Where the Mid West meets the South you will find the state of Missouri. Known for its barbecue, wine, beer, jazz, ragtime, and as the gateway to the West, Missouri is known for its residents healthy skepticism, the novels of Mark Twain, and swing state status. Once the home of indigenous mound-builders and the Missouri tribe who granted the state its name French and Spanish colonists, German immigrants, Mormon missionaries, both anti- and pro-slavery guerrillas, and Ozark traditionalists, have all left their mark on Missouri.
By tracking down the old and forgotten places of Missouri, we can learn much more about the history of the state that served as a crossroads between east and west. A once-thriving railroad town is now known as the location of a violent typhoid outbreak. An ingredient used to make Agent Orange leads to the evacuation of an entire community. Flood waters wash away prominent transportation hubs on the state’s major rivers while healing waters attract visitors from around the country to a former resort.
One way to learn about the history of the Magnolia State is to study its lost places. From the port towns that highlight the heyday of steamship travel on the Mighty Mississippi River to the communities King Cotton helped build, these lost towns show not only the economic rise and fall of the state but how changing times and technologies affect everyday lives. Efforts to Americanize a Choctaw settlement led to the beginning of the Trail of Tears while a naval skirmish outside a small steamship port may have changed the course of the Civil War. A former mill town provided invaluable information in the fight against malaria and a farming community helped make new discoveries about yellow fever. The grounds of a NASA testing facility hide the remains of three once great logging towns, and a notorious highwayman haunts a Natchez Trace ghost town.
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.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.