Tag Archives: National Monument

Newspaper article, part 2 of 4

After getting our first article published last week, we have part two of four this week. Click here to see it in the online edition of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and click here for the first article. Thanks for reading!

Hiking the many National Monuments of southern California

The rich odor of incense-cedar trees filled the warm air as we ascended the rocky trail from the historic Big Pines Visitor Center. This soulful smell may be more familiar to you than you think since its wood is commonly used to make pencils. It was a sunny November afternoon at 7,000 feet in elevation on the Angeles Crest Highway, which traverses the steep-sided San Gabriel Mountains that rise above southern California’s infamous smog. The partially shaded path was lined with interpretive signs that introduced the trees and shrubs growing on this dry, south-facing hillside. Across the narrow valley, a ski resort was cut into the dense stands of conifers on the shady north slope. Further down the trail, my wife and I stopped to sniff the orange, platy bark of a Jeffrey pine for its pleasant vanilla scent which brought back memories of our time spent living in the state.

Scott with an incense-cedar tree

My hike in Angeles National Forest marked number 153 in my quest to hike in all 155 National Forests. The trail was located inside the boundaries of San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014 and managed by the U.S. Forest Service north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The National Forest gets its name from the city, which since 1781 has officially been titled El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula, which must be why most people call it L.A. Despite this region’s reputation for sun and surf, the high elevations (topping out at 10,064 feet on Mt. San Antonio) regularly get snow in the winter. The paved Angeles Crest Highway used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Mission Fire, and this after the 2009 Station Fire burned about one-quarter of the National Forest.

Angeles National Forest is registered as a California Historical Landmark since it became the first protected woodland in the state as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve in 1891. Its 661,565 acres serve as a major recreation area for the large population center with 697 miles of hiking trails, several lakes, and two alpine ski areas. The vegetation ranges from chaparral to oak and mixed evergreen forest. Most of the shrub and tree species are adapted to periodic fire, including the familiar lodgepole pine. Many species commonly found in this National Forest only grow in this region and nowhere else on Earth, including California black oak, canyon live oak, bigcone Douglas-fir, knobcone pine, and Coulter pine (famous for its massive pinecones that weigh up to 11 pounds).

Big Pines Visitor Center

National Monuments

National Monuments like San Gabriel Mountains can be created by proclamation of the President of the United States or an act of Congress. The Antiquities Act of 1906 states that the President may set aside “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” Within three months of its passing, Theodore Roosevelt used that power to establish Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, followed by many others that later became National Parks, including Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon.

There are currently 128 National Monuments in the U.S. managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other government agencies. That number is constantly in flux as designations are changed, such as when New Mexico’s White Sands became a National Park in 2019 after nearly 90 years as a National Monument. On the other end of the spectrum, South Carolina’s Reconstruction Era (est. 2017) was a National Monument for only two years before it was redesignated as a National Historical Park.

Wyoming had another historic moment involving National Monuments during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt controversially proclaimed Jackson Hole National Monument after Congress declined to incorporate lands acquired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. into Grand Teton National Park. In 1950, those two parcels were combined, but that law also barred future Presidents from using the Antiquities Act in Wyoming for areas larger than 5,000 acres. Since then, Fossil Butte has been the only National Monument created in the state and that was by Congressional act in 1972.

The court system has continually approved the President’s power to use the Antiquities Act in this way, although it has not always been popular, especially with industries based on natural resource extraction. After 56-million acres of land within Alaska were set aside by President Jimmy Carter, a federal law in 1980 limited designations in that state to under 5,000 acres, similar to Wyoming. More recently, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah have been the subject of political Ping-Pong.

Tiff holding a Coulter pine cone

Other National Monuments

We also visited Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Monument while in Angeles National Forest. It was established on March 12, 2019 to commemorate the 431 lives that were lost when a concrete gravity dam failed in 1928 only two years after its construction. The death toll is second in the history of California to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. There are plans to build a memorial at the dam, but currently it is a pile of rubble heavily spray-painted by local teenagers. The site is located in a scenic canyon where the leaves were just turning yellow for winter in mid-November. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. Forest Service cleans up the area in the future.

Many other National Monuments are not well developed for tourism and some are nearly inaccessible. Those that do offer visitor centers and guided tours are typically managed by the National Park Service, such as Montana’s Little Bighorn Battlefield (est. 1940) and New York’s African Burial Ground (est. 2006). The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management tend to take a more hands-off approach, as we experienced on our trip while stopping at Sand to Snow National Monument in southeastern California. Established in 2016, the two federal agencies co-manage this area along with other landowners in the San Bernardino Mountains north of Palm Springs. We took a pleasant hike through Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, which was mostly on a boardwalk shaded by tall cottonwood trees, an unexpected ecosystem in the Mojave Desert.

Our trip through southern California also included a ferry trip out to kayak the sea caves in Channel Islands National Park, a day trip that we highly recommend. Our journey will continue next week as we visit Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and Mendocino National Forest, the second to last in our quest to hike in all 155 National Forests.

Scott Sink has visited 106 National Monuments, although that number has been decreasing due to re-designations. He writes his travel blog (RavenAboutTheParks.com) from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Tiff hugging a Jeffrey pine
Scott walks up to the site of the Saint Francis Dam disaster in southern California

Wupatki National Monument

Overview

In the open plateau northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona lies 35,000 acres set aside in 1924 to protect a collection of archaeological sites.  A 35-mile drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and adjacent Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forests and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert.  Archaeologists theorize the Ancestral Puebloan people were attracted to this place by the fertile volcanic ash deposited by the contemporaneous eruptions at Sunset Crater. 

Highlights

Wupatki Pueblo, Lomaki Pueblo, Citadel and Nalakihu Pueblos, Wukoki Pueblo

Must-Do Activity

The most famous of the ruins is named Wupatki Pueblo, a three-story, 100-room house inhabited by Sinagua around AD 1100.  At the height of its occupation, the structure was three stories tall and contained 100 rooms.  Its location near a spring allowed villagers to farm the volcanically-enriched soil, plus the leisure to build an amphitheater and ball court.  Here there is more than just crumbling ruins and pottery shards behind glass in a museum; there is a palpable feeling that this was a place where people lived.

Best Trail

The paved walking loop from the visitor center at Wupatki Pueblo is a half mile long and there are short interpretive trails at several additional ruins (see Highlights above), most located not far from parking lots.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Next to the ball court, do not miss the small opening to a larger cavern (or earthcrack) that breathes in or out depending upon the change in barometric pressure.  It is not hard to imagine kids playing here hundreds of years ago.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle (or America the Beautiful pass), which also covers entrance to neighboring Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Road Conditions

All roads to ruins are paved, but there is one dirt road that leads to the Little Colorado River, which forms the border with the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Camping

The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center between May and October.  Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.

Related Sites

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – What were the two main types of sedimentary rock used to construct the pueblos?

El Malpais National Monument

Overview

Navajo legend states that during a battle on Mount Taylor, the Twin Gods struck off a giant’s head which became Cabezon Peak, its blood flowing southward, coagulating into the Malpais.  Meaning “the badland” in Spanish, this National Monument contains lava tubes and ice caves among its 114,000 rugged acres.  Easily accessible from Interstate 40, it does not take long before you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere watching beautiful patterns of cloud shadows drift slowly across the landscape.

Highlights

El Calderon lava tubes, Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, Zuni-Acoma Trail, La Ventana Natural Arch

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to take a hike to truly appreciate these lava flows, the most recent of which inundated agricultural fields of the Acoma people as recently as the 1400s.  Carefully stepping across the jagged rocks, we wondered if another cinder cone may be forthcoming to the region.  Geologists suggest that the volcanic activity in this area has ceased indefinitely, yet some of the eruptions here go back over a million years, making us wonder if it is only a temporary lull.  Be careful during the monsoon season, when giant cumulostratus clouds form in the wide-open blue sky foretelling afternoon thunderstorms. 

Best Trail

Lava tube caves are a major attraction to the park (and are sometimes closed), but before entering you must pick up a free permit to ensure you do not spread white-nosed bat syndrome.  El Calderon Area is easier to access than the rough road to Big Tubes Area, and in a 3.8-mile loop passes a cinder cone and bat cave, then enters a lava tube.  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and difficult 7.5-mile Zuni-Acoma Trail also traverse this mostly shadeless environment.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take the short hike back to stand below towering La Ventana Natural Arch and enjoy the aroma of juniper wafting through the desert air.  It is technically in the Bureau of Land Management’s El Malpais National Conservation Area, not the neighboring National Monument run by the National Park Service.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most trailheads are off paved roads, but some roads in El Malpais National Monument require four-wheel drive (especially when wet), so check at a visitor center before setting out.

Camping

There are no developed campgrounds, but primitive camping is allowed on back roads and in the surrounding Cibola National Forest.  On Interstate 40, Bluewater Lake State Park has full RV hookups.  There is also a small campground located west down Highway 53 in El Morro National Monument.

Related Sites

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – Privately owned and open for tourists, what makes nearby Bandera Crater special?

Freedom Riders National Monument

Overview

On May 4, 1961, an interracial group of “Freedom Riders” boarded two buses in Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans to test whether southern bus stations were following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in interstate travel.  On Sunday, May 14, the Greyhound bus was met by an angry mob in Anniston, Alabama that broke windows and slashed tires.  Eventually police officers cleared a path for the bus, but it was forced to stop just five miles outside town where a bundle of flaming rags caused an explosion and fire inside the vehicle.  Everyone escaped the bus although there were attempts to trap the seven Freedom Riders on board.  Joseph Postiglione’s iconic photo of the burning bus appeared in newspapers across the country, encouraging more Freedom Riders and changes to laws.

Highlights

Greyhound bus depot, Trailways bus station, site of bus burning

Must-Do Activity

President Obama established Freedom Riders National Monument in 2017, so the park is still under development, but they do already have an outstanding Junior Ranger program.  The National Park Service (NPS) has temporary displays inside its visitor center in the historic Anniston bus station and outside is a beautiful mural of a Greyhound bus and an audio recounting of the 1961 events by Hank Thomas, a survivor.  Down the road on Highway 202, the bus burning site is currently just an informational display in a field.  We were there for the 60th anniversary events, when 400 luminaria were placed to represent the total number of Freedom Riders.  Several other murals can be found around Anniston, including a second Tramways bus at Noble and 9th Street with Charles Person’s audio description of events that took place that same day. We also recommend the excellent Freedom Rides Museum (admission charged) in Montgomery, Alabama, where similar violence took place on May 20, 1961.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In the alley next to the NPS visitor center, in front of the life-sized mural of a 1961 Greyhound bus is a lamp dedicated in August 2013 to the bravery of the Freedom Riders.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is free outside the NPS visitor center.  To access the bus burning site, be sure to park off Old Birmingham Highway and not along the busy Highway 202 shoulder.

Camping

South of Interstate 20, campgrounds can be found in Cheaha State Park and Talladega National Forest, which also provides dispersed camping and great backpacking opportunities.

Related Sites

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park (Georgia)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Explore More – Who was the future U.S. Congressman who took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides?

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.  The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets.  Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.

Highlights

Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours

Must-Do Activity

Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day.  The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS).  However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin.  Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though.  It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).

Best Trail

White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling.  The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Fees

There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.

Road Conditions

All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.

Camping

The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn.  Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Navajo National Monument (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?