Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Adventure Year in Review: A Bucket List Update

I love these year-end Bucket List updates because I'm amazed at all the adventure I managed to cram into just a single year!  This year was no different.  In fact, I surpassed even last year!  And, when I looked back on my 2018 goals I set last year, I knocked off most of those.  Here are the stats:

25 new NPS sites visited
3 other Bucket List completions
2 new states visited
8/13 adventure goals for 2018

Unfortunately, I failed miserably on releasing a new blog article for each of these, so I'll just summarize each below (with some pictures thrown in to whet your own adventure appetite!).

OK, so skiing isn't that adventurous, but since I live in Colorado now, it had to be on the bucket list, right?  I covered that in a separate blog article already (before my year got crazy), but I've since been several more times.  Oh, and I also attempted ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and a hut trip.

Nicodemus National Historic Site, KS
Nicodemus NHS tells the story of black Americans in the late 1800s who left behind oppression and poor job opportunities in the east during Reconstruction for the promise of more opportunity and better lives on the plains of Kansas.  They formed an all-black town in 1877 (which actually was about 25% white at its height) and thrived for about 15 years until the promised railroad bypassed the town several miles to the south.  Today, Nicodemus is a ghost town, but as you walk the streets, you can see those ghosts as they lived the American Dream and you can hear their stories.

St Francis Hotel
Nicodemus AME Church
Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE
As westward pioneers traveled along the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails, they would travel for days with little changing in the scenery.  Naturally, then, they would look forward to prominent landmarks along the way that measured their progress.  The landmark mentioned and depicted the most in their journals was Chimney Rock, a tall spire thrusting out of a mound beside the trail in what is the modern-day panhandle of Nebraska.  It could be seen for miles.  Imagine their joy after trudging across the plains for weeks to finally see one of those amazing western geologic formation!

Star Wars Costume Exhibit
As I was going through pictures for this post, I found our pictures from when we attended the Star Wars costume exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.  There were just too many good pictures to post here, so I made a separate blog article.

Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial, DC
This imposing memorial honors the life and contributions of arguably our country's most influential civil rights advocate.  It's amazing that I never saw this memorial despite all of my sightseeing during the five years of living in the National Capital Region.

National Capital Parks-East, DC
This site is actually a collection of 13 smaller parks within DC, although some of them are also counted as separate NPS sites in their own right.  Among those included, I've seen Anacostia Park, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Carter G. Woodson Home NHS, and Fredrick Douglass NHS, and several others are on my still-to-see list.

Carter G. Woodson Home NHS, DC
Considered the Father of African American History, Carter G. Woodson set out to document the life and history of black people because there was very little of it documented up to the mid-20th century.  He worked out of his house in DC, researching and documenting, along with other notable figures such as Langston Hughes, Mary McCleod Bethune, and W.E.B. Du Bois.  I had a unique opportunity to tour his house.  Up to this point, it had been completely closed to the public as the NPS renovated it.  I just happened to be in DC for National Parks Week, and they were offering tours in anticipation of opening it up to the public a few months later.  I wound up getting to be one of the first to tour the house since the NPS obtained the property!

Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument, DC
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality was upgraded to a National Monument from an Affiliated Site in 2016.  The house was built in 1820 by Robert Sewell, a prominent Maryland resident, but was bought by the National Women's Party in 1929 to serve as their headquarters.  The tour of the house brings alive those stories of Alice Paul, Alva Belmont, and others in their struggle -- sometimes miltantly -- for suffrage and equal treatment, eventually winning the Equal Rights constitutional amendment.

The main hall of the house, taken from right inside the front door.
Fredrick Douglass National Historic Site, DC
Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland but gained his freedom in 1838 when he escaped to freedom in New York City.  He was taught to read by one of his owners and thirsted for knowledge.  Douglass spent much of his adult life speaking out against the evils of slavery and was a trusted advisor to Abraham Lincoln.  He purchased the house on a high hill with a beautiful view of the capital below in 1877, breaking a "whites-only" covenant.  As I toured the house, I wondered what it must have been like as a prominent black person during such a turbulent time, what he thought about every time he looked across that hill to the capital below, whether that which he fought for would ever be realized.

The view from Cedar Hill.  It would have been better if it hadn't been raining, but you can still see the Capitol and Washington Monument in the distance.
Fredrick Douglass's study.
Monocacy National Battlefield, MD
In 1864, while Lee was hemmed in on every side at Petersburg by Grant's siege, he sent General Jubal Early north up the Shenandoah Valley.  His intent:  To make an attack on Washington that would force Grant to divert troops and remove enough pressure on Petersburg to allow him to break out and restart the fight on his terms.  Union General Wallace was alerted to their presence, however, and, unsure whether they were headed toward Baltimore or Washington, established a battle line at Monocacy Junction, where they slowed the confederates just enough to allow Union reinforcements to arrive, saving the capital and the siege in Petersburg.

The bridge over Monocacy Junction (rebuilt as this steel bridge) where the fighting started

The Worthington House, where the middle of the battle took place.
Fort Smith National Historic Site, AR
Following the Louisiana Purchase, Fort Smith was established to ensure the peace on the frontier between native tribes in the area and those forcibly relocated from farther east.  Following the Civil War, however, and as more settlers moved west, a new fort was built, and it served as a mediator between whites and Indians via the federal court at Fort Smith with Judge Isaac Parker presiding.  Remembered as "the hanging judge", he heard over 13,000 cases with 344 for capital crimes, while only 79 faced the gallows.  Moreover, he fought to rehabilitate convicts and reform the justice system, believing that if the court did not protect the Indians, no one would.  You can still see the foundations of the first fort along the Arkansas River, as well as the courthouse, jail, gallows, and several other buildings of the newer fort.

The Courthouse and Jail
The gallows.  The nooses have since been removed!
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, MO
After the start of the Civil War in April 1861, both governments were keenly interested in securing Missouri's allegiance.  Following much political and military maneuvering, by August 1861, the stage was set for a clash between Union forces at Springfield and Confederate forces a short way away at Wilson's Creek.  The Confederates won this battle, but still convinced of Missouri's strategic value, the Union sent more troops, eventually leading to the Confederate defeat at Pea Ridge less than a year later.

It was my lucky day!  I got to see a cannon demonstration!
George Washington Carver National Monument, MO
George Washington Carver was born a slave on this farm in southwest Missouri.  Kidnapped as an infant, he was eventually found and returned, but his mother was never found.  As George grew up, he grew to love the flora on the farm, creating a garden that eventually earned him the nickname, "The Plant Doctor" and starting him on his journey of research and education that defined his life.

The Carver farm house
Statue commemorating the boy George Washington Carver and his love for plants and animals
Catoctin Mountain Park, MD
This park was created in the 1930s by the Works Project Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps to encourage people to reconnect with nature.  It's a beautiful forested park with rolling hills, streams, lots of hiking trails, and camping.  It's also the home of the Presidential retreat, Camp David.  Alas, that's not open for tours!  Our family actually camped in the adjoining Cunningham Falls State Park several years ago but never made it to this park.  On a work trip, I hurried over with a friend to do a quick hike through the park that evening and got so caught up in the hiking that I completely forgot to take a picture!  Here's a picture of Cunningham Falls from several years ago that's right on the border of the park, though.  It should still count, though, because my friend and I hiked to Cunningham Falls on this trip.

Those are my kids up next to the water!
Fort Union National Monument, NM
At the confluence of the Mountain and Cimarron routes of the Santa Fe Trail laid Fort Union, the largest military fort in the southwest in the 1800s.  For nearly 40 years, this fort offered westward settlers protection from raiding Indian tribes, a respite from the rigors of trail life, and an opportunity to repair equipment at the sutler's shop.  In addition to its military mission, the fort was also the supply hub for the entire southwest region with vast warehouses for storage and a large hospital.  Today the fort lies in ruins from the harsh desert weather, but enough remnants remain, including Santa Fe Trail ruts, to tell the story of that frontier life.

Pecos National Historical Park, NM
The desert southwest holds a lot of history -- the native Indian tribes, the Spanish exploration, domination, and Christian conversion of the Indians, and western settlers.  At Pecos NHP, the stories of these peoples and the cultural clashes between them come alive.  Walk the grounds of an ancient Pueblo fortress and imagine their life as the dominant force in the area.  See next to it, the ruins of a huge Spanish church, symbolizing the often-forced conversion of the Pueblo to Christianity.  Picture the Franciscan friars who participated willingly in the imperial Spanish plan for domination and conversion and those that saw the Pueblo as peaceful and became caught in the middle.  See the results of the inevitable revolt against the Spanish as the church was burned down and later rebuilt under a much more conciliatory cast of Spaniards before other warring tribes, disease, and migration thrust the Pueblo into sharp decline.  Then imagine what those westward settlers must have thought as they passed by these ruins on the Santa Fe Trail 100 years later.

The ruins of the second Spanish church
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, TX
In the Canadian River Valley of the Texas panhandle lies a multitude of Alibates Flint that has been mined for millennia.  Known for the way it breaks predictably into thin slices that can be easily fashioned into arrowheads and other tools, it has served local Indians for generations in trade.  In fact, this flint and the tools it was fashioned into was apparently extremely popular because the arrowheads have been found in animal skeletons hundreds of miles away.  Today, you can tour the quarries only via a guided ranger tour -- one that I found well worth my time.

One of the many quarries at the site
Eisenhower National Historic Site, PA
Eisenhower purchased the farm that sits on the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield in 1950 in the intervening time between WWII and becoming president in 1952.  During his presidency, he often used the home as a retreat, entertaining a plethora of world leaders there, including Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  The Eisenhowers then retired to their farm in 1961.  I've toured many famous homes before, but most were significantly older.  As I toured Eisenhower's, I was struck much more by the similarities they would have shared with my grandparents, almost as if you could imagine the Eisenhowers going about their daily lives, like it wasn't too awfully different from going to my grandparents' house.

The glassed-in porch, where the Eisenhowers enjoyed spending most of their time.
Curecanti National Recreation Area, CO
Set in rugged south-central Colorado where mountains meet desert, Curecanti NRA was created by a series of dams along the Gunnison River to provide irrigation and hydroelectric power.  This created a series of huge reservoirs that today are a haven for fishing and boating.  Prior to that, a narrow-gauge railroad wound through the canyon, carrying ores and cattle to points further west.  We camped right beside the water for a couple of days exploring the park via the Morrow Point boat tour, as well as the neighboring Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
Named for its towering canyon walls that appear black against the landscape because of the sunlight-inhibiting narrowness of the gorge, it was formed by the immense power of the Gunnison River rushing through the canyon as it dropped 480 feet in just a two-mile stretch and an average of 96 feet per mile overall.  By way of comparison, the Gunnison River drops more traveling through the 48-mile gorge than the entire 1500-mile Mississippi River!  The result is a quickly formed gorge that is nearly 2800 feet deep at its highest point and narrower than any other canyon in the US.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, NE
This site was perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of all those I visited this year.  I didn't expect much as the NPS site boasts little, but the story here is intriguing, and there actually is some neat stuff to see.  In the early 1900s, around two adjacent hills in the panhandle of Nebraska, an endless treasure trove of fossils was discovered.  Over the years, scientists have surmised that the entire area was once covered by water over hundreds of square miles, but that water began receding until there were only a few small watering holes for animals to drink from.  Eventually, even those small watering holes dried up with the animals congregated around it, eventually becoming too weak to wander away.  The result is an abundance of animal remains in a concentrated location.  One of these animals was the paleocastor, a type of ancient beaver-prairie dog.  These animals burrowed into the ground creating spiral burrows known as daemonelixes.  You can see several of these fossilized spiral burrows along the mile-long loop trail.

The diorama in the Visitor Center, depicting the animals discovered at the site

A preserved paleocastor spiral burrow along the Daemonelix Trail
Scotts Bluff National Monument, NE
Rising out of the plains of Nebraska along the banks of the North Platte River and what used to be the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails lies the second-most recorded landmark in westward settlers' journals:  Scotts Bluff.  Scotts Bluff is actually two massive sandstone buttes that straddle the trails.  Today, a road takes you to the top of the north bluff through three tunnels.  From the top, you can take in the endless plains and even Chimney Rock only 22 miles to the southeast.  As you stand at the top, consider what those settlers must have thought after trudging countless miles and finally seeing landmarks they had heard so much about as they approached -- landmarks that marked the completion of about one-third of their journey.

Scotts Bluff was my 100th NPS site!
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
After retiring from the Air Force after 21 years, my family, including my parents, planned a trip to the Black Hills.  We had much on our itinerary, but Mount Rushmore was at the top of our must-see list.  What impressed me most was just how photogenic the iconic mountain is for mere mortals.  The positions for amazing, artistic shots are almost endless.  In addition, I highly recommend taking the Iron Mountain Road near Custer State Park to get to Mount Rushmore.  On top of a beautiful, winding mountain road, three "tunnels" are cut through the rock that perfectly frames Mount Rushmore in the distance as you drive through.

Jewel Cave National Monument, SD
Jewel Cave initially hit the cutting room floor when building our itinerary for the Black Hills due to a shortage of time.  One of the days, we finished with our morning stop significantly earlier than we anticipated, so we tried to squeeze it in ahead of our afternoon at Wind Cave National Park.  (Unfortunately, we didn't make it to Wind Cave in time, so we'll have to go back.)  Named for its calcite crystals that appear jewel-like and line extensive portions of the cave, Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world.  There are currently 192 mapped miles, and it is believed that is only a fraction of what it holds!

Look for the pig's head and ham!
Badlands National Park, SD
The day we visited Badlands NP, the weather was depressing.  It was cold.  It was windy.  It was rainy.  Even so, the grassy plains worn away from the harsh weather and erosion revealing an entire world below of rich, vibrant hues was breathtaking.  As we drove the park road, it seemed every overlook produced still another view incomprehensibly better than the last, creating a canvas that used every color of the artist's palette.  The park teems with wildlife, too.  On our drive, we saw buffalo, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.  Even my mother, who abhors the cold, wind, and rain as evil itself, enjoyed Badlands more than any other stop on our trip.

Notice the patches of grassy plains atop some of the badlands.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, SD
One of the most unique sites in the NPS system, Minuteman Missile NHS tells the story of the Cold War through a decommissioned Air Force Launch Control Facility, a Minuteman III nuclear missile silo, and a brand new orientation film.  It tells the story of that ever-present angst of nuclear annihilation, arms races, civil defense organizations, and duck-and-cover drills.  It tells the story of the residents and farmers of the area that played host to the countless missile silos scattered across the plains, those that would have surely been targeted in any Soviet mass raid.  This is the NPS at its best, an exceptionally well-done site.

When I was doing some preliminary planning for a trip to the northern Great Plains, I came across one of those weird Roadside America attractions:  Carhenge.  Think of it like a cross between Stonehenge and Cadillac Ranch.  It was constructed to the same specifications as the iconic and mysterious Stonehenge in Great Britain but with cars.  Despite being in an extremely rural part of western Nebraska, it actually sees a respectable number of visitors each year because if you're headed to the Black Hills from the south, it's not far out of your way.

Denver Broncos Game
In October, Lauren's friend from summer camp's dad called me asking if she and I wanted to go see the Broncos play.  We certainly couldn't refuse that offer!  They have season tickets in Club Level, so after grabbing something to eat in the Club Level dining, we headed to our seats.  Mile High Stadium is known for its excessive noise level that wreaks havoc on the opposing team's play calling, and I can certainly validate that claim.  That is the loudest sporting event I have ever been at with the decibel level hovering around 118 dB for the entire game!  We had a great time, and, even though the Broncos have had a disappointing season, that day was not a disappointment.  The Broncos delivered a solid victory against the Raiders.

Boston African American NHS, MA
When most people think of Boston, images of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere and the Old North Church, and Bunker Hill come to mind, all accessible by the Freedom Trail within Boston National Historical Park.  But there's another piece of Boston's storied history:  the story of 19th century free Black Bostonians that led the fight against slavery in the US and struggled to gain suitable education and housing for their families and children.  The Black Heritage Trail leads across Beacon Hill, adjacent to Boston Common and the Public Garden and includes such sites as the African Meeting House -- the oldest surviving black church in the US which served as the center of black religion, politics, and education -- and the Abiel Smith School, which replaced the African Meeting House as the primary school.

African Meeting House

The Abiel Smith School.  Sadly, it was trash day.
And here's how the NPS map wound up at the close of the year:

So with all of that done, what's left for next year?  Well, with starting a new job, I'm less ambitious for 2019, but here are a few things I'd like to work on:

- Backpacking on the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails

- Climb a Fourteener

- Fall Leaf Tour in the Mountains

- Whitewater Raft through Royal Gorge

- Visit one of the NPS sites in Oklahoma -- Washita Battlefield or Chickasaw National Recreation Area

- Visit a new state

Monday, January 1, 2018

Star Wars: The Power of Costume

As I was looking back through photos of 2017 for pictures for the 2017 Adventure Year in Review, I came across our photos from the "Star Wars:  The Power of Costume" exhibit in April at the Denver Art Museum.  There were so many good photos from that exhibit I couldn't narrow it down to just a couple for that blog post, so I decided to do a separate, if tardy, post.

Getting to see the many costumes from the first seven movies in an up-close-and-personal intimate setting was amazing.  The detail and the creativity that went into each costume for a seemingly infinite character set was mind-blowing and just one small indicator of what makes the Star Wars franchise the best of all time.  Unfortunately, these pictures don't do them complete justice, but hopefully your imagination will get you partway there.

The bulbs at the bottom are actually lights.  Natalie Portman actually had to walk with a battery under her skirt.

Palpatine's many outfits

OK, so I couldn't resist a picture of Leia's bikini.

Episode VII Stormtrooper (left) vs Episode IV Stormtrooper

There was a placard that listed the specific steps David Prowse had to go through to get dressed each time he put on the suit.  I think it said it took about half an hour, maybe more.