Tag Archives: National Monument

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Overview

More than 200 years ago, Fort McHenry survived a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which did not officially become the U.S. national anthem until 1931).  The flag flying the night of September 13, 1814 measured 42 x 30 feet!  It is no wonder he was stirred while watching “the rockets’ red glare” from aboard a U.S. truce ship under British guard floating in the Chesapeake Bay outside Baltimore, Maryland.  The Congreve rocket was a new type of weapon at the time, and, luckily for the Americans, very inaccurate.

Geese flyover!

Highlights

Museum, film, fort, twice daily flag changes

Must-Do Activity

Fort McHenry went on to serve as a temporary prison during the Civil War, when its many cannons were pointed towards the city of Baltimore so Confederate sympathizers would not secede from the Union.  During World War I, the fort served as a veterans’ hospital before being designated a National Park Service (NPS) unit in 1925.  Later it was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the only park with this unique distinction. 

Best Trail

Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is not a hiking trail so much as it is a collection of sites related to the War of 1812 in and around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our flag is still there.  This is officially the only NPS unit where the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day.  Daily flag changes take place at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., weather permitting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved to the designated NPS parking lot.

Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park is located west of Baltimore, Maryland.

Related Sites

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Explore More – When a new state is added to the union, the newly redesigned flag is first flown over Fort McHenry, so when did that last occur?

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Montezuma Castle National Monument

Overview

Central Arizona’s Montezuma Castle was one of the first four National Monuments established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.  Conveniently accessible just off Interstate 17 on the way to Sedona or the Grand Canyon, it is a great place to stretch your legs after the 90-minute car ride from Phoenix.  Located in the scenic Verde River Valley, it is one of several sites related to the Sinagua people managed by the National Park Service (also see Walnut Canyon, Tuzigoot, and Wupatki).

Highlights

Cliff dwelling, Montezuma Well

Must-Do Activity

Protected in a cliff recess above Beaver Creek, the five-story tall ruin is not accessible to tourists and can only be viewed from below.  Its name “Montezuma” refers to the mistaken belief that it was somehow connected to the Aztec Empire of Mexico, but its inhabitants had more in common with the Sinagua people living in around Arizona in the 1400s.  Continue on the paved walkway to the ground-level ruins of Castle A and views of Beaver Creek.

Best Trail

To investigate a separate unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, drive 11 miles north to Montezuma Well, a limestone sinkhole filled by a natural spring that produces 1.5-millions gallons of 74°F water daily.  The trail is only a half-mile long loop, but it is worth the trip to see the historic irrigation ditches and the 55-foot deep sinkhole.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is unclear why the Sinagua people abandoned the cliff dwelling around 1425, but it may have been due to disease, drought, or climate change.  There were 35 to 50 inhabitants of Montezuma Castle and even more at Castle A, which had approximately 50 rooms.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass; Montezuma Well is free

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is no campground at the National Monument, but many located within massive Coconino National Forest, which also allows dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – In what year did the National Park Service stop allowing visitors to climb ladders to walk inside Montezuma Castle?

Yucca House National Monument

Overview

Yucca House National Monument was established in 1919 outside Cortez, Colorado.  It is not far from Mesa Verde National Park, which has information about the National Monument at its visitor center on Highway 160.  The 34-acre site protects an unexcavated pueblo abandoned around 1300, so there is very little to see above ground.  The fact that there is public access at all is thanks to the ranching family that allows visitors to park in what is basically their driveway.

Highlights

Unexcavated pueblo, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument visitor center

Must-Do Activity

Unless you aim to visit every unit in the National Park Service (NPS) system, you are better off spending your time taking an extra tour or hike at Mesa Verde National Park.  There are no facilities and there is not much to see at Yucca House, but there are many interesting Ancestral Puebloan ruins within nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  They have a large visitor center in Dolores, Colorado where you can get directions to archaeological sites, such as Painted Hand Pueblo.

Best Trail

Sand Canyon Trail lies within Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and its southern trailhead is located just off paved County Road G.  The trail provides access to numerous archaeological sites; just remember to leave everything where you found it.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The most interesting unexcavated pueblo we have visited is Posi-Ouinge, which is accessible by a short trail from Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort in New Mexico.  The ground there is littered with thousands of pot shards, many with painted designs still visible.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access road is well-maintained dirt.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed in parts of nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which is run by the BLM.

Related Sites

Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Hovenweap National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – Why did the Bureau of Land Management change the name of their visitor center in Dolores, Colorado from Anasazi Heritage Center?

Fort Frederica National Monument

Overview

The colony of Georgia was established by James Oglethorpe to be an alcohol-free utopia open to commoners in debtors’ prison back in England.  The aristocrats quickly discarded those ideals and introduced slavery after founding a town on the Savannah River in 1733.  That same year, to the south the Spanish constructed Fort Mose as a sanctuary to slaves who fled the British.  In response, Oglethorpe created Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, with a palisade and 10-foot wide moat around the entire town.  Further, he led an unsuccessful siege of St. Augustine, Florida in 1740.  The Spanish retaliated, but were defeated at Bloody Marsh despite owning a two-to-one advantage in soldiers.

Highlights

Museum, ruins of colonial fort, Bloody Marsh Battle Site

Must-Do Activity

Fort Frederica’s regiment was disbanded in 1749 and the town was abandoned within a decade when it was mostly destroyed by fire.  Today, visitors can walk the ruins underneath picturesque live oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  Fort Frederica National Monument is part of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that honors the unique traditions brought by slaves from West Africa and retained over the centuries on these isolated Atlantic coastal islands.  Cooking gumbo with okra, weaving sweetgrass baskets, and using the word “guber” for peanut are all examples of how the Gullah/Geechee culture has survived into modern times. 

Best Trail

A self-guided tour passes excavated foundations of the town underneath Spanish moss-draped live oak trees.  During our visit in 2016, Hurricane Matthew had knocked down trees closing some of the trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The British established Fort Frederica to stop Spanish encroachment from Florida into their American colonies.  The town that formed around the fort peaked at a population of 1,000.  Today it is a beautiful setting with tabby wall ruins and Spanish moss-draped trees.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None, there is no longer a toll for the F.J. Torras Causeway that accesses St. Simons Island.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Jekyll Island State Park offers camping 13 miles southeast of Brunswick, Georgia.

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Explore More – Fort Frederica was named for which member of the British royalty?

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Overview

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona is worth a closer look than a drive-by on your way to Grand Canyon National Park.  As its name suggests, this thousand-foot high cinder cone is stained red as though in perpetual twilight.  Volcanic activity last occurred here in the year 1180 AD, but even though geologists consider this area dormant, it is just possible that a new cinder cone might start erupting at any time.

Highlights

Lava Flow Nature Trail, Bonito Lava Flow, Lenox Crater Trail, O’Leary Peak

Must-Do Activity

A 35-mile loop drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to neighboring Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forest and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert region that is dotted with ruins.  From the road you can see the San Francisco Peaks rising to the west, as well as a series of cinder cones outside the monument’s boundaries.  Several of these mini-volcanoes are accessible by roads, including our favorite: S.P. Crater.

Best Trail

To experience the black cinders you have to get out of your car and hike through them, but take your time as the elevation is around 7,000 feet.  Lava Flow Nature Trail provides interpretive signs along a partially paved one-mile loop.  You cannot climb to the top of Sunset Crater, but you can summit nearby Lenox Crater on a steep one-mile trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow are especially eye-catching when viewed from atop 8,900-foot O’Leary Peak, accessible by hiking to a fire lookout tower in adjacent Coconino National Forest.  The awe-inspiring vista will make you glad that movie producers were stopped from dynamiting Sunset Crater in 1928.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle, which also covers entrance to neighboring Wupatki National Monument.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

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

Related Sites

Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Capulin Volcano National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How many millions of years of volcanic activity have occurred in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona?