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Places I've Been...
National Monuments, Memorials and a Volcanic Observatory

White Sands
The Dune Field at White Sands National Monument
In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, a law that allowed the sitting POTUS to set aside an area of land to preserve a scientific or historic landmark, without having to wait for a disinterested congress to get its "act" together. (<-- Pun, get it?)

It was initially passed to preserve "Antiquities", another name for the Indian artifacts that were being looted at the time, but it could be used for any number of significant places.

This executive privilege has been invoked some 130 times, the first by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower as a National Monument. Around 20 of those have either been incorporated into a National Park, or returned to another federal or local jurisdiction. In the very recent years, some of these presidential decrees have been very controversial, seen as land grabs for special interest groups.

Arguably, many of the National Monuments are one-trick ponies. By that I mean there is generally only one central focus of a National Monument, which is probably why it's designated as a Monument. Also because of this, a National Monument is usually a fraction of the size of a National Park.

Also note that not all National Monuments are NPS sites. Some are administered by other government agencies, such as the US Forestry Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

I've only been to two National Memorials. I would recommend a visit to Mount Rushmore to anyone. The area surrounding Mount Rushmore is worth a visit too. Just don't go there during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, unless you're planning to go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I really can't tell you much about Flight 93, since it was nothing more than a trailer and some makeshift monuments when I was there. (A map of the proposed Monument is on the Flight 93 page.) Back to Top

If I had to pick my top four...

  1. Devils Tower National Monument. Even if the monument didn't star in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this is still a cool place. Just don't go there during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, unless you're specifically going there for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
  2. Pompeys Pillar National Monument. This place has some real historical cred, since it has the only physical evidence left by the Corps of Discovery as they crossed the continent two centuries ago.
  3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, with White Sand National Monument as a runner-up. These two parks are diametrically opposed on the color spectrum. Craters of the Moon consists of several expansive, black lava fields from different eruptions over time, while White Sands is a desert basin where crystalline white gypsum gathers into dune fields.
  4. Dinosaur National Monument. There are really two separate parks here, since the expansion in 1938 had nothing to do with the creatures. But the original part of the park, the Fossil Bone Quarry, is the real deal and puts this park in the top 20%... Back to Top

Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks Link Cedar Breaks National Monument has a problem. It's a beautiful place, almost a mini-Bryce Canyon. But that's its problem. It's located about 60 miles North of Zion National Park, and 60 miles West of Bryce Canyon National Park. If you drove here (and you probably will if you visit), it is dwarfed by the majesty of either (or both) of the other parks.

So if you visit Cedar Breaks, try to see it first. :-)

Near Cedar City, Utah / 16 Images. Visited Sep 1997.

Colorado National Monument
Colorado NM Link I really don't think I've given Colorado National Monument a fair review. They're just a victim of circumstance.

If you're coming from the West, you have just seen the San Rafael Swell or Arches and Canyonlands. If you're coming from the South, you've just been on the Million Dollar Highway. If from the East, the Rocky Mountains.

At this point, Colorado National Monument... is just a nice scenic drive.

Near Grand Junction, Colorado / 15 Images. Visited Sep 1997.
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Congaree Swamp National Monument (Now a National Park)
Congaree Swamp Link Congaree Swamp National Monument's initial impression on me was the tall thin trees that bend like crazy in the wind. The second thing that impressed me was they actually had a mosquito meter on the Ranger's Cabin.

I was there during the winter and the Mosquito Meter was on "Low", so I can't tell you what it's like during June when they attack in squadrons. If it's anything like the border lakes in Minnesota, you might want to bring that insect repellent.

Near Gadsden, South Carolina / 8 Images.
Visited Mar 2000.

Craters of the Moon National Monument
Craters Link Craters of the Moon National Monument is just a very cool place. Thousands of years ago, molten lava periodically erupted from the Earth, spreading a half dozen different lava fields over this entire area. It left a black, bleak landscape where desert scrub tries to get a foothold.

All sorts of different lava flows/structures are represented here, from caves to different kinds of cones to just a black, endless landscape.

Near Arco, Idaho / 52 Images. Visited Sep 2001, Jul 2006.
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Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower NM Link Devils Tower National Monument is a very cool place, even if it doesn't have an airfield on the other side for a close encounter. Located about 90 minutes West of the Black Hills, it is a cross between a Native American sacred religious site and geologic wonder.

Just don't visit during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, unless you're there to attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Near Moorcroft, Wyoming / 42 Images. Visited Sep 1998, Jul 2006

Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur NM Link.jpg alt= Dinosaur National Monument is really two parks, the original Dinosaur Quarry, and the 1938 addition of the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

The original Quarry is fascinating. If you ever wanted to see where Dinosaur fossil skeletons come from, this place will show you. There is also access to the Green River, showing some interesting bits of twisted and bent layers of rock...

Near Dinosaur, Colorado and Jensen, Utah / 53 Images Visited Sep 1998
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Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
FFB Link Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was once a subtropical lake, supporting an abundance of plant and wildlife. Then the volcanoes started erupting, burying everything over hundreds of thousands of years, petrifying trees and fossilizing plants and animals.

I stopped in while I was touring the Colorado Springs area. Unfortunately, I was shooting film, so only have a few images.

Near Florissant, Colorado / 9 Images. Visited Sep 1997.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante NM Link Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is actually larger than the state of Delaware, but has a population close to the number of visitors in the park. Located in South Central Utah, it is an irregularly shaped piece of land that stretches from Capitol Reef National Park to the North, the Arizona State line to the South, Glen Canyon NRA to the East, and Bryce Canyon to the West.

The GSENM page starts with an overview of what the Grand Staircase actually is, a geologic wonderland stretching from the Aquaritus Plateau at Bryce Canyon to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This 8,000 foot drop in elevation in almost discreet steps holds some of the most breathtaking scenery in America.
Near Escalante, Utah / 33 Images Visited Sept 1997, Sep 2008.
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Great Sand Dunes National Monument (Now a National Park)
GSDNM Link Great Sand Dunes National Monument is now a National Park, but it was a National Monument when I was there, so it's still referred to here as a Monument. It's also supposed to be haunted, but I can't attest to that.

These dunes exist because the sand blown into this pocket of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains can't make it over the peaks, and drop out into the dune field.

Near Alamosa, Colorado / 18 Images. Visited Sep 1997.

Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges Link Natural Bridges National Monument is actually an impressive place, but it's another park that you have to want to go to, since it's not on the way to anything else. (That's not exactly true, but it's close enough.)

The monument preserves three natural stone bridges, which still exist mostly because there's little rain or other severe erosive forces here.

In the middle of nowhere, Southeastern Utah / 46 Images. Visited Sep 2008.
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Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Pompeys Pillar Link Pompeys Pillar National Monument holds the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark's trek across America. On July 25 in 1806, William Clark climbed this rock and scratched his name onto the side of the limestone formation.

I was there 200 years to the day after the deed.

Near Pompeys Pillar, Montana / 20 Images. Visited Jul 2006.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Rainbow Bridge Link Rainbow Bridge National Monument is the largest (known) Natural Bridge in the world, at 290 feet high and 275 feet wide.

It is accessible by boat from Lake Powell, or you can get a permit from the Navajo, and do an arduous 14 mile hike across a sandstone desert.

Near River Mile 49, Lake Powell, Utah / 47 Images. Visited Sep 2008.
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Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff Link Scotts Bluff National Monument was one of the landmarks along the Oregon Trail that pioneers used to use to mark how far they've traveled.

It was known as the Nebraska Gibraltar. Also included in this set are Courthouse and Jail Rocks and the Chimney Rock National Historic Site. All of these landmarks were well documented by those travelling the trail.

Near Scottsbluff, Nebraska / 31 Images. Visited Sep 1998.

White Sands National Monument
White Sands Link White Sands National Monument is wholly contained within the White Sand Air Force Base, one of those top secret bases where they don't even allow cameras.

It's called White Sands because of the specific conditions in the Tularosa Basin that allows Calcium Carbonate to concentrate and crystallize out into a blinding white sand dunes in the sun...

Near Alamogordo, New Mexico / 18 Images. Visited Sep 2005.
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Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mt. St. Helens NVO Link Mount St. Helens NVM is a US Forestry Site, and proof that the earth is still angry in this part of the world. All you need to see is the trees which still litter the land, all facing away from the volcano.

We got there as the visitors center was closing, having spent some time at the lookouts along the way. Had we known, we could have gone to the visitors center first, then the view points, but no...

Near Castle Rock, Washington / 30 Images. Visited Jul 2006.
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Flight 93 National Memorial
Flight 93 Link I had actually stopped in Somerset for the night, and was looking through the hotel propaganda when I found I was very close to the Flight 93 National Memorial, so I took the drive in the morning before heading to my final destination near Philly.

When I was there, it was nothing more than a trailer with some makeshift memorials. The site where the plane crashed was a quarter mile away, and could only be visited by relatives of the people on the flight.

Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania / 14 Images.
Visited Oct 2006.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mt Rushmore Link Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a monument as big as the sculptor's ego. I admit, it's an impressive piece of art and national pride, and if you're in the Black Hills area, a definite must-see attraction. Just do it in the morning if you're planning on taking pictures.

Oh, and don't go there during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, unless you want to go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Near Rapid City, South Dakota / 40 Images. Visited Sep 1996, Jul 2006.
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  • 04/30/2016 - Initial deployment
  • April 2017 - Upgrade to v3.4.
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