Four Corners, Part 1 (Orientation)

On August 3, 2017 · 12 Comments

Our family visits a different part of the United States every summer. This year we decided to travel through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We made it as far west as the Four Corners monument although we we spent only a few moments in Utah and Arizona. We toured through parts of Utah back in 2011. Arizona will need to wait for another day.

The embedded map showed our approximate route. We began our adventure at the Denver International Airport where we landed and rented a car. From there we drove down to Angel Fire, a ski resort town in New Mexico where I have family. That offered a nice base for a return trip to Taos, a place I last visited in 2013 during the Dust Bowl adventure. The next swing included a series of National Park properties: Pecos National Historical Park; Bandelier National Monument; Chaco Culture National Historical Park; and Mesa Verde National Park. We also spent time in towns along the way including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango. Then we drove back to Denver.

We packed a lot of activities into those ten days. From mountains to desert, from cold to warm, from historic to modern, we tried a little of just about everything. I didn’t capture many new counties on this trip though, for a couple of reasons. First, the immense size of counties out there made it difficult, although each capture covered a lot of territory on the map too. Second, I’d been to several of the places before. This was more about visiting friends and family, and showing the kids places I loved seeing during an epic road trip I took a quarter century earlier. Even so, I still found time for a few county captures, some under interesting circumstances

Pecos Subterfuge

Pecos National Historical Park

The path from Angel Fire to Santa Fe, New Mexico would ordinarily go through Taos and enter Santa Fe from the north. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture a couple of new counties by traveling along the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then looping back to Santa Fe from the south. That inefficient route led directly past Pecos National Historical Park. I used the park as my excuse. We enjoyed Pecos — and I’ll talk about that some more in a future article — although the actual reason focused squarely on the new counties, Mora and San Miguel.

The park fell within San Miguel and the photograph above gave a nice overview of its terrain. Each afternoon the "monsoon" rains of summer covered the plains. Mora County looked similar, maybe a little greener, with an economy seemingly based on ranching. I didn’t see a lot of wealth in sparsely-populated Mora. At one point we drove through its county seat, also called Mora, and the speed limit dropped down to 15 miles per hour (24 kph). You better believe I didn’t go a single mile per hour over that limit. It seemed like one of those places where speeding tickets probably funded the few public services that existed out there. I admit I had no evidence of that and perhaps I’ve made an unfair assessment. I didn’t risk it either.

Let’s Make Sure at Los Alamos

Bradbury Science Museum

I’d marked New Mexico’s smallest county, Los Alamos, as one I’d visited previously. Los Alamos made my tally many years ago during that previously-referenced epic road trip. However, I’ve since doubted that I actually captured it. No major roads between popular destinations cut through there. That was by design. Los Alamos served as the secret hideaway for scientists designing atomic bombs during World War 2. Nobody was supposed to travel to Los Alamos without a specific reason to be there. The county, established formally in 1949, covered barely a hundred square miles (250 square km). I simply couldn’t see how I’d crossed its borders on that earlier trip. Why had I concluded otherwise so many years ago? This time I made sure to record my visit photographically for the sake of accuracy and completeness. It didn’t "count" as a new capture even if that might have actually been the case.

Giving William McKinley His Due

Chaco Culture

My exceedingly brief visit to McKinley County, New Mexico probably set a record for my most absurd county capture ever. It also became another exceedingly rare example of a "walk only" county like my recent visit to Cass County, Michigan. McKinley happened during my trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Nothing was easy about getting to Chaco Canyon. The National Park Service recommended the northern route that involved about 16 miles of mostly decent dirt and gravel roads. I took that route. Visitors could also approach from the south with about 20 miles of "at your own risk" dirt roads. The southern route, if I’d been more adventurous, would have brought me through McKinley County.

However, I noticed that I could head south from the Visitors Center, go a couple of miles along the southern dirt path, and reach McKinley. I decided to touch McKenly at its closest point, where the road ran directly along the county line. I simply needed to stop the car and touch a point of land just beyond the roadside (map). A barbed wire fence ran along there too, so I put my foot between the strands of wire. Then I gently patted the ground with my foot. County captured.

Colorado Backcountry

Durango, Colorado

Actually I captured most of my new counties on a single day. We drove from Durango to Denver using the default route. We had some friends to visit in Denver so I didn’t want to go out of the way. Even so, that brought me through Archuleta, Mineral, Rio Grande, Saguache, Chaffee, and Park Counties for the first time. Driving through Saguache offered particularly remarkable scenery. Much of the county sat in humongous bowl surrounded by mountains on all sides. Amazingly flat, filled with fertile fields, and yet the wide plain sat at an elevation of something like 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). Park County also offered a little entertainment, if only as the setting of the South Park cartoon. That included a drive through Fairplay, the inspiration for the quiet mountain town where Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lived.

Nine (possibly ten) new county captures didn’t seem like a lot from a numerical perspective. Nonetheless, we covered quite a bit of territory and had a great time doing it.

Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Disestablished National Parks

On December 8, 2011 · 2 Comments

I continue to mine many of the suggestions offered by 12MC reader "Scott" who provided me with a boatload of National Park trivia last summer. With that, I’m going pursue an angle that isn’t particularly well know, or at least unknown to me. One often thinks of everything associated with National Parks as perpetual. After all, their goals include conservation and preservation. Once a park, always a park, one would conclude if understanding the conventional wisdom. That’s not always true, however.

It sounds counter-intuitive and perhaps mildly shocking, but some properties in the NPS inventory have been disestablished. Twenty three sites have been transferred away from NPS administration for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes properties were disestablished because the original acquisition never made much sense to begin with, such as with a concert hall.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC is world-renowned for theater, ballet, orchestral performances and arts eduction. It’s a great home for the National Symphony Orchestra but does it have the qualities of a great national park? No, and that’s why it was moved to a public-private partnership under the direction of the Kennedy Center trustees in 1994.

Father Millet Cross National Monument

SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons in the public domain

The Father Millet Cross National Monument has to be one of the more unusual former NPS properties. It’s located on the grounds of Old Fort Niagara. The former monument commemorates a rescue mission at the original French fort in 1688. Father Millet was part of the rescue party that reached the sick and starving soldiers at the garrison. He erected a wooden cross at the site and the later National Monument served to commemorate the original commemoration, if that makes sense. It is reputed to have been the smallest national monument ever established at a mere 0.0074 acres or 320 square feet.

The National Monument was eventually disestablished and transferred to the state of New York to include within surrounding Fort Niagara park. The Father Millet Cross is but a mere speck on that property. It didn’t meet the definition of what should be considered a National Monument.

Sullys Hill National Park

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Most of the disestablished properties were National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, and the like. It’s rare for a full-blown National Park to lose that status, and even more unusual for one to be removed from the NPS roster altogether. Sullys Hill National Park in North Dakota certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of Yellowstone or Yosemite, and indeed that’s one of the reasons it no longer exits.

President Theodore Roosevelt himself established the park in 1904 which is pretty significant considering his contributions to the conservation movement and his role in the history of the system of national parks in the United States. Nonetheless, Sullys Hill was transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service about thirty years later and demoted to a game reserve.

Castle Pinckney National Monument

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Chances are you’ve heard of Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina (my visit) if you have even a basic understanding of U.S. History. It brings to mind an important time and place in the United States at the dawn of the Civil War. How about Castle Pinckney? Well, probably not so much. That was the primary issue with Castle Pinckney National Monument. It was part of the defenses of Charleston Harbor — just like Ft. Sumter — but to a considerably lesser extent.

Anyone who’s visited Charleston and gazed upon the harbor has likely seen Castle Pinckney without realizing it. The excursion boat that took me to Ft. Sumter sailed directly past it and the guides actually pointed it out. Castle Pinckney seemed to be seriously eroded with vegetation growing through it, sitting on a shoal that’s gradually being absorbed into the harbor. Granted, it doesn’t have the name recognition of other Charleston sites however it probably doesn’t deserve this fate either. It’s gone from National Monument to neglected ruin.

The Park You Cannot Visit

On August 2, 2011 · 5 Comments

The U.S. National Park Service currently has 394 units, with one more arriving soon. These include all manner of parks, monuments, historic sites, battlefields, seashores, recreation areas, trails and various other interesting designations. Each one is a beloved national treasure whether famous like Yellowstone National Park or more obscure such as Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.

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One site, however, cannot be visited. Even though it’s located within a major metropolitan area with more than four million residents, you cannot go there. You can touch it ever so briefly but you can never truly experience it legally. Tourists are strictly prohibited. The site is the Hohokam Pima National Monument on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona.

This National Monument was established to protect Snaketown, an ancient village of the pre-Columbian Hohokam people who once inhabited a swath of the desert southwest. It is believed that they settled Snaketown sometime around 2,300 year ago, and abondoned it for unknown reasons (possibly drought) about 900 years ago. It was a large cultural center with a couple of thousand residents, intensive agricultural cultivation and a large system of irrigation canals. Archaeologists excavated Snaketown in the 1930’s and again in the 1960’s. When done, they completely reburied the site to preserve it for future generations.

Hohokam Pima National Monument falls within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Community. According to the National Park Service, "The Gila River Indian Community has decided not to open the extremely sensitive area to the public." This is as close as you can get to Snaketown without permission:

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Is it really closed? Yes, that’s true in a general sense, but thousands of people travel through the National Monument every day and probably never realize it.

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That’s because, in spite of the site’s sensitivity, Interstate 10 cuts through a corner of it. I guess "visit" depends on whether one considers a 30-second drive sufficient or not. In full disclosure, I’ve visited counties for less time and counted them, although I think that’s a bit different than experiencing a National Park Service unit.

People who collect parkstamps wouldn’t consider a freeway jaunt sufficient. No, they would insist upon on official National Park Passport Stamp to complete the deal and no stamp exists for Hohokam Pima.

12MC reader "Scott" mentioned these passports to me and I gave them a brief shout-out in one of the recent Utah articles. Scott also provide me with lots of National Park trivia that I will use in future articles.

I asked Scott if I could talk a little about the National Park Travelers Club‘s 9th Annual Convention and he said that would be fine. These are people who collect parkstamps avidly as a hobby, which is something I can understand completely with my somewhat-related desire to count counties.

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC area on Saturday, August 6th between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm, and you’re curious about parkstamps, then stop by the Columbia Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Capitol, 550 C Street SW, Washington, DC, for the Annual Convention. It is free to attend! I am seriously considering attending myself if I can work it into my schedule even though my stamp collection now stands at only 2.

This is a "big deal" year, the 25th anniversary of the creation of official stamps managed by the Eastern National organization. There are currently over 2,000 of these cancellation stamps in existence. As an added enticement, there will be an official park passport stamp available at the convention to commemorate the event but only for that one day. It would be a great, extremely rare stamp to jump-start one’s collection.

I am sure Scott will answer any comments you may have below if you would like further information. Likewise I’d be glad to provide contact information for Scott if you’d prefer to send him a message offline.


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