Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf of Mexico is a coral cay archipelago known for its tropical climate, laid-back atmosphere and dangerous waters. At the very tip of this island chain seven islands remain of the original eleven islands once found here, four disappearing into the sea over the years. Those that remain have entered the cultural imagination both for their exotic setting and the hope of finding mysterious treasure in the seas below. Those called to these islands have included Spanish explorers, sailors and military men, an ornithologist, an assassin's doctor, and a famous writer turned deep-sea fisherman. Today, visitors still come to these islands in the hope of finding something rare and unique. Nearly sixty miles from the mainland, this small group of islands mark the end point of the Florida Keys. This is Dry Tortugas National Park.
While the sunken treasures of shipwrecks around the island may seem the most alluring part of these islands, the Dry Tortugas are actually home to a greater wealth of sea life, tropical birds, coral reefs and history. Home to the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, the park is accessible only by seaplane or boat. Ferries bring visitors to the islands daily, though traversing the waters is much safer than in the heyday of pirates, privateers, naval officers and fishermen. Bordered by two marine sanctuaries and part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with the Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park showcases the uncompromised natural beauty of the Florida Keys.
Over the years, the history of Mammoth Cave has followed the history of Kentucky, from the fossils left behind by ancient animals and plants that once roamed North America before the continent truly existed to the remains of the first prehistoric humans to claim Kentucky as their own. In more modern times, written history of the cave flows from the frontier trappers who first discovered it to its use as a saltpeter mine and even tuberculosis hospital. As the state’s fortunes changed, It was a giant during a period known as the Kentucky Cave wars when down-on-their luck post Civil War families attempted to make a quick buck off of tourists by exploiting the natural caves on their land. Internationally recognized as a gem of geological study, Mammoth Cave will always be the favorite national park in its old Kentucky home.
Known locally as the Smokies, this is largest national park east of the Rocky Mountains, and is also the most visited park in the country because it lies within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population. The park is one of few open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The reason for this is because of U.S. Highway 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, a 32-mile stretch of highway that connects Gatlinburg, Tenn., with Cherokee, N.C. Another pathway, the Appalachian Trail, extends for 70 miles through the park. Visitors here not only take in the natural sights but can also learn about the history of the people who once lived here. Many former homesteads and even small villages are still historically preserved within the park’s boundaries. Home to black bears and fireflies, wildflowers and fall foliage, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is truly an American icon.
This park in Virginia’s Piedmont Region contains parts of the Appalachian Trail, Civil War battlefields and the former homes built by loggers, miners and farmers who attempted to eke out a living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Running from Swift Run Gap in the South to Front Royal in the north, the park’s iconic Skyline Drive is not only part of the much larger Blue Ridge Parkway but also more than 115 miles of scenic highway between Waynesboro and Front Royal. It is easy to spend days in Shenandoah and still feel like you have barely scraped the surface of what the park has to offer. While some of the controversy about how this national park was created still simmers, it is hard for anyone to disagree that Shenandoah has some of the most beautiful land America has to offer.
The wonders of Hot Springs are both natural and man-made. The geothermal waters have created unique water formations and the mineral content of these waters have long baffled researchers trying to find what healing elements can be gleaned from them. Visitors to the park not only marvel at these natural wonders but at the beautiful hotels and bathhouses constructed during the Gilded Age, constructed to accommodate the many famous and wealth visitors to the area. Hot Springs was a popular vacation destination for baseball teams in spring training during the late 1800s as well as supreme court justices, gangsters, gamblers, World War I and II veterans, and robber barons. Today, bathing in the waters is still allowed for a price, but there is much more than healing waters to this national park.
Whether one is in the state’s wild woodlands, mountainous coal region, rolling lowlands or along its coastal plains, there are areas that Marylanders have left behind as their state has moved forward. Abandoned towns still lie in the hills and woods while major cities are now located atop what were once ancient and colonial settlements. The change in the state’s economy forced the end of some communities whose residents left for other areas as their main sources of income no longer became viable. The changes from wagons to steamships to railroads and highway systems contributed to the decline of other communities, literally taking them off the map.
Applegarth - Oyster Town
As the makeup and landscape of the state has changed, so too have the towns and cities that Maine’s residents call home. Lost into the past of the Pine Tree State are former colonial forts, a small community inundated by a local lake, a city settled by former slaves, and a wildlife reserve that was once the state’s largest shipbuilding community. The rise and fall the state’s of industry, culture and societies can be charged through the cities lost in the wilds of Maine.
Askwith - On Misery Knob
While many communities have survived the state’s tumultuous history, not all have been so lucky. As Louisiana’s lands changed hands, so did the culture and center of its population. Cities rose and fell based on who was in power, some disappearing completely off the map when their residents were forced elsewhere. Changes in nature ranging from the flowing waters of mighty rivers to the merciless winds of hurricanes destroyed others while some fell victim to more man-made disasters. The story of Louisiana’s lost cities are the story of the state itself, showing changes in society, economics and even the very nature of the Bayou State.
Alberta - The Sawmill City
Much of Kentucky’s past can be uncovered through the places that no longer appear on the map. The decline of the state’s profitable coal industry is seen in the remnants of old company towns in the eastern mountains while the change from river travel to overland traffic can be seen along the state’s rivers. The changes in religion and from Native settlers to European ones can also be seen in once-thriving communities throughout the state.
The Coal Camps
Not all of the communities that began life in Kansas made it out of the state’s bloody history for various reasons. Some towns saw themselves the victims of the homegrown terrorism that marked the state’s founding. One Wild West outpost was destroyed by members of a rival community who wanted to become the county’s seat. While some communities disappeared when residents fell on hard economic times others were just the tool of charlatans, hoping to get rich quick by exploiting others.
Coronado - The Wichita County War
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.