Winter National Park Visits

Last winter we were able to sneak in a few NPS sites while traveling to visit family and friends over the holidays. One site that was surprising and entertaining in an unexpected way was Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.  Only earning National Park status in 2014, previously the Blackstone River Valley was protected as a heritage corridor. Now, it encompasses several different sites and preserves the history of the Industrial Revolution in New England. In Woonsocket, Rhode Island we stopped to find a visitor center in an old train station. There were a couple of volunteers there who not only gave us information on the park, but told us that Hachi: A Dog’s Story was filmed there. Since Anthony and I went to Japan in 2009, we’ve both known the story of Hachiko, the dog who stands for loyalty and faithfulness in Tokyo. Hachiko waited for his owner every day at Shibuya Station, so that he could greet him and walk home with him after work. His owner died at work suddenly, and therefore did not return to the station. For over nine years, Hachiko continued to go to the train station every day, until his own death, to wait for his master. Now there is a statue of Hachiko at Shibuya Station that is a well known meeting spot. In Woonsocket, since an American version of Hachiko’s story was filmed there, a matching statue has been erected. The volunteers told us stories from the filming of the movie, which starred Richard Gere, and were more than happy to take our photo in front of the statue.

We also stopped in Pawtucket, Rhode Island to walk around the grounds of the Slater Mill, another piece of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park. We were able to watch an introductory film and take a short walk through the textile mill and surrounding preserved buildings. There are several other areas that are part of the park that we will have to find time to explore more fully in the future.

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Vanderbilt Mansion NHP

Our next NPS stop on this trip was Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. Representative of the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilt Mansion is just one of forty separate homes built by the family during this era. In Asheville, we have the Biltmore House, the largest private home in America, so we have a special attachment to the Vanderbilt family. The mansion is largely unchanged from the time the family used it as a summer and fall retreat. When Margaret Louise Van Alen inherited the estate, after the death of Frederick Vanderbilt in 1938, and couldn’t find buyers because of the Depression, she donated the property to the National Park Service. We were able to tour the grounds and the house. Interestingly enough, during the Gilded Age, guests were placed in bedrooms based on importance. So if you were put up in the bedroom closest to Louise and Frederick Vanderbilt, the primary residents of the mansion, that meant you were very important to them. If you were given a separate house elsewhere on the property, you were probably lower class. Old money social niceties of this time period are so fascinating!

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Big Cypress National Preserve

After spending time in the cold and snowy north, we headed down to south Florida to warm up. We were able to spend a day driving through Big Cypress National Preserve. Encompassing a large swath of land in south Florida, Big Cypress has tons of birds, alligators, and other animals. The Florida Trail also runs through this area. We hiked a couple of shorter trails, looking for alligators the whole time, while avoiding the mosquitos that are so prevalent in the steamy hot weather. The swamps hold a very different type of beauty from any other place I have been. Lush, green, damp, and resonant with the buzz of insects, Big Cypress is an engaging place, where it often feels like you can actually watch the greenery grow.

A varied trip, within a week span we visited areas preserved for industry, wealth, and wildlife.

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Thanksgiving Road Trip

Roger Williams National Memorial

Roger Williams National Memorial

Thanksgiving brought us up to Connecticut to spend time with my side of the family.  We started the drive on Tuesday evening, with our Chihuahua, Felina, in tow.  We arrived in Connecticut on Wednesday evening and spent a nice night with my parents and grandmother.  Thanksgiving morning Anthony, my sister, brother-in-law, their dog Leki, and I ran the 5 mile Turkey Trot at Hammonasset Beach State Park.  It was warm, and the course was flat.  I also almost literally ran into a friend on the course, which was really nice!  We spent the day with family, then headed up the day after Thanksgiving to visit the only NPS site in Rhode Island, Roger Williams National Memorial.  The site consists of a small visitors center and a few acres of park that is used for multiple events by the city of Providence.  At the visitors center we watched a film about Roger Williams, who was basically kicked out of Massachusetts for his separatist views.  He fled deportation back to England and spent the winter under the protection of the Wampanoag, afterwards founding Providence on the basis of freedom of religion.  There are a few relics in the visitors center.  A chilly day, we spent a little time wandering through the park.  Lunchtime found us on Providence’s famous Thayer Street, at Nice Slice, which specializes in vegan pizzas.  We picked up a couple of pies and brought them up to visit friends in Massachusetts, who just had a baby!  Kate, Bowen, and baby Wesley are doing great and we spent a while with them, meeting Wesley and chatting.

We began our drive home on Saturday, planning to stop in New Jersey to visit some more with my sister and brother-in-law.  My sister is a veterinarian at Popcorn Park, a Humane Society shelter, and had been telling me about a kitten she rescued and mended.  Vespa (her shelter name) was hit by a car when she was barely a month old.  My sister basically sewed her head back together.  All healed, her stripes don’t match up anymore, her eye is pulled a bit tight in her skin, and her skull is bumpy – but she’s a perfectly normal, rambunctious kitten.  Even though we already have two dogs and an older, ill cat, we ended up taking Vespa (who we’ve now named Nessie) home with us.  She was irresistible and very sweet, so we added her to our menagerie.

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas National Battlefield Park

The next day, after a nice evening with my sister and brother-in-law, we completed our drive back to Asheville.  We stopped briefly to purchase kitten supplies, and to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park.  Since Manassas is mostly an outdoor experience, we walked Felina around the park after watching the film in the visitors center and viewing the exhibits of Civil War regalia in the museum.  Troops fought at Manassas (also known as Bull Run) twice.  The first battle of the Civil War was fought here, and the most amazing detail (to me) is that families set up picnics on either side of the battlefield, on hills overlooking the scene, in order to watch their husbands, fathers, and sons fight.  Apparently they didn’t think it would be so bloody and brutal.  Everyone thought it would be a quick skirmish that would end the conflict.  How wrong they were.  900 men lost their lives that day.  At second Manassas, 3,300 men died.  Both battles resulted in gains for the Confederacy.  Being there is erie, and the peaceful landscape belies the sacrifice of these men, many of them volunteers.  Visiting the unfinished railroad bed was especially touching, since the dead were lined up on top of each other in this spot during the fighting.

After a few hours of wandering around, we completed our drive home to Asheville, and got settled in with our newest family member.

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