National monuments are areas that are under the protection of the US government either due to their uniqueness or if they have a cultural or historical significance. The authority to designate an area as a National Monument lies with the US President. A national monument can later be converted into a national park or merged into an existing national park.
The first National Monument in the US was the Devils Tower, which is an immense butte situated in Wyoming. Presently there are 158 national monuments in the US.
From ancient petroglyphs to natural bridges, hoodoos to cliff dwellings, and volcanic landscapes to prehistoric villages, these are 10 under-the-radar national monuments to visit.
1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Spanning more than 83,000 acres, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers an excellent opportunity to immerse in the wild Arizona landscape, and to learn more about the history of the Navajo people.Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon.
2. Cedar Breaks, Utah
Like a mini Bryce Canyon, minus the crowds, Cedar Breaks contains a stunning assortment of hoodoos and cliffs in southern Utah. Technically an amphitheater, the monument is three miles wide and 2,000 feet deep, filled with craggy rock formations jutting up from the base like natural skyscrapers.
3. Petroglyph, New Mexico
Located on the western edge of Albuquerque lies one of the most concentrated collections of ancient petroglyphs on the continent. Native American tribes settled here hundreds of years ago, and they left their mark in the form of symbols carved into volcanic rock across the desert terrain. With around 24,000 images and symbols, there’s plenty to see here. In addition to the petroglyphs, the monument contains hiking trails throughout its 17-mile park, along with dormant volcanoes and canyons.
4. Montezuma Castle, Arizona
Montezuma Castle in Verde Valley is a prehistoric cliff dwelling with five floors, 20 rooms, and a million stories. Gaze through the windows of the past into one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America.
5. El Malpais, New Mexico
The richly diverse volcanic landscape offers everything from easy drives, scenic overlooks, and short walks to strenuous trails, caving, and rugged backcountry. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.
6. Casa Grande Ruins, Arizona
An Ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and “Great House” are preserved at Casa Grande Ruins. Explore the mystery and complexity of an extended network of communities and irrigation canals.
7. Natural Bridges, Utah
These three majestic natural bridges were formed by the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. The bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.
8. El Morro, Mew Mexico
Imagine the refreshment of finding water after days of dusty travel. A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made El Morro (the headland) a popular campsite for hundreds of years. Here, Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish, and American travelers carved over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs.
9. Hovenweep, Utah and Colorado
Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Explore a variety of structures, including multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders.
10. Organ Pipe Cactus, Arizona
Organ Pipe Cactus is the only place in the U.S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. One glimpse at this sprawling, soaring species will clue you in to where the cactus gets its name. An ideal place for desert camping and hiking, the monument also has horseback trails, scenic drives and biking opportunities.
In his “Positively Final Appearance,” Guiness leaves us with his philosophy that “nothing is desperately important, and the joy of life is just looking at it.” The joy can also be in writing about it.