National Park units are hidden every place. I set myself a minor goal to visit all the units in North Carolina. So on my way to New Bern, I took a detour to Moores Creek National Battlefield.
It was about 103 deg. according to my car thermometer when I arrived at the battlefield outside of Currie, in the North Carolina sandhills, about 20 miles west of Wilmington.
I knew I was on the right track when I reached Gen. Howe highway, NC 11. Gen Howe was the commander of the British forces in America during the American Revolution.
Moores Creek is a small park, about 88 acres but it makes the most to attract folks to this out-of-the-way park. Moores Creek commemorates a 3-minute battle (no typo here, three minutes) between the Loyalists and the Patriots on Feb. 27, 1776.
Loyalists marched to join the British who were going to sail into Wilmington harbor but to do that, they had to cross Moores Creek. They were arrogant enough to offer to pardon the renegades, the Patriots, and offered them an ultimatum. Disband and you'll be all right.
"No," said the Patriots and the next morning they set a trap for the Loyalists.
Over 30 Loyalists died and one Patriot. The one Patriot got his own memorial, shown to the left.
The mile-long History Trail has six memorials and a couple of cannons. And of course, you get to walk across a reconstructed bridge over Moores Creek.
There's also a memorial to two locals (shown to the left) and one to the Loyalists. That shows that we're so over the American Revolution. We're all friends now.
Larry, a volunteer at the Battlefield, wears a dark green polo shirt with the NPS Volunteers-in-the-Parks patch. I've never seen this VIP uniform so I took his picture.
So was it worth the detour? If you're into the American Revolution or into NPS sites, of course.
Gov. Perdue vetoed the budget on Sunday (June 12). Read her statement. There were lots of reasons why the Governor took that action but I was gratified to read the following:
The natural environmental treasures that we cherish and that draw so many visitors to North Carolina will be at risk of permanent damage or destruction;
• Historical sites that attract tourists and stimulate economic activity by commemorating our rich cultural heritage will be closed;
Last week, I received two messages - actually I received many about the environment but I saved two. The first deals with our North Carolina pollution laws:
Bad, bad things are happening in the state legislature and we need your help to stop them. See http://action.ncconservationnetwork.org/rulesrollback
When a legislative session is coming to an end, we typically see some of the worst special interest proposals pushed through the legislature with little or no debate. Well, the end is near (of the legislative session) and, sure enough, legislators are preparing to give a huge gift to polluters with Senate Bill 7811.
SB 781 is similar to the budget language and House legislation that would roll back decades of progress to protect clean air, clean water, and our beautiful natural areas in North Carolina. SB 781 would undo hundreds on critical protections for our natural areas by creating a mountain of red tape for state agencies. Essentially bringing many key protections down to the federal minimum requirements; a move only big polluters can love.
Tell your legislators and Governor Perdue that you want to keep North Carolina protections in place so that we continue to be a great place for family, business, and travel. We won’t be a more attractive state to business and tourism with dirty air, dirty water, or spoiled natural areas.
The second deals with funding the National Parks. It comes from the National Parks Conservation Association which encourages national parks supporters to write to our congress representative.
We are writing to express our strong support for adequate levels of funding for our national parks as you prepare the Fiscal Year 2012 Interior Appropriations bill. We appreciate the Subcommittee’s leadership on the bipartisan effort over the past four years to restore critically needed funding for the parks.
We understand and agree with the need to budget carefully this year and value the tough decisions that Congress and the President have made to trim federal spending. However, we believe that we must continue to support national treasures such as our parks system. National Parks have proven to be a good investment for communities, jobs, and future generations. Furthermore, in this time of economic uncertainty, Americans have again turned to the national parks to improve their spirits, connect with our nation’s tremendous natural and cultural heritage and enjoy affordable time with their families.
A recent survey showed that 91% of Americans have visited a National Park Service unit, and 62% having visited in the past two years. As you assemble this year’s appropriations bill, we encourage you to do all that you can to make critically needed investments in our national parks, particularly for the operating account.
I have no idea who those children are. They piled out of a van at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, wearing vests covered with Junior Ranger badges. I was so impressed that I asked their father if I could take their pictures.
How does the National Park Service interpret a site when there’s nothing physical to interpret?
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects the site of the Lost Colony that landed here in 1587.
By definition, there’s nothing to show. On top of it, the visitor center is under repairs and there’s only a temporary visitor center where several posters have been hung.
I am on Roanake Island between the Outer Banks and the North Carolina mainland. This was where Virginia Dare, the first American child, was born in 1587. To interpret this site, it takes enthusiastic interpreters like Ranger Rob Bolling and Robin Davis of Eastern National, who has lived on the island for over 30 years. I'm the only person at the Visitor Center this morning and Robin takes me aside to tell me the story.
Sir Walter Raleigh sponsored several expedition into the new world. The first two Roanoke expeditions were expeditions of men. They were looking for resources and to raid Spanish ships and went back to England. Raleigh never came to North America because Queen Elizabeth I didn’t want to lose him.
On the third voyage in 1587, 117 people came to settle here including women and children. They were supposed to go to Chesapeake Bay but their captain said that he wasn’t going any further so they were dumped here.
It sounds like the equivalent of "You'll figure it out". But they were not self-sustaining and asked their leader, John White, to return to England to get more supplies.
When White returned after three years (1590), he found no one. Nothing but the letters CROATAN carved in a tree. Does that mean that the colonists went with the Croatan Indians? The mystery remains.
A short trail took me to Albemarle Sound with a small beach. I passed some earthenworks where archeologists are digging hoping to get some answers about the fate of the Lost Colony. I also passed the three children on a bench working quietly on another Junior Ranger badge.
Close by are the Elizabethan Gardens, 10 acres of beautiful gardens, immaculately manicured.
The gardens were started by a women’s garden club and officially opened on Virginia Dare's birthday, August 18,
1960 in 1960. It has an Elizabethan design with modern plants. That's Elizabeth, the First, on the right.
The Sunken Gardens is the center of the Elizabethan Gardens design, with the fountain in the center. It’s a cross design with an enclosed walkway. At the time, Elizabethan gardens were inspired by Italian designs.
I was there on the day of the Royal Wedding. I was conscious of the number of visitors with British accents but they seemed more preoccupied with the past than with the wedding that had just occurred. The only Brit I spoke to about the wedding was the woman at the Garden store.
All the comparisons were with Charles and Diana's wedding, 30 years ago. Diana would have been over 50 years old, Would she have tried to upstage Princess Katherine?
I’m still in the North Carolina Outer Banks for a couple of days. I figured that this is so far from Asheville that I might as well see the sights. Today I head for Wright Brothers National Memorial.
It’s a warm but very windy day and I’m still tired. Maybe the adrenaline has just oozed out of me after yesterday’s climb to the top of Jockey’s Ridge or maybe I’m just eager to finish the Mountains-to-Sea Trail officially. But I’ve made hiking and shuttling plans for next week and I can't unravel them.
The Wright Brothers Memorial is three miles up the road from Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Wilbur and Orville Wright may have been Bill Gates’ predecessors. They were tinkerers but they were also very skilled in math and science. Their mother taught them math and languages - Yeah Mom.
The brothers felt that they had nothing more to learn from school so they quit high school.
From bicycle racers, they became bicycle repairers and then bicycle manufacturers in Dayton, Ohio. So how did they end up in the Outer Banks? A letter from Orville read, “We came down here for wind and sand and we have got them.”
They wrote to the Weather Bureau in Washington looking for places with wind, sand and no obstacles. The Outer Banks was on the list. They wrote to Cape Hatteras and the postmaster, William J. Tate, replied with an offer of free room and board.
“Now how many of you have been offered this today?” Steve Jones, the volunteer giving the talk, asked.
Steve showed how the plane worked by pushing and pulling on controls. They used bike pieces and principles of body motion like in a bicycle.
Steve said to me after the talk “The story is not about planes but about family and faith in each other and perseverance”.
That’s the beauty of visiting a National Park. You don’t have to know much when you go in. You just have to take the time to see and do what is offered.
I climbed up the hill to the memorial where you can see the Sound and the Ocean. Then I walked around the memorial to the outdoor sculpture. That's me up there with one of the brothers.
There’s a memorial plaque set in stone put up by the National Aeronautical Association in 1928 to mark the spot that their flight took off from.
If you just see these markers, you miss the most important story, the hundreds of unsuccessful flights that just dove to the ground. The big day was December 17, 1903 where they were – 120 ft. in 12 sec. first flight. But the story always seems to end here.
But what happened after 1903? The brothers tried to get a patent in the U.S. but there was a lot of skepticism about their flying machine. They went to Europe where they were granted patents. After that, aviation really took off.
Unfortunately Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. By 1915, Orville was a multi-millionaire. He went back to Dayton and was on many boards and active in the aviation community. He saw the result of his invention for the first and second World War.
He was a tinkerer and inventor until he died in 1948.
I spent five hours at the site.Tomorrow Fort Raleigh.
It's time to get out of town and back into the fresh air and maybe on a trail. There are lots of opportunities to walk in Washington but most of it is on pavement. So we pulled our car out of the lot for the first time in four days and headed for Manassas National Battlefield Park.
This is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and every battlefield, every site that is remotely connected to the Civil War is gearing up for this. Only 32 miles from Washington D.C. Manassas was the site of two battles - First Manassas and Second Manassas.
First Manassas is the battle that most talk about. Maybe it's because both sides were still innocent and thought that one battle would settle the conflict. Maybe because it's the first real battle between North and South.
The two sides met for the first time on July 16, 1861 on the property of Judith Henry - the only civilian casualty of the battle. Her house is shown above.
The 45-minute film makes a great deal of fuss over Judith, a sick, elderly widow. The South won this one and Union soldiers marched back to Washington defeated.
The Battle of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run) was part of a larger campaign. Again the South won that battle and General Lee then attacked the north for the first time.
But enough of battles.
Manassas is also a beautiful setting for several trails on undulating hills. We walked the First Manassas loop, which took us past the Stone Bridge over Bull Run.
The area was overtaken by blue bells, flowers that we don't see in Southern Appalachia. We also saw Dutchmen's britches and daffodils, indicating a home site. The trail was muddy but well-maintained.
Here's Lenny on a long boardwalk.
The National Parks Service in cooperation with its sponsors has discovered that small parks can be the source of great walking. They call it the Healthy Parks-Healthy Living program. The result is that the trails are well-maintained and signposted.
And as long as the sponsors display their logos on brochures and not on the trails themselves, let them keep sponsoring.
Who would have thought that Arlington Cemetery in Washington would be so fascinating? It's just a bunch of dead people. I found the rows and rows of white gravestones mesmerizing.
We walked from our hotel in the center of the city to Arlington, via the Memorial Bridge. It took over an hour. This bridge goes from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s House.
We stopped at the visitor center long enough to learn that if we rushed, we could make the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A soldier in full dress uniform paces back and forth in front of the tombs of the Unknown Soldier – World War II, Korea and Viet Nam.
Exactly on the hour, a sergeant comes out with another soldier who is about to come on duty. He explains briefly what is going on and asks us to be quiet and respectful. With lots of rifle play and caressing of weapons, the two soldiers exchange places. We thought the ceremony was over but it wasn’t.
A small group of school children, all dressed up, come down the steps led by the sergeant. One is carrying a wreath with a banner across it containing the school name. The soldier removes the old wreath and the boy places the new wreath on the stand. Another solder is playing taps. We all put our right hand on our heart. A second school group does the same thing with another wreath. I guess it’s a big honor for the school to have their wreath displayed for an hour.
We wander further up the hill to Arlington House, the home of several prominent historical figures. George Washington’s step grandson, George Washington Parke Curtis, was the first owner. Robert E. Lee, who married into the family, was the last owner. It pays to marry well-connected people.
From Arlington House, you can see the way we walked in – the bridge, the Capital, the Jefferson and Washington memorials. Pierre Charles L’Enfant who designed the city of Washington (1791-1792) is buried up here. The house itself is being refurbished. Though it’s now empty, visitors can walk through it. Lee had seven children and the second floor is full of bedrooms. The third floor was a storage attic, now closed off to the public.
A volunteer ushers us in. She wears a different type of uniform and I take her picture.
Robert E. Lee had a long career with the U.S. Army and was against secession. But when Virginia left the Union, Lee resigned his commission and went to Richmond to join the Confederacy. His wife and children left Arlington a month later when it was obvious that the Federal Government was going to take over the house.
There’s a small museum devoted to Lee’s life. It explains that the Memorial Bridge was built to unite Arlington (Lee’s residence) and the Lincoln Memorial across the Potomac River that divided South from North. After the war, Lee became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia and died there in 1870. The site includes a small museum explaining the role of slaves and freemen at Arlington House.
Arlington National Cemetery was created in 1864 because the government had to have some place to bury all the dead. There doesn't appear to be any mass graves here.
The children of former slaves help in directing the restoration. The National Park Service acquired Arlington House in 1933.
The Kennedy graves are directly below the Arlington House. The grave site is ostentatious and frankly over the top. An eternal light burns; Jacqueline Kennedy and their two babies are also buried here. Edward and Robert Kennedy lie nearby.
Most visitors come by Tourmobile and spend little time at Arlington. But we were on our own schedule and stayed over four hours.
After doing this visitor classic, we went to the Dept. of the Interior at 18th and C St. to see if there was anything to see in the National Park Service offices. The building has been under renovations since 2001. It was supposed to be the “world’s finest office building” when it was built in 1935 – 1937.
The guards were the least friendly I’ve encountered so far in Washington.
“No, the museum is closed for renovation,” he said. “What do you need?”
But we weren’t deterred. We went through security and walked into the NPS visitor center, open only until 3:30 P.M. I asked the clerk a couple of simple questions but she knew nothing. But there were pamphlets of all the National Park units and we helped ourselves to a bunch for parks we were going to visit and hope we would visit.
Well the government didn’t shut down.
And that’s a good thing too since Lenny and I planned to go to Washington this weekend for his big 70th birthday celebration. This is also the end of the Cherry Blossom festival.
Washington takes a lot of walking.
We parked our car for the duration of ourstay and are walking. Down to the mall way before anything opens up. It’s a quiet Sunday morning and we share the mall with joggers and dog walkers. The mall and much of tourist Washington is administered by the National Park Service. They are the keeper of our history so it would be fitting that they take care of these monuments and buildings.
But not the Smithsonian museums. We went through the National Museum of American History. I would have renamed it the Museum of Popular Culture. The First Ladies dresses are a big hit and the exhibit is crowded. Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball dress was in the center of the room.
Even more crowded was Julia Child’s kitchen. They had redone her whole kitchen with all her utensils. Her knife collection was impressive. Of course, several video screens showed her old TV shows.
In the President’s room, visitors can go up to the podium and pretend to give an inaugural speech.
They don’t expect you to give an original speech and they provide you with a teleprompter.
We walked to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It’s a small place with modern and historic European and American art.
But we couldn’t miss the cherry blossoms and went down to the tidal pools at the Jefferson Memorial. It was packed with people taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and each other.
I only walked a few miles but my feet are dead.
National Parks Traveler is holding a Student Essay Contest.
Three grand-prize winners of the Traveler's first Take Your Family to the National Parks essay contest will win lodging for four members of their family in one of the country's national parks, and some gear to help them enjoy the trip.
Entries are being accepted from students in three age brackets: 8-11, 12-15, and 16-18.
Elementary students in the 8-11 age bracket should address this question: "Why are national parks good for kids?"
Middle school students in the 12-15 age bracket should address this question: "If you were to write President Obama telling him why the National Parks should be saved, what would you say and why?"
High school students in the 16-18 age bracket should address this question: "What are the greatest threats to our national parks, and how can they be countered?"
The winning essays will be selected by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and announced during National Parks Week in mid-April. Now, that's impressive.
Check the National Parks Traveler page for all rules and regs.
Our family trip into the wilds of Florida is over. We're all back home where we're supposed to be now.
The highlight of the trip was certainly our day and a half into Big Cypress National Preserve with our granddaughter, Hannah. We walked the Florida Trail and she worked on her Junior Ranger badge. We saw alligators (the highlight for me) and a cormorant struggling with a catfish (Lenny's highlight).
But the real highlight was another trip into the wilds with Hannah - into nature, as she calls it. We only see her three or four times a year so I can't take any credit for her development - that credit belongs to her parents.
Our once a year trip to Family Summits can't sustain her interest in the outdoors for the rest of the year.
Every time I take her on a trail, show her a new flower or help her identify a new bird, I feel I'm making some contribution to her outdoor life. The flower on the left is a glades lobelia, a new flower for me.
And it's not that difficult. When she was three years old, we walked about two miles on a nameless trail in her neighborhood. We got ready for this "hike" by making a ritual of filling our water bottles, choosing our snacks and picking out a sun hat. And she loved it.
Now that she's much older, she seems to understand that her grandparents will take her on an outdoor adventure, someplace. The trick (and it's really not a trick) is to be fully present and fully enthusiastic as we want her to be. I have seen so many adults (parents and grandparents) who expect children to do things they wouldn't do. The family may be on a walk but the parents are on their cell phone or sitting on a bench reading a book expecting their children to run around. Why should children be interested in the outdoors if parents aren't genuinely as interested?
She has a National Park passport book where she collects her stamps from each national park unit that she goes to. And if she doesn't lose it, she'll have quite a collection before she's ready to explore the parks on her own.
We let her pick out a souvenir from the Big Cypress Visitor Center store and she chose a female ranger doll. The doll is almost but not quite in uniform. She's wearing green pants and a gray shirt, has a flat hat and binoculars around her neck. For some reason, her National Park Service arrowhead does not have the same design as on a real uniform.
All these incremental activities help to encourage an outdoor childhood. It's not that difficult.
Flat, flat, flat.
That's Big Cypress National Preserve, the West Everglades. Big Cypress refers to the large parcel of land that is protecting the water in the Everglades, not the size of Cypress trees. The Preserve is situated on the Tamiami Trail, US 41, between Miami and Naples.
We went through Big Cypress on Christmas Day, the only day the Visitor Center is closed. So we went back the day after.
The Preserve has numerous canals and streams full of birds and alligators. In front of the Visitor Center, we watched a cormorant with a catfish in its mouth. The bird had caught a fish and couldn’t seem to be able to manage it and eat it. It was trying to protect its fish from other birds and alligators.
The small Visitor Center was crowded. We asked for a Junior Ranger book for Hannah, our granddaughter, and they had run out of the English language ones; they only had Spanish and Creole. The rangers were embarrassed. I asked the ranger to give Hannah some tasks which will qualify for her badge.
Hannah had to look for five things: Cypress tree, sawgrass. Bromeliad (airplants), insects and water. Water was easy; it was right outside the building.
We walked three miles on the Florida Trail, the trail that goes through the heart of the state and west to the Alabama border. But first I had to fill out a backcountry permit. If you walk more than a mile, you need a backcountry permit. At one point, we saw a brown carsonite sign with the GPS coordinates and the altitude - 28 ft. I don't think my GPS could register 28 feet.
The land was so flat that any step that rose gave a completely different view. The land was a full of sawgrass, long, sharp grass, that inspired the phrase river of grass. See the picture above.
On the Florida Trail (orange blazes), we saw glades lobelia, tiny white asters.
Two backpackers had just started on the trail. They called this area the Highlands. Then Hannah became a Junior Ranger at Big Cypress - a different experience than the Smokies.
On the various other stops, the birds were abundant: great blue herons, wood stork, cormorant, snowy egret, iguana, tri colored herons, black vulture, little blue egret, morehen, and cattle egret.
The preserve has commercial businesses, private communities, Indian reservations and hunting cabins and the smallest open post office in the U.S. See the picture on the left. Hunting is allowed in the Preserve.
The area became a preserve in 1974 to protect the waters of the Everglades. It enlarged the Everglades.
Kings Mountain National Military Park on the North Carolina/South Carolina border was quiet yesterday. Having heard so much of the Overmountain Victory Trail, it was time to visit its destination, Kings Mountain about 30 miles southwest of Charlotte.
As in most of these small national park units, the visitor center is very well done. Most visitors stop in, get their National Park passports stamped, look in the gift shop and leave. We spent almost four hours there and we didn't begin to touch all the hiking trails.
Kings Mountain memorializes the battle between the tough Overmountain men who came down from Sycamore Shoals, now in Elizabethton, TN, to fight Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist Tories. Unlike Guildford Courthouse, this battle was not choreographed.
"Let each of you be your own commander," cried one of the leaders. That meant, "You're on your own, boys. Kill as many as you can." Guerilla warfare, as farmers and hunters brought down the Tories. Ferguson was the only Brit in the skirmish; all the others were Americans on one side or the other.
But I couldn't get a ranger's opinion because none were in sight. A volunteer staffed the desk and she couldn't even answer my "test" question. "When did this become a Park unit?" 1931 was the answer.
We walked the 1.5 mile battlefield loop. Two large monuments dominated the landscape. I was pleased to see that Ferguson who is buried here got a nice grave stone.
The passage of time and our friendship with Britain means that British soldiers are recognized in American Revolutionary sites.
How long will it be until our most recent enemies will also be memorialized?