Tag Archives: National Monument

Russell Cave National Monument

Overview

Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago.  A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills.  The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.

Highlights

Museum with American Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails

Must-Do Activity

There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter. 

Best Trail

Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but for its incredible archaeological record.  If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Peak Season

Summer, when it can be muggy and buggy.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ruca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but RVs are not recommended on Highway 156 if entering from the north.

Camping

DeSoto State Park has a campground and primitive camping is allowed at three sites in nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Explore More – How far down into the cave floor did archaeologists dig in the 1950s?

Top 10 National Monuments

National Monument is the most common designation in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  Many of our favorites among the roughly 130 National Monuments are wild places managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.  The NPS typically has a more developed, tourist-friendly infrastructure with visitor centers, trails, and tours.  Here is a ranking of our top 10 National Monuments of the 88 run by the NPS.

10. John Day Fossil Beds

Fantastic colors in the hills of Oregon

9. Organ Pipe Cactus

28 species of cacti in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

8. Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island and Lady Liberty make an unforgettable day trip

7. Cedar Breaks

High-elevation amphitheater of red rock in Utah

6. Fort Stanwix

An exact 1750s replica surrounded by Rome, New York

5. Timpanogos Cave

Make the climb to see incredibly delicate helictites in Utah

4. White Sands

These sledding hills in New Mexico could be the next National Park

3. Bandelier

Climb into these cliff dwellings in northern New Mexico

2. Jewel Cave

Tour the world’s third longest cave under South Dakota

…and finally our #1 National Monument managed by the NPS:

1. Lava Beds

Explore below ground in this remote section of northern California

 

Honorable Mention

World War II Valor in the Pacific

Pearl Harbor is one part of this diverse monument

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

Overview

The WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument was created in 2008, composed of three sites in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, California’s Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark, and five sites around Honolulu, Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, much better known as Pearl Harbor.  It was there that on December 7, 1941, a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy fleet led the country to formally enter World War II.

Highlights

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, museum at Pearl Harbor, U.S.S. Missouri tours

Must-Do Activity

At Pearl Harbor there is a free museum run by the National Park Service and you can pick up free tickets to ferry to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which was dedicated in 1962.  You will be hard pressed to find a more tasteful and solemn war memorial than this one.  Tickets can also be purchased to tour the nearby U.S.S. Missouri battleship and U.S.S. Bowfin submarine. 

Best Trail

Call or stop by the visitor centers for Lava Beds National Monument or Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about accessing the ruins of Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark near the California-Oregon border.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona battleship serves as the graves for 1,102 sailors and Marines who were on board when it sunk, and it still leaks black “tears” of oil that leave a rainbow sheen on the water’s surface. 

Peak Season

Year round, especially on and around December 7.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free entry to the museum and free timed tickets for the ferry to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial available to the first 1,300 people each day or by reservation.  Tickets can also be purchased to tour the nearby U.S.S. Missouri battleship and U.S.S. Bowfin submarine.

Road Conditions

All roads paved, though parking is limited at the Pearl Harbor site.

Camping

There is camping available around Tule Lake in Lava Beds National Monument and Modoc National Forest.  Private and county campgrounds can be found on Oahu Island outside the city of Honolulu.

Explore More – What significant event took place upon the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri battleship on September 2, 1945?

Statue of Liberty National Monument

Overview

By the time the Statue of Liberty was completed in 1886, New York City was already the gateway to America for millions of “homeless, tempest-tost” immigrants.  Between 1855 and 1890, Castle Clinton on Manhattan Island served as a landing facility for 8-million people.  The federal government took control of immigration in 1890, within two years opening a processing station on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Ferry service to Ellis Island and Liberty Island is available from Castle Clinton National Monument in New York City or Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

Highlights

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, ferry ride

Must-Do Activity

Approximately 12-million people were screened on Ellis Island between 1892-1924, though nearly 10% were turned away.  Reopened to tourists in 1990, it is a haunting place to visit.  The National Park Service museum offers excellent exhibits and films highlighting the travails of immigrants over the centuries. 

Best Trail

None, but a special ranger-guided tour of Ellis Island will take you to areas you cannot see on your own.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the U.S. ally France, intended to mark the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876.  By the time the 151-foot tall,225-ton copper woman was ready, the U.S. was scrambling to come up with money to build its 154-foot tall pedestal. Pocket change was collected across the nation, a truly grassroots effort that allowed even schoolchildren to claim a part of the monument. 

Peak Season

Summer, but these world-renowned monuments are busy year round.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/stli/planyourvisit/hours.htm 

Fees

$18.50 per adult for ferry to both sites, plus a parking fee at Liberty State Park.  While free timed tickets are available to access the pedestal, you must reserve months in advance if you wish to climb to the Statue of Liberty’s crown.

Road Conditions

Paved, but you will likely have to deal with traffic.  There is plenty of parking at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

Camping

None

Explore More – Why is there a boundary on Ellis Island that divides it between the states of New Jersey and New York?

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White Sands National Monument

Overview

You might know gypsum as the white powder inside drywall panels.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms sand dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  The white color of the dunes does make for extra intense albedo, so be sure to bring sunglasses and carry plenty of water.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot a lizard species evolved to camouflage in the sand. 

Highlights

Scenic views, sledding, Interdune Boardwalk, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially after a rainfall.  It is fun to see children wearing T-shirts and shorts sliding down the sparkling white slopes.

Best Trail

Follow markers on the five-mile round trip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes with views of the San Andres Mountains.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you decide to backpack or take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Peak Season

Spring and fall, since it can be very hot in the summer.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Mostly paved and the packed dirt road is drivable by all vehicles.

Camping

Only backcountry camping is allowed in 10 designated sites for $3 per person, but that is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground south of Alamogordo.

Explore More – What happens to the deep root system of a soaptree yucca when the dune it is growing on blows away?