NATIONAL monuments which commemorate history, conserve forests, and distinguish conspicuous examples of world-making dot other parts of the United States besides the colorful southwest. Their variety is great and the natural beauty of some of them unsurpassed.

Their number should be much greater. Every history-helping exploration of the early days, from Cortreal's inspection of the upper Atlantic coast in 1501 and Ponce de Leon's exploration of Florida eleven years later, from Cabrillo's skirting of the Pacific coast in 1542 and Vancouver's entrance into Puget Sound in 1792, including every early expedition from north and south into the country now ours and every exploration of the interior by our own people, should be commemorated, not by a slab of bronze or marble, but by a striking and appropriate area set apart as a definite memorial of the history of this nation's early beginnings.

These areas should be appropriately located upon or overlooking some important or characteristic landmark of the explorations or events which they commemorated, and should have scenic importance sufficient to attract visitors and impress upon them the stages of the progress of this land from a condition of wilderness to settlement and civilization.

Nor should it end here. The country is richly endowed, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with examples of Nature's amazing handicraft in the making of this continent, the whole range of which should be fully expressed in national reservations.

Besides these, examples of our northeastern forests, the pines of the southern Appalachians, the everglades of Florida, the tangled woodlands of the gulf, and other typical forests which perchance may have escaped the desolation of civilization, should be added to the splendid forest reserves of the national parks of the West, first-grown as Nature made them, forever to remain untouched by the axe.

Thus will the national parks system become the real national museum for to-day and forever.

There follows a brief catalogue of the slender and altogether fortuitous beginnings of such an exhibit.


One of the last remaining stands of original redwood forest easily accessible to the visitor is the Muir Woods in California. It occupies a picturesque canyon on the slope of Mount Tamalpais, north of the Golden Gate and opposite San Francisco, from which it is comfortably reached by ferry and railroad. It was rescued from the axe by William Kent of California, who, jointly with Mrs. Kent, gave it to the nation as an exhibit of the splendid forest which once crowded the shores of San Francisco Bay. It is named after John Muir, to whom this grove was a favorite retreat for many years.

It exhibits many noble specimens of the California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, cousin of the giant sequoia. Some of them attain a height of three hundred feet, with a diameter exceeding eighteen feet. They stand usually in clusters, or family groups, their stems erect as pillars, their crowns joined in a lofty roof, rustling in the Pacific winds, musical with the songs of birds. Not even in the giant sequoia groves of the Sierra have I found any spot more cathedral-like than this. Its floor is brown and sweet-smelling, its aisles outlined by the tread of generations of worshippers. Its naves, transepts, alcoves, and sanctuaries are still and dim, yet filled mysteriously with light.

The Muir Woods is a grove of noble redwoods, but it is much more. Apart from its main passages, in alcove, gateway, and outlying precinct it is an exhibit of the rich Californian coast forest. The Douglas fir here reaches stately proportions. Many of the western oaks display their manifold picturesqueness. A hundred lesser trees and shrubs add their grace and variety. The forest is typical and complete. Though small in scope it is not a remnant but naturally blends into its surroundings. The shaded north hill slopes carry the great trees to the ridge line; the southern slope exhibits the struggle for precedence with the mountain shrubs. At the lower end one bursts out into the grass country and the open hills. Every feature of the loveliest of all forests is at hand: the valley floor with its miniature trout-stream overhung with fragrant azaleas; the brown carpet interwoven with azaleas and violets. There is the cool decoration of many ferns.

From a photograph by Tibbitts

The straight-growing redwoods compel a change of habit in the trees that would struggle toward a view of the sky. Mountain-oaks and madrona are straight trunked and clear of lower branches. There is rivalry of the strong and protection for the weak.

The grove is, in truth, a complete expression in little of Nature's forest plan. The characteristics of the greater redwood forests which require weeks or months to compass and careful correlation to bring into perspective, here are exhibited within the rambling of a day. The Muir Woods is an entity. Its meadow borders, its dark ravines, its valley floor, its slopes and hilltops, all show fullest luxuriance and perfect proportion. The struggle of the greater trees to climb the hills is exemplified as fully as in the great exhibits of the north, which spread over many miles of hill slope; here one may see its range in half an hour.

The coloring, too, is rich. The rusty foliage and bark, the brighter green of the shrubs, the brown carpet, the opal light, stirs the spirit. The powerful individuality of many of its trees is the source of never-ending pleasure. There is a redwood upon the West Fork which has no living base, but feeds, vampire-like, through another's veins; or, if you prefer the figure of family dependence so strikingly exemplified in these woods, has been rescued from destruction by a brother. The base of this tree has been completely girdled by fire. Impossible to draw subsistence from below, it stands up from a burned, naked, slender foundation. But another tree fell against it twenty-five or thirty feet above the ground, in some far past storm, and lost its top; this tree pours its sap into the veins of the other to support its noble top. The twin cripples have become a single healthy tree.

One of the most striking exhibits of the Muir Woods is its tangle of California laurel. Even in its deepest recesses, the bays, as they are commonly called, reach great size. They sprawl in all directions, bend at sharp angles, make great loops to enter the soil and root again; sometimes they cross each other and join their trunks; in one instance, at least, a large crownless trunk has bent and entered head first the stem of still a larger tree.

There are greater stands of virgin redwoods in the northern wilderness of California which the ruthless lumberman has not yet reached but is approaching fast; these are inland stands of giants, crowded like battalions. But there is no other Muir Woods, with its miniature perfection.


Southeast of craggy Lyell, mountain climax and eastern outpost of the Yosemite National Park, the Muir Trail follows the extravagantly beautiful beginnings of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River through a region of myriad waters and snow-flecked mountains. Banner Peak, Ritter Mountain, Thousand Island Lake, Volcanic Ridge, Shadow Lake—national park scenery in its noblest expression, but not yet national park.

A score of miles from Lyell, the trail follows the river into a volcanic bottom from whose forest rises the splendid group of pentagonal basaltic columns which was made a national monument in 1911 under the title of the Devil's Postpile. Those who know the famous Giant's Causeway of the Irish coast will know it in kind, but not in beauty.

The enormous uplift which created the Sierra was accompanied on both its slopes by extensive volcanic eruptions, the remains of which are frequently visible to the traveller. The huge basaltic crystals of the Devil's Postpile were a product of this volcanic outpouring; they formed deep within the hot masses which poured over the region for miles around. Their upper ends have become exposed by the erosion of the ages by which the cinder soil and softer rock around them have been worn away.

The trail traveller comes suddenly upon this splendid group. It is elevated, as if it were the front of a small ridge, its posts standing on end, side by side, in close formation. Below it, covering the front of the ridge down to the line of the trail, is an enormous talus mass of broken pieces. The appropriateness of the name strikes one at the first glance. This is really a postpile, every post carefully hewn to pattern, all of nearly equal length. The talus heap below suggests that his Satanic Majesty was utilizing it also as a woodpile, and had sawn many of the posts into lengths to fit the furnaces which we have been taught that he keeps hot for the wicked.

Certainly it is a beautiful, interesting, and even an imposing spectacle. One also thinks of it as a gigantic organ, whose many hundred pipes rise many feet in air. Its lofty position, seen from the viewpoint of the trail, is one of dignity; it overlooks the pines and firs surrounding the clearing in which the observer stands. The trees on the higher level scarcely overtop it; in part, it is outlined against the sky.

"The Devil's Postpile," writes Professor Joseph N. LeConte, Muir's successor as the prophet of the Sierra, "is a wonderful cliff of columnar basalt, facing the river. The columns are quite perfect prisms, nearly vertical and fitted together like the cells of a honeycomb. Most of the prisms are pentagonal, though some are of four or six sides. The standing columns are about two feet in diameter and forty feet high. At the base of the cliff is an enormous basalt structure, but, wherever the bed-rock is exposed beneath the pumice covering, the same formation can be seen."

An error in the proclamation papers made the official title of this monument the Devil Postpile, and thus it must legally appear in all official documents.

The reservation also includes the Rainbow Fall of the San Juan River, one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the sub-Sierra region, besides soda springs and hot springs. This entire reservation was originally included in the Yosemite National Park, but was cut out by an unappreciative committee appointed to revise boundaries. It is to be hoped that Congress will soon restore it to its rightful status.


A structure similar in nature to the Devil's Postpile, but vastly greater in size and sensational quality, forms one of the most striking natural spectacles east of the Rocky Mountains. The Devil's Tower is unique. It rises with extreme abruptness from the rough Wyoming levels just west of the Black Hills. It is on the banks of the Belle Fourche River, which later, encircling the Black Hills around the north, finds its way into the Big Cheyenne and the Missouri.

This extraordinary tower emerges from a rounded forested hill of sedimentary rock which rises six hundred feet above the plain; from the top of that the tower rises six hundred feet still higher. It is visible for a hundred miles or more in every direction. Before the coming of the white man it was the landmark of the Indians. Later it served a useful purpose in guiding the early explorers.

To-day it is the point which draws the eye for many miles. The visitor approaching by automobile sees it hours away, and its growth upon the horizon as he approaches is not his least memorable experience. It has the effect at a distance of an enormous up-pointing finger which has been amputated just below the middle joint. When near enough to enable one to distinguish the upright flutings formed by its closely joined pentagonal basaltic prisms, the illusion vanishes. These, bending inward from a flaring base, straighten and become nearly perpendicular as they rise. Now, one may fancy it the stump of a tree more than a hundred feet in diameter whose top imagination sees piercing the low clouds. But close by, all similes become futile; then the Devil's Tower can be likened to nothing but itself.

This column is the core of a volcanic formation which doubtless once had a considerably larger circumference. At its base lies an immense talus of broken columns which the loosening frosts and the winter gales are constantly increasing; the process has been going on for untold thousands of years, during which the softer rock of the surrounding plains has been eroded to its present level.

One may climb the hill and the talus. The column itself cannot be climbed except by means of special apparatus. Its top is nearly flat and elliptical, with a diameter varying from sixty to a hundred feet.

From a photograph by Tibbitts

From a photograph by N. H. Darton


Forty miles as the crow flies east of Monterey, California, in a spur of the low Coast Range, is a region which erosion has carved into many fantastic shapes. Because of its crowded pointed rocks, it has been set apart under the title of the Pinnacles National Monument. For more than a century and a quarter it was known as Vancouver's Pinnacles because the great explorer visited it while his ships lay at anchor in Monterey Bay, and afterward described it in his "Voyages and Discoveries." It is unfortunate that the historical allusion was lost when it became a national reservation.

Two deep gorges, bordered by fantastic walls six hundred to a thousand feet high, and a broad semi-circular, flower-grown amphitheatre, constitute the central feature. Deep and narrow tributary gorges furnish many of the curious and intricate forms which for many years have made the spot popular among sightseers. Rock masses have fallen upon the side walls of several of these lesser gorges, converting them into picturesque winding tunnels and changing deep alcoves into caves which require candles to see.

It is a region of very unusual interest and charm.


On the way to the Yellowstone National Park by way of the Wyoming entrance at Cody, and three miles east of the great Shoshone Dam, a limestone cave has been set apart under the title of the Shoshone Cavern National Monument. The way in is rough and precipitous and, after entering the cave, a descent by rope is necessary to reach the chambers of unusual beauty. One may then journey for more than a mile through galleries some of which are heavily incrusted with crystals.


Approaching the crest of the Rockies on the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Lewis and Clark Cavern is passed fifty miles before reaching Butte. Its entrance is perched thirteen hundred feet above the broad valley of the Jefferson River, which the celebrated explorers followed on their westward journey; it overlooks fifty miles of their course.

The cavern, which has the usual characteristics of a limestone cave, slopes sharply back from its main entrance, following the dip of the strata. Some of its vaults are decorated in great splendor. The depredations of vandals were so damaging that in 1916 its entrance was closed by an iron gate.

This cavern is the only memorial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the national parks system; there is no record that the explorers entered it or knew of its existence.

Two hundred and thirty miles east of the Cavern, Clark inscribed his name and the date, July 25, 1806, upon the face of a prominent butte known as Pompey's Pillar. This would have been a far more appropriate monument to the most important of American explorations than the limestone cave. In fact, the Department of the Interior once attempted to have it proclaimed a national monument; the fact that it lay within an Indian allotment prevented. The entire course of this great expedition should be marked at significant points by appropriate national monuments.


In the southwestern corner of South Dakota, on the outskirts of the Black Hills, is one of the most interesting limestone caverns of the country. It was named Wind Cave because, with the changes of temperature during the day, strong currents of wind blow alternately into and out of its mouth. It has many long passages and fine chambers gorgeously decorated. It is a popular resort.

The United States Biological Survey maintains a game-preserve.


Northwest of Wind Cave, thirteen miles west and south of Custer, South Dakota boasts another limestone cavern of peculiar beauty, through whose entrance also the wind plays pranks. It is called Jewel Cave because many of its crystals are tinted in various colors, often very brilliantly. Under torchlight the effect is remarkable.

Connecting chambers have been explored for more than three miles, and there is much of it yet unknown.


In the far southwestern corner of Oregon, about thirty miles south of Grant's Pass, upon slopes of coast mountains and at an altitude of four thousand feet, is a group of large limestone caves which have been set apart by presidential proclamation under the title of the Oregon Caves National Monument. Locally they are better known as the Marble Halls of Oregon.

There are two entrances at different levels, the passages and chambers following the dip of the strata. A considerable stream, the outlet of the waters which dissolved these caves in the solid limestone, passes through. The wall decorations, and, in some of the chambers, the stalagmites and stalactites, are exceedingly fine. The vaults and passages are unusually large. There is one chamber twenty-five feet across whose ceiling is believed to be two hundred feet high.


For sixty miles or more east and west across the Olympian Peninsula, which is the forested northwestern corner of Washington and the United States between Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, stretch the Olympian Mountains. The country is a rugged wilderness of tumbled ranges, grown with magnificent forests above which rise snowy and glaciered summits. Its climax is Mount Olympus, eight thousand one hundred feet in altitude, rising about twenty-five miles equidistant from the Strait of Juan de Fuca upon the north and the Pacific Ocean upon the west.

The entire peninsula is extremely wild. It is skirted by a road along its eastern and part of its northern edges, connecting the water-front towns. Access to the mountain is by arduous trail. The reservation contains nine hundred and fifty square miles. Although possessing unusual scenic beauty, it was reserved for the purpose of protecting the Olympic elk, a species peculiar to the region. Deer and other wild animals also are abundant.


High under the Continental Divide in southwestern Colorado near Creede, a valley of high altitude, grotesquely eroded in tufa, rhyolite, and other volcanic rock, is named the Wheeler National Monument in honor of Captain George Montague Wheeler, who conducted geographical explorations between 1869 and 1879. Its deep canyons are bordered by lofty pinnacles of rock. It is believed that General John C. Fremont here met the disaster which drove back his exploring-party of 1848, fragments of harness and camp equipment and skeletons of mules having been found.


The first exploration of the northern United States east of the Rocky Mountains is commemorated by the Verendrye National Monument at the Old Crossing of the Missouri River in North Dakota. Here rises Crowhigh Butte, on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, an eminence commanding a wide view in every direction.

Verendrye, the celebrated French explorer, started from the north shore of Lake Superior about 1740 and passed westward and southward into the regions of the great plains. He or his sons, for the records of their journeys are confusing, passed westward into Montana along a course which Lewis and Clark paralleled in 1806, swung southward in the neighborhood of Fort Benton, and skirted the Rockies nearly to the middle of Wyoming, passing within a couple of hundred miles of the Yellowstone National Park.

Crowhigh Butte is supposed to have given the Verendryes their first extensive view of the upper Missouri. The butte was long a landmark to guide early settlers to Old Crossing.


Congress created the Sully's Hill National Park in North Dakota in 1904 in response to a local demand. Its hills and meadows constitute a museum of practically the entire flora of the State. The United States Biological Survey maintains there a wild-animal preserve for elk, bison, antelope, and other animals representative of the northern plains.


On Baranoff Island, upon the southeastern shore of Alaska, is a reservation known as the Sitka National Monument which commemorates an important episode in the early history of Alaska. On this tract, which lies within a mile of the steamboat-landing at Sitka, formerly stood the village of the Kik-Siti Indians who, in 1802, attacked the settlement of Sitka and massacred the Russians who had established it. Two years later the Russians under Baranoff recovered the settlement from the Indians, contrary to the active opposition of Great Britain, and established the title which they afterward transferred to the United States. Graves of some of those who fell in the later battle may be seen.

The reservation is also a fine exhibit of the forest and flora of the Alexander Archipelago. Sixteen totem-poles remain from the old native days.


Remains of the rapidly passing native life of the Alexander Archipelago on the southeast coast of Alaska are conserved in the Old Kasaan National Monument on the east shore of Prince of Wales Island. The village of Old Kasaan, occupied for many years by the Hydah tribe and abandoned a decade or more ago, contains several community houses of split timber, each of which consists of a single room with a common fireplace in the middle under a smoke-hole in the centre of the roof. Cedar sleeping-booths, each the size of an ordinary piano-box, are built around the wall.

The monument also possesses fifty totem-poles, carved and richly colored.

Of the thirty-six national monuments, twenty four are administered by the National Parks Service, ten by the Department of Agriculture, and two by the War Department. Congress made the assignments to the Department of Agriculture on the theory that, as these monuments occurred in forests, they could be more cheaply administered by the Forest Service; but, as many of the other monuments and nearly all the national parks also occur in forests, the logic is not apparent, and these monuments suffer from disassociation with the impetus and machinery of the National Park Service.

The Big Hole Battlefield National Monument, about fifty-five miles southwest of Butte, Montana, was assigned to the War Department because a battle took place there in 1877 between a small force of United States troops and a large force of Indians.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009