Perceptions of the NPS

The National Park Service has evolved over its 100+ years existence, with varied perceptions about its role in aiding conservation and recreation.  From its humble beginnings as just a vision in Roosevelt’s and Muir’s mind’s eye, the National Park Service has experienced a variety of perspectives, both good and bad, about their mission. Many people, myself included, hold the National Parks Service in high esteem as the folks that help to maintain and protect our beautiful public places in this country. Yet, it’s not all blue skies and sunshine. There are almost as many opinions about the NPS and “appropriate” land use as there are plots of land.  Therein is the heart of where most problems with the National Park Service lie: Land Usage. Which begs the question, who should be in charge of a particular area and to what extent? Think about Native Americans that have been “re-located” off their ancestral lands to make room for the white man’s hunting grounds or recreation playgrounds.   Think about ranchers in the western plains states whose lands are subject to restrictions put in place by the NPS.  There are no easy answers, but as lovers of our lands it’s only right that the questions be asked.

To exacerbate some of the bad perceptions of the National Park Service, they are a branch of the Federal government and with that come partisan politics that frequently divide issues affecting the operation of our Parks and sites.  Since the NPS is a predominantly funded by the Federal government operated programs can be affected, either adversely or positively, depending on the current administration.  Theodore Roosevelt got the ball rolling as “The Conservation President” and many of the sound conservation programs including the steps for the establishment of the NPS can be attributed to Roosevelt. Then as we look at more recent administrations, Barack Obama passed more legislation to protect lands and establish monuments than any other President. The future of the sanctity and preservation of our most beloved lands is currently threatened under the current administration.  Again, the issue frequently comes down to land usage. I shudder at the thought that a recent President even considered extending mining rights within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon. Luckily there are enough people, who not only love the Parks but also understand the long term ramifications of such actions.  Short term economic gains do not justify permanent desecration of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

 

Point Reyes National Seashore

A good example of the complexity of land usage matters is found with Point Reyes National Seashore. The seashore, an hour north of San Francisco, is managed and protected by the NPS.  The issues surrounding the management and operation of the land does indeed provide an example of how complicated the issues involving the National Park Service can become. Yet it also shows how the battles that ensue can become so tragic and intense.

To understand how complex these issues can become, it is best to have a brief overview of the history of Point Reyes. President John F. Kennedy established the National Seashore at Point Reyes in 1962, but the government only owned a portion of the land. The rest of the land in that area had been owned and operated by ranchers and dairy farmers for over 100 years. Much of the land was purchased from the farmers and ranchers with the federal government allowing them to continue farming on the land with long term leases.

In these park lands, there was an effort to restore Tule elk: a previously endangered species.  The recovery of the elk has been a conservation success, to some extent.  However keeping the cows and elk in close proximity is not without its problems. Both the elk and cattle have been struck with a chronic wasting disease, affecting both species. The elk’s habitat frequently became “shared” with the cattle that graze there.  Fences can contain cattle within their defined boundaries, but the elk easily jump the fences and end up sharing the grazing land with the cattle.

Sharing the grasslands (photo: baynature.org)

The efforts to restore the endangered elk were considered successful.  However, the problems that occurred and fights that brewed among conservationists, the National Park Service and the ranchers using the land culminated in several lawsuits. In September of 2020, the NPS released an impact statement that extends the leases for the ranchers. It also allowed National Park Service rangers to shoot native Tule elk and otherwise drive the elk away from ranch lands. As you can imagine, this plan would make the ranchers happy, but the conservationists who fought so hard to re-populate an endangered species were frustrated and perplexed…to say the least. This push/pull battle on the use of public lands is frequently fought. The decisions made at Point Reyes have been fluctuating for almost the past decade and it is unlikely that the story has come to an end yet. Here is a photo that seems to be a commonplace image at Point Reyes.

Since the inception of the National Park Service, issues such as these have surfaced and will more than likely continue to do so.  The NPS realizes, perhaps in so many ways, that “you can’t please all the people all the time.”  They devise general guidelines for smooth operations of the parks and continued goals for conservation. Yet, inevitably situations arise that demand a reexamination of what they believed to be “gospel.”  As Americans, our perceptions of how the land should be utilized and what we believe makes a beautiful park and/or vacation spot has varied from generation to generation.  Some things are quintessential, but some perceptions do change.  When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, it seemed commonplace and “Oh so much fun!” to feed the bears at Yellowstone from your car window. We know better now…not good for the bears or the people. Yet, the NPS has strived to meet those needs of a changing America and at the same time assuring the conservation of our most sacred lands.

Fast forward to 2020; a look at the devastating Coronavirus that swept through our country shows it had profound impacts on our society. The number of deaths was staggering and how the virus impacted every aspect of our lives.  As the increased demands on the public to isolate and “shelter in place”, so did our need to get outside, get some fresh air and enjoy the beauty of a park. Park attendance increased dramatically, which was good news for increasing the public’s awareness of the splendor of our public landscapes, but became an added challenge to the Park administrators to handle the crowds and keep park goers safe during one of the most devastating pandemics this country has seen. At one point during 2020, some of the Parks and sites had to temporarily close to visitors to help contain the spread of the virus.

The NPS helped to keep everyone informed of closures and restrictions, which was a challenge because the situation frequently changed. As many organizations did, the NPS promoted many reminders for mask wearing in public places, hand washing and social-distancing. Here is a sample of one of their reminders for social-distancing.  A little levity helps the situation and still makes a point:

Poster from National Park Service, 2020

 

My trip to the Utah parks in the fall of 2020 almost didn’t happen and the plans I made were subject to change at a moment’s notice. Zion had closed several trails, campgrounds and the shuttle service in March. The Park remained opened but with limited access.  The shuttle system did reopen in July, but with a new ticketing system that assured 50% capacity on the buses to maintain social distancing. It was a good system, but nevertheless seemed awkward when visitors to the park were seeking wide open spaces.  At this particular point in time, it would have been nice to go somewhere “mask free.”   Yet, I gave the NPS great credit for making the best of a bad situation; the pandemic was bad enough….thank goodness we could still get out and enjoy the Parks even if it was very different than the usual Park experience.   It appeared to me, that a great majority of the Park goers did the very best they could to follow the rules in the spirit of cooperation and relishing the opportunity to enjoy the unique beauty of Zion National Park.

Waiting for the Shuttle at Zion: with Masks and Social Distancing

 

So our trip to Zion was incredible, in spite of the pandemic regulations that gave the trip some “unique” qualities.  Qualities that will indeed make it memorable.

Another element that made the Zion trip stick out in my mind is how the NPS handled the pandemic; a positive perception in my mind.  It seemed to me that the NPS did everything they could to provide a safe environment for visitors, but also realized the importance of connecting with nature and seeking the great outdoors at a time when the whole nation was just about going crazy with all the quarantine policies.  John Muir knew the healing powers of nature when he said:

 “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

So John Muir had it right…we need the wilderness to restore our souls and renew our spirits. Whatever your perceptions of the National Parks may be, or perhaps you don’t have an opinion one way or the other….take the time to see what the NPS has to offer.  Seeking out a few hours or perhaps an extended trip to a Park can be well worth the effort.  Even if it’s as simple as a “Walk in the Park”.       Put your Traveling Shoes on….

Julie E. Smith

Follow the NPS Arrowhead

Every time you enter the entrance gate of a National Park, a historic site or walk in the serene beauty of an area preserved by the National Park Service, you will see this arrowhead sign.  The sign tells you, of course, that this is a site operated and maintained by the National Park Service.  Yet, it also tells you that you are about to explore something that has been deemed worthy of protection and also so intriguing that it needs to be shared.  I have reached the point with so many NPS Parks and site visits, that my enthusiasm for all things NPS related bubbles over when I first see the arrowhead sign…I know I am in for a treat! However, not only a treat, but also the surprise of discovering new and different things.  The variety of places to visit within the scope of the National Park Service never ceases to amaze me. There is always something new to explore.

There are currently 62 National Parks in the United States, but actually 419 protected sites which include such areas as lake shores, forested areas and significant historical sites. So many times, travelers think they need to visit the “big” Parks to really experience what the National Park Service has to offer. The well known Parks are incredible….no denying that, but it is nice to explore some of the intriguing sites in your own back yard. When I first moved to Wisconsin, I was delighted to find out that a Visitors Center for a NPS protected site was only about 20 miles from my home: the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

I have been there several times and I always learn something new. A trip to the Visitors Center is a great way to learn how the St. Croix and the Namekagon rivers have had an incredible influence on this area of the upper Midwest.  In addition to learning about the fascinating geologic and historical information of the area, one can also get information here on hiking, canoeing and fishing these beautiful waters. The rivers have provided commerce, recreation and also abundant resources to support a diversity of wildlife.  The rivers of the St. Croix and Namekagon together make up 252 miles of protected waterway in the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway.

St. Croix River-border between Wisconsin & Minnesota

The geologic history of the area began millions of years ago when the glaciers carved out the river valleys and rugged bluffs overlooking the flowing rivers.  The first human inhabitants of the rivers were the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwa (Chippewa) that found this area to have plentiful resources for an abundant life.  The next to explore this area were the French and later the English fur trappers.

The logging industry in the area took the St. Croix river valley by storm and the peak of the logging industry was the 1890’s. Log jams in the river frequently occurred, not only hindering the progress of lumber to the mills, but also damaging the fragile ecosystems of the rivers.  The life of the lumberjacks was challenging on the river, to say the least, and many lost their lives in this profession.

NPS photo (circa early 1900’s) Logging on the St. Croix River with Wannigan house

They built small shanties that floated in the river to help carry supplies and were sometimes used to sleep in as they were “steering” the lumber downstream. The shanty was called a Wannigan as shown is this photo. The last major log drive was in 1914.  It is interesting that in St. Croix Falls, WI.  and Taylors Falls, MN. the lumber industry and the rich heritage of the river  is still celebrated today with “Wannigan Days”.  Now that is neat! I learned that new tidbit of trivia when moving to this area….I bet not that many people know what a Wannigan is, well know you know.

The St.Croix River Visitor Center is easily found at 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  It is just off the main road (87), 2 blocks north of the deck of the St. Croix  Overlook.

Another example of an NPS site very close to my own “backyard” that I discovered is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  Located near Bayfield, Wisconsin they are a series of 21 islands in Lake Superior that are protected by the National Park Service.

“Sea Stack” in the Apostle Islands

 

Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the islands. They are located above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and were formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.

Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles.  Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate.  Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.

It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.

President Nixon established the Apostle Islands as a National Lakeshore in 1970, making 2020 the 50th anniversary year of being a protected site by the National Park Service.  I am glad our recent trip there was during the commemoration of the 50th year. It was interesting to learn more about the history of the islands.  Visitors here are lured by the mystic and might of Gichigami  (Ojibwe for Lake Superior) and what is offered here.  There are miles of beautiful shoreline with both sandy beaches and rocky overlooks.  The rocks that have been weathered and carved by time display the unique formations found amongst the sea caves.

Additionally, since I have an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site.  There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor.

Devils Island Lighthouse- the Apostle Islands

Whether you explore with a hike, in a kayak or climb aboard one of the day cruises available out of Bayfield, it is an area that truly warrants discovery.

When you visit one of the landmark “big” parks of the National Park Service, it is easy to find a favorite…one that you want to go back to time and again. The same holds true for the perhaps lesser known Park sites.  It is easy to find a favorite among those places bearing the NPS Arrowhead sign.  I found one of my favorites in the Apostle Islands.

Put your traveling shoes on.….Julie E. Smith

The “Mighty 5”: Utah’s National Parks

The “Mighty 5” in Utah are National Parks that provide such grandeur, stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures that they surely are befitting of the description: MightyStarting from the the southwest corner of the state and moving eastward they are : Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches.

Zion National Park (Photo: Dept. of Interior)

It was in just this particular order that we traveled, starting our journey with Zion National Park and making our way eastward. It is amazing that when you view all the parks on a map clustered together in the same general vicinity it would seem easy to visit them all within a short time…not so. Utah is a relatively large state and the vastness of it is complicated by the fact that there are fewer roads to take you from point A to point B. I’m not complaining; it’s wonderful to have the spanning horizons unscathed by roadways. It just takes longer to visit if you want to do justice to all 5 Parks.

 

Entrance gate: Zion National Park, Utah

Out of the Utah National Parks, Zion is the most visited National Park; in 2019 the Park received 4.5 million visitors. Canyonlands, however is by far the largest Utah park with 337,598 acres. All five Parks have their own distinct geographic features and breathtaking views, but the mountains of Zion and majesty of their height really diminishes the height of a small human being as one stands in awe. Especially for a Mid-westerner like myself, who is not accustomed to being around mountains like this.  A couple of times I found myself gazing upward with my mouth agape: “Oh…Wow!”

Although Zion National Park was established in 1919, it has only been in recent years that the popularity of the park has soared.  The Parks further north of Zion (the favorites of Yellowstone and Yosemite for example), had become traveler’s favorites. Yet, all the amazing pathways to be explored at Zion have brought many travelers through the gates. There are of course, pros and cons to this expanding appreciation of the Park. It is nice to have people love and appreciate the Park, but sometimes managing crowd control and assuring the preservation of the Park can be a challenge.

Zion National Park shuttle buses: minimizing car traffic & reducing the carbon “footprint”

When we were there, our country was in the midst of a pandemic. In October of 2020, after months of quarantine, everyone was wanting to get outside and many of the National Park Service sites saw a surge in attendance. Several things were not “normal” and I do give the Parks administration credit for doing their best to assure a safe and healthy environment. One example, was limiting the shuttle buses to 50% capacity so as to improve social distancing. This was a great idea…but did create long lines to get on a shuttle and limited how much you would have time to see in the park. Getting tickets for the shuttle in advance is a whole other story…yikes! They are only $1.00, but you have to have one to get to certain areas of the Park. I know they had to institute a ticketing procedure for “crowd control”…but it was very frustrating. My advice for trips to a popular National Park such as Zion is plan MONTHS ahead of time. I booked our hotels in January for an October trip. Shuttle tickets, campgrounds and other reservations can be found on http://recreation.gov .

Temple of Sinawava; last stop on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive & entrance to The Narrows

Zion National Park is situated on part of the Colorado Plateau and the sandstone cliffs, towering mountains and river valleys provide a stunning remnant of how this part of the continent was formed roughly 250 million years ago. Looking at the vastness of the terrain, it is hard to imagine that this land was once submerged in a shallow sea and this area was considered part of the super-continent of Pangaea. As a hiker kicking up dust and stones along the path, it is compelling to think how this terrain has evolved through both erosion and tectonic shifts. The canyons and sandstone cliffs provide unique and colorful views. Zion National Park helps to preserve the most sacred and impressive canyon country and wilderness ecosystem on our planet.

Virgin River by Riverside Walk Trail

One sight, and hike, that I did not attempt while at Zion is the infamous Angels Landing which rises 1,500 feet above a sheer wall face above the Virgin River. There are chains bolted into the rock face in part of the walkway to provide “security” on your walk. Just looking at the photos of a chained walkway on the side of a mountain scared me to death. Well, guess what…when we got there the Angels Landing trail was closed because of the pandemic. (whew…wipe brow with relief), Now I don’t have to come up an excuse not to go. Apparently, it was too hard to assure “social distancing”. However, my son and his friends went on another challenging hike that Zion is famous for: The Narrows. It is what the name dictates; where the canyon Narrows and is carved out by the Virgin River. The trail is mostly wading through the cold water anywhere from ankle to waist deep. The entire trail is 16 miles long. Many hikers just go part of the way and turn around; it is a very arduous hike and very tough in water with the uneven terrain of the river rocks. Our group all made it back in one piece. Before you enter the Narrows is a beautiful, easy hike: Riverside Walk that follows the Virgin River. Part of the walk is paved and the rest is a groomed path that is easy to navigate. My husband and I enjoyed our time on that path while waiting for the guys that had ventured into The Narrows.

After departing Zion, and with a sad goodbye to our son and his friends, we started heading east while they headed west back to San Diego.

Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon (photo from myutahparks.com)

Our next stop was Bryce Canyon National Park.  It is the smallest of the Mighty 5 parks, but has a huge impact visually.  Technically it is not a canyon, but rather a series of amphitheaters cutting into the pink/red rocks with spires rising up skyward. The rock spires, called hoodoos, are an intriguing example of how erosion and freeze/thaw cycles have molded the rocks. Another story about the hoodoos is told by the Paiute people in the area. They tell of the Legend People who were animal-like people. They behaved badly and treated Coyote so badly, that he turned them into rock formations. The creatures huddled together and still stand as when they were first turned to stone. The impressive and ever-changing hoodoos and other rock formations seem to be the highlight of the park, but the dense forests and sporadic meadows provide a serene setting.

 

“Sunset Point” at Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Since the park’s elevation ranges from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, its usually much cooler here than at the other Utah parks. When we were there, the heavily forested sections in the park made me feel, briefly anyway, I was back in the great north woods of Wisconsin. The terrain of course is very different than the Midwest, each region having their own distinct characteristics and shining attributes.

 

 

After leaving Bryce, our next stop was to Torrey, Utah. We stayed at Cowboy Homestead Cabins: cozy, very nice and situated close to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park. The Park’s namesake comes from the presence of several white rock domes that resemble the U.S. Capitol. Also a huge geologic feature in the park is water trapped in the pockets of rock creating a “Waterpocket Fold” and hence the creation of a “reef”. Early explorers, in the 1870s, found it difficult to navigate and started referring to this unique geologic feature as a “reef”. The Waterpocket Fold extends 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to the north all the way south to Lake Powell.

Mormon style farm settlement-Capitol Reef National Park

Prior to the arrival of the Mormon settlers, the Native American Fremont people lived in this area.  Several examples of their rock art have been preserved on petroglyphs. The art is an amazing depiction of the hunting and gathering lifestyles of the Fremonts. Capitol Reef was one of the last places in the West to be explored by immigrant settlers. It was not until the late 1870’s when the Mormons began settling into the region.  The town of Fruita was established and many of the orchards that were planted and irrigated still exist today.  The National Park Service still maintains the orchards and visitors to the park can enjoy many “pick your own ” crops of cherries, peaches, pears and apples. Unfortunately we had just missed the apple picking season when we were there. Yet, in Fruita we made a stop at the little country store (very quaintly fashioned after a 1900 farmhouse) and had hot coffee with one of the biggest and best cinnamon rolls I have ever tasted! The turn of the century barn, blacksmith shop and split rail fencing all around the area, gives one a real feel for life as a southern Utah settler in the early 1900’s.

After Capitol Reef, our journey took us to Moab, Utah. Very interesting place that I found out is a real mecca for dirt bikes,mountain bikes and ATVs. I can’t blame them…all those awesome trails with jumps, racing curves and are naturally groomed by nature. I did not pick Moab because of this however…the town of Moab is centrally located to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Great location and the town itself has several great restaurants and overnight lodging.

The traditional “sign picture”: Arches National Park

Our journey to Arches was short lived. We made it to the entrance and got the traditional “sign picture”, then I saw several vehicles driving toward the gate, then turning around. Then I saw it: a light-up sign with the message: “Park Full”—“Turn around Ahead”. Needless to say I was disappointed, but not too terribly surprised since we were visiting in the age of a pandemic and the limiting of park visitors. I am sure Arches is a popular park, and they have to assure that it won’t be too crowded…but still, I was very sad at the time. Well, even though we didn’t make it to all of the Mighty 5, three out of 5 ain’t bad and it gives me motivation for a return trip. There are many sights to take in while visiting Utah. So….”Put your traveling Shoes on…” Julie E. Smith

 

Showcasing Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

Alaska beckons. The mountains are calling. The pines whisper and the frozen tundra holds curiosities beneath.  The unique lands showcased in the parks there demonstrate its reputation as The Last Frontier. Some of the National Parks in Alaska are much harder to access than others, one must travel by boat or plane to reach them. Yet, Kenai Fjords National Park is near Seward, which is only 126 miles from Anchorage. The drive from Seward to Anchorage on the Seward highway provides stunning views of the Turnagain Arm Fjord (so named by James Cook in 1778, when he was forced to “turn again” when he was unable to navigate passage through to the Northwest Passage.)

Kenai Fjords National Park (photo by Major Marine Tours-Seward)

The Park covers about 950 square miles and showcases some of the iconic features of Alaska including glaciers, marine life and coastal scenery. A large majority of the Park is either in the waterways or frozen icefields, so one of the best ways to get an overview of the park is via a tour boat from Seward into Resurrection Bay and parts of the Gulf of Alaska.  There are several tours available from the starting point of Seward for both wildlife viewing and fishing excursions. We went on an afternoon cruise with Major Marine Tours.  Getting out on the water gives you a great overview of one of the crowning features of the Park: the Harding Icefield.  It is 70 miles long and 30 miles wide and creates all the glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.  It is incredible to see-and hear- the glaciers “calve” icebergs into the bay by releasing massive chunks of ice into the water.

Additionally, on the boat tour, we were able to see numerous examples of Alaska marine life.  We saw Stellar Sea Lions, Bald Eagles and an abundance of Puffins and Kittiwakes.  Puffins were always my favorite. They look so cute and pudgy and seemingly awkward, but they are fast flyers and divers with excellent fishing skills.

Puffins @ Kenai Fjords National Park (photo:Major Marine Tours)

Another aspect of our tour at Kenai Fjords was my first introduction to the concept of the “Land of the Midnight Sun”.   Since we were there in August, the long days and short, short nights were very evident. At the end of the tour we came back to the harbor, pulling up to the dock and the sun was still  high on the horizon.  It felt like about 6 or 7 pm, but it was 10 pm. So odd. Now I know why residents of Alaska purchase “black out” curtains to get a good night sleep.  Yet, as a tourist it’s great because you  can fill so many things in one day and you don’t run out of daylight.

The only road in the Park, ends at the Exit Glacier parking lot. From there you can take an easy hike to view the glacier face. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and terrific to view, but sadly is also a very visible indicator of glacial recession due to climate change.

Exit Glacier near Seward. This photo was taken in 2016 and shows how glacier has receded past it’s location in 2005. (photo by Dan Smith)

As just a humble visitor to Alaska, and not a resident, I appreciate the beauty and diversity of the landscape. Yet, I recognize the frailty of so many parts of this planet that we call home. Seeing the changes at Exit Glacier really provides a powerful visual that YES our planet is changing. No easy answers, but acceptance of the problem is half the battle. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Authors note: This particular journey to Alaska was made several years ago, before my interest in the National Parks began to pique. Yet, I wanted to document my experiences there for my book: “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.”

The Conservation President

Theodore_Roosevelt_High_School,_DSM,_IA
TRHS-Des Moines, Iowa

I think it must have been fate that I graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. Little did I know that later in life I would develop such admiration for this man.  He really did so much for conservation and along with John Muir helped to create the National Park Service.  Since I am currently working on a book about National Parks and all the fantastic sites operated by the National Park Service…Teddy’s name just keeps popping up. That and John Muir. Come to find out John Muir is from Wisconsin….Nifty. But that’s a story for another day. Since Roosevelt had such an impact with conservation and the establishment of the National Park Service, I continue to find him an intriguing man in history. He is so much more than just some dude who’s likeness is carved into Mt. Rushmore.

I have been reading this terrific book about Roosevelt, but it’s not something you just sit and read cover to cover. Easier to digest when you peruse it and bounce back and forth through the chapters. It’s 940 pages long…but really interesting. Entitled:“The Wilderness Warrior, Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade For America” by Douglas Brinkley. (available on Amazon if you’re interested) It is a book that has so much detailed historical information, yet it also has details about the President as a person and helps you get to know many of Roosevelt’s little idiosyncrasies.  Things that really bring him to life, not just facts and figures but illustrations that show he was a man with both passions and prejudices. For example, I never knew that he was an avid bird watcher, cool… so am I. We would have so much to talk about.

An ice breaker question to ask is :“Who would you like to have dinner with, alive or dead?” At least one of the responses I would give to that question would be our 26th President: Theodore Roosevelt. In reading this book it is a reminder that even then, politics were, well….”politics” . TR had several adversaries that were on opposite sides of his agendas and I am sure he even had so-called enemies. Considering today’s political climate, it probably seemed mild to what we are trying to cope with now as Americans. In any case, Roosevelt persevered on several topics and was able to formulate several plans and enact legislation for conservation and preservation of our country’s valuable resources.

When my husband and I were heading west to visit Glacier N.P., we stopped in North Dakota and paid a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This area of the country is often considered the “Badlands of the North” evidenced by the rugged terrain, sedimentary rocks and prairie grasses. Occasionally you see small trees or shrubs popping up but mostly it is a rugged landscape with grasses and rocks. It was an interesting park to visit, even though it was devoid of majestic mountains and towering pines; things that people think are synonymous with a national park.  The quiet beauty here made you realize why Roosevelt choose this place as a refuge and a place to “re-fuel” his spirits.  At this Park, there is an on-site museum detailing Roosevelt’s life: both professionally and personally.  I was very saddened to find out that both his wife and his mother died hours apart on the same day: Valentine’s Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine how devastating that would have been. He found comfort and solace in this part of the country. His time here allowed him to grow and strengthen, both mentally and physically.  He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota”.

So it’s no wonder they choose North Dakota as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a place that meant so much to him. Not only does it protect this unique area of land, it pays a wonderful tribute to a man who is remembered fondly as “The Conservation President.” I think I will vote for TR come November.

 

 

 

Badlands National Park: “Bad”, but uniquely beautiful

Visiting the beautiful Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota, travelers often wonder why it is called The Badlands. Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota is only one area that holds the title of “badlands”.  It is a geologic term that describes landscapes characterized by soft sedimentary rocks.  This type of terrain can be found all over the west in places like Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. 

badlands of South Dakota
Surveying the terrain & exposed sedimentary rocks: Badlands National Park
 The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad”.  French Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvaises terres pour traverser”, or “bad lands to travel through.” When one surveys this barren, rocky terrain with limited moisture and vegetation you can see why the title stuck. Nevertheless, the rock formations and colors in the sedimentary rock create a surreal landscape that seems not of this world.  The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was impressed with the uniqueness of this land. In 1935 he wrote:
“I’ve been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for the revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands…What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere-a distant architecture, ethereal…an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” 
Badlands,flickr photo
Sunset in The Badlands (Flickr photo by Sue Vruno)

So I would agree with Mr. Wright: the Badlands create an other world atmosphere…sometimes you feel you are wandering on a different planet. The different textures and the way the sun light and clouds plays across the horizon make the rock structures seem to go on indefinitely. When I was there with my family, I remember one of my son’s commenting that it felt as if we were “walking on Mars”.

Yet even with this desolate terrain, there are a variety of creatures and plant life that are abundant here and call this territory home. The prairie and rocky terrain amazingly are able to support 60 different species of grasses.Badlands,rattlesnakes sign!

This in turn provides a food source for several animals including bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, snakes, vultures and bluebirds. When we were there, we did not see much wildlife…or snakes thank goodness…but this is the first sign we saw on the trail. Good to know! 

In addition to the living creatures, this region is rich with fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. In this desolate place, it’s intriguing to think that many of the fossils are of aquatic dinosaurs. When the formation of the Badlands began, over 75 million years ago, there was a shallow sea spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada encompassing the Great Plains area. The creatures sank to the bottom of the sedimentary layer and became fossilized. All the different layers of rock also provide a geologist’s dream and include: sandstone, silt, mudstone, limestone, volcanic ash and shale. These layers create a multi-dimensional and colorful landscape.

Many travelers heading to South Dakota and points west catch sight of the popular destinations of Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower’s and many more in that neck of the woods. Yet, the eerie and majestic beauty of the Badlands is worth adding to your trip agenda. For more information check out the National Park Service link to The Badlands: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm 

Put your traveling shoes on….Julie E. Smith

 

Striving to come out on the other side: Coronovirus-2020

Like so many people at this time, we are all trying to survive this pandemic that has taken hold in our lives.  Not only has it taken the lives of so many people, it also has affected the lifestyles and a shattering blow to the economy and livelihood of many Americans. An event of this magnitude sweeps across the nation affecting everyone, even if you yourself are not sick.

So the best thing we can do after protecting our self physically, is also to protect our mental health. One way is to make plans for the tomorrows to come, when this pandemic has “simmered down” and we can resume somewhat of a “normal” lifestyle.  Many will agree that time will tell when that will be and also there will most defiantly be a new normal. 

Yet, making future plans is a great way to keep us going.  Enter the joy of travel planning…and of course reading travel blogs like this one!  Time will tell when traveling beyond our own backyards will be more acceptable, but in the mean time, Weary Travelers, we need to do something to keep up morale.  I am already planning a trip this fall to Utah and “The Mighty 5”, National Parks.  If you are curious, here are the Mighty 5: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Reservations have been made (long before the craziness of COVID-19 really struck) and thank goodness we were planning on driving anyway. I’m not sure when air travel will be resuming at a point that most passengers will feel comfortable and safe. Another consideration, sad that it may be, is the fact that currently many of the National Parks and sites are currently closed due to efforts to contain the Coronavirus. I understand the need for such measures, but at the same time I want to remain hopeful that the Parks will be able to reopen soon. Also, I want to stress the importance of responsible behavior by park visitors to maintain our nation’s most treasured spaces.  I want to be optimistic that by Fall, my husband and I will be heading out to Utah as planned. Fingers crossed. Although we have our lodging figured out, I am open to suggestions on other cool stuff to see and do in the area. Probably no need to suggest Angel’s Landing hike in Zion, not gonna happen. I am way too afraid of heights in addition to that fact I am not as agile as a mountain goat, don’t really wish to fall to my death….just saying. But am looking forward to hiking The Narrows, we shall see.

Arches National Park
Arches National Park, Utah

So I am not even sure if we will have the time or energy to see all five, but just the anticipation of the trip…and the prospect of added features for my book, keeps me motivated and optimistic for what is to come. If I am discouraged, or feeling “cabin fever”, I just take a gander through those travel brochures and it gets me back in the game. Did I mention BOOK? Yes, I am in the midst of putting together a book about the National Park Service. It is not meant to be the definitive guide to the parks , but rather an overview and a way of providing an inspiration to visit the parks. It is entitled “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.” A large portion of the book is compiled from my blogs to many of the Parks, but I am also working on new content. The up side of the fact that we are strongly encouraged to comply with “Safer at Home” ordinances pushes me towards continued work on my book. I enjoy working on it, but as an writer knows…it’s easy to get distracted by so many other things.

Zion National Park, photo from U.S. Dept. of Interior

So here’s one more image to inspire both myself and my readers: Zion National Park. Zion is currently closed for visitors, but let’s hope the future will bring opportunities for others to see this glorious view….myself included. Looking for a way to remedy the “stay at home” blues? Why not try some travel planning with a virtual trip with plans for the future. Stay safe, stay healthy and hang in there until we come out on the “other side.” Put Your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

The Quiet Majesty of the Grand Tetons

“In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there –Roundabout by YES

The Teton Range: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Looking at the majesty of the Tetons, I was reminded of those lyrics by YES from so many years ago. I have always liked that those words seem to bring the mountains to life. A life of their own and as they stand there, if they were so inclined they could get up and walk away to another place.

The Teton range has been “standing there” for millions of years, but was established as Grand Teton National Park in 1929.  About 13 million years ago, two blocks of the earth’s crust shifted on a fault line, tilted one up and the other down forming the range we view today. The highest peek: “Grand” reaches to a height of 13,770 feet.   The area surrounding the range includes a lush valley with crystal shining lakes, groves of aspen trees and alpine meadows. The park is 484 square miles and includes the range and most of the nearby area of Jackson Hole.  Not to be confused with specifically the town of Jackson, Wyoming. This flat valley surrounded by the towering mountains was visited by many trappers in the 1800’s. The area was named “Jackson’s Hole”  after Davey Jackson: a trapper from that time.  In time, the apostrophe was dropped and it just became Jackson Hole. Both the town of Jackson and the geographic namesake of the area are linked historically and are “next door neighbors” sharing the same inspiring landscape.

Antler Arches-Jackson Wyoming

Many visitors to the Park also spend time touring the town of Jackson and many hotels, restaurants and shops are found closely to the Park. Jackson is also the home to three popular ski resorts, so it is even busier during the winter months. We were there in summer and there were some visitors from the Park, but their peak season is ski season. When we went to the Grand Tetons, we stayed in Jackson and had the opportunity to explore both. One of the most unique features of Jackson was the Town Square: decorated with cowboys statues and arches made from antlers. On first view, it seems a little morbid…but come to find out the elk shed their antlers every year. Most of the antlers used in the construction of the archways were collected from the area in the woods. Otherwise, that would have been quite a few elk to shoot! Here’s a photo of one of the arches. They do have quite an impact: it gives the town square a real rustic, western feel.

Jenny Lake-Grand Teton National Park

There are three entrances to the Park, the southern entrance is only 4 miles north of Jackson.  If traveling from the north, via Yellowstone National Park, the two parks are only 31 miles apart.  Nevertheless, the Tetons are frequently overlooked by the notoriety of Yellowstone.  Both parks have their own unique features, but personally I liked Grand Teton better. The majestic beauty of the mountains and the quiet solitude of the shimmering lakes gives one a wonderful sense of calm…good Zen.  Yellowstone provides a great showcase of unique geographic features: erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots and breathtaking waterfalls.  I don’t deny these are all part of an awesome park adventure, but the majesty and serene landscapes of the Tetons should not be missed.

With the varied terrain there are also different hikes suited to different skill levels. Yet, the easy to moderate level hikes provide a great day hike through sparkling streams, alpine meadows and loads of photo opportunities. We took a relatively short hike and ended up at Jenny Lake. Since it was an easy hike, we were not alone on the trail, but not crowded by any means.  I am always amazed by delightful conversations with fellow park goers. We had asked two women if they could take our family photo and they were happy to oblige (most folks usually are…) Come to find out they were also from a  Chicago suburb; very close to where we lived. Small world.

Moulton Barn on Mormon Row-Grand Teton National Park (photo by PhotoJeepers)

Some of the most iconic photographs of Grand Teton National Park include the antique barn on Mormon Row Historic District: the Moulton Barn. The barn stands as a picturesque back drop to grazing bison and antelope. It also reminds the viewer of the challenging life of farming that took place on these rugged lands. The area was settled by Mormons in the late 1890s. The community was established and 27 homesteads were built to form a close knit community. Most of the farmers grew hay and oats and had limited livestock. In the mid-1900s, Mormon Row was acquired to expand Grand Teton National Park and in 1997 the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Several iconic barns still stand today and are widely recognized in photographs with the Teton range as the backdrop.

Grand Teton National Park: a magnificent, must see park for travelers to the west. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Boston Blend

Paul Revere statue by the Old North Church

 

Boston is a city that stands as a shining example of the blending of old and new elements. Boston is steeped with history showcasing the birth of our nation and the events of the American Revolution. Yet, in the same token it is a modern bustling city with glimmering skyscrapers next to the shores of the Atlantic. There is so much to take in when visiting this east coast city and there is something to appeal to every taste: history, architecture, diverse cuisine, beautiful parks and of course the famous Freedom Trail.

Red brick pathways of The Freedom Trail

Even if you have never been to Boston, the Freedom Trail is the most talked about and highlighted feature of the city.  The red brick pathways throughout the city streets lead you to 16 of some of the most significant events in the history of the United States. And yes, they happened in Boston.  Boston is frequently referred to as “The Cradle of Liberty”. The trail was originally conceived in 1951; the trail was completed and by 1953 40,000 people were walking the trail annually.  The trail is easy to follow by the narrow red bricks marking the way. The entire trail is only 2 1/2 miles long, but to take it all in perhaps its easier to walk part of the trail and “trolley” part of it. There are two trolley companies within the city that provide “hop on, hop off” service. I would highly recommend this, it’s an easy way to get around and see the sights you want to without becoming completed exhausted. They both have web sites and information on their tours: Old Town Trolley Tours and City View Trolley Tours.

One of the best places to start learning about all the ins and outs of the Freedom Trail is with the National Park Service. The NPS provides an abundance of information detailed the significant events of the birth of our nation. The National Park Service has two Visitor’s Centers in Boston: one in Faneuil Hall in the heart of government center area and the other by the harbor and the USS Constitution. We went to both Centers and both facilities offer an abundance of information to gain a better understanding of the historical significance of all the sites along the Freedom Trail. For those of you who are NPS passport holders, like myself, I am thrilled to report there are 16 different stamps you can collect from all the historic sites. I didn’t get all of them, but added quite a few to expand my Passport collection.

Boston’s Quincy Market- Built 1826

In the heart of the city is a vibrant market place housed in both Faneil Hall and Quincy Market. Faneil Hall was built in 1742 to serve as a central market but town meetings were also held here from 1764 to 1774. Samuel Adams led meetings here with protests against the taxation of the colonies, when some of the first stirrings of a revolution began. Today Faneuil Hall contains shops and restaurants on the first floor, the NPS Visitor’s Centers on the second floor and a museum on the third floor. The museum contains a collection about the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. The Company was founded in 1638 for defense of the colony. The display has occupied space in Faneuil Hall since 1746.

“In Boston, we love Lobsta”

In the same courtyard as Faneil Hall stands the stately building with Greek columns: Quincy Market. It was named after the Mayor of that time period (1823) who pushed to have the marketplace built to accommodate the needs of the growing city and the overcrowding at Faneuil Hall. Quincy Market was completed in 1826. It is a fascinating place to visit with all the sights and sounds of a thriving marketplace. Fish, meat, cheeses and an abundance of produce are seen up and down each aisle displayed by a diversity of vendors. Not only is this harbor town known for their wonderful seafood, but Bostonians have a unique accent and are not shy about it. Just take a look at this sign at a seafood vendor I saw at Quincy Market, it really gave me a chuckle. The way to pronounce Lobster is to drop the R….Lobsta…that’s the Boston way. I love it. We enjoyed talking with the locals and their accent was very evident with the trolley drivers. Perhaps they ham it up a bit for the tourists. I know that our Mid-western accents sound quite odd to them. That is always a fun part of traveling about the country. It’s English, but there are just so many different ways to speak it. Additionally, in this same marketplace, there are two additional buildings: South Market and North Market. Wow….So much shopping, So little time.

USS Constitution-oldest ship in the Navy

One of the highlights on the Freedom Trail takes you to the Charlestown Navy Yard; where the Charles River meets Boston Harbor. Here sitting in the harbor, is the oldest commissioned U.S. Naval ship: the USS Constitution.  She really is quite a sight to behold, and looking at all the rigging on her sails, it’s hard to imagine all the sailors operating them without tripping over each other. It would definitely have to be an orchestrated effort. The ship was built by Bostonians and launched in 1797. She sailed in 40 battles and never lost one. She was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” because of the way cannonballs would bounce off her tough oak planking. When visiting this sight, you are allowed to walk on the ship and explore it. However, security is tight because part of the facility is a working Navy base, it’s not all for tourism. The museum on the premises is also very interesting, it’s hard to take in all the information at one time, perhaps warrants multiple trips.

Swan Boat in Boston Common

The oldest public park in America, the Boston Common, is in the heart of the city and provides lush green spaces, manicured walkways trimmed with flowers, a small “frog pond” and a larger lake. It was originally  established by the Puritans in 1634. Within the park is a beautiful pond with the infamous Swan Boats floating gracefully across the pond. The boats are as quiet and gently moving as a real swan, because there are no motors; powered only by peddling of the swan boat “captain”. Even when filled with people, the whole park is serene and a lovely place to relax on a blanket on the grass.

“Make Way For Ducklings”

Another charming aspect of the park is the adorable “Make Way for Ducklings” statue that pays homage to the classic children’s story by Robert McCloskey. The tale of the wayward ducklings was inspired by the busy streets of Boston and a Mama Mallard trying to protect her brood. It was originally published in 1941, but it’s continued popularity has held the test of time as a classic children’s story.

Crossing the bridge on the Charles River, from Boston to Cambridge, takes you to two of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America: Harvard University and MIT. Harvard holds the title of the oldest college in America, it was founded in 1636. Today Harvard also is known as a leading research facility.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was founded in 1861 and has become one of the world’s leading technical institutions.

Boston is indeed a city of manyfirsts” in our county. The first printing press was in Boston in 1638. The first subway was in Boston, 1898. The first World Series was held in Boston, 1903. The last “first” I will mention is near and dear to my heart: The Boston Light was the country’s first lighthouse in 1716. How could I have missed that when I was there….sounds like I need to head back to Boston for my OWN photo of that iconic lighthouse. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

The Boston Light-America’s first: 1716

The Timeless Retreat of Mackinac Island

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan

The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.  The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Carriage rides awaiting their next customer.

Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!

Our Trusty Team

Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”

 

A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The  early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing.  After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.

Historic Fort Mackinac

Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British  soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.

Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895.  By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post.  Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.

The Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel.  It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.

For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their  Tourism  board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/  Put your traveling shoes on. JES