Since Yellowstone was made our nation’s – and the world’s – first National Park on March 3, 1872, by decree of President U.S. Grant under the newly passed Antiquities Act of Congress, we now have more than 400 National Parks and Monuments. All are cared for by the National Park Service, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of its founding in 1916 with month-long events this August across America.
Our own Everglades National Park was established in May, 1934, by President Franklin Roosevelt to protect the quickly vanishing Everglades. It was dedicated in 1947. Your Feature Writer and my wife Bonnie kicked off an early celebration with a recent 1,155-mile Caravan Tour by luxury motor coach. Our long-anticipated trip included Mt. Rushmore, Little Bighorn Battlefield and Crazy Horse National Monuments, as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Crazy Horse & Mt. Rushmore
Our tour began in Rapid City, SD, with a visit first to the Crazy Horse Memorial, started in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolokowski with only the face and top of his arm completed to date. Dedicated to the Lakota Sioux Chief credited with the Little Bighorn strategy that defeated Custer’s 7th Cavalry, It is being completed by son Nick and other family members. It is supported only by private donations to the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
Mt. Rushmore’s famous quartet of presidential faces – Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt & Lincoln was started in 1927 by sculptor Gutzon Borglun and completed in 1941, with its 75th anniversary celebrated this year. A rare treat was on the half-mile Presidential Trail walk “up close and personal” to the monument where we heard a talk by an NPS Ranger who is the grandson of famed Chief Red Cloud. He told of his grandfather’s trip to Washington with four other Sioux Elders in the late 1870’s to request more food, education and health aid for the Indian tribes on the reservations. He also related a moving legend from his tribe of Mother Nature and her plea to share what you have with others, and to safeguard the environment for future generations.
On our way to the Little Bighorn we passed through Lead, CO, where one of the world’s richest gold mines operated 8,000 feet deep from 1938 to 2009 and now is a major government underground research facility. Just across the Wyoming border we passed the famous Vore Buffalo Jump where remains of more than 20,000 bison were found. Over 600 years, they were driven by Indians to their death to provide food and hides.
We made a side trip to the imposing Devil’s Tower, a 60-million-year-old, 865-foot-high magma volcanic eruption rising 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Sacred to the Lakota Sioux among other tribes, it was designated our First National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.
Crossing into Montana, we went through the Crow Nation, our fifth largest reservation and home to over 12,000 tribal members. Crow scouts were with General Custer at Little Bighorn, where a stone obelisk monument erected in 1881 on Last Stand Hill includes the names of Custer and all who died with him on June 26, 1876. Stone markers also identify the fallen Cavalrymen, Sioux and Cheyenne in the adjoining small Cemetery, and elsewhere on the grounds.
It took 122 years for the more impressive Indian Memorial to open in 2003. Dominated by a “Spirit Gate” outline sculpture of “Spirit Warriors” with a view to the Cavalry obelisk, the circular series of walls highlights the tribes involved in the battle, and Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse who led their 1,500-plus warriors.
Our trip to Yellowstone began with a drive past the Beartooth Mountains along the scenic Yellowstone River, where famed Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce tribe in 1877 fled toward Canada. U.S. troops caught up 40 miles from the border, where the Chief surrendered with his famous quote, “Our flight has ended; I will fight no more!” We also crossed the historic 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and North Pole.
Yellowstone is more than 2 million square miles, mostly in Wyoming, plus parts of Idaho and Montana. Much of the Park is in the Caldera Basin left after a giant volcanic eruption more than 600 million years ago! We entered the park through the imposing Roosevelt Arch. During our two days we saw many Pronghorn (antelope), Elk and and wild Bison, as well as Osprey and a Grizzly Bear. Later in the trip we added sightings of a Black Bear and a pair of Bald Eagles.
Yellowstone was first administered briefly by private interests, with the U.S. Army taking over in the 1880’s, until the National Park Service was established in 1916, officially taking charge in 1918.
Our first stop was at Mammoth Hot Springs, where we saw the Palette – terraced volcanic geyser pools – and two former eruptions, Devil’s Thumb and Liberty Cap mounds, as well as three Elk bucks drinking at the pools. We then stopped at the Calcite Springs overlook and rode up over Dunraven Pass with many switchbacks past 8,859-foot-high Mount Washburn.
The next day began with a local guide and a visit to the stunning Fountain Paint Pots – bubbling “sulphurterra” gas pots, past many Lodgepole Pines with “white bobby sox feet” affected by silica in the large Celestine Pool. The historic fountain-type Castle Geyser erupts four times daily for more than 20 minutes, a stunning display equaling that of Old Faithful, a cone-type geyser.
On our way to the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” we first stopped at the 109-foot-high Upper falls, then to Canyon Village Visitors Center for lunch. The Canyon, estimated at 160,000 years old, is dominated by the scenic 308-foot-high Lower Falls. From Artist Point we saw the top annual flow of 64,000 gallons per minute.
We stayed two nights at the historic Old Faithful Inn, designed by architect Richard Reamer and opened in 1904. it is constructed with Lodgepole Pine logs, with a 50-ton native stone fireplace rising 108 feet to the roof of the main lobby.
We had ringside seats for the almost clockwork 90-minute eruption of Old Faithful Geyser, whose stunning display lasts about 10 minutes. A boardwalk takes visitors past Old Faithful to see a number of other geysers and volcanic pools.
Grand Teton & Oregon Trail
Leaving Yellowstone, we crossed the 8,279-foot-high Continental Divide three times, traveling along the John D. Rockefeller Jr. highway into Grand Teton National Park.
Established in 1929, the park includes 32,000 acres acquired quietly by Rockefeller and donated to the U.S.
Another tour highlight was at Moose, WY, where we used four large rubber rafts for a stunning trip – with a bag lunch – down the Snake River. The 1,181-mile course starts in Washington State and ends in the Columbia River. Our local guide pointed out the sights that included many beaver dams, Canada Geese, Muscovy Ducks, a very fat Raccoon and a Moose cow with her young calf.
It was on to an overnight stay in Jackson, WY, a noted artist center with its outstanding Museum of Wildlife Art. The town square has four stunning Elk Antler Horn arches and a notable Million Dollar Cowboy Bar with horse saddle bar stools.
En route to Salt Lake City, we stopped at the historic Oregon /California Trail Center in Montpelier, ID, built and maintained by all-volunteer local costumed hosts. They took us through a simulated four to five-month, 2,000-mile trip that more than 500,000 made from Independence, MO, to Oregon City, OR, from 1838 to 1914.
The lure was a free 120-acre land deed – to both men and women from the U.S. government.
Our last stop in SLC included a brief but notable guided tour of historic Temple Square by four Mormon Church sisters. Included was the stunning Mormon Tabernacle with its 11,000-plus Pipe Organ & where the 325-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses and performs their weekly Sunday morning TV show as they’ve been doing since 1929, originally on radio of course.
Our memorable eight-day tour took us back through millions of years of history. Our visits to some of our most notable National Parks and Monuments reminded us continuously how important are these treasured lands, and for all of us to help preserve them forever.
[Steve Traiman is President of Creative Copy by Steve Traiman in St. Pete Beach, offering freelance business writing services. He can be reached via email at email@example.com]