Monthly Archives: November 2015

Acadia’s growth small but significant

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Acadia National Park officially annexed 1,441 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula this week. While it seems like a small gain, it is an important one. The addition is to the only part of the park that is on the mainland.

Along the windswept coast the views from rocky beaches and granite headlands are transcendent. Further inland, hiking trails wind through pine woodlands and spruce-fir forests. While its look is similar to Mount Desert Island, it has a more secluded feel.

The 1,400-acre parcel was donated to the National Park Foundation this summer and includes hiking trails and a campground. The additional recreational opportunities are expected to alleviate some of the pressure on the ecology of the mega-popular Mount Desert Island.

The acquisition harkens back to the origin story of the national park, which was established at a time when, unlike the unclaimed expanses of Western land, the East largely was spoken for. At the turn of the 20th century, disturbed by the rampant development of nearby Bar Harbor, George Dorr devoted his life to preserving the area that’s now Acadia National Park. He set about acquiring land and donating it to the federal government. In 1919, it became the first national park east of the Mississippi, and Dorr its first superintendent.

Find Your Park.

Photo courtesy of the NPS. George B. Dorr admires the view from an overlook.

U.S. and Cuba join forces to protect marine areas

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This week marked a watershed in international cooperation in marine conservation.

The National Park Service (NPS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has partnered with Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment to foster understanding and conservation of natural marine resources in both nations.

They plan to share technical and scientific data related to Marine Protected Areas and to promote education and outreach initiatives.

Learn more about the parks involved and the Memorandum of Understanding.

Find your park.

Image courtesy NOAAA lobster pokes out of its hiding spot under a coral head in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.


the book

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Check out some of the fabulous reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!

Or read this one in National Parks Traveler in which reviewer Patrick Cone says, “This book…is all that I could have asked for during this, the National Park Service centennial year.”

He continues, “Hansen has done a fine job organizing, researching, and telling the story of our National Park System. It will entertain, enlighten, and educate even the most knowledgeable park enthusiast.”

Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears has been honored with these awards:

Winner, Colorado Authors’ League (General Non-fiction)

Finalist, Colorado Book Award, Colorado Humanities (History)


On a mission in the Southwest

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Whether you’re planning an actual road trip or just daydreaming at your desk, the National Park Service has dozens of fun travel itineraries to peruse.

Just released is the “Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest” tour taking in locales in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. It incorporates stops along some National Historic Trails, some within the National Park System, and other spots listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the early 17th century, and 200 years on, religious missions were established over a vast area of the Southwest U.S. (and northern Mexico). Roman Catholic missionaries didn’t just build churches but communities that aimed to convert American Indians to Spanish faith and customs. What resulted was a blending of beliefs and styles that led to new cultural practices.

Remarkable architecture is another legacy of Spanish colonial influence and is a big part of the lure of these preserved places. Some stellar examples, among the NPS sites included in the itinerary, are within the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, including Gran Quivira (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro).

Gran Quivira was a vast complex of pueblos and kivas covering more than 600 acres even before the Spanish moved in. From 1583 onward it transitioned into a hybrid community with public areas, private housing and both churches and kivas. (Established in 1909, Gran Quivira also happens to be one of the oldest monuments in the National Park System.)

Some blend of the richness of history, the clarity of light, and the fleeting presence of spirits at these bygone missions make them magnetic to the explorer’s heart. Time to hit the road!

Photo © Heather Hansen

Buy the book!

Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service

Telling the atomic bomb story

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The National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of Energy joined forces this week to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The two agencies will work together to preserve and interpret places and events associated with the atomic project including those in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington.

The tale of the Manhattan Project is one of scientific and engineering achievement, for sure, but it’s also a story of people and events. More than 600,000 Americans played a role in the development of the atomic bomb–the most expansive secret project ever untaken by the US government–and facilitated the dawn of the nuclear age.

In its role as interpreter of this moment in time, the NPS is already at work getting input from a wide range of experts about what events and ideologies led to the creation of the atomic bomb, the role the weapons played in World War II, and their effect on global affairs ever since.

Watch a quick NPS video about the new park.

Photo courtesy NPS.

The healing power of parks

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National parks are free todayVeterans Day!

Throughout the national park system there are dozens of parks with connections to wartime. Some are obvious, like Gettysburg National Military Park and the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Still others are not so evident but no less important—like Yosemite and even Dinosaur national parks.

National parklands have long been places for healing, for recovering from wartime—for veterans and civilians alike. While writing Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service, I read countless accounts and spoke to veterans about the power parks have to mend the spirit.


Today we are not red or blue, or liberal or conservative, we are simply thankful.


Feeling especially grateful? Support the NPS in the work they do as the keeper of national memory. And learn about the forthcoming Education Center at the Wall, a collaboration between the NPS and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (which is being completely funded  by private donations).

Want to learn more about the links between parks and wartime? Buy the book!

Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo courtesy of US Navy, “Sailor plays Taps aboard the USS Arizona Memorial to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.”

The Southwest’s super-volcano!

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Say “supervolcano” and “national park” and, naturally, “Yellowstone!” springs to mind. But there’s another remarkable crater in the national park system–Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico.

The 89,000-acre site has been a federal reserve for a long time but just over a month ago the National Park Service took over its management. The 13-mile-wide depression is what remains of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption roughly 1.25 million years ago and it is one of the world’s largest calderas.

Within its walls, ranging from a few hundred feet to more than 2,000 feet, is an otherworldly preserve. Sprawling mountain meadows, surging streams, a diversity of wildlife (including the second largest elk herd in the state), and a captivating human history place it at the top of my list of places to explore more in-depth during the NPS centennial next year. Camping, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and more are all options at Valles Caldera.

Learn more about Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Photo courtesy NPS.

Buy the book!

Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Yellowstone shatters visitation record

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By the end of October, 4 million recreational visitors had ventured into the nation’s first national park. That’s up 17 percent from this time last year, and the highest number ever recorded.

In October alone there were over 252,000 people trolling the geysers, mud pots, mountains and meadows of this crown jewel park.

Why the overall surge in visitor numbers? There’s speculation that a combination of mild October weather, low gas prices and promotion of the 2016 National Park centennial caused the uptick.


Gateway Arch is 50 and still fabulous

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The Gateway Arch just turned 50!

On the occasional of this milestone birthday, some fun facts about the iconic monument:

  • It’s the world’s largest manmade arch, 630 feet in all.
  • It is called an “inverted catenary curve” and constructing it required a complex mathematical equation.
  • Two architects named Saarinen (father Eliel and son Eero) entered the design competition which resulted in the arch. While Eliel received a telegram telling him he’d won, the news was intended for his son.
  • It cost $13 million to build the arch which was completed in 1965.
  • It was estimated that 13 people would die during the two-and-a-half year construction of the arch but no one was killed, or even seriously injured.
  • Up to 6,400 people per day can take the four-minute interior tram ride to the top of the arch.
  • Hundreds of lightning bolts hit the arch every year but its interior is insulated and its lightning rods are grounded into bedrock.
  • The arch is designed to sway as much as 18 inches, and thus could withstand an earthquake, but to move the arch just 1.5 inches takes a 50-mile-per-hour wind.

For more information and insights on what there’s to see at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, see my post Gateway Arch and Much More.

An arch, yes, and much more

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At 630 feet, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch is certainly an architectural wonder. It’s the highest monument in the nation (by far) and the tallest arch in the world. Building it required workers who were part engineer, part acrobat toiling at great heights over two-and-half years.

This Gateway to the West–which just turned 50–reminds us that, until relatively recently, the “frontier” lay just beyond the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri. President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition along the Missouri River just upstream from here. The park that encompasses the arch bears the name Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in recognition of those pathfinders who kept pushing to see what was around the next bend in the river.

But the memorial’s significance isn’t limited to that moment in time. The Old Courthouse on-site symbolizes social ills and reforms spanning 300 years. Slaves were once auctioned from its steps. Later, in 1847 and 1850, slave Dred Scott fought for his freedom within its wall. (While Scott and his family’s freedom ultimately was affirmed locally, later losses in the Missouri Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court hastened the start of the Civil War.)

In the 1870s, Virginia Minor argued for her right to vote there and her case also went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (which ultimately left it to individual states to decide whether or not women could cast a ballot, until the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920).

Later still, during the construction of the park, racially discriminatory hiring practices were protested on-site. Memorial archivist Jennifer Clark says their actions “led to the first direct actions of the Federal Government to enforce equal employment opportunity.”

Photo courtesy Sue Ford/NPS.


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