SAN JUAN – When the Eurodam cruise ship docked in San Juan, passenger Robert Miller was looking for a specific souvenir.
Collecting distinctive 25-cent pieces for his grandson, Robert was hoping to find a quarter honoring El Yungue National Forest in San Juan. And he wanted to buy it in Puerto Rico.
“I thought that would be a fun thing to do,” he said. “It would mean more to find one here than someplace else.”
Issued in January, the first new United States coin of 2012 was a quarter honoring El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. Designed by Gary Whitley and sculpted by Michael Gaudioso, the quarter is the 11th in the series of America the Beautiful Quarters. The program started in 2010 and features five new quarters a year.
One of the most spectacular rainforests in the world and the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest, El Yunque offers 28,000 acres hosting an extremely diverse bio system found nowhere else.
“It’s a very special place,” said Pablo Cruz, forest supervisor. “The aborigines of Puerto Rico used the forest for religious ceremonies. They would go all the way to the top to communicate with their gods.”
More than 100 billion gallons of annual rainfall account for lush plant life and an unusual tropical combination of sparkling leaves, glittery rocks and shadowy paths pierced by sunlight.
“The diversity here is tremendous,” Pablo said. “It is the most biodiverse ecology system on earth.”
Until 1997, the rainforest was known as the Caribbean National Forest. The name was changed by an executive order signed by President George W. Bush. “The new name was chosen to better reflect the culture and history of the land,” Pablo said.
Yunque means anvil in Spanish and early Spaniards may have chosen that name because the thunderstorms they encountered in the region may have sounded like hammers hitting anvils.
“The early aborigines called the area ‘yuke’ meaning ‘white lands,’” Pablo said.
The coin features a coqui tree frog sitting on a leaf and a Puerto Rican parrot behind an epiphyte plant with tropical flora in the background. The other side of all the America the Beautiful Quarters contain the 1932 portrait of George Washington.
The coqui is a small “singing” tree frog that is said to sing the lullaby of Puerto Rico. The frog population in the rainforest is one of the densest frog populations in the world.
Although I looked for Robert on our return to see if he had found his quarter, I never saw him. I hope his mission was accomplished and that his grandson will cherish the commemorative coin.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch