Here’s a double dose of American nostalgia for you. Back in the 1950s, Maxwell House coffee had an “American Scene” series of TV shorts. This episode takes us to the ghost town of Bodie, California.
Gold was discovered in Bodie in 1859 and soon it became a boomtown with more than a dozen large mines and countless smaller claims. Some $80 million in gold was extracted from the surrounding hills, a huge amount for the 19th century.
Bodie is a popular destination these days and is lovingly preserved by the California State Parks. Back when Maxwell House filmed there, it was still not quite a ghost town. It had a population of nine, and one rugged miner was still looking for a big strike. The few diehards hoped that Bodie would become a boomtown once again. It was not to be.
So sit back and enjoy this show from the early days of television, talking about the early days of the Old West.
The ancient city of Cahokia in Illinois was the center of an advanced civilization from about 700 to 1400 A.D. Covering six square miles and home to up to 20,000 people, it was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico. It ruled over a large area and had trade networks stretching across North America.
Dozens of mounds dot the site, atop which the people built temples and homes for the elite. Cahokia’s artisans made fine work like these worked copper plates typical of the Mississippian culture that created Cahokia.
Cahokia’s importance is recognized by it being designated a state historic site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes a good day trip from St. Louis and has an excellent interpretive center. You can also climb up some of the mounds to get a sweeping view of the site.
Now archaeologists have discovered one of its suburbs in a derelict neighborhood of East St. Louis. It’s not much to look at today. The excavation is taking place between a derelict meatpacking plant and an abandoned strip club. Back in the day, though, it was a prosperous suburb of an important city with more than a thousand dwellings and earthen pyramids just like those of Cahokia.
Now there are plans to build a new bridge across the Mississippi at this spot. It’s hoped that the bridge will bring desperately needed visitors and investment from St. Louis, Missouri, into this part of East St. Louis, Illinois. Archaeologists are feverishly working ahead of the bulldozers to learn about this important period of America’s. They’d like to see at least some of the land preserved for a historical park but are pessimistic about their prospects.
The Battle of Glorieta Pass, the most important battle of the Civil War in the Southwest, will be reenacted this weekend in New Mexico.
This important battle took place on March 26 and 28, 1862, but the reenactment will take place on the weekend of March 24 and 25. A Confederate army under General Henry Hopkins Sibley had marched out of Texas to take what was then the New Mexico Territory. After defeating a Union force at the Battle of Valverde, Sibley marched north in the hopes of taking the rich gold fields of Colorado and ultimately opening a path to the Pacific.
A Union force under Col. John Slough met the rebels at Glorieta Pass. Slough and most of his men were Colorado volunteers who had marched 400 mountainous miles in only 13 days to stop the Confederates. The battle was a hard two-day fight. So hard, in fact, that both sides rested for a day in between.
The Union side won when a Colorado unit climbed a mountain to get behind the Confederates and destroyed their supplies. Left with virtually no food or water, Sibley had to abandon the invasion and his army struggled through the desert back to Texas. The defeat was so complete that the battle is often called “the Gettysburg of the West.”
The action will take place at the old battlefield, now the Pecos National Historical Park. You can see a schedule of events here. Highlights include a Spanish-language drill of the New Mexico Volunteers, black powder demonstrations and artillery. Park volunteers and reenactors will be on hand to give battlefield tours and lecture on various topics such as the Civil War in the Southwest and period medicine. There will even be drill instruction for kids.
Image painted by artist Roy Anderson — courtesy of Pecos National Historical Park.
Most people who visit Wakulla Springs go for the gators. Still others want to check out where Johnny Weissmuller swung through the “jungle” as Tarzan in the 1930s and 40s or the dark, swampy thicket where the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was said to lurk. Above all, travelers come to see the pristine tangled wilderness that is becoming rarer to find as Florida develops.
This is Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the most popular day trips from Tallahassee, Florida’s capital. A three-mile pontoon trip down the Wakulla River is the park’s biggest draw, giving visitors the chance to spot wildlife and plug into nature for the 45-minute ride.
On a sunny day, alligators can be spotted lazing on the banks of the Wakulla River or grimacing among the reeds and cypress knees along the shoreline. If they’re out, alligators make for splendid photography subjects, unlike the myriad fowl – great blue herons, white ibis, anhingas – which fly off right as you get them in your camera cross-hairs, or the manatees, which swim slowly just below the water line, never surfacing for their close-up. The park claims that between 20 to 30 manatees can be spotted swimming in the springs and river each day. I was satisfied to have seen a herd of about seven sea cows (another name for manatees) when I visited the park in December. There are only about 4,500 of these aquatic mammals left in the world and the estuaries and backwoods springs of Florida are one of the premier places to see them, especially in winter.
Wakulla Springs doesn’t have to be a day trip. On site is the grand Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in 1937 by Edward Ball, the financier and conservationist who owned this stretch of north Florida from 1934 until the mid-1960s when he sold it to the state of Florida for the establishment of a state park. The 27-room, Mediterranean-revival-style lodge is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and the surrounding park is a National Natural Landmark.
I often forget the amazing wealth of national parks, hiking trails and historic sites within easy access of my home. For instance, did you know there’s 260 sites within 100 miles of Brooklyn, NY? In fact, iPhone users can now find out for themselves just how many great outdoor sites are near their hometown using a great smartphone app called Oh Ranger! ParkFinder.
The American Park Network, a publishing company that creates visitor guides for national parks, is behind Oh Ranger, a searchable database of outdoor activities ranging from cycling to historical sites to camping to bird watching. In addition to their free web database, they’ve released Oh Ranger! ParkFinder for iPhone and iPad Touch, a fantastically useful mobile extension that makes it easy to track down your favorite activity at a park near you. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can easily search for parks based on favorite activities, search for a specific park, or use your iPhone’s location to find sites nearby.
Whether you’re a die-hard outdoor lover or simply looking for some great weekend or daytrip getaways, Oh Ranger! Parkfinder is a nifty, convenient way to find it. You give it a try for free by downloading from the iTunes app store. Although there’s not yet an Android version of the app, the Oh Ranger website utilizes the same park database.