Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wayside Wednesday: Creekside in Steamboat, CO

Our giant extended family rented a big house on a mountain this summer.  Down at the bottom, at the ski lift base shopping area, was a wandering creek.  It was great to just sit back in the sun and let the kids wander around playing in the water.

Cousins that could be twins:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

When Gramma and Grampa told the twins they could pick a location for a special trip this summer, the boys chorused "Gettysburg!"  They've been slightly obsessed with the movie, and I can't say I blame them, it's a great flick.  It's based on a fantastic and highly accurate historical novel called The Killer Angels.  Even if you don't care for military history, you'd probably like both, they are that good.  If you plan on going to Gettysburg, do yourself a favor and check one or both out beforehand.

So it was wagons east for them.  Their younger sister tagged along quite willingly when she heard she could get another Junior Ranger Badge.

Entrance to Gettysburg National Military Park is free, but it costs $12.50 for adults and $8.50 for kids 6-12 to get into the museum and visitor's center, which is worth it.  You can get a buck off if you are AAA, military, or a seasoned citizen.  There are also group rates if you have more than 16 people with you.  The National Park Pass does not get you in here, it's one of the few exceptions.  If you want, you can pony up for a tour guide to ride with you in the car for a couple hours, but if so, they recommend reserving several days in advance.  There are also several walking tours you can go on, but you have to check the ranger schedule and show up early.  March-September you can get on one of the bus tours, again, get there early or reserve ahead.  All that failing, you can drive around on your own with maps and an audio tour from the center.  Biking is allowed on the designated paths and roads only.

The battlefield cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln with the famous Gettysburg Address lies just to the northwest of the visitor's center.   The town has some historical sites and homes as well.  You can coordinate your visit with the battle's anniversary (July 1-3) for extra fun and events.  This past summer was the 150th anniversary.

So I wasn't there this time, it's been 17 years for me.  I only have their pictures and my memory.  Well, I have their memories, but they are probably less reliable than my own.

Getting a history lesson from Grampa on Pickett's Charge.

General George Pickett was only one of several generals involved in the charge that bears his name.  It began on the morning of the last day across long, sloping, open ground over a mile long.  Even under heavy artillery and rifle fire, many Confederates still managed to make it to their objective, but by then the ranks were more than decimated.  Many historians fault the split-rail fence across the middle of the field for delaying the advance's progress just long enough to incur a balance-tipping number of casualties.

One thing is for sure, as General Robert E. Lee came across General Pickett wandering among the stragglers in retreat, he chastised Pickett to "look to [his] division."   Pickett reportedly burst into tears and cried, "Sir, I have no division!"  Apparently General Lee, who had seen his army perform miracles and hoped to end the war with a final crushing victory deep in Union territory, had expected one miracle too many.  The Confederates would never again prevail in a sizable battle they weren't forced to withdraw from soon after, and the war dragged on for another two years.

There are several monuments for regiments around the battle field.  Most were built by veterans and historical societies of the areas the units were from.

Some monuments were bigger than others.

Reading about Little Round Top, the site of some of the most dramatic fighting of the battle:

Brigadier General G.K. Warren's monument stands on the top of the hill.  His deployment of troops all the way down to Little Round Top prevented the Union from being flanked on the south end.  The commander of the regiment at the end of the line, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the actions he took in holding the line under several successive waves of attacking Confederates.  The movie does a great job detailing the fight.

After a long day of fighting, which had come on the heels of several straight days of marching, the 20th Maine was down to less than 15% strength, having already lost half their men at Fredricksburg a few months before.  When reinforcements arrived on Little Round Top, Chamberlain's exhausted men were sent to what was considered the safest place on the line so they could rest - the center of the Union line.  In a twist of irony, the four divisions of Pickett's Charge aimed to converge on that very spot the next morning.

This is the legendary "Devil's Den," where some of the fiercest fighting occurred.  Neither side could gain an advantage long enough to keep it.

Natalie's is wearing her junior ranger vest we bought at Dinosaur National Monument.

Gettysburg is kind of in the middle of nowhere, though due to the history there are plenty of hotels and restaurants around to support the tourism.  Washington D.C. is not too far south, and the large Maryland cities of Hagerstown and Frederick lie on I-270 on the way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wayside Wednesday: Continental Divides

In our travels this summer, we passed a couple divides.  First was the one heading into Steamboat Springs, CO.

On the way back we crossed the one in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wayside Wednesday: Just a Gas Station

The Sinclair gas station in Steamboat Springs, CO has the typical dinosaur out front, only this one has a saddle.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah

We had a massive family get-together this summer in the western half of Colorado.  I was pretty flexible about the whole trip with one exception: I was taking our kids to Dinosaur National Monument on one of the days.  Even from Steamboat Springs it took a few hours to get there, but nothing was stopping us.

The park straddles the Colorado-Utah border, and there's a lot more to see than just the Quarry Center and cliff face, but that's the main attraction we were there for.  With the heat and the time constraints, there wasn't much else we saw, though we did drive around a bit.  All the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, including my niece and nephew who came along with their dad.  Two other uncles also tagged along.

We came in on the Colorado side and had a picnic lunch at the visitor's center there.  We also emptied our bladders and got a lot of good info and maps and the junior ranger packets.  Then we loaded back into the cars and headed for the Utah side and straight to the Quarry Visitors' Center.

This center had plenty to touch and learn about.  A big chunk of it was also a gift shop.

Unless you get to the quarry in the first couple hours of the day, you can't drive up, you have to take a shuttle up (or walk).  It's not far and the air conditioned buses run every 15 minutes or so.

The hills themselves looked like huge dinosaurs with their mixture of gravel dirt and slanted plates of rock deposit.

A large section of the "Quarry Wall" is enclosed to protect it from the weather and allow folks to enjoy it year-round.  It's thought the site is the result of a large extinction event which was then followed by a flood of sorts that washed all the bodies into and down a riverbed.

The result is a massive cliff face with the jumbled fossilized remains of thousands of dinosaurs.

Here's one of the more famous specimens:

You could stare for an hour.

On the lower lever they had a few skeletons from the area that weren't quite so messed up or tangled with others.

Several spots were designated as okay for touching.

Two uncles, Mike, the twins, and I opted to hike back down to the visitors' center.  The remaining uncle rode back with his two and three of our kids.  The trail was only about a mile and a half long, and the heat was pretty intense, but it was a very dry heat, so it didn't feel so bad.

Signs pointed out several more places with exposed fossils.  Nothing huge, but it was fun to spot the vertebrae sticking out of the rocks.

After arriving back at the museum, getting the kids their badges, raiding the gift shop where Natalie acquired the Junior Ranger vest she wore for the rest of the summer, and loading back into the car, we followed the advice of the rangers and drove up to see the ancient petroglyphs a few miles into the park.  We had already caught a few on the trail down from the quarry.

We drove past several places to camp and saw the river.  Rafting trips are available through private companies, and it would be fun to come back some day and spend some quality time with the area.  It was mostly desolate, but starkly beautiful with its visible layers of geology.  I wonder how this area is with flash floods in the spring.  By the way, a lot of this park is closed in the winter.

The petroglyphs are many thousands of years old (boy, I wonder what they thought of the dino quarry!).  They were created by chipping bits of rock away where the outer layer was darker.  Consequently, they've lasted a long, long time.

If you go to the park's website and look at the map, you can see we visited maybe 5% of the park.  I'd really like to go back someday and see more.

There's not much in the area besides the park.  Jensen is a town on the Utah side with a couple local eateries.  Further to the west is a natural history state park museum.  In the town of Dinosaur, CO, we stopped and got some ice cream at a little shop to tide us over until we could get to a town with fast food for the kiddos.