I’ve added a number of items to my online store and arranged them into the following collections: National Park, Wildlife, Wildflowers, and Scenery
Please take a look – great gift ideas.
Following are some examples:
I’ve added a number of items to my online store and arranged them into the following collections: National Park, Wildlife, Wildflowers, and Scenery
Please take a look – great gift ideas.
Following are some examples:
An island far from shore in Lake Superior – who had any idea it would be end up being on the list of our favorite national parks? Number 53 out of 60 national parks – the 3+ hour boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan, to get to Rock Harbor was not exciting us at all. It turned out to be so worth it we would go back in a heartbeat.
Isle Royale is the least visited national park in the lower 48 but has the highest percentage of return visitors – roughly a third of the visitors each year have been there before. We now understand why. In 2017 only 28,198 people visited Isle Royale. Isle Royale has a short season as it is only open April 16 through October due to extreme winter weather conditions.
The Rock Harbor Lodge complex is the only full-service lodging facility on Isle Royale. We stayed in one of the housekeeping cottages located away from the main hotel and restaurant area and overlooking Tobin Harbor.
Many of the people also arriving on the Isle Royale Queen IV were backpackers or canoe/kayak campers. Everyone who lands on Isle Royale is required to hear a ranger talk about low-impact hiking and camping. Wilderness is important here. The only “roads” on the island are narrow service roads between the dock and the lodge areas with the only motorized vehicles being a small tractor and gator. The island is roughly 45 miles long and has approximately 165 miles of trails.
People have seasonally occupied Isle Royale for thousands of years – copper mining, hunting, fishing, tapping maple syrup and, to some extent, logging. The remoteness of Isle Royale actually saved it from being as highly exploited as much of the north country. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become a tourist destination of hotels and small summer communities.
In 1926, Albert Stoll, conservation editor for the Detroit News, wrote “Isle Royale is different. It is bold, rugged, and magnificent.” Through Stoll’s work, as well as that of cottagers, resort owners and mainland advocates, the idea of Isle Royale as a roadless wilderness park was proposed. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a bill authorizing establishment of Isle Royale National Park when Michigan had gained title to all the land on Isle Royale. Michigan created a commission to raise money to purchase the private land on the island. In 1940 Isle Royale became a national park.
Defining wilderness can be a very personal thing, but wilderness does have an official definition. “Wilderness” as a place where “man is himself a visitor . . . one who does not remain” was written into law with the Wilderness Act of 1964.
On Isle Royale there are no roads, only trails and these trails are “12-inch man-ways.” They provide a means of access to various parts of the island while maintaining a sense of exploration. We hiked each day we were on the island and thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite scenery, changing terrain and the solitude.
Each evening we attended a ranger talk. In one talk we learned about loons, their habits, and their four different and very distinct calls. Another of the talks was about Visual Arts in the National Parks and the role that the arts had in the establishment of early parks, and a third was by a participant in the Artist-in-Residence program.
Humans share the island with two iconic mammals: moose and wolves. They are descendants of mainlanders that made the island an unexpected ark. Moose arrived on Isle Royale in the early 1900’s presumably by swimming to it and it is largely accepted that wolves arrived by crossing an ice bridge from Canada during the winter of 1948.
While we were on the island, a bull moose was spending quite a bit of time in the Rock Harbor area. We saw him several times near our cottage, on a back trail and in the water in Tobin Harbor. He was massive and quite impressive.
One afternoon we took a canoe out on Tobin Harbor. This was an adventure as I had never been in a canoe and Tom said the only times he had been in one, they had dumped it in the water. This did not inspire confidence. Later he did tell me the last time he had been in a canoe was when he was in boy scouts and most likely they were messing around. At any rate, I did not have waterproof containers for my camera or phone so did not take them with us. The canoe trip turned out great, we did not dump it and it was peaceful and beautiful. Especially memorable was looking to the shore about thirty yards from us and there a moose stood in the water. It would have been a perfect photo.
Currently there are about 1500 moose on the island, which, according to rangers, is too high a number for the island vegetation to maintain well. As of 2016, there were only two wolves on the island and since they are the only moose predator, there is a direct relationship to moose population. The average moose stands at a height of over six feet tall at the shoulder and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds.
The wolf population has varied from 50 animals in 1980 to the low of two since 2016. Wolf population variation is driven by availability of its primary food source of moose, the spread of canine diseases to the island (pets are no longer allowed on the island at all), and genetic inbreeding. Wolves avoid human interaction so the chance of seeing one on Isle Royale is extremely small.
The National Park Service has undertaken a wolf relocation project to increase the wolf population on the island and broaden the gene pool. Four adult grey wolves – one male and three females – from Minnesota were successfully released on Isle Royale between September 25 and October 2, 2018. This fall’s original goal was to relocate an additional two wolves from Michigan but weather halted that operation. An additional four animals from Canada may be brought in this winter. National Parks Traveler online magazine has had several articles about this project. The goal over the next three to five years is to relocate 20 to 30 wolves to Isle Royale. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this program.
On one of our hikes we met a man who had visited Isle Royale with his family as a youngster. He told us he was pleased to see that it was “just like it was in the 60’s.” He went on to say that he was very glad it was a national park that anyone could enjoy and that if it hadn’t been made a park, it would now be heavily populated with summer estates and be only a rich man’s playground.
We all need a little wilderness in our lives. According to Edward Abbey: “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”
For more information:
Water covers about 39% of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, an area most commonly known as Boundary Waters. Voyageurs is an example of southern boreal forest – sometimes called simply the “north woods.” It contains more than 900 islands, many richly forested. This is a water-based park and the easiest way, and sometimes the only way, to get from one place to another is by water.
We quickly realized that without a boat, this 55-mile long park is next to impossible to explore. We did do several trails on the Kabetogama Peninsula near Ash River where we boarded the shuttle boat to take us up Namakan Lake to Kettle Falls. Kettle Falls hotel is the only lodging within the park itself, so we had arranged to stay in one of the villas there. The people were very friendly and accommodating but we discovered there were no hiking trails and, without a boat and not being fishermen, very little to do.
We did rent a boat for a half day and explored as far as our navigation map covered. We didn’t dare go beyond the map or we would like have gotten lost in the maze of islands and channels which look very much alike.
The Treaty of 1783 between the U.S. and Great Britain set the international boundary at “the usual water communication” through the region. But determining the “usual” or “customary” route was difficult and the final details of the boundary were not settled until 1925. The boundary of the U.S. and Canada runs right through the middle of Kettle Falls dam and, in an unusual geographic phenomenon, one can stand on U.S. soil at Kettle Falls and look south into Canada.
As early as 1891, the area was proposed as a national park. In 1975, it was actually created with its purpose “to preserve, for the inspiration and enjoyment of present and future generations, the outstanding scenery, geologic conditions, and waterway system which constituted a part of the historic route of the voyageurs, who contributed significantly to the opening of the northwestern United States.”
The voyageurs for whom this park was named actually only practiced their trading and watercraft here for about fifty years although people had been present in the area for thousands of years. Hundreds of archeological sites have been found, most temporary campsites on the shores of big lakes. Dakota, Cree, Assiniboin, and Ojibway occupied this land of rivers, lakes and islands when, in 1731, Pierre Gaultier, Sieur de la Vérendrye, was sent to establish a permanent French presence and solidify a fur trade route through Lake Superior and the Rainy River country. In 1763 the British wrested control of the country from the French and operated Hudson’s Bay Company from the shore of its namesake. Indian trappers and traders delivered goods to their doorstep. Eventually, independent traders called coureurs de bois – “woods runners” – shortcut the system, meeting the Indians on their own ground and intercepting the flow of goods. In 1779 the competition organized as the Northwest Company and thus began the era of the French-Canadian voyageur.
The voyageurs adopted many of the Indians’ tools and clothes. Unlike the independent coureurs de bois they were not freelancers but employed by a fur-trade firm. Groups of men set out every spring from Montreal with a two-ton load of trade goods bound for the interior. Their bark canoes, called canots du maître or Montreal canoes, were 35 feet long or more and paddled by about a dozen men called mangeurs de lard – pork eaters -because their primary diet was salt pork and dried peas or corn. A different breed of voyageurs took these trade goods from Grand Portage to the interior and returned to Lake Superior with furs. These were the hivernants -the winterers. If the mangeurs de lard were the apprentices, the hivernants were the journeymen, paddling 25-foot canots du nord, or north canoes, over the rugged interior routes. They routinely paddled 15 to 18 hours a day, paddle strokes beating the rhythm of their songs. Despite their size – under 5 feet 8 inches so they wouldn’t take much room in the canoe – voyageurs carried two or three packs (180 to 270 pounds) at a time when portaging.
The area now occupied by Voyageurs National Park was, except for Hudson Bay, the most important entry point to the interior of North America during the fur trade. The primary route began at Grand Portage and followed what is now the international boundary over more than two dozen portages into Crane Lake and along the park’s northern boundary. The voyageurs probably followed the border making the portage at Kettle Falls.
Beaver was prized for hat-making in Europe and was the primary fur traded. Interesting creatures, beavers have grasping hands and long buck teeth to down and limb trees, but also other adaptations. Valves in the nose and ears shut as the animal submerges and transparent membranes shield its eyes as goggles would. Its lips close behind its teeth so that it can carry branches in its mouth without drowning. Wooly underfur allows it to swim and work is nearly freezing water. The replacement of beaver felt with other materials for hat-making was devastating to the fur trade. So only a half-century after they appeared the colorful voyageurs vanished into the past.
In Voyageurs, unrestricted market, subsistence and sport hunting in the early 1900’s eliminated elk and woodland caribou and decimated the moose herd. These declines affected the rest of the ecosystem in many ways. Extensive logging began in earnest in 1909 and was carried on until 1929, during which time huge stands of virgin red and white pine disappeared. Between 1905 and 1910, a dam was constructed at International Falls for hydroelectric power and ancillary dams at Kettle Falls and Squirrel Falls were built.
Kettle Falls Hotel has a colorful past. The first section of the hotel was probably built about 1910, with the north wing added by1915. Local legend has it that a famous madam, Nellie Bly, financed the building. Written accounts affirm that ”fancy ladies” practiced their trade at Kettle Falls but the origin of the hotel had more to do with lumber than ladies. Over the years a number of colorful characters and some dubious activities made Kettle Falls Hotel a memorable place. By the 1940’s one of the most distinctive features of the hotel had developed- wavy, sloping floors. Sinking foundations threw the building off kilter and floors sloped and the middle of the 20-foot barroom was (and still is) a foot higher than the ends. This earned it the nickname of “the tiltin’ Hilton.”
At Kettle Falls, tours and private boaters arrive to take a look around, have a bite to eat and enjoy the drinks in the tilting barroom. It’s a busy place midafternoon. This is also the place boaters can portage from Namakan Lake to Rainy Lake or vice versa. Unlike the voyageurs, they don’t have to carry their boats and gear. Pickups with boat trailers do it for them. We got a kick out of seeing people sitting in their boats on the boat trailers being hauled through the woods.
Voyageurs is a beautiful national park. Our advice to really explore it would be to bring a boat and a good navigation map.
For more information: https://www.nps.gov/voya/index.htm
Antietam National Battlefield is located in Maryland about 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Visiting a battlefield is always a sobering experience and visiting Antietam was certainly that. Serene and quiet now, but on September 17, 1862, there occurred here the bloodiest single-day battle in all of American history.
This park encompasses a little over 3,000 acres and we spent quite a bit of time walking parts of the battlefield and following the marked auto tour route to more distant locations. With the help of the information from the visitors center, we were able to piece together the locations and the timeline of the battle.
This was prime farm ground and there were a number of farmsteads that inadvertently became battlefields. Standing looking over the Cornfield, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to run through that cornfield into a hail of bullets or to have your home become a part of a battlefield.
As with most historical events, there are several points at which the outcome could have been dramatically different. General Robert E. Lee (C.S.A.) took command of the Confederate army June 1, 1862. At that point, the Confederacy appeared on the verge of collapse but with Lee in charge, there was a dramatic reversal of fortune.
Early spring 1862, the Union army had succeeded in capturing Forts Henry and Donelson, the cities of Nashville and New Orleans and won the Battle of Shiloh.
In late June, Lee (C.S.A.), in a weeklong series of battles known as The Seven Days, thwarted Major General George B. McClellan’s (U.S.A.) attempts to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital.
The final week of August, Lee (C.S.A.) defeated General John Pope (U.S.A.) at Second Manassas and drove the Union forces back to Washington.
War transferred from the gates of Richmond to the outskirts of Washington. Lee (C.S.A.) decided to launch an invasion of the north and thus began the momentous Maryland Campaign of September 1862 which would culminate in the Battle of Antietam. There were a number of reasons for this audacious move by Lee. He wanted to: create anxiety in the North and give credence to a rising anti-war sentiment; influence upcoming 1862 Congressional elections; bring Maryland, a slave-owning border state, under the Confederacy; and pick a fight on favorable, defensive ground of his own choosing.
Many things were hanging in the balance and both Union and Confederate armies were in trouble. Lee’s army was in bad shape and the Union army was greatly disheartened by Second Manassas
Lee (C.S.A.) devised a plan which divided his army into several parts with the intent being to clear the Shenandoah Valley, capture Harpers Ferry, move across South Mountain and ultimately drive north into Pennsylvania. A great deal of coordination and speed was required to accomplish these goals before the Federal army could march out of Washington and catch up.
Lee prepared Special Orders No. 191 and copies were distributed to the commanders of each of the separate forces. Somehow the copy addressed to General D.H. Hill (C.S.A.) got lost. It remains a mystery as to who lost it and how it got lost but it played a pivotal role in the upcoming confrontation.
On September 13, Special Orders No. 191 was found by Corporal Barton Mitchell (U.S.A.) in tall grass in a meadow which had earlier served as a Confederate campsite. Sending the paper up the chain of command, McClellan (U.S.A.) was literally handed the enemy’s plans.
The Union army immediately headed west intending to prevent Lee’s divided forces from reuniting. The Union seized crucial South Mountain passes. However, the Confederates delayed the Union advance long enough that General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (C.S.A.) effected the surrender of Harpers Ferry and set out to join the main Confederate force.
Lee knew if McClellan moved quickly enough he could destroy the Army of Northern Virginia (C.S.A.) so Lee decided to retreat to Virginia.
Lee’s primary goal had been to draw the Union army out from the safety of Washington and bring it to battle on good defensive ground. With the anticipated arrival of Jackson’s command, Lee called off the retreat as he determined that the terrain west of Antietam Creek was well suited for defense. He began placing his men in position.
The morning of September 15, Union forces arrived on the east side of Antietam Creek. McClellan ordered his men not to attack until he arrived but, by the time he arrived, it was too late in the day to launch an attack.
September 16, an impenetrable fog blanketed the area. As they waited for the fog to burn off, the remaining divisions of Lee’s army arrived. An artillery duel was kept up intermittently throughout the day but primarily the day was used by both armies to move into position.
The morning of September 17, the battle began. Many specific locations have become well known because of the horrific carnage that occurred there: the Cornfield, Dunker Church, the East Woods, the West Woods, the Sunken Road (“Bloody Lane”), Burnside Bridge.
Sunken Road (“Bloody Lane”)
At the beginning of the battle, the Army of the Potomac (U.S.A.) had 85,000 soldiers and 300 cannons, and the Army of Northern Virginia (C.S.A.) had 45,000 men and 200 cannons. In this one-day battle Lee (C.S.A.) lost 25% of his men killed and wounded and McClellan (U.S.A.) lost 23% of his men.
By the end of September 17, there were 23,000 casualties: an estimated 4,000 were killed in action, another 17,000 fell wounded (the numbers of battle-related deaths continued to rise in the ensuing days, weeks, and months), another 2,000 were either captured or listed as missing in action. Six generals lost their lives at Antietam, three from each side.
Under the cover of darkness, Lee began to retreat. Tactically, the battle was a draw but in many ways it was an important Union victory. As a result, five days later Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and all thoughts of European intervention on the part of the Confederacy were effectively ended.
We came away from our time at Antietam musing about many “what ifs.”
What if Lee had not been put in command of the Confederate army?
What if Special Orders No. 191 had not been lost and fallen into Union hands?
What if the Union forces had attacked on the morning of September 15 rather than waiting?
What if it hadn’t been foggy on September 16?
What if McClellan had pursued and attacked Lee’s army on September 18?
Much food for thought.
For more information:
When we decided to visit Harpers Ferry, we immediately thought John Brown and that was basically all. Our American history class in high school taught about John Brown and, depending on your viewpoint, his actions made him out as either a lunatic or a visionary or perhaps a bit of both. His methods were frightening and unorthodox but his attack on Harpers Ferry was one of the first acts of the impending civil war and, in the long run, the civil rights movement. In Honors class with Mr. Yates, we discussed the epic poem “John Brown’s Body” by Stephen Vincent Benét in great detail but we never heard about the Civil War battles that took place at Harpers Ferry, or if we did, we somehow missed that part. So Tom and I were surprised when we visited Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. There was a lot more to Harpers Ferry than we realized.
Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of two major rivers: the Potomac and the Shenandoah. This was an advantage for trade, for westward migration through the water gap, and for the location of a U.S. Armory and Arsenal. Harpers Ferry was one of the most advanced industrial complexes in America by the 1850’s.
John Brown’s raid on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry took place October 16-18, 1859. Determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points. The raid failed with most of the men killed or captured. On November 2, John Brown was sentenced to hang and he was executed on December 2 in Charles Town, Virginia.
John Brown’s “Fort”
At that time, Harpers Ferry was in Virginia (West Virginia did not exist). This previously ideal location began to be a distinct disadvantage to the community of Harpers Ferry on April 17, 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union. The townspeople were divided as to where their loyalties lay. Lt. James was in charge of protecting the U.S. property at the Armory and was understaffed, and Harpers Ferry was in the crosshairs of the Confederacy. Harpers Ferry occupies a point of land at the confluence of the two rivers and is surrounded by heights on three sides, making it very difficult to defend.
The town of Harpers Ferry, truly a border town, experienced five battles in two years. The town changed hands between the Union and the Confederacy eight times in three years. Each of those times was hard on the community.
April 18, 1861, the Union defenders destroyed the U.S. property they could not remove from the town and set fire to the Armory and Arsenal as the Confederate forces advanced. The Union fled and Virginia militiamen took over the town, tore down the Stars and Stripes, and hoisted the Commonwealth of Virginia flag. This was the first day of the war in Virginia.
At the beginning of the war, militia duties were handled democratically which often meant little real order. However, with the arrival of Col. Thomas Jackson, Harpers Ferry was transformed into an army town. June 13, 1861, General Joseph Johnston evacuated the town, destroying the armory buildings and the railroad bridge. The railroad through Harpers Ferry was crucial for the movement of men, supplies and materiel. Throughout the war, the railroad bridge was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, as was the bridge over the Potomac.
With the Confederate evacuation, Harpers Ferry was in Union hands again. However, this was only temporary and the back and forth occupation of Harpers Ferry continued. Each occupation and subsequent evacuation meant more destruction of the town.
In the ensuring conflicts the town was pretty much destroyed, its industries decimated and homes and businesses abandoned by most of the residents. Prior to the war, the population of Harpers Ferry was about 3,000 and, at one point during the war, it was reduced to about 20 families.
At times there were enormous garrisons at Harper’s Ferry and at other times, it was sparsely defended. In the fall of 1862, there were as many as 60,000 soldiers at Harpers Ferry.
June 20. 1863, in the midst of the Gettysburg campaign, the western and north central counties of Virginia broke away from the Old Dominion and were granted statehood as West Virginia. Harpers Ferry was now officially Union, but it wasn’t until July 7 of 1864, when the town changed hands for the last time, that it was in Union control and remained that way.
We arrived at the Visitors Center of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, picked up our maps and information and caught the bus to the Lower Town: an 1800’s town, John Brown’s fort, armory site, information center, films, exhibits and the C&O Canal. We visited the museum, explored and examined John Brown’s “Fort” (the building in which he made his final stand).
We climbed the well-worn stone steps toward Jefferson Rock past St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.
This Church escaped relatively unscathed during the Civil War, as Father Costello flew the British Union Jack over the church as a symbol of neutrality to protect it from both Union and Confederate bombardment.
St. John’s Episcopal Church did not fare so well. One of Harpers Ferry’s five original churches, it served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt later but abandoned in 1895.
Jefferson Rock is on a promontory above Harpers Ferry. In 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry and waxed poetic over the view of the two mighty rivers joining. It was a magnificent sight.
The day we were at Harpers Ferry it was very warm and humid, raining off and on. We were somewhat limited on time but learned much during our visit. Prior to this trip, we were reading the American Library series of books entitled The Civil War. Each of the four-book set covers one year of the war and is made up of primary source material. Reading diaries, letters to and from soldiers on both sides, reports from generals, speeches, etc. provides real insight into the people who actually lived then and were a part of that American conflict. A person’s perception is his/her reality and those realities collided dramatically in a major turning point in our national history. Harpers Ferry provides a glimpse into that part of our American history.
For further information:
(Wrangell- St. Elias National Park, 13,188,000 acres)
February 22, 2018, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial became Gateway Arch National Park. It is a lot easier to say and remember than the original title. Because of this re-designation, our list of remaining National Parks to visit is now 9 rather than 8. In our minds, the jury is still out on whether this really should be a National Park.
National Parks are often referred to as the “crown jewels” of the park system and contain some of the country’s best-known natural attractions. They are generally large, diverse areas with outstanding natural features and ecological resources and tend to be the most strictly protected unit in the system. Having said this, the newest National Park is only 91 acres in a metropolitan area and, other than being located on the banks of the Mississippi River contains no outstanding natural feature.
We have concerns beyond whether this area is “worthy” of being a national park. Our national parks are in trouble financially. Even a change in designation from memorial to national park will incur large expenditures to change signage, promotional materials and operations. Rather than adding more units to the park service or changing designations, our Congress first should properly fund the system we have. Our national parks have been underfunded for quite some time and it continues to get worse. The National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog reached nearly $12 billion at the end of fiscal year 2017. The President’s current budget recommends extreme staffing cuts of nearly 2,000 National Park Service rangers at a time when national park visitation is at an all-time high. There are more than 20,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal employees but without the 315,000 volunteers who help take up the slack, our parks would suffer even more severely. Please consider contacting your congressmen/women and asking them to act responsibly concerning our national parks – a true treasure.
What makes a national park different than a memorial or a monument, or any of the different naming designations? Why are some places designated as national parks and then later “demoted” to a different status or even to no status? That has happened!
America’s second national park, Mackinac National Park, was established in 1875 and disbanded in 1895 becoming a Michigan state park. Platt National Park, established in 1906, was disbanded in 1976 and became a part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Sullys Hill National Park, established in 1906 was disbanded in 1931 and became Sullys Hill National Game Preserve. General Grant National Park, established in 1890 was absorbed into Kings Canyon National Park in 1940. Hawaii National Park, established in 1916, was split into two separate National Parks, Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes in 1960.
The result of my research on the various designations of national park units has been nothing less than confusing. It seems rather willy-nilly in some respects.
For the most part, the different titles signify different types of resources and attractions: one expects historic buildings at a national historic site, natural attractions at a national park and recreational opportunities at a national recreation area. The title may also signal information about who established the unit (Congress or the President), who manages it, and what activities Congress has chosen to permit or prohibit in the unit. National monuments are the only units that may be established by the President although they may also be established by Congress. Most are smaller and less diverse than national parks.
(San Antonio Missions National Historical Park)
As of May 13, 2018, the National Park Service manages 417 individual units covering more than 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories. There are at least 19 naming designations.
For information on units within these designations go to:
The Upper Pecos Valley in New Mexico has served as a corridor between the Great Plains and the southwestern high country for thousands of years. As a result, Pecos National Historical Park has layer upon layer of history. The park primarily relates the overlapping stories of ancestral Puebloans, European contact and conquest, Santa Fe trail usage and a Civil War battle. Pecos National Monument was established in 1965 because of its archeological importance and, in 1990, was elevated to a National Historical Park and expanded to include landmarks from the Civil War battle.
Probably the first humans to enter the area were nomadic hunters of 10,000 years ago. By 6,000 B.C. a hunter-gatherer culture had filtered in from the far west. By 2,000 years ago northwestern New Mexico was home to Anasazi, also known as ancestral Puebloans, who were early farmers.
Ancestral Puebloans settled in the Upper Pecos Valley around 800 A.D, left abruptly the end of the tenth century and returned in the early 1200’s. Over the next 200 years they built stone masonry pueblos up and down the Pecos Valley. Then, for unknown reasons, these villagers left their pueblos and joined people already living atop the steep-sided mesilla that rises from the east bank of Glorieta Creek.
By the time Columbus reached the Americas, Pecos Pueblo had grown into one of the largest and most powerful city-states in northern New Mexico. Archeologist Alfred Kidder found evidence that the pueblo was designed in advance and constructed as a unit, rather than starting small and growing over time. Lacking doors and windows on the lower stories and encircled by a chest high wall, it was nearly impregnable. Pecos became a gateway and a trading center for people of the pueblos and those of the plains.
The arrival of Coronado and the conquistadors in 1540 heralded the beginning of the decline of Pecos Pueblo. The pueblo welcomed the Spaniards as they had other potential trading partners. A series of events soured the relationship which would alternate between coexistence and confrontation. In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate set forth to colonize New Mexico. Franciscan priests were assigned to the region and rewarded with encomiendas (system by which the Spanish Crown granted a colonist land and the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the Indian inhabitants of the area).
Between 1617 and 1717 the Franciscans built four churches at Pecos. The first church was never finished and was located some distance from the main pueblo. Completed in 1625 using Indian labor, a huge mission church covering 6,000 square feet and built of 300,000 adobe bricks rose fifty-five feet above Pecos; the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciúncula. The foundations of this structure are visible today. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Indians set fire to the roof and toppled its massive walls.
Don Diego de Vargas led a small army up the Rio Grande to retake New Mexico in 1692. Pecos was under Spanish sovereignty again, and a temporary church was erected. By 1717, the fourth church was completed atop the ruins of the massive mission. However, the Pueblo was in decline due to famine, European disease, the threat of Apache raids and Hispanic settlement in the area. By 1838, fewer than thirty members of a pueblo that once numbered two thousand remained. These individuals left to join Towa-speaking relatives at Jemez Pueblo. The ruins of this fourth church and of Pecos Pueblo stand silent on the mesa.
In 1821, William Becknell headed west from Missouri to Santa Fe with a mule train of merchandise. The Santa Fe trail was born and for sixty years, wagon trains and stage coaches traveled the trail, passing Fort Union and Pecos through Glorieta Pass to Santa Fe. Two stagecoach stops on the trail are preserved within the park: Kozlowski’s Stage Stop and Pigeon’s Ranch. Much of the old Santa Fe Trail is now part of I-25.
The Upper Pecos Valley also served as a corridor for wars. In 1846, the first year of the Mexican-American War U.S. troops marched through the area on their way to seize Santa Fe.
In the last half of 1861, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley raised a volunteer Texas force to invade New Mexico Territory. The plan was to capture military supplies at Union forts, recruit westerners to the Confederate cause, and take control of the mining riches of Colorado and the key ports in the California Territory. Sibley’s forces clashed with Union forces under the command of Col. Edward R.S. Canby near Fort Craig and were triumphant in what became known as the Battle of Valverde. Sibley then marched northward, occupying Albuquerque and taking Santa Fe. From there, they began moving eastward with the intent of capturing Fort Union, northeast of Pecos.
On March 25th, 1862, unbeknownst to each other, Union and Confederate forces were camped on opposite sides of Glorieta Pass. Advance pickets soon discovered each other’s forces. Over the next three days, they engaged in the fighting that became known as the Battle of Glorieta. With approximately 1200 soldiers on each side, the casualties were high. Union forces suffered 51 killed, 78 wounded and 15 captured. Confederate forces had 48 killed, 80 wounded, and 92 captured.
We hiked the trails over the battlefield area which was quite hilly. Rangers reminded us that in 1862 it looked very different as it was not so heavily vegetated. March 26 – 28th the Union and Confederate troops were engaged in artillery duels, sharpshooting and fighting at close range with several advances and retreats. On March 28, Maj. John Chivington and his men surprised the Confederate rear guard by marching over the steep Glorieta Mesa and destroying their food and ammunition supplies. This forced the Confederates to quit the battlefield they had won and retreat to Santa Fe.
The Battle of Glorieta is referred to as “The Gettysburg of the West.” Tom and I felt that was a bit of a stretch but much as the Confederates never invaded the North again after Gettysburg, they also never attempted a significant action in the far West after Glorieta, so it was significant.
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