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Archive for the ‘National Monument’ Category

Voyageur GabAs soon as we entered the Grand Portage fort, we stepped back in time. There is no Visitor Center, no welcome and nobody dressed as a Ranger. You immediately step into the Great Hall and must orient yourself to the year 1800.

It works.

We touched sample pelts, dressed as voyageurs, wore the beaver pelt top hats, watched a massive canoe being made, saw flint lock rifle demonstrations, meandered through an 18th-century garden, and got cooking tips from the camp’s cook.

Our unexpectedly great Grand Portage NM visit helped numb our post-Isle Royale NP visit separation anxiety, brought us to the store selling the “best wild rice in the world” and saw our Nissan Altima shudder with fear when a giant moose ran across the road.

Who can ask for anything more? You can! Click here to continue reading our review.

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Looking UpHappy Earth Day week! In honor of wonderful planet Earth we are going to highlight National Park areas this week that examine the glories of conservation, preservation, and sustainability. There’s one man that immediately springs to mind when those topics are mentioned: environmentalist pioneer John Muir. It also just so happens that Monday was even his Muir’s birthday. He would have been 170 years old, a fraction of the lifespan of one of his beloved Giant Sequoia trees

Muir’s home and ranch isn’t the only National Park named in the conservationist’s honor. Across the bay in Marin County stands a grove of redwoods that were saved by a local businessman in 1905 from the rabid saws of loggers and named after John Muir. They are one of the area’s last remaining ancient groves.

It’s hard to imagine anyone would ever want to cut down these magnificent trees or how anyone would dare remove their magical powers and stately magnificence from the world. But profit has always triumphed over beauty; the monetary always means more than the spiritual. It takes a special person to stand up in favor of conservation and battle the unbeatable big businesses. John Muir was one of the first but, as the Muir Woods story shows, successive generations have seen his admirable struggle and continued his dream of preserving beauty and preserving life.

Click Here to Read More about Muir Woods National Monument.

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Open-Faced VolcanoWe were so giddy about Al Gore and his team’s recent Nobel Peace Prize win that we had to come up with a National Park topic week in his honor. We could have looked at the Park sites that honor Presidents who won the Nobel but that correlation wouldn’t have been completely accurate. So instead we’re examining Park sites that remember natural disasters. Today we go to the still-rumbling Mount Saint Helens.

It is clear that a volcanic eruption happened here. The land is a dusty tan. Downed trees still stand where they collapsed in 1980. They now make wonderful homes to woodpeckers and assorted insects. Lakes created by the blast shimmer in bright blues. The earth undulates below in odd configuration created by the landslide and the mud floes.

Then there is the volcano. She stands with a pugnacious spirit, smaller and much less majestic than her Cascade mountain cousins. She is asymmetrical, without glaciers, angry, agitated and hard at work.

In 1980, she ejected thousands of tons of ash and smoke sideways through her northern face, then an unknown phenomenon. She now stands without a top, 2000 feet shorter than she was in 1979. The crater is ever-changing, open, billowing smoke and dispensing magma. She is exposed and not too happy about it.

Click Here to Read More about Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument.

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Southeastern Utah.
Visited: No Time Soon
NPS Site Visited: Not There Yet
NPS Website

This is one that got away. We fear that getting to Rainbow Bridge NM , Utah will be near impossible, at least on our budget. Options: a.) $110/person boat ride or b.) a 34-mile round trip hike with limited camping options along the way. A permit from the Navajo Nation is required.

The second option wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t require a 30-mile drive down an unpaved road to get to the trailhead. A 4×4 is strongly recommended. Poor little ‘Tima. We couldn’t do that to her. Renting a jeep or a driver to get us to the trailhead is also cost-prohibitive for frugal travelers.

The closest we came to Rainbow Bridge NM was getting its stamp at the Glen Canyon NRA.

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Freezing GabOn May 22, 1915 the continental United States saw its first major volcanic eruption of the 20th Century when northern California’s Lassen Peak, honored as Lassen Volcanic National Park, exploded with terrifying force.

During the week of May 21-27 we will be highlighting volcanic National Parks with writing so bold and forceful that you just might explode with giddy anticipation. Monday went went to New Mexico’s Capulin Volcano National Monument. Today we’re at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

It’s hard to imagine the desolate land around us as being alive. The unforgiving clusters of gigantic razor sharp rocks, the flat fields of jagged asphalt, the frozen air, the waterless terrain and the barren chasms of red rocks. The land looks like an abandoned strip mine left to ecological ruin.

But these rocks are alive. Not alive through water and air; this land is reliant on fire. Molten lava gives life to this terrain. It sustains, creates and rules with an exclusionary iron fist. Humans have never and will never master this terrain. Only the most daring and most (fool)hardy flora and fauna attempt to call this place home. Their rent is about due. Their fiery landlord maintains a strict schedule.

Every 2,000 years the lava returns, bubbling out and flowing across its domain. It came 15,000, 12,000, 10,000, 7,500, 6,000, 4,000, and 2,000 years ago. The landlord could return tomorrow.

Click Here to Read More.

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Capulin Sky

On May 22, 1915 the continental United States saw its first major volcanic eruption of the 20th Century when northern California’s Lassen Peak, honored as Lassen Volcanic NP, exploded with terrifying force.

During the week of May 21-27 we will be highlighting volcanic National Parks with writing so bold and forceful that you just might explode with giddy anticipation. First up: New Mexico’s Capulin Volcano National Monument.

We are driving up a volcano, circling around its base, steadily climbing to its mouth. The sky climbs even higher. Untold blues, soaring clouds, no haze, no limits no imaginable end. The land below feels further and further away. The road lifts our Altima like a jet, the cars below and their lonely two-lane road looks smaller and smaller by the second. We have arrived. We are at the top.

We scurry out of the car to look into the heart of this once snarling beast. She erupted 60,000 years ago. The ground shook for days. From an innocent hole some 1,100 feet below our present location, the volcano’s base, steam blew, then…explosion. Cinders, rock and other debris flew into the air forming Capulin. This debris fell from the sky in near perfect symmetry, stacking and creating the volcano we now stand on.

The land below stretches endlessly. Five states are visible they say. We can see the barren earth and their bumpy undulations. Underneath the reborn grasslands and swaths of yellow wildflowers is lava, lava that flowed from Capulin.

A mile-long trail leads around this dead monster’s rim. A one-mile circumference, 1,000 feet deep volcano. Imagine the eruption, imagine the debris, imagine the power! Mini-Capulin’s are more visible from the high lookout. They are everywhere. These small volcanos rose quickly, like Capulin, in the blink of a geological eye. Some are as old as Capulin, 62,000 years, some are much older. They are all extinct, but if there had been scientists at the time of Capulin, they would have said the field was dormant too.

The rim trail has surprises of its own. A pleasant western aroma wafts from its numerous junipers and hardy sages, wildflowers bloom with unexpected color and jays loudly announce their presence. And what is this? The rocks lining the trail look to be moving; their richly-red lichen won’t stand still. Wait. Those are ladybugs. Thousands of ladybugs. We walk further. The ladybugs swarm around us. They land on our arms they land on our heads they envelope us they welcome us into their unbelievable world.

Click Here to Read More.

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near Rocky Mount, Va.
Visited: November 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 278 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

WHAT IS IT?
Site dedicated to Booker T. Washington, a man born into slavery in 1856, who became a major figure in turn of the century United States history. Washington is best known as the longtime president of Tuskegee Institute and intellectual adversary of W.E.B. Du Bois.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Beautiful rolling, rural Virginia countryside nestled next to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. On this farm, horses roam, geese squawk, pigs slop and sheep lounge.

The reconstructed slave quarters, tobacco barns and meat curing rafters are not as extensive as they must have been 150 years ago. The horrors of slavery are hard to imagine when everything feels so pleasant. Only when you read and hear stories of the intensive labor it takes to harvest tobacco does the situation fall slowly into perspective.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Interestingly, Booker T. Washington’s exploits and achievements are neither the primary nor the sole focus of his eponymous Site. Instead, the Site delves into a much wider reaching and historically vital topic: Virginia and Carolina tobacco farming and the institution of slavery, a subject widely ignored at other relevant National Park Sites.

CROWDS (7/10)
We pulled into an empty parking lot. In the time it took to collect the camera and Passport book and lock the car, the lot had suddenly spawned several more cars. Where did everyone come from?

We hurried inside to beat the rush only to find Rangers setting up a special presentation for the afternoon’s Elderhostel tour. They welcomed us and invited us to grab a seat and tag along for the special talk on tobacco cultivation and tour of the grounds.

Have we mentioned we love Elderhostels?

ColorsEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Site is located along Virginia Route 122 in a very rural part of the Commonwealth State about 22 miles from Roanoke and the Interstate 581 spur of I-81. From I-581, you have two choices: 1) Go South along U.S. Route 220 for 17 miles south until you get to the Va. Route 122 intersection at Rocky Mount. The Site is about 15 miles to the northeast along this road; or 2) take Virginia Route 116 south for 15 miles to the Route 122 intersection at Burnt Chimney. The Site is four miles to the northeast.

Choice one is longer, but might be faster. Choice two is the scenic route. Once you get to the Site, an easy grass path, called the plantation trail, meanders from the Visitor Center through the farm where Booker T. was born.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The Site has one of the better collections of African American-related history texts we have seen thus far.

COSTS (4/5)
No admission fees whatsoever.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
We spent time with three different Rangers during our short visit. One who gave the tobacco talk; one leading the walking tour. and one who discussed Tuskegee, Booker T. and the lack of an NPS site dedicated to W.E.B. Du Bois at the bookstore.

His response to why no Du Bois site? Because he was a socialist. Michael’s quick response: What about Eugene O’Neill and Carl Sandburg? You know, you make a good point, he added while laughing.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
On the day of our visit, we were treated to both a Ranger talk and a Ranger-led tour of the grounds. Neither of these are daily occurrences at the Site but neither were that substantial. We learned more chatting casually with the Ranger left behind to manage the bookstore.

On the FarmWhat the Site lacks in daily Ranger-led events and museum space, it compensates for with special events like book signings and lectures from guest speakers held at least twice a month. The Site has even started a Booker T. Washington Book Club which held its first meeting this month.

April 1st marks Booker T. Washington´s 150th Birthday and the Booker T. Washington National Monument´s 50th Anniversary. An all day celebration is scheduled.

FUN (5/10)
The Booker T. Washington NM provides an enjoyably rural setting for a peaceful afternoon. We found ourselves lingering even though we had seen and done everything that was offered. We even took advantage of the tables and benches next to the parking lot and had an impromptu picnic.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10)
A trip to the Site can easily be fit in your road trip vacation itinerary because it lies just off the heavily vacationed Blue Ridge Parkway. This important historical destination honors a fascinating great American and enjoys a diverse staff of Rangers, all with unique pedagogic specialties.

TOTAL 53/80

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Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Visited: October 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

WHAT IS IT?
Coastal defense fort that saw continuous military use for nearly two centuries, including major battles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Red bricks replaced the namesakes of Fort Moultrie’s Palmetto Fort in the early 1800s. Low walls encircle a grass courtyard and a large unattractive black battery. It is hard to focus your eyes on the Fort’s interior when the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter create your horizon. Fort Moultrie NM offers a wonderful vantage point to view the busy waterway and skyline of the grand old city. Its flags, cannons and planted palmettos help frame the competing blues of the Harbor and the bright Carolina sky.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
Confederate cannons fired the first shots of the Civil War from Fort Moultrie onto Fort Sumter. Nevertheless, Moultrie remains shrouded in a cloak of historical anonymity while Sumter is etched indelibly in our American consciousness.

Fort Moultrie was also site of a vital June 28, 1776 Revolutionary War battle which less than a week before our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. British Naval forces led by Commodore Peter Parker attempted to take the key city of Charleston but were repelled by forces commanded by Colonel William Moultrie.

Morning CoffeeCROWDS (6/10)
We encountered a much larger crowd at Fort Moultrie than expected. Dozens moved in and out of the Fort’s quirky nooks and narrow passageways discovering the long history of a coastal fort.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
You need a car to get to Fort Moultrie NM, so if you have come to Charleston on a cruise ship, you are out of luck. The Fort is located on the west end of Sullivan’s Island at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor.

From both downtown Charleston and Interstate 26, take U.S. Route 17 North. You will cross the dramatic Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Once you reach the mainland take Coleman Blvd. (S.C. Route 703). Three miles later, Coleman Blvd. will bend and become Ben Sawyer Blvd but remain S.C. 703. You will be crossing marshlands on your way to the Island. Once you reach Sullivan’s Island, turn right onto Middle Street and take it to its end. You are there! Do not worry; there are plenty of signs.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Fort Moultrie’s bookstore spreads itself thin across four wars and several ethnic and cultural topics. Books on the Gullah, Seminoles and the Underground Railroad sit next to stories, songbooks and cookbooks from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, which share the shelves with a biography of the Swamp Fox, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and a few paperbacks about the War of 1812 and the Spanish War.

While a few titles do stand out, like the Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, or Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, the store’s variety doesn’t allow for much depth in any of the subject areas. If Fort Moultrie’s bookstore were a basketball team, it would need a better sixth man.

Strength with MowingCOSTS (3/5)
The Fort costs $3 per adult or $5 per family. If you have the National Parks Pass, entry is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
A charming septuagenarian South Carolinian examined our National Parks pass, shared some knowledge about Charleston’s unique architecture (“We were saved by our own poverty; people were too poor to knock down the old houses and build new.”) and alerted us to the next showing of the film. This was the most interaction we had with any Site staff. We vaguely recall a Ranger but this gentleman volunteer introduced us to the Site and directed us on our way.

It would have been nice to have a Ranger across the street at the actual Fort to answer questions as they arose.

TOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
Fort Moultrie’s Visitor Center houses a small set of exhibits, the bookstore and theatre where the Site’s introductory film plays every 30 minutes. What a film it is.

Filmed entirely on location, Fort Moultrie’s video is a one-man tour de force. An actor named Michael Longfield dons several period costumes, different facial hair variations and at least eight different accents to guide viewers through the history of the Palmetto Fort. The audience sees the Fort’s construction, two reconstructions and finally the closing of its gates as a military post through the eyes of a common soldier.

FUN (6/10)
We entered the Fort still smiling from Mr Longfield’s valiant linguistic efforts. Most of the Site is open for exploration. Several rooms within the battery are furnished as offices and radio control centers circa 1940, complete with pin-up calendars and board games to occupy bored privates.

There is a pathway circling the exterior of the Fort and leading down to a small beach. As appealing as this stroll sounds, do not exit the Fort without applying adequate amounts of bug spray. We were fine within the perimeter but mosquitoes swarmed as soon as we neared the water.

Coastal DefenseWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Fort Moultrie NM is one of the most military-focused units in the National Park System, a noteworthy distinction given the innumerable battlefields and war-related historic sites. Fort Moultrie spotlights the role of the soldier in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to World War II as well as the soldier’s role in peacetime. We even recall a Park volunteer saluting paying customers.

The storied events of Fort Moultrie’s history are even downplayed in favor of highlighting the life of the average soldiers who fought there. Fort Moultrie soldier-centric learning experience contrasts sharply to the historic overview offered at its sister site Fort Sumter. In addition, the view offered at Moultrie is the closest you can get to Fort Sumter without taking the ferry. It worked for the Confederate cannons; it can work for you.

TOTAL 46/80

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Charleston Harbor, S.C.
Visited: October 19, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Many FlagsWHAT IS IT?
Federal defense fort located in the middle of Charleston Harbor. On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops deluged the Fort with artillery fire, captured the Union soldiers and officially began the American Civil War.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Fort Sumter is a pentagon-shaped redbrick fortification located at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor. The Fort has been largely rebuilt since its major role in American History because non-stop shelling from 1861-65 destroyed its walls and interiors. The Fort, itself, is not particularly attractive especially when compared to the views it affords of the Harbor and old town Charleston.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10)
This is where the Civil War began. Well, at least symbolically. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s election, in December of 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union. By March 1861, six more states had followed suit. Because they believed themselves to be a new country, the Confederates ordered Federal troops off the Forts within their boundaries.

Even though the American government refused to acknowledge this new nation, they still moved their troops out of most of these Forts. Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens (near Pensacola, Fla.) were the two exceptions. By April 12, three things had happened: 1) Lincoln took office; 2) the Federal troops ran out of supplies and 3) the fiery South Carolinians publicly demanded Sumter’s surrender.

When the Union Major Robert Anderson formally refused to leave, the siege began. Cannon fire rained onto the Fort and less than twelve hours later, Anderson surrendered and the War Between the States had begun. The Confederates held Fort Sumter under General Sherman captured Charleston in 1865.

We asked a Ranger, “How could the Rebels successfully defend Fort Sumter from 1863 to 1865 when the Union made easy work of the similar Fort Pulaski near Savannah.” She sheepishly replied, “Good question: Because they did not have to. Their successful blockade of Charleston Harbor made seizure of Fort Sumter unnecessary.” We added, “So why do the exhibits and the Ranger talks speak about the Fort as the last Confederate stronghold and a symbol of Southern resolve.” Her response was a smile; a spoken answer would have been too complicated.

CROWDS (3/10)
Every day, hundreds of people pile into the ferries that travel to Fort Sumter. The Civil War’s flash point is a major attraction in a major tourist town. The effect is an amusement park experience where most participants are unsure of what they are going to see! We actually overheard this on the ferryboat: “Who knew that historic stuff happened in Charleston?” Fort Sumter feels like a checkmark on the tourists’ Things to Do While Your Cruise Ship is Docked list rather than a pilgrimage to a near-sacred American history destination.

Escaping the Ranger TalkEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
We were approached by a very sunburned English man while walking the genteel streets of old town Charlestown. “Could you please point me towards Fort Sumter,” he asked. “You see that island Fort about five miles away?” Michael said while pointing, “That’s Fort Sumter.” “Oh,” he responded, “I am not making it today then, am I?”

Three ferries leave from Liberty Square/Aquarium throughout most of the year. Liberty Square borders the Cooper River, the Charleston peninsula’s eastern coast, and stands at the end of Calhoun Street. As for driving directions, look for signs to the Aquarium.

Charleston peninsula is all narrow one-way streets and few long-term non-parking garage options. We walked from our hotel. Most of the other visitors had walked from their cruise ship docked nearby.

A far more accessible ferry leaves from Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point has ample free parking and only slightly less frequent service. Three boats leave during the summer, two during spring and fall and one during winter.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Civil War bookstores set a high standard because most overflow with hundreds of obscure tomes and kitschy knickknacks. Fort Sumter does not live up to this difficult scrutiny. You are not going to find a long lost Civil War text here. A few books, however, did catch our eye, including Dr. Seuss Goes to War, an eye-opening book that recounts the children’s book writer’s early career as an editorial cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine during World War II.

COSTS (1/5)
Fort Sumter stands in the middle of Charleston Harbor. You need to take a ferry. The boat’s 2005 rates were $13 per adult. If you take the Liberty Square ferry, you need to use a parking garage. Metered street parking is capped at two hours, the round trip to Fort Sumter lasts for two hours and 15 minutes. Coincidence?

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
The ferryboats dropped at least 100 fellow tourists and us off on the Island for one hour. During that period, one Ranger gave a 30-minute talk about the Fort. Once his talk finished, another Ranger appeared to answer questions and the lecturer disappeared.

For much of our visit, we fruitlessly tried to corner one of the Rangers. We had questions but so did countless other patrons. We were not able to isolate a Ranger until five minutes before departure. We left disappointed and wishing for more staffing at this highly visited marquee historic attraction.

Useless CannonsTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
The Fort Sumter Ranger talk and ferry boat narration are an elementary-school level Civil War refresher course. The teaching is aimed at the lowest common denominator; understandable when you see thousands of tour boat travelers every day but disappointing for history nerds like us. The good news is that the Rangers really know their stuff. The bad news is that you might have trouble getting you questions answered given the large crowds.

We enjoyed the Park’s two Museums, especially the one located in Liberty Square. The Liberty Square Museum approaches the events leading up to the events of April 1861, the South Carolinian mess of human rights, property rights and states rights. In another word: slavery. Be sure to take the time to read its intelligent but carefully worded displays, especially the Ambiguities of the Constitution exhibit.

Most tourists seemed to skip the Museum altogether on their way from the ticket booth to the ferry queue. Do not be that person. The Museum provides a terrific and in-depth intro to the Civil War. Do not rely on the inane canned historical nuggets provided over the ferryboat’s antiquated audio system. The second Museum, located on Fort Sumter, examines the Fort’s role during the War.

FUN (5/10)
Island Park sites are difficult. Ferryboat rides are expensive and your time is always limited. We tend to spend multiple hours at forts and battlefields between the museums and Ranger talks. Fort Sumter does not allow you to learn at your own pace. Our visit felt very rushed. One hour was not enough. However, the one-hour Harbor cruise was nice; Charleston, S.C. is one of America’s most beautiful old cities and the views from the water are spectacular.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10)
We loved our time in Charleston and Fort Sumter is its most essential tourist attraction. Oddly, though, it was the low point of our visit to the Holy City. The trip was more obligatory than fun. Sumter’s best learning opportunities are found at the landlocked Museum and experienced without the ferry ride. Time spent on the fort is time not spent on the old town streets, at the boutique shops and in the terrific restaurants. So should you go? Er, uh, ah, um, probably yes.

TOTAL 40/80

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Diamond, Mo.
Visited: September 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 245 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website


WHAT IS IT?

The birthplace and boyhood home of George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors and one of her most remarkable men.

In ThoughtBEAUTY (6/10)
The George Washington Carver National Monument landscape is calming, quiet and lends towards introspection. From the VC, the Carver Trail passes George’s birthplace, the ruins of a tiny cabin, and descends into the forest until reaching the remarkable Boy Carver statue. The statue portrays a young George deep in thought, his head tilted slightly towards the sky caught in a daydream, an idea and with a relaxing peace of mind.

The statue hurtles you into the Carver’s natural world, a world of necessary escape but a world of opportunity. Carver saw it as God’s world; he believed that the Creator spoke to him “through flowers, rocks, animals, plants and all other aspects of His creations”. While walking in Carver’s common, but extraordinary woodland oasis you might become one with his understanding and experience a flash of his genius.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
How can you quantify the life of George Washington Carver? His story, his life and his absolute loving, humble Christian demeanor are so unbelievable.

Carver was born a slave in 1864 in Missouri, perhaps America’s most volatile and violent state. Shortly after his birth, Missouri bushwhackers kidnapped both him and his mother. His slave owners recovered George, at the time nearly dead from whooping cough, but never found his mother.

Carver spent his youth painting, learning about the plants and animals that surrounded him and teaching himself to read. The Carvers, formerly his owners, were illiterate and unable to assist George’s learning. He left home at eleven, moving from school to school, through sickness, extreme prejudice, violence and difficult jobs. In 1890, he found his way into Iowa State University’s agriculture program, where he would become their first African American graduate in 1894.

Carver then moved to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute where his remarkable scientific career blossomed. Carver invented hundreds of food products, including peanut butter, and transformed the Southern farmers’ agricultural methods. By the 1920’s he had become friends with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Carver died in 1943. Later that same year, FDR honored him with a National Park Site. This honor is especially remarkable when you consider that the nearby Arkansas schools did not begin desegregation until 1957 and in much of the South denied voting rights to African Americans until 1965.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. The Site should see waves of school group visitors any day now.

Pumpkin HarvestEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Carver birthplace is located in southwestern Missouri, about 20 miles from the town of Joplin. Take Interstate 44, Exit 11 and travel south down U.S. Route 71 for 5 miles. Turn east (left) and go down Missouri Route V for about 5 miles until you reach Carver Road. Turn south (right) and signs will point you to the Park.

The NPS has resurfaced the part of the Carver Trail from the Visitor Center to the Carver Statue with an environmentally friendly material made from recycled tires. This portion of the trail is fully accessible.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
The store carries ten Carver biographies, five Carver children’s books and reprints of five separate Carver agricultural pamphlets. The bookstore also vends posters and Booker T. Washington biographies but the shelf entitled African American history is conspicuously bare.

African American history scholarship has flourished over the past 25 years. We should have run across a definitive collection of texts at one of the 15+ African American history-related sites we have visited. Instead, we run into bare shelves and self-help books. It does not make sense why there are more black history books at Civil War sites than at sites honoring Martin Luther King, the Brown v. Board of Education decision and George Washington Carver.

COSTS (5/5)
From the Park’s website: George Washington Carver once said, “The Lord charges nothing for knowledge and I will charge you the same.” Entry, as Mr. Carver wanted, is free. Free Ranger-led tours of the Site leave twice a day.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
We had a personal Ranger tour albeit a rushed tour since she needed to get back to the Museum in order to give another Ranger a lunch break. The Carver Discovery Center was closed.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
None of the Site’s educational offerings, the 40-year old film, the Mission ’66-era Museum and the rushed Ranger tour, was particularly compelling. The interactive Carver Discovery Center was closed during our visit and, although aimed at children, could have been fun.

In retrospect, we should have wandered both the Carver Trail and the Contemplative Loop Trail on our own, sans Ranger. Rocks bearing meditative GW Carver quotes appear during the entire journey giving an insight into his tremendous life. The Park’s trees, insects, animals, birds, ponds and pathways were Carver’s education. Nature was his personal teacher; we must learn to make it ours.

Quiet Nature WalkFUN (5/10)
Carver NM is Part One of the saga. George’s boyhood, while amazing, is the least interesting part of his story. The agricultural discoveries at Tuskegee, his aristocratic friendships and even his determined post-Missouri educational path are all more appealing than his boyhood. George left here at eleven and never again called it his home.

Touring the Carvers’ house also elicits odd emotions which we cannot come to grips with. The fact remains that they owned George in 1864 Missouri, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Missouri remained a slave state until the War’s end because it was pro-Union. How is that for irony? George never wrote about the situation with any animosity or mixed feelings, only thanks and appreciation, so why should we feel differently?

It is no wonder that rural Missouri life 150 years ago spawned the complicated race-probing writings of the greatest American author: Mark Twain.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
We enjoyed the George Washington Carver Museum at the Tuskegee Institute much more. Nonetheless, if you are driving westward down I-44, the path of the classic American road, Route 66, then a quick stop to Carver’s birthplace is in order. It could be the last eastern woodland-forested landscape your cross-country trip will see.

TOTAL 45/80

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