It's often believed the lands west of the Mississippi were the "frontier" in the United States. Eventually, that became true. But, in the early days, when a comparatively few people occupied the eastern seaboard of the U.S., most of western New England was technically the frontier. It was every bit as rugged and arguably as dangerous as the Far West, given the wildlife and native Indians who knew the whispers and shadows of every hill, valley, mountain and river.
That was most evident a few decades prior to the American Revolution during the French and Indian War. The classic James Fenimore Cooper tale "The Last of the Mohicans" tells a portion of that story, and the 1992 film of the same name showcases the majestic wilderness where it took place.
It was a large battlefield extending from Virginia all the way to Nova Scotia. On the southern end of that stretch in Virginia is a mountain range with never-ending vistas and a magical cloaking mist that covers over 200,000 acres. It's looks the same as long before settlers arrived and remains virtually unchanged from when the English, French, Indians and Cooper's Hawkeye walked and fought in it. Today, that portion of mountains is called Shenandoah National Park.
Simple photographs or even an IMAX movie screen can't possibly capture the grandeur of the Shenandoah Mountains and region. Only in person can one understand the enormity of nature that it holds. With that said, it's naturally inconceivable to encapsulate it on something as tiny as a coin. But, that's just what the U.S. Mint is trying to do on the latest quarter in the America the Beautiful series.
The new quarter — the 22nd in the series — features an image of a lone hiker on a scenic overlook. There are many outcroppings and peaks hikers venture to in the region but the Little Stony Man summit is where the scene on the coin originated. For many, the view from that site is one of the most compelling. It's roughly a three-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to travel there. Judging from reports from those who did, the vista from Little Stony Man is anything but two-bit. And, it all awaits barely 75 miles from the urban headaches of Washington, D.C.
The quarters, struck in Denver and Philadelphia, have entered circulation and should be showing up in pocket change in the next few weeks. Collectors can wait for them or order them directly in uncirculated condition from the Mint in rolls or bags. For more information or to purchase them log onto the Mint's website at: www.USMint.gov, or phone toll-free, 800-USA-MINT (321-6468).
UPDATE: A few weeks ago, I mentioned my belief that even with March Madness peaking and hockey still in play, baseball would continue to dominate sports in the U.S. That may be an arguable point, but if the release of the National Baseball Hall of Fame gold-, silver- and copper-/nickel-clad coins are any indication, baseball still rules.
On the first day the coins were available, all the gold coins sold out. The total of 50,000 gold $5 pieces were split 32,000 for the proof and 18,000 for the uncirculated version. I'm told the coins sold out in just hours. Judging from the difficulty some had logging onto the Mint's website (certainly due to the onslaught of buyers), anticipation and demand was through the roof.
There are still silver dollars and copper-/nickel-clad half dollars available, though more than 366,000 of the silver dollars have already been sold and not many more are available.
The commemorative coin program is usually successful but sometimes the Mint drops the ball. It's really nice to see one such as this get hit it out of the park!
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the new Shenandoah National Park quarter has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.