From the avenues and boulevards of New York City to the hills of Hawaii, America’s national monuments comprise an eclectic group of statues, natural areas, prehistoric ruins, historic military fortifications, and fossil sites that attract millions of visitors each year. Each national monument offers something unique: hiking and animal watching for the nature lover, artifacts, reenactments, ruins, and demonstrations for the history buff, and thousands of fossils and formations for those curious about science.
In the pages below, you will find profiles of some of the country’s most treasured national monuments. Included is contact information to help you plan your trip as well as photos of each destination. Here’s a preview:
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, in western Nebraska, houses an amazing concentration of 19-million-year-old fossils. Captain James Cook discovered the fossil beds in 1878 and acquired the site, called Agate Springs Ranch. Since then, fossil bones from the site have been exhibited around the world, and in 1965 the ranch was made a national monument.
At the Alibates Flint Quarries, in the red bluffs above the Canadian River, pre-Columbian Indians quarried agatized dolomite, chipping and flaking it to make spear points, knives, scrapers, and other tools. Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, authorized in 1965, offers guided tours of the quarries. The monument also contains the ruins of several Plains Village Indian dwellings.
586,000 acres of unspoiled Alaska wilderness make up Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. It includes one of the world's great dry calderas, as well as lava flows, cinder cones, and explosion pits.
Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin, Virginia, is the former home of famous black educator, philosopher, and civil rights leader Booker T. Washington. The site contains a replica of the little kitchen cabin in which Washington was born. Other buildings on the reconstructed 207-acre farm include the smokehouse, blacksmith shed, tobacco barn, and horse barn.
Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of the nation's few underwater parks, combines a barrier island and one of the Caribbean's most beautiful barrier reefs. Part of the Virgin Islands, the 19,000-acre monument, which lies just north of St. Croix, includes 176 acres of land and 18,839 acres of water, offering visitors an opportunity to explore two fascinating worlds.
It has been a national monument since 1978, and Alaska's Cape Krusenstern continues to sustain native Eskimos, who hunt, fish, and trap within the monument's 660,000 acres, as they have done for thousands of years. Cape Krusenstern's bluffs and 114 beach ridges along the Chukchi Sea contain archaeological evidence of 6,000 years of prehistoric human use of the coastline.
Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico is one of the few places in the world where people can walk into a volcano. Capulin Volcano is part of a field of volcanism that began about eight million years ago. Recent studies indicate that Capulin Volcano is approximately 59,000 years old.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in the Gila River Valley of southern Arizona preserves the remains of a village once occupied by the Hohokam Indians. Visitors to Casa Grande can see ancient pottery and tools at the visitor center, or they can wander the mysterious ruins, contemplating why the Hohokam studied the heavens so carefully here.
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Clinton, at the tip of Manhattan, has had a long and varied existence. The circular fortress was built between 1808 and 1811 as one of a series of forts to protect New York City from potential British aggression. The walls of the original fort remain intact; inside, exhibits trace the evolution of Castle Clinton.
The Paiutes called the natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah un-cap-I-cun-ump, or "circle of painted cliffs," for the colorful spires and columns of rock carved into the mountain. Shaped like a huge coliseum, the amphitheater plunges more than 2,000 feet, scooping away green alpine meadows.
In the northwest corner of the Chiricahua Mountains, massive boulders weighing hundreds of tons balance easily on a forest of stone pedestals. Called the "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks" by the local Chiricahua Apaches and the "Wonderland of Rocks" by later pioneers, the area has been preserved as Chiricahua National Monument since 1924.
Colorado National Monument, located in the western part of the state, is a tribute to both the land and the man who recognized its value. Like the site’s numerous rock spires, domes, arches, windows, and sheer-walled canyons, Independence Monument was carved by millions of years of erosion. Equally beautiful is the area's wildlife. Mountain lions, desert bighorns, and rattlesnakes blend in with the landscape, while colorful birds and flowering cacti stand out boldly against the scenery.
Sixty-foot columns of basalt rise like organ pipes above pine forests on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Devils Postpile National Monument was established in 1911 to preserve these volcanic remains, as well as 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls.
Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah is not a typical dinosaur museum -- this site contains a cliff face of jumbled fossil bones. The quarry site, which was designated a national monument in 1915, is one of the largest known deposits of dinosaur fossil bones in the world.
Northeastern Iowa's Effigy Mounds National Monument, proclaimed in 1949, preserves 206 known prehistoric mounds. A self-guiding walk leads visitors past major features within the monument, including Little Bear Mound and scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River.
The 115,000 acres of New Mexico's El Malpais National Monument contain many reminders of its eruptive past: jagged spatter cones, fragile ice caves, and one of the longest lava tube cave systems in North America, extending at least 17 miles. Hiking trails and roads lead to many highlights of the monument, including the Cebolla Wilderness, a forested rimrock area that features prehistoric rock art and historic homesteads and the Zuni-Acoma Trail, an ancient Pueblo trade route.
El Morro National Monument, located on an ancient east-west trail in western New Mexico, preserves a timeless record of the people who have lived and passed through this region. Self-guided trails with wayside exhibits lead from the visitor center to Inscription Rock and the ancient pueblo ruins above.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado is internationally known for its collection of petrified insects. Even such delicate creatures as butterflies, trapped in rock for millions of years, are almost perfectly preserved, complete with antennae, legs, hairs, and wing patterns. The area also features petrified trees and plant fossils, revealing in stone a picture of life long ago.
Fort Frederica National Monument, England's southernmost New World stronghold, preserves the once-flourishing town of Frederica and the Bloody Marsh Battle Site.
Visitors to Florida's Fort Matanzas National Monument arrive by boat, just as Spanish soldiers did in the eighteenth century. The island outpost was built in the 1740s to protect the city of St. Augustine. Self-guided nature walks reveal the monument's various habitats: a tidal salt marsh, a coastal dune hammock, and an open area of dunes and scrub. Free ferry service is available from adjacent Anastasia Island.
Fort Stanwix, a national monument since 1935, was important for defense purposes. Located in Rome, New York, the site was carefully reconstructed in time for the 1976 Bicentennial, with earthworks, a cannon platform, barracks, and officers' quarters. Artifacts recovered during excavations shed light on the garrison life of the time.
Several short hiking trails through Fossil Butte National Monument, in southwestern Wyoming, allow visitors to see the fossils in their natural condition and learn about the history of fossil-collecting in the area. The Fossil Lake Trail winds through the aspen groves and high desert landscape that surround the butte.
George Washington Birthplace National Monument, located in Virginia, is the place where the leader spent much of his childhood. Popes Creek Plantation is part of the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, which includes the working farm, family cemetery, a picnic area, and more than 500 acres of grounds crossed by hiking trails.
George Washington Carver National Monument was one of the first national park sites to highlight the life and work of a black American. The Missouri site preserves the farm where the successful educator, botanist, agronomist, and artist grew up, and includes a museum with displays and films about Carver's boyhood.
At the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation's first designated wilderness area, is the small but intriguing Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Visitors can hike throughout the high desert and pine forest of the New Mexico monument and up to the ruins perched 180 feet above the canyon floor. The dwellings, built in the late 1200s in natural caves, contain about 40 rooms.
Centuries ago, each July, hundreds of French-Canadian fur traders converged on the North West Company's headquarters on the western shore of Lake Superior to trade, eat, brawl, and party. The wooden buildings of the post, built in the late 1700s, have been reconstructed by the National Park Service as part of Grand Portage National Monument in Northeastern Minnesota.
In the mesquite-studded desert valley southeast of Phoenix, excavations have revealed a surprisingly developed ancient farming culture that lasted from several centuries before the birth of Christ to A.D. 1400 or 1500. Designated Hohokam Pima National Monument in 1972, the site but it remains closed to the public. Tourists are welcome to visit other areas of the reservation, however, including the Gila River Indian Arts and Crafts Center, a source of income for local artisans.
Tucked away in a grassy corner of southeastern Nebraska is Homestead National Monument of America, a tribute to those who settled the Great Plains. The site is one of the first claims staked under the Homestead Act of 1862. The quiet, 160-acre site preserves a small remnant of the streamside woods and tall-grass prairie that pioneers encountered on the Great Plains.
At Hovenweep, on what is now the Colorado-Utah border, the Anasazi Indians built elegant towers that rose from the rocks. Hovenweep National Monument, proclaimed in 1923, contains the ruins of six clusters of multi-story towers located at the heads of canyons. A self-guided tour lets visitors explore the prehistoric sites of Square Tower Group.
Hidden beneath the Black Hills of South Dakota is the subterranean world of Jewel Cave, where countless crystal formations sparkle with the brilliance of gems. When Jewel Cave National Monument was proclaimed in 1908, less than a half-mile of cave had been discovered. Explorations in the past 40 years have revealed more than 135 miles of twisting and turning passages, making it the second-longest known cave in the world.
A tour through John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon is like taking a trip back in time. While fossil beds that extend over five million years are considered rare, the three units of this monument preserve a 65-million-year record of plant and animal life.
Evidence of geologic violence can be seen everywhere at Lava Beds National Monument, in the form of spatter and cinder cones, lava flows, and chimneys. Perhaps the most spectacular remnants are the lava tubes, formed when the cooler surface layer of a lava flow solidified while the lava beneath remained fluid, eventually draining out when the eruption stopped.
Tucked into a cliff recess high above the Verde Valley in New Mexico is a multi-story dwelling built by the Sinagua more than 800 years ago. The Sinagua were not as skilled at masonry as the Anasazi, yet this prehistoric structure is one of the best- preserved in the Southwest. The monument also contains Montezuma Well, a natural limestone sink fed by artesian springs.
Three massive natural bridges of stone -- the largest and most impressive collection of such formations in the world -- can be found at this site in southeastern Utah. In addition to these impressive formations created by erosion, the monument contains fascinating plant and animal life, as well as prehistoric ruins.
The Ocmulgee National Monument, located east of Macon, Georgia, contains traces of more than 10,000 years of continuous human occupation, from Ice Age hunters to the Creeks of historic times. The 700-acre site includes an ancient burial mound, prehistoric trenches, and a visitor center featuring exhibits and a major archaeological museum.
Few caves in the National Park System offer a more stunning array of geological formations than Oregon Caves. Known as the "marble halls of Oregon," the rare marble cave was proclaimed a national monument in 1909. All six of the world's major rock types are found in the cave, along with a crystalline substance called "moonmilk."
Visitors to Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument can see proof of nature's resourcefulness everywhere, from the kangaroo rat, which drinks no water yet thrives in one of the world's most arid climates, to the creosote bush, which manufactures its own natural herbicide to prevent competition for water by encroaching plant life.
Ancient depictions of humpbacked flute players and human-like "star beings" decorate the volcanic cliffs of New Mexico's Petroglyph National Monument. Many of the images at Petroglyph National Monument are recognizable as people, animals, brands and crosses, while others are much more complex.
The russet spires and crags of Pinnacles National Monument, south of the San Francisco Bay area, provide an ideal sanctuary, both for people and birds of prey. The more than 26,000-acre monument has two separate entrances, Bear Gulch on the east and Chaparral on the west. No roads link the two, but more than 30 miles of hiking trails do. Visitors can enjoy good views of the area's contrasting geology and jagged, volcanic Balconies Cliffs.
On the grounds of Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona, visitors can tour re-created gardens and orchards, the blacksmith shop, harness room, corral, and other historic buildings, including the cabin where explorer John Wesley Powell's survey crew stayed in 1871.
In the western slope of the Coteau des Prairie in southwestern Minnesota are quarries of a unique soft stone, ranging in color from mottled pink to brick red, that is considered sacred to the Plains Indians. Pipestone National Monument, created in 1937, is open to the public, though only Indians are allowed to mine the sacred stone. A three-quarter-mile self-guiding trail loops past the exposed red rock of the quarries and through the tall grasses of the virgin prairie, still used by Indians for cultural and religious activities.
Designated a national monument in 1988, Poverty Point National Monument is the homeland of an ancient Indian culture. The visitor center has many artifacts on display, including beads and small stone tools unique to this culture. The Louisiana monument also offers self-guided interpretive trails, special guided tours, and the opportunity to observe archaeologists at work.
Rainbow Bridge is the world's largest natural bridge, standing 290 feet tall and spanning 275 feet; the top of the bridge is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide. The span of the bridge, composed of Navajo Sandstone, was formed as wave after wave of sand was deposited, forming dunes up to 1,000 feet high. Located in the canyon-lands of southeastern Utah, the 160-acre monument allows visitors to experience some of the spectacular scenery of the Colorado Plateau.
Russell Cave National Monument in the hill country of northern Alabama contains one of the richest archaeological deposits in the United States, representing more than 9,000 years of continuous use. The visitor center museum has a sampling of the treasure-trove of artifacts unearthed at Russell Cave, and Nature and hiking trails let visitors explore the more than 300-acre monument on the side of Montague Mountain.
Rising 800 feet above the plains in the Nebraska panhandle, Scotts Bluff served as a prominent landmark for early travelers. The massive promontory is a cross-section of high plains that formed in the continent's interior after the uplifting of the Rocky Mountains. The 2,998-acre monument includes a visitor center, museum complex, and a short segment of the actual Oregon Trail.
The peaks, cinder cones, and lava flows of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument represent a long period of volcanic activity. The volcano's cinder rim now seems to glow as if lit by a perpetual sunset. The 3,000-acre Arizona monument was proclaimed in 1930 to protect the area's volcanic treasures.
High on the steep slopes of Utah's Wasatch Range, three limestone caves pierce 11,750-foot Mt. Timpanogos. Timpanogos Cave National Monument features a unique arrangement of fragile formations. Though the caverns are millions of years old, they are still changing. Drop by drop, water continues to work its magic.
The hidden cliff dwellings of the Salado Indians can be found at Tonto National Monument in Arizona. The monument includes two cliff dwellings built by the Salado more than 600 years ago, which visitors can walk through. A steep trail leads to the Upper Ruin on a nearby ledge, a large dwelling with 32 rooms on the ground floor. When peering into these rooms, visitors can see handprints on the walls and smoke stains on the ceilings, powerful reminders that these ruins were once full of life.
Tuzigoot National Monument, located above Arizona's Verde Valley, offers a glimpse at life in a Sinagua community. The prehistoric dwellings at Tuzigoot, like those at nearby Montezuma Castle, were built by Sinagua farmers, yet their different styles of architecture are striking.
A rugged trail in Walnut Canyon National Monument leads to the ruins of 24 cliff dwellings, offering intimate views of the rooms. Visitors who look closely can see an 800-year-old fingerprint left in plaster by one of the builders. From the trail it is possible to see 100 other dwellings across the northern Arizona canyon, and a short walk around the rim provides views of even more.
Wupatki National Monument, proclaimed in 1924, has more than 35,000 acres of archaeological ruins. Archaeologists believe Wupatki, located in Arizona, was part of a major prehistoric trading network between the Indians of North America and those of Mexico and Central America. The visitor center has exhibits detailing the history of the Walnut Canyon area and is the starting point for the Wupatki Ruins Trail. Other trails provide access to panoramic views and some of the monument's other pueblo ruins.
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