Blog Archives for the ‘America’ Category
By Robert N. Jenkins
BALDWIN CITY, Kansas — Fireflies beckon to each other in the darkness accentuated by the trees and the rural countryside. But rough-spoken men break the fairy-tale cheer with threats that reek of hatred – hatred of each other and what the others stand for.
These men are on the frontier of the still young United States — indeed, their looming confrontation is based on whether the barely settled swath of rolling prairie and forest known as the Kansas Territory should be admitted to the Union as a state where slavery is legal or is forbidden.
And tomorrow at daybreak, these men will stage what many historians consider the true first battle of the Civil War — almost 5 years before the Confederates will fire on Fort Sumter, more than 1,150 miles back east.
History a few miles away
This re-enactment, along with others plus museums and an active Army base, recount not just the tortured history of what became known as “bleeding Kansas” but also the state’s role in the challenging creation of the frontier in the mid-19th century. A driving trip of less than 150 miles reveals a rich vein of America’s history. But few sites are as dramatic as the Battle of Blackjack Springs, just a few miles from quiet Baldwin City.
The re-enactors include those angry men and one woman — now a sorrowful widow and grieving mother victimized by the blood lust along the Kansas-Missouri border. They re-create events before and during a three-hour firefight on the grassy hillsides split by a creek along the Santa Fe Trail.
The re-enactment is held on the anniversary of that battle on June 2, 1856, when an estimated 75 Missourians ultimately would surrender to about 25 Kansans led by John Brown, an Easterner who would become a lightning rod for abolitionists.
On the night before the re-enactment, visitors sit on hay bales on the site of the actual three-hour battle, to hear Brown — cradling a rifle, his eyes blazing – decry the “abomination” that is slavery.
He recounts the history of thousands of pro-slavery Missourians moving across the Missouri River into Kansas, where fewer thousands of anti-slavery Easterners and Northerners had already settled.
Battling the Jayhawks
Many arrived just to take part in the vote that would decide Kansas’ status. Many of the Missourians terrorized the settlers — called Jayhawks, after an imaginary combination of those two birds — robbing and beating them.
The raiders also set fire to the town of Lawrence, a hotbed of abolitionists. Five townspeople were killed.
Brown, leading a group that included some of the five sons who had preceded him into Kansas, crossed into Missouri. On May 26, 1856, the group committed what is known as the Pottawatamie (cq) Massacre, using swords and pistols to slaughter five farmers.
The showdown at Blackjack Springs abut a week later was to avenge the massacre, but Brown’s vastly outnumbered forces were victorious. Oddly, no one was killed in the firefight before the Missouri force, led by a deputy U.S. marshal, surrendered.
For the annual re-enactment just yards from the actual battlefield, Brown briefly summarizes the reasons for the fight. Then for about 20 minutes, a few dozen re-enactors including some on horseback have at each other, firing their rifles and pistols.
When it’s time for the surrender, firebrand John Brown (enactor Kerry Altenbernd (cq) tells the crowd: “Everyone heard of Blackjack — it was civil war!”
Later, Altenbernd, the law librarian for Douglas County (site of Blackjack Springs and Lawrence), tells me in a surprisingly soft voice, “I feel I understand Brown. He was dedicated, not crazy” — addressing a concept most people have when they hear of the massacre.
“There were 4-million of his brothers and sisters in bondage, and he couldn’t free them.”
Different play, different troupe
Another set of folks offers their version of the history that led to the nickname “bleeding Kansas” in the tiny town of Lecompton, briefly the territory’s first capital and just 30 miles from Baldwin City.
A repertoire troupe of about 30 takes turns portraying Brown, as well as the sheriff who torched Lawrence, the Pottawatomie widow and several more historic figures, in a play written 17 years ago by a resident.
Their preferred venue is in the main hall of a former college building, now the Lane Museum. There, the re-enactors send visitors into either side of the main aisle and encourage them to shout out huzzahs or boo the actors, depending on whether the visitors are sitting on the Missouri or the “Free State” side. This group, which also bought or made their costumes and props, performs up to 50 times a year, often for school groups around the state.
On the road west
Less than an hour’s drive southeast, in Olathe, more of Kanssas’ history — without the emphasis on the bloodshed – is recounted by costumed docents at the Mahaffie (cq) Stage Coach (two words cq) Stop and Farm. Occupying original and recreated buildings, plus a 4-year-old museum, the story of America’s westward growth is told through artifacts — from a child’s plate to farm implements to a Colt revolver – and reproductions and a timeline mural that begins in 1845. That’s 12 years before James Beattie (cq) Mahaffie arrived in Olathe with his wife and five children and created a 600-acre farm along the Santa Fe Trail.
That wagon path was used by Midwesterners as the trade route when Mexico won its freedom from Spain. It went from Missouri’s Mississippi River towns to what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Uncle Beattie” Mahaffie first built his stone farmhouse, which still stands, and operated an inn and then a stop for stagecoaches. His wife and daughters would feed 75 to 100 passengers daily — the coaches rolled 24 hours a day between 1865 and 1869.
Owned by the city of Olathe and covering 11 of the original 600 acres, the attraction includes a blacksmith shop, livestock barn for oxen and horses that pull the reproduction stagecoach that carries visitors around the buildings. In the farmhouse, they can watch a docent cook using authentic kitchen equipment and even try their hands at churning butter.
But 30 years before the Mahaffies arrived, the federal government needed to protect the traffic along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails and the early settlers from attacks by Native Americans. The government erected a series of forts about 100 miles apart along the frontier, and one of them is the oldest, continuously operating, military base west of the Mississippi. It has a familiar name: Leavenworth.
Touring an Army base
Laid out on the tree-covered bluffs high above the Missouri River, Fort Leavenworth opened in May 1827 and as usually happened, a village grew up nearby.
It wasn’t long before a 14-year-old from the village named William Cody began working for a freight shipper, riding along the trails to help protect the wagons and to provide the drovers with fresh meat. His prowess with a rifle earned him a nickname he cherished: Buffalo Bill.
Nowadays, visitors to Fort Leavenworth are passed through a security checkpoint and can follow a self-guided tour of the base, a handsome facility of red brick buildings that date back a century but are also are as new as the 21st century.
Immediately after the Civil War, newly freed blacks comprised about a fifth of the U.S. Army, By 1867, Leavenworth was home to one of the regiments of African-American cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers. When he was commander of Leavenworth in the early 1990s, Gen. Colin Powell had erected two handsome statues commemorating those units.
Visitors learn that the famed Leavenworth prison now has both military and civilian components. Prohibition-era gangsters such as Machine Gun Kelly were imprisoned here. So was Robert Stroud, a murderer who gained fame because he kept birds in his cell, Thus he was later – but incorrectly — referred to as the Birdman of Alcatraz, where he did serve time.
While the prison buildings are not open to the public, the base does hold the Frontier Army Museum, which traces America’s growth even before there was a United States. Among the artifacts are a1763 French musket, surveyors’ tools from the late 18th century and on to the 20rh century — including a biplane like those used to chase Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916-17.
Among the extraordinary pieces on display: a Medal of Honor awarded in 1875, and a paymaster’s ledger showing that in 1881, the highest paid non-commissioned officers were chief musicians, who earned $228 total for a five-year enlistment.
The signs claim this 200-acre swath of serenity is in the unremarkable community of Delray Beach. But, in truth, the Morikami Museum does a marvelous job of re-creating a slice of Japan.
True, it’s an idealized view: The Morikami (pronounced MOOR-ee-CAH-me) and its adjacent gardens are designed to present Japanese culture as a bridge between two nations. What is here are two distinctly different exhibition buildings and a fine example of the delicate, less-is-more gardening that ushers your average flowerbed into the Gaudy category.
The overall effect is to make you feel deliciously alone in the gardens, enlightened in the museums.
The history of this unusual place is told by exhibits in the Yamato-Kan, built in the style of a traditional Japanese villa. The history explains the museum/park’s benefactor and moving spirit.
The museum’s architecture is inspired by traditional Japanese design.
George S. Morikami arrived in Seattle from Japan in 1906, bound for the sandy palmetto barrens a few miles inland from Florida’s Atlantic coast. His way was paid by a speculator who promised Morikami room, board and a $500 payment – after he had labored for three years growing pineapples.
The crops were to be shipped north; Morikami was joining the 3-year-old colony of Yamato (YAH-muh-toe), an ancient name for Japan.
But blighted crops and cheaper, Cuban-grown pineapples soon forced the farmers to shift to other crops. Having brought over wives and having begun their families, the young workers increased the population of Yamato to about 50 by World War I. However, by the early 1920s, most of the Japanese had left.
Young Morikami, however, stayed on, farming and buying land. When World War II began, he was so respected that he was not interned — as tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans were. The museum displays a letter signed by a federal judge in Miami allowing Morikami to cross county lines in 1942.
Following the war, Morikami continued to prosper. He decided he wanted to increase the understanding between his native land and his adopted country.
George Morikami, who arrived in America to farm pineapples, persevered, prospered and gave back to his adopted homeland.
Although it seems difficult to believe now, Morikami was rebuffed four times in nine years when he tried to donate land to Delray Beach and to Palm Beach County. The reason: The prime farmland was considered too remote from the coast to be of any use.
Finally, the county accepted a parcel in 1974, and work was begun on the museum and park soon after. George Morikami died at the age of 90 in 1976, the year before the attraction opened.
The original building was the Yamato-Kan. Inside its graceful walls are a series of small rooms that provide historical background on the farming colony – and similar Japanese enclaves elsewhere in turn-of-the-century Florida – and display typical furnishings for a home this size.
Old meets new here, with one room holding the traditional bathing tub and another decorated as a modern teenager might do it, with posters of a baseball player and two of the Westernized cartoon teens made popular in Sailor Moon and racier animated films.
Outside the Yamato-Kan are a small garden and two stylized bridges. Beyond the bridges are three graceful gardens, sand-and-shell pathways featuring patterns of stones of one color bordered by those of another.
Here is a tiny fountain created just for its sound; over there is a large, artificial waterfall.
There is also a display of bonsai, the craft of growing stunted trees in small boxes, that includes some native Florida miniatures.
The park's grounds and gardens create serenity.
A stroll around these grounds removes the visitor from the bustle of the highways that ceaselessly feed Florida’s crowded Gold Coast.
The Morikami expanded its offerings, It both displays traveling exhibitions and has other permanent features that offer readable explanations and photos of Japanese culture. Another imaginative room allows an audience to view a traditional room in which the stylized tea ceremony is regularly demonstrated.
In addition, the Morikami has a 1-mile nature trail, shaded picnic areas, a restaurnat and an active program of demonstrations as well as major festivals celebrating Japanese tradition.
If you go
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are in Delray Beach. The park is just off Jog/Powerline/Carter Road, a north-south street between the Florida Turnpike and I-95. From the turnpike, exit at Atlantic Avenue and head east to Jog/Carter, then turn south. From the interstate, take the Linton Boulevard exit west and head south on the same road.
The attraction is open daily except Mondays and on major holidays. Admission is $12 for adults, $11for those 65 andolder, and $7 for those ages 6-17 and for college students.
The museum and most landscaped areas are accessible to wheelchair-users, but some paths are not paved.
For information, call (561)-495-0233 or go to www.morikami.org.
PARIS, Ark. — Two-lane roads snake up, down and around hills and mountains of Arkansas. They lead to more than 50 state parks and countless recreation areas and boat-launch ramps.
Along these roads, you traverse cattle pastures, forests and villages so small you wonder how they got incorporated. For example, there’s St. Joe, population 85.
The rolling hills are dotted by occasional trailer homes with an array of kids’ toys out front, by tidy farmhouses. Those with tumble-down wooden barns hint of both history and ultimately misfortune.
The gently leaning barn along a rural road in Arkansas implies there's a history to be heard
Every so often there will be a long driveway from the blacktop up to a magnificent, multistory estate. Some of these are owned by ranchers who have cashed in, while others are retirement manses for wealthy northerners. “Money from Chicago,” you hear the locals comment.
It’s only a two-hour drive through this scenery west from Little Rock to the state park system’s handsome lodge atop Mount Magazine, Arkansas’ highest point at 2,753 feet.
Opened in 2006, the 60-room, 13-cabin lodge is all rustic timbers and earth tones, with a patio behind the lodge lined with rockers to take in the view of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake below.
While the lodge has a restaurant offering continental takes on local food and an indoor pool, this is a destination for people who enjoy the outdoors.
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park has a variety of room sizes and pricing seasons.
The park has roughly 14 miles of trails and enough observation points that “You can see about a quarter of Arkansas and even a big hill over in Oklahoma, about 50 miles west,” notes Don Simons.
The slightly built Simons has been at Mount Magazine for about 11 of his nearly 30 years as a state parks interpreter. In that job, he leads visitors on trail hikes, but a walk with him actually is a combination botany-entomology-wildlife-history lesson.
“Most of the mountain’s slopes are covered by virgin timber,” he says, leading me up an easy slope, “because the sides were too steep to easily cut the trees. The tops were logged, and settlers were here after the Civil War, farming.
“Most stayed until the Depression, and finally the government bought out the rest” to create the park,explains Simons, who is a nationally Certified Heritage Interpreter.
Simons interrupts our walk every few yards to identify some living thing. A former president of the state Audubon Society, he cocks his head to listen, then names the birds he hears: “Squeaky wheel . . . Pee-wee . . . red-eyed vireo. (Later, at the visitors center’s indoor observation room, he points through the large windows at the American goldfinch, indigo bunting and various hummingbirds at the feeders.)
Along the path, Simons uses his decal-decorated walking stick to point out plants such as the fly poison, ginseng, wild yam, paw paw and sassafras. “Down in Louisiana, where I came from, they grind the sassafras leaves for file gumbo.”
Butterflies became the specialty he shares with his wife, Lori Spencer. She has a master’s degree in entomology and has published she a book on butterflies. She and Simons have identified more than 85 species of butterflies within Mount Magazine State Park.
But Simons says that most of what he knows of nature is from “years of self-teaching, getting on the trails, then learning what it is that I see.”
He admits he was never driven by education when he was young. “I had no ambition out of high school. I got a full-time job at McDonalds – I was one of those geeks,” he says, a smile breaking through his brown beard.
“I drove up to Arkansas (from his Louisiana home) and in a park I saw a ranger handling snakes, and I thought that was cool. So I went to college and got a degree in wildlife management. I learned to handle bison and bighorn sheep, because my teacher was from Utah and that’s what he knew.”
The smile grows larger.
The view from the tallest peak in Arkansas, Mount Magazine, overlooks Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake.
Having reached the summit of Mount Magazine, Simons stops to talk about the bill he and his wife had introduced in the legislature to have the Diana fritillary named the Arkansas state butterfly.
Almost on cue, a great spangled fritillary lands on me – “He wants to lap up the sodium in your sweat,” explains Simons – before it moves to the ranger’s hand.
Simons and his wife live a couple hundred yards from the multimillion-dollar lodge, which he sees as a mixed blessing, because it is expected to draw a half-million visitors annually to this park.
“It’ll bring the kind of people . . . who want to enjoy the beauty of nature,” he says. By their coming, “I know the peace and quiet I enjoy will be lessened.
“But I know where all the neat, secret places are, and I can go there.”
If you go
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park offers four room types, plus 13 cabins that have fireplaces and kitchens. There are four pricing seasons.
For more, go to www.mountmagazinestatepark.com or call (877) 665-6343.
For more on all of Arkansas’ state parks, go to www.arkan sasstateparks.com.
The Trek truck brings you within a few yards of Animal Kingdom's herbivores.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Acclaimed anthropologist Jane Goodall was a consultant as Walt Disney World Resort was building its fourth and largest theme park, Animal Kingdom. When the media previewed the park before its April 1998 opening, I asked Dr. Goodall what she thought when she was first contacted by the entertainment conglomerate. She answered:
“I wondered, what took them so long?’’
I was thinking the same thing when I went on the park’s new, three-hour experience, the Wild Africa Trek: What took them so long, to provide the customers a more up-close view of the critters?
The Trek is pricey — $129 until Feb. 26, then $189 – but it is fun, educational and at times, thrilling. On the two hours of walkabout, you will be leaning over the banks of a river to get within15 feet from hippos and from crocodiles so large they look like leathery minivans with pointy teeth. A lot of teeth.
Saving you from becoming someone else’s very special memory of the trek is a snug-fitting vest. It has harnesses around your upper thighs and a sort of industrial-strength bungee cord attached to its back. The two Trek guides help you hook a carabiner clamp at the end of this cord to brackets that slide along metal railings. This allows you to lean over the river banks, as well as to cross two swaying suspension bridges.
Your snug vest and bungee line keep you tethered when crossing the bridges.
The bridges, too, cross the river, and while you grasp the cables that hold up the netted sides of the bridges, you’ll be looking down for the irregularly spaced wooden planks on which to step. Looking down is good, because you’ll again be eyeing the crocs or the hippos, more than 20 feet below.
The guides alternate leading/narrating the walk and photographing the participants, limited to a maximum of 12. At the end of the trek, each person is given a card with password information that allows them to view all the images taken and to then order a photo CD, which is included in the fee.
Also included is a charming picnic lunch served at an observation post providing great views of elephants, giraffes and various types of antelopes. The lunch, served in an ingenious metal container, includes appetizer-sized items such as prosciutto ham, shrimp, salmon and hummus.
This lunch stop occurs in the last third of the trek, which is made by open-sided truck. It follows the same roads used by the often-crowded Kilimanjaro Safari trucks. But your truck benches have plenty of space, and binoculars are provided for the frequent stops to better view animals.
My truck paused within 15 feet of a young giraffe and an adult, within 30 feet of a rhino and her youngster. We also watched three cheetahs on a nearby hillside, a lion and lioness looking relaxing in the sun, plenty of hooved stock, and several adult elephants and a predictably cute young one.
The Wild Africa Trek provides up-close views on a three-hour trip.
All of these were pointed out and described to us by the knowledgeable guides. We heard them over ear pieces that attached to portable radios receiving their commentary.
The Wild Africa Trek offers especially close-up views of creatures we otherwise might never get. On the Kilimanjaro Safari trucks, you could be in the middle of a row, with other passengers blocking your camera. Not the case on the Trek, and we never left a stopping point until everyone was satisfied with their view through the provided binoculars or their cameras.
If you go
Because Wild Africa Trek steps off just six times a day and is limited to 12 people, reservations are recommended; call for (407) 939-8687. It is limited to those at least 8 years old and weighing less than 300 pounds – participants step on a scale before they are allowed to don a vest, though the scale’s read-out is seen only by a staffer.
Also before being outfitted, each participant must empty their pockets into their own locker, lest anything fall out during the trip. Cameras that have a neck strap can be retained.
A ticket to Animal Kingdom is required in addition to the Trek fee, which is $129 through Feb. 26, when it rises to $189. In addition to the walk and truck ride, participants receive lunch, a metal water bottle to keep, and a CD of photos of their experience.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Every night, tourists in this farming community, site of the bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, stroll city streets on commercial ghost tours.
But visitors don’t need to pay to hear about ghosts. They only need to walk the 6,000 acres of battlefields, or simply step inside the brilliant new visitors center. Ghosts are everywhere.
These ghosts are the sad, soulful memories of the more than 34,500 young Americans killed or wounded by other young Americans on the first three hot – and horrific – days of July 1863. Anything beyond a casual reading of that bloody to and fro causes you to mourn the victims, almost 150 years later.
More than 1.8-million people come each year to Gettysburg National Military Park, a swath of rolling Pennsylvania countryside, to roam the land. A visitors center opened in 1974, but it could accommodate less than a fourth of the tourists. Its technology in displaying just a fraction of the million artifacts – diaries in fading ink, soldiers’ Bibles, rifles and cannon – was out of date.
Cemetery Ridge, the objective of the ill-fated Pickett's Charge.
Worse, though, was the realization that an adjacent parking lot and a building housing a deteriorating 1880s wrap-around painting of a famed battle sat atop the land where an estimated 971 soldiers had been killed.
After years of planning and construction, in 2008 a $103-million museum and visitors center replaced it, on land that saw no major combat.
The financing came from an unusual blend of public and private funds, with nearly three-quarters of it from individual and corporate donations.
“We have absorbed all the operating costs of the visitors center and museum,” said Dru Anne Neil, director of communications and marketing for the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, “freeing the Park Service to spend its dollars to interpret this place to the visitors.”
That interpretation includes more than an hour of films that explain not just the battle but also the history of America, from the Revolution to contemporary times.
A 22-minute film has a few scenes with costumed actors, but largely depends on the filmmaking techniques that Ken Burns made so familiar in his PBS series The Civil War.
In this introduction, narrator Morgan Freeman gently intones, “Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”
Deftly, his closing lines repeat one of the phrases from President Lincoln’s immortal speech, delivered a few hundred yards away: “Now, we are met on a great battlefield of this war . . .”
Beyond twin theaters showing this film are 12 galleries covering about 24,000 square feet. Each gallery uses a phrase from the Gettysburg Address as its theme.
But first, a sign tells those entering: “The Civil War was fought over three issues – survival of the Union, the fate of slavery and . . . what it means to be an American.
“The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day.”
Strokes of lightning
The museum makes strong use of writings from the period. Some of these are audio narrations, most are presented as signs by various displays.
Nowhere is this more effective than at the entrance to the galleries:
“The South is determined to . . .make all who oppose her smell Southern (gun)powder and taste Southern steel.”
— Jefferson Davis, in his inaugural speech upon becoming president of the Confederate States of America, in February 1861.
“Every name (of a dead soldier) is a lightning stroke to some heart and it breaks like thunder over some home, and it falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone.”
— The Gettysburg Compiler newspaper, four days after the battle.
I found a couple of galleries distinctive. One features actor Sam Waterston, the museum’s voice of Lincoln, reading the Gettysburg Address in a raspy tenor.
Lincoln didn’t give that brief speech until more than four months after the two armies had withdrawn. The Confederate wagon train carrying the wounded stretched an estimated 17 miles.
But left behind in the fields, orchards, rocky clefts and forested hillsides were 7,708 dead or dying soldiers, and thousands of dead horses and mules. So another memorable gallery describes this unimaginable aftermath thrust upon the 2,400 residents of the crossroads town.
See their faces
The display of artifacts is imaginative and helps the visitor understand facets of war or a soldier’s life:
- Gen. Lee’s camp cot, writing desk and small stove show how simply the Confederate commander lived.
- Three vertical plastic cases filled with shell fragments front a timeline and explanation of Union weapon efficiency at the famous Pickett’s Charge.
- A small wooden slat bears the scrawled name of a dead Union soldier. It had been tied with a leather thong to his wrist, identifying him for burial. Around it are letters written to his father by the soldier’s colleagues.
Tied to a dead solider's wrist, this tag named the victim.
Wall displays hold rank upon rank of rifles from among the 28,000 recovered on the battlefield. About 23,000 of them were still loaded — and had not been fired by their wounded or frightened owners.
One wall is covered with photographs of 1,000 soldiers, 500 from each side. Each of these men was killed, wounded or captured. They represent all who fought here.
“We want people to get out and walk the battlefields, experience it and leave wanting to learn more, to come back.
“This place is so special in our history.”
If you go
The Museum and Visitor Center is open daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Entrance to the museum is free. Timed tickets to the 22-minute A New Birth of Freedom have varying fees for different age groups.
The people who take the time to catalog such things report that there are about 900 species of wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park. That’s good to know, because most of us are never going to look down while we are here: We are going to be looking up.
The Grand Teton range is a relentlessly spectacular, 40-mile-long series of serrated peaks. Jutting dramatically from the broad Jackson Hole (pioneers’ term for a valley), the Tetons may be North America’s most impressive mountain panorama. To stand awhile gazing at them is to ponder mankind’s tentative position in the planet’s scheme.
As with Yellowstone, just a few miles to the north, this park is the result of massive geologic activity: About 9-million years ago, two huge slabs separated, one rising to fashion the mountains, one dropping to form the valley.
While the tallest peak, Grand Teton, soars to 13,770 feet, it has to vie for attention with 11 partners that top 12,000 feet. Their jagged, gray granite faces are laced with patches of snow and with glaciers. Trees seem to quit their climb early on these slopes; even the valley’s green carpet abruptly halts to let the mountains rise.
Awesome yet approachable
But the Tetons can be approached and even scaled: There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails that wend around the sparkling lakes and up into the mountains.
For instance, you can circle pretty Jenny Lake in just six miles or take a turn-off at the south end to find the aptly named Hidden Falls, whose sound reaches the hiker’s ears long before the waterfall appears through the trees.
Two paved roads run north and south through the park, roughly parallel to the mountains on the west, and there are enough scenic overlooks to fill even a big memory card.
But for a languid look at the Tetons, get aboard one of the popular raft-floats on the Snake River, flowing about 6-8 miles from the mountains. The trip is calm, the young people handling the steering oars are full of history, corny jokes and naturalist lore. They are also quick to point out the eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, wading birds and beavers’ lodges on the river and its shores.
When people lived here
While several Indian tribes had migrated regularly through the flat valley, the first white settlers brought cattle herds here in the late 19th century. Just a trace of this pioneering effort remains, so it’s worth a stop at the Cunningham Cabin Historic Site, on the eastern edge of the park.
Pierce Cunningham had led the effort to have the area proclaimed a national park, which came to pass in 1929; more land was added in 1950, making the park 485 square miles.
Another remnant is the Menor’s Ferry Trail, where a half-mile path takes visitors to look at homesteading ways, including a replica of a turn-of-the-century ferry across the Snake.
Close by is the 71-year-old Chapel of the Transfiguration, a tiny church that features a special backdrop to its altar: a picture window showcasing the Tetons.
Horseback rides, lasting from an hour or so to overnight camping trips, are a special way to enjoy the back country, or you can pedal your bicycle along the paved roads – no bikes allowed on the trails.
For a brief foray on the water, check at the Colter Bay Visitor Center for the breakfast and dinner trips to an island in big Jackson Lake. The grilled steaks taste special amid the natural splendor. The wildlife enhances the meals: Rare sandhill cranes shatter the stillness as they call from their nesting area, and white-tail deer prance by the picnic tables.
Back at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, make time to visit the well-done Native American art. Creativity and craftsmanship are the focus. The center also shows films on wildlife and on Native American history.
Best of all, when you step back outside and turn around, those marvelous mountains are there, defining the horizon and encouraging you to dream.
If you go
Grand Teton National Park is on the western edge of Wyoming, just north of the city of Jackson, which has commuter plane service.
The park is open year-round, but visitor centers and concession services in the park close in the late fall through the winter. Snowshoe and snowmobiling trips are available in the winter.
For information about Grand Teton National Park, call (307) 739-3300 or go to www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm.
The park has five campgrounds with 865 sites, and five hotels that offer rooms and rustic cabins. For information on accommodations, contact the Grand Teton Lodge Co., (800) 628-9988 or go to www.gtlc.com.
For lodging in Jackson, a few miles to the south, go to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce site, www.jacksonholechamber.com/lodging/hotels-motels-lodges.php.
A visit to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., is equal parts history, science and language lessons.
“We want the ladies to sit down first and if y’all don’t find enough seats, we want the men to hold on tight to the seat rails,” instructs “Goose” Baxter as tourists board a minibus at the distillery. ” ‘Cause last time out, the bus hit a little bump and one of our male visitors fell on the lap of one of our female visitors. We liked to never get them unstuck and off the bus.”
The next 75 minutes with Goose – his real first name is Randy – is going to be like this. In a thick drawl from the hollows of southern Tennessee, he ladles out cornpone jokes laced with details of the history and preparation of the popular whiskey.
Indeed, the free tour, which draws about 250,000 visitors a year, begins with a no-nonsense disclosure about the size of this business.
“Y’all look up to the top of that hill,” directs Goose, pointing forward outside the large, modern visitors center.
“See the big building there – can’t hardly miss it, can ya?”
Looming perhaps 100 feet higher but a ways off is what appears to be the world’s largest tool shed, seven stories tall, plain as day.
“That’s a barrel house, and there are 75 of ‘em on Mr. Jack’s property,” he says, using the standard reference for the man who founded the distillery in the 1830s.
“And each one of them barrel houses can hold 1-million gallons of whiskey.”
Big business, little man
The number is much too large to grasp, of course, but he makes his point: Charming as Goose seems in his drawl and bib overalls, this is a multi, multimillion-dollar business.
During the brief bus ride up a hill to start the tour, Goose explains that each of the 600 or so employees is given one pint of Jack Daniel’s each month. Because the distillery is in a dry county – no bars, no liquor stores – this monthly occasion is known as Good Friday.
“They have 75-million gallons, can you imagine that?” says Goose, “and all they give us is one pint.”
The bus climbs a hill, and the passengers get off in front of tall stacks, called ricks, of lumber. It is sugar maple, grown and cut locally, then sawed here. This wood is burned to create charcoal, the fire aided by raw alcohol produced by the distilling process.
The charcoal comes into the distilling process later, so the group walks downhill to eye a statue of the pint-size Mr. Jack, who stood 5-foot-2, and to look at the cave spring from which the needed water is drawn.
Less than 10 yards away is a three-room cabin, the original office for the distillery. It is on the porch here where older men are photographed chatting in rockers, whittling or grinning by checkerboards: Southern-fried codger for the black- and-white advertising scheme for Jack Daniel’s.
Inside the cabin, visitors see samples of the three grains used to make the whiskey. It is 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye, and the distillery goes through about 19,000 bushels a day.
It begins as moonshine
Now it’s on to the processing buildings, where the grains, water and yeast are combined in copper stills that can each hold 40,000 gallons of what is called sour mash (for its taste). “First it is fermented, and it takes 5 gallons of mash to make 1 gallon of whiskey,” says Goose. “It’ll ferment up to six days.”
The resulting liquid is about 140 proof, or 70 percent alcohol – ” just moonshine.”
To mellow this, the liquid is pumped into massive vats that are packed 10 feet deep with the maple charcoal. The liquid filters naturally through the charcoal, which removes impurities. Trained “tasters” decide when to change the charcoal, and they also judge the whiskey.
The pricier version of Jack Daniel’s, named Gentleman Jack, goes through charcoal twice, but the vast majority of the whiskey is piped into wooden barrels, also made onsite.
“It’s the barrel that makes the whiskey. And in Tennessee, we use a barrel just once,” Goose says.
The inside is charred, and then the barrel is filled with the equivalent of 240 bottles and stored in one of the barrel houses. These are not temperature-controlled, Goose says:
“We have lots of extreme temperatures, from freezing to 100 and humid. The whiskey interacts and ‘breathes’ with the wood . . . This is what makes whiskey turn its golden color and gives it extra flavor, this interaction ‘tween the whiskey and the wood.”
The down-home tour is done, and Goose leads his new friends to the visitors center for a free glass of lemonade or cup of coffee.
Dry county, remember?
If you go
It would be wrong to say the distillery is in Lynchburg, Tenn. – it IS Lynchburg, pop. 361.
The village is about 75 miles southeast of Nashville, at the T intersection of state roads 82 and 55.
Tours are offered daily between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., except for major holidays. Tours last about 75 minutes. Several stops involve stairs; those with mobility challenges might have to skip some stops.
Reservations are not necessary. For information, call (931) 759- 6357. The interactive Web site is at www.jackdaniels.com.
A few hundred yards from the entrance to the distillery is the tiny, kitschy town square. I recommend the meat-and-three specials at the Bar-B-Cue Caboose Cafe. The distillery’s official store is on the square, but most stores have Jack Daniel’s merchandise.
For another great down-home meal in this area, stop in at the Bell Buckle Cafe, in the town of Bell Buckle, at the intersection of state roads 82 and 269, west of Interstate 24.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska — Time and the forces of nature will decide if Mount McKinley is immortal, but it’s so mighty that it seemingly decides when to display its 20,320-foot-tall majesty.
The mountain is also called by its American Indian name, Denali, meaning the Great One or the High One. Indeed, it is the highest point in North America and, because of its immense bulk, on a clear day it can be seen in Anchorage, about 150 air miles away.
But that isn’t often: McKinley creates its own mini-climate and usually is wreathed in clouds. Thus, at least two-thirds of the people who travel to the vast Denali National Park and Preserve — larger than Massachusetts — never get to see even the top half of the namesake mountain.
So when it does show itself — when the mountain is “out” as they say here — it inspires joy, and awe, in viewers.
Yet the same can be said for the much-easier sighting of wildlife that roams the park, including parking lots and roads. How many of us in the Lower 48 get within 20 feet of a female grizzly bear as it munches on berries? Or watch a moose cow with its youngster, grazing on a hillside, or see a caribou sitting in a patch of snow to get relief from insects?
I could have checked off all of these critters, and more, on my seen-that list during the free, narrated Tundra Wilderness Tour on my recent visit. But I also brought home pictures, and the memories.
Driver-guide Jeff Farragia took his busload of 47 on a graded but unpaved road 63 miles into the park, to Stony Hill Overlook. We were 33 miles from Denali, and clouds covered perhaps the top fifth, but it was still a spectacular sight.
I got the up-close-and-personal view, though, by plunking down $350 for a flightseeing tour. I made the one-hour flight in an eight-seat, twin-engine Piper Navajo. Pilot Dan McGregor took us within 2,000 feet of the Wickersham Wall, a 50-degree slab of snow-covered granite, at 12,000 feet up on Denali. It was dazzling.
I added to my mental scrapbook with a two-hour raft ride down the 11-mile Canyon Run of the Nenana (nee-NAH-nah) River. Class III rapids bounced us around as we sat bundled head to booties in rubber suits and life jackets.
You can also get a taste of the park by hiking or biking over dozens of miles of trails in the untouristed backcountry, by jouncing along on a Jeep safari, and by camping, visiting with the park’s sled dogs — used for ranger patrols in the winter — taking other narrated bus tours, strolling ranger-led nature walks, or just sitting in on films and live presentations at the Visitors Center. Many of the paths and the rides are wheelchair accessible.
Open year-round, Denali offers thrills and inspires awe, but most of all, it creates memories, mountains of them.
If you go
Denali National Park and Preserve main entrance is 237 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Entrance fee is $10 for individuals, or $20 per vehicle, for up to seven days’ visit. To learn more, call (907) 683-2294, or go to .
There are hotel rooms available just outside the park boundaries; call (907) 683-4636.
I flew to Mount McKinley on Denali Air, www.denaliair.com; (907) 683-2261.
I rafted with Explore Denali, which has several options, from challenging to less so; toll-free 1-800-276-7234.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This city has made its mark on America.
It gave us Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, Jesse James and Joan Crawford, Count Basie and Calvin Trillin. It’s where Rival created the CrockPot, where McDonald’s invented the Happy Meal.
Hallmark Cards and Applebee’s have headquarters here.
But none of that is likely to draw more than casual attention from a tourist. Nor are the 100 barbecue joints or 200 fountains the city boasts.
Rather, it’s the wealth of memorable museums that forces the visitor to split the available time, and maybe to regret not planning a longer trip.
To save you some of that angst, here is a guide to just four of the special museums.
Treasure under that field
Dressed in a plaid shirt, hands tucked into the pockets of his workday slacks, Bob Hawley clearly hasn’t let his find of treasure go to his head. He or one of his sons still greet visitors at the Arabia Steamboat Museum and tells them how they became sunken-ship salvagers – in the middle of a farm field in the middle of America.
“They say the Missouri River (he pronounces it Miz-ZURE-uh) is too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” said Hawley, whose family has a refrigeration repair business.
Son David had been on a service call at a farm on the Kansas side of the river when he heard a story that apparently had been making the rounds for more than 130 years, about how a steamboat was buried beneath the farm – more than a half-mile from the river bank.
David told his father and brother. They decided to dig up the ship and whatever treasure it had gone down with. (David sometimes lets on to the visitors he greets that, “We just wanted an excuse to drive heavy equipment.”)
A wall map in the museum shows the sites of 162 steamboats sunk between St. Louis and Kansas City in the mid-19th century, when the way to move goods to the frontier was by riverboat.
The fact that the Arabia was now under farm land was one of those peculiarities of the Earth’s constant reshaping of itself. The Missouri had carved a new course through the farmland and then through recurrent flooding, covered the land with what turned out to be a 45-foot-deep layer of rich silt.
A film relates that the pdaddlewheeler Arabia, 171 feet long, 54 feet wide, was loaded in late August 1856 with about 220 tons of goods to be delivered to 54 merchants as far north as Nebraska.
But the ship hit a submerged tree trunk and sank. All 130 passengers got off; the only fatality was a mule, tied on deck.
The Hawley team had to sink 20 wells to drain enough of flowing underground water to accomplish the recovery.
A film shows the men pulling odd items encased in mud. Cleaned and restored, thousands of everyday items that pioneers needed to live on the frontier are now in floor-to-ceiling display cases:
Here are whale oil lamps, 1,200 shoes, ink wells, mirrors, cuspidors, schoolroom slates, utensils, gun parts from Belgium, beads from Italy.
ut the salvors did find money: a coin purse that held 25 cents, and also a single penny.
War to end all wars
Hundreds of thousands of doughboys passed through Kansas City’s huge Union Station railway hub after the United States entered World War I. Within two weeks of the Armistice in November 1918, the area’s populace agreed to contribute $2.5-million to build a Liberty Memorial to the soldiers’ sacrifices.
In 1926, President Coolidge dedicated the imposing hilltop plaza and its 217-foot-tall Memorial Tower.
After taxing themselves for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in 1998, residents passed a bond issue to raise $102-million to construct, and acquire artifacts for, a World War I museum.
Built beneath the memorial, the National World War I Museum opened in December 2006, designated by Congress as the nation’s official WWI museum.
Visitors enter by walking on a glass floor above 9,000 artificial red poppies, each representing 1,000 dead soldiers. Presentations range from newsreels to recordings, from interactive exhibits (make your own propaganda poster and e-mail it home) to more than 50,000 artifacts.
An opening film explains the shifting power, disparity of wealth and erosion of monarchies throughout Europe. In booths, visitors can hear American fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker describe a dogfight, or listen to period music.
Visitors can pass through a clever, if chilling, series of life-sized constructions showing how wretched trench warfare became.
On the walls are quotations, including:
“It cannot be that 2-million Germans should have fallen in vain . . . No, we do not pardon, we demand – vengeance.”
– Adolf Hitler, 1922
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
– H.G. Wells, 1935.
About six blocks from the intersection of 12th Street and Vine, made famous in the rock ‘n’ roll song Going to Kansas City, is a pair of museums enshrining Americana:
- The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum utilizes period photos, uniforms and equipment to explain a facet of segregation that probably escaped the notice of most whites, then and still.
From the late 19th century past the middle of the 20th century, thousands of young black men played baseball, for money, on hundreds of teams. Except for the rare exhibition game, even the best of these men never played against whites.
This compact museum recounts the long journey to equality via a film and 12 galleries that roughly circle the clever centerpiece – a mock baseball field with life-sized statues of legendary players, in action poses at their positions on the field.
- Popular music has long transcended the nation’s racial divide, and no part of popular culture is more uniquely American than jazz.
When the Depression shuttered much of the nation’s nightlife, political “Boss” Tom Pendergast simply decided he wouldn’t let it close down his city. He ordered public works projects to keep people employed and he ignored Prohibition to keep them content. More than 100 nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses featured blues and jazz.
Bands were formed and legends made. Regulars included Louis Armstrong, Big Joe Turner, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and a local fellow, Charlie Parker.
Within the Jazz Museum, visitors can listen to Armstrong, Ellington, Fitzgerald and Parker, each of whom has a separate gallery. One of Parker’s special saxophones is on display.
The museum shares the building with a nightclub, the Blue Room; the Baseball Museum is just up the block.
If you go
- The Arabia Steamboat Museum, 400 Grand Blvd., in the River Market. Open daily except for major holidays. (816) 471-4030.
- The National World War One Museum, open Tuesday through Sunday except for major holidays. (816) 784-1918.
-The American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum share the address 1616 E 18th St. Both open Tuesday through Sunday except major holidays. The Jazz Museum is at (816) 474-8463; www.americanjazzmuseum.com. The Baseball Museum is at (816) 221-1920; www.nlbm.com.
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — “Just about gotten warm enough to doze, huh?” the tall, thin man asked the fellow whose height could not be determined with certainty because he was slouched in a comfy-looking, antique office chair.
“Yep,” said the sitting man, “and as few shoppers as I’ve had, I might as well doze. Or maybe close.”
Perhaps hoping he could make both of them happier, the standing man said, “Got any early Floridian, anything with citrus?”
“If I do, I don’t know of it,” responded the man in the chair.
But chances are, the situation changed shortly for both, because their conversation took place at one of the Southeast’s largest markets for collectibles and antiques.
It was during the annual, mid-February event known as a Renningers Promotions “extravaganza”. These sprawl across 117 acres of former pasture in January, February and November. More than 1,000 dealers display their merchandise on everything from commercial shelving to banana shipping cartons to blankets on the grass.
The result: If you want a sample of some consumer good that was manufactured in the past 150 years or so, you can probably find it here:
/ Fancy a shipping crate with its contents label – in German – pasted inside and containing the original enamel sterilizing dishes for medical use? There are three crates, next to the stack of unused bedpans.
/ Need a heavy copper box decorated with gobs of colored glass and stamped on the bottom “Tiffany Studios, New York, N.Y.”? The price tag says $1,200, but ask the seller. the usual gambit for bargaining: “Can you do any better on this?”
/ Wish that Grandma had saved that stack of magazines in the attic, like the one from May 1892 headlining the story behind “Boy industrialist Leland Stanford opens a new college out West?” It is in the carton just in front of the 1901 book William McKinley, Our Martyred President.
/ Want an unused wooden washboard or galvanized zinc pail? Right over there.
/ Decrepit outboard motors? Lacrosse stick? A package of 100 brochures ($60) promising “What You Should Know About George C. Wallace”?
All are here, along with arrowheads, ice cream scoops, imprinted ashtrays (“Danny’s Hideaway, Across From the Dogtrack”), other people’s wedding photos and baby photos — even funeral photos.
Concerned that your supply of Smurf drinking glasses is low? Here’s a set of six for $21.
If you agree that FDR was the Man of the Hour, you’ll want to make an offer on the foot-tall electric mantle clock that bears that legend beneath a sculpture of the (standing) president grasping a ship’s wheel.
“Is that harpoon real? How-much-is-it-where’d-you-get-it?”
“Well, the metal tip is real, but we made up the shaft and attached new rope to it. These came from Nova Scotia, off old whaling ships, ’cause you can’t whale no more.”
The extravaganzas – that’s the official name – are operated by Renningers Promotions, long-established in this collectibles/antiques/flea market niche. The company also stages major events in Pennsylvania, in Kutztown, King of Prussia and Adamstown.
On the hilly land just outside Mount Dora, about 40 minutes north of Orlando, the company rents enclosed, air-conditioned space year-round to about 200 dealers of pricier items. Every weekend, even more dealers set up their wares for a flea market/farmers market.
And every third weekend, about 400 vendors come to Renningers’ pasture for an “antiques fair’’, held under covered pavilions and spilling onto the grounds.
But it is the extravaganzas that make visiting an experience.
If you come looking for something specific — antique toys, fancy dinnerware, militaria, lapel pins from the former USSR – it takes stamina, just to walk up and down all the aisles, up and down all the hills.
If you are a comparison shopper, you would need to draw yourself a map — none are handed out at the site — to help you return to favored booths.
For serious shoppers, Renningers sells three-day passes; otherwise, you can buy admission for any single day. Tickets are cheapest on Sunday, when some stuff is gone, some vendors pack up early to move on.
While many sellers are amateurs, maybe staging an estate sale, an untold number of shoppers and vendors are professional dealers. Many come south in the winter for the numerous weekend markets and evening auctions. Then the pros head back north, to set up booths there.
Overheard, a conversation between two vendors:
“I don’t know what it is all of a sudden with champagne (ice) buckets, but last fall I was buying them as fast as I could. I was selling them for $50, and I made $5,000.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: Renninger Promotions’ Florida site is on U.S. 441 just east of Mount Dora and north of State Road 46, about 30 miles north of Orlando. There is an exit for 441/92/17 on Interstate 4 in Orlando.