Andrew Johnson National Historic Site


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0DSC05207We stopped at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee on our road trip down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This site encompasses a couple of blocks in the town, preserving Johnson’s early home, tailor shop, presidential museum and his larger homestead.


Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, chose Johnson, an anti-secessionist Southern Democrat, as his running mate for his re-election campaign in order to promote his message of unity following the Civil War. Their ticket easily won the election. Johnson became the 17th president of the United States, only six weeks after being sworn in as VP, following Lincoln’s assassination.


Johnson was deeply unpopular, at odds with the Republican Congress over Reconstruction policies. His strict constitutionalism and opposition to civil liberties for the freedmen ultimately culminated in his impeachment by Congress. He was acquitted by one vote and served the duration of his term as a ‘lame duck.’



We began at the visitor center where we signed up for the next guided Homestead Tour. We watched the short film and browsed the adjoining presidential museum while we waited.  Johnson’s original, tiny tailor shop is contained within the Memorial Building.


Then we walked a couple of streets over to the Homestead for the ranger-guided tour. Andrew Johnson owned this large home for 24 years. The home was occupied by soldiers during the Civil War and pretty much trashed. When Johnson and his wife returned from Washington they renovated the home and redecorated in a Victorian style.


The Homestead passed on to two more generations and was then donated to the National Park Service with many original furnishings and memorabilia.


On our way back to the car, we stopped in the ‘Early Johnson Home’ across the street from the Visitor Center. The Johnsons lived here before moving to the larger Homestead in 1851.


I had mixed feelings about this park unit. It’s easy to write off the man who opposed the 14th amendment (giving citizenship to the freed slaves) as the worst president in history. But the park service does a good job in presenting all facets of this man who raised himself up out of extreme poverty, with no education, to become a defender of the Union and of the Constitution. They leave it to the visitors to judge him by casting a ‘vote’ in the impeachment trial after touring the site.


Location: 101 N College St, Greeneville, TN

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 12/11/1963

Date of my visit: August 12, 2013


Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine


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Years ago, when the kids were little, we toured the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland. Pioneer Tunnel & Steam Train is a horizontal drift mine in the anthracite coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. It was owned and operated by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company from 1911 and ceased operation in 1931.


In 1963, Pioneer Tunnel was retimbered and opened to visitors by Ashland Community Enterprises, a non-profit corporation.


We rode into the tunnel in Mahanoy Mountain on a mine car and our guide taught us how coal is mined and what life was like for the miners who worked here in the early 1900s.


After emerging from the tunnel, we boarded the Henry Clay, a narrow gauge steam train, for a ride around the other side of the mountain. Here we learned about a different kind of mining called strip mining. And we learned about the nearby Centralia mine fire, which has been burning continuously since 1962, causing the abandonment of the town under which the mine runs.



Location: 19th Street & Oak Street, Ashland, PA 17921

Designation: Museum

Date designated or established: 1963

Date of my visit: 7/17/2005



Capitol Reef National Park: Hickman Bridge


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Having spent the morning exploring Cathedral Valley, we needed a short hike in the main section of Capitol Reef National Park after lunch. Two miles east of the visitor center, we parked in the lot for the Hickman Bridge trail head. From this lot, you can access the 2-mile round-trip hike to Hickman Bridge, as well as the 4.5-mile hike to Rim Overlook.


The Hickman Bridge Trail is a pretty popular one because it’s fairly short and moderate. Most of the elevation gain of 400 feet is in the beginning of the trail with stairs carved into the rock and switchbacks. There is no shade, and even in April, it was a thirsty climb.


The canyon views once you get to the midway point are great, with many unique rock formations in sight, like the Capitol Dome.


As the trail started dipping down, we came to a small double natural bridge named after a 19th century Fruita homesteader,  Nels Johnson.


After the Nels Johnson Bridges, the trail climbed again, winding around the 133 foot span of the Hickman Natural Bridge.


The arch is the largest in the park and is named for Joe Hickman. Hickman, together with his brother in law, Ephraim Pectol, paved the way for Capitol Reef to become a National Park. The two men campaigned for the ‘Wayne Wonderland’ to be given protected status.


In 1924, Hickman, as a state legislator, succeeded in having the area set aside as a state park. After the dedication ceremony, Hickman petitioned the federal government to designate the Wayne Wonderland National Monument, but he was killed in a boating accident shortly afterwards.


Pectol took over and spent more than a decade working with the federal government, helping to survey the area. FDR created Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937. The monument was elevated to National Park status by Congress in 1971.

Capitol Reef posts:

  • Cathedral Valley
  • Goblin Valley State Park (Coming Soon)
  • Hickman Bridge
  • Scenic Drive (Coming Soon)
  • Panorama Point (Coming Soon)

Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designated or established: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017


Assateague Island National Seashore


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On a long weekend we were spending in Ocean City, Maryland, we decided to take a break from the non-stop coverage of the Boston Bomber manhunt and explore the Maryland District of Assateague Island National Seashore.


Assateague is a 37-mile barrier island off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. The area is famous for its wild horses…descended from shipwreck survivors or from early settlers’ free-range horses.


We began at the Barrier Island Visitor Center, just before the Verazzano Bridge which connects the mainland to the island. The visitor center has some aquariums, a film about the horses and some other interesting displays. We grabbed a map and headed across the bridge, keeping our eyes open for wild horses.


The part of the island just on the other side of the bridge is a Maryland State Park. You have to turn right onto the main road to continue to the NPS tollbooth.  From there, we drove about two miles to the end of the road in the Maryland District.


There is no road connecting the Maryland and Virginia sections of the island. To see the Virginia section ( Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge) you must drive via the mainland to the southern entrance. A fence at the Maryland-Virginia border keeps the two herds of wild horses separate.


Assateague Island National Seashore has three short nature loop trails. ‘Life of the Dunes’ trail begins at the end of the park road. It’s a 3/4 mile flat trail in sand.  There are numbered markers that correspond to a nature guide that can be printed from the NPS website.


We saw patches of asphalt buried in the sand in part of the loop. Apparently, this island had been prepared for residential development in the 1950s with a road running the length of the island. A hurricane blew those plans away in 1962 and then the NPS designation was granted in 1965, preventing further construction.


From a parking lot on the Atlantic Ocean side of the road, we walked down to the beach. We’d been told at the visitor center that the horses might be harder to find due to torrential downpours the previous day. There weren’t any hanging out on the beach but we enjoyed watching the seabirds chase the waves.


We walked the two other short loop trails: ‘Life of the Forest’ and ‘Life of the Marshes.’ Both of these were about a half mile with boardwalk sections.


Just as we were about to give up on seeing any of the horses, they found us in one of the parking lots. They ignored us while we took photos (from a safe distance, of course.) And then we saw some more just as we were about to cross the bridge to the mainland. Hooray!


Location: 7206 National Seashore Ln, Berlin, MD 21811

Designation: National Seashore

Date designated or established: January 1, 1965

Date of my visit: April 19, 2013




Paterson Great Falls: Overlook Park


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When I visited Paterson Great Falls for the Native American Heritage celebration, it was held in the brand-new Overlook Park. The Overlook’s main feature is an amphitheater facing the falls. The last time I’d been there, the area had been crumbling into the river with a chain link fence keeping people away from the edge (we’d had to find an opening to poke our lenses through to get a shot.)


Besides the amphitheater,  a new stairway connecting the Overlook section with Mary Ellen Kramer Park was added. Previously, we’d had to exit the park, walk around the block and renter to cross the bridge to the far side of the falls. Much-needed improvements were also made to the parking area. Parking is still limited when there is an event happening…there were a few cars waiting for me to leave so they could pounce on my spot in the afternoon.


Funds for the $2.8 million renovation came from New Jersey’s Green Acres fund, the NPS centennial grant, the county’s Open Space fund, the City of Paterson and Rutgers University.  The park has big plans for future improvements, including a Great Lawn on the Allied Textile Printing site and a fancy new visitor center which they are hoping to build in time for Great Fall’s 10th anniversary in 2021.


Scroll down for a video clip of the falls taken from Overlook Park.

Paterson Great Falls posts:

Location: 72 McBride Avenue Extension, Paterson, NJ

Designation: National Historical Park

Date designated or established: 11/7/2011

Date of my visit: 11/4/2018


Sagamore Hill National Historic Site


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Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Cove Neck, NY.  Known for being the 26th President of the United States, Roosevelt grew up in New York and accomplished much here before taking on Washington DC. He served as NYC Police Commissioner (where he  initiated sweeping reforms in the police department) and Governor of New York before moving into national politics.


Of all Roosevelt’s achievements, he was proudest of his work in conservation. He created the first National Parks and signed into law the Antiquities Act (under which the president may designate National Monuments.)  So it is fitting that the National Park Service manages the home where he lived from 1886 until his death in 1919. The Sagamore Hill National Historic Site includes the mansion and also the Theodore Roosevelt Museum in a separate building on the grounds.


The mansion was originally 22 rooms, was built for his first wife Alice Lee and named Leeholm after her. But she died before the home was completed, soon after the birth of their daughter. When Roosevelt remarried and moved into the home with his new family, he changed the name to Sagamore Hill (Sagamore is the Algonquin word for chieftain.)


Ranger-led tours of Sagamore Hill can be reserved on the NPS website or purchased on a first-come basis at the visitor center. The North Room, part of a 1905 expansion, is filled with Roosevelt’s keepsakes and safari trophies. This room, along with others on the first floor, served as the ‘Summer White House’ for part of Roosevelt’s presidency. We were awed by this room, though struck by the irony of all the animal trophies in the home of one of our countries foremost conservationists.


The site had just reopened at the time of our visit after an extensive multi-million-dollar, 4-year restoration project. It is beautifully preserved and most of the furnishings are original. The ranger’s narrative gave us a real feel for the dynamic leader and family man Roosevelt must have been.


Location: 20 Sagamore Hill Rd, Oyster Bay, NY 11771

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 7/25/1962

Date of my visit: 2/7/2016

This windmill is a modern replica of the one Theodore Roosevelt originally installed. Because there was no electrical service here in those days, the windmill was used to pump water to a holding tank on the 3rd floor to provide running water for household needs.
A bathroom with running water was a luxury at the time. The house was expanded to include the bathroom in 1905.
One of the daughter’s bedrooms
The kitchen, with running water
Quentin Roosevelt was Theodore’s youngest & favorite son He was killed in action in WWI and awarded a Harvard degree posthumously,

Flathead National Forest: Middle Fork Flathead River


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We spent Day 4 of our Montana trip with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company. In the morning, we had hiked to Avalanche Lake inside the park (read about that here.) In the afternoon, we regrouped at the Glacier guides headquarters in West Glacier where we met up with our guide Ryan for a scenic float trip on the Flathead.


The Middle Fork Flathead River is a 92 mile river that forms the Southern boundary of Glacier National Park and the Northern boundary of Flathead National Forest. The Flathead is designated a National Wild and Scenic River.


The waters are pure and a haven for native Bull and Cutthroat Trout. The colorful rocks found here and around Glacier National Park are called Argillite. They range in color from red to green, depending on the heat and pressure they were exposed to during formation.


We shared a raft with another family from Los Angeles. We floated peacefully downstream, conversing with them and Ryan.


We put in around West Glacier where the river was wide open. As we traveled downstream, canyon walls rose up dramatically around us.


We landed about 5 miles south of where we’d started, by the Blankenship Bridge.


Location: West Glacier, MT

Designation: National Forest, Wild and Scenic River

Date designated or established: 1976

Date of my visit: 6/25/2018