Our Nation's Treasures

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Redwood National Park

“Pepper,” I warn as I hike in the lead on the trail. That someone dropped a bright, yellow-green banana pepper from their lunch is the only explanation for the pepper as it’s a tropical fruit and we’re in Redwood National Park, which lies along the northern California coast.

Our tramp along the easy Ah Pah trail reminds me of the walk we took late yesterday afternoon just as we entered the park from Oregon.

“It’s a slug,” says Mark, who’s following behind. He aims the camera at it, and I notice another slug up the trail. Mark scoops the second slug onto a dry leaf and carries him back to be in the picture with the first one.

We watch them a few seconds, struggling in opposite directions. Mark says, “Those two probably spent all day yesterday trying to get away from each other.”

Redwood National Park is not short on trails, but we decide to stick with trails to the west, towards the coast, as the inland trails all seem similar—very easy through forests of redwoods. We choose to follow the Ossagon Trail because it leads through four separate ecosystems: forest, prairie, dune, and ocean.

On the early, more inland sections of the trail, each step gives a little as we’re walking on a bed of dried pine needles. Further in on the cushy, level land, we see clovers as big as the palm of a hand.

Yesterday afternoon we stopped at the Visitor Center and saw the intro tape that informed us that the pinecone from a redwood, the tallest tree in the world, is the size of an olive. They are not littering the trail as we had imagined, but Mark finds one, and we laugh at its tiny-ness.

Further along the easy trail, I spot a red frog. He shyly hops into the big clover, which easily hides him. Then I see another one! And Mark spies a newt! He blends in so well with the sticks.
After three quarters of a mile, the trail drops steeply for nearly another mile before leveling out to prairie on the way to the coast.

Just before the trail opens up to the beach, we pass some wild blackberry bushes and see a heron or some other long-necked bird perched high in a dead tree.

We walk out to the upper beach, and I sit to empty sand from my shoe. Mark hikes onto the crest of the dune, before it slopes off to the ocean. We didn’t see a person the whole hike down, yet two fishermen stand at the shoreline tossing their lines into the sea. Their truck is parked on the beach.

Fog obstructs our view out to sea. Disappointed, we turn back after a short rest. At the berry patch we select the plumpest blackberries within easy reach. Mark laments that we don’t have a bucket. As he picks berries from the bush, he sees a bright green, little frog that seems less shy than the red ones I saw in the forest. He simply sits as we reach all around picking the plump fruit.

On the way back, we pass a young man on a mountain bike, maneuvering down the steep trail that we are climbing. Near the trail head, on the almost bouncy forest floor, we tell a couple about the blackberries near the end, apologizing that we’d eaten those within easy reach.

We stay in the park until early afternoon, sticking with easy hikes since we're worn out from the climb up Ossagon Trail. At Elk Meadow we picnic and hike to a waterfall before returning to Oregon. Redwood National Park is one of my favorites.

Elizabeth (Libbi) Evans Fryer is a nationally published writer who specializes in heath & fitness, travel and business writing. Her first book, My Lost Summer, about her recovery from a coma when she was a teen, is available at www.lulu.com and at Lake Jewelry.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An American Castle in California

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, on the western coast of California, was a place to which celebrities-of-the-moment were invited by William Randolph Hearst, who amassed his fortune as a publishing tycoon. With this fortune he created in the early twentieth century what is today one of the largest historic house museums in the United States.

The mansion is a 28-year collaboration between Hearst and Julia Morgan, not his wife or mistress, but his architect. She previously had designed structures for Hearst’s mother, Pheobe, and in 1919 Hearst hired Morgan to lay plans for something on his land that would be more comfortable than the platform tents guests stayed in at the time.

So with the ideas of Hearst, Ms. Morgan devised four houses to comprise the 90,080 square foot castle: Casa Grande, Casa del Mar, Casa del Monte and Casa del Sol. Collectively, these structures have 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and 41 fireplaces.

But Ms. Morgan’s architectural skills weren’t limited to luxury residential structures; she also designed the pools and the gardens as well as the workers’ camp and the animal shelters.
Hearst Castle had a zoo with free-roaming animals from antelopes to yaks. Caged animals included cougars, chimps, macaws, among others and even an elephant. In 1937 financial difficulties started for Hearst, and he donated most caged animals to area zoos since he could no longer afford construction of their shelters, maintenance of their special diets and salary of the full-time, on premises vet. Many of the free-roaming animals remained though, and even today you might see zebras grazing along coastal Highway 1 near San Simeon.

Tours of this State Historical Monument began in 1958, a year after the property was donated to California. A visit to http://www.hearstcastle.com/ lets you see a touch of what you can expect. Five tours are offered, but the Experience Tour is recommended for first-timers.
For $14 each, Mark and I purchased tickets for the 105 minute castle tour plus a 40-minute National Geographic movie concerning construction of the grounds, complete with vintage clips from the 1920s and 30s.

The tour began with a short bus ride up the hill while period music played. Once we all unloaded into the garden area, our guide listed some rules, like indoor flash photography is prohibited as is walking off of the carpet indoors.

I don’t remember other rules because I wasn’t fully listening. I was taking in the view of lower San Simeon and the Pacific coastline.

From our tour group’s vantage point we saw a postage-stamp-sized pool down below. Our guide told us that it was the water treatment system for Hearst Castle designed by his architect, Julia Morgan, who earned her degree in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley. The small town of San Simeon uses it still today.

After winding our way through the esplanade and gardens with year-round blooming flora, we passed the gorgeous outdoor pool with near surroundings of marble sculpture and far surroundings of mountains and coast.

The first structure we entered was Casa del Sol where we saw a relatively modest guestroom and bath letting out into a sitting room. I use the terms “relatively modest” when comparing it to rooms in the Casa Grande through which we also strolled; Morgan designed Casa Grande around so many extraordinary Spanish, Flemish, Roman and other European antiques, artworks and collectibles. Hearst amassed a vast and impressive collection that included classical paintings, tapestries, religious textiles, oriental rugs, antiquities, sculptures, silver, furniture and antique ceilings.
Before our bus trip down the hill, we passed the indoor pool housed in its own structure. The only thing making it less spectacular than the outdoor pool was lack of a view.
If traveling to western California to a locale north of Los Angeles and south of San Francisco, don’t miss out on this tour of a lifetime. If you do, like Katharine Hepburn, you’ll regret it.
Ms. Hepburn wasn’t aware of the luxurious amenities and wasn’t interested in camping. She declined an invitation to the castle from Hearst himself. She was never asked back.
To see more pictures of Hearst Castle, please visit http://www.ournationstreasure.blogspot.com/.

Word Count ~700

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Meteor Crater in Arizona

I am confident that after a year of reading "Hints on Health" you have achieved or are on your way to a fit you. As my two main passions are staying in shape and traveling and last year I wrote health topics, this year the column articles will take you along with my husband, Mark, and me as we visit Our Nation’s Treasures.
When you read “Nation’s Treasures,” you likely think of National Parks, like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and I’ll take you there, but some of our nation’s treasures are on private lands or are managed by individual states. We’ll stop to see what’s offered in these places too.
A picture will accompany each article, and if you want to see more, simply visit my blog, http://www.ournationstreasures.blogspot.com/. On the blog I will post each article that appears in the paper along with several pictures of the highlighted treasure.
Our first stop this year is Meteorite Crater off I-40 in Arizona, between Winslow and Flagstaff. A kitschy gift shop and an RV park mark the exit, the only development for miles in both directions on the highway. The crater is just south of the interstate at the end of a straight road through desert.
At the crater, Mark shells out the $12 per person fee for us to enter, and we roam the museum a couple minutes while we wait to catch the 9 a.m. show about the history and discovery of the crater.
We learn that in the late 1800s a fellow working for the government determined the crater to be the result of volcanic activity. However, the crater showed no evidence of volcanic ash or rocks so in 1902 a man named Daniel Barringer devised a theory: the crater was the result of a meteor colliding with the earth. And this time there was proof.
In fact, on display in the museum and open for touching, is, at 2 feet in diameter and 1400 pounds, the largest of the three main pieces of the meteorite that created the crater. The other two pieces of the 150-feet-in-diameter meteorite are in museums in Chicago and New York. This meteorite, and all meteorites, is mostly iron, a scant 7 percent nickel with trace amounts of “other.”
We learned that a heavenly body of this type that hits the earth is called a meteorite. While it’s still up in space, it’s called a meteoroid and once it hits our atmosphere, we call it a meteor. We learned that asteroids are minor planets, and comets are masses of gases.
After the film, Mark and I and eight others accompany a ranger out for a one-mile rim walk. The crater is so big: 4000 feet (three quarters mile) across and 550 feet deep. I find it interesting that the crater used to be 700 feet deep. How did it lose 150 feet? Wind erosion.

In the 1950s astronauts trained in the crater for their eventual moon landing. In 1964 a Cessna crashed into the side. The two pilots within, simply curious to see the crater, both were injured but not fatally.
After the rim walk, Mark and I finish our tour of the museum and walk out to the observation deck and look through scopes trained on tunnel openings, the astronaut model planting the American flag at the floor of the crater and the wreckage of the Cessna .
Daniel Barringer, the first to come up with the meteorite theory, worked at the site for 27 years so gained rights to the land. It’s still in the family.