Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes was designated the 61st  National Park in 2019, having been a National Lakeshore since 1966. The park encompasses roughly 15,000 acres, including 15 miles of Lake Michigan shore and completely surrounds Indiana Dunes State Park.  There are a number of areas that are not actually connected to the main park area or to each other. An urban, industrial area is a rather unusual location for a National Park and there is definitely a bit of disconnect when one drives in and out of the park past steel mills and industrial power plants.

We have found dunes in other parks, such as Great Sand Dunes and Kobuk Valley much more awe-inspiring;  forests more varied and expansive in Acadia and Great Smoky Mountains; and swamps more intriguing in Congaree and the Everglades.

However, Indiana Dunes is home to an impressive biological diversity. Over 1,100 flowering plant species and ferns and more than 350 bird species have been observed here. Located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the park is an important feeding and resting area for migrating land and waterbirds.

So perhaps the bigger story of this National Park lies in its history and the efforts to restore this piece of nature in the midst of ever-encroaching industrialization and development.

By the time, Indiana Dunes became a part of the national park system in 1966, people had made many changes to the natural areas. Many white pines were logged in the 1830s and 1840s and, as a result, species composition of the forest changed and dune erosion occurred.  By the late 1800s farmers began moving into the area and drainage of wetlands began. Around 1900 industry became a major factor, residential communities sprang up and land use was modified drastically. By 1966, close to 1,000 commercial building and homesite were located within what became the park’s boundary.

The legislation which authorized Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966 resulted from a movement that actually began in 1899 with an article by Henry Cowles, a botanist from the University of Chicago, detailing the intricate ecosystems existing on the dunes. In 1908, Cowles, Thomas Allinson, and Jens Jensen formed the Prairie Club of Chicago and proposed a portion of the dunes be protected from commercial interests and be maintained in pristine condition. In 1913 the Prairie Club built a beach house for members and beachgoers erected tents and rough wooden cottages for housing during their summers in the dunes. Resorts and cottages sprang up. This type of development created problems but was minor in impact compared to industrial sand mining.

Hoosier Slide, 200 feet in height, was the largest sand dune on Indiana’s lakeshore. During the first years of the battle to save the dune, the Ball Brothers of Muncie, Indiana, manufacturers of glass jars, and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo carried Hoosier Slide away in railroad boxcars.

In 1926 Indiana Dunes State Park opened, small in size and scope, and the push for a national park continued.  The whole battle went on for another forty years with numerous competing interests but the tireless efforts of Dorothy Buell, an Ogden Dunes resident and English teacher, and Paul H. Douglas, U.S. Senator for the State of Illinois, resulted in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore becoming a reality. The 1966 authorizing legislation included only 8,330 acres of land and water but subsequent expansion bills increased it to more than 15,000 acres.

A number of historic structures have been preserved within the park including the Chellberg Farm and the Baily Homestead.

The Chellberg Farm represents a typical 1890 to 1910 Swedish and Northwestern Indiana farmstead. It tells the story of the Swedish immigrant family who lived and worked there for three generations.

The Bailly Homestead, a National Historic Landmark, the home of Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein (1774-1835). In 1822 Bailly set up his fur trading post at the crossroads of several important trails, providing a meeting place for Native Americans and Euro-Americans. It was one of only two stopping places for travelers between Chicago and Detroit. During the fur trading years the homestead consisted of six log structures which served as living quarters, kitchen, storehouse and warehouses for the trade goods. In 1833 Bailly received $6,000 for his services in counseling the Potawatomie Indians in an agreement called the Chicago Treaty and he began construction of the main house. It was completed after his death and the brick house was built in the late 1870s for Bailly’s granddaughter.

Within the National Park is the Century of Progress Architectural District. The 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago was touted as an  “exposition of science and industrial development.” One of the exhibitions was Homes of Tomorrow with new building materials, designs and technology. At the end of the fair Robert Bartlett, an Indiana real estate developer, purchased five of the homes and relocated them across the lake. Four of them were transported by barge and the Cypress Log Cabin was dismantled, trucked to the site and reassembled. In the midst of the Depression, Bartlett’s dream of creating an upscale resort community failed.

In 1966 when the area became a part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, homeowners became lessees and, with little incentive for maintenance, the homes suffered. At the turn of the 21st century, Indiana Landmarks leased the homes from the Park Service and subleased them with protective covenants to people who restored them. Four of the five have been restored under this arrangement. The state of the fifth presents extra challenges and needs extensive and expensive rehabilitation. Once a year, the homes are opened to the public but unfortunately, we weren’t there at the right time for the tour.

Indiana Dunes National  Park is taking a proactive approach to mitigating damage done in the past. Intensive programs to remove invasive, exotic species and replant native species of a local genotype as well as restoration of the area’s prairies and savannas to provide critical habitat for endangered species are a part of this approach. An extensive wetland complex called the Great Marsh is being restored. Indiana Dunes National Park feels like a work in progress.

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All 63 of the National Parks Visited

Mission Accomplished – we have now visited all 63 of the National Parks.

We took an extended trip with our camper and went to Indiana Dunes National Park and New River Gorge  National Park (as well as some other national park units along the way).

We have thoroughly enjoyed the various parks. Each one is unique and special in its own way.

More to come about these parks individually but I couldn’t wait to share the fact that we have gone to all the National Parks – of course that only holds until another one is designated.

Posted in Indiana Dunes National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, New River Gorge National Park, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Wind Cave National Park

The seventh oldest national park in the system, Wind Cave National Park was the first to protect a cave.

On a trip with two of our grandsons, we recently visited Wind Cave. Since this was 2021 and there were still restrictions on tour numbers in the cave and no reservations, we arrived at the visitor center well before opening. There was already a line formed all the way down the parking lot. Fortunately we got the tour we wanted and the time we wanted.

Wind Cave has quite an interesting history. Even though the native people as well as settlers who arrived later had knowledge of the cave’s entrance, there is no evidence of anyone entering the cave until 1881.

In Lakota culture, history is passed down through the spoken word. Lakota stories speak of a hole in the Black Hills that blows air. This is a sacred place for their people. Sitting Bull’s nephew is quoted as saying that “Wind Cave in the Black Hills was the cave from which Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, sent the buffalo out into their hunting grounds.” There are many different versions of the Emergence Story. One version was told by Wilmer Mesteth, a  tribal historian and spiritual leader, to Sina Bear Eagle who retells it.

It is this hole that Tom and Jesse Bingham claimed to have discovered in 1881. They reportedly heard the sound of wind coming from the  cave entrance, which upon examination was strong enough to blow Tom’s hat off his head. When they returned later the wind had changed direction and was sucking the air inside.

Natural Entrance

The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is barometric airflow. Being so large with a lot of space, Wind Cave has an internal air pressure system. That system is constantly working to equalize to the pressure on the surface. So when the air pressure is high on the surface air will be forced into the cave to create a high pressure system in the cave. Conversely, when there is a low pressure system on the surface, the high pressure in the cave forces air out. This is referred to as “cave breathing.”

In 1881, Charlie Crary squeezed through the small Natural Entrance and became Wind Cave’s first known explorer. Using candles for light and string to mark their route, he and friends were probably the first people to see the rare cave formation known as boxwork. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on cave surfaces.

The chief obstacle to exploration of Wind Cave was the small opening. So the Binghams created a larger opening adjacent to the original and built a cabin over both openings.

The question of ownership of the cave and surrounding area was contentious and resulted in a number of court battles. In 1889 the mineral rights to the cave were sold to the South Dakota Mining Company and J.D. McDonald was hired to manage the claim and he arrived with two of his sons, Elmer and Alvin, and his daughter, Mary. The McDonalds didn’t find gold but Alvin fell in love with the cave and was the first true explorer of Wind Cave. He systematically researched and explored the cave and kept an extensive journal. When the South Dakota Mining Company stopped paying the McDonalds, they  filed a homestead claim on the land. They found that people were interested in the cave and in 1890, the first cave tours were conducted.

Assuming the land was theirs, in 1892 the McDonalds sold an interest in the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company to John Stabler. His two sons and a daughter helped lead tours and explore the cave, as well as selling cave formations and minerals. They promoted the cave and invited famous people to visit. The Stablers built a hotel near the entrance to the cave. Some of the advertising stunts were a bit questionable.

The mining company wasn’t willing to let go of the property and took McDonald to court. With that still unsettled, in 1896 the partners were disagreeing and Stabler formed the Black Hills Wind Cave Company in an effort to get the cave for himself. By 1897, McDonalds and Stablers also ended up in court.

Finally, in 1899, the long drawn out South Dakota Mining Co. vs. Jesse D. McDonald case was decided. The homestead entry of McDonald was cancelled but it was also determined that the ground was not mineral and could not be claimed as such. It was recommended that the cave be reserved by the government as a public resort. Both South Dakota Mining Co. and McDonald lost the case. Both appealed but the decision was upheld.

The land was withdrawn from settlement January 18,1900, and on September 12,1902, Captain Seth Bullock became the supervisor of the Wind Cave. Second generation McDonalds and Stablers worked as guides and Stablers were granted a hotel concession.

On January 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation making Wind Cave a National Park.

Portions of Wind Cave are over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. It is also large with 149 miles of known cave (as of 2019). The boxwork in Wind Cave is rare and found in few other caves. The creation of the boxwork was a slow process.

Millions of years ago, a warm shallow sea caused limestone with infusions of gypsum to be formed. The resulting rock is known as Madison Limestone or Pahasapa (Black Hills) Limestone. Over time pressure fractured the both limestone and gypsum. Gypsum squeezed into the cracks, crystallized, and later was converted to calcite. Over time, as slow moving water caused the creation of Wind Cave’s maze-like pattern limestone was dissolved, revealing the previously deposited crack fillings – the  exposed crystal fins called boxwork.

Cave popcorn and frostwork are also present in Wind Cave but dripstone deposits, such as stalactites and stalagmites, are rare due to the dry climate and the overlaying rock.

Prior to the 1800’s America’s bison population is estimated to have been in the tens of millions. By 1880, the population decreased into the hundreds, private herd owners bred bison and cattle together and conservation efforts were begun to prevent extinction. In 1912 the Wind Cave National Game Preserve was created to restore the bison population there.

The bison herd at Wind Cave is one of the purest genetic herds in the world. There is no evidence of cattle introgression.  The park manages a bison population of between 350-500 which are descendants of 14 bison reintroduced to the park in 1913 from the New York Zoological Society.

A relatively small national park (28,295 acres), Wind Cave combines an unusual ecosystem of mixed-grass prairie of the Great Plains and the ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills above the underground labyrinth for which the park is named.

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Sunken Gardens – Lincoln, Nebraska

When in Lincoln, Nebraska, a visit to the Sunken Gardens is always a pleasure. Although there are trees, shrubs and perennial beds, the Sunken Gardens is primarily an annual garden.  In spring the tulips are magnificent but the “big show” is a bit later and runs through mid-October.

The Sunken Gardens is always beautiful but this year it’s particularly outstanding. The only Nebraska garden listed  in National Geographic Guide to America’s Public Gardens: 300 of the best gardens to visit in the U.S. and Canada, the Sunken Gardens has served as the backdrop for decades of weddings, photo shoots, and special events.

Built in 1930, the Sunken Gardens was a Depression-era project, created on a former neighborhood dumpsite. Located at South 27th Street and Capitol Parkway, the 1.5 acre site was donated by three long-time Lincoln families.

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped lead the United States in the direction of monumental architectural development and lavish parks and gardens and this effect was even more pronounced after the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition held in Omaha in 1898. In the early 1900’s the “City Beautiful Movement” involved civic organizations in the creation of public gardens and parks. In 1905, at the urging of Mayor Francis W. Brown, a park commission was officially established. Philip Edinbourgh, the first head gardener and parks director, guided the department until he retired in 1928.

Fred W. Goebel became the first park floriculturist in 1906 and worked for the Parks Department for more than 35 years. Recognition for designing the Sunken Gardens has gone to Fred Goebel but his son Henry E. Goebel appears to have been instrumental in significant parts of the plan.

The Sunken Gardens was made in a depression (hence the name) and was originally known as Lincoln’s “Rock Garden.” Rock gardens were a popular 1930’s trend, with rocks used for the skeleton and for structures like water fountains and retaining walls creating terraced levels.

The idea of constructing a sunken garden using terrace ledges for flowers, reflection pools to grow water  lilies, a cascading waterfall using an electric water pump and a geyser fountain was very much ahead of its time. During the depression, there was very little money for anything and it was surprising the city commissioners approved the plan for both the waterfall and the geyser fountain. As part of a city program helping unemployed men earn money, crew members were hired by E. M. Bair (head of the Parks Department as well as City Treasurer) to work on this garden. The men worked eight-hour shifts, two days a week for a total of $6.40 per week. The garden was completed during the winter of 1930 and ready for planting in the spring of 1931. Final construction cost for the Sunken Gardens was $2,500.

Within the Sunken Gardens are the Healing Garden (or White Garden) inspiring calm and serenity, the Perennial Garden with a variety of sun and shade loving perennials, and the Annual Garden planted each year to a different theme. The 2021 theme was “Ruby Slippers.” Two lily ponds which are home to bright colored koi, the cascading waterfall and several public art pieces also figure prominently.

Under the guidance of Lincoln Parks & Rec personnel, volunteers play an enormous role in the maintenance and upkeep of Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens. In Mid-May 2021, more than 60 volunteers participated in the “Wake Up the Beds” event and planted over 15,000 annuals. Throughout the season, the group called Garden Gab maintain the beds on a twice weekly schedule. In early October harvesting of cold-sensitive plants is begun, by mid-October all annuals are harvested and other plants are prepped for winter storage. In early November, the “Put the Beds to Bed” takes place.

Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens is a true gem.

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Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park was our 61st of the 63 National Parks. Whenever we told anyone who had been there that we were going, they always said Acadia was magnificent. They were right. Acadia is beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Although one of the smaller national parks, Acadia consistently ranks among the most visited parks in the United States.

The main part of Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, with a portion on the Schoodic Peninsula and fragments on islands. This national park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the US Atlantic coast. Acadia preserves about 38,000 acres with another 12,500 acres of conservation easements. Mount Desert Island is a patchwork of parkland, private property and seaside villages. Acadia National Park consists wholly of donated property.

Four distinct Native American tribes, known collectively as the Wabanaki, have inhabited Maine for 12,000 years. Long before Europeans arrived the Wabanaki traveled to Mount Desert Island in seaworthy birch bark canoes. Although it’s entirely possible that other Europeans may have been on the coast of Maine earlier, the first known European to have landed there was Samuel de Champlain on September 5, 1604. He named it “Isles des Monts Desert” with the accent on the last syllable as it is in French. The phrase means “island of barren mountains” not a desert. Today it’s pronounced both as it is spelled and as the French pronunciation (dessert).

The first European settlement on Mount Desert Island was in 1613 and lasted only a few months. About 150 years of intermittent warfare between the English and the French made the Downeast Maine coast unsafe for settlement so it was 1760 before the first English settlers came to Mount Desert Island. It was primarily farming and fishing until outsiders – artists and journalists – revealed and popularized the island to the world in the mid-1800’s. Painters of the Hudson River calling themselves “rusticators” glorified the island in their paintings, “summer people” began to arrive, and Bar Harbor was established as a popular resort.

For a select handful of Americans, the 1880’s and “Gay Nineties” meant extreme affluence. Mount Desert Island, still remote from the cities of the east, became a retreat for the likes of the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors. Not content with the simple lodgings then available, these families transformed the landscape of Mount Desert Island with elegant estates, euphemistically called “cottages.”

Wealth and luxury continued to hold on Mount Desert Island into the 20th century. The Great Depression and WWII marked the end of such extravagance but the Great Fire of 1947, which consumed many of the great estates, dealt the final blow to wealth on the island.

However, Acadia National Park actually came into being because of these wealthy “cottagers.” With the threat of logging and development, in 1901 Charles W. Eliot, George Dorr and other influential members of the summer colony organized the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations to acquire lands for public use. In 1908, Mrs. Charles Homans gave the Beehive and the Bowl to the Trustees and the beginning of Acadia National Park was formed. In 1914 the Trustees gave the American people 5,000 acres on Mount Desert Island to establish a national monument. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, in 1919 Congress created Lafayette National Park, and in 1929 the name was changed to Acadia. George Dorr was appointed the first superintendent. With continuing donations of land, including Rockefeller’s donation of 11,000 acres, and the construction of the Carriage Roads and the Park Loop Road, the park grew.

Bar Harbor is the most well-known village on Mount Desert Island but we didn’t spend much time there. The first day we thought we would have lunch in Bar Harbor and explore a bit but it was so crowded with tourists that it was impossible to find a parking spot. We discovered Northeast Harbor had far fewer people and a good lunch place.

Given our preference for more tranquility, we were quite happy we had booked at a lovely inn on the “quietside” in Southwest Harbor. The Harbour Cottage Inn was perfect for us. The innkeepers were delightful, the breakfasts were delicious and we enjoyed our accommodations in the carriage house. Built in 1870 as an expansion to the first Summer Hotel (1859) on Mt. Desert Island, the Island House Cottage over the years served as an inn and a private residence and became an inn once more as The Harbour Cottage Inn.

We drove the Park Loop Road the first day we were there to get our bearings and check out a few hikes. We did quite a bit of hiking during our visit and the park offered a variety. The Ocean Path Trail hugged the rocky coastline, Ship Harbor Trail and Wonderland Trail meandered through woods and led to magnificent ocean views.

We found that we really enjoyed hiking on the Carriage Roads. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. loved to drive horse-drawn carriages and felt to enjoy the natural world of Acadia there should be byways on which automobiles were prohibited. From 1913 to1940, Rockefeller financed construction of fifty-seven miles of amazing carriage roads and 16 of 17 stone-faced bridges, each unique in design. The roads are aligned with the contours of the land, take advantage of scenic views and blend with the landscape. Their use is restricted to hiking, bicycling, and horses with no motorized vehicles allowed. We enjoyed both the Day Mountain Loop and the Hadlock Loop.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was built in 1858 to mark the location of the Bass Harbor bar, a hazard to steamships. In 1988, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

We had planned a sailing tour but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and it was cancelled. On that same day, we also had a reservation to drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain (a reservation system was implemented this year because of the overwhelming numbers of vehicles). The same weather meant that the view from Cadillac Mountain was restricted by fog and rain to about fifteen feet so no dramatic panorama. Perhaps that’s an excuse to go back and try again.

Unusual mushrooms always catch our attention. All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. In addition to all the biodiversity and life above ground, an underground web of fungal life exists. 95 percent of plants through their roots form partnerships with fungi which act as messengers within a forest allowing trees to send nutrients and warning messages to each other.

The Wild Gardens of Acadia in the park is maintained by a group of community volunteers. It includes over 400 plant species, all indigenous, in sections reflecting the typical habitats found within Acadia National Park. . When we were there, because of covid restrictions and a recent massive storm, a number of the trails were closed but it was still really interesting.

Acadia National Park’s mountains are very different from the mountains in the western national parks and seem to rise almost directly from the rocky shores. The many ponds and lakes triggered the question of what differentiates a pond from a lake. Most would say surface size with the bigger being a lake and smaller a pond but the difference is actually the depth.  Ponds are shallow enough, according to limnology (the study of water bodies), that the sun’s rays can reach the bottom and lakes are deep enough that sunlight can’t reach the bottom. However, Jordan Pond is 150 feet deep. We came to the conclusion that the big difference between a lake and a pond is simply what someone decided to call it.

Acadia National Park is a true gem.

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower, America’s first National Monument, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 – ten years before there was a National Park Service.  Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming is hard to describe. The first word that comes to mind is awesome but that is widely overused and really doesn’t do it justice.

We recently took the two youngest grandsons on a trip which included Devils Tower. We were all awed by the tower and all trying to figure out how to explain how impressive it is. It’s not just a big rock rising above the surrounding landscape. Its striated surface and imposing size are unique.

Standing 867 feet high and rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River with a diameter of 800 feet, the base is covered with fallen columns and pine trees.

Many Native Tribes have connections with Devils Tower.  Most have individual oral histories about the creation of the Tower and its significance to them. There are similar elements in many of these narratives but they are unique in the details. The common theme is that of a bear. Bear Lodge is one of many Native American names for the Tower. Several of these stories can be found at

When we visited, there was a voluntary climbing closure in effect through the month of June to respect American Indian cultural values associated with the Tower. Along the Tower trail we saw cloths or small bundles attached to the trees. These were Native American prayer cloths and represent the spiritual connection many tribes have with the Tower. A sense of place dominates the religion of American Indians, as opposed to a sense of time and personal and group ceremonies are still practiced at the monument.

Geologists have studied the formation since the late 1800’s and theories on its formation differ.  They do agree that Devils Tower began as magma but the processes by which it cooled to form the Tower or its relationship to surrounding geology are disputed. Early geologists concluded that the Tower was formed by an igneous intrusion (forcible entry of magma through other rock layers). Other ideas have suggested a volcanic plug or the neck of an extinct volcano but there is limited evidence of volcanic activity in the area and most of the rock is sedimentary. The simplest explanation is that Devils Tower is a stock – an intrusive body of magma which cooled underground and was exposed by erosion.

The most striking feature of Devils Tower are the columns. Rising hundreds of feet into the air and stretching to 10 feet in width, they are spectacular. Column formations occur only in igneous rocks which originate from lava or magma. The molten rock begins to contract as it cools and the stress created by this contraction begins to crack the rock. Cracks radiate out from stress points and normally form hexagonal shapes. The Tower also has many pentagonal columns. Scientists are uncertain why there is this variation in shape. The Tower is formed of a rare igneous rock, phonolite porphyry, and is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world.

To get to Devils Tower you have to be intending to go there – it’s not a place you happen upon. Having said that, we were surprised by the number of tourists there.

We took two hikes at Devils Tower. The Tower Trail begins at the Visitor Center and encircles the base of the tower. There are numerous interpretative signs along this 1.3 mile paved trail.

The other hike we did was the Joyner Ridge Trail which, being away from the Visitor Center and a woodland and prairie trail, we had all to ourselves. From various vantage points on this trail, we could see the changes in the Tower created by the changing light and atmosphere.

In 1875 a U.S. Geological Survey party went out to map the Black Hills region. Their military escort was headed by Colonel Richard Dodge. He was fascinated by what the Natives called Mato Tipila and is generally credited with giving it its present name. His interpreters misunderstood Mato Tipila and translated it as “the bad god’s tower.” Dodge modified it and called it Devils Tower in his 1876 book entitled The Black Hills.

The (Fort Laramie) Treaty of 1868 guaranteed the Black Hills region to the Native Americans. In 1874, in violation of this treaty, Gen. George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills and, as a result of his reports of the discovery of gold, miners followed in droves. Subsequent occurrences led to full-scale war and in the fall of 1876, the Natives were compelled to cede the Black Hills and other land in Wyoming to the whites.

There was early support for the idea of preserving the Tower as a national or state park. In 1891, 60.9 square miles was set aside as a temporary forest reserve. Fifteen years later it was proclaimed a National Monument.

Although it was difficult to reach early on, the Tower became a spot for people in the vicinity to camp and picnic. In 1893, a 4th of July celebration was held there with the feature attraction being the “first” climbing of the Tower by William Rogers, a local rancher. In preparation he and Willard Ripley, another local rancher, prepared a 350-foot ladder to the summit. They drove pegs of oak, ash, and willow into a continuous  crack between two columns on the southeast side of the formation. The pegs were braced and secured to each other by a wooden strip. It’s estimated that about 1,000 people came to see the event. After climbing for about an hour, Rogers reached the top and unfurled an American flag. (They had planted a flag pole prior to the exhibition climb.)

Almost a quarter of a century after designation as a National Monument a full-time National Park Service employee was stationed at Devils Tower. It was 1928 before a bridge over the Belle Fourche River and a somewhat decent road to the Tower were built. From 1935-1938 a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was located nearby and many improvements were made.

In 1937, the first ascent of the Tower solely by rock-climbing techniques was made. In 1941, without the knowledge of the Park Service, George Hopkins parachuted on to the top of the Tower. Unfortunately his plan for descent did not work. Food, blankets and water were dropped to him and he spent six days on the Tower while search and rescue figured out how to get him down.

The hexagonal columns and parallel cracks make Devils Tower one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Registration before climbing is mandatory.

Rising like a rocky sentinel above the prairie and the pine forests, Devils Tower is phenomenal.

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Pea Ridge National Military Park

Pea Ridge National Military Park is a 4,300 acre Civil War battlefield that preserves the site of the March 1862 battle and is one of the most intact battlefields in the United States. Even though located in Arkansas, the battle of Pea Ridge saved Missouri for the Union.

We visited Pea Ridge in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic so the visitor center was closed. As a result, we didn’t get to see the orientation film but the park brochure was helpful, the tour road was open and the explanatory signage was quite good.

The area around the battlefield was a major crossroads and several roads pass through the park. The road known as Telegraph Road passes just by the Elkhorn Tavern. In the winter of 1838-39, this road was one of the routes of the “Trail of Tears” followed by thousands of Cherokees and other Indian tribes during their forced relocation from their tribal lands in the East. The park includes a well-preserved 2 ½ mile segment of the Trail of Tears. This road was also the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage line from 1857-61.

On Christmas Day, 1861, Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis was appointed to command the Federal Southwestern District of Missouri with the main objective being to drive Confederate and pro-Confederate forces out of Missouri. By mid-February the Federals had chased their main opponents into Arkansas.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn took command of the 16.000-man Confederate army on March 4, 1862, intending to strike into Missouri and capture St. Louis.  However, Curtis’ 10,500 Federals were dug in across his path expecting Van Dorn to attack from the south. Van Dorn surprised them by dividing his troops, with some swinging north to come in from behind the Federals and others coming from the west.

Much of the first day’s fighting (March 7) took place in the vicinity of the small village of Leetown. The wounded of both sides were brought to Leetown where buildings and tents served as hospitals. Two Confederate generals, McCulloch and McIntosh, were killed near there. Today the only physical evidence of Leetown is a burial plot.

Pea Ridge was the only major Civil War battle in which Indian troops participated. Two regiments of Cherokees, about 1,000 men, fought for the Confederate army. Some of these Cherokee soldiers had earlier traveled the Trail of Tears as part of the relocation. One of the men who signed the treaty allowing the government to force them west, Stand Watie, led the Confederate 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles at Pea Ridge. Afterwards he led the regiment to fight in other minor battles, skirmishes and raids. In 1864 he became the only Native American promoted to brigadier general in either Union or Confederate army. He was also the last Confederate general to surrender to Union soldiers.

The second day’s fighting was concentrated around the Elkhorn Tavern. The original Elkhorn Tavern was built in 1835 and named because of the elk horns that adorned the roof.  During the fighting, the tavern changed hands several times and served as a field hospital for both Union and Confederate wounded.  After the battle, the tavern was used as a Federal military telegraph station until Confederate guerrillas burned it in 1863. The present tavern in the park is a reconstruction.

By nightfall on the 7th the Confederates held Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph and Huntsville roads. On the morning of the 8th Curtis’ Federal troops counter-attacked with an artillery barrage and infantry. With his defenses broken and ammunition running low, Van Dorn ordered his Confederate troops’ withdrawal. The Battle of Pea Ridge was over.

Despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the Confederates, Pea Ridge was a decisive victory for the Federal forces. The victory came down to one important factor – leadership. Curtis led skillfully and allowed his commanders enough flexibility to adapt as needed while still retaining control.  Curtis and his second-in-command Sigel were both promoted as a result of their performance at Pea Ridge.  Many of the Federal leaders at Pea Ridge went on to become some of the most successful in the U.S. Army. Sheridan rose to be only the 4th man (after Washington, Grant and Sherman) in U.S. history to wear the four stars of a full general.

Even though Confederate general Van Dorn had the element of surprise and greater numbers, 16,000 Confederates against 10,250 Union soldiers, there were delays and difficulties with command structure. Sending his troops two different directions, Van Dorn also made a major error by leaving his ammunition wagons behind. When the first day of fighting was over, they were unable to resupply themselves. Dissension among Confederate commanders also contributed to their downfall.

Pea Ridge was one of the few battlefields in which it was possible to see the mile-long “blue” and “grey” lines advancing toward each other. From the overlooks on Elkhorn Mountain the battlefield spread out below and it was easy to imagine that incredible and ghastly sight. At Pea Ridge the Army of the Southwest (Union) suffered 1384 casualties – 203 killed, 980 wounded of which 150 later died, and 201 missing. The Army of the West (Confederate) lost hundreds to stragglers and deserters during the retreat and the best estimate is that the total was approximately 2,000, including 500 taken prisoner.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Missouri remained in the Union and politically neutral throughout the war. 

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Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

In the middle of New Mexico are three distinct sites which make up Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The visitor center for the monument is located in the town of Mountainair.

Three large groups of ruins at Gran Quivira, Abó, and Quarai were populous communities at the time of the Spanish entrada. All three sites include Indian pueblo ruins and impressive remnants of seventeenth-century Franciscan missions.

We visited these three sites in the fall and our first stop was Abó. From there we continued on to the visitor center in Mountainair and then to the Quarai and Gran Quivira sites. There were similarities at each site but each had its own story to tell. Being in the fall and during the pandemic, we pretty much had the sites all to ourselves.

Salinas is a Spanish word meaning saline or salt lagoons. This narrow, interior drainage where the runoff flows into lakes ringed with salt, alkali, and other mineral deposits supported a stable Pueblo agricultural society. Migrations from the Rio Grande and ancient Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloan traditions overlapped in this area. From minimal agriculture supplemented by hunting and gathering and living in pithouses advancing to jacales and then to stone and adobe pueblos the people adapted and drew what was useful from other societies. Located along major trade routes between the Rio Grande villages and the plains tribes to the east they were well-positioned. The Salinas Valley became a major trade center with perhaps 10,000 or more inhabitants.

Even though several Spanish explorers ventured into this area earlier, the first significant contact between Europeans and Salinas natives came in 1598 when the Spanish arrived with the intent of planting a permanent settlement. The first governor, Juan de Oñate, convinced several hundred Salinas Indians to take oaths of allegiance to the Spanish crown. They probably did not understand what this would entail and relations went south when soldiers attempted to collect tribute to the crown. Oñate set out to punish those who refused and triggered violent confrontations in which villages were burned and both Natives and soldiers were killed. In order to exist, the early Spaniards imposed countless levies of food and clothing against all the Pueblos, creating tremendous hardship on them.

At the same time, with support from the royal treasury, the church grew in power. All parties vied for control of the Natives who provided most of the labor and necessities. A 1609 order from the viceroy to concentrate the Native population into fewer settlements accelerated missionary activities. By 1630, using native labor, missions had been erected in six of the larger towns, including the three sites of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. To varying degrees, priests carried out an edict to eliminate all traces of native religion. Civil authorities and encomenderos who had been granted land near pueblos and were allowed to collect tribute in the form of labor and products also exploited the natives.

Before Spanish occupation, the Salinas pueblos had a friendly trading relationship with the Apaches but when the Spanish began trading Apache slaves that relationship broke down and led to bloody retaliation.

All these factors, as well as recurring droughts, crop failures and epidemics, made it untenable for the Salinas Puebloans to continue there. Several years before the general uprising of all the pueblos, the survivors moved west and south and abandoned the area.

The Abó unit of the Monument is west of Mountainair and contains approximately 370 acres. The number and size of unexcavated pueblo mounds suggest a thriving community when the Spanish arrived in 1581. In 1622, Fray Francisco Fonte was assigned to Abó Mission and church and convento building began. By 1628 construction was complete but a second missionary, Fray Francisco Acevedo arrived and in 1640 began to renovate and enlarge the church and convento. This was completed in 1658. By 1673 a combination of disease, drought, famine and Apache raiding led to the abandonment of Abó. In 1815, Spanish sheep herders returned to the area but by 1830 were pushed out by Apaches. Settlers permanently returned in 1865 and remains of the reoccupation structures are a part of the Abó site.

The Quarai unit is north of Mountainair. Established in 1626 and overseen by Fray Juan Gutierrez de la Chica, construction began in 1627 and continued until 1632. Curiously, a square kiva was built within the convento. The same combination of factors as at Abó led to the abandonment of Quarai in 1678. In the early 1800’s settlers returned but that attempt also failed.

The Gran Quivira unit is south of Mountainair and is the largest of the three units at 611 acres. Prior to Spanish contact, Gran Quivira was a vast city with multiple pueblos and kivas. The largest and only fully excavated pueblo, Mound 7, was a 226 room structure from the Pueblo IV period (AD 1275/1300-1600).

During excavation, an even older pueblo was discovered under Mound 7. Although Spanish contact was probably earlier, colonization and establishment of the mission system began in 1598 with the arrival of Juan de Oñate.  In 1639, under the supervision of Fray Francisco Letrado, construction began on the first permanent mission at Gran Quivira. Letrado was reassigned in 1631 and Gran Quivira came under the control of Fray Francisco de Acevedo at the Abó mission. Construction on the church was completed in 1635 and in 1659 Fray Diego de Santander was permanently assigned there and construction began on a new larger church. By 1672 the combination of disease, drought, famine and Apache raiding led to the abandonment of Gran Quivira.

The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument provides a glimpse into times in the history of the Southwest during which different cultures met, sometimes borrowing from each other and sometimes creating conflict. These sites stand as reminders of the Spanish and Pueblo peoples’ early encounters. The ruins of the mission churches looming over the remains of the pueblos feel symbolic of one culture overpowering and destroying another, ultimately resulting in being unsustainable.

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Capulin Volcano National Monument

Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico is significant in a variety of ways. This monument has several stories wrapped around it: geological, archaeological, and historical. Our visit was during the pandemic and the Visitor Center was not open but we took the drive to the volcano rim where we hiked. Chokecherry trees are common along the crater trails and inspired the volcano’s name. Capulin is a Mexican-Spanish word for chokecherry.

The Capulin Volcano landscape was set aside as a natural preserve as early as 1891 and in 1916 became a part of the young National Park Service.  This inactive cinder cone volcano lies in the Raton section of the Great Plains and within the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field. The eruption of Capulin Volcano – 60,000 years ago – is one of the more recent in this area.

The volcano rises to a height of 8182 feet above sea level or 1300 feet above the surrounding plains. The crater is 415 feet deep and 1450 feet in diameter. There is a winding, narrow 2-mile road to the top of the crater. In August 2019 heavy rain washed out a section of the road. When we visited in the fall of 2020, there remained a 90-yard section of the road that was one lane only. Since there was limited sight around that corner, you had to proceed slowly and hope no one was coming from the other side at the same time.

At the top of the volcano there are two trails. The Crater Rim Trial is a paved, 1 mile loop around the rim and the Crater Vent Trail is a 0.2 mile (one-way) paved trail to the bottom of the crater with an elevation change of 100 feet. From the rim, it’s possible to view four different states.

Archaeologically the Capulin vicinity is particularly important as evidence discovered by George McJunkin showed that ancient man had roamed the area 5,000 years earlier than previously believed. In 1908, a massive rain caused a devastating flood in the town of Folsom, killing 17 people and leaving ruin in its wake. McJunkin, a former slave, was a legendary cowboy with insatiable curiosity and desire to learn. Riding along Wild Horse Arroyo after the flood, he noticed white bones that had been exposed. He knew they weren’t cattle or buffalo bones and took some of them home.  He told others about his find but it wasn’t until after his death that an actual archaeological excavation was done and his find was verified. George McJunkin had found skeletons of bison antiquus, an extinct bison 50% larger than modern bison. Lodged in rib bones were found stone points, weapons of people who came to be known as Folsom Man, proving that humans had lived in North America thousands of years earlier than previously thought. It was one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century.

Historically, this area has gone through many permutations. In the time since Paleoindians roamed the landscape around Capulin Volcano groups of Native Americans, such as the Jicarilla Apache and the Ute used this region as hunting grounds. The Spanish arrived in 1541 and early explorers Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and Juan de Padilla passed through in search of riches and regions to conquer. Spain controlled New Mexico until 1821 when Mexico declared independence. Traders used the Santa Fe Trail and other trails through the region. The Mexican-American War erupted in 1846 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially made New Mexico a territory of the United States. Military forts were established in the area and railroads expanded to the west. Ranching became a prime industry.

Jessie Foote Jack, a widow who assumed the responsibilities for Crowfoot Cattle Company after her husband’s death, and other local ranchers valued Capulin Volcano as a prime grazing land. In order to ensure grazing rights, in 1916 she secured the position of custodian for the monument. Serving until 1921, she was the first custodian for Capulin Volcano as well as the first female custodian in the National Park Service.

In 1921, Homer Farr would unofficially become the custodian of the monument at the request of Mrs. Jack. Farr officially took over the position in 1923 and served the National Park Service until 1955. He is credited with building the road to the rim, originally working with mules to do so. During the Great Depression he secured a Civil Works Project to stabilize the road and build retaining walls. The photos of early road-building make you wonder what motivated Homer Farr to undertake the task.

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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area

The Bisti (pronounced bis-tie) is one of our go-to places for day hikes in the spring or late fall. (It gets really hot out there in the summer!) This high desert wilderness contains unique rock formations, huge petrified logs and plenty of opportunity to wander around and explore. The photos in this article were taken during a number of different visits. This area is so vast you can go back time after time and find new wonders every time.

Managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area covers 45,000 acres of badlands just south of Farmington, New Mexico. Translated from the Navajo language, Bisti means “a large area of shale hills” and De-Na-Zin comes from the Navajo words for “cranes.”

Since this is a Wilderness Area, it is closed to motorized vehicles and mechanical forms of transportation (including mountain bikes). Also prohibited are campfires, collecting fossils or petrified wood, climbing on delicate geologic features, traveling in groups of more than eight people and trespassing on adjacent tribal lands.

There are no trails and no water sources so even a day hike requires some preparation. There is virtually no shade and the desert sun gets hot year-round so carrying an ample supply of water is crucial. The trailheads are off regularly maintained roads but those roads are not paved and can become extremely slick and impassable when wet.

This weird landscape of strange rock formations is created from interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal and silt. Hoodoos formed by the weathering of the sandstone appear in many shapes.

There are two main washes in the Bisti and both run east to west. The main parking area provides access to Alamo wash. If you stay in the main wash area, you can readily find your way back to your vehicle. Going into the hills on either side of the wash (particularly the north side) is like being in a maze. There are many dead ends and you can easily lose your sense of direction so a GPS is a good idea.

The “Cracked Eggs”, petrified logs and hoodoos within Alamo wash are the reward for a hot desert hike.

Cracked Eggs
Petrified Logs

South of Alamo wash are the Chocolate hoodoos and named and unnamed formations of all kinds.

We have hiked in the Bisti many times and were most recently determined to locate the “Bisti Wings” in the northern area.  It took us three different attempts to be successful. The first time we didn’t go nearly far enough out of Alamo wash. The second time I think we were actually quite close. However, we do pretty much know our hiking distance limit and our dog was getting tired so we headed back out.

The third time, we were really determined. It took some scrambling, and Tom, at one point, climbed up to a hilltop to get a better look around.

It seemed almost as if they were hiding, but we did find the Wings. Voila! We then had to make our way down into a wash to really get the benefit for photos.

Bisti WIngs

Heading back out, we took a couple of dead ends and had to backtrack a bit but the sense of satisfaction was well-earned.

Is this the way out? Nope, had to backtrack.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area is an otherworldly and fascinating place to visit.

Bisti Wings

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Posted in badlands, Bisti Wilderness, Four Corners, geology, hiking, natural arches, Nature Photos, New Mexico, rock formations, San Juan County New Mexico, scenery, Southwestern U.S., Travels in the U.S., Western U.S., wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments