Rising above a scene rich with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain, the Teton Range stands as a monument to the people who fought to protect it. These are mountains of imagination that led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park where you can explore more than two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River or enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place. https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is a WOW location to enjoy splendor and beauty. We enjoyed traveling through the area to observe various angles of the Teton peaks.
The tallest peak is the Grand Teton (left). Mount Owen is to the right of the Grand Teton. Teton Glacier is in between these two mountain peaks.
The mountain peak to the left of the Grand Teton is Middle Teton. French explorers provided the name teton.
Grand Teton National Park, which spans around 310,00 acres, is in northwestern Wyoming and surrounds the town of Jackson. It connects with Yellowstone National Park to the north.
Castillo! Is it a castle or a fort? Both. As a follow-up post about Castillo de San Marcos in downtown St. Augustine, Florida, I want to reiterate that it is the oldest masonry fort in the United States with unique North American architecture. It remains as the only surviving 17th century military construction in the country.
Does it look like a castle? Well … maybe. I think it looks more like a fort though. Opening in 1695, Castillo became a showpiece for military defense engineering.
A monument not only of stone and mortar but of human determination and endurance, the Castillo de San Marcos symbolizes the clash between cultures which ultimately resulted in the unique, unified United States. Still resonant with the struggles of an earlier time, these original walls provide tangible evidence of America’s grim but remarkable history. https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/historyculture/construction.htm
Thank you Italy for providing the star shape design from the 15th century. I’m amazed how the architecture fit the technology of the day. Of the major architectural variations, the “bastion system,” named for the projecting diamond or angle shaped formations added onto the fort walls, was the most commonly and effectively used to combat the new weapons – cannons.
The Spanish occupying Florida knew about the coquina rock formations along the coastline, but they were soldiers, not stonemasons or builders. Wood structures would not last against the increasing firepower and technology of invading forces.
The British, settling to the north, edged into the Carolinas. Spanish Florida was only a short sail away. How could the Spanish keep the British from taking over Florida? Apparently, the goal of the British was to set up a base of operations to attack the Spanish treasure fleets and the more wealthy colonies of the Spanish Caribbean.
To help counter this threat, the Spanish began construction on the Castillo de San Marcos in 1672 – using coquina.
Coquina Rock to the Rescue
Coquina stone was quarried in the area of present-day Anastasia State Park on Anastasia Island (part of St. Augustine). Military engineers and stonemasons were brought from Spain. Convicts and additional soldiers were brought from Cuba. Oyster shells were burned into lime and mixed with sand and water to make mortar.
Coquina rock is a type of sedimentary rock such as limestone. It was formed by the deposits and cementing together of mineral and organic particles on the ocean floor or other bodies of water on the surface.
The coquina rock used at Castillo de San Marcos was likely retrieved from the formation that stretches from St. Augustine to Palm Beach County, Florida.
According to geologists, thousands of years ago, the tiny coquina clam donax variabilis lived in the shallow waters of coastal Florida, as they still do today. These are the small pink, lavender, yellow, or white shells one sees along the beach at the waterline.
As the resident clam died, the shells accumulated in layers, year after year, century after century, for thousands of years, forming submerged deposits several feet thick. During the last ice age, sea levels dropped, exposing these shell layers to air and rain. Eventually, the shell became covered with soil, then trees and other vegetation. Rain water percolating through the dead vegetation and soil picked up carbon dioxide and became carbonic acid, the same ingredient that makes soda fizz. (National Park Service)
As the weak acid soaked downward, it dissolved some of the calcium in the shells, producing calcium carbonate, which solidified in lower layers, much like how flowstone and stalactites are formed in caves. This material “glued” the shell fragments together into a porous type of limestone we now call coquina, which is Spanish for “tiny shell”.
Given its light and porous nature, coquina would seem to be a poor choice of building material for a fort. However the Spanish had few options. Coquina was the only stone available on the northeast coast of La Florida. The porous coquina actually became an unexpected benefit – with its mixture that contained millions of microscopic air pockets that allowed it to compress.
The walls being constructed for the Castillo would be untested but the coquina was the only way to give the Spanish a fighting chance against the British. The inner courtyard was designed for the town residents to take refuge when under attack.
It’s a good thing the Spanish acted quickly to build a stronger structure. In 1702, Governor James Moore of Charleston led his English forces against St. Augustine and the Castillo. He captured the town and set his cannon up among the houses to bombard the fortress.
What happened? Strangely, instead of shattering, the coquina stone merely compressed and absorbed the shock of the hit. The cannon balls just bounced off or sunk in a few inches. The shell rock worked! I think the bastion, angled system contributed quite a bit too.
A cannon ball fired at more solid material, such as granite or brick, would shatter the wall into flying shards; but cannon balls fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and stuck there, much like a bb would if fired into Styrofoam. So the thick coquina walls absorbed, or deflected projectiles rather than yielding to them, providing a surprisingly long-lived fortress (or is it a castle)?
Even when General Oglethorpe attacked St. Augustine in 1740 and bombarded the Castillo for 27 days, the walls held firm. The rock made of seashells turned out to be an excellent building material. When the Spanish decided to fortify the southern approaches to St. Augustine by building Fort Matanzas later that year, they again used coquina stone, and, like the Castillo, this smaller fort was never captured.
What if the Spanish did not have this stone? If not for coquina, perhaps the British would have captured St. Augustine much earlier than 1763, when they finally gained Florida by treaty. If the British gained Florida earlier, it’s possible the course of the American Revolution would have changed. Maybe the U.S. would still be a part of Great Britain. The history of the U.S.A. could have been much different had it not been for little clams, and coquina.
Fort or Castle?
Again, is the Castillo a fort or castle? I guess there isn’t a clear answer. According to Wikipedia, a castle is a private, fortified residence. Merriam-Webster dictionary says a castle is “a large fortified building or set of buildings; a retreat safe against intrusion or invasion.” Oxford English Dictionary says it is “a large building, typically of the medieval period, fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, and in many cases a moat.”
The Castillo de San Marcos fits all of those definitions in one way, or at one time or another. When it was first built, the governor of St. Augustine resided inside the building, which would make it a “private fortified residence.” It is most definitely a large, fortified building that provided a retreat safe for the people of St. Augustine against invasion. At one time it housed about 1,500 people for 51 days while the English laid siege. It also has thick walls, battlements, towers and a moat.
Most of the fortifications the Spanish built in the new world were named Castillos. Perhaps it is a hold-over from medieval times, meant to inspire their people and instill fear in their enemies? The Spanish were fond of decoration and embellishment in the physical designs of their fortresses; they may have felt the same about their names. As of yet, there has been no documentation found explaining exactly why they chose to use Castillo rather than Fuerte or Fortaleza. However, it is interesting to note that the wooden fort preceding the current stone one was also called Castillo de San Marcos.
Also interesting is the fact that it does later become referred to as a fort. When the British gained Florida through the 1763 Treaty of Paris, they renamed the building Fort Saint Mark. The United States Army decided in 1825 to call it Fort Marion. Under those occupations, it was indeed used solely for military functions.
The British and the Americans did not plan to use it as a place of refuge for the citizens of St. Augustine. They both used the fort as barracks, for military storage, and a few times as a military prison. The National Park Service and United States Congress decided to restore its original name in 1942, in honor of its unique Spanish history, so it went back to Castillo de San Marcos for good. I say it’s a fort.
I’m glad we were able to visit some
national parks in Washington, D.C. recently before the temporary U.S. Government
shutdown. Otherwise, our latest trip
would resemble one a few years ago when we visited during the previous
It was disappointing during the shutdown a few years ago – for us and those from around the world – and equally disappointing during the latest shutdown when the public could not visit the parks under the federal government’s control.
I thought of those who looked forward to visiting the various national parks, including the pillars of democracy in D.C. I’m sure they were disappointed again. I thought about the employees and their families and the struggles they endured.
I’m glad these parks will open again this week as employees can work without having to wait for their pay. As I looked at some of these photos they reminded me of the dark times of government when even the parks designed for enjoyment and learning were minimized, when they should be shining bright for freedom.
I’m thankful for local, national and international guests to be able to visit and learn about the United States of America, its uniqueness, its foundation and the desire to help those seeking freedom during the ages.
May we always be open while protecting those within and without.
As we continued our journey around the Blue Mesa Lake Reservoir in Colorado, I wondered about the name “mesa.” Naturally, I looked it up.
Wikipedia says: Mesa (Spanish and Portuguese for table) is the American English term for tableland, an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually steep cliffs. It takes its name from its characteristic table-top shape. It may also be called a table hill, table-topped hill or table mountain.
So, with the blue table around and the collection of water that flows into the area, I can see how the Blue Mesa name originated.
The Colorado River Storage Project on the Upper Colorado River in the U.S.A. is the most complex and extensive river water development in the world. It includes water drainage in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
The Curecanti National Recreation Area became one of the components of the project when it was established in 1965 with the completion of Blue Mesa Dam, creating the largest body of water in Colorado, Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Tucson, Arizona is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American west. These majestic plants (or could they be considered trees), found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park. They are primarily to the east and west of the modern city of Tucson, where you can see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset. (National Park Service – https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm)
As we traveled through southern Arizona we saw these majestic cacti slowly reaching toward the sky over the years, inch-by-inch. It seems like they just stand still, reaching upward with outstretched hands, towering over those who would ponder their beauty and age.
Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall (12-18m). When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds. (https://www.desertmuseum.org)
The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States.
Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet.
After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in or “saguaro boots” can be found among the dead saguaros. Native Americans used these as water containers long before the canteen was available.
Since the saguaro is a symbol of the American west, I plan to highlight Tombstone, Arizona in my next two posts. Stay tuned.
I really appreciate each of you traveling with me along Route 66 toward the Grand Canyon in Arizona, U.S.A. Our journey continues as I highlight just a few things. There is so much to post but I’ll let this website provide the details. https://grandcanyon.com/
There is no doubt some people disagree with the origin and timeline of the Grand Canyon. However, I’m not here to argue the point. Let’s just enjoy the beauty and learn a little about it based on what the National Park Service states, and our own eyes.
For those who have not seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona firsthand, you will be amazed and will stand there in awe.
How can one take in such beauty and peacefulness? It’s certainly worth a trip.
We drove from Flagstaff, Arizona to the South Rim of the Canyon. One can catch the tour train dedicated for the canyon as well. I think the drive itself was fairly peaceful and picturesque – sort of like driving on the plains and wondering where the Canyon begins. You won’t notice it until arriving and then you see the beauty unfold below you.
The National Park Service mentions a “unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.” The park service has excellent information at https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm.
The South Rim is open all year but the North Rim is seasonal.
There are many other sites to explore while in the Grand Canyon region so if one has time it’s a great opportunity.
I appreciate your riding along. I’ll provide more photos in my next post.
America’s Highway, Route 66, continues as a picturesque and interesting ride as we traveled from New Mexico into Arizona.
We rode along Route 66 heading for the Grand Canyon and began noticing the beautiful, painted landscape. Isn’t it amazing how many interesting places we can find even without looking – just taking the time and making the effort. This time it is the Painted Desert. And…I didn’t even realize it at first.
According to https://www.visitarizona.com/uniquely-az/parks-and-monuments/the-painted-desert-1 , “for an unforgettable encounter with Arizona nature, enter into the Painted Desert, where art comes to life. A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, this vast landscape features rocks in every hue – from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks. It’s like you’ve been transported into a painting. Located in Northern Arizona, the Painted Desert stretches from the Grand Canyon National Park eastward to the Petrified Forest National Park, with a large portion lying within the Navajo Nation.”
HISTORY & NATURE
A natural canvas millions of years in the making, no one event shaped the Painted Desert. Instead, the area is evidence of Earth’s volatility. Home to some of the nation’s most memorable formations and features, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, and sunlight, all combined to create the Painted Desert. Deposits of clay and sandstone, stacked in elegant layers, reflects the setting Arizona sun in an altering display of colorful radiance. A remarkable sight that helps make Northern Arizona so unique and picturesque.
The Navajo and Hopi people have lived in this region for hundreds of years, but it was Spanish Colonialists who gave it the name we know it by today – El Desierto Pintado.
Explore a small section of the Painted Desert that is located in the Petrified Forest National Park, just off Interstate 40 around 25 miles east of Holbrook – to get in touch with the natural landscape.
See the beautiful color striations of rock formations and mesas. For the quintessential Painted Desert experience, don’t miss the sunset – it’s when the rocks morph into an awe-inspiring canvas of fiery color.
At least when you travel Route 66 today you’ll find ample businesses, service centers and restaurants to ease any fears of travel through the “desert.”
Route 66 was born in 1926 and is a highway with more than 2,400 miles long that ran from Chicago through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California – ending in Santa Monica.
Nicknames for the highway include “The Mother Road”, Main Street USA”, and “Will Rogers Highway”.
Well, I think it’s about time I provide a few blogs about one of our trips through parts of Route 66. This is the first of my blogs to highlight the famous route.
I still recall as a young person the move series and couple of guys riding Route 66 in a Corvette and the motto “Get Your Kicks” on Route 66. Here is a video clip of Nat King Cole’s song that may trigger some memories.
As I think back about the movie I recall the simpler times, local-small businesses, restaurants, cafes and gas stations that catered to the new found freedoms on the road.
That was part of our experience as we attempted to locate Route 66 during our travels into Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. I actually “stumbled” on the highway initially when I noticed the first sign, and then tried to follow the route as much as possible. It was interesting and fun.
I’ll just provide a few highlights along the route we traveled. I was taken back in time as I noticed the historic sites and reminders of our past when people were just taking to the road with the new, influential automobile.
Here is another result of societal and roadway improvements – this time being set aside by the Interstate System. I’m glad we have the Interstate but I also like the back roads too – encouraging me to slow down some and take in the sites and sounds.
It’s sad in a way as history seems to just dissolve away. Some of the old restaurants naturally can’t stay in business without help.
I propose groups and businesses take a special interest in keeping this important part of our history.
Throughout the world, and history, there have been those who served honorably for the cause of freedom so our nations may have peace from conflict, enabling them to pursue and enjoy the rights bestowed upon each individual. Let’s not let go of these sacrifices.
Although each nation does not have a perfect union I am thankful for the rights we hold dear today – and the sacrifice of those who helped make it possible to have a free society, allowing us to dream and follow those dreams freely.
Memorial Day is an annual, formal holiday in the United States to honor military service members who died in the line of duty. The date changes each year but is held on the last Monday in May. It was originally called Decoration Day, as the holiday was centered on decorating the graves of those who had fallen in the U.S. Civil War. http://www.holidayscalendar.com/event/memorial-day/
I want to highlight the U.S. National Cemetery in St. Augustine, Fla. as the 2018 emphasis to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
St. Augustine National Cemetery traces its history back to a Spanish monastery founded during the 18th century. Today, the cemetery perhaps is best known as the home of the Dade Pyramids, believed to be the oldest memorial in any national cemetery. The cemetery also features a unique Spanish Colonial-style superintendent’s lodge designed to complement the historic architecture found throughout St. Augustine. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/florida/st_augustine_national_cemetery.html
Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, the city of St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the United States. According to the National Park Service the land upon which the national cemetery sits was originally part of a Franciscan monastery that operated until the English took possession of Florida in 1763, converting the monastery into the St. Francis Barracks. The Spanish regained possession of the territory in 1783 and held it until 1821, when Florida became a part of the United States; all the while, the site remained a military installation.
A portion of the yard at the St. Francis Barracks was set aside for use as a post cemetery, with the first burials occurring in 1828. Most of the early burials in the cemetery were casualties of the Indian Wars, a series of conflicts waged between 1817 and 1858 as the United States forcibly removed Native Americans, notably the Seminole tribes, to lands west of the Mississippi. Later burials include those of Union soldiers. Although Florida seceded in 1861, Union troops captured St. Augustine in March 1862 when the gunboat Wabash entered the harbor.
In 1881, the post cemetery was elevated in status to a national cemetery, as stated by the National Park Service. “St. Augustine National Cemetery covers a 1.3-acre rectangular site at the edge of what was once the walled Spanish city. The northern half of the grounds are enclosed by locally quarried Coquina stone walls, while a wrought-iron fence surrounds the southern half. Four pedestrian gates, two each along the eastern and western walls, allow access to the cemetery. Walkways connect each gate to its counterpart along the opposite wall, and a central avenue serves as the physical and symbolic link between the flagpole at the north end of the grounds and the Dade Pyramids at the south end. Also at the north end of the cemetery is the superintendent’s lodge. Built in 1938 out of Coquina stone, the lodge is in the Spanish Colonial style, like much of St. Augustine. The nearby rostrum is also composed of Coquina stone.”
The cemetery is a solemn and appropriate location to recognize those who championed freedom through the ages. The public gathers annually for the Memorial Day ceremony.
Let us take time around the world to recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nations, including their families. Where would we be today had it not been for them.
With Love, Ron
St. Augustine National Cemetery is located at 104 Marine St. in St. Augustine, FL. The cemetery is open for visitation daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm; on Memorial Day the cemetery is open for visitation from 8:00am to 7:00pm. No cemetery staff is present onsite. For more information, please contact the cemetery office at 904-766-5222, or see the Department of Veterans Affairs website. While visiting, please be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground. Be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families. Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.