This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

#1 in my Short Travel Film Series: South Australia

Google's free photo organizer platform, Picasa, has a great little movie maker built in. I love to look through my travel photos and think about all the beautiful places in this world and the wonderful people I've met during my visits, so making these mini-films is a lot of fun! This is the first one I made--a year or so ago--so it's rather low-tech and consists only of a slideshow with music. It still captures a few great moments though!

I was in Australia from March-June 2008 and had the wonderful pleasure of enjoying a South Australian autumn and the first hints of winter. My aunt and uncle generously invited me to stay with them and their two boys during my time there, so you'll see some pictures of them. You'll also see pictures of Vuja Dé, my aunt's restaurant, and the little German village, Hahndorf, where it was located in the Adelaide hills. The wineries included in the slideshow were both the home of several wines on Vuja Dé's menu, and were so much fun to visit! Enjoy :)

Sud d'Australie / South Australia 2008 from shirah-eden on Vimeo.

Vignobles: "The Lane" et "Hahndorf Hills Winery" dans les environs d'Adelaide, la capitale du Sud d'Australie.


Featuring The Lane and Hahndorf Hills wineries in hills surrounding Adelaide, South Australia's capital.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Life is Beautiful


Since returning from my 40-Day Journey across America (which was amazing, by the way) I haven't done much besides write the two zillion essays I've been assigned while frequenting my favorite café, Panera Bread, where not only is the food good, but the free wifi is such a perk.

But, all good things come to an end. As my last essay's due date quickly approaches, I'm preparing to turn my attention to more traditional (and purely joyous) summer activities, such as watermelon seed-spitting contests, new apartment decor shopping, toenail painting, evening walks, back to school hair cuts, pleasure reading, photography, and getting back to my up-with-the-sun workout regimen.

Last night I watched, for the second time ever, a movie that is a story that I have cherished for years: Life is Beautiful. It is the story of a father's unconditional love and ultimate self-sacrifice for his wife and son, a story that brings me to tears just by thinking about it. When I start to get disappointed by a foiled plan or unexpected road bump, this is the story that immediately humbles me but simultaneously inspires me and makes my heart sing. I hope you'll take any opportunity to watch.

This was a great introduction to my first day of summer -- as today really is my first. Now that I'm inspired and reminded to enjoy the simple things in life, this summer is going to be even more beautiful.

I was just checking my email, updating myself with the news and blogs I follow, and doing that whole morning routine when I came across a new video on the blog of a French family that I follow.
The mom is a fantastic photographer and videographer, and has quite possibly the most adorable little girl I've ever seen--Capucine, age 5. She's part of the Vimeo community: a website that hosts strictly homemade videos. But don't be fooled, this isn't your typical family home video website--many of the contributors are professionals and create breathtaking montages using techniques such as stop-motion. Capucine's unique perspective on life and her mother's creative work brighten every day. Here's what they have for us today.... Enjoy!

July 09 from Capucha on Vimeo.

A random mix of July Happiness.
Music : The good life- T. Myers

Monday, August 03, 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Belmont Named in Top 25 for Global Student Entrepreneur Awards


"The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) has announced the preliminary top 25 nominating schools with the most students in contention for the prestigious award. With nine nominees, Belmont University claims a spot in the list among such schools as Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Purdue University."

WOW! I knew I had chosen a great program when the United States Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship named Belmont the 2008 National Model Program for entrepreneurship education. Accomplishments like this prove that it really is an excellent program.

I'm really proud of my classmates and their entrepreneurial ambitions, and I'm so grateful for such great professors and enthusiastic support from the community.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Boston: A Physical Connection to the Past


-- a final response to the three days I spent in Boston and my duty as student ambassador to this city --
(I've been told that this is the best of the three...so if you only have time for one, go for this one.)

As the home of Paul Revere, the Boston Tea Party, and Ben Franklin’s American headquarters, I’ve always thought of Boston as the birthplace of America. In visiting the city, I observed that a chief component of Boston’s cultural identity is wrapped up in its history—the history of our nation’s conception and establishment. The Freedom Trail, a red line permanently painted or paved through parks, down sidewalks, and across crosswalks, is a constant reminder that something important happened along these very streets. It was impressive to walk into the Old State House and discover that it was from this very balcony that the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in Boston on July 8, 1776, to a crowd of exuberant new Americans who, after the reading, proceeded to tear down all traces of British insignia from the building. Even more impressive, the omnipresent reminders of our past are not just a tourist ploy; many of the people of Boston have embraced their identity as residents of an iconic historical city. Several of the people I met along the Freedom Trail were locals rediscovering the naissance of our nation for the fifth, sixth, seventh time. Instead of fighting the tourists the residents embraced us, eager to share their knowledge and opinion of each story presented on mostly conspicuous (but sometimes inconspicuous) plaques.

As we met for a class discussion under the eaves of Philadelphia’s magnificent City Hall, my fellow students and I began to draw parallels between the cities we had visited earlier in the week. Everyone agreed that we had a feeling of Boston being an “old city” as we walked its streets and alleyways. There was an ambiance strikingly different from that of New York City and Philadelphia, which are both also antique in comparison with many of the larger US cities, but have been “made new” (through contemporary architecture, a demographic change in population, commercialized industry, modern lifestyle, etc.) and now present themselves in a completely different manner. Boston, however, had retained its colonial air.

During the first two of our three days in Boston we covered most of the stops on the Freedom Trail. I was never quite sure what I was expecting to find as I made my way down the red-brick path, but I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed that I often mistook current residences or businesses for historical sites. At the same time, I passed up certain historical sites because they weren’t markedly older than or different from the surrounding buildings. The whole of Boston is a historical district. It is unique in that the narrow streets, colonial architecture, signage, centuries-old graveyards scattered throughout the city, and reverence of the passersby communicate not only history, but memory also. A main source of discussion during this trip has been the distinction between memory and history. While listening to a tour guide present an interesting version of Texas history at the Alamo, we met a history professor from South Carolina who was also out traveling the country this summer, doing research for an upcoming course focusing on how history is written and presented, and how it differs from memory. Our subsequent conversation with this professor spawned a dialogue that would last the entirety of our trip and become one of the prominent themes that I’ll take away from this journey. David Blight (2009), a prominent historian, author, and professor at Yale University, contrasts history and memory in a recent essay that was included in an anthology titled Slavery and Public History.

History is what trained historians do, a reasoned reconstruction of the past rooted in research; it tends to be critical and skeptical of human motive and action, and therefore more secular than what people commonly call memory. History can be read by or belong to everyone; it is more relative, contingent on place, chronology, and scale. If history is shared and secular, memory is often treated as a sacred set of absolute meanings and stories, possessed as the heritage or identity of a community. Memory is often owned; history is interpreted. Memory is passed down through the generations; history is revised. Memory often coalesces in objects, sites, and monuments; history seeks to understand contexts in all their complexity. History asserts the authority of academic training and canons of evidence; memory carries the often more immediate authority of community membership and experience. In an essay about the slave trade and the problem of memory, Bernard Bailyn aptly stated memory’s appeal: “Its relation to the past is an embrace . . . ultimately emotional, not intellectual.” (Blight 2009)

Blight’s explanation plainly illustrates the distinction between history and memory and provided me with, for the first time, a full understanding of the two concepts. Looking back, I feel that several of the places we visited, unlike Boston, embodied only one perspective---either history or memory---and thus, for a visitor, was either lacking in scholarly authority or lacking in personal touch. Two examples come to mind. Our visit to Roswell, New Mexico consisted largely of exploring the town’s reputation for alien interaction; we spent most of the morning at the UFO Museum. I could find no indication of any scholarly authority there; it was as if none of the “curators” at the UFO Museum had any interest in making the museum a legitimate historical record. There were several newspaper clippings framed or pasted to the walls along one side of the museum, but the content of these articles, along with everything else, was largely based on speculation. Perhaps little historical fact exists in this area, but the Star Wars and horror movie posters haphazardly located throughout the exhibits certainly did not aid in giving the museum any academic clout. The UFO Museum exemplifies Blight’s concept of memory at its best. This museum is, as Blight puts it, “a sacred set of absolute meanings and stories, possessed as the heritage or identity of a community” (2009). I think that galleries like this are important, both for the resident community and for visitors, and should be credited as a portrayal of the memory of Roswell.

Putting memory aside for a moment, I reflect on my visit to one of Fort Bliss’ military museums with a completely different mindset. I recall entering the building and walking through a large structure with low ceilings that held copious amounts of equipment---jeeps, aircraft, rockets, tanks, guns and rifles, survival kits---remarkable technology. Data charts, statistics, timelines, photo documentation, flow charts, graphs, and military insignia lined the walls. It all was enormously impressive, but it felt like pure fact. I stealthily trailed behind some of the soldiers guiding their families through the museum, hoping to pick up on something, just a few words, that would bring a personal touch and help me engage emotionally with the artifacts presented in the museum. I had no such luck. This museum was full of very precisely measured data, very carefully put together exhibits, but it didn’t communicate a story to me.

The dichotomy of history and memory was at the forefront of my mind as we left the Alamo and San Antonio, made our way up the West Coast, and started heading back east. By the time we got to the Northeast, a region overflowing with history, I was eager to explore the relationship between history---the facts, and memory---the story as it is told by people and their culture. Boston is, to me, a unique city because of the way history and memory are so closely intertwined. To learn the history of a place is to know it with your head, but to gain knowledge of the memory of a people that once occupied that place is to witness it with your heart. In this way my visit to Boston was a powerful experience because I was able to see the history and memory of individuals and events that I’ve read about for years in textbooks come together; I was able to discover the homes, churches, and graves of the men and women who were the doers of that history. In her blog, Emily talks about her experience in Boston and how it has helped her connect with our past.

Previous days in Boston were spent on the Freedom Trail of the American Revolution, now, sitting and gazing at the boats bobbing on the Charles, I thought back on each grave site we encountered during the long walk to Bunker Hill. The graves of a people who fought for a dream they could only envision. [The] struggle to achieve this dream seems more tangible after walking in Boston, a city preserved from the past allows me to transport back to it. Bostonian streets are cobbled while houses closely confined and similar in design. Commercialism and advertisement does not exceed the older atmosphere of a colonial city. Boston provides a physical connection to America’s past that made me proud my ancestors were rebels—dissenting from the British and organizing themselves to do so (Headrick).

I experienced a major “memory moment” while looking into a little glass box on the top floor of the Old State House and examining a 200-year-old pair of sea foam-green women’s high-heeled shoes. They were the shoes of one of the governors’ wives. Looking at this pair of shoes, I could imagine a first lady walking up the spiral staircase to the top of the Old State House, coming to deliver a message to her husband, the governor. That image generated a whole new cluster of thoughts and questions. What exactly would one’s responsibilities be as a governor’s wife in 17th century Boston?

Another memorable part of my time in Boston was the Fourth of July celebration on the banks of the Charles River. Pierce, Jenni, Emily, and I got up around 5:30 am to hike two miles to the bus stop so that we could get down to the esplanade before all of the wristbands were handed out for the Neil Diamond concert and fireworks show. Doing this made it impossible for me to get over to the Old State House in time to listen to the reading of the Declaration of Independence. I was disappointed that I missed the historic tradition, but I had been looking forward to, and was thoroughly enjoying, the company of my dear friends and fellow travelers as we set up our blankets and camped out all day on the riverbank—as a family would---in anticipation of the nightly show. Everyone missed family events in order to participate in this trip, and Independence Day is typically a big one for all four of us, so this time together in a familiar setting was especially important. However, looking back on my own decision to skip the morning reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House in order to get a good spot for the fireworks that night, I wondered if it doesn’t represent something bigger than just me. Over 100,000 people came out to see the fireworks and walk the esplanade on the evening of the Fourth, decked out in red, white and blue, treating their families to fried dough, ice cream, hot dogs, or something equally delicious from the vendors lined up and down the pedestrian greenway. One of the students from our group who was able to attend the reading estimated that only 500-800 people showed up --“closer to 500.” What does this say about our collective reverence and appreciation for history? I was counseled just today with the old adage, “History repeats itself—you have to look back and learn from it; or you’ll make the same mistakes as your ancestors.” It’s good advice, and my generation would do well to heed it. And although most of my interactions with the people of Boston supported my proposal that history plays a prominent role in the city’s cultural identity, I did have one experience that left me doubting. While visiting Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art I had the opportunity to speak with two young women, recent college graduates in their early twenties, who worked in the gallery. Neither of the girls were natives of Boston; both had attended college in the area and after graduation, had decided to stay. I was intrigued by their responses to my general questions about Boston—what are their favorite things are about living in Boston and what I should do with the limited time that I have here. When I asked what I should do during my three days in the city (one of them being the 4th of July), I got all kinds of advice about shopping boutiques and outlets, beauty salons, art galleries and museums, cafés, and places to walk---as in exercise. So I tried to pull more out of them.

”I’m interested in learning about some of the history here---do you know of any hidden treasures?”

“No…not really. You could go on the Freedom Trail I guess.”

“I’ve heard that’s pretty long. If I only have time for a few stops, could you recommend one or two of your favorites?”

“Oh, no, I don’t know. I’ve never really done it.”

Never really done it? How can you live in Boston and have never seen anything on the Freedom Trail? These two young women’s perspectives were strikingly different from those of the locals I had met who visited at least one of the sites each month. But most of the people I had met on the trail were from an older generation. I should have guessed that the young adults of Boston were just as uninterested in history as the majority of youth elsewhere.

I sometimes see my generation as one of individuals living increasingly isolated lifestyles —always plugged into iPods and Blackberries, seldom learning the names, much less the stories, of the people living on the same floor of our own apartment building. Now I cannot help but wonder: has my generation lost touch with history as well? Will we have any memory to speak of when it’s time to pass our stories on to our children, or will they have only textbooks from which to learn their histories? My hope is that my peers and I will each find, in a place such as Boston, our own “physical connection to the past,” as Emily put it ---a place where history and memory merge; where we are inspired to keep both alive.


Blight, David. 2009. “If You Don’t Tell It Like It Was, It Can Never Be as It Ought To Be.” Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Retrieved July 29, 2009 (http://cwmemory.com/2006/06 /03/history-vs-memory/).

Headrick, Emily. 2009. “And I Proudly Stand Up….Next to You: Boston Day 3.” Where in America is Emily Ann Headrick? Retrieved July 18, 2009 (http:// emily40statesin40days.blogspot.com/2009/07/and-i-proudly-stand-upnext-to-you.htm

Geography, Architecture, Design and Community in the Pacific Northwest


-- a final response to my experiences in Portland and Seattle and my duties as student ambassador to these cities --

Our 40 States in 40 Days itinerary included two stops in my home region, the Pacific Northwest. I always look forward to that first breath of fresh mountain air, but beyond that it’s sometimes hard to put my finger on exactly what I long to come home to. This was a great opportunity to be able to bring eleven friends, classmates, and professors to the area. It was intriguing to witness their first impressions, midday remarks, and obscure observations about two cities close to home that I didn’t end up knowing as much about as I had thought. Some students had been yearning to visit Portland or Seattle for years, so hearing them talk about the Pacific Northwest as the highlight of the trip before we even boarded the bus made me wonder what exactly they had heard about these specific cities or the region in general. I quickly figured out that it was Portland’s status as “America’s Greenest City” and its reputation as an all-accepting community that had put this city on the radar of socially progressive-minded students nationwide. So going into our day in Portland, my senses were heightened to this organic community that was so highly talked about by my peers. I was thinking about and looking for the specific ways that this sense of community was created, cultivated, and conveyed to visitors like us. Upon leaving Portland we immediately arrived in Seattle the next day. Our experiences in Seattle – though welcoming in many ways -- lacked the same kind of community feel we experienced in Portland. By comparing specific places we visited in each city I was able to pick out several factors that lent our day in Portland a more enhanced community experience. Focusing on intentionally created spaces, such as shops and markets, I aim to explore how the geography of each city, as well as the architecture and interior design of the sites we visited, contributed to our perceived sense of each site’s community characteristics.

Our first stop in Portland was the legendary Voodoo Doughnut. Featured on the Food Channel and by cuisine guru Anthony Bourdain, this was a much-anticipated visit for everyone. After navigating the downtown area’s one-way street grid system and pulling up to find a parking spot across the street, a plethora of remarks emanated from our vehicle, nostalgically comparing the scene at Voodoo Doughnut to our own neighborhood must-do breakfast joint: Nashville’s legendary Pancake Pantry. The line came out the door, continued forty feet down the sidewalk, and wrapped around the corner. The crowd of all ages—grandparents, newlyweds, young children in strollers, entire families—were chatting and laughing contentedly while enjoying the fresh Saturday morning air and waiting for their turn to order up some sugary fried goodness. The historic looking brick building and its neighboring facades provided the coffee shop-lined street with a background full of character. The ambience was reinforced by friendly looking locals strolling about, steaming cups of coffee in hand, heading down to the waterfront just a block away. While in line, slowly moving toward Voodoo’s front door, I was able to catch quick glimpses of the inside. An eclectic mix of posters, bumper stickers, newspaper clippings, photos, trophies, and three dimensional doughnut and voodoo paraphernalia graced the walls while five gallon buckets of day old donuts were set out to entice hungry customers. Right inside the door, a giant plastic glazed doughnut sculpture, at least three feet in diameter, hung prominently against a pinkish-yellow wall, front and center. A little American flag and miniature Empire State Building stood proudly below the shop’s mascot. A chalkboard mounted above the counter listed the various doughnuts, many of them a risqué play on words. The storefront area was small and cozy, and the warmly lit room was a welcome respite from the chilly breeze outside. Everything about it made me want to order a warm donut and hot cup of coffee to enjoy with my friends. Walking out of the doughnut shop, I thought about how great it was that this place is so “to the point.” They don’t bother with showy facades, fancy display cases or making sure that each donut looks exactly like the one before or after it. The line of easy-access cooling racks holding twenty odd pans of doughnuts wasn’t fancy, but it was convenient and it gave us the feeling that we had just been welcomed into the kitchen of an old friend. The experience stood in stark contrast to a recent one I’d had in Nashville.

Back in Nashville, there has been a recent cropping up of several frozen yogurt shops in the area. I’m what one might call a “fro-yo fanatic,” so I’ve tried most—if not all of them. Just a few weeks before the trip I visited a new yogurt shop that had a good product, but was greatly lacking in community spirit. The décor was postmodern, the chairs brightly colored plastic with hard lines, the tables glass, and the walls painted a glossy bright orange, white and green. The stark reflection of the fluorescent lighting on the vibrant walls, bright white ceiling, and shiny white tile floor made the space feel more like a surgical room than a yogurt shop. All of the furniture was lined up along one wall, and the streamlined white-and-stainless steel counter gleamed from the center of the back of the room. No other customers were present during my visit on this warm Saturday evening, so I found myself alone in front of an impatient high school-aged employee, squinting as I tried to read the animated menu that changed too often on two flat screen televisions mounted on the wall above the counter. By this point I had begun to lose my appetite but felt bad walking out since, after all, I was the only customer. After quickly perusing the meager selection of toppings in their sterile tins, I put in an order and then quickly took my yogurt out to eat in the car.

Comparing these two situations provides insight into not only the “dos and don’ts” of the food service business, but into the importance of architecture and interior design in community-building. People would rather eat in a warm, comfortable environment than in a cold, sterile room. Furthermore, warm is associated with friendly; warm colors such as pinks, deep oranges and reds, creams and browns are all important in creating an atmosphere where customers love to be and feel comfortable meeting new people, old friends, and family.
After grabbing our delicious doughnuts, we made our way down to the waterfront, near
Burnside Bridge, where the Saturday Market takes place every weekend from March through December. This market, featuring over 400 vendors, was well-loved by everyone in our group. After perusing the wares for an hour and a half, we met back up and decided to extend our visit another hour, giving us the opportunity to taste some of the delicious aromas coming from a line of Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Moroccan, Mexican, and American food stands. In her blog, Emma describes the market and some of its patrons:

[I] loved the atmosphere of this market- it called to mind the street fairs of my hometown, Franklin [Tennessee], where everything is busy and crowded, but there is a friendly and leisurely feeling to the event overall, and for the most part, people are there to enjoy the community rather than just get some shopping done…One striking thing about Portland was that the homeless seemed to be a part of the community, compared to other cities we’ve been, like Salt Lake City where across from the nice Italian deli we ate at, there was a crowd of what appeared to be homeless people just alone in a park. Here in Portland, homeless people sat all around the edges of the market, some of them selling newspapers, some of them playing music for tips, but definitely more visible than in other communities” (Shouse 2009).

I felt that this setup, in which the booths were arranged close together but mostly without walls, encouraged conversation between vendors and customers; by being closed in on most sides by permanent businesses the market was contained within a certain area and had a definite boundary, but was filled with interesting booths even to the extremity of its four corners. Heather also commented on her experience at the Saturday Market: It “reminded me of the farmer's markets and festivals back home in Illinois. Organic clothing, natural soaps, crafty jewelry and bags, earthenware, henna, flowers, cat toys and food stands full of ethnic cuisine dipped in grease” (Gillespie). It was an outdoor market—very open, and all on the same ground level. The food stands were arranged around the perimeter of the art and craft vendors, reminding me of pioneers on the open prairie setting up camp for the night, surrounded by their covered wagons arranged in a horseshoe configuration. White vendor and exhibitor stalls were set up in a grid, through which wandered mostly middle-class families, often toting babies in an African-style body wrap or in strollers. An unshaven, raggedy performer on a drum set, complete with hands-free harmonica, drew in a handful of children joining in with the various musical instruments – maracas, triangles, and mini-djembes – that lay at his feet. It was a community oriented, family-friendly atmosphere. Even the thirty or forty homeless people sitting against walls and in front of the central fountain seemed happy. Among them were two families whom I found myself thinking about later on in the day. One family consisted of a mother and father, seemingly in their early 30’s, a pre-teen daughter, and a 6 year-old son. They had a dog with them too. The young son was skipping around, collecting some scraps of paper, and ran up eagerly to show his dad, who smiled and congratulated his son on the find. What struck me, though, was that these homeless families appeared to be part of the larger Portland community, not living on the outskirts of society in some park that no home-owning person would ever venture into, like so many of the homeless in other cities we’ve seen. By holding the market in a convenient, downtown public park that is easily accessible to all, the market’s organizers allow for a more broad and encompassing community environment.
I had us scheduled the next day for what I anticipated would be a similarly enjoyable experience at Pike Place
Market in Seattle. I was interested in comparing the atmosphere and visitor demographics of these two markets, since they’re both set downtown in major Pacific Northwest city-ports. Pike Place had a very different “vibe.” The first thing I noticed was the diversity of its patrons. Asians, Native Americans, Germans, Northern Europeans, Mexicans, French, Moroccans, Greeks; they all blended together into a steady blur of passing sights and unintelligible sounds. The shopper demographic indicated a more upscale, wealthy clientele, and the street musicians reflected this image as well. The market consists of an abandoned warehouse, renovated and divided into stores, and during a few days of the week local farmers may set up tents in the courtyard to sell their fresh produce. Built into the side of a hill, the indoor portion of the market is distributed among three or four levels. Permanent shops make up a good portion of the bottom levels. These shops are partitioned by walls, so shoppers cannot flow from one little booth to another. Instead they must navigate through small doorways and between bargain hunters, up stairs and around winding ramps. The top level, a hybrid indoor-outdoor area with a cobblestone-paved courtyard, is bordered on one side by covered produce stalls—fresh strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, teas, pears and apples, just-squeezed juices and smoothies, not forgetting the famous flying fish at Pike Place Fish Market. The other side of the street is lined with upscale, European imported specialty food shops, the original Starbucks, and a few very expensive home décor boutiques. There was no lack of energy, but I didn’t feel as engaged or connected with the people around me. Seattle’s Pike Place Market wasn’t as stable a community as Portland’s Saturday Market; there was more traffic and less fellowship. I enjoyed the vibrant ambiance that reminded me of the excitement I feel when I go into an airport, the hustle and bustle of people going places. But I also enjoyed the leisurely quality family time that I saw taking place in Portland. Seattle’s market was focused on commerce, fast and dry transactions, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Portland’s was slow-paced, enjoyable, focused on the arts. Both have their place.
For me, these respective markets were representative of my overall experience in
Portland and Seattle. I think of these cities in conjunction with different stages in life. Heather mentioned recently that she thought of Los Angeles as High School and San Francisco as College. In a similar analogy, I think of Seattle as a great place to spend my young adulthood while my interests and focus are on building a career, meeting new people, and living on the go. Once I get married and want to start a family, Portland would be more the type of city in which I’d like to settle down in and raise my kids.
I wish I could expand on several more examples of the ways in which geography, architecture, and design contributed to the sense of community I witnessed at different locations throughout Portland and Seattle, for there were many. Had I chosen to compare Portland’s Rose Garden and one of the many Seattle coffee shops we stepped into, my argument for the sense of community in each city might be entirely reversed. Whereas the rose garden was peaceful, but lacking an information booth and any sense of permanent community, the coffee shops I entered in Seattle were very warm and welcoming.
My goal is not so much to emphasize
where I find certain types of community, but more so the understanding of how that community was created. In the spaces I just discussed, as in any place of business, the intention is to make people feel comfortable---comfortable enough to open up their wallets. We live in a society that is ruled by technology and even though we claim to desire community, most of us are disconnected from the people around us. Personal connection with strangers seems rare in a public space. In recognizing this and working to rebuild a sense of community with the people around us, it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which geography, architecture and design contribute to the enhancement of a community space.


Gillespie, Heather. 2009. “The College Years.” Explore. Dream. Discover. Retrieved July 19, 2009 (http://hlgillespie.blogspot.com/2009/06/college-years.html).

Greener World Media, Inc. 2008. “Portland Named America’s Greenest City.” Retrieved July 25, 2009. (http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2008/02/20/portland-named-americas-greenest- city).

Shouse, Emma. 2009. “Portland, Oregon.” 40/40 Rediscover America. Retrieved July 25, 2009 (http://emma40statesin40days.blogspot.com/2009/06/portland-oregon.html).

The Grand Canyon: America's Most Glorified National Park


-- a final response to my day in the Grand Canyon and my duty as student ambassador to this site --

In 1857, when Lt. Joseph Ives led the first U.S. Army survey party to explore the Grand Canyon, his opinion of the great crevice was less than optimistic. “The region is of course altogether valueless. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality,” he proclaimed as he floated down the Colorado River (Schmidt 12). While North American tribes such as the Cerbat and Navajo had been thriving in the canyon since the 1300’s, the first Spanish and American explorers came and went without so much as batting an eye. Yet today the Grand Canyon is undeniably one of the great American icons, mascot of the West, and symbol of nature’s potential grandiosity. As we experienced first hand during our visit, the area is bustling with tourists from every corner of the country and the globe, all eager to experience that rugged American adventure for which the West is known. Somewhere along the line of American history, the image and reputation of the Grand Canyon has been transformed from desolate, valueless wasteland to inspiring vacation destination. In following the story of our journey into the Grand Canyon, I want to explore how social institutions have contributed to our gradual change of heart during the last 150 years and how their influence has helped make the Grand Canyon America’s second most visited National Park.

As our group’s student ambassador to the Grand Canyon, I spent many hours researching the history of this ancient world wonder. The geological information on the forming of the canyon was fascinating, but it was a more recent chain of events that stood out to me the most. Ever since Major John Wesley Powell dubbed it the “Grand Canyon” in 1869, the canyon was put on the economic radar and has continued to gain attention from the U.S. government, moving up in the ranks of national historical and natural preserved sites.

A general westward expansion, the California Gold Rush, and the government’s promotion of the West as a “land of abundant resources” brought miners and settlers out to the canyon in the mid-1800’s (American). But after mining of the canyon’s natural resources – zinc, copper, lead, and asbestos – had been attempted and abandoned (because lugging these out of a mile-deep canyon proved rather difficult), tourism was decided upon as a more lucrative pursuit for the area. The canyon and several surrounding acres were surveyed and the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve was established in 1893 (Schmidt). The writers at ohranger.com, publishers of the popular guidebooks in the American Park Network series, help give us an idea of how and why the first tourists came.

As a new century dawned and transportation improved, Americans were changing how they viewed their young country. Writers, artists and photographers led the aesthetic revolution and, along with environmentalists, newspaper magnates and railroad barons, fought for the establishment of protected recreational areas called "national parks." At the Grand Canyon, writer/geologist Clarence Dutton and painter Thomas Moran produced imaginative works that celebrated the glory of the canyon. Soon, visitors clamored to see for themselves (American).

As the activists from all walks of life pushed for national recognition of the canyon, the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities was passed in 1906. This federal initiative is reflective of President Roosevelt’s and the nation’s growing appreciation for our public lands, and the act made way for the Grand Canyon to be upgraded to a National Monument in 1908. Finally, in 1919 the Grand Canyon became a National Park, as it remains today. Visitation increased steadily through the 1920’s as Americans prospered in a rich economy and travel through the region became more comfortable (National). The number of visitors was almost halved during the Great Depression, but quickly picked up again in 1935 and has continued to climb since. In 2008 the Grand Canyon National Park welcomed over 4.4 million visitors, making it the second most visited National Park (after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, whose visitation statistics include a number of default visits due to a major commuter road running through the park) (National).

By giving sites like the Grand Canyon titles such as “American Antiquity,” “National Monument,” and “National Park,” the government validates their aesthetic beauty and inherent worth, saying, This is what Americans value. These sites are such an important part of our identity as a nation that they are to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come; the Grand Canyon is for all of you, America. And Americans pick up on that. We think, “Oh, well if the government is taking note of this place there has to be something extra special about it,” so we set off to see for ourselves. Tour companies realize the importance of the government in promoting national parks and use it to their advantage, as a marketing tool. Several Grand Canyon travel sites and tour companies quote Theodore Roosevelt on their home pages: “Keep this great wonder of nature as it now is . . . Keep it for your children and your children’s children and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see” (Marvelous; Paradise; Travel). Without the U.S. government’s promotion of the West as a land of opportunity and its protection and ennoblement of the area as a national treasure, I doubt that the canyon’s popularity would have grown as fast and as wide as it has.

Going into this trip, the Grand Canyon was one of the stops I was anticipating the most. There was excitement in the air as all ten of us piled out of the bus and into the rental vans, eager to cover the 59 miles that lay between us and the South Rim. After a quick grocery run for breakfast food, snacks, and some reading material for the drive, we were on the road. During the hour it took to get to the Park, we literally sang the whole way--someone cutting in every 20 seconds to burst into a new tune, only to have everyone join in before breaking down hysterically. For the first time during the trip, I let down my guard and allowed myself to look goofy in front of my peers and new friends. It was as if there was an unspoken contract among us: we were prepared to do whatever it took to replicate a family road trip.

Upon arriving at the canyon, it wasn’t long before we were arguing over the plans for the rest of the day – do we split up so that some can hike a more exciting, more difficult trail, or do we stay as a group and trek the “easy” trail? In the end we stuck together and were surprised—if that was the easy hike, then the moderate one should be reserved for Olympic athletes! It wouldn’t have been a true family vacation had we not ended the day by stopping at a very generic but tasty, “first-restaurant-we-come-to-at-this-exit” which happened to be the creatively titled “We Cook Pizza and Pasta.” After recharging on carbohydrates we were back on the road. One last stop before our bunks: stargazing in the Arizona wilderness. At the end of the day Heather wrote about reflecting on her own family’s road trips to places like the Grand Canyon.

Growing up, my parents loaded my brother and me into the car with our luggage, some books, and picnic lunches of salami, cheddar cheese, apple slices, and Diet Coke. We drove all over the country, visiting family, resorts, and every antique shop, art gallery, farm implements museum, or historical marker along the way. We had a good time, even if we wanted to kill each other by the time we got back, and we saw a lot of the country in the process…I remember the family moments…more than I remember the sights and resorts (Gillespie 2009).

I think this is an accurate depiction of the family road trips so many of us have experienced as children; they are an excuse to pile the family into an enclosed bubble and spend several hours together, everyone pretending they hate it even though it’s truly one of the best times the family has ever spent together. Heather continues,

Talking with Em and Pierce on the rim is more important to me than any panoramic photo of a Canyon. Remembering the way my family laughed together on the sides of mountains is more [meaningful] than any photo with my feet dangling over the edge of a cliff (Gillespie 2009).

The Grand Canyon provides the perfect backdrop for families to retreat from their daily routine and reconnect with loved ones in an unforgettable setting while rediscovering the beauty in our own backyard.

Looking back on President Roosevelt’s wish for us to “keep this great wonder of nature… for your children and your children’s children,” I’m warmed by the way we’ve clearly taken his words to heart. For over eighty years – since tourism became a lucrative pursuit for the area -- American families have packed up the kids and the car, maybe the dog, and set out to spend some quality time together amidst one of America’s most breathtaking landscapes. Lieutenant Ives couldn’t have been more wrong about the future of the Grand Canyon; it was a good feeling to know that our visit to the park carried on a long tradition of appreciation for the beauty and peace found in this desert paradise, once described as a “profitless locality.”

I’ve talked about some of the social institutions that play a vital role in bringing visitors to the canyon, but I think it prudent to mention that, for return visitors, any influence from these social institutions is quickly overshadowed by personal experience. We are first drawn to the canyon by its reputation as depicted by others—neighbors, relatives, colleagues, teachers, advertisers, or political figures---or simply out of a desire to witness firsthand what we have seen in photographs; but we return because the experience exceeded any expectations we might have had upon arriving. Ken Burns writes (in his book about the National Parks that will be released this September) that “I was unprepared for how they [the parks] touched some of the deepest emotions I’ve ever felt…We’re aware of our insignificance, yet we feel part of the larger order of things. It’s a spiritual, transcendental experience” (pp. 96). Nature offers an abundance of opportunities for “spiritual, transcendental experiences,” but the Grand Canyon, I feel, is more apt to incite these experiences—especially for first time visitors—because of how much you underestimate it before arriving. I was instantly moved, practically to tears, as I stood speechless and breathless at the South Rim, my toes inching over the edge as I grasped the rustic wooden railing that kept me from plummeting into the depths of the Colorado River below. Personally, it was a very spiritually invigorating experience. Looking out over the seemingly endless chasm, I slowly took in the 6,000 feet of cliff that lay at my feet. And though the ground was flat for miles behind me, when I positioned myself to face the canyon, I felt on top of the world. I was mesmerized by the scene on the opposite wall of the canyon: grey, yellow, purple, brown, every shade of orange and red were arranged in horizontal stripes, as if someone had come along with a large paintbrush and walked alongside the canyon wall, letting the brush drag lazily behind them. The canyon represents, for me, the majestic wonder and creativity that is God’s fingerprint on the earth.

I think one reason people return to the Grand Canyon is to relive the excitement of their own first glimpses of it through the anticipation of their children and friends who’ve come for the first time. When I read Rashina’s blog about our day in the park, it was clear that she was thinking the same thing. She says,

Part of the excitement of this trip has been greatly composed of recognizing the excitement in my peers, and today perfectly embodied that feeling. As I saw other students standing in awe of the vast space that lay in front of us, a feeling of nostalgia spread throughout me as little moments of my memory of [my family’s] trip resurfaced in my mind” (Bhula 2009).

As we drove home from the canyon, I thought about Lieutenant Ives and his survey party arriving there for the first time, and wondered how he so grossly underestimated the potential of the area. The Grand Canyon didn’t become famous overnight, and there were many contributors to its celebrity. Because the U.S. government was eager to populate the West, it promoted the West as a land of plentiful natural resources, bringing miners and a whole slew of settlers keen on making a living providing food and lodging for the miners. After mining was called off, artists like Thomas Moran, who displayed the magnificent grandeur of the canyon in his paintings, drew the attention of a growing nation to the area. As the first tourists trickled in to explore, devoted media tycoons, railroad representatives, artists, and scientists publicized the area and stressed the importance of protecting the natural beauty of the canyon. Today, tour companies make the canyon more accessible and provide new and remarkable ways of experiencing the park. Families continue to flock to this natural wonder and share their experience with others through photo journals and stories. In this way, Americans from all time periods and walks of life have supported one of our most awe-inspiring national treasures and have made the Grand Canyon America’s most glorified national park.


American Park Network. 2008. Grand Canyon History.” Retrieved May 10, 2009. (http://www.ohranger.com/grand-canyon/grand-canyon-history).

Burns, Ken. 2009. “This Land is Your Land.” Adapted from The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Reader’s Digest, July 2009, pp. 96.

Gillespie, Heather. 2009. “Remembering the View.” Explore. Dream. Discover, June 14. Retrieved July 21, 2009. (http://hlgillespie.blogspot.com/2009/06/remembering-view.html).

Marvelous Marv’s Grand Canyon Tours. 1995. Retrieved May 2009 (http://www.marvelousmarv.com/index2.htm).

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. 2008. National Park Service Public Use Statistics. Washington, D.C: U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Retrieved July 20, 2009 (http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/).

Paradise Found Tours. 2009. “The Grand Canyon Stands as an Icon of the American West.” Retrieved May 2009 (http://www.paradisefoundtours.com/blog/grand-canyon/icon-of-the-american-west/).

Schmidt, Jeremy. Grand Canyon National Park: A Natural History Guide. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993. Retrieved using Google Books, July 21, 2009 (http://books.google.com/books?id=CAVQJfipgB4C&dq=Jeremy+Schmidt+Grand+Canyon&source=gbs_navlinks_s)

Travel Tips/Best Tourist Destinations/Travel Guide. “The Grand Canyon.” 2009. Retrieved July 30, 2009 (http://letstraveldworld.blogspot.com/).

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