Jan. 30, 2023



The United States is a huge country covering almost 4 million square miles. While a lot of our land is densely populated, we have some beautifully wild areas with landscapes that are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. I’m your host, LeahI’m Philand I’m Steve. In order to preserve some of these natural wonders they have been designated as National Parks. In today’s episode we’ll talk about some of the more bizarre aspects of these parks.

In the United States there are deserts, mountains and lush forests with climates ranging from tropical to arctic. 

In the 1800s as the population had expanded from the east coast all the way to the west coast, the U.S. government realized the need to conserve some of our magnificent scenery and the natural and historic objects as well as native wild life so that future generations could experience and enjoy them. In 1872 congress passed an act to establish the 2.2 million acres of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming known as Yellowstone as the first National Park. Thus began a worldwide national park movement and today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks. Today we’re going to discuss some of the national parks in America.

While researching this I became painfully aware of how untraveled I am. While I have been to several state parks in both Texas and Kentucky, I have only been to 2 of the National Parks. I’ve been to Hot Springs in Arkansas and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The largest known cave system in the world. 

I love our national parks. I’ve counted close to a dozen that I have visited. They are beautiful and wild. The wild factor, I believe, tends to catch people off guard. Perhaps the word Park is misleading. City people think of a park as a well-manicured green space with beautiful trees and duck ponds and maybe even a playground for the kiddies. Our national parks are not like that. Perhaps a national preserve might be a better description of them. The truth is that our national parks are wild and can be dangerous if folks are not properly prepared for what they will be encountering. 

My wife and I stopped by the Grand Canyon National Park while we were on our honeymoon. It’s a little bit odd to pull into the main parking lot by the visitor’s center and then start walking down the trail and suddenly find yourself on the edge of the canyon with no fence around the rim! It’s not like the Roadrunner cartoon where Wilie Coyote walks out onto empty air and pause briefly before he starts dropping to the canyon floor. People and animals have fallen over the edge. So, folks, you do have to be careful and keep a close eye on your kids and dogs when you enter one of our national parks. 

While the U.S. National Park System includes 423 national park sites, only 63 of them have the "National Park" designation in their names. The other sites fall into different categories such as National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, and others. We have no way of covering even a fraction of all these areas so just know that the parks we talk about are in no way a comprehensive list of the US National Parks. So let’s get started.

Big Bend National Park         According to a terrific article on fodors.com, there’s no better place to begin talking about National Park weirdness than right here in the great state of Texas. The article is written by a talented young journalist named Suzie Dundas and is titled Why Big Bend is America’s Creepiest National Park. We are grateful to Ms. Dundas for allowing us to quote directly from her fine article. 

Big Bend National Park is located in far West Texas. If you are familiar with the shape of the state of Texas, (and why shouldn’t you be) the far western part of the state comes to a tip. The city of El Paso is located at this point. The Rio Grande River flows from Colorado and  New Mexico through El Paso then curves to the southeast and forms the border between Texas and Mexico. The river continues southeast for about 250 miles then makes a sharp bend to the northeast for about 100 miles, then turns again toward the southeast and heads another 500 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The area between these first two bends marks the location of Big Bend National Park. (When I was a confused kid I thought that London’s famous clock tower Big Ben was also located here.) It is in an isolated area marked by mountains and a high desert. 

According to Ms. Dundas’ article, Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the U.S.. Although it’s the seventh-largest at 1,252 square miles, it sees less than 500,000 visitors per year. In comparison, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which we will talk about later, sees over 11 million visitors each year. You can expect trails to yourself and campsites with, possibly, one other tent in the area. Solitude is the norm, not the exception.

As mentioned above, Big Bend is in an isolated part of Texas. The nearest interstate highway is 177 miles to the north. The nearest major city, El Paso, is over 200 miles away. The nearest hospital is in a pretty little college town called Alpine and that is still 110 miles to the north. Most of the park’s trails are rugged and the back roads are unimproved. This remoteness contributes to Big Bend’s creepiness but also makes it very attractive to many people.

This isolation also contributes to its status as a Dark Sky Park. Ms. Dundas writes,” If you’re afraid of the dark, you may run in horror at the idea of spending the night under a tent in Big Bend, an official International Dark Sky Park. Or you might love it, as the stars and constellations are brighter here than just about anywhere else in the country.” This darkness is due to the complete lack of light pollution from surrounding towns because there are no surrounding towns. An area can be designated as a dark sky park if it is particularly removed from unnatural light and offers exceptionally good viewing of the night sky. I can vouch for this myself as, especially on nights when there is little moonlight, the milky way and big dipper and other constellations look near enough to reach up and touch. 

The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright clap clap clap clap Deep In The Heart Of Texas!

There are also several creepy abandoned places in Big Bend that you can visit including a mercury mine, a hot springs bath house, and an entire abandoned town. According to Dundas, “Camping requires you to step out of your comfort zone. But most people can agree that camping alone in an abandoned town can be rather creepy, which you can do at the Terlingua Abajo campsite.” The campsites here are very basic: no electricity, no facilities, no running water, but lots of cactus so that’s nice. The abandoned town still has some walls and remains of old buildings as well as some ancient pieces of farm equipment and other unidentifiable items scattered around.  

Another creepy factor relates to the poisonous snakes and venomous spiders that reside in the park. Dundas writes, “You’ll want to keep an eye out for the Mojave rattlesnake. Also known as the Mojave green, it’s considered to have the most dangerous venom of any rattlesnake in the world.” This snake’s venom packs a four-pronged punch as it attacks your brain, nervous system, heart, and blood vessels.  If you get bit, you need to drop what you’re doing and get medical attention immediately (Remember, the hospital is 110 miles away). Worse still is that this snake isn’t just found in the park, it’s very common. Dundas notes that they are also prone to defending themselves, which means they strike more readily than many other species. It’s a smart idea to learn how to identify this snake and give it a wide berth if you see it slither across the trail.

Now if the snakes aren’t bad enough, check out the spiders. Big Bend is home to more than 3,600 insect species and new ones are always being discovered. By far the most dangerous spider in the area is the black widow, a species considered more deadly than the park’s snakes. According to Dundas, “fortunately, it’s easy to recognize the black widow because of its ominously bright red hourglass shape on its belly.” I happen to have some personal experience with this. Back in the 70s my older brother Dick and his wife Donna went to college in Alpine and spent their summers working at Big Bend. The park had small living quarters for the workers. One morning Dick woke up and walked into the bathroom. Suddenly he felt his foot tingling. He looked down and a black widow spider was on his foot. He managed to capture the spider in a glass jar, but soon he noticed that his second to the smallest toe on his right foot was beginning to swell. Knowing that he had been bitten he did his best to stay calm. He got Donna to get a friend to drive them the 110 miles to the hospital in Alpine. By the time they arrived he was pretty sick. Fortunately, the hospital had antivenom on hand, but it was still four or five days before he could leave the hospital, and he was still pretty weak for several days. It was a close call!

One final thing that makes some folks uneasy about Big Bend is that it is just across the Rio Grande from Mexico. This part of Mexico is quite rural, but for many years the local population on both sides have casually crossed from one side to the other. There is not an official border crossing here, you just wade across the shallow river, there is no wall. Some Mexican residents carve elaborate walking canes and other folk art and bring them across the river for Americans to purchase. In such an isolated location, rules are sparsely enforced. Again, this makes some visitors to Big Bend uneasy, but to others it is part of the alure of this beautiful region. 

Mt. Rainier National Park         nationalparks.org   seattlepi.com

Now let’s travel to one of the most visited national parks in the U.S., and certainly one of my favorites, none other than Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State. If you have ever looked at a tourist bureau photo of Seattle, you have no doubt seen the Space Needle and the curving the harbor as well as the rest of the sprawling city. On the horizon behind the downtown skyscrapers, you will notice what looks like a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream sitting atop the distant mountains. That scoop is Mt. Rainier some sixty miles away. 

According to nationalparks.org Mt. Rainier is 14,410 feet tall. It dominates the surrounding landscape. Mt. Rainier National Park was established in 1899 and was the 5th national park in the U.S. Nearly 2,000,000 visitors come through the parks gates each year to engage in camping, hiking, mountain climbing, wildlife gazing, and more. When I was living and working in Seattle it was one of our favorite places to go. We took numerous family and school trips to Rainier. Even though there are many mountains in the area, Seattleites refer to Rainier simply as The Mountain.

So, what makes Mt. Rainier creepy? Several things. First of all, it is an active volcano. It’s not as active as its neighbor to the south Mt. St. Helens which tends to erupt more frequently, but nevertheless, even though its last major eruption was about a thousand years ago, it is still seismically very active. As mentioned earlier, the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area with a population of 3.3 million lay just a lava flow away. Worse yet, the volcano doesn’t even have to erupt to create havoc. 

Mount Rainier is capped by no less than 25 glaciers. In the late summer these are clearly defined but during the winter the entire mountain is completely covered with ice and snow. But sometimes the mountain heats up from the inside. When that happens, then the snow and glaciers begin to melt. If it heats up rapidly, then the snow melt can be rapid as well causing something called a pyroclastic surge. This is basically an avalanche of snow, ice, mud, rocks, and debris that rumbles down the slopes of the mountain at a frightening rate. It can wipe out trees, roads, bridges, and people if they happen to be in the way. 

Native Americans called Mt. Rainier Tahoma and they had many legends about the mountain. According to a website called eatonvilletorainier.com (Eatonville is a nearby town) the Cowlitz Tribe told a story that Mt Rainier (Tahoma) and nearby Mt. Adams (Pahto) were the two wives of Mt. St. Helens (Seuq). Well, a big fight broke out between the two wives Tahoma and Pahto, and during the fight Tahoma / Rainier stepped on Pahto / Adams’ children and squished them. (Mt. Adams is to the southeast of Rainier and rises from a flatter plain than the Cascades that surround Rainier).

Arguably, the creepiest factor about Mt. Rainier is that it is also a mass grave. According to an article from the Seattle Post/Intelligencer, www.seattlepi.com, the mountain was the site of a tragic plane crash just after WW II. On December 10, 1946 six United States Marine Corps transport planes took off from San Diego headed for Seattle. After the six planes crossed the Columbia River into Washington State the skies became extremely cloudy and stormy. The pilots were flying by their instruments only. Because their R5C transport planes were not pressurized they were flying at about 9,000 feet. Each plane was carrying around 30 Marines. 

Four of the planes decided to head back across the Columbia River and landed safely in Portland, Oregon. A fifth plane made it through the clouds and landed in Seattle. The sixth, however, vanished, with its last communication transmitted at 4:13 p.m.

Thirty-two Marines were on board the missing plane: a major pilot, a lieutenant colonel pilot, a master sergeant, a sergeant military policeman and 28 Marine Corps privates. For several days stormy conditions prevented search planes from flying. The weather finally cleared on December 16, but air and ground searches found no sight of the plane. After two weeks the search was suspended as heavy snow had fallen likely covering any sign of the wreckage. 

It wasn’t until the following August that searchers came across the remains of the plane. Navy officials concluded that the plane crashed into the side of Mt. Rainier at around the 10,500-foot level at a rate of 180 miles per hour. The bodies of 11 men were tangled inside and an additional 14 bodies were seen encased in ice. Recovery crews were certain the remaining seven were among the wreckage as well, though their bodies were never found. 

The conditions around the crash site were extremely hazardous. Crevasses had appeared in the ice and more lay hidden beneath thin layers of snow. It took the experienced climbers more than four hours just to traverse a half mile. Because of the dangerous conditions, officials decided not to recover the bodies of the crash victims so as not to endanger the lives of the recovery crews. 

During most of the year the wreckage is covered under ice and snow. But occasionally late in the summer of years when snowfall is lower than normal, the site can be spotted with binoculars. A memorial at a trailhead in the park honors the 32 Marines who died in the crash. 

NP WEIRDNESS    I have a few short stories featuring general National Park weirdness

The first instance example of weirdness is that there have recently been some wooden structures randomly appearing in the woods in Santa Fe National Forest. The Santa Fe National Forest is 1.6 million acres of mountains, valleys and mesas in northern New Mexico. It’s one of those parks that’s not an official National Park but this news is weird enough that I’m just going to slip it in here.

Each structure is made up of over 1,000 pieces of wood, mostly from fallen trees and branches. Some of the structures are over 20 ft (6 meters) tall and 12 ft (4 meters) in diameter and have left forest officials at a loss. The sticks are arranged in a teepee shape to create a shelter that you can enter into. Remnants of a campfire has been found in a few of them. About 20 of the structures have been discovered throughout the park so far.

Again, no one knows who is constructing the pyramids of sticks but there are some wild theories ranging from shelters created by Bigfoot and his family to them being ritualistic structures created by a cult. In any case the park rangers are worried that they may pose a fire hazard. Anyone caught building one of the structures could be fined $5,000 or spend six months in jail.
[Info from abqjournal.com Albuquerque Journal]

Olympic National Park  is on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest. The park sprawls across several different ecosystems, from the dramatic peaks of the Olympic Mountains to old-growth forests. 

On January 27 in 2018 at about 1:30 am more than 100 gigantic old growth trees in Olympic National Park were knocked over in an area that stretched for over 1,00 feet. The resulting thud was strong enough to show up as a small earthquake on a seismic monitor. 

Scientists were left scrambling as to what could have caused the destruction. The best they could come up with is a microburst of wind but admit that it’s highly unlikely since there was no severe weather anywhere near the region. Of course others have speculated that Bigfoot or even aliens were to blame. It’s still a mystery.    [local newspaper websites seattlepi.com/  www.chronline.com]

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park  Hawaii is our tropical island state located outside North America in the South Pacific Ocean. The state is actually made up of several beautiful volcanic islands with the biggest of these named The Island Hawaii and that is where Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located. The park encompasses the summits of two of the world's most active volcanoes - Kīlauea (kill-a-way-ah) and Mauna Loa (mau-na low-ah).

The native people of Hawaii have a rich culture steeped in their own unique lore and legend. I hope one of these days we can dive deeper into the stories of the Hawaiian people An interesting belief among the islanders is the Curse of Pele.

Pele is the Hawaiin goddess of fire and volcano. Legend has it that she resided in the crater of Kilauea and that volcanic eruptions and lava flows are caused by her wrath or displeasure. According to the legend Pele considers the lava rocks and sand to be her children and taking a rock or a vial of sand incredibly angers her. 

Tourists that have scoffed at the legend and have taken what they wanted have reported such misfortunes as the deaths of pets, the end of relationships and even the death of loved ones. No one knows how long the curse is supposed to last because those that believe they are afflicted quickly mail the stolen items back to Hawaii to rid themselves of the curse.

No one really knows how the curse of Pele got started since none of it really aligns with the native religion. Skeptics say it was the invention of park rangers frustrated with tourists lack of respect. The park rangers are tired of it since they arethe ones having to deal with replacing all the rocks and sand but they appreciate that it may deter would-be thiefs.

Another origin theory is that bus drivers that got tired of cleaning up after the rude and self-entitled tourists made up the story. Either way the moral of the curse is similar to the mantra of any National Park ranger or respectable hiker or camper: Leave things the way you found them. In other words, leave no trace.

ODJ: Ancient Fingerprints         This comes from an article in Smithsonian.com

One day in the fall of 2020 a police detective in Israel named Ido Hefetz was summoned from his office to report to a neighborhood called Motza in the mountains west of Jerusalem. Hefetz specializes in examining fingerprints. His careful work at crime scenes has earned him a sterling reputation in Israeli law enforcement. 

However, when he arrived at the address, he found that he wasn’t at a crime scene, but rather an archeological dig called the Tel Motza Excavation. Archeologists at this three-acre site had found numerous artifacts from the Byzantine Era which roughly stretched from the 4th to the 7th Century A.D. Workers had uncovered a church, an olive press, a wine press, and a kiln. 

It was the kiln which caused archeologists to contact Hefetz. An alcove next to the kiln contained some 230 fragments of clay lamps, jugs, bowls, and roof tiles. More than 1/3 of them were covered in very clearly defined fingerprints that were some 1,500 years old. The archeologists were hoping that Hefetz could help them to better understand the person or people whose fingerprints were now visible.

I wasn’t aware of this, but you can tell a lot about a person by their fingerprints. According to this Smithsonian article, the greater the ridge density in a fingerprint, the more likely it belongs to a woman; less density indicates the person was male. Also, as individuals grow older, the distance between the ridges in their fingerprints increases. Thus experts are generally able to determine the age and gender of a person based on their fingerprints.

The article sites another study that was conducted in the southwestern part of the U.S. in 2019. Researchers studying fingerprints on pottery shards at an ancient Pueblo settlement determined that pottery making in this location was done by both men and women. Similarly, analysis on prints found on an ancient cave painting in Spain indicates that the artist was likely a 30 year old man but was assisted by a ten year old girl. 

The Israel site proved interesting in that the great majority of the thumb prints were done by the same person, most likely a male, but may have had a couple of assistants as a two other prints were detected. 

Just for fun, Hefetz decided to test the theory that no two fingerprints are alike by running the Motza prints through the database of some 1.3 million Israeli prints. There was no match. “If there were [matches], I’d have to look for another job,” he jokes. “It was interesting to test that assumption.” He also points out that there was nothing new in the print patters from the Motza prints to those of today. “It wasn’t that it was one thing in Byzantine times and then it evolved. There was an evolutionary preservation.”

Shulamit Teren, the lead archeologist at the Motza dig says that cross collaboration with the police only makes sense. “Detectives and archaeologists share an intense inquisitiveness, a devotion to facts, attention to detail and a focus on clues found in a specific place.” Perhaps we will see more of this in the future. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park       www.nationalparks.org   piddlin.com

As mentioned earlier, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the U.S. Its location on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina make it an easy day’s drive from most any point on the East Coast, Midwest, and Southern U.S. Some 12,000,000 people a year visit this park. The nearby attractions of Gatlinburg and Dollywood add to the tourist appeal. About fifteen years ago my son and I spent a very pleasant day there. 

The Great Smoky Mountains, named thus due to the ever-present morning mist which hangs over its hills and valleys, is America’s oldest mountain range. The park was established in 1926 and is comprised of ridge upon ridge of pine and hardwood forests. According to nationalparks.org the park is world renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and its history of southern Appalachian Mountain culture containing some 80 historic buildings. 

So how is it weird? Well, according to a terrific website called piddlin.com, because so many people visit the park each year, it’s not surprising that some of them get themselves lost. Most of these unfortunate folks are located by rescue services within forty-eight hours of their disappearance. “The surprising part is the number of people who aren’t found. They seem to simply vanish, leaving no trace that they were ever there.  It’s like they fell off the edge of the earth and are never seen again.” Smoky Mountains National Park has gained a reputation for the vast amount of strange and unexplained disappearances. 

One example of this is the case of Dennis Martin, a 6-year-old boy. Dennis and his family consisting of four other brothers were hiking with their father and grandfather through the park on June 14, 1969. At one point the brothers decided to pull a prank on the adults. “Let’s split off the trail, run ahead, and then jump out at dad and gramps and scare them!” So three brothers went off in one direction and Dennis and another brother went another. A couple of minutes later four of the brothers jumped out of the woods and gave the adults a good scare, Ha Ha! However, after a few minutes they noticed that Dennis was not among them. He was wearing a bright red shirt, so it shouldn’t be too hard to see him, even in the thick woods. The family started searching but there was no sign of him. They contacted the Park Service and an organized search was begun with many volunteers. Eventually the FBI and the National Guard joined the search; still no sign of Dennis. More than fifty years have now passed and there is still no explanation about what happened to Dennis Martin. 

Dennis is not the only one. You might think that it’s one thing for a child to disappear without a trace, but what about an adult? In September of 1981 a 58 year old woman named Thelma Melton was hiking with two friends on a trail that she was well familiar with. She got slightly ahead of her friends, walked around a bend in the trail, and simply vanished. As Thelma was somewhat overweight with high blood pressure, she wasn’t what you would call a quick hiker. Still as her friends and then later Park Service volunteers searched, they found absolutely no trace of her. Her disappearance is still unsolved. 

At least three more cases of unexplained disappearances from Smoky Mountain Park include the 1976 disappearance of 16 year old Trenny Gibson who disappeared while on a school field trip, the 2008 mystery of 51 year old Michael Hearon whose truck was found idling in an isolated area with no sign of him, and the 2012 disappearance of Derek Leuking whose vehicle was found loaded with camping and survival equipment. All of these Smoky Mountain disappearances remain unsolved to this day.

Missing 411      Speaking of disappearances in National Parks, there are so many instances of people going missing that we could create another podcast just dedicated to that. A quote from GreenMatters.com says, 

It's unclear exactly how many people go missing in National Parks every year. In fact, many believe the number is underreported, though the reason for that is unknown.

Between 1958 and 2021, there were only 29 open cold cases for missing individuals at national parks, according to Trail and Summit. The Grand Canyon and Yosemite make up over half of those missing cases, with the most having vanished from California's iconic Yosemite National Park.

But as previously mentioned, many think those numbers are much higher. Some think that more than 1,000 people on average go missing from National Parks and public lands every year.

There is a conspiracy theory called Missing 411 in which former police officer turned investigator and author, David Paulides has written several books on the subject. His project “Missing 411” a series of self-published books and two documentary films, focuses on unsolved cases of people who have gone missing in national parks. 

To quote Missing-411.com 

A National Park Ranger told writer David Paulides a troubling story. Over his years of involvement with numerous search and rescue operations at several different National Parks, he had detected a trend that he couldn’t understand.

The Ranger explained that during the first 7 - 10 days of a disappearance he would witness massive Search and Rescue activity and significant press coverage. Following this initial week -long effort there was almost always an immediate halt to the coverage, a discontinued search for the victims and no explanation from the search authorities.

It bothered David enough that he began asking questions yet he got no answers. So he conducted research. What he discovered shocked him. People of all ages have been disappearing from National Parks and Forests at an alarming rate, all under similar circumstances. Victims’ families are left without closure and the Park Service refuses to follow up or keep any sort of national list and/or database of the missing people. Thousands of missing people.

David’s instincts told him this was a story that needed to be told. He devoted six years to investigating missing people in rural areas. The result? The identification of 52 geographical clusters of missing people in North America.

These clusters formed the basis for four Missing 411 books that have garnered widespread acclaim and multiple 5 star ratings on Amazon.com. The story has been featured on several primetime newscasts and on hundreds of ratio stations across the country.

This was the origin for the Missing 411 conspiracy theory revolving around people disappearing in National Parks and even though his books are self-published they are in high demand. I naturally wanted the books but couldn’t find any of them for less than $150 a copy from Amazon or less than $50 for used copies. But the documentaries are much more readily available.

Yosemite Serial Killer        On March 1 of 1980 the nation was stunned when a teenager walked into a Ukiah, California police station and told officers that he had been kidnapped seven years before. He was quoted as saying “I know my first name is Steven.”

The 14 year old teenager turned out to be Steven Stayner who had been abducted December 4, 1972 on his way home from school by convicted child rapist Kenneth Parnell. Steven was just 7 years old at the time of his kidnapping. Parnell would change Steven’s name to Dennis Gregory Parnell and for the next 7 years would pass him off as his own son. 

Told that his parents couldn’t afford so many children (Steven was one of 5) and that they didn’t want him anymore Steven never tried to escape even after being enrolled in school. He never tried to escape that is until he grew too old for Parnell’s tastes and another boy, five-year-old Timmy White, was abducted. It was at this point that Steven tried to return the boy to his parents to save him from what he had to endure living with Parnell. But Timmy was too young to remember how to get home and so Steven took him to the nearest police station. Under questioning Steven finally was able to open up about who he really was. and eventually told them everything about Kenneth Parnell.

I can hear all of you out there thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with National Parks?” I’m getting there, I promise. One of the things about missing children that nobody talks about is the effect it has on the siblings of the missing child. Imagine growing up in a house where such a tragedy occured and having your entire childhood center around that event. You would no longer be just you, instead everyone that knows you or would meet you in the future would automatically tie you to your missing sibling. It’s a sad situation on many different levels.

Maybe that is what can explain, in some small way, why Steven’s older brother, Cary Stayner, grew up to become a monster. 

According to an article on History.com Cary Stayner began working as a handyman at a motel near Yosemite NP in the west coast state of California. On February 15, 1999, three tourists at the motel, 42-year-old Carole Sund, her 15-year-old daughter Juli and their 16-year-old family friend Silvina Pelosso, went missing.

In March, the charred remains of Carol Sund and Silvina Pelosso were discovered in the trunk of their burned-out rental car in a remote area several hours from the motel. Juli Sund’s decomposed body was discovered on March 25 in an isolated location less than an hour away from the rental car. Investigators initially interviewed Cary Stayner in the case, but didn’t believe the clean-cut handyman, who had no history of violence, was involved. Instead, the investigation continued focusing on other employees at the motel.

Then, on July 22, 1999, the decapitated body of Joie Armstrong, a 26-year-old Yosemite naturalist, was found near her cabin. Stayner was detained and questioned by investigators who also searched his truck but he was ultimately let go. Later however they wanted to question him further and brought him in to the station where Stayner surprisingly confessed to killing all four women. 

Stayner later stated he had fantasized about killing women since he was a child and during trial, his lawyers argued he suffered the effects of mental illness, childhood sexual abuse and the trauma of his brother’s kidnapping. Stayner was convicted in all four murders and given the death penalty. He is still currently on death row.

Zone of Death     Continuing the topic of crime in National Parks there is a curious loophole in the U.S. Constitution in which a person could theoretically avoid conviction for any major crime, up to and including murder. 

According to Wikipedia the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming is currently the only US district court to have jurisdiction over parts of multiple states. This is because its jurisdiction includes all of Yellowstone National Park, which extends slightly beyond Wyoming's boundaries into Idaho and Montana. In addition, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the park, so crimes committed in the park cannot be prosecuted under any of the states' laws.

Stay with me. Trials in the district court are normally held at the federal courthouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming. However, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution decrees that a defendant in federal criminal cases has the right to a trial by a jury made up of citizens who are from both the district and state where the crime was committed. Because of all of that there exists in Yellowstone National park an uninhabited area of the park in Idaho where there are no people to make up a jury. So someone could theoretically commit a crime and not be able to be tried for it in court according to how the constitution is written. This area has become known as The Zone of Death, a place where you could get away with murder. Or could you?

There has been at least one attempt at fixing this loophole but it has never been a huge priority. There was one crime of poaching that was commited in the Zone of Death. The defendant attempted to use the loophole but the court dismissed the argument and the defendent took a plea deal. In the case of a major crime I’m sure the loophole would be addressed and changes made so that the offender could be effectively tried for their crime.

I got my info from Wikipedia.

Shiloh National Military Park       nps.gov    thescarechamber.com

Shiloh National Military Park is located in southern Tennessee and spills over into northern Mississippi. It is not near any major thoroughfares and thus is little visited. But I have to say it is one of the most memorable national parks that I have toured. 

My wife and I stopped at Shiloh one June day on our way home from visiting Nashville. Less than half a dozen cars were in the parking lot. We both enjoyed and were a bit amused by an informative video shown in the visitors’ center which had been created sometime in the 1950s and had all the hallmarks of the 16 mm educational movies that we watched when I was elementary school.

 I had read about the Battle of Shiloh before we traveled there. The great Civil War historian Shelby Foote declared Shiloh to be his favorite place to explore. The setting is beautiful as gently rolling hills covered with massive oaks and pines sprawl along the Tennessee River. 

Early in the Civil War, April 1862 to be exact, the Union General Henry Halleck noted the importance of the town of Corinth, Mississippi. This small town near the Tennessee border was the junction where the Memphis to Charleston railroad crossed the Mobile to Ohio line. Halleck correctly believed that if he could control this rail juncture, he could cripple the Confederate’s ability to transport men and supplies throughout the South. Thus he and some 60,000 troops moved southward toward Corinth. The Union Army camped at a place along the Tennessee River called Pittsburg Landing and waited for more reinforcements to arrive.

General P. G. T. Beauregard of the Confederate Army also knew the importance of Corinth as he had some 65,000 troops entrenched about the city. Hearing of Halleck’s Union troops moving his way, Beauregard sent General Albert Sydney Johnston with 40,000 men to move forward and try to surprise the Union Army by attacking them near Pittsburg Landing at a location called Shiloh Church some twenty miles north of Corinth. 

Early in the morning of April 6, 1862 the Confederates attacked the Union Army while they were cooking breakfast. During the day the battle raged through forests and over farmer’s fields. The fighting was often at close contact and was savage. By the end of the day the Union Army had been pushed back to the riverbank. But overnight Union reinforcements arrived by boat coming down the Tennessee River. Thus reinforced on the following day, April 7, the Union regained the ground that they had lost the previous day. By the end of the second day the Confederates began to retreat toward Corinth. 

The toll of the two day battle was staggering as a total of some 3,600 were dead, nearly 17,000 wounded, many of whom would ultimately succumb to their wounds, and around 4,000 missing. The casualties were nearly evenly divided between the two sides. According to an article on nps.gov the number of dead and wounded in this two-day battle was more than what the U.S. suffered during the entire Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, and the Mexican – American War combined. These figures shocked the nation and also became a foretaste of more deaths and casualties to come. 

One place in the park that is interesting is called Bloody Pond. Soldiers from both sides attempted to clean their wounds in this pond which soon turned a bright reddish color. It is rumored that the pond will still turn red from time to time, though it was green when we were there. 

Another place to visit are the two cemeteries. The Union dead who could be identified were buried with full military honors and have tombstones bearing their names, ranks, and regiment. The Confederate dead were buried in mass graves.