The Life of a Canine Ranger

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

Every fall in one of the largest national parks in America, visitation slows to a near halt by the end of September. The ground is already covered with golden aspen leaves and the mountaintops are powdered with snow called “termination dust”. The skies lose up to 9 minutes of sunlight every day and the northern lights dance over the crisp landscape at night. While so much of the park and landscape slows into the winter, there is one group of individuals that eagerly await the snow.

On this episode of America’s National Parks: the sled dogs of Denali National Park.

Listen Below:

These official park employees—or as some call them, canine rangers—have an important role to play year-round. As the only kennel in the National Park System, the Denali Park Kennels already receive welcome attention from visitors, most of them traveling during the summer. But as the buses stop arriving with travelers in the fall, the dogs prepare for their true purpose in the park. Each winter, they will cumulatively run more than 1,500 miles as a team. They will haul scientific supplies or construction equipment into the far reaches of the wilderness, or bring construction debris back to the entrance of the park. Through blowing snow, below-freezing temperatures, or bright sunny skies, the dogs will lead the way.

Denali has had sled dogs woven into its history since its establishment. Harry Karstens traveled to the Yukon from Chicago during the Klondike gold rush of 1897. He was just 19 years old. Though he searched for gold along the Seventymile River, like many prospectors, he didn’t find much. But other reasons to stay in Alaska kept finding him.

Karstens built a telegraph line that linked distant Alaskan outposts and hauled supplies for the U.S. Army. He also gained a remarkable reputation as a dog musher, where he hauled mail across the landscape, helping create the route from Valdez to Fairbanks. When he transported mail, he had a handful of dogs attached to his sled, much unlike the twelve-dog teams we see in races today. The sled weighed hundreds of pounds, and there was no room on the back for a grown man. Instead, Harry Karstens was frequently breaking trail in front of his dogs, walking and running through deep snow and winter temperatures reaching 50 or 60 below.

When the naturalist Charles Sheldon set off in what is now Denali National Park and Preserve in 1907, ten years before the park’s creation, he hired Harry Karstens and his team of sled dogs to help him with his winter wildlife studies. His dogs would also prove invaluable during the Karstens-Stuck expedition in 1913, pulling supplies to the head of the Muldrow Glacier at 11,500 feet, leading Karstens, Hudson Stuck, and Walter Harper—a nineteen-year-old Alaska Native—to successfully summit Denali.

In 1921, Harry Karstens became the first park ranger for the then-named Mt. McKinley National Park. His first and most pressing task was to control illegal poaching. Miners and settlers were hunting caribou, moose, and Dall sheep to feed their camps. Harry Karstens founded the park kennels to provide a reliable and efficient source of transportation through the wintry landscape. As the years went on, sled dogs helped rangers record wildlife populations and patrol the park’s boundaries. The park hired more rangers so that they could each explore a different district with a team of seven dogs. The rangers even built cabins along the park boundaries for patrols, which could last months at a time. Many of the cabins are still in use and continue to break up long winter travel for the Denali sled dog teams.

In 1929, the park service built a kennel building near the dog yard that still stands today. Within seven years, the park was caring for more than 60 adult dogs and pups at the kennels, and more and more tourists were visiting them when they traveled to the park.

Sled dogs have even been known to save human lives. A Denali park ranger named John Rumohr was patrolling in January 1940 when his sled broke through the ice of the wide Toklat River. He shared his experience with the Fairbanks newspaper:

“I was in serious trouble. Breaking through the ice over a deep channel, where I could reach no bottom by sounding with my eight-foot geepole, the dogs had to swim to get the sled out. What really saved my life was Tige.

The dog had been sick and I was not using him in the team, but let him follow behind. While I was working with the sled he managed to get up ahead of the team and really coaxed them along . . . . It was quite a struggle for we had about 100 feet to go before we reached solid ice. The dogs would never have made it if Tige had not been ahead of them. Whenever he came to a place where the ice would carry him he would turn to the team, cry a little and wag his tail. That would put new spirit in them and they would struggle ahead even if the ice broke under them.

I hope Tige will get a long life. He earned it that day.”

In the 1940s, many of the sled dogs were given to the military during World War II. In Fairbanks, up to 200 sled dogs were maintained by the U.S. Army 10th Air Rescue Squadron into the early 50s. The dogs performed rescue missions in teams of ten and had to be on alert 24 hours a day. But one Army caretaker claims the dogs were fed exceptionally well, as the government purchased red meat, dry and canned commercial dog food, and locally dried salmon “by the ton”. The rest of the sled dogs in Mt. McKinley National Park were retired, as some believed machines to be more efficient for winter travel. John Ruhmohr had opinions on this idea, too.

“The distance traveled in a day over unbroken trail exceeds the best a dogteam could perform. But . . . dogs have less trouble with their carburetors. You can cuss the Snow Tractor and it just sits there. When you cussed your dogs, they would at least raise their ears.”

Rumohr later helped acquire dog teams for the park again in 1950. They were used for some patrols as well as visitor programs. Years later, two major federal laws reinforced the National Park Service’s commitment to keeping dog teams in the park. In 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act declared that “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.” Sled dogs are adaptable and reliable in the unpredictable landscape of the park, and they are a part of Alaskan culture.

The modern sled dog program in Denali was brought back in 1974 by Sandy Kogl, the first full-time kennel manager, who exercised, trained, bred, and cared for the sled dogs. She also taught other rangers to drive dog teams, managed the backcountry ranger program, and mentored seasonal rangers. Sandy helped the park return to its traditional use of dog teams in the backcountry by improving the breeding program, renovating facilities, and initiating more backcountry dog sled patrols.

The second law that provided more incentive to continue sled dog use in the park was the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, also known as ANILCA (ah-NIL-ka), which was passed in 1980. In this act, the name of the park was changed from Mt. McKinley to Denali National Park and Preserve, the park tripled in size, and the original 2 million-acres from Mt. McKinley National Park were designated as a federal wilderness. Mechanized equipment and motorized vehicles are prohibited in wilderness areas, but the Denali sled dogs allowed rangers to continue using winter patrols to carry out the park’s mission.

Henry P. Karstens Collection, 0630, Karstens Library

Today, sled dogs still have an active role in Denali National Park. They help freight supplies throughout the park, which means they are bred to be larger and stronger than dogs you would see in the famous Iditarod sled dog race. Sound researchers pass off their monitoring equipment to mushers and dogs in the fall, who will transport the gear to various backcountry locations. The dogs also transport construction equipment to restore historical cabins, conduct ground-based censuses of golden eagles at their nesting locations and collect snow sampling data. In November and December, temperatures can drop as low as 40 below and daylight only lasts 4 hours. Some patrols into the park take weeks and some last only one day.

The sled dogs that you’ll find in Denali National Park may look different than you’d expect. Called Alaskan Huskies, they are more of a type of dog than a breed. Mushers in Alaska bred dogs from Inuit villages with other breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Greyhounds, and German Shorthaired Pointers. Dogs were bred based on the qualities needed by the musher, whether they needed speed, strength, a certain type of coat, or stamina. Because they are a mix of many different dogs, all Alaskan Huskies can look very different. They can be different sizes, shapes, and have different colors and fur patterns.

So what does the everyday life of these National Park Service ranger pups look like?

Most puppies are born at the kennels in the park. For two months, the puppies sleep, nurse on milk, and gain a pound or more per week. There is never enough love for them while they grow, as children and adults hold and snuggle them often. When the puppies are grown, they will be surrounded by many visitors in the summer season, so this socialization, when they are young, is incredibly important.

Socialization with adult dogs is important, too. In the early winter season, adults begin training runs and the pups—now around 6 months old—will join the adults on training runs, often running beside the team while they scramble over glare ice and push through blowing snow. They learn about the natural winter conditions in Denali and observe the adult dogs harnessed as a team.

The seven-month-old pups will finally get their chance to be harnessed with the team, strategically placed next to the well-trained adults. It’s not unusual for them to try to play mid-run, get distracted, and chew on the lines. They are puppies, after all! Though training will continue throughout their lives, sled dog pups will have achieved hundreds of miles of experience running in harnesses after their first winter.

In Denali, sled dogs retire around 9 years of age. By that time, many dogs have completed more than 8,000 miles of winter travel. The sled dogs are adopted by families that live locally or in northern locales and can provide them with active, outdoorsy lifestyles in retirement. Though nine years may seem like an old dog, Denali’s canine rangers have unmatched energy at that age and need to keep up an active lifestyle to stay happy and healthy.

Humans have had a close relationship with dogs for millennia. In archaeological digs in Siberia that date back 8,000 years, dogs have been found buried alongside people or with jewelry. It is not known exactly when dogs were first pulling sleds. In Alaska, some evidence suggests that coastal Alaska Native populations may have harnessed dogs for pulling sleds around 500 to 1,500 years ago. Alfred H. Brooks, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, wrote in the early 1900s: “Countless generations of Alaskan natives have used the dog for transport, and he is to Alaska what the yak is to India or the llama to Peru.”

In the mid-to-late 1800s, hunters and explorers of European descent began to settle in what is now Alaska. They learned from natives that sled dogs were the most reliable transport in the frozen, unpredictable landscape, and the dogs soon became the primary mode of transportation between outposts for both goods and passengers. The discovery of gold in the Yukon River drainage in the 1890s brought a larger network of winter trails and trading sites and also meant that sled dogs were in high demand. Miners brought any dog that could pull a sled into the land, such as retrievers, hounds, Saint Bernards, and Newfoundlands.

In modern kennels, at first glance, the set-up may seem peculiar. Dogs are usually tethered to their own individual houses to give them their own private space whenever they need it. The tether is long enough for the dogs to interact and play with other dogs in the yard, but not so long that there is a hazard for their safety. The dog houses are made out of thick logs with a flat roof and a small entrance door so that dogs can be sheltered from the elements. Though whatever the season, the roof on top of the house is where the dogs prefer to be, watching birds and their neighbors.

In the summer, the Denali sled dogs take part in the sled dog demonstration, a 30-minute interpretive ranger program that happens three times a day in peak season. This is the most popular interpretive ranger program in the park with more than 50,000 people attending annually. The Denali Park Kennels also rely on an incredible volunteer support system to give dogs the extra exercise and attention they need in the summer. Locals living in the area can “adopt” a sled dog and walk them for at least an hour, three times per week. Each sled dog will have more than one walker to ensure they stay active every day. More than 50 volunteers cumulatively donate thousands of hours walking and snuggling the canine rangers each summer.

If you’re looking to visit the Denali Park Kennels in summer, you’ll find the kennels at Park Headquarters, or about 3 miles down the park road from the entrance. Sled dog demonstrations are offered three times a day between June 1st and September 1st. Visitors traveling outside of those dates can head to the Denali Visitor Center for demonstration times.

In winter, inquire at the seasonal visitor center if the dogs are around at the kennels. Rangers and dogs are often traveling deep in the park’s wilderness for days or even weeks at a time.

Whenever you find time to visit the kennels, keep these tips in mind. Let the dogs come to you, and let them sniff you before you pet them. If you see dogs that are barking, yawning, or panting, it means they’re nervous and you should move away to give them space. Always supervise children while interacting with dogs and don’t run or make fast movements around them, as it can startle them.

Every new litter of pups in Denali grows up with the same energy and passion to run as generations of Alaskan huskies before them. From traditional use in Alaska Native cultures to the team that assisted the first recorded summit of Denali, the sled dogs are an iconic symbol of Denali’s wilderness. In the late summer evenings, if you’re lucky enough to hear the dogs howling to mountains painted in alpenglow, you will feel in your heart how they have shaped the history of the park forever.

Connect and Subscribe:

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 75,000 strong. Visit to join.

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


Sled Dogs of Denali National Park, by Karen Fortier, published 2002.

News from the Parks | Big Bend Closes, Yosemite…

This episode of the show was written and hosted by Jason Epperson.

Listen below:

Watch the episode:

Welcome to this month’s “News From the Parks” episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, where we round up for you the latest info about happenings at America’s Greatest treasures.

Covid-19 continues to affect the operation of the units of National Park Service, which is no more evident than at Big Bend National Park. A member of the park’s residential community tested positive for the coronavirus. The enacted measures set forth in its COVID-19 response plan, and shut down the park immediately on Thursday morning, July 2nd. Only employees and residents will be allowed in and out for the time being at Big Bend, as well as the neighboring Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River unit.

Up at Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Nation has entirely shut down to visitors, effectively closing the eastern side of Glacier National Park for the rest of the season. Residents of the 1.5-million-acre reservation that is adjacent to the national park in northern Montana have higher risk factors than the general population. 

The closure means that access to Glacier will only be through the western side, and that visitors planning on driving the Going to the Sun Road will have turn around and head back.

At Yosemite, the National Park Service has walked back plans to re-open campgrounds. Reservations for all campgrounds have been canceled through July 31 arrivals, except Upper Pines, which is open to 50% capacity.

Covid-19 hasn’t been the only difficulty for National Parks this past month, however. Fires have been raging in several states across the Nation. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was shut down for most of June by a fire, and is now day-use-only. Just the threat of fire closed several trails in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park.

The body of one of three hikers missing at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington has been found. 

28-year-old Matthew Bunker, was found along the base of Liberty Ridge after he fell into steep terrain while skiing. Bunker graduated from the U.S. Military Academy West Point in 2013, and served five years in the military.

Two other hikers have also gone missing at the park in separate incidents, and have yet to be found. National Park Service officials are asking that anyone who is visiting a park at this time refrain from riskier activities, in order to while hospitals and rescue teams are inhibited by the Coronavirus. 

The Great American Outdoors Act has passed the United States Senate, which promises to help fund the National Park Service’s $12+ billion maintenance backlog, as well as other shovel-ready public lands projects with oil and gas lease funds. The bill is expected to pass the house, and the president is expected to sign it. If you want to hear more about it, check out our recent interview on the Americas National Parks podcast with Marcia Argust from Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Finally, July 4, 2020 kicks of a celebration in the National Parks to commemorate 250th anniversary of the signing of the declaration of independence in 2026. The National Park Service is partnering with the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission—also known as “America 250″ to put on events that interpret our countries heritage and continuing journey. The 6-year event will take place at National Park Service sites across the country.

Enjoy today’s episode? Leave us a five star review wherever you listen to podcasts, and let your friends know. Word of mouth helps this podcast grow, which means more people learn and connect with our parks.

Did you watch this episode? We’d love a thumbs up and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 70,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

Hey Bear!

As more and more people experience National Parks and public lands for the first time, a common concern often arises. Bears. Bears are highly misunderstood creatures and are more often than not afraid of humans. But the behavior of park visitors and often puts the safety of both people and bears at risk. 

On this episode of America’s National Parks, we head to Glacier National Park, for a lesson in bear safety. 

Listen below:

Glacier’s Grizzlies:

But before we learn about bear safety, let’s learn about Glacier’s famous Grizzlies from Research Biologist, Kate Kendall.

Bear Safety:

On average, there are only one or two non-lethal bear “incidents” in a given year. And, there have only been 10 bear-related fatalities in the history of the park (all of those have occurred since 1967). Only three of those fatalities involved hikers, and at least two of those were solo hikers.

Still, human-bear encounters can end in death and injury, no doubt, and the attacking bear is often euthanized. So, bear safety is incredibly important. 

Here’s Park Wildlife Biologist John Waller to explain about bear behavior and how to hike and travel safer on the trails in Glacier, or other National Parks in bear territory.

Whenever you’re headed out in bear country, we hope you’ll keep these tips in mind.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 64,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

The Green Table

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region – where today Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet – chose what is now called Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they disappeared.

Today on America’s National Parks, Mesa Verde, a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture – and so much more. 

Listen below:

While Europe was trudging through the Middle Ages, blissfully unaware of the New World, Indigenous Americans were living and thriving, but we know strikingly little about them. Archeologists have called these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word sometimes translated as “the ancient ones” or “ancient enemies.” We now call them the Ancestral Pueblo people, reflecting their modern descendants. 

History of Mesa Verde and the Ancestral Pueblo People:

The first people settled in Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) about A.D. 550. They are known as Basketmakers for their skill at the craft. Formerly nomadic, they were beginning to lead a more settled way of life. Farming replaced hunting and gathering as their main livelihood. 

They lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in cliff recesses. They learned to make pottery and acquired the bow and arrow, a more efficient weapon for hunting than the spear. These were fairly prosperous times for the Basketmakers, and their population multiplied. About A.D. 750 they began building houses above ground, with upright walls made of poles and mud. They built the houses one against another in long, curving rows, often with a pithouse or two in front. Pithouses would later evolve into ceremonial kivas.) From here on, we know them as Pueblo people, a Spanish word meaning “village dwellers.” 

By A.D. 1000 the people of Mesa Verde had advanced from pole-and-adobe construction to skillful stone masonry. Walls of thick, double-coursed stone often rose two or three stories high and were joined together into units of 50 rooms or more. Pottery also changed, from simple designs on a dull gray background to black drawings on a white background. Farming accounted for more of their diet than before, and much of the mesa-top land was cleared for agriculture. Between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1300, the population may have reached several thousand, mostly concentrated in compact villages of many rooms, often with the kivas built inside the enclosing walls rather than out in the open. 

Basket artifacts show evidence of decline in quality during this time, possibly because widespread use of pottery meant less attention to the craft. And people began to move back into the cliff alcoves that sheltered their ancestors centuries before. Why? We don’t know. Perhaps it was for defense; perhaps it was for religious reasons; perhaps alcoves offered better protection from the elements. Whatever the reason, it gave rise to the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is most famous. 

Ever since local cowboys first reported the cliff dwellings in the 1880s, archeologists have sought to understand these people’s lives. But despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison, scientific knowledge remains sketchy. We will never know the whole story: they left no written records and much that was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these structures speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. 

The structures are evidence of a society that, over centuries, accumulated skills and traditions and passed them on from generation to generation. Their accomplishments in community living and the arts rank among the finest expressions of human culture in North America. Using nature to advantage, they built their dwellings beneath the overhanging cliffs. Their basic construction material was sandstone that they shaped into rectangular blocks about the size of a loaf of bread. The mortar between the blocks was a mix of mud and water. Rooms averaged about six feet by eight feet, space enough for two or three persons. Isolated rooms in the rear and on the upper levels were generally used for storing crops. 

Underground kivas were built in front of the rooms. The kiva roofs created open courtyards where many daily routines took place. Fires built in summer were mainly for cooking. In winter, when the alcove rooms were damp and uncomfortable, fires probably burned throughout the village. Smoke-blackened walls and ceilings, visible today, are reminders of the biting cold these people lived with for several months each year. T

They spent much of their time getting food, even in the best years. They were farmers, but they supplemented their crops of beans, corn, and squash by gathering wild plants and hunting deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other game. 

Fortunately for us, they tossed their trash close by the cliff dwellings. Scraps of food, broken pottery, and tools—anything not wanted—went down the slope in front of their homes. Much of what we know about daily life here comes from these garbage heaps. 

The turkey was important in their economy—providing food, feathers used in weaving, and bones used for tools. Several generations probably lived together as a household. Each family occupied several rooms and built additional rooms as the family grew. Several related families constituted a clan.

Ancestral Pueblo people did not have metal but used materials available from their environment. They made tools for grinding, cutting, pounding, chopping, perforating, scraping, polishing, and weaving from stone, bone, and wood. They used digging sticks for farming, stone axes for clearing land, bows, and arrows for hunting, and sharp-edged stones for cutting. They ground corn on stone slabs and made wooden spindles for weaving. They fashioned awls for sewing and scrapers for working animal hides from bone. They usually made their stone tools from stream cobbles rather than the soft, cliff sandstone. 

Mesa Verde’s economy was more complex than you might suppose. Even in a small farming community, some individuals undoubtedly had more skill than others at weaving, leatherworking or making pottery, arrow points, jewelry, baskets, sandals, or other specialized articles. Their efficiency gave them a surplus, which they shared or traded with neighbors. This exchange went on between communities, too. Seashells from the Pacific coast and turquoise, pottery, and cotton from the south made their way to Mesa Verde. They were passed along from village to village or carried by traders on foot over far-flung networks of trails. 

Ancestral Pueblo people lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about A.D. 1300, Mesa Verde was deserted. Several theories offer reasons for their migration. We know that the last quarter of the A.D. 1200s saw drought and crop failures—but these people had survived earlier droughts. Maybe after hundreds of years of intensive use the land and its resources—soils, forests, and animals—were depleted. Perhaps there were social and political problems, and the people simply looked for new opportunities elsewhere. 

When the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde left, they traveled south into New Mexico and Arizona, settling among their kin who were already there. Whatever may have happened, some of today’s Pueblo people, and maybe other tribes, are descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Mesa Verde. 

Visiting Mesa Verde National Park:

Today, Mesa Verde National Park preserves several of these historic cliff dwellings, and usually, you can take ranger-led tours through several of them. Tours that often require you to climb rustic ladders. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a wonderful experience. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings can only be viewed from overlooks and trails. But it’s still well worth it to go. As with most National Parks that are known for one thing – there’s actually a lot more to Mesa Verde. The scenic drive is stunning, guiding you to several vast overlooks for glorious vistas and sunsets. And the hiking trails are fantastic. We particularly recommend the Petroglyph Point trail, which requires a mild bit of rock scrambling. The views along the way are incredible, and you get to be up close and personal with historic petroglyphs, a striking reminder of the people who once walked these lands. 

If you can’t make it to the park, or if you want an augmented experience, Mesa Verde has done a wonderful job of putting together virtual exploration tools. On the Mesa Verde website, you can find a virtual visitor center, with cliff dwelling tours and other experiences built-in. 

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 64,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

The Great American Outdoors Act

On today’s episode, we explore the pending legislation entitled the “Great American Outdoors Act” with Pew Charitable Trusts’ Marcia Argust. The act promises to reduce the $12 billion maintenance backlog in the National Park Service. 

Listen below:

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 64,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

The Nine

This episode of the show was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with audio from the National Park Service archives.

Listen below:

Before this episode begins, I want to let you know that we began working on it before the current unrest began in our country. We don’t want to come off as taking advantage of the situation, but at the same time, it would be insulting to delay this episode. I have to warn you, the following contains depictions of racism, abusive actions, and the use of a racial epithet.


On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in the public schools of the nation was unconstitutional. One of the first big tests of that decision came in Little Rock, Arkansas. The NAACP had attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South after the supreme court decision. In Little Rock, the school board agreed to comply. Virgil Blossom, the Superintendent, submitted a plan of gradual integration to the school board on May 24, 1955, which the board unanimously approved. The plan would be implemented during the fall of the 1957 school year.

That fall, nine Black children attempted to enroll in the all-white Central High School. They would become known as the “Little Rock Nine.” Several segregationist councils threatened to hold protests at Central High and physically block the black students from entering the school. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on September 4, 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking out the students made national headlines and polarized the nation. Regarding the crowd, one of the nine students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled:

They moved closer and closer. … Somebody started yelling. … I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.

On September 9, the Little Rock School District issued a statement condemning the governor’s deployment of soldiers to the school, and called for a citywide prayer service. President Eisenhower attempted to de-escalate the situation by summoning Faubus for a meeting, warning him not to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Woodrow Wilson Mann, the mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce the supreme court’s order and protect the nine students. On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army—without its black soldiers, who rejoined the division a month later—to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of Faubus’s control.

As much as it was a momentous occasion in American history, that had ramifications far and wide forever to come, it’s easy to forget that these nine children had to walk into a building full of people that thought their very existence was going to destroy their version of America. It’s easy to forget that the crisis didn’t end with them walking through the doors. These are their stories, in their own words, from an oral history project conducted from 2007-2009. 



Elizabeth Ekford

Minnijean Brown Trickey

Jefferson Thomas

Carlotta Walls LaNier

Gloria Ray Karlmark

Melba Pattillo Beals

Thelma Mothershed Wair

Though the military was on hand to keep the peace, the school still needed to function. These nine students would need to go to class with dozens of other students and teachers that either didn’t want them there, or decided that it was too difficult to stand by the nine, or a select few that fought for their right to be there. 


Dr. Terrance Roberts

Ernest Green

Those few teachers and students that stood up for the nine were certainly not enough. And when the 101st cleared, these 9 kids had to live through unimaginable challenges every single day. 


Among the many other egregious events the nine lived through, Minnijean Brown was taunted by members of a group of white male students in the school cafeteria during lunch. She dropped her lunch, a bowl of chili, which splashed onto the boys. She was suspended for six days. Two months later, after more confrontation, she was suspended for the rest of the school year. 

In the summer of 1958, as the school year was drawing to a close, Faubus decided to petition to postpone the continued desegregation of public high schools in Little Rock. He took control of the school district and fought for a two and a half year delay, which would have meant that black students would only be permitted into public high schools in January 1961. The Federal Courts ruled against him, so Faubus called together an Extraordinary Session of the State Legislature on August 26 in order to enact a new segregation bill that enabled him and the Little Rock School District to close all public schools. He ordered the closure of all four public high schools, preventing both black and white students from attending. Despite Faubus’s decree, the city’s population had the chance of refuting the bill since the school-closing law necessitated a referendum. The referendum, which would either condone or condemn Faubus’s law, was to take place within thirty days. A week before the vote Faubus urged the population to vote against integration, telling them that he was planning on leasing the public school buildings to private schools, and, in doing so, would educate the white and black students separately. He won the referendum. But Faubus’s intention to open private schools was denied by courts the same day the referendum took place, which caused some citizens of Little Rock to turn on the black community. They, and especially the nine, became a target for renewed hate crimes, now that they were blamed for the closing of the schools.

 Even though Faubus’s idea of private schools never played out, the teachers were still expected to attend school every day and prepare for the possibility of their students’ return. They were completely under the governor’s control and for many months the school stayed empty, in what became known as “the lost year.”

In May 1959, after the firing of forty-four teachers and administrative staff from the four high schools, three segregationist board members were replaced with three moderate ones. The new board members reinstated the staff members and began an attempt to reopen the schools, much to Faubus’s dismay. 

Still, when the new year began, the black students had a difficult time getting past mobs to enter, and, once inside, they were still subject to physical and emotional abuse, as the Lost Year would be used as a pretext for new hatred toward them.

Visiting Central High School:

Today, Central High School is an operating public school, and the building itself is no slouch. Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long with more than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel. It cost $1.5 million to construct in ‘27; the most expensive school ever built in the United States up to that time. 

In 1953, the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of the construction of a new high school for white students.

The school is not open for visitors to tour on their own. Ranger-guided tours are limited to groups of 10 or fewer and reservations must be made two weeks in advance. The best place to begin your visit is to go to the park visitor center, across from the school. Exhibits tell the story of those times, and interactive oral history stations give you a chance to hear the people who were there tell the story in their own words. 

In 1998, President Clinton signed legislation designating the school and visitor center across the street as a National Historic Site. Central is the only operating high school in the nation to receive such designation—and it is a historic site that includes not only a past, but a present and a future as well—in the form of an ever-evolving student body.

The Visitor Center is located diagonally across the street from the school, and opened in Fall 2006. It contains an interpretive film on the Little Rock Integration Crisis, as well as multimedia exhibits on both that and the larger context of desegregation during the 20th century and the Civil Rights Movement.

Opposite the Visitor Center is the Central High Commemorative Garden, which features nine trees and benches that honor the students. Arches that represent the school’s facade contain embedded photographs of the school in years since the crisis, and showcase students of various backgrounds in activities together.

Opposite the Visitor Center in the other direction is a historic Mobil gas station, which has been preserved in its appearance at the time of the crisis, when it served as the area for the press and radio and television reporters. It later served as a temporary Visitor Center before the new one was built.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson. The interviews come from an oral history project, documented on the site’s website. We’ll link to the video interviews in the show notes. 

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 64,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

National Parks Adjust to a New Normal

This episode of the show was written and hosted by Jason Epperson.

It’s back! National Parks are reopening and that means its time for another “News From the Parks” episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, where we round up for you the latest info about happenings at America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen below:

As summer begins, the National Park Service is instituting phased reopenings at many parks across the country, allowing visitors various levels of access to amenities. Meanwhile, park officials, concessionaires, and, gateway communities are figuring out how to manage the influx of new travelers amidst a pandemic that is far from over.

The plan for the resumption of operations follows current CDC guidelines for disease prevention in public places and workspaces. It follows a phased approach to reopen park areas, beginning with outdoor spaces such as trails, boardwalks, observation decks, boat ramps, picnic areas, and other open landscapes. Park operations will be flexible, continually evaluated, and adjusted on a park-by-park basis.

As parks transition through phased reopening, park superintendents are coordinating with states, tribes, local governments, partners, concessionaires, and gateway communities to communicate about public health efforts.

More than two-thirds of the 419 units of the National Park System are available to visitors. But what “available” means is different everywhere.

Rangers at Arches & Canyonlands national parks came together to talk about the ways in which park visitors can visit responsibly:

Virtually all permits across the NPS system are only available for purchase online, and at many parks, you purchase park admission in advance.

At Rocky Mountain National Park, things have gone a bit further. In order to keep the crowds manageable, the park has implemented a timed entry reservation system. Each private vehicle entering the park will need a reservation for each day the vehicle will be in the park. The person making the reservation needs to be in the vehicle at the time of entry. Reservations are made through, and a $2.00 reservation fee is required, even for pass holders. Reservations are currentyly available through July 31, and will be available on a one-month rolling basis thereafter.

At most National Parks accross the country, accomodations like campgrounds and lodges have yet to re-open, but many plan to open soon. Yellowstone, for instance, will begin opening campgrounds on a staggered basis toward the end of June.

My family had the opportunity to visit Mesa Verde National Park this past week, and we found the situation painless and well-executed.

Upon arrival, the rangers had a virtual visitor center set up with information outside the closed physical visitor center. When driving into the park, the ranger at the gate asked us to read off the number on our park pass instead of taking it in hand to verify. And when we asked for a map, he handed it to us with a grabbing stick, He was also behind a plexiglass panel wearing a mask. As the driver with the window down, I wore a mask for his safety.

Hiking with a mask on isn’t the easiest thing, but we kept them around our necks for when we were near people on the trails. It was a short visit, we didn’t do anything strenuous, and mostly drove to scenic overlooks.

The situation at national parks is constantly changing. The best place for the most current info is each park’s website. There’s a COVID-19 header at the top of each one that you can click on for the latest info. Rangers and park staff are making a tremendous effort to provide a safe environment for all who visit. If you plan on heading to a national park this summer, make sure to return the favor.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search “National Park Podcast.”

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 64,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

White Nose Syndrome

This episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast was written and hosted by Jason Epperson and the interviews come from the National Park Service documentary video “Before It’s Too Late,” by Jessica Portuondo

Listen Below:

The National Park Service manages 84 million acres, in 419 parks, 1 in 4 of which have caves, and 1 in 3 of which have mines. Many of these caves and mines provide habitat for hibernating bats.

Bats are an essential part of many American ecosystems, but they’re under threat from a hidden illness called white-nose syndrome. Since 2006, this fungal disease has killed millions of bats in North America. In some caves and mines, 90-100% of bat populations have died.

Parks in more than half of the United States are affected by the presence of White Nose Syndrom. Losing an important predator so quickly may have a drastic effect on the ecology of a given park. As the disease spreads, scientists consider the impact and potential for impact on national parks to be very high.

On this latest episode of America’s National Parks, Bats of the Greater Yellowstone area – and how National Park Service scientists are working to learn how to protect them.

“Before It’s Too Late”:

There are over 1,400 species of bats worldwide. Bats can be found on nearly every part of the planet except in extreme deserts and polar regions. Many species can live for over 20 years if they aren’t threatened by disease. And we need them to. In Montana alone, bats do the same work as 680 million dollars worth of agricultural pest control.

Spores of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome can cling to clothes, shoes, and gear and stay viable for a long time. If you’re a rock climber or you visit caves or mines, it is important to clean and disinfect your clothes and gear to prevent spreading the fungus from one place to the next.

Many National Park caves provide soapy mats for you to walk across. And rangers will often want to know if you’ve visited a cave recently and are wearing the same shoes, so they can help you disinfect them.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

National Park Week Throwback Thursday: Other Great National Park…

This week, we’re doing something a little different. It’s National Park Week, and we’re teaming up with other National Park podcasters, authors, bloggers, and other content creators to celebrate. 

The theme for Today, Thursday, April 23rd is “Throwback Thursday,” so a few of us podcasts decided to band together for a “best-of” sort of episode. We’re going to play you a clip each from, Gaze at the National Parks, Everybody’s National Parks, Parklandia, and America’s National Parks.

These throwback episodes are some of our favorites. We hope you enjoy.

We began with full-time RVers Matt and Brad Kirouac, who travel the county with one goal: to visit as many national parks as possible, producing the Parklandia Podcast. We threw back to Parklandia’s first episode ever as they sat down for a glass of wine made in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

In Dustin Ballard and Michael Ryan’s Gaze at the National Parks Podcast, each episode features one hiking trail in one national park, one park at a time. The clip is from Episode 10 – Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. After getting on the Angel’s Landing Trail right at 7am, Mike and Dusty make it all the way to the top of the Chains. Dusty’s fear of heights keeps him clutching to a boulder while Mike walks to all of the edges and takes all of the photos.

Everybody’s National Parks is an audio guide podcast promoting family adventure in our national parks — like having a ranger in your pocket. Danielle along with her husband Bryan and their 2 junior rangers have new episodes that come out every other Tuesday. Each series of episodes includes a trip report and interviews with experts, tips and insight on what makes that park special. Everybody’s National Parks has in-depth multi-episode series on dozens of parks, along with special guests episodes. We featured a few different clips: An excerpt from the Yosemite trip report from May 2019, a clip of Historian – musician Tom Bopp performing “Yosemite, O Land of Cliffs and Waterfalls,” ending with a clip from their interview with Ken Burns from April 2019. Everybody’s National Parks 8–part podcast series on Yosemite also includes a wonderful conversation about Ansel Adams’ legacy with his son Michael, grandson Matthew and internationally known photographer and Ansel’s last darkroom assistant, Alan Ross, and so much more.

Finally, a clip from our own show, the America’s National Parks podcast, produced and hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, as they travel the country with their three boys. We tell stories from the past, spotlight conservation efforts, and bring you the latest news from the parks.

The clip came from our episode “37 Days in Yellowstone,” which tells the story of Truman Everts, who was separated from the Washburn expedition that set out to explore the wild and wondrous land that is now Yellowstone National Park. Blunder after blunder led everts to lose both his horse and a supply horse, a pistol, and two knives. He lit the forest on fire twice, accidentally slept in a bear’s den, and spent days in a tree after being chased up it by a mountain lion. Yet miraculously, he survived.

Find Gaze at the National Parks, Parklandia, Everybody’s National Parks and America’s National Parks on any podcast app. We hope you’ll subscribe to them all.

And please make sure to join in the National Park Week Fun by checking out all of the posts from the National Parks Creative Exchange and the National Park Service on any of our social media accounts, and by following the hashtag #NationalParkWeek.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

Angel of the Battlefield

This episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with narration by Abigail Trabue.

Listen below:

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, or Clara, as she wished to be called, was only ten years old when she assigned herself the task of nursing her brother David back to health after he fell from the roof of a barn and received a severe head injury. She learned how to distribute the prescribed medication to her brother, as well as how to place leeches on his body to bleed him (a standard treatment at the time). She continued to care for David long after doctors had given up. He made a full recovery.

In this difficult time in the world, we look to heroes from our past as inspiration to help us find the resolution to possess even a small fraction of their helping spirit. Clara Barton’s life’s work began with her brother David but never ceased. The effects of her tenacity have rippled through the generations, and, in fact, the response to today’s pandemic crisis might have been very different were she never born.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, one of the most decorated women in American history, and the Clara Barton National Historic Site.

Introduction to Clara Barton:

Clara was a timid child all through her early life. To overcome her shyness, her parents persuaded her to become a schoolteacher. She achieved her first teacher’s certificate in 1839, at only 17 years old. She served for 12 years in schools in Canada and West Georgia. Barton fared well as a teacher; she knew how to handle rambunctious children, particularly the boys since as a child, she enjoyed her male cousins’ and brothers’ company. She learned how to act like them, making it easier for her to relate to and control the boys in her care. After her mother’s death in 1851, the family home closed down and Barton decided to further her education by pursuing writing and languages at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York, where she developed many friendships that broadened her point of view on many issues occurring at the time.

She returned to teaching, and in 1852, she was contracted to open the first-ever free school in New Jersey. She was successful, and after a year, she had hired another woman to help teach over 600 people. Both women were making $250 a year. This accomplishment compelled the town to raise nearly $4,000 for a new school building. Once completed, though, Barton was replaced as principal by a man elected by the school board. They saw the position as head of a large institution to be unfitting for a woman. She was demoted to “female assistant” and worked in a harsh environment until she had a nervous breakdown along with other health ailments, and quit.

The experience led her to quit teaching and move to Washington D.C. where she began work as a clerk in the US Patent Office. This was the first time a woman had received a substantial clerkship in the federal government and at a salary equal to a man’s salary. For three years, she received abuse and slander from male clerks until her position was reduced to that of copyist, and in 1856, under the administration of James Buchanan, she was fired because of her politics. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, she returned to the patent office as a temporary copyist, in the hopes that she could make way for more women in government service.

Her future would change when the first units of federal troops poured into the capital in 1861. The war had just begun, the troops were newly recruited, and residents in the capital were alarmed and confused. Barton perceived an immediate need in all this chaos for providing personal assistance to the men in uniform, some of whom were already wounded, many hungry, and some without bedding or any clothing except what they had on their backs.

She started by taking supplies to the young men of the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry who had been attacked in Baltimore, Maryland, by southern sympathizers and were temporarily housed in the unfinished Capitol building. Barton quickly discovered that many were “her boys,” as she put it; she had grown up with some of them and some she had even taught.

She collected some relief supplies herself, appealed to the public for others, and learned how to store and distribute them. Besides supplies, Barton offered personal support to the men in hopes of keeping their spirits up: she read to them, wrote letters for them, listened to their personal problems, and prayed with them. She knew, however, that where she was needed most was not behind the lines in Washington but on the battlefields where the suffering was greatest.

Barton prodded leaders in the government and the army until she was given passes to bring her voluntary services and medical supplies to the scenes of battle and field hospitals. Following the battle of Cedar Mountain in northern Virginia in August 1862, she appeared at a field hospital at midnight with a wagon-load of supplies drawn by a four-mule team. The surgeon on duty, overwhelmed by the human disaster surrounding him, wrote later, “I thought that night if heaven ever sent out an angel, she must be one—her assistance was so timely.” Thereafter she was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” as she served the troops at the battles of Fairfax Station, Chantilly, Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Charleston, Petersburg and Cold Harbor.

At Antietam, she ordered the drivers of her supply wagons to follow the cannon and traveled all night, actually pulling ahead of military medical units. While the battle raged, she and her associates dashed about bringing relief and hope to the field. She nursed, comforted, and cooked for the wounded.

Barton’s Story of Antietam, In Her Own Words:

On the way to Antietam, my wagons were at the rear of the army; the road was filled for ten miles with a solid moving mass. It was impossible to get by until they stopped for the night. You understand that if one wagon tries to pass another at such a time, it simply is pushed into the ditch. But at dusk, the train drew to one side of the road and halted for the night. At midnight I directed my drivers to harness quietly and drive on past them, if possible, without creating suspicion. We made the entire ten miles before daybreak and took our place in the rear of the headquarters wagon and moved on next day unquestioned – passing the field of South Mountain, the guns of which had rung in our ear all the day before. On the evening of the 16th of September we reached the valley of Antietam.

It was a miserable night. There was a sense of impending doom. We knew, every one knew, that two great armies of 80,000 men were lying there face to face, only waiting for dawn to begin the battle. It gave a terrible sense of oppression. Then the came was in a hollow which was filled with men and beasts; it was all used and made fetid by this press of human beings and animals. Before dawn I went up on the hill, and there I could sweep the country with my glass, see the countless watchfires of both armies, lying face to face, ready to spring, yet not a man to be seen. Before I left the hill, the dawn came, and the firing began away on the right. There was to be the beginning of the battle, and there I should be needed first. I hastened down; my men were all ready with their wagons, and ordered them to drive to the right, eight miles. We galloped the whole distance, and drew up behind the line of artillery which was covering our infantry and slanted away to the left. There was a big cornfield, and we drove in, and up towards an old barn which was standing in the midst. My men unharnessed the mules and tied them to the wheels and we were ready for work. They were always my helpers. We knew the wounded were in there somewhere, the men went in search of them. The corn was immensely tall, it entirely hid the house from us. Presently, the men came back saying, “yes, they are over there, the tables and surgeons” and I followed them through the corn and came upon the house. It had a high, broad verandah, and on this every kind of thing that pretended to be a table was standing, and on the tables were the poor men, and beside them the surgeons. They were the same with whom I had just been at the second Bull Run.

“The Lord has remembered us!” “You are here again”
“And did you want me?” I asked.
“Want you! Why, we want you above all things, and we want everything.”
“I have everything,” I replied
“Look here,” he said, “see what we need, and how much we need it, we have no more chloroform, no more bandages nor lint, no more liquor, nothing. See here” and he showed me some poor fellows whose raw new wounds were actually dressed with those rough corn leaves.

And this was the beginning of the battle. You must know that we had passed the supplies the night before; they could not come up until the fate of the day was decided. Those were their orders; they must not risk falling into the hands of the enemy. That was the point I always tried to make, to bridge that chasm, and succor the wounded until the medical aid and supplies should come up. I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner and I tried to fill that gap. My men unloaded the wagons, and brought up everything the good women of the country had provided; the wounded kept pouring in, and we kept working over them. After a time my stores for feeding the men began to give out; not the other things, oh no there were plenty of those; but of food I had naturally not enough for thousands, and by afternoon the line of wounded stretched out for five miles.

A curious thing happened there. I had twelve cases of wine, the first nine opened were packed in sawdust; but the last three, when we were nearly in despair of food, were packed in corn meal. My men were almost superstitious over that; they had the idea it must have changed some way from sawdust to meal. It was a lucky sign too, for when we went into the house to reconnoitre for food; down in the cellar we found three barrels of Indian meal and a bag of salt; there were three or four great kettles in and about the house, and we made gruel, gruel, gruel and my men carried it up and down the…

Towards sunset the third charge was made on the line of artillery covering our infantry. Of course, all day the cannonading had been close upon us; but the house and corn field were under the lee of a hill and the enemy’s guns were mostly trained on that hill so that the firing went over us. The upper stories of the house were riddled to be sure and several shells fell in among us and at the edge of the verandah, yet none explored to do harm, fortunately.

This third charge was the most terrific artillery duel I ever heard, and I have had some experience. The tables jarred and rolled until we could hardly keep the men on them, and the roar was overwhelming. After a while I looked around, and to my surprise saw all the surgeons gone, except one man, the chief, who was standing by a table where a man lay, but there was no one to help him with the operation.

“What has become of your assistants?” said I going up to him. “Don’t blame them, madam” said he. “They have been here through ghastly scenes since daylight and then cannonading is nerve-breaking. Don’t blame them that they have retired, and some have gone down the line to the wounded.”
“Very well” said I, “and how about this man? Do you want to go on with the operation? Can I assist you?”
“Can you stand it?” said he.
“Oh, yes” said I, and I took the chloroform. He gave me directions and we tended the man through the whole of the frightful firing.

With night the firing ceased, and I went to see about lighting up the barn. I had brought plenty of lanterns with me this time… When I came back from the barn I went into the house where I saw a solitary light burning. The surgeon was sitting in one of those dark, dank rooms with two inches of a candle by him, and his head on his hand, the picture of despair.

“You are tired, doctor” I said, going to him and putting my hand on his shoulder.
“Tired” he exclaimed, lifting his head with a wrathful gleam in his eyes, “yes, I am tired of this human incompetence, this neglect and folly which leaves me alone with all these soldiers on my hands, five hundred of whom will die before daybreak unless they have attention, and I with no light by that two inches of candle,” and he let his head fall on his hand again.
“Come, doctor”, said I gently, for from my heart I pitied him, “I want to show you something.” I took him to the door, and told him to look towards the barn; it was like a garden illumination of Chinese lanterns.
“What are they?” said he in amazement.
“Lanterns” said I.
“Lanterns, where did they come from?”

“I brought them. The men will be here in a few moments to light the house. You will have plenty of light and plenty of assistance. Don’t despair in your good work doctor”. He didn’t say a word, but he looked at me, and afterward set his own particular guard to keep close by me all the time, to follow me like my shadow … so that I should always have some one at my elbow to help me. The doctor and I have been good friends ever since. We worked through that long bloody night together, and the next morning the supplies came up, my things were all gone, my strength was all gone, they made up a bed for me of an old coverlet on the floor of a wagon; and I lay down on it, and was jogged back to Washington, eighty miles. When I reached there, and looked in the mirror, my face was still the color of gunpowder, a deep blue. Oh yes I went to the front!

American Red Cross:

Toward the end of the war, Clara Barton found herself writing to many families who inquired about men who had been reported missing. Here, again, she recognized a pressing human need and did something practical to address it. In the month before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln wrote: “To the Friends of Missing Persons: Miss Clara Barton has kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please address her . . . giving her the name, regiment, and company of any missing prisoner.” Barton established the “Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army” and operated it out of her rooms in Washington for four years. She and her assistants received and answered over 63,000 letters and identified over 22,000 missing men.

She participated in establishing a national cemetery around the graves of the Union men who died in the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. With the help of Dorence Atwater, who had secretly tabulated a list of the dead during his own imprisonment in Andersonville, and a team of 30 military men, Barton identified the graves of nearly 13,000 men. After she helped raise the U.S. flag over the Andersonville grounds at their dedication in 1865, she wrote, “I ought to be satisfied. I believe I am.”

She wasn’t.

Clara visited Europe in search of rest in 1869, where she was introduced to the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, and read a book written by the founder of the global Red Cross network, who called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime without respect to nationality and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis.

The first treaty embodying the Red Cross ideal was negotiated in Geneva in 1864 and ratified by 12 European nations, now known as the Geneva Convention.

With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Clara Barton once again went into a war zone. To protect herself with the newly accepted international symbol of the Red Cross (the reverse of the Swiss national flag which bears a white cross on a red field), she fashioned a cross out of red ribbon she was wearing and made tireless efforts to help the men on the field in countries far from her own.

Barton returned to America, intent on getting a country in reconstruction after a long and bitter war to ratify the Geneva Convention accords. Armed with a letter from the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Barton took her appeal to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, but he looked on the treaty as a possible “entangling alliance” and rejected it. His successor, President James Garfield, was supportive and seemed ready to sign it when he was assassinated. Finally, Garfield’s successor, Chester Arthur, signed the treaty in 1882, and a few days later, the Senate ratified it.

Clara Barton, became the founder of the American Red Cross and would lead it for the next 23 years.

The Red Cross received its first congressional charter in 1900 and a second in 1905, the year after Barton resigned from the organization. The most recent version of the charter–which was adopted in May 2007 restates the traditional purposes of the organization, which include giving relief to and serving as a medium of communication between members of the American armed forces and their families and providing national and international disaster relief and mitigation.

The American Red Cross, with Barton at its head, was largely devoted to disaster relief for the first 20 years of its existence. The Red Cross flag flew officially for the first time in this country in 1881 when Barton issued a public appeal for funds and clothing to aid victims of a devastating forest fire in Michigan. In 1884, she and 50 volunteers arrived in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to help the survivors of a dam break that caused over 2000 deaths. In 1892, she organized assistance for Russians suffering from famine by shipping them railroad cars of Iowa cornmeal and flour. After a hurricane and tidal wave left over 5,000 dead on the Sea Islands of South Carolina in 1893, Barton’s Red Cross labored for 10 months, helping the predominantly African-American population recover and reestablish their agricultural economy. In 1896, Barton directed relief operations on behalf of victims of unrest in Turkey and Armenia, the sole woman and only Red Cross advocate the Turkish government allowed to intervene. During her last relief operation, in 1900, Barton distributed over $120,000 in financial assistance and supplies to survivors of the hurricane and tidal wave that struck Galveston, Texas, and caused more than 6,000 deaths.

During the Third International Red Cross Conference in Geneva in 1884, Barton proposed an amendment to the Geneva Treaty calling for expansion of Red Cross relief to include victims of natural disasters. Although some national societies were dubious, the resolution passed and became known as the “American Amendment.”

Over the years, several countries honored Barton with decorations, such as the German Iron Cross for her relief work in the Franco-Prussian War and the Silver Cross of Imperial Russia for the supplies provided during the famine of 1892.

The American Red Cross moved in a new direction near the end of Barton’s tenure as head of the organization when they delivered supplies and services to Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Recipients of Red Cross aid included members of the American armed forces, prisoners of war, and Cuban refugees. This was the first time that the American Red Cross provided assistance to American armed forces and civilians during wartime.

In addition to leading the Red Cross, Barton maintained interests in other fields, such as education, prison reform, women’s suffrage, and civil rights.

Barton resigned as president of the American Red Cross in 1904. Leaving the organization she created, Barton turned her attention to establishing the National First Aid Association of America and served as its honorary president for five years. This organization, though small and short-lived, emphasized basic first aid instruction, emergency preparedness, and the development of first aid kits. She published several books on her life and on the Red Cross before she died on April 12, 1912, at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, and was buried in the Barton family cemetery plot in Oxford, Massachusetts.

Barton’s legacy to the nation—service to humanity—is reflected in the services provided daily by the employees and volunteers of the American Red Cross throughout the nation and in troubled spots around the world.

Visiting the Clara Barton National Historic Site:

Barton’s family donated her papers and awards, along with numerous mementos, to the Library of Congress. The National Park Service manages what is now the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Glen Echo, which offers daily tours.

Glen Echo was her home for the last 15 years of her life and acted as the Red Cross Headquarters upon her arrival to the house in 1897. The structure illustrates her dedication and concern for those less fortunate than herself.

It’s the first National Historic Site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman and preserves the early history of the American Red Cross. The National Park Service has restored eleven rooms, including the Red Cross offices, the parlors, and Barton’s bedroom.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

The Return of the Wolves

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with narration by Abigail Trabue and audio from the National Park Service.

In the battle for conservation and the protection and reinvigoration of endangered species, one animal serves as a symbol to remind us of what we’ve done as a human race, and how we have the responsibility to fix our mistakes. And it all played out in America’s first and most famous National Park.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks, Yellowstone National Park, and the 25th anniversary of the return of the Grey Wolf.

Listen below:

History of the Grey Wolf and Yellowstone:

In the 1800s, westward expansion brought settlers and their livestock into direct contact with native predator and prey species. Much of the wolves’ prey base was destroyed as agriculture flourished. With the prey removed, wolves began to hunt domestic stock, which resulted in humans eliminating wolves from most of their historical range.

Predator control, including poisoning, was practiced in the park in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and other predators such as bears, cougars, and coyotes were also killed to protect livestock and “more desirable” wildlife species, such as deer and elk.

The gray wolf was present in Yellowstone when the park was established in 1872. Today, it is difficult for many people to understand why early park managers would have participated in the extermination of wolves. After all, the Yellowstone National Park Act of 1872 stated that the Secretary of the Interior “shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said Park.” But this was an era before people, including many biologists, understood the concepts of ecosystem and the interconnectedness of species.

At the time, the wolves’ habit of killing prey species was considered “wanton destruction” of the animals, and between 1914 and 1926, at least 136 wolves were killed in the park. By the 1940s, wolf packs were rarely reported. By the mid-1900s, they had been almost entirely eliminated not only from Yellowstone but from the 48 states.

An intensive survey in the 1970s found no evidence of a wolf population in Yellowstone, although an occasional wolf probably wandered into the area. A wolf was filmed in Hayden Valley in August 1992, and a wolf was shot just outside the park’s southern boundary in September 1992. However, no verifiable evidence of a breeding pair of wolves existed.

Back in the 1960s, National Park Service wildlife management policy changed to allow populations to manage themselves. Many suggested at the time that for such regulation to succeed, the wolf had to be a part of the picture. National awareness of environmental issues and consequences had led to the passage of many laws designed to correct the mistakes of the past and help prevent similar mistakes in the future. One such law was the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973. Requiring by law the restoration of endangered species that have been eliminated to an area, if possible. By 1978, all wolf subspecies were on the federal list for the lower 48 states except Minnesota.

Doug Smith is the Senior Wildlife Biologist with Yellowstone National Park.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 1987 Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan proposed reintroduction of an “experimental population” of wolves into Yellowstone.
In 1991, Congress provided funds to prepare an environmental impact statement. In June 1994, after several years and a near-record number of public comments, the Secretary of the Interior approved the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho.

Park staff completed site planning and archeological and sensitive-plant surveys for the release sites. Each site was approximately one acre enclosed with 9-gauge chain-link fence in 10 x 10-foot panels. The fences had a two-foot overhang and a four-foot skirt at the bottom to discourage climbing over or digging under the enclosure. Each pen had a small holding area attached to allow a wolf to be separated from the group if necessary for medical treatment. Plywood boxes provided shelter if the wolves wanted isolation from each other.

Canadian wildlife biologists captured wolves in Canada and relocated and released them in both Yellowstone and central Idaho. In mid-January 1995, 14 wolves were temporarily penned in Yellowstone; the first eight wolves on January 12, and the second six on January 19, 1995. Wolves from one social group were together in each acclimation pen. On January 23, 1996, 11 more animals were brought to Yellowstone for the second year of wolf restoration. Four days later they were joined by another six.

Each wolf was radio-collared, and while temporarily penned, they experienced minimal human contact. Twice a week, they were fed elk, deer, moose, or bison that had died in and around the park. They were guarded by law enforcement rangers who minimized how much the wolves saw humans. The pen sites and surrounding areas were closed to visitation and marked to prevent unauthorized entry. Biologists checked on the welfare of the wolves twice each week, using telemetry or visual observation while placing food in the pens.

Several lawsuits were filed to stop the restoration on a variety of grounds. These suits were consolidated, and in December 1997, the judge found that the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone and central Idaho violated the intent of the Endangered Species Act because there was a lack of geographic separation between fully protected wolves already existing in Montana and the reintroduction areas in which special rules for wolf management apply. The judge wrote that he had reached his decision “with utmost reluctance.” He ordered the removal (specifically not the killing) of reintroduced wolves and their offspring from the Yellowstone and central Idaho experimental population areas, then immediately stayed his order, pending appeal. The Justice Department appealed the case, and in January 2000 the decision was reversed.

Although five years of reintroductions were predicted, no transplants occurred after 1996 because of the early success of the reintroductions.

That was 25 years ago. So how is the experiment working?

Here’s ranger Beth Taylor to describe the cascade of changes the reintroduction of wolves has spawned:

The future of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will depend on how livestock depredation and hunting of wolves outside the park are handled. Wolf populations will also continue to be affected by the availability of elk, deer, and bison, which fluctuates in response to hunting quotas, winter severity, and disease. To what extent wolves may have contributed to the decline in the northern Yellowstone elk population since the mid- 1990s, or the possibly related resurgence of willow in some areas, is an ongoing topic of debate.

The reintroduction of wolves has provided biologists like Doug Smith with invaluable information about the lives and behaviors of wolves:

Humans have made disastrous environmental mistakes ever since they had the strength and numbers to attempt to tame the land. But humans also have the power to fix those mistakes.

Visiting Yellowstone National Park:

Yellowstone National Park is the best place in the world to see wolves in the wild. But where do you go? The Lamar Valley of course.

Ranger Beth Taylor again:

Wolves are not normally a danger to humans, unless humans habituate them by providing them with food. No wolf has attacked a human in Yellowstone, but a few attacks have occurred in other places.
Like coyotes, wolves can quickly learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food. This can lead to aggressive behavior toward humans.

Never feed a wolf or any other wildlife. Do not leave food or garbage outside unattended. Make sure the door is shut on a garbage can or dumpster after you deposit a bag of trash. Treat wolves with the same respect you give any other wild animal.

To date, eight wolves in Yellowstone National Park have become habituated to humans. Biologists successfully conducted aversive conditioning on some of them to discourage being close to humans, but two had to be killed.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

Oh Shenandoah

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with narration by Abigail Trabue.

Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., is an escape to recreation and re-creation. Cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, and quiet wooded hollows – 200,000 acres of protected lands are a haven to deer, songbirds, the night sky. But the history of this land is also the history of the people who gave up their homes for a great national park in the East.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, Shenandoah National Park, and the livelihood of the people who called the mountains their home.

Listen below:

Introduction to Shenandoah National Park:

The drive to establish a large national park in the east dates at least to meetings held in Washington in the first years of the 1900s between Virginia and Tennessee Congressmen. Although a bill to establish a park was drafted, nothing came of this early effort.

The concept languished until 1923 when National Park Service Director Stephen Mather approached Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of the Interior and former Colorado psychiatrist, Hubert Work, with a request to establish a national park in the southern Appalachians. Work asked Congress to authorize an unpaid Southern Appalachian National Park Committee. The committee developed and published a broadly distributed questionnaire inviting public input into suggested sites for the new park area.

The timing of the establishment of the committee could not have been more advantageous for Shenandoah Valley boosters. In early January 1924, businessmen in Harrisonburg, Virginia, had put out the call for a convention to be held on January 15 to rally their resources together in a program that would tell the world of the scenic, historical, industrial, and other values of the Shenandoah Valley. Whether the timing of this event was serendipitous or based on a knowledge of Work’s congressional proposal is unknown, but almost 1,000 delegates attended the convention, representing thirteen Valley counties. The delegates established a regional Chamber of Commerce, Incorporated, and elected a thirty man Board of Directors, composed of the most influential businessmen, bankers, and politicians. The first Board meeting passed a resolution calling for the creation of a new national park in the Shenandoah Valley on lands owned by the Forest Service and private parties but to the west of the future Shenandoah National Park.

By June 1924, George Freeman Pollock, owner, and manager of the well-established Skyland Resort located in the heart of the future park, along with Harold Allen, Criminal Investigator for the Department of Justice, and George H. Judd, owner of Judd & Detweiler Publishing Company, filled out the questionnaire, advocating the creation of a national park along the Blue Ridge spine with a central focus on Skyland.

Between September and December of 1924, the members of the committee visited the proposed park sites individually and in groups. The business boosters from the Valley and Skyland had been busy in preparation.

“We have already ridden several hundred miles over the area, we have seven towers built upon high points, several trails blazed the whole length of the Blue Ridge… and we have the whole country-side aware to the fact that the Commissioners [sic] are coming.”

Shenandoah Valley, Inc. Spent over $10,000 in their campaign to sell the Blue Ridge site, and in December, the Committee presented their report to the Secretary of the Interior. The report recognized that the Great Smoky Mountains were the most picturesque of the visited areas, but felt that the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia had the greater advantage of accessibility to the 40,000,000 visitors within a day’s drive of the area. They noted:

“The greatest single feature, however, is a possible skyline drive along the mountain top, following a continuous ridge and looking down westerly on the Shenandoah Valley… and commanding a view [to the East] of the Piedmont Plain…. Few scenic drives in the world could surpass it.”

Congress passed legislation on February 21, 1925, allocating $20,000 for the survey and evaluation of proposed parks in the Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave (Kentucky legislatures would not support the bill without this inclusion), and Shenandoah National Park. The authorization envisioned Shenandoah as a park of 521,000 acres, a figure soon reduced to 400,000, and with a stipulation that Virginia purchase the land and present it to the federal government.

Congress to that time had established parks only on government land or on land donated for park establishment – it was not about to break prior precedent.

On July 7, 1925, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Shenandoah Valley, Inc., formed the Shenandoah National Park Association, Inc. in Charlottesville for the sole purpose of collecting funds and donated land for the proposed park. The Association set as its goal the raising of $2,500,000, a figure estimated to be the cost of purchasing 400,000 acres at $6.00/acre. By April 1926, $1,249,154 had been pledged, and the committee felt confident enough to recommend that Congress authorize Shenandoah National Park. The bill passed on May 14 and was signed by Calvin Coolidge on May 22, 1926. Shenandoah would become a reality when Virginia donated a minimum of 327,000 acres to the federal government.

Governor Harry F. Byrd established the Virginia Conservation and Development Commission in April 1926 to take over the management of funds collected for the park. The new Commission was headed by William Carson, Byrd’s former campaign manager, and had a mandate to survey, appraise, and purchase the estimated 4,000 properties within the authorized boundary. As time passed, landowner resistance mounted, and actual property values became more evident or inflated due to government purchase. Carson convinced the Commonwealth legislature to enact a blanket condemnation law. The legislation was passed in Virginia in December 1927, survived Commonwealth Supreme Court challenges in October 1929, but was not finally resolved until the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case in December 1935. On December 26, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes officially accepted the legally cleared deeds.

Because of the unresolved legal status of the park land, National Park Service planning and development of Shenandoah from 1931-1935 was confined to three primary locations: the narrow 100′ right-of-way for the Skyline Drive, purchased from willing landowners happy to see modern road access to their adjacent properties, the more than 6,000 acres at Skyland and White Oak Canyon owned by booster George Pollock, and the lands purchased by the Commonwealth at Big Meadows.

From 1931-1933 Herbert Hoover (intimately familiar with the park area because of his fishing camp within the park boundary) supported the expenditure of significant sums of public works funds to build the initial 32 miles of Skyline Drive connecting his camp, Big Meadows, Skyland, and Thornton Gap.

After F.D.R.’s inauguration in 1933 and the establishment of six Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Shenandoah by the year’s end, construction and development exploded – primarily as highly visible public relations efforts to bolster Roosevelt’s campaign to fight the negative psychological impacts of the Great Depression.

There was no official master plan behind the development of Shenandoah at the time. The Commonwealth of Virginia and business interests sought to have a national park because of the economic stimulus it would provide; George Pollock naively thought that he would retain his Skyland, and many of the commercial lodging and mineral-rights owners of park land thought that they would share in a harvest of greatly inflated land values. And no one seemed to have given serious thought to the 400-500 mountain families that had no desire to move from their homes.

Hard Scrabble Mountain life was the closest tie to the pre-civil war days America had at the time. Their life in the years before the National Park had grown exponentially harder, as their primary source of income was forbidden by constitutional amendment.

Importance of Liquor to the People of the Region:

Reed Engle, former National Park Service Cultural Resource Specialist, explains the importance of liquor to the people of the region in his essay “Thoughts on Whiskey.”

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, establishing the prohibition of “intoxicating liquors,” would not have been ratified in an earlier age. Although there had been vocal forces in the 1830s advocating prohibition, the population of the United States was then too rural and too agricultural to support a movement that threatened a significant element of farm and homestead economy.

By 1920, the majority of the electorate was no longer dependent on radically shifting agricultural market economics, the transportation system had improved, and the national taste for the so-called “demon rum” had changed, although not abated.

Alcoholic beverages were the coffee and cola upon which the frontier was tamed.

Tree fruits were grown primarily to drink, frequently to feed hogs, and only incidentally to eat. “Our…forebears were prodigious drinkers of a great variety of liquors, fermented and distilled,” read Stevenson Whitcomb Fletcher’s 1951 book “Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life.” “They viewed waters, for drinking purposes, with deep suspicion if not aversion….The requirements of a family were from ten to fifty [31.5 gallon] barrels [of cider] annually.”

In almost every farm home, a barrel of hard cider was constantly on tap. Foaming pitchers were brought to the table at every meal. When milk was scarce small children drank diluted cider.

And apples and other fruit were not the only source of the liquid staple.

For nearly a century, a considerable proportion of the corn and rye produced in Pennsylvania was marketed as whiskey. This liquor was the almost universal beverage of men, women, and children. There was little or no moral or religious sentiment against it then.

Lest it be thought that Pennsylvanians had an unusual habit, a 1785 letter from John Joyce to Robert Dickson should set the issue to rest:

“As to the Drink chiefly used in this colony [Virginia], it is generally Cyder, every planter having an orchard; they make from 1000 to 5 or 6000 [gallons] according to their rank and Fortune… the very meanest and hilly Lands are proper for the Peachtree, every planter almost having an Orchard of these trees, the Brandy made from that Fruit, I think, is excellent, and they make it in sufficient quantities.”

The Carter family of Nomini Hall typically consumed 560 gallons of rum and 150 gallons of brandy in a year.

Habit and custom, however, were also driven by simple economic forces. Agricultural commodity prices were tremendously variable in the 18th and 19th centuries: good crop years were often rewarded with declining prices in a time before Federal price supports. Thus alternative and derivative products were made, such as distilling rye flour.

Thomas Jefferson, ever one to experiment in his agricultural and horticultural activities, brewed beer, and in 1792 saw the value in liquid grains. As he wrote to George Divers:

“As I propose to purchase a still here for the use of my plantations, & understand there is a good deal in the size, proportion & number of the vessels, I take the liberty of requesting you to inform me what particulars I had better provide. I make this appeal…proposing nothing more than the distillation of my own grain & fruit.”

Divers responded to Jefferson that he “would advise you to purchase One Still and a Copper Kettle of Sixty Gallons with which you may make from 70 to 80 Gallons of whiskey per Week & feed 60 or 70 Hogs on the spent mash.”

Fresh vegetables and fruit were rarely grown for the markets of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Market reports carried in the newspapers of the day often noted prices for dried fruits (particularly apples and peaches), but consistently reported the price of hard cider and peach brandy. Liquid grain was an economic staple, according to Fletcher’s who wrote:
“There was a time…when whiskey was the one commodity that had a standard value and all the mediums of barter and exchange, such as corn, salt, tobacco, etc., were valued in accordance with the amount of whiskey they could fetch. When coin was almost unknown…a whiskey still was as necessary as a grist mill…Nearly every fifth or sixth farm had a copper still.”

The third driving force for the production of whiskey, brandy, and hard cider was the limitations imposed by transportation. Roads in rural areas then, and in some areas, today, were not supportive of significant agricultural commerce. Whiskey was the only farm product that it would pay to transport over the Alleghenies to Philadelphia and Baltimore. A pack-horse could carry twenty-four bushels of rye as whiskey but only four as grain.

A typical horse or mule-drawn farm wagon typically held thirty bushels of apples, weighing 1440 pounds and occupying 141 cubic feet of space. Pressed as cider, the weight was reduced to 502 pounds, the volume to 7.6 cubic feet. As distilled applejack, the original wagon load yielded 11.4 gallons weighing about 100 pounds, a reduction to 1.1 percent of the original space, and 7 percent of the original weight. Transportation of the distilled product was both practical and economically advantageous.

Although much of America had improved roads by 1920, when the 18th Amendment passed, most deeply rural and mountainous areas remained, overflowing with the driving economic and social forces of the 18th and 19th centuries. A world where the copper boiler still turned bulky crops into liquid gold.

The actual number of residents in Shenandoah will never be precisely known because many moved before December 1935. The issue of the forced resettlement of 465 families between 1935 and 1937 represents a classic case of bureaucratic ineptitude. Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Interior, Ray Lyman Wilbur, long had expressed the Washington policy that park residents would not be disturbed unless they were in the direct path of development. Then on February 1, 1934, the new Director of the Park Service, Arno Cammerer, stated that all inhabitants of the park lands whether landowners, tenants, or squatters, would have to leave. At first, officials in Washington attempted to dump the entire problem on Virginia officials, but a flood of letters to the White House prompted action. The Department of Agriculture’s Resettlement Administration purchased 6,291 acres in seven locations bordering the proposed park to establish resettlement homestead communities.

By the spring of 1938, 42 elderly residents had been given life estates, 175 families had been relocated to resettlement communities, several families had been physically evicted, and their houses burned, and the majority of the mountain residents just left the mountain on their own.

Visiting Shenandoah National Park:

Shenandoah National Park today approaches 200,000 acres. Forty percent of the area is congressionally designated wilderness.

The park museum collections include several beautiful copper stills of varied forms, along with the corresponding copper “worms.” Earthenware jugs and stills were used in the past as “humorous” display objects to ridicule the “moonshining mountain folk,” but in reality, they represent the final chapters in a centuries-old American agricultural tradition.

Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s paradise with over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

You can drive or bike Skyline Drive, which runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is the only public road through the park. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length on a clear day.

The speed limit is 35 mph, so you can roll down your windows, feel the breeze, and experience every curve and turn of this beautiful drive. There are nearly 70 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east.

RVs, camping trailers, and horse trailers are welcome, but be prepared to shift into low gear. One tunnel just south of the Thornton Gap entrance has a height restriction of 12’8″.

Deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels. Watch carefully for these animals who may dart across your path without warning.

Check out the operating hours and seasons, so you know what it is open in the Park before you arrive. Facilities tend to be limited during late fall and winter.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

News from the Parks | March 2020

Welcome to this month’s “News From the Parks,” where we round up for you the latest info about happenings at America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen below:

As travel restrictions, shelter-in-place orders, and closures to all but the most essential services sweep the country, the National Park Service has been caught in the middle of wanting to protect people and places, while providing recreational opportunities for Americans to get out and free their minds in nature.

On Wednesday the 18th, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt directed the National Park Service to temporarily suspend the collection of all park entrance fees until further notice.

“I’ve directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees at parks that remain open. This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks,” he said.

Other states and municipalities have implemented similar policies waiving fees to parks partly in an effort to support social distancing.

But the measure has a second motive, to keep rangers from interacting with the cash and credit cards of visitors.

At a majority of park locations where it is possible to adhere to public health guidance, outdoor spaces remain open to the public, while many facilities are closed.

But the reality of social distancing in a National Park isn’t as simple as it sounds. Narrow trails require people to pass within close proximity of each other. Scenic overlooks still attract crowds. And visiting an expansive park without access to restrooms and water creates a safety and sanitation problem.

More and more parks are realizing allowing for outdoor recreation during this time is an insurmountable challenge. While the Park Service is heavily encouraging social distancing, some individual parks are seeing a business-as-usual atmosphere among visitors.

Shenandoah National Park posted photos on its social media accounts of overcrowded parking areas at trailheads, saying “We are concerned that Saturday’s visitation patterns were in violation of CDC recommendations. If you are coming to the Park, please choose to visit areas that are not crowded to allow for adequate social distancing. This would include NOT hiking at Old Rag, Whiteoak Canyon, Dark Hollow Falls and other high-use trails. The Old Rag and Berry Hollow area became so congested on Saturday that local authorities had to close the road.”

The Coronavirus scare and park visitation is a particular problem for gateway communities outside of parks, which may operate limited healthcare facilities and emergency services.

Moab, Utah, and the surrounding three counties are a popular jumping off point for several National Park Service sites like Canyonlands and Arches. Local officials have enacted an order to close off to tourists. All overnight and short-term lodging facilities are required to be rented or leased only to primary residents of Carbon, Emery and Grand counties.

Brady Bradford, Moab health department director, said during a facebook streaming conference
“I feel like if we don’t take action now, our residents will suffer, our health care system will suffer,” he said. “If we take enough action now we will spread out the impact of the disease over many months.”

Bradford’s order includes dispersed camping on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land, and says that no camp can be located within 200 yards of another camp and no camp can host more than 10 visitors. “At this point we are asking people to suspend their visits,” he said, adding that new reservations for any type of lodging are restricted to residents or people in the region for work purposes.

The area hosts millions of visitors a year, but the Moab Regional Hospital has only 17 beds, no ICU and minimal capability to care for critical respiratory patients.

The virus also led nearby Zion National Park officials to announce suspension of shuttle service indefinitely, but that’s caused the park to be flooded with vehicles.

Many park service sites across the country have, in fact, closed or partially closed. Shortly after the State of California announced a shelter-in-place order, Yosemite announced a total closure.

White Sands National Park is closed, as is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and most of Hawai’i’s other National Park Service Sites. Much of the most visited park in the nation, Great Smoky Mountains, is closed, and The Everglades are closed for most land visitors, but access via water remains available.

In Colorado, officials pleaded to close Rocky Mountain National Park, where the mayor of gateway community Estes Park and the County’s public health director sent letters to the Department of the Interior making the request.

“On behalf of the Town of Estes Park, I am requesting the immediate closure of Rocky Mountain National Park, to assist our community, our county, and our state in addressing the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic.” he wrote.

Traffic in the park had been increasing as spring breakers were coming to Colorado, and as people who would otherwise be at the now-closed ski resorts headed to the park.

The mayor wrote that groceries and emergency services must be available to residents who live in the town, and a continued influx of visitors presents a grave public health concern to Estes Park and the surrounding communities. Estes Park’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced last week. Friday, Rocky Mountain National Park announced that it would close entirely, indefinitely.

Most small park service sites are closed, especially those that are indoors, and additional closures are constantly announced. The best resource for National Park Service closures, whether it be entire parks or campgrounds and activities is National Parks Traveler’s article detailing the latest updates. It’s the featured article on their homepage at

All of us at the America’s National Parks podcast would like to encourage you to get out and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible while practicing social distancing. But now isn’t the time to travel. Enjoy outdoor spaces in your local community. Take a scenic drive, a bike ride, or a hike. But remember that most visitor centers and restroom facilities in these spaces will be closed.

On a personal note, it’s hard to grasp the enormity of our current situation.

This time in our lives will certainly be remembered in a similar fashion as the days surrounding 9/11, or the Challenger explosion, or the Kennedy assassination. This time will be a guidepost in the story of all of our lives, especially for many of our children who are experiencing their first brush with this type of difficult situation.

Tragedies spawn innovation. Hopefully, 2020 will be remembered as the year before a biotech revolution. Before our healthcare system was reformed, and before sweeping innovations in emergency preparedness.

Half of all Americans misremember where they were and what they were doing on 9/11, only 19 years ago. Make sure to keep photos, notes, messages …anything to remember this time when we couldn’t shake hands, meet in person, or visit our most special places. Those memories will surely be appreciated fifty years from now.

Soon it will be time to Find Your Park again. Until then, remember that the primary purpose of our National Parks is not our enjoyment, but to protect the world for generations to come.

This will be our last “news from the parks” episode for a while. We’re going to return to only sharing stories of beauty, courage, hope, and life from our nation’s treasures next week. We hope you’ll continue to join us.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit

Connect with America’s National Parks Podcast on social media! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 37,000 strong. Visit to join.

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


In the far west, you can find one of the oldest living organisms in the world. A tree that can live for thousands of years due to its ability to survive whatever is thrown at it. But I’m not talking about California’s Giant Sequoias or the Great Redwoods. Fifty-six years ago, the oldest tree ever was found, containing nearly 5000 years of growth rings. It germinated before the Egyptian Pyramids were built. Unfortunately, nobody knew it was the oldest known tree until it was gone.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, Great Basin National Park, the Bristlecone Pine, and how one man accidentally killed the oldest tree in the world.

Listen below:

Bristlecone pines are the oldest known living trees and for good reason. They have many tricks that help them survive, like growing in twisted, gnarly shapes at high altitude, and an adaptation called “sectored architecture.” Sectored architecture means that the tree has roots that feed only the part of the tree directly above them. If one root dies, only the section of the tree above it dies, and the rest of the tree keeps living. You will often see bristlecone pines at high elevations with only one or two living sections, stripes of bark growing on an otherwise skeletal body. They can endure quite a bit of torture.

But nearly 60 years ago, the oldest living bristlecone met an untimely end.

History and Story of the Bristlecone Pine :

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. In these high-elevation environments, they grow very slowly. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire.

Bristlecone pines are often confused with limber pines. They can be found growing together at the same elevations. They are affected by the same erosional processes and may look very similar with dead and twisted wood exposed.

A bristlecone’s needles are about one inch long and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches. The tightly-bunched tufts of needles may extend back a foot or more along the branch, giving the branch the appearance of a bottle brush. The developing cones are a deep purple color, which helps to absorb heat, and mature after two years at which time they turn a brown color. The tree gets its name from the cones whose scales are each tipped with a claw-like bristle. They max out at around 20 feet tall.

In the summer of 1964, a geographer by the name of Donald R. Currey was researching ice age glaciology in the moraines of Wheeler Peak. He was granted permission from the United States Forest Service to take core samples from numerous bristlecone pines in an attempt to find the age of the glacial features those trees were growing on top of. Currey was studying the different widths of the rings inside these bristlecone pines, which were believed to be over 4,000 years old, to determine patterns of good and bad growing seasons in the past. Because of their old age, these trees act as climatic vaults, storing thousands of years of weather data within their rings. This method of research is valuable to the study of climate change.

Currey found a tree in this grove he believed to be well over 4,000 years old. It was known by local mountaineers as “Prometheus.” There are several accounts of how Prometheus met its end. Some say Currey’s increment borer, the tool used to take core samples, broke off in the tree. Others say he did not know how to core such a large tree, or that the borer was too short. Still, others say Currey felt he needed a full cross-section to better examine the rings of the tree. We may never know the true story of what happened to Prometheus, but we do know one thing for certain: Currey had permission from the Forest Service to have the tree cut down. Counting the rings later revealed that Prometheus contained 4,862 growth rings. Due to the harsh conditions, likely, a growth ring did not form every year. Therefore, Prometheus was estimated to be 4,900 years old, the oldest known tree of its time, and oldest tree ever dated — the runner-up being a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California. It was only 4,847 years old. It wasn’t until 2012 that an older tree was found – another bristlecone in the same area, proved to be 5,065 years old. There is a good chance there are older bristlecone pines that have not yet been dated.

According to ancient Greek myths, Prometheus was an immortal who brought fire, a symbol of knowledge, to humans. Prometheus the bristlecone pine also imparted a lot of knowledge to humans. The information gained by studying this significant tree added to the knowledge of carbon dating (which is valuable to archeologists and paleontologists) and climate data. Bristlecone pines are now protected on federal lands.

In the years since, the oldest known of the near prehistoric bristlecone pines was a tree nicknamed Methuselah, after the longest-lived person in the Bible. Methuselah is located in the White Mountains of California in a remote National Forest area between the Sierra Nevada range and the Nevada border.

Over 4,789 years old, the age of Methuselah was determined by the measurement of core samples taken in 1957, but discovered in this century. In 2013, another bristlecone pine in the area was discovered to be over 5,000 years old. Methuselah and its unnamed senior pine’s exact locations are kept a close secret in order to protect them. You can still visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you’ll have to guess at which tree it is.

Great Basin National Park:

The stump of Prometheus is all that remains of the ancient tree within the grove. If you would like to travel through history by counting the rings of Prometheus, you can do so at the Great Basin Visitor Center.

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years, don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occasionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

Bristlecone pines are often confused with limber pines. They can be found growing together at the same elevations. They are affected by the same erosional processes and may look very similar with dead and twisted wood exposed.

A bristlecone’s needles are about one inch long and grow in packets of five. The needles completely surround the branches. The tightly-bunched tufts of needles may extend back a foot or more along the branch, giving the branch the appearance of a bottle brush. The developing cones are a deep purple color, which helps to absorb heat, and mature after two years at which time they turn a brown color. The tree gets its name from the cones whose scales are each tipped with a claw-like bristle.

Limber pine trees, on the other hand, have needles in packets of five that are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long and grow only towards the ends of the branches. Also, the cones of the limber pine do not have bristles.

The Wheeler Peak bristlecone pine grove, the most accessible grove in the park, is located on the northeast side of Wheeler Peak. It is unusual in that it grows on a glacial moraine consisting of quartzite boulders. Most groves grow on limestone or dolomite. The northeastern exposure of the Wheeler Peak grove is also unusual as most other groves have a generally southern or western exposure. The Wheeler Peak grove is reached by a 1.5 mile (3 miles round trip) trail from Wheeler Peak Campground. A short self-guided nature trail passes through a portion of the grove. During the summer, the park offers ranger-led interpretive walks in this grove.

The largest grove of bristlecone pines in the park is on Mt. Washington. Located in the west central portion of the park, access is difficult. No developed trails exist in the grove. Some sections of this grove have relatively tall (over 40 feet) bristlecone pines that resemble high-elevation spruce or limber pine more than the typical gnarled treeline bristlecone pines. Unlike the Wheeler Peak grove, the trees on Mt. Washington grow exclusively on limestone. In fact, nearby quartzite areas are notable for their lack of bristlecones.

The third grove in the park is near Eagle Peak (Peak 10,842) on the ridge between the Snake Creek and Baker Creek drainages. The terrain is steep, and access is difficult. These bristlecones also grow exclusively on limestone soils, while granitic soils in the area lack bristlecones.

From a 13,063-foot summit to the sage-covered foothills, Great Basin National Park is a place to sample the stunning diversity of the larger Great Basin region in Eastern Nevada. Some come for the majesty of Wheeler Peak or the ancient bristlecone pines which cling to her flanks. Others enjoy the mystery of Lehman Caves or the immensity of the stars in the darkest night skies.

Taking a drive along the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a highlight of any visit to the Great Basin. A true mountain road, the scenic drive hugs the South Snake Range, slowly winding you to a point above all others, where vistas reach the horizon, and one is met with a pristine view of the rugged, harsh, yet surprisingly beautiful Great Basin Desert.

Starting at the Park boundary on Nevada Highway 488, the drive takes you on a paved 12 mile, out and back road to an elevation exceeding 10,000 feet above sea level, to the face of Wheeler Peak. Along this 12 mile road, you will gain over 4,000 feet in elevation and cross through numerous ecological zones, the equivalent of driving from Baker, Nevada, to the frozen Yukon, thousands of miles to the north. It is not uncommon to see mule deer, marmots, coyotes, jackrabbits, as you climb along the road.

Starting the drive by the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, you are already at an elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. By the 11th mile, you have reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. Ecologically, you have entered a region more characteristic of a Rocky Mountain alpine forest than that of the Nevada desert. Each aspen grove you see can be a single, living organism. Aspens reproduce through cloning by sending runners out underground that become new trees. Because of this, it is common that entire hillsides of aspens are all a single, genetically identical tree.
By the time you reach the Summit Trailhead, you have completed your journey from the harsh sagebrush flats to the surprisingly lush and diverse sub-alpine forests of the Snake Range.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

News From the Parks | February 2020

Welcome to February 2020’s “News From the Parks,” our monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen below:

2019 Visitation Numbers:

This month the National Park Service released its visitation numbers for 2019. Confirming that the parks continue to be a popular destination, 2019 was the fifth consecutive year that recreation visits exceeded 300 million, with a total of 327.5 million visitors – The third highest since record-keeping began in 1904. Additionally, visitation in 2019 surpassed 2018 by more than 9 million, a 2.9 percent increase. 

2019 also saw Thirty-three parks setting new recreation visitation records in 2019, with two parks breaking long-standing records – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, with 432,818 recreation visits surpassed a record held since 1976, and Capulin Volcano National Monument broke a 1968 record with 81,617 recreation visits in 2019.

Of the 419 National Park Service sites, three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits giving them the top spots of the year – Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From there, 11 parks had more than five million visits, and 80 parks had more than one million.

After Golden Gate, Blue Ridge the third through seventh most-visited sites in 2019 – Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gateway National Recreation Area, the Lincoln Memorial, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway – retained their 2018 order.

Visitation to the Natchez Trace Parkway finished just ahead of visitation to Grand Canyon National Park for the eighth most-visited site.

Gulf Islands National Seashore was number 10.

Of the 62 Congressionally Designated National Parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park with 12.5 million and Grand Canyon National Park with 5.97 million continue to hold the first and second most-visited national parks in the United States. Rocky Mountain National Park held on to third place and set a new visitation record at 4.67 million. Zion National Park stayed in fourth place, and Yosemite National Park recovered after a drop in 2018 due to wildland fires to move past Yellowstone National Park for fifth place. The remaining top 15 spots go to Yellowstone, Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Gateway Arch National Park. 

If you’d like to read even more 2019 numbers check out this article from RV Miles:

Mount Rainer Closes:

With heavy snowfall and life-threatening mudslides and flooding, Mount Rainer National Park closed indefinitely early February. As of last Monday, the entrance on State Route 706 east of Ashford opened again, allowing visitors access to the Longmire and Paradise areas. Essential staff remained within the park during the closure, maintaining emergency access and services, as well as securing critical water, wastewater, electrical, and drainage infrastructure inside the park. 

Flooding within park boundaries caused damage to roads, trails, and historic structures, including the National Park Inn and other nationally-significant buildings within the Longmire National Historic Landmark District. Several buildings in Longmire lost critical systems as sump pumps were unable to keep up with water intrusion.

Elsewhere in the park, access to the Carbon River area is blocked due to a washout on Pierce County’s Fairfax Forest Reserve Road, and SR 410 is currently blocked by four slides near the park entrance. These roads will remain closed until they can be cleared of water and debris. 

Pierce County is projecting the Fairfax Forest Reserve Road will require a long-term closure and is assessing a detour route for future use.

COVID-19 May Impact Yellowstone Tourism Revenue:

As COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines, a major drop in tourism to Yellowstone is expected 2020, as the coronavirus continues to devastate mainland China, and the US tries to stave off its spread stateside.

About a quarter of all foreign visitors coming to the park are from China or nearly 10% of all visitors. 

Near Yellowstone, the hardest-hit gateway community will be West Yellowstone, Montana. Almost half of all visitors come through the West Entrance, and according to a recent article from, a publication serving Southwest Wyoming, businesses who have invested heavily in advertising to Asian populations will be impacted the most in the coming season, including tour bus companies, hotels, and gift shops.

The impact could be devastating for some vendors inside and outside the park. 

And while businesses are focused on the economic issues, the World Travel & Tourism Council is worried that any Asian tourists who do visit the United States may face discrimination. In a Salt Lake Tribune article, Tiffany Misrahi, vice-president of policy for the organization, expressed concern that the mainland China travel ban will only promote a stigma and increase discrimination, while doing nothing to protect against the virus saying, “evidence indicates that travel restrictions directed at individual countries are unlikely to keep the virus out of a nation’s borders while exacerbating the outbreak’s social and economic tolls.”

How long the effects of the coronavirus outbreak may last is uncertain, but its effects are far-reaching. “It is critical that during such challenging times the world comes together to promote a message of peace and tolerance, rather than discrimination and stigma,” Misrahi said. A Yellowstone spokesperson noted that visitors from China would be “treated like any other visitors to the park.” The tourism season for Yellowstone begins late spring and continues through early fall. 

The National Park Service has announced Jennifer Flynn, a 29-year veteran of the NPS, will step into the role associate director for visitor and resource protection beginning April 12th.

As associate director, Flynn will serve as the senior official responsible for 30 service-wide programs, 850 employees, and a budget exceeding $200 million. Her areas of responsibility will include law enforcement, security and emergency services, fire and aviation management, risk management and occupational safety, public health services, regulations, and special park uses, wilderness stewardship, the NPS component at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and the U.S. Park Police. 

National Park Releases New Short Video to Honor Black History Month:

The National Park Service marked Black History Month with a variety of new tours, exhibits, and digital media honoring and acknowledging the struggle, resilience, and beauty of the African American experience as reflected in America’s national parks.

As part of Black History Month, the NPS released a new short video titled Twenty & Odd.  Using vocal and artistic imagery to advance messages of African American empowerment, remembrance, education, inspiration and engagement, and featuring Dr. Maya Angelou’s recording of her poem “Still I Rise,” the video and its online companion guide were developed to encourage dialogue about racial equity, representation, and change within the social system.

The piece was filmed on location at more than a dozen National Park Service sites that highlight aspects of African American history and culture, including New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, African Burial Ground National Monument and Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site.

This month, several NPS sites celebrated birthdays including Jewel Cave National Park, Bandelier National Monument, and Death Valley National Park. 

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes RV Miles and See America. To learn more visit

To see the full collection of America’s National Parks Podcasts visit You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 37,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

101 Years Apart

This past Wednesday, Grand Canyon National Park’s Interpretive Rangers lowered the flag in honor of one of their own. A ranger who lived and worked at the park for the past 20 years, and became a favorite of visitors from far and wide.

After forty-eight jobs in five states, Ron Brown found his calling as an interpretive park ranger. It was his wife Pat’s life long dream, in fact. “She’s one of those little girls who from five years old, when daddy took her traveling to national parks, she fell in love with it and wanted to be a park ranger all her life,” Brown told KPBS. “I was smart enough to know I wanted whatever she wanted.” Pat passed away in 2014, and Ron joined her just days ago, peacefully in his sleep at his home in Grand Canyon Village.

Ranger Ron’s popularity among Grand Canyon visitors was undeniable. His foot-long silver beard and boisterous voice were instantly recognizable, and his tours and interpretive programs beloved. He relished in the sound of thousands of visitors gasping at their first sight of the canyon daily. YouTube videos of his speeches are titled with words like “Favorite” and “Best” U.S. Park ranger.

One of the programs Ranger Ron was best known for was his portrayal of the tall-tale spinning “Captain” John Hance.

Many of the details of the life of John Hance are unknown, especially since his own oral history was less than reliable. But what is known, is that he was the first non-Native American to live at the Grand Canyon. It is believed he was born around 1840 in Tennessee, and he likely fought in the Civil War as a Confederate. He used the title “Captain,” though he was never actually made one. Hance improved an old Havasupai trail into the canyon and tried to mine for gold, silver, and asbestos. Very quickly, however, Hance found a more lucrative calling: guiding visitors coming to see the newfound wonder of the west.

As time passed and tourism grew, Hance became a legendary fixture of the canyon. Visitors making their way down the treacherous Old Hance Trail would be entertained by stories of how the old frontiersman had dug the canyon himself or how his horse Darby could cross the canyon from rim to rim by galloping atop banks of fog. As Hance himself would once say, “I’ve got to tell stories to these people for their money; and if I don’t tell it to them, who will? I can make these tenderfeet believe that a frog eats boiled eggs, and I’m going to do it, and I’m going to make ’em believe he carries it a mile to find a rock to crack it on.”

One early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Here is the late Ranger Ron Brown as Captain John Hance:

According to a statement from Grand Canyon National Park, over his twenty years of service, Ranger Ron was “a teacher, a mentor to many rangers, and gave thousands of ranger programs to the visiting public. Working until just a week before his passing, he epitomized tenacity and devotion as an Interpretive Park Ranger.

Ron had the innate ability to connect visitors to Grand Canyon and help them find their own reason to love this place. He spent countless hours and devoted much of himself to coaching and encouraging new rangers to perfect his beloved craft of interpretation.”

Ron was one of only a handful of Interpretive Park Rangers to complete the rigorous Interpretive Development Program and accomplish all ten benchmarks. He also was the only Interpretive Park Ranger at Grand Canyon to receive the Interpreter of the Year Award twice.

Captain John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park. He was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery holds the stories of the great people who lived at the canyon — famous names from the park’s history, and tragic losses. The remains of 23 of the 128 people who died in the TWA-United mid-air collision over the Canyon in 1956 are buried at the cemetery. The collision took place in uncontrolled airspace, where it was the pilots’ own responsibility to maintain separation. From that tragedy came the development of the FAA and modern aircraft safety.

Ranger Ron gave tours of the cemetery, always ending up at his wife Pat’s grave. When she died from Cancer, he was allowed to choose a plot for both of them. He found the perfect spot, where twin pine trees grew together. Now, Ranger Ron Brown will be interred next to her. And he will be last person to be buried there, 101 years after John Hance, and in the 101st year of Grand Canyon National Park.

A Lasting Impact

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and hosted by Jason Epperson, with audio from Yosemite National Park.

Pictured: The US Geological Survey’s famous backcountry cook, Tie Sing.

The contributions of immigrants to our great nation are undeniable. Some of our greatest institutions were literally built on the backs of immigrants of all stripes. Our national parks are no exception. In the west, some of the most significant contributions to Yosemite National Park came from Chinese Americans.

Listen Below:

In the 19th century, a handful of Chinese came, mainly as merchants, former sailors, to America. The first Chinese people of this wave arrived in the United States around 1815. By 1880 there were 300,000 – a tenth of the Californian population, many who wanted to make their fortune in the 1849-era California Gold Rush, but mostly they came for work and a better life. They helped build the First Transcontinental Railroad, they worked Southern plantations after the Civil War, and they helped establish California agriculture and fisheries.

From the outset, they were met with the distrust and overt racism of settled European populations, ranging from massacres to pressuring Chinese migrants into what became known as Chinatowns. Laws were made to restrict them, including exorbitant special taxes like the Foreign Miners’ Tax Act of 1850. They were prohibited from marrying white European partners, which was particularly problematic because few Chinese women came to America early on.

In the early days of Yosemite Chinese immigrants played an important role in shaping the park that we know today. Park Ranger Yenyen Chan helps us explore their history.

Know Before You Go:

Yosemite is a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

Yosemite receives 95% of its precipitation between October and May and over 75% between November and March). Most of Yosemite is blanketed in snow from about November through May.

You can drive to Yosemite all year from the west, but the pass from the east is closed from around November through late May or June.

News from the Park | January 2020

Welcome to the January 2020’s “News From the Parks,” our monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen Below:

Wolves in Yellowstone:

Twenty-five years ago this month, trucks carrying wolves arrived at the North Entrance and marked the beginning of the species’ restoration in Yellowstone. The wolves would spend the next ten weeks in pens, acclimating to their new surroundings. On March 21, 1995, they were released–making it possible to see a wild wolf in Yellowstone for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Wolves were intentionally eradicated from the region in the early 1900s to protect cattle, a dispute that still exists with ranchers today. From 14 wolves reintroduced in 1995, there are now 14 packs in the greater Yellowstone area.

Norovirus Outbreak:

An outbreak of the Norovirus at Yosemite National Park has triggered a massive clean-up and sanitation of concessionaire services provided by Aramark. Since early January, 170 people who visited or work at the park have reported Norovirus symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

Norovirus spreads very easily, including through direct contact with an infected person, touching a surface or object contaminated with it, or eating food or drinking liquids that have been contaminated. Symptoms of norovirus usually begin 12–48 hours after exposure.

The virus appears to be eradicated, but the Park continues to undertake extensive cleaning and enhanced sanitation protocols.

Trespassing on Old Faithful:

Two men were recently sentenced for trespassing on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. Eric Schefflin, 20, of Lakewood, Colorado, and Ryan Goetz, 25, of Woodstock, New York pleaded guilty to the violation of thermal trespass. On September 10, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., employees and visitors witnessed the pair walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser and reported it to park dispatch.

Sentencing for each included:
10 days of incarceration
$540 in restitution
Five years of unsupervised probation
Five-year ban from Yellowstone National Park
Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said that “Visitors must realize that walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal. Law enforcement officers take this violation seriously. Yellowstone National Park also appreciates the court for recognizing the impact thermal trespass can have on these amazing features.”

The ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface. Visitors should always remain on boardwalks and exercise extreme caution around thermal features.

Yellowstone Visitation Drops, Smoky Mountains Soars:

In other news from Yellowstone, visitation to Yellowstone the Park in 2019 was at the lowest level in five years. The park recorded over 4 million visits, a 2.3 percent decrease from 2018 and a 5.6 percent decrease from the record-breaking year in 2016. The decrease is likely partially due to the closing for the Fishing Bridge RV park for renovations. Fishing Bridge hosts 350 campsites, the only in the park with RV hookups. It’s scheduled to re-open for the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, a record 12,547,743 people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2019. That’s 1.1 million more than in 2018 at America’s most visited park.

The park’s three primary entrances near Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cherokee all had increased use, accounting for about two-thirds of the total park visitation, a news release from the National Park Service said. Secondary park entrances experienced tremendous growth, due primarily to the new section of the Foothills Parkway. More than 1 million visitors enjoyed the new scenic driving experience.

Sharks in Mammoth Cave:

Scientists were floored to have identified the remains of 15 to 20 different species of sharks deep in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, including part of the head of a great white-sized shark that’s partially protruding from a wall.

The sharks lived about 330 million years ago when much of North America was covered in ocean. Their remains were encased in sediment that eventually became the limestone where the cave formed.

Mammoth Cave scientists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey were mapping a remote part of the cave when they started seeing shark fossils.

The fossils were found in a remote part of the park that people can’t visit without special permission, but they don’t want to reveal the exact location.
Eventually, they’ll display the fossils in the park and online. But, the project is just getting started, and it’s difficult to study fossils in a cave without damaging the cave environment.

Thurston Lava Tube:

The Thurston Lava Tube in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park could reopen within a month if a final repair project is successful. Thurston Lava Tube was one of several attractions at the park that were closed indefinitely after a volcanic eruption which began in May 2018 and destroyed more than 700 homes on the Big Island.

Scientists and engineers wanted to confirm the tube was structurally sound after thousands of earthquakes rattled the park during the eruption.

The park must repair and bury an electrical line, which could take two to four weeks. When the tube reopens, there will be updates such as monitoring equipment to detect possible changes in cracks.

Restoring Native Plants:

A pair of U.S. senators believe restoring native plants in national parks around the country could help beautify and improve some of America’s most beloved public places. The effort is led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington. They’ve called the bill the Native Plant Species Pilot Program Act and say it would encourage the National Park Service to increase the use of native plant materials on land the service stewards. The use of native plants would benefit wildlife, human health, and the environment, Collins and Cantwell said.

Improving Lake Mead:

A $5.6 million pavement preservation project to improve roads within Lake Mead National Recreation Area will begin in early February.

The project will include cleaning, patching, resurfacing and re-marking roads and parking areas at Katherine Landing, Temple Bar, Eldorado Canyon, South Cove, and the park headquarters and warehouse complex.

The work is scheduled to take place during daylight hours on weekdays through April. During construction, visitors may experience short delays along the roadways, and parking areas may be closed for a limited time.

Funding for this project is provided by the Lake Mead National Recreation Area cyclic maintenance fund and Federal Lands Transportation Program. This is the second phase of the park’s overall pavement preservation project. Phase one, which was around $5 million, was completed in 2019.

Delta Air Lines and MLK Jr. NHS:

Delta Air Lines has committed $400,000 to the National Park Service to provide for upgrades and renovations at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta.
This contribution will significantly improve the lighting and electrical systems at the promenade and visitor center. The expected completion date is 2021.

In 2019, The Delta Air Lines Foundation provided a grant to the National Park Service to keep the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park open and operating during the federal government lapse in appropriations. Following Delta’s grant, the park saw a record number of visitors during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

Celebrating 100 Episodes:

We’d like to thank you for joining us for this, the 100th episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast. For nearly two years we’ve been bringing you stories from the parks, and we’re looking forward to many many more. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes RV Miles and See America. To learn more visit

To see the full collection of America’s National Parks Podcasts visit You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 37,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

What Makes a National Park?

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with audio from Ed Rizzotto: The Importance of Urban Parks.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

The National Park designation has become one of the most prestigious terms in the English language. National Parks have stirred the imagination of Americans ever since they were dreamed up, and a recent focus has been sparked by the confluenc of social sharing like YouTube and Instagram, the park service’s recent 100th anniversary celebrated in 2016, and incredible documentaries like Ken Burns’ “America’s Best Idea.” But the structure of the National Park System remains a mystery to many casual visitors — some of it’s even confusing to the National Park expert. What exactly makes a National Park?

This popularity, combined with politics and the promise of tourism dollars, have driven government officials to leverage the Park system to fit their agendas in recent years. It’s time to step back, take a look at the whole picture, and take stock of what we have and what we haven’t.

I thought we’d take a look at the park system, how it’s actually structured, and show why our focuses are often severely misdirected. Who are the parks for, and how do we decide what a park is?

There are 419 units in the National Park system, and only 62 of them have the congressional designation of “National Park,” including the most recent, White Sands National Park. White Sands was formerly a National Monument, as many National Parks were at one time. National Monuments are places declared reserved for the public by the President of the United States. Most are managed by the Park Service, but not all. National Parks, however, must be named by Congress. In addition to Monuments and National Parks, we have National Battlefields, National Battlefield Parks, National Battlefield Sites, National Military Parks, National Historical Parks, National Historic Sites, International Historic Sites, National Lakeshores, National Memorials, National Parkways, National Preserves, National Reserves, National Recreation Areas, National Rivers, National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Riverways, National Scenic Trails and National Seashores.

So…it’s a bit of a mess, and though the Park Service has guidelines for nomenclature, Congress can essentially call something whatever it wants. In the end, the National Park Service calls them all National Parks. They are all managed under the exact same parameters, and there is no special funding or any other benefit to having the congressional National Park designation.

That surprises a lot of people. In the last few years, three new congressionally designated National Parks have joined the fray. White Sands, along with Indiana Dunes National Park, and Gateway Arch National Park.

All three were already National Park Service units, and quite literally, the only change for their operation was removing and replacing signage, badges, brochures, and the like.

Now, here’s the problem. For all three of these parks, local members of Congress lobbied hard for the name change, openly touting the increased tourism it would bring. And they weren’t wrong. Indiana Dunes is probably the best example, with visitation increasing 21% the year after the new National Park status.

But why? Are we so addle minded as Americans that we don’t accept the beauty and splendor of a place without a name change? Do we really skip all these other wonderful places because they don’t have National Park in the title? Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the name really is the thing. Which I suppose is why there was a lot of anger when Gateway Arch National Park was announced.

Gateway Arch was formerly the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and it consists of the Arch, of course, and the Old Courthouse (where the landmark Dred Scot case was tried) and a museum representing the location on the St. Louis Riverfront as the ceremonial beginning of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Some thought naming it for the arch diminished the importance of the Courthouse. Others thought it too small. Most, frankly, just think a National Park is a large expanse of beautiful nature, and Gateway just didn’t fit the bill.

I think we’re missing the bigger picture.

On the importance of urban parks such as this, here’s retired ranger Ed Rizzotto in an oral history interview with the Association of National Park Rangers. Ed was a ranger for 7 years at Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey and New York, not to be confused with Gateway Arch.

So what’s the big picture? National parks are all unique, whether on the shores of the Mississippi or in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada. They’re here to protect fragile ecosystems, or to help us remember our history, or yes, for our enjoyment.

Should politicians leverage the system for the gain of their district, I don’t know. But I do know that if we didn’t care so much about names, it wouldn’t work. Yes, the naming system is a mess and could be entirely overhauled. Heck, maybe they should all just be named National Parks. But I beg of you, don’t consider any park service designation as being more important than another. Doing so may have you missing out on the incredible, vast mountains, desert and untamed rivers flowing in deep canyons at Dinosaur National Monument. Or the craggy shores of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Or the somber halls of Ellis Island, where 12 million immigrants waited for their first taste of the American dream for themselves and generations to come. Each National Park Service Site has a wonderful, unique story to tell. Dig deeper than 62 passport stamps.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

National Park Passes Explained

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

The Black Canyon

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison:

The deep Canyons of the west enchant us today as much as they did those who dared to explore them for the first time. They’re all unique in their own ways, as nature seems to brag about the incredible might of its gem-cutting rivers. But one Colorado canyon, in particular, is like none of the rest. It exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. Over two million years, a river has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky that, in parts, only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day due to its steep, narrow split — giving it an ominous name, The Black Canyon.

The Black Canyon is only 40′ wide at its narrowest point at the base. Its cliffs are nearly flat vertical, and their dark stone is set off with extensive, light-colored rock veins, like a marble edifice. It’s foreboding walls strike the imagination of all who stand in its presence, including its earliest explorers.

John Williams Gunnison:

John Williams Gunnison was born on November 11, 1812, in Goshen, New Hampshire. At the age of 18, he traveled to Massachusets to college, and after one term moved on to become a teacher at a local grade school. During his years as a teacher, he prepared himself to enter West Point Military Academy, where he would go on to graduate in June of 1837 second in his class.

Gunnison began military service later that year when he was ordered into active duty under General Zachary Taylor. Violent battles had been brewing in Florida between the Seminole Indians and white settlers. As peace talks were initiated, Gunnison was ordered to explore unfamiliar lakes and rivers in search of provision routes south to Fort Besinger. Although the assignments were challenging and there were many opportunities for adventure, the heat and humidity of the South took a toll on his health.

In 1838, Gunnison received a transfer to the Corps of Topographical Engineers. His new job would offer many adventures, the first of which was his marriage to Martha A. Delony in 1841 and the births of their children in the years to follow. In the summer he was married, he received his first western assignment to do a standard survey of the unexplored, wild country of the Wisconsin-Michigan border. Over the next 8 years, Gunnison would leave his family behind for periods of time, as he and his survey crew mapped much of the borderland, the western coast of Lake Michigan, and the coast of Lake Erie.

Gunnison’s first sight of the western lands came as a member of Captain Howard Stansbury’s Utah Territory Expedition of 1849, which was tasked with surveying the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Having recently been promoted to Lieutenant, Gunnison was assigned as second in command.

After a long, yet beautiful journey through the Great Plains and southern Wyoming, they arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. They explored and mapped the Great Salt Lake region and gathered scientific information about their surroundings.

The winter that followed was unusually hard and the expedition was unable to leave the valley, so Gunnison took the opportunity to befriend some Mormons and study their church. An uprising broke out between American Indians and the Mormons near Salt Lake City. Gunnison negotiated between the two parties, winning the admiration of his peers. The experience led him to believe he could be a successful mediator. When he finally returned to Washington, DC, he wrote a book titled “The Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake: A History of Their Rise and Progress, Peculiar Doctrines, Present Condition.”

Although relatively inexperienced, Lieutenant Gunnison was promoted to Captain on March 3, 1853 largely due to his successes in Utah and the Great Lakes region. Though happy to be spending more time with his family in the east, he longed to begin a new adventure and to return to the Western United States that he had come to relish. He wouldn’t have to wait long.

The new Captain was selected to lead the search for a Pacific railroad route along the 38th and 39th parallels. He bid his family farewell, sure to return to them when the expedition was over. The search took him through the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains, and into the Grand River Valley.

On September 7, the expedition came to a relatively tame section of a Canyon at Lake Fork. The official report described the area as “a stream imbedded in a narrow and sinuous canyon, resembling a huge snake in motion…To look down over…the canyon below, it seems easy to construct a railroad; but immense amounts of cutting, filling and masonry would be required.” Even then, these experienced explorers understood the geologic processes that created such an obstacle – an uplift of the earth, volcanic activity, and the power of water.

Gunnison rode into the canyon several times during that first day and deemed the land “the roughest, most hilly and most cut up,” he had ever seen. Though the party never ventured further downstream, their report contains the first official description of the formidable Black Canyon.

Gunnison and his men decided to navigate around what is now known as the Black Canyon and follow an easier route west through the present day town of Montrose. When the expedition finally reached Utah, they beheld the destruction left by Paiute Indian raids on Mormon settlements. Local residents reassured the expedition that the attacks were not a serious concern because peace talks had just taken place.

The weather was beginning to turn cold and raw, and Captain Gunnison sought to speed up mapping before returning to winter quarters. After a trip for provisions to the town of Fillmore, he divided the troops to make up for lost time. He went ahead with a crew of soldiers and guides, and camped along the bank of the Sevier River. An attack came during the early hours of the next morning. Only four men of his party survived. John W. Gunnison never returned home to his family.

Reports of the incident stated that it was an act of retribution by the sons of a Paiute leader who had been killed by some emigrants heading west. Utah Governor Brigham Young noted that Captain Gunnison underestimated the tension between the tribes and settlers, and Gunnison apparently tried to resolve the situation.

But rumors began to circulate that the attacks took place by a secrete Mormon malitia, dressed as Indians under the direction of Brigham Young. It wouldn’t be the first or last time Young used this tactic.

It was claimed that leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were concerned that the railway would increase the influx of non-Mormon settlers. However, the Utah Legislature, dominated by LDS officials, had repeatedly petitioned Congress for both a transcontinental railroad and telegraph lines to pass through the region. When the railroad finally came to Utah, LDS leaders organized legions of Mormon workers to build the railway, welcoming the income for the economically depressed community.

But Martha Gunnison maintained that the attack was planned and orchestrated by militant Mormons, based on the many letters Gunnison sent her throughout the expedition. She wrote to Associate Justice W.W. Drummond, the 1855 federal appointee to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Utah. Drummond sided with her, after hearing from informants and witnesses. He cited numerous reports by whites and natives of white attackers dressed up as Indians during the massacre.

In 1854 Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe was sent by the War Department to investigate the attack and determine the truth. He did not uncover evidence of Mormon involvement, and, as a result, eight Paiute men were charged and tried for the attack. Three were convicted of manslaughter.

Although remembered largely because of the massacre, Gunnison had the heart of an adventurer, and uniquely understood the wild country beyond the Mississippi River and the tradeoffs that must be made in order to experience such places. It was in his honor, The Grand River was renamed the Gunnison.

Know Before you Go:

The Precambrian gneiss (pronounced “nice”) and schist layers that make up the majority of the steep walls of the Black Canyon formed 1.7 billion years ago during a metamorphic period brought on by the collision of ancient volcanic island arcs with the southern end of what is present-day Wyoming. The entire area underwent uplift between 70 and 40 million years ago. During the Tertiary period that followed, large volcanic episodes buried the area in several thousand feet of volcanic ash and debris.

The modern Gunnison River set its course 15 million years ago as the run-off from nearby mountains. Another broad uplift 2 to 3 million years ago caused the river to cut through the softer volcanic deposits. Eventually, it reached the Precambrian rocks below. Since the river was now entrenched enough into the earth to be unable to change its course, it began scouring through the extremely hard metamorphic rocks at the rate of 1 inch every 100 years. The extreme hardness of the metamorphic rock along with the relative quickness with which the river carved through them created the steep walls that can be seen today.

This certified International Dark Sky Park offers two campgrounds – one on each rim. There is also a campground at the bottom of the canyon called East Portal. Although accessed through the park, East Portal is within the boundary of the neighboring National Recreation Area.

Trails of all difficulty levels hug the rim of the canyon, along with a scenic drive that offers stunning views of the dark chasm. Those who seek the rugged experience of venturing into the Black Canyon’s depths will be rewarded with an experience like no other, but it requires skill, experience, and preparation. The inner canyon is also a designated wilderness area and requires a permit to enter.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

The Great Prarie Highway

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

I’m standing on the Powder Mill Pedestrian Bridge, which spans Interstate 435 in southern Kansas City, Missouri. I’m looking south at the confluence of I-435, I-49, I-435, I-470, U.S. 50, and U.S. 71. Over 250,000 cars a day pass through here, making —which is known to the locals as Grandview Triangle—one of the busiest interchanges in the country. In fact, this has been one of the most traveled stretches of road since before there was a road.

The Grandview Triangle officially goes by another name — the 3-Trails Crossing Memorial Highway. Two hundred years ago, about 15 miles north of this spot, wagon trains set out on their journies along one of three routes towards the largely unknown West.

For about 50 miles, the trails were one before they diverged. This bridge I’m standing on is, in fact, part of the 46-mile 3-trail corridor, as it’s now known. It was erected specifically to allow people to walk or bike the 46-mile journey before the trails separate, through the concrete jungle of Kansas City, passing many historic sites, until it reaches beyond the edges of town, where green grass fields still show the wagon ruts from 19th-century pioneers looking for a better life.

The upper route headed towards Oregon and the middle route to California. The Oregon and California trails were the pathways to the Pacific for fur traders, gold seekers, missionaries, and emigrants. For almost 30 years, beginning in 1841, more than 300,000 emigrants followed this route from the Midwest to fertile Oregon farmlands or California gold fields—trips that took five months to complete.

But the lower route was another matter altogether. It was an international road for American and Mexican traders, until 1848 when the Mexican-American War ended, and New Mexico joined the United States. It became a national road for commercial and military freighting, stagecoach travel, emigration, and mail service.

History of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

On June 10, 1821, a 31-year old saltmaker named William Becknell published a notice in the Missouri Intelligencer newspaper soliciting participants for a trip “to the westward for the purpose of trading for Horses & Mules, and catching Wild Animals of every description, that we may think advantageous.” Becknell was bankrupt and facing jail for debts, as Missouri fell under the grip of a devastating depression.

Becknell left Franklin, Missouri, for Santa Fe in September of 1821 with five other men, the first to journey on this particular route to the almost mythical city of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Spain jealously protected the borders of its New Mexico colony, prohibiting manufacturing and international trade. Those that journeyed to Mexico before Becknell had been arrested by Spanish soldiers and hauled south toward Mexico City to serve lengthy prison sentences. Those that made it back told of a land starved for manufactured goods and supplies. Becknell was pleasantly surprised to find upon his arrival that Mexico had overthrown the Spanish, and the new Mexican government – unlike their predecessors – welcomed outside trade.

Not surprisingly, others got into the trade soon after Becknell returned, and by 1825 goods from Missouri were not only being traded in Santa Fe but to other points farther south as well. Some traders used the so-called Mountain Route, which offered more dependable water but required an arduous trip over Raton Pass. Most, however, used the Cimarron Route, which was shorter and faster but required knowledge of where the route’s scarce water supplies were located.

From 1821 until 1846, the Santa Fe Trail was a two-way international commercial highway used by both Mexican and American traders.

Suspicion and tension between the United States and Mexico accelerated in the 1840s. With the American desire for territorial expansion, Texans raided into New Mexico, and the United States annexed Texas. The Mexican-American War erupted in 1846. General Stephen Watts Kearny led his Army of the West down the Santa Fe Trail to take and hold New Mexico and upper California and to protect American traders on the trail. He marched unchallenged into Santa Fe.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the more settled parts of the United States to the new southwest territories.

Commercial freighting along the trail boomed to unheard-of levels, including considerable military freight hauling to supply the southwestern forts. The trail was also used by stagecoach lines, adventurers, missionaries, wealthy New Mexican families, and emigrants. The Santa Fe Trade developed into a complex web of international business, social ties, tariffs, and laws, passing goods from as far as New York, London, and Paris.

Movies and books often romanticize Santa Fe Trail treks as sagas of constant peril, with violent prairie storms, fights with Indians, and thundering buffalo herds. In fact, a glimpse of bison, elk, antelope, or prairie dogs was sometimes the only break in the tedium of 8-week journeys. Trail travelers mostly experienced dust, mud, gnats and mosquitoes, and heat. But occasional swollen streams, wildfires, hailstorms, strong winds, or blizzards could imperil wagon trains.

At dawn, trail hands scrambled in noise and confusion to round up, sort, and hitch up the animals. The wagons headed out, the air ringing with whoops and cries of “All’s set!” and soon, “Catch up! Catch up!” and “Stretch out!”

Stopping at mid-morning, crews unhitched and grazed the teams, hauled water, gathered wood or buffalo chips for fuel, and cooked and ate the day’s main meal from a monotonous daily ration of 1 pound of flour, 1 pound of bacon, 1 ounce of coffee, 2 ounces of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Beans, dried apples, or bison and other game were occasional treats. Crews then repaired their wagons, yokes, and harnesses, greased wagon wheels, doctored animals, and hunted.

They moved on soon after noon, fording streams before the night’s stop because overnight storms could turn trickling creeks into raging floodwaters. At day’s end, crews took care of the animals, made necessary repairs, chose night guards, and enjoyed a few hours of well-earned leisure and sleep.

Westward from Missouri, forests gave way to Kansas prairie. Long days traveling through seemingly endless expanses of tall and short grass prairie, with a few narrow ribbons of trees along waterways, evoked vivid descriptions. “In spring, the vast plain heaves and rolls around like a green ocean,” wrote one early traveler. Another marveled at a mirage in which “horses and the riders upon them presented a remarkable picture, apparently extending into the air. . .45 to 60 feet high. . . At the same time, I could see beautiful clear lakes of water with. . .bulrushes and other vegetation. . .” Other travelers dreamed of cures for sickness from the “purity of the plains.” As the route was mainly commercial, once most wagon trains made it to Santa Fe, they turned around and headed right back.

As void of human presence the prairie landscape might have appeared, the lands the trail passed through were the long-held homelands of many American Indian people. Most early encounters were peaceful negotiations centering on access to tribal lands and trade in horses, mules, and other items that Indians, Mexicans, and Americans coveted. As trail traffic increased, so did confrontations, as the travelers disrupted more and more traditional ways of American Indian life. Mexican and American troops began providing escorts for wagon trains.

In 1862, the Civil War arrived in the West. The Confederate plan for the West was to raise a force in Texas, march up the Rio Grande, take Santa Fe, turn northeast on the Santa Fe Trail, capture the stores at Fort Union, head up to Colorado to capture the goldfields, and then turn west to take California. They pushed up the Rio Grande Valley into New Mexico. Albuquerque and Santa Fe fell. But the tide turned at Glorieta Pass, on the Santa Fe Trail. In the most decisive western battle of the Civil War, Union forces secured victory when they torched the nearby Confederate supply train. The Confederates abandoned any hope of reaching Fort Union – and with it, their foothold in New Mexico. The Union Army held the Southwest and its vital Santa Fe Trail supply line.

The close of the Civil War in 1865 released America’s industrial energies. The railroad pushed westward, gradually shortening and then replacing the Santa Fe Trail. Within two years, rails had been laid across central Kansas, and by 1873, two different rail lines reached from eastern Kansas into Colorado. As lands were parceled out for railroads and the bison were hunted nearly to extinction, Native people were pushed aside or assigned to reservations.

Because the Santa Fe Trail hauled primarily commercial goods, the railroad expansion meant that the trading caravans needed to traverse increasingly shorter distances. During the early 1870s, three different railroads vied to build rails over Raton Pass in order to serve the New Mexico market. The winner of that competition, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, reached the top of Raton Pass in late 1878. In February 1880, the railroad reached Santa Fe, and the trail faded into history.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

For nearly 60 years, goods were exchanged on the Santa Fe trail, as well as knowledge and culture. It’s no accident that there are towns in Missouri named Mexico and Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail spans 900 miles of the Great Plains and traverses five states. The route was commemorated in 1987 by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. A highway route that roughly follows the trail’s path through the entire length of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico has been designated as the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway. Museums, interpretive centers, and historic sites pepper the journey today – places like Fort Dodge, Fort Union, and the Cimmaron National Grassland.

The National Trails website on does a fantastic job of showing the hundreds of sites along the route, and you can find a wealth of information at, the website of the non-profit Santa Fe Trail Association. For more information about the 3 Trails Corridor, visit

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.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

News from the Parks | December 2019

By Jason Epperson

Welcome to the December 2019’s “News From the Parks,” our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Welcome our 62nd Park:

It’s official: The United States now boasts 62 congressionally designated National Parks. New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument became White Sands National Park. On Friday, December 20, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes a provision that re-designates White Sands. White Sands National Monument was established on January 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover. In addition to containing the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, the park is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice-Age fossilized footprints.

Entrance Fees on the Rise:

Entrance fees and individual park annual passes are set to increase at many parks across the nation on January 1, including White Sands where an annual pass will go up from $40 to $45. Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 or $10. The increase was first proposed back in 2017.165 National Park Service sites charge an entrance fee; the other 254 national parks remain free to enter.

The nationwide America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80 in 2020. The Access Pass for people with disabilities remains free. For a breakdown of all the annual pass options, check out our “National Park Passes Explained” video on the RV Miles YouTube Channel. We’ll provide a link in the show notes.

2020 Fee Free Days:

The Park Service has also announced fee-free days for 2020:
January 20 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
April 18 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
September 26 – National Public Lands Day
November 11 – Veterans Day

A Grave and Immediate Threat:

America’s national parks are facing a grave and immediate threat: invasive animal species.

The National Park Service has asked a group of experts to help chart a course to handle the problem of invasive species, and those findings were recently published in the journal Biological Invasions. Invasive animal species can be found in more than half of all national parks. Of the 1,409 reported populations of 311 separate invasive animal species, there are management plans for 23 percent and only 11 percent are being contained. They include mammals, such as rats, cats, and feral pigs; aquatic species like lake trout, and reptiles like the Burmese python in Everglades National Park where pythons that can reach 23 feet in length were found thriving and reproducing twenty years ago. The result has been huge declines in native mammals.

Currently, the National Park Service has no comprehensive program to reverse or halt the trend of invasive species, but the study was a first step towards a national strategy.

Assisting Wildfire’s Abroad

The United States is sending 21 wildland fire personnel from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service to assist in fighting the devastating wildfires currenty plaguing Australia. About 100 fires have been burning for weeks in drought-plagued New South Wales, with half of them uncontained, including a “mega-blaze” ringing Sydney, covering Australia’s biggest city in a haze of toxic smoke.

An extended drought combined with hot and dry weather conditions have elevated wildfire risk, and fire activity is expected to continue for the next several months.

Human Remains Found at Joshua Tree:

On Thursday morning, December 19th, authorities at Joshua Tree National Park were alerted of evidence of skeletal human remains found while analyzing photographs of the park taken last summer. The discovery is in a remote, rocky, steep location away from any trails.

Law enforcement rangers hiked to the reported location where they found the remains, along with the belongings of the victims. There was no personal identification with the remains, which appear to have been in that location for some time. An investigation is currently ongoing, led by National Park Service law enforcement and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department investigators. At this time, the identity of the bodies has not been confirmed, and the manner of death is undetermined. There are no initial indicators of foul play.

National Park Service Seeks Public Assistance:

The National Park Service is seeking the public’s assistance to develop a list of national park lands that would benefit from new or increased access routes. The Park Service and other federal land management agencies are developing a priority list of lands with no or restricted public access. These lists will help the park service priortitize future access projects such as roads and trails.

Public comments will be accepted through January 4, 2020, on the Park Service’s Planning, Environmental and Public Comments website.

Dark Skies at El Morro:

The International Dark Sky Association has named New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument as an International Dark Sky Park. The certification recognizes the exceptional quality of the park’s night skies and provides added opportunities to enhance visitor experiences through astronomy based interpretive programming.

International Dark Sky Park certification promotes public education and astronomy based recreation in parks while improving energy efficiency and reduced operational costs through outdoor lighting upgrades.

The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education. El Morro National Monument now joins more than 100 locations that have followed a rigorous application process that demonstrates robust community support for dark sky certification.

El Morro National Monument features one of the most impressive and accessible records of Southwest history, which is exposed on a single rock. Inscription Rock, a sandstone promontory rising 200 feet from the valley floor has more than 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs of many cultures along its sheer cliff face. Monument visitors can gaze upon original markings of pueblo residents, Spanish explorers, early surveyors, and pioneers in symbols, signatures, poetry, and prose right where they were originally carved.

Protecting The Narrows at Zion:

The iconic Narrows Trail at Zion National Park, is now permanently protected from closure and development. The route follows the Virgin River into a deep slot canyon with sculpted sandstone walls soaring more than a thousand feet overhead. For much of the 16-mile trek, the canyon is so narrow that hikers are literally immersed in the river, with nowhere to walk but in the rocky streambed itself.

Part of the route has always crossed private land. Public access to the Narrows has depended on informal agreements with local landowners. The Trust for Public Land has guaranteed public access to both private properties forever. They won a conservation easement for the Simon Gulch ranch, guaranteeing permanent public access to the last at-risk section of the Narrows Trail.

Internation National Park News:

In International National Park news, beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, foreign and national tourists who visit many of Costa Rica’s national parks will be covered by an insurance policy. It’s a new way to help convince tourists to follow the rules through positive reenforcement. Visitors who enter the national parks through the official entrances and adhere to posted rules will be covered in case of injury or death. Vehicles parked in official lots will also be covered for damage or theft.

The insurance policy will be automatically included in the price of the ticket for all visitors. The parks will also improve signage throughout protected areas in order to adequately inform visitors of the areas they may or may not visit within the park, and if rules are not adhered to, the tourist will be at their own risk.

A New NPS TV Drama:

Last month we told you about a new TV drama in development about National Park Service rangers, well now, there’s another. Kevin Costner is developing a one-hour drama titled ISB that will focus on the Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch for ABC. ISB will follow elite special agents who end up having to solve some of the most complex and heinous crimes committed within the National Parks of the ISB’s Pacific West region.

A National Park-themed Bar:

Nashville Tennessee is about to get a National Park-themed bar. It’s called “Camp,” and it will feature a national park-inspired setting involving indoor trees, boulders, a fish tank, and elaborate drinks, including cocktails served in terrariums named after 10 different parks. Drinks will come with pamphlets featuring information about the corresponding park. At month’s end, the bar will donate to each park according to number of each drink sold.

Happy Birthday to Sleeping Bear:

Finally, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020. The park is planning a year of honoring the past, celebrating today, and planning for the future, starting with a kick-off celebration on Saturday, January 18.

Sleeping Bear Dunes hugs the northeast shore of Lake Michigan. The park is known for the huge scalable dunes of the Dune Climb and its two islands, beaches, farmsteads, and forests.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes RV Miles and See America. To learn more visit

To see the full collection of America’s National Parks Podcasts visit You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 37,000 strong. Visit to join.

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

Wolf Trap

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

There’s always a lot of talk from park lovers about what a National Park should and shouldn’t be, but when it really comes down to it, there are no rules. A national park is a park for the nation. They range vastly in shape, size, and content. One of our most unique national park service sites is one many have never heard of. 

Today on the America’s National Parks Podcast, the vision of a D.C. philanthropist and activist to develop and share a love of the arts with the community set to the backdrop of nature. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

Catherine Filene Shouse, a philanthropist and avid lover of culture, music, the arts, and nature, was born on June 9, 1896, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Lincoln and Therese Filene. She spent her childhood between the family homes in Boston and Weston, Massachusetts, where the Filenes were able to enjoy nature. 

Born into a family whose fortune was built from the famous department store, Filene’s, their family tradition was laden with a love of nature and for the arts. Her father was the founder of the Boston Symphony and her mother started the Boston Music School Settlement for Underprivileged Children. Her parents’ love of the arts was infectious and resonated with Catherine, helping shape her future vision for Wolf Trap.

In 1917, Shouse was able to apply the experience she acquired through her undergraduate education and activism in the Women’s Division of the United States Employment Service of the Department of Labor. Shouse was hired as the assistant to the chief. Three years later, she published her original work, Careers for Women, and in 1925 was the first woman to be appointed to the Democratic National Committee. In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge appointed her chair of the Federal Prison for Women. She was the first woman to occupy this position and immediately began to transform the system, establishing job training and rehabilitation programs. 

In 1929 she served as editor of the Women’s National Democratic Committee’s Bulletin. She created the Institute of Women’s Professional Relations, which hosted national conferences highlighting opportunities for women with an education beyond high school. 

Catherine married her second husband Jouett Shouse in 1932, a former newspaperman, lawyer, and congressman, he served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and assistant secretary of the treasury. Jouett supported Catherine’s endeavors and the cultured life she was eager to share. 

Shouse began acquiring farmland outside of Washington, DC, in 1930 for use as a refuge from city life and a departure from the family’s primary residence in historic Georgetown. The family estate started traditionally, as a working farm with crops, animals and dog breeding. They grew alfalfa, oats, and wheat for family and friends, but during World War II, the farm fed and served as a refuge for many soldiers.

By 1956, Wolf Trap Farm had grown to 168 acres and held social gatherings for family, friends, and the Washington, DC social and political communities. Wolf Trap frequently hosted notable foreign and domestic political figures. Guests enjoyed dinners, parties, dances, carnivals, and simple nature walks in the countryside, which helped inspire Catherine to develop the land into a cultural oasis. 

Catherine was a volunteer fundraiser for the American Symphony League, which is now the National Symphony Orchestra. She organized and sponsored Candlelight Concerts in Washington, D.C., from 1935 to 1942 in order to supplement the Orchestra’s salaries. From 1957 to 1963, Shouse served as chair of the President’s Music Committee Person-to-Person Program. The program produced national and international performances each year, and under her direction, they produced the first International Jazz Festival in 1962.

At the age of 71, on October 15, 1966, Shouse donated nearly 100 acres of her personal farmland to the United States Department of the Interior, as well as the funds to build a large outdoor amphitheater. This land was donated with the express intent to develop the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Shouse’s goal was to protect the land from encroaching roads and suburbs, as well as create a natural backdrop where the arts could be enjoyed in harmony with nature. Congress accepted the gift, and the ground-breaking ceremony took place in 1968.

In the summer of 1971, sixty young musical performers were chosen for training in music, dance, and acting, to culminate in a production in the newly conceived Filene Center, named after Shouse’s parents. The inaugural season opening was delayed one month due to a fire that destroyed most of the recently constructed center. When the Filene Center was finally completed, the theatre, constructed of Oregon Red Cedar, was a ten-story-high facility equipped with a computerized lighting system and sophisticated sound equipment.

On April 5, 1982, the Filene Center endured a devastating fire that required a complete reconstruction of the revered performing arts venue. Largely due to more generosity from Catherine Filene Shouse, it was rebuilt and reopened its doors in 1984, this time from douglas fir with a yellow pine ceiling. It includes a smoke/fire detection and suppression system, as well as fire-retardant wood, which all cost about $1.7 million. The new amphitheater was also built with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. Accessibility was improved, and backstage space for performers and crews was expanded. The venue boasts a seating capacity of 7,000, including about 3,800 in-house seats and 3,200 lawn seats, and continues to host hundreds of thousands of guests each year.

Just prior to the fire, Shouse donated another venue to house smaller acts, which is owned and managed by the non-profit Wolf Trap Foundation. She had two 18th century barns from New York brought to Virginia and rebuilt in a manner that kept their rustic charm but offered superb acoustics and amenities.

Together, the two structures now make up The Barns at Wolf Trap, which present more than 80 performances each year from fall through spring. 

Shouse had a soft spot in her heart for children. The Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods was established as an opportunity for children to be immersed in the natural, artistic environment. During Shouse’s life, Wolf Trap was enjoyed by countless people from many nations and backgrounds. She often brought disabled and disadvantaged children from the Nation’s Capital to Wolf Trap to enjoy the scenery, change of environment, and to give them hayrides.

Catherine Filene Shouse’s great contribution and legacy live on through the gift of Wolf Trap. She was a highly decorated public servant, a celebrated and accomplished woman with deep roots in the nation’s capital – having worked with every President from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton and as President Reagan put it, Wolf Trap is “a park for all people…one that enriches the cultural life of our nation.” Shouse lived most of her life in and around Washington, DC. Although she was a prominent member of the D.C. society scene, she cared as much about making the performing arts accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes as she did about national and international political affairs.

Shouse was active and involved with Wolf Trap to the end of her life; she passed away just prior to turning 100 in 1994. She wanted people to be able to enjoy Wolf Trap well beyond her lifetime. Her legacy lives on as it is America’s National Park for the Performing Arts.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is the first and only national park of its kind. It’s operated as a public-private partnership between the National Park Service, which maintains the grounds and facilities, and the non-profit Wolf Trap Foundation. The Foundation oversees the artistic, education, and administrative programs, including artist contracts.

You can visit the 7,028 semi-outdoor theater to see anything from unique cultural acts to some of the biggest touring stars of today, or you can opt for a backstage tour. There are two overlapping trails in the park that provide opportunities for visitors to hike and bird watch. 

Families can visit the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods, with 70 performances from late June through early August. Family-friendly shows start at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Amidst 117 rolling wooded acres and nestled in a shady grove, the stage is set for lively adventures in music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater. All performances are recommended for children between kindergarten and 6th grade and are accompanied each day by a variety of kid-friendly activities.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

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

Treasure in the Sea

If you are a regular listener of this podcast, or our sister podcast RV Miles, you know we’re big fans of park videos, you know the short films you watch in the visitor’s center designed to give you an overview of the site you are visiting. Watching a park video is one of the first things we do as a family before exploring a park and I love the way it sets up what you’re going to see as you explore, and why it is protected. In fact, several of our past episodes have featured a park film or come about because of a story featured in the film. This episode is no different.

Today on the America’s National Parks Podcast, Channel Islands National Park and the original 1982 “Treasures of the Sea” park film. Now in retirement, this version was replaced in 2011 with the currently running film featuring narration by Kevin Costner.

You can listen to the full audio episode below or on any podcast app:

Or watch the original here:

Camping is available year-round on all five islands, limited backcountry camping is available on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, and advanced camping reservations are required for all of the campgrounds. The cost is $15 a night and you have to carry all your camping gear in. No transportation to the campsites is provided.

For those who prefer a day trip to the Channel Islands, the mainland visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara are easily accessible by car or public transportation, however the islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats and planes or private boat. There are several concessionaire’s offering a variety of excursions to the island, and costs vary. Advanced planning is highly recommended.

Valley Forge

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

On December 19, 1777, 12,000 weary revolutionary war soldiers and 400 women and children marched into what would be their winter encampment. They began to build what was essentially the fourth largest city in the United States, with 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications. Lasting six months, from December until June, the encampment was as diverse as any city, with people who were free and enslaved, wealthy and impoverished, speakers of several languages, and adherents of multiple religions. Concentrating the soldiers in one vast camp changed the face of the conflict, leading to the long-fought independence the colonies so desired. 

American Indians occupied the area in and around what is now known as Valley Forge National Historical Park over 10,000 years ago, enjoying the abundance of food and shelter offered by the river valley. Europeans began to settle the region in the late 17th century and gradually displaced the indigenous people. 

The land was cleared for agriculture, and 18 landowners established fairly prosperous farms on the choice agricultural soils. Along Valley Creek, an ironworks named Valley Forge was established, and a small industrial village, including charcoal houses, a sawmill, grist mill, and company store grew up around it.

The slopes of Mounts Joy and Misery were wooded and were frequently cut over to supply wood to fuel the iron forge. By the time of the soldiers arrived during the Revolutionary War, it was an open, rolling landscape divided into many small fields and pastures by fences and hedgerows. Woodlands and charcoal hearths blanketed the mountains, and there was a smattering of structures in what was now the Village of Valley Forge. The forges themselves laid ruined—burned during a raid by the British three months earlier.

It’s perhaps American legend that a rag-tag team of misfit militias defeated the King’s Army, but in reality, the war was a massive, multi-national conflict, and the colonies needed to build a traditional military to force the British from America. 

By the time of Valley Forge, most Americans realized that the Revolution would be a long, drawn-out affair. The nature of the war changed in July 1776 when a large contingent of troops reached America’s shores and sought to crush the rebellion. By the fall, the British had pushed

George Washington’s unevenly trained and outnumbered force to the brink of defeat and established control over New York City and the states of New York and New Jersey. Only Washington’s bold Christmas night 1776 crossing of the Delaware River and subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, saved the cause from disaster.

In order to put the Army on firmer footing, the Continental Congress allowed George Washington to recruit soldiers for longer enlistments, beginning in 1777. The men of this establishment formed the bulk of the professional force that would fight the rest of the war. After wintering at their stronghold in Morristown, New Jersey, Washington’s forces prepared to meet the British with renewed zeal in the spring of 1777.

British strategy for the third year of the American Revolution included a plan to capture the patriot capital at Philadelphia. To accomplish this objective, the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir William Howe, set sail from New York City in July 1777 with nearly 17,000 of His Majesty’s finest troop. The expeditionary force landed at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. 

To oppose Howe, General Washington marched his 12,000-man Army from New Jersey. On the journey south, He paraded them through Philadelphia to impress citizens with the prowess of the patriot force. No longer a rag-tag bunch of inexperienced fighters, the Continental Army was battle-tested and capable of standing up to the British. One observer of the march stated that the men, “though indifferently dressed, held well-burnished arms, and carried them like soldiers; and looked, in short, as if they might have faced an equal number with a reasonable prospect of success.”

In the two key battles of the Philadelphia campaign, Brandywine and Germantown, the Americans fought with skill and courage. Though they lost both battles, as well as the capital at Philadelphia, the Continental Army emerged from these experiences with the confidence of an underdog sports team that had thrown a scare into the champion:

“The experience has served to convince our people, that when they make an attack, they can confuse and Rout even the Flower of the British Army, with the greatest ease, and they are not that invincible Body of Men, which many suppose them to be.”

-George Washington

Yet work remained to be done. The Army had difficulty executing complex large- scale maneuvers such as the orderly retreat. As a result, retreats could turn into panicked flights. In fact, General Nathanael Greene believed that the troops had “fled from victory” at Germantown. 

As the campaign wound down through the months of November and December, Washington maintained strong offensive pressure on the British in the city. With the British ensconced in Philadelphia, Washington and his general officers had to decide where to encamp for the winter. As he chose a site, he had to balance the congressional wish for a winter campaign to dislodge the British from the capital against the needs of his weary and poorly supplied Army. By December 12, Washington made his decision to encamp at Valley Forge. 

From this location 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Washington was close enough to maintain pressure on the enemy, yet far enough to prevent a surprise attack on his own troops. From here, the Continental Army could protect the outlying parts of the state, with its wary citizens and precious military stores, as well as the Continental Congress, which had fled to York, Pennsylvania.

Washington and his men marched into camp on December 19, 1777. The soldiers, while not well supplied, were not downtrodden. They exuded the confidence of men who knew that they had come close to beating the British in battle. They were cautiously optimistic about the future and resigned themselves to the task of establishing their winter quarters.

The romantic image that depicts the troops at Valley Forge as helpless and famished, at the mercy of winter’s fury and clothed in nothing but rags, renders them and their commander a disservice, but constant freezing and thawing, and intermittent snowfall and rain, coupled with shortages of provisions, clothing, and shoes, did make living conditions extremely difficult. Rather than wait for rescue, the Army procured supplies, built log cabins to stay in, constructed makeshift clothing and gear, and cooked hearty meals. 

During the early months of the encampment, the soldiers received an average daily ration of one-half pound of beef. But by February, they went without meat for several days at a time. In early March, the Army listed 3,000 men as unfit for duty due to a lack of proper clothing. 

One of the most immediate remedies against the weather and lack of clothing was the construction of log shelters. Valley Forge was the first winter encampment where many thousands of soldiers had to build their own huts. The officers formed them into construction squads and instructed them to build cabins according to a 14-foot by 16-foot model. The Army placed the 2,000-odd huts in parallel lines, and according to one officer, the camp “had the appearance of a little city” when viewed from a distance. Most agreed that their log accommodations were “tolerably comfortable.”

In addition to the huts, miles of trenches were constructed, five earthen forts, and a bridge based on a Roman design over the Schuylkill River. The picture of the encampment that emerges from the army records and the soldiers’ own writing is that of a skilled and capable force in charge of its own destiny.

Once the bridge spanning the river was complete, the Army made full use of the land on the other side as a vital supply link. The farms located on the north side could sell their produce to the Army. The bridge connection also made the camp more secure as patrols could range the country to the north and east to check British movements and intentions in that quarter.

But establishing a winter base so close to the enemy caused additional hardship. Instead of being able to focus on building the camp and obtaining much-needed rest, the troops had to expend energy on security operations. They spent extra-long shifts on duty patrolling, standing guard, and manning dangerous outposts. Washington recognized the strain that this situation placed on his men and rewarded them with two months’ hardship pay.

Perhaps the most notable suffering that occurred at Valley Forge came from a factor that is not frequently mentioned in textbooks: disease was the true scourge of the camp. Men from far-flung geographical areas were exposed to sicknesses from which they had little immunity. During the encampment, nearly 2,000 men died of disease. Dedicated surgeons, nurses, a smallpox inoculation program, and camp sanitation regulations limited the death tolls. The Army kept monthly status reports that tracked the number of soldiers who had died or were too sick to perform their duties. These reports reveal that two-thirds of the men who perished died not during the harsh winter, but during the warmer months of March, April, and May, when supplies were more abundant. The most common killers were influenza, typhus, typhoid, and dysentery.

The scale of the Valley Forge encampment was impressive. The number of soldiers present ranged from 12,000 in December to nearly 20,000 in late spring as the Army massed for the campaign season. The troops who came to camp included men from all 13 original colonies and regiments from all of them except South Carolina and Georgia. The encampment brought together men, women, and children of nearly all ages, from all walks of life, of every occupation, from different ethnic backgrounds, and of various religions. The women included approximately 400 enlisted men’s wives who followed the Army year-round and a few general officers’ wives who came on extended visits. 

Valley Forge was demographically, militarily, and politically an important crossroads in the Revolutionary War. A mix of motives was at play, particularly in the minds of men who enlisted in early 1777. Some of served out of patriotism, but many served for profit, or for individual liberty, as in the case of enslaved, indentured, and apprenticed people. Others were coerced, as most colonies introduced conscription that year.

The participants had different values and different ideas about what words such as liberty, equality, slavery, and freedom meant. The ideals held dear by Americans today were not forged at Valley Forge, but rather contested – not just between patriots and the British – but also among different Americans. Valley Forge and the Revolution put the United States on a long road to defining those ideals in ways satisfactory to all – a process still in the making.

Despite the difficulties, the continental Army matured into a professional force at Valley Forge under the tutelage of Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben. Baron von Steuben assessed the Army and recognized that Washington’s men needed more training and discipline. At the same time, he realized that American soldiers would not submit to harsh European-style regulation. He did not try to introduce the entire system of drill, evolutions, maneuvers, discipline, tactics, and formations into our Army. “I should have been pelted had I attempted it, and should inevitably have failed,” he said. Instead, von Steuben demonstrated to the men the positive results that would come from retraining. He provided hands-on lessons, and Washington’s independent-minded combat veterans were willing to learn new skills when they saw immediate results. As spring wore on, whole brigades marched with newfound precision and crisply executed commands.

The Commander-in-Chief’s professional reputation also got a boost at Valley Forge. Two events that occurred during the encampment strengthened George Washington’s authority. The first was the emergence of a group of critics who denigrated General Washington’s leadership ability. The proponents of this movement, which became known as the Conway Cabal, suggested that General Gates, the victorious leader at the Battle of Saratoga, was perhaps more fit for the top command. This splinter group of officers and congressmen blamed Washington for having lost the capital to the British and argued that he put the war effort in jeopardy. As winter wore on, the so-called cabal dissolved, bringing disgrace to and ending the careers of several of its leaders. Washington’s authority was strengthened as loyal supporters rallied to defend and exalt the Commander-in-Chief.

A second event that consolidated Washington’s control was his successful campaign to have a congressional committee visit camp. The general lobbied Congress to confer with him in person in order to resolve some of the supply and organizational difficulties that had plagued the Army during the 1777 campaign. The committee emerged from the Valley Forge meeting with a better understanding of the logistical difficulties Washington faced and more sympathetic to the Army’s requirements. The army reorganization was one of the most far-reaching consequences of the committee’s work. Almost from the war’s outset, Washington had argued for a large professional army. The public’s disdain for standing armies limited his ability to raise a sizeable force. The reorganization of 1778 represented a compromise between civilian and military ideals. Realizing that the Army existed at only a portion of its authorized strength, Congress consolidated regiments and created a more streamlined force. 

At Valley Forge in the spring of 1778, the Army joyously celebrated the formal French recognition of the United States as a sovereign power and valuable alliance with this leading European nation. Though it would take years to bear fruit at Yorktown in 1781, the alliance provided Washington with the formidable French naval assistance and additional troops he needed to counter British marine superiority.

In mid-June, Washington’s spy network informed him that the British were about to abandon Philadelphia. The Commander-in-Chief rapidly set troops in motion: a small force marched in and took possession of the city. The majority of the Army swiftly advanced from staging areas on the north side of the Schuylkill River and southeast of camp toward the Delaware River and New Jersey. On June 28, at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, Washington’s men demonstrated their new battlefield skills, as they forced the British from the field. Monmouth hurt the British in the short term and provided the Americans with a long-term boost in confidence.

Washington could claim that the war effort was going well. The Army’s decision to occupy Valley Forge and maintain strong offensive pressure on the enemy was a wise one. After they abandoned Philadelphia, the British had little to show for all of their past year’s efforts.

Thanks to the contributions of von Steuben and others, the Continental Army was more unified than ever before.

Many regard Valley Forge as the birthplace of the American Army. The concepts of basic training, the professionalization of the officer corps, and the rise of the Army’s distinctive branches, such as the corps of engineers, all got their start here. The symbolic importance that Americans have attached to Valley Forge both complicates and enriches its authentic history. The establishment of Valley Forge as a memorial provides a place where generations of Americans have had the opportunity to discover and admire the Continental Army’s sacrifices and achievements and to participate in commemoration of this history. 

The 3,500-acres of monuments, meadows, and woodlands honor and celebrate the ability of citizens to pull together and overcome adversity during extraordinary times. 

Valley Forge National Historical Park is located just 18 miles west of Center City Philadelphia and is easily accessible from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Here you can step back in time and re-live that winter of 1777 and 1778. 

The Muhlenberg Brigade Area is the site of a brigade encampment led by General Peter Muhlenberg. Consisting of nine log cabins called huts, facing a gravel company street. This is the main site for Valley Forge’s Living History program. Rangers and volunteers dress in 18th Century attire to show visitors glimpses of life at the Valley Forge encampment.

The Artillery Park Commemorates the cannon batteries led by General Knox with three rows of cannons and is a great place to get a long-distance view of the National Memorial Arch – erected to commemorate the arrival of General George Washington and his Continental Army.

Washington’s headquarters, also known as the Isaac Potts House, has the distinction of being the structure General Washington used as his headquarters during the encampment.

On December 14, 2018, the National Park Service opened a new 5,760 square-foot Visitor Center within the park. This new, temporary facility will enable construction to begin on a $12 million renovation to the current Visitor Center (built in 1976).

On Thursday, December 19, visitors can witness a reenactment of the March-In of the Continental Army.

This annual event is a full evening of festivities at Valley Forge. Take a candlelit walk to the Muhlenberg Brigade huts, encounter reenactors at a living Continental camp, meet George Washington, and enjoy eighteenth-century music. Warm-up in the Visitor Center with holiday drinks and treats, see historic chocolate making, and more.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

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

Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

That’s the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It’s not Lincoln’s most famous speech, but it’s close, and those last words are as fine as anything he ever wrote or spoke. A month later, the war was over after the surrender at Appomattox.

Lincoln waited two days to speak. He opened, “we meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart.”

“Gladness of heart” was something quite different from happiness. Lincoln was looking ahead to the reconstruction of the nation, but it would take place without him.

His would-be assassin, a notable stage actor, was at both speeches, biding his time until the moment arrived on his home turf.

Ford’s Theatre was first constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church. In 1859, the structure was abandoned as a place of worship. John T. Ford, a theatre entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the building in 1861. A church board member predicted a dire fate would fall anyone who turned the former house of worship into a theatre. In 1862, Ford renovated the theatre and performances began, setting in motion events to follow that would shake America to its core.

John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland into a family of prominent stage actors, including his older brother Edwin, the greatest actor of his time. John became a famous actor too and national celebrity in his own right, in fact, Abraham Lincoln, was a big fan. He had seen him previously in a play at Ford’s Theater and had repeatedly invited him, without success, to visit the White House.

Booth was no fan of Lincoln, however, a fact which had eluded the President. During the civil war, he was an outspoken Confederate sympathizer.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Union armies, suspended the exchange of prisoners of war with the Confederate Army to increase pressure on the South, who were strapped for men.

Booth decided to get involved. He concocted a plan to kidnap Lincoln, with the goal of holding him hostage until prisoner exchanges resumed. He recruited five men to help — Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, and John Surratt. On March 17, the conspirators planned to abduct Lincoln as he returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital, but the President changed his plans at the last minute and instead attended a ceremony at the National Hotel. In a strange twist of fate, Booth was living at the National Hotel at the time. Had he not gone to the hospital for the failed kidnap attempt, he might have been successful.

As the war drew toward a conclusion, Booth continued to believe in the Confederate cause and sought a way to salvage it. Meanwhile, he attended Lincoln’s speech at the White House in which he promoted voting rights for blacks. Booth said that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever give. It wasn’t. In fact, Booth also attended Lincoln’s second inaugural in the closing days of the war.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln told of a dream he had. One in which he entered the white house to see mourners and a military guard. He asked someone who had died. “The President,” came the response.

On the morning of April 14, 1865, Lincoln told people how happy he felt. He told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a “singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” A dream, according to Lincoln, he’d before “nearly every great and important event of the War.”

While visiting Ford’s Theatre in daylight to pick up some mail, Booth learned that Lincoln and Grant were to see the play “Our American Cousin” that night. No stranger to the staff and layout of the theater, Booth knew the perfect opportunity to attack Lincoln had presented itself.

The conspirators met at 7 p.m. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home, with David E. Herold as a guide. Meanwhile, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel.

Booth planned to shoot Lincoln at point-blank range with his single-shot Deringer, after which he’d stab Grant. The conspirators would simultaneously strike shortly after ten o’clock.

Despite what Booth had heard, General Grant and his wife, Julia had declined the invitation. Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris would accompany the Lincolns. Mary Lincoln had developed a headache and intended to stay home, but Lincoln told her he must attend because newspapers had announced that he would.

The president arrived late to the play, which was haldted for the orchestra to play “Hail to the Chief” for the 1,700 standing spectators. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair that had been selected for him from among the Ford family’s personal furnishings.

Policeman John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the President’s box. At intermission, he went to a nearby tavern along with Lincoln’s footman and coachman and was not at his post. Navy Surgeon George Brainerd Todd saw Booth arrive, saying: About 10:25 pm, a man came in walking slowly and I heard a man say, “There’s Booth” and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in.”

Once through the door, Booth barricaded it by wedging it with a brace he had prepared. A second door led to Lincoln’s box.

Booth knew the play by heart and waited to time his shot with one of the best lines of the play, one which was sure to get a loud laugh. He opened the door, stepped forward, and shot from behind with a derringer while Lincoln was laughing.

Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward. Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke and jumped from his seat wrestling the pistol away. Booth drew a knife and stabbed him in the left forearm. Booth jumped 12 feet from the box to the stage. His riding spur became caught on the flag decorating the box, causing him to land awkwardly on his left foot. He began to cross the stage, and many in the audience thought it was part of the play.

Booth held his bloody knife over his head, and yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus!,” a phrase Marcus Brutus utters after killing Julius Ceasar. It means “thus always to tyrants.” He followed it in English with “The South is avenged!”

Booth ran across the stage and exited through a side door, stabbing the orchestra leader on the way. He escaped on a horse he had waiting in the alleyway.

Army surgeon Charles Leale was in attendance that night, and after the commotion, he drove through the crowd to Lincoln’s box but couldn’t open the door. Rathbone noticed and removed the wooden brace Booth used to jam it shut.

Leale found Lincoln with his head in Mary’s arms. “His eyes were closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous,” “he said. Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale shifted him to the floor. Meanwhile, another physician, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted from the stage into the box.

After Taft and Leale opened Lincoln’s shirt and found no stab wound, they found the gunshot wound. The bullet was too deep to be removed, but they were able to dislodge a clot, after which Lincoln’s breathing improved. They decided that Lincoln must be moved, but a carriage ride to the White House was too dangerous. They took the President to one of the houses across the road, that of tailor William Petersen. It rained as soldiers carried Lincoln into the street. In Petersen’s first-floor bedroom, the exceptionally tall Lincoln was laid diagonally on the bed.

More physicians arrived, all agreeing that the wound was mortal. Throughout the night, as the hemorrhage continued, they removed blood clots to relieve pressure on the brain. Eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln arrived sometime after midnight but twelve-year-old Tad Lincoln was kept away.

Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. According to Lincoln’s secretary John Hay, at the moment of Lincoln’s death, “a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features.”

Ten days prior, Secretary of State William H. Seward had been thrown from his carriage, suffering a concussion, a broken jaw, and a broken arm. On the night of the assassination, he was confined to bed at his home in Lafayette Park. As Booth was making his way to the Ford Theatre, David Herold was guiding Lewis Powell to Seward’s house. One of Seward’s servants answered the door and Powell told him he had medicine from Seward’s physician, and that his instructions were to personally show him how to take it. Powell was admitted and made his way up the stairs. At the top of the staircase he was stopped by Seward’s son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward, who, suspicious, said his father was asleep. Daughter Fanny emerged from a room and said, “Fred, Father is awake now” – revealing to Powell where Sewards location. Powell turned as if to start downstairs but suddenly drew his revolver. He aimed at Frederick’s forehead and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He knocked Frederick unconscious with it, instead.

Powell then went in the room and stabbed at Seward’s face and neck, but the splint doctors had fitted to his broken jaw prevented the blade from penetrating deeply, saving his life. Seward’s son Augustus and Sergeant George F. Robinson, a soldier assigned to the home, were alerted by Fanny’s screams and rushed into the bedroom. Both received stab wounds struggling with Powell. As Augustus went for a pistol, Powell ran toward the door, where he encountered a State Department messenger and stabbed him in the back. He then ran down the stairs and out the door. Once outside, he exclaimed, “I’m mad! I’m mad!”. Whether that was a code to alert Herold, or an attempt to frighten pedestrians outside remains unclear, regardless, by the time Powell made his way out of the house, Herold had already ran off, leaving him to find his own way in an unfamiliar city.

George Atzerodt, meanwhile, had rented a room directly above Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood House in Washington. Carrying a gun and knife, he went to the bar downstairs, where he tried to get his courage up. He eventually became drunk and wandered off through the streets.

Within half an hour of the shooting, Booth crossed the Navy Yard Bridge into Maryland where an army sentry questioned him about his late-night travel. Although it was forbidden for civilians to cross the bridge after 9 pm, the sentry let him through. David Herold went across the same bridge less than an hour later. After retrieving weapons and supplies they had stored away, Herold and Booth went to the home of Samuel A. Mudd, a local doctor, who splinted the leg Booth had broken jumping from the presidential box.

After a day at Mudd’s house, Booth and Herold hired a local man to guide them to Samuel Cox’s house. Cox took them to Thomas Jones, who hid them in a swamp for five days until they could cross the Potomac River. On the afternoon of April 24th, they arrived at a tobacco farm in King George County, Virginia. Booth told the owner he was a wounded Confederate soldier.

The hunt for the conspirators quickly became the largest in U.S. history, involving thousands of federal troops, who tracked them to the farm.

Booth and Herold were sleeping on April 26th when soldiers surrounded the barn, then threatened to set fire to it. Herold surrendered, but Booth cried out, “I will not be taken alive!” The soldiers set fire to the barn sending Booth scrambling for the back door with a rifle and pistol.

Sergeant Boston Corbett crept up behind the barn and shot Booth in the back of the head, almost exactly where he shot Lincoln. He died on the porch of the farm two hours later.

The remaining conspirators were arrested by month’s end – except for John Surratt, who fled to Quebec then Europe until a friend from his school days recognized him in there in early 1866 and alerted the U.S. government. He was finally captured in Egypt in November 1866.

Mourners lined up seven abreast for a mile to view Lincoln in his walnut casket in the black-draped East Room of the White House. Special trains brought thousands from other cities, some of whom slept on the Capitol’s lawn. Hundreds of thousands watched the funeral procession, and millions more lined the 1,700-mile route of the train that took Lincoln’s remains to Springfield, Illinois.

Following the assassination, the government appropriated the theater, with Congress paying Ford $88,000 in compensation. An order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement. Between 1866 and 1887, the theater was taken over by the U.S. military and served as a facility for the War Department with records kept on the first floor, the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office on the second floor, and the Army Medical Museum on the third. In 1887, the building exclusively became a clerk’s office for the War Department, when the medical departments moved out.

On June 9, 1893, the front part of the building collapsed, killing 22 clerks and injuring another 68. This led some to believe the facility was cursed. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1911.

A Lincoln museum opened on the first floor of the theater building in 1932, and in the following year, it was transferred to the new National Park Service.

In 1964, Congress approved funds for the building’s complete restoration, which began that year and was completed in 1968. Ford’s theater became a venue for live entertainment again. Vice President Hubert Humphrey dedicated the restored theater at a gala performance.

The theater was again renovated during the 2000s. The re-opening ceremony was on February 11, 2009, to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The event featured President Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Kelsey Grammer, James Earl Jones, Ben Vereen, the President’s Own Marine Band, Broadway star Audra McDonald and more.

The Ford’s Theatre Museum beneath the theater contains Lincoln artifacts, including some related to the assassination, like the Derringer pistol used to carry out the shooting, Booth’s diary, the original door to Lincoln’s theater box, and the blood-stained pillow from the President’s deathbed.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is open every day except for Thanksgiving Day and December 25. Tickets are free and required for entry. The theatre is an active performing arts venue, and there are times when it is closed for matinees, rehearsals and special events. In most cases, the museum and Petersen House, where Lincoln died, will remain open even if the theater is closed for performances.

A performance is another opportunity to see the historic theater. Regular runs of exceptional quality plays and musicals can be attended by anyone willing to purchase a ticket. The presidential box is never occupied.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

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

The Legacy of Three Million

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue. The bulk of the text was written by retired Forest Service Historian Gerald W. Williams with additions by Historian Aaron Shapiro.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

If you’ve spent any amount of time in National or State parks in the U.S., you’ve probably been in a building built by a federal program that employed nearly 3 million people during the most difficult economic time in our country’s history. Their work constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 state and national parks. They built wildlife refuges, fisheries, water storage basins, and animal shelters. They built bridges and campground facilities, many of which are still in use today.

The 1920s were a decade of unprecedented growth, prosperity, and social change in the U.S. The rise of the inexpensive, mass-produced automobile allowed millions to explore new highways and byways. Farm people flocked to cities to pursue jobs on the production line. Credit expanded, allowing many wage earners to purchase products without ready cash. Stock market
speculation, especially through a system of easy credit, was on the rise.

Yet mounting inflation began to erode worker purchasing power, and wage increases. At the same time, the nation stepped back from the international scene through a policy of isolationism, exemplified most prominently by Congress’ refusal to ratify the League of Nations pact.

When the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, the things that marked 1920s growth contributed to a long and depressed economy in the 1930s.

When the depression hit, the demand for products and thus their need for production fell sharply. City dwellers increasingly found themselves unemployed. Farmers suffered through severe droughts, Dust Bowl storms, and restricted credit, often losing their land. Debts piled up, and savings disappeared. Banks limited remaining credit, recalled loans and foreclosed on mortgages. In addition, because fewer people lived and worked directly on the land, city people could not fall back on the barter system for the exchange of food and shelter.

Without a cash or credit income, the economy fell to an unprecedented low. By late 1932 over 13 million Americans, about one-third of the workforce were out of jobs. People had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and felt hungry, bewildered, apathetic, and angry. Young people were particularly vulnerable and had little hope for the future, given that they found themselves untrained, unskilled, unable to gain work experience, and lacking adequate education.

The stock market crash virtually eliminated the credit system, personal and family savings, and long-term capital expenditures by industry. Consumer demand was sharply reduced, devastating confidence along with much of the business structure. The final straw for many came when a large number of banks and financial institutions, having demanded loan repayments from people who had no money, went bankrupt. The almost total collapse of the nation’s financial structure demolished the public confidence that existed in the 1920s.

President Herbert Hoover attempted to remedy the crisis but to little avail. Despite the fact that he was not directly responsible for the depression, he became a scapegoat. Re-nominated by the Republicans in 1932, the condition of the national economy soured his chances for re-election. The Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then governor of New York. FDR looked to create a federal program to intervene in the public and private sectors that would create a “new deal.” He campaigned on the basic economic and social issues that were at the very heart of the depression, and he prevailed in a landslide.

Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, and his inaugural speech helped change the country’s attitude to one of careful optimism. His first official act as President was to declare a bank holiday on March 6 to allow time for the Treasury Department to check the stability of each bank before reopening. Thus began the “Hundred Days” in which the President, with the consent of Congress, produced much of the legislation that formed the body of the New Deal.

On March 21, 1933, FDR sent a message to Congress stating that he wanted to establish a new forestry relief agency: “I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Congress acted quickly, passing a bill authorizing the President to act on his proposed back-to-work forestry program. On April 5, 1933, FDR signed Executive Order 6101 which officially established the Emergency Conservation Work Program.

The initial selection of men for CCC camps began just four days after the signing of the Executive Order, with the first camp established ten days later. This first CCC camp, near Luray, Virginia in the George Washington National Forest, was named Camp Roosevelt. In early June, a peak of almost 14,000 men per day were selected and assigned to nearly 1,300 CCC camps across the nation. By July 1, 1933, three months into the program, the six-month enrollment quota of almost 275,000 was reached. That’d be one of the country’s largest employers, even today.

The CCC represented a significant departure from older work relief efforts that relied on private or small public efforts for those without jobs. The CCC was designed to “give each man some sense of his duties as a citizen in American Society.” It provided unemployed young men with work in the nation’s forests, parks, and rangelands. It became one of the most successful of New Deal back-to-work programs.

The idea for the CCC originated from FDR’s involvement with the Boy Scouts. The Scouts promoted the idea that social behavior could be shaped by manipulating one’s physical surroundings or environment. Like the Scouts, the CCC brought young men from what many viewed as diseased urban settings struggling through the depression and placed them in healthful environments in nature.

The CCC program had two main objectives. The first was to find immediate and useful conservation work for hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men. The other, as specified in law in 1937, was to provide vocational training, and later educational training, for enrollees. Enlistment lasted six months with an option of re-enrolling for additional six month periods for a maximum of two years. Men were paid a dollar a day, with $25.00 per month sent home to their dependents, usually their parents. Remaining funds could be spent at the camp canteen or for other personal expenses. The government provided the enrollees with room, board, clothing, and transportation.

Four distinct categories of enrollees existed. Most numerous were the young men, or Juniors, between the ages of 18 and 25. The Junior enrollee had to be single and pass a physical examination. Juniors comprised about 85 percent of CCC enrollment.

Another group was the Local Experienced Men, LEM for short. This group served as project leaders in the Junior camps. These men were hired from local communities and were often previously employed in outdoor or woods work. They could be married and were allowed to live at home if the camp was nearby, and there were no age restrictions.

Both the LEMs and Juniors were chosen through the U.S. Department of Labor until 1935 and thereafter by each state. LEM’s comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

Veterans of World War I were another group of older men who could enroll in the CCC. Several thousand World War I veterans had taken part in the “Bonus Army” marches on Washington in 1932 and 1933. The earlier march in Hoover’s administration was dispersed by the U.S. Army, while the latter march was dispersed by FDR by offering to allow them to enroll in the CCC. Many second “Bonus Army” veterans opted to join the newly established work relief program with the administration creating separate CCC companies and camps for the veterans. After the initial “Bonus Army” enrollment, Veterans Administration regional offices chose other veterans from around the country. Veterans were not restricted by age or marital status. This category comprised about five percent of total CCC enrollment.

American Indians and residents from the U.S. Territories comprised another group of CCC enrollees. They generally had separate CCC companies and camps on or in their own reservations or territories, where they could live at home and work on nearby projects. They were not restricted by age or marital status. American Indians were chosen by the local tribal council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and made up approximately two percent of total CCC enrollment. Territorial enrollees lived in the U.S. Territories, which at the time included residents of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Each corps area was commanded by an Army General. After signing up for the CCC, enrollees were assigned to a CCC company and reported to an
Army post for conditioning. The companies were then dispersed to a CCC camp. Later in the program, many enrollees were sent directly to existing CCC companies and camps without the physical conditioning period. A
CCC company consisted of about 200 men, although several women’s camps existed in northeastern states, enrolling 8,500 women before being eliminated in 1937. In the early days of the CCC, some racially integrated camps existed, but these were disbanded in 1935. By 1938 the number of African-American enrollees reached 10 percent, and by the end of the program, nearly 250,000 served, almost all in segregated camps.

At the beginning of the program, regular U.S. Army officers were in charge of each camp. Within several years the officers were replaced by Reserve officers from all military branches. As World War II approached, civilians were allowed to have command positions in CCC camps. Military officers had authority over enrollees from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. The responsible work agency, such as the Forest Service, had authority over CCC men during the workday.

Initially, each CCC company was housed in a camp consisting of surplus army pyramid tents or wooden tent frames. Permanent camp buildings were later constructed by local community contractors unless the camp was in an especially remote area, in which case the company commander had an option of having the CCC company construct their own buildings. Later, camps were fitted with inexpensive, prefabricated and portable buildings.

Camps were built around a basic model that included barracks, kitchen, mess hall, recreation hall, office, latrines, and equipment and storage sheds.

Many work projects occurred far away from the main CCC camp and required men to spend as much as half the workday in travel. As a result, “side” camps were often established near the worksite. Side camps usually consisted of 10-20 men living in tents, with a work supervisor or foreman in charge.

CCC boys often preferred these side camps, which offered less stringent schedules and more congenial work and play atmosphere.

In addition to improving the nation’s forest and park lands, CCC enrollees bettered themselves. On-the-job training provided crew members with marketable skills and basic education. About one-half of the enrollees had less than an eighth-grade education, and a number of them were functionally illiterate. Evening instruction offered remedial reading and writing skills. Many camps worked closely with local schools, while some colleges offered correspondence courses.

CCC enrollees received medical and dental care along with opportunities for religious services and recreational activities. Religious services were usually provided at least once a month, although many enrollees attended local churches. Recreation often involved organized and competitive sports through camp programs. Most camps provided space for library services, dances, ping pong, card games, and musical outlets. Additional opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and courting young women in the local community existed for the CCC boys in their free time.

The CCC made substantial contributions to forested areas, especially the millions of acres of national forests. Initially, most CCC camps were assigned to national and state forests, public domain land, and a few private forests. Later in the program, additional camps were organized for other state and federal agencies that requested specific work projects. CCC accomplishments in reforestation, road construction, firefighting, and recreation still yield benefits today. The CCC left the nation a vastly improved natural resources balance sheet, including three billion trees
planted, 125,000 miles of truck trails built, 89,000 miles of telephone lines, 800 new state parks developed, 40 million acres of farmlands benefiting from erosion control work, rehabilitation of drainage ditches, better grazing conditions, and an increasing wildlife population.

During the dark days of the depression, the CCC put over three million men to work on conservation projects in the national forests. A 1933 Journal of Forestry article reported on the work of CCC enrollees in eastern National Forests, “On the whole, the men in the camps have taken to the woods work very well. Many prefer it to work on roads or other construction projects. The use of an ax is no longer a mystery, and trees are often called by their first names,” the article proclaimed. Many of these workers in the woods later found themselves using different sorts of tools as they served their country in World War II.

The CCC was one of the most popular and successful New Deal programs. It enjoyed overwhelming support from the enrollees, local communities, various states and territories, and the nation. Perhaps the most significant product of the CCC-era was the profound and lasting effect it had on the three million enrollees. Work in the CCC provided a turning point in the lives of many of the nation’s youth, and it brought much needed financial aid to their families. In addition, it fostered self-confidence, a desire, and capacity to return to active work, a new understanding of a great country, and faith in its future.

By 1941, unemployment in the United States reduced to pre-Depression levels, and enrollment in the CCC was slowing. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress stopped funding the program, and most of the equipment was turned over to the War Department for use in World War II.

The toil of more than 3,000,000 people lives in our park system today across the country, leaving their stamp on places like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Mount Rainer, and the Appalachian Trail in historic buildings, roads, lodges, fire towers and unseen conservation efforts that bear fruits to this day. The next time you’re in a National Park, remember that it might look much different if it weren’t for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

Learn More

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

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

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

The Sound of Geology

One of our most visited National Parks averages more than a half-million visitors per month in the summer, visitors who flock to see massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky, and it’s main feature, a glorious canyon carved by an unassuming yet powerful river.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Zion National Park is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The sheer weight of these accumulated layers caused the basin to sink, so that the top surface always remained near sea level. As the land rose and fell and as the climate changed, the depositional environment fluctuated from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. This process of sedimentation continued until over 10,000 feet of material accumulated.

Mineral-laden waters slowly filtered through the compacted sediments. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica acted as cementing agents, and with pressure from overlying layers over long periods of time, transformed the deposits into stone. Ancient seabeds became limestone; mud and clay became mudstones and shale; and desert sand became sandstone. Each layer originated from a distinct source and so differs in thickness, mineral content, color, and eroded appearance.

From Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth started to push the surface up. This was not chaotic uplift, but very slow vertical hoisting of huge blocks of the crust. Zion’s elevation rose from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level.

This uplift gave the streams greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. Zion’s location on the western edge of this uplift caused the streams to tumble off the plateau, flowing rapidly down a steep gradient. A fast-moving stream carries more sediment and larger boulders than a slow-moving river. These streams began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons.

Since the uplift began, the North Fork of the Virgin River has carried away several thousand feet of rock that once lay above the highest layers visible today. The Virgin River is still excavating. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

One of the most popular areas of the park is where this transition happens. Everyday visitors walk the paved riverwalk trail, while the more adventurous head upstream, hiking through the water of the narrows. Here, geology is constantly in motion.

Unlock the hidden geologic mysteries of river stones with Park Ranger Robin Hampton as she reads an article written by Park Ranger Barb Graves for the park’s Nature Notes.

The Secret Life of River Stones

If you’ve spent any time on the riverwalk trail, then you’ve certainly met the unofficial park mascot – the rock squirrel. In their home, animals like the rock squirrel encounter an overabundance of human contact on a daily basis. Having been on the River Walk trail a few times myself, I can tell you the rock squirrel is the king of the castle here. If you even consider taking out that Nature Valley bar, they will come for you and take it. They also have zero issues rooting through your bag if you set it down. You’ll often see people snapping pics and oohing and aahing over these “cute” little squirrels.

But in our this next audio clip narrated again by Park Ranger Robin Hampton, from an article written for the park’s Nature Notes by Park Ranger Amy Gaiennie, we learn a little bit more about the “Misunderstood Rodent.”

Misunderstood Rodents

Perhaps a bit of that will keep you from putting your finger near a rock squirrel.

The Virgin River winds through the park and beyond into the gateway town of Springdale, where you can find all sorts of lodging and dinging options for a visit to Zion. There are two campgrounds in the park, the Watchman, which has electric and water, and can accommodate large RVs, is reservable 6 months in advance, and the neighboring South Campground features primitive sites and can be reserved up to two weeks in advance. The spectacular virgin river flows through both campgrounds.

It’s best to stay in the park if you can, because the parking lot fills nearly every day, and you can’t just drive through the canyon, you have to take the park’s shuttle system. If you do stay outside, there’s another shuttle that runs through the town of Springdale, but you’ll have to pay about $20 to park.

See all Zion National Park Audiocasts here.

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 69434150_735914166836084_179055030496657408_n.jpg

Learn More

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

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering FamilyParagraph

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

National Geographic’s Jon Waterman

Adventurer Jon Waterman is the award-winning author of several books on the American landscape, including several on the wilds of Alaska and the conflicts surrounding the Colorado River. His newest book, commissioned by National Geographic, is called “Atlas of the National Parks,” and contrary to the name, it’s no road map.

Listen to the interview below, or on any podcast app:

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.

National Geographic calls their “Atlas of the National Parks” the first book of its kind. it’s a stunning glossy showcase of America’s spectacular park system richly illustrated with an inspiring and informative collection of maps, graphics, and photographs.

An image from the book: Wolves band together for survival during the harsh Denali winters. Over 10 wolf packs call the park home, and studies suggest the number of individual wolves there is climbing after a record low in 2016. (Aaron Huey/National Geographic Image Collection)

We found the whole approach to work really well, and the text is written beautifully. As a reader you dive in because each park is treated in a different way, with plenty of maps and diagrams that immerse you in a park’s geology and landscape.

The Yellowstone River plunges over Upper Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. The park has dozens of named waterfalls and hundreds of unnamed ones, plunging from tens to hundreds of feet. (Gordon Wiltsie/National Geographic Image Collection)

The National Geographic Atlas to the National Parks comes out November 19th, it’s a fantastic, large, glossy, hardcover gift for the holiday season. And you can pre-order it now on Amazon. You can find more Jon Waterman’s other books at

News from the Parks | October 2019

Welcome to the October “News From the Parks Episode” of the America’s National Parks Podcast, our new monthly series where we round up for you the latest info about happenings in America’s Greatest treasures.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

October 2019 News

The biggest news out of the parks this month was a controversial plan by the Department of the Interior’s “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, a group of outdoor and recreation business operators. The plan boasts the parks as quote “excellent candidates for partner management under concessions and leases.” end quote. It recommends everything from turning campground operations to private companies, indexing campground prices to reflect inflation and the market, blackout periods for discounted senior-citizen and disabled camping fees during peak seasons, and even access for food trucks. The committee believes that the plan will help stabilize a park system that is in need or repair and maintenance, while providing relief for a strapped National Park Service. 

Detractors look at the plan as an attempt at a land-grab, pointing to historic problems with large concessionaires at places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, which have not resulted in revenue increases for the park service. It’s also not clear if concessionaires are interested in operating campgrounds in many parks. Often when current contracts go up for renewal, they have few if any bidders. 

But it’s important to note that the plan is just one advisory committee’s proposal, and is far from being adopted by the Department of the Interior.

Researchers have identified a new threat to Wild Lands across the country, human noise.

Anthropogenic noise, it’s called. Scientists from Colorado State University and the Park Service have spent the past decade studying noise on national parks. Researchers analyzed 46,789 hours of audio from 66 parks, and noise made by machines and people are heard in 37% of those recordings.

For many species, hearing the sounds of their habitat helps manage their safety. It’s often key to their survival and mating patterns. 

Recreational watercraft and trains create the loudest sounds, but the most common are automobiles, aircraft, and human voices.

It’s hoped that the research will lead to possible solutions, including quiet zones, managed construction noise, and limited access to sensitive areas.

Two mountain lions have been found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains—the cause of death for one of them, a healthy six-year-old male known as P-30, was rodent poison, according to National Park Service biologists.

He is the fifth mountain lion in the long-term study of the species to die from anticoagulant rodent poison, highlighting how an attempt to curb a rat problem can end up negatively impacting a wide range of wildlife.

Since 2002, National Park Service researchers have documented anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 23 out of 24 local mountain lions that they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten.

“Just about every mountain lion we’ve tested throughout our study has had exposure to these poisons, generally multiple compounds and often at high levels,” said Seth Riley, an ecologist and the wildlife branch chief for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “A wide range of predators can be exposed to these toxicants – everything from hawks and owls to bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and mountain lions. Even if they don’t die directly from the anticoagulant effects, our research has shown that bobcats, for example, are suffering significant immune system impacts.”

Mountain lions are likely exposed through secondary or tertiary poisoning, meaning that they consume an animal that ate the bait, such as a ground squirrel, or an animal that ate an animal that consumed the bait, such as a coyote.

How would you like to get paid to go fishing? The National Park Service has approved a plan to protect native fish and other aquatic species in the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park by paying fishermen to catch invasive species.

The Expanded Non-Native Aquatic Species Management Plan includes what’s called an “incentivized harvest,” to reduce the growing population of brown trout in the Lees Ferry area below Glen Canyon Dam. Anglers will be rewarded for brown trout that are caught and removed from the river. The Park Service is working on the details of that program and will notify the public on how to participate once that process is funded and in place.

In other invasive species news, Little fire ants have met their match as Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park gets closer to meeting its goal of eradicating the pests from the popular Steam Vents area off Crater Rim Drive. 

Little fire ant, or “LFA” detections have decreased by at least 99% at Steam Vents since the park began treating the area in February. In 2018, LFA were abundant and readily observed on vegetation. During last month’s surveys, park pest control workers found LFA on just 0.1% of bait stations. 

Treatments will continue until the population is eliminated. “It’s too early to declare victory just yet,” said park ecologist David Benitez. “If we don’t continue our treatments, LFA populations will quickly rebound and could spread to new areas. These pests are a serious concern for human health and also for our natural resources.”

The U.S. is running short of people who can tell the forest from the trees. “Plant blindness,” or the inability of many people, even those in the scientific community, to identify plants is on the rise. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, organizations such as the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management can’t find enough scientists to deal with invasive plants, wildfire reforestation, and basic land-management issues.

Not only are there fewer university botany programs, but those who graduate from them may not be well versed in plant identification, focusing more on commercial applications of plants. 

There is now one botanist on the federal payroll for every 20 million acres of land, many having retired in recent years.


Similarly, A dwindling number of federal officers are patrolling the nation’s forests, parks, wildlife refuges and other open spaces, A GAO report cited a 19% drop in the ranks of officers at the U.S. Forest Service between 2013 and 2018 The Bureau of Land Management saw a 9% drop and now has one officer in the field for every 1.2 million acres the agency oversees.

A reproduction bust of Orville Wright, which was recently stolen from Wright Brothers National Memorial, was found on the beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. A visitor called the County non-emergency line to report that the bust was “tucked” into the dunes.

National Park Service Rangers will continue investigating the theft of the bust and the damage to its granite mounting base. Homeowners and business owners in the area of Wright Brothers National Memorial have been encouraged to review security camera footage and report any suspicious activity from the night of October 12th through the afternoon of October 15th.

The National Park Service has begun recruitment for thousands of seasonal jobs. 2020 summer positions have been released on USAJobs website. The parks are recruiting entry-level summer seasonal park rangers all across the country—from the peaks of Mount Rainier National Park to the historic streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The National Park Service is also recruiting for a variety of specialized jobs, including archaeologists, biological technicians, and engineers.

“The uncommon men and women of the National Park Service share a common trait: a passion for caring for the nation’s special places and sharing their stories,” said Acting Regional Director Chip Jenkins. “I hope you’ll consider joining us this summer season to experience your America. You can make a difference by bringing your unique perspective to our work.”

Finally, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park celebrated its 20th birthday this month. The Western Colorado park was established as a National Monument on March 2, 1933, and was redesignated a National Park on October 21, 1999. Its name comes from the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day.

America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes RV Miles and See America. To learn more visit

To see the full collection of America’s National Parks Podcasts visit You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group – now over 34,000 strong. Visit to join.

Spooky Yellowstone

National Parks play roles in all kinds of American legends, and Yellowstone, our first park, is no exception. It’s October, time to dust off the ghost stories and feast on three short pieces of Yellowstone lore, as retold by S.E. Schlosser for her book “Spooky Yellowstone.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

In the wild-west early days of the park, many of the proprietors felt they owned the land, and as our first tale proves, some could never let go.

Yancey was a quirky old-time pioneer, gold prospector and Civil War veteran —perhaps the last of that breed—who came to Yellowstone National Park in the 1870s and built a hotel in “Yancey’s Hole”; current day Pleasant Valley near Roosevelt Lodge. The hotel provided accommodations and provisions to the stagecoach traveling back and forth between Mammoth Hot Springs and the mining camps in Cooke City. It boasted five bedrooms and could accommodate twenty guests. Rooms were $2 per day, $10 per week, and included meals. There was also a saloon handy for anyone wishing a splash of moonshine after dinner.
Folks around Yellowstone called him “Uncle John” Yancey. He was popular with just about everybody in the park and its vicinity. Uncle John Yancey had important friends among the posh families back east, some of whom dropped by the hotel from time-to-time. Yancey knew all the good fishing holes and had plenty of tall tales to amuse people. He welcomed all and sundry with a libation of “Kentucky tea,” reputed to be the best whiskey in the park.
John F. Yancey was seventy-seven years when he traveled to Gardiner, Montana, to witness the dedication of the Roosevelt Arch by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 24, 1903. Yancey met President Roosevelt during the ceremony, but he caught a cold at the event and died of pneumonia a couple of weeks later. He was buried in the old Tinker’s Cemetery near Mammoth, and folks thought that was the last they’d ever see of Yancey. But not so!
It soon became apparent that Yancey’s ghost had gone right back to the Pleasant Valley; and Yancey’s ghost made himself at home in Roosevelt Lodge for the next 100 plus years. According to the park employees, Yancey’s ghost will bang a tin cup on the walls of the staff quarters at three a.m. He hides things and makes them reappear in unexpected places. Yancey’s ghost has also been known to unsaddle horses at the end of a long day on the trail. A trickster and a bit of a nuisance, Yancey’s ghost is still as wild as the West he helped tame.

The Lake Yellowstone has been filled with lore since it was built back in the 1800s. Many workers of all stripes have treated guests over the last century…perhaps some never left. Our next story is a first-person account of a very helpful bellman.

I gasped a bit as I wheeled my heavy bag toward the white-trimmed double doors leading to the hotel lobby. I was having some trouble adjusting to the altitude in Yellowstone after living my whole life at sea level. My husband Frank, on the other hand, took to the elevation as one mountain-born, much to my annoyance. He’d already dragged the rest of our luggage inside the hotel and was checking in at the front desk as I doddered my way into the lobby and collapsed in a chair near the fireplace.

“Come on, slowpoke, we are on the fourth floor,” my husband called happily, and dashed down the hall carrying a load of luggage as expertly as any of the bellmen. I struggled out of the chair, which was very comfortable, and aimed myself somewhat erratically for the hall. About halfway down, a compassionate bellman overtook me and claimed my heavy bag. Relieved, I hitched my handbag over my shoulder and followed the bellman. We chattered about my trip all the way up the elevator, and the bellman had some great suggestions for hikes we might take along the lakeshore, and where we might see wildlife.

The elevator let us off on the fourth floor, and we walked to the end of a long, rather spooky hallway. I shivered a bit, feeling uncomfortable and not understanding why this was so. But the friendly bellman distracted me with his gentle conversation. He left me in front of the open door with my bag, bowing slightly like an old-fashioned gentleman in a movie. I fumbled in my handbag, looking for my wallet, then realized I’d given it to my husband so he could check us in.

“Wait a moment,” I told the friendly bellman and hurried inside the room, calling to my husband. Frank was locked in the bathroom, but my wallet was on the bedside table. Pulling out some money, I hurried to the door, only to find that the friendly bellman had vanished.

“Were you calling for me, honey?” my husband asked, coming out of the bathroom.”I was looking for my wallet to tip the bellman that helped me with my bag,” I explained. “But he disappeared while I was looking for it.”
“We can leave a tip for him at the desk in the lobby,” my husband said.
“Great idea,” I said. “Don’t let me forget. He had some great advice for our trip. Told me to drink lots of water to help me adjust to the elevation and recommended the hike out to Storm Point. Apparently, the view of the lake is lovely!” Frank’s face lit up at this suggestion. He loved to hike.

We turned our attention to unpacking our bags. We were staying at the hotel for two nights before heading up to Canyon. Frank was going fishing for lake trout tomorrow, while I took a tour around the lower loop, learning all about the Yellowstone volcano and looking at the geysers and other hot springs.

Our room was quite lovely. It was at the end of the hall on the backside of the hotel, but I could see the lake out of the side window. Still, something about the room felt a little strange, as if someone was watching. I had goosebumps all along my upper arms as I unpacked. “What nonsense,” I said aloud, trying to make the feeling go away. “What did you say?” Frank asked, looking up from his fishing tackle box. “Nothing,” I said hastily. “Let’s go down to dinner.”

We had reservations for 7 p.m. at the hotel dining room, and it was almost that time now. I grabbed my wallet, remembering that I wanted to tip the friendly bellman. The being-watched feeling returned full force as we walked down the spooky hallway to the elevator. I shivered, and my husband suggested that I go back for my sweater. “No I’m fine,” I said hastily, not wanting to be alone in the room.

We descended in the elevator and walked down the lower hall to the lobby. I paused for a moment at the bell desk, hoping to see my friendly bellman. A nice young man greeted me with a smile, and I asked about the man who’d helped me with my luggage, explaining that he’d vanished before I could tip him. “Do you know his name?” the young man asked. “I’m sorry, I don’t,” I said. Then I spied the picture on the desk, showing a group of bellmen. “That’s him,” I said, pointing. The young man’s smile slipped a bit. “That is a historic picture, taken many years ago,” he said cautiously. “None of those men work here now.” “Really? That’s strange,” I said, feeling cold again. “The bellman who helped me looks just like this man.” “That man was the bell captain,” the young man said. “He’s since passed away.” Face devoid of expression; he added: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who it was that helped you today.” “Oh well, maybe I will see him again,” I said with an uneasy glance at the photo on the desk. Strange that the man who helped me looked exactly like the former bell captain.

I shuddered and hurried over to my husband, who was examining some of the lovely photographs displayed around the lobby. “All done?” he asked, taking my hand and leading me toward the dining room. “Not really,” I said uneasily, and told him about the picture. “So, you’re saying a ghost helped you with your luggage?” Frank asked when I finished. Hearing it put that way sent cold shudders down my spine. “Pretty much,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to spend the night at this hotel. What if the ghost comes back?” “If the phantom bellman comes back, we’ll ask him to take our luggage down to the car,” said Frank. “That way, we can make a fast getaway and we won’t have to carry our bags. Works for me!” “Get out of here,” I said with a reluctant grin. He smiled back and took my hand. “Let’s go to dinner,” my husband said.

A 500-passenger ship began touring the massive Yellowstone Lake in 1905. Its owner hired a man to watch the ship for the 1906 winter, but he died of a heart attack as he rowed out to Stevenson Island. The ship never took another cruise and was left on the Stevenson Island waterfront to wither away.

By 1921, the ship had to be pushed onto the Island’s shore and by 1926, her steam boiler was drilled out and used as an island hotel heater. The ship was also used by skiers for warmth, as an overhang for a fish-fry business and as a place to stage full-out bar fights.

In 1930, rangers doused the boat in kerosene and light it ablaze, which really only served to turn it black.

In the time since, the anchor and other items have been removed and put on display throughout the park, but the ship’s ribs still wait on the Island.

Our final story comes from a park ranger’s chilling tale from those early years after the wreck.

My supervisor radioed me just after sunrise on a warm summer morning to report another incident aboard the shipwrecked E.C. Waters out on Stevenson Island. “A bunch of drunks were boozing and brawling on the boat last night,” he said in a grumpy tone that clearly indicated his lack of morning coffee. I sighed. Again! I had no idea why so many summer visitors flocked to the wreck of the old steamboat on Stevenson Island, which lay partially submerged beside a sandy beach.”I want you to head out there and make sure no one got knocked on the head or stranded on the island when the brawl ended,” my supervisor continued. “Right, boss,” I said.

I hurried down to the marina and headed out in the boat we used for official business. It was a short ride out to Stevenson’s Island. I sighed as I drew closer to the creaky old tub listing precariously on the shore. There were empty beer bottles strewn on the beach and floating in the water, always a sign of trespassers. I moored my craft and gathered up as much trash as I could. Then I cautiously ventured onto the rickety steamboat. Thankfully, I found no bodies huddled asleep in the beer-soaked wreck.

Time to check the Island.

Stevenson’s Island was 1.3 miles long, and I was going to have to check the whole darn thing, just in case some of the drunks had gone exploring last night. With a sigh, I headed out in a basic search pattern.

By mid-morning, I was hot, grumpy, tired, and convinced I was on a wild-goose chase. There had been no sign of stranded vacationers – drunk or sober. I headed back toward the sunlit beach, ready to return to the mainland.

As I came over a tiny rise, a huge wind struck me hard, making me stagger backward a few paces in the suddenly freezing air. In front of me, I saw the lake churning in great waves while a huge storm cloud massed overhead. I saw something big and bulky, floating at the edge of the water. Something man-shaped. My heart leapt into my throat, and I rushed forward. Dear God, someone had fallen from the boat last night and hit his head! My hands felt cold and clammy as I fumbled with the radio at my belt. I had to call this in! But when I spoke into the radio, it only returned static.

I dropped to my knees beside the body; noticing that the sodden clothing was old-fashioned, dating from long before 1900. The drowned man looked rather like a fur trapper or explorer from the era when Yellowstone was first discovered. I checked his neck for a pulse. There was no pulse. I turned the body over and stared into a pair of bulging brown eyes on a blue-white face.

And then, in between one breath and the next, the body vanished. Suddenly my hand was gripping empty air instead of an old-fashioned jacket. I reeled backward with a gasp and landed on my rump in the sand. Where had the corpse gone?

I glanced frantically over the calm, sparkling waters of the still lake, searching for the body of the drowned man. The warm summer wind caressed my face as my brain registered the change in scenery. What had happened to the approaching storm? Where were the huge, wind-swept swells that had frightened me so much when I came over the rise?

I scrambled to my feet and stood hyperventilating with my head between my legs, arms braced on my knees. This couldn’t be happening. But I knew it was. Storm, cold wind, and the corpse had vanished in a heartbeat. They had been shades of a former time, a former accident. So that was why the man’s clothes had been so old-fashioned.

Spooked by the incident, I unmoored the official park boat and leapt in, glad to get away from Stevenson Island. Folks said that Lake Yellowstone never gave up its dead. Apparently, neither did the Island. I turned my craft and headed back to the main land and (hopefully) sanity. No more ghosts for me!

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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

Learn More

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

Spooky Yellowstone: Tales Of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, And Other Local Lore
By S.E. Schlosser

From Amazon: Pull up a chair or gather round the campfire and get ready for creepy tales of ghostly hauntings, eerie happenings, and other strange occurrences under starry skies. Whether read around the campfire on a dark and stormy night or from the backseat of the family van on the way to grandma’s, this is a collection to treasure.

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering Family

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

The Great Unknown

In the summer of 1869, an expedition embarked from The Green River Station in the Wyoming Territory and traveled downstream through parts of the present-day states of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona before reaching the convergence of the Colorado and Virgin rivers in present-day Nevada. Despite a series of hardships, including losses of boats and supplies, near-drownings, and the eventual departures of several crew members, the voyage produced the first detailed descriptions of much of the previously unexplored canyon country of the Colorado Plateau.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, American Naturalist John Wesley Powell, and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

Learn More

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

Arizona has been home to humans for more than 13,000 years. Ancestral Puebloan people lived in and around the Grand Canyon, leaving behind dwellings, garden sites, food storage areas, and artifacts that we can see today.

Modern tribes still consider Grand Canyon their homeland. Eleven contemporary tribes have cultural links to the area, and their oral histories are rich with references to the creation of that great chasm and torrential river.

In fact, much of the canyon isn’t part of the National Park. Parts lie within the bounds of reservations. 

Early European and American explorers of the Grand Canyon were the first to document the power of the Colorado River and share the beauty of the immense canyon with the larger world.

The first Europeans to lay eyes on the Grand Canyon were Spanish soldiers in Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s army. They traveled north from Mexico City in search of the Seven Cities of Gold, fabled cities in the New Mexico territory purported to hold untold riches. 

After traveling for six months, Coronado’s army arrived at the Hopi Mesas, east of Grand Canyon. Coronado had also hoped to find a navigable water route to the Gulf of California. The Hopi leaders led a party into the canyon to see the power of the Colorado River. The soldiers were most unwelcome, and the Hopi guided them along a dangerous path to the highest point above the river and offered no information of value.

The twenty-day journey to the edge of the canyon culminated with the river nearly a mile below them. Three infantrymen were ordered to climb their way down to the river. They made it about 1,500 feet, a third of the way down, where they could more clearly see the river that they had estimated to be only 6′ wide. Now they saw it as a much wider waterway and realized there was no way to navigate ships along the powerful rapids. The Hopi had fooled the Spaniards into thinking that the area was an impenetrable wasteland, and Coronado dismissed further western exploration, moving his men east to Texas. The Grand Canyon was left unexplored for the next 235 years.

Often called “The Great Unknown,” the area was literally a blank space on maps. But it was clear that the Colorado River made a significant portion of its journey through this area, so in the mid-1800s, the federal government funded an expedition to determine its usefulness as a trade route.

Army First Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was charged with the duty and would become the first European American known to reach the river within Grand Canyon.

Ives navigated upriver in a fifty-foot long sternwheel steamboat called the Explorer. Before reaching the Grand Canyon, he crashed and had to continue upriver for thirty miles in a skiff, until resorting to a journey on foot.

In his report, he said that “the extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding. The plateau is cut into shreds by these gigantic chasms and resembles a vast ruin. Belts of country miles in width have been swept away, leaving only isolated mountains standing in the gap. Fissures so profound that the eye cannot penetrate their depths are separated by walls whose thickness one can almost span, and slender spires that seem to be tottering upon their bases shoot up thousands of feet from the vaults below.”

But he could not envision any sort of application for the area. Much of the beautiful scenery of the west was, to many early Americans, useless. He continued: “The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

But in 1869, another explorer would take on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. His name was John Wesley Powell. 

Powell was born in Mount Morris, New York, in 1834, the son of Joseph and Mary Powell. His father, a poor itinerant preacher, had emigrated to the U.S. from Shrewsbury, England, in 1830. His family moved westward to Ohio, then Wisconsin, before settling in rural Boone County, Illinois.

As a young man, he undertook a series of adventures through the Mississippi River valley. At age 21, he spent four months walking across Wisconsin. The next year, he rowed the Mississippi from St. Anthony, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico. Then he rowed down the length of the Ohio River, and then down the Illinois River, turning upstream and rowing the Mississippi and the Des Moines River to central Iowa. 

His ravenous appetite for exploration led to being elected in 1859 to the Illinois Natural History Society.

Powell studied at Illinois College, Illinois Institute (which would later become Wheaton College), and Oberlin College, over a period of seven years while teaching, but was unable to attain his degree. He learned Ancient Greek and Latin, and of course, he buried himself in the natural sciences. However, the course of his education changed as the Civil War was looming. As a union-loyal abolitionist, he decided to study military science and engineering to prepare himself for the approaching conflict. He enlisted at Hennepin, Illinois, as a private in the 20th Illinois Infantry, hoping to serve the Union army as a cartographer, topographer and military engineer. He was elected sergeant-major of the regiment, and when the 20th Illinois was mustered into the Federal service a month later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

During the War, he became a captain of a regiment, before taking a brief leave to get married. He returned to service, where he fought in the Battle of Shiloh, and lost most of his right arm when struck by a bullet.

Despite the loss of an arm, he fought at Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and in the siege of Vicksburg. He was made a major and commanded an artillery brigade during the Atlanta Campaign. After the fall of Atlanta, he participated in the battle of Nashville.

After leaving the Army, Powell returned to Illinois where he became a lecturer at various universities, but declined a permanent position, as he had his eyes focused on exploring again. This time, in the American West.

Powell led expeditions into Colorado and Wyoming, studying the geology, especially that of the Colorado River. That unknown space on the maps downriver sparked his curiosity. He began to study reports from Ives’ expedition, arranged for support and supplies from the Smithsonian Institution, railroads, and some educational institutions, and convinced Congress to authorize the use of rations and supplies from army posts along the planned route. He designed boats and gathered a makeshift crew of ex-trappers, mountain men, and Civil War veterans like himself. 

The Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 launched four boats from Green River, Wyoming. The river started off with ease, but quickly gained momentum and began to bare its teeth. One boat and all its supplies were lost in a rapid Powell dubbed “Disaster Falls.”

He wrote:  

Early in the afternoon I found a place where it would be necessary to make a portage, and signalling the boats to come down, I walked along the bank to examine the ground for the portage, and left one of the men of my boat to signal the others to land at the right point. I soon saw one of the boats land all right, and felt no more care about them. But five minutes after I heard a shout, and looking around, I saw one of the boats coming over the falls. Capt. Howland, of the “No Name,” had not seen the signal in time, and the swift current had carried him to the brink. I saw that his going over was inevitable and turned to save the third boat. In two minutes more I saw that turn the point and head to shore, and so I went after the boat going over the falls. The first fall was not great, only two or three feet, and we had often run such, but below it continued to tumble down 20 to 30 feet more, in a channel filled with dangerous rocks that broke the waves into whirlpools and beat them into foam. I turned just to see the boat strike a rock and throw the men and cargo out. Still they clung to her sides and clambered in again and saved part of the oars, but she was full of water, and they could not manage her. Still down the river they went, two or three hundred yards to another rocky rapid just as bad, and the boat struck again amid ships, and was dashed to pieces. The men were thrown into the river and carried beyond my sight.

Although the three men were washed ashore uninjured, the No Name was utterly wrecked. Rations, instruments, and clothing were lost. Only two barometers and a keg of whiskey were recovered. 

Bad luck continued to plague the explorers. Only a little more than a week later, they camped in a little alcove bordered by cedars on one side and a dense mass of box elders and dead willows on the other. Powell and Captain Howland went to explore the stream coming down into the alcove, and, while away, their campfire was blown by strong winds starting a forest fire. The men rushed for the boats, leaving everything they couldn’t carry. Their clothes were burned and their hair singed. The cook saved the mess kit, but as he jumped aboard the boat, he stumbled and tossed it overboard, losing it all to the Colorado. Plates, silverware, pots, and water vessels were all lost. 

That’s only a small sampling of the trials the party faced on their journey downriver, well before finding the unknown canyon. After a summer traveling, the expedition entered a canyon where the river, in its meanderings, had undermined the vertical walls. There were mazes of side canyons and gorges and huge potholes in the rocks. On the canyon walls and back many miles into the country, the explorers saw monument-shaped buttes, carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcoves, gulches, and mounds. They named it Monument Canyon. Today, we call it Glen Canyon. 

They traveled cautiously in water that boiled between sharp rocks and over limestone ledges. As they proceeded, the canyon walls rose higher and higher. In places, the river occupied the entire channel; the cliffs rose vertically from the water’s edge, and there was no place to land. The walls were of colored marble—white, gray, pink, and purple. Powell wrote: August 9 . . . Scenery on grand scale. Marble walls polished by the waves. Walls 2,500 feet high. 3 portages before dinner. This afternoon I had a walk of a mile on a marble pavement, polished smooth in many places, in others embossed in a thousand fantastic patterns. Highly colored marble. Sun shining through cleft in the wall and the marble sending back the light in iridescence. 

Marble Canyon today is the eastern tip of Grand Canyon National Park, where the earth truly begins to open. 

Their food was reduced to flour, coffee, some bacon, and dried apples; half of their blankets were lost; their clothes were in rags. Powell described the experience in these words:

“We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth and the great river shrinks into insignificance,” Powell continued. “As it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders.

We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channels, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.

August 13—We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown. Our boats, tied to a common stake, chafe each other as they are tossed by the fretful river. They ride high and buoyant, for their loads are lighter than we could desire. We have but a month’s rations remaining. The flour has been resifted through the mosquito-net sieve; the spoiled bacon has been dried and the worst of it boiled; the few pounds of dried apples have been spread in the sun and re-shrunken to their normal bulk.

The sugar has all melted and gone on its way down the river. But we have a large sack of coffee. The lightening of the boats has this advantage; they will ride the waves better and we shall have but little to carry when we make a portage.

They became aware of a great roar and moved forward cautiously. The sound grew increasingly loud, and they found themselves above a long broken fall with ledges and pinnacles of rock jutting into the stream, their tops sometimes just below the surface. There was a descent of 75-80 feet in one-third of a mile, and the rushing waters broke into great waves on the rocks.

The walls were now more than a mile high. The gorge was black and narrow below, red and gray and flaring above, cut in many places by side canyons out of which streams flowed, adding to the turmoil of the river. Carried swiftly along, they listened for the roar of water that meant increased danger. The narrow canyon was winding, and the river was closed in so that they could see but a few hundred yards ahead.

After making a difficult portage in the afternoon, the party finally landed the boats in a side canyon and climbed to a shelf 40-50 feet above the water where they camped for the night. It was raining, there was no shelter, and the men spent the night on the rocks, sleeping fitfully, wrapped in their rotted ponchos.

At noon on August 27, they approached a section of the river that seemed to be particularly threatening. Boulders that had been washed into the river formed a dam over which the water fell 18-20 feet. Below the boulder dam was a 300-foot-long rock-filled rapids. On the side of the gorge, rock points projected from the wall almost halfway across the river. They tried in vain to find a way around it but finally concluded that they had to run it. There were provisions for only 5 days more.

Some of the men thought they should abandon the river. 3 men decided to leave the party and go overland to the Mormon settlements 75 miles to the north.

For the last 2 days, the course had not been plotted, and Powell now used dead reckoning to determine their way. He found that they were only about 45 miles from the mouth of the Virgin River in a direct line, but probably 80-90 miles from it by the meandering line of the river. If they could navigate the remaining stretch of unknown water to that point, he reasoned, the journey up the Virgin River to Mormon settlements would be a relatively easy one.

Powell spent the night pacing up and down on the few yards of a sandy beach along the river. Was it wise to go on? While he felt that they could get over the immediate danger, he could not foresee what might be below. He almost decided to leave the river, but wrote:

For years I have been contemplating this trip. To leave the exploration unfinished, to say that there is a part of the canyon which I cannot explore, having already nearly accomplished it, is more than I am willing to acknowledge and I determine to go on.

They divided the scanty rations and the guns and ammunition. The small boat was abandoned. First, three men in one boat ran the rapids, then three in the other.

Early on the morning of the 29th, the expedition again started downriver. At about 10 o’clock, the country began to open up. On the 30th, they came, somewhat unexpectedly, to the mouth of the Virgin River. They had successfully traversed the previously unknown Grand Canyon.

 On September 1, 4 of the remaining men took a small supply of rations and continued downstream, intending to go on to Fort Mojave and then overland to Los Angeles. Powell and his brother left for Salt Lake City and then home, returning as a national hero.

Powell was not satisfied with the results of his exploration. Notes and specimens had been lost. The scientific instruments had been badly damaged and the information obtained was not as complete or reliable as Powell wished.

So, he planned another expedition to supplement the work of the first. Congress appropriated funds, the members of the party had been selected, and, on May 22, 1871, the party pushed their boats out into the stream at Lee’s Ferry

The voyages produced the first detailed descriptions of much of the previously unexplored canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. 

After returning home, Powell became the director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution in 1879 until his death. In honor of his service to the country, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetary. 

Lake Powell, created by the flooding of Glen Canyon is named for John Wesley Powell, the one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river on three wooden boats in 1869.

If you’re interested in a similar, but perhaps safer journey through the grand canyon, you can see it the way Powell did. Rafting trips up to 18 days long set in at Lee’s Ferry, just where Powell did on his second trip, above marble canyon. 

This is really the ultimate National Park adventure’s trip. There are over 42 major rapids rated 5 or above on a 1-10 scale. Rafters float in the mornings, stop for short hikes, and arrive at a new campsite late afternoon each day, dining river-side before sleeping under the stars before waking up to magnificent sunrises. A charter plane, helicopter, or ground transport takes you either back to your car at Lee’s Ferry, or to Las Vegas for air travel home.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, produced by Lotus Theatricals, LLC and sponsored by L.L.Bean. Follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Want to continue exploring America? Check out the entire lineup of RV Miles Network Podcast featuring the road trip focused See America and the RV and camping focused RV Miles.

Gateway to the West

Halfway down the mighty Mississippi, a model of engineering greets the world to the Lion of the Valley, the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, Missouri.

Today on America’s National Parks, Gateway Arch National Park, and its namesake architectural wonder that is like no other on earth.

The Gateway Arch has always inspired me. I’m a sucker for structures that make a statement about a city: Seattle’s Space Needle, The Chrysler building, The White House, Independence Hall. I grew up about 7 hours upriver from St. Louis and seeing that silver gleam on our annual trips to one of my favorite cities still gets my heart racing today.

The Gateway Arch is known worldwide; it’s probably only second to the Statue of Liberty But how much do you actually know about its history? It’s wild, and it parallels much of the 20th century.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

Learn More

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

In 1933, amidst the pains of the great depression, civic leader Luther Ely Smith looked upon the industrial St. Louis riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate the town’s economy — a large memorial to commemorate the people who made the western expansion of the United States possible. People like President Jefferson, his aides Livingston and Monroe, explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the territory’s hunters, trappers, and pioneers. He approached mayor Bernard Dickmann, who brought it up in a meeting with city leaders. They endorsed the idea, and the nonprofit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, or “Jenny May” as they called it, was formed. Smith was appointed chairman.

As with most projects of this sort, locals did not approve of exhausting public funds for such a cause. The people of St.Louis would often tell Smith that the city needed more practical things, and he would respond that “spiritual things” were equally important. The crushing yoke of the Great Depression changed a lot of minds. The project was expected to create 5,000 jobs for three to four years. And the association hoped that the federal government would foot three-quarters of the bill for the project, which was budgeted at an astounding $30 million.

The association worked a bill through Congress to authorize the project without any funding appropriated. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law.

Meanwhile, the association began working on an architectural competition to determine the design of the monument.

Funding was applied for from the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, as well as the State of Missouri. Funding was approved on all counts.

Since the Mississippi River played a crucial role in establishing St. Louis as the Gateway to the west, a memorial commemorating it needed to be near the river. An 82-acre area was set aside, even as some taxpayers filed lawsuits to block the construction.

Following a rigged bond measure to cover the city’s costs—the St. Louis Post-Dispatch counted 46,000 phony ballots, more than enough to tilt the outcome, and denounced the project as “election thievery” — The National Park Service began to acquire the buildings within the historic site in an extremely controversial way. Instead of purchasing the buildings, which were mostly dilapidated factories and slums, they went and had them condemned. There were several legal disputes over the condemnation, but ultimately the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it legal. A total of $6.2 million was distributed to landowners.

On May 30, 1947, 14 years after Luther Ely Smith looked upon the riverfront and envisioned a project that would stimulate a ravished economy, the design contest officially opened. The competition included two stages—the first to narrow down the designers to five and the second to single out one architect’s design which was to include: An architectural memorial to Jefferson, landscaping, provision of an open-air campfire theater, reproduction of old historic buildings, a Museum interpreting the Westward movement, a vision of greater opportunities for people of all races and creeds; recreational facilities on both sides of the river, parking facilities,placement of an interstate highway, and moving train tracks only recently built on the levee.

After four days of deliberation, the jury narrowed down the 172 submissions to five finalists. A father and son, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, had both entered the competition. Eero was chosen as a finalist, but, officials mistakenly told the father, Eliel, he had made the cut. The family had begun a champagne celebration to toast the senior Saarinen when a telegram came to correct the error. Eliel broke out a second bottle of champagne to toast his son.

Eero Saarinen’s design instantly stood out. It was a massive steel arch, 580 feet high, which he said symbolized “the gateway to the West, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

During the second phase of the competition, the design was refined. It was increased to 630′ in height and width. It was to have carbon steel on the interior, stainless steel on the exterior, and a concrete in-filling. The legs were originally square, but the design changed to an equilateral-triangle-shaped crosssection that tapers from 54′ wide at the base to only 17′ wide at the top.

He wanted the landscape surrounding the Arch to be so densely covered with trees that it would be a forest-like park, a green retreat from the tension of the downtown city.

Saarinen’s design was chosen unanimously.

The design drew mixed responses from the public. While some saw it as an impressive modern display, some likened it to a hairpin or a stainless steel hitching post.
It would be a lot more impressive once it left the bounds of paper drawings.

As preparations began, the train tracks were still a problem. Saarinen proposed a tunnel below Second and First Streets, and further said that if the tracks passed between the memorial and the river, he would withdraw his participation.

Ultimately the tunnel design was too expensive, and a grand staircase that would connect the memorial and the river was designed to cover a 1000′ portion of the tracks.

The federal government, strapped for cash, began to pull back on appropriations and was unwilling to foot a large bill for moving the railroad tracks. It was now the 1950s, and the Korean War, in particular, was a drain on the government coffers. The association resorted to approaching the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations for $10 million. The foundations denied the request because their function as private foundations did not include funding national memorials. In 1956, Congress appropriated $2.64 million to be used to move the railroad tracks. The remainder of the original authorized appropriation was requested via six congressional bills, increasing federal funds by $12.25 million.

Moving the railroad tracks was the first stage of the project. 10:30 a.m. on June 23, 1959, 12 years after Saarinen won the competition, the groundbreaking ceremony occurred. In 1961, the foundation of the structure was laid, and construction of the Arch itself began on February 12, 1963.

The steel triangle legs, which narrowed as they increased in height, were prefabricated in sections. The stainless steel pieces of the Arch were shipped in via train from Pennsylvania and had to be assembled on site. Once in place, each section had its double-walled skin filled with concrete. In order to keep the partially completed legs steady, a scissor truss was placed between them.

Welders had to work especially carefully to ensure their measurements were precise—the margin of error allowed was less than half a millimeter. If the sections didn’t line up correctly, the top of the Arch would not fit.

Many people speculated that the Arch would fail when the trestle was removed.

The construction itself was a tourist attraction. Contractor MacDonald Construction Company built a 30-foot tower for spectators. In 1963, a million people went to observe the progress, and by 1964, local radio stations began to broadcast when large slabs of steel were to be raised into place.

However, construction of the Arch was often delayed by safety checks, funding uncertainties, and legal disputes.

Civil rights activists regarded the construction of the Arch as a token of racial discrimination, as the unions had barred skilled Black workers from involvement. On July 14, 1964, protesters climbed 125 feet up the north leg of the Arch to draw attention to the discrimination, demanding that at least 10% of the skilled jobs go to African Americans. Four hours later, they dismounted from the Arch and were arrested. But they were successful in getting the United States Department of Justice to file the first pattern or practice case against the AFL–CIO under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; unfortunately, the department later called off the charges.

The unions halted construction regularly to ascertain if the work site was safe. But even though the insurance company for the project predicted that 13 workers would die during construction as workers were hundreds of feet in the air with no safety nets, no one died during the project.

The ceremony date was reset to October 17, 1965, and workers strained to meet the deadline, taking double shifts, but failing.
On October 28th, a time capsule containing the signatures of 762,000 students was welded into the keystone before the final piece was set in place. The Arch was completed as Vice President Hubert Humphrey observed from a helicopter. A Catholic priest and a rabbi prayed over the keystone, which is a 9-ton eight-foot-long section. It was slated to be inserted at 10:00 a.m. but was done 30 minutes early as thermal expansion had constricted the 8.5-foot gap at the top by 5 inches. Workers used fire hoses to spray water on the surface of the south leg to cool it down and make it contract. The keystone was inserted in 13 minutes.

The Gateway Arch was expected to open to the public by 1964, but in 1967 the public relations agency stopped forecasting the opening date. The Arch’s visitor center didn’t open until June 10, 1967, and the tram inside that takes people to the top opened two weeks later.

The Arch was officially dedicated by Humphrey on May 25, 1968, who declared the arch “a soaring curve in the sky that links the rich heritage of yesterday with the richer future of tomorrow” and brings a “new purpose” and a “new sense of urgency to wipe out every slum.”

The project did not provide 5,000 jobs as expected— in fact; workers numbered fewer than 100. The project did, however, spawn another $150 million in riverfront restoration efforts, including a 50,000-seat sports stadium, a 30-story hotel, several office towers, four parking garages, and an apartment complex. One estimate found that since the 1960s, the Arch has incited almost $503 million worth of construction.

In June of 1976, the memorial was finalized. The statue of Thomas Jefferson was unveiled, the Museum of Westward Expansion was previewed, a theater under the Arch was dedicated and a curving staircase from the Arch down to the levee was built.

In 1974, the Arch ranked fourth on a list of “most-visited man-made attraction[s]. It’s now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with over four million visitors annually, of which around one million travel to the top.

Three years after the monument’s opening, the St. Louis phone directory contained 65 corporations with “Gateway” in their title and 17 with “Arch.” Arches also appeared over gas stations and drive-in restaurants. In the 1970s, a local sports team adopted the name “Fighting Arches”

Robert S. Chandler, an NPS superintendent, said, that most visitors are awed by the size and scale of the Arch, but they don’t understand what it’s all about … Too many people see it as just a symbol of the city of St. Louis.

Eero Saantarin went on to design Washington Dulles International Airport, the TWA terminal at JFK International Airport in New York and a celebrated line of high modern furniture, but died of a brain tumor at 51, fourteen years after he dreamed up the Arch and four years before it was finished.

Over the last decade, a massive revitalization project was undertaken to revive the Arch, it’s museum, and the grounds. A highway passed between the Arch and downtown, which included the historic Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was tried. The courthouse is also a symbol of St Louis, framed perfectly by the Arch, linking our Nation’s original sin with the optimism of a brighter day. Now, there’s a physical connection between the two, as a massive lawn has ben built over the highway, finally linking the Arch closely with the downtown area. The entrance has been moved from near the Arch’s legs to a stunning central slit in the lawn that leads to a modern museum. To culminate the project, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as it’s been called for decades, has been rechristened Gateway Arch National Park — the 60th to receive the congressional designation and the smallest.

Just as many objected to the Arch’s construction, putting the “National Park” brand on modern construction has drawn the ire of many national park lovers. But consider this: The park is a multifaceted connection between our past, present, and future. It’s a park, for the Nation. And it’s certainly not the first humanized area to become a National Park.

I think we should be a little less precious with the National Park designation. Let’s have hundreds more National Parks. Places where people can come together to experience our country in many different ways.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is hosted by Jason Epperson and Abigail Trabue, produced by Lotus Theatricals, LLC and sponsored by L.L.Bean. Follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Want to continue exploring America? Check out the entire lineup of RV Miles Network Podcast featuring the road trip focused See America and the RV and camping focused RV Miles.

News from the Parks | September 2019

With over 420 sites in the NPS, every month offers a new opportunity to Find Your Park. And while we strive to focus on the stories that make these places so special, we also think keeping up-to-date can be useful to support and celebrate these special places.

With that in mind, we’re rolling out a new series called “News from the Parks.” The last episode of each month we’ll take a look at what is coming down the pipeline and some of the bigger news to come out of the National Park Service in the previous weeks. 

On this episode, a potential new National Park, grants to dozens of historic sites, new park superintendents, the anniversary of the Wilderness Act and more.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

Learn More

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

America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit to find great gear for exploring the National Parks. 

The Old Northwest

In the town of Vincennes, Indiana stands the largest Beaux-Arts style monument on an American battlefield outside of Washington, D.C. It sits on the former site of Fort Sackville to commemorate a little known battle with tremendous stakes. It’s a rarely told story that effectively doubled the size of our country.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

Listen 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.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

Learn More

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

George Rogers Clark was born on November 19, 1752, near Charlottesville, Virginia, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. He was the second of 10 children of John and Ann Rogers Clark, who were of English and Scottish ancestry. Five of their six sons became officers during the American Revolutionary War. Their youngest son William wasn’t yet old enough to fight in the war but later found fame as one half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

George Clark had little formal education. When he was old enough, he lived with his grandfather who trained him to be a surveyor.

In 1771 at age 19, Clark left home for his first surveying trip into western Virginia. The following year, he made his first trip into Kentucky and spent the next two years surveying the Kanawha River region, as well as learning about the area’s natural history and customs of the various tribes of Indians who lived there.

Clark’s military career began in 1774 when he was appointed as a captain in the Virginia militia. He was preparing to lead an expedition of 90 men down the Ohio River when hostilities broke out between the Shawnee and white settlers. Although most of Kentucky was not inhabited by Indians, tribes such as the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Seneca used the area for hunting. A judge from North Carolina had purchased much of Kentucky from the Cherokee through an illegal treaty and tribes in Ohio country, who had not been party to the treaty, were angry. Kentucky hunting grounds had been ceded to Great Britain without their approval. As a result, they tried to resist encroachment by the white settlers but were unsuccessful.

As the Revolutionary War broke out in the East, Kentucky’s settlers became involved in a dispute about the region’s sovereignty due to Judge Henderson’s treaty. Henderson intended to create a proprietary colony known as Transylvania, but many Kentucky settlers did not recognize Transylvania’s authority over them. In June of 1776, the settlers selected Clark and John Gabriel Jones to deliver a petition to the Virginia General Assembly, asking Virginia to formally extend its boundaries to include Kentucky.

Clark and Jones traveled the Wilderness Road to Williamsburg, where they convinced Governor Patrick Henry to create Kentucky County, Virginia. Clark was given 500 lb of gunpowder to help defend the settlements and was appointed a major in the Kentucky County militia.

By 1777, the Revolutionary War had intensified and the Continental Army could spare no man, leaving the defense of Kentucky entirely to the local population. Clark spent several months defending settlements as a leader in the Kentucky County militia while developing his plan for a long-distance strike against the British. His strategy involved seizing British outposts north of the Ohio River to destroy British influence among their Indian allies.

Clark and his men fought several battles in the ensuing years, but In February 1779, now Colonel George Rogers Clark made a bold military maneuver that would forever change the face of our nation. After taking British-held garrisons in Illinois country, Clark received word that the British had taken control of Fort Sackville in the French town of Vincennes in present-day Indiana. If Clark had waited until spring, meeting a larger British force in the open could have spelled disaster for his mission.

Taking initiative, Clark marched 175 American frontiersmen through Illinois and the flooded Wabash River in winter, through melting snow, ice, and cold rain. They arrived at Vincennes on February 23 where the hungry and cold frontiersman made contact with French allies. Together, they launched a surprise attack on Fort Sackville, which was under the command of British Governor Henry Hamilton. Hamilton surrendered the garrison on February 25 and was captured in the process. The winter expedition was Clark’s most significant military achievement and became the basis of his reputation as an early American military hero. The taking of Fort Sackville was among the most important Revolutionary battles west of the Appalachians.

The violence on the frontier eased for a time during the Revolution because of Clark’s action, and an area one-third the size of the original 13 colonies went to the United States at the end of the war. This area, known as the Old Northwest Territory, eventually became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the eastern parts of Minnesota. This was the first step to the United States expansion west and foreshadowed the larger territory that George’s little brother William Clark would explore with Merriweather Lewis 25 years later.

While nothing remains of the original fort, the people of Indiana petitioned the government to build the monument on the former site of the fort along the Wabash River in the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt attended the grand opening of the memorial in 1936, and a visit from President Lyndon Johnson welcomed the site into the National Park Service in 1966.

The interior rotunda includes a statue of George Rogers Clark by Hermon MacNeil and seven 28-foot tall murals by Ezra Winter, telling the story of Clark and his men.

In the park visitor center, you can find exhibits and the park film “Longknives,”

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is part of a community of historical sites and museums that tell stories spanning over 250 years. One of the best times to visit is during the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous on Memorial Day weekend. Over 400 living history demonstrators camp at or near the park. The demonstrations and talks allow visitors of all ages the chance to step back to the Indiana frontier during the late 18th century. The sights and sounds of Rendezvous offer a unique atmosphere for those who want to connect to the past.

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.

Listen 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. 

Voices of Science Audio Series:

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. 


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.

Listen 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.

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.

Listen 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.

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:

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 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.

Listen 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.

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.

Listen 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.

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. 

Listen 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.

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 role the art of music has played in helping our rangers bring the parks to life.

Listen 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.

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.

Listen 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.

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.

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.

Listen 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.

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.

Listen 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.

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. 

Listen below or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

The full video of Dan Vermilya’s lecture:

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:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

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 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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

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


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

Share this:

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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

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


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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

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 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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

The Ohio EPA video celebrating the Cuyahoga’s comeback.


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.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


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

Connect & Subscribe

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.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


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

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.


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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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


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.

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.


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


“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.

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.


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


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.

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.


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

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.

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.


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


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.

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.


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


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.

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.


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


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.

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.


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


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 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.

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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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


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 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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.


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 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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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 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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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


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 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


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.


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 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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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 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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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 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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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.


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.


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

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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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 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


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 to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


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 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


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.


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.


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.