Category Archives: History

Alaska’s Multiple 2017 Celebrations

Festivities from the state’s sesquicentennial to a Fairbanks park’s 50th.

The Society of American Travel Writers’ Western Chapter was supposed to meet in Fairbanks next month, but that’s sadly not happening. Even without an SATW presence, there’s a lot happening this year in Alaska.

State Sesquicentennial.  Various communities celebrate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia. Heritage includes Native, Russian and American threads. Sitka National Historical Park in Southeast Alaska is the epicenter of commemorations that kick off on Seward Day, March 30.

University of Alaska Centennial. Located in Fairbanks “America’s Arctic university” turns 100. More than 10,000 students take a variety of courses and participate in a wide spectrum of research opportunities. Centennial programs and activities reflect the variety of academic and cultural offerings. The official ceremony takes place on May 3, 1 to 2:30 p.m., at Centennial Square (near Wickersham Hall).

Driving the Alaska Highway (aka, the Alcan Highway) is one of North America’s epic road trips.

Alaska Highway 75th anniversary.   Expedited by the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, construction on this remarkable route through some of the most remote, most rugged terrain on earth began about three months later. Also called the Al-Can Highway, it is 1,680 miles from Mile 0 at Dawson Creek in northeastern British Columbia to its terminus at Delta Junction. Upgrades and improvements have reduced its length to 1,390 miles. It continues to the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks.

Pioneer Park at 50. This 44-acre historically themed Pioneer Park, along with the Fairbanks Arts Association, celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year. The park, which bills itself as a “historic theme park,” features museums, historic artifacts and log cabins moved to the site that are into summer-time shops and eateries. Fairbanks Arts, located in the park, is the oldest community arts council in the state. It supports local artists, organizations and audiences via programming in performing arts, literary arts, visual arts and arts education.

Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

ElkFest in Jackson, Wyoming is one of several spring events.

J-HoleElkFestEstes Park, Colorado’s ElkFest is in the fall during the rut when the the bulls issue their plaintive mating calls, the aspens turn golden and snow often begins to dust the high peaks. Jackson, in Wyoming’s wonderful northwestern corner, also has an ElkFest, but it is in spring when the wildflowers bloom and hibernating wildlife show up. ElkFest takes place May 21 – 22, followed the next weekend by Old West Days, May 26 – 30

Wagonloads of antlers along the streets of Jackson attract buyers from all over the world for ElkFest’s annual Boy Scout Antler Auction on May 21. Now in its 49th year, the auction typically features more than 10,000 pounds of the naturally shed elk antlers gathered by local Boy Scouts. That rustic antler chandelier probably was made with antlers gathered by the local Scouts. The majority of auction proceeds go back to the National Elk Refuge on the outskirts of town, which devotes approximately 25,000 acres to the preservation of winter range for elk and bison herds.

Continue reading Two ElkFests. Two states. Two seasons.

Visiting Magical, Mystical Chimayo

Northern New Mexico’s healing place of pilgrimage.

002France has Lourdes. Spain has Santiago de Compostella. Quebec has Ste.-Anne de Beaupré. Guatemala has the Esquipulas. And New Mexico has the Santuario de Chimayo with its jewel of a small adobe church in a rural village in the northern part of the state. It represents a culture that continues across the state line into Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Close-knit villages cling to their traditions and their Catholicism, Franciscan-style, because… Just because.

The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
The Sanctuario de Chimayo is set on tidy grounds.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Primitive hand-made crosses and other articles of faith hang on the chainlink fence along the path from the parking lot. I saw similar offerings along a sidewalk in Oklahoma City near the Murrah Building memorial site.
Stations of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.
The complex can accommodate an overflow crowd during Holy Week.

The tale from the early 19th century involves a member of the mystical Penitente sect. A friar praying in the valley saw a light on a nearby hillside and went to investigate. Digging at the source of the light, he found a crucifix with the image of a black Christ, like that in the pilgrimage place in Guatemala. The Chimayo find was therefore named Our Lord of Esquipulas. Legend has it that local priest took the crucifix south to Santa Cruz, from which it disappeared three times, only to be found back in its hole in Chimayo. The inexplicable and magical return demanded to be recognized, and it has been.

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3 New National Monuments

Nevada, California & Texas areas now protected.

When less-known public lands and sites are upgraded to National Monument status, they get added protection and also a boost in visitation. President Barack Obama has signed declarations of three new National Monuments  under three different federal agencies, appropriate to their size, settings and history.

NatlConservationArea-logoNevada’s Basin and Range National Monument is an extraordinary place featuring ecologically rich valleys framed by picturesque mountain ranges. It has long been threatened by oil and mineral development. Now, pronghorn deer, Pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, and the White River Catseye plant can roam, fly, and grow on protected lands.

A window to our past, Basin and Range tells the story of the many people who have called these mountains and valleys home. From the early people of the Great Basin, to the Native Americans who resided here, to 19th century settlers who traveled here in search of opportunity, these lands are a place to explore and learn. It is under the Bureau of Land Management.

USFS-logoNorthern California adventurers have long known that Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is a fishing, hiking, camping, birding and horseback-riding paradise. Visitors can view the 80-foot-high Zim Zim waterfall, fly-fish in rivers and streams, and appreciate the wildflowers and wildlife. The 330,780-acre National Monument is partly a designated wilderness area north of the Bay Area and Sacramento is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in California filled with osprey, wild tule elk, river otters, bald eagles, rainbows of butterflies and half of California’s dragonfly species. It is U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.

NatlParkServiceLogoTexas’ Waco Mammoth National Monument is a significant paleontological site that offers a glimpse into the lives of Pleistocene mammoths that roamed the region long ago. Tours are given daily to the sizable dig shelter operated by the National Park Service. It is the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view in situ such fossils as female mammoths, a bull mammoth and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago.

Baltimore’s Washington Monument

Treasures in century-old time capsule revealed.

VisitBaltimore-logoGiven the recent protests in Baltimore that spiraled out of control, I am happy that there is good news from the city — and that news takes us back into history. The fabled obelisk on the Mall in Washington, DC. may be the best-known memorial to the first president of the US.

But an older one is in nearby Baltimore. Time capsules from 1815 and 1915 discovered during renovations of Baltimore’s Washington Monument, revealed a Bible printed using a miniscule font dating back to 1812 and what could be one of the earliest existing photographs of the Declaration of Independence that opened at the city’s famous Walters Art Museum.

Baltimore's newly restored Washington Monument.
Baltimore’s newly restored Washington Monument. (Flickr image)

The 1915 time capsule was discovered last October behind a bronze plaque commemorating the monument’s Centennial. It contains more than 50 items, including an iron spike, a map of trade routes from the port of Baltimore to the Panama Canal, a picture of Francis Scott Key and what could be one of the earliest existing photographs of the Declaration of Independence, taken in 1903 by L.C. Handy, the son-in-law of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

The monument’s original 1815 cornerstone, found in February, contained three glass jars that were put in the ground as the nation’s first civic monument to George Washington was being built.  Contents from the first jar include a published copy of Washington’s Presidential farewell address, ten United States coins in copper, silver and gold, a “Joseph Sansom” medal of Washington and a medal honoring the Duke of Wellington’s successful military campaigns in the Spanish Peninsular Wars. The second jar contained a copy of the Bible published in Baltimore by John Hagerty in 1812. Like a small volume in the first jar, it celebrates advances in local printing technology, being printed in miniscule “Diamond Type” developed at the Baltimore Type Foundry.

The smallest jar held examples of the Federal Gazette from July 5 and 6, 1815. The latter date includes a full account of the laying of the cornerstone. The presence of this jar was a complete surprise as the original accounts suggest that the cornerstone was laid and sealed on July 4. Perhaps the most important item found in the well is a copy of the Declaration of Independence, reprinted in the Federal Gazette on July 3, 1815, the day before the cornerstone was laid.

The monument, the first to honor George Washington in the United States, celebrates its bicentennial on July 4 and re-opens to the public following a $5.5 million restoration. Select items from both the 1815 Cornerstone and 1915 Time Capsule will go on display at the Maryland Historical Society this Independence Day.

Book Recommendation for Peru

Adams followed Bingham’s footsteps to Machu Picchu and wrote about it.

MacchuPichu-coverMark Adams is a non-fiction travel and adventure writer and editor. He got it in his head and his heart to follow the route that Hiram Bingham — thought by many to be the model for Indiana Jones — took to discover the great Inca site of Machu Picchu. When Bingham undertook to find the lost city, or at least a lost city, roughly century earlier, he did a lot of reading and research and enlisted the services of an Aussie-born guide and Inca expert named John Leivers. He also has a lot of Indiana Jones in him.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu is the travel book that Adams about this epic trek. He writes with insights, information, humor and the right amount of self-effacement to make the reader — well, a reader like me — briefly and fleetingly think, “I could do that.” Or at least, “I could have done that when I was much younger.” Truth of the matter is that even the tourist version of Peru’s Inca Trail would bee though for me now. I did hike a section of Ecuador’s Inca Trail between Achupallas and Ingprirca some years ago. It was remote and exhilarating — and uncrowded.

I am leaving for Peru on Tuesday, but there will be no trekking. This trip, an adjunct to the Society of American Travel Writers’ Freelance Council meeting, will be by plane, train and bus. No step-by-step journey as undertaken by Bingham in the early 20th century and by Adams and Leivers. Still, I had to read the book to walk with them vicariously. And I enjoyed the book — a lot.

The Stanley & Other Old Haunted Hotels

Historic Hotels of America issues Halloween season list.

HistoricHotels-logoColoradans and visitors to Estes Park alike know the story of the Stanley — its ghosts that inspired The Shining — book, movie, TV movie. It’s one of the places on Historic Hotels of America’s short list of the country’s most haunted hotels. These are not creeky, creepy old places but beautiful, luxurious hotels that happen to have a spirit or two in residence. Time for a fall getaway to a spirited place?


Admiral Fell Inn (1770) Baltimore, Maryland. The Fells Point neighborhood in Baltimore has changed since the time when it was filled with crime-ridden saloons, brothels, and shipyards, but that doesn’t mean the spirits of the time have left. The Admiral Fell Inn is no stranger to ghost stories. Guests have often reported seeing floating sailors and disappearing butlers knocking on their doors. A hotel manager is also said to have heard a loud party after the hotel was evacuated during a hurricane. This comes as no surprise as parts of the eight buildings comprising the hotel date back to the 1770s when it was a theater and boarding house where seamen, immigrants and “ladies of the night” would pass through. To book your fall getaway click here.


1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (1886) Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa is host to a wide variety of spirits, hence the moniker “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.” It is said that after the skeleton frame of hotel had been constructed in the 1880s that one of the Irish stone masons plunged to his death in what is now guestroom 218. This room proves to be the most spiritually active room in the hotel and has attracted television film crews for decades because of the quantity and quality of the ghost sightings reported. Throughout the history of the hotel, employees have referred to this entity at “Michael,” a classified poltergeist due to the nature of the unexplained activity. Guests have witnessed hands coming out of the bathroom mirror, cries of a falling man in the ceiling, the door opening then slamming shut, unable to be opened again. The intrigue of this activity had drawn guests to specifically request the historic accommodations of guestroom 218 for the chance of experiencing something.

To book your fall getaway click here.

Continue reading The Stanley & Other Old Haunted Hotels

New Book on Old Ski Areas

Lost Colorado ski areas in words and pictures.

LostSkiAreas-doverI have a framed “Colorado’s Lost Resorts” poster on my office wall. I enjoy looking at this Colorado Ski Country USA promotional item, because I do love ski trivia. There are 117 spots on the map, starting with Inspiration Point in Arvada and a couple of others that operated for a single winter before World War I to some that existed into the 1980s. Curiously missing are Berthoud Pass, Ski Broadmoor or Ski Hidden Valley/Ski Estes in Rocky Mountain National Park, which was still operating when I moved here in 1988.

Now I have another source that is more comprehensive than a poster could possibly be. A new book called Lost ski Areas of Colorado’s Front Range and Northern Mountains by Caryn and Peter Boddie, both enthusiasts for Colorado skiing and Colorado ski history too. Printed on quality paper, it includes historic photos (both black and white and four-color), it is organized by county, with as much information as the authors could assemble about each ski venue. Sources include not only printed and online material, but also E-mail correspondence, personal interviews and reminiscences. When possible, they included GPS coordinates which help anyone who wants to locate a particular lost ski area. Some are easy to spot if you know where to look either for ghost trails or even building remains. Others are overgrown and exist primarily as dim memories.

The book is $19.99 and can be ordered online. The authors plan an additional volume covering the rest of the state. I’m already looking forward.

Saga Centre Focuses on Viking Life & Legends

Museum explains Icelandic sagas where they took place.

P1100191Sagas are stories about early Vikings, their epic voyages, the battles that took place during the voyages, about Viking migration to Iceland and the fierce feuds between Icelandic families. The tales were eventually written in the 13th and 14th centuries by unknown authors. In all, there are 40 narratives about Viking age around the year 1000 AD, tumultuous time when Icelanders forsook their ancient gods in favor of Christianity. It includes the history of the creation of a parliament in 930 AD and the strong role of the women in medieval Iceland.

Viking ships remain part of Iceland's important symbols.
Viking ships remain part of Iceland’s important symbols.


Ship models and maps depict the accomplishments of these remarkable seamen.
Ship models and maps depict the accomplishments of these remarkable seamen.

The Saga Centre in the south coast hamlet of Hvolsvöllur, the epicenter of Viking life on the island, is devoted to the  the Njáls Saga, the tale of a 50-year feud — Iceland’s most important literary masterpiece. The center’s “The Exhibition of Njála” covers Iceland’s ancient stories, Viking cosmology and the literary art of the Sagas.

Volunteers stitch a tapestry as epic as the sagas themselves. When completed, it will be 90 meters (some 300 feet) long.
Volunteers stitch a tapestry as epic as the sagas themselves. When completed, it will be 90 meters (some 300 feet) long.
Life-size image of a Viking warrior.
Life-size image of a Viking warrior.

Also, the “Exhibition of Cooperative Society” addresses the history of trade, commerce  and the cooperative movement in Iceland during the 20th century. The museum is at Sögusetrið Hlíðarvegi 16, 860 Hvolsvöllur, Iceland. Tel: +354 487 8781,  +354 618 6143

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear

New Mexico village boasts Smokey’s museum and park.

SmokeyBearOn August 9, 1944, the image of Smokey Bear was born, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council settled on him as a mascot for their fire-prevention efforts. Six years later, firefighters rescued a real orphaned baby bear that was clinging to a charred tree in a devastating blaze in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. The bear, which had badly burned paws, nicknamed Hotfoot and taken to Santa Fe for treatment. When his story became known — more slowly than today — he was rechristened Smokey Bear, personifying the character created during World War II. Smokey was then moved to the National Zoo Washington, DC.

After receiving millions of visitors a the zoo, Smokey died in 1976, and though another rescued cub took his place, he never found the fame of the original Smokey. After his death, the bear’s body was returned to its home in the Lincoln National Forest, where he was buried without fanfare. Meanwhile, the Smokey Bear Museum had opened in 1961 in the village of Capitan in south-central New Mexico. The museum, housed in a rustic one-room building, is filled with Smokey memorabilia, photos and posters that chronicle the history of Smokey Bear and his message to prevent forest fires, along with the inevitable gift shop chock full of Smokey souvenirs. By the way, it’s Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. The definite article was added by songwriters who needed an extra syllable.

Smokey Bear Museum, near the state-run Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Smokey Bear Museum, near the state-run Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Where to find it? At 102 Smokey Bear Boulevard, on the north side of New Mexico Highway 380, just west of the intersection with State Highway 48, and just east of the Smokey Bear Historical Park, where the famous little cub’s grave is found. Operated by the state Forestry Department, it features a visitor center with exhibits about forest health, forest fires, wildland/urban interface issues, fire ecology, the history of the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program and a theater showing a 10-minute film discussing today’s fire and forest health issues. An outdoor exhibit features six of the vegetative life zones found in New Mexico, an outdoor amphitheater that is used for educational programs for school groups and the final resting place of the “living symbol” Smokey Bear. Also located at the park is a playground, picnic area with group shelters and the original train depot for the Village of Capitan. Entry is a modest $2 for adults and $1 for children.

Unless you happen to be in Capitan, it’s too late now, but for the record, the grand opening and dedication of the renovated visitors center, guest lecturers and a cake honoring the recent 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and of course, the 70th birthday of Smokey Bear’s campaign. Also, celebrations today at the Smokey Bear Ranger Station in Ruidoso.