Monday, January 16, 2017

Skiing: A Bucket List Completion

Okay, I know that skiing isn't a unique adventure that is going to draw the masses to my blog like a siren song.  I mean, no one has ever been to Colorado skiing, right?  But, it does cross yet another item off a Bucket List aimed at experiencing as many different adventures and as much of God's beautiful scenery as possible.  And I got to enjoy a day with my kids.


Addison decided on Monarch in south-central Colorado because a friend gave her a BOGO coupon, and I could get a great military rate.  Monarch is a great resort for first-time skiers or families.  The Green runs are challenging for novices and fun for those that just enjoy skiing recreationally, and the Blue runs are respectable. 


The weather was supposed to be horrible!  The forecast called for a high of 15 with winds 30-50 mph all day long.  I think it scared most people off because it really wasn't crowded (and it was a week day).  It was cold that day, but we stayed warm in our layers, and the promised wind wound up being relatively calm with the exception of the occasional large gust.  It turned out to be a great day!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Adventure Year in Review: A Bucket List Update

2016 was a bit of a stressful year -- nothing major, but a lot of little stuff that added up along the way:  medical issues, a job position I didn't really like, uncertainty about my future, a daughter going off to college...Oh, and that whole election season.  Yes, I'm looking forward to leaving 2016 behind.  On the up side, though, 2016 was a great year for the Bucket List!  This year, I visited 20 NPS sites and knocked 5 additional items off my Bucket List!  Wow!  I'd say that's a lot of adventure!  Look back with me over 2016 to see my favorite adventure photos from this year.

Snowshoeing
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, CO
Capulin Volcano National Monument, NM
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, CO.  Redwoods in Colorado!
Colorado Springs Sky Sox Baseball Game
Cristi and I conquering the Incline -- A Morning of Pure Torture.  We're thinking about going again.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO
The Paint Mines, CO
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, AL
Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, AL
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, FL
Fort Matanzas National Monument, FL
Fort Caroline National Memorial, FL
Kingsley Plantation at Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, FL
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, GA/TN
Stones River National Battlefield, TN
Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site, KS
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, TX
Fort Larned National Historic Site, KS
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, CO
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (Again)
US Olympic Training Center
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
Air Force Academy Football Game
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, CA
Fort Point National Historic Site, CA
Golden Gate National Recreation Area -- Alcatraz, CA
The NPS Map at the end of the year.
So what's next year?  Here's a breakdown of Bucket List items I'd like to hit for next year.

- Skiing -- Right after New Years 

- Camping in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area.  I didn't get here last year, so I'd like to make it this year.

- I'm hoping to finally get up to the Black Hills, where I can knock out the following sites:
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Badlands National Park
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
  • Wind Cave National Park
  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Carhenge (think Stonehenge...but with cars -- one of those Weird America things)
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site (possibly)

- With our now-periodic trips to Oklahoma, I'd like to hit at least one of the two remaining sites there:  Washita Battlefield National Historic Site or Chickasaw National Recreation Area

- Backpacking trip on the Colorado Trail and/or Continental Divide Trail (they run concurrent for a section in Colorado)

- Climb a Fourteener

I'm sure like this year, not all my desires will plan out, but I'm equally sure that other targets of opportunity will pop up.  Even if next year only hits half as many sites, that will still be a full year of adventure!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Golden Gate NRA -- Alcatraz Edition

Golden Gate NRA encompasses about 20 different sites around the Golden Gate area, providing activities from military history to camping to nature viewing. During my short stay in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to visit four of those sites.  I decided to walk from San Francisco Maritime NHP downtown to Fort Point NHS, what I thought was only about a 2-mile trip.  It turned out to be a 3.5-mile trek (7 miles round trip), but if you're up to it, I highly recommend it. I walked up the steep rise to the upper green of Fort Mason, then down the stairs into the heart of the historic Army post. From there, a little farther down Marina Ave on my way to Fort Point, I traversed Crissy Field, an expansive open space for beautiful beach views or just relaxing.


Besides taking in spectacular views of its namesake, however, the most popular attraction within Golden Gate NRA is Alcatraz.  I have always had a bit of a fascination with the place -- a prison we sent the most hardened criminals to and one that was said to be unbreakable, despite many inmates' best efforts.


The Cell House from halfway up from the dock.  The Cell House sits about 300 feet above the water.
Scale model of what Alcatraz looked like when operational
I recall, as a kid, watching several Alcatraz movies and thinking how cool it would be to visit. By far my favorite Alcatraz movie was Alcatraz:  The Whole Shocking Story.  It told the story of an 18-year-old kid, named Clarence Carnes, who was sent to prison for murder -- the youngest person ever sent to Alcatraz. While in Alcatraz, he took part in two organized escape attempts, including the 1962 escape attempt, where three inmates made it off the island but were never heard from again (they're presumed drowned).  Though Carnes took part in both escape attempts, he himself did not attempt to escape.  As it turned out, the audio tour of the site highlighted both of those escape attempts!  I was fulfilling my dream as I walked the cell block and recalled the names of those convicts and how the story unfolded!  The below pictures give a bit of a glimpse into what life was like on The Rock and how those two escape attempts unfolded.

My tour began the same place it did for those prisoners.  Those are showers in this picture.  New arrivals were ordered to strip down and shower then make the long walk in their birthday suit down the first cell block to the hoots and hollers from those they passed.
The hallway between Cell Blocks B and C
D Block.  This is where those that couldn't play by the rules were sent.  Those that still refused to adjust were sent to solitary confinement cells for a period of time:  those with the solid doors in the lower right corner.  There were no lights in there.
Every prisoner had a job.  Some worked in the kitchen preparing the food.  Notice the silhouettes in the knife cabinet.  This made it easy to tell at a glance if one was missing.
The Control Room.  There were no closed-circuit cameras or radios to each officer here -- just a few phones scattered throughout that called here and the ability to dispatch other officers to locations around the compound as necessary.
That barred-in area above is the Gun Gallery -- the only place in Alcatraz that had armed officers.  In the 1946 escape attempt, Bernie Coy created a bar spreader using a bolt and a piece of pipe from the Machine Shop.  He starved himself to make himself as skinny as possible and greased himself up to slip between the spread bars in the Gun Gallery, where he surprised the officer on duty there, who had stepped away for a few minutes.  Coy and his cohorts later took several officers hostage in the cells near where the people are standing in this picture.  One of the officers ultimately prevented the escape by hiding the key on his person even though it was against regulations for the officers to keep cell keys on them.
In the 1962 escape attempt, three prisoners pulled off the most sophisticated escape attempt ever tried at Alcatraz.  The short version is they used spoons from the kitchen to dig out around the vents in their cells, patching it up every night with paper, cardboard, and paint (notice the dug-out vent hole in the cell).  They also created dummy heads with a modified papier-mache and glued hair to them (notice the recreation in the picture).  The cells pictured above belonged to the Anglin brothers, two of the escapees.  The discovery of their ease in digging through the cement walls led to the shutdown of Alcatraz the next year.
Not a great picture, but this is the utility corridor that the three escapees climbed into from their cells the night they escaped.  The corridor is open up to the roof, so they climbed the pipes up the three stories and out onto the roof, down a pipe and down to the water where they got in a raft made of raincoats.  They weren't discovered until the morning, and they were never heard from again. 
Some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge are from Alcatraz.
Fort Point can clearly be seen sitting under the Golden Gate Bridge and dwarfed by the immense structure.
Sadly, Alcatraz is falling apart.  In fact, that is exactly what allowed Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers to escape in 1962.  Thankfully, the Park Service continues to do restoration (at great cost) to preserve such a well-known and unique landmark for tourism.

Outside of Alcatraz and the other areas I saw, there are still a few areas of Golden Gate NRA that I would like to explore.  While researching this site, I saw a picture of a tent at Marin Headlands, near the water, just a stone's throw from the Golden Gate Bridge. How cool of a camping spot would that be!?  The views from Lands End on the western edge of the southern peninsula look stunning as well.  Finally, it would be hard to pass up a little history lesson at a Nike Missile Site that protected the west coast from Soviet bombers or the turn-of-the-century Fort Baker Army post, tucked in a beautiful spot beside the Golden Gate Bridge.  Then, of course, there are so many other sites in San Francisco to see.  I think on my next trip, I should plan to stay a while!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

San Francisco Maritime NHP

The San Francisco peninsula is literally ringed by piers. The northern edge of the city is aptly named Fisherman's Wharf.  San Francisco was forged by maritime industry (shipping, fishing, whaling, and the like).  Indeed, San Francisco and the Bay Area is still deeply rooted in the maritime industry.  San Francisco Maritime NHP chronicles that history, bringing its history alive.


The Visitor Center walks guests through the history of San Francisco seafaring from the earliest settlers until today, with a special exhibit on shipwrecks around the bay.  There is also a Maritime Museum with rotating exhibits on maritime history.  By far, the crown jewel of the park, however, is Hyde Street Pier with four century-old ships to tour.

View of Ghirardelli Square from Hyde Street Pier

California Sea Lions in their natural habitat!

Of note, US Highway 101, which runs the length of California, used to run through Hyde St Pier via a ferry service before the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed.  The Eureka is one of those turn-of-the-century ferries.  The lower deck held cars (note the classic cars on display), while the upper deck had seating in a style reminiscent of church pews.

US Route 101 used to run directly under the Hyde Street Pier sign and onto the waiting ferry.

Recreation of what the car hold must have looked like on a typical day in the early 1900s

The passenger area
It may be hard to believe, but the 150-foot C.A. Thayer was a cargo ship.  Built in 1895 with an eight-man crew, it carried logs in the hold below-decks from the Washington coast down to San Francisco.  Those logs, in turn, were used to build California's cities when they were growing in the early 1900s. 





The hold, below-decks, that was filled with logs as it traversed the Pacific coast line
The Balclutha was also a cargo ship, but it was built in Scotland in 1886 to carry wheat from California to Europe.  In the days before the Panama Canal, that meant making each journey in the unpredictable waters around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. 





The Balclutha's cargo hold

The Captain's suite

The enlisted berths.  They got to sleep with the anchor wench.
The Hercules was perhaps the biggest workhorse of the four, though as you would expect, as a tugboat, not as sexy.  It had a diverse portfolio of ferrying railroad car barges across the Bay, tugging ships out to sea, and ferrying lock materials down to the site of the Panama Canal.



The towing machinery
As I've said many times before, one of the things I love most about visiting NPS sites is the diversity of things to do, learn, and explore.  San Francisco NHP explores an area of history that I, personally, have had little exposure to.  I found the park a great way to spend a few hours exploring some of America's maritime history in a hands-on way and in a beautiful setting, learning about an industry that made this part of America.