Gettysburg

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Gettysburg will always be stuck in the past, because it will always be associated with the Civil War battle that bears its name, and the scores of dead who fell there.

Starting on July 1, 1863, Union and Confederate forces converged around the crossroads of Gettysburg and fought over the course of three sweltering summer days. Confederate General Robert E. Lee attempted to launch a second invasion of the North to divert action from Virginia and to pressure talk of peace in the North.

By the end of the battle there were 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing in action. It was the bloodiest battle of the war.

If it were not for the town’s bloody past, Gettysburg would be an idyllic, peaceful little town in the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania countryside. Re-enactors and guides certainly wouldn’t dress in Civil War era clothes if it were not for that fact. and  Instead, the town is a tourist attraction for visitors interested in the history of the carnage that soaked the farmland in blood 154 years ago.

Even today, there is an odd detachment from Gettysburg’s past and it’s present. Essentially, the town’s surrounding area is one huge memorial–a cemetery for the thousands of soldiers who died. But families picnic and hike in the nearby woods, and kids laugh and play on the sites of some of the battlefield’s deadliest sites, including Little Round Top.

Little Round Top

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The view from Little Round Top. Note the boulders of the Devil’s Den in the center of the field of view. 

On the first day of battle, the Confederates swept Federal forces from the fields north and west of Gettysburg. However, the Confederates were unable to secure the high ground to the south of town.

On the second day, Lee’s forces launched attacks on the battlefield’s heights. The Union’s left flank lay near Little Round Top, a rocky hill that dominates the surrounding territory.

Despite it’s height and obvious tactical advantage, Union forces did not occupy it when dawn broke on the second day of battle.

Five Union regiments occupied the rough land of the Devil’s Den, a place strewn with boulders as large as twenty feet across that was less than 500 yards away from Little Round Top.

Major General Gouverneur of New York was alarmed when he found Little Round Top unoccupied, essentially exposing the Union flank.

He sent aides galloping on horseback to fetch reinforcements to take up position on the hill.

A statue of Warren is mounted on Little Round Top. He remains transfixed with eyeglasses in hand, calmly surveying the lands in front of him. I speculate the monument belies the certain near-panic Warren must have been in when he ascended Little Round Top only to find a small Union survey team.

Reinforcements arrived on Little Round Top’s peak just as the fighting got underway.

At 4 p.m. Confederate forces marched through open farmland before diving into thick woods. Advancing in pockets–the main force quickly became separated in thickets and rough ground–the Confederates encountered Northern forces at the Devil’s Den.

From Little Round Top, the large dark boulders of Devil’s Den register to a sweep of the eye, but they might not be worth noting if they hadn’t seen terrible close-quater fighting.

After a pair of counterattacks, the Union forces were forced to retreat from Devil’s Den, leaving only Little Round Top to defend the North’s flank.

The initial Union reinforcements were almost overwhelmed on the hill, but once again a rider was dispatched to find anyone who could be compelled to come to the aide of the men on tip of Little Round Top.

Once again, reinforcements came, and the line somehow held off repeated attempts to take the high ground.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain–a former school professor–held the Union’s far left flank and made one of the most recognized small-unit command in the history of the U.S. military to end the engagement.

While holding the line against two advances, he ordered his men forward down the hill.

Charging into the Confederates like a swinging gate, Chamberlain pinned the surprised southerners against another Union force who had coincidentally moved into a position perfect for completing the maneuver. The Union held.

When you visit Little Round Top you can stand and survey the land beside Warren’s lifelike statue. However, it is difficult to imagine what the scene of battle looked like, or how terrible the sound of skirmishing in Devil’s Den must have sounded to the men arriving at Little Round Top. Instead, you hear the laughter of children, who scamper up and down the stone lookout tower on Little Round Top.

They can’t comprehend the enormous loss of life yet–they’re just too young to grasp how somber a place Gettysburg is or how hallowed the ground is. Sometimes a parent pulls their son or daughter aside and points out to some distant landmark to try to help them understand the soldier’s plight–tired, thirsty, sweating, fighting, scrambling, dying, bleeding out, screaming, expiring.

Still there’s a disconnect. Bodies don’t litter the grounds of Gettysburg anymore. Instead we build granite monuments that reach to the sky, lest any man forget the consequences of war or the tragedy of America’s greatest Constitutional crisis.

 

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Kolob Canyons

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Kolob Canyons is Zion National Park’s less-visited far northwest corner. While the 2,000 foot cliff walls of Kolob bear a significant resemblance to the sheer cliffs of Zion, Kolob still maintains a unique identity of its own.

The narrow parallel box canyons of Kolob feel much more intimate than the grand vistas Zion offers. In Kolob, the nooks, crannies and fingers of canyons and draws feel private and personable.

Additionally, the creeks in the canyons seem greener than the arid climes of Zion. Conifers and dense vegetation crowd the banks of shallow streams.

Kolob is best viewed during the golden hours of the day, when the rising and setting sun shines its light on the high red-orange cliffs before filtering down and scattering through the green nooks of the canyon below where thin whiptail lizards scurry between rocks.

From Kolob’s visitor center, a drive through through Zion’s far corner is a short 5-mile drive, but the scenery and pulloffs make the trip feel far longer than what it actually is.

First, the road passes the Hurricane Cliffs, which are part of the 200-mile Hurricane Fault that comprises the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Then, there’s Taylor Creek’s piñon and juniper forests, followed by Horse Ranch Mountain,the park’s tallest point at 8,726 feet. Box Canyon and Timber Top Mountain’s fir and ponderosa pine covered heights round out the scenic views.

It’s no wonder how Kolob Canyons got their name. In Mormon scripture Kolob means “residence closest to heaven.”

You might notice a marker designating a far less tranquil historical period four miles beyond the visitor center, though.

Lee pass bears the name of John D. Lee, the only person convicted of a crime in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In 1857 tensions were rising in southern Utah, a territory largely settled by Mormons. That year 1,500 U.S. soldiers were making their way to the territory, and that worried Mormon leaders.

In the two decades before 1857, Mormons had been driven out of both Illinois and Missouri. Once again, miscommunication and prejudice threatened to destabilize the peace. Mormons feared losing their way of life once again with the threat of approaching federal troops. To make matters worse for the Mormons, wagon trains bound for California passed through the territory they lived in. That meant competition for resources and an even greater influx of people in the region.

Tensions boiled when Lee and a force of militia men confronted and besieged a California bound wagon train from Arkansas. After days of exchanging shots, Lee entered the wagon circle and negotiated a peaceful resolution, promising safe passage.

However, when the militia men escorted the settlers from their wagons the settlers were shot and killed. Only young children who could not bear witness to the event were spared. In total, 120 people were killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

After the killing, the Mormon community attempted to cover up the act. Blame was passed on to Native Americans, who the Mormons reportedly joined forces with during the attack.

Ultimately, Utah militiamen and the U.S. Army never exchanged shots. Conflict and disputes were settled through peaceful negotiations. Lee was later executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and in 1870 Lee and another major conspirator were excommunicated from the Church of Latter Day Saints.

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Kodachrome Basin

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On a good day silence lays on Kodachrome Basin State Park like a blanket. Consider Kodachrome a quiet alternative to Bryce Canyon National Park, which is only a little more than 20 miles away.

When the scenic overlooks at Bryce get packed, you can always hop onto Utah 12 and drive towards Cannonville, past lonely ranches that sit beside fields of alfalfa. Just past Cannonville, the road spills out into Kodachrome.

Unspoiled desert surrounds visitors in Kodachrome. Your eyes sweep easily across the park’s flat basins dotted with sage scrub and juniper trees up to an unobstructed blue sky filled with cotton candy cumulus and rosy sandstone cliffs.

When the park is silent–and it often is–there is nothing to be heard, except when the wind blows.

Unique geological features called sedimentary pipes, pillars or chimneys are found throughout Kodachrome. More than 60 of these formations populate the park, and they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Geologists still speculate how the chimneys formed–some theorize that seismic activity was involved.

The pipes reach for the sky in the flatlands and from the cliffs like huge industrial earthen chimneys.

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Kodachrome got its name from National Geographic explorers who photographed the area using Kodak film of the same name in 1949.

Writer and photographer Jack Breed was on assignment searching for unknown and unnamed geographical features when he and his expedition discovered arches, colored cliffs and those weird sedimentary pipes.

Breed thought it was just the perfect place for Kodachrome film, which revolutionized color photography.

Before Kodak created the film in 1935, taking color photographs was a long and laborious process that didn’t always produce great results.

Kodachrome revolutionized color film, and gained quite a reputation for its vivid colors and saturation.

The film became a favorite of National Geographic photographers and amateur photographers alike. Kodachrome film captured the Hindenburg crash, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and countless family outings.

Ultimately, digital killed Kodachrome, and Kodak decided to discontinue it.

However, Kodachrome Basin State Park still bears the name of the film, with the approval of Kodak, of course. The name serves as a tribute to explorers and photographers in search of a world of vivid color.

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Although Kodachrome offers horse rides, hiking and camping it’s relatively easy to avoid people there.

When I visited in early August with my father we didn’t see another soul besides the park ranger that greeted us at the entrance gate. The only other vehicle we saw in the park was parked inside the campground.

Animals can be as sparse as other people in the desert sometimes, especially during the heat of the day. Long-eared and gangly-legged jackrabbits bound in between sagebrush when the day is cool. Often, raptors can be spotted in the sky.

I was fortunate enough to watch a pair of golden eagles gliding along the rim of Kodachrome’s cliff. The huge birds shone in the sun, and it was so quiet that their cries carried all the way down to where I stood watching, binoculars in hand.

Cedar Breaks

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The natural amphitheater in Cedar Breaks National Monument 

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a great example of the amount of natural diversity packed into Utah’s southwestern corner.

Located between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks sits on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau at an elevation higher than both Zion and Bryce.

Since Cedar Breaks has an elevation of over 10,000 feet above sea level  it supports conditions that encourage an explosion of wildflowers in the park’s summer season.

Peaking in late July and lasting through August, the wildflowers enjoy the cool, moist conditions that elevation affords them.

When I visited Cedar Breaks in early August, the park’s forests and meadows were filled with the subdued hues of mountain bluebells, the red bristles of Indian paintbrush, the white pops of columbine, and the deep purple shades of beard tongue.

Color paints entire swaths of Cedar Breaks in the park’s meadows.

While Zion and Bryce do boast wildflowers of their own, the variety and amount of flowers that Cedar Breaks boasts provides a great contrast to the drier environments in lower lands.

More than 150 species of wildflowers grow in Cedar Breaks, and the greens of mountain meadows and forests add to the sense that the park is one huge natural garden.

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Columbine along a trail in Cedar Breaks 

Spruce and aspen trees populate the park’s forests, which are currently regenerating after having been recycled by native pine beetles.

The main geological feature in Cedar Breaks is its natural amphitheater, which is more than 2,000 feet deep and more than three miles across.

Like Bryce Canyon, the amphitheater in Cedar Breaks features rocky columns and spires. However, in Cedar Breaks you get the unique impression that the park’s mountain meadows and spruce forests are eroding away into the multicolored badlands of the amphitheater.

This contrast was noted by early settlers who named the area Cedar Breaks, noting the trees–which they mistook for cedars and are actually spruce and bristlecone pine–and the badlands in the amphitheater which they called “breaks”.

Along the rim of the amphitheater fields of flowers transition into scraggly outcroppings of twisted and ancient thousand-year-old bristlecone pines that grip rocky outcroppings by way of their powerful roots.

While Cedar Breaks is worth exploring because of its unique features, it’s worth noting that the park draws less visitors than Zion and Bryce. If you’re looking for a place to get away from people it’s definitely worth trying Cedar Breaks. In 2016 Cedar Breaks attracted 899,676 people, while more than 4 million people visited Zion and more than 2 million people visited Bryce.