15 Fascinating Historic Sites in the American Southwest 

The American Southwest blends nature and history in a beautiful way. Coyotes, canyons, and brilliant sun-kissed rock formations mark the region’s desert terrain. It’s also home to hundreds of national parks and monuments including the Grand Canyon. While there are a number of places you will want to see on your trip, be sure to stop and check out these Historic Sites in the Southwest.

The stories of the American Southwest extend well beyond the history of the United States. From the Indigenous peoples who built cliffside castles to the Spanish explorers who established missions and the cowboys of the Wild West—the history of this region is incredibly diverse.

To learn more about what makes the Southwest so captivating, check out 15 of the region’s best historic sites and the fascinating stories behind them.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Montezuma Castle, Camp Verde, Arizona

Embedded into the side of a sheer limestone cliff, Montezuma Castle dates back to around 1100 BC and was established as a national monument in 1906. The cliffside abode was named incorrectly by settlers who believed it to be of Aztec origin. In reality, the Sinagua peoples who inhabited the Verde Valley of Arizona for thousands of years, built and occupied the castle. Naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer, the site of the cliff dwellings was chosen due to preexisting caves and nearby water resources; inhabitants used wooden ladders to move throughout the settlement’s five levels.

To see the historic monument, start at the Visitor Center before walking up to the base of Montezuma Castle on a 0.3-mile loop trail. Then, you can drive to Montezuma Well, a naturally occurring sinkhole and the site of more cliff dwellings. The land around the well was home to prehistoric groups of people approximately 1,000 years ago before being settled by Anglo-Americans in the late 19th century.

Check this out to learn more: Apartment House of the Ancients: Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Four Corners Monument, Teec Nos Pos, Arizona

Located in Navajo Tribal Park, the Four Corners Monument is the only point in the country where four states meet. Marking the point where the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah state lines coalesce, the historic landmark also marks the boundary between the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Tribe Reservation. 

However, the monument’s history goes further back than just statehood. During the Civil War, Congress created several new territories—including Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico—to discourage residents from joining the Confederacy. In 1861, Congress voted for a marker to be placed in the monument’s exact location to demonstrate the southwest corner of the Colorado territory.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dating to 1610, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building in the contiguous U.S. still in continuous use. For nearly three centuries, the building was home to a rotating roster of Spanish, Mexican, and American governors as control over the New Mexico territory shifted and changed. Additionally, the native Pueblo peoples took over the palace during the Pueblo Revolt of the 17th century while the Confederacy occupied it during the Civil War.

Today, the Palace of the Governors is part of the New Mexico History Museum with interpretive galleries displaying its history and a palatial courtyard that connects to the rest of the museum. For visitors to Santa Fe, the palace features a block-long portal where Native American vendors sell their artisan wares and crafts.

Plan your next trip to Santa Fe with these resources:

Whiskey Row © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Whiskey Row, Prescott, Arizona

This legendary block in Arizona earned its moniker in the late 19th century when the street consisted of whiskey saloons favored by the local cowboys and miners. After a lit candle burned most of the downtown area in 1900, a group of locals famously rescued the actual bar from the Palace Saloon and began drinking their sorrows away. A year later, a new downtown was erected in a more fire-safe brick and the same bar was installed inside the new Palace Restaurant and Saloon.

Today, visitors can belly up at the historic bar or visit myriad other notable sites located on the city block. Rumored to be haunted by a lady in white, Hotel St. Michael has housed a number of famous guests over the past century including the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Doc Holiday. And while galleries and shops now decorate the historic square, famed establishments like the Jersey Lilly Saloon still embody the historic spirit of Whiskey Row.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Before it became the site of perhaps the most infamous battle in the Southwest, the Alamo was known as the San Antonio de Valero Mission. In 1724, Spanish colonizers established the church to convert the area’s Native American peoples.

It wasn’t until the 1835 Texas Revolution that the former mission became a war fortress and battle site. Stationed in the Alamo in 1836, Texas revolutionaries fought against Mexico in the Battle of the Alamo, a bloody 13-day squirmish that resulted in the deaths of all the defenders. Although they lost the battle, Texas later won independence from Mexico and would eventually become an American state nine years later.

Today, the Alamo is open and free to visitors although reservations must be made in advance. With guided and self-guided tours available, the Alamo is also part of the San Antonio Missions Trail giving cyclists easy access to the city’s network of historic missions.

If you need ideas, check out:

Besh Ba Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum, Globe, Arizona

One mile southwest of the City of Globe, Arizona, stand the remains of a large pueblo village constructed by the Salado culture who occupied the region between 1225 and 1450.

The pueblo is known today as Besh Ba Gowah, a term originally given by the Apache people to the early mining settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means place of metal

The partially reconstructed pueblo structures along with the adjacent museum provide a fascinating glimpse at the lifestyle of the people who thrived in the ancient Southwest.

Besh-Ba-Gowah had about 400 rooms of these about 250 were ground floor rooms. Precise numbers are impossible due to modern destruction of sections. Entrance to the pueblo was via a long narrow ground level corridor covered by the second level. The corridor opened onto the main plaza. This may have had a defensive purpose.

Check this out to learn more: Exploring a Remarkable Pueblo: Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park

Mesa Verde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mesa Verde National Park, Mancos, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park’s cliff dwellings are just one wonder to be found at this national park in Colorado which also includes protected wilderness.

Located in Southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde, Green Table in Spanish, National Park offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience a unique cultural and physical landscape. Including more than 4,000 known archeological sites dating back to A.D. 550, this national treasure protects the cliff dwellings and mesa top sites of pit houses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples who lived here for more than 700 years. This national park gives us a glimpse into the places and stories of America’s diverse cultural heritage.

The cliff dwellings are some of the most notable and best preserved sites in the United States. After living primarily on the mesa top for 600 years, the Ancestral Pueblo peoples began building structure under the overhanging cliffs of Mesa Verde—anything from one-room storage units to villages of over 150 rooms. Decades of excavation and analysis still leave many unanswered questions, but have shown us that the Ancient Pueblans were skillful survivors and artistic craftsmen.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Mesa Verde:

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle, Arizona

For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived in these canyons—longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. In the place called Tsegi, their homes and images tell us their stories. Today, Dine’ families make their homes, raise livestock, and farm the lands in the canyons. A place like no other, the park and Navajo Nation work together to manage the land’s resources.

Canyon de Chelly sustains a living community of Navajo people who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance—a landscape composed of places infused with collective memory. NPS works in partnership with the Navajo Nation to manage park resources and sustain the Navajo community.

Explore a 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Look up and see the original timbers holding up the roof. Search for the fingerprints of ancient workers in the mortar. Listen for an echo of ritual drums in the reconstructed Great Kiva.

Here are some helpful resources:

Aztec Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses, each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. Excavation of the West Ruin in the 1900s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide a glimpse into the life of Ancestral Pueblo people connecting people of the past with people and traditions of today. 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, Arizona

Casa Grande Ruins, the nation’s first archeological preserve, protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande, or Big House, one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America. See the Casa Grande and hear the story of the ancient ones the Akimel O’otham call the Hohokam, those who are gone.

Check this out to learn more: The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites and features volcanic rock carved by Native American and Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved by native peoples and early Spanish settlers.

Many of the images are recognizable as animals, people, brands, and crosses; others are more complex. Their meaning, possibly, may have been understood only by the carver. These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them.

If you need ideas, check out: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

12. Coronado Historic Site, Bernalillo, New Mexico

Home to the partially reconstructed ruins of the ancient Pueblos of Kuaua, this historic site dates back to 1300 DC. Inhabited by the ancestral Puebloans, Kuaua was the largest Pueblo complex in the region with roughly 1,200 ground-floor rooms and 10 to 20 large kivas. Each kiva (underground ceremonial room) is painted with layers of intricate murals revealing stories of the Pueblo peoples and representing some of the best examples of pre-Columbian art in the U.S.

Today, the village is known as the Coronado Historic Site named for Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado who discovered the village in 1540 during his search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The Puebloans were gracious toward their guests at first although their hospitality eventually faded and Coronado and his troops moved on. History buffs can visit these reconstructed kivas to see the well-preserved murals, as well as walk the site’s interpretive trails, complete with views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande.

Hovenweep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado

Noted for its solitude and undeveloped, natural character, Hovenweep National Monument was once home to more than 2,500 people in 900 A.D. In 1923, Hovenweep was proclaimed by President Warren G. Harding a unit of the national park system. The name Hovenweep is a Paiute/Ute word meaning deserted valley.

A group of five well-preserved village ruins over a 20-mile radius of mesa tops and canyons, these ancient Pueblo ruins include towers that remind visitors of European castles. Straddling the Utah-Colorado border, the ruins were built about the same time as medieval fortresses.

The largest and most accessible of the six units of ruins is Square Tower where several well-preserved structures are located. The area was home for several prehistoric farming villages. Throughout the ruins, visitors may find castles, towers, check dams (for irrigation), cliff dwellings, pueblos, and houses. Petroglyphs (rock art) can also be found in the area.

Here are some helpful resources:

Tuzigoot Ruins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

The Southern Sinagua built a ridge-top pueblo at Tuzigoot around 1100 AD and continued to add new rooms until the 1400s. This pueblo housed about 50 people. The Sinagua would often use a large pueblo as a dwelling and community center surrounded by additional smaller dwellings and outbuildings connected to agriculture.

While the region has a mostly arid climate, the marsh and river provide a source of fresh water, wild game, fish, and turtles to the Sinagua. Although summers are hot, a very long growing season allowed for the organized cultivation of crops as a supplement to food taken from the marsh and the river.

Despite the comfortable natural setting, the Sinagua left the pueblo at Tuzigoot for unknown reasons around the year 1450. Possibly the valley became overcrowded and the Southern Sinagua moved to different locations or were absorbed by other tribes. When the Sinagua abandoned Tuzigoot, they left behind many artifacts, some of which are on display in the visitor center.

Today, much of the ruin at Tuzigoot has been reconstructed to provide a safe and stable environment for visitors; however, the main tower is mostly original and is open to the public. The pueblo is accessible as part of a short loop trail. An additional trail leads out to a viewing area overlooking the marsh that was so important to the Sinagua.

Read more: An Ancient Village on the Hill: How Life was Lived at Tuzigoot

Tumacacori © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Tumacácori National Historic Park, Tumacácori, Arizona

Tumacácori sits at a cultural crossroads in the Santa Cruz River valley and is where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people mixed with Europeans.

From his arrival in the Pimería Alta in 1687 until he died in 1711, Padre Kino established over twenty missions. The Jesuit missionaries administered them until the time of their expulsion in 1767. From 1768 until after Mexico got her independence in 1821 the missions were operated by the Franciscan missionaries. Some are still in use today while others have fallen into ruin.

Tumacácori National Historical Park in the upper Santa Cruz River Valley of southern Arizona is comprised of the abandoned ruins of three of these ancient Spanish colonial missions. San Jos de Tumacácori and Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi, established in 1691, are the two oldest missions in Arizona. San Cayetano de Calabazas, was established in 1756.

Check this out to learn more: Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

Worth Pondering…

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Miriam Beard

National Historic Landmarks: 2,600 Locations and Counting

From sea to shining sea, these are 15 of America’s best historic landmarks

Since 1960, the National Historic Landmark program has marked around 2,600 locations of special significance to the foundation and development of the United States. The sites range from The Alamo in San Antonio to the Historic Williamsburg in Virginia.

Almost all locations are found within the U.S., its territories, or areas the U.S. used to control such as the Federated States of Micronesia. Only one site lies in a completely sovereign nation that has never experienced any U.S. administration—the North African country of Morocco. 

Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation by order of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah on December 20, 1777. Due in part to the treaty of peace and friendship the two nations signed in 1786 (which created the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship in U.S. history), Morocco bestowed a sprawling mansion (now called the Tangier American Legation) upon the young nation in 1821.

The mansion is situated in the medina or walled city of Tangier, once Morocco’s diplomatic capital. The building has served many purposes throughout the years including acting as a consulate, espionage headquarters, and Peace Corps training facility. It became a historic landmark in 1982 and is still officially owned by the U.S. It is leased to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies which continues the nearly 250-year friendship between the two countries.

National Historic Landmarks Program

National Historic Landmarks are historic properties that illustrate the heritage of the United States. The over 2,600 landmarks come in many forms: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. Each National Historic Landmark represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. King Ranch

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 5, 1961

Location: Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Willacy Counties, Texas

Description: In 1853, Captain Richard King purchased a creek-fed oasis in the Wild Horse Desert of South Texas. King now covers 825,000 acres—more land than the state of Rhode Island. Over 160 years, King Ranch led some of the first cattle drives, developed the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle, bred the finest Quarter Horses, and produced champion Thoroughbreds—all under its iconic Running W® brand. Today’s King Ranch is a major agribusiness with interests in cattle ranching, farming (citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, and turfgrass), luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tombstone Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona

Description: It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

Fort Adams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fort Adams

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 8, 1987

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The second largest bastioned fort in the US, Fort Adams was the key to Narragansett Bay area defenses, from 1799 to 1945. It was designed to be the most heavily armed fort in America and to garrison 2,400 troops. Three tiers of guns defended Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. Situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor, the fort offers a panoramic view of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. USS Lexington 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 31, 1903

Location: Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas

Description: The Fore River Shipyard of Quincy Massachusetts built U.S.S. Lexington for the US Navy in the early days of World War II with the ship being commissioned in 1943. Named to commemorate the earlier Lexington which had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington would serve the US Navy until the 1990s. Lexington was decommissioned in 1991. During its career, it received eleven Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. It was donated as a museum ship and is moored in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. It was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission-turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working tradespeople, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Presidio la Bahia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 24, 196767

Location: Goliad, Goliad County, Texas

Description: Presidio La Bahía is a fort located in Goliad, Texas. Its official name is Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía and it was built and utilized by the Spanish Army. The fort was originally founded in 1721 and it was home to many Texas Revolution conflicts including the Battle of Goliad and the Goliad Massacre.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

14 Must-See National Historic Landmarks (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, I’m sharing America’s best historic landmarks

While there are more than 87,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places which is America’s official list of historic properties only about 3 percent of those are National Historic Landmarks. The Alamo, Savannah Historic District, Keeneland Race Track, Historic Williamsburg, Hubbell Trading Post, and more are all National Historic Landmarks.

Each of these Landmarks is an exceptional representation of an important chapter of American history. The town of Telluride joined this preeminent group of America’s most special places in 1961 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark as one of the most important places associated with mining history in the United States. Hall’s Hospital, now the home of the Telluride Historical Museum was built in 1896 and is one of the oldest buildings in Telluride. It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark and is a contributing structure to the Town’s status as a National Historic Landmark District.

From Old Ironsides to the Grand Canyon Depot these 14 landmarks are just some of the must-see sights that help us appreciate America’s beauty and resiliency while reconciling its past and honoring those who lived here before the New World was built. Be sure to stay in a local campground or RV park to get the full local, often historic, experience.

There are over 2,600 National Historic Landmark sites in the United States and the federal government owns fewer than 400 of them. Roughly 85 percent of them are owned by private citizens, organizations, corporations, tribal entities, or state or local governments—or sometimes a combination.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. USS Alabama

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: Displacing more than 44,500 tons, USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern—half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. 

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Hubbell Trading Post

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 12, 1960

Location: Ganado, Apache County, Arizona

Description: Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Jekyll Island Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 2, 1978

Location: Jekyll Island, Glynn County, Georgia

Description: In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Read more: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

USS Constitution © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Constitution (Frigate)

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Charlestown Navy Yard, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Naval officers and crew still serve aboard her today. 

The wooden-hulled, three-mast USS Constitution was launched from Hartt’s shipyard in Boston’s North End on October 21, 1797. It was designed to be more heavily armed and better constructed than the standard ships of the period.

The greatest glory for USS Constitution came during the War of 1812. It was during this war in the battle against the HMS Guerriere the ship earned the nickname Old Ironsides when the crew of the British ship noticed their canon shots simply bounced off the ship’s strong oak hull they proclaimed: “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”

Read more: The Storied History of Old Ironsides

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Keeneland Race Course

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: September 24, 1986

Location: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Description: Since opening in October 1936, Keeneland has been unique in the Thoroughbred industry. Keeneland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house and hosts world-class racing twice annually during its boutique spring and fall meetings. Owners, trainers, riders, and fans from all over the world travel to Lexington each year to participate at Keeneland.

Read more: Keeneland: A Special Place

Grand Canyon Depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Grand Canyon Depot

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Constructed in 1909-1910, Grand Canyon Depot is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark. Designed by architect Francis W. Wilson of Santa Barbara, California, the log and wood-frame structure is two stories high. Originally, the downstairs was designated for station facilities, and the upstairs was for the station agent’s family.

Just beyond the depot is the El Tovar Hotel built in 1905 by the railroad. The El Tovar is the signature hotel along the rim. The railroad built the depot five years after the hotel and placed it conveniently close for the rail passengers.

Read more: Making a Grand Trip Grander

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working trades people, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia

Description: Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

Tumacacori © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Tumacacori Museum

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Tumacacori, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Description: The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Read more: Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Yuma Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona and Winterhaven, Imperial County, California

Description: The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. 

Read more: The Yuma Crossing

Worth Pondering…

Most people’s historical perspective begins with the day of their birth.

—Rush Limbaugh

Uncover Your Different in The City Different

Santa Fe is known as the City Different and within one visit you will know why

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a city unlike any other truly living up to its tagline, The City Different. With legendary history and culture around every corner, an art scene that spans from traditional to contemporary, award-winning cuisine that’s as eclectic as it is sumptuous, and countless experiences to encounter you’re sure to uncover something different about yourself when you visit.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established back in 1607, Santa Fe first became a capital three years later making it both the oldest capital city in the country and the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi. It also served as the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico, the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, and the principal city for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande.

Of course, people had been living on and near the site of the city long before its Western founding—namely, communities of Pueblo Native Americans. Records show villages in the area dating back to the 11th century.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience it: Remarkably, buildings from the start of the Spanish era still stand. The Palace of the Governors has stood since the early 1600s—today, this historic adobe structure serves as New Mexico’s history museum detailing the intervening 400-some years of life in the state. There’s a wonderful (daily) Native American market here where you can buy jewelry and tokens straight from the artists.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Miguel Chapel, aka the oldest church in the country or just “the oldest church” also dates back to the early 1600s. Yes, it’s still standing—and conducting services twice a day (once in Latin).

Related article: Wake Up In New Mexico

As in the 1600s, so today: A significant part of Santa Fe’s culture is connected to the 23 Native American Tribes, Nations, and Pueblos who reside in New Mexico. Since each tribe comprises its sovereign nation, the rules, language, and culture change depending on who you’re visiting. Eight of the state’s 19 Native American Pueblos are located north of Santa Fe. Today, you can visit many of them—and you should.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience it: Numerous Indigenous celebrations are held throughout the year with three notables in January alone: King’s Day Celebration, St. Ildefonso Feast Day, and St. Paul’s Feast Day. Public events ramp back up in July and August with the anniversary of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and Santa Clara Feast Day (August 12, 2022).

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was a revolution against Spanish religious, economic, and political institutions imposed upon the Pueblos. It is the only successful Native uprising against a colonizing power in North America.

La Fonda © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Fonda Hotel doesn’t just occupy the oldest hotel site in Santa Fe—it occupies the oldest hotel site in the country. Records date way, way back to 1607, right around when the city was founded. The digs inside are a bit more modern, however—their much venerated La Plazuela restaurant serves tasty, tasty, tasty modern Southwestern cuisine surrounded by skylights and the hammered tin of a 1920s-era patio. For some amazing margaritas try the adjacent La Fiesta Lounge (it happens to be a favored stop on the Margarita Trail).

La Plazuela restaurant at La Fonda © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to its old roots, La Fonda (Spanish for “the inn”) is the only hotel on the historic Santa Fe Plaza making it an excellent launching pad for exploring the heart of the city’s downtown buzz. Here’s what you’ll find nearby.

Related article: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a Victorian-era cathedral built by Archbishop Lamy and featured in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (yes, that Archbishop). If it looks incomplete, that’s because it is—the project ran out of money and the two towers were never finished.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Palace of the Governors, once a fortress where Governor Lew Wallace wrote the classic Ben Hur is now a 400-year-old museum where members of the local Pueblo communities display handcrafted jewelry under its block-long portal.

Museum of Contemporary Native Arts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the plaza and the cathedral is the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, a culture-spanning collection of the new art of and by North America’s indigenous peoples and the only one of its kind in existence. It all started with a student honors program and now it’s the largest collection of contemporary Native American art in the world.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Considering just how many people work in the creative sector in Santa Fe, it’s no surprise that some of them are well-known faces. Perhaps the most famous of the local artist contingent was Georgia O’Keeffe, a 20th-century painter known for her vibrant depictions of flowers. Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin currently resides in Santa Fe and other notable past residents have included D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Related article: Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Experience it: It would only be fitting to see O’Keeffe’s work in the place that inspired it. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, located downtown, features not only her paintings but exhibits on her creative process as well. You can also venture north to Ghost Ranch, one of O’Keeffe’s first homes.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get the full picture of the city’s cultural diversity with a visit to Museum Hill. These are four cultural experiences in one: Start with the retablos and Santos at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (the only museum of its kind in the country), and move on to the Kachina carvings and pottery at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, note the colors and textiles at the Museum of International Folk Art, and wrap it all up with a wander around the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian, home to some of the best Native American art in the state.

If you have time to spare, head to the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill. It’s a little oasis full of colorful gardens and orchards, native plants, and notes of Southwestern architecture that bring it all together.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For 400+ years, Santa Fe has improved with age. America’s oldest capital city experienced waves of migrations along the three trails that led here—and more recently via the rails, Route 66, and the Interstate. Artists, chefs, wellness experts, and other creative dreamers all bring their culture, talents, and experience with them when they meet Santa Fe’s unique blend of Anglo, Spanish, and Native Cultures against a backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ majesty and the spectacular sunsets over the Jemez range—nothing short of magic transpires.

The early Native American inhabitants called it Dancing Ground of the Sun while the founding frontiersman at the turn of the 20th century referred to it as The City Different. These still hold today as you’ll see for yourself.

New Mexico Museum of Art © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander the halls of the New Mexico Museum of Art, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, or check out the more than 250 galleries concentrated on Canyon Road, downtown Lincoln Avenue, and Railyard District.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re hitting up a local-favorite diner for traditional New Mexican cuisine or looking for one of the city’s many imaginative twists on the original, New Mexican food is hard to beat. The keystone ingredient is chile—green is usually spicier than red but if you’re not sure which one to order, you can always say “Christmas!” and try both. (Tip: Try both and decide for yourself)

Related article: Top 9 Things to See and Do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience it: Eat everything you can in Santa Fe. Try a breakfast burrito smothered with green chile at Tia Sophia’s then head over to Tortilla Flats— next to Meow Wolf—for their red chile pork ribs. If you aren’t busting at the seams with New Mexican food by this point, go for the sopapillas at La Choza.

If you hit your chile quota (apparently some people have one) try Jambo for some great jerk chicken or Cowgirl BBQ for their ribs sans chile. To get the best deals at tons of different restaurants around town, consider planning a trip during Santa Fe Restaurant Week (late February) when restaurants offer special prix fixe menus.

Worth Pondering…

I’m in love with Santa Fe;

Like it better every day;

But I wonder, every minute

How the folks who aren’t in it

Ever stand it, anyway.

Not to be in Santa Fe.

—Mae Peregine, 1915