National Historical Park

Where are the Jollys heading next?

National Park Unit Visit Status - 3/14/16
National Park Units — pink highlights are those we’ve visited as of 3/14/16

This is a map we have hanging up inside Charley, our RV.  It shows all of the national park units, and the pink highlights show which ones we’ve been to.  Can you tell what area of the country we haven’t visited yet?  Well that’s about to change as we make our way back to the Midwest for a few family events here in late March and early April.

We’re routing through southern Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, then up through Illinois on our drive east, then when we return to Salt Lake City [where we left Charley] in mid-April we will travel through Iowa, Nebraska and the northern part of Colorado.  This trip will get us to three of the four remaining states we have yet to visit on our Out There trip — Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska — and we expect to get to another 12 or so national park units, including another one of the big Parks — Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

This summer we’ll pick up our remaining state, North Dakota, and we’ll visit all but one of our remaining national parks by the end of September.  We’ve saved the most difficult park to get to — National Park of American Samoa — until Spring 2017 after the rainy season down in the islands.

Expect lots more miles by our end-of-the-month tally, and watch our Out There By The Numbers counts continue to go up in our other categories, as well.  And on we travel….

National Park Units in Idaho

While none of these places was on our list of national park units we had planned to see, our re-route to southern Idaho for several days to escape the wildfires north and west allowed us time in each of the following three places:

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument – Hagerman, Idaho

Hagerman Fossil BedsIt’s one thing to see movies depicting pre-historic times when animals like mastodons and giant sloths roamed the earth… it’s another thing to actually see the fossil remains of these and other unique creatures and imagine a time on Earth when these animals roamed freely.  Here in the Hagerman Fossil Beds, paleontologists have discovered more than 200 species of plants and animals preserved from a time some three-and-a-half million years ago when the land in this area was much wetter and supported a wide variety of life.

Fossil remains of the Hagerman Horse
Fossil remains of the Hagerman Horse

Saber-toothed cats, mastodons, camels, ground sloths, hyena-like dogs, beavers, muskrats, otters, antelope, deer, fish, frogs, snakes, and waterfowl all lived in the area of southern Idaho, as did a now-extinct animal known as the “Hagerman horse.”   Looking less like a horse and more like a zebra, it is believed that a sudden flood caused a herd of these zebra-like creatures to die all together here.  Their bones fossilized and were buried under sediment layers for over three million years.  

In 1929, a rancher near the small town of Hagerman showed some fossil beds to a government geologist.  A remarkable discovery this was!  Throughout the 1930s, Smithsonian Institute geologists excavated some 120 horse skulls and 20 complete skeletons from one of more than 600 fossil sites here outside Hagerman.  In total, these fossil beds have produced more than 40,000 specimens.  The Smithsonian has exchanged several Hagerman horse skeletons with other museums, resulting in their display around the world.  

The lesson is taught that here in the Hagerman area, as in all other areas when significant environmental change takes place, plants and animals have three options: adapt to their new environment, migrate away from the changing area, or die.     

Minidoka National Historic Site — Jerome, Idaho
Minidoka NHS
Two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans into ten relocation centers located in isolated areas across the country.  The Minidoka War Relocation Center in south-central Idaho is one of these internment camps.  Fearing Japanese sabotage on the West Coast, some 9,000 Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese aliens from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon were uprooted and involuntarily moved to this desolate, high-desert, middle-of-nowhere place where, from August 1942 until October 1945, they were forced to live.  Finally after the war had ended they were allowed to return home.

The Honor Roll of internees serving in the U.S. Military
The Honor Roll of internees serving in the U.S. Military

Despite their internment, most Japanese Americans remained intensely loyal to the United States, and many demonstrated their loyalty by volunteering for military service.  Here at Minidoka, nearly 10 percent of the internees volunteered for service; the highest number at any of these camps.  Today a large memorial stands to honor those Japanese-Americans from this place who proudly served.

Today’s Minidoka site, known locally as Hunt Camp, preserves a few of the remaining relics of the camp that weren’t even finished when the first internees arrived.  A few interpretive and memorial displays are here for visitors to see, but most of the exhibits related to Minidoka are on display at another location and will be added to this park in the future — it would appear when more budget money is allocated here.  

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve — Arco, Idaho Craters of the Moon NM & Pres

A “weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself” is how President Calvin Coolidge described the site when Craters of the Moon National Monument was established in 1924.  This strange landscape of lava fields was formed not from a giant erupting volcano, but from lava leaking out from a series of deep fissures known collectively as the Great Rift which is located in the Snake River Basin in south-central Idaho.

Craters of the Moon Satellite Image
Satellite image of Craters of the Moon NM & Pres
Craters of the Moon NM & Pres
A “weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself”

For much of this area’s early history, these lava beds were a mysterious blank spot on maps.  Shoshone Indians were known to have passed through here.  In the 1800s, European-Americans came through the area, as well, but they mostly avoided the lavas.  Finally, through sheer curiosity, federal geologists explored here in the early 1900s.  And in the 1920s, a taxidermist and Idaho promotor, Robert Limbert, helped draw national attention to these lava lands which contributed to the establishment of Craters of the Moon as a national monument.  Famously in 1969, NASA’s Apollo Astronauts came here to study basic volcanic geology as they prepared for their moon missions.

Craters of the Moon NM & Pres
Scenic drive through the sagebrush and wildflowers
Craters of the Moon NM & Pres
Fred hiking up the cinder cone

The park has been greatly expanded over the years with much of it designated as wilderness.  It features a 7-mile scenic drive through lava fields and sagebrush steppe grasslands that is really quite beautiful.  Visitors can hike up a cinder cone, through lava-tube caves and tunnels, and even backcountry camp in this place that, while seemingly forsaken, is actually teeming with life.


Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Fort Clatsop NHPThe Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, was the first American expedition to explore the northwestern lands of the vast territory the United States purchased from France in 1803.  U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was keen to explore and map this newly-acquired territory known as the Louisiana Purchase, for it doubled the size of the country.  Jefferson wanted to lay claim on these lands before Britain and other powers were able to do so, determine what resources were available west of the Mississippi River, establish trade with and U.S. sovereignty over the native peoples, and find an all-water route across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Continue reading

Native American Pueblos and Tribal Parks

The Pueblo people at PecosIn the last couple of weeks we have seen the influences that the Native American culture has on the American Southwest – from art to architecture; from food to faith.  We have really enjoyed this part of the country, and continuing on our visit-the-national-park-units quest, we visited two more sites — Pecos National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument.  Here we have further learned and discovered what life was like for these natives who lived in communities, or pueblos, many hundreds of years ago.

Pecos National Historical ParkReconstructed kiva at Pecos National Historical ParkRemains of the mission church completed in 1717Pecos NHP preserves the site of an ancestral pueblo that became a thriving cultural and trade center in the 1400s.  Then in the 1600s, Spanish missionaries arrived and established a mission church at the pueblo.  As is par for the course at these wonderful National Park Service park units, the introductory movie and exhibits in the Visitor Center provides a very good overview of what visitors see and experience while visiting the ruins of both of these parts of Pecos.  

Aztec Ruins NM also preserves a pueblo, but this one dates a bit earlier (late 1000s to late 1200s A.D.) and has weathered better.  Of note at Aztec Ruins are great kivas; very large ceremonial / social rooms.  The below slide show of photos conveys more of what we have seen when we have visited these remnants and ruins of these long-ago communities.  We found the Aztec ruins particularly spectacular for they have survived some 900 years!

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then use the arrows to scroll through photos of our visit to Aztec Ruins:

Now that we're leaving New Mexico and heading into Utah, we're driving through some more incredible scenery!  This area, called Four Corners, is part of the great Colorado Plateau, and every vista seems more stunning than the next!

Driving through the Four Corners area in New MexicoShip Rock - a prominent figure on the great plateau in the Navajo Nation


















Speaking of Four Corners, here it is.  This is the place where the four states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.  We checked our atlas, saw we were going to be in the vicinity, and knew we just had to swing by for a photo.  Four Corners Monument is located in the Navajo Nation, and they have erected a nice monument, sell handmade crafts and jewelry, and offer traditional Navajo foods nearby.Welcome to the Four Corners Monument in the Navajo Tribal NationFour Corners National Monument

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Charley's "home" outside Big Bend NPAfter nearly two weeks with our friends in San Antonio, we said 'goodbye' to the metro mix and headed west on I-10 for 300 miles or so, then turned left and headed south another 100 miles.  That was last Tuesday, and that trip brought us to the middle of nowhere outside of Big Bend National Park, right on the Mexican border in southwest Texas.  We love the remote campground we found just outside the park, but as the picture shows, it is so remote that Verizon hasn't seen fit to provide cellular service out here, and the campground's Internet service has been intermittent at best.  Unfortunately, this has translated into some delays in connecting, and thus posting.  

Before I share our Big Bend adventures, I wanted to catch up on three other national park units we visited, all within an hour of San Antonio, while we were there.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of time writing about these places at the time because I wanted to visit as much as I could with Jackie and her family, but I have been able to catch up on these three different park units in the evenings while here in Big Bend, so I share them with you now:

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

During the late 1600s and early 1700s, Spain was looking to extend its dominion northward from the land we know today as Mexico.  To do so, they began to establish missions in what we now know as Texas, offering food, shelter, and protection to Native Americans in exchange for their conversion to Christianity and their loyalty to Spain. 

Mission ConcepcionGroups of hunter-gatherer Indian bands, collectively referred to as Coahuiltecans (kwa-weel-tekens), had been living on these grassland plains for thousands of years, but about this same time found their nomadic lifestyle and gentile ways being threatened by warring Apache and Comanche Indian tribes who were encroaching on their territory from the north.  These Spanish missions provided sanctuary from their enemies, so many of these dwindling bands sought refuge in mission life. 

Espada Mission - these missions were built like a big compoundWhile “Cross and Crown” were provided, along with protection inside the missions’ massive stone-walled compounds, Franciscan friars also taught skills such as more sophisticated farming and gardening, spinning and weaving, iron forging, masonry, soap and candle making, and pottery.  But in return, these Indians were subject to strict religious, social, and moral discipline, and in most cases, their tribal cultural and ethnic identity were destroyed. 

MissionsSome Coahuiltecans fled from the missions to return to their old life, but most accepted Catholicism and actively took part in this new mission society.  Missions were strong throughout the mid-1700s, but by the 1780s, they began a decline in both population and activity.  Diseases that were introduced by those foreign to them decimated many of the natives, and by 1824, with dwindling numbers and less of a need for them, these missions were secularized, with the land redistributed to the mission inhabitants and the churches transferred to secular clergy.

Today, five of the six missions along the San Antonio River still remain.  The most well-known is the Mission San Antonio de Valero, known today as the Alamo.  (See my "Remember The Alamo!" post.)  Operated by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, this is an independent shrine of Texas history.  One of the missions was built over as the city of San Antonio was being developed, but thanks to those who saw the value in preserving such historically significant places, the other four missions that are located south of the city along the river are now protected and operated by the National Park Service.  Each of the four remaining missions includes a church which still operates as an active Catholic parish.

Mission San JoseMission San José is the largest of the missions, thus gaining the reputation as the Queen of the Missions.  It is also where the primary NPS Visitor Center is located, and it is the one that has been most fully restored.  This mission, together with its surrounding fields, sustained a thriving community of Indians and Spaniards which numbered 300 at the height of mission operations.  The church and convento were the center of life at this mission that was started in 1782.  Within the walls, Indians lived, worshipped, and attended classes; outside the walls, they tended fields, orchards, and livestock.  A granary within the compound stored enough maize to supply the population of the mission for an entire year.  

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through some pictures of the beautiful Mission San José: 

Mission EspadaMission Espada is the oldest of the East Texas missions.  It was the first one we visited as it was the furthest south; 11 miles south of San Antonio.  Like the other missions in this area, Mission Espada was located along the San Antonio River where acequias, or gravity flow ditches could be built to route the flow of the San Antonio River for use to irrigate crops on which these missions depended.  Self-sufficiency was an important element of missions, as well, so like the others, this mission developed a solid economy by teaching the Indians vocations such as weaving, blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry, farming, and ranching.  Espada was the only mission that made bricks, and these are still visible today.  This simple, remote, pastoral mission made it my favorite of the four in the park system.

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through a few pictures of Mission Espada: 

Mission San JuanMission San Juan Capistrano was originally San José de los Nazonis in East Texas, then in 1731, it was moved to its permanent home on the east bank of the San Antonio River, a few miles north of Mission Espada.  Its fertile farmland and pastures made it a regional supplier of produce with peaches, melons, pumpkins, grapes, peppers, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and sugar cane all coming from the orchards and gardens outside the compound walls.  In 1762, it was recorded that Mission San Juan's herds numbered 3,500 sheep and nearly as many cattle.  These missions were not only self-sufficient, but they supported settlements and the nearby presidio with their commerce, as well.

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through a few pictures of Mission San Juan: 

Mission ConcepcionMission Concepción is another of the missions that started out in East Texas but was transferred here to San Antonio in 1731.  A quarry just outside the mission compound provided rock that the Indians broke apart to build this new mission, and today it is one of the oldest original stone church buildings in the United States.  Mission Concepcion showcases the extravagant beauty of original wall art that remains some 250 years after the church was constructed.  Colorful geometric designs that once covered the church's exterior surface have long faded, but visitors can still see light remnants of the pigments that were applied to wet lime plaster which absorbed the color.  Inside, these frescos were better preserved as they were protected from the outside elements.  The photos below show this beautiful mission wall art.

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, then click on the arrows to scroll through a few pictures of Mission San Concepción

The eternal and abiding missions of San Antonio were far more than just churches; they were communities of Spaniards and Native Americans who, for more than a half a century, had thriving economies which were important foundations for the city of San Antonio.  Franciscan friars gathered these native peoples, converted them to Catholicism, taught them to live as Spaniards, and helped maintain Spanish control over the Texas frontier.  Today these historic missions are elegant reminders of the contribution of Indian and Hispanic peoples to the history of the United States.

Two More for the Tally

El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail

El Camino RealFor thousands of years, the land we call Texas today was home to Native American Indians.  A gigantic field of tall grasses, the Tejas prairie offered no apparent riches, but Spain was intent on claiming this vast land to deter the French from colonizing here.  A vital artery across this land was established as missionaries and soldiers traveled these time-worn routes and built missions and presidios (military posts) throughout the area.  Thus this royal road, camino real, was established.  In actuality, several routes were traveled, but all led from Mexico City, then in Spanish control, through southwest Texas, to northern Louisiana to what was then the capital city, Los Adaes.

In 2004, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail was added to the National Trails System.  It covers roughly 2,600 miles along several routes.


Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park – “Texas White House”

LBJ and Lady Bird were both very heavily influenced by the Texas Hill CountryWhen Lyndon Baines Johnson died in 1973, the Reverend Billy Graham, in his eulogy, commented that one needed to know and understand the land he came from to know and understand LBJ.  It was clear when we visited and toured LBJ’s ranch house outside of Stockton, Texas, that much of what shaped this man, who was our country’s 36th president (1963-1969), was learned right here.  The LBJ National Historical Park honors this president and preserves the home and significant family properties he loved.  

As President, LBJ was not without controversy; while he did so much work on the social issues, including enacting significant legislation impacting civil rights, voting rights, and education, LBJ’s lack of strong foreign policy, particularly in Vietnam, stains his legacy.  But on the bright side, and of particular interest to us as we journey around our nation’s national parks, we were astounded to learn that President Johnson signed into existence nearly 50 units of the National Park System – thank you, LBJ!

"Lady Bird" Johnson dedicated herself to a life of dutyFormer First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, too, had a significant impact on our country, and her legacy is remembered and honored here on a smaller scale, as well.  “Beautification,” as her initiative was known, focused the nation’s attention on the importance of city parks, clean air, and clean water.  The Highway Beautification Act was informally known as Lady Bird’s Bill.  “Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” she would say.  When we toured the ranch house that the Johnsons shared and loved, Lady Bird’s room was preserved just as it was when she died in 2007 at age 94.  Two crewelwork pillows on her bed touched me:  "I slept and dreamed that life was beauty," said one; and the other, " I woke and found that life was duty."  Oh but were we all to make the world better as Lady Bird Johnson did!

Music, War, Nature, and Cultural History in Louisiana

Chalmette BattlefieldI mentioned in a previous post that we visited a couple more National Park Units while in New Orleans.  We knew about one of them; the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, located in The French Quarter, which recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of the musical style that was born here.  But we didn't know a second one existed until we got here and found the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. This one is actually an amalgamation of six different park properties scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta which all have something to do with the spirit and culture and people of this unique and wonderful area.  We were able to visit three of the six sites that make up this national park unit.  While they all share examples of the rich natural and cultural resources of Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta region, their offerings vary widely.  

Jean Lafitte, for whom this park and preserve is named, was a French-American pirate operating in the Gulf of Mexico during the early 19th century.  He commanded a large group of smugglers and privateers based in Barataria Bay [just south of the city of New Orleans], and was generally known as a scoundrel partaking in illicit ventures.  At his best, he and his band of swashbucklers helped Major General Andrew Jackson and the U.S. forces defeat the British troops in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, helping put an end to the war of 1812.

Painting of the Battle of New Orleans - the final major battle in the War of 1812The Chalmette Battlefield is one of the park units.  As mentioned, it was here that Lafitte helped the young country's forces fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans.  The battle itself took place on January 8, 1815, and lasted less than two hours.  When the fighting concluded, over 2,000 British troops lay dead in the field, were wounded, or taken prisoner; American troops had fewer than 20 casualties.  Jackson's victory here launched him on the road to the White House, and ultimately he became the 7th President of the United States in 1829.

Great Horned OwlNutrias in the bayou We also visited another Jean Lafitte site – the Barataria Preserve.  What once was Lafitte and his marauding pirates' swashing grounds is now a peaceful nature preserve.  Here we hiked on a couple of trails which took us on a raised boardwalk through a Bald Cypress and Palmetto forest before depositing us in the bayou where we paralleled the natural sediment levees along these 'liquid land' rivers in the delta.  The hike was wonderful, and we saw a couple of obscure animals in addition to the requisite egret feeding in the lowland marshlands.  Fred captured this Great Horned Owl mama up high in her next – very cool!  And then we learned about a new animal – the nutria.  It's really a river rat; a very prolific river rat.  Nutria were originally brought up from South America for their fur, but their destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors make them invasive pests today.  We also saw evidence of a wild boar that had torn up a big area foraging for food, but unfortunately we didn't see the big beast in action.

We really enjoyed our little getaway to Barataria Preserve – a nice change of pace from the activity of New Orleans.  Below are a few more photos of this unique place that is the Mississippi Delta.

Hover your cursor over the photo, below, and click on the arrows to scroll through a few photos of the rest of our hike in the Barataria Preserve:

NOLA with Kyle

Kyle on Bourbon StreetAnd the lucky winner is nephew Kyle – my sister's oldest son.  He's the one who took us up on our offer in a previous post to come join us down in New Orleans this weekend and enjoy the sunshine – a very nice break from the cold we'd been in the middle of for the last couple of weeks.  But actually, the lucky winners were us, for we got to connect with him for three days and nights in one of the most fascinating of all cities, and continue to get to know him as the cool young adult that he is.

We enjoyed so many wonderful things when we were together!  Of course, we did the requisite strolling and people-watching on Bourbon Street and all around the French Quarter, stopping to listen to and support the street musicians along the way.  Food town that this is, we drank and dined at some of our old favorite Cajun/Creole/adult beverage spots, including K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, Napoleon House, The Camellia Grill, Oceana Grill, Cafe Beignet and Johnny's Po-Boy.  And then we tried a couple of new spots including Drago's for chargrilled oysters [what’s not to love about garlic and butter and cheese on ANYTHING!?!; thanks for the recommendation, Perry & Dee Dee!] and then we stumbled upon Kingfish, another place we will now add to our NOLA dining repertoire.  To ensure we got some culture, we visited the National WW II Museum [another recommendation from Perry & Dee Dee; like they said, on a scale of 1-10 this is a 12!] and two nearby National Park Units – the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park right in The Quarter, and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve which actually has six different locations; we visited the three nearest the city.

Kyle and his NOLA streetscapeI've said it before, but I'll say it again… one of the many great things we are experiencing Out Here on the road is getting to see so many people we care about and love but didn't get the chance to see often because of the distance to us in Chicago.  In this case, Kyle was only five hours away in Galveston, Texas, and he was only too keen to take a little road trip to come visit us!  He likes this city too, and even bought a nice souvenir to remind him of the great city of New Orleans and of our fabulous visit here together.

We love you, Kyle!  We're proud of you and your service in the U.S. Coast Guard – you've chosen a fine career for yourself.  We had a FANTASTIC time with you in NOLA and can't wait to see you again soon!



Hover your cursor on the photo, below, then use the arrows to scroll through some photos of the three of us enjoying NOLA!



Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House
Painting of Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House
The recreated room as it stands today - Lee's desk on the left; Grant's desk on the right
The recreated room as it stands today – Lee’s desk on the left; Grant’s desk on the right
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park property

On April 9, 1865, a dignified meeting of two military commanders in the rural central Virginia village of Appomattox Court House symbolically ended the American Civil War.  At the home of Wilmer & Virginia McLean, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, overall commander of the Union forces.

For Lee’s men in gray, hunger and fatigue were more deadly than bullets after four long years of bitter conflict.  Lee knew his troops were surrounded here.  And although other armies remained in the field, the ceremony at Appomattox precipitated the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.  Grant had been compassionate and generous with the surrender terms, sharing the Union rations with these hungry men, and as the thin, ragged gray line marched by with pride, honor met honor as Blue saluted Gray.  On April 12th, Lee’s soldiers stacked their arms, surrendered their colors, received their paroles, and began their long walks home.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park preserves and protects the village of Appomattox Court House, which includes the McLean House and more than two dozen original 19th-century and reconstructed structures on 1,700 acres.  In spite of the cold day, we enjoyed a brief stroll around the village, the two videos in the Visitor Center, and the artifacts on display remembering this day when two good men ended a war and a new nation was reborn.