Trip Shot: Dubuque Funicular

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View of Dubuque from the funicular station. photos (c)2017 J.S.Reinitz

What started more than 100 years ago as a way for a man to get home in time to enjoy his lunch is now a landmark.

The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque began when a banker, who lived at the top of the city’s bluffs and worked below, tired of the half-hour buggy ride up and half half-hour ride down that ate into his lunch break. In 1882, he commissioned a rail elevator and had his gardner work the contraption. After awhile neighbors began asking for a lift (or a lower), and the banker began charging 5 cents per ride and eventually handed over the operation.

Today, a century and a few devastating fires later, the elevator (actually a funicular with two cars that uses the weight of the descending car to pull the ascending car) is still going. The ride is about 300 feet with a 200-foot elevation gain.

And the cost isn’t much more than when it started, only $3 round trip. The views of the town and the Mississippi River are worth it.

Our video of the ride is here.

Trip shot: Dutchman’s Lost Mine

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Superstition range

Just to set the record straight, there is no chance of finding the legendary Lost Dutchman’s Mine within Lost Dutchman’s Sate Park.


And that’s a good thing, considering the doom that befell those who found or searched for the fabled treasure trove in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

The area had been explored by the Spanish against the wishes of the Apache who held the mountains sacred, mined for silver and gold by a Mexican cattle baron and his descendants until around 1847 when they hid the mine fearing an Apache attack and annexation by the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, only to be discovered later by Jacob Walz (or Waltz), a German immigrant who was mistaken for a Dutchman (Deutsch man, Dutch man, what’s the difference) and who was known to roll into town every now and again laden with gold-rich ore in 1870s.

Walz’s home (we are using the short version of the surname to conserve valuable “t”s) was caught in a flood in 1891, and he died later that year following a lengthy illness, but not before giving clues to the mines location.

The hunt for the gold was back on, and the journey that followed is littered with headless skeletons, decapitations, disappearances, reappearances sans head, suspicious gunshot wounds, falling rocks, vague landmarks and cryptic carvings too numerous and tangled to recount here (see link below), suffice to say the evasive legend lives on.

Today, the historic miner with a misidentified country of origin is a state park on a swath of the Sonoran Desert in the shadow of the Superstition range. There is a campground, small welcome center and picnic areas. Most of the hiking trails are in the adjacent Tonto National (Cactus) Forest, as is the range itself, so mining is prohibited, as is removing anything from the federal land, down to the most insignificant pebble. If you find the mine, you can’t take any gold, but you get bragging rights and can apply for a junior park ranger patch.

As I handed the park employee the entrance fee, I asked about the estimated hiking time to Green Boulder, an outcropping with a 2,580-foot elevation (according to the map, which also instructs us not to shoot firearms near trails — so we can shoot if we are far from trails? — and to stay out of mine shafts — so maybe the mine is here somewhere?). He suggested a time and trail beyond what we had planned to spend.

We opted for a shorter walk and passed an oil painting class in a picnic area and made our way under towering saguaro cacti. My 14-year-old son learned about the jumping cholla cactus the only real way to fully understand and appreciate the jumping cholla cactus and why it is called jumping — by getting close enough to catch a pointy spine. Only one needle found him, and it only found the tip of his finger just after we warned him to keep his distance. Easily removed. This was lucky because the jumping cholla, also called the teddy bear cactus, is known to decimate small villages, according to this TV report.

After a little walking on our short trail, we decided our trail was too short. Green Boulder loomed not far off at the end of a path. It wasn’t the roundabout path the ranger had suggested, this was straight shot. My son and I decided to try it while the others chose to stay in the lowlands. It turned out to be longer than we thought, but we made good time. We enjoyed the view of the cities off on the horizon, caught our breath and rested our tired legs.

Sometimes treasure isn’t measured by dollar signs. The view was golden.

Resources …………..

For a blow-by-blow account of a modern hunt for the Lost Dutchman’s Mine with all the pitfalls and emotional peaks and valleys, check out this piece onDesertUSA

For a history of the mine and its victims try this article on Legends of America

The official Arizona state parks entry is here

Photos: Rusting truck

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 I found this relic parked along a side street in the salvage yard district, as if it had just escaped from the crusher. Taking a break and hiding out while regaining its strength to continue on.

I’m not an expert on classic International Harvester trucks, but this appears to be from the 1930s, based on its detached headlights and the triple diamond logo.

Mammoth excavation at Channel Isands

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Mammoth skull unearthed at Channel Islands. Photo courtesy National Park Service

A team of archeologists and paleontologists is unearthing a well-preserved mammoth skull from Santa Rosa Island in Channel Islands National Park, California.

The skull, which had been named “Larry,” was originally discovered in an eroding creek bed in 2014. Once the removal is completed, Larry will be flown to a museum for further study.

For more information, and a primer on mammoths in a North America, here’s a piece from the National Park Service. 

Trip shot: Where there is spirit writing

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Pictograph Cave in the distance.

Pictograph Cave in the distance.

Tucked into the gorges outside of Billings, past an antenna farm on the top of a flat hill and down a winding road lurk three caves with a past the predates recorded history.

Beginning somewhere around 250 B.C., inhabitants of what would later become southern Montana drew rudimentary scenes of daily life on the natural shelters’ walls. The pictures eventually faded but would sometimes return when conditions — humidity and such — were right, and tribes thousands of years later would conclude they were messages from beyond — ghost writings.

Today, the Pictograph Cave complex (known in the Crow language as Alahpalaaxawaalaatuua for “place of spirit writings”) is a state park, and for a nominal fee ($6 per carload of out-of staters or $0 per carload of Big Sky Country residents) visitors can take a short hike to the caverns and take in the prehistoric artwork. The best pieces are at the flagship Pictograph Cave, nestled into the eagle sandstone cliffs. The park service includes a guide showing the location of the images superimposed on a photo of the wall. I also found it helpful to use a set of binoculars (I just happened to have a set in my backpack) to observe from a respectable distance.

There is something that appears to be a warrior with a round shield, and there are animals. More recent art (estimated between 1480 and 1650 A.D.) in red pigments stands out year round and depict items like flintlock rifles. Some 100 images have been documented, and on the average day only about 10 are visible. With the right circumstances, 30 or 40 appear, according to park officials.

Also in the complex are Ghost Cave and the aptly named Middle Cave (between the other two caves).



Centennial bridge

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(c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c) 2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c)2016 J.S. Reinitz

(c)2016 J.S. Reinitz

I noticed this during one of our snow hikes in February. Not far from the trailhead where we parked was an old bridge, and carved into its capstone was “1916.” The bridge was built as part of a rail line that used to cut through the forest (parts of this are still around). Today, the 100-year-old bridge serves a recreational trail.

Favorite Forts: Fort Atkinson

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Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

Exterior stockade wall at Fort Atkinson. (c) 2015 J.S.Reinitz

In the nine years that were its heyday, Fort Atkinson was tasked with keeping the peace for the Ho-Chunk tribe, which had been relocated from Wisconsin to a 40-mile wide plat in northeast Iowa. The neutral ground was originally planned as a buffer between other First Nation tribes, so when the Ho-Chunk (also known as the Winnebago) arrived sometime around 1840, the fort was in charge of protecting the tribe from rivals and keeping its members from backtracking to the cheese state.

The fort had 24 buildings inside a wooden stockade and 14 other structures outside its walls. When the army moved out in 1946 to fight the Mexican-American War, a volunteer miltia replaced them. The volunteers helped move the Ho-Chunk on to Minnesota, and the fort was closed in 1849.

Over the years, the buildings fell into disrepair as settlers began using the bricks and wood to construct their homes and shops in the town of the same name that sprang up. The state of Iowa got what was left of the fort in 1921, and reconstruction started in the late 1950s.

Today the fort is a state preserve with a rebuilt stockade wall and a mixture of rebuilt barracks, partial ruins and assorted foundations. Every year, it hosts a pioneer and buckskinner living history rendezvous.

Video: Hashima Island

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HASHIMA, Japan, 2002 documentary version from Thomas Nordanstad on Vimeo.

We found this interesting video on Hashima Island off the coast of Nagasaki. The island was built up starting the 1880s to provide housing for a coal mining operation. It shut down in the 1970s after petroleum began replacing coal for energy and remained off limits to the public until 2009 when the ruins were opened to tourists.

The narrator in the video (Japanese language with English subtitles) tells of growing up as a child on Hashima, which was also called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island).

Video: Nubian Pyramids

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We had to pass along this cool drone video of the Nubian pyramids in Sudan, courtesy of National Geographic.

Fave Forts: Matanzas

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Let’s get this out of the way right from the start. At the heart of this piece is a massacre, a bloody mass murder executed in a scorching swamp as empires fought to assert their dominance in the New World. The initial body count was in the hundreds, inflicted over nationalistic fervor and minor religious differences. Even so, it is the background for one of my favorite forts, a small outpost in a coastal salt marsh that was set up to guard a Florida city’s back door.

Today, 450 years later, the blood had dissipated. Visitors to Fort Matanzas take a pleasant boat ride from the parking lot to sun-drenched Rattlesnake Island and climb a set if wooden steps to the stone gun deck. Underneath the platform is a cistern to capture fresh rainwater (the surface water being too brackish to drink), and at one end stands a square tower that holds barracks, officer’s quarters and a powder magazine topped by a lookout deck (see laser scan video by AIST and the University of Southern Florida, above).

The site’s history goes back to the 1500s when the Spanish were wrestling with the French to claim a section of the new continent’s southeast coast. Spain set up camp in what is now St. Augustine, Fla., and France had Fort Carolina up the coast to the north, near the mouth of the St. John’s River.

So, on to the massacre.

In September 1565, the French sailed to attack the Spaniards at Augustine, but a hurricane blew them too far south. They overshot their destination and wrecked somewhere around what would become Cape Canaveral. At the same time, a Spanish force headed north of Fort Carolina and, in the absence of a defending army, easily took the place.

Meanwhile, the shipwrecked French started hoofing it back up the coast toward their base. They had three problems. First, their path would have to pass the Spanish at St. Augustine. Second, Spain had already raided Carolina, so there wasn’t much to return to. But they never got to the point of figuring out the first to problems because (problem No. 3) the Spanish came down to meet them at an inlet 14 miles before they got to Augustine.

Outgunned, the French surrendered, but the Spanish also demanded they convert to Catholicism and massacred 111 Frenchmen who refused to give up their Huguenot faith. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially not so far from Spain. The scene was repeated two weeks later when a group of French stragglers showed up at the same inlet, resulting in 134 dead.

People started calling the inlet Matanzas, a Spanish variation of massacre, and the name stuck.

A few years later, the Spanish built a wooden watchtower and thatched hut at the inlet, which provided an inland route for ships to approach Augustine. It was manned by six soldiers, whose main duty was to book it upstream and alert the Spanish base when they spotted enemies approaching. They thwarted attacks from pirates and were briefly captured by English outlaws.

The Spanish began worrying less about the French and more about the British, who were setting up forts in Georgia and Charleston, S.C. Spain began building up Augustine, breaking ground on what would be Fort Castillo in 1672. The wooden Matanzas outpost was converted to stone in 1740 and helped drive off the Brits on at least one occasion.

Not long after that, Spain traded Florida to the Brits in exchange for Cuba, which England had captured earlier. Then, Spain got Florida back in 1783 but turned it over to the United States in 1821. Included in the deal was Fort Matanzas, which by that time was a dilapidated property. The U.S. Department of War restored it, and it was later turned over to the National Park Service.

Blasts from the past

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12-pound artillery shell discovered at Fort Gilmer, Richmond National Battlefield Park. in September 2014. Photo courtesy National Park Service

12-pound artillery shell discovered at Fort Gilmer, Richmond National Battlefield Park. in September 2014. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Last month, antiquated artillery struck at two former forts and battlefields. A cannon failed at Fort McHenry during the commemoration of victory over the British in the War of 1812. Then, park officials found a suspected Confederate IED left over from a Civil War battle at Richmond National Battlefield.

Below are the details from the National Park Service:
BALTIMORE –During the firing of a reproduction historic cannon at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine on Sept. 16, 2014, the breech of the gun failed, according to the National Park Service.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., the park’s living history gun crew used black powder to fire a salute to a passing ship as part of the weeklong series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. The firing of black powder in the reproduction cannon caused the breech to dislodge.
There were no spectator injuries;one of the members of the cannon crew suffered minor flash burns on one hand. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

RICHMOND, Va.– On Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, staff at Richmond National Battlefield Park discovered an unexploded artillery shell within the moat of a Confederate fortification known as Fort Gilmer in the park’s Fort Harrison Battlefield unit.

The site was being cleared in preparation for an interpretive tour of Fort Gilmer scheduled for the 150th anniversary of the fighting there.The park’s resource protection rangers responded and, with the assistance of the park historian, determined that it was a live cannonball with an intact fuse. Per the park’s live ordnance policy, the park contacted the County of Henrico Police Bomb Disposal Team, which responded. A 500-foot safety perimeter was established and the shell was safely removed and destroyed at the county’s firing range.

Park historians determined that the shell was a 12-lb explosive round, possibly used by Confederates at Fort Gilmer as one of several improvised hand grenades rolled down the side of the fort against Union soldiers from the 7th United States Colored Troops. The USCTs were part of a Union force moving against Gilmer in the latter phases of the Battle of Fort Harrison. The Confederate defensive effort had its desired effect. Of the 198 USCTs who began the attack against Fort Gilmer, only one returned safely. The other 197 were killed, wounded, or captured.

The shell was discovered just days before the park’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battles of New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, which includes action at Fort Gilmer.

Minnesota fort

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The United States flag flies over Historic Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minn. At left is the fort's Round Tower. (c) J.S. Reinitz 2014

The United States flag flies over Historic Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minn. At left is the fort’s Round Tower. (c) J.S. Reinitz 2014

Perched on a bluff over the intersection of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, Fort Snelling is an outpost that long outlived its original purpose.

In the 1820s, long before Minnesota was a state, the fur trade was the cornerstone of commerce in the new world. The fort was built to protect the industry.

Not more than a few decades later, the fur bubble had burst, and Fort Snelling took up other roles. It oversaw the uprooting and relocation of Native American tribes in the area and acted as an induction station for the U.S. Army during every major conflict through World War II.

It was decommissioned in 1946 and designated a historic landmark in 1960.

Today, the fort’s historic buildings have been restored as a museum that’s manned by a small army of reenactment soldiers. They even have a cannon.

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