Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago. A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills. The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.
Museum with American
Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails
There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the
National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.
From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of
the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter.
Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from
the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.
This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but
for its incredible archaeological record.
If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend
you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.
Broadway in Skagway, Alaska still looks much like it did
during the 1897 gold rush, lined with boardwalks and bustling with activity,
especially when a cruise ship is docked.
Paved streets instead of mud are one major difference between now and
when 30,000 stampeders came here aboard ships from Seattle. The National Park Service (NPS) visitor
center is located inside the old railway depot and the NPS owns several other
historic structures including the Mascot Saloon and Jefferson “Soapy” Smith’s
Parlor. The NPS also runs a free museum
in downtown Seattle, Washington inside the historic Cadillac Hotel.
Mascot Saloon, Gold Rush Cemetery, Lower Reid Falls,
Chilkoot Trail, Cadillac Hotel museum (Seattle)
Start at the visitor center with the 25-minute introductory
film then wander the boardwalks up Broadway to see historic false-front
buildings that never burned since the 1897 gold rush. If you want to learn more about the infamous
“Soapy” Smith and laugh really hard, then I recommend purchasing tickets to the
Days of ’98 Show offered multiple times daily in the summer.
The NPS cooperatively manages the Chilkoot Trail with Parks
Canada who issues all permits (in Skagway) for backpacking the 33-mile
trail. The trailhead is in the ghost
town of Dyea, about 12 miles west of bustling Skagway. Almost every trekker takes 3 to 5 days to
hike one way into Canada and return on the White Pass Railroad. It is cheaper to only hike the U.S. side and
spend two nights at the always empty Pleasant Camp.
During the winter of 1897-98, over 30,000 people hauled
one-ton of food and gear per person over the 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass on their
way to the Yukon Territory. Photograph
the 100% slope of the “Golden Stairs” in the summer, as it can be nearly
impossible to access in winter.
Summer due to cruise ships and the fact that the rest of the
year experiences heavy snowfall.
It is free to explore downtown Skagway’s buildings, but
overnight backpacking on the Chilkoot Trail has fees ($20.30 per person for
U.S.-side only) and is limited to only 50 permits per day to cross the border
Paved to Skagway and the dirt road to Dyea is good enough
for all vehicles.
There is a car campground in Dyea. Specific backcountry campsite permits (like
Sheep Camp) can fill up early.
Explore More – How
many times did the average stampeder have to ascend the Golden Stairs to haul
one-ton of food and gear over 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass?
During the National Park Service (NPS) centennial in 2016, a
new, ambitious park was established linking three far-flung sites in the states
of Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
The purpose is to tell the story of the “Manhattan Project,” the
military code name during World War II for the secret undertaking to create the
world’s first atomic weapon.
Bradbury Science Museum (NM), American Museum of Science and
Energy (TN), Hanford Reach National Monument (WA)
In 1942, hundreds of eastern Tennessee families were
displaced in order to construct Oak Ridge National Laboratory where experimental
nuclear reactors produced plutonium and enriched uranium. More than 75,000 people hurriedly built and
operated this brand new industrial complex, which continues to be used as a
Department of Energy research facility to this day. Due to security and safety concerns, visitors
can only enter on a 3-hour bus tour that leaves from the American Museum of
Science and Energy. The tour is well
worth your time, as it is currently the only way to see Y-12, X-10, and K-25
and learn more about what those code names really mean.
The Hanford Reach is one of the last free-flowing sections
of the Columbia River in eastern Washington and is an important site for salmon
spawning. The area is ecologically
pristine, mostly untouched by development since it became the Hanford Nuclear
Reservation in 1943. It is home to the
world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium used by
Los Alamos National Laboratories for its scientific breakthroughs in 1945. Since 2000, Hanford Reach National Monument
has been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and much of the area is
off limits. Other than boating on the
river, the best place to get a feel for the area is to walk around the Ringold
The free Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico offers
tourists a closer look at the original and ongoing research conducted at Los
Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), including a scale model of the “Fat Man”
plutonium bomb built here in 1945.
Nearby, the Los Alamos Historical Museum is located in a cabin on
historic Bathtub Row, so named because when the government took over the Ranch School
in 1943 these were the only dwellings equipped with that luxury.
Open year round, but summer is best at the high elevations
of Los Alamos, New Mexico.
One of the many things that makes this country great is its willingness to remember inglorious moments in its past, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the detention of more than 110,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first of 10 internment camps built throughout the western U.S. It held about 10,000 citizens (mostly from Los Angeles, California) in 36 blocks of wooden barracks across a one square-mile fenced enclosure.
Museum, film, reconstructed barracks, gardens, memorial
Opened in 2004, the National Park Service visitor center is
located inside the former camp auditorium, which now houses an excellent
museum. Self-guided walking and auto
tours take visitors to two reconstructed barracks, the camp gardens, and a
cemetery with the Manzanar Memorial.
You can walk or drive the 3.2-mile auto tour with 27
Located in the camp’s cemetery, the Manzanar Memorial is
often swathed in origami paper cranes.
Summer, though temperatures can get hot with little shade.
On the east side of the San Francisco Bay, Richmond was chosen by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2000 to commemorate the work of thousands of women and men nationwide who built the machines needed to fight World War II. By 1945, women made up almost a third of the workforce in the U.S. and about 41% of welders in the Kaiser shipyards here. The Visitor Education Center offers hands-on exhibits housed in a Ford Assembly Building formerly used to make tanks. Tours are also offered on the SS Red Oak Victory, a cargo ship built here during the war.
Museum, film, Rosie the Riveter Memorial, SS Red Oak Victory, real-life “Rosies”
The special thing about this park is the incredible
opportunity on most Fridays to meet real-life “Rosies” who worked here during
the war. During our visit, we got to
hear the stories of two women, Agnes and Marian. They won’t be around forever, so put this
site at the top of your NPS to-do list.
The paved Bay Trail winds through Richmond and stops at the
Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park.
The poster of
a woman in factory work clothes flexing her right bicep is perhaps the most
famous image to come out of World War II.
“Rosie the Riveter” was also a popular song on the radio in the 1940s.
Year round, but especially on Fridays when real-life
“Rosies” are at the visitor center.