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Friday, October 16, 2015

National Park's Spookiest Places

Yellowstone's burnt forests
In light of Halloween coming up, here is my list of the National Park Service's Spookiest places.

1. Yellowstone's burnt forests. The fires that roared thru Yellowstone in 1988 left nearly a third of the park charred black. A forest of dead trees, like something out of Snow White's Haunted Forest nearly overnight replaced lush and mature Lodge Pole Pine forests. At night, one's imagination can play tricks and make one see monsters behind every twisted snag.
Snow White's Haunted Forest
But a funny thing has happened over the years since these fires, the forests are coming back. In fact, fire is part of the Yellowstone ecosystem and a part of the Lodge Pole Pine forests natural So, what is seen as spooky is actually part of the fo
rest's regeneration process.

Glacier Park's Northern Lights ~ NPS
2. Glacier Park's spectral lights. Glacier National Park in Northwestern Montana lies at the 49th parallel. This puts it among the northern most states in the continental United States. On clear winter nights some may witness eerie, dancing, ghostly green, yellow, blue or red lights. Some describe the light as if the entire sky is on fire.

But there is a more earthly explanation for the lights. They are actually high energy solar particles captured at the earth's pole's by its magnetic field. When these particles are captured by the magnetic field and when they collide with the earth's atmosphere produce bursts of spectacular light.

3. Hanford's B Reactor. During the height of World War II, the United States conducted a super secret program to build a weapon of unspeakable power. The United States believed it was in a race against Nazi Germany to developed the world's first atomic bomb. History tells us the United States was the first to unlock the cosmic power of the atom.

Hanford B Reactor ~ DOE
At Hanford Washington, the federal government found the perfect site to manufacturer plutonium, the fuel for a high power bomb. Hanford had large tracts of undeveloped land, unlimited water from the nearby Columbia River, and cheap and limitless power from the recently completed Grand Coulee dam. In 1943 the federal government acquired the Hanford district, a site larger than the city of Los Angeles. It built the world's first large scale nuclear reactor and was the birthplace of the atomic age. The Hanford B reactor as it is known produced nuclear fuel until 1968.

The production of nuclear fuel produces millions of gallons of radioactive, mixed radioactive, and highly dangerous hazardous waste. Much of it was pour directly on the ground, millions of gallons more are now stored in leaking underground tanks.

On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed the Defense Authorization Bill creating the Manhattan Project National Historic Site. This park includes the Hanford B reactor, and sites at Los Alamos New Mexico, and Oak Ridge Tennessee. And tells the story of the Manhattan Project work that likely shortened the war, but also the incredible economic, social, environmental, and human cost. A cost we are still paying today.

I've sat at the reactor control panel. I've stood at the base of the Hanford B reactor pile. Staring up at the pile one is struck by the magnitude of the task the Manhattan scientists, soldiers, engineers, and politicians faced to beat the Nazis.  One can only imagine the decisions, stress, conflicts, compromises, that were made. The ghosts of those decisions still permeate the site.

Fort Vancouver ~ NPS
4. The bones and tools of Fort Vancouver In Southwestern Washington is the site of one of the West Coasts oldest settlements. It was the site of the Hudson Bay company's western operations. It was the site of the first multi cultural settlement on America's west coast. It was eventually transferred to the US Army and saw soldiers like US Grant and George Marshal walk its grounds. Today the Fort has been transferred to the National Park Service. Besides the physical grounds and buildings, the Park Service is responsible for the curation of artifacts, remains, and tools from across the northwest. The Park Service's collection includes tools used by native Americans more than 8,000 years ago. The site is also riddle with native American burial sites, making the site sacred to several tribes. These unmarked gravesites give the Fort an unworldly feel to it.

5. Pickett's March In July of 1863, the United State's was at the height of a bloody civil war. At its

Pickett's Charge ~ NPS
end between 600,000 and 800,000 soldiers and civilians would be killed in the conflict. Many historians believe the Gettysburg was the turning point of the war, and Pickett's march was the turning point of the battle. This march saw nearly the entirety of Confederate General George Pickett's division wiped out in just a few hours. The men in Pickett's division were required to march miles across an exposed field under constant Union cannon and rifle fire. The end result was more than 3,000 men in Pickett's division alone killed, wounded or captured.

Standing on both Seminary and Cemetery ridges, the starting locations of the Confederate and Union forces respectfully, one is struck by the gravity of the battle that took place on these grounds. One is left wondering where the courage comes from to step out onto a field where one is likely to be killed.

Like the Hanford B reactor and Fort Vancouver, Gettysburg has a surreal feel to it.  A place haunted by the sacrifice and loss of life that took place on these grounds. And even though the battle was more than 150 years ago, the echoes of those lost lives can still be heard today.

That's it. These are my list of the National Park's spookiest places. What are your thoughts?

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

National Park Posters: Check them out!

I recently met Rob Decker, a photographer and graphic artist who studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19. He has been photographing our National Parks for the past 35 years and now he's creating original WPA-style posters for each of our national parks -- and hopes to have all 59 completed in time for the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.
Check out his posters (and postcards), which are printed on "Conservation" -- a 100% recycled paper stock with soy-based inks and the greenest printing standards. From start to finish, every poster is 100% American Made.