Tag Archives: National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Overview

Aztec, New Mexico is home to the incredible Ancestral Puebloan ruins of a three-story, 400-room ancient apartment building near the Animas River.  Only partially excavated, Aztec Ruins National Monument has a variety of rock walls that display a change in building styles over the centuries.  Similar to Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona, Aztec was named for the Central Mexican culture mistakenly believed by earlier archaeologists to have had influence in this region.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed great kiva, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Aztec Ruins National Monument boasts a great kiva that was rebuilt to appear as it may have 800 years ago.  We especially recommend a visit before or after seeing the extensive ceremonial structures at nearby Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Reconstruction is not appropriate at all National Park Service (NPS) sites, but here it helps the past come alive.  It is easy to imagine costumed dancers coming down the stairs into the smoky kiva to celebrate a religious ritual. 

Best Trail

The half-mile self-guided trail leads through ruins where wooden roofs have been partially reconstructed.  Aztec Ruins also has the same T-shaped doorways you may have seen at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Darker stripes in the walls were decorative, and evidence of several architectural styles are evident at this site.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is an NPS campground at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, but we recommend the free campground in Angel Peak Recreation Area run by the Bureau of Land Management east of Highway 550.

Related Sites

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How far away from Aztec were the nearest Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and aspen trees used in the original roof construction?

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Overview

You may not recall the 1876 battle at the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana, but most Americans (even children) recognize its label “Custer’s Last Stand.”  For such a relatively minor skirmish in the bloody 1800s, it has an outsized legend that only grows with time.  At this site more than 140 years ago, a large portion of the 7th U.S. Cavalry met their demise for tactical reasons still debated to this day.  The blame is generally placed upon Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer who was believed to be jockeying for a presidential nomination in the 1876 election.  Today this National Park Service (NPS) site is located on the Crow Indian Reservation in southern Montana, just off Interstate 90.

Highlights

Museum, Custer National Cemetery, driving tour, Last Stand Hill, Indian Memorial

Must-Do Activity

On June 25, 1876, with only 600 soldiers, Custer attempted to defeat a temporary village composed of multiple tribes numbering over 7,000 individuals.  Never before had so large an American Indian encampment been collected anywhere on the Great Plains.  Renowned war chiefs Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Two Moons, and many others have their words memorialized at the Indian Memorial, not built at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument until 1997 near the mass grave on Last Stand Hill.  Be sure to come in late June for the opportunity to witness a historical reenactment of the famous battle, which is held on the Crow Indian Reservation adjacent to the 765-acre National Monument.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment is a two-hour, fully narrated presentation explaining the significance of the Battle of the Greasy Grass (as the American Indians call it).  The site of the reenactment is a ford where Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s battalion came closest to the encampment where 1,800 warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Nations were gathered to protect their families.  American Indian riders go bareback, leaping on and off their ponies with ease, while saddled 7th U.S. Cavalry re-enactors splash through the fast-flowing Little Bighorn River astride powerful horses.

Peak Season

Summer (the best time of year to visit is around the June 25 anniversary when a reenactment of the battle is held)

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a small, private campground at the exit from Interstate 90, but the nearest NPS campground is 40 miles away at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Explore More – When was Custer National Cemetery originally established and when did it become part of a National Monument?

Chiricahua National Monument

Overview

Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924 to protect a spectacular collection of rhyolite rock formations.  Millions of years of erosion left behind tall pinnacles that rise above surrounding evergreen trees.  A six-mile long paved road leads up from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to Massai Point for great views of the volcanic pillars.  At an elevation of around 7,000 feet it can get cold in the winter, but still quite hot in the summer, so spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.

Highlights

Massai Point, Echo Canyon, Big Balanced Rock, Heart of Rocks Loop

Must-Do Activity

We recommend an all-day loop hike through Echo Canyon to the Heart of Rocks Loop where you will find rocks resembling camels, ducks, and anything else you can imagine.  The wildlife and vegetation here is diverse and representative of many ecosystems because of the elevation range of this “sky island.”  Many visitors that spend the night in the NPS campground report seeing coatimundi, a unique long-tailed omnivore related to the raccoon with a species distribution stretching into South America. 

Best Trail

There are 17 miles of trails in the park and hiking is the best way to explore the rock formations.  A self-guided loop at Massai Point is an option if you are short on time and cannot make it all the way to the impressive Big Balanced Rock.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a formation on the Heart of Rocks Loop that is appropriately known as Duck on a Rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The small 24-site NPS campground is known for its nocturnal visitations by coatimundi.

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – Big Balanced Rock is 22-feet in diameter, so how much is it estimated to weigh?

Fort Sumter National Monument

Overview

Located at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a group of defensive forts have gone through many permutations since the 1770s.  The most famous, the five-sided Fort Sumter was still unfinished (after 30 years of construction) when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860.  This led Major Robert Anderson to flee Fort Moultrie with 85 Union troops for Fort Sumter, which Confederates fired at on April 12, 1861, marking the first shot of the Civil War.  Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but you can drive a car to the National Park Service (NPS) museum at Fort Moultrie, commemorated on the U.S. quarter-dollar coin minted in 2016.

Highlights

Museum, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Fort Sumter was built upon a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, raised and leveled with 70,000 tons of granite brought down from New England.  A toll ferry takes visitors to the island from downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.   Dolphins, pelicans, and shore birds are commonly spotted on the 40-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter.  Destroyed by the end of the Civil War, the fort today looks nothing like it did back then, having gone through multiple upgrades before it was deactivated in 1947.  At the site, the NPS displays cannons representing each era alongside interpretive signs.

Best Trail

A walk through Fort Moultrie explains its 170 years of military use before it became part of Fort Sumter National Monument in 1948.  Constructed on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Fort Moultrie was not yet finished when a British attack was repelled on June 28, 1776 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  After being destroyed during the Civil War, it saw new life during World War I with the placement of disappearing rifles and World War II with anti-aircraft guns. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Major Robert Anderson surrendered and lowered the U.S. flag on April 14, 1861, though there were no casualties during the bombardment.  After rifled cannons had reduced the fort’s walls to rubble, Major Anderson raised the exact same flag above Fort Sumter four years later to-the-date near the end of the Civil War. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Moultrie (or America the Beautiful pass); charge for passenger ferry to Fort Sumter but no NPS fee

Road Conditions

Free parking at Fort Moultrie, but pay parking for the ferry from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (South Carolina)

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the famous Native American chief who died of scarlet fever as a prisoner at Fort Moutlrie in 1838?

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Buck Island Reef National Monument

Overview

Located 1.5 miles north of the large Caribbean island of St. Croix is Buck Island, which covers only 176 acres of the 19,015 acres designated as Buck Island Reef National Monument.  Arguably the best coral reef in the entire National Park Service (NPS) system is the barrier reef around the island’s northern and eastern shore, which includes large examples of elkhorn coral with its beautiful yellow branches.  Private boats can get a permit to visit the island, but most tourists reserve trips with an NPS-authorized concessionaire that provides the gear for guided snorkeling and scuba diving experiences.

Highlights

Snorkeling, Underwater Trail, West Beach, Observation Point

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling on the eastern end of the island is the highlight of a day trip to Buck Island.  The water offshore from St. Croix is cooler, even though your boat will moor in a lagoon, so consider wearing a wet suit.  There is an Underwater Trail with interpretive signs at one location along the coral reef.  Watch for a variety of parrotfish, angelfish, filefish, and sharks (lemon and nurse).  Sea turtles (green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback) are more common the west side of the island.

Best Trail

A steep, sandy trail climbs from Diedrichs Point and forms a loop when you walk West Beach, the designated anchorage area.  The 45-minute trek has a must-do spur to Observation Point for the best views, otherwise you will not be able to see through the thick vegetation of thorny trees interspersed with organ pipe cactus.  Stay on the trail and be careful not to touch poisonous manchineel trees or Christmas bush (related to poison-ivy).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bring an underwater camera for great photo opportunities.  We followed a spotted eagle ray and a large school of blue tangs around the reef.  We also saw a nurse shark, lemon shark, and dozens of barracudas.

Peak Season

Anytime except hurricane season

Hours

Buck Island is only open during daylight hours

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

Fees

None, except for concessionaire boat trip

Road Conditions

There are no roads on the island, so a boat tour through an NPS-authorized concessionaire is necessary to access it.  There is a large parking lot (fee) near the Christiansted marina and floatplane airport.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

Buck Island is closed between sunset and sunrise, with no overnight mooring allowed.  On St. Croix, there is no official NPS campground at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, but people camp along the coast there and at many beachside locations around the entire island.

Related Sites

Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Explore More – What type of domesticated animals were let loose on Buck Island in the 1700s (permanently altering the vegetation)?