Celebrate National Parks!

Almost 102 years ago President Woodrow Wilson signed off on the National Park Service. This bureau within the Department of the Interior was charged with conserving “scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

In my opinion, the National Park Service is one of the best agencies in our federal government. They started with 35 national parks, including the first, Yellowstone National Park. Today, the National Park Service oversees more than 400 parks, historical areas, and monuments covering more than 84 million acres in the United States and its territories. And many offer free admission.

Each April, the National Park Foundation launches a week-long celebration known as National Park Week. It includes special events and celebrations, including a fee free day on April 21 when you can get into the biggies like Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Grand Canyon for free.

This year, Earth Day falls on the second day of National Park Week. It will be a day of celebrating and recognizing the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

When I play the “if I weren’t a writer, what would I be” game, forest ranger is at the top of the list, and kudos to the more than 20,000 NPS employees who care for and help preserve these national treasures.

Take time to appreciate our National Parks. They’re one-of-a-kind. Here are some of my favorites.











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Fiesta! San Antonio Turns 300

One of my favorite places in Texas is San Antonio. And history says that I’m not alone. When Spanish explorers came to the New World in the late 1500s, they were looking for treasure and trade goods. Spanish explorers traveled north from Mexico in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They found a river they named San Antonio River. A dusty outpost sprang up next to the river in 1718. It was San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, more commonly known as San Antonio.

San Antonio has evolved from a Spanish provincial capital to a Mexican stronghold to a Republic of Texas battle site. Native American and Spanish residents were joined by people from Mexico, Africa, Germany, and a new country called the United States.

This year, San Antonio celebrates its 300th birthday. The city kicked off their Tricentennial celebration this past New Years Eve with a free concert in Hemisfair Park near the Institute of Texas Cultures. The annual Fiesta San Antonio kicks off with the Battle of Flowers this month and will be followed by the Tricentennial Commemorative Week during the first week of May.

Although San Antonio is the seventh largest city in America with plenty to see and do, the downtown area around the Riverwalk is the best place to start. The Riverwalk is an American version of the Italian city, Venice. The 15-mile long Riverwalk winds through San Antonio, taking you to restaurants, shops, and museums. The San Antonio Museum of Art, known as SAMA, is housed in the old Lone Star Brewery.

The banks of the Riverwalk feature cypress trees and other lush foliage. Arched stone pedestrian bridges take you to the other side of the river. Music, often mariachis, can often be heard. The smells are amazing and your most difficult task may be deciding where to eat. Boudros and Lula’s are popular restaurants.

If you tire of walking, see the Riverwalk area by water taxi or in the open air, flat bottom river barges. If you’re going farther down the river to the missions, rent a kayak or get a bicycle from a B-cycle station.

The Spanish established hundreds of missions in the Southwest. Most disappeared as casualties of war or time. San Antonio’s five missions make up the largest concentration of existing colonial missions in the United States. In 2015, they were designated a World Heritage Site.

Four of the missions are operated by the National Park Service. The fifth mission, the Alamo, is a state historic site operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It is the most accessible of the missions with the others farther south along what is known as Mission Trail. First christened Mission San Antonio de Valero, its name changed to the Alamo when it was converted to military barracks first for Mexican independence and then for Texas independence. The Alamo’s last battle gave Texas its state motto—Remember the Alamo.

Although San Antonio’s Hispanic culture is evident everywhere, the three-block outdoor plaza known as El Mercado or Market Square is America’s largest Mexican market. Stop by Mi Tierra for a meal or at the very least a mouthwatering pastry.

Two things are evident when you travel to San Antonio. One is that it is a true melting pot of cultures that works. And the other is that the city knows how to fiesta. Happy Birthday, San Antonio.


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Dr. King’s Legacy

My earliest memories are of my little brother having the audacity to come along and steal my mother. I also remember my dad convincing me for a short time that he was Superman. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he thought it would be funny to build a fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. I mean, the real Superman wouldn’t light a fire where Santa was supposed to land.

Like most young children, my world consisted of what affected me directly. But the late 1960s were a tumultuous time, and there was lots of banging from the door to the outside world. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, student protests, women’s rights, hippies and free love, a musical revolution, and so on. One day, the chaos from the outside broke open the door—the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Dr. King’s tragic death is one of my first memories of the world at large. How could a person who was trying to do so much good die? We’re talking nonviolent protests. A man who said, I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. And, The time is always right to do what is right.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, go. It’s worth your time and money. It not only speaks to Dr. King’s life and death, but also the world of segregation and discrimination. It shows you what life was like in the back of the bus.

The world shifted when Dr. King died on April 4, 1968. But Dr. King’s legacy and the people who believe in him marched forward. Things changed for the better, not always, but sometimes. Most noticeably, segregation was made illegal in all areas of life. People began seeing beyond skin color and finding friends, neighbors, co-workers, and love.

Fifty years later, the world is shifting again. So much hate and anger are whirling through America today. Ugly words, persistent lies, rampant racism and sexism seem to have taken on lives of their own. Children go to school, a place that should be safe, and instead are gunned down.

What would Dr. King say if he were here now? Whatever he would say, you can be sure they would be words of love and hope.

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Share Women’s History

Today is the last day of Women’s History Month. In recognition, I have created 55+ posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest this month trying to publicize the many fascinating women in history. Some are well-known–Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson. The stories of others are beginning to become well-known.

I even receive a special thrill when I looking through a children’s biography on Margaret Hamilton by Dean Robbins (Margaret and the Moon, a great picture book) to include in the back matter of a book (in a “read more” section) I’m working on about women in programming. One of this book’s suggestions for reading more was my Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures!

I often find that when I start working on a book or have even finished it that I start seeing references to women I’ve mentioned. Are other people hearing about them when I am or am I just more attuned to these women? Who knows, but I’ve noticed it with Rosalind Franklin, Sylvia Earles, Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, and Mary Anning. And the Night of Terror that suffragists suffered through after being arrested for protesting for the right to vote!

And there are so many other women in history and stories that I have yet to hear about. I plan on continuing to seek out and share their stories. I hope you will too.

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Capital City: 5 Musts in the Nation’s Capital

My first visit to Washington, DC* happened in 2014 when one of my sons was touring colleges. We had a day, and if you’re one of the 20 million visitors each year to Washington, DC, you’re laughing right now. After the school tour, we returned to the National Mall to see as much as possible before we took the train back to our Baltimore hotel and subsequent flight. To say that my feet have never hurt more would not be an exaggeration.

I’ve made several visits since then and must admit to my love of Washington, DC. Established by the U.S. Constitution in 1790, Washington, DC is a dynamic city filled with plenty to see and do. You could remain there a month and still not see everything. Still, there are locations and activities that I gravitate to during most visits. They fill me with a sense of wonder and hope.

Here are five musts in D.C.:

1. Lincoln Memorial

Seeing Abraham Lincoln sitting so majestically at one end of the mall is a powerful image. The Lincoln Memorial is modeled after the Greek Parthenon. The words of our 16th president coat the inside of the building. The marble does a good job of muffling noise; you just have to ignore all the people taking selfies with Abe.

When you stand at the top of the stairs facing the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument, the momentous history of what you’re looking at surges through you.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Located between the Lincoln and FDR Memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Dr. King is the fourth non-president and first African American honored with a memorial on the National Mall.

Opened in 2011, a 30-foot Dr. King with arms folded emerges from the granite mountain. A wall of his quotes surround you. Some are well-known. Others not so much, but every time I step into this area near the Tidal Basin, his words of peace and equality speak to me.

3. A Smithsonian Museum, any of them

How cool is it that there are 17 museums, galleries, and a zoo in the Washington, DC area with free admission? That’s how the Smithsonian operates. British scientist James Smithson bequeathed his considerable fortune in 1836 to “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Ten years later, the Smithsonian Institute was formed.

Popular museums are the Natural History, Air and Space, and African American Museum. Sometimes there are lines to get into these museums. The African American Museum is so popular that it’s still using a system of timed passed, so I’m still trying to get into see it. But plenty of smaller venues are just as fascinating. During m last visit, my son introduced me to the Renwick Gallery, a fascinating place for innovative contemporary art.

If you don’t know where to start, stop by the Smithsonian Castle where the Visitor’s Center is located. You can’t miss it. It’s on the south side of the mall east of the Washington Monument, and well, it looks like a castle.

4. Georgetown

The oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC is Georgetown. It had its start as a tobacco port in 1751. Today, it is a mecca for shopping and dining along M street with more dining and entertainment spots along the Waterfront Park. Georgetown is home to the C&O Canal, now a National Park that stretches into Cumberland, Maryland. Many famous people in politics have also lived in Georgetown, most notably the Kennedy’s before John Kennedy’s winning the presidency.

Georgetown University sits “on the hilltop” and you can reach it by climbing cobblestone walkways. Next to the university’s Car Barn are the illustrious “Exorcist stairs” featured in the original move, The Exorcist. And if you challenge yourself by going up the stairs, you’ll feel like the devil has assaulted you as well.


5.  DC Metro

I know that adding mass transit to a list of must see’s is odd, but I love the DC Metro and how it can take me most places. At least the trains do, I have a harder time figuring out the bus schedules. If I must use a bus, I got with the DC Circulator bus instead. All I have to do is scan my Metro Card or pay $1.

I’m no stranger to subways. My teens were marked with the “L” in Chicago. I think the BART in San Francisco is one of the cleanest subways I’ve ever experienced. Some of the DC Metro trains (Red Line) are new and shiny with clear sounding speakers. Others aren’t as clean and clear, but that’s ok. The DC Metro trains have worked every time I needed them to. And I have to admit a certain thrill in riding the long escalators in and out of the Rosslyn and Dupont Circle Stations. DC Metro escalators rank seventh in the world for length of Metro escalators, but that’s plenty long enough for me.

These five must’s will take you through a weekend. For anything else, you’re going to have to stay longer. And however long your stay, it won’t be long enough.

*The grammar/spelling fiend in me struggled with how to write the city’s name. Washington, D.C. is the correct way to do it, but when I did, well, it’s just looked like way too much punctuation. I looked at other “travel” references and not once saw all the proper punctuation used. So for the purposes of this post, I’m using Washington, DC. When I just use DC, I’m using D.C. But I’m still bothered enough that I had to include this note to explain my actions.
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