28 Dec
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Take a Trip: Discovering History

We’re only a few weeks into winter in Wyoming, and I’m over it. The mounds of snow followed by hurricane-strength winds, seriously 70+ miles per hour, wears me down and makes me irritable. I’m finishing 2016 with a few posts looking back on our summer adventures while I begin planning our 2017 vacations.

For me, gifting our children with experiences is the most ideal way to teach them. We travel a lot by car because it allows us to see places we wouldn’t normally experience. When we plot our driving routes, we look for historical places to visit. Last summer we discovered a World War II submarine, American Indians’ sacred ground, massive deposits of dinosaur remains and the joining of a country.

USS Silversides

USS Silversides submarine

list of sunk and damaged vessels USS Silversides

While in Michigan, we visited Muskegon for the sole purpose of touring the USS Silversides Submarine Museum. Not only did we take a self-guided tour of the sub, but spent hours inside the adjacent museum learning about WWII. The USS Silversides sunk more enemy ships than any surviving WWII sub. She’s 312 feet long, was commissioned in 1941 and decommissioned in 1946. The sub was named a national landmark in 1986 and moved to Muskegon in 1987.

two boys sitting at the USS SIlversides control panel

I was sold on visiting for the tour of the sub, but the museum is well-done. The videos and personal artifacts from people who fought in WWII intensified our experience at the museum and made the visit both enjoyable and sobering. A favorite part for the kids was the periscope they operated in the museum as well as sitting in the actual control system from the Silversides.

visitors sitting in the dining of the USS Silversides submarine

children looking through a door aboard the USS Silversides

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of the submarine that is available on the self-guided tour. We had a chance to lie where men would have slept, sit where they shared their meals and analyze the ridiculous amount of controls used to operate a sub. It was a tad stressful to make sure the kids weren’t touching levers, knobs or wheels. I’m glad we didn’t have toddlers with us. The walls of dials, gauges and levers seemingly begged to be turned and pulled, even for adults. I needn’t have worried. Our kids are old enough to understand when and why things are off-limits.

Effigy Mounds

Several times when flipping through our National Park Service passport I’ve had to research a place that I know nothing about. Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa is one of those places. The area has mounds shaped like birds, bears, cones, and lines that remain a mystery with no written records to explain the oddities in the landscape.

bear-shaped mound at Effigy Mounds National Monument

The mounds may have been clan symbols or religious sites, a way to connect spiritually with the land. They were built between 850 and 1,400 years ago. The national monument has 206 prehistoric mounds, 31 shaped like animals.  Records from the early 1900s estimated over 10,000 mounds in northeastern Iowa, but 100 years later the number dwindled to less than 1,000. Mounds were destroyed with westward expansion and artifacts dispersed.

father and daughter hiking at Effigy Mounds National Monument

Effigy Mounds National Monument is like no historical site we’ve explored. The mounds are difficult to view from ground level, but the visitor center has aerial photos which make it easier to imagine. We entertained ourselves with opinions on the why and how of the mounds. I find it fascinating to walk through an area, knowing hundreds of years ago people were using the land in a manner that makes no sense to me now. The lifestyle of the people who created the mounds is mysterious and another reminder of the deep history of our country before it was the United States.

Golden Spike

In a desolate section of Utah near the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake is Promontory Summit, the location of the meeting place of the Central Pacific’s Jupiter and Union Pacific’s No. 119 locomotives linking the East to the West. A symbolic golden spike was tapped into the track on May 10, 1869. Engraved on the Golden Spike is, “May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”

Locomotive No. 119 Golden Spike

Jupiter locomotive Golden Spike Utah

Golden Spike National Historic Site is home to a museum and replicas of the two locomotives. We watched a reenactment of the golden spike ceremony during our visit, complete with moving locomotives and speeches by “dignitaries.” About two miles of track have been relaid in the original railroad bed for the working replicas to be used on. The locomotives were a huge crowd-pleaser, complete with steam and shrill whistles. Another highlight for us was seeing the original railroad grades while following the auto tour and contemplating the manpower required to complete the construction.

children looking over the past continental railroad bed

Both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific broke ground in 1863 and each faced its own difficulties to span the 1,776 miles from ocean-to-ocean. I never thought about the ramifications of the railroad connecting the country outside of the economics of the situation. Westerners faced a new pace of life with schedules to keep now that train stations were part of their daily life. Politics that were kept in the East, now made its way West. The railroad solidified westward expansion and changed the country for good.

As for us, we’ll be traveling to the East this summer with plenty of new historical ground to cover. Where will you discover history?

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