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West 2016: Cunningham Cabin

Day 10, Sunday, August 14, 2016

In Grand Teton National Park, I visited the Cunningham Cabin, which is a homesteader’s cabin that was built sometime between 1888 and 1890.  J. Pierce Cunningham arrived in Jackson Hole from New York in 1885, and spent his first years in the valley trapping.  He got married and then decided to try his hand at homesteading, staking a claim for 160 acres.  The cabin was constructed in the dogtrot style, with two small cabins joined with an open breezeway – it was a style common in the eastern states.

The Cunningham cabin with the mountain view

Unfortunately, ranching was difficult on 160 acres in the West, due to the fact that ranchers had to supplement feed for their cattle in the winter.  They needed enough land to grow enough hay to last the winter, which could be up to 6 months long.  Cunningham purchased an additional 140 acres in 1897 at $1.25 per acre.  In 1918 he increased the size of his ranch again by purchasing 240 acres from a neighbor’s property to the north.  Cunningham had to produce and store 200 tons of hay each winter.

The cabin has a dark side too…  In fall of 1892, two wranglers showed up at the cabin to buy hay for their horses.  Cunningham struck up a deal for them to stay over at the ranch for the winter.  However, rumors began spreading that the men were horse thieves.  A man who claimed to be a U.S. Marshal arrived in April 1893 with three deputies from Idaho, and convinced several local men to join their posse.  The cabin was surrounded and the men were gunned down when they left the cabin.  Although Cunningham wasn’t directly involved, he admitted that he felt that the brands on the men’s horses had been altered.  Interestingly, neither the allegations against the men nor the identify of the supposed U.S. Marshall was ever proven…

The view of the mountains from the cabin window

After World War I, beef prices dropped a lot, and many ranchers were no longer able to make a living. Cunningham and his neighbors proposed a petition for the federal government to purchase the valley’s ranches for inclusion with the new Grand Teton National Park.  He wasn’t successful.  Luckily John D. Rockefeller had fallen in love with the area, and he created the Snake River Land Company to purchase private land and donate it to the park.  Rockefeller ultimately purchased and donated 32,000 acres in the Jackson Hole valley, including Cunningham’s ranch.

To get a close up view of the ranch, you just have to walk a short, flat trail.  The entire loop is 0.3 mile, if you want to explore all the areas where there were once outbuildings, but the remaining cabin is the only structure that remains.  The day that I visited there was a herd of horses on the other side of the fence, so I went to say hello to them too.  They looked so beautiful with their stunning mountain backdrop!

This view! Horses and Mountains!

 

Horses near the Cunningham cabin

 

A juvenile mountain bluebird at the Cunningham cabin

 

This cabin is well worth a quick visit!

That evening in Jackson, Wyoming, we had dinner at King Sushi.  The food was fantastic!  The kids at the next table whose parents were paying no attention to the fact that they were kicking me – not so fantastic!  We also wandered around downtown Jackson for a bit, getting photos at the famous elk antler arch on the main square (each corner of the square has an arch).  We also poked around in some shops, and found lots and lots of taxidermy animals.  The dressed up critters!

 

 

Just. So. Much. Wow

 

Costs and Fees: $30 per vehicle at Grand Teton National Park (free with a National Parks Pass).  Many areas of Grand Teton do not require you to pay the fee.

Distance for the Day: Cody, WY – Jackson, WY (3 hrs, 58 min, 177 miles)

Hotel for the night: Motel 6 – Jackson, WY

 

Grand Teton NP History

Grand Teton National Park is one of the 10 most visited National Parks in the United States – approximately 3,270,076 people visit each year (2016 stats). It is about 310,000 acres, and it is located 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming.  The park protects the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Mountain Range, along with parts of the Jackson Hole valley.  On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge established the park.

Human habitation within the park boundary goes back about 11,000 years, when hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians used the land in the summer for food and supplies. In the early 19th century, when white men first arrived, the Shoshone tribes lived there.  It was popular with fur traders between 1810 and 1840, because of the beavers that lived in the rivers there (before they were almost trapped to extinction of course).  Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet.  The mountains were named by fur trappers coming through the area, who called them les trois tétons (the three teats), and of course it stuck, and we Americanized the name.

The first view of the Teton Mountains

Geologically, the rocks in the park are some of the oldest in the United States; dated at 2.7 billion years.  The Teton range has several glaciers too, and the park contains the upper main stem of the Snake River, which flows north, and eventually flows into the Columbia River.

The area was isolated for so long that the ecosystem is much better protected than some other areas of the U.S., so some of the same species have been found there since prehistoric times.  Animal species that are found there include bison, moose, elk, mule deer, marmot, pika, Grizzly bear, black bear, osprey, coyote, cutthroat trout, beavers and river otters.  The Teton range is also home to the threatened whitebark pine tree.

Grand Teton National Park is really an outdoor-person’s paradise.  There are over 200 miles of hiking trails, many of them back-country trails.  There are over 1,000 car camping sites.  A paved trail through the park provides easy access to the valley areas by bike or roller blades.  You can boat or float the rivers, fish, mountain climb, and cross country ski or snow shoe in the winter.  There is enough to keep you busy for awhile…

The park has also preserved a lot of the history from the days when homesteaders lived in the valley and built ranches and small communities.  There are several historic buildings throughout the park that you can visit.

Mom Sign Posing

We spent two days there, and we did and saw a lot in those two days!  I will tell you more about my visit coming up!

 

West 2016: Fort Yellowstone

Day 9, Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States, created almost 45 years before the National Park Service was created.  In the early days of the park, poaching and vandalism were huge problems so the U.S. Army, most specifically Company M of the 1st U.S. Cavalry, was sent in to restore order and get things under control.  Between 1891 and the early 1900s, Fort Yellowstone was established and grew, with 35 buildings still surviving today.

The Fort is in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, along with the Mammoth Hotel, which is one of the lodging options in the park (with hot springs!). The area also boasts the Mammoth Terraces, which are terraces created from travertine stone.  The stone is originally limestone, but becomes travertine due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate from the hot springs waters.  So in case you wondered where are those floors in public buildings came from, it wasn’t Yellowstone.  But the same kind of stone…

We visited in order to check out the terraces, as well as to see the historic buildings at the fort.  And, of course, to see elk.  Let me explain…  Back in the 1880s, the Army planted grass at the fort, to spruce things up and to cut down on the dust.  Well, as it turns out, the elk LOVE this grass! The ranger described it as ‘elk candy’.  You can’t beat elk candy!  We saw about a half dozen elk during the course of our visit, including a calf, and a couple of yearlings.  And, of course, we found tourists being dumb and getting way too close to the elk…

Mama elk with her baby! With spots!

 

Yearling Elk – with crazy Tourists (FYI – I was in a car, with a high zoom…)

Mom and I stopped in at the Visitor’s Center, which has a museum downstairs that has specimens of the animals found in the park, as well as an exhibit where you can compare the various types of horns and antlers of these animals.

We also toured around with a walking tour map and looked at the various historic buildings.  It was a cool place!

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