Tagged: National Parks Passport

Guest Post: Passport to the National Parks

Lindsey Cross is an emerging historian and public security professional. You can read more from Lindsey at her charity blog, Eastern Further, which hopes to establish a women’s leadership scholarship at Eastern Kentucky University (our alma mater!), or her public security blog, Security Brief.   She lives in the Washington, DC area. If she’s not out taking advantage of the National Parks in her area, you’ll find her sampling local cuisine around her home – especially if it involves free samples or cupcakes.


Image via Eastern National

The National Parks Passport has revolutionized my idea of fun vacations. As a former collector of postage stamps, Beanie Babies, McDonald’s toys, and other novelty items, my instinct for collecting (ahem…hoarding?) is strong. I need more rubber stamps to press into my passport, and I would definitely go out of my way to get them. Speaking from experience, when it comes to the National Parks Passport, the consequence of a relentless drive to collect is positive: it leads you to an enhanced parks experience by luring you in to spend time at fascinating historic places. The notable and beautiful historic sites housed on National Parks land that would otherwise draw your attention might fail to do so when they’re competing with the natural majesty and adventure you can find in the parks. That is, unless you have some stamps to collect.

This is exactly how on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, a place where the outdoor fun is limitless, I found myself spending some of my time indoors at places like the Historic Kolb Studio and The Desert View Watchtower. When we arrived to The Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center to collect the park’s passport stamp, naturally the first stop of the trip, I noticed a whole series of stamps that I could collect along the South Rim. Just like Pokémon, I had to catch them all. So we set off for a drive along the rim, stopping at the historic sites on a hunt for stamps. Visiting these sites enriched my experience at the Grand Canyon, and helped me put my trip into the context of the park’s history as a national destination. Frankly, the quest for stamps tricked me into having fun while learning.

watchtower window

This is the view from one of the many windows at the top of the watchtower that let you look out on different perspectives of the canyons. The windows are all different shapes and sizes, and are placed at different heights throughout the room. Photograph courtesy of Lindsey Cross

The first historic site we stopped at was the Historic Kolb Studio, now home to a gift shop and museum, but was originally the home of Ellsworth and Emery Kolb who had built it as their photography studio and home in 1905. The Kolbs continued to occupy this studio for seventy five years. The brothers had originally planned that the home would be demolished after their deaths, but by that time the Congress had passed legislation which prohibited the destruction of buildings on parks land that were over 50 years. Instead, it became a protected area and a fixture of the canyon’s South Rim. At the time of our visit, the museum was running an exhibit on the Kolb brothers that highlighted the stunning and iconic images of the canyon that they produced throughout their careers. On the back wall, a screen played the “Grand Canyon Film Show, “a film made by the Kolb brothers that showed them as they made a treacherous yet comical trip down the Colorado River. This was not only the first motion picture featuring the Grand Canyon, it became the longest running film of all time as the Kolbs took it on the road for viewing by packed crowds. Reading about the Kolb Brothers, having the opportunity to view their photography and outdoor equipment, and seeing video of their trip down the Colorado River gave me an idea of the type of courageous and pioneering spirit it would have taken to be among the first recreational visitors to the canyon. It also gave me an appreciation for my modern hiking boots and moisture wicking clothes!

My favorite of the historic spots we visited was The Desert View Watchtower. Not only did I enjoy climbing the circular steps for the top of the tower, the breathtaking views of the canyon available from the tower’s interior, and peeking out the shaped windows, but I enjoyed learning about the tower’s architect, Mary Coulter, whose meticulous and deliberate approach to the tower’s design were more than apparent. She modeled the design of the watchtower after Pueblo watchtowers and used patters found in prehistoric Native American architecture and more contemporary Native American patterns. She was so committed to creating an authentic look for the building that she hand-picked stones for the exterior and included cracks toward the top of the structure in the original design. Coulter, who is often referred to as the architect of the southwest, is most definitely the architect of the Grand Canyon; her projects there also include the Hopi House, Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, and Bright Angel Lodge.

watchtower interior

Inside the watch tower. The murals were created by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and Fred Greer. Photograph courtesy of Colin Reusch.

This experience of enjoying learning about the Grand Canyon’s history was repeated stamp after stamp as I collected the whole set. The historic sites became a central part of my trip. If I haven’t already convinced you of the merits of the National Parks Passport, I might add that the profits generated by sales of the passports are donated to the National Parks, which truly deserve public support. The historic sites that so many park visitors are able to enjoy each year deserve not only the protection of the law, but also to be properly maintained and restored. Some locations, like the Kolb Studio profiled in this post, need restoration in order to remain opened to the public. So whether you support the parks by purchasing a passport (recommended!), writing your representatives, donating to restoration projects, or all of the above, know that you will be helping to maintain the much cherished national pastime of enjoying the culture, history, and natural areas preserved in our National Parks.

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