Tag Archive | travel

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!


Pool Time

I was going through some photos I had transferred from my old phone to my computer, and came across this gem from my trip to San Diego last April.  The special effects in the photo are due entirely to the fact that my old phone was haunted.  Yep, my old phone camera was extremely simple, and had no reverse color special feature that I could ever find.  Yet it would randomly take photos like this, which I actually thought turned out very cool…


Would you swim in water that color?

It also made me think that I am in dire need of a vacation.  Someplace warm, where I can sun myself by the pool.  Soon…

At least it is the weekend!

Olympic National Park: Ozette Triangle Hike

In early June, I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula to hike the Ozette Triangle hike. It is a 9.2 mile loop hike, that can be done either as a day hike or as a multi-day camping trip. I did a day hike, but there are two campgrounds, and one day I would like to go back and camp there.

The ferry to the Olympic Peninsula

The ferry to the Olympic Peninsula


Olympic National Park!

Olympic National Park!

From the starting point, you can choose either of two spurs – the one to Cape Alava (3.1 miles) or the one to Sand Point (3.0 miles). If you are camping, the spur you choose will probably depend on which campground you are planning to stay at – one allows campfires and the other does not. The hike is mostly flat, so there isn’t going to be much difference in elevation changes, although the Cape Alava spur has slightly more up and down.

The boardwalk on the spur trail to Sand Point

The boardwalk on the spur trail to Sand Point

The spur to the beach is mostly on raised wooden boardwalks through boggy forest, but I was surprised at the fact that there weren’t any mosquitoes. Perhaps they get worse later in the summer, and in the evenings. There were shady parts and sunny parts, depending on the number of trees in the immediate vicinity. It was very peaceful.

As I got closer to the beach, I started hearing the waves– I’m sure in the winter on a windy day, the sound would be very loud. I love the sound of waves on a shore, and the waves of the northern Washington Coast are wonderful.  To me, it is a truly peaceful sound…

The beach at Sand Point

The beach at Sand Point

I walked south on the beach a little ways, to find a beautiful sandy beach, with some driftwood at the tree line. I even found an intact sand dollar! The day was gorgeous, sunny, and hot! An absolutely perfect day!

Elwell and Piddles enjoying the view at Sand Point

Elwell and Piddles enjoying the view at Sand Point

The beach hike – 3.1 miles – is the hardest part of the hike. There is some hiking on packed or softer sand, but further north you are walking over rocks covered with kelp and barnacles, so you have to be careful. It can certainly be slippery.  Make sure to time this portion with a lower tide or else you’ll be doing a tougher hike through the forest above the tide line.

I love this wild beach!

I love this wild beach!

It was fun to poke around in the tide pools and find shells, and seeing the sea stacks in the distance was amazing. When the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can hear the sea lions on their offshore island perch. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t brought my binoculars.

I love this wild beach!

I love this wild beach!

There are Native American petroglyphs visible on the rocks as you travel from north to south, but I did the hike in the opposite direction and ending up missing them. Oh well, just a reason to return!

A Bald Eagle feeding on a fish at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

A Bald Eagle feeding on a fish at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

After three miles on the beach, it was time to re-enter the woods on another set of raised boardwalks. These woods are home to lots of animals, including bears and cougars, but I didn’t see any during my midday hike. On the way back on the Cape Alava spur, I passed a boggy meadow, which once was a homesteader’s farm. He pastured sheep and cows in the meadow, but there isn’t much evidence of its history now.

The whole hike took about 5 hours at a leisurely pace, with a couple of stops for snacks and beach combing.  I loved it, and will certainly return!


San Diego Sunshine

Just after Christmas, a friend of mine from my previous employer was talking about heading down to a conference in San Diego in April. We started discussing the idea of us flying down a bit early, and doing some touristing for a few days before her conference started. We also ended up inviting two other friends from that same former job. These three friends all happen to be turning 50 this year, and one turned 50 on the first day of the trip, so it seemed like a great opportunity to celebrate!

San Diego in April isn’t super-warm – mostly calling for temps in the mid to high 60s. Not really ideal pool or beach weather, so I planned some activities to keep us busy. I was trying to keep in mind that these ladies aren’t all as interested in history and nerdly pursuits as I am. It’s so hard to plan for so many personalities!

We had a great time all the same, and posts will begin shortly!

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

Oh that view! Cabrillo National Monument

Beautiful Sunsets

I walked up to the University yesterday evening to watch the sunset.  It was beautiful!

Sunset at the University

Sunset at the University

The post-sunset sky

The post-sunset sky


It also made me reminisce on some of the other beautiful sunsets I’ve seen over the years.

The sunset turned a gorgeous pink later on...

Chincoteague Island, Virginia…



The Marina at Home


A stunning sunset at the Nehalem Bay Campground.

Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon Coast


Sunset at Gold Beach

Sunset at Gold Beach, Oregon Coast


A beautiful California sunset

Santa Monica, California


A spectacular Lake Michigan Sunset!

Sunset over Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


The Sunset at the Refuge was Fantastic

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Willows, California

Sunset at Fort Casey

Sunset at Fort Casey, Washington


Desert Sunset

Saguaro National Park, Arizona


I know my future travels will add more beautiful sunsets.  Which one is your favorite? 

Virginia 2015: Historic Jamestowne

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jamestowne was the first permanent English settlement in North America; it was established in 1607; a town was constructed around the fort in 1619.  It is located Jamestowne Island, on the James River, just off of the Coast of Virginia.  It was designated as a National Historic Site on December 18, 1940, and is a part of Colonial National Historical Park.

Jamestowne-Monument (479x640)

The monument at Jamestowne.

The first couple of years brought cooperation between the colonists and the Native Americans, who taught them how to plant crops and farm.  However, the relationship went south, and most of the Native Americans were wiped out by warfare.  The colonists had a difficult several years, and about 80% of them were wiped out by starvation and disease.

The second group of colonists included Polish and German artisans who set up a glass factory; glassware was one of the first export products from the colony.  There were also a couple of women – the first European women to join the settlement.

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One of the modern glassmakers at Jamestowne

Some of the “household” names associated with Jamestowne include Captain John Smith – a colorful character who went from murdering his master in England to mapping the river system near Jamestowne, learning the native language, and being elected the first Governor of colonial Virginia.  John Rolfe brought tobacco seeds from Bermuda, one of the first successful export crops, and married the daughter of a local Native American chief, Pocohontas.

The town was deliberately burned during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, but was rebuilt.  In 1699, when the capitol of the Virginia colony was moved from Jamestowne to Williamsburg, the settlement was abandoned, although there were some plantations on the island into the 1800s.

It was a beautiful sunny day when Jon and I visited; we arrived about 10 am and watched the orientation film in a cool theater with seats all around – the movie is projected on the wall above the seating.  We did a brief tour through the museum and then headed out to the site.

I was surprised at how swampy the site was – we walked across a raised walkway over the swamp, home to several turtles!  They were so cute!  Once we were on the island, we checked out the fort site first.  There are a few reconstructed buildings and some archaeological sites to check out, as well as the grave sites of several of the original colonists.


The swamp at Jamestowne



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An archaeological dig at Jamestowne

We also saw the ruin of the Jamestowne Church – it was built in 1639 (although I believe it was the fourth church on the site) – the nave was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary in Jamestowne in 1907.  The day we were there, there was a drone on site – we found out later that it was shooting footage down the chimney of the church to assess its stability.

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Jamestowne Church – the ruined tower was built in 1639.

Jamestowne-Drone (640x480)

A drone at Jamestowne! Not historic…

We wandered around the rest of the site and checked out the plantation house ruin, as well as the reconstructed foundations of various buildings at the site.  We also relaxed for a bit near the James River, enjoying the view and the float plane that was landing on the river.

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The frame of a Mud and Stud House – Jon couldn’t stop laughing at the architectural style name.


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A float plane landed on the James River

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The Ambler House – built in the 1750s. It was burned and rebuilt in two wars, and was abandoned in 1895 after a third fire.

We also toured the Voorhees Archaearium, the museum on the site that contains historical artifacts from the settlement.  They also have two skeletons from the site and the stories from how they died.  One died from a gunshot in the leg; the other skeleton was a captain at the fort.

Most interestingly, the museum had an exhibit on Jane; she was a fourteen year old girl who died and was cannibalized, most likely during the “starving time”.  There were a few of her bones on exhibit that showed evidence of the cut marks that indicate the cannibalization.  It was an interesting exhibit, and I appreciated their candid way of dealing with such a sensitive subject.

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A doe at Jamestowne – she would never have survived the starving time.

Then we headed over to the cafe for a delicious lunch, probably the best museum cafe food we had on the trip.  I had the U.S. Grant wrap with dried cranberries, turkey, walnuts and blue cheese spread with a side of orzo pasta and a slice of wonderful key lime pie.  Jon had the Union – a hummus veggie wrap with cole slaw and a Legend Brown Ale from a Richmond, VA brewery.

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An unidentified bird at Jamestowne

Although there is very little of the original site visible, it was fascinating to see the site where colonial history in North American really began.






Virginia 2015: Arlington House

Day 3: Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Have you ever thought about how Arlington National Cemetery, that hallowed ground overlooking Washington, D.C. from the other side of the river, came to be?

Arlington House, the home on the site, was built by George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s adopted grandson, beginning in 1802. It was designed by George Hadfield, who had also designed the U.S. Capitol, and it was built in stages in the Greek Revival architectural style. The north wing (1802) and south wing (1804) were built first. Family members at the time would have had to cross outside in order to reach the other half of the house. The center section of the home wasn’t filled in until 1818. The estate was 1,100 acres, with many slaves.

A view of Arlington House in the distance at Arlington National Cemetery.

A view of Arlington House in the distance at Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington was passed down through the Custis family, and became the home of Robert E. Lee between 1857 and 1861, when he departed to serve in the Civil War – Lee had married into the Custis family. Interestingly, Lee didn’t own it himself; his father-in-law left it to the Lee’s eldest son George Washington Custis Lee when he died in 1857, with stipulations that Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, be permitted to reside there for the remainder of her life.

Before Robert E. Lee took control of Arlington as executor of the estate, the property was not-profitable. His father-in-law had been more committed to leisure pursuits like painting – he was actually a quite accomplished amateur artist – than running a plantation. Lee was able to turn it around without selling off any of the slaves living on the estate; he believed that the sale of slaves would not be in keeping with the wishes of his father-in-law, who stipulated that the slaves there be emancipated within five years of his death. Lee executed that portion of the will, and even taught the slaves to read and write, in violation of the law, because he believed that it would better prepare them for freedom.

By all accounts, Robert E. Lee was a more disciplined master than his father-in-law had been, and the slaves resented it. Several of them attempted (unsuccessfully) to run away. Accounts differ on the severity of the punishment when they were recaptured.

After Lee departed for the war and his family for safer ground further south, the estate was used by Union General Irvin McDowell as his headquarters as he oversaw the troops protecting Washington. The grounds were used as a training ground and encampments for Union soldiers. In 1863, a Freedman’s Village was established there, in order to provide a place where emancipated and escaped slaves could establish themselves.

The North wanted to do more than just use the property. They wanted to punish Lee for his sin of taking up arms against them. So, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs proposed burying the fallen on the edges of Mrs. Lee’s rose garden – 22 graves in all. They wanted to make sure that Arlington was not a comfortable place to return.  In fact, Lee never did return to Arlington after the war. He was offered an appointment at what is now Washington and Lee University, and he is buried there. In 1874, George Washington Custis Lee sued the federal government for improper seizure of the home, and the Supreme Court agreed; he was awarded Arlington, and then sold it back to the government for $150,000.

Graves around the edge of Mary Lee's rose garden.

Graves around the edge of Mary Lee’s rose garden.

Arlington House was restored beginning in 1925, although in direct violation of the legislation that was passed, it was restored to the earlier time period of George Washington Custis, completely ignoring the contributions or legacy of Robert E. Lee. It wasn’t until 1955 that it was designated as a permanent memorial to Robert E. Lee, and the interpretation changed to the time when Lee lived in the house.

Visitation to Arlington House – the Robert E. Lee Memorial in 2011 was about 576,816; visitors can take a self-guided tour of the first floor of the house. The second floor of the house is currently closed, having suffered earthquake damage in 2011. The Park Service anticipates that the house will be closed for several months in 2016 while the damage is repaired.

I enjoyed our visit, although there were quite a few people roaming around. The home had guides in several of the rooms who pointed out interesting artifacts and answered questions. There were several paintings by Robert E. Lee’s father-in-law and his daughter (Robert E. Lee’s wife). There were several things original to the Lee family, including Robert E. Lee’s red upholstered settee and chairs.

Robert E. and Mary Lee's furniture in the parlor at Arlington House

Robert E. and Mary Lee’s furniture in the parlor at Arlington House


Lee's office, where he wrote the letter resigning his commission in the U.S. Army.

Lee’s office, where he wrote the letter resigning his commission in the U.S. Army.


The cradle were Lee was born - although not in this house.

The cradle where Lee was born – although not in this house.

We toured the garden to see the graves of the Union dead and the Tomb of the Unknown Civil War Soldier (that’s different than the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).  I checked out the slave quarters, and an interesting display about Selina Gray, one of the slaves who served the Lee family. She helped to safeguard the various George Washington artifacts that had been passed down in the family, by complaining to the Union General stationed at Arlington when soldiers were stealing the valuables.

The Tomb of the Unknown Civil War Soldier - the remains of 2.111 Civil War unknown soldiers are buried here.

The Tomb of the Unknown Civil War Soldier – the remains of 2.111 Civil War unknown soldiers are buried here.

However, it is less known that Selina Gray and several of her children were instrumental in guiding the restoration process of Arlington House, due to her knowledge of the home and furnishings. They assisted with matching paint colors and obtaining period furniture, as well as determining where items should be placed in the home. Despite all this, the Park Service did not have a photograph of Selina Gray until a few years ago, when they were finally able to put a face to this important name in history.

The front of the house was covered in scaffolding during our visit, which didn’t make for great photos, but we were treated to a beautiful clear day so we could easily see the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. No wonder Lee loved it here; it is truly a spectacular view of Washington, D.C.

A view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol from Arlington House

A view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol from Arlington House

While we were at the cemetery, we also saw the tomb of Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, the only one of his children to live long into adulthood. And no visit would be complete without a visit to John F. Kennedy’s grave. It is poignant in its simplicity – with the eternal flame and the four simple markers – JFK, Jackie, and the two children who died before him.

John F. Kennedy's grave - with the Eternal Flame.

John F. Kennedy’s grave – with the Eternal Flame.

I would have enjoyed wandering around more, but we needed to get to our next destination! George Washington’s Mount Vernon!

Have you been to Arlington National Cemetery? What was your favorite place there?