Monday, July 29, 2019

Harpers Ferry - The Epicenter of American History

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Established in 1763, the town was a vital hub situated at the epicenter of American History concerning transportation, industry, slavery and the Civil War.

Thomas Jefferson visited the area in 1783 and upon seeing the dramatic gap in the mountains, he declared “the passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.” George Washington traveled there in 1794 and was impressed by the rugged beauty of the isolated outpost.

Washington eventually chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a new national armory and by 1796 the U.S. military arsenal was established. Merchants, mechanics and immigrants flocked to the western Virginia township because of the commerce generated by the machine shops and rifle works factories.

Probably the most famous event in the town’s rich history was abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the armory in 1859. Brown was vehemently opposed to slavery and armed with weapons taken from the federal arsenal, he intended to lead a slave revolt against the southern states.

Brown and his band of sympathizers took the fort by force but they weren’t able to hold it for long because a team of U.S. Marines, led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, stormed the compound and recaptured the facility. Brown was subsequently found guilty of treason and executed by hanging just up the road in Charles Town.

The raid and its tragic results captivated the nation while sparking a heated debate over the issue of slavery, catapulting the United States into a bloody Civil War. Once Virginia seceded from the Union, Confederate militia attacked the vulnerable armory.

Union troops stationed there were overwhelmed so they fled for Washington while burning the arsenal to the ground on the way out. Harpers Ferry sits on a low flood plain surrounded by towering heights so its position was impossible to defend and being on the line between North and South, the town was horribly ravaged by the conflict.

Possession of this strategic hotspot was difficult to maintain as opposing forces always bombarded it from the nearby mountaintops. Control of the town changed hands fourteen times and most of its homes and buildings were destroyed during the sieges.

The lone exception was Saint Peters Church which flew a British flag from its spire. Both sides respected this sign of neutrality so it survived the four years of war unscathed while serving as a field hospital and conducting Roman Catholic mass.

Today, echoes from the sleepy village’s violent past are barely audible but visual reminders are scattered everywhere down in the lower historic district. It’s fascinating to explore a place that’s shaped by such compelling stories and spectacular wilderness scenery.

The stoic landscape is brimming with lush greenery as lazy waterways meander through the melancholy mountains. While I enjoyed my visit to the East very much with its grand history, temperate climate and lush ecosystem, I still prefer to wander in the wide open West.

At the epicenter of American History

The confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah

Pedestrian bridge over the Potomac

From the Appalachian Trail

A fascinating place to explore

Railroad bridge over the Potomac

Saint Peters Roman Catholic Church

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A sleepy village

Most of the town was destroyed during the Civil War

Saint Peters survived unscathed

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Wild Animal Sanctuary - A Haven of Hope

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Out on Colorado’s eastern plains, lions, tigers, bears and wolves roam majestically across the rolling prairie. Viewing the wonderful setting from high ground is like discovering a peaceable kingdom located in the North American Serengeti.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is an astonishing preserve that exists to rescue and provide a permanent home for wild animals that have been abused, abandoned, displaced or neglected. Most of the inhabitants were born in captivity and confiscated by law from people who tried to keep a large carnivore as a pet.

Because the refugees were confined to backyards, basements or garages, often in deplorable conditions, they can never be released into the wild again but this animal asylum is the next best thing. While visiting TWAS it becomes obvious that the animals’ welfare is the number one priority.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado is the largest carnivore shelter in the world. The magnificent menagerie houses over 500 creatures in 80 separate enclosures built across 789 acres of open grassland.

This remarkable refuge currently includes 70 African lions, 85 tigers, 156 black bears, 43 grizzly bears, 20 wolves, 12 mountain lions, 5 leopards and 2 jaguars. The complex also cares for coyotes, bobcats, lynx, fox, porcupines, raccoons, ostriches, emus and a camel.

What makes TWAS different from traditional zoological facilities is its unique viewing platforms. An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures and all visitors are confined to the special bridge, leaving the animals undisturbed.

Animals are naturally territorial so when a stranger encroaches on their land, they react instinctively by either attacking the intruder or running away. This instinctive reaction is known as “Fight or Flight”.

Animals at a regular zoo have neither option as they can’t engage aggressively or get away. The captives are stressed from being sandwiched between crowds of onlookers and the backs of their enclosures.

That anxiety causes the animals to behave in agitated and unnatural ways but TWAS was designed to alleviate that pressure. Carnivores don’t consider the sky to be territory therefore people on the elevated walkways are not considered a threat.

The animals certainly seem at ease despite the visitor's presence looming above. They’re so content that it’s fascinating to observe them while they eat, sleep and play.

All of the habitats have manmade, underground dens that provide shelter from inclement weather. Most of the tunnels go back 30 to 50 feet and maintain a stable temperature of 60 degrees year-round so the animals love them.

If you make the trek out to this remote preserve hoping to see multitudes of exotic animals up close, you’ll be disappointed. Many of the enclosures appear vacant because the creatures are so reclusive, preferring to disappear into the tall grass or deep caves.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary wasn’t created to cater to the curious public. The Wild Animal Sanctuary was conceived as a haven of hope for mistreated animals where they can recover and rehabilitate in peace and comfort for the rest of their lives.

Marble fox

Arctic fox

A North American Serengeti

African lion

Grizzly bear

A Peaceable Kingdom

The animals seem at ease

One of the Grizzly bear enclosures


The largest carnivore shelter in the world

Timber wolf

Black bear

A place to recover and rehabilitate

An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures

The Eurasian collared-dove is a symbol of peace and hope

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wilson's Snipe - A Feathered Phantom

The Wilson's Snipe

The reclusive Wilson’s snipe lives in North America but you'd be lucky to ever lay eyes on one. Because of his secretive nature, he’s most active around dusk and dawn while preferring to sleep much of the daytime.

When he's awake this plump, little shorebird uses his long, flexible bill to probe in the mud for larvae and earthworms. His unique mandible can move independently upwards allowing him to swallow small prey without having to pull his bill out of the dirt.

The Wilson’s snipe is mottled brown overall with a white belly and streaked breast. Dark stripes decorate his head and back. He makes his nest in the wetlands where his drab plumage blends perfectly into the dried, cattail willows.

His bill is outrageously long and his eyes are set so far back on his head that he can see not only in front and to the sides but also completely behind. He has short legs and massive flight muscles so when he’s flushed from his safe haven he can explode into the air at 60 miles per hour.

The Wilson’s snipe is a feathered phantom and during the breeding season his ghostly persona is further enhanced by a nighttime, courtship display. He circles high above his marshland territory and then suddenly dives straight towards the ground.

This spectacular, aerial maneuver creates a “winnowing” effect that vibrates in the wind creating an eerie sound. Scientists have discovered that this noise occurs when air streams across the bird’s specially designed outer tail feathers.

You may not be able to see this apparition during spring daylight but if you’re in the foothills after dark, keep your ears open because that’s when you’ll hear this common snipe’s haunting notes emanating through the thin, mountain air.

Active around dusk and dawn

A feathered phantom

A ghostly persona

You'd be lucky to see one

Eyes are set back on his head

A plump shorebird

An apparition

An outrageously long bill

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mount Rushmore - A Massive Memorial

Mount Rushmore

Exhibited near Rapid City, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a magnificent monument sculpted from a granite mountain. The massive memorial is a group portrait featuring presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

It took artist Gutzon Borglum 14 years to complete the government commission. Concealed in a sacred wilderness of rock and pine called the Black Hills, the creation looks unfinished but rough hewn edges give it a certain sketchiness that blends into the natural environment.

Upon entering the busy complex, a grand boulevard leads to an amphitheater where the sculpture can be closely contemplated. Mount Rushmore definitely exudes patriotism and as an attraction luring tourists to the remote Northern Plains, the astonishing work of art is certainly a success.