It is the home of the Twin Cities, the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, the Star of the North, and Clear Blue Water. Though it goes by many names, Minnesota is known for its nice citizens, hot dishes, lutefisk, regional accent and strong sense of shared culture and community. But these cultural quirks identified with the state didn’t arrive overnight. By reaching back into the past and finding some of the lost places and forgotten history Minnesota has to offer, we can learn more about how the Gopher State became the place it is today.
From a frontier outpost named after a type of wild turnip to one named after a shipwreck to a village famed for its missing postmaster, the former communities that once helped make up Minnesota help tell the story of this state. Cities gave way from Native American settlements to military towns and even county seats. River crossings, iron mines, and the lumber industry provided early and sometimes periodic economic engines for the state's cities and towns, though some were unable to survive with the changing times. Ojibwe, Dakota Sioux, French Canadian, British, and other European settlers worked together to build these Minnesota communities as well as those that still survive, proving that even a state as seemingly white bread as Minnesota can have a multicultural history.
Michigan in the present has seen the depopulation of its major cities as its reputation as a manufacturing mecca wanes. However, this is not the first time economic and cultural changes have erased communities from the state’s historical record. Towns centered around once-profitable mines and logging mills saw their populations tumble along with the surrounding industry. Disease, religious mistrust, and fire destroyed others. Some remain buried under the dunes of Michigan beaches while others have retreated into rivers and farm fields. Uncovering each also uncovers a piece of Michigan’s past.
The ninth of California’s national parks, Pinnacles is the 59th national park in the country though it is hardly the federally protected land. The area was created as Pinnacles National Monument in 1908 under the purview of President Theodore Roosevelt, the president responsible for the national park’s system as it exists today. However, it wouldn’t be for another 105 years until President Barack Obama signed into law the creation of the national monument as a park. Today, Pinnacles is just a three and a half hour drive from Yosemite, the land that began the national park movement and the nation’s second national park.
The Great Sand Dunes have been inspiring people for ages. Native peoples considered it an important scared landmark, a place of food and medicine. Explorer Zebulon Pike described the moving sands as “exactly that of the sea in a storm.” Settlers came west in order to find gold and attempt to farm this isolated area. Bing Crosby even wrote a song about the singing sands. Established as a national monument in 1932, it would take more than 70 years for this icon of Colorado to attain national park status, making it the second youngest national park in the country.
Less than 30 miles from Columbia, S.C., Congaree National Park is still a hidden gem among largely urban and suburban surroundings. One of the nation’s youngest national parks, Congaree has long served as a beacon of shelter for those facing oppression. It was here that the Congaree people, for whom the area is named, did their best to survive despite European encroachment. Slaves from South Carolina plantations used the swamplands as a refuge and a way to escape, making their own villages hidden in the forest floor. Even today, numerous threatened and endangered species find a nice, safe habitat within the bounds of the park.
Cuyahoga Valley is the only national park in the state of Ohio and is located between two of the state’s biggest cities: Cleveland and Akron. It may seem an odd place to stick a national park, but the Cuyahoga River the national park surrounds became a focal point of the environmental movement after the amount of pollution in the river caused it to “catch fire” at least 13 times. Today, the water quality has improved and fish have returned to the river. In addition to preserving the environmental quality of the Cuyahoga, the park also preserves the man-made ambition that built Ohio by preserving portions of the Erie Canal also located here. As a result, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a testament to both conservation and industrial progress.
The youngest and perhaps least known of Colorado’s three national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison has long been seen as a natural obstacle. A national park not for the faint of heart, climbing, boating and even hiking in this park is often considered dangerous and best left to those with plenty of experience. However, this remoteness and inherent danger is what has long attracted the adventurous to the canyon and part of the reason why the area is so well preserved. As opposed to the more famous, 6-million-year-old Grand Canyon, some might consider the Black Canyon young at only around 2 million years old. The story of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is still unfolding.
While native peoples, cowboys, homesteaders, miners, emigrants, and moviemakers have all passed through Joshua Tree, much of what is known about the park’s history and the efforts to conserve it are thanks to two women, early leaders in the national park movement. Today, the park is a favorite place for musicians and artists to gain inspiration as well as for stargazers to view the uninhibited night sky. Geologists and rock climbers are both drawn to the millions-of-years-old cliffs, formations and outcroppings that make up the park’s unique scenery.
A geological wonder, Death Valley stands out from other national parks in several ways. It is the hottest national park by record as well as the driest. It also reaches the lowest point of any national park in the Lower 48. While its name conjures up images of deserts and badlands, it is also home to one of the most beautiful wildflower displays each spring and is often covered in snow throughout the winter. While the heat of the day can be unbearable, the freezing temperatures of the night can be even harder to survive. Despite the rough conditions, plants, animals and humans have still been able to survive and thrive here. Those willing to overlook its name have always found Death Valley to be one of the most awe-inspiring sites in America.
Named for the Carnegiea gigantea or the saguaro, this national park is famous for being home to the largest cactus in the world. The saguaro is both a living plant, a habitat and historically a source of fruit and water in the dry desert. While the iconic cactus is the park’s namesake and most famous resident, it is far from the only thing to see here. Desert tortoises, gila monsters and javelinas roam the parklands. Native tribes, Spanish explorers, miners, ranchers, homesteaders, CCC workers, and scientists have all called this area home. Saguaro has long beckoned travelers to visit the king of the cacti in his own domain.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.