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Bounding Through Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

October 25, 2010 by · Comments Off on Bounding Through Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico 

Bandalier National Monument in New Mexico

Bandalier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico isn’t officially a National Park, but the National Park Service manages it. The area features 33,750 acres of dramatic cliffs and walled canyons, and is the home of ancestral Pueblo people. A visitor’s center has recently been rehabilitated and updated with a high definition new movie: This Place Knows Us.

Start with the movie, then proceed through the interpretive exhibits of the ancient Pueblo culture. Of course, there’s a gift shop, too.

Tyuonyi Ruins

Leave plenty of time to get out on the 70 miles of trails. The closest archeological site is just 400 yards from the center and can be reached by the paved 1.2 mile Main Loop trail.  The ruins of the Tyuonyi, a circular village of about 600 rooms, and the nearby cliff dwellings make an hour round trip. These are communities dating back over 900 years.

Not having traveled much in the Southwest, I was thrilled with the opportunity to climb the ladders into hollowed out cave dwellings. The views of sharp terra-cotta colored ledges glow majestically and the whole area pervades a spiritual sense. Look for a series of cave rooms called the long house, a reconstructed talus house, an adobe construction built on the slopes or talus, and some petroglyths.

Climbing into a cave dwelling

Believe it or not, only one other person from my group wanted to venture another mile further off trail to Alcove House.  That’s likely because we’d need to push ourselves to make it there and back on time. But, it just so happened that the other person was famous travel photographer, Peter Guttman. If for no other reason that to watch Peter at work, I was going, huffing and puffing aside!

So Peter and I hiked as fast as we could and then climbed 140 feet straight up a series of ladders to reach the Ceremonial Cave or Alcove House. I found it exhilarating since I didn’t have time to worry over the scary drop below.  Warning:  these ladders are very steep and would not be safe for younger children. And this park has an elevation around 7,000 feet which makes breathing somewhat difficult for a sea level Floridian.

The climb to Alcove House

Ah…the reward. At the top Peter and I found a round reconstructed kiva (underground pueblo dwelling for ceremonies) overlooking a view that stretched seemingly forever. I didn’t descend down the kiva rather choosing to sit and meditate, soaking up the sacred vibes. (That and catch my breath.)  Up there my imagination could easily hear the beat of a drum and envision ancients performing a ritual to the gods. If you go to Bandelier, by all means, make the effort to climb to Alcove House.

Peter descend into the Kiva

Hustling back down, Peter and I ran into Tom Wilmer, who was interviewing a Park Ranger along a trail for his NPR radio show. We also ran into a tarantula, although I was hoping for an American pika, a small rodent related to a rabbit. No luck.

Bandalier National Monument stays open year round but offers no lodging within the park. Reservations are required for the limited campgrounds. The National Park Service Junior Ranger Program awards patches to children completing a booklets about the site.

May I also recommend photographer Peter Guttman’s collection of images spanning three decades, all seven continents and 160 countries. These amazing photos are available on Beautiful Planet —  a groundbreaking app that captures the beauty of our world and its cultures. If I had a Mac or i-Pos I’d own it.

Check it out at:  Beautiful Planet

Walking with the Park Ranger


New Mexico on Dwellable

Independence Hall: Deal or No Deal?

August 31, 2010 by · Comments Off on Independence Hall: Deal or No Deal? 

Meet the History Makers at Visitor Center

The US National Park Service protects and promotes nearly 400 sites.  At most locations visitors pay an admission fee. However, entrance to Independence Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania remains free. That’s a good deal because the Park includes numerous attractions like Carpenter’s Hall, Franklin Court, Federal Reserve Bank, the Liberty Bell and the famed Independence Hall.  Who can complain?

But, then again, shouldn’t tourists pay at least a nominal fee?

Recently I visited with my two grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, and their parents. We started at the Visitors Center where we obtained complimentary timed tickets for a tour inside the legendary center. These vouchers are available on a daily basis and prevent time wasted queuing in line.

Prior to our scheduled entry, we cleared security and entered a holding room. Now trust me, I’m a big fan of the National Park System and have never been disappointed with the value of a visit anywhere.  However, on this particular occasion, the Park Ranger acting as our guide was either having a very bad day or felt the need to control others.  Her opening 10-minute history lesson fell flat (as did her jokes) and many of the tourists became restless and fidgety. She would periodically stop her oratory and scold the “rude” guests, threatening to expel them.  I personally felt uneasy and not particularly proud of this introduction, especially to foreign travelers.

The presence of a screen at the front of the room begged for a slide show, power point presentation or a short video. I’m sure one of these would have captivated  the audience’s attention far better.

Once we entered the former Pennsylvania State House, we received another disjointed speech concerning the historical events that took place in the area. Unfortunately a group of East Indian tourists continued to talk amongst themselves- likely trying to interpret the saga. Our Ranger walked back to them and actually forced the group to leave the building. She returned and we scurried across the hall.

We arrived at  the signers room, the meeting spot where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and eventually signed. Sadly, our guide’s presentation  just wasn’t captivating or compelling . The grandkids weren’t able to grasp the explanation and most of the visitors seemed disconcerted. Sorry NPS– No deal. My overall impression was disappointment; surely passion can be portrayed at to the birthplace of the United States.  I regrettably discourage an inside visit  for children younger than 8 or 10 years.

Eventually the tour moved to the second floor and only then did  I feel I was actually exploring the structure.  The ascent and descent of the magnificent, wide staircase gave me the sense of traveling back in time.  My footsteps were pounding the floorboards traversed by our Founding Fathers.  This interaction was what I came for, to feel the history within the walls, not just stare at a roped-off  room full of chairs.

Further Exploration Around the Park

The Liberty Bell

Happily, our adventure through the Liberty Bell exhibition hall proved far superior. The kids loved seeing the crack in the bell and being close to the real thing, the symbol of freedom.  Although the glass building is very modern, the Liberty Bell rests in a spot where visitors can look outside and see the steeple where it originally hung.

We also meandered through a portrait gallery in the Second National Bank. To my delight, this exhibit offered an opportunity to come face to face with priceless works of art. No barriers here; numerous paintings of our nation’s forefathers, dignitaries and other illustrious 18th century characters cram the space.

Afterward, we stopped for lunch at the Food Court (just what you’d expect) and walked a block to Franklin Court. Here we descended into an underground museum and watched the movie Ben and Me.  The 1955 film remains as much a hit with today’s high-tech kids as it did years ago when my own youngsters first enjoyed it.  I highly encourage viewing this 20-minute animated presentation.

We also stopped into Franklin’s printing office. And… guess who demonstrated the press? None other than our original Ranger guide from Independence Hall!!  I was flabbergasted, but must admit she improved her act in the print shop. Here she gave a lively hands-on demonstration. Perhaps ink is her calling.

Lastly, we returned to the Visitors Center so Kyra and RJ could get their Junior Ranger badges.  The Park employees reviewed the question and answer booklets and the children took a oath.  Upon completion, they were also handed a set of Historical Park trading cards.  As far as the kids were concerned, these tokens were the best deal of the day. Anyone want to trade a John Hancock for a Tom Jefferson??

Demonstration of Franklin's Printing Press

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Statement of Significance: Independence Hall was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979 as the location where The Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution framed in the 18th-century. It is listed for association with the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents, which have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of  government.


Greater Philadelphia Area on Dwellable

Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine

July 26, 2010 by · Comments Off on Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine 

Touring Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Got house guests? Bet you have a favorite place to share with out of town visitors. During my childhood days in Arlington, Virginia, we took friends and family to Mount Vernon.  When I moved near Philadelphia, the choice became the Liberty Bell or the Franklin Institute. Now that I reside in Jacksonville, Florida, I venture to nearby St. Augustine and tour a National Park site-Castillo de San Marcos.

St. Augustine, founded in 1565, holds the honor of being America’s oldest city and the fort (Castillo de San Marcos) remains the oldest fortification. Walls of coquina blocks (compressed shells) surround the bastion which has withstood numerous bombardments, sieges and hurricanes during its 335 year-old history.  Each time I return, I learn something new.

Recently I invited my two oldest grandchildren, RJ, age seven and Kyra who is five, and their Mom, while they were here for Camp Lander (their holidays to Florida).  RJ wanted to become a Park Service  Junior Ranger, which he would report to his Boy Scout troop, and Kyra wasn’t about to be ignored.

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

We entered the fortress via a drawbridge through the Sally Port, the only way in and out and passed below the portcullis. We stopped at the Ranger station and the kids were given an activity book to complete and return.

The booklet included a guided tour which pointed out the important artifacts in each area. To be completely honest, I wish they gave these brochures to everyone because the information proves very helpful.

RJ and Kyra had to fill in the blanks, answer true-false questions, match pictures of objects with corresponding parts and organize steps in the proper timeline. They also had to find and ask a volunteer and a Ranger questions about their job. Lastly, they wrote their own opinion about the place.

We watched a video, inspected supply rooms used for food storage, gunpowder, cannonballs, troop quarters, and the all important “necessary”.  We climbed up to the gun deck and saw canons and watchtowers, as well as enjoyed the view of the harbor.

When our self-guided tour was complete, we listened to an animated talk given by a Park Ranger in authentic Spanish dress. Then, the children submitted the completed booklets, their answers were checked and they were asked to take the Junior Ranger Pledge.

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

“I, (fill in name), am proud to be a National Park Service Junior Ranger. I promise to appreciate, respect, and protect all national parks. I also promise to continue learning about the landscape, plants, animals and history of these special places. I will share what I learn with my friends and family.”

The process was pretty impressive and elicited big smiles as they received their badges.  I’ll take that pledge,too, if I can become a Junior Ranger.

Then, we headed off for ice cream cones! What a joy for me, as a grandparent, to share my love of history and one of my favorite destinations.

***********

Junior Ranger programs are offered at about 286 of the 388 national parks, in collaboration with local school districts and community organizations. Go online to The Ranger Zone (http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm) to check out individual parks for information about a specific program.

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

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