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A Legitimate Question

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked a very legitimate question, “where are you?”

liberty bell

liberty bell

Michael and I have been residing in Harrisburg, PA since we ended our trip in December 2005, just a few months ahead of schedule. Bags were unpacked, the ‘Tima got a car wash, items were pulled out of storage and a new home was found (a few blocks away from the old one).

Since then, one of us went back to work, one of us found a new job, we both wrote for a few other places, and in between we’ve gone back to some of our favorite park sites to give them a second look, like Independence Hall National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell and our beloved Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

New sites were given National Park site designations since we created our original list, like the Carter G. Woodson House National Historic Site in Washington D.C. This was one of our final stops, but our visit was still a little premature. The African Burial Grounds National Memorial in New York is another newbie we have to add to our “still to see” list.

Did we reach our goal of Every. Single. NPS site in the Continental United States?

Almost.

Did we reach our goal of rediscovering America and answering the question, “what, exactly, does it mean to be American?”

We’re not sure if America ever becomes a static answer, or if the discovery ever ends. We found a lot of different answers, and had the time of our lives trying.

And it ain’t over yet.

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It’s Been How Long?

Too long.

Last summer, Michael took pains to transfer all of our posts from www.usa-c2c.com over here to their new home. And they’re almost all here. We had big plans. We would post every day! We said. We would stay up to date on National Park news and add our two cents. We affirmed. Well, things happen.

But now we are back. And just in time to get ready to celebrate that day we set off to see all of the National Park locations 5 years ago.

Wow.

Since then so many of you shared your stories with us, talked about your own plans to travel to the National Parks, shared your travel tips and road rules and hopefully now have a smooth USA-C2C long-sleeved T-shirt to show for it. Thanks so much for keeping in touch. And letting us know that www.usa-c2c.com was a resource for you. Because that was the hope.

www.usa-c2c.com is still there. Still up and running. But we’ll be focusing most of our attention here, at NationalParksOnline.net, where there is an easier search, a way to leave comments and all kinds of bells and whistles we didn’t have with the site we started so long ago.

For those who are keeping track, there are still a few sites left to see, still some more stories to tell.

What? You didn’t think we told you everything on the road, did you?

Welcome (or welcome back) to NationalParksOnline.net.

Our Island50-foot diameter, perfect circular shape. Circumference dotted with large granite boulders. Surrounding our circle is a range of the bluest waters imaginable. Deep royals, rich navys, distant cornflowers, and endless azures. Our circle rises with only slight symmetrical convexity from which sprout dozens of fragrant evergreen trees. A padded pine leaf surface provides our base, downed wood provides our warmth. For this weekend this is our island, this is our Minnesota world.

Voyageurs National Park is an endless wilderness of water. Its lakes feel more like oceans than ponds. The water runs deep and the sky is endless. There’s no hiking here. Land exists as a border, a barrier. We explore via two-person canoe, like the fur-trapping french canadian voyageurs before us. Our bags sit in between us two paddlers. We travel wherever the water takes us. Our only fixed destination is one of the Park’s many campsite that dot the border landscapes. Our first day’s journey will zig zag from campground to campground looking for an empty nest.

We arrive at each campground too late. Our binoculars show no openings. Each haven is occupied by a motorboat working with far more horsepower than our tired triceps. Each site brings another failure. It’s starting to get late. We’re still in our canoe. Our tensions rise and the arguments ensue.

Then she appears: our island. She looks flat, she looks empty, she looks secluded, she looks safe. She’s not official but she looks all right to us. Others have been here before. Perhaps last week perhaps last month. A brass marker proves she’s been surveyed by the U.S. Geological Service. But she is ours now.

We relax and the worry dissipates. We’ve been canoeing all day but this is the first time we’ve taken in our surroundings: it’s beautiful. We sunbathe on our rocky shore and watch the sun set for what seems like hours. Bald eagles fly overhead. We spot a moose swimming from island to island. The next day, we sleep in until the rain stops. We only leave to explore the neighboring islands looking for firewood.

That fire never happens. Black skies come rushing toward us almost as quickly as the motorboats scurry to get back to their campsites. A downpour is coming. We collect our things and jump in the tent the second before the heavens open. Our tent is being whipped by sudden bursts of wind; our weight is the only thing holding it down. We sneak a peak outside a see ferocious whitecaps and a threatening darkness. Twenty minutes later the skies clear, the waters calm and a phenomenal sunset captures the world.

“Could we stay on our deserted island forever?” we wonder. Maybe if we had remembered our fishing rods.

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.

Entering the PrimevalEnvironmental advocates can sometimes be heard to say “Make Earth Day everyday”. Well, we are going to heed their call and continue highlighting National Park areas that examine the glories of conservation, preservation, and sustainability. Today we move across the country from California’s Muir Woods to another park that boasts oversized trees: South Carolina’s Congaree National Park.

Congaree NP is home to North America’s largest, at 22,000 acres, intact floodplain forest. What that means is a great diversity of tall trees, a swamp-like feel, lots of birds and even more mosquitoes.

In the late 19th century, there were 52 million acres of old-growth floodplain forests in the southeastern United States. In just 50 years, logging companies harvested nearly all of these forests. Today, Congaree NP’s 11,000 acres of old-growth floodplain forest make it the largest example of this ecosystem in North America. The second largest old-growth floodplain forest totals just 2,000 acres.

Congaree NP’s excessively wet climate initially protected it from logging interests but in the 1950’s, conservationist Harry Hampton launched a passionate campaign to save this precious example of the earth’s natural past. A bitter fight between conservationist and loggers ensued, ending when the Congress set aside the land as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. Congaree NP became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983.

Click Here to Read More about Congaree National Park.

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.

Inner GlowHappy 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 today is 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 longtime northern California home and fruit ranch is preserved as part of the National Park Service as John Muir National Historic Site. Muir would probably not recognize his former dwelling. His 2,700 acres have dwindled to 8½. His home’s rural California surroundings have morphed into an industrial and population center. The quiet serenity he enjoyed writing in his second floor “scribble den” would now be impossible because an 8-lane freeway now passes within yards of the room’s windows.

When touring the house the freeway is constantly in your line of vision and buzzing in your ears. The home of someone who so loved and promoted the serenity afforded by nature is now in the shadow of concrete and steel. This is both a cruel irony and an effective reminder that the struggle to protect our natural resources and places of beauty is not over. John Muir’s advocacy and the creation of the National Parks was the beginning, not the end.

Click Here to Read More about John Muir National Historic Site.