April 30, 2013

4/27/13 - Vicksburg NMP

HISTORY WARNING:  I couldn't figure out how to make our visit to Vicksburg National Military Park work without inserting a history lesson.  You can skip it if you want, but there may be a test later.  

(NOTE:  I didn't remember any of this from school; we watched the movie at the Visitors Center and there are lots of signs in the park.)

During the Civil War, both the North and the South wanted control of the Mississippi.  Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was in charge of the Union offense, and CSA Lt. Gen. John Pemberton* was in charge of the defense at Vicksburg, MS.  The Confederates were on top of a bluff above the river, and were able to protect their position by shooting down at people.  By mid-May, Grant tried two assaults uphill, lost a lot of men, then decided on a siege.  After 46 days, the South had a really low morale problem:  no hope of reinforcements and 10,000 soldiers were suffering from disease and malnutrition.  Pemberton decided to surrender.  Good thing he did because the Union soldiers were digging trenches and tunnels to get inside the Confederate fortifications, and in a couple more days they'd have broken through.

Vicksburg National Military Park was created in 1899.  In the early 1900s, veterans from both sides came back for a memorial jubilee, and marked where they fought.  There are over 1,330 commemorative markers, plaques, tablets, monuments and memorials in the park.  That's pretty impressive.  (Thankfully we didn't stop to read every one.)

Markers are along the lines of "We slept here".
Red plaques show Confederate defenses; blue ones show Union offense.  I think tablets have more info than plaques.  Maybe...

There are state memorials honoring soldiers who fought at Vicksburg.  Some of them are super-impressive, and some seem to be an afterthought.

There are monuments too, although I'm not sure what the difference is.  I think a memorial might be a monument, but maybe a monument can be a memorial.  It's possible they're synonyms...or maybe it's just a case of identity theft. 

There are statues of officers who were killed in battle.  I'm not sure if they're monuments or memorials, maybe both.
The 16-mile battlefield tour starts along Union lines.  Numbered stops along the way have information signs (which are different than all that other stuff).  You can find out even more if you listen to the cell phone tour.  There are trees now so it's not as open as it was in 1863--and, of course, none of the markers, plaques, statues and memorials were there then.  But you can still see the hills, and where some of the Union trenches were.
We kept seeing a lot of kids--turns out they're local freshmen on a field trip.  Their teacher had them walk the Union lines Saturday, and the Confederate lines Sunday.  At each stop, he'd give mini-lessons about the battle.  He told George he'd taken over 2,000 kids through the battlefield!  What a great way to learn American history, especially in your own backyard.

About halfway, there's a museum for the U.S.S. Cairo, an ironclad ship that was sunk just north of Vicksburg.  You can even see where the mine hit it.

It was Junior Ranger Day so we got to see some of the new recruits in training.

Vicksburg National Cemetery has over 17,000 graves (not all from the Civil War).  More than 13,000 are unmarked.  The Confederate soldiers are buried outside the park.
By the time we started back along the Confederate lines, I was getting a little tired and a little overwhelmed with all the war strategies, so we cut the tour a bit short. 

Go here for a slide show of Vicksburg Natl Military Park

*I didn't know this:  Lt. Gen. John Pemberton's nephew was the inventor of Coca-Cola. 

April 28, 2013

4/15/13 - Hagerman NWR

We've been to a couple of other wildlife refuges and saw lots of birds and other critters.  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is on Lake Texoma (on the Texas side.)  We didn't see many birds at all--it's after the winter migratory birds went home, and before the spring migration arrived.  Not sure where that puts us.

We went with Linda and Ray, some friends from Pennsylvania that we met in Arizona, and were camping with again in Texas.  (So....if it's such a small world, then why are we spending so much on fuel???) 

First stop was the Visitors Center.  This is a really cool sculpture of birds next to the building.  Some of them are silhouetted and some are cutout. 
We walked the Crawfish Pond loop of the Harris Creek Trail.  We saw some cardinals in the trees and a tall wading bird that was probably a heron, but he didn't get close enough for us to exchange name cards. 
I've never seen a wildlife refuge right smack in the middle of an oil field before!  There are oil pumps all over the place.  They build dikes out into the lake and plop an oil pump on it.  (Seems to me like "National Wildlife Refuge" and "oil wells" is an oxymoron.  On the other hand (cynical hypocritical Pollyanna that I am), I think that gas should be cheaper in oil-producing states...and it isn't!)
The volunteer told me that the birds don't care about the pumps, and that they're used to trucks.  Every time we got close enough in John's truck to see shorebirds, they'd scoot just far enough away that we couldn't figure out what they were, even with the binoculars.  There were mallards and coots, and George was able to figure out that there were Northern Shovelers, but they were too far away for me to get good pictures. 
We took a little jaunt around Crow Hill Trail, looking for the observation tower.  Couldn't find it.  There were benches, but no tower.  (Turns out it was condemned and OSHA wouldn't let them rebuild unless it was wheelchair accessible, which costs about a gazillion dollars more than just steps up the tower.)  So there's no tower, but we had several discussions about where we'd missed it, and should we go back to see.
We did see one heron stalking in the grass.  Maybe there's a bird refuge around here someplace???

Go here to see a few more pictures of the refuge:  Hagerman NWR

April 10, 2013

4/7/13 - Alibates Flint Quarries NM

Up in the Texas panhandle, next to the dehydrating Lake Meredith, is a site where a unique type of flint is found.  Prehistoric Indians dug the flint way during the ice age to make spears to kill Imperial Mammoths.  (I'm pretty sure that isn't why mammoths are now extinct, although it might explain the early demise of prehistoric Indians.)

The only way you can visit Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is on a ranger-guided tour.  There are usually two a day, but you have to call for reservations. 

The volunteer/ranger/tour guide led a caravan of us to the locked gate (if you can call his Jeep, another Jeep and our truck a caravan--there were only 5 of us!)  We followed him up a dirt road to the trailhead where he explained to us that Alibates flint is high quality, making it good for arrowheads, spears and tools. 

Found in the dolomite along the ridges above the Canadian River, it's also beautiful, with streaks of different colors like petrified wood.  No wonder it was used for trade goods.  (If I was an Indian woman and my Indian man was going to trade the yucca baskets I'd made for hunks of rock, I'd insist on pretty rocks instead of those plain gray ones--especially if he was going to make me carry them!)
Our guide is an archeologist, and is in charge of a planned dig next year to excavate more flint quarries, so he told us lots of cool stuff that's planned for the park.  One of the women in our tour group is a flint knapper, and the other woman had worked here years ago.  Between the 3 of them, I was able to get lots of answers to my (standard) lots of questions.
Flint Cache

Yucca seed pods
Heading back down the trail

It's an interesting place to visit, but within a couple of years there will be more to see.  Besides the excavations of more of the quarry sites, they have other plans in the works for the 50th anniversary of the monument in 2015.
More pictures of the monument here:  Alibates Flint Quarries Natl Monument 

April 9, 2013

4/2/13 - Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks NM

Most parks we've visited are managed by (NPS) National Parks Service, but some are managed by other agencies.  Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is managed by BLM (Bureau of Land Management).  I have no idea why...
We met a family who had just finished the hike, and they gave us some pointers on how far and which way to go.  I told them I'd put their picture in my blog--I wish I knew their names.  (NOTE:  if you would like to be featured in my blog, please contact me during a hike.  No expenses will be paid for the participants.) 

"Kasha-Katuwe" means "white cliffs" in the Pueblo language.  The cliffs layers are delicate colors, pastel stripes on wallpaper in a trendy decorating scheme.  I chose the peach palette.
We took the Canyon Trail up a slot canyon, followed by a steep climb to the mesa top.  The cliffs swirl up and around. 
Big gray clouds were moving in around us--unless you're more than 1/2 mountain goat, a slot canyon is not a good place to be if it rains.

The cliffs and tent rocks were formed by volcanic eruptions a long, long  (long!) time ago.  They call them "hoodoos", but aren't like the ones we saw in Bryce Canyon.  They remind me more of pale versions of the toadstools we saw in Utah.  Some even have capstones.

The view of the mountains and the Rio Grande Valley from the mesa were worth it. 
There's a moral here.  Just because something isn't as famous as the Grand Canyon doesn't mean it's not worth a detour.  And there probably won't be as many people!

Here's more pictures--click here and watch the slideshow.