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Yellowstone NP History

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park – it was established on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.  Yellowstone is a unique environment, with features that are really rare in other areas of the United States.  Early advocates knew that it should be protected for generations to come.

Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres, and about 96 percent of the land area of the park is within the state of Wyoming.  Three percent is within Montana and about one percent is in Idaho. The park is 63 miles from north to south, and 54 miles from west to east, as the crow flies.  In 2016, 4,257,177 people visited Yellowstone.  That’s a lot of people!  It is also designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, a designation by the United Nations for sites which have cultural, historical or scientific significance.

The park contains the Yellowstone Caldera, which is the largest volcanic system in America – it has been termed a “super-volcano” due to its size.  The current caldera was created by an eruption 640,000 years ago, and was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State.  Which, if you were around for it, you know Mount St. Helens felt like a pretty big eruption.  That wasn’t the only eruption though, and each of the several that have occurred over millions of years at Yellowstone have created the rock formations, the depressions where the lakes sit and have coated large portions of the Americas with ash.  Thousands of small earthquakes occur each year within the park, most of which are unnoticed by human visitors.

Yellowstone is know for it’s thermals and geysers – hot springs of liquid that often contain brilliant colors due to the bacteria that make their home there, and erupting fountains of water.  The park contains over 10,000 geothermal features – and 1,283 of those are geysers that have erupted.  About 465 are active geysers on average in a given year.  Yellowstone is named for the Yellowstone River; the headwaters of the river are within the park, and the Continental Divide runs diagonally through the southwest section of the park.

Human habitation has existed in the park for approximately 11,000 years; evidence has shown that Native Americans began to hunt and fish in the area then.  Clovis points have been discovered in the area, and obsidian found in the park was used to make cutting tools and weapons.  Arrowheads from Yellowstone obsidian has been found as far away as the Mississippi Valley, indicating there was a rich trade among the Native Americans in this area with other tribes.

About 60 species of mammals make their home in the park, including bison, elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, gray wolf, coyote, lynx, and grizzly bears.  About 3,000 bison are in the park; their numbers fluctuate depending on how harsh the winter is.  Wolves thrive there now, after being hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s and eliminated from the park.  However, since the next largest predator, the coyote, cannot bring down large mammals, there was a big increase in the number of lame bison and elk, as well as an overall increase in their numbers, which throws the ecosystem out of balance.  A healthy ecosystem needs the apex predator.  Wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, and are estimated to number at slightly more than 100 animals within the park.

Me – Sign posing – As usual!

I visited Yellowstone as a child, but it had been a long, long time and I was so excited to go back!  Next up will be Yellowstone posts!

West 2016: Heart Mountain WRC

Day 7, August 11, 2016

As I am sure you all know, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and changed the course of World War II for the United States.  Shortly after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to create zones from which “any or all persons may be excluded.”  Western Washington and Oregon, southern Arizona, and all of California were designated as Exclusion Zones in March 1942. The Executive Order defined Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and German Americans as peoples to be excluded from these areas. Interestingly enough, I am unaware that we ever actually relocated Italian or German Americans… Remember this readers, there will be a quiz…

After we toured the Eagle Butte coal mine, we headed west on our drive from Gillette to Cody, Wyoming.  We drove over the pass on Highway 14 Alternate, which was for me a beautiful, windy, curvy road with some steep grades on the way up and back down.  For my mom it was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience where she was afraid to look at the scenery and often sucked in her breath when she felt like I was driving too fast (which was basically the whole time)…  It’s all a matter of perspective…

The scenery on our Highway 14Alternate drive

 

You can’t beat that view!

Getting back to Roosevelt and Executive Order 9066 – we had a destination in mind before we reached Cody.  The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, in Powell, Wyoming – although it was probably better known as the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp.  We arrived at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center about an hour before they closed, which ended up being plenty of time.  It is a modern museum, opened in 2011, with a great movie, showing interviews of many of the internees speaking about their experiences.  The oldest internee interviewed for the movie was 21 at the time; the youngest was 11.  So while it doesn’t offer the perspective of those who were older when they were interned, it does provide a lot of good (and often sad) information about the prisoner experience.

The actual Heart Mountain that the camp was named for – I don’t see it…

There are also exhibits depicting what a room in the camp, shared by an entirely family, would have looked like.  There were exhibits on work life, recreation, school for children, activities the internees participated in to protest their captivity, and service in the armed forces by the Nisei (Japanese American citizens who were born in the U.S. to Japanese immigrants), who felt that volunteering for service would be a way to prove they were loyal to the U.S.

A depiction of a family’s room in the barracks

We explored the museum, and I discovered that, rather surprisingly, the exhibit continued into the restroom.  I’m never one to turn away from an interesting bathroom!  The curators here designed bathroom stalls with mirrors on all sides – to simulate the lack of privacy that the internees experienced, sharing a restroom with hundreds of others without so much as a stall partition. Not my idea of a good time…

The mirrored bathroom stall

After taking our time at the Interpretive Center, we drove a short way to the site.  There isn’t a whole lot there now, but there are some hospital buildings and a guard tower remaining, and walkways and foundations of other buildings.  There is one area of the site where signs show visitors where various buildings once stood – the school, barracks, even a crudely dug swimming hole.  Wandering around Heart Mountain feels extremely lonely and desolate now, and it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like when thousands of Japanese were incarcerated there.  Many of these families lost everything during their internment; their property was sold on the cheap, their belongings were stolen, and their lives were completely uprooted.

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Heart Mountain isn’t for everybody; the site does require you to use your imagination to see what it “used to be” rather than what it is now, which is a large field with a few remaining buildings and a lot of concrete building foundations.  It is important to understand though, what we did to a whole group of our citizens under the guise of National Security.  It is perhaps more relevant lately than it has been in a long while.

After leaving Heart Mountain, we continued the rest of the way to Cody, where we had dinner at Bubba’s BBQ, sharing a meal of beef brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, potato salad, new potatoes and the veggie mix.  Yum!

 

Costs and Fees: $7 per person at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center.

Distance for the Day: Gillette, WY – Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Powell, WY – Cody, WY (4 hrs, 22 min, 248 miles)

Hotel for the night: Rodeway Inn – Cody, WY

 

 

West 2016: Devil’s Tower NM

Day 6, August 10, 2016

After Jewel Cave, we were on our way – our next destination was Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devil’s Tower is a laccolithic butte made up of igneous rock that rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and 5,112 feet above sea level. If you are like me, you have no idea what that means.  Basically, it is where magma pushes up and creates a dome or mushroom shaped form on a flat base.  Scientists don’t know how it occurred but Devil’s Tower is a very distinct type of laccolith; the tower is made up of many columns that are all smooshed together into one big column.  Kind of like a whole collection of many sided pencils held together by a rubber band.

A view of the Tower in the distance.

The tower is part of the Native American creation story. According to the Kiowa and the Lakota, the tower was formed when a group of girls were chased by several giant bears. To escape, the girls climbed onto a rock and began praying to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lifted the rock from the ground and as the bears tried to climb the tower to get to the girls, their claws left the marks in the sides of the tower that are visible today. When the tower reached toward the sky, the girls became stars in the sky above.

A closer view of the Tower

The monument was designated by Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906; it was the first monument designated under the recently passed Antiquities Act.

When we arrived, we discovered we had re-entered Sturgis biker heaven – the place was crawling with bikers. They did have parking attendants at the monument though, directing cars and bikes to two different parking areas.

We checked out the monument from the front, and I wanted to walk around it – it is a 1.3 mile walk and you can see the monument from many angles. My mom didn’t want to walk around it, so she settled in to listen to a ranger talk about the tower in Native American stories. Devil’s Tower is a sacred site for many tribes in the area, so there are beautiful prayer bundles tied in the trees around the base of the monument; it was powerful to reflect on the spirituality of the place.

Prayer bundles at the base of the Tower

Around the back of the monument, there is a historic ladder that ascends up the crevice between two of the columns. It was interesting, but unless there was a lot more to it back in the day, I wouldn’t have been willing to climb that ladder!  The backside of the monument was nice; there were hardly any people who walked around to the back, and I was also treated to views of climbers scaling the monument.

The historic ladder at Devil’s Tower. No Way…

 

Climbers on the back side of Devil’s Tower

I did enjoy the walk, even though it was pretty hot that day, and I got a few different ladies to take my photo with the tower. However, as I learned later, apparently I needed to clarify that I wanted the tower (or the WHOLE tower) in the photo as well. Live and Learn!

This lady took a picture of me AND the tower

When I got back from my walk, I was able to catch the last bit of the ranger talk. She shared many interesting stories, highlighting the importance and spiritual nature of the place from the Native American perspective.

Also of interest at Devil’s Tower National Monument is a – you might have already guessed – prairie dog town! You know how I feel about these adorable little critters! Of course we stopped to watch them and take photos. I really could not get enough of the prairie dogs on this trip, if that wasn’t already obvious. How can you resist those cute faces?! And the short little tails!

Prairie Dog! Look at those claws!

 

Look! They are kissing!

 

Prairie Dogs Playing

After Devil’s Tower, we made our way to our hotel for the evening a La Quinta in Gillette, Wyoming. Gillette was really a stopover town on our way to Yellowstone and Cody, but we did have a bit of time to explore the cute little downtown area.

Downtown Gillette, Wyoming. I would have liked to see this!

We had dinner at Fiesta Tequila Mexican restaurant and I had some of the best fajitas I have ever had! They were so delicious! Mom really loved her arroz con pollo too, so if you find yourself in Gillette, check out this restaurant!  We had some time to relax before bed too; we couldn’t stay up too late, we had another big day the next day!

 

Costs and Fees: $15 per car at Devil’s Tower National Monument; free with an annual pass.

Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer, SD – Devil’s Tower National Monument, Devil’s Tower, WY – Gillette, WY (3 hrs, 172 miles)

Hotel for the night: La Quinta – Gillette, WY

West 2016: Mount Rushmore NM

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a unique park within the National Park System. What makes men decide to carve the faces of four Presidents into a mountain?

Mount Rushmore was originally devised as a way to draw tourists into the Black Hills area. Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, wanted to depict famous people of the Black Hills area on the Needles Mountain.  He was able to drum up support for the idea, but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor for the project, rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and because of strong opposition from Native American tribes. Mount Rushmore had better exposure to the sun too, that would better show the finished sculptures.  Borglum also thought the characters chosen for the monument needed to have a broader appeal, so he picked four Presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Mount Rushmore is unique because instead of bringing an existing national treasure into the park service portfolio, this one was created specifically for inclusion.  The National Memorial was designated on March 3, 1925.  The project began in 1927 and the faces were carved between 1934 and 1939. Each face was 60 feet tall. Over 400 workers were on the project, and miraculously for a project of this size and complexity, no one died.  Except, I guess for Borglum, who died in 1941 from an embolism, and his son Lincoln took over after his death. The monument was originally supposed to include the torso of each President as well, but with the United States’ entry into World War II, funding for the project ended early and the monument remains unfinished.  Since George Washington was the first President carved, he has some rudimentary clothes, although even those are unfinished.

A close up of Mount Rushmore

We walked through the Avenue of the Flags and of course had to find our WA state flag. I wasn’t sure how they had them organized, but found out later on the internet that they are arranged alphabetically, with the A’s beginning at the entrance and the W’s at the end closer to the mountain.  I thought their date of entrance into the United States would have been better, but whatever…  From the flag plaza, we walked out to the viewing area and saw the monument – it really is beautiful. Each face has a lot of detail. We posed for pictures and got photos of the monument from different angles.

Me with the Avenue of Flags

The Avenue of Flags, with Rushmore above

Then we went downstairs, where there is a very informative museum that has exhibits on the history of the monument, and the engineering and sculpting techniques that were used to create the monument. And, of course, the obligatory movie… There were videos of the construction of the monument too! There is also a very good bookstore that has quite a few relevant books; it is a better bookstore than the one by the entrance, by the way.

Me with the mountain

There is a 0.6 mile trail that gets you closer to the monument, but I was feeling a bit fizzled out at that point and so was mom, so we didn’t end up doing it.  We also didn’t end up staying for the evening light show, although one day I want to make it back for both the walk and the light show. We had a long day at that point and it looked like a thunderstorm was rolling in, so we headed out for the day just as some big fat raindrops were beginning to fall.  We did stop at a viewpoint just outside the memorial to get a few photos of George Washington from a different angle – in profile.

A profile view of George Washington

On our drive away from Rushmore, we were treated to a pretty rainbow; there is nothing like it to lift one’s spirits and enjoy something beautiful.  We ended up back at the Buglin’ Bull in Custer for dinner again – this time I had the Greek salad with iced tea. It was delicious! After dinner we headed back to our little motel, and got to sit outside and soak up a bit more warmth. Then we went inside before the rain returned and were treated to a wonderful thunder and lightning storm. I lay in bed with the curtains open and watched the storm before I fell asleep.

The rainbow we saw at the end of our day.

 

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself, but there is a $10 per car parking fee.

Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Wind Cave National Park – Custer State Park – Crazy Horse Memorial – Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD (1 hr, 46 min, 80 miles)

Hotel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD

 

West 2016: Crazy Horse Memorial

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Crazy Horse Memorial is an interesting place. It was designed as a Memorial to Crazy Horse, a Chief and respected elder of the Oglala Lakota tribe, by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish American sculptor who worked on the nearby Mount Rushmore,  It was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, another Lakota elder, who wanted to honor a tribal warrior.  We drove over to see it after we drove the Needles Highway.  Fun Fact: Ziolkowski shares my birthday – I hope I don’t need to clarify we share month and day only, not year…

Crazy Horse was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe – the Oglala Lakota are one of seven sub-tribes of the Lakota Nation, which are also a part of the larger Sioux Nation. Crazy Horse fought against the United States government and the encroachment of the white man on Sioux territory and the tribe’s way of life. His most famous battle was at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was killed by a military guard after surrendering to U.S. troops in 1877.

I liked this statue of two fighting stallions; it was tucked away near a service entrance

The planned dimensions of the Crazy Horse Memorial are huge – 641 feet wide and 563 feet high; his head alone will be 87 feet tall. It is way bigger (or going to be) than Mount Rushmore, where the Presidents are each 60 feet high. Crazy Horse was begun in 1948, and there is no real idea on when it will be completed.

Me with the Crazy Horse Memorial

The memorial has become a family project, with most of Ziolkowski’s immediate family working on it, as well as some other family members. The vision includes the monument, as well as an education center and scholarships for tribal members.  They received a $2.5M donation a few years back that seems to have breathed new life into the project, so perhaps that will get things moving a bit faster on the sculpture.

When we visited, we started out watching the movie. It explained the history of the monument, and the fact that proceeds go to scholarships to help tribal members get their education. Once the movie was finished, we made our way outside to see the monument. I felt like they intentionally tried to create a maze – you can’t get outside without winding your way through a ton of vendors and gift shop stuff.  That was frustrating.

Outside, we checked out the model of the finished monument, and posed for photos. Admittedly, if they ever finish it, it will look really cool. The actual monument is huge. It is crazy to imagine how large it really is up close, because it looks really large from far away.

The model of what the finished memorial will look like

It was an interesting monument to a great tribal leader, but it really didn’t take much time to see. I had hoped that there would be a museum or exhibit with more information about Crazy Horse and the history of the campaigns the Oglala Lakota and other tribes fought with the U.S. government. To be honest, I was less than wowed. It felt like there was a less than subtle request for donations throughout the experience, and after spending $11 per person for admission, well… Other than the movie (which had its own fundraising vibe) and the mountain itself – there wasn’t much to see or do.

The memorial, as it looked in August 2016

 

A closer view of the face

All in all, I was glad I went, but unless there is considerably more progress on the monument itself – particularly the horse part – I don’t feel I need a return visit.

 

Costs and Fees: $11 per person up to 2 in a car, includes parking.  $28 per car if more than 2.  There are some other prices for bicycles, kids, active military, Native Americans, etc., so check the website.

West 2016: Wind Cave NP

Day 5: August 9, 2016

We had a lot planned for the fifth day of our road trip, so we got up, headed out early, grabbed some breakfast stuff and a picnic lunch at the grocery store, and made our way the few miles over to Wind Cave National Park.

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

We wound our way up to the top of the hill, headed into the Visitor’s Center, and purchased our tickets for The Fairgrounds Tour!  The Fairgrounds Tour is the most strenuous of the regular tours, and to be honest, I was a little surprised that I got my mom to agree to it (I may have “forgotten” to tell her exactly how many stairs there are…).  This 90 minute tour goes into both the upper and middle sections of the cave, and has 450 stairs along a 2/3 mile route.  The hardest part is a stairway – of course leading up! – with 89 steps.  At any rate, mom did fine… The tour guide walks really slow and there is a lot of stopping to look at different features of the cave.  Sadly though, being so far underground meant my FitBit didn’t record my steps…  So, now to the good part…

We headed down into the cave by elevator, 19 stories below the surface.  The tour begins in the middle section of the cave, and we were greeted by intricate boxwork in a honeycomb pattern in the first areas of the tour.  They don’t really know how boxwork forms, but one theory is that it is the result of intensely fractured limestone which gets filled in by calcite that is carried by groundwater.  Over time, the remaining limestone gets washed away, leaving the calcite boxes.  Boxwork is extremely fragile, so you aren’t allowed to touch it – the cave could literally break off in your hands.

Boxwork on the ceiling of Wind Cave

 

A closeup of the Boxwork

During our tour, we then moved into the upper section of the cave, which looks quite a bit different than the middle section.  There really isn’t much boxwork here – instead there is chert, which is like flint in that it is composed of silica, but it isn’t as grainy (but you don’t know that by touching, because remember, touching is not allowed…).

We also saw areas with lots of cave popcorn, which looks like fluffy puffs of popcorn – and is a more common feature of many caves.  We were also treated to the Fairgrounds Room, where there are benches in front of the Frostwork Ledge.  It gave us an up close and personal view of the frostwork in Wind Cave, which are crystal formations of calcium carbonate that are formed when water slowly seeps out of the walls of the cave and then evaporates.  The frostwork is beautiful!

Cave Popcorn

 

A closeup of the cave popcorn, with frostwork

In the Fairgrounds Room, our tour guide turned off the lights, so we could experience the absolute pitch blackness of the cave.  You can’t see a thing, and your eyes won’t get used to the darkness, because there is no light to pick up on.  Imagine trying to explore the cave with only candlelight!  The Fairgrounds Room was discovered in 1892, so explorers at that time really were making do with just a candle or a dim lantern.

The last portion of the cave tour is downhill once again, before ending back at the elevators for the ride back up!

Again on the surface, we went through the gift shop for postcards and my National Park Passport stamp.

I also took a short walk over to see the natural entrance to the cave, the one that was discovered by Tom and Jesse Bingham back in 1881.  They have built a little rock wall around it, but otherwise it is basically the same as it was 135 years ago – a small hole in the ground, giving away nothing about the wonders that lie beneath.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

We had to get on our way, as we still had plenty that we wanted to do with our day, but what a fantastic visit!

Have you been to Wind Cave – what did you think?

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Wind Cave National Park.  The Fairgrounds Tour is $12 per adult, and $6 for seniors.  Photos are allowed in the cave, even with flash, but be courteous and make sure you aren’t using your flash in people’s eyes…

Wind Cave NP History

There are very few cave systems managed by the National Park Service, and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota enjoys bragging rights as not only the first cave to be designated as a National Park within the United States, but it is also the first in the entire world!

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

Wind Cave has been known for centuries by the Native Americans, especially the Lakota, who consider it a sacred place. The Lakota believe that the cave’s entrance is the site where their people first emerged from the underworld after the creation of the world.

Despite its being known, it is not believed that any humans entered the cave until after 1881 when Tom and Jesse Bingham first noticed the wind rushing out of the entrance of the cave – it was forceful enough to blow the hat off of Tom’s head when he peered into the hole.  The wind blowing out of Wind Cave is a result of the large cave system combined with the small entrance opening; as the air pressure seeks to equalize both inside and outside of the cave, air blows either into or out of the cave, depending on the air pressure outside.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

After Tom and Jesse “discovered” the cave, the South Dakota Mining Company did some exploring to determine whether there was valuable ore at the site (there wasn’t), and hired Jesse McDonald to oversee their claim.  It was Jesse’s family that was instrumental in the development of the cave as a tourist attraction.  His son Alvin began entering the cave with a candle and a long spool of string, and mapping out the many paths and caverns in the cave.  The family started offering tours for $1 (that’s a lot of money at the turn of the last century!), which involved quite a bit of crawling through small passages.  But even back in the day, people got greedy, and a dispute over cave profits led to court, and the government ruled that no one had an ownership claim in the cave and withdrew the land from homesteading.

Further cave exploration in the 1960s led to much of the knowledge we have about Wind Cave today.  Currently 123.09 miles (according to the NPS’s Wind Cave website) of the cave system have been explored, with a few miles more being explored each year.  It is the sixth longest cave system in the world.  There are several large rooms within the cave, as well as tiny passageways that are much too small for a person to fit through.  The cave has six known lakes, about 500 feet beneath the surface.  There is a belief among scholars that the Wind Cave network actually connects with the network of passages in Jewel Cave nearby, and that the two cave systems are actually one, even larger cave.  However, to date, there has not been confirmation of this theory, although it makes sense because both caves are known to be very large, and the two are only about 5 surface miles apart.

Wind Cave is known for its boxwork and frostwork. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. They intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on all cave surfaces.  Approximately 95% of the boxwork in the world’s known caves is in Wind Cave.  Frostwork is intricate, needle-like growths on the cave – it is unknown how it forms, but evaporation is thought to play a role since it occurs in areas of Wind Cave where there is more air movement.

Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Wind Cave National Park on January 9, 1903. Currently Wind Cave National Park has 33,851 acres, with bison, pronghorn, coyotes, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and the endangered black-footed ferret (which were reintroduced to the park in 2007).

The above-ground view at Wind Cave

My mom and I visited Wind Cave National Park in August 2016, and toured the cave while we were there.  I will post about it next!