|Juniper tree on Pilot Rock, Cascade-Siskiyou NM, Oregon (Photo courtesy, Pepper Trail)|
The national monuments of the United States form an eclectic but subtle family of landscapes and landmarks, which protect a trove of scenic, historic, geologic, and biological treasures. Climbing, hiking, biking, boating, camping, and wildlife observation are just some of their rewards, made all the more memorable given that many are overlooked for the big-name lure of the country's national parks and forests. Hit a national monument for an overnight or weeklong escape, and you'll think you've discovered the secret to wilderness travel.
While some monuments are small and intimate, others are large, remote, and wild, with few or no facilities or services. Naturally that's part of the allure, but to ensure a safe trip, contact field officials well in advance to get the lowdown on reservations, permits, and the equipment you will need to bring.
With the logistics dialed, it's time to discover those millions of acres set aside for the simple reason that they harbor something special. Here, we nominate ten stellar national monuments for you to consider on your next epic outdoor adventure.
Monuments in the Making
The 1906 Antiquities Act gave U.S. presidents a unique legislative tool for preserving some of America's most valuable landscapes, namely the power "to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be National Monuments." And so, with this new executive power to bypass Congress, an eclectic band of national monuments first came to life. With more than a hundred monuments designated over the past century by 14 out of the last 17 presidents, these important parcels of land have ranged in size from one acre to over ten million. Many have gone on to become national parks, including Arches and Zion in Utah and Arizona's unforgettable Grand Canyon.
Unlike the national parks and forests, which are organized under the protection of single federal agencies, national monuments fall under a hodgepodge of agencies including the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Additionally, regulations concerning wildlife and resource protection within these natural, historic, and archaeological treasures tend to be looser, pitting them at the forefront of the fight between conservationists and oil, mining, and logging interests, for example.
Beyond the continuing environmental and political fight over how our national monuments are enshrined and managed, it's clear that these landscapes all harbor something worth protecting. And in a more positive development amidst the anti-environmental gloom surrounding the current administration, the BLM has organized the 15 national monuments under its wing (plus 148 wilderness areas, 36 Wild and Scenic Rivers, and a total of 26 million acres of public lands) under the aegis of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), established in June 2000. Five years on, the environmentally focused NLCS has instilled an ethic of conservation in an agency previously intent on the extractive uses of its land. Let's hope, then, that the next hundred years continue the legacy set in motion by Theodore Roosevelt's designation of Devils Tower as the nation's first national monument.
For more on the history of the national monuments and the Antiquities Act, visit the Wilderness Society's Web site. Visit www.discovernlcs.org for more on the National Landscape Conservation System.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication