Day 6: National Monuments in the National Park Service

Last Updated on December 28, 2019 by Janet Frost

As we move through the 12 Days of National Parks we have learned that there are nineteen different types of park units in the National Park Service. It can be difficult to understand the distinctions. Today we are going to look into National Monuments. A national monument preserves one nationally significant resource. This resource can be natural or man-made, of environmental, historical or cultural significance. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of facilities.

Let’s Go! Learn Things at National Monuments…

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande National Monument in Arizona
Main living structure at Casa Grande National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument seems to rise straight out of the desert floor on the road between Tucson and Phoenix. This small NPS unit displays the remains of a village built by the Ancient Sonoran Desert Peoples (formerly known as Hohokam). These people created very sophisticated communities and canal systems all over the Sonora Desert in what is now southern Arizona. Casa Grande has several standing structures and some excavated canals and farm plots.

Learn More: Hohokam, Ancestors of Arizona and Native American Heritage in Salt River

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego
Cabrillo National Monument sits high atop Point Loma a spit of land in San Diego Bay

At the very tip of Point Loma, as San Diego Bay meets the open Pacific, stands the Cabrillo National Monument. It was at the base of this bluff, in 1542, that the Spaniard, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, was the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. The views from this vantage point are breath-taking.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

I discovered Montezuma Castle National Monument along the road to Sedona, AZ. In the above Casa Grande Monument, you met the Ancient Sonoran Desert Peoples. Here at Montezuma Castle are the remains of the Sinagua culture. Several sites from this ancient culture have been found in central Arizona. It is believed that they borrowed dwelling styles from both the Hohokam to the south and the Pueblo to the northeast.

This particular site is an impressive example of pueblo cliff dwellings set along the fertile Beaver Creek. It was one of the first National Monuments set side by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Unfortunately, the name Montezuma Castle, has stuck since the 1860’s when prospectors assumed incorrectly, that it was remains from the Aztec culture.

Dinosaur National Monument

Straddling a corner of Utah and Colorado is the Dinosaur National Monument, home to over 800 paleontological sites dinosaur fossils. There is a Visitor Center and the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. The Exhibit Hall is recently rebuilt and houses an actual steep rock wall from the original Carnegie Quarry. In 1909, the paleontologists in the Carnegie Quarry shipped all of the excavation results back to the Carnegie Natural History Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

In addition to the plethora of dinosaur fossils and remains, the Dinosaur National Monument protects ancient evidence of the Fremont culture, through petroglyphs (patterns chipped or carved into the rock) and pictographs (patterns painted on the rock).

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Sculpture at entrance to Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, originally the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, is a new member to the National Monument line-up. It commemorates the violent aggression against peaceful Civil Rights protesters in the early 1960’s in Alabama and across the Deep South. Designated in 2017, this monument plays an important role in helping us learn from our recent history as a nation.

Buck Island Reef National Monuments

Buck Island National Monument is 1.5 miles from St. Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is a tiny island teeming with unique terrestial and underwater wildlife, many of which are endangered. From Hawksbill sea turtles to Elkhorn coral, these precious resources are now protected by the National Park Service.

More National Monuments

I have chosen just a few of the 83 National Monuments managed by the U.S. National Park Service. You can see that they are a diverse collection of significant resources, from underwater preserves to iconic statues. These NPS park units provide natural, historical and cultural phenomenon for generations of Americans to learn from. Find your park today!

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