National Parks: Going To The Dogs!

What dog doesn’t like going for a W-A-L-K?

According to the American Pet Products Association, approximately 62 percent of households in the United States have pets, which include about 78 million dogs. Many people include their dogs in their travel plans, since placing a dog in a kennel for an extended period of time can be quite expensive, as well as stressful for the dog.

Many national park sites allow dogs on specified trails, and some national park concessioners allow dogs in some lodging facilities, like Xanterra Parks and Resorts at Yellowstone National Park and Delaware North Companies at Shenandoah National Park.

If you plan to bring your dog with you on a visit to a national park, you should be prepared. An important thing to remember is that heat can kill. Be sure to carry enough water for you and your pet. If you travel to a park where dogs are allowed only in specific areas, don’t leave your dog in a hot vehicle or RV while you explore parts of the park that restrict dogs. This practice is generally prohibited at national park sites, and your pet could be impounded.

Buckeye Belle

Buckeye Belle, a retired Search and Rescue, therapy, assistance, champion squirrel/coon/ show and field champion dog. This picture was taken after a long day of visiting Muir Woods National Monument in CA, swimming at Stinson Beach.

Hot sand and rocky terrain can injure the sensitive pads on a dog’s feet, so be sure that Fido’s precious paws are protected. Hiking through wooded areas in parks can pose a danger of ticks, which can spread diseases to you and your pet. Wear appropriate clothing to protect yourself, and check your dog thoroughly after a visit to a park to prevent any ticks from latching on to your dog. Don’t deviate from trails while visiting a park with your dog, since harmful insects and reptiles such as poisonous snakes and spiders can hide in tall grasses and shrubbery.

Some national park sites do not allow dogs, and there are several reasons:

* Dogs can potentially carry diseases that could affect the park’s wildlife. Unvaccinated dogs could spread diseases to park wildlife. Unfortunately, not all pet owners are responsible about keeping their dog’s vaccinations up to date.

* Dogs can unknowingly threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites. The scent left by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of park wildlife. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog and may not venture out to feed.

* Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dogs, causing them to behave unpredictably or bark excessively. Domesticated dogs are descended from wolves, and their instincts can take over in a situation where they feel threatened or frightened.

* Pets may become prey for larger predators such as coyotes, mountain lions, and bears in some of the larger wilderness parks. Additionally, if a dog disturbs and enrages a bear, it may lead the angry bear directly to the owner. Dogs can also encounter insects that bite and transmit disease, and plants that are poisonous or full of thorns and burrs.

* Historic structures, archaeological sites, and sacred grounds are no places for dogs. Fido could unknowingly damage historic buildings or artifacts, disturb important archaeological sites, and walk over or relieve themselves in places that are sacred to Native Americans and other groups.

* Not everyone is a “dog person.” In fact, some people are afraid of dogs, and it is the responsibility of park officials to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for all visitors, even if they aren’t “dog people.” These rules are in place not only to protect your dog, but to protect you and other visitors as well as the environs of the park.

Failure to adhere to a park’s pet policy may result in a citation (minimum fine is $75). 36 CFR 2.15 (Code of Federal Regulations) provides more details concerning pets in National Park Service areas.

Here is a list of a few national park sites that allow dogs, and their specific rules. Check the National Park Service’s website or contact a park directly for individual rules regarding dogs in parks before visiting– each park may have different stipulations based on the location, resources, and environment of the park.

Saratoga National Historical Park, with its rolling hills and gorgeous scenery of the Hudson Valley in New York, is a wonderful place for leashed dogs and their owners to explore. Although dogs are not allowed in the visitor center or inside park buildings, the park offers a tie-up area adjacent to the visitor center entrance, and provides water and waste bags in certain areas.

Horseback Riding at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, via

Horseback Riding at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, via

Dogs are welcome at Cape Hatteras National Seashore! Horses are allowed at Cape Hatteras as well, and can travel anywhere vehicles are permitted to drive except in campgrounds. Horses are required to use ORV (Off Road Vehicle) ramps when crossing dunes. There are some understandable restrictions at Cape Hatteras: Pets are not allowed on designated swim beaches or in buildings, nor are they allowed in protected resource areas such as sea bird and sea turtle nesting areas.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, situated between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, is a great place to take your dog. It has more than 100 miles of multi-use trails! Dogs must be restrained on a leash that is six feet or shorter in length on park lands at all times, and they are not permitted in park buildings or on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (exception for service animals).

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky, leashed dogs are welcomed throughout the park’s 24,000 acres. Horses are permitted on designated trails and at the Hensley Camp, White Rocks, and Martins Fork backcountry campsites.

Devils Postpile National Monument in California is so dog-friendly that it includes dogs in its volunteer program, called the “Paw Patrol.” Volunteers patrol the park with their canine companions to help keep visitors educated on the rules associated with dogs at the monument, and to serve as ambassadors on the trails, sharing information with visitors and answering questions.


Clover shows off her Bark Ranger bandana.

Eastern National, a cooperating association at more than 150 national park sites, has introduced the “National Bark Ranger” product line for dogs, which will allow them to show their national park pride. There are several items available in multiple colors, including a leash, collars, bandanas, a poo bag dispenser, a pull toy, and a collapsible water bowl, all emblazoned with the fun “Bark Ranger” logo. These items are available at some national park sites and on Click here to see the full product line.

So get out there and take your dog for a W-A-L-K in a park—it will be great fun for both of you!

Featured Image: Sprocket, a volunteer dog at Devils Postpile National Monument, greets visitors to the park.


National Parks 101: An Introduction to America’s National Parks

Some people would say that a park is a park. But if you’ve ever visited a national park, you might beg to differ.

National park sites preserve lands, buildings, and sites that are naturally, historically, scientifically, or culturally significant to the American people. They are managed by a federal entity known as the National Park Service (NPS), which is governed under the United States Department of the Interior. There are 401 national park sites across the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the territories of Guam and American Samoa.

Hot Springs Reservation, now Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, was the first land to be set aside by Congress for preservation and recreational purposes in 1832. Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was second, and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument was third, in 1889. The conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the work of prominent historical figures such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt prompted the establishment of Sequoia, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake national parks. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gave the president power to set aside lands without the approval of Congress, and Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming was established as the first national monument on September 24, 1906.

The Arrowhead: Official Logo of the National Park Service

The Arrowhead: Official Logo of the National Park Service

The NPS was established in 1916 to manage the 30 or so national parks and monuments that had previously been managed directly by the Department of the Interior. Less than two decades later, the NPS went through a reorganization, and about 45 military parks were transferred to the NPS from the War Department, in addition to 13 parks that were transferred to the NPS from the Forest Service. By the NPS’s 50th birthday in 1966, about 225 sites were under its authority.

The mission of the National Park Service states:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

Today, with a $2.75 billion annual budget and 28,000 employees, the National Park Service manages 84 million acres of park lands, 121 million museum artifacts, 27,000 historic structures, 2,461 national historic landmarks, 582 national natural landmarks, 400 endangered species, 68,000 archaeological sites, and provides administrative support to 49 national heritage areas. [1] About 280 million people visit national park sites each year. The most-visited park is Blue Ridge Parkway (over 15 million visitors in 2012) and the least-visited park is Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve (19 visitors in 2012). [2] Sites range in size from 13,000,000 acres (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, AK) to .02 acres (Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, PA), and themes include natural, historic, cultural, scientific, and recreational.


Everglades National Park

But what are the parks all about? Some parks commemorate the contributions of great literary figures such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Eugene O’Neill, and Carl Sandburg. Others preserve sacred Native American sites such as Hohokam Pima National Monument and Aztec Ruins National Monument. American presidents are memorialized at sites like James A. Garfield National Historic Site and Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Fragile and unique ecosystems are preserved at sites like the Everglades National Park and Congaree National Park. Important and sometimes tragic events in American history are interpreted at sites such as Whitman Mission National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and Manzanar National Historic Site.  Great wars and military conflicts are preserved at sites like World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Minute Man National Historical Park, and Gettysburg National Military Park. Cold War history is told at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and Gateway National Recreation Area. Wondrous geologic features are showcased at Lava Beds National Monument, City of Rocks National Reserve, and Devils Tower National Monument. Exploration and Westward expansion is interpreted at Cabrillo National Monument, De Soto National Memorial, and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Scientific and archaeological discoveries awe visitors at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Thomas Edison National Historical Park. The possibilities to learn, experience, and explore are limitless at America’s national parks, and they are as diverse as the American people themselves.

What’s the difference between a national park and a national monument or a national historic site? The NPS has 19 official designations and an “Other” category. The term “designation” denotes what type of park it is. The “Other” category includes parks in the Washington DC area such as Rock Creek Park and Greenbelt Park, whose designations were not changed when their management was transferred to the NPS from the District of Columbia in 1975. This chart explains the designations:

NPS Designation Chart JPG

Click to enlarge.

National park sites are more than what you could read about in a book; history comes alive when you visit a park. Interesting interpretive programs for people of all ages enhance visitors’ experiences when visiting a park. Special events like historical reenactments and living history demonstrations allow visitors to experience first-hand what life was like for the peoples of the past. Cultural events provide entertainment, enjoyment, and education to visitors who participate in them. Educational programs give visitors different perspectives, and engage and excite children.

A visit to a national park site can offer children an exciting experience, that could influence their future career path and instill in them an understanding and respect for history, nature, science, and culture. Visiting a park can also be a remarkable experience for families as a unit, and provide a family with lifelong memories.

The Passport To Your National Parks® program, launched in 1986, promotes appreciation and visitation of America’s national parks. Start by purchasing a Passport book at or at any national park site. The handy, pocket-sized Passport book includes maps and information about national park sites across the country. When you visit a park, “cancel” your Passport book with free cancellation stamps, available at 400 of 401 national park sites. It’s a great way to commemorate your visits, and collecting the stamps can become a family hobby in which everyone gets to participate. The Passport program even has free iPhone and Android Smartphone applications, that act as a companion to the Passport book. Learn more:

More than 280 million people visited national park sites last year. Visit a park near you and begin your journey of discovery. What are you waiting for?

To learn more about the National Park System, visit




Passport To Your National Parks®: A Healthy Obsession

A Guest Post by John D. Giorgis

PassportCoverMockUp2Even though as far as I know, my grandma never owned a Passport to Your National Parks®, I think in many ways she is ultimately responsible for getting me hooked on this wonderful, fun hobby.   You see, even today, my mom will still tell stories about her childhood in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY and how my grandma would pack my mom and her four brothers and sisters into the back of the station wagon every summer for a family vacation.  Those trips would take my mom all over the country, and more often than not, those trips would include visits to national parks.

When it came time for my mom to raise her own family, the tradition of packing myself and my two sisters into the back of a station wagon each summer for a family vacation was just as-important a family tradition as having turkey on Thanksgiving.   Now our family was never quite so ambitious as to do the cross-country road trip to California (although our final family trip before I went to college was a flight to Arizona to visit my Aunt and to see Grand Canyon & Petrified Forest National Parks), we did go up and down the east coast of the United States during my childhood – and even though I didn’t realize it at the time, many of our trips did include national parks, such as the National Mall in Washington, DC; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; the Boston Freedom Trail; and Cape Cod National Seashore.

So, with road trips “in my blood,” it’s probably no surprise that once I was in college, I jumped at the chance to take a Geology Field Camp course in the summer after my junior year of college – and not just any field class, but one that advertised itself as visiting some of the greatest national parks of the American West, including Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, and the granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone National Park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wouldn’t really get hooked on the Passport Program, however, until the following summer – which I spent as an intern for the National Park Service at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado.   If you’ve never been to Florissant, this national park is a true hidden gem.  The park could almost stand on its own on the basis of the 35 million-year-old stumps of redwood trees found there (yes – very much like the ones found in California today), which have now turned to petrified wood.  What truly amazes here, however, are the multitudes of tiny insect fossils that have been so-perfectly preserved that you can still see the veins in the wing of a bee or stripes on the back of a beetle.   And as if that was not enough, there is also the human history of Adeline Hornbek, the remarkable pioneer woman who made a claim for herself under the Homestead Act in the valley.

Thus, it was while I was spending that summer among the alpine forests and meadows, almost literally in the shadow of beautiful Pike’s Peak in the distance, that it occurred to me – if there could be a place this amazing that I had never heard of, then how many other amazing places like this are also out there that I have never heard of?   And then it hit me – if I set out to try and collect a Passport cancellation from each of the national parks, then I would be sure to discover many more amazing places along the way.

At that point, I was hooked.   And pretty soon, I was quickly becoming known among my friends as “the crazy guy who is trying to visit all the national parks.”

JohnWedding-115-106As I was discovering so many amazing places in the national park system, it became only natural that I would plan one of the biggest days of my life in the national parks.  In October 2007, I proposed to my then-girlfriend Sara on a beautiful fall colors day at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.   Nine months later, we returned to Harpers Ferry, and were married at Historic St. Peter’s Chapel overlooking the town.  For Sara’s bridal shower, I bought her a Passport Explorer book, which we decided to use to collect cancellations for all the national parks we would visit together as a married couple.  So, of course, on our wedding day – we had to start things off by getting our first stamp in our Explorer!   Once we did that at the Lower Town Information Center, though, there was only way to get up to the Church – a set of ancient stone steps that form part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.   So, yes, my bride can say that she hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in her wedding dress!

Over the years, I’ve also become increasingly involved with the National Park Travelers Club – an organization which brings together enthusiasts of the national park system and the Passport to Your National Parks® Program to plan trips to the parks and provide resources to help collect the cancellations.  Visit our website at to learn more about the National Park Travelers Club and our 11th annual convention, to be held at Shiloh National Military Park this summer.

Featured Image: John Giorgis at Badlands National Park

Honor America’s Veterans This Memorial Day: A Tour Of Washington, D.C.’s War Memorials

Memorial Day should be something much more personal to Americans than just a paid day off, backyard barbeque or a sale at a department store.

Since 1775, over two million Americans have been killed or wounded in wars and military conflicts, and almost all Americans can look back into their family histories and find relatives who were wounded or killed while serving their country.

This should compel us to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom this Memorial Day. Here is a list of war memorials in the Washington, D.C. area that honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country, in no particular order:

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial. NPS photo.

The World War II Memorial. NPS photo.

This site pays homage to the 400,000 Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Legislation for the site was authorized by Congress, nearly 50 years after the war, and was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2004. With the Washington Monument in the background, the plaza contains 56 pillars which represent the 48 states and eight U.S. territories.

District of Columbia War Memorial

Located in West Potomac Park, the District of Columbia War Memorial honors Washingtonians who lost their lives while serving during World War I. The Greek style temple contains 12 Doric columns and 47 feet high and 44 feet in diameter. The cornerstone of the structure contains a time capsule which lists the names of all 26,048 American soldiers who served.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, NPS photo.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, NPS photo.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Designed by Yale architecture student Maya Ying Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a moving tribute to the almost 60,000 Americans who were killed or went missing during the conflict. The memorial was constructed using private funds and was dedicated in 1982. Two years later, Frederick Hart’s Three Servicemen statue was added, and in 1993, women who served in Vietnam were honored by an additional statue sculpted by Glenna Goodacre. In 2004, the Memory Plaque was added to memorialize those who later died from causes related to the war.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

A moving tribute to those who served in the “Forgotten War”, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is filled with symbolism. Sculpted by Frank Gaylord, 19 soldiers are depicted walking up a hill towards an American flag symbolizing freedom. The words “Freedom is not free” are etched on a slab of granite, reflecting the sacrifices made by American and Allied troops during the conflict.

African American Civil War Memorial. NPS photo.

African American Civil War Memorial. NPS photo.

African American Civil War Memorial

The only national memorial commemorating the service of more than 200,000 African American troops and their officers, the African American Civil War Memorial includes a ten foot statue, called the Spirit of Freedom, sculpted by Ed Hamilton and features uniformed Black soldiers and a sailor. The names of those African Americans who fought during the Civil War are etched on the Wall of Honor.

Arlington National Cemetery

Beginning as the plantation and home of George Washington’s step-grandson, the estate was sold to the federal government in 1864. Military fortifications were built, and 200 acres were set aside for use as a national cemetery. The first burials took place in May of 1864. The Freedman’s Village was established at Arlington in 1863 for those former slaves who migrated to the Washington DC area, and provided food, shelter, education and employment training. Over 3,800 African Americans from the Freedman’s Village are buried in Section 27. Visitors can witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a somber and moving tribute to those who died in military conflicts and whose remains were never identified. Two presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with many other notable statesmen and military leaders including 12 Supreme Court Justices and 19 astronauts. Also at Arlington, visitors can tour the original Arlington House, the mansion built by George Washington Parke Custis, later the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Department of Defense photo.

The Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Department of Defense photo.

Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Located at the ceremonial entrance of Arlington National Cemetery known as the Arlington Hemicycle, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was dedicated in 1997, and was designed by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. This memorial honors the service of over 2 million women to the United States Armed Forces in various roles since the Revolutionary War.

The United States Armed Forces honor the men and women who served in the respective branches of the U.S. military with the following memorials: NOTE: There is no major memorial which specifically honors the men and women of the United States Army in Washington DC, but there is a number of smaller memorials which pay homage to specific divisions of the Army. A National Army Museum will be built in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which will include a park with a memorial garden and parade ground.

United States Marine Corps Memorial

United States Marine Corps Memorial

United States Marine Corps Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial)

Located outside the walls of Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial is situated next to the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia. The design of the massive sculpture by Felix de Weldon was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. Constructed of bronze and granite, the memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Thirty-two foot high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that a Flag of the United States should fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

United States Navy Memorial

Dedicated in 1987, the memorial pays tribute to the sailors of the United States Navy. The Naval Heritage Center serves as a place to learn about the history and heritage of the men and women of the sea services. The Lone Sailor statue, sculpted by Stanley Bleifeld, is a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. The Memorial is located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 7th Street Northwest and 9th Street Northwest, adjacent to the National Archives.

United States Navy Memorial, by Flikr User TShein

United States Navy Memorial, by Flikr User TShein

United States Air Force Memorial

Located in Arlington, Virginia, on the grounds of Fort Myer near The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial honors the service of the personnel of the United States Air Force. The last project of noted American architect James Ingo Freed, the Air Force Memorial consists of three steel memorial spires, which resemble the ‘bomb burst’ maneuver. Only three of the four contrails are depicted, at 120 degrees from each other, as the absent fourth suggests the ‘missing man formation’ traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.

US Coast Guard Memorial, by Crystal Borde

US Coast Guard Memorial, by Crystal Borde

United States Coast Guard Memorial

One of the oldest war memorials, the Coast Guard Memorial was dedicated in 1928, and is located in Arlington National Cemetery. It honors those lost on the cutters Seneca and Tampa in 1918, as well as all USCG personnel who lost their lives during World War I. In the monument’s rock foundation and pyramid design, architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise captured the spirit of the Coast Guard’s legendary steadfastness. A bronze seagull, poised with its wings uplifted, further symbolizes the tireless vigil that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.

Explore Latino Heritage by Visiting America’s National Parks

Did you know? There are more than 20 national park sites which interpret Latino heritage, from the earliest Spanish explorations to the accomplishments of modern figures such as César Chávez. Here is a small sampling of some of these sites:

Cabrillo National Monument

In search of the seven wealthy cities of Cibola and hoping to find the mythical Strait of Anian, a passageway from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo instead was the first European to discover the west coast of the United States when he landed in 1542 in the harbor of San Diego Bay. Today, Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Cabrillo’s voyage and the cultural interactions that occurred between American Indians and the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Visitors can also visit the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, learn about how the military used the site, and explore nature.

Reenactors fire cannons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, ®Daniel Schwen

Reenactors fire cannons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, ®Daniel Schwen

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Castillo de San Marcos stands today as a monument to the Spanish empire’s 300-year occupation of Florida and to the interaction and clashes of cultural groups that built the unified nation that is the United States today. Constructed to protect Spain’s settlement in St. Augustine from pirate raids, hostile American Indian tribes, and neighboring imperial powers, the fortification is a symbol of the cultural and imperial struggles that shaped early North America. Never captured in battle, Castillo de San Marcos is both architecturally impressive as the oldest surviving masonry fortress in the United States and culturally significant because its stone walls are a testament to the endurance of this nation’s Latino heritage and to the other cultural groups that have played a role in its story.

César E. Chávez National Monument

Established by President Barack Obama on October 8, 2012, the monument is located among the Tehachapi Mountains in Keene, California, about 27 miles southeast of Bakersfield. The property is known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (La Paz), which was designated as a National Historic Landmark along with the monument on October 8, 2012. The property was home to César Chávez from the early 1970s until his death in 1993 and includes his gravesite and the headquarters of the United Farm Workers.

Chamizal National Memorial

In between the Texas-Mexican border stands a memorial where the American and Mexican flags fly together as a symbol of the historic treaty that ended a century-long dispute between the United States and Mexico. A testament to what two nations can accomplish when they work together to understand their differences and find common ground, Chamizal National Memorial commemorates the milestone in both nations’ diplomatic relations and its influence over the United States’ and Mexico’s shared heritage and border culture.

Exhibit at DeSoto National Memorial

Exhibit at DeSoto National Memorial

De Soto National Memorial

Hernando de Soto is famous in Latin American history as the Spanish conquistador who joined Francisco Pizarro in the invasion of the Inca Empire, but he is also a critical player in American history as the first European to discover the Mississippi River. Located on Shaw’s Point, which is the general area historians believe was the landing place of De Soto’s 1539 expedition, De Soto National Memorial commemorates de Soto’s landing in Florida and his northwestward expedition into North America. De Soto National Memorial is also an archeological site with artifacts and trails left behind by American Indians who guided de Soto’s expedition through Florida to the Mississippi.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Although Key West, Florida may be the southernmost point in the continental United States, the story of America’s rich cultural heritage expands beyond the zero mile marker of US-1. Located almost 70 miles off Key West is a cluster of seven coral reef islands that explorer Ponce de León discovered in 1513. Upon seeing the abundant population of sea turtles he named the islands Las Tortugas (The Turtles), but when explorers and merchants learned that the islands lacked fresh drinking water they soon changed the name to Dry Tortugas. Despite their name, the cluster of islands at Dry Tortugas National Park–which includes Garden, Loggerhead, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle Keys–is the site of events that have played an important role in American cultural and maritime history and a reminder of the seminal role the Spanish have played that history.

Inscription at El Morro National Monument. "On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed by here on the way to Zuni," Ramon Garcia Jurado.

Inscription at El Morro National Monument. “On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed by here on the way to Zuni,” Ramon Garcia Jurado.

El Morro National Monument

At El Morro National Monument, over 2,000 carvings at the base of a sandstone promontory record the presence of ancient peoples and later travelers who transformed El Morro into a well-preserved historic document. Each pre-Columbian petroglyph and later signature, date, and message inscribed at El Morro has a unique and significant story to tell about the peoples of different cultures who were there. Until the turn of the 20th century people left their mark at the base of this monument, including the Zuñi Indians whose ancestral ruins stand at the top of this historic headland, the Spanish, and Americans. Today, El Morro National Monument preserves the ruins and petroglyphs of the Ancestral Puebloans and the inscriptions of the Spanish and Americans who took inspiration from the ancestral Zuñi scribes. Archeological investigations of Spanish exploration and Latino heritage connections to the region are ongoing, and contribute to our understanding of El Morro’s long cultural and historical significance.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail traces the route followed in 1775-1776 by Spanish commander Juan Bautista de Anza II, who led almost 300 colonists on an expedition from Mexico to found a presidio and mission near San Francisco Bay. The trail, which is over 1200 miles long and today can be traveled via an auto tour, commemorates, preserves, and invites visitors to explore elements of the Spanish colonization plan for its northern most territory. Visitors can experience key remains of Spanish colonization: the presidio or fort (military), the mission (religious), and the pueblo or town (civilian). Many of the sites along the trail are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

After Mexico became independent from Spanish rule in 1821, trade flourished between the eastern part of the United States and the vast western territory. Networks of trails developed as explorers, traders and settlers attempted to find safe passage through the treacherous, dry, and scorching hot interior lands. The Old Spanish Trail developed during this period as westerners sought a way to connect the burgeoning trading post at Santa Fe to the riches of Los Angeles and southern California. First officially established in 1829, the main branch of the trail spanned over 2,700 miles, cutting through the southwestern corner of Colorado, moving north and west through Utah and finally turning south again toward Arizona and lower Nevada, with a terminus in Los Angeles, California.

Mission Concepcion, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, ©Travis Witt

Mission Concepcion, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, ©Travis Witt

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

In the 16th century, Spanish missionaries and soldiers began moving north out of the Valley of Mexico to found missions and presidios. The Spanish Empire extended its claim in the New World to the land along the San Antonio River, the present day site of the City of San Antonio, converting American Indians to Christianity, acculturating them to the European lifestyle, and making them Spanish citizens. The San Antonio missions played a major role in all aspects of Spanish colonial frontier life as they related to religion, the military, culture, and agriculture. The Franciscans established the first mission in San Antonio, the San Antonio de Velaro Mission, also known as The Alamo, in 1718. A second mission, Mission San José, was constructed two years later a few miles downstream from Mission Velaro. About a decade later, three other missions, which had first been in East Texas, were relocated to San Antonio. The park includes four of the missions in San Antonio– Espada, Concepción, San José, and San Juan and parts of the irrigation systems that supported the missions the Spanish erected to help defend, settle, and expand the Spanish frontier into Texas.

San Juan National Historic Site

During the 16th century, recognizing the need to protect the Spanish treasure fleets on their voyages to and from the New World, the Spanish erected vast fortifications throughout their territories in the Caribbean Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. Designated a World Heritage Site, the Spanish system of fortifications in San Juan, Puerto Rico is the oldest European construction in territory of the United States and one of the oldest in the New World. These fortifications guarded the entrance to San Juan Bay, helped the Spanish maintain sovereignty over Puerto Rico, and protected Spanish commerce in the Caribbean basin. The forts and three miles of city wall are fine examples of military architecture reflecting the power and glory of the Spanish Empire and the beginning of European ascendancy in world affairs. San Juan National Historic Site preserves these massive fortifications and offers youth-focused programs on the Spanish and Latino history of the island forts at its Discovery Center.

To learn more about Latino heritage in the national parks and beyond, please visit the National Park Service’s Hispanic Heritage website for information, travel itineraries and more.

Commemorating the Civil War: A Learning Experience

While the vicious battles of the American Civil War resonated through the minds and hearts of those who lived them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the impact of the war has seemingly faded in the consciousness of modern Americans. With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War now in full swing, there’s a rich opportunity for Americans to understand the underlying causes of the war, the impact it had on our modern society, and to fully embrace the progress we have made as a nation.

For more than a few, the exact cause that sparked the Civil War can be hard to capture. Granted, slavery was a major factor, but the tensions between the North and South had been building for decades as a result of political, economic and social differences.

While the Northern states’ economy was largely centered on industry, the South’s economy was agriculturally based. After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, large scale production of cotton in the South became possible, increasing the demand for cheap labor, and causing the institution of slavery to become closely intertwined with the Southern economy. Slaves and indentured servants were put to work in the fields, tilling and harvesting crops, to meet the national and international demand for agricultural products such as cotton and tobacco.

Historical photo of Slaves in a cotton field, North Carolina. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Historical photo of Slaves in a cotton field, North Carolina. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Another factor was the concern for representation in Congress. By 1820, all but one president had come from Virginia, boosting Southern confidence that they would not become a minority in Washington. But as droves of immigrants poured into the Northern states with hopes of acquiring industrial jobs, Northern populations exploded and the number of representatives from Northern states surged.

When Missouri applied for statehood in 1820, the balance of power in Congress could have shifted dramatically, contingent upon whether Missouri was admitted to the Union as a free state or a slave state. The Compromise of 1820 (also known as the Missouri Compromise) was reached, which decreed that states north of the Mason-Dixon Line would be prohibited from embracing slavery, while states south of the line could choose to be a slave state or not. While the Compromise worked for a few decades, by 1846 Southern states seized the opportunity after the war with Mexico to snatch up large tracts of land below the Mason-Dixon Line with the hopes that those territories could become slave states, which would result in a shift in the balance of power in Congress.

As more states joined the Union, Southern hopes were not realized. Tariffs imposed by Congress on agricultural products and exports further strained relations between the North and South. The state of South Carolina prevailed upon President Andrew Jackson to address their concerns about several of these tariffs and their negative economic impact, to no avail.

South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832, which stated that the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of the state. Vice President John C. Calhoun and President Jackson disagreed on the issue, and Calhoun resigned his position in order to run for the Senate where he could more effectively defend nullification.

As a response to South Carolina’s refusal to submit to federal tariffs, the Force Bill was passed by Congress in 1832 that authorized President Jackson to use any force necessary in order to collect federal tariffs. Eventually, conciliation was reached through the Compromise Tariff of 1833, introduced by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. The compromise reduced the tariff by one-tenth every two years, satisfying South Carolina and other Southern states. South Carolina repealed its Nullification Act shortly thereafter, but tensions continued to build.

Abolitionist John Brown, 1859

Abolitionist John Brown, 1859

In 1859, John Brown, heading a small group of individuals who meant to overthrow the institution of slavery by violent means, raided the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. His intent was to incite a slave insurrection, and although he was suppressed by federal forces, Brown became a martyr in the eyes of the Abolitionist movement. Brown’s unsuccessful raid, along with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, led Southern states to believe that they could never survive under an anti-slavery president. South Carolina led the Southern states in secession from the Union, followed by Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Although each state’s secession was entirely separate and there was no original intent on creating a nation separate from the United States, it became abundantly clear that they would be stronger if they banded together. By February of 1861, delegates from the seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama and formed the Confederate States of America. They drafted a constitution and elected Jefferson Davis as their president.

The first shots of the American Civil War rang out on April 12, 1861, when Confederate General P. T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter by Union Major Robert Anderson. When he refused, the Confederates laid siege to Fort Sumter and took possession of the Fort on April 14, 1861. Four years of fighting took a heavy toll on both the North and the South. Thousands of engagements, from minor skirmishes up to full scale battles and campaigns, took place across 23 states, from Southern Pennsylvania to Florida. The estimated loss of life due to combat injuries, disease and starvation was 620,000, and some estimate the total number of casualties to be significantly higher. The Civil War officially ended on May 9, 1865, a month after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. The last engagement of the Civil War occurred at Palmito Ranch, Texas on May 12, 1865.

2009 National Park Service Employee & Alumni Ass. Calendar

Civil War Sesquicentennial Logo, ® Eastern National

During the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, take the opportunity to visit a Civil War park. You can also visit the National Park Service’s Civil War website by clicking here, where you can view a timeline of the war and learn more about the battles, soldiers and life during the war. Many parks will be commemorating their respective battles with a multitude of events, including living history demonstrations, reenactments and children’s programs.

Here is a list of some parks that are commemorating battles this year:

Stones River National Battlefield

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park

Vicksburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Fort Sumter National Memorial

Railroad Heritage in America’s National Parks

Until the rise of the automobile, passenger trains were the most popular way for Americans to travel long distances. The 1930s were rail travel’s “Golden Age,” when passengers watched diverse scenery whisk by while enjoying gourmet food and wine delivered by porter to an opulent coach. Railroads ran nationwide ad campaigns in newspapers and magazines, encouraging Americans to see the country via train, and many of these advertisements marketed special routes to large western national parks and urban sites. Learn more about America’s railroad heritage by visiting Steamtown National Historic Site, Golden Spike National Historic Site, and Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.