America's national parks and monuments are at risk.
Hopefully “Remember the Sequoias?” is something that we’ll never have to say. But just in case, you should probably see these national monuments before they lose their protected status.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Not that there was a lot of competition, but Utah’s grand staircase is one of the world’s most breathtaking natural staircases.
Each step takes hikers down through layers of history, 200 million years in total. Erosion of the sedimentary rock reveals prehistoric plants, vegetables, animals and the largest collection of dinosaur fossils found anywhere in the world.
But you’ll need more than one vacation day to see it. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is huge–roughly the size of Delaware–with plenty of rock formations, hiking trails, camping, and horseback riding spots to keep you busy for a year’s worth of long weekends. At least while it’s still around.
The Giant Sequoia National Monument
Giant Sequoias can grow as tall as skyscrapers and as wide around as your first apartment. And at the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California, you can strain your neck looking up at the majesty of 328,000 acres of them.
To see the best of what the park has to offer, follow the well-marked trails. They’ll take you past one of the oldest living organisms on earth (the 2,000-year-old Boole Tree), the Trail of A Hundred Giants, and the Converse Basin: a razed area of Sequoia stumps cut down before these endangered trees were federally protected.
The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
If you rank every destination by #travelgram potential, then the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument should be on the top of your list. The trippy, colorful lines of their most famous rock formations–The Wave and Coyote Buttes– are some of the most photographable in the world.
But, you have to be committed to getting those likes for the ‘gram. Because the sites are so popular, the park allows only 20 visitors per day (and spots fill up fast) to help protect these popular photo ops from excessive foot traffic.
Hanford Reach National Monument
Washington’s Hanford Reach National Monument may be the best spot in the United States to watch an IRL nature documentary taking place right in front of you. Not only is it home to the Northwest’s best salmon spawning ground (what’s a nature doc without grizzly fishing action?) but also 48 other animal species including beavers, mule deer, bobcats, river otters, minks, cougars and several threatened or endangered animal species.
And the best part is that you can view them all from the safety of your car. This park has plenty of trails to make most things visible with a pair of good binoculars for those who want to enjoy nature with zero chance of getting bitten by any of it.
The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Usually, history happens in a straight line. But at the Canyons of the Ancients, 10,000 years of history are spread out over one large area. This National Monument has the highest density of archaeological sites in North America.
Over 6,300 cave drawings, cliff dwellings, ancient shrines, and settlements crop up nearly everywhere you look. Hike through and you can track human history from the time when we battled wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats to the development of agriculture to the era when tourists came from miles around to marvel at it all.
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The Sonoran Desert National Monument
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they look around at their friends and loved ones and think, “I could just get in my car and drive away from here and no one could stop me.”
The best National Monument for blissful, isolated escape is the Sonoran Desert. Its wide, flat, cactus-covered plains cover nearly a half million acres, dotted with isolated mountain ranges and some of the most beautiful and biologically diverse desert plant and animal life in North America. But unlike most of the world’s tourist attractions, this oasis of isolation has almost no people.
Camp, hike, discover ancient rock art and artifacts and pretend to be the last man on earth.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
The Montana Badlands are just as dramatic as they sound. People have been marveling at the breathtaking geography of its white cliffs and steep bluffs since long before Lewis and Clark first documented them in 1805. There’s no better place for dramatic black and white photography, or camping out in the spot where the west was at its wildest.
The bighorn sheep that graze wild here make great company, but the 10,000cattle that ranchers once grazed here could make the Upper Missouri Breaks a little too crowded in the future if they lose their protected status.
Northeast Canyons & Seamounts Marine
WHERE: Off The Coast of New England
Someone once described viewing the sea life here as “a stroll through Dr. Seuss’ garden.” There are 1,000-year-old corals, endangered species of marine life found nowhere else on earth, plus a few familiar faces like sea turtles, octopuses, several species of whale, and pods of dolphins that swim overhead in the hundreds.
Expert divers can explore three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains. And if you don’t dive, maybe you should consider learning sooner rather than later. This protected area is also a potential drilling and commercial fishing site, two of its possible futures if it loses protection.
Bears Ears National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument gets its name from the twin buttes that tower at its center. But this 1.35-million-acre national monument has much more: juniper forests, ethereal red rock formations, and an outdoor museum.
Well, “museum” may be a stretch. Grand Gulch does have more than 10,000 ancestral Puebloan ruins from 800 to 1,200 years old: dwellings, buildings, tools, pottery art, and even a community bulletin board with 2,000 years’ worth of notices.
What it doesn’t have are attendants shushing visitors or keeping them from touching (or breaking) all of the stuff. This newly-minted monument is in the process of putting those structures in place to protect the artifacts, but they may go without it if this area loses its federal protection.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
The wildflower bloom at Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of California’s best-kept secrets. When conditions are right, flowers of every color carpet the valley floor to create one of nature’s most breathtaking vistas.
But even when the pollen count isn’t crazy, the white alkali flats of soda lake, ancient cave drawings, and quirky critters like leopard lizards, giant kangaroo rats, and antelope squirrels draw plenty of visitors.