Katmai National Park – July 2022

In early July 2022, we made our third visit to Katmai National Park. Our first time to Katmai in July of 2016, we stayed at Kulik Lodge and we returned there again this time. As before, we thoroughly enjoyed this remote fishing resort.

Our goal this trip was to see the bears again and to tour the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Our bear viewing was successful, Ten Thousand Smokes not so much. The day our tour to Ten Thousand Smokes was scheduled, everything was so socked in that the float plane couldn’t fly us to Brooks Camp to make the tour. Since the tours are limited and booked ahead, we hoped someone would cancel the next day and we could go then. Turned out, it didn’t matter if someone canceled or not as the tour bus to get to the edge of the valley had mechanical issues so the tour was canceled for that day. So it goes sometimes.

This post is mostly about bears as the weather did not particularly cooperate. It was rainy and cold a good deal of the time so fishing and hiking were not the best but we spent a day at Brooks Camp to watch the bears. These bears are amazing and it’s easy to spend hours watching them.

The bears of Katmai are brown bears. Brown bears and grizzly bears are the same species (Ursus arctos), but grizzly bears are currently considered to be a separate subspecies (U. a. horribilis). The difference  between grizzlies and brown bears can be fairly arbitrary but generally brown bears have access to coastal food sources like salmon and grizzlies live further inland. As a result of habitat and diet, brown bears are much larger.

About 2,200 brown bears are estimated to inhabit Katmai National Park.  Katmai’s brown bears are some of the largest bears in the world. They can stand 3-5 feet at the shoulder and measure7-10 feet in length. When one of these big boys stands up on his hind legs, it’s an impressive sight.

In the spring the bears emerge from their dens thin and hungry. They become eating machines in order to pack on the pounds before retreating in October or November for winter hibernation. The largest and most successful bears can catch and eat up to 40 salmon a day -over 100 pounds and 100,000 calories. When fish are in abundance, they often only eat the portions of the salmon that are the highest in calories (“high-grading”) and leave the rest for gulls, eagles, etc.  Large male bears in Katmai can routinely weigh over 1000 pounds in the fall. Adult females average about 1/3 less in weight.

Every fall, Katmai National Park and Preserve hosts Fat Bear Week which is an annual tournament celebrating the success of the bears at Brooks River. In a single elimination tournament, the online community is invited to compare photos of bears when they first visit Brooks Falls in the spring to photos of the same bears at the end of the summer and vote for the fattest of them for the title of Fat Bear. The 2022 winner was bear “747” who has become one of the largest brown bears on earth, perhaps weighing as much as 1400 pounds.

We enjoyed watching Otis who is somewhat of a celebrity at Brooks Falls. Otis is about 27 years old and is an experienced fisherman and very efficient. He catches salmon with the least amount of effort possible. Otis has learned to conserve energy and salvage the most calories possible out of each catch. At his preferred fishing spots, Otis waits for salmon to come to him. He once ate 42 salmon in a sitting using this strategy. Otis has won more Fat Bear titles than anyone. He was the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday champion in 2014 and Fat Bear Week champion in 2016, 2017, and 2021.

Otis faces strong competition from younger male bears. The average life span for a wild brown bear is about 20 years although many bears live longer than this. The oldest wild brown bears known lived about 35 years.

On the hike to Brooks Falls,  we came across an unusual sight – a sow nursing her two cubs. In Katmai cubs generally stay with their mothers for 2 ½ years, separating in May or June of a cub’s third summer.

Brooks Falls is one of the best places for brown bear watching as early in the salmon run the falls creates a temporary barrier to migrating salmon. This results in a particularly successful fishing spot for bears. The viewing platform at Brooks Falls has a limited capacity so you have to wait your turn and are limited to an hour at a time. However, you can get back in the queue to make multiple visits, which we did.

The bears exhibit different fishing styles. These styles are often learned behaviors. Several sows were teaching their cubs to fish in the river below the falls.

We watched one young bear on the edge of the falls attempting to catch salmon. He wasn’t a very good fisherman but he didn’t give up and he did catch some.

Common different styles of fishing include:

  • Stand and Wait – bears will stand on top of Brooks Falls and wait for salmon to jump close enough to catch in their mouths. They rarely shift position once they have established a place to stand is this can be quite precarious. 
  • Sit and Wait – bears will sit just underneath the falls in several places and wait for the salmon to swim to them
  • Dash and Grab – bears often chase fish and attempt to pin them to the river bottom with their paws
  • Snorkeling – bears that snorkel are looking for fish under the water
Sit and Wait Style
Dash and Grab Style
Snorkeling Style

The bears of Katmai National Park are fascinating, amazing creatures.

For more information:





Posted in Alaska, Bears of Katmai, Katmai National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Fort Larned National Historic Site

We visited Fort Larned, Kansas, as part of a three-week trip with our camper and were extremely glad we did. Fort Larned is the best preserved Indian Wars’ Era fort along the Santa Fe Trail. We were there in the fall of 2021 and covid-19 restrictions were in place so the museum and orientation film were closed. However, that also meant that we were two of the half dozen visitors so we nearly had the whole place to ourselves.  The rangers were helpful, there was plenty of information available and the buildings were well-furnished and well-signed.

Fort Larned didn’t actually exist as a military fort for very long – founded in 1859, by 1870 its mission was greatly decreased, and it was deactivated in 1878. From 1885 to 1966, the buildings housed the headquarters of a ranch but that’s getting ahead in the story.

The Santa Fe trail was one of the trails west that in the 1800’s were the forerunners of today’s modern highways. Between Missouri River ports and Santa Fe, and other points west, along this trail flowed commerce, communication and emigration. The trail crossed the Arkansas River at three principal points, the most important being about seventy-five miles southwest of Fort Larned.

The Santa Fe Trail bisected the traditional homelands and hunting grounds of Great Plains tribes – Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa and Comanche – and led to conflict. Manufactured goods obtained through trading or raiding made Native American life easier but depletion of resources such as wood, grass and game threatened their entire way of life. William Bent (Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site), Indian agent for the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency, in 1859 recommended a military fort be built at Pawnee Fork to guard the critical middle sections of the Santa Fe Trail.  In the fall of 1859 “Camp on the Pawnee Fort”, a tent camp, was established and a mail station was constructed there. In  early 1860 this installation was renamed “Camp Alert”. Later in 1860, a more advantageous site three miles away on a big bend of the Pawnee was selected, construction began and the new post got its third and final name, “Fort Larned”. Hastily erected of adobe and sod, the buildings were somewhat better than the previous tents but left a lot to be desired.

Officers’ Quarters after 1867

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Santa Fe Trail took on a new strategic importance. Units stationed at Fort Larned kept military supplies and mail flowing to Union armies in New Mexico and Colorado. Through 1862 and 1863 there were only sporadic incidents but in 1864 serious troubles began. For the Kiowas the war began at Fort Larned and the Kiowa version and the military version of the encounter are very different. However, in both versions, the Kiowas swiftly decamped and took with them the fort’s entire herd of 172 horses. Up the Arkansas, raiding parties of Cheyenne, Arapahos, Kiowas, and Comanches waylaid travelers. Expeditions from Fort Larned struck out at Indian camps, killing and wounding a few and driving them from their tepees, stirring up further hostility. The military remained active into the winter with Battle of Adobe Walls. The Sand Creek Massacre in southeastern Colorado ignited a war across the entire Great Plains. In the travel season of 1865 wagon trains between Fort Larned and Fort Union, New Mexico had to be accompanied by strong army escorts. In October 1865 the Little Arkansas treaties were concluded.

Following the Civil War as regular Army returned to Fort Larned and fresh waves of settlers streamed over the Santa Fe Trail, the post’s strategic importance once again rose. It was decided to replace the decaying adobe buildings with stone. Beginning in June 1867, using civilian stone masons, carpenters, plasterers and laborers, nine durable buildings were arranged around the parade ground – barracks for enlisted men on one side, officers’ quarters on a second and storehouses and shops on the other two, Several wooden structures were also constructed. These excellent stone buildings stand today.

As part of an overall army reorganization following the Civil War, in 1866 Congress authorized two all-black cavalry regiments – the 9th and the 10th. Capt. Nicholas Nolan commanded Company A , 10th US Cavalry. Although initially reluctant to command a company of African-American soldiers, he came to be impressed by their devotion to duty, hard work and care for their horses. There were incidents of racial animus nearly from the time Co. A, 10th US Cavalry arrived at Fort Larned in April of 1867. January 1, 1869, following a disagreement over the use of the pool table in the Sutler’s store.  The Post Commander decided the entire Company A should be punished and sent them to guard the post woodpile in a blizzard. Capt. Nolan protested to no avail.  After a bitter, cold night, Co. A returned to find the smoldering ruins of what had been the Fort Larned cavalry stables. The fire had killed 39 of the company’s horses and destroyed hay, grain, saddles and ammunition. The fire had started in the early morning while they were ½ mile away guarding the woodpile. The initial investigation determined that the black troopers were responsible even though they were not in the area at the time. The cause of the fire was never identified and no one was punished. Instead of a full investigation, the 10th Cavalry was sent to Fort Zarah to avoid further trouble. The 10th was the last cavalry unit to be stationed at Fort Larned.

After the fort was abandoned in 1878, the land was broken up into separate pieces and sold in various ways. In 1902 E.E. Frizell bought the Fort Larned ranch which was approximately 3000 acres, the vast majority in native grass. The ranch employed several families who resided in the officers’ quarters and the two enlisted men’s barracks were converted into a huge barn. Other buildings were used as machine shops and storage. During the early 1900s the ranch became a favorite picnic ground and over the years tourists came in increasing numbers. The Frizell family welcomed visitors and various organizations began exploring options for establishing a national monument.

August 31, 1964, Fort Larned National Historic Site was designated. Most of the buildings, including barracks, commissary, and officers’ quarters, are furnished to their original appearance. We’ve visited a variety of historical forts but Fort Larned was impressive in its adherence to original. I was particularly taken with the commissary which had the usual supplies but also had rows of cupboards labeled with a variety of clothing items by size, belts, shoes, insignia, etc. Even though soldiers had limited changes of clothing it would be necessary to have replacements for men of many different sizes. Fort Larned is the only place we’ve actually seen evidence of this aspect of fort life.

In the movies, forts are often depicted with stockades surrounding them but in more cases than not, they were not enclosed. Fort Larned is a prime example of a typical western fort, buildings arranged in a rectangle around the parade ground. Because of the sturdy stone construction, Fort Larned maintains its original character.

Posted in Civil War, Frontier Fort, History, Kansas, National Historic Site, national park unit, National Park Units, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history, U.S. National Park Unit, Western History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Desert Botanical Garden and “Chihuly in the Desert”

Desert Fiori

Currently a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix includes the exhibit Chihuly in the Desert. The juxtaposition of Chihuly’s glass sculptures and the plants of the desert encourages consideration of both the similarities in forms and inherent contrasts.

In 1939, a group of local citizens felt the need to conserve the desert environment and, as a result, the Desert Botanical Garden was born. With the support of social influencers of the time such as Gertrude Divine Webster, the garden’s presence grew. When Gertrude Webster died in 1947 she left her estate to support the Garden. Through her generosity and the continuing generosity of supporters, it is now 140 acres, of which 55 acres are under cultivation.

At the Desert Botanical Garden there are 50,000 plant displays in outdoor exhibits. 4,482 species are in the Living Collection and 485 rare and endangered species are in care at the Garden. Scientific records are kept on 27,000+ individual plants and 92,150 herbarium specimens are sources for research. The Desert Botanical Garden is 1 of only 24 gardens accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

As impressive as all these numbers are, the real deal is simply the garden itself. The vast variety of desert plants is amazing.

There are more than 2000 species of cactus, almost all of which are native to the Americas. Over 2/3  of the total number of species in the cactus family are held in the Garden’s collection. The agave collection at the Garden displays 186 of the 212 known species and varieties.

The Cardon is one of the Garden’s very first plants. When director George Lindsay collected these cardons in Baja, they were less than five feet tall.

Giant Cardon

The Chihuly in the Desert exhibit added an extra dimension to the experience but the Desert Botanical Garden by itself is definitely worth the admission price.

Posted in Arizona, cactus, Chihuly, desert, Desert Botanical Garden, gardens, Phoenix, Travel, Travels in the U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

New River Gorge National Park

The newest National Park in the system, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia is a beautiful place. Our visit in late September 2021 meant that we had visited all 63 of the National Parks.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve was designated on December 27, 2020, as part of a consolidated appropriations act which included Covid-19 relief. The Park encompasses about 7,000 acres and the Preserve is an additional 65,000 acres.

The New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent and is a rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons.

A 53-mile stretch of the New River Gorge first entered National Park Service protection in 1978 as a National River. At that time, hunters were assured they would have free roam over the area but, as part of the recent name change, about 10% of that land was put inside a national park where hunting is prohibited. However, by making the gorge a park and preserve the legislation maintains access for hunters and even opens up a few new areas. The new national park designation is important for the preservation of both the natural and human history of the gorge.

Although there is evidence that Native Americans occupied this area for thousands of years, there is no definitive link to historic tribes. In 1873 the Chesapeake & Ohio (C & O) Railway opened this nearly inaccessible wilderness and carried coal out of the gorge. By 1905 thirteen towns sprang up on a fifteen-mile stretch of the river. Thurmond was the heart of the New River Gorge and by 1910 it was the chief railroad center on the C & O Railway mainline.  Thurmond continued to thrive through the early decades of the 20th century and the entire town is now a designated historic district. Although now it is virtually a ghost town with only three year-round residents Thurmond is still incorporated and hosts an annual reunion for former residents.

Grandview offers outstanding views of the New River. The Main Overlook is 1400 feet above the river from which you can see seven miles of the New River and its watershed as well as an active railway and the town of Quinnimont where the first coal was shipped out of the gorge in 1873. The woodland trails and the Turkey Spur Overlook offer scenic views.

Glimpses of old stone walls, foundations and decaying coke ovens are reminders of the time when the coal coming out of the Gorge fueled the industrialization of the nation. Stories of the people who settled here as well as legends such as that of John Henry “the steel-driving man” tell of tremendous courage and fortitude. The C & O railroad was built primarily by two groups of working men, thousands of African-Americans recently freed from enslavement and recent Irish Catholic immigrants.  One of those African-American workers, John Henry was a real person, who with his drilling partner squared off in a race with a steam-powered drilling machine and won. John Henry has become one of the greatest legends of world folklore.

The largest waterfall on the New River, Sandstone Falls, spans the river where it is 1500 feet wide. Divided by a series of islands, the river drops 10 to 25 feet. A boardwalk and bridges span the two islands below the falls. The Island Loop Trail winds around the largest island which was once farmed and timbered and was home to a grist mill.

The photo most often seen representing New River Gorge National Park is of the New River Gorge Bridge. When this bridge was completed in 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow, curving mountain roads and across one of the oldest rivers in North America to less than a minute.

However, to really see the bridge itself and appreciate the structural art of the longest steel span in the Western Hemisphere and the third highest bridge in the United States, you need to drive the original route -the Fayette Station Road. This one hundred year-old road of hairpin turns winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across a narrow bridge and up the other side. Along the way views of the bridge, the river, the forest and remnants of communities make it completely worthwhile.

When we were there, we saw signs along U.S. Highway 19 stating that the highway would be closed on October 16, which was puzzling. US 19 is a major highway. We found out that the third Saturday in October is Bridge Day and on that one day a year the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and opened to pedestrians and a wide variety of activities – food and craft vendors, BASE jumping, rappelling, music and more. Bridge Day is West Virginia’s largest one-day festival and largest extreme sports event in the world. Unfortunately we were a couple of weeks too early to take part in the festivities.

Even though it felt like New River Gorge became the newest National Park sort of on the sly, it’s a beautiful place and meets the overall criteria of being a National Park. The nation’s  63rd National Park and our 63rd National Park visited.

Posted in National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, New River, New River Gorge National Park, scenery, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. national parks, waterfalls, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

For more information: https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm

Posted in dunes, History, Indiana, Indiana Dunes National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Nature Photos, scenery, swamp, U.S. national parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

For more information: https://www.nps.gov/wica/index.htm

Posted in cave, geology, gypsum, History, National Park, National Park Travels, South Dakota, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. national parks, wildlife, Wind Cave National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

For more information: https://www.nps.gov/acad

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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 https://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/first-stories.htm.

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.

For more information: https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm

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