides while the brothers controlled it from the ground. They also flew the glider with bags of sand and chains. To calculate the combined forces of lift and drag on the glider they put a scale, similar to a produce scale, on the glider’s line. They measured the wind speed by calculating the angle of the kite line to the horizontal. They determined that the lift produced was just two-thirds that which Lilenthal had documented.

Finally they were ready to try free gliding. Wilbur did a dozen free flights for a total of two minutes. After spending two weeks in Kitty Hawk in the fall of 1900, they went home somewhat discouraged, but convinced they had achieved lateral and longitudinal control.

The next year, the Wrights sharpened their focus. Trying to overcome the lift problem, they increased the camber – or wig curve – of their next glider. They also lengthened its wingspan to 22 feet, its wing area to 290 square feet, and its weight to 98 pounds, making it the largest glider anyone had attempted to fly. But at their new Kill Devil Hills camp, lift was still only a third of that predicted by the data upon which the wing design was based. And the glider pitched wildly, repeatedly climbing into stalls, which was, Orville stated in a letter to his sister Katharine, “precisely the fix Lilienthal got into when he was killed.”

They reverted to the earlier camber measurements, and achieved longitudinal control and eventually glided 335 feet. But the machine was still unpredictable. When the pilot raised the left wing to initiate the expected right turn, the machine instead tended to slip to the left and spin into the ground—they dubbed this effect “well-digging.” Flight experts of the time visited the camp assuring the brothers they had achieved results that were the best ever obtained. They had also achieved the distance record for gliding. However, the failure with the wing-warping, and the realization that their work had relied on false data, brought them to the point of quitting—Wilbur expressed to Orville, that “Not within a thousand years would man ever fly.”

But instead, they rejected what they knew from Lilienthal, returned home to Dayton, built a wind tunnel, and produced their own data to build another machine.

The 1902 machine embodied the Wrights’ exhaustive research. They gave it efficient 32-foot wings and added vertical tails to counteract adverse yaw. The pilot moved a hip cradle to warp the wings. Some 400 glides proved the design workable, but still flawed. Still, sometimes, when the pilot tried to raise the lowered wing to come out of a turn, the machine instead slid sideways toward the wing and spun into the ground. Orville suggested a movable tail to counteract this tendency. After Wilbur thought to link the tail movement to the warping mechanism, the plane could be turned and stabilized smoothly. The Wrights discovered that control and stability were related, that a plane turned by rolling.

If others had thought about steering at all, it was by boat rudder – a marine analogy unworkable in the air. Everything was related. The elevator produces pitch – or up-down movement of the nose. Wing-warping produced roll, and the rudder produced yaw, or right and left movement of the nose, for directional control. These movements in combination turn the aircraft. Six hundred more glides that year satisfied the Wright brothers that they had built the first working airplane. In 1903, they would prove it.

The Wrights had been laboring in relative obscurity, while the flight experiments of Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institution were followed in the press and underwritten by the War Department. Langley was making headway on stability and control as well, yet, as others before him, had failed to achieve powered flight. Previous theories required a brute machine to send a hapless passenger through the air. The Wrights knew it was all at the hands of a pilot. The problems of flight could not be solved from the ground. In Wilbur’s words, “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” With over a thousand glides from atop Big Kill Devil Hill, the Wrights made themselves the first true pilots. These flying skills were a crucial component of their invention. Before they ever attempted powered flight, the Wright brothers were masters of the air.

While home in Dayton, they prepared for their next trip to Kitty Hawk. Their glider experiments on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, though frustrating at times, had led them down the path of discovery. Through those experiments, they had solved the problem of sustained lift and, most importantly, they could now control an aircraft while in flight. The brothers felt they were now ready to truly fly. But first, the Wrights had to power their aircraft. Gasoline engine technology had recently advanced to where its use in airplanes was feasible. Unable to find a suitable lightweight commercial engine, the brothers designed their own, and had Charles Taylor, a machinist that worked at their bicycle shop, build it for them. It was cruder and less powerful than Samuel Langley’s, but the Wrights understood that relatively little power was needed with efficient lifting surfaces and propellers. Such propellers were not available, however. And the only data to design one came from marine propellers, which the Wrights decided was irrelevant. Using their air tunnel data, they designed the first efficient airplane propeller, one of their most original and purely scientific achievements.

There was still a lot of work to be done. Their flyer was heavier than they thought. It had a 40-foot 4-inch wingspan with a 510-square-foot wing area, and by itself weighed 605 pounds. That weight was nearly five times more than the weight of their 1902 glider. They didn’t know if the engine would be powerful enough to lift the plane off the ground. The brothers and their assistants could not set the new machine in motion while keeping the wings steady anymore. Wheels would not have worked well either because of the sand. The brothers designed a new way to get the plane up to the needed speed to fly. It would ride down a 60-foot wooden monorail on a dolley.

They returned to the Outer Banks on September 26, 1903. Once the camp buildings were reconstructed to provide more suitable living space and house the flyer, they got to work. First, they did some experimenting with the old glider. They added a twin-vaned rudder that was joined with the wing-warping system, and made about 200 glides to practice their flying skills while putting together and ground testing their new flyer. They achieved a gliding record of more than 610 feet, with the longest time in the air of 1 minute 12 seconds.

By the beginning of November, the brothers had the flyer mostly ready and began trying out the engine and transmission. During one of the trials, the vibration from the engine caused damage to the propellers. The propellers were sent to Dayton to be fixed, but not long after they were returned to Kitty Hawk, a propeller shaft was fractured again, forcing Orville to return to Dayton, where he had new ones created using solid spring steel. By the time they had the new propellers back in Kitty Hawk, it was December 11. The new propellers were installed, but another accident occurred. They tested the flyer on the wooden monorail track, but the rudder was damaged in the process, necessitating more repairs. They then used a 50-pound container of sand to see if the flyer was able to attain enough lift and, with a favorable response, they were ready to attempt powered flight.

They mounted the engine on the new Flyer with double tails and elevators. The engine drove two pusher propellers with chains, one crossed to make the props rotate in opposite directions to counteract a twisting tendency in flight. A stubborn engine and broken propeller shaft slowed them yet again, until they were finally ready on December 14th. A coin toss determined which brother would fly first. Wilbur won the toss, but lost his chance to be the first to fly when he oversteered with the elevator after leaving the launching rail. The flyer climbed too steeply, stalled, and dove into the sand. The first flight would have to wait on yet more repairs.

On December 17, 1903, the flyer was repaired again, and the Wright brothers felt they were ready once again to attempt manned, powered, controlled flight. With winter weather firmly setting in, this may have been one of the last chances of the season for the brothers to succeed. They were dressed in coats and ties. The 27-mph wind was harder than they would have liked, since their predicted cruising speed was only 30-35 mph. The headwind would slow their ground speed to a crawl, but they proceeded anyway. Waving a bed sheet, they signaled the volunteers from the nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again.

Words were impossible over the engine’s roar, so the brothers shook hands and Orville positioned himself on the flyer. Remembering Wilbur’s failed attempt, he situated himself firmly and tested the controls. The stick that moved the horizontal elevator controlled climb and descent. The cradle that he manipulated with his hips warped the wings and swung the vertical tails, which in combination turned the machine. A lever controlled the gas flow and airspeed recorder. The controls were simple and few, but Orville knew it would take all his finesse to handle the new and heavier aircraft.

At 10:35am, he released the restraining wire. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. Just as Orville left the ground, John Daniels, a member of the lifesaving station, snapped the shutter on a preset camera, capturing the iconic image of the airborne aircraft with Wilbur running alongside. Again the flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. But he kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into the 27-mph wind, the groundspeed had been 6.8 mph, for a total airspeed of 34 mph. The flight lasted only 12 seconds, and the distance covered was less than the total length of a modern passenger airliner. But for the first time, a manned, heavier-than-air machine left the ground by its own power, moved forward under control without losing speed, and landed on a point as high as that from which it started. The brothers took turns flying three more times that day, getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur’s second flight – the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.

An enormous advancement had been made, transcending the powered hops and glides others had attempted. The Wright machine had truly flown. But it would not fly again; after the last flight it was caught by a gust of wind, rolled over, and damaged. With their flying season over, the Wright brothers sent their father a matter-of-fact telegram reporting the modest numbers behind their remarkable achievement.

“Success four flights this morning all against twenty one mile wind. Started from level with engine power alone. Average speed through air thirty-one miles. Longest 57 seconds. Inform press. Home Christmas”


The Wright Brothers spent the following years perfecting their invention, proving its legitimacy to skeptics, and going into business making airplanes for the US and France.

Wright Brothers National Memorial is located in the heart of the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands in eastern North Carolina. The memorial is located in the town of Kill Devil Hills, NC and is open every day of the year except December 25. You can visit the flight line – the spot where the Wright brothers first took flight and the locations where they landed. See the reconstructed camp buildings, and visit the nation’s commemorative monument to the Wright brothers’ world-changing achievement.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

An Impossible Climb

In July of 1982, 5 men set out to conquer the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Every day, many people take the 8.5-mile trip that summits the 8,749′ peak, but this party was different—they were all in wheelchairs. For the next 5 days, they climbed their way to the top, building ramps from rocks and crawling up slopes, dragging their wheelchairs behind them. 


Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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.

Three paraplegic climbers whooped and hollered and doused themselves…: Newspaper Article

Guadalupe Mountains Administrative History – NPS Publication


Transcript

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far West Texas is a wild, withdrawn place. Set near the middle of nowhere, 100 miles from El Paso, it’s often forgotten.

There are no roads leading into the park, no gas stations, motels, or walmarts nearby…nothing. Visitation to the park broke the 200,000 mark for the first time last year, placing it consistently on the list of the 10 least visited parks. That’s all fine with me, as it’s one of my favorite places to escape from the toils of day-to-day life. There are no tour buses, traffic jams, packed trails. It’s a place for solitude and reflection.

Wallace Pratt, an Oil geologist, donated over 5000 acres of his McKittrick Canyon ranch to the U.S. government with the stipulation that the canyon remain as wild as possible. The park opened in 1972, and has endured nearly undeveloped since. McKittrick Canyon is open to visitors only during the day. A small campground has no services. There’s not even a shower in the park, for dozens of miles any direction.

But the last thing that it is is a barren wasteland. The park is comprised of the front wedge of an uplifted range created by an underwater limestone reef 250 million years ago. Six peaks over 8000 feet rise from the desert floor, including the flat-faced crown of El Capitan, not nearly as famous as it’s same-named sister at Yosemite, but an important signpost for centuries of travelers.

The park is home to stunning canyons, hiding away microclimates that birth woodlands where they have no right to be. Even deciduous trees defy the desert here, displaying their bright warm colors every fall. Wind gusts can exceed 120 miles per hour, and the temperature can make drastic swings at the drop of a hat.

And the park is home to Texas’ tallest mountain, the namesake Guadalupe Peak. At 8,749 feet above sea level it doesn’t stack up well to mountains further north and west, but it is higher than anything east of it, and it rises a mile above the surrounding terrain.

The hike up Guadalupe Peak is a strenuous 8 ½ mile round trip with a 3,000
foot elevation gain. It takes most people 6 to 8 hours to complete the round trip hike. The steepest part of the hike is the first mile and a half, as the trail switchbacks up. Then, it passes a cliff and turns around to the
north-facing slope. Here, hikers will pass through a small forest of pinion pine, white pine, and douglas fir. The shade of the mountain protects the vegetation from the harsh sunlight, allowing the pines to survive.

After nearly three miles the trail tops out at a false summit, one mile short of the actual one. It flattens out for a short distance as it passes through a sparse forest of ponderosa pine, which hosts a back backcountry campsite.
From here, the trail descends slightly and crosses a wooden bridge before beginning a final ascent to the summit. The angle of the slope is now very steep. 35 to 45 degrees.

The top of El Capitan rises in the view to the south as you near the summit, which is marked with a small monument commemorating overland stage and air travel. On a clear day you will be rewarded with a majestic panorama of the encircling mountains and desert.

One year, Guadalupe Peak was host to a special climb, one that took 5 days instead of the standard 6-8 hours.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


In July of 1982, six men set out to reach the summit of Guadalupe Peak at Guadalupe Mountains National park. The trail is a challenge for most hikers, but for this group, it would be a monumental climb. The hikers were all members of a Dallas-based organization known as POINT — Paraplegics on Independent Nature Trails, and they would climb the tallest peak in Texas in wheelchairs. Jack Grimm concocted the idea only a week before it happened, as a part of a fund drive for the West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene.

The hikers would use specially constructed, lightweight wheelchairs outfitted with inflatable tires with deep tread, and no brakes. Park rangers were notified, and expressed deep concern. On a windy day, it’s a challenge for anyone to fight the gusts up the trail, and along with an advance scout for the group who examined the route, they laid out a host of reasons that it shouldn’t be done. For one, the journey would take 5 days, and carrying enough water for that length of a trip was impractical. There are no suitable places along the trail for overnight camping until near the summit. And it was July, when severe electrical storms regularly occur in the high country. Finally, the 15- to 30-percent grades seemed impossible for a wheelchair, and park personnel recommended a less challenging route to a different destination. But that wouldn’t have been the highest peak in Texas. The men refused.

Illness reduced the originally planned group of six men to five: Michael Powers, Robert Leyes, Donny Rodgers, Joe Moss, and Dave Kiley. They set out along the rocky path from the Visitor Center on a Monday morning. They weren’t new to hiking by any means, in fact they were very good at it. Part of the reason for the 5-day time period was that the hikers would have to constantly arrange rocks into rudimentary ramps to pass obstructions.

On the first day, Mike Powers began to experience muscle spasms, and was forced to abandon the climb. By the third day Robert Leyes had to turn back due to physical difficulties. The remaining three systematically proceeded up the mountain. The two “grounded” climbers stayed in radio contact with their comrades, offering moral support until the last day of the climb, when the trail took the climbers behind a ridge that blocked radio reception.

The news media began to report about the group’s impossible journey. Park personnel checked in with the climbers regularly to obtain information for progress reports to relay to reporters. Park Ranger Jon Jarvis joined the group for the last two days of the journey, accompanying them for the final mile. The men had hoped to end their climb shortly after midday on Friday, but were hindered by intense temperatures nearing 100 degrees. The last few hundred yards were a near-impossible stretch of steep grades and loose boulders. The men had to exit their wheelchairs and push or drag them as they crawled to the summit.

It had been feared that a sore hip might keep Dave Kiley from making the final ascent. But he persevered, and the three men reached the top at 7:21 p.m. the evening of July 16. Officials watching through a telescope said the climbers waited and then touched the monument that marks the summit together in front of a magnificent sunset. They doused themselves with champagne, and, now in range again, Keiley called down on the radio: “If you’ve ever done anything unimaginable, this is twice that.”

The men spent the night of July 16 on the peak and were lifted off the following morning by three U.S. Army helicopters from Fort Bliss. For safety reasons, the climbers did not try to make the descent in their wheelchairs. Later that day they were honored guests at a press conference and public reception at the Civic Center in Carlsbad, where they recieved a congratulatory phone call from the governors of New Mexico and Texas, as well as President Ronald Reagan.

‘It took me five days to get to the top of the mountain,’ Rodgers said. ‘Now I can do anything I want for the rest of my life.’ Moss, a double amputee, said, ‘It’s been 13 years since I’ve worked with a team like this, and if everybody would work together like this, the world would be a better place.’


Guadalupe National Park receives only a third of the visitors that Carlsbad Caverns receives, only 40 miles away in New Mexico. It’s easier to get to from New Mexico than from Texas. As I mentioned before, there are no services near the park, nor roads leading in – and not a bar of cell service to be found. This is a hiker’s park, but there’s still plenty to see if you can only walk short nature trails. There’s a primitive campground that can accommodate small tents in secluded sites amongst thick thornbushes. The $8 a night RV campground is little more than a parking lot. And the trail into the stunning McKitrich Canyon is only open until 5pm daily. Hikers heading to summits should be prepared for heavy winds – hiking poles are a must.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

77 Years Ago

The day this episode is released, December 7th, 2018, marks the 77th anniversary of the event that would send the United States into World War II, the devastating surprise attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.

The U.S.S. Arizona, a Pennsylvania class battleship had been moved from California to Pearl Harbor in an effort to ward off the Japanese from attacking the vulnerable island territory. On December 7th, 1941, the Arizona exploded violently and sank, with the loss of 1,177 officers and crewmen.

Each year, thousands gather at a commemoration ceremony, including survivors of the attack and their families. 2,403 service members and civilians in total were killed during the attack, and 1,178 people were injured. As the years roll on, the ceremony is weighed by the fewer and fewer survivors who are able to attend. This year, only five men who were onboard the Arizona are still living, and none will be able to attend, due to age, health, and the stresses of travel.

It’s twilight for the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, and today on America’s National Parks, we honor their memory, along with the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.


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


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Learn More

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


Transcript

The day this episode is released, December 7th, 2018, marks the 77th anniversary of the event that would send the United States into World War II, the devastating surprise attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.

The U.S.S. Arizona, a Pennsylvania class battleship had been moved from California to Pearl Harbor in an effort to ward off the Japanese from attacking the vulnerable island territory. On December 7th, 1941, the Arizona exploded violently and sank, with the loss of 1,177 officers and crewmen.

Each year, thousands gather at a commemoration ceremony, including survivors of the attack and their families. 2,403 service members and civilians in total were killed during the attack, and a further 1,178 people were injured. As the years roll on, the ceremony is weighed by the fewer and fewer survivors who are able to attend. This year, only five men who were onboard the Arizona are still living, and none will be able to attend, due to age, health, and the stresses of travel.

It’s twilight for the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, and today on America’s National Parks, we honor their memory, along with the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

In his own words, Pearl Harbor Survivor, World War II flight engineer, and Army Air Corps line chief Everest Capra described the attack.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—–

It was of no surprise when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Most of us had been expecting this, but did not have the actual date.

Like every Sunday morning, I would get up early to play tennis. At 7:00, I finished playing and decided to wash up and have breakfast. Donart and I arrived at the mess hall, Hickam Field, at about 7:31 and were refused entry because we were one minute late. Donart, known for his silence and courtesy, told the warrant officer in charge, I hope this place blows up.

Donart would never say things like that. But at about five minutes to eight that morning, the officer got the surprise of his life. I am still wondering if he thought about what Donart had said.

At that moment, I went over to Lt. Shea’s bachelor quarters and started to make myself breakfast. Throwing out the eggshell, I noted three odd aircraft flying about. Then I noticed the red ball, and I knew right that minute that it was the day. Only wearing tennis shorts and sneakers, I ran about the buildings screaming, “They are here!” and then all hell started to break loose.

I made it back to the barracks just in time, to get some better wear… and just as I exited the barracks, they were hit.

From that moment on, running about trying to escape from being hit, I and two others started picking bodies to take to the hospital which just opened the day before. I was later hit, and knocked out for a while … I was bleeding from a hanging finger and also leg wounds. But did not turn myself in. I managed to put my index finger back together with masking tape and it healed after six weeks. The other wounds, I also took care of myself. Fearing that if I did turn myself in, I would be placed in a bed or whatever, and probably get hit again, because the Japanese did not honor the new hospital. Nevertheless, I did the best I could in trying to save those more unfortunate.
____

Six months later, Everest Capra would fight in the Battle of Midway. He died in 2005.

On December 7, 1941, Gino Gasparelli’s duty station was at Wheeler Field on the Island of Oahu. Wheeler Field was the largest fighter air base on the island, and it had been on an alert status all week long until Saturday morning, December 6.
_____

The alert was called off after morning inspection, but all of the 48 or so fighter planes were left lined up wing tip to wing tip on the ramp in front of the four large plane hangars. All personnel not on weekend duty could go on weekend pass.

I did not leave the field that Saturday because a sergeant friend and I had planned to take a trip around the island on Sunday, 7 December 1941, after breakfast.

After returning to my barrack from the mess hall, which was about twenty minutes to eight, I was talking to Seargent Price and we heard planes that did not sound anything like our own P40 or P36 fighter planes. They also sounded like they were flying very low. This must have been just about five minutes to eight o’clock a.m.

I ran out the back door, looked up, and saw a large black painted plane coming towards my barracks. The plane was flying no higher than treetop level, and I could see the machine gunner in the rear seat. The plane was just about over the barrack when he released a bomb. For a moment I was stunned when I saw this, and realized we were under an attack.

I ran back into the barrack screaming that we were under an attack, and ordered the men in my squad to get out, dressed or not dressed. Some were still in bed, and some still had hangovers from being on pass the night before. That first bomb had just hit one of the hangers.

After telling the men to get out fast, I also ran out the back door and saw Seargent Thomas, our platoon sergeant, ordering the men to head for a row of high shrubs and small trees about seventy yards from our barrack. We had no arms whatsoever, so we just took cover under the high shrubs and small trees. I am positive we were spotted by some of those Japanese pilots because after a few minutes, small twigs and branches began to fall down due to the machine gun fire from those planes. When things began to quiet down, some men were ordered to go to the supply room and break out boxes containing 20 caliber rifles. I was ordered to take my squad and try to get and bring back cement bags which were down on the flight line near one of the hangers.

Out of a few hundred men stationed at Wheeler Field that morning, casualties amounted to eighty dead and wounded.

____

Like Everest Carpra, Gino Gasparelli also died in 2005.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Sterling Cale had just finished up a long night of work. He was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy, a self-proclaimed “farm boy from Illinois.” He worked at the dispensary, where Sailors got their medicine. Just after signing out, he noticed planes flying over Battleship Row.

____

“Why are planes over at Battleship Row? That’s a lot of activity for Sunday,” Sterling Cale said to himself after ending his work shift.

He noticed the red circles on the planes. They were Japanese, and this was a real attack. He ran back inside to break out some guns. Outside, he saw and heard planes dropping bombs just over the water. He and his friends knew the men at Battleship Row needed their help. They headed toward the USS Oklahoma. Before they got there, it rolled over.

Sailors filled the waters of Pearl Harbor, swimming for their lives in T-shirts and shorts. The top of the water was burning. The oil leaking from the ships was on fire. Sterling and his friends had to swim underwater as much as possible to avoid getting burned. It was their job to help rescue people from the water. He was right there in the water when the USS Arizona blew up. No one who heard that deafening sound would ever forget it. After the initial explosion, it burned for two-and-a-half days.

“In four hours, I picked up about 45 people. Some were dead, some were badly burned, some were just tired. We would get them in a boat going by.” He still tears up when remembering what it was like.

When he first returned to his duty station, he was scolded for breaking into the armory during “peacetime.” War wasn’t declared until the next day. But instead of getting in trouble, he was rewarded with a carton of cigarettes.

After the attack, it was Sterling’s job, along with a detail of 10 men, to remove bodies from the burning Arizona. They did their best, but it was difficult work. Besides being emotionally draining, it was physically challenging. There weren’t many identifiable bodies to recover.

For three weeks, the detail kept track of the condition and location of the remains they found. The fire was so intense that it even melted ID tags and guns. Overall, Sterling’s work team removed about 107 identifiable bodies and a number of unknowns. Their families would never know exactly what happened.

He can still picture the scene like it was yesterday. It was a trying time in his life and career, but it did not discourage him from serving the United States with pride.

Sterling later continued to fight with the navy in the war, before switching to the Army. He served as the head of the pharmacy at Tripler Hospital and a medical company at Schofield Barracks. He then served over a year on the front lines in Korea in 1950. Eventually, after more service on Oahu, the mainland, and in Vietnam, Sterling retired from the Army as a sergeant major.

____

Sterling Cale wrote a book about his life, called A TRUE AMERICAN. He is now 97 years old, and continues to volunteer at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

Our final story comes from a hero who defied orders to save lives.

—–

Petty Officer First Class Joseph Leon George was 26 years old on December 7, 1941. At the time of the attack, he was a crew member aboard the USS Vestal, a repair ship moored right next to the USS Arizona.

Following the massive explosion on the USS Arizona, six sailors were trapped in the control tower on the Arizona’s main mast, kept there by the fires raging below. Already badly burned, they searched for a way to escape the ship.

Joe George spotted them from the USS Vestal and threw them a line, in spite of being ordered to cut the line between the Vestal and the sinking Arizona. Climbing hand over hand across the rope, all six sailors made it across alive. One would die a few weeks later from his injuries, but the rest survived.

George passed away in 1996, never officially recognized for his heroic actions. But in 2017, the United States Navy finally authorized the award of a combat medal to Joe George.

On Dec. 7, 2017, Rear Admiral Matthew Carter, deputy commander of the US Pacific Fleet, presented the Bronze Star to George’s daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, aboard the USS Arizona Memorial. Lauren Bruner and Don Stratton, two of the men George saved from the USS Arizona, had petitioned for this honorable award for many years and attended the ceremony.

“I am an onboard survivor of the attack on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.” said Stratton. “Six men were trapped on the foremast; on the sky control platform one deck above the bridge, where the Admiral and the Captain were killed. We had no way off and were burning alive, when we saw a sailor on the USS Vestal. We waved at him and got his attention, and he threw us a line and we tied it off to a bigger line and proceeded to go hand over hand to the Vestal after we suffered burns. The Japanese were firing at us as the oil in the water under us was burning.

We all made it across the line because of the bravery of the seaman, Joe George. Two men died of their burns that day at the hospital and the four other men, Bruner, Lott, Rhiner, and myself lived. I was in the hospital for a year, but because of Joe George went on to have a family. There are two of us alive today. We attended the 70th USS Arizona reunion in Hawaii.

Joe George was never awarded anything for his bravery and going against a direct order from his Captain, who wanted to pull away from the Arizona and leave us all to die.”

_____

The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, 40 feet below the water’s surface. The USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated on 30 May 1962 to all those who died during the attack. It straddles but does not touch the ship’s hull. Over 900 bodies remain entombed in the Arizona. Many survivors of the attack have their ashes placed within the ship upon their death, joining their fallen comrades.

The memorial is located on the southern end of the island of Oahu, Hawai’i, and can only be accessed by boat from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The visitor center is not located on a military base and is accessible to the public. The USS Arizona Memorial program is 75 minutes long and starts in the theater with a 23-minute documentary. This is followed by a boat ride to the memorial, time at the memorial, and a boat ride back. Visiting is free, but requires a timed-entry ticket. You can reserve tickets in advance at recreation.gov.

The memorial is closed for repairs until March of 2019. Until then, visitors can take a 30-minute narrated harbor tour of Battleship Row and the area around the USS Arizona Memorial.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

The Solitude of Self

On July 11, 1848, a local newspaper ran an advertisement announcing a meeting that would happen a week later at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York — the first American Women’s Rights Convention. Today on America’s National Parks – The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.

Despite the minimal publicity, an estimated 300 attendees filled co-organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s event. Stanton made her first public speech on the initial day of the convention, and read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which was then discussed at length. Stanton quickly became a leader in the crusade for women’s rights, as well as for the abolition of slavery.

She gave hundreds of speeches over the course of her life, but it was her final speech, before Congress, entitled The Solitude of Self, that left her with the most pride. Delivered in 1892, the speech declared that as no other person could face death for another, none could decide for them how to educate themselves.


Listen

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


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.

Women’s Rights National Historical Park — National Park Service Website

The Declaration of Sentiments — Wikipedia

The Solitude of Self — The full text of Stanton’s speech to the Judiciary Committee from the Library of Congress


Transcript

On July 11, 1848, a local newspaper ran an advertisement announcing a meeting that would happen a week later at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. A meeting that would forever change the course of American History — the first American women’s rights convention. Today on America’s National Parks – The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.

Despite the minimal publicity, an estimated 300 attendees filled co-organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s event. Stanton made her first public speech on the initial day of the convention, and read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, which was then discussed at length. The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, but with the goal of granting women the rights and freedoms that Thomas Jefferson’s words granted to men.

On the second day, the resolutions would again be debated over and put to a vote. While only women were allowed to attend the first day of the Seneca Falls Convention, the general public, including men, were invited to participate in the second day.

Stanton quickly became a leader in the crusade for women’s rights, as well as for the abolition of slavery.

Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, wrote articles on divorce, property rights, and temperence. By 1852, she and Anthony were refining techniques for her to write speeches and Anthony to deliver them. Eventually, Stanton herself began making eloquent and passionate public speeches.

Nothing seemed to stop her. In the 1870s she traveled across the United States giving speeches. In “Our Girls” her most frequent speech, she urged girls to get an education that would develop them as persons and provide an income if needed. In 1876 she helped organize a protest at the nation’s 100th birthday celebration in Philadelphia. In the 1880s, she, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage produced three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage. In 1890, she agreed to serve as president of the combined National American Woman Suffrage Society. In 1895, she published The Woman’s Bible, earning the censure of members of the that same body. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, appeared in 1898.

But it was Stanton’s final speech, before Congress, entitled The Solitude of Self, that left her with the most pride. Delivered in 1892, the speech declared that as no other person could face death for another, none could decide for them how to educate themselves.

The following is our dramatization of the speech. It was fairly long, so we’ve edited it slightly for time.

—–

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee: We have been speaking before Committees of the Judiciary for the last twenty years, and we have gone over all the arguments in favor of a sixteenth amendment which are familiar to all you gentlemen; therefore, it will not be necessary that I should repeat them again.

The point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human soul; our individual citizenship. In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual, in a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe with her woman Friday on a solitary island. Her rights under such circumstances are to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness.

Secondly, if we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our Government.

Thirdly, viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same–individual happiness and development.

Fourthly, it is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, that may involve some special duties and training. In the usual discussion in regard to woman’s sphere, such men as Herbert Spencer, Frederic Harrison, and Grant Allen uniformly subordinate her rights and duties as an individual, as a citizen, as a woman, to the necessities of these incidental relations, some of which a large class of woman may never assume. In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never fill. Moreover he would be better fitted for these very relations and whatever special work he might choose to do to earn his bread by the complete development of all his faculties as an individual.

Just so with woman.

The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for a woman’s voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.

We ask for the complete development of every individual, first, for his own benefit and happiness. In fitting out an army we give each soldier his own knapsack, arms, powder, his blanket, cup, knife, fork and spoon. We provide alike for all their individual necessities, then each man bears his own burden.

The great lesson that nature seems to teach us at all ages is self-dependence, self-protection, self-support. What a touching instance of a child’s solitude; of that hunger of heart for love and recognition, in the case of the little girl who helped to dress a christmas tree for the children of the family in which she served. On finding there was no present for herself she slipped away in the darkness and spent the night in an open field sitting on a stone, and when found in the morning was weeping as if her heart would break. No mortal will ever know the thoughts that passed through the mind of that friendless child in the long hours of that cold night, with only the silent stars to keep her company. The mention of her case in the daily papers moved many generous hearts to send her presents, but in the hours of her keenest sufferings she was thrown wholly on herself for consolation.

In youth our most bitter disappointments, our brightest hopes and ambitions are known only to otherwise, even our friendship and love we never fully share with another; there is something of every passion in every situation we conceal. Even so in our triumphs and our defeats.

To throw obstacle in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property, like cutting off the hands. To deny political equality is to rob the ostracised of all self-respect; of credit in the market place; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those who make and administer the law; a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment. Shakespeare’s play of Titus Andronicus contains a terrible satire on woman’s position in the nineteenth century–“Rude men” (the play tells us) “seized the king’s daughter, cut out her tongue, cut off her hands, and then bade her go call for water and wash her hands.” What a picture of woman’s position. Robbed of her natural rights, handicapped by law and custom at every turn, yet compelled to fight her own battles, and in the emergencies of life to fall back on herself for protection.

The girl of sixteen, thrown on the world to support herself, to make her own place in society, to resist the temptations that surrounds her, must do all this by native force or superior education. She does not acquire this power by being trained to trust others and distrust herself. If she wearies of the struggle, finding it hard work to swim upstream, and allow herself to drift with the current, she will find plenty of company, but not one to share her misery in the hour of her deepest humiliation.

The young wife and mother, at the head of some establishment with a kind husband to shield her from the adverse winds of life, with wealth, fortune and position, has a certain harbor of safety, occurs against the ordinary ills of life. But to manage a household, have a deatrable influence in society, keep her friends and the affections of her husband, and train her children well, she must have rare common sense, wisdom, diplomacy, and a knowledge of human nature. To do all this she needs the cardinal virtues and the strong points of character that the most successful statesman possesses.

An uneducated woman, trained to dependence, with no resources in herself must make a failure of any position in life. But society says women do not need a knowledge of the world, the liberal training that experience in public life must give, or all the advantages of collegiate education.

Should they not have all the consolation that the most liberal education can give? When suddenly roused at midnight, with the startling cry of “fire! fire!” to find the house over their heads in flames, do women wait for men to point the way to safety? And are the men, equally bewildered and half suffocated with smoke, in a position to more than try to save themselves?

At such times the most timid women have shown a courage and heroism in saving their husbands and children that has surprised everybody. Inasmuch, then, as woman shares equally the joys and sorrows of time and eternity, is it not the height of presumption in man to propose to represent her at the ballot box, do her voting in the state, her praying in the church, and to assume the position of priest at the family alter.

Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one’s self-sovereignty; the right to an equal place, every where conceded; a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment, by inheritance, wealth, family, and position. Seeing, then that the responsibilities of life rests equally on man and woman, that their destiny is the same, they need the same preparation for time and eternity. The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce sterns of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, to conquer.

Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life he can not bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world. No one can share her fears, no one mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown.

From the mountain tops of Judea, long ago, a heavenly voice bade His disciples, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” but humanity has not yet risen to that point of self-sacrifice, and if ever so willing, how few the burdens are that one soul can bear for another. In the highways of Palestine; in prayer and fasting on the solitary mountain top; in the Garden of Gethsemane; before the judgment seat of Pilate; betrayed by one of His trusted disciples at His last supper; in His agonies on the cross, even Jesus of Nazareth, in these last sad days on earth, felt the awful solitude of self. Deserted by man, in agony he cries, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” And so it ever must be in the conflicting scenes of life, on the long weary march, each one walks alone. We may have many friends, love, kindness, sympathy and charity to smooth our pathway in everyday life, but in the tragedies and triumphs of human experience each mortal stands alone.

But when all artificial trammels are removed, and women are recognized as individuals, responsible for their own environments, thoroughly educated for all the positions in life they may be called to fill; with all the resources in themselves that liberal thought and broad culture can give; guided by their own conscience an judgment, and stimulated to self-support by the knowledge of the business world and the pleasure that pecuniary independence must ever give; when women are trained in this way they will, in a measure, be fitted for those hours of solitude that come alike to all, whether prepared or otherwise. As in our extremity we must depend on ourselves, the dictates of wisdom point of complete individual development.

In talking of education how shallow the argument that each class must be educated for the special work it proposed to do, and all those faculties not needed in this special walk must lie dormant and utterly wither for want of use, when, perhaps, these will be the very faculties needed in life’s greatest energies. Some say, Where is the use of drilling series in the languages, the Sciences, in law, medicine, theology? As wives, mothers, housekeepers, cooks, they need a different curriculum from boys who are to fill all positions. The chief cooks in our great hotels and ocean steamers are men. In large cities men run the bakries; they make our bread, cake and pies. They manage the laundries; they are now considered our best milliners and dressmakers. Because some men fill these departments of usefulness, shall we regulate the curriculum in Harvard and Yale to their present necessities? If not why this talk in our best colleges of a curriculum for girls who are crowding into the trades and professions; teachers in all our public schools rapidly hiring many lucrative and honorable positions in life? They are showing too, their calmness and courage in the most trying hours of human experience.

Is it, then, consistent to hold the developed woman of this day within the same narrow political limits as the dame with the spinning wheel and knitting needle occupied in the past? No! no! Machinery has taken the labors of woman as well as man on its tireless shoulders; the loom and the spinning wheel are but dreams of the past; the pen, the brush, the easel, the chisel, have taken their places, while the hopes and ambitions of women are essentially changed.

We see reason sufficient in the outer conditions of human being for individual liberty and development, but when we consider the self dependence of every human soul we see the need for courage, judgment, and the exercise of every faculty of mind and body, strengthened and developed for use, in woman as well as man.

And yet, there is a solitude, which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self. Our inner being, which we call ourself, no eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced. It is more hidden than the caves of the gnome; for to it only omniscience is permitted to enter.

Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?

_____

10,000 copies of the speech were printed by Congress and sent to constituants nationwide. We’ll link to the full text, as well as the Declaration of Sentiments in the show notes.

The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention. It’s the story of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality – global struggles that continue today.

The park maintains the Wesleyan Church where the convention was held, as well as the Stanton House, and the M’Clintock house, where the Declaration of Sentiments was drafted. There’s a 100 foot long bluestone water feature located in Declaration Park (between the Visitor Center and Wesleyan Chapel) that is inscribed with the words of the Declaration of Sentiments, providing visitors with a space to gather and reflect.

The park is open year-round, but tours of the historic houses operate on a seasonal schedule.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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 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.

A Yellowstone Christmas

What could be more magical than Christmas at a National Park lodge? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, we take you back nearly 100 years, to an impending Christmas emergency. Three 6-year-olds came to the rescue of Christmas at Yellowstone National Park.


Listen

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


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.

Yellowstone National Park – National Park Service Website

Old Faithful Snow Lodge – Yellowstone National Park Lodges

Yellowstone Holiday Traditions – Yellowstone Forever

Christmas is Magical in a National Park Lodge – Today

How Christmas in August Became an Annual Yellowstone Tradition – Yellowstone Insider


Transcript

One of my dreams is to stay in a National Park lodge at Christmas. What could be more magical? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.

In order to quench my thirst for National Park Christmas magic this year, we’ve put together this episode, featuring stories of Christmas at one of the most special places on earth, Yellowstone National Park.

We begin with the final Christmas of the 19th century. Let me set the scene. More than 40 years before the creation of the National Park Service, Yellowstone was established on March 1, 1872, as the world’s first national park. Between 1872 and 1886, the park was administered by the Interior Department and managed by a civilian superintendent with limited resources and almost no legal authority to maintain and protect the park’s natural features and wildlife. Over the next decade, special interest groups such as concessionaires, railroad and mining interests attempted to commercialize and privatize park lands.

In 1883, Congress transferred control of the park to the War Department, protecting Yellowstone from schemes to commercialize it. Congress then appropriated funds for the establishment of a permanent fort in 1891.

Over the next decade, 60 structures were erected at what would be known as Fort Yellowstone — mainly cottage style wood-framed buildings and some Colonial Revival styled buildings. 35 of which were still in existence one hundred years later. Along with the necessary personnel quarters, there was a 10-bed hospital, a jail, and a bakery.

Yellowstone Archivist Anne Foster dug up Assistant Superintendent George L. Henderson’s description from a January 1900 edition of the Livingston post of the just passed holiday celebration. It’s also a story of a happy telegram giving good word to the wife of Colonel Wilber Elliot Wilder, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, about his safety.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

The ladies of Fort Yellowstone united in making Christmas a joyful occasion for the Sunday School children. The Christmas tree was brilliantly illuminated and bore an abundance of that fruit which children most desire. Captain Brown made one of the jolliest Saints that ever distributed dolls to the outstretched arms of baby-mothers, so eager to kiss and embrace them. The boys were in raptures over their horns, tin horses, soldiers, and locomotives. All were sweetened up to the highest degree.When the tree was cleared of its fruit the jolly Saint informed his patrons that there were millions more expecting to see him that night and that he must bid them farewell.”Have you far to go?” enquired a sweet little girl in a voice that indicated both affection and pity for the good, hard-working Saint. This child’s motherly like curiosity and sympathy brought the house down with laughter and applause alike from citizen and soldier. The Saint soon vanished, surrounded by a halo of glory in the minds of the children, and that he was no mere illusion was evident from the fact that arms and pockets were full of dolls, candies and many other good things. Mrs. W. E. Wilder, although suffering from a sprained ankle, was present and furnished the music to which the school children marched and sang in joyful concert. Mrs. Wilder is very much loved and respected by the children. That night she looked radiant, having had a telegram from Col. Wilder that he was alive and well at Manila.”

JASON: Two decades later, the roaring twenties had hit the cities of the East, but Fort Yellowstone was still as old-fashioned as it gets. A Christmas emergency was coming, but three 6-year-olds came to the rescue. This heartwarming story comes from Jackie Jerla, Yellowstone Librarian.

ABBY:

Don Fraser, Bud Trishman and Spencer Dupre were first graders at the Mammoth Hot Springs School. Lessons for the 17 students at Fort Yellowstone were held in the old Army Canteen and went from first grade to the eighth grade. Their teacher was Mrs. Ellen Mariott, an accredited teacher whose salary was paid by the government. Books and materials had to be purchased by the students’ parents.

Don Fraser’s dad, Jay Fraser, was the assistant chief mechanic in the park. After a shopping trip to nearby Livingston, Montana, Little Don laid eyes on a battleship in a store window that was made from an Erector Set. He really wanted it for Christmas and his mom suggested that he write to Santa. But Fraser’s father Jay foresaw a problem with Santa’s arrival. “You know old man Pond closes the park gate every night at 9 o’clock and nobody leaves or gets into Yellowstone until morning,” he told his son.

Fraser never dreamt it possible that Santa would be barricaded from Yellowstone. With visions of the Erector Set battleship slipping away when Santa had to bypass Yellowstone, Fraser got with his friends Bud and Spencer to figure out what to do. Bud’s father was Harry Trishman, assistant chief ranger, and the boys thought that surely he could order the entrance gate to stay open on Christmas. But Harry had to explain to the boys that this matter was out of a ranger’s hands and only Superintendent Horace Albright could change it. If the boys wanted the gate open, they would have to talk with Superintendent Albright.

Lucky for the boys, Raymond Edmonds, the superintendent’s personal secretary, was a friend of the Fraser family. They reticently went to talk with him, despite always being told by their parents to never bother the superintendent and stay out of his yard and not to play around his house. Off they went and presented their case to Edmonds who listened to the 6-year-old’s request, then disappeared into Superintendent Albright’s office. When he came out, Edmonds told the boys the superintendent would see them.

Mustering their courage, the boys managed to express their concerns about the entrance gate being closed to Santa and then waited to hear the superintendent’s response. “I’ll give you some news, boys” said Albright. “We may be able to do something, but I don’t make or break the rules of Yellowstone National Park. We can, however, make a request to the Department of the Interior, if you boys will sign it.”

The boys agreed. Margaret Linsley, the postmaster’s wife was sent for, and Superintendent Albright dictated a letter requesting the entrance to Yellowstone be left open on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus. The boys signed the letter.

About two weeks went by before schoolteacher Mrs. Mariott announced that Don and Bud were to report to Superintendent Albright’s office after school. Normally they would have been scared, but this time they knew what it was about. When they arrived, Albright had in hand an official Department of Interior order declaring the gates to Yellowstone National Park were to remain open on Christmas Eve. And not just for that year, but each Christmas Eve from then on. The letter was framed and hung on Mr. Albright’s office for the rest of his tenure.

Accompanying the correspondence was a check for $200, proceeds of a collection taken among the staff of the Department of the Interior. The money was to be used to purchase Christmas presents for every child on the post.

The contribution did that and more. A community celebration was held with nearly all the families in Mammoth Hot Springs participating. School students produced and performed a Christmas play in the Canteen. The spirit of the season was alive and well in Mammoth Hot Springs that 1921 Christmas.

On Christmas morning, an Erector Set battleship, glowing in all its battery-powered splendor, graced the mantle in the Fraser home. Every kid on the post came over to play with it and it was christened “Battleship Yellowstone.”

Today, people can enter or leave Yellowstone at any hour of the day. But for nearly four decades after 1921, the policy of locking up at night remained in effect. Officially, the gates stood open only one night a year – on Christmas Eve – to accommodate the expected arrival of a very special tourist.

JASON:

It’s unfortunate that, at the time, the flying abilities of Santa’s Reindeer had yet to be documented.

Visitor Centers at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are open on Christmas Day and throughout the holiday season. Two Christmas Eve candlelight services are held every year in the Mammoth Chapel, which was built in 1913 for the Army soldiers and their families.The candlelight services are one of the oldest annual traditions in the park, as is the giant evergreen lit for the holidays on Officer’s Row.

The Old Faithful inn is closed this time of year, but the Old Faithful Snow Lodge opens around mid-December. The Snow Lodge and cabins, as well as the Old Faithful area, are only accessible by commercially operated oversnow vehicles in the winter. Here, you can enjoy a special Christmas dinner on December 25, and sing holiday carols with live piano music.

The Yellowstone Forever Institute offers a holiday retreat each year at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Spend Christmas relaxing with kindred spirits, searching for wildlife such as wolves, elk, and bison, and taking snowshoe rambles through the snowy wonderland that is the Lamar Valley.

To celebrate the new year, employees and guests at Old Faithful head out to the geyser viewing area shortly after midnight to be among the few to share the first eruption of the new year.

If several feet of snow isn’t your thing, concessionaire employees at Yellowstone celebrate Christmas in August every year to close out the busy season. The decades-old tradition has unknown origins, but every hotel in the Park is decorated with holiday trees in the lobbies and cookies are passed out to visitors on August 25th, which happens to be the birthday of the National Park Service.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

The Lost Horse Mine

Even before the California Gold Rush of 1849, prospectors were finding gold in Southern California. As the rewards from the mines in the Sierras began to wither, miners headed toward the deserts, where hot summers, scarce water, limited wood sources, and the difficulty and high cost of transporting equipment and provisions created a challenging mining environment. But a few hardy adventurers endured, and about 300 mines were developed in what is now Joshua Tree National Park.

Few of these mines produced much, but one certainly did — the Lost Horse Mine.


Listen

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


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.

Joshua Tree National Park – National Park Service Website

Lost Horse Mine Trail – Modern Hiker


Transcript

Even before the California Gold Rush of 1849, prospectors were finding gold in southern California. As the rewards from the mines in the Sierras began to wither, miners headed toward the deserts, where hot summers, scarce water, limited wood sources, and the difficulty and high cost of transporting equipment and provisions created a challenging mining environment. But a few hardy adventurers endured, and about 300 mines were developed in what is now Joshua Tree National Park.

Few of these mines produced much, but one certainly did.

Here’s Abigail Trabue

Johnny Lang and his father drove their herd of cattle into the Lost Horse Valley in 1890, having been forced to move west after his brother and six other cowboys were gunned down in New Mexico. One night, while camped in the Valley, the Langs horses disappeared. The next morning Johnny tracked them to the camp of a group of unsavory cattle rustlers, the McHaney brothers, at their oasis encampment.

The oasis that now makes its home as an entrance to Joshua Tree National Park was first settled by the Serrano people, who called it Mara, meaning “the place of little springs and much grass.” Legend holds they came to the oasis because a medicine man told them it was a good place to live and that they would have many male offspring. The medicine man instructed them to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, the Serrano planted 29 palm trees at the oasis. The palms eventually provided the Serrano with the materials for food, clothing, cooking implements, and housing. They were able to successfully cultivate the oasis with corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash, utilizing the life-giving waters that rise along a mountain fault.

The McHaney brothers arrived at the oasis that is now known as twenty-nine palms to hide their stolen cattle trade. They hid cattle that had been poached from other ranchers in isolated rocky coves nearby.

Johnny Lang met up with a man named “Dutch” Frank who had also been intimidated by the McHaneys. Frank had discovered gold – and he was certain that it was a very profitable claim, but he was afraid to begin developing it because of the threat of the McHaneys taking it over. Jim McHaney and another gang member had already forced, at gunpoint, a man named of Frank James to sign over his claim to the Desert Queen Mine, and after he signed, they shot and killed him.

Lang was willing to take the risk of running afoul of the McHaneys for the chance at riches. He and his father bought the rights to Frank’s mine for $1000 and called it Lost Horse. To protect the claim, and protect himself from being outright killed by the McHaney Gang, Lang took on three partners. After filing their claim, they set up a two-stamp mill and began to process gold – lots of it.

A stamp mill consists of a set of heavy steel stamps, loosely held vertically in a frame, in which they can slide up and down. Miners would bring up ore from the mine, and then the stamps would be lifted and dropped onto it, crushing the rock to reveal mineral inside. Mills were categorized by how many stamps they had. Lang’s two-stamp mill had a pair.

The claim was profitable, but Lang and his partners needed a larger financed operation to fully extract the abundance of riches, so they sold their claim to a wealthy rancher from Montana, J.D. Ryan. Ryan found a steam-powered, ten-stamp mill near the Colorado River and had it dismantled and hauled to the mine site. To provide the required steam for the mill, he ran a two-inch pipeline 3.5 miles from the wells at his ranch to an earth and stone reservoir near the mill. Steam engines fueled by trees from nearby mountains were used to push the water up the 750-foot elevation gain where it was then boiled to power the stamp mill. Heating the water at both the ranch and the mill required a lot of wood, and the results of the timbering can still be seen today in the sparsely vegetated hillsides at both sites.

The booming of the ten 850-pound stamps could be heard echoing across the valley 24 hours a day as the ore was crushed. Water added to the crushed rock made a slurry, which washed over copper plates covered with a thin film of mercury. The gold particles clung to the mercury and the debris washed away.

The amalgam of mercury and gold was smelted to separate the two metals. The mercury could be reused and the gold was formed into bricks. These bricks were carried to Banning every week, concealed in a 16-horse freight wagon. The 130-mile trip to deliver the gold and return with supplies took five days.

Johnny Lang stayed with the mine, working for Ryan to supervise the night shift at the mine. The day shift was regularly producing an amalgam the size of a baseball while Lang’s night shift was producing something closer to the size of a golf ball. It took a private detective to determine that when Johnny removed the amalgam from the copper plates, he kept half for himself. Ryan gave Lang a choice: sell out or go to jail. Lang sold, then moved into a nearby canyon where he continued to prospect.

The Lost Horse Mine continued producing until 1905, when the miners hit a fault line, crumbling the rock and forever losing the ore-bearing vein. The mine was leased to others who continued to look for gold over periods of time, but often laid dormant until 1931. During the great depression, gold prices were skyrocketing, so miners went back to Lost Horse to try and recover more gold from unprocessed chunks of material laying around the site with a new process that involved cyanide. They were able to produce a few hundred more ounces of gold.

During one of the mine’s periods of abandonment, Lang returned and set up residence in the cookhouse. Much of the gold he had stolen was still hidden at the mill site, and he had returned to retrieve his stash. He was able to recover some of it and sell it off, but in the winter of 1925, he caught ill. Unable to walk out for help, Lang died of exposure along Keys View Road. His body wasn’t discovered for another two months.

The Lost Horse Mine delivered more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver — worth approximately $5 million today — between 1894 and 1931.

With the creation of Joshua Tree National Monument just a few years later in 1936, Lost Horse Mine came under the protection of the National Park Service. Over time, the wooden portions of the cabins and the headframe of the mill, which supported the massive stamps, collapsed.

In the later 20th century, the 500-foot mine shaft, with horizontal tunnels at each 100-foot level, began to collapse. The combination of unstable mine workings and earthquakes created a sink hole near the mill that eventually threatened the entire structure. Even the cable netting and concrete caps that were installed to protect visitors were consumed by the ever-expanding hole.

In 1996 a new technique for capping mineshafts was tried. An expanding polyurethane foam was injected into the hole to provide a stabilizing plug. The plug was then covered with fill material to protect it from UV damage.

Even with the toll that time has taken upon the mine, Lost Horse is still considered one of the best-preserved mills of its kind.

____

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.

There are few facilities within the Joshua Tree’s approximately 800,000 acres, making Joshua Tree a true desert wilderness. About 2.8 million visitors come to the park each year to enjoy hiking, camping, photography, rock climbing, and soaking in the serene desert scenery.

The busy season runs from October through May, as the summer is incredibly hot. Campgrounds usually fill on weekends through most of the busy season, and in the spring, they’re full all week long. During the quieter summer months, all campsites are first-come, first-served.

There is no water available in the park. Bring at least one gallon per person, per day, especially if you will be hiking or climbing. There’s also little to no shade in most places. Protect your skin from the elements and your body from dehydration. Sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and a wide-brimmed hat are a must in the desert.

The Lost Horse Mine is a popular hiking destination. The trailhead is located off Keys View Road, and the trail, which is a four-mile round-trip, follows the road developed by the miners to haul ore and supplies. Mine shafts are dangerous, and historic structures are easily damaged. While the Lost Horse site has been stabilized, it is still not safe to walk on.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

Four Men on a Mountain

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are said to tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country.

But how much do you know about Mount Rushmore National Memorial?  Even if you think you know the basics, there’s a whole lot more that may knock your socks off.


Listen

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


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.

Mount Rushmore — National Park Service Website

The real history of Mount Rushmore — Star Tribune

The Sordid History of Mount Rushmore — Smithsonian

Doane Robinson — PBS American Experience


Transcript

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are said to tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country.

But how much do you know about Mount Rushmore National Memorial? I’d venture to guess that most people can name those four presidents, and can tell you where it is, but do you know the history behind it? Even if you think you know the basics, there’s a whole lot more that may knock your socks off.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

Minnesota farmer Doanne Robinson became disillusioned with the life of tending to crops, and thought he’d try his hand at being a lawyer. Needing a place to practice, he headed for the new state of South Dakota. But it was really books he loved, and a second career change found him digging into history, eventually being appointed a job as South Dakota’s state historian. He wrote about and recorded the events of the state, as well as biographies of important people.

At that time, tourism to the Black Hills region was already booming. An island of dark evergreen mountains and grey stone, The Black Hills rise out of nowhere at the edge of the vast Dakota prairie, and were nearly as popular at the turn of the 20th century as they are today.

Robinson wasn’t convinced that nature was enough though, and concocted an idea to draw even more tourism dollars to his state. He wanted to do something big. The towering spire rock formations known as the needles that pepper the Black Hills looked to him a bit like people, and, inspired by a massive rock carving in Georgia, he thought that many of the needles could be carved into the likeness of famous western figures like Buffalo Bill and Lewis and Clark.
_____
JASON:
Hold on a minute. I don’t think we can gloss over the inspiration for Doane Robinson’s wild idea. That massive rock carving in Georgia is called Stone Mountain. You may have heard of it. It’s the largest bas-relief in the world, so sure, it’s impressive, but it depicts three different American figures, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. It’s a monument celebrating the Confederacy, and even if you hold the belief that revering southern Civil War figures is an important piece of history, Stone Mountain is a bit more than that. It’s the site of the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. It was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1958, which opened Stone Mountain Park on April 14, 1965 … proudly marking the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Ok, back to Doane Robinson’s idea
_____
ABIGAIL:
In 1923 Robinson wrote to one of America’s best sculptors, Lorado Taft. Taft sculpted seminal works as a part of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as a likeness of George Washington at the University of Washington in Seattle, and “Defense of the Flag” in Jackson, Michigan. Not only was he a well-known sculpter, he was a patriotic one. His works mostly documented American history, making him perfect for Robinson’s spires. Unfortunately Taft was ill. So Robinson tapped another sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.

The son of Danish immigrants, Gutzon Borglum was born in 1867 in St. Charles in what was then Idaho Territory. A child of Mormon polygamy, His father Jens was married to a pair of sisters, Christina and Ida, and had children with both. Jens Borglum decided to leave Mormonism, divorcing Gutzon’s mother Christina, but keeping the family together as he moved them around Missouri and Nebraska.

After a brief stint at Saint Mary’s College, Gutzon Borglum relocated to Omaha, where he apprenticed in a machine shop and graduated from Creighton Preparatory School. Inspired by his younger brother, he developed an interest in sculpture and went to Los Angeles to study the art. In 1889 Borglum married one of his mentors Elizabeth Janes, who was 19 years older. The Borglums spent the next ten years studying and exhibiting in Europe where they became acquainted with Auguste Rodin and learned from his impressionistic light-catching surfaces. Gutzon Borglum’s works were accepted to the 1891 and the 1892 Paris Salons. After moving back to California, the Borglum’s then went to England to study together again, where marital troubles had them separated in 1903 and divorced in 1908.

By now Gutzon Borglum had sculpted saints and apostles for the new Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, he had a group sculpture accepted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art— the first sculpture by a living American the museum had ever purchased. He also won the Logan Medal of the Arts.

In 1909 he would marry for a second time, to Mary Montgomery Williams, with whom he had three children. In 1925, the sculptor moved to Texas to work on a commissioned monument to cowboy trail drivers. He completed the model in 1925, but due to lack of funds it was not cast until 1940, at a fourth of it’s planned size. Gutzon Borglum was obsessed with large scale. He crafted a massive head of Abraham Lincoln, carved from a six-ton block of marble, which was exhibited in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House and can be found in the United States Capitol Crypt in Washington, D.C.

In addition to scale, Borglum was obsessed with the ideas of patriotism and nationalism. He looked to create art that he said was “American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement,” according to a 1908 interview article. And his temperament was perfect for the competitive environment surrounding the contracts for public buildings and monuments.

So Gutzon Borglom may have been even more ideal for Doane Robinson’s plans for South Dakota than Lorado Taft. Borglum met Robinson….
_____
JASON:
Hi…me again. That’s the backstory of Gutzon Borglum you’ll get in most quick histories, or even if you visit Mount Rushmore. What you may not hear about is why he was available to drop everything to go visit Doane Robinson in South Dakota to work on a project that would surely last decades… He had just abandoned the Stone Mountain Project. He had been commissioned to do the carving, but infighting in the KKK stalled fundraising. But Borglum wasn’t just a hired gun sculptor. There’s no proof he actually joined the KKK, but it’s possible-to-likely that he did. He was at the very least, heavily involved with the orgainization, and had written several highly racist remarks. In letters, he brooded about a “mongrel horde” -referring to indigeoenous people – overrunning the “Nordic” purity of the West.

When Robinson approached Borglum, it enraged the Stone Mountain backers, who fired him on February 25 from the project that was unfunded anyway. Borglum took an ax to his models for the shrine, and fled to North Carolina with a mob of angry KKK members on his heels. He’d eventually renounce the organization. Ok, back to the story.

—–

ABIGAIL:
Borglum met Robinson and agreed to the project but suggested that the subjects be national figures instead of western ones, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Robinson introduced a bill into the state legislature to authorize carving in Custer State Park and asking for funds to begin surveying the site. The funds were refused, but permission was granted. On Borglum’s second visit in 1925, he announced that he would not carve the spires of the Needles, as they weren’t quite big enough, nor was the rock suitable. He would find an appropriate large, solid mountain to carve instead, and eventually landed on Mount Rushmore.

Originally known to the Lakota Sioux as “The Six Grandfathers” or “Cougar Mountain” the site was renamed after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York lawyer, during an expedition in 1885. After Borglum decided on Rushmore, Robinson, then 69 years old, joined a party in scaling the mountain with Senator Peter Norbeck. The two would work to shepherd the project, with Robinson in charge of managing the headstrong Borglum.
_____
JASON: ….So, I think we need to mention here that the land didn’t belong to South Dakota. As Six Grandfathers, the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Black Elk Peak. Following a series of military campaigns from 1876 to 1878, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is still disputed, since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 granted the Lakota a broad a 60-million-acre region encompassing all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River — including the Black Hills. Clearly, that didn’t hold up. Mount Rushmore, with its faces of men who may have been great figures of American history, but all perpetrated terrible actions toward indigenous people, now face towards a tiny Lakota Reservation to the Southeast. Native Americans railed against the idea of the monument, as did a whole lot of other South Dakotans. Let’s continue
_____

ABIGAIL: Well before sculpting began, Gutzon Borglum decided to hold a ceremony, a spectical dedicating the monument. He wired to Doanne Robinson “SHALL BRING SOME COSTUMES FOR CEREMONIES CAN YOU GET A FEW REAL INDIANS FOR SPECTATORS … ” But on the planned day of the ceremony, Borglum didn’t show. Robinson wired: “BORGLUM DID NOT ARRIVE … DO YOU KNOW HIS PLANS … SPECTATORS AND INDIANS HARD TO HOLD.” The ceremony was rescheduled, and at it, Robinson’s spoke to the crowd: “Americans! Stand uncovered in humility and reverence, before the majesty of this mighty mountain!”

Borglum, Robinson, and Norbek raised enough private funding to begin the project, even with Borglum telling locals that South Dakotans would not shoulder the brunt of the financing, this being a national memorial. They did, however, even if voluntarily, making Robinson feel like a fool or a liar. In 1929, president Calvin Coolidge’s signed a bill giving appropriations to Rushmore and creating a commission to oversee the project. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission was led by a dozen important men — but left behind Doane Robinson. He was heartbroken. Later in the year, a Mount Rushmore National Memorial Society was formed to solicit additional funds, and Robinson was put in charge of the effort, which still exists today. He retired as state historian, and became a farmer once again.

On October 4, 1927 sculpting began, based on a model created by Borglum, and overseen directly by him. Nearly 400 men and women had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500-foot face of the mountain in a bosun chair, like a modern day playground swing. Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.

The work was dangerous. 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite . The powdermen would cut and set charges of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock. Before the charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. If they went too fast, the drillers in their bosun chairs would be dragged up on their faces. To keep this from happening, young men and boys were hired as call boys. Call boys sat at the edge of the mountain and shouted messages back and forth, like a fire brigade, to help ensure safety. During the 14 years of construction, not one fatality occurred.

Dynamite was utilized until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite every couple inches in a process called honeycombing. The holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand and chisel.

After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool, evening up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.

Originally, three men were chosen to be depicted on Rushmore – Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Undoubtedly three of our most famous presidents. Washington was the founding father of our country and the first president – an obvious choice. Jefferson – The author of the Declaration of Independence and the man responsible for the country’s expansion via the Louisiana Purchase. And Lincoln was Borglum’s favorite president. Not so much for ending slavery, but for keeping the country together during the Civil War.

They were to be depicted to their waists, as if their massive bodies were walking among giants. Jefferson would be to the left of Washington and Lincoln to the right. And to the right of all three presidents — an entablature in the shape of the Louisiana purchase commemorating in eight-foot-tall gilded letters the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Louisiana Purchase, and seven other territorial acquisitions.

After the work on Jefferson had begun, the rock was found to be unsuitable, so it was blown up, and a new figure was sculpted on the other side of Washington. Lincoln was moved to the location that was supposed to show the entablature, leaving a giant gap between Jefferson and Lincoln. Enough room to add a fourth president: Theodore Roosevelt. Borglum chose Roosevelt to represent the development of the United States. Roosevelt provided leadership through rapid economic growth into the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, and was known as the “trust buster” for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man.

_____
JASON: Wait…the Panama Canal? Come on. Roosevelt was a great president, and an instrumental figure in creating the National Parks, so I’m a fan…but the man had just died! What about James Madison, or John Adams? Remember when Roosevelt displayed a Borglum statue in the White House? Yeah, Borglum knew Roosevelt personally and worked on his campaign for president. In today’s eyes, through the lens of history, Roosevelt may seem like a decent choice, but at the time, he wasn’t.
______

ABIGAIL: In 1933, the National Park Service took Mount Rushmore under its wing. A tram was upgraded so it could reach the top for the ease of workers. On July 4, 1934, Washington’s face had been completed and was dedicated. The face of Thomas Jefferson was dedicated two years later attended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt [Audio clip?] The face of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated on September 17, 1937. That year, a bill was introduced in Congress to add the head of civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony, but didn’t provide any funding. In 1939, the face of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated, but the sculpture was far from finished.

Borglum had planned to make a secret room behind the hairline of Abraham Lincoln intended to hold some of America’s most treasured documents, and had began blasting a tunnel 70 feet deep, but when Congress found out about it, they weren’t so crazy about the idea, especially since work was behind schedule. Borglum focused back on the presidents until he died from an embolism in March of 1941. His son Lincoln continued the project for a short time, but insufficient funding and a lack of stable rock forced the carving to end. The entablature would not be created. The secret room would not be finished, and most notably, the busts would not be carved to their waists. Carving ended on October 31, 1941.

In a canyon behind the carved faces sits the secret chamber, cut only 70 feet into the rock. Borglum’s idea of a place to store our most treasured documents was probably never going to happen, but in 1988, president George H.W. Bush dedicated a vault with sixteen porcelain enamel panels – the text of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, biographies of the four presidents and Borglum, and a brief history of the United States.

_____

JASON:

Doanne Robinson lived to see the completion of Mount Rushmore, having said “South Dakota has already forgotten that I ever had anything to do with the matter.”

There’s a lot of sordid history to Mount Rushmore. And it’s maybe important to note that the second KKK that had only just formed when Gutzon Borglum was involved was a bit different than the KKK we know today, but still a white supremacist organization that would go on to perform terrible acts after Borglum removed himself from it. Borglum would eventually renounce the Klu Klux Klan, saying he never had any part in it, but some historians believe that was for show.

Regardless, Gutzon Borglum believed that massive sculptures like Rushmore were not the work of an artist, and belonged to the people. And Rushmore is there, for goodness sake, it’s not like we can argue about whether it should have been built today. Even knowing the dark history of the sculpture, it can still be a thrilling experience to visit. Especially if you focus on the accomplishments of the 400 men and women who crafted it, and the commonality of the American Experience the memorial intends to reflect.

Nearly 3 Million people a year visit Mount Rushmore – it’s a really popular and often crowded place. There’s plenty of parking, at $10 a car, with no discount for National Park passes. If you’re heading to Rushmore in the busy season, arrive early to avoid the heaviest crowds. I highly recommend you take the Iron Mountain road from Custer State Park, as it impossibly winds through the Black Hills until Mount Rushmore is perfectly framed in one of its tunnels. You can then see the mountain from a high vantage point at an overlook before heading down towards the more touristy grounds of the memorial itself.

When you exit the parking garage, instead of walking down the main walkway with the flags and gift shops and ice cream vendors, take an immediate right turn and head over to the entrance to the nature trail. This very short paved walk will take you to the historic viewpoint, called the Borglum View Terrace, where you can see the sculpture framed in trees with very few distractions. Then follow the path to the left, where it exits near the visitor center. Here you can see the park film and a museum honoring the creation of the memorial.

After the visitors center, take the half-mile Presidential Trail as it gets you to the closest possible views of the sculpture, right at the base of the pile of blasted stone that serves as a pedestal for the presidents. You can then continue around the trail to the Sculptor’s Studio, a preservation of Gutzon Borglum’s workspace, where he re-sculpted the face of the mountain over and over to fit the changing needs of the rock.

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.

Switchbacks

Before dawn on what would become a perfect October day in Utah, I set out to attempt a solo hike. It wasn’t the type of hike that would have been a big deal to an avid hiker, but for me, it was bound to be.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, host Jason Epperson’s ordinary journey up the side of a cliff at Zion 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.

Zion National Park — National Park Service Website
Trails at 50 T-Shirt — American Backcountry

Music

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

Hell, with the Fires Out

It’s that time of year. You’re getting pelted with the supernatural from every direction – on TV, at the Movie Theater, in the grocery store. Far be it from us to miss an opportunity for a themed episode. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks – Three stories of the supernatural. Myths from the distant past. Ancient gods of Mount Ranier, the evil Queen of Death Valley, and the banshee that haunts Badlands National Park to this day. 


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


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.


Transcript

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

This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.

It’s that time of year. You’re getting pelted with the supernatural from every direction – on TV, at the Movie Theater, in the grocery store. Far be it from us to miss an opportunity for a themed episode.

I’m Jason Epperson, and on today’s episode of America’s National Parks – Stories of the supernatural. Myths from the distant past. In fact, all of these stories come from one source. In 1896, Charles M. Skinner published a massive, 9 volume collection of eerie legends from coast to coast, many of which happened in national parks. Not surprisingly, stories of the unexplained tend to draw from the heritage of indigenous people, and it should be said right up front, that native American people take their legends seriously, almost as if they happened yesterday. By no means are we attempting to make light of any particular tale, or to set them aside as spooky Halloween fodder. Many are creation stories, explaining the very existence of some of our nation’s treasures, or parables that help us learn more about ourselves.

We begin at Mount Ranier National Park. We’ve talked in the past of Ranier’s capacity to wipe out thousands of people if it were to erupt. But another tale talks of how Tacoma, Ranier’s original name, is the place where the tamanous, or a divine being, teaches lessons to those who brave its climb.

Here’s Abigail Trabue

——-

Mount Tacoma has always been a place of superstitious regard among the native people of the Northwest. In their stories, it was the place of refuge for the last man when the sound was so swollen after long rain, that its waters covered the earth. All other men were drowned. The waves pursued the one man as he climbed, rising higher and higher until they came to his knees, his waist, his breast. Hope was almost gone, and he felt that the next wave would launch him into the black ocean that raged about him, when one of the tamanous of the peak, taking pity on him, turned his feet to stone. The storm ceased, and the waters fell away. The man still stood there, his feet a part of the peak, and he mourned that he could not descend to where the air was balmy and the flowers were opening. The Spirit of all Things came and bade him sleep, and, after his eyes were closed, tore out one of his ribs and changed it to a woman. When lifted out of the rock the man awoke, and, turning with delight to the woman, he led her to the sea-shore, and there in a forest they made their home. There the human race was recreated.

On the shore of the sound in later years lived an Indian miser who dried salmon and dried the meat that he did not use, selling it to his fellow men for shells. The more of this treasure he got, the more he wanted. One day, while hunting on the slopes of Mount Tacoma, he looked along its snow-fields, climbing to the sky, and, instead of doing homage to the tamanous, or divinity of the mountain, he only sighed, “If I could only get more shells!”

Sounded a voice in his ear: “Dare you go to my treasure caves?”

“I dare!” cried the miser.

The rocks and snows and woods roared back the words so quick in echoes that the noise was like that of a mountain laughing. The wind came up again to whisper the secret in the man’s ear, and with an elk-horn for pick and spade he began the ascent of the peak. Next morning he had reached the crater’s rim, and, hurrying down into it, he passed a rock shaped like a salmon, next, one in the form of a kamas-root, and presently a third in likeness of an elk’s head. “‘Tis a tamanous has spoken!” he exclaimed, as he looked at them.

At the foot of the elk’s head he began to dig. Under the snow he came to crusts of rock that gave a hollow sound, and presently he lifted a scale of stone that covered a cavity brimful of shells more beautiful, more precious, more abundant than his wildest hopes had pictured. He plunged his arms among them to the shoulder—he laughed and fondled them, winding the strings of them about his arms and waist and neck and filling his hands. Then, heavily burdened, he started homeward.

In his eagerness to take away his treasure he made no offerings of shell strings to the stone tamanous in the crater, and hardly had he begun the descent of the mountain’s western face before he began to be buffeted with winds. The angry god wrapped himself in a whirling tower of cloud and fell upon him, drawing darkness after. Hands seemed to clutch at him out of the storm: they tore at his treasure, and, in despair, he cast away a cord of it in sacrifice. The storm paused for a moment, and when it returned upon him with scream and flash and roar he parted with another. So, going down in the lulls, he reached timber just as the last handful of his wealth was wrenched from his grasp and flung upon the winds. Sick in heart and body, he fell upon a moss-heap, senseless. He awoke and arose stiffly, after a time, and resumed his journey.

In his sleep a change had come to the man. His hair was matted and reached to his knees; his joints creaked; his food supply was gone; but he picked kamas bulbs and broke his fast, and the world seemed fresh and good to him. He looked back at Tacoma and admired the splendor of its snows and the beauty of its form, and had never a care for the riches in its crater. The wood was strange to him as he descended, but at sunset he reached his home, where an aged woman was cooking salmon. Wife and husband recognized each other, though he had been asleep and she a-sorrowing for years. In his joy to be at home the miser dug up all his treasure that he had secreted and gave of his wealth and wisdom to who so needed them. Life, love, and nature were enough, he found, and he never braved the tamanous again.

———

Jason: Special places on earth often get special origin stories that explain why they were formed the way they were. One of our most curious National Parks is no different.

——-

In the southern part of California, near the Arizona line, is the famous Death Valley—a tract of arid, alkaline plain hemmed in by steep mountains and lying below the level of the sea. For years it was believed that no human being could cross that desert and live, for horses sink to their knees in drifts of soda dust; there is no water, though the traveller requires much drink; and the heat is terrific. Animals that die in the neighborhood mummify, but do not decay, and it is surmised that the remains of many a thoughtless or ignorant prospector lie bleached in the plain. On the east side of Dead Mountain are points of whitened rock that at a distance look like sheeted figures, and these, the Indians say, are the ghosts of their brethren.

In the heart of this desert is said to be the ruin of a pueblo, or village, though the shape and size of it suggest that it was made for a few persons rather than for a tribe or family. Long ago, the tale runs, this place of horrors was a fair and fertile kingdom, ruled by a beautiful but capricious queen. She ordered her subjects to build her a mansion that should surpass those of her neighbors, the Aztecs, and they worked for years to make one worthy of her, dragging the stones and timbers for miles. Fearing lest age, accident, or illness should forbid her to see the ending of her dream, she ordered so many of her subjects to assist that her tribe was reduced to practical slavery.

In her haste and heartlessness she commanded her own daughter to join the bearers of burdens, and when the toilers flagged in step in the noonday heat she strode among them and lashed their naked backs. As royalty was sacred, they did not complain, but when she struck her daughter the girl turned, threw down her load of stone, and solemnly cursed her mother and her kingdom; then, overcome by heat and weariness, she sank to the earth and died. Vain the regrets and lamentations of the queen. The sun came out with blinding heat and light, vegetation withered, animals disappeared, streams and wells dried up, and at last the wretched woman gave up her life on a bed of fever, with no hand to soothe her dying moments, for her people, too, were dead. The palace, half-completed, stands in the midst of this desolation, and sometimes it seems to lift into view of those at a distance in the shifting mirage that plays along the horizon.

____

There’s another story from Death Valley, a place with more ghost towns than actual towns. In one of the rough, Old West mining settlements, a saloon owner named Joe “Hootch” Simpson gunned down a banker in a drunken rage in 1908 to settle a $20 debt. The townspeople formed a lynch mob and hanged Simpson, then buried him, exhumed him and re-hanged him for the benefit of a visiting reporter. Finally, the town doctor beheaded him. Legend says that Simpson’s headless ghost continues to haunt the area to this day.

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park is another place with an ominous name, but it isn’t really bad at all. In fact, it’s a striking world of rugged formations that appear almost out of nowhere in the middle of a massive grassland. It was named the Badlands because it was deemed useless for farming. But there is one very frightening tale. Our final story tells of a banshee that is said to haunt the cliffs.

_____

“Hell, with the fires out,” is what the Bad Lands of Dakota have been called. The fearless Western nomenclature fits the place. It is an ancient sea-bottom, with its clay strata worn by frost and flood into forms like pagodas, pyramids, and terraced cities. Labyrinthine canyons wind among these fantastic peaks, which are brilliant in color, but bleak, savage, and oppressive. Game courses over the castellated hills, rattlesnakes bask at the edge of the crater above burning coal seams, and wild men have made despairing stand here against advancing civilization. It may have been the white victim of a red man’s jealousy that haunts the region of the butte called “Watch Dog,” or it may have been an Indian woman who was killed there, but there is a banshee in the desert whose cries have chilled the blood that would not have cooled at the sight of a bear or panther. By moonlight, when the scenery is most suggestive and unearthly, and the noises of wolves and owls inspire uneasy feelings, the ghost is seen on a hill a mile south of the Watch Dog, her hair blowing, her arms tossing in strange gestures.

If war parties, emigrants, cowboys, hunters, any who for good or ill are going through this country, pass the haunted butte at night, the rocks are lighted with phosphor flashes and the banshee sweeps upon them. As if wishing to speak, or as if waiting a question that it has occurred to none to ask, she stands beside them in an attitude of appeal, but if asked what she wants she flings her arms aloft and with a shriek that echoes through the blasted gulches for a mile she disappears and an instant later is seen wringing her hands on her hill-top. Cattle will not graze near the haunted butte and the cowboys keep aloof from it, for the word has never been spoken that will solve the mystery of the region or quiet the unhappy banshee.

The creature has a companion, sometimes, in an unfleshed skeleton that trudges about the ash and clay and haunts the camps in a search for music. If he hears it he will sit outside the door and nod in time to it, while a violin left within his reach is eagerly seized and will be played on through half the night. The music is wondrous: now as soft as the stir of wind in the sage, anon as harsh as the cry of a wolf or startling as the stir of a rattler. As the east begins to brighten the music grows fainter, and when it is fairly light it has ceased altogether. But he who listens to it must on no account follow the player if the skeleton moves away, for not only will it lead him into rocky pitfalls, whence escape is hopeless, but when there the music will intoxicate, madden, and will finally charm his soul from his body.

_____

Stories like this surround most of our National Parks, next time you’re heading to one, take some time to learn about the legends of places and people that surround it. You’ll be glad you did.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted 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.

How National Parks Stop Thieves

If you listened to The Curse of the Petrified Forest, our episode on the strange happenings surrounding people who stole rocks from Petrified Forest National Park, you know that the park faced a major identity crisis – people thought all the petrified wood was gone. It isn’t, of course, it’s pretty much all still there – but theft of small stones is still a problem for the park, just as theft and vandalization are problems throughout the National Parks System. On this episode, we take a look at theft in another Arizona park, and how authorities are using old-fashioned detective work as well as 21st-century technology to catch would-be cactus thieves.


Listen

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


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.

Saguaro National Park – NPS website

Theft Deterrence for an Arizona Icon – New York Times article on the tagging of the saguaro cacti

Video: Cactus thieves and fossil robbers are taking treasures from the national parks – PBS News Hour

Two men sentenced for theft of “music wood” timber in Olympic National Park – NPS Investigative Services Press Release

Busting Cactus Smugglers in the American West – The full story of Yevgeny Safronov in The Atlantic

Transcript

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

This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.

In 2013, a man living on the border of Olympic National Park heard an unmistakable buzzing sound coming from the direction of the park late in the evening. He looked out his window and spotted three headlamps. Tree poachers were stealing one of our most valuable resources.

Tree theft is, in fact, often considered the new Ivory. As old-growth wood becomes more and more rare, its value increases. Somewhere between 15 to 30 percent of the global timber trade is conducted through the black market and linked to organized crime.

In this case, Olympic rangers arrived on the scene to find a bigleaf maple had been removed from the protected lands. Mature bigleaf maple is sought after as “tonewood” for use in guitars and other stringed instruments. It’s prized in part because of its “flame” or “quilted” fibers, which provides a shimmering effect when cut on the bias.

The next night, rangers caught Michael D. Welches, age 63, and two accomplices in the act. They had arrived with muffled chainsaws, planning to cut another tree. The value of the timber?  $8,766. Welches and his accomplices all served prison time for theft.

If you listened to The Curse of the Petrified Forest, our episode on the strange happenings surrounding people who stole rocks from Petrified Forest National Park, you know that the park faced a major identity crisis – people thought all the petrified wood was gone. It isn’t, of course, it’s pretty much all still there – but theft of small stones is still a problem for the park, just as theft and vandalization are problems throughout the National Parks System. On this episode, we take a look at theft in another Arizona park, and how authorities are using old-fashioned detective work as well as 21st-century technology to catch would-be cactus thieves.

65-year-old Yevgeny Safronov has collected cacti since the 1980s. In his Russian greenhouse, he keeps over 2,000 plants – most of which he has hunted. Almost yearly, he has lead hunting expeditions to the west, where cacti pepper the desert climates of portions of south and central America, and of course, the American Southwest.

He wasn’t quiet about it either. He’d blog in detail about the locations of the cacti, with photos of him in his safari vest, shirtless, with a gold chain and dark chest hair.

In 2015, authorities spotted a website advertising a trip to the U.S. organized by Igor Drab. It was to be a tour of national parks across the Southwest. Drab had been flagged as a potential cactus thief, and the investigators alerted a slew of wildland protection bureaus, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Safronov, Drab, and three other tourists landed in Los Angeles – after being watched for at least six months by a team of federal agencies. They breezed through customs, rented a Chevy Tahoe, and headed towards Arizona – with the US Fish and Wildlife service on their tail. They checked into a KOA campground where they stayed in a cabin for the night, then drove a dirt road into the desert.

Safranov had a detailed booklet of GPS locations of plants he wanted to visit, culled together from previous trips. Agents witnessed the tourists steal the seed pod from a saguaro cactus. It was a criminal theft to be sure, but a saguaro produces more than a hundred thousand of seed pods a year. Investigators needed more evidence.

A few days later, a National Park Service ranger at Big Bend National Park spotted the white Tahoe in a campsite. The undercover ranger pitched a stakeout tent nearby. He struck up a conversation with one of the traverls as he was photographing the night sky. Once they had all turned in for the night, the ranger hid a GPS tracking device on the Tahoe.

The next day, the ranger followed the signal at a distance, spying on them as they drove to a remote area through a telephoto lens. When they got out, they rummaged around for 45 minutes, but the ranger couldn’t get a clear view. After they pulled away, he found that cuttings had been taken from a prickly pear cactus. A pad cutting from a prickly pear will sprout more pads once planted.

The party returned to camp. So did the ranger. He watched as the group sorted items in a plastic bag on their picnic table, and inventoried them in a notebook. Safronov was trying to push the pad of a prickly pear into a used Uncle Ben’s rice box from their dinner.

In the morning, the campers left. Only to be spotted again six days later and 900 miles away in Arches National Park, where two more undercover agents witnessed them removing a small plant.

When the tourists returned to LAX, Fish and Wildlife agents were there to open their checked luggage. They found seeds stuffed into socks, and whole cacti hidden in bags of jalapeño pepper – all told nearly 70 plants, cuttings, and seeds.

Meanwhile, a National Park Service ranger apprehended Safranov on the jetway, and through a translator, he admitted to having cacti in his luggage. He showed the ranger his notebook, pointing to the locations where he removed all of the individual specimens.

Safronov took full responsibility for all the thefts, and plead guilty in court. The judge ordered him to pay a fine of just $525.

There are 1,480 species of cacti, most of which are native to the US. 31 percent are threatened by many factors, like loss of habitat from urban sprawl and livestock grazing. But believe it or not, the primary threat is the black market. A 15-year-old study estimated that, in a three-year period, thieves illegally plucked 100,000 cacti from Texas alone. Most were smuggled into Mexico, and this was before the insurgance of the internet, which massively broadened black market sale opportunities.

It should go without saying that in our country it’s illegal to take plants from federal land. One of the most prized plants of the American Southwest is it’s most threatened. At $200 a foot, a lot of people are willing to pay a pretty penny for a statuesque saguaro cactus, with it’s arms pointed at the sky, to sit in their front lawn. Not many are willing to wait the 75 years it takes for them to sprout arms.  It takes a full ten years for a saguaro to grow its first inch. A saguaro is considered an adult when it reaches 125 years, and the average life span is 150 to 175 years. They can weigh 6 tons – about as much as a Ford F250 Super Duty – and they can reach the height of a five-story building.

So, not surprisingly, the wild saguaro in Saguaro National Park and the surrounding areas are ripe targets for poaching.

Saguaro cacti would be difficult to grow, even if it didn’t take so long. Because of their size and weight, thieves usually target plants that are around forty years old and five to seven feet in height. At that age and size, they fetch a considerable profit, yet can still fit on the back of a pickup truck.

Theft of plants from public lands in Arizona has been rampant for decades. The state estimated back in 1980 that 250,000 had been illegally pillaged in the previous year alone. But they’re also stolen from gardening centers and homes.

In January 2007, a Tuscon resident alerted Saguaro National Park that 17 saguaros had been stashed along a road at the park’s border. Plant poachers will often dig up the plants one night, only to return to haul them away. They may only be able to carry one saguaro per trip depending on its size.

Park Rangers determined that two of the cacti had come from the national park’s property, and the rest had come from county land. They surveyed the area and waited for the thieves to return. Gregory James McKee and Joseph Tillman were arrested and charged for violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in plants and animals collected in violation of any law.

They plead guilty, and Tillman was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, while McKee was sentenced to six months of home confinement and community service. Tillman’s was one of the longest sentences ever for cactus-smuggling.

Cactus thieves are brazen. One group of smugglers was caught along a park road with a trailer full of eight saguaro in broad daylight.

Now, rangers at Saguaro National Park are taking a new approach to stop theft – deterrence. Many cacti in the park have been embedded with Microchip IDs, similar to those used to track lost pets.

The chips don’t broadcast a signal – they can’t alert rangers of a theft. But they can scan plants for sale with a specialized reader for the chip, which may make nurseries more skeptical of the plants they buy.

Officials said they have spent about $3,000 to implant chips in 1,000 saguaros along areas most accessible to thieves. It’s a small fraction of the 1.9 million saguaros in the park, but rangers hope that the chips will weaken the illegal market and strike fear in smugglers of getting caught with a chipped cactus.

Thieves are a threat to national parks across the country. Fossils, orchids, endangered animals, artifacts like arrowheads and other relics from indigenous people are all protected. Even pulling the bark off a tree can land you in a federal court. It’s important for all of us who visit public lands to practice leave no trace principles. Leave only footprints, take only memories. 

Saguaro National Park surrounds the modern city of Tucson. You can see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.  There are two districts, on either side of Tucson, each with their own visitor center that provides restrooms, water fountains, maps, hiking trails, and a driving loop.

There are over 150 miles of designated trails. The only campsites require a hike into backcountry wilderness in the East District. There is no form of running water. No vehicle camping is available, and cell service is virtually non-existent.

The park ranges in elevation from 3000 feet up to 8,000 feet, so temperatures can fluctuate, but it can get especially hot in the summer, over 105 degrees in the shade. Make sure to bring and drink plenty of water. Avoid the heat of the day by hiking before 10am and after 4pm. Both sunrises and sunsets can be glorious, with the tall, armed cacti shilouetted in the sun’s glow.   

For a special treat – the saguaro’s beautiful white, waxy flower – the state flower of Arizona – blooms late May through July.

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.

At Home with Harry and Bess

One of our favorite things to do when we visit a National Park Service site is to watch the park film in the visitors center. They run the gamut, from outdated, to corny to educational to head-scratching, heartwarming or inspiring. Some involve famous documentary filmmakers like Ken Burns, and some are literally 35mm slideshows that have been digitized.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the narration from one of our favorite park films — At Home With Harry & Bess — the multigenerational story of a home that would come to be known as the Summer White House, now a part of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. Harry S Truman National Historic Site – NPS Website

The Wonderful Wind Cave

In 1881, Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a whistling noise coming from a beach-ball-sized hole in a rock formation near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Wind was blowing out of the hole, just as it does today, with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. As the story goes, a few days later, when Jesse returned to show the phenomenon to some friends, the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked in. The hole was the only natural entrance to a cave…a massive one.

We now understand that the movement of the wind is caused by the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface. The place was dubbed the Wonderful Wind Cave, before it became only our seventh National Park of the United States. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks: three eras of Wind Cave National Park: It’s first explorer, the Lakota origin story, and a teenager lost for 37 hours. 


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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. 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. Wind Cave National Park

Transcript

Jason Epperson: The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean. This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.

In 1881, Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a whistling noise coming from a beach ball-sized hole in a rock formation near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Wind was blowing out of the hole, just as it does today, with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. As the story goes, a few days later, when Jesse returned to show the phenomenon to some friends, the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked in. The hole was the only natural entrance to a cave…a massive one.

We now understand that the movement of the wind is caused by the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface. The place was dubbed the Wonderful Wind Cave, before it became only our seventh National Park of the United States. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks: three eras of Wind Cave National Park.

Abigail Trabue: Alvin Frank McDonald was born in 1873 in Franklin County, Iowa, and moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1890 at the age of 17. His father had been hired in by a mining company to oversee the company’s claim. It’s not known if the mining company expected to find minerals of value in the cave or planned on developing it for tours. The McDonald family decided to attempt to make a living from the cave by enlarging passageways and building wooden ladders and steps with the hope of attracting travelers. Alvin fell in love with the cave, and began systematically exploring its passageways. He used a single candle at a time, and unraveled a string behind him as he went deeper and deeper, so that he would always know his way out. He kept a journal in which he described his exploration of the cave and the naming of the rooms and passageways. He began giving tours to travelers from nearby Hot Springs, calling himself “the permanent guide” of Wind Cave. Though the wonders of wind cave were spectacular, travelers were not prepared to crawl on their hands and knees in suits and dresses. One day, Alvin left a small tour group in a room in the cave with their lunch while he explored a bit. He got so deep into discovering, he forgot all about them, only to remember moments before falling asleep in his bed that he left the group behind with one candle which was surely burnt out. Alvin spent all day almost every day for more than three years exploring and guiding within Wind Cave. He gave names to rooms, routes, and interesting features. He estimated distances, and through his diary he kept a record of explorations. He quickly realized the complex nature of the cave; passageways that he would explore 10 miles of. He wrote in his journal that he had given up the idea of finding the end of the cave. He appreciated the beauty and natural features, but like others of his era, removed cave formations to sell to visitors. In the spring of 1891, the McDonald family was busy making improvements in the cave and gearing up for the tourist season. J.D. McDonald, Alvin’s father, was making weekly visits to Hot Springs to report to the local paper on the progress of developments. Talk of the cave’s potential caught the interest of a man named John Stabler, who McDonald sold somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 interest to, creating the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company. Stabler was also given the right to build a hotel near the cave entrance. To publicize the cave, J.D. McDonald traveled to Iowa to display minerals at the Ottumwa Coal Palace and the Sioux City Corn Palace. During the summers of 1892 and 1893, two large publicity stunts made local headlines. One was a petrified man “found” near Wind Cave and promptly displayed inside it. The other was the arrival of Professor Paul Alexander Johnstone. Johnstone, a famous mind reader, ventured into the cave blindfolded to search for and eventually find a pin hidden there by local townsfolk. In November of 1893, Alvin left Hot Springs to join his father in Chicago. He was to assist in selling cave specimens at the World’s Columbian Exposition. He contracted typhoid fever in Chicago, and died about a month later. He was 20 years old. Alvin was buried near the cave he loved so dearly. A bronze plaque on a stone marks his grave on a hill above the natural entrance. Though his life and time at Wind Cave were short, much of what we know today about the mysterious caverns are a direct result of Alvin McDonald’s meticulous journal. Jason Epperson: During the next few years, ownership of the cave became a major question. A lack of a government survey of the area made possession of a clear title almost impossible. Mining and agricultural claims provided only a small degree of protection to the owner as they were dependent upon proofs of improvement and/or valuable mineral deposits. In 1893, the South Dakota Mining Company brought suit against the McDonalds and Stablers for restitution of property and premises. But by this time both the McDonalds and Stablers had filed homesteading claims around and over the entrance to the cave. The case was in court for several years, but no decision was reached. Of course, as it goes with most of our natural wonders, indigenous people had long before found Wind Cave, though there’s no evidence they ever entered it. To the Lakota people, wind cave is a sacred place, an important piece of their very existence. Ranger Sina Bear Eagle: In Lakota culture, history is passed down to new generations through the spoken word. There are many different versions of the Emergence Story, varying from band to band and family to family.

his story begins at a time when the plants and the animals were still being brought into existence, but there were no people or bison living on the earth. People at that time lived underground in the Tunkan Tipi — the spirit lodge — and were waiting as the earth was prepared for them to live upon it.

To get to the spirit lodge, one must take a passageway through what the ancestors referred to as Oniya Oshoka, where the earth “breathes inside.” This place is known today as Wind Cave, referred to in modern Lakota as Maka Oniye or “breathing earth.” Somewhere, hidden deep inside this passageway, is a portal to the spirit lodge and the spirit world. There were two spirits who lived on the surface of the earth: Iktomi and Anog-Ite. Iktomi, the spider, was the trickster spirit. Before he was Iktomi, his name was Woksape — “Wisdom” — but lost his name and position when he helped the evil spirit Gnaskinyan play a trick on all the other spirits. Anog-Ite, the double face woman, had two faces on her head. On one side, she had a lovely face, rivaling the beauty of any other woman who existed. On the other, she had a horrible face, which was twisted and gnarled. To see this face would put chills down any person’s spine. Anog-Ite was once Ite, the human wife of the wind spirit, Tate. She longed to be a spirit herself, so when the evil Gnaskinyan told her dressing up as the moon spirit, Hanwi, would grant her wish, she followed without question. Gnaskinyan used both Ite and Woksape as pawns in his trick on the other spirits. The Creator, Takuskanskan, decided not to punish Gnaskinyan for this trick, because evil does what’s in its nature. Woksape and Ite were both punished because they let their pride determine their actions and allowed themselves to be guided by evil, when both should have known better. Takuskanskan transformed the two into Iktomi and Anog-Ite, allowing Iktomi to play tricks forever and Anog Ite to be the spirit she desired to be. Both were banished to the surface of the earth. Iktomi and Anog-Ite had only each other for company. Iktomi spent his time playing tricks on Anog-Ite, torturing her and never allowing her to live in peace, but this pastime soon bored him. He wanted new people to play tricks on, so he set his sights on the humans. He knew he needed help for this trick; he asked Anog-Ite, promising he’d never torment her again. She agreed to these terms and began loading a leather pack. Anog-Ite filled this pack with buckskin clothing intricately decorated with porcupine quills, different types of berries, and dried meat. She then loaded the pack onto the back of her wolf companion, Sungmanitu Tanka. When the wolf was ready, Iktomi led him to a hole in the ground and sent the wolf inside Oniya Oshoka to find the humans. The wolf followed the passageways until it met the humans.
Anog-Ite was once Ite, the human wife of the wind spirit, Tate. She longed to be a spirit herself, so when the evil Gnaskinyan told her dressing up as the moon spirit, Hanwi, would grant her wish, she followed without question. Gnaskinyan used both Ite and Woksape as pawns in his trick on the other spirits. The Creator, Takuskanskan, decided not to punish Gnaskinyan for this trick, because evil does what’s in its nature. Woksape and Ite were both punished because they let their pride determine their actions and allowed themselves to be guided by evil, when both should have known better. Takuskanskan transformed the two into Iktomi and Anog-Ite, allowing Iktomi to play tricks forever and Anog Ite to be the spirit she desired to be. Both were banished to the surface of the earth. Iktomi and Anog-Ite had only each other for company. Iktomi spent his time playing tricks on Anog-Ite, torturing her and never allowing her to live in peace, but this pastime soon bored him. He wanted new people to play tricks on, so he set his sights on the humans. He knew he needed help for this trick; he asked Anog-Ite, promising he’d never torment her again. She agreed to these terms and began loading a leather pack. Anog-Ite filled this pack with buckskin clothing intricately decorated with porcupine quills, different types of berries, and dried meat. She then loaded the pack onto the back of her wolf companion, Sungmanitu Tanka. When the wolf was ready, Iktomi led him to a hole in the ground and sent the wolf inside Oniya Oshoka to find the humans. The wolf followed the passageways until it met the humans.
Once there, he told the people about the wonders of the Earth’s surface, and showed them the pack on his back. One man took out the buckskin clothing and felt the soft leather. His wife tried on a dress and, when he looked at her, he thought the dress accentuated her beauty. Next they took out the meat, tasted it, and passed it around amongst some of the people. The meat intrigued them. They’d never hunted before, and had never tasted anything like meat. They wanted more.
The wolf told them if they followed him to the surface of the Earth, he’d show them where to find meat and all the other gifts he brought. The leader of the humans was a man named Tokahe — “The First One” — and he refused to go with the wolf. He objected, saying the Creator had instructed them to stay underground, and that’s what he’d do. Most of the people stayed with Tokahe, but all those who tried the meat followed the wolf to the surface. The journey to the surface was long and perilous. When they reached the hole, the first thing the people saw was a giant blue sky above them. The surface of the earth was bright, and it was summertime, so all the plants were in bloom. The people looked around and thought the earth’s surface was the most gorgeous place they’d ever been before. The wolf led the people to the lodge of Anog-Ite, who was in disguise; she had her sina — “shawl” — wrapped over her head, hiding her horrible face and revealing only her beautiful face. Anog-Ite invited the people inside, and they asked her about the clothes and the food. She promised to teach the people how to obtain those things, and soon she taught the people how to hunt and how to work and tan an animal hide. This work was difficult, however. The people had never struggled like this in the spirit lodge. They grew tired easily and worked slowly. Time passed, and summer turned to fall, then to winter. The people knew nothing about the Earth’s seasons and had worked so slowly that, by the time the first snow came, they didn’t have enough clothes or food for everyone. They began to freeze and starve. They returned to the lodge of Anog- Ite to beg for help, but it was then that she revealed her true intentions. She ripped the shawl from her head, revealing her horrible face, and with both faces — beautiful and horrible — laughed at the people.
The people recoiled in terror and ran away, so she sent her wolf after them to chase and snap at their heels. They ran back to the site of the hole from which they’d emerged, only to find that it had been covered, leaving them trapped on the surface.
The people didn’t know what to do nor where to go, so they simply sat down on the ground and cried. At this time the Creator heard them, and asked why they were there. They explained the story of the wolf and Anog-Ite, but the Creator was upset. The Creator said, “You should not have disobeyed me; now I have to punish you.” The way the Creator did that was by transforming them — turning them from people into these great, wild beasts. This was the first bison herd. Time passed, and the earth was finally ready for people to live upon it. The Creator instructed Tokahe to lead the people through the passageway in the cave and onto the surface. On the way, they stopped to pray four times, stopping last at the entrance. On the surface, the people saw the hoof prints of a bison. The Creator instructed them to follow that bison. From the bison, they could get food, tools, clothes, and shelter. The bison would lead them to water. Everything they needed to survive on the earth could come from the bison. When they left the cave, the Creator shrunk the hole from the size of a man to the size it is now, too small for most people to enter, to serve as a reminder so the people would never forget from where they’d come.
Jason Epperson: Wind cave, like many caves, is full of rooms with tongue-in-cheek names provided by their discoverers. The Bachelor’s Quarters is named for the thin layer of dust and dirt that covers everything in it. Spelunkers on a lunch break in two large rooms they had just found had all coincidentally brought sandwiches made on bagels. The new rooms were dubbed the Bagel Ballroom, and a hole in the floor that led to another room was dubbed “Bagel Hole.” A large, connected gallery became the “Bagel Bowl.” In 1989 a new room would be discovered, completely unintentionally. It was named before it was ever found … by a psychic. Here again is Abigail Trabue. Abigail Trabue: On Sunday, October 22nd, 1989, the National Outdoor Leadership school conducted a mock search-and-rescue operation at Wind Cave National Park. The 17 Young cavers were paired into teams of two, and set out into the various passageways. 18-year-old Talahassee Florida native Rachel Cox and her partner found themselves deep in a passageway disagreeing about the way back. An argument ensued, and the pair split, each going their own way. Rachel was unfortunately wrong. After a long time heading in the wrong direction her single carbon light source extinguished. But instead of staying put, she continued to try to find her way out before falling through a 50-foot vertical shaft. Nearly 150 volunteers began searching for Rachel in rotating shifts, a process made difficult by the thick walls of the cave that don’t transmit sound well. Eventually, volunteers heard clicking noises about 1000 feet from where she was reported lost. They then made voice contact with her, but not until they were almost right above her. They passed her food and water through a crevice while they searched for another two hours for a large enough space for Rachel to crawl out of. She left the cave at 2:40 a.m. that Wednesday, 37 hours after she was lost. Before she was found, the park received a call from a psychic who said Cox would be found in a room with “Duncan” in the name. In fact, the room she had been discovered in was new territory that had yet to be described. To fulfill the psychic’s prediction, it was dubbed Duncan Room. Jason Epperson: Rachel Cox’s misfortune led to new safety precautions for cave explorers. Teams of three are the norm nowadays, and cavers always carry three sources of light. Wind Cave is known for it’s formations of boxwork, a unique, brittle formation rarely found elsewhere that looks like mail slots, or miniature shoeboxes. Wind Cave National Park is full of underground wonders, of course, but the park is just as spectacular above ground, where the vast South Dakota prairie meets the island of Ponderosa Pines called the Black Hills. Bison and Elk majestically roam the open prairie, above the massive prairie dog towns. In fact, it’s one of the best National Parks I know of for wildlife, and you get to avoid the crowds of more popular parks like Yellowstone. Bison and prairie dogs will great you on any visit, but the Elk take a little more patience. They’re a finicky creature, but still can be seen from trails and the main park road, usually around dusk. There’s nothing like a massive bull leaping through the air. Cave tours are offered year round, but the quantity drastically decreases outside of the summer busy season. There’s no fee to enter the park, and even if you don’t have time for a cave tour, the scenic drive on Highway 385 from Hot Springs, up through Wind Cave National Park, and into Custer State Park is well worth the trip. There is a no-hookup campground and available backcounty camping within the park, but campers looking for water and electricity should consider staying at Custer, or in the Angostura Recreation Area to the south. This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue, with ranger Sina Bear Eagle. 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.

Corps of Discovery Part 2

When we left off last time Meriwether Lewis had just looked over the crest of the largest mountain range he had ever seen (or summited), hoping to see the Columbia River, and an easy path to the Pacific Ocean. Instead, there were mountains as far as the eye could see.

Canoes were useless now, and the Corps of Discovery would need horses. It was Sacagawea’s moment.


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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)


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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.

Lewis and Clark Expedition – a National Park Service Website that was the primary source of the text for this episode.

Lewis and Clark – The Journey of the Corps of Discovery – Ken Burns Documentary

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – National Park Service website

Trails50.org – A site commemorating the National Trails System’s 50th Anniversary


Music

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

Corps of Discovery

In 2018, America is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act as well as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The 1968 National Trails System Act created and protected trails that celebrate outdoor adventure, such as the Appalachian Trail and trails that allow us to walk through history, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

To celebrate this anniversary, on the America’s National Parks Podcast we’re sharing with you a two-part episode following one of our National Historic Trails — The Journey of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806 in their quest to explore the newly expanded United States, and search for a route to the Pacific Ocean.


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.

Lewis and Clark Expedition – a National Park Service Website that was the primary source of the text for this episode.

Lewis and Clark – The Journey of the Corps of Discovery – Ken Burns Documentary

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – National Park Service website

Trails50.org – A site commemorating the National Trails System’s 50th Anniversary


Transcript

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

This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.

In 2018, America is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act as well as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The 1968 National Trails System Act created and protected trails that celebrate outdoor adventure, such as the Appalachian Trail and trails that allow us to walk through history, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

To celebrate this anniversary, on the America’s National Parks Podcast we’re sharing with you a two-part episode following one of our National Historic Trails — The Journey of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806 in their quest to explore the newly expanded United States, and search for a route to the Pacific Ocean.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

_____

In December 1803, 33-year-old William Clark established a small military-style training camp on the Wood River at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, north of St. Louis, Missouri, and across the river in Illinois. Clark had retired from militia service 6 years prior, after leading a company of riflemen in the decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which put an end to the Northwest Indian War. He resigned his commission as a lieutenant due to his poor health, but now, a new opportunity had arisen.

A man who served under Clark, Meriwether Lewis had been appointed as a trusted aide to President Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew through Virginia society. Lewis resided in the presidential mansion, and when Jefferson purchased approximately 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France, he tapped Lewis to explore the territory, establish trade with Native Americans, and find a waterway from the US to the Pacific Ocean, claiming the Oregon territory for the United States before European nations did.
Meriwether Lewis asked his former commanding officer William Clark to share leadership of the expedition. They would be called the Corps of Discovery.

At the Wood River camp, it was Clark’s responsibility to train the many different men who had volunteered to go to the Pacific on the expedition and turn them into an efficient team. By and large, most of the members of the Corps of Discovery were strangers to one another. The youngest man, George Shannon, was 17 years old, the oldest, John Shields, was 35. The average age of all the men was 27. Clark had the men build a fort and cabins out of logs. He drilled them, teaching them how to march in formation, use their weapons as a team and shoot effectively at targets. Most of all, he tried to get them to respect military authority and learn how to follow orders. When they would later face danger on the frontier, there would be no time for questioning their commanding officers.

During the winter, Meriwether Lewis spent a lot of time in the little town of St. Louis. He was looking to bolster the supplies and equipment for the journey, because twice as many men had volunteered to go on the expedition as he had originally planned for. The journey would take them up the Missouri River, from St. Louis to as far as had been navigated by white men into the Dakotas, and then beyond, searching for the source of the great Missouri, and a connecting water route to the Pacific. Lewis talked with fur traders who had been up the River, and obtained maps made by earlier explorers. On March 9, 1804, he attended a special ceremony during which the Upper Louisiana Territory was transferred to the United States. Two months later, on May 14, the expedition was ready to begin.

Clark and the Corps of Discovery left the camp and were joined by Lewis in St. Charles, Missouri, a week later. The party numbered more than 45, mostly young, unmarried soldiers. The civilians who made the journey were primarily guides and interpreters. Among them was William Clark’s black slave York, who would prove essential to relations with the Indigenous tribes. An additional group of hired boatmen would travel with the party through the first winter.

Travel up the Missouri River in 1804 was grueling, due to heat, injuries and insects as well as the troublesome river itself, with its strong current and many snags. The expedition used Lewis’s 55-foot long keelboat and two smaller boats to carry their supplies and equipment. The boats used sails to catch wind when they could, but in going upriver against a strong current, oars and long poles had to be used to push. Sometimes the boats had to be pulled with ropes by men walking along the shoreline or waist-deep in the water. They averaged 10-15 miles per day.

There were some initial disciplinary problems. Men fell asleep on watch, and ignored rations, but Clark was a harsh disciplinarian. Several courtmarshalls were held, and lashings had the men respecting his authority. They eventually began to respect one another, and after facing some brutal challenges, began to work together as compatriots. One man especially liked by all was Charles Floyd, one of the three sergeants. Suddenly, on August 20, 1804, Sgt. Floyd got sick and died. It is now believed that he died of a burst appendix. Floyd was laid to rest on top of a large hill by the river, in modern-day Sioux City, Iowa, where today there is a large monument to mark the spot. Sgt. Floyd was the only person to die on the two and one-half year journey, even though great danger lay ahead.

By October the Corps of Discovery reached the villages of the Mandan Indian tribe, where they built Fort Mandan (near present-day Stanton, North Dakota), and spent the winter of 1804-1805. The Mandan people lived in earth lodges along the Missouri River. Their neighbors the Hidatsa lived along the Knife River close by. The villages of the Mandan and Hidatsa people were the center of a huge trade network in the West. Lewis and Clark were not the first European-Americans to visit this part of the country.

One of the goals of the expedition was to conduct diplomacy with and gather information about the various nations of American Indians they would encounter on their journey. During the course of the expedition, contact was made with at least 55 different native cultural groups. Other groups, such as the Crow, almost certainly saw the explorers without the explorers ever seeing them.

The history of the Great Plains Indians can be traced back at least 13,000 years and possibly even millenia. During the last stages of the Ice Age, small bands of people migrated in search of megafauna like mastodons and mammoths. As game became extinct, their cultural organization became more complex, shifting to bison hunting and living in earth-lodge dwellings. However, European contact brought significant change. Prior to this contact, tribes of the plains lived by agriculture or gathering. The introduction of horses by the Spanish in the late 16th century provided Indians with a more efficient method of hunting buffalo. Many groups–the Cheyenne, Sioux, Comanche and others–shifted to a nomadic culture. Others such as the Mandans, Hidatsas, Pawnee, Wichita and Omaha remained horticultural societies, establishing permanent settlements in the river valleys of the plains.

In order to negotiate intelligently with the Indigenous tribes and their leaders along the route, Lewis received a “crash course” in diplomacy and about the known Indian cultural groups from Dr. Benjamin Rush and others in Philadelphia. Lewis also knew that gift giving and trade were important parts of most known Indian cultures, and that he would have to have trade goods to acquire the expedition’s necessities along the route. Lewis brought along peace medals produced by the U.S. Government in silver for presentation to Indian chiefs. Peace medals were an integral part of the government’s relations with American Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the time, these medals represented a covenant between nations, and were valued equally by tribal people who had had contact with European-Americans and by the governments of Britain, Spain, France and the United States, each of which issued them. Lewis and Clark took along three large medals with an image of President Jefferson on them, 13 middle-sized Jefferson medals, 16 small Jefferson medals, and 55 medals struck during the presidency of George Washington. All but one were given out during the expedition. The front of the Jefferson medals had a formal bust of President Jefferson in low relief, along with his name and the date he entered office. The reverse showed clasped hands and bore the motto “Peace and Friendship.” This design depicted Indian nations as coequals of the United States.

Although the men of the expedition did not know what to expect on their trek, they were prepared to meet the various Indian tribal groups and curious about what they would be like. Previously, almost nothing had been known of the Indians westward from the Mandan villages.
Whether Lewis and Clark knew it or not, they were the “spearpoints” of an invasion of American Indian homelands in the West. Whether or not their actions were deliberate, they touched off an invasion which displaced entire peoples and tribal groups with European descended settlers, backed by the U.S. Army and English land law.

During the winter with the Mandan Lewis and Clark recruited a Frenchman who had lived with the Hidatsa for many years. His name was Toussaint Charbonneau, and the captains wanted him to act as an interpreter. With Charbonneau would come his 16-year-old Shoshone Indian wife, Sacagawea. Sacagawea had been captured by a raiding party of Hidatsa warriors five years earlier, taken from her homeland in the Rocky Mountains to the Knife River village where she met her husband. Lewis and Clark knew that they would probably meet Sacagawea’s people, and that they might have to ask for horses if they could not find a nearby stream which led down to the Columbia River. So Sacagawea would be invaluable because she could speak to her people directly for the explorers.

There was, however, a complication. Sacagewea was pregnant. She went into labor that winter, and complications arose. Lewis wrote in the journal of the expedition:

“This was the first child which this woman had born, and as is common in such cases her labor was tedious and the pain violent; Mr. Jessome informed me that he had frequently administered a small portion of the rattle of the rattlesnake, which he assured me had never failed to produce the desired effect, that of hastening the birth of the child. Having the rattle of a snake by me I gave it to him and he administered two rings of it to the woman broken in small pieces with the fingers and added to a small quantity of water. Whether this medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine, but I was informed that she had not taken it more than ten minutes before she brought forth. Perhaps this remedy may be worthy of future experiments, but I must confess that I want faith as to its efficacy.”

The winter was harsh, sometimes reaching as low as negative 40 degrees. But the Mandan people taught the Corps of Discovery valuable skills, like how to make their moccasins, and improved dugout canoes. They hunted buffalo together. The Mandan traded supplies such as fur and food for repairs to their tools from a small iron forge Lewis and Clark brought along.

On April 7, 1805, Lewis and Clark sent the keelboat with the hired boatmen back to St. Louis with an extensive collection of zoological, botanical, and ethnological specimens that they had collected so far, including a live prairie dog, which they went to great lengths to capture, as a whole town of prairie dogs evaded them until they could flush one out of its home with water. The “barking squirrel” which they called it would live out the rest of its life at the White House. They also sent letters, reports, dispatches, and maps back to Jefferson. Troublemaking members of the expedition were sent back as well – what lied ahead was no place for malcontents.

As the keelboat headed south, the expedition, now numbering 33, resumed their journey westward in two smaller boats and dugout canoes. The Corps of Discovery now traveled into regions which had been explored and seen only by American Indians.

They pulled and sailed their boats up the Missouri River through what is now Montana. By early June they reached a place where two rivers met. Lewis and Clark knew they needed to find the correct fork of the river. If they didn’t, they might not get to the Pacific Ocean in time for the winter. The only clue they had was that the Indians had told them that the Missouri had a huge waterfall on it. They led small groups of soldiers up each river, Lewis going up the right fork and Clark up the left, both looking for the waterfall. Neither party found one, but the water on the left was clearer, and the water to the right was murky like the Missouri had been up to this point. Lewis and Clark knew the river would have to begin to clear up as they came closer to the source, and decided that the left fork was the right river, although the rest of the party disagreed. They attempted to convince their commanding officers, but when Lewis and Clark stood in their conviction, their men obeyed.

As the current increased, the expedition moved slowly up the new fork, as Sacagawea fell very sick. Lewis began to worry their decision to turn left was flawed, as they hadn’t reached any sign of a massive wat-;erfall. Impatient, he led a small party of men overland to see if he could find it. Otherwise, they would have to turn back. On June 13, he spotted a mist rising above the hills in front of him. After a few minutes of walking, he looked down into a deep ravine, and saw a beautiful, huge waterfall. His joy was crushed as he scouted ahead and found that there was not just one waterfall, but five, and that they stretched for many miles along the river — an area now known as Great Falls. The canoes could not be paddled upstream against such a current. They would have to be taken out of the water and carried around the obstruction.

Meanwhile Sacagawea’s health was getting worse by the minute. In a desperate effort, she was given water from a nearby sulfer spring, and miraculously returned to full health. Sacagawea was more than a teenage girl who may be able to talk to some indians upstream. She had become an essential member of the party, while her husband proved nearly worthless. When their canoe overturned in the rushing waters, spilling out nearly all of the expedition’s medical supplies and journals, Charbonneau panicked. Sacagawea remained calm and recovered every single item, with a baby on her back. Her recovery of the essential journals is the only reason we’re able to tell this story today.

At this point the two larger boats were left behind. They carried the canoes and supplies around the waterfalls, a task that they long before planned to take a half day. It would take a month. Their moccasins only lasted two days at a time on the rocky portage. They would collapse to exhaustion and fight battles of wits and wills to press on, until finally, every supply and canoe had made it around the great falls.

Lewis had a special collapsible, iron-framed boat from Harpers Ferry that they had been hauling along unassembled, and it was time to put it together. Unfortunately, to Lewis’s dismay, the boat didn’t float, so two more dugout canoes were fashioned.

They set out westward once more, paddling upstream. The mountains that they knew were coming loomed ahead in the distance. But these were not the mountains they had prepared for. They were much larger than any mountain they had seen back in the east. By August 17 they reached the Three Forks of the Missouri, which marked the navigable limits of that river. At this spot the Missouri is fed by three rivers, and they turned up one that they had named for President Jefferson. They finally reached its headwaters, where the once mighty Missouri could be easily straddled between their legs. On foot Lewis, crested the Rocky Mountains, where he thought he would see the headwaters of the Columbia river over the peak, which they would float their way downstream towards the pacific ocean. Instead, he saw more mountains, stretching off as far as the eye could see.
———-

Next week on America’s National Parks, we’ll pick up there, as the Corps of Discovery faces its most difficult challenge yet, the vast mountain ranges of the West.

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.

His Name Was Mudd

On a Sunday in November of 1864, John Wilkes Booth first made the acquaintance of Dr. Samuel Mudd. The men discussed a horse sale, and Booth was invited to spend the night at Mudd’s home. On December 23, the two men met again, by accident, on a street in Washington, DC.

Four months later, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. He broke his left leg in the process, leaping to the stage at Ford’s Theater. He and his getaway man David Harold knocked on the door of Dr. Mudd at four in the morning for assistance. Mudd set, splinted, and bandaged the broken leg. The two stayed for about 12 hours, as the doctor’s handyman made a pair of crutches.

Within days, Dr. Mudd was arrested and charged with conspiracy and with harboring Booth and Harold during their escape. Though he had met Booth on at least two prior occasions, Mudd told authorities he did not recognize him. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, one vote shy of the death penalty.

Mudd was imprisoned in Fort Jefferson, in what is today Dry Tortugas National Park, an isolated Gulf of Mexico island fort. He attempted escape but failed before an epidemic of yellow fever broke out on the island. The fort’s physician died, and Mudd took over the care of the sick. Due to his efforts, he received a full pardon from President Andrew Johnson and was released from prison a hero.

In 1936, a film was made loosely based on Mudd’s story called THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, and then 2 years later it was adapted into a radio drama, starring Gary Cooper as part of the Lux Radio Theater. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, we’re playing for you that program, which we’ve remastered and edited lightly.


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Learn More

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

Dry Tortugas National Park – National Park Service Website

How Samuel Mudd Went From Lincoln Conspirator to Medical Savior – Smithsonian

Family vow to clear Abraham Lincoln ‘conspirator’ whose name is Mudd – The Guardian

The Prisoner of Shark Island – Full Audio, including introduction, commercials, and a post-show discussion with the actors


Music

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

Stories from the Sands

One of the world’s great natural wonders rises from the heart of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. Great wave-like dunes of baby powder-like gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert. Towering mountains ring the spectacular white dunes, crowned with electric blue skies, prismatic sunsets, and mystic moonlit nights. Half a million visitors from all over the world enjoy this beautiful place each year. It’s featured prominently in commercials, feature films, fashion catalogs, and music videos. And its neighboring military base has been host to some important events in American history.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, three short stories from the glistening dunes of White Sands National Monument: A spirit from the 16th century who roams the dunes after sunset, searching for her lost love, a legendary gunslinger of the southwest, and a daring record-setter who made high-altitude aviation safer. 


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 Facebook, Instagram 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.

Inside the Original Space Dive: Joseph Kittinger on 1960 Record Jump – National Geographic Article

White Sands National Park – National Park Service Website


Transcript

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

This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com

One of the world’s great natural wonders rises from the heart of New Mexico’s Tularosa basin. Great wave-like dunes of baby powder-like gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert.

Towering mountains ring the spectacular white dunes, crowned with electric blue skies, prismatic sunsets, and mystic moonlit nights. Half a million visitors from all over the world enjoy this beautiful place each year. It’s featured prominently in commercials, feature films, fashion catalogs, and music videos. And its neighboring military base has been host to some important events in American history.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, three short stories from the glistening dunes of White Sands National Monument.

We begin with a legend from the 16th century, a Spanish maiden who roams the dunes after sunset, searching for her lost love.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


In 1540, Spanish conquistadors were in search of national treasures. Francisco Coronado was one of the most successful of these explorers, and he approached the valliant, young the Hernando de Luna from Mexico City to join him on his quest for new adventures and rumors of unearthed treasures.

Hernando had just proposed to Manuela, a beautiful Spanish maiden. Though deeply in love, he set off on an expedition with Coronado and promised to return to Mexico City, and to bestow upon Manuela all the riches and jewels waiting to be discovered.

Manuela waited for her betrothed, until she saw the explorers returning in small groups. She searched each face, looking for the gaze of her husband. She would learn that his expedition was ambushed by the Apache in a vast field of white sand dunes. They fought valiantly but were no match for the Apache warriors. Many of the Spanish died in the desert, the others fled back to Mexico City. When the returning parties stopped coming, Manuela set out for the white sands on her own. She was never seen again.

To this day, it is said that at dusk, as the evening breezes sweep and dip over the stark white dunes, a spirit roams in her flowing white wedding dress, calling out for her lover who has been lost beneath the dunes. They call her the Pavla Blanca —the little white one. She is sad, but peaceful, and never gives up hope of being reunited with her lost husband.


Another legend of the southwest is a man named William Henry McCarty, otherwise known as Billy the Kid. And yes, he was a real man, and the west was every bit as wild as they say it was. The towns of New Mexico were not always as tranquil as they tend to be today.


Billy the Kid’s mother died of tuberculosis while he was just a young boy. As he grew, he began working a slew of odd jobs to make ends meet, and began combining them with a few illegal activities here and there. The owner of a boarding house gave him a room in exchange for work. His first arrest was for stealing food at age 16 in late 1875. Ten days later, he robbed a Chinese laundry and was arrested, but escaped. He tried to stay with his stepfather, and then fled from New Mexico Territory into neighboring Arizona Territory, making him both an outlaw and a federal fugitive.

Billy’s carreer as an infamous gunman began in 1878 after he met a young Englishman named John Tunstall. That year would be the beginning of what was known as the Lincoln County Wars — a series of violent confrontations resulting from a conflict between two groups of businessmen. Tunstall was on the side of attorney Alexander McSween, and cattle baron John Chisum. Their opposition was the town establishment, who had Sheriff William Brady on their side, along with the infamous Jesse Evans gang to take care of any “problems.”

Tunstall and McSween, wanted to establish their own business in Lincoln County. Billy was hired by Tunstall as a ranch hand and became one of the
Regulators, a posse formed to protect Tunstall and McSween.
Tensions escalated, and Jesse Evans and his men went after Tunstall. He was murdered, unarmed which was against the unwritten code of the West.

Billy and the Regulators vowed vengeance. Many skirmishes broke out, and as a result of one, three men, including Sheriff William Brady were killed by by the regulators, sending Billy on the run. The new sheriff, Pat Garrett, caught up with Billy and arrested him, but Billy made a grand escape from the second floor of the Lincoln County courthouse, killing Deputies J.W. Bell and Bob Olinger as he fled. No one really knows how he accomplished such a feat, but Billy became synonymous with “luck.” Billy went on the run again, and hid, among other places, in the giant white gypsum sands of Tularosa Basin.

His luck ran out on July 14, 1881, when Garrett caught up to the legendary outlaw and killed him.


There are many versions of what really happened during the
Lincoln County Wars, so it is hard to tell fact from fiction. Historians
and fans still debate the detail of a man whose legend continues to live on.

Beginning in 1942, only months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order #9029, which created the 1,243,000 acre Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range right next door to White Sands National Monument. Soldiers even practiced tank maneuvers inside the monument’s boundary. By 1945 the military established the White Sands Proving Ground to test missiles, causing the park to experience short-term closures, a practice that continues today. The Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range closed at the end of World War II and re-opened in 1958 as Holloman Air Force Base. The White Sands Proving Ground was later renamed White Sands Missle Range. Both military areas still operate around the park boundaries and in the cooperative use area in the western part of the park. This cooperation mutually benefits both the military by providing them additional space and the park by insuring the lack of development on the surrounding lands.

As jet planes flew higher and faster in the 1950s, the Air Force became increasingly worried about the safety of flight crews who had to eject at high altitude. Tests with dummies had shown that a body in free-fall at high altitude would often go into a flat spin at a rate of up to 200 revolutions per minute (about 3.3 revolutions per second). This would be potentially fatal. A working group set out to make parachute ejections safer, resulting in a world record dive.


Project Excelsior was initiated in 1958 to design a parachute system that would allow a safe, controlled descent after a high-altitude ejection. The problem was to get a person down fast to lower levels before opening their chute, but at the same time to safeguard them against flat spin. A flat spin is a wild, uncontrollable spin that causes blood to rush to the head, and can kill. Francis Beaupre, an Air Force medical unit technician, invented a multi-stage parachute system in an attempt to solve the problem. Beaupre’s system consisted of a small 6 ft stabilizer parachute, designed to prevent uncontrolled spinning at high altitudes, and a 28 ft main parachute that deployed at a lower altitude. Included were timers and altitude sensors that automatically deployed both parachutes at the correct points in the descent, even if the body attached were unconscious.

To test the system, a 200 ft high helium balloon was created that could lift an open gondola and test pilot into the stratosphere. Captain Joseph Kittinger, who was test director for the project, would be the one to test the chute. The gondola was unpressurized, so Kittinger wore a modified partial pressure suit, and additional layers of clothing to protect him from the extreme cold at high altitude. Together with the parachute system, this almost doubled his weight.

The first test, called Excelsior I, was made on November 16, 1959. Kittinger ascended in the gondola and jumped from an altitude of 76,400 feet. “Overhead my onion-shaped balloon spread its 200-foot diameter against a black daytime sky,” Kettinger told National Geographic. “More than 18 1/2 miles below lay the cloud-hidden New Mexico desert to which I shortly would parachute. Sitting in my gondola, which gently twisted with the balloon’s slow turnings, I had begun to sweat lightly, though the temperature read 36° below zero Fahrenheit. Sunlight burned in on me under the edge of an aluminized antiglare curtain and through the gondola’s open door.”

It took over an hour to get to the deployment altitude, and Kittinger was ready to go. Before he jumped from the gondola, however, the timer lanyard of the stabilization unit was pulled prematurely, and the smaller chute deployed after only two seconds of free fall. It caught him around the neck, causing him to spin at 120 revolutions per minute.

“At first I thought I might retard the free spin that began to envelop me, but despite my efforts, I whirled faster and faster. Soon I knew there was nothing I could do. I thought this was the end. I began to pray, and then I lost consciousness,” he said.

The main parachute opened as planned at a height of 10,000 feet, saving Kettinger’s live.

Despite the near-death experience, Kittinger went ahead with another test only three weeks later, from nearly the same height. The chute worked correctly, so a third and final test was planned for August 16, 1960. It would be a world record-breaking ascent, combined with a world record-breaking dive.

On the way up, the pressure seal in Kittinger’s right glove failed, and he began to experience severe pain in his right hand from the exposure to the extreme low pressure. Not wanting to abort the test, he kept this to himself. Over the course of one hour and 31 minutes, he climed to an altitude of 102,800 feet. He stayed at the peak altitude for 12 minutes, waiting for the balloon to drift over the landing target area, then stepped out of the gondola.

The small stabilizer parachute deployed successfully and Kittinger fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds, setting a long-standing world record for the longest free-fall. During the descent, he experienced temperatures as low as −94 degrees. He reached a top speed of 614 miles per hour. At 17,500 feet the main parachute deployed, and Kittenger landed safely in the New Mexico desert. The whole descent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds.

Kittinger’s efforts during Project Excelsior proved that it was possible for an air crew to descend safely after ejecting at high altitudes. He was also the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon. Later, he would serve as a fighter pilot for three combat tours of duty during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions. He was shot down and captured, spending 11 months as a prisoner of war in a cell next to future Senator John McCain.


Kittinger retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in 1978. He held the world records for highest parachute jump and highest speed of a human in atmosphere until October 14, 2012 when Felix Baumgartner jumped from 127,852 feet, with Kittinger serving as a technical advisor. Kittinger still holds the record for longest freefall.

A visit to White Sands is a joy for anyone. You can travel the Dunes Drive, a blacktop road transitions to compacted sand, plowed daily for automobiles and even big RVs to drive across. Picnicing is a popular activity, as people of all ages sled down the dunes. You can bring your own sled or get one at the gift shop. Make sure to wax it for optimum speed.

There is an accessible elevated and ramped overlook trail through the dunes, as well as ome other, longer hikes. But really, it’s one of the few National Park destinations where off-trail activity is encouraged. You can walk pretty much anywhere, just make sure you know where you are and how to get back. It’s easy to get lost. And always bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen.

Riding horses in the white sands is a wonderful way to experience the expansive scenery of the dune field. Private individual use of horses and other pack animals are welcome at White Sands National Monument with permit.

You can hike a mile into the dunes to designated backcountry camping spots, but there is no campground in the park. Plenty of campgrounds and other accommodations are in surrounding areas, such as the town of Alamogordo, where we highly recommend Oliver Lee State 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 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.


A Strenuous Holiday

In 1914, four influential men — Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs — loaded their automobiles with camping gear and embarked on the first of several historic road trips. They called themselves the “Vagabonds,” and they toured places like the Everglades, the California coast, and the forests of Vermont for two weeks nearly every summer for 10 years.

The white-bearded Burroughs chronicled one such trip — the Vagabond journey to the Great Smoky Mountains — in a chapter of his book “Under the Maples.” 


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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. 

Burroughs’ Photos of the 1918 Trip – Slate.com

Under The Elms – Full Text of John Burrough’s Book. Free Kindle Download

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – National Park Service Website

Thomas Edison National Historical Park – National Park Service Website


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

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The ubiquitous road trip, now as much of a part of the American identity as apple pie and banjos, came into the public consciousness largely due to a man synonymous will the automobile, along with a few of his famous friends.

When Henry Ford introduced the Model T to the market in 1908, the famous nature essayist John Burroughs condemned it as a “demon on wheels” that would “seek out even the most secluded nook or corner of the forest and befoul it with noise and smoke.” Ford, also fan of the outdoors, believed his affordable car would allow families greater access to the beauties of our landscape. He sent Burroughs, whom he had long admired, his own new Model T, sparking a great friendship.

Ford introduced Burroughs to two other famous American industrialists: inventor Thomas Edison and tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone. In 1914, coinciding with the beginning of World War 1, the four influential men loaded their automobiles with camping gear and embarked on the first of several historic road trips.

They called themselves the “Vagabonds,” and they toured places like the Everglades, the California coast, and the forests of Vermont for two weeks nearly every summer for 10 years. Paved roads were sparse, often peppered with hand-drawn road signs.

Edison navigated, with a compass and maps. Service stations were rare, so Ford kept the cars running. Burroughs led nature hikes.

Though the men slept in tents, they were hardly roughing it. The Vagabonds traveled with dozens of Fords cars, a battalion of assistants, a film crew, and a refrigerator and stove truck. They had a huge dinner table that spun like a lazy susan. Their tents were monogrammed with their names, and the camp was illuminated by Edison’s lamps and portable generator.

The white-bearded Burroughs chronicled one such trip in a chapter of a his book Under the Maples. The chapter, entitled “A Strenuous Holiday” is our story today. We’ve edited it slightly but what you’re about to hear is Burroughs entire account of the 1918 Vagabond journey to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Before we begin, the story we’re about to tell ignores some truths about both Ford and Edison, particularly that Ford was vehemently anti-semetic, and Edison held public demonstrations torturing and electrocuting animals to try and prove Tesla’s AC power dangerous. For these reasons, as well as his eloquent writing, we focus here on John Burroughs. This story also uses the term “Gypsy” on a couple occasions, which is now considered by many Romani people as a racial slur.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—–

One August a few years ago I set out with some friends for a two weeks’ automobile trip into the land of Dixie—joy-riders with a luxurious outfit calculated to be proof against any form of discomfort.

We were headed for the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. I confess that mountains and men that do not smoke suit me better. Still I can stand both, and I started out with the hope that the great Appalachian range held something new and interesting for me. Yet I knew it was a risky thing for an octogenarian to go a-gypsying, and with younger men. Old blood does not warm up easily over the things that moved one so deeply when one was younger. More than that, what did I need of an outing? All the latter half of my life has been an outing, and an “inning” seemed more in order. Then, after fourscore years, the desire for change, for new scenes and new people, is at low ebb. The old and familiar draw more strongly. Yet I was fairly enlisted and bound to see the Old Smokies.

Pennsylvania is an impressive State, so vast, so diversified, so forest-clad—the huge unbroken Alleghany ranges with their deep valleys cutting across it from north to south; the world of fine farms and rural homesteads in the eastern half, and the great mining and manufacturing interests in the western, the source of noble rivers; and the storehouse of many of Nature’s most useful gifts to man.

The great Lincoln Highway, of course, follows the line of least resistance, but it has some formidable obstacles to surmount, and it goes at them very deliberately; and, in a powerful car, gives one a sense of easy victory. But I smile as I remember persons with lighter cars standing beside them at the foot of those long, winding ascents, nursing and encouraging them, preparing them for the heavy task before them. An almost perfect road, worthy of its great namesake, but an Alleghany range which you cannot get around or through gives the automobilist pause.

As we were hurled along over the great highway the things I remember with the most satisfaction were the groups or processions of army trucks we met coming east. The doom of kaiserism was written large on that Lincoln Highway in that army of resolute, slow-moving trucks. Dumb, khaki-colored fighters on wheels, staunch, powerful-looking, a host of them, rolling eastward toward the seat of war, some loaded with soldiers, some with camp equipments, and all hinting of the enormous resources the fatuous Kaiser had let loose upon himself in this far-off land. On other highways the weapons and materials of war were converging toward the great seaports in the same way. The silent, grim, processions—how impressive they were!

Pittsburgh is a city that sits with its feet in or very near the lake of brimstone and fire and its head in the sweet country air of the hill-tops. I think I got nearer the infernal regions there than I ever did in any other city in this country. One is fairly suffocated at times driving along the public highway on a bright, breezy August day. It might well be the devil’s laboratory. Out of such blackening and blasting fumes comes our civilization. That weapons of war and of destructiveness should come out of such pits and abysses of hell-fire seemed fit and natural, but much more comes out of them—much that suggests the pond-lily rising out of the black slime and muck of the lake bottoms.

We live in an age of iron and have all we can do to keep the iron from entering our souls. Our vast industries have their root in the geologic history of the globe as in no other past age. We delve for our power, and it is all barbarous and unhandsome. When the coal and oil are all gone and we come to the surface and above the surface for the white coal, for the smokeless oil, for the winds and the sunshine, how much more attractive life will be! Our very minds ought to be cleaner. We may never hitch our wagons to the stars, but we can hitch them to the mountain streams, and make the summer breezes lift our burdens. Then the silver age will displace the iron age.

The western end of Pennsylvania is one vast coal-mine. The farmer has only to dig into the side of the hill back of his house and take out his winter’s fuel. I was surprised to see how smooth and gentle and grassy the hills looked. It is a cemetery of the old carboniferous gods, and it seems to have been prepared by gentle hands and watched over with kindly care. Good crops of hay and grain were growing above their black remains, and rural life seemed to go on in the usual way. The shuffling and the deformation of the earth’s surface which attended the laying down of the coal-beds is not anywhere evident. The hand of that wonderful husbandman, Father Time, has smoothed it all out.

Our first camp was at Greensborough, thirty or more miles southeast of Pittsburgh, an ideal place, but the night was chilly. Folding camp-cots are poor conservers of one’s bodily warmth, and until you get the hang of them and equip yourself with plenty of blankets, Sleep enters your tent very reluctantly. She tarried with me but briefly, and at three or four in the morning I got up, replenished the fire, and in a camp-chair beside it indulged in the “long, long thoughts” which belong to age much more than to youth. Youth was soundly and audibly sleeping in the tents with no thoughts at all.

The talk that first night around the camp-fire gave us an inside view of many things about which we were much concerned. The ship question was the acute question of the hour and we had with us for a few days Commissioner Hurley, of the Shipping Board, who could give us first-hand information, which he did to our great comfort.

Our next stop was near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where for that night we slept indoors.

On the following day one of the big cars had an accident—the fan broke, and the iron punctured the radiator. It looked as if we should be delayed until a new radiator could be forwarded from Pittsburgh. We made our way slowly to Connellsville, where there was a good garage, but the best workmen there shook their heads; they said a new radiator was the only remedy. All four arms of the fan were broken off and there was no way to mend them. This verdict put Mr. Ford on his mettle. “Give me a chance,” he said, and, pulling off his coat and rolling up his sleeves, he fell to work. In two hours we were ready to go ahead. By the aid of drills and copper wire the master mechanic had stitched the severed arms to their stubs, soldered up the hole in the radiator, and the disabled car was again in running order.

On August the 21st we made our camp on the banks of a large, clear creek in West Virginia called Horseshoe Run. A smooth field across the road from the creek seemed attractive, and I got the reluctant consent of the widow who owned it to pitch our camp there. But Edison was not attracted by the widow’s open field; the rough, grassy margin of the creek suited him better, and its proximity to the murmuring, eddying, rocky current appealed to us all, albeit it necessitated our mess-tent being pitched astride a shallow gully, and our individual tents elbowing one another in the narrow spaces between the boulders. But wild Nature, when you can manage her, is what the camper-out wants. Pure elements—air, water, earth—these settle the question; Camp Horseshoe Run had them all.

An interesting object near our camp was an old, unused grist-mill, with a huge, decaying overshot oaken water-wheel. We all perched on the wheel and had our pictures taken.

At our lunch that day, by the side of a spring, a twelve-year-old girl appeared in the road above us with a pail of apples for sale. We took all of her apples. I can see her yet with her shining eyes as she crumpled the new one-dollar bill which one of the party placed in her hand. She did not look at it; the feel of it told the story to her. We quizzed her about many things and got straight, clear-cut answers—a very firm, level-headed little maid. Her home was on the hill above us. We told her the names of some of the members of the party, and after she had returned home we saw an aged man come out to the gate and look down upon us. An added interest was felt whenever we came in contact with any of the local population. Birds and flowers and trees and springs and mills were something, but human flowers and rills of human life were better. I do not forget the other maiden, twelve or thirteen years old, to whom we gave a lift of a few miles on her way. She had been on a train five times, and once had been forty miles from home. Her mother was dead and her father lived in Pennsylvania, and she was living with her grandfather. When asked how far it was to Elkins she said, “Ever and ever so many miles.”


August the 22nd we reached Cheat River in West Virginia, a large, clear mountain trout-brook. It crossed our path many times that day. Every mountain we crossed showed us Cheat River on the other side of it. It was flowing by a very devious course northwest toward the Ohio. We were working south and east.

We made our camp that night on the grounds of the Cheat Mountain Club, on the banks of the river—an ideal spot. The people at the big clubhouse gave us a hospitable welcome and added much to our comfort. I found the forests and streams of this part of West Virginia much like those of the Catskills, only on a larger scale, and the climate even colder. That night the mercury dropped to thirty.


We made camp at Bolar Springs on August the 23d—a famous spring, and a beautiful spot. We pitched our tents among the sugar maples, and some of the party availed themselves of the public bathhouse that spanned the overflow of the great spring. The next night our camp was at Wolf Creek, not far from the Narrows—a beautiful spot, marred only by its proximity to the dusty highway. It was on the narrow, grassy margin of a broad, limpid creek in which the fish were jumping. Some grazing horses disturbed my sleep early in the morning, but on the whole I have only pleasant memories of our camp at Wolf Creek.

We were near a week in Virginia and West Virginia, crossing many times the border between the two States, now in one, then in the other, all the time among the mountains, with a succession of glorious views from mountain-tops and along broad, fertile valleys. Now we were at Warm Springs, then at Hot Springs, then at White Sulphur, or at Sweet Water Springs. Soft water and hard water, cold water and warm water, mineral water and trout-streams, companion one another in these mountains. This part of the continent got much folded and ruptured and mixed up in the building, and the elements are unevenly distributed.

One of our camps we named Camp Lee, the name of the owner of the farm. One of the boys there, Robert E. Lee, made himself very useful in bringing wood and doing other errands.

A privation, which I think Mr. Edison and I felt more than did the others, was the scanty or delayed war news; the local papers, picked up here and there, gave only brief summaries, and when in the larger towns we could get some of the great dailies, the news was a day or two old. When one has hung on the breath of the newspapers for four exciting years, one is lost when cut off from them.

Such a trip as we were taking was, of course, a kind of a lark, especially to the younger members of the party. Upon Alleghany Mountain, near Barton, West Virginia, a farmer was cradling oats on a side-hill below the road. Our procession stopped, and the irrepressible Ford and Firestone were soon taking turns at cradling oats, but with doubtful success. A photograph shows the farmer and Mr. Ford looking on with broad smiles, watching Mr. Firestone with the fingers of the cradle tangled in the oats and weeds, a smile on his face also, but decidedly an equivocal smile—the trick was not so easy as it looked. Evidently Mr. Ford had not forgotten his cradling days on the home farm in Michigan.

Camp-life is a primitive affair, no matter how many conveniences you have, and things of the mind keep pretty well in the background. Occasionally around the camp-fire we drew Edison out on chemical problems, and heard formula after formula come from his lips as if he were reading them from a book. As a practical chemist he perhaps has few, if any, equals in this country. It was easy to draw out Mr. Ford on mechanical problems. There is always pleasure and profit in hearing a master discuss his own art.

A plunge into the South for a Northern man is in many ways a plunge into the Past. As soon as you get into Virginia there is a change. Things and people in the South are more local and provincial than in the North. For the most part, in certain sections, at least, the county builds the roads, and not the State. Hence you pass from a fine stone road in one county on to a rough dirt road in the next. Toll-gates appear. In one case we paid toll at the rate of two cents a mile for the cars, and five cents for the trucks. Grist-mills are seen along the way, driven by overshot wheels, and they are usually at work. A man or a boy on horseback, with a bag of grain or of meal behind him, going to or returning from the mill, is a frequent sight; or a woman on horseback, on a sidesaddle, with a baby in her arms, attracts your attention.

Among the old-fashioned features of the South much to be commended are the large families. In a farmhouse near which we made camp one night there were thirteen children, the eldest of whom was at the front in France. The schools were in session in late August, and the schoolrooms were well filled with pupils.

No doubt there are many peculiar local customs of which the hurrying tourist gets no inkling. At a station in the mountains of North Carolina a youngish, well-clad countryman, smoking his pipe, stood within a few feet of my friend and me and gazed at us with the simple, blank curiosity of a child. He belongs to a type one often sees in the mountain districts of the South—good human stuff, valiant as soldiers, and industrious as farmers, but so unacquainted with the great outside world, their unsophistication is shocking to see.

It often seemed to me that we were a luxuriously equipped expedition going forth to seek discomfort, for discomfort in several forms—dust, rough roads, heat, cold, irregular hours, accidents—is pretty sure to come. But discomfort, after all, is what the camper-out is unconsciously seeking. We grow weary of our luxuries and conveniences. We react against our complex civilization, and long to get back for a time to first principles. We cheerfully endure wet, cold, smoke, mosquitoes, black flies, and sleepless nights, just to touch naked reality once more.

Our two chief characters presented many contrasts: Mr. Ford is more adaptive, more indifferent to places, than is Mr. Edison. His interest in the stream is in its potential water-power. He races up and down its banks to see its fall, and where power could be developed. He never ceases to lament so much power going to waste, and points out that if the streams were all harnessed, as they could easily be, farm labor everywhere, indoors and out, could be greatly lessened. He is always thinking in terms of the greatest good to the greatest number. He aims to place his inventions within reach of the great mass of the people. As with his touring-car, so with his tractor engine, he has had the same end in view. Nor does he forget the housewife. He has plans afoot for bringing power into every household that will greatly lighten the burden of the women-folk.

Partly owing to his more advanced age, but mainly, no doubt, to his meditative and introspective cast of mind, Mr. Edison is far less active than is Mr. Ford. When we would pause for the midday lunch, or to make camp at the end of the day, Mr. Edison would sit in his car and read, or curl up, boy fashion, under a tree and take a nap, while Mr. Ford would inspect the stream or busy himself in getting wood for the fire. Mr. Ford is a runner and a high kicker, and frequently challenged some of the party to race with him. He is also a persistent walker, and from every camp, both morning and evening, he sallied forth for a brisk half-hour walk. His cheerfulness and adaptability on all occasions, and his optimism in regard to all the great questions, are remarkable. His good-will and tolerance are boundless. Notwithstanding his practical turn of mind, and his mastery of the mechanical arts and of business methods, he is through and through an idealist. Those who meet him are invariably drawn to him. He is a national figure, and the crowds that flock around the car in which he is riding, as we pause in the towns through which we pass, are not paying their homage merely to a successful car-builder or business man, but to a beneficent human force, a great practical idealist whose good-will and spirit of universal helpfulness they have all felt. He has not only brought pleasure and profit into their lives, but has illustrated and written large upon the pages of current history a new ideal of the business man—that of a man whose devotion to the public good has been a ruling passion, and whose wealth has inevitably flowed from the depth of his humanitarianism. He has taken the people into partnership with him, and has eagerly shared with them the benefits that are the fruit of his great enterprise—a liberator, an emancipator, through channels that are so often used to enslave or destroy.

In one respect, essentially the same thing may be said of Mr. Edison: his first and leading thought has been, “What can I do to make life easier and more enjoyable to my fellow-men? He is a great chemist, a trenchant and original thinker on all the great questions of life, though he has delved but little into the world of art and literature—a practical scientist, plus a meditative philosopher of profound insight. And his humor is delicious. We delighted in his wise and witty sayings. A good camper-out, he turns vagabond very easily, can go with hair disheveled and clothes unbrushed as long as the best of us, and can rough it week in and week out and wear that benevolent smile. He eats so little that I think he was not tempted by the chicken-roosts or turkey-flocks along the way, nor by the cornfields and apple-orchards, as some of us were, but he is second to none in his love for the open and for wild nature.

Mr. Firestone belongs to an entirely different type—the clean, clear-headed, conscientious business type; always on his job, always ready for whatever comes; in no sense an outdoor man; always at the service of those around him; a man generous, kindly, appreciative, devoted to his family and his friends; sound in his ideas—a manufacturer who has faithfully and honestly served his countrymen.

It is after he gets home that a meditative man really makes such a trip. All the unpleasant features are strained out or transformed. In retrospect it is all enjoyable, even the discomforts. I am aware that I was often irritable and ungracious, but my companions were tolerant, and gave little heed to the flitting moods of an octogenarian. Now, at this distance, and sitting beside my open fire at Slabsides, I look upon the whole trip with unmixed pleasure.

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In 1921, the Vagabonds welcomed one of Firestone’s longtime friends on the trip: President Warren Harding. They also hauled along a player piano and wooden dancing platform. Newspapers ran headlines such as “Millions of Dollars Worth of Brains off on a Vacation” and “Genius to Sleep Under Stars.” People streamed into theaters to watch the silent movies that Ford’s film crew shot on the road. And Americans began to discover on their own the joys of a family road trip to places like our national parks.

Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National park is our most visited, receiving nearly double the number of visitors as the second-most attended Grand Canyon, in large part due to it being one of the only major National Parks in the East, accessible in a day drive to 1/3 of the US population. But the Smokies are “Great,” there’s plenty of room for those 12 million poeple a year, most of whom just drive through.

You can also visit Thomas Edison’s home and laboratory at the Thomas Ediston National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey. Take a step back in time to when machines were run by belts and pulleys and music was played on phonographs. His laboratory remains just as it did on the day he died.

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 

America’s Spa

In the mountains of western Arkansas, there’s a place where rain waters are absorbed through crevices in the earth’s surface, then warmed and enriched with minerals, percolating deep underground. The water then flows back to the surface in steaming hot springs, filling the cool mountain air with steam in the winter. It’s a place that humans have been using for millennia for rest, relaxation, and healing. It’s also our first piece of federally protected recreation land.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the American Spa —Hot Springs 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. 

Hot Springs National Park – National Park Service Website

Buckstaff Bathhouse – Historic Hot Springs Spa Treatment

Quapaw Baths – Modern Hot Springs Spa Treatment


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

In the mountains of western Arkansas, there’s a place where rain waters are absorbed through crevices in the earth’s surface, then warmed and enriched with minerals, percolating deep underground. The water then flows back to the surface in steaming hot springs, filling the cool mountain air with steam in the winter. It’s a place that humans have been using for millennia for rest, relaxation, and healing. It’s also our first piece of federally protected recreation land.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the American Spa —Hot Springs National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

In 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to visit what the indigenous people called the Valley of the Vapors — a confluence of 143-degree springs flowing from the western slope of what is now known as Hot Springs Mountain, part of the Ouachita Mountain range in modern day Arkansas. Tribes used it as a neutral gathering place for over 8,000 years, believing that the water of the thermal springs possessed healing properties. De Soto and his conquistadors spent several weeks resting in the steam and waters.

In 1673, explorers Pere Marquette and Louis Jolliet claimed the area for France. For the next 130 years, the land would move between Spanish and French control, eventually finding its way into the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, the hot springs of Arkansas became a part of the United States.

White settlers began arriving almost immediately after, fascinated with the springs and the mysteries of the water. It became a tourist destination almost as quickly. Resourceful settlers built boarding houses for visitors entranced with the promise of healing every ail.

Recognizing concerns over conservation of such a specific, special area, In 1832, President Jackson made the Hot Springs the first piece of federal land protected for recreations. Some would call it America’s first national park, though such a title didn’t exist until Yellowstone was formed 50 years later.

47 hot springs release nearly a million gallons of water every day off the southern wooded slope of Hot Springs mountain. It was believed the waters benefited diseases of the skin and blood, nervous affections, rheumatism and similar diseases, and the “various diseases of women.”

The earliest baths involved reclining in natural pools for long periods of time. Crude vapor baths stood over the springs, which bathers would inhale. Wooden tubs were added, and physicians began arriving in the 1850s. Bathhouses were established to harness the springs in a more formal way. During the 1870s the bathing regimen became more diverse, and physicians prescribed various types of six to ten-minute baths for patients and two-minute steam treatments.

Drinking and bathing in the waters would cause a profuse perspiration, which was considered important for fighting disease. The advice of a physician who was familiar with the use of the waters was considered necessary to avoid injury, and it was specifically cautioned against for those with respiratory illnesses. Often massive amounts of medication were combined with the treatments.

The hot baths were usually taken once a day for three weeks, followed by a period of rest. A second three weeks’ course was then taken, followed again by another break. The usual stay at the springs was from one to three months, but many of the very sick stayed a year or longer.

One description of the process in 1878 told of a hot bath of 90 to 95 °F for about 3 minutes, timed with a sand-glass, followed by another three minutes with all but the head in a steam box. The bather would also drink hot water during this period. Afterword, the bather was rubbed down and thoroughly dried by an attendant, and then returned to their room to lie down for a half-hour to let the body recover its normal temperature.

The bathhouses began using vapor cabinets a few years later, which look like a medieval torture device, where all but the head are shuttered into a trunk. The bather would sit in the cabinet for 10–20 minutes with the lid closed tightly around the neck, and vapor from the hot water would rise through the floor at temperatures around 110–130 degrees.

Toward the end of the 1880s Russian and Turkish baths were offered, and in the 1890s German needle baths, and the Scotch treatment of concentrated streams of hot or cold water on the back were added.

The first bathhouses were canvas and wood tents, which were then replaced by haphazard wooden buildings. The buildings didn’t stand up well to the steam of the springs and began to collapse from rot. Those that didn’t burn to the ground.

But business was good, and the wood structures were replaced in the early 1900s with marble, brass, and stained-glass sanctuaries, lining a strip which was dubbed Bathhouse Row. They were outfitted with beauty shops, gymnasiums, music rooms, and state-of-the-art therapy equipment. The gymnasium on the third floor of the Fordyce Bathhouse was the first gymnasium in the State of Arkansas.

The Hot Springs Reservation came to be called “the National Spa,” and in 1921, Stephen Mather, director of the 5-year-old Nation Park Service, convinced Congress to confer the National Park designation on the area. Officially, it would be our 18th National Park.

The aspects of services were still left to bathhouse operators, but once the National Park Service took over management of the area, the Park’s superintendent established several rules. In the 30s, a tub bath could take no more than 20 minutes and a shower no more than 90 seconds. During the next decade, shower time was reduced to a minute, and maximum temperatures were specified. After a bath of about 98 degrees, the patient might spend 2–5 minutes in a vapor cabinet, get 15 minutes of hot or cold wet packs, followed by a needle shower, light massage and alcohol rub.

Hot Springs was a popular destination for the rich and famous during the first half of the 20th century. It became the off-season capital for Major League baseball teams like The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Sox. Al Capone and his top captains would seize the entire fourth floor of the popular Arlington Hotel when visiting. In a sort of homage to the Native people, Hot Springs was neutral territory for gangsters from Chicago and New York. Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1910, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt came in 1936. Harry Truman had a favorite club where he played his favorite game, small stakes poker, at the illegal casinos that thrived in the area.

Marjorie Lawrence, star of the Metropolitan Opera moved to Hot Springs in 1941 after she was crippled by polio, and taught voice to local children in her spare time.

Boxer Billy Conn trained for his 1946 rematch with Joe Louis in the Fordyce Bathhouse Gym. He ended up losing what is often remembered as “the fight of the century.”

By the 1950s, changes in medical technology resulted in a rapid decline in water therapies. People also began to take to the open roads in their own vehicles rather than traveling by train to a specific destination.

The gambling establishments and brothels were out of hand. In 1961, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the country. In the town of Hot Springs, they were popular places and not really seen as illicit. Tony Bennett first crooned his signature “I Left My Heart in San Franciso” in the early 1960s at the Vapors Club, around the same time that a young Bill Clinton was graduating from Hot Springs High School.

Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller closed the casinos in 1967, some of which continued to operate as nightspots with major entertainers without the gambling for a few more years. Business declined for the bathhouses, and, one by one, they began to close.

In the 1980s, the citizens of Hot Springs, along with the National Park Service, began a restoration effort to revitalize the historic bathhouses. Today, visitors can tour the restored historic Fordyce Bathhouse Museum, which doubles as the visitor center for the Park. It looks just as it did in the 1920s.

—–

Hot Springs National Park is not your typical outdoor National Park destination, but it does host a variety of nature and wildlife to behold. There are several scenic drives through the mountains, and several trails, but this being the only of the “big 60” National Parks in a city, the experience at Hot Springs today is more about history than anything else. You can walk up and down bathhouse row, and tour the Fordyce Bathhouse of course, and then there’s a gift shop in the Lamar Bathhouse. The architecture of these buildings and the wild medical water treatment contraptions are worth the visit alone. You can also stroll the grand promenade, which is a paved walkway above bathhouse row, and drink from fountains that produce the natural hot spring water. You can even fill jugs if you want.

You can, however, still get spa treatments in Hot Springs National Park. The Buckstaff bath is one of the historic bathhouses still in operation. Here you can get the historic treatment. You purchase a bath ticket and lock your valuables in a security box, and are then guided to the dressing room where an attendant provides a bath sheet for you to wear. You get a private bathtub which your attendant has cleaned and filled with fresh 98-100-degree spring water. You soak in the large tubs for 20 minutes

Following the soak, you’ll get into a full-steam cabinet for two minutes, or a head-out cabinet for five minutes. Sitz (or sitting) tubs filled with 108-degree water are next, followed by applications of hot packs for specific aches or pains. Finally, you’ll take a tingling two-minute cool-down shower. A full-body Swedish massage lasting twenty minutes or more is optional and costs extra, and you can decline any portion of the experience.

More modern spa treatments are available at the Quapaw bath, which offers services like a Peach Hibiscus Foot Scrub, Hot Stone alignment, clay body masks, and 50-minute Deep Tissue massages. Here, you can also find the most affordable way to spend time in the hot spring water – for $20, those 14 and older can soak in thermal pools.

The National Park Service makes no healing claims to the water, though it is high in certain minerals. But the benefits of a hot spa treatment for aches and pains, and steam treatments for sinuses and the lungs are undeniable.

The town of Hot Springs is also full of a lot of the touristy stuff that tends to surround places like this. Zip lines, go-carts, laser tag and the like. The home of the Clintons, located at 1011 Park Avenue, is not open for tours, but you can view it from the streets of downtown.

The National Park Service operates a campground on site, which has recently added full hookups for RVs. It’s first-come-first-served only, but there is also a wide array of private campgrounds in the surrounding area, many on beautiful waterways.

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.

 

The Sleeping Volcano

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted — it was the “deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, generating “about 500 times the force that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” it killed 57 people and thousands of animals and lopped 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain.

Still, there’s another volcano that is much more concerning to volcanologists. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, and its namesake volcano’s potential for mass destruction.


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. 

Mount Rainier National Park – National Park Service Website

This May Be the Most Dangerous US Volcano – National Geographic

That Fissure Opening “Near” Yellowstone? Not a Sign of an Impending Eruption. – Discover

Mount St. Helens and the Worst Volcano Eruption in U.S. History – Time

The historic inns at Rainier – Rainier Guest Services

 


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

About a month ago a large fissure opened up in the wall of a cliff face at Grand Tetons National Park. A fissure is a separation in rock caused by geological movement and is a fairly normal occurrence. The park closed off the surrounding area because loose rock can dangerously tumble for extended periods after a fissure opens up. Again…this was a totally normal occurrence.

But you can’t tell that to a conspiracy theorist.

Grand Tetons National Park neighbors Yellowstone National Park, full of all its wonderful, dramatic geothermal features. All of that bubbling and gurgling and spraying is caused by a plume of molten rock that rises beneath the surface – a Supervolcano.

The first major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano occurred 2.1 million years ago, and it’s one of the largest volcanic eruptions we know of, covering over 5,790 square miles with ash. So if you do a quick google search for the Yellowstone Supervolcano, you’re going to find some pretty terrifying theories about what will happen when the Northwest corner of Wyoming erupts again.

What’s more, you’ll find a heck of a lot of articles, and youtube videos, in particular, about how the government is keeping the signs of an impending eruption secret. They’ll point to the changes in Old Faithful’s predictability, increased earthquakes, and other totally normal geothermic occurances that they can make sound uncommon.

So it was no surprise that, when that fissure opened up 60 miles from the Yellowstone caldera in the Tetons, the conspiracy theory machine kicked into hyperdrive:

[Youtube clip montage]

The government, of course, is hiding all of this from you for some reason.

Unfortunately, this completely normal occurrence was also picked up by some more mainstream media. Especially in the UK, where the Daily Mail headline read: “Rock fissure sparks URGENT closure at Grand Teton National Park, just 60 miles from Yellowstone supervolcano.” “Urgent is in all caps. It’s accompanied by a scary map showing waist high ash covering the country as far as Chicago and Los Angeles. Epcot could be blanketed in as much as 3 inches. In the Daily Express: “Yellowstone Volcano latest: 100-FOOT fissure sparks URGENT park closure“ — “Urgent” again in all caps — and after an explanation from park officials the article went off on its own tangent — I’m quoting here:

“If the Wyoming volcano were to erupt an estimated 87,000 people would be killed immediately and two-thirds of the USA would immediately be made uninhabitable. The large spew of ash into the atmosphere would block out sunlight and directly affect life beneath it creating a ‘nuclear winter.’ The massive eruption could be a staggering 6,000 times as powerful as the one from Washington’s Mount St Helens in 1980.

End quote.

The reality is that the most recent major eruption was 640,000 years ago, and it was on nowhere near that scale. Since then, 80 smaller eruptions have occurred, most recently 70,000 years ago, partially filling the caldera. A cataclysmic eruption is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. If an eruption were to happen, what we’re more likely to see is some smaller lava flows, similar to the most recent eruptions in Hawaii. And just to be safe, monitoring of all sorts of volcanic eruption indicators is constantly underway at Yellowstone. Worrying about the “big one” isn’t too dissimilar from worrying about an asteroid crashing into the planet. There’s nothing you can do, so why bother?

There are 169 active volcanoes in the United States, most of those are in Alaska, and Yellowstone doesn’t even break the top ten of the ones that scientists consider the most dangerous. On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted — it was the “deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, generating “about 500 times the force that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” it killed 57 people and thousands of animals and lopped 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain.

Still, there’s another volcano that is much more concerning to volcanologists. On this episode of America’s National Parks, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park, and its namesake volcano’s potential for mass destruction.

The picturesque wonder of Mount Rainier looms in the background of most postcard photos of the Seattle skyline, like God’s reminder of the trivial accomplishments of man. What does the Space Needle have on a 14,000-foot volcano?

The 3.7 million people of the largest metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest go about their days, generally without a thought of the danger that lurks to the southeast.

“Mount Rainier is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world,” Volcanologist Janine Krippner told National Geographic. A significant eruption of Mount Rainier could result in one of the worst natural disasters in US history.

To understand why you only need look at the icy cloak that Rainier wears. Over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow cover it. Of all the glaciers in the contiguous U.S., Mount Rainier’s Emmons Glacier has the largest surface area. Carbon Glacier is the longest, and the thickest at 700 feet deep.

What happens to that ice under a major volcanic eruption is worse than the layperson can imagine. For an analogous event, Krippner pointed to the story of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano which erupted 33 years ago.

Beginning in November 1984, geologists observed an increasing level of seismic activity near Nevado del Ruiz, as well as increased fumarole activity, deposits of sulfur on the summit, and small explosions where magma came in contact with water, instantly turned it into steam.

A year later, volcanic activity once again increased as magma neared the surface. The volcano began releasing gases and the springs in the vicinity became enriched in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, leached from the magma. The gas releases caused pressure to build up inside the volcano, which eventually resulted in the explosive eruption.

At 3:06 pm, on November 13, 1985, more than 35 million tons of material ejected 19 miles into the atmosphere. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only about 3% of that of the Mount Saint Helens eruption.

Pyroclastic flows — or fast-moving streams of gas and molten rock — began to melt the summit glaciers and snow, and the water mixed with rocks and clay as it traveled down the volcano’s flanks, in four thick flows — like rivers of uncured concrete. It’s a phenomenon known as a lahar.

The violent lahar mudflows ran down the volcano’s sides at nearly 40 miles per hour, breaking off more rock and soil and vegetation in their path. At the base of the volcano, the lahars were directed into all of the six river valleys, which grew to almost 4 times their original volume.

One of the lahars swallowed a town nearly whole. One-quarter of its 29,000 inhabitants survived. Another killed 1,800 people and destroyed 400 homes. In total, over 23,000 people were killed, and approximately 5,000 were injured in the eruption, and more than 5,000 homes were destroyed. It’s the deadliest volcanic disaster in the last 100 years and the fourth-deadliest eruption in recorded history.

Since the volcano’s last substantial eruption occurred more than 140 years earlier, it was hard for many to accept the danger the volcano presented, even though it was known that an eruption was highly possible due to the increased activity the year prior. Maps showing completely flooded areas in the case of an eruption were distributed more than a month before the eruption, but the Colombian Congress criticized the scientific and civil defense agencies for scaremongering. The town of Armero’s mayor and religious authorities kept residents calm after the initial eruption, and then a storm hit that evening, causing electrical outages and hindering communications. The lahars hit the town of Armero at about 30 miles an hour as its residents slept.

At Rainier, The US Geological Survey has mapped and studied the sleeping volcano, and it’s clear that lahars are an extreme danger. At least 60 lahars have dramatically altered various portions of Mount Rainier during the past 10,000 years.

“Lahars can lift houses. They can overtake a bridge. They can take the bridge with it,” Krippner said. There’s evidence that in the past, lahars filled Rainier’s valleys to heights of almost 500 feet. “Imagine if you’re in that valley today,” Krippner said, asking if you could climb to that hight faster than a 40 mile per hour mudflow.

At least 80,000 people sit in zones that lahars are capable of reaching. But are those people prepared?

Rainier’s glaciers and proximity to large amounts of people led to its inclusion as one of the sixteen volcanoes worldwide studied through the United Nations Decade Initiative aimed at leveraging a partnership between science and emergency management to reduce the severity of natural disasters. In 1992, a plan was developed through the National Academy of Sciences for researching the hazards and risks connected with Mount Rainier. The US Geological Survey has an extensive strategy to communicate warnings and aid authorities, but many people remain blissfully unaware of the real dangers Rainier represents. That’s compounded by the popularity of the Pacific Northwest in recent years.

Rainier last threatened to blow in 1895, when minor explosions shook the summit, but it hasn’t significantly erupted for a thousand years or so. Still, a cataclysmic eruption isn’t required for a lahar. In 1947, massive amounts of water discharged from a Rainier Glacier, channeling a one-mile canyon in the ice. The resulting mudflow moved 50 million cubic yards of debris, drastically changing the topography of the area. Several smaller debris flows followed.

Rainier is one of the most monitored volcanoes on the planet, but the next eruption or lahar could come with little to no warning. Evacuation routes are in place, but it’s unlikely that it will be possible to evacuate thousands of people in minutes. If they even listen to the warning. It’s often assumed that in the face of a disaster, people panic. History tells us that they’re more likely to shrug off a warning.

____

It’s not lost on me that we started this episode of belittling conspiracy theorists and fear-mongerers, and then gave you a terrifying story. The Danger at Rainier is real, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from visiting or living there. Preparation is the key to surviving any disaster. The local municipalities and science communities are doing everything they can to help keep people safe. They’re learning how lakes upstream of dams on the lahar paths can be drained to stop them cold. They’re creating information campaigns and awareness plans. And hopefully, we will have warning of an imminent eruption, and when we do, people will heed it.

Mount Rainier is one of the oldest national parks, and one of the most visited. The park is famous for its wildflowers, and is home to a vast array of Pacific Northwest wildlife, including Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Red Fox, Coyote, Black Bear, Deer, Elk, Mountain Goats, Porcupine, Marmots, and Beaver. And, of course, if you’re a mountaineer, you can attempt to summit the 14,410-foot active volcano. Reaching the summit requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles.

On weekend days in the summer, parking lots can fill by mid-morning. Try to visit on weekdays, or arriving in the early morning or late afternoon when people begin to leave.

The weather is generally cool and rainy even during the peak of the summer. Visitors should always bring rain gear. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit, and the park has four campgrounds open during the summer months, three of which can accommodate RVs. There are also established campsites along many trails. All require reservations.

There are two inns located inside the park, the National Park Inn, located in the Longmire district is open year-round, and the historic Paradise Inn, Designated as one of the “Great Lodges of the West,” sits at an elevation of 5,420 feet, with hiking trails just outside the door. Here you’ll find no televisions, telephones, or Internet, just the tranquility of nature.

At an elevation of 6,400 feet, the Sunrise area is the highest point that can be reached by vehicle. In summer, mountain meadows team with wildflowers. Sunrise Point offers nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys, Mount Rainier, and other volcanoes in the Cascade Range such as Mount Adams.

The Paradise area is also famous for its wildflower meadows and stunning views. The park’s main visitor center is here, and it’s the prime winter-use area in the park, receiving on average 643 inches of snow a year. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing. The road between Longmire and Paradise is plowed throughout the winter.

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.

Ballads of Big Bend

The shape of the southwestern edge of Texas is carved by The Rio Grande river, as it tranquilly flows bringing life to some of the most remote regions of the country. Here, the Rio takes a giant turn north, a Big Bend creating the heel in Texas’s shape.

The Rio Grande represents something else, though, it’s the border between the United States and Mexico, and at a border crossing, one man welcomed Americans to our southern neighbor through songs that floated among the canyon.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Victor Valdez, the singing man of Boquillas, and Big Bend 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. 

Big Bend National Park — National Park Service Website

Crossing the Border to Boquillas — National Park Service Website

Interview with Victor Valdez on NPR:

“Big Bend crossing brings new life to border town” — Houston Chronicle

Victor singing on the Rio Grande:


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

The United States can roughly be divided into 7 different geographic regions, four of which — the coastal plains of the southeast, the interior lowlands of the Midwest, the great plains down the center, and the Basin and Ridge region of the west — all converge in one state: Texas.

The shape of the southwestern edge of the state is carved by The Rio Grande river, as it tranquilly flows bringing life to some of the most remote regions of the country. It’s along the Basin and Ridge region where the Rio take a giant turn north, a Big Bend creating the heel in Texas’s shape.

The Rio Grande represents something else, though, it’s the border between the United States and Mexico, and at a border crossing, one man welcomed Americans to our southern neighbor through songs that floated among the canyon.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the singing man of Boquillas, and Big Bend National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

In 1994, After visiting the Mexican border village of Boquillas, on the Rio Grande just across the Mexican border at Big Bend National Park, Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen wrote the song “Gringo Honeymoon.”

We took a rowboat ‘cross the Rio Grande
Captain Pablo was our guide
For two dollars in a weathered hand
He rowed us to the other side

It’s very possible that Victor Valdez could have been the man Keen was referring to as Captain Pablo. For 24 years, Valdez rowed a boat across an informal border crossing, leading American citizens to visit our southern neighbors.

The seven-minute boat ride was the easiest of U.S. Mexico border crossings, with no agents, no traffic, no lines, no documentation … just a tip for the boat captain.

The village is several hours’ drive from the nearest Mexican city, having grown from a mining operation that sent silver, lead and other mineral ores from the Sierra del Carmen mountains across the Rio Grande for distribution by train. It boasted a population of more than 2000 in the early 1900s but quickly diminished when the mining stopped. Now, just 2-300 citizens call Boquillas home, and Big Bend National Park is all that keeps it alive.

At the time that Big Bend was established in the 1930s, President Roosevelt was interested in creating an International Peace Park, joining the regions, but the plan never came to fruition. Nature finds its way, though, and the informal border crossing to Boquillas linked Big Bend with natural protected areas on the Mexican side of the border.

The crossing, of course, was illegal without an official port of entry. But Americans visiting the remote wonders of big bend came and crossed, to reach the beauty of Mexico’s nature sanctuaries or to enjoy cheap tequila shots and tacos. The people of Boquillas would cross to buy fresh groceries from Big Bend’s Rio Grande Village convenience store and to visit friends in nearby towns.

Officials had no interest in enforcing the crossing though, and Rangers encouraged visits to Boquillas, treating it almost as an annex of the park. The park even employed citizens from the town as firefighters. They were called Los Diablos and were so effective that they were sent to fight the California wildfires in 1999.

Park visitors would walk to the riverbank, where Mexican boatmen like Victor Valdez waited to take them across for a small fee. Trucks, horses and burros would then take them on the one-mile journey into town.

Valdez served as a boatman for 24 years. There were many boatmen, but Victor was well known for his enthusiasm, and for his serenades. He would sing his charming rendition of the “Cielito Lindo” for his passengers as they slowly rowed across the river. During the busy times of year — Christmas, Thanksgiving and spring break — he could make as much as $300 a day. But everything changed on September 11th, 2001.

The year after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government began enforcing the crossing. Boquillas was effectively closed off from civilization, and the tourism economy that kept it alive. Food, gasoline, mail, and friends all had previously come from the US and were now entirely cut off.

At first, Victor and other villagers squeaked out a meager living selling walking sticks, painted rocks, and other crafts to American’s still walking the Boquillas Canyon trail, but law enforcement quickly began to crack down on any sort of commercial activity.

So Victor, cunning enough, and even encouraged by Big Bend rangers, turned to his other talent. His singing voice. Every day, he and a couple of friends from town would make a mile-long walk through the desert brush and reeds to the river. They built a small shack, and they sat and waited with binoculars on the lookout for hikers making their way over the mountaintop in America. When one appeared, he would begin to stretch his vibrant tenor, permeating the canyon as if invisible borders could not contain him.

Victor was working for tips, but no longer were thousands of people visiting the canyon. Jars were set along the water’s edge, and sometimes he would make as little as $5 a day. Some hikers would wade half-way in the water to meet him and shake hands over the invisible line.

Victor used the money to care for a 94-year-old man, his disabled niece, and his wife, who lived in another town searching for work. Many residents left town, but Victor had lived in Boquillas all his 56 years, and didn’t want to leave.

People loved his singing, and Victor’s presence was more important than he would know. He was more than just a peaceful compliment to hikers’ journeys, he kept the link between Boquillas and Big Bend alive. Word spread of the Singing Man of Boquillas or the Singing Mexican, and Victor became popular. People traveled to the canyon just to hear his voice. All the while, unbeknownst to him, the US and Mexican governments were working on formalizing and re-opening the border crossing.

But the remote location was hardly anything that either government wanted to spend much money on. After nearly a decade of behind-the-scenes reviews and negotiations, the National Park Service along with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol opened a digital port of entry in 2013. It’s a kiosk, essentially, where visitors scan their passports and converse remotely with a Customs and Border Protection agent more than 300 miles away in El Paso. It’s still a bit of an honor system, but people can now cross the border quickly, and for the first time, legally.

The boats were launched once more, along with the trucks and the horses and the donkeys. The bar and restaurant re-opened. “We now hope for better days,” said Valdez. One year later, Boquillas’ population rebounded by 30 percent as tourism began to recover. Victor Valdez was no longer singing to a few hikers, he was again singing to boatloads of visitors, though now he left the rowing to his son.
Boquillas opened a new kindergarten, a clinic, and a second restaurant, and for the first time, electricity flowed through the city with a World-bank financed solar grid. Streetlights, refrigeration, TV, and kitchen appliances became a part of life for residents,130 years after the lightbulb was invented.

The relationship between Big Bend National Park and Boquillas is now viewed as a model for other border towns.

Victor Valdez died on August 10th, 2016 at the age of 65. Word of his passing from a heart attack spread far and wide through the West Texas border communities and nationwide ensuring that the legacy of the singing man of Boquillas would live on.

____

Big Bend National Park is comprised of 1,252 square miles of land, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The night skies are dark as coal, lit up by millions of diamond stars, in the temple-like canyons carved by rivers into the ancient limestone.

There’s plenty to do for visitors of all ages. You can take scenic drives, biking tours, and river floats, or hike along the150 miles of trails skirting rivers and snaking through the mountainous desert terrain. 1,200 species of plants and 450 species of birds call Big Bend home, and the geology dates back millions of years.

And of course, you can cross the border, and visit the fine people of Boquillas.

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.

Rangers Make the Difference

July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks, we highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.


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. 

The Dutch Creek Incident — National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Notable Women in Yosemite’s History — National Park Service Article

Ozark National Scenic Riverways Rangers Honored with Valor Award — National Park Service Article


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–
July 31st of each year is set aside by the International Ranger Foundation as World Ranger Day to honor park rangers around the globe who are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

To honor this past Tuesday’s World Ranger Day, on this episode of America’s National Parks we’re going to highlight three stories of National Park Service rangers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Fighting forest fires is one of the most dangerous occupations there are. With the wildfires raging across the country, we begin with the story of a Wildland Firefighter whose tragedy led to massive changes in wildfire fighting protocol.

Here’s Abigail Trabue
——
Andrew Palmer was 6-foot-5 and 240-pounds, with a winning smile. He was hired to be a firefighter by Olympic National Park just four days after he graduated high school at age 18, ten years ago this June.

Twelve days later he had completed his basic training, and was assigned to an engine crew. On July 22, less than a month after he joined the National Park Service, Andy’s eager four-person team was dispatched to assist in fighting the Eagle Fire that was raging in northern California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The team headed out at 9pm, and after four hours of driving, they stopped at a motel to catch some sleep. Six hours later, they were back on the road. On the way, the tailpipe of their new truck fell off. They reported the problem but kept going. The check engine light came on, but they still carried on.

They arrived at the fire’s Command Post near Junction City, California at 6 p.m. The team’s captain left to get the truck repaired for two days while Andy and the rest of the group were sent to the fire line to begin cutting trees, with the specific instructions not to cut trees over 24 inches thick, because they were not certified to do so.

The captain was on his way back to the crew, having procured a loner truck, and just as he was stopping for lunch, a heartwrenching call came over his radio.

“Man Down Man Down. We need help. Medical emergency. Dozer pad. Broken leg. Bleeding. Drop Point 72 and dozer line. Call 911, we need help.”

The team had cut a Ponderosa pine 37” in diameter. Downslope from that tree was a 54” diameter sugar pine that had an uphill lean and a large fire scar on the uphill side. The Ponderosa pine fell toward the sugar pine, and its impact caused a 120-foot span of the sugar pine to split off. When it hit the ground, another portion of the trunk, about 8 feet long, broke off, crashing right into Andy.

A request for a helicopter evacuation went out quickly, but the smoky conditions were too risky for an air rescue. A team of ground paramedics reached Andy 55 minutes later, with a vacuum splint and a trauma bag, but they found that his injuries were much worse than were described in the original radio call for help. Along with the broken leg, he had a fractured shoulder, and was bleeding heavily.

Air evacuation was essential. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was called in but was told to stand down because a Forest Service helicopter was closer. But the Forest Service unit did not have a hoist and would need a clear landing zone, something the tree-packed mountain slope didn’t offer. The Coast Guard unit was recalled, losing valuable time. Paramedics debated whether it was even wise to even move Andy without further on-site treatment when they decided to clear a zone for the helicopter to hoist him out. The process took twenty minutes while the helicopter waited. Two hours and 47 minutes after being struck by a massive log, Andy was hoisted into the aircraft. He was pronounced dead Thirty-nine minutes later, before he even reached a hospital.

Andrew Palmer’s death, which became known as the Dutch Creek Incident, was a wake up call for the wildland firefighting community. Contingencies for medical emergencies were clearly lacking. An inquiry followed from the interagency Serious Accident Investigation Team. The crew captain was the only member of the team who would agree to an interview.

The investigators pointed to a host of problems that contributed to Andy’s death, including: inadequate supervision with the captain away; failure of the second in command to exercise proper supervisory control by allowing the team to cut down trees above their level of certification and an eagerness by the young crew to obtain a line assignment, among other factors.

The Dutch Creek Protocols were issued by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group in Andy’s honor. His story is part of the “6 Minutes for Safety” program used by thousands of firefighters around the world each day. Every year, on the anniversary of Andy’s death, firefighters train in medical emergency response.

The year after Andy died 100,000 pink stickers were sent to firefighters to insert into their Incident Response Pocket Guide, outlining the communication protocol in the event of a medical emergency.

Today, firefighters on the line ask three questions: What are we going to do if someone gets hurt? How will we get them out of here? and How long will it take to get them to a hospital?

The capability of NPS helicopters to extract an injured firefighter by short-haul is now an important consideration in any fire management plan.

On July 25, 2018, 2 tones sounded over firefighter radios “Stand by for a net message,” the voice said, followed by: “Today, July 25, marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragic events on the Eagle Fire. A fellow firefighter has left us…and we continue on…as friends, co-workers and comrades. We are bound by a common thread as we share in this great loss. Today, let unity bring us together in a special way. Reflect on the moments in life when hope and appreciation serve as guides and change us for tomorrow. Now, please join together to respectfully observe a moment of silence in honor of Andrew Palmer, wildland firefighter from the Olympic National Park.”

“Thank you for joining us in this special moment. Resume normal communication.”

—–

We now turn back the clock almost exactly 100 years. It was the summer of 1918, toward the end of World War I. Able-bodied men were fighting overseas, and women were tapped to work all sorts of jobs traditionally held by men at the time, including police officers and factory workers. In California, Yosemite National Park, which had just been transferred to the new National Park Service, needed rangers.

____

Clare Marie Hodges first came to Yosemite when she was 14 years old on a four-day horseback ride. She fell in love with the valley and came back in 1916 to work at the nearby Yosemite Valley School. She learned the park by heart, and dreamed of being a ranger. Towards the end of the Great War, Hodges learned the park service was short of workers and thought she may have a chance. So she went to see Washington B. Lewis, superintendent of Yosemite National Park, to apply for a job.

“Probably you’ll laugh at me,” she said. “But I want to be a ranger.”

Lewis, either ahead of his time, or just so desperate for workers replied: “I beat you to it, young lady. It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols.” He hired her as a seasonal ranger, and just like that, Hodges became the first woman to be a fully-commissioned ranger in the National Park Service.

Hodges spent that first summer on mounted patrol, riding through the night to take entrance receipts to the park headquarters, along with patrolling both the valley and some of the more remote areas of the park.

She had the same duties as her male counterparts, the one difference being that she didn’t carry a gun. It’s not that she wasn’t allowed to, in fact, the other rangers told her she should, in order to ward off animals and attackers, but she decided against it. She wore the uniform Stetson hat but rode in a split skirt. Occasionally the people she encountered were confused. They didn’t understand why a woman had a ranger’s badge.

After the war ended, so did Hodges’ temporary service as a ranger. She married and stayed in the Yosemite area, ranching and guiding church groups through the park. Though her time with the NPS was short, she helped open doors for women whose role in the parks had been limited. National Park Service Director William Penn Mott, Jr., later praised Hodges for refusing to accept conventions and possessing the determination to take on a male-dominated profession.

Women began to be more involved in the park service after the war, but most were relegated to jobs like secretarial work and waitressing, wearing pillbox hats and dresses modeled after flight attendant’s uniforms until the 1970s. It would be thirty years after Hodges before another woman would be appointed a fully-commissioned park ranger. Today, only about a third of National Park employees are women.

—-

On July 4, four National Park Service Rangers from Ozark National Scenic Riverways were honored at the Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. with Valor Awards for their heroic efforts during a historic flood that impacted much of southern Missouri in April 2017. The Valor Award is the highest honor the department awards and is presented to employees for demonstrating unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger while attempting to save the life of another.

_____

Over a period of just two days — April 29 and 30, 2017 — the areas in and around Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeastern Missouri received more than 15 inches of rainfall. Massive flooding set in on the park’s Jacks Fork and Current rivers. The Current River crested at 39 feet near the park headquarters in Van Buren, a full 10 feet higher than the previous recorded high water mark that was set in 1904.

At 5:30 P.M. on April 29, the Carter County Sheriff requested assistance from National Park Service Rangers to perform swift-water rescues of area residents, trapped in their homes with rising and fast-moving flood waters quickly approaching or already upon them. Park Rangers Joshua Gibbs, Lindel Gregory, Patrick Jackson, and Daniel Newberry jumped into action.

The Rangers were all specially trained in swift-water rescue techniques, and regularly performed one a week during the summer months. On this night, they would successfully conduct 30, exposing themselves to extremely high-risk conditions. They ferried from house to house checking for stranded residents using Park Service boats as the floodwaters rapidly rose. They maneuvered under low-hanging powerlines only a few feet above the rushing water, and through fumes from leaking underwater propane tanks.

They then left the boats to wade in waist-deep waters, among the live electricity and propane and raging river, to retrieve people from their flooded homes, secure them on the rescue boats, and guide them to safety.

The conditions were enough to scare even those who had grown up on the rivers, and the Rangers could see it in the eyes of the residents. Three of the rangers grew up in the area, having graduated from nearby Van Buren High School nearby. They were cut off from their own families during the flood.

“Lives were saved because these four rangers risked their own lives to help Missourians in need,” Senator Claire McCaskill said. “No one hopes for disasters like the historic floods we saw last year, but I’m grateful that we have such brave and selfless first responders in our communities—and I proudly join all Missourians in commending them for their bravery.”

After reviewing rainfall data, the National Weather Service says parts of the area experienced a 1,000-year flood event. The heroic actions of these four rangers saved the lives of 30 stranded men, women, and children as entire houses were swept away.

—–

The toll of devastation from the Carr Fire, one of the most brutal fires in California history rose earlier this week to more than 1,000 homes destroyed and almost 200 damaged. More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, not far from where Andrew Palmer lost his life. Two have died.

Rangers work so many different types of jobs in the National Park Service, but they’re all there to protect our country’s history and treasured natural preserves. The next time you encounter a National Park Service Ranger, make sure to thank them for their service.

And from Abigail and I to any rangers listening, our deepest gratitude goes out to you for your commitment to protect our lands and 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 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.

The 14th Colony

Everyone knows America’s legendary origins — 13 colonies fighting off the tyranny of the British Empire to form our Union — but did you know there was, if only for a brief time, an extra-legal 14th colony? If that blows your mind, you’ll be even more astounded to find out its name … it was called Transylvania.

It was made possible by a famous name, too, a man called Daniel Boone. On this episode of America’s National Parks, The Transylvania Purchase, a land which laid its gateway at a gap in the Allegheny Mountains, now known as Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where the borders of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet.


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. 

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park – National Park Service Website

The Cumberland Gap Tunnel – Official Website

The Wilderness Road – The History Channel

The Colony of Transylvania – The North Carolina Booklet, Vol. 3 No. 9 (Jan. 1904)


Transcript

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

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

Everyone knows America’s legendary origins — 13 colonies fighting off the tyranny of the British Empire to form our Union — but did you know there was, if only for a brief time, an extra-legal 14th colony? Actually, there were a few other colonies like Nova Scotia and East and West Florida that didn’t join the revolution and remained loyal to the crown, but I’m talking about something different. This is a colony that was created by a private company that lobbied the Continental Congress to join the union that would become the United States. If that blows your mind, you’ll be even more astounded to find out its name … it was called Transylvania. Yeah, I didn’t hear about that in school either.

In fact, had events turned a bit differently, we could be eating Transylvania Fried Chicken instead of KFC, and horses might be running the Transylvania Derby.

It was made possible by a famous name, too, a man called Daniel Boone. On this episode of America’s National Parks, The Transylvania Purchase, a land which laid its gateway at a gap in the Allegheny Mountains, now known as Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where the borders of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee meet.

A word before we begin: In this episode, we’re going to discuss treaties with indigenous people, people who already inhabited these lands, and conflicts with the so-called settlers. Clearly, people inhabited these territories long before colonizers arrived. The land wasn’t “purchased” from anybody. It was taken.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—–

In the early 1700s, the Allegheny Mountains were the greatest obstacle for settlers aspiring to reach the west. In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, an explorer, found a cut between two mountains. A crossing that would, for centuries to come, allow passage for travelers from around the world.

Through this gap was a vast tract of lands utilized and claimed by several tribes, comprising most of modern-day Kentucky and much of Tenessee. In 1774, Richard Henderson, a judge from North Carolina, organized a land speculation company with a number of other prominent people. The company was called the Transylvania Company, and its intent was to establish a new British colony by purchasing the lands from the Cherokee, who were the primary inhabitants of much of the area and claimed hunting rights in other sections of it.

Henderson hired Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the mountain gap, set up towns, and negotiate with indigenous people in the area. Boone had been in southeast Kentucky long before the founding of any settlements, and he traveled to the Cherokee towns to inform them of the upcoming negotiations.

In March 1775, Henderson and Boone met with more than 1,200 Cherokee at Sycamore Shoals to sign a treaty procuring all the land south of the Ohio River and between the Cumberland River, the Cumberland Mountains, and the Kentucky River — 20 million acres.

One Cherokee chief, named Dragging Canoe, refused to sign at Sycamore Shoals even though his father did. But the majority won out. Dragging Canoe left the treaty grounds taking those who were loyal to him south, eventually landing in the remote area of the Chickamauga Creek (near modern-day Chattanooga). There they established eleven towns which resisted settlers for decades. The location gave the group the name “Chickamauga.”

Henderson believed that a British legal opinion had made his private purchase of the land legal, but the Transylvania Company’s investment was in violation of both Virginia and North Carolina law, as both colonies laid claim to parts of the land. A royal proclamation also prohibited the private purchase of American Indian land and the establishment of any colony not sanctioned by the Crown. But Henderson proceeded anyway.

Daniel Boone was originally from Pennsylvania and migrated south. He was what was known as a Longhunter, someone who hunted and trapped among the western frontiers of Virginia for long periods of time. Boone would sometimes be gone for months, even years, before returning home from his expeditions. The Kentucky area was alluring to Boone because of its large salt brine lakes. Salt was essential for preserving meat on these long hunts.

Along with 35 axemen, Boone cut a 200-mile trail from Kingsport, Tennessee through the forests and mountains across the gap. It was hardly more than a path, rough and muddy.

The Shawnee laid claim to some of the land purchased from the Cherokee, but were not involved in the Sycamore Shoals Treaty. They viewed Boone and his men as invaders. While camped 15 miles from their final destination of the Kentucky River, just before daybreak, a group of Shawnee, slinging tomahawks, attacked the sleeping men. Some of the party were killed and a few were wounded, but most escaped into the woods.

When Boone reached the Kentucky River, he established the settlement of Boonesborough (near present-day Lexington, Kentucky), which was intended to be the capital of Transylvania.

The trail was difficult and dangerous. Wagons could not travel it, and still, many settlers began making the journey into the west. Entire communities would often move together over the Wilderness Road to new settlements. Many came on their own accord, refusing to recognize Transylvania’s authority. Along with regular attacks from the Shawnee and Chickamauga tribes, robbers frequented the edges of the route, seeking to pilage weaker pioneers. Defensive log structures called “stations” were built alongside the road with portholes in the walls for firing at attackers. Venomous copperheads and rattlesnakes blended into the undergrowth endangering the people and their livestock.

When Henderson was ready to enter the territory, he led another expedition of 30 horsemen following Boone’s path, widening the road so travelers could bring through wagons. Around 150 pioneers joined them along the way, including some who had been traveling ahead of them, but were retreating from Shawnee attacks further down the road. Some of the streams were flooded, and the pioneers had to swim with their horses.

When Henderson arrived at Boonesborough, just under a hundred people resided there. The settlers were living in a precarious situation. They lacked supplies and shelter, and faced significant hostilities from the Shawnee, and now the Cherokee, too, who had joined with the Shawnee and other tribes in the Cherokee-American war, which would last another 20 years. Still, Henderson urged settlers in the area to establish the colony and hold a constitutional convention.

His plan was for the various settlements throughout Transylvania to send delegates to Boonesborough. In May 1775, under a huge elm tree, a three-day convention assembled. They passed nine measures, drafting a document that built a framework of government, known as the Transylvania Compact, including executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

With that business complete, Henderson returned to North Carolina to petition the Continental Congress to make Transylvania a legally recognized colony. Virginia and North Carolina, who both claimed jurisdiction over the region, did not consent, and the Continental Congress declined to get involved.

Still, the colony existed, if not legally, until just one month before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when the Virginia General Assembly prohibited the Transylvania Land Company from making any demands on settlers in the region.

Over 200,000 pioneers came over the Wilderness Road during this time. Many Scottish, Irish, and German. As the eastern lands were all taken, new immigrants had to push west, enduring severe hardships. Many families would walk hundreds of miles immediately after landing in America, crossing the icy creeks and rivers without shoes or stockings. One year, the weather was so cold that the Kentucky River froze to a depth of two feet. Many of the cattle and hogs froze to death. The settlers had to eat frozen livestock to survive. Often Dragging Canoe’s Chickamauga would ambush the Gap area for weeks at a time.

On July 5, 1776, Boone’s daughter and two other teenaged girls were captured outside Boonesborough by a Shawnee war party, who carried the girls north towards the Ohio lands. Boone led a group of men in pursuit, catching up with them two days later. They ambushed the Shawnee while they were stopped for a meal, rescuing the girls and driving off their captors.

Henry Hamilton, British Lieutenant Governor of Canada, began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the Kentucky settlements. On April 24, Shawnee Indians, led by Chief Blackfish, attacked Boonesborough, and Daniel Boone was shot in the ankle while outside the fort.

While Boone recovered, Shawnees destroyed the surrounding cattle and crops. With the food supply running low, the settlers needed salt to preserve what meat they had, so in January of 1778, Boone led a party to the salt springs on the Licking River. While out hunting during the expedition, Boone was captured by Blackfish and his warriors. Boon’s party was greatly outnumbered, so he convinced them to surrender to the Shawnee.

Blackfish wanted to continue to Boonesborough and capture it, since it was now defenseless, but Boone convinced him to leave the Women and Children alone for the winter, promising that Boonesborough would surrender willingly in the spring. It was a bluff. So convincing, that many of his men thought he had turned his loyalty toward the British.

On June 16, 1778, Blackfish planned his return with a large force to Boonesborough. Boone learned of the plan and escaped, covering the 160 miles home over just five days on horseback and then by foot after his horse gave out.

During Boone’s absence, his wife and children had returned to North Carolina. Upon his return, some of the men questioned Boone’s loyalty, since after surrendering the salt-making party, he had lived quite happily among the Shawnees for months. He was even taken into one of their families and given the name Big Turtle.

To prove his loyalty, Boone led a raid against the Shawnees across the Ohio River, and then helped defend Boonesborough against a 10-day raid when Blackfish arrived in September.

After the siege, Boon was court-martialed by his fellow townspeople, some of whom still had family members held captive by the Shawnee. After Boone’s testimony, he was found not guilty, but it left him humiliated. He returned to North Carolina to get his family.

Three years after Boone blazed the Wilderness Road, In December 1778, Virginia’s Assembly declared the Transylvania claim void and took possession of the land. Henderson and his partners were given 12 square miles on the Ohio River below the mouth of the Green River as consolation – an area now known as Henderson.

Daniel Boon never returned to Boonesborough. He founded the settlement of Boone’s Station and went into business finding land for new settlers. Settlers now needed to file land claims with Virginia, and Boon would travel to Williamsburg to purchase their land warrants.

He became a leading citizen of Kentucky. When Kentucky was divided into three Virginia counties in 1780, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia, fighting in several revolutionary war battles.

In 1781, he was elected as a representative to the Virginia General Assembly. He traveled to Richmond to take his seat in the legislature, but British captured him and several other legislators near Charlottesville. The British released Boone on parole several days later. After a term in office, he returned to fight in the war, including the Battle of Blue Licks, in which his son Israel was killed. In November 1782, Boone took part in an expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war.

—–

The word Transylvania has little to with Dracula or Eastern Europe. it merely translates to “beyond a pleasant, wooded area.”

That break in the mountains became known as the Cumberland Gap, and it is of global importance. Settlers from around the world chose to pass through it to settle the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, along with a whole lot of slaves who didn’t have a choice. Nearly 300,000 pioneers journeyed through the nation’s first doorway to the west.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was dedicated in 1959. Even then, the area’s importance as a route through the mountains hadn’t changed. 50 years prior, the Bureau of Public Roads built a 2 and a half mile ribbon of crushed, compacted, and rolled limestone highway through Cumberland Mountain to link the towns of Middlesboro, Kentucky, and Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and the wilderness road later disappeared under U.S. Highway 25E. As the highway became heavily trafficked, accidents became more and more frequent on the winding mountain road, earning it the nickname “Massacre Mountain.”

In an unlikely alliance, conservationists, historians, the park, and highway engineers joined forces to push for a major construction project that would reroute the highway through a tunnel beneath the historic Cumberland Gap.

In 1973, legislation was passed allowing the National Park Service to construct tunnels through Cumberland Mountain in order to remove traffic from the historic corridor and restore the image of the Gap and Wilderness Road.

The project cost $265 million and required rerouting two U.S. highways, the construction of twin 4,600-foot tunnels, five miles of new 4-lane approaches to the tunnels, two highway interchanges, and 10 bridges, including a 200-foot railroad bridge and two pedestrian bridges on hiking trails.

In 1985, Construction began on a pilot tunnel that was 10 feet wide and 10 feet high, drilled from both sides of the mountain. It took two years to drill, and revealed springs that produced 450 gallons of water every minute varying rock and clay, massive caverns, and a 30′ deep underground lake.

It took another 10 years to build the actual tunnels, which were are lined with a waterproof PVC membrane. A massive water management and drainage system was designed and installed, and water quality was constantly monitored during the construction process.

The tunnels opened to traffic in October 1996, and the section of U.S. Highway 25E was closed, and the asphalt removed. Now, there’s just a six-foot-wide trail—not too different from the one carved by Daniel Boone.18,000 vehicles passed through the park on an average day before the tunnels were built, now double the amount passes through the tunnels.

Today, you can discover the rich history of the area while experiencing the stunning nature, from spectacular overlooks to cascading waterfalls, along an extensive trail system that traverses Cumberland Gap National Historical Park’s 24,000 acres.

A guided tour takes visitors a mile down the Wilderness Road to the majestic Gap Cave. Another takes you to the historic Hensley Settlement, where the stories of early pioneers and settlers come alive in the numerous historic buildings and structures.

Wildlife is abundant in the park, including deer, beaver, fox, bobcat, bear, and over 150 species of birds. Rock formations abound and mountain streams flow over them to create beautiful waterfalls.

The 160-site Wilderness Road Campground is located 3 miles from the park visitor center off of Highway 58 in Virginia. Electrical hookups are available at 41 of the sites, and the campground provides hot showers and potable water. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Backcountry camping is available in some of the more remote, wilderness areas.

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.

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.


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. 

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.

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

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.


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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)


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. 

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.


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. 

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.


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. 

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.


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. 

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 ha