Category Archives: National Parks

2017 trip – days 47 & 48 – end of the vacation

For day 47 we had our final day of vacation.  We stayed in the Black Hills area, saw Mount Rushmore again, and went to one last National Park, Wind Cave (34 total).  There is a tendancy for places to want to be the best or most of something.  We saw this in the South where it seems like every battlefield claimed to either be the bloodiest battle in one way or another or to be the more decisive battle in one way or another.  For Caves we were at Mammoth Cave a few weeks ago, which claimed to be the longest cave in the world.  Other caves claim to be the first discovered or most visited.  Wind Cave claims to be the most complex cave system in the world.  I know there are mathematical formulas to describe the complexity of objects but, somehow, I doubt there is a precise formula to support this claim.   The process by which caves are formed and the amazing diversity of life which has evolved to life in caves is very fascinating to me, but becoming an avid cave explorer is not on my to-do list.  The most interesting thing to me is that Wind cave is a National Park both below ground for the cave, and above ground for the wildlife preserve with a large herd of bison and a huge Praire dog town.  Both were fun to see on our way to and from the cave.

We also just spent a relaxing day doing “vacation type things”, like shopping, taking pictures and finding a new and interesting place to eat.  We accomplished all those things and decided to call in a fine day for an end to our vacation.

I call it the end of the vacation even though we won’t be home for 3 more days.  What’s left is just long distance driving back to our little home in the upper left hand corner of the map.  Today we drove through our final state for our trip, Wyoming (19), and made almost 600 miles to Livingston, Montanta.  About 800 miles more to get home.  Tomorrow we will pass 9000 miles for the whole trip and yesterday we passed an oddity in terms of miles.  The odometer briefly read as “123456”.

Home soon but no more new states, new parks, cemeteries, museums or visits with people.

2017 trip – days 42 to 46 – cycles of history

Much to catch up on.  Passed 8000 miles yesterday.  Getting a bit lower gas mileage. Probably due to a slight uphill grade as we head north and west.  Also the prevailing western winds on the plains have an effect.  After finishing our activities in Iowa and traveling across Nebraska, we are now in South Dakota, our 18th state for this trip.

Monday and Tuesday were days with a focus on Peg’s family both living and past.  We spent time with 2 aunts and 3 cousins.  We also visited the places where she and her father lived part of their lives and where her grandparents and great grandparents lived and farmed.  We also included a stop at the local cemetery in Granville, Iowa, and the place in town where a Veterans Memorial is being constructed.

10 more National Parks in the past few days for a total of 33 on this trip.

On Tuesday we visited a beautiful Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center along the River in Sioux City Iowa.  We always watch the park films when we go to these places.  The one at this place was quite beautifully done.  An actor playing William Clark recounted many aspects of the Lewis and Clark Journey almost entirely with quotes directly from their journals.  Sioux City is the site of the only death of a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The film did a wonderful job of giving an overview of the journey with a focus on Sargent Floyd’s death.  I learned that after his death, Lewis and Clark allowed the men to vote on who among their number would replace Floyd as a Sargent, with leadership responsibilities for the remainder of the trip.  This may have been the first use of a democratic style of voting west of Mississippi.

On Wednesday we saw Niobrara National Scenic River.  A beautiful place in upper central Nebraska.  Looks like a wonderful recreation area and a place worth protecting from overdevelopment.  However, as I think about what rises to the level of being a “National Park”, I wasn’t caught by anything compelling for this place.

On Thursday we revisited previously visited parks of Chimney Rock and Scottsbluff National Monument.  These are points passed by many 100’s of thousands of travelers heading West on many routes central to our country’s history.  These points were about one third of the way west for the many travelers to the Oregon territory.  Trails through these points include: the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Mormon National Historic Trail, the California National Historic Trail (during the gold rush), and the Pony Express National Historic Trail.

Today, Friday, we visited both the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The visit to Agate Fossil Beds provoked a lot of thoughts for me.  I have always been interested in the “process” of how things happen.  The Museum did a very nice job of explaining the process of fossilization in this particular area.  The process which resulted in some amazingly large finds of fossilized bones from 20 million years ago involved many changes in environment over time.  There were periods of lush growth on the primal prairies of the area, followed by periods of drought, and periods of flood, and then many repeats of those same events.  We would not have these bones from which we can learn of this history without these processes.  But more importantly, life on earth would not have evolved as it did without these processes.  Life, from the beginning, has always expanded in quantity during times of plenty and then struggled to survive and to adapt in more difficult times.  This process is at the core of the evolution of all life on earth.

I think the same processes of calm and struggle apply to human history in general and specifically to the history of human evolution of social structures.  I have been influenced by the book “Generations” which analyzes American History from the Mayflower to the present through the lens of the common experiences of different generations of people throughout that time period.  The book lays out a theory of cyclical periods of spiritual awakenings and secular crises.  In each period of crisis, American society is split to the point of breaking by one or more issues (Should we become an independent country? Should we allow slavery to continue? Should government take responsibility for the social welfare of its people?).  After a period of crisis that question is substantially resolved and the country moves on for some time based on a new understanding of the relationship between the people and their government.  These periods of extreme crisis seem to occur at about 80 to 90 year intervals.

When I think about some of the current events in our country I see a similar level of extreme conflict to that which has occurred in the past. There seems to be at least 2 mutually exclusive views of the world and almost everyone has adopted one or the other of those views.  There seems to be almost no valuing of moderation, compromise, or respect for alternative points of view in our current culture. It feels like our country is in crisis although it is beyond my skill to identify in any convincing way exactly what the crisis is about.

In looking at this state of crisis my view of history as being subject to periodic cycles is both reassuring and disturbing.  It is reassuring because we, as a country, have survived at least 4 such previous crises.  Not only survived, but become a better place to live and prosper after each such crisis.  It is disturbing because, in each such instance, the crisis has only been resolved after an event or period of bloodshed and/or extreme suffering.  I hope we can manage to make it through our current crisis without such extremes as the King Phillips War, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or the Great Depression and World War II.  I don’t see how the extreme divisiveness prevalent in our current culture is likely to dissipate absent some extreme event, but I can only hope such a way can be found.

Again I look at the history of fossils and evolution at the Agate Fossil Beds as a point of comparison.  Despite many crises and struggles, life has always found a way to adapt and progress.  I hope in our social realm we can do the same without leaving too many of our bones behind as fossils.


2017 trip – days 35 to 38 – so many experiences – and more to come

Lots of activities in the last 4 days.  Too many to unpack in one night, so just a summary of events.  We traveled across Missouri from St. Louis to Kansas City, then took a day trip into Kansas, another day trip around Kansas City itself, and then moved northward to Nebraska and tonight in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

We have been in 17 states and have traveled just short of 7 thousand miles.  In the last few days we saw:

one more national park for a total of 23 so far,

visited 2 other museums or historical sites for a total of 9 (this includes seeing 4 more B-17s – which means we have now seen more than half of all the known existing intact or being restored B-17s in the world, 24 of 46,

visited with 3 more groups of family members or friends, including my very gracious cousin Jerry Schomer and his family in Lee’s Summit Missouri, for a total of 6 visits on this trip, and

stopped at 3 more places related to family history, inlcuding my father’s gravesite, for a total of 11 such stops on this trip.

Both the Harry Truman National Historic Site and the National Museum of World War I were experiences full of information and places that provoked many thoughts about history, politics, the world, and our responsibilities in that world.

Also, experiences visiting places lived in and touched by both my parents during early parts of their lives evokes a lot of thoughts and feelings.

In both instances I am not up to trying to capsulize those thoughts tonight.

Maybe more tomorrow after even more new experiences and activites.



2017 trip – day 33 – back on the road

Long day today.  Out earlier than usual.  410 miles on one tank of gas at 50.1 mpg.  Started in Kentucky, then to Indiana and Illinois and almost to Missouri.  We could see the arch for the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, otherwise known as the St Louis arch as we pulled into our hotel.  Passed the 6000 mile mark for the trip today. 2 new national parks.

Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana.  This is where he grew up from a young boy of 9 to a young man of 18.  I think this is the last of the Lincoln National Parks.  We have previously been to the Lincoln Memorial in DC, to his summer White House in north DC, to his birth place, to the place he lived from ages 2 to 9, and to his home and his burial site in Springfield.  Everything I learn about Lincoln just makes me admire him more.  It is hard to imagine our country today if there had not been a Lincoln to lead at the time he became President.

Then onto the other side of Indiana – Vincennes- and the George Rogers Clark National Memorial Park.  This is a man almost forgotten to history who led the American effort to fight the British in the lands that were the western frontier of America in the late 1700’s.  Everyone has studied the American revolutionary war and knows about George Washington, the Continental Congress, and the military actions in the East.  However, the actions of George Rogers Clark and the men who fought with him are all but forgotten.  At one point he led 180 men through ice cold waters up to their waist and higher for several hours in order to make a surprise attack on a British held fort.  As a result, when the war was over, the current day lands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota, became part of the newly formed United States.

He was only 26 when this occurred and lived into his 60’s in relative obscurity. Meanwhile his youngest brother, William, became famous as one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  We will see the site dedicated to the start of that expedition tomorrow.




Days 31 & 32 – A bit of history most of us were never taught

Warning – todays post is going to include some unpleasant US history and a bit of a political rant on my part.  If that doesn’t sound like something you want to read please skip todays blog and catchup tomorrow.  If you do read it and have a reaction, I would like to hear from you in the comments or directly by email or other means of communication.  I believe honest, rational, and respectful discussion of difficult topics is important.

Yesterday we drove south and east from our place in Canton, Kentucky, to Stones River Tennessee.  The primary site we were visiting was another Civil War Site: Stones River National Battlefield. You can explore the National Parks site to find out more specifics about why this battle was fought here, all the tactics and mistakes made by both sides, and the horrific details in terms of the loss of life.  However, what I want to talk about is how I had the overwhelming feeling that much of the Civil War History, both at the time it was fought and today, can only be categorized as “Fake News.”  And I don’t mean fake news in the way Trump uses it to label everything he doesn’t like.  I mean in the literal sense that there were and are news stories printed which contained information which was knowingly and totally false.

One example is the south reported they had given the Yankees a terrible trashing.  True, the Yankees had lost a lot of lives but at the end of the battle it was the South who made a fast retreat from the area, abandoning the vital railroads and river ways they needed.  This type of false reporting occurred throughout the war, a bit on both sides, but extensively in the South.  Why? Because the south was in deep conflict over what they were trying to accomplish.  They had seceded from the Union, declaring they no longer wanted to be part of the United States.  Yet,they also wanted to claim they were proud Americans carrying on the traditions of our founding fathers.  The South’s real hope was that a European power would side with them and force the north into negotiations so they could continue to be part of the United States, but with their most important concern protected:  They wanted to be able to continue the practice of treating a whole class of people as property.  This conflict existed from the very beginning of our country when the “great compromises”  of the Constitution allowed the south to simultaneously claim slaves as property for purposes of ownership and as citizens for purposes of counting the size of their states.

The false claims of victory after every lost battle did not fool anyone in either the North or the South of our country, but the hope was it would fool the French or British so they would think the South had a chance for victory.

That same conflict of wanting it both ways continues to this day. I have seen places around the south where people are flying both an American flag and a Confederate flag.  The Confederate flag was the flag of a people who did not want to be part of the country for which the American Flag stood.  Some people, both then and now, say the South was fighting to preserve their way of life.  However, by “way of life” they meant the right to own people as slaves and treat them as pieces of property.  In addition the war was started not because Lincoln proposed to take away anyone’s slaves in the existing slave states, but, to prevent any further states from becoming slave states.  The south knew that long term this was going to be trouble for them because they would lose their stranglehold on the Congress do to the equal number of Senators from Slave and non-Slave states.  They not only wanted to keep being able to treat people as property where they currently lived, but wanted to expand the area where that right existed to include future states in the American West.

I am sure my thoughts will not persuade anyone who does not already think this way.  However, in visiting some of these southern museums, where everyone tries so hard to tap dance around the real issue of slavery, I just felt the need to speak my mind.  If you have some thoughts of you own please let me know.

Now, for part two.  The other event memorialized at the Stones River site is the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  If you think the history of our country’s treatment of slaves is the worst we have done, you may not be aware of this other part of our history.  It is the story of an event that is the closest we have come to attempted genocide.  The Cherokee people, who had done everything they could to fit in with, and stand up to, the Europeans who came to America, were forcibly moved from their homes in the Southeast. They were required to more to what was designated as Indian land in Oklahoma.  The Cherokee had developed a written language, written a constitution, created a system of courts, and established their own newspapers, all based on what the white Americans were doing.  However, the newcomers wanted the land being lived on by the Indians.  So, under Andrew Jackson, the Removal Act was passed, requiring all Native People to leave the area of the original colonies.    When they refused to do so, they were force out of their homes.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee but President Jackson, not unlike our current president, openly dismissed the ruling because he did not like the outcome. At least 15,000 Indians were forced on an 800 mile walk to move to their new land.  Along the way many hundreds died.  If you did not already know this story please take a few minutes to learn a bit more.  Here is a link the NPS brochure, and one to a youtube reenactment, as well as a wiki page.

Again, let me know if you have any thoughts on this.

Finally, just a quick catch up.  We did sample some Tennessee BBQ yesterday at a place purported to be the Best BBQ in Western Tennessee.  It was good but I plan to compare it to a St. Louis BBQ and a Kansas City BBQ in the next week.  We finally saw a Mississippi license plate and one for Vermont,so only about 6 states to go. Tomorrow we head north and west and should be seeing 1 or more national parks every day for a few days.


2017 trip – days 27 to 30 – way down south in the land of cotton

Finally figured out some of our connectivity issues. So time to catch up on the last few days here in Kentucky.

Sunday was going to be just a check out the area day but we ended up doing more than expected.  We are staying near an area known as the Land Between the Lakes – LBL.  We stopped at the visitor center for the area first.

As an aside, one of my favorite podcasts/ radio shows is called “99% invisible”. which is mostly about the design of things and how, with really good design, you don’t even think about the fact the that the object or place or device was even designed at all.  The design of the object is 99% invisible.  Anyway, one of the slogans for the podcast is “always read the plaque.”  I think when it comes to traveling I would add “always stop at the visitor’s center” and “always watch the film first.”

At the LBL visitor’s center we learned more about the area than we would have even thought to ask.  The area is a piece of land between the Cumberland River and the Tennessee river.  They run almost parallel to each other for 50 or 60 miles with less than 10 miles between them for that distance.  They run north toward the Ohio river which they hook up with just before the Ohio meets up with the Mississippi at the very southern tip of Illinois.  Anyway, this area was historically subject to periodic flooding.  As part of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s a dam was built on the Cumberland River.  Later, in the 50’s another dam was built on the Tennessee River and the area between the 2 reservoirs was made into a National Recreation Area.  Lots of history in this area and we are just starting to learn a bit of it.

From the LBL we headed south and ended up at Fort Donelson, site of one of the first Union victories in the Civil War.  In those days, the major means of transportation of both people and goods was first the waterways and second the railroads.  The South needed to control the Tennessee river to have a means of transportation through major parts of the independent country they were trying to create.  The North needed to cut off that route and Fort Donelson was the key.  General Grant’s victory at Donelson was the first event to bring him national attention.

We took some back roads on our way back to our condo and drove through some farm land with different crops than seen so far on the trip.  Between the corn, the beans, and the grass lands were many fields of both Cotton and Tobacco.

Monday was a “stay at home” day and we caught up on necessities like sleep, laundry and the news.

Tuesday we made our longest loop from our current point of residence and drove South to see the National Park for the Battle of Shiloh.  At that point we hit our further south point for the trip.  Only a few miles from Mississippi.  Still haven’t seen a Mississippi license plate though.  I am starting to think they don’t let Mississippians leave their home state.

Shiloh was a horribly bloody battle, over 23,000 Americans killed or injured in just 2 days.  More American casualties here than in all previous military actions involving Americans combined up to that time.  At the end of the battle the South lost further control of the Cumberland River and few months later lost control of the only railroad connecting East to West in the entire South.  Despite the horrible lost of life and the nearly obvious inevitability of a victory by the North the war lasted 3 more years and cost 100’s of thousand more lives.

One part of the history of Shiloh relates to the current troubles we are having with the proliferation of false news stories on Social Media.  In Grant’s day there were many communication difficulties and the level of political infighting was almost as bad as it is today.  Grant was accused of not filing battle reports only to find out the telegraph operator was a Southern spy who was sending his reports to the South instead of to Grant’s superiors.  Also, political opponents of Grant perpetuated a myth that he had a drinking problem that was costing Northern lives.  After all the dust settled all those reports turned out to be false (many intentionally so by his rivals).  Yet the “fake news” was remembered by more people than the facts.  Luckily Lincoln dismissed all such rumors and said he would take no action against the only General he had who would actually fight a battle and one of the few that was winning any.

With our trips to Tennessee we have now been in 14 states and seen 17 national parks.  Our travels since leaving Cleveland have mainly been following the Ohio River on its path toward the Mississippi.  With that gradual downward slope our average gas mileage has been moving upward and yesterday the average so far came to an even 50 miles per gallon.  We do love our Prius.

Today, we took another recuperation day and just enjoyed our surroundings here in Western Kentucky.

One more loop trip from here tomorrow and then Saturday we start weaving our way in the direction of Seattle.

2017 trip – day 26 – prayer, service, wonder, and love

Real quick tonight as we are having both an internet connection issue and what we affectionately call a PICNIC problem – Problem in chair, not in computer.  I am fatigued and will use our week at a stop in Canton Kentucky to get refreshed and do a catch up blog at the end of the week.

Quickly,  we stopped by the Abbey of the Gethsemane, where Thomas Merton was a brother monk for most of his life.  Truly a place of prayer.

We saw Abraham Lincoln sites, his birthplace and where he lived from ages 2 to 7.  As the historians in the film about him said, before him we did not really have “A” United States of American, we had many states that were somewhat united.  And without Lincoln we would not have a United States today because the southerners to whom slavery was more important than country would have been allowed to split off and form a new country.  Imagine what our world would be like today if that had been allowed to happen.

At the Lincoln Birthplace I even found some displays that continue some of the themes of this trip, family and ancestry.  There was a beautiful sculpture of the Lincoln family at the time he was a baby and very nice display of Abraham Lincoln’s known ancestry.

We also stopped by the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, a place of amzaing natural beauty and a place made for explorers.  It is by far the largest known cave in the world and is still far from fully discovered.

My best memory of the day is a little thing.  A plaque in the gift store at the Abbey with the words: “There are many great love stories, . . . but I like ours best.”

4 weeks, 5,000 miles, 13 states, 15 National Parks, and numerous people, cemeteries, museums and oddities into our trip, I would without doubt affirm that I like our love story best.

2017 trip – day 25 – Of Presidents and Prophets, and family

Today we traveled a few hundred miles south into Kentucky.  Crossing the state line brought me into the 50 states club, as I have now been in all 50 states (plus DC) at least once.  We added one new national park to our list, the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.  It is located at the house in Cincinnati where our nations 27th President was born and raised.  He did not live there after leaving home for college because he spent his entire life as a public servant holding an amazing number of jobs in service of his country.  He was a state judge, an Federal Appeals Justice, the person who got the Panama Canal project on track to completion, and the person who oversaw the organization of an system of government in the Philippines.  He was also elected President of the United States, and later appointed to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  In the later position he helped modernize our judiciary to its present system.

From there we moved on to Louisville, Kentucky to visit a street corner.  The corner of 4th and Walnut in downtown Louisville, now named 4th and Muhammad Ali Blvd, is the corner where the prolific author and spiritual prophet, Thomas Merton, had what he described as a mystical experience which changed his life.  He was a brother at a Trappist monastery near here and had lived most of his life in solitude.  But after this experience began to speak and write about his thoughts on a number of issues of his day, including civil rights, the Vietnam War, nuclear armament, etc.  While not directly involved in any positon of power in the church or in society, his thoughts influenced many others who were.

Then at the end of the day we made contact with one of Peg’s cousins who she has not seen in almost 40 years.  It was amazing how easy it was for Peg and her cousin to just sit down and start talking about family and memories as if they had been getting together every year to catch up.  I love these kinds of connections, and hope to connect again within a shorter time than the last gap.


2017 trip – day 22 – 3 parks and a tour guide

Going to keep it short today.  I was feeling a little under the weather this morning and I think I let it affect my appreciation for the day a bit.  We stayed in the the south Cleveland area and made the rounds to several destinations within a short distance of the hotel.

One more license plate spotted, Maryland, so only 9 more on the list.  Three national parks today for a total of 12 (David Berger National Memorial, James A Garfield National Memorial Site, and Cuyahoga Valley).

In addition to the parks we had a drive by of an ancestral place.  Peg’s great grandmother was born here and she, and her parents, lived here between the mid 1860’s and the mid 1880’s before moving to Iowa.  The house they lived in probably does not exist anymore but we found the neighborhood they lived in around 1880 near downtown Cleveland.

The David Berger Memorial was quite beautiful.  Just a single sculpture to a single event (the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Berlin Olympics), built here because one of the athletes was from this area.  The sculpture was beautiful and full of symbolic meaning, dedicated to the memory of the violence that occurred and the hope that such acts will never occur again.

The James Garfield site was interesting is a couple of ways.  I, and I assume most people, knew very little of Garfield before today.  He was one of the youngest men ever elected president (age 49), the first president to have his mother present at his inauguration, one of only 3 to have his mother survive him, and one of 4 presidents assassinated.  At the time of his election the press on him was that he was probably the most prepared person to become president in our history to that point.  He only served for 200 days because he was shot by a disgruntled job seeker.  The grounds at the house were very nice and the visitor’s center was informative with a concise film on his life.  However, my less than optimum attitude today was tested by a tour guide at the house.  We have been to over 200 national parks and many other museums over the years and it seemed to me today that our guide, “Pat”, was making a strong case for being one of the worst tour guides ever.  I will try to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was trying her best and maybe just having a bad day herself, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this.  However, she was one of the most controlling and inflexible people I have encountered.  It started with her saying, before we had even left the museum to go to the house, that we were not allowed to touch anything in the house except the floor.  Then she stopped talking and looked at my hand which was on the post of a protective fence around a display in the museum and would not proceed until I removed my hand.  Apparently the not touching anything was pretty absolute.  Then we walked to house and she said we should sit on a bench while she gave us the beginning of her talk.  I said I would prefer to stand because I had been doing a lot of sitting in the car recently.  She said that when going on a walking tour you should always sit whenever you can.  We looked at each other for a minute and when it was clear I was not going to be sitting she reluctantly began her talk.  On the tour, any movement in a direction she had not directed, and looking into a room before she gave permission to do so, or asking any questions out of order to her prepared talk was not allowed.  Despite all this, I have to say some parts of the house were very attractive, especially some of the era specific restored wallpaper.  However, I did have to work at getting past the tour guide to appreciate what we were touring.

Finally we visited a couple of areas in the vast park known as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 33,000 acres preserving a long history of Canals used for commerce in the 1800’s, the railroads that came later, and the nature beauty of the valley itself.  As a consequence of preservation efforts the park now has a number of resident animals which had been absent from the area for over a century including both beavers and eagles.

My final thought for the day is that I was thinking at various time throughout the day of my sister, who is today remembering the death of her husband a year ago.  I so enjoyed seeing her for a few days last week and hope she is doing well which her memories and in the presence of her children and grandchildren today.