Audubon Park, once a plantation, was used by both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War, as well as staging ground for the Buffalo Soldiers following the war. named for the famed naturalist, the city purchased the park in 1870 with the intention of creating a park. little development of the park occurred in the first decade the city owned it, but it managed to host the World Cotton Centennial (a World’s Fair) in 1884. development began in earnest thereafter though nearly all of the Fair buildings came down in favor of others. structures went up and down throughout the 20th century – a miniature railway, swan boats, carousel, a viewing shelter on the banks of the Mississippi, a conservatory. several early features remain – a golf course from 1898 (converted to Par 3 executive course in 2002 and protested as desecrating the original design of the park), the zoo (which received development aid from the Works Progress Administration), and a rookery on Oschner Island, which hosts a wide array of birds (including herons, egrets, and cormorants) and apparently makes for some of the best birding in New Orleans.
during Katrina, a few of the park’s oak trees blew over, but the park escaped flooding and attendant problems because of its location on top of the River’s natural levee. following the storm, it served as a makeshift helicopter port and encampment for National Guard troops and relief workers.
we made use of Audubon Park for a morning run – once we finally got there, after walking from the end of the (construction-shortened) streetcar line. we had to share the 1.7 mile paved path (which was closed to vehicles in the 1980s) with a swarm of parents and children engaged in a charity run/walk of some kind. the costumes on some of the kids – and the gravel path to one side – mostly made up for the congestion. next time, I wager we’d try the longer dirt path that skirts the edge of the park!
to decompress after a flurry of wedding activity, we embarked on a two-day, 930-mile road trip to take in Sequoia National Park, the General Sherman tree, Monterrey, Highway 1, and a whole lot of California’s
first stop on our tour: General Sherman at the heart of Sequoia National Park; just a touch farther west than strictly warranted on our route to Monterrey, but certainly worth the trip. when I asked the hubs whether he wanted to see General Sherman, I only had a vague sense of what it was – a great big tree. turns out it’s the largest living tree by volume – not tallest (a Coastal redwood) nor widest (a cypress or baobab) nor oldest (a bristlecone pine) – but still incredibly impressive.
naturalist James Wolverton named the tree after the Civil War general in 1879, more than a decade before the area became a national park. at that time, white settlers seeking to establish a utopian society had begun felling sequoias for trade; thousands of sequoias were taken down before it their tendency to splinter became clear and the logging operation ceased (when the area became a park in 1890).
the military oversaw the park until the early 1900s, when it was turned over to civilian supervision. during the early years of the park, the military spent much of its time cutting access trails and roadways. when the park transferred from the military to civilian control, greater attention was paid to making the park more accessible to the general public. Walter Fry, who originally came to the Sierra Nevadas as a logger (but quickly changed courses when he counted the growth rings on the first sequoia he helped fell and discovered they’d brought down a tree more than 3,200 years old), became the first civilian superintendent. he oversaw the gradual expansion of county roads and the development of a wagon road by the Mount Whitney Power Company.
after the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, the idea of a park-to-park highway system prompted further road improvements in and between Sequoia and General Grant National Parks (now Kings Canyon National Park). the new road – the Generals Highway and built in sections of switchbacks and wedged between giant sequoias in some places – was dedicated in June of 1935 with some 669 cars carrying 2,488 passengers traversing the road from either end, meeting in the middle. during this time, CCC workers also cut a 400-step staircase into the granite dome of Moro Rock, which offers staggering views from the rock of the park and of the Great Western divide (though pollution often obscures views west over the San Joaquin valley).
the improvements suited the burgeoning numbers of tourists and now more than one million visitors take advantage of the park each year.