Nicodemus National Historic Site


I recently visited Nicodemus which is a small town on the northwestern Kansas prairie. It’s off the beaten path on Highway 24, several miles north of I-70 without direct access from the interstate. The Nicodemus National Historic Site represents the only remaining all-black town established at the end of reconstruction and is symbolic of the pioneer spirit of those who settled there. I have friends whose family was among those first settlers so Nicodemus was especially interesting for me.

IMG_8103   IMG_8104

The result of land speculation and a desire for profit, Nicodemus is the oldest of more than two dozen towns established and promoted for a predominantly black population. Nicodemus was established during 1877 by the Nicodemus Town Company, with six black and one white incorporator. Their specific strategy was to recruit from the Upper South blacks of some means who were financially able to buy town lots and willing to move to the Midwest. The location on the north bank of the South Solomon River provided residents with fresh water and the few trees in the area which grew along the stream bank.

The first emigrants to arrive in Nicodemus had to feel somewhat disappointed and overwhelmed. Most came from areas with plentiful timber and here on the plains of Kansas the scarcity of trees forced them to live in sod dugout houses and use sunflowers, willows and buffalo chips for fuel. When viewed in larger terms, regardless of racial make-up, Nicodemus is representative of many farming communities established throughout the plains of Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma in the late 1800’s. Dissatisfaction at home, desire for a better life, and exaggerated tales of economic opportunity attracted people to the sparsely populated western plains.

IMG_8094    IMG_8098

During 1878, 600 people resided in Nicodemus Township, most of them in the town. Two years later, only 316 persons occupied the township and the vast majority of those lived on farms. By 1884 Nicodemus’ population had declined to less than 50, with 239 in the township. A second boom occurred through promotion in attempting to gain a railroad. By 1887, Nicodemus had grown to 200, had four dry goods stores, at least three grocery stores, three drug stores, two millinery shops, one bank, four hotels, two livery stables, two newspapers, two blacksmith shops, two barbers, one shoe shop, two agricultural implement stores, one land company, and a two-story school building.

IMG_8100   First Baptist Church

The growth, evolution and decline of Nicodemus mirror that of many other rural communities. Architecturally the usual progression occurred from sod buildings to wooden and cut limestone structures during the more prosperous periods. Transportation for goods and products was highly important. Counting on the coming of a railroad, it was very nearly a death knell for the town when, late in 1888, it was bypassed. Businesses and residents moved to nearby communities where the railroad was built. Unlike many other small plains communities bypassed by the railroad, Nicodemus tenuously held on. In 2010, according to the census, 59 people resided in the township.


The determination of early settlers helped Nicodemus survive through drought and economic disaster. The dedication of its residents, both past and present, and their commitment to the concept of “community” have kept Nicodemus from disappearing into total obscurity. First held in 1878 and every year since, Nicodemus has held an annual three-day Homecoming Celebration each summer. Families and friends come from all over to renew ties and affirm their heritage. I hope to someday attend Homecoming Celebration in Nicodemus with my friends.

IMG_8101   Nicodemus School

In 1976 the original 161-acre townsite was listed as a National Historic Landmark. Since becoming the Nicodemus National Historic Site in 1996, the residents and the park service have begun working together to preserve five remaining historic structures: St. Francis Hotel (1881), African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church (1885), First Baptist Church (1907), Nicodemus School District No. 1 building (1918) and Nicodemus Township Hall (1939).

The Township Hall currently houses the National Park Service Visitor Center.IMG_8093   IMG_8096

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Redwood National Park

Redwoods Northern California offers a completely different California than does Southern California. The northern part of the state is generally sparsely populated and more wilderness. Our first trip to California this year was to the desert south, our second to the mountainous north.

Trees5           Trees2

Redwood in northwestern California is an unusual national park in several ways. One of the most obvious is that it is Redwood National and State Parks, encompassing Redwood National Park and three California parks: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Spread out in different locations primarily along the coast, it was rather hard to figure out if we were actually in the national park or not, especially when the first ranger we encountered at the visitor center emphatically told us this is a “state” park so we didn’t need our National Park pass for admission. However, they did have the national park passport book stamp available. Another ranger later strongly suggested the Avenue of the Giants as a must-see and it turned out that it is south of the park proper. Usually the boundaries of national parks are a lot more apparent.

Tree roots   Foothills Trail

Our first day, we visited the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. The one-mile loop trail winds through old-growth redwood forest and includes the 1968 dedication site of Redwood National Park. The establishment of a national park was proposed in 1879 and the first major effort began when the Save-the-Redwoods League was founded in 1918. It took fifty years and the destruction of approximately 85% of the virgin redwood acreage before the movement gained adequate support to come to fruition.

Spiral tree        Treetops

The sheer height of these trees is mind-boggling. You look up and up and up and still higher. Researchers have discovered trees over 370 feet tall and there may be taller trees in remote areas of the park. The title of world‘s tallest tree has changed more than a dozen times since 1990.

Often confused, there are three types of “redwoods.” The trees in Redwood National Park are Coast Redwood and are the tallest trees. The Giant Sequoias which are found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada are the largest of all trees by mass. The third redwood – the Dawn Redwood – was considered extinct until 1944 when a Chinese forester discovered a grove of large trees in central China. The Dawn Redwood is much smaller, being limited in height to 140 feet and, unlike the other redwoods, is deciduous. The Coast Redwood and the Sequoia have somewhat similar cones but differ in propagation with the sequoia reproducing only by seeds and the coast redwood reproducing by seeds and also by sprouting from dormant buds called burls.

Friends    Friends from Oregon joined us and we made our way to our lodging in Trinidad which had a view of the ocean from our decks. Great friends, great view, great wine, not-so-great Nebraska football game all added up to a fun evening.


The Avenue of the Giants has been called the finest forest drive in the world. Surrounded by the titan trees with pullouts and places to take short hikes in the numerous groves, it continued to impress. The majesty of these trees and the peace of the forest prevailed.

Trees2   Foothills Trail

In planning this portion of the trip, Patty and I had decided that when we reached the south end of the Avenue of the Giants, we would take a different way back north. It looked like a perfectly reasonable route on the map we had. Little did we know that this was “The Wildcat” – 30 miles of twists, turns, dips, and rises. The Wildcat had its beginning well over a century ago as a trail across the coastal hills, peaks and valleys between Ferndale and the Bear and Mattole valleys. In the 1880’s it became a road for stagecoaches and wagons. At this point, I was driving, Patty was navigating and the guys were in the back seat wondering (out loud) where in the world we were and why we were on basically a trail, which was at one time mostly paved and mostly two lanes wide. Who knew there were several mountains, more curves than a roller coaster, and wild beaches on that innocuous-looking road? I think Steve had it about right when he said it reminded him of an “I Love Lucy” episode.

Trees    Seashore2

October is rutting season for the Roosevelt elk which make the parks their home. We saw several bulls with their harems. Roosevelt elk are a major conservation success story. Hunted nearly to extinction by North Coast settlers, there were only a few hundred animals left when conservation efforts began. Now the elk number in the thousands and they are being reintroduced to many areas of their original range.

Bull elk     Bull elk and harem                                         Elk2

A number of hikes originate near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The meadows nearby provide prime elk habitat and we were warned one trail was closed because of an extremely aggressive bull elk.  The Foothills Trail and Prairie Creek Trail took us past the “Big Tree” and curved back along the creek. As on most of our hikes, we were very nearly alone on the trail.

Tom and Marlene at Big Tree    Tom on trail

The effect of drought the past couple of years was apparent when we visited Fern Canyon. The high walls of this narrow canyon are covered with ferns. Not as verdant as I’m sure it would be in wet years, it was still an interesting hike from Gold Bluffs Beach.

Fern Canyon       Fern

Redwood National and State Parks may be a little hard to truly figure out, but it is certainly awe-inspiring.

Nurse Log


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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic Naitonal Park sign

Early October proved to be an ideal time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Being a bit off the beaten tourist path with relatively low visitation, this park offers the chance to enjoy nature very nearly in solitude. The weather was crisp and clear and perfect for hiking.

Lassen Peak   Lassen Peak

Even though at first glance, Lassen Volcanic National Park appears to be simply another beautiful mountain area, it is unique in several ways. The park contains all the thermal features of Yellowstone except for geysers. All four types of volcanoes found in the world exist within Lassen Volcanic National Park – composite volcanoes, cinder cone volcanoes, shield volcanoes, dome volcanoes. Each of these volcanoes erupt different types of lava and form in different ways.

Diamond Peak    Diamond Peak

Arriving in mid-afternoon, we started our exploration of the park at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center where we picked up park information and hiking maps. After the ranger assured us that the Mill Creek Falls trail was a good one with only about 250 feet elevation change, we set off. He was correct about it being a good trail but what he neglected to tell us was that there may have been only 250 feet elevation difference from the high point to the low but there were numerous ups and downs in between so total change was much greater. It was also a bit longer according to the trail signs than indicated on the trail map. However, once you’re committed to a destination, it’s hard to give it up. So we kept going. Mill Creek Falls was very pretty and was worth it but, because of the drought of the past two years, not as impressive as we imagine it usually would be.

Mill Creek Falls hike    Mill Creek Falls2

Mill Creek Falls Trail

Lassen Peak, one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes, most recently erupted from 1914 to 1917. In late May 1914 a burst of steam arose off the summit. On June 14, 1914, Benjamin Franklin Loomis, a local businessman and amateur photographer, and his wife camped near Manzanita Lake with their bulky camera equipment hoping to record an eruption. At 9:43 a.m. the mountain rocked with a fresh eruption and Loomis captured the unfolding event in a series of dramatic photos on glass plates. At the same time, three men were hiking the summit to “see what was going on” in the crater. Amazingly, they all escaped alive.

Although Lassen has remained outwardly quiet for nearly a hundred years, evidence of volcanic life remains. The lively thermal areas indicate the existence of an active magma chamber below the surface.

In 1864, Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a well-known hunter and mountain man, discovered Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal feature in the park. Originally Bumpass filed a claim with the intention of exploiting the area for its mineral and tourist value. While leading a group of tourists, Bumpass accidentally stepped through the thin crust, suffered a severe burn, and eventually lost his leg. This tended to squelch the enthusiasm for tourist visitation. The name Bumpass Hell remains as a warning against careless wandering in the most active hydrothermal feature in the park.

Trail to Bumpass Hell   Bumpass Hell

Today there is a good trail to Bumpass Hell which does include a steep descent and the resulting steep climb back out. The park service has erected numerous boardwalks so tourists can get relatively close to the thermal features without the misfortune that befell Bumpass himself. The mud-pots, fumaroles, and boiling springs continue to fascinate.

Boiling Pool3   Fumarole2

Bumpass Hell4    Bumpass Hell

Another failed effort to exploit the natural resources of the region was made by Mathias Supan, who in 1865, began extracting sulfur from the area now known as Sulphur Works and developed a variety of “mine medicine” products which did not prove profitable. Later the area was promoted as a spa area, Sulphur Works Inn, which included a bathhouse, overnight cabins and a dining hall. Perhaps the smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide) was a bit discouraging to tourists?

Mudpot  Sulphur Works


Manzanita Lake was formed about 300 years ago when a nearby volcanic dome collapsed creating a horizontal avalanche which dammed up a creek. Manzanita Lake anchors the park road on the northwest and offers all tourist facilities as well as magnificent views. We were about to leave the park when I told Tom, “l bet if I’d walk around the end of the lake there, I’d get a good picture but maybe I have enough already.” His reply was that it might be the best picture of the day so off I went. He was so right – I got wonderful photos of Manzanita Lake with Lassen Peak in the background.

Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake    Duck on Manzanita Lake3

Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone became national monuments in 1906. B.F. Loomis’ photos and eyewitness descriptions of the eruptions in 1914 helped focus attention on Lassen and contributed to the establishment in 1916 of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lava tube3  Subway Cave

One of the park rangers told us that outside the park were lava tubes, dubbed the Subway Cave, which you could go through. It was a self-guided hike which required a flashlight and a jacket and was open 24/7. Since Tom is a spelunker at heart his interest was greatly piqued. Being open 24/7 really was a moot point as it was pitch dark inside the tube so it didn’t matter if it was daylight out or not. The tube was much larger than we anticipated and the floor was very rough and uneven. We can now say that we have hiked through a lava tube!

Viewpoint  Viewpoint in Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Bucket List Check Marks

A trip to northern California took us to two more national parks — Lassen Volcanic National Park and Redwoods National Park.

Lassen Peak and Manzanita Lake2        Bumpass Hell

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Redwoods       Bull elk

Redwoods National Park

It’s amazing what a wonderful variety we have in the national parks in the USA. We’re truly fortunate.

Our bucket list now stands at 39 parks visited with 20 to go. By clicking on the National Parks Travels tab on the here2where website, you can view our list of parks.

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Ponca State Park, Nebraska

MIssouri River  Ponca State Park is located in northeastern Nebraska on the Missouri River. It encompasses nearly 1400 acres of rugged heavily forested hills and Missouri River bottomland. The park has a wonderful new education center, visitor center and museum, as well as overnight accommodations ranging from primitive campsites to impressive new mini-lodges. I had never been there until recently when I made two trips to Ponca State Park with grandchildren.

Missouri River Overlook      Fall berries

The first trip, my oldest grand-daughter and I spent a night in a rustic cabin at the park. For her birthday gift, albeit belated, she wanted to spend time together some place we could do some hiking. Of course I was thrilled that was what she wanted. Doing a bit of research online, we decided to try Ponca State Park. As we were there in the middle of the week in September, we had the whole park nearly to ourselves.  During the official season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) it’s difficult to even get a cabin and there are many activities, such as horseback riding, swimming and kayaking, and a shooting range. We did some hiking and in our exploring, we discovered what a great park this truly is.

Fall flowers and berries       Jemma hiking

We also got information about the upcoming outdoor expo. This year was the 10th Anniversary Missouri River Outdoor Expo at Ponca State Park. This is a joint effort between Nebraska Game and Parks, numerous corporate sponsors and many other individuals and organizations.  There is a $5 entrance fee per vehicle and the activities are all free.

The three youngest grandchildren and I set out early on a September Saturday to take part in the fun. A bonus was that my daughter, who lives nearby, got to join us for part of the day. We had an absolute ball, even considering the fact that there were approximately twenty thousand people in attendance. Since I don’t particularly like mass events, the fact that I would go back in a heartbeat says a lot.

Climbing Wall3    Bow fishing

There were demonstrations of all kinds of outdoor and heritage activities, and wildlife and outdoor sports exhibits. It was extremely well organized and even though we had to wait in line for some of the activities the kids wanted to do, the waits were not awful and the things they got to do were worth it.  We even got to watch the dock dogs while waiting for the climbing wall. Other activities they chose included:  bowfishing, kayaking, archery at 3D targets, atl atl throwing at a wooly mammoth and a saber-toothed tiger (figures of course).

Kayaking2    3D archery

We had such a good time, that right now the plan is a birthday trip to Ponca State Park for two grandkids in the not distant future. The kids can bring their own bows and arrows and we can use the archery ranges on our own. We can hike and stay in a cabin, and we can choose a time that, as they said, “all these other people won’t be here.”

Fishing by hand  Dannen Atl atl

Dannen archery    Snow cones


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Autumn in the Mountains

Autumn is a gorgeous time in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We took an afternoon drive to LaPlata Canyon in the San Juan range in southwestern Colorado.

Sept snow and aspen gold      Snow and aspen gold     Waterfall

This year the color seems to be a bit spotty – there are places where some aspens are bright golden while others are still fully green. On some mountainsides the color in general is up high. However we did find some color in the LaPlata canyon itself. That said, you have to realize that where we were in the canyon was above 9,200 feet so pretty high elevation.

Sept in LaPlata2      LaPlata Canyon Fall

It’s a little disconcerting because it is still September and there is quite a bit of snow up high already. Our guess at how high is about 10,000 feet. Does that mean it will be a long, hard winter?

September 28

The day we went, it was actually raining off and on so there was a mist over everything and no bright sunshine. Even so, it was still beautiful.

LaPlata Canyon Fall2   LaPlata Canyon in Fall9

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Travelogue – Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park – the last stop on our spring 2014 trip.

Sadly we approached the end of our eighteen days in our RV and had to pack up our belongings, arranging things in appropriate bags for the final leg of our adventure. After driving 4,168 miles, we turned our Minnie Winnie in to Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage.  From this point on, it would be planes and boats.

Flying from Juneau to Gustavus2  Flying from Juneau to Gustavus

We flew from Anchorage to Juneau, where we boarded a Wings of Alaska Cessna caravan for the flight in to Gustavus.  The folks at Wings of Alaska were more than accommodating and stored our checked bags for us while we were at Glacier Bay Lodge. I love the way Alaskans seem to be able to figure out a way to make things work even if the request is a little odd.

The scenery at Glacier Bay was wonderful. The Lodge itself was laid out with many separate buildings connected by walkways blending in to the rainforest. However, it felt like they weren’t quite ready for the season yet at the lodge and perhaps were lacking in management. We had some difficulties with both the restaurant and housekeeping services.  They were very pleasant but they just didn’t quite have it together.

Glacier Bay Lodge2   Glacier Bay Lodge

Glacier Bay Lodge

When we arrived at Glacier Bay, it was raining but that is to be expected as it is in a rainforest.  We visited the ranger station, and walked along the trail to the campground. At the campground wheelbarrows were available for camper’s use. As the parking was a ways from the campsites, this looked to be a real help. We also hiked the loop trail which wound through the rainforest and muskeg ecosystem at the mouth of the bay.

Tree Carving  Tree Carving        Forest Loop Hike

In the late afternoon, several Tlingit women did a cultural presentation at the lodge. The Huna Tlingit have lived in this coastal rainforest for centuries. The bay itself was a landscape and home for countless generations before the great glacier advanced from the north and forced them to move, probably in the late 1600’s. The Huna Tlingit established a new village, Hoonah, on Chichagof Island across Icy Strait from the mouth of the bay, but Glacier Bay remains their ancestral and spiritual homeland.

Glacial Valley

The great glacier completely filled the bay for perhaps a half century until roughly 1750 and then began to retreat. On the HMS Discovery under command of Captain George Vancouver, Lt. Joseph Whidbey charted the coastline in 1794 and at that time the bay didn’t exist as it was only an slight indentation in the coastline. By 1879, when John Muir and five other men paddled in, they found a bay half-revealed and Muir named it Bay of Great Glaciers. In Muir’s time, how and why glaciers advance and retreat was just beginning to be understood.

Most glaciers in Alaska and throughout the world today are in a state of retreat. However, some in Glacier Bay receive new snow at high elevations in the Fairweather Range and remain healthy and several even show signs of advancing.  Studying a map of Glacier Bay with the termini of glaciers recorded in various years presents an interesting picture.  Some have advanced, some have retreated.

Snow in Mountains   Snowy Ridge

Our second day there, we took a Glacier Bay boat tour.  We boarded the boat at Bartlett Cove. Naturalist ranger, Brad Mason, was our onboard guide and was very knowledgeable and friendly.  We had an amazing day!  We were so fortunate that the sun came out and we could see the beautiful surrounding mountains, glaciers and much wildlife.

Sea Otter2       Tour Boat

Sea Otter

At South Marble Island, we saw – and heard! – Stellar sea lions. All jumbled up together on the rocks and the shore, they look so terribly awkward but manage to move around readily.

Stellar Sea Lions4  Stellar Sea Lions3

Stellar Sea Lions

Puffin    Birds on Shore

Puffin                                                                          Kittiwakes

At Gloomy Knob mountain goats posed beautifully for pictures. How they can scramble up rock faces the way they do is pretty amazing.

Mountain Goat2    Mountain Goat

Mountain Goats

We viewed both Casement Glacier and Rendu Glacier as we moved northward further into the bay.  At the head of the Tarr Inlet, the Grand Pacific Glacier presides with Margerie Glacier, to the west, hidden until you are well toward the end of the inlet. There are restrictions imposed on the number of vessels which can enter the bay any given day and how close they can approach the glaciers.

Grand Pacific Glacier   Grand Pacific Glacier

Margerie Glacier is one of the most beautiful and oft-photographed glaciers of all. Margerie Glacier is roughly a mile wide and 250 feet high.  As we idled viewing Margerie, we could marvel in the shapes and colors exhibited in the glacier. We were treated to “calving”, large chunks of ice breaking off the glacier and plunging into the water of the bay, and heard the “white thunder” as the ice cracked and shifted.

Tom and Marlene on Glacier Bay Boat Tour  Margerie Glacier4  Margerie Glacier

A harbor seal was lazily floating along on a bergy bit (small iceberg that rises 1 to 4 meters out of the water) between the boat and the glacier.

Harbor Seal on Ice  Harbor Seal

Lamplugh Glacier exhibited shining slivers and chunks of blue ice. The blue is a result of dense glacial ice which absorbs all wavelengths of the visible light spectrum except blue.  Glacial ice is much more highly compacted than ice we make in a freezer and as a result, melts more slowly.

Margerie Glacier2  Blue ice of Margerie Glacier

In early June, Johns Hopkins Glacier still had an incredible amount of ice in the water in front of it – icebergs and bergy bits. The two mountains behind Johns Hopkins are called Orville and Wilbur, supposedly in reference to the Wright brothers.

Johns Hopkins Glacier   Johns Hopkins Glacier

Mt. Cooper to the left of Johns Hopkins was the last feature named in the park and was named for William S. Cooper.  Cooper, a botanist, arrived in Glacier Bay in 1916 to study plant succession: how land changed and how after an event such as a glacier or volcano, the land could be resilient.  The entire bay has proven to be a living laboratory.  Virtually all the vegetation has returned in the past 300 years following the glacial retreat making this park one of the premier sites on the planet to study plant re-colonization. The process of succession isn’t limited to the land but also enlivens the sea and the shore. Cooper was an early advocate for protection of this region as a national park.

Margerie Glacier

Glacier Bay became a national monument in 1925, a national park and biosphere reserve in 1980, and part of a binational World Heritage Site in 1992.The reverence shown Glacier Bay by everyone who lives and works there is impressive and well-deserved.

One more great adventure trip in Alaska drew to its conclusion.

For more information on Glacier Bay National Park:

Margerie Glacier3


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