Mammoth Cave (left) photograph courtesy of the National Park Service. Great Smoky Mountains photo (right) courtesy of National Park Service.
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
World Heritage Sites in the United States
 

Text Only Version
 

This text-only version is provided for ease of printing and reading. Printing this page will print the introduction, essay, list of sites, and all of the descriptions for the sites featured in this itinerary. If you would like to print a specific section, click on one of the links below and mark the section you would like to print.

Introduction
World Heritage Sites in the United States: A Perspective from the National Park Service
How the World Heritage Convention Works
List of Sites and Descriptions
Map (prints separately)
Learn More (prints separately)
Credits (prints separately)


Introduction

The National Park Service and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers invite you to visit the places featured in our World Heritage Sites in the United States Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary. Designated as World Heritage Sites under the World Heritage Convention to enhance worldwide understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage, this small number of exceptional cultural and natural sites have been formally determined to possess “outstanding universal value” to humanity. Most but not all U.S. World Heritage Sites are administered by the National Park Service, and all or parts of them are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which the National Park Service expands and maintains for the nation.

The itinerary offers several ways to discover and experience these places:

View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person. The World Heritage Sites Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary, the 60th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior and National Park Service's strategy to promote public awareness of history and to encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and Federal, State, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series. If you have any comments or questions, please just click on "Comments or Questions" at the bottom of each page.

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World Heritage Sites in the United States: A Perspective from the National Park Service

By Stephen Morris, Chief of the National Park Service Office of International Affairs

More than 40 years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the World Heritage Convention, a pioneering treaty for international cooperation in the preservation of the world’s most significant cultural and natural treasures.  The United States played a key role in developing the Convention, which itself is part of the global outgrowth and evolution of the American national park idea.  Since 1978, the United States has nominated some of its most iconic sites, as well as some lesser-known ones, for inclusion on the prestigious World Heritage List.  To date, 22 U.S. sites have been selected and inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The primary purposes of the World Heritage Convention are to enhance worldwide understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage and through international cooperation help preserve a relatively small number of exceptional cultural and natural properties around the world that have been formally determined to possess “outstanding universal value” to humanity.  Just as national parks are set aside on behalf of an entire nation, World Heritage Sites, though remaining under the management of their respective countries, have been identified as having such universal significance that the entire global community has a stake in their conservation.

Coordination of U.S. participation in the Convention is assigned by law to the Secretary of the Interior, and responsibility for carrying this out has been delegated to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.  The National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) serves as the staff office with day-to-day responsibility for the program.  OIA oversees the development of nomination files and manages the process for adding prospective sites to the U.S. Tentative, or candidate, List for possible future nomination.  OIA also coordinates reporting to the World Heritage Committee on the status of U.S. World Heritage sites.

The U.S. has played a leadership role in the Convention since its inception, having been the first country to ratify the Convention in 1973 and having hosted the first session of the World Heritage Committee at which properties were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.  Included among the first 12 inaugural World Heritage Sites were Yellowstone National Park and Mesa Verde National Park.  In nominating these parks, one famous for its spectacular natural features and the other an iconic emblem of ancient Indian culture, the U.S. was making a point of including both natural and cultural sites on the World Heritage List.  The notion of preserving both nature and culture through a single international conservation treaty was originally promoted by the U.S. and continues to make the World Heritage Convention unique among international conservation instruments.

In the early years of the program, the U.S. nominated areas under the administration of the National Park Service.  There were a number of reasons for this, primarily because the National Park System offers so many excellent candidates, including as it does some of the nation’s most important natural and cultural treasures.  Secondly, the fact that these sites were under the exclusive jurisdiction and direct management of the Federal government ensured their long-term preservation and simplified the nomination process, as there was no need to consult extensively with other levels of government or private parties.  Given that the1980 Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act require all non-Federal property owners to consent in writing to having their property nominated to the World Heritage List, nominating U.S. sites with private owners involves a much lengthier process with extensive public outreach and careful negotiations.   For this reason, and unlike most of the rest of the world, in the U.S. it has never been possible to nominate historic towns or districts with a multitude of privately owned properties to the World Heritage List.

Eventually, the U.S. did expand its portfolio of World Heritage Sites beyond National Parks by nominating Monticello and the University of Virginia, owned respectively by a private foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  It also nominated Cahokia Mounds, owned by the State of Illinois, as well as Taos Pueblo, which is under the jurisdiction of a tribal government.  The most recent U.S. site added to the World Heritage List is Poverty Point State Historic Site in Louisiana.   The U.S., along with Canada, helped pioneer the concept of “trans-boundary” World Heritage Sites, a single World Heritage Site with components in two or more countries, by nominating two complexes of parks along the U.S.-Canada border.

The road to inclusion on the World Heritage List is a long one and success is not always assured. Over the years, several U.S. nominations  were not accepted by the World Heritage Committee, made up of a rotating group of 21 nations elected to a four year term.  The Committee which meets annually to consider proposed nominations is the ultimate arbiter of what is added to the List.  However, before a nomination reaches the Committee, several years will have already been spent putting together the nomination dossier.

The first step in the nomination process is inclusion in a country’s Tentative List.  The U.S. Tentative List was re-issued in 2008 and included 14 properties or groups of properties deemed eligible for nomination (so far two have been successfully inscribed).  The U.S. is planning on revising the current Tentative List by 2016.  The process by which the list will be revised has not yet been determined.  There are many potentially worthy candidates, but the number of sites that can be added is limited, given that by the rules of the World Heritage Committee countries can only nominate two sites per year.  When a country puts a site forward, its nomination is reviewed by one of the Committee’s advisory bodies, either the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) for cultural properties, or the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for natural properties.  The review includes an on-the-ground evaluation of the proposed site as well as desk reviews of the nomination dossier by subject matter experts.  The advisory bodies make recommendations to the World Heritage Committee as to whether or not the proposed site meets the criteria for inscription.

Inclusion on the World Heritage List benefits sites in a number of ways.  Most obviously, being included in the World Heritage ‘club’ brings a significant amount of prestige, particularly in regions such as Europe, Asia, and Latin America where achieving the designation is seen as the ultimate international validation. The prestige and visibility of the listing can boost tourism to the site, particularly from foreign visitors, especially if marketing programs championing its World Heritage status are undertaken.   Although the U.S. has never actively promoted tourism to its World Heritage Sites, there is growing interest in doing so, in line with the Obama Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy, which seeks to encourage visits, particularly from overseas, as an economic development strategy to increase employment.

World Heritage status also enhances the ability of sites to raise funds, primarily from the private sector.  Finally, being a World Heritage Site can provide an added level of protection in the sense that the spotlight of international attention can shine on threats to the site.  There have been several occasions over the years in which sites in the U.S. thought to be well protected actually faced threats that were resolved in part through the spotlight of the World Heritage Convention.

For example, at Taos Pueblo, the tribal government used the site’s World Heritage status to negotiate an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose approval was needed to expand the nearby municipal airport.  Under the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement between the tribe and the FAA, overflights over Pueblo lands will be minimized.  Similarly, a three-decade struggle to prohibit mining in the Flathead River valley in British Columbia was finally resolved after the World Heritage Committee authorized a mission to the joint Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a joint trans-boundary World Heritage Site.  The mission’s report concluded that any mining or energy development would devastate the ecology of the region and pollute the Flathead River which flows into the U.S. and forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Immediately after the report was issued, the Province of British Columbia and the State of Montana entered into an agreement to prohibit any mining in the Flathead area on both sides of the border.

While U.S. World Heritage Sites occasionally come under threat, World Heritage sites around the world often face very serious challenges, particularly in countries facing civil strife or economic stress.  The lack of proper management often contributes to problems facing World Heritage properties, particularly when the designation brings increases in tourism. In addition, many sites around the globe face threats ranging from poaching of wildlife, pressures from energy development or extractive industries, various types of incursions into protected areas and much more.  As part of its responsibility to promote international cooperation in helping preserve these outstanding places, the National Park Service developed a World Heritage Fellowship program providing opportunities for site managers from developing countries to travel to the U.S. for the purposes of training and exchange with counterparts at American National Parks that are World Heritage Sites. With decades of experience in managing large numbers of visitors as well as other aspects of park operations, the NPS is well placed to share lessons learned with colleagues from overseas.  Since 2009, 13 fellows from a variety of countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have spent on average four weeks in a U.S. National Park collaborating with NPS peers on ways to deal with the challenges of managing a World Heritage Site.

The most recent challenge to U.S. participation in the World Heritage Convention began in late 2011 when the General Conference of UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a member state.  U.S. law holds that if a UN body grants membership to Palestine, the U.S. must suspend payments to that organization and accordingly the U.S. State Department froze U.S. payments to UNESCO.  To date, the U.S. is in arrears in its dues, unable to pay the overall annual membership dues of approximately $80 million or the much smaller amount due to the World Heritage Fund, which administers the World Heritage global program and from which developing countries can seek assistance to help preserve their World Heritage Sites.   This has created considerable hardship both to UNESCO and to the secretariat of the World Heritage Convention, known as the World Heritage Centre, housed within UNESCO.  While the State Department is actively seeking to persuade Congress to modify the law so that the Administration could have the discretion to waive the prohibition and allow U.S. payments to resume, the success of that effort is far from certain.  In the meantime, the U.S. continues to nominate its sites, as there is no prohibition in the Convention from doing so.  Following the successful inscription of Poverty Point, an ancient mound site built over 3400 years ago by a hunter-gatherer civilization, the next U.S. nomination that the World Heritage Committee will consider is the one for the San Antonio Missions, including the early 18th century missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park as well as the Alamo.

Despite the on-going issue of non-payment of U.S. dues, there is growing interest among the U.S. public in seeking global recognition for unique American places through the World Heritage program.  As World Heritage grows in stature and visibility and becomes more well-known in the U.S., that interest will likely only increase.   The NPS Office of International Affairs fields many requests on a regular basis from proponents of prospective nominations.  It is ironic that the growing U.S. interest in nominations comes at the same time as the cloud of the dues issue hangs over U.S. participation in World Heritage and all UNESCO-related activities.   The sooner this issue is resolved, the sooner the U.S. can resume its historic leadership role in the World Heritage Convention and continue inviting the world to join in recognizing the value of key American treasures that form the common heritage of humankind.

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How the World Heritage Convention Works

By Gustavo Araoz, President of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)

The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, better known as the World Heritage Convention, is an international pact or treaty through which ratifying nations agree to cooperate in the conservation and protection of their cultural and natural heritage sites, and particularly those that have been determined to possess outstanding universal value.

Springing from an American idea, the drafting of the Convention was many years in the work, and became effective and open to ratification in 1973, which the United States was the first to do in December of that year. Since then 190 countries have followed suit, making the World Heritage Convention one of the most ratified international treaties in the history of the world. During the more than four decades of the Convention’s existence, the United States has been a constant and active participant in the implementation of the Convention as is clearly exemplified by the 22 American properties inscribed in the World Heritage List.

The Convention is administered by the World Heritage Centre within the Paris-based United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but all decisions concerning its implementation are taken by the World Heritage Committee, a group of representatives from 21 countries (or States Parties to the Convention) that are elected by the General Assembly of all States Parties that takes place every two years. The Committee meets every year in different parts of the world at the invitation of one of the members of the Committee. Three organizations are designated in Article 13 of the Convention as Advisory Bodies to assist the Committee on its decisions. They are the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (the Rome Centre), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).  These organizations were undoubtedly selected because of their unique global presence as well as their inter-disciplinary and multicultural nature.

Recognizing that the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, belongs primarily to the State, the Convention calls on each State Party to ensure that effective and active measures are taken for the protection, conservation and presentation of the fullness of its cultural and natural heritage. Specifically, Article 5 of the Convention calls for each country to protect its full heritage inventory by

  • adopting a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and by integrating the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programs;
  • setting up within its territories, where such services do not exist, one or more services for the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage with an appropriate staff and possessing the means to discharge their functions;
  • developing scientific and technical studies and research and by working out such operating methods as will make the State capable of counteracting the dangers that threaten its cultural or natural heritage;
  • taking the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage; and
  • fostering the establishment or development of national or regional centers for training in the protection, conservation and presentation of the cultural and natural heritage and by encouraging scientific research in this field.
Aside from the general directives above, the World Heritage Convention is better known by the three specific instruments it provides the international community to achieve its goals: The World Heritage List, the List of World Heritage in Danger and the World Heritage Fund.

The World Heritage List
Defined by Article 11 of the Convention, the World Heritage List is a compendium of natural and cultural properties voluntarily nominated by States Parties and that the Committee has determined to have an adequate protective structure and possess Outstanding Universal Value in accordance with one or more of the ten criteria it has adopted:

(i) represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
(ii) exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
(iii) bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
(iv) be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage(s) in human history;
(v) be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
(vi) be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria) ;
(vii) contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
(viii) be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
(ix) be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
(x) contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of Outstanding Universal Value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The first six of the above criteria are used to assess the outstanding universal value of cultural properties, and the last four are applicable to natural ones. As of 2014, 1,007 properties in 161 countries had been inscribed in the List, 779 of them cultural; 197, natural; and 31 of them, a mix of the two. However, the number grows constantly with each annual cycle of inscriptions.

ICOMOS and IUCN play a central role in the evaluation of nominations of properties, leading to making recommendations to the Committee regarding all inscriptions in the World Heritage List. ICOMOS is responsible for assessing nominations of cultural properties, while IUCN is in charge of natural ones. Mixed properties nominations, put forward under both natural and cultural criteria, are evaluated jointly by the two organizations. Both IUCN and ICOMOS maintain a World Heritage Unit consisting of highly specialized technical and professional staff in their respective secretariats in Switzerland and France.

In the United States, US/ICOMOS, the American branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites/ICOMOS has always worked closely with the National Park Service and the State Department by advising on the establishment of the U.S. Tentative List of sites to be nominated, and in the development of nomination dossiers for American cultural sites. The evaluation of nomination dossiers, of which about 40 are received each year, focuses on two aspects of the nomination: the determination of the property’s outstanding universal value, and the effectiveness of the existing protective system.

Outstanding universal value is assessed through the comparative analysis of the nominated property with similar places in its own region and all over the world. To do so, ICOMOS and IUCN have developed a broad process of confidential consulting with the members of it networks of internationally recognized experts on the type of property being nominated, who must also be knowledgeable about the application of the ten significance criteria.  ICOMOS relies heavily on the advice of its members, in particular those in its 30 International Scientific Committees, while IUCN does the same by consulting its many networks of experts.

Assessing the effectiveness of the existing protective system has been a growing requirement of the Convention, even though at times the Committee opts to exercise various levels of leniency in this respect and moves ahead to inscribe the site. The process for evaluating existing protection is far more complex than the determination of outstanding universal value, and requires a field visit by an expert from IUCN and/or ICOMOS to each property nominated. The experts selected have to be knowledgeable not only about heritage conservation, but also about the requirements that are detailed in the World Heritage Operational Guidelines, where desirable levels of protection are clearly articulated. Once on site, a number of issues are looked at, to include the state of conservation of the place; the nature and intensity of development pressures and other threats or risks; the effectiveness of the existing protective legislation, the management and security system, and of the visitors control, risk preparedness and interpretation plans; the appropriateness of the property’s conservation and caretaker staff and budgets; the adequacy of the official boundaries to ensure that all elements needed to express the outstanding universal value are within the protected area;  the involvement of local communities and other stakeholders in establishing the property’s intangible attributes and traditional uses where they exist; and when needed, the effectiveness of a properly sized protective buffer zone.

The final step in developing the recommendations to be made by the Advisory Bodies regarding inscription is the convening of a carefully selected international panel of experts, whose decision is final. Panel members supplement and inform their own expertise by carefully studying the full nomination dossier, the expert evaluations of significance, the field missions reports and any other assessments received from qualified members.  These panels are carefully composed of members representing a broad variety of the world regions and cultures, who have the necessary expertise on the  mix of categories of sites nominated each year (such as archaeology, underwater heritage, cultural landscapes or urban centers). When highly particular types of sites are also included in the year’s nominations, experts from  specialized sister organizations, such as TICCIH (the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage) and DOCOMOMO (International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement), are invited to join the panel.  IUCN and ICOMOS stage their panels separately, but exchange panel experts as needed, not only for mixed nominations, but also for special types of sites where natural and cultural resources are inextricably intertwined, a situation that has been on the increase in the past years.

At the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee, the Advisory Bodies present their recommendations according to four options defined in the Operational Guidelines. The Committee is free to accept, reject or alter any of the recommendations received from the Advisory Bodies:

  • Inscribe: Inscriptions are recommended when all the requirements of the Operational Guidelines have been met.
  • Refer: Referrals are recommended when the outstanding universal value has been determined but some minor elements of the protective structure need correcting. The nomination can then come the following year.
  • Defer: Deferrals are recommended when there is insufficient information to determine the outstanding universal value or when there are major shortcomings in the protective systems. Deferrals require that once the corrective measures are in place, they be field-verified through an additional field evaluation before the nomination returns to the Committee.
  • Do Not Inscribe. Non-inscription is only recommended when the property has been determined to possess no outstanding universal value.

The aim of the World Heritage List as pertains to cultural properties is to achieve an equitable representation of sites dating from all pre-historic and historic eras, resulting from all the world’s extinct and living cultures, and illustrative of all human interactions with the natural environment. To achieve this, the Committee has summarized its strategic objectives under in 5 C’s, which are Credibility, Conservation, Capacity-Building, Communication and Communities.

The List of World Heritage in Danger
The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action through international cooperation. The World Heritage Committee can inscribe on the List of World Heritage in Danger properties whose protection requires major operations and for which assistance has been requested. As of 2014, there are 46 properties in the List of World Heritage in Danger, most of them located in Africa and the Middle East. One endangered property in the United States is the Everglades, in Florida.

Armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and industrial development, and unchecked tourist development are some of the reasons for inclusion in the In Danger List.  Sites in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Kosovo and Afghanistan have been listed as such because of the actual and potential destructions brought about by civil unrest and armed conflict. The Buganda Tombs in Uganda was listed after a massive fire destroyed its major building. Liverpool in the United Kingdom underwent the same fate in 2012 because of the threats resulting from a massive redevelopment project of its historic docklands. At the request of the United States, Everglades National Park has been listed because of the threats of pollution, altered hydrology and urban encroachment, and Yellowstone Park was once listed because of the threats to the aquifer resulting from mining activities upstream.

A mechanism also exists for emergency simultaneous inscriptions in the World Heritage List for sites where threats are imminent, usually as result of armed conflict or a natural catastrophe, as was the case with the City of Bam in Iran after it suffered a devastating earthquake. The listing of Bam was very effective in mobilizing international efforts in the recovery process.

As expected, there is a huge range of possibilities between a state of perfect conservation and being in imminent danger. It is fully within the spirit of the Convention to foster international cooperation to prevent troublesome situations from becoming worse. For this reason, the Committee relies on the Advisory Bodies to track the state of conservation of all sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. Every year ICOMOS and IUCN, working closely with the professional staff of the World Heritage Centre, prepare and present to the Committee hundreds of State of Conservation Reports, which are compiled from information received directly from the States parties as well as though the membership networks of both organizations.

When the Committee assesses any of these situations to be particularly grave, it has the ability to propose assistance to the concerned State Party by suggesting that it invite technical monitoring missions that are the joint responsibility of the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies. Independently, the Advisory Bodies also provide support to States Parties in need, which in the case of ICOMOS usually occurs through its National Committees.

The World Heritage Fund

The World Heritage Fund is made up of compulsory and voluntary contributions received from States Parties, as well as from private donations.  In accordance with Article 16 of the World Heritage Convention, it is the General Assembly of States Parties to the Convention which determines, every two years, the amount of the contributions to be paid to the World Heritage Fund by the States Parties in the form of a uniform percentage of its total contribution to the regular budget of UNESCO.

The World Heritage Fund is expanded through donations given by countries to support specific projects with defined goals and objectives. These are known as Funds-in-Trust and at the present time the countries making such voluntary contributions include Belgium (through the Flemish Region), France, Japan, the Netherlands and Spain.

The World Heritage Fund provides about US$4 million annually to support activities requested by States Parties in need of international assistance.  Until Congress banned payment of its dues to UNESCO, about a quarter of this amount used to come from the contributions of the United States. The Advisory Bodies also advise the Committee on the allocation of such funds. While the intent of the Fund is for the World Heritage Committee to allocate financial support in accordance to the urgency of requests, with priority being given to the most threatened sites, the sad reality is that that because of its scarcity, it is used to support the growing administrative costs of hosting sessions of the Committee and to reimburse the Advisory Bodies for the expanding services requested of them.

ICOMOS is deeply committed to the World Heritage Convention by continuing to serve as advisor to the Committee and to the States Parties responsible for administering its implementation. From the broader perspective of ICOMOS, however, a major goal of the Convention that needs greater attention is for the excellence in management achieved for World Heritage Sites to trickle-down to the full cultural heritage inventory of all nations

Gustavo Araoz
President of ICOMOS
August 2014

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List of Sites and Descriptions

Alaska   Arizona   California   Colorado   Florida   Hawaii   Illinois   Kentucky   Louisiana   Montana   New Mexico   New York   Pennsylvania   Puerto Rico   Tennessee   Virginia   Washington   Wyoming  

Alaska   Arizona   California   Colorado   Florida   Hawaii   Illinois   Kentucky   Louisiana   Montana   New Mexico   New York   Pennsylvania   Puerto Rico   Tennessee   Virginia   Washington   Wyoming return to top

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, Illinois

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is located in Illinois, just several miles east of the Mississippi River and St. Louis, Missouri.  The mounds are a unique example of a large American Indian cultural and urban complex that flourished between A.D. 1000 and 1350. The original complex of mounds, homes, and farms, covered over 4000 acres. Population estimates for Cahokia proper now range from 10-20,000. If East St. Louis, St. Louis and other surrounding sites are included, then a population of 40-50,000 is possible for "Greater Cahokia."

The site was once the largest indigenous urban center in what is now the United States, before the arrival of European explorers and settlers. Other large mounds were also located on the eastern and western sides of the river in what is now East St. Louis and St. Louis. However, most if not all of these mounds have fallen in the past 300 years to the development of these cities.

The earthen mounds at Cahokia offer some of the most complex archaeological sites north of Central Mexico.  Monks Mound, which dominates the World Heritage Site and is located near its center, is the largest manmade structure north of Central Mexico. Monks Mound measures 304 meters (1000 feet) by 213 meters (700 feet) at its base and covers 5.7 hectares (14 acres), rising to approximately 100 feet in a series of four terraces. Cahokia Mounds was the regional center for the American Indian Mississippian culture, resembling a modern metropolis with its complex social system and large, permanent, central towns. Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site represents a truly unique example of the complex social and economic development of pre-contact indigenous Americans.

One fascinating aspect of Cahokia is that a circle of wooden posts once stood about one-half mile west of Monks Mound that aligned with the movements of the sun throughout the year. Archeologist Warren Wittry discovered this phenomenon in the 1960s after he identified a pattern of mysterious oval pits, arranged in circular arcs, at the site. Wittry reconstructed a series of wooden posts at the pits and then observed sunrises and their alignments with the posts. He determined that these posts appeared to predict the movement of the sun. He theorized that this served as a calendar. Upon further analysis, Wittry realized that both the posts and Monks Mound were shaped and placed in the exact spots necessary for the sun to look like it was rising from Monks Mound itself when the equinox occurred.

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site Interpretive Center offers visitors orientation at its theater and exhibits. The interpretive center features recreations of life and architecture at Cahokia during its heyday, based on the theories and discoveries of historians and archeologists.

Plan your visit

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a World Heritage Site, is located at 30 Ramey St., Collinsville, IL. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is also a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site visiting days and times are subject to change, so contact the park ahead of time to make sure it will be open when you plan to visit. For more information, visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site website or call 618-346-5160.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico

The extensive caverns of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico lie in the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains in the southeastern corner of the state. This large underground system formed 25,000 years ago and consists of more than 100 limestone caves within the national park. These caves exhibit worldwide significance due to their size, their unique origin, and the abundant diversity and beauty of the decorative rock formations. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the best preserved and most accessible cave complexes in the world available for scientific study and public access.

The park's primary caves, Carlsbad and Lechuguilla, are especially well known for the diversity and beauty of their decorative rock formations. Lechuguilla Cave exhibits rare and unique rock formations, including an abundance of large calcite and gypsum formations, including the largest accumulation of gypsum "chandeliers, some of which extend more than six meters (18 feet) in length. Carlsbad Cave is distinguished by its huge chambers as well as for its decorative mineral features. Carlsbad contains 81 known caves, a very high concentration, with Lechuguilla now accepted as the single most outstanding of these and one of the most significant caves in the world in terms of scientific value. The site contains at least 117 known caves, a very high concentration , with Lechuguilla now accepted as the single most outstanding of these and one of the most significant caves in the world in terms of scientific value. The park is also famous for its large colony of Brazilian Free-tail bats.

In short, Carlsbad Caverns contains some of the most outstanding caves in the world. The spectacular beauty, the rock formations, as well the unique plant communities found here put Carlsbad Caverns are in a class of its own.

Carlsbad’s cultural resources represent a complex chronology of human use dating as far back as the prehistoric era. Illustrating the various human adaptations to the Chihuahuan Desert environment, such events as prehistoric and historic American Indian occupations, European exploration and settlement, industrial exploitation, commercial development and tourism each contributed to the area’s rich and diverse history.

Carlsbad Caverns became a National Park Service site in 1923, but the area has been a major tourist attraction for over a century. The Carlsbad Cave entrance became a local landmark for homesteaders and ranchers settling in the area in the 1870s and 1880s when they noticed large clouds of bats -- flying in and out of the cave -- on summer evenings. It was around this time that the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District was founded. Homesteaded and farmed since 1880, the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District is a verdant landscaped setting, surrounding a spring that creates a lush oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert. Today, visitors to the historic district can discover attractions including historic irrigation and the horticulture features of homesteaders, as well as buildings in the Pueblo Revival Style and the New Mexico Territorial Revival Style.

Tourism at the caves began around the turn of the 20th century, after cowboy James Larkin White became the first American to explore the cave. White publicized the cavern and promoted both its development as a tourist site and preservation as a park. Using ropes, ladders, and kerosene lanterns, White guided visitors through the cavern’s chambers on the primitive trails he built.

After the creation of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the cave’s natural entrance was still too precipitous to safely descend. Visitors during the park’s early years were lowered into the cavern by mining buckets and a hoist. In 1925, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce constructed a wooden stairway over the lip of the natural entrance, providing a much safer point of entrance into the cave. The buildings of the Caverns Historic District were constructed around this time. Visitors to the park today can tour these Pueblo Revival Style and New Mexican Territory Style buildings that date back to the early 1920s and 1942. They are located at the natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns.

Before going out and exploring, visitors can gather information at the Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center. The center features a museum, book store, auditorium, and cafeteria. After orientation, access the cavern and its main chambers for a self-guided or ranger-led tour. Other attractions within Carlsbad Caverns National Park include the 9.5 mile Desert Loop Drive, traveling westward along the plateau’s top before returning via upper Walnut Canyon. The half-mile Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail offers similar scenery close to the cavern entrance, while portions of the park’s backcountry area feature several other hiking trails of varying degrees of length and difficulty.

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located at 3225 National Parks Highway in Carlsbad, NM. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm in the fall, winter, and spring and 8:00am-7:00pm in the summer, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Tickets for admission into the cavern, along with those for the ranger-led tours, are available in the park’s visitor center, while tour reservations are available both online and over the phone. For more information, visit the National Park Service Carlsbad Caverns National Park website or call 575-785-2232.

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Chaco Culture, Northern New Mexico

Chaco Culture World Heritage Site in the center of northern New Mexico lies at the core of an ancient American Indian civilization begun by people referred to as "ancestral Pueblo" or "Chacoan." The Chaco complex and its extensive system of masonry structures and roads were begun as early as 850 A.D. and flourished for several centuries.  As the economic and religious center for the surrounding region, the ancestral Pueblo constructed masonry buildings with rooms twice the size of Chacoan structures in other areas.  The buildings of Chaco Canyon are by far the earliest examples of the modern Pueblo Indian building tradition found in other areas of New Mexico and Arizona. This type of construction continues to the present day among the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States. This complex is protected at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and five smaller sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Chacoan buildings represent the highest technical excellence, craftsmanship, and coordination of effort in the prehistoric Chacoan area. Chacoan builders used very simple materials to erect walls which still stand over five stories. The scale and planning of these buildings, which are most evident in the geometry and symmetry of their plan or layout, is unique in the Southwest. At Chaco, the prehistoric social system may have been its peoples' most remarkable achievement. Chaco dominated and altered the traditional social, economic, and religious practices over a large area in a marginal environment.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument are units of the National Park Service. Along these parks' trails are the “great houses” like Una Vida & Petroglyphs and Hungo Pavi, and the highly significant Pueblo Bonito. Each site uniquely captures the history and influence of the Chaco people and their descendants. Pueblo Bonito, at Chaco Cultural National Historical Park, once served as the center of Chaco life and culture. This D-shaped building took decades to build, ultimately standing 4 to 5 stories tall with over 600 rooms. Pueblo Bonito was the focus of ceremonial functions, administration, trading, storage, hospitality, communications, astronomy, and burial of the honored dead for the Chaco people. Aztec Ruins National Monument protects three additional great houses that represented the later period of Chacoan cultural fluorescence. At Aztec Ruins, visitors can enter a reconstructed great kiva and wander through a series of original rooms with 900-year old roofs still intact.

By 1050 A.D., Chaco served as the center of culture in the San Juan Basin, and its sphere of influence was extensive. Dozens of great houses in Chaco were connected to over 150 great houses in the region by extensive roads. However, by the 1100s and 1200s, change came to Chaco as new construction slowed and Chaco's role as a regional center shifted. Chaco's influence continued at Aztec, Mesa Verde, the Chuska Mountains, and other centers to the north, south, and west. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures. Their descendants are the modern Southwest Indians. Many Southwest Indian people look upon Chaco as an important stop along their clans' sacred migration paths-a spiritual place to be honored and respected.

At Chaco Culture National Historical Park, visitors are encouraged to begin with the Visitor’s Center, which includes a museum, theater, bookstore, and gift shop. From there, a 9-mile paved loop road accesses six major sites within the historic park, including Pueblo Bonito. From April to October, the Chaco Night Sky Program presents astronomy programs, solar viewing, and telescope viewing of the spectacular dark sky. The park sponsors other programs, including special events and hikes, from May to October.

Aztec Ruins National Monument provides ranger tours and talks from May through September, and a Junior Ranger program is offered year-round.  Cultural demonstrations take place many weekends during the summer months. Aztec Ruins hosts an Earth Day Celebration every April and and an Evening of Lights display every December.

Plan your visit

Chaco Culture is a World Heritage Site and contains two units of the National Park Service and smaller sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Chaco Cultural National Historical Park is located three miles southeast of Nageezi, New Mexico, off County Road 7950. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is open every day from 7:00am to sunset. The Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm. The Visitor Center and trails are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, but the park's campground remains open. For more information, visit the National Park Service Chaco Culture National Historical Park website or call 505-786-7014 ext. 221.

Aztec Ruins National Monument is located one mile north of Aztec, NM, near the junction of U.S. 550 and NM 516. The Monument is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm daily and 8:00am to 6:00pm in the summer. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. For more information, visit the National Park Service Aztec Ruins National Monument website or call 505-334-6174.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary. Aztec Ruins National Monument is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary, and has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Everglades National Park, South Florida

The largest subtropical wilderness in North America is located in south Florida within Everglades National Park, the only site in the US to have been designated as globally significant by three different international initiatives: World Heritage, UNESCO International Biosphere program, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The park is bounded by Miami and its suburbs to the east; the Gulf of Mexico to the west; the Tamiami Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve and state lands to the north; and the Florida Keys to the south. It includes most of Florida Bay.

Everglades National Park protects more subtropical land and water than anywhere else in the US.  It protects some of the rarest and most endangered species in the US -- including Florida panthers, West Indian manatees, American crocodiles, and wood storks. It is home to some of the largest colonies of wading birds in North America and is a significant stopover for migratory birds. The park contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western hemisphere.

The park is located at several interfaces: between temperate and subtropical climates, between fresh and brackish water, and between shallow bays and deeper coastal waters. These habitats support a diversity of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, many of these attributes are threatened due to human pressures generated outside park boundaries. Due to these threats, the park was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List in 2010. An extensive, long-term restoration initiative is underway.

The Everglades protect 800 species of land and water vertebrates, including over 14 threatened species, and 25 mammals, over 400 bird species, 60 known species of reptile, amphibian and insect, including two threatened swallowtail butterfly species. Over 20 species of snake have been recorded, including the threatened indigo snake. More than 275 species of fish are known from the Everglades, most inhabiting the marine and estuarine waters.

The park is also rich in both pre and post European contact heritage containing 200 known archeological sites. Shell mounds and shell works found throughout Everglades National Park date back to the Calusa tribe's dominance in the area, before the arrival of Europeans. Spanish accounts suggest that the Calusa tribe was the major political organization in the region and operated a complex Chiefdom that was comprised of a number of village communities all organized within a chiefly hierarchy. Calusa village communities were concentrated along the Gulf coast among the coastal mangroves.

The Calusa created mounds out of discarded shells used as tools, and made other shell formations, called "shell works," by piling shells and earth upon each other. They used shells to form high ridges, mounds, platforms, canals, and courtyards. Over several generations, these shell works became a noteworthy part of Calusa villages. The Calusa tribe's shell works and shell mounds remain in the park as evidence of their way of life.

The Mud Lake Canal is a National Historic Landmark and one of only a few surviving precontact canoe trails in North America. The 3.9 mile-long canal is attributed to the Tequesta peoples and their ancestors. It demonstrates the engineering skill that was required to construct this rare and well-preserved example of long-distance canoe canals, which are unique to Florida. The canal was likely a major travel route and hub of activity that connected the Everglades, Ten Thousands Islands, and the Florida Keys. Although diseases brought by the Europeans decimated both the Tequesta and the Calusa by the 1700s, the Mud Lake Canal remains and provides information about the Tequesta culture just as the shell works and mounds recall the Calusa.

Today, a wide range of activities are available to anyone who visits the park such as biking, boating, camping, canoeing, fishing, geocaching, and hiking. The National Park Service offers numerous ranger-led programs that provide tours and more in depth information about different areas of the park. Visitors can also take part in the Tamiami Triathlon challenge. Providing a unique athletic opportunity, the Tamiami Triathlon challenge encompasses a 15 mile bike ride, a 3 mile hike, and a 3.5 mile canoe or kayak trip. The triathlon follows the Tamiami Trail, which was the first ever East/West route created across the Everglades.

Plan your visit

Everglades National Park, a World Heritage Site, and unit of the National Park System, is located in Monroe, Miami-Dade, and Collier Counties, FL. The park has multiple entrances and visitor centers including Ernest Coe Visitor Center, Flamingo Visitor Center, Shark Valley Visitor Center, Gulf Coast Visitor Center. They are all open 365 days a year. The main entrance with a Visitor Center, located at 40001 State Rd. 9336 in Homestead, FL, connects visitors to the Royal Palm Area and the Flamingo Area of the park. The Shark Valley entrance Visitor Center is located at 36000 SW 8th St, Miami, FL. The Gulf Coast entrance Visitor Center is located at 815 Oyster Bar Lane in Everglades City, FL. Boaters and paddlers can enter the park through its coastal boundaries and waterways. Mud Lake Canal is a National Historic Landmark and one of a number of listings in the National Register of Historic Places in Everglades. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file for Mud Lake Canal text and photos. Everglades National Park is open every day and can be entered anytime day or night, however, some of the entrances are closed seasonally or at night. For more information, visit the National Park Service Everglades National Park website or call 305-242-7700.

Everglades National Park is featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary.

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Glacier Bay/Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves (Part of Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini Alsek), Southeastern Alaska

In southeast Alaska, neighboring British Columbia, and Yukon, a massive complex of parks was inscribed together as one joint US-Canada World Heritage Site: the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini Alsek. The two US sites are both national parks: the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The complex protects over 24 million acres of wild lands and waters. The wilderness of Glacier Bay offers a spectacular array of tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes. This enormous land and seascape hosts a diverse mosaic of plant communities and a wide variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife, including humpback whales, grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep.

The parks that make up this World Heritage Site are still tectonically active and demonstrate some of the best examples of landscape modification by the formation and movement of glaciers and ice fields. These parks feature continuous mountain-building activity and contain outstanding examples of major geologic and glacial change. Over 200 glaciers in the ice-covered central plateau combine to form some of the world's largest and longest glaciers, several of which stretch to the sea. This trans-boundary treasure offers unexcelled opportunities to study the earth's most fundamental geologic processes and serves as a center for researchers from multiple disciplines to work together. What scientists learn here may one day foretell changes to the region and the world.

The marine wilderness offers a spectacular array of tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes. In addition, this diverse land and seascape hosts a mosaic of plant communities and a wide variety of marine and terrestrial wildlife. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located along the boundaries of Canada and the United States in southeast Alaska in the so-called Alaskan Panhandle. Here one can view some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers.

Since the 1800s, scientists, gold prospectors, explorers, and government geographers have documented what they discovered in Glacier Bay. However, human activity in the region dates back far earlier, to over 9,000 years ago. When Europeans arrived at Glacier Bay in the 18th century, the Tlingit people were the dominant Native population in the region. They had occupied the Dundas Bay area for over 800 years. Tlingit guides aided John Muir when he visited Glacier Bay in 1879. Muir’s writings helped Glacier Bay become a popular tourist attraction and the focus of many scientific inquiries in the late 1880s to 1890s. Archeological evidence in Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve near Glacier Bay's northern border indicates continuous human occupation of the area dating from the time when the Ahtna Native population settled the park’s Copper Basin, around 1,000 years ago.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a land of stunning scenery, pristine coastlines, mountains, glaciers, fjords, and even temperate rain forests. Visitors arrive either by flying in on a plane or aboard cruise ships and a variety of smaller tour vessels.  The only visitor facilities in the park are located in the Bartlett Cove area including Glacier Bay Lodge, the Park Visitor Center, Visitor Information Station, exhibits, and Park Headquarters. Trails, a public dock, kayak rentals, and a walk-in campground are available to help visitors explore the wilderness. Park Rangers provide regular guided activities, and also board cruise ships and tour vessels to present information about Glacier Bay and answer questions.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the U.S. at more than 13 million acres. In the park, visitors can experience a vast scenic wilderness with looming mountains, massive glaciers, and raging ice-fed rivers. The park contains entire intact ecosystems, millennia old. Visitors may also engage in the area’s rich history at the Kennecott Mines, a National Historic Landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, or pass through the historic town of Chitina, which includes a post office, tire repair services, a café, and a variety of lodging options. Kennecott is considered the best remaining example of early 20th century copper mining with its historic mines and the mill town where the ore was processed. The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark includes the land and mining claims that formed the foundation for the Kennecott Copper Corporation, later the Kennecott Minerals Company. From 1911 to 1938, nearly $200 million worth of copper was processed.

Along with the parks in the United States, visitors can also explore the parks in Canada that are included in the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini Alsek World Heritage Site World Heritage Site: Kluane National Park and Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park.

Plan your visit

Glacier Bay/Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves are part of the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini Alsek World Heritage Site. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a unit of the National Park System located west of Juneau, AK and can only be reached by plane or boat. The only road merely connects the small town of Gustavus and its airfield to park headquarters at Bartlett Cove (10 miles). For more information, visit the National Park Service Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve website.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is a unit of the National Park System. The Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center, the main park visitor center, is located along the Richardson Highway (Hwy 4), which is a paved road that runs through Copper Center, AK. This visitor center is located 10 miles south of Glennallen, Alaska, and approximately 200 miles east of Anchorage, AK and 250 miles south of Fairbanks, AK. The primary season for visiting Wrangell-St. Elias is early June through mid-September. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve has no entrance stations or gates, and never actually closes. However, winter arrives early to interior Alaska and by mid-September, available services and facilities are few.  The main park visitor center is open daily from 9:00am to 4:00pm in the spring and fall, and from 9:00am to 6:00pm in the summer.  The visitor center is closed during the winter months, from the beginning of November until the end March, and on Federal holidays.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve website or call 907-822-5234.

For information on the parks in Canada that are part of the World Heritage Site, visit the Kluane National Park and Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park websites.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary.

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Grand Canyon National Park, Northern Arizona

There is nothing else like it. The Grand Canyon is among the earth's greatest ongoing geological spectacles. Visitors the world over come each year to view its grandeur. Its vastness is stunning, and the evidence it reveals about the earth's history is invaluable. The 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mile) deep gorge ranges in width from 500 meters (0.3 miles) to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles). As it winds it way through the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona, it twists and turns for over 445 kilometers (276.5 miles).

The great canyon was formed by geologic activity and erosion by the Colorado River over a period of six million years.  The buttes, spires, mesas, and temples in the canyon are in fact mountains looked down upon from the rims. The horizontal layers of rock exposed in the canyon retrace a geological history of over two billion years.

The Grand Canyon provides exceptional examples of biological environments found at different elevations. Exposed within the canyon’s walls are five of North America’s seven life zones displaying the wide variety of plant and animal species present here through eons of time.

Nature’s beauty is on constant display at the canyon’s rims. Visitors are awed by the canyon’s powerful landscapes, its breathtaking plunging depths, the temple-like butts, and the panoramic multi-colored topography. Scenic wonders within park boundaries include high plateaus, plains, deserts, forests, cinder cones, lava flows, streams, waterfalls, not to mention one of America's great whitewater rivers.  The Grand Canyon is viewed with wide-eyed wonder by all who see it.

More than simply a site to behold, the Grand Canyon forms a rich cultural landscape that has been lived in, traveled through, and marveled at by various groups of people over time. Human activity in the Grand Canyon area dates as far back as the prehistoric era, when Paleo-Indian peoples inhabited the area nearly 12,000 years ago. Today, at least nine contemporary Native American tribes are culturally linked to the area. In the 16th century, Spanish colonists became the first Europeans to lay eyes on the Grand Canyon’s sweeping views. More interested in accessing the Colorado River than taking in the scenic vistas, however, the Spanish left the area after failing to descend the gorge.

 In 1857, members of a U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers survey expedition became the first non-indigenous individuals to view the Grand Canyon in the 200 years that passed since the Spaniards’ expedition. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, the Grand Canyon served as the focal point for many an expedition, attracting adventurers, prospectors, and scientists alike.

Among the listings in the National Register of Historic Places in the park, the Grand Canyon has five individual buildings and two historic districts that are included as nationally significant National Historic Landmarks: El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon Railroad Depot, Grand Canyon Lodge, Grand Canyon Park Operations Building (also known as Ranger Operations) and the Grand Canyon Power House and Grand Canyon Village (257 contributing properties) and the Mary Colter Buildings. Visitors can make reservations to stay in the historic lodgings and view these and other impressive historic properties that reflect the park's rich cultural history. One historic place from the early era of Grand Canyon tourism is the El Tovar Hotel. This former Harvey House hotel was built on the very edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon in 1905. As one of a chain of hotels and restaurants in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway, it was once visualized as a unique and unsurpassed travel experience only for the wealthy. Today, it is still open as a hotel for tourists to the Grand Canyon. Other historic places include the Mary Jane Colter Buildings, which are named for their architect: Mary Colter. These buildings are Hermit's Rest, Desert View Watchtower, Lookout Studio, and Hopi House, all built in the early 1900s. Visitors can still climb to the top of a 70 ft. tall stone Watchtower and enjoy a panoramic view that extends for more than 100 miles on a clear day.

North Rim or South, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park have a wide array of options for experiencing this powerful landscape. On the South Rim, visitors can attend free ranger-led programs, ride a mule along the canyon rim or an overnight ride into the bottom of the canyon, hike the Rim Trail to view the canyon from a series of overlooks, and visit several museums and information centers that house exhibits and provide park information. Additionally, visitors have the opportunity to make reservations for a whitewater or smooth water trip on the Colorado River, or visit the Tusayan Museum and Ruin to learn about early Pueblo culture.

With its facilities open from May into October every year, the Grand Canyon’s North Rim has a much shorter season than the South Rim, and receives many fewer visitors. The North Rim remains open to visitors for day use (sunrise to sunset) through December 1 or until snow closes Highway 67 leading into the park. Visitors to the North Rim may stop by the North Rim Visitor Center for access to interpretive exhibits, maps, and park information, or attend a daily interpretive ranger program. Here, visitors are offered a choice of several trails from which they can take a day hike, participate in a mule trip, or take in the view from their vehicles along the North Rim Scenic Drive.

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park is a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System. The Grand Canyon South Rim is located 60 miles north of Williams, AZ and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff, AZ. The Grand Canyon North Rim is located 30 miles south of Jacob Lake, AZ. The Grand Canyon South Rim is open daily 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The South Rim Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. The Grand Canyon North Rim is open seasonally, from mid-May through mid-October. The North Rim Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm, from mid-May through mid-October. For more information, visit the National Park Service Grand Canyon National Park website or call 928-638-7888.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest federally protected upland landmass east of the Mississippi River. No other region of equal size in a temperate climate zone can match the park’s amazing diversity of plants and animals. Over 17,000 species are documented in the park and researchers believe an additional 30,000 – 80,000 species live here.

The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, formed approximately 200-300 million years ago. They are unique in their northeast to southwest orientation, which allowed species to migrate along their slopes during climatic changes such as the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. The glaciers of the last ice age affected the Smoky Mountains without invading them. During that time, glaciers scoured much of North America but did not quite reach as far south as the Smokies. Thus, the Smokies have been relatively undisturbed by glaciers or ocean inundation for over a million years, allowing species eons to diversify.

Nearly 100 species of native trees find a home in the Great Smoky Mountains, more than in any other North American national park. Almost 95 percent of the park is forested, and about 25 percent of that area is old-growth forest -- one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old-growth forests remaining in North America.

It is no wonder that the Great Smoky Mountains was recognized as a National Park, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a World Heritage Site.

Among the beautiful landscape of the Smoky Mountains is the history of communities and families. The park contains evidence of four pre-Columbian cultures: Mississippian, Woodland, Archaic and paleo-Indian. The early Woodland culture period is of special archeological importance because it shows the first evidence of organized horticulture in North America, with primitive agriculture on river floodplains. The American Indians used the caves of the Smoky Mountains for shelters and chipped gypsum and mirabilite off the walls. Later, saltpeter deposits were discovered in these same caves, and this valuable nitrate was removed and sent to be processed in gunpowder factories between 1809 and 1819.

This national park boasts one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States, including the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill. This historic site transports the visitor back to the nineteenth century with a log farm house, barns, a working blacksmith shop, and apple house. Visitors are encouraged to explore the structures to better understand what life may have been like in these mountains two hundred years ago. There are many other historic locations throughout the park including Cataloochee and Cades Cove. Cataloochee was the most populated area of the Smoky Mountains in the early twentieth century and still has some existing buildings including the Beech Grove School, Palmer Chapel, and numerous frame houses. Cades Cove, and ideal spot for observing the wildlife of the park, has a rich history of settlements and community. The National Park Service has maintained Cades Cove as it would have looked in the early days of the settlers, and has restored several of the older log cabins and barns. Cabins and other farm buildings built in diversified architectural style are preserved well and  to be visited, such as John Oliver Cabin. Three churches and fourteen cemeteries still exist in the park and are used by the public.

Two more historic locations are the Elkmont Historic District and the Roaring Fork Historic District. The Elkmont Historic District contains two hotel buildings, a social clubhouse, and more than sixty dwellings and outbuildings, representing vernacular designs during the early 20th century.  Visitors can enjoy the scenery while camping on Elkmont campground surrounded by historic buildings. The Roaring Fork Historic District is designated to protect historic buildings from the 19th century. Visitors are invited to join a walk or auto tour on the Motor Nature Trail to view one of the larger and faster flowing mountain streams in the park and its wildflower sceneries.

The park offers a wide array of destinations to explore both its natural and the cultural history. Today, visitors can explore the Great Smoky Mountains via hiking trails, auto tours, wildlife excursions, horseback, and waterways -- encountering both nature and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains. This World Heritage Site and national park preserves a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history. The hills and valleys of Appalachia contain a long human history spanning thousands of years, and the park strives to protect the structures, landscapes, and artifacts that tell the stories of the people who journeyed and settled there.

Plan your visit

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located in Tennessee and North Carolina, with its headquarters at 107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN. The park has three main entrances: Gatlinburg, TN; Townsend, TN; and Cherokee, NC. For directions see the park website. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, some secondary roads, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities close in the winter. For more information, visit the National Park Service Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call 865-436-1200.

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Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i Island

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is located on the island of Hawai’i – the southernmost, and largest island in the Hawaiian island archipelago in the north central Pacific Ocean. The entire archipelago was formed, and is still in the process of formation, by volcanic activity over a “hotspot” in the Earth’s mantle.

The World Heritage Site contains two massive volcanoes -- Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the world's most active and accessible volcanoes where ongoing geological processes are easily observed.  A program of scientific volcanic study aides this understanding under the direction of U.S. Geological Survey scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

This World Heritage Site encompasses the summit and part of the southeast flank of Mauna Loa volcano and almost a third of Kilauea volcano. These broad, flat volcanic domes rarely explode. Occasionally, they send up fountains of molten rock hundreds of rneters into the air. Measured from the ocean’s floor, these volcanoes constitute the greatest volcanic mass on earth.

Each year, more than 1.6 million people visit the 1,350 square kilometer (520 square mile) park to experience the volcanoes and the park’s other natural and cultural features. Designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park preserves the intimate connection between the natural history of the region and Native Hawaiian culture –- a culture that to this day reveres the island volcanoes as sacred places.

Over 1,600 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands migrated 2,400 miles to Hawai'i in double-hulled canoes using the Sun and stars for navigational guides. They brought various survival items including pua'a (pigs), moa (chickens), roots of kalo (taro), uala (sweet potatoes), and ko (sugar cane) in the canoes. Then, about 800 years ago, Polynesians from the Society Islands arrived in Hawai'i. These Polynesians claimed descent from the highest gods and became the new rulers of Hawai'i. For a time, the Polynesians traveled back and forth between the Society Islands and Hawai'i until contact with southern Polynesia ceased. Just as the millions of years of isolation the land of Hawai'i experienced permitted development of its unique flora and fauna, the next 400 years of isolation for the Polynesians resulted in a unique Hawaiian culture.

The many archeological sites and historic districts within the park pay tribute and attest to the unique Hawaiian culture that developed during this time. Sites include petroglyphs, historic trails, fossilized footprints, shelter caves, scattered remains of heiau ruins (temple), house platforms, and stone walls of canoe sheds, pens, and corrals. Many of these sites are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pu'uloa Petroglyph Field, which is located in the Puna-Ka’u Historic District on the Puna-Ka’u (Puna Coast) ancient trail, is the largest concentration of rock carvings in the park. The area contains over 23,000 petroglyphs. A boardwalk provides visitors an easily accessible way to view them. Many of the petroglyph carvings are ancient with forms that are mainly dots with rings, human figures, sails, and circles with attached lines.

The Footprints Area in the park preserves intact fossilized footprints of Native Hawaiians associated with the eventual rise of Kamehameha as the ruler of Hawai'i. As Kamehameha was working toward controlling the Hawaiian Islands, he met resistance on his home island of Hawai'i from some of his distant family members, including a man named Keoua. In 1790, while en route through the Kau Desert to battle the forces of Kamehameha, part of Keoua’s warrior party died from an explosive eruption of Kilauea. The crater ejected a huge, dense cloud of ash, sand, and rocks, which rained down killing many things in its path—including some of the Native Hawaiians in Keoua’s army. As the ash settled to the ground, it provided an excellent medium for fossilizing footprints. Visitors can access the Footprints viewing area by either following the Kau Desert Trailhead adjacent to Highway 11 or the Kau Desert Trail from Crater Rim Drive.

The historic Wilkes Campsite is a European-American heritage site in the park. Charles Wilkes and the U.S. Exploring Expedition began their excursion to conduct experiments at the summit of Mauna Loa in 1841. Due to wayward leadership and being unprepared, only nine remained of the 300-person party of Americans and Hawaiians once Charles Wilkes made it to the summit. Despite this, the intended experiments were completed on January 11, 1841. Wilkes’ campsite is the only known evidence of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in the Pacific.

For visitors to the park, the Jaggar Museum offers information about scientific and historic discoveries in the field of geology and volcanology (the study of volcanoes). Visitors to the Jaggar Museum can also enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the Kilauea Caldera, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Visitors interested in the 1790 Footprints have the opportunity to literally walk with history: the footprints of men, women, and children that are now preserved under protective glass.

Plan your visit

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located off of Highway 11 on Hawai'i Island. The park is open 24 hours a day year-round. The Kilauea Visitor Center is located on Crater Rim Drive off of Highway 11 between the 28 and 29 mile marker south of Hilo and is open daily from 7:45am to 5:00pm. The Jaggar Museum is open daily from 8:30am to 8:00pm. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places files: Puna-Ka'u Historic District: text and photos; 1790 Footprints: text and photos.The Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs may be accessed from the Pu'u Loa parking area at mile marker 16 on Chain of Craters Road. The park is open 24 hours a day year-round. For more information, visit the National Park Service Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park website or call 808-985-6000.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is also featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary and Asian American and Pacfic Islander Heritage Travel Itinerary. Many components of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record, including: Chain of Craters Road, Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii Volcano National Park Roads, Hilina Pali Road, Mauna Loa Road, and Namakani Paio Campground.

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Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For Americans, indeed for people around the world, there is no more potent symbol of individual freedom than Independence Hall. This World Heritage Site is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the dream of a free country of independent citizens became fact.

This place witnessed events that gave birth to a system of self governance that remains a model for many around the world. While the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were devised to serve national ends, they continue to endure and give voice to universal principles that eloquently express mankind's aspirations for justice and freedom. The principles expressed in these documents have enlightened and inspired political thinkers in many parts of the world for over two centuries.

Independence Hall signifies many things to many people. The events that took place here two centuries ago, and the buildings and objects associated with them, are what attract visitors from every state in the Union and almost every country around the globe.  This place reminds all who visit that the formation of this nation was the work of men, imperfect like themselves, who transcended their faults and foibles to create an enduring democracy, the oldest in the world and a model for free men everywhere.

Independence Hall was designed by Andrew Hamilton and master building Edmund Wooley to house the colonial Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Finished in 1753, the building is a modest brick structure with a steeple that was intended to hold a 2,080lb bell. The Liberty Bell, as it is now called, however, has cracked twice and stands silently on the ground in a special shelter. The bell hanging in the tower today was presented to the City of Philadelphia in honor of America's Centennial. The building has undergone many restorations, notably by Greek Revival architect John Haviland in 1830, and by a committee from the National Park Service in 1950 that worked to return the building to its 1776 appearance. Independence Hall is not designated a World Heritage Site for its architectural design but for the documents of fundamental importance to American history drafted and debated here within its spaces, which formed the democracy of the United States.

Located in downtown Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park interprets the events and lives of the diverse Philadelphia population during the years when the city was the capital of the United States, from 1790 to 1800. A section of the park, where Benjamin Franklin's home once stood, is dedicated to teaching about his life and accomplishments. About 20 buildings -- historic, reconstructed and modern -- are open to the public. Places to visit include Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin's home, and Congress Hall, where the Bill of Rights was adopted and John Adams was inaugurated the nation's second president in a peaceful transfer of power.

The park's impressive visitor center contains information about local historic resources, a large theater, and a gift shop. From there, visitors can explore the national park's 55 acres in the City of Brotherly Love and discover the places where American independence was first declared, including Independence Hall.

Plan your visit

Independence Hall is a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System located at 520 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places registration file: text and photos.  Independence Hall is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and open until 7:00pm. from June 28 - September 1. The security screening area closes 15 minutes prior to the building closure time (no entry after 4:45pm or 6:45pm, depending on the season). Begin your visit at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Sts by viewing the Independence film. A parking garage for visitors is under the center on 6th St. between Arch and Market Sts.  The center opens every day at 8:30am. For current details and admission information on park buildings, visit the National Park Service Independence National Historical Park website, or call 215-965-2305.

Independence Hall is also featured in the National Park Service American Presidents Travel Itinerary and Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary. Independence Hall is the subject of an online lesson plan Independence Hall: International Symbol of Freedom. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website. Independence Hall has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the most extensive cave system in the world.  This extraordinary system of caves covers over 456 km (285 miles) of surveyed passageways within the boundaries of the park and at least another 128 kms (80 miles) outside the park. The site is a natural laboratory for the study of a number of stages of the earth's evolutionary history.

At Mammoth Cave, a 100 million year period of cave formation is on display, as is nearly every type of cave formation known to science. This huge and complex network of cave passages provides a clear record of the world's geomorphic and climatic changes. Outside the cave, the weathered topography is superb, with fascinating landscapes and all of the classic features of a karst drainage system – a vast water recharge area with complex networks of underground conduits, sink holes, cracks, fissures, and underground rivers and springs.

This is the longest cave system in the world exhibiting extensive passages with huge chambers, and vertical shafts, gypsum flowers, delicate gypsum needles, rare mirabilite flowers, and other natural features. All are superlative examples of their type. No other known cave system in the world offers a greater variety of sulfate minerals. The flora and fauna of the cave exhibit the richest spring-fed wildlife known, numbering over 130 species, of which 14 species of cave dwelling animals are known to exist only here.

Mammoth Cave World Heritage Site is a wondrous underground world. It offers a unique glimpse of a hidden world beneath our feet.

Before European Americans arrived, pre-Columbian cultures dominated the region. Archeological sites in the area show evidence of four pre-Columbian Indian cultures: paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian. The early Woodland culture is particularly important because it marked the independent development of organized horticulture in the Western Hemisphere, with primitive agriculture on river floodplains and was the period of the first exploration and mining in Mammoth Cave. Several mummies, sandals, campfire sites, and bare foot prints have been found preserved in the stabilizing cave atmosphere.

The region has attracted explorers and tourists, and supported the tourism industry since the 19th century. One historic site is the Old Guide Cemetery that contains the graves of guides, explorers, and victims of consumption. Twenty-one graves fill Old Guide Cemetery. Three are known to be patients from an experimental consumption hospital, run by the landowner Dr. John Croghan, in the cave from 1842-1843. Another grave is that of Stephen Bishop, famous enslaved cave explorer and guide of Dr. Croghan. 

The park also contains the historic ruins of the railroad line used by the Mammoth Cave Railroad Company to bring tourists to Mammoth Cave between 1886 and 1929. The short line ran from Glasgow Junction to Mammoth Cave Hotel and cave bringing tourists and improving the transportation and economy of local residents. The historic railroad is now part of the Mammoth Cave Bike and Hike trail.

The caves and grounds reflect the history of the communities that existed prior to the national park’s establishment. Old churches like Joppa Baptist Church and Cemetery and Good Spring Baptist Church and Cemetery remain today, telling the stories of community gatherings and everyday life in the nineteenth century.

Mammoth Cave National Park provides the thrill of exploring the caves and other sites as well as opportunities for biking, canoeing, camping, and horseback riding. The park offers ranger-led tours and campfire programs. Visitors can learn more about the history of Mammoth Cave and what to see and do at the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center.

Plan your visit

Mammoth Cave National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located at 1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave, KY. Mammoth Cave National Park is open March 15-June 13 from 8:00am to 6:00pm, Central Time. The park is open June 14-August 17 from 8:00am-6:30pm Central Time. For more information, visit the National Park Service Mammoth Cave National Park website or call 270-758-2180.

Mammoth Cave National Park is the subject of an online lesson plan, Mammoth Cave: Its Explorers, Miners, Archeologists, and Visitors. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website. Mammoth Cave National Park’s Saltpeter Works have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

On June 29, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to "preserve the works of man," the first national park of its kind. Seventy-two years later in 1978 Mesa Verde was inscribed on the World Heritage List as an outstanding example of the culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the North American Continent. Sometime during the late A.D. 1190s, Ancestral Pueblo peoples began living in structures they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. These structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended. Thus, in a span of a generation or two, the people who built these cliff dwellings left their home and moved away.

Today, with over 52,000 acres, Mesa Verde National Park preserves and protects nearly 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings and over 3 million associated objects in the park’s research collection. A spectacular example of Native American life and culture prior to the arrival of Europeans, Mesa Verde’s mission is to provide opportunities for the public to experience, understand, enjoy, and gain a sense of stewardship for Mesa Verde National Park, and to conduct, encourage, and facilitate archeological and ethnographic research focused on prehistoric and historic occupations at the Mesa itself, and to link these research results to the regional histories of the northern San Juan Basin and the greater Southwest.

Driving into the park, Montezuma Valley, Park Point, and Geologic overlooks provide a good sense of the Mesa Verde landscape. During the summer months, visitors should plan to spend some time at both Chapin Mesa and at Wetherill Mesa. Wetherill Mesa is closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. In winter, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is the starting point for ranger-led and self-guided tours.

On Chapin Mesa, visitors will find Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, the Far View sites, and a self-guided auto tour along Mesa Top Loop Road with numerous mesa-top sites and views of the cliff dwellings. Remember that visiting Cliff Palace and Balcony House requires a ranger-guided tour; purchase your tickets as you enter the park at the Visitor Center. On Chapin Mesa, the historic Mesa Verde Administrative District includes the first buildings constructed at Mesa Verde by the National Park Service. Built in the 1920's, they reflect the local cultural traditions, and contribute to the district's designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Most of the best-known and most visited Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are found on Chapin Mesa. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Spruce Tree House are among the largest and most impressive cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, but they are atypical of alcove sites in general. Most cliff dwellings contain approximately ten rooms, but all three of these sites are much larger, with numerous rooms and kivas. Some of these larger cliff dwellings are thought to have been administrative centers, with spaces set aside for public purposes as well as living spaces. These sites are very busy from June through early August. For a quieter visit, schedule your trip to Mesa Verde for late summer and fall, or include Wetherill Mesa in your summer itinerary.

The Ancestral Pueblo people occupied and built upon the flat tops of the mesas throughout their time at Mesa Verde, and found them especially useful for farming, hunting, and gathering wild foods. Mesa-top sites to visit on Chapin Mesa include Cedar Tree Tower, used between A.D. 1000 and 1300 when towers and kivas often were built together—perhaps for religious reasons or as part of a communications system. Nearby, the Farming Terrace Trail allows visitors to learn about water retention and other ancient farming techniques. In the Far View area, you’ll find trails to several excavated sites dating from between A.D. 900 and 1300, including Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, and Far View Tower. These sites are part of an estimated 50 villages in the Far View area. Along Mesa Top Loop Road, the mesa-top Sun Temple, which contemporary Pueblo Indians describe as a ceremonial space, is accessible by self-guided tour. On Wetherill Mesa, walk the mesa-top Badger House Community, which dates from c. A.D. 600 to c. A.D. 1200, and explore several short trails to overlooks.

Wetherill Mesa is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and is reached by an 11 mile drive from the Far View area. Note this road is not suitable for vehicles over 25' long. Wetherill Mesa offers a quieter, less structured experience than Chapin Mesa. Once in the parking area, you'll explore Wetherill Mesa on foot or with a combination of bicycle-riding and hiking. Bring your own bicycles if possible, but inquire ahead as to the availability of rental bikes at Wetherill Mesa. Long House, the largest cliff dwelling on Wetherill Mesa, is about three miles from the Wetherill Mesa parking area. You may ride a bicycle to the trailhead, or hike. The foot trail to Long House is about one mile round trip. Step House, located about .5 mile from the parking area, is unusual because visitors can clearly see both dwellings from the A.D. 600s and a pueblo from the 1220s, when the alcove was re-occupied by Ancestral Pueblo people. Wetherill Mesa is always less busy than Chapin Mesa, but there are fewer services available. Although there is a snack bar at Wetherill Mesa, visitors should come prepared with snacks, water, and sun protection.

Visitors should stop at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center (at the park entrance) for information and orientation and to purchase tickets to visit Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House or Step House on Wetherill Mesa. These are three of the most impressive sites. Other highlights include exploring the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, taking a self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House, anddriving the Mesa Top Loop Road (six-mile loop). Visitors can also hike to the Far View Sites Complex. Some historic cliff dwellings offer opportunities for self-guided tours, but others are restricted and can only be visited with a ranger. Overnight guests can plan to stay at the Far View Lodge or the Morefield Campground.

What the Spanish called Mesa Verde, “green table,” many Ancestral Pueblo people once called home. Although the ancient inhabitants of the mesa are gone, visitors will marvel at the spectacular cliff dwellings and artifacts that tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a challenging land. Ancestral Pueblo people developed a vigorous civilization, whose accomplishments in community living and the arts rank among the finest expressions of human culture in North America. Today, their descendants include the 24 modern pueblos and tribes located in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas, who trace their roots to the cliffs of Mesa Verde.

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located 10 miles east of Cortez, CO. The Mesa Verde Administrative District is a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file text and photos. Mesa Verde National Park is open daily year-round, with visitor services changing throughout the year. For more information, visit the National Park Service Mesa Verde National Park website or call at 970-529-4465.

Mesa Verde National Park is also featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary and the Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary.

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Monticello and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and a talented architect of neoclassical buildings. He designed his plantation home Monticello and his ideal "academical village" -- the heart of the University of Virginia -- a few miles away. Jefferson's use of an architectural vocabulary based upon classical antiquity symbolizes both the aspirations of the new American republic as the inheritor of European tradition and the cultural experimentation that could be expected as the country matured.

Construction of Monticello began in 1769. The very personal conception of the house clearly shows the various influences experienced by its designer: that of Palladio, evidencing in the perfect proportions of the pedimented porticos, and that of the contemporary neoclassical architecture. The integration of the buildings into the natural landscape, the originality of the plan and design, and the refined proportions and decor make Monticello an outstanding example of a neoclassical work of art. The University of Virginia is an outstanding example of a great educational institution from the Age of Enlightenment.

The University of Virginia was Jefferson's most ambitious and last architectural undertaking. This project departs from preexisting British or American college planning schemes.  Jefferson intended that the university design express educational ideals both encyclopedic and democratic, a fitting legacy for his beloved Virginia and the new United States of America.

In 1809, Jefferson finished the rebuilding of Monticello begun in 1796. He transformed the original eight room Palladian villa, with its tall two-story portico, into a 21-room house designed in the fashionable Neoclassical style he saw in France.  The front elevation was a deceptively low horizontal composition centered on a pavilion dominated by a columned portico and a low dome.  The renovation kept most of the rooms of the original house, but more than doubled its depth.  By moving the front wall forward, Jefferson provided space for two new rooms on either side of a much larger two-story entrance hall.

The interior incorporated many examples of Jefferson’s ingenuity: dumbwaiters, disappearing beds, unusual lighting and ventilating arrangements, a duplicate-writing machine, folding doors, bookshelves that become storage boxes, and an extraordinary clock, which still runs by a series of weights and pulleys.  Closet-like alcoves hid two steep staircases that led to low bedrooms above the high first floor and to a “ballroom” under the dome.  The house lay at the center of a U-shaped plan that embraced two sunken, terrace-covered service wings set into the hillside.  House slaves could do their work in these wings out of sight of the public rooms.  Small temple-like pavilions sit at the ends of the wings.

Jefferson, an avid horticulturist, also created the gardens at Monticello, which were a botanic showpiece, a source of food, and an experimental laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. He experimented with plant species brought over from Europe and was particularly interested in developing vineyards.

Jefferson was “the penman” of the American Revolution.  His pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, written at Monticello and published in 1774, demonstrated his knowledge of the law and his ability to write clearly. Written on behalf of the Continental Congress, this precursor to the Declaration of Independence set forth a list of grievances against the King and argued for the independence of the colonies from British rule. By the time Virginia sent him to the Second Continental Congress two years later, everyone recognized him as a fluent writer and superb legal draftsman.  The committee appointed to draft a declaration of independence in June 1776 selected him to write it.  He submitted his last draft on July 2.  Two days later, Congress adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

During his presidency, in 1803, Jefferson sent a confidential letter to Congress from Monticello requesting funds to finance a “journey of discovery” through the American West. This gave rise to the Lewis and Clark expedition to chart the newly-acquired territory gained through the Louisiana Purchase, a deal with France that Jefferson himself had brokered.

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 as the first nonsectarian university in the United States. He intended the institution to produce leaders well-versed in public service and practical affairs. The University of Virginia is considered one of Jefferson’s greatest achievements, both for its architecture and innovative nature. The first university to use an elective course system, its most recognizable physical symbol is the Rotunda, which Jefferson designed to contain the library and be the heart of the campus. Standing at the north end of the University’s Lawn with its flanking faculty pavilions and student rooms, the Rotunda is based on the Pantheon in Rome. Its Lawn continues to serve as a model for centralized green areas on university campuses. Reconstructed in 1899, after being severely damaged in a fire, the Rotunda retains many of its original Jeffersonian design elements and remains a physical embodiment of his illustrious legacy.

Visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello can explore both the house and extensive grounds. A day pass to the site allows visitors to choose from a selection of guided tours ranging in topic from a standard house tour to a themed “Slavery at Monticello” or “Garden and Grounds” tour. At Monticello’s grounds, guests may visit the estate's historic gardens, walk along Mulberry Row – once the hub of plantation activity – or hike the scenic Saunders-Monticello Trail. The visitor center features a series of museum-style exhibits, a hands-on activity area geared towards younger visitors, and a café whose menu includes seasonally-grown vegetables from the Monticello Vegetable Garden.

A short driving distance from Monticello, the University of Virginia is an active college campus. Guided tours of the university’s famous Rotunda, Academical Village, and Lawns are typically available free for visitors, however, an ongoing renovation project has resulted in the Rotunda’s closure until 2016.

Plan your visit

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a World Heritage Site, and a National Historic Landmark, is located at 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA. Monticello is also a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Monticello is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm March-October, except Christmas. Purchase of tickets is required for access to the site. For more information, visit the Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello website or call 434-984-9800.

The University of Virginia, a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark, is located in downtown Charlottesville, VA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Tours meet daily at 10:00am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, 3:00pm, and 4:00pm inside the Rotunda’s main entrance, except the Thanksgiving holiday break in November, three-week holiday break in December through January, and the final exam period during the first three weeks of May. For more information, visit the Exploring the University of Virginia and Charlottesville website or call 434-924-7969.

Monticello is also featured in the National Park Service American Presidents Travel Itinerary, Lewis and Clark Expedition Travel Itinerary and Journey Through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary. The University of Virginia is the subject of an online lesson plan, Thomas Jefferson’s Plan for the University of Virginia: Lessons from the Lawn. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website. Monticello has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The University of Virginia has also been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Pioneer, Louisiana

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point owes its name to a 19th-century plantation close to the site, which is in the Lower Mississippi Valley on a slightly elevated and narrow landform. Located on more than 400 acres, Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is a series of earthen mounds and ridges that overlook the Mississippi River flood plain in what is now northeastern Louisiana. It was created and used for residential and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter fisher-gatherers between 1700 and 1100 B.C.E. Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is a remarkable achievement in earthen construction in North America that was unsurpassed for at least 2,000 years. At its peak 3,000 years ago it was part of an enormous trading network that stretched for hundreds of miles across the continent. Poverty Point is a National Monument, operated by the State of Louisiana as a state park. Unlike some other sites that have been altered and tremendously disturbed by modern projects and excavations, it is estimated that less than 1 percent of Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point has been disturbed.

A large, sophisticated society about which little is known constructed the impressive complex -- an engineering feat comprised of five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges separated by shallow depressions and a central plaza. While researchers and archeologists have been unable to decipher the reasons behind the structure and design of Poverty Point, researchers have estimated that around 53 million cubic feet of soil were moved to create the ridges and mounds. Archeologists, including those at the on-site archeological laboratory at Poverty Point, continue to work to discover information about the society and the reason for the construction of the mound complex. Though the population varied by season, the area was a large complex settlement that continued to have year-round occupants for over 600 years.

Relatively little is known about the Poverty Point society. Objects like clay cooking balls, spear points, and fishing tools found at the site give us some idea as to how the mound builders ate and lived. Because of the quality, diversity, and quantity of jewelry and other objects found at Poverty Point, some speculate that it may have been a capital for an entire ancient culture. The size of the complex and the number of objects are not what make Poverty Point remarkable, though. While research about the society that built Poverty Point continues, it is clear that those who moved the earth, basket by basket, were hunter-gatherers; it is unusual that such a society could build the complex system of mounds at Poverty Point.

Situated at the crossroads between the Mississippi River floodplains and Macon Ridge, the people of Poverty Ridge relied on fish, turtles, frogs, waterfowl, and aquatic plants. In addition to the aquatic choices, deer, small mammals, nuts, fruits, and seeds were also readily available. The area surrounding the site also provided natural resources for shelter, cooking, tool production, and warmth. The only natural resource that the people of Poverty Point relied upon, but could not find in abundance, was stone. Instead, a transportation system was created that imported several tons of rocks and minerals into the area from as far as 1,000 miles away. Research has been unable to determine which tribe lived there, what language they spoke, or what religion they kept.

Visitors have several options for exploring the earthworks. A museum at the park offers an orientation and history of the site. The museum provides visitors with opportunities to view a film at the visitor center theater and to examine artifacts discovered during excavations of the World Heritage Site. The center also features an archeological laboratory. Once oriented, visitors can take a 2.6 mile self-guided hike through the "monumental" mounds and have lunch at the state park's picnic area. Guided tours are also offered.

Plan your visit

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, a World Heritage Site, National Monument, and National Historic Landmark, is located at 6859 Highway 577, Pioneer LA. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. For more information, visit the Louisiana State Parks Poverty Point World Heritage Site website or call 318-926-5492 or 1-888-926-5492.

Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is also featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary.

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Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington

Olympic National Park features spectacular coastlines, scenic lakes, majestic mountains and glaciers, and magnificent temperate rainforest. Olympic contains a great wealth of geological formations, and its highly varied rainfall has produced a wide range of complex life zones.

This World Heritage Site is isolated from other mountain ranges and surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. This isolation has allowed the development of endemic species of plants and animals, including the Olympic marmot, four subspecies of other mammals, two subspecies of trout, and 12 species or varieties of plant. Eleven major river systems drain the Olympic Mountains, offering some of the best habitat for anadromous fish species (such as salmon that live their lives in the sea and migrate to a freshwater river to spawn) in the country.

Olympic exhibits remarkable beauty. It is the largest protected area in the temperate region of the world with a complex ecosystem that ranges from the ocean’s edge through temperate rainforest, alpine meadows, and glaciated mountain peaks.

The mountains of Olympic contain approximately 60 active glaciers. The area is unique because it is the lowest latitude in the world in which glaciers begin at an elevation lower than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) and exist below 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). The glacier-clad peaks are interspersed with extensive alpine meadows surrounded by old growth forest, among which is the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.

Scattered among the park's breathtaking natural resources are its cultural heritage sites. The Olympic region served as a home for different tribes and groups of people for over twelve thousand years before it was designated a national park in 1938. With artifacts discovered including a spear tip found inside a mastodon, petroglyphs, and a partially woven basket from thousands of years ago, Olympic National Park yields stories of people, proving their habitation in the area beginning about 10,000 BCE. They lived in the mountainous region until the arrival of Europeans and Euro-Americans. A spear point and other signs of human occupation, are the earliest evidence of human presence in this region, and proof that residents 12,000 years ago were hunters. The hunter and gatherer groups who followed early big game hunters also had a strong dependence on the land. From 3,000 to 10,000 years ago, they hunted deer and elk and gathered plants to survive. Their stone tools, left across the peninsula, show that the rugged terrain did not deter them from exploring the entire Olympic ecosystem. By about 3,000 years ago, as the human population increased, early inhabitants shifted their focus to lowland rivers and lakes. Fishing, hunting sea mammals and gathering shellfish formed the foundation of rich and complex maritime cultures for which the Pacific Northwest is known. The forests also provided essentials like food, fibers, medicine and shelter. Crafted from graceful western redcedar trunks were longhouses to protect families from the relentless rain, canoes to hunt seals and whales, baskets, clothing, tools, and bentwood boxes for cooking and storage. Archeological sites, like ones on the Hoko River and at Ozette, contained thousands of wood, shell and bone artifacts that helped modern tribes piece together more of their rich heritage. The skilled workmanship of the artifacts reveal the intimate connection between the artisans, the land and the sea.

Plan your visit

Olympic National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located at 3002 Mount Angeles Rd., Port Angeles, WA. Olympic National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although some roads, campgrounds, and other facilities close in the winter. For more information, visit the National Park Service Olympic National Park website or call 360-565-3130.

Olympic National Park is featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary.

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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is located in one of the Northern Pacific Ocean’s most isolated island archipelagos. Covering 139,797 square miles of tumultuous seas, craggy basaltic islets and low coral atolls, this World Heritage Site contains a world of superlatives. This vast ocean area is one of the world’s largest environmentally protected areas and is a refuge for hundreds of endangered and endemic species. As the site of the world’s deepest and northernmost coral reefs, this enormous expanse is one of the earth’s last best examples of a healthy marine ecosystem.

Papahānaumokuākea is the home to most of the world’s dwindling population of Hawaiian monk seals and its low islets and gnarly crags harbor essentially all the Laysan ducks, Nihoa finches, and Blackfooted albatrosses in existence. Waters surrounding the unique coral reefs are the last marine environments dominated by top predators: Swarms of sharks and Giant Ulua (Blue Trevally) cruise the reefs in magnificent schools.

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010, the first new site from the US in 15 years, it is also the first US site to be placed on the World Heritage List for both natural and cultural values. Papahānaumokuākea has long been considered a sacred landscape and seascape by Hawaii’s traditional peoples and is woven into the complex historic and cultural perspectives of indigenous Hawaiians.

The area was first visited by Polynesian voyagers ca. 300 AD as part of a great migration that started around 3000 BC and spread across the Pacific for 2 millennia. These settlers inhabited the islands for a thousand years before European contact. While they settled mainly settled on the main islands of the Archipelago, there is evidence of human use on the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana. The significant cultural sites on these islands are recognized in the World Heritage Site and through listing in both the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register for Historic Places. Mokumanamana has the highest density of sacred sites in the Hawaiian Archipelago and has spiritual significance in Hawaiian cosmology (learn more). Papahānaumokuākea is also home to a variety of post-Western-contact historic resources, such as those associated with the Battle of Midway and 19th century commercial whaling (learn more).

Papahānaumokuākea possesses a rich maritime history. These oral and written accounts tell of navigational knowledge that developed for over a millennium. Recent maritime history is represented with a total of 60 shipwrecks in the area that date back to 1818, and at least 67 naval aircraft that are recorded as being lost in the vicinity of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The loss of naval aircraft mostly took place during World War II and the Battle of Midway. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, especially Midway Atoll, became a important to the United States after the US claimed possession in 1867. Its importance increased in the 20th century beginning with the establishment of the first transpacific cable and station in operation by 1903.

In the 1930s, the United States invested heavily in Midway as a naval base due to the rising threat of Imperial Japan. In 1938, Midway was declared second to Pearl Harbor in terms of naval base development in the Pacific. Midway was of vital importance to both Japanese and American war strategies in World War II.

The historic whaling industry also had a impact on the Hawaiian Islands that is reflected in the World Heritage Site. In the early 19th century, vessels stopped in Honolulu ports for provisions and to recruit new whalers. Native Hawaiians comprised nearly one-fifth of the sailors in the Pacific-based American whaling fleet. When whales became scarce due to overfishing, sailors would travel to the Northwestern Islands in search of whale oil just beyond Kure Atoll. At least ten whaling vessels were reported lost in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To date, five of these historic vessels have been located.

The great significance of Papahānaumokuākea lies in its natural attributes and how they incorporate living Native Hawaiian cultural and other indigenous and historic connections to the sea. In just one example, modern Hawaiian wayfinders still voyage for navigational training on traditional double-hulled sailing canoes, an aspect of inscription unique to Papahānaumokuākea. Papahānaumokuākea provides important insights into how Oceanic people navigated the Pacific Ocean and the culture of the Pacific Islanders. It also has outstanding ecological importance in its preservation of a healthy marine ecosystem that scientists continue to study today.

Plan your visit

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a World Heritage Site, covers nearly 140,000 square miles of small low lying islands, reefs, atolls, and shallow and deep sea in the Pacific Ocean. The National Monument is administered by three co-trustees – the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior and the State of Hawai'i. There are limited ways to access the Monument for specific purposes, such as to conduct cultural practices and research, habitat restoration and scientific work, and to develop educational and media products. For more information visit the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument website. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administered Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial is located within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. For more information, see the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial website. There are various museums and aquariums near the National Monument that allow people to experience this natural and cultural heritage site.

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Redwood National Park, Northern California

Redwood National and State Parks preserve some of California’s magnificent redwood trees -– the tallest and among the most impressive trees in the world. The park was established specifically to protect these trees since it is only here and in Oregon that they now survive.

The protected areas transect two distinctive environments -– the coastline of the Pacific, and the mountains of the Coastal Range. The parks' 55 kilometer (34.2 mile) coastline consists of steep, rocky cliffs broken by rolling slopes and broad sandy beaches.  The coastal redwood forests dominate the parks' landscape. There are 15,800 hectares (39,000 acres) of old-growth redwood in the park. These redwoods are surviving remnants of the group of trees that were once found throughout many of the moist temperate regions of the world, but are now confined to the wet regions on the west coast of North America.

The parks also reflect the early and more recent use of these now protected trees. Indian peoples used fallen redwood trees to build canoes and houses. The scars of early commercial logging during the gold rush era remain.

The Redwoods World Heritage Site provides a unique experience for any visitor. These enormous trees transcend human scale and dominate the imagination like few other places. They stand as reminders that the legacy of the earth’s oldest living things -- trees whose ancestors date back to the age of the dinosaur –- came very close to extinction and require continued protection.

Among the redwood trees of the park are traces of ancient human activity and more recent history. The redwood forests served as home to humans for thousands of years. Evidence of human activity inside Redwood National Forest dates back as far as 2,500 BCE. The people who lived in the forest before European colonization used the forest’s resources, such as fallen redwood trees, to build canoes and houses.

Timber harvesting became very profitable in the forests when Americans flocked westward during the gold rush in the 1850s.  By 1853, nine sawmills were operational in Eureka.  The redwoods, due to their size, were a popular source of timber. In Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, the remains of the Del Norte Southern Railroad, which transported lumber to a mill in Crescent City, can be found along the park's Trestle Loop Trail.

In Redwoods National and State Parks, historic resources include sites associated with historic gold mining, ranching, the Civilian Conservation Corps, a fish hatchery and more. In the Bald Hills near Redwood Creek are ranches associated with late 19th century cattle and sheep ranching. The Lyons' Ranches Rural Historic District includes eight structures dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Murphy’s Ranch and outlying barn site, which dates circa 1884 to the 1920s, was established along the historic Kelsey Trail, a pack route linking Crescent City with the Salmon and Trinity gold mines. A remnant of the Trinidad Trail connects to the park's Tall Trees Grove Trail. Trinidad Trail connected coastal supply centers with early gold mining sites, and was later adopted by homesteaders in the Bald Hills.

The Prairie Creek Fish Hatchery, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was one of the first small local hatcheries developed to improve sport and commercial fishing in the area. The hatchery, constructed in 1936, is one of only three remaining hatcheries that were built in California from 1871 to 1946. The Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center and associated structures are historic examples of Civil Conservation Corps construction carried on in the state parks during the 1930s. A World War II early warning radar station, Radar Station B-71, sits atop an ocean bluff south of Klamath. The site consists of two structures and other military features, including radar antennas and two machine gun emplacements.

From the rare Redwood forests and vibrant wildlife, to the scenic and rocky beaches, there is plenty for the visitor to enjoy. the National Park Service and California State Parks manage the parks. The Kuchel Visitor Center, one mile south of Orick, is the largest visitor center. It offers visitors exhibits, a 12 minute video, and beach access. For a scenic drive, visitors can cruise Howland Hill Road a 10-mile scenic tour through old-growth redwoods along Mill Creek. Wildlife can be seen throughout the park. The Klamath River Overlook is a popular spot for watching gray whales during their migration and Davison Road is a prime location to spot a Roosevelt elk that populate Elk Meadow.

Plan your visit

Redwood National and State Parks, a World Heritage Site, is located in Northern California 325 miles north of San Francisco. It is approximately 50 miles long and stretches from the Oregon border to southeast of Orick, CA. and is generally oriented along the north-south U.S. 101 highway corridor between Crescent City and Orick, CA. There are five information centers located in the park. The Park headquarters is located at 1111 Second St., Crescent City, CA. There is no admission fee for the National Park. There is a fee for the state park campgrounds. For more information, visit the National Park Service Redwood National and State Parks  website or call 707-465-7335.

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San Juan National Historic Site, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The main elements of this World Heritage Site, found within San Juan National Historic Site, consist of La Fortaleza; the three forts of San Felipe del Morro, San Cristóbal, and San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo); and a large portion of the City Wall, built between the 16th and 19th centuries to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They represent a fine display of European military architecture adapted to harbor sites on the American continent.

These fortifications are characteristic examples of the historic methods of construction used in military architecture over this period, which adapted European designs and techniques to the special conditions of the Caribbean port cities. La Fortaleza -- founded in the early 16th century and considerably remodeled in later centuries -- reflects developments in military architecture during its service over the centuries as a fortress, an arsenal, a prison, and residence of the governor-general and today the governor of Puerto Rico.

The principal components of this defensive system include:

  • La Fortaleza, founded in 1530-40, served as an arsenal, prison, and residence for the Governor-General of the island.
  • El Morro, built to protect San Juan Bay, developed into a masterpiece of military engineering with stout walls, carefully planned steps and ramps for moving men and artillery.
  • San Cristóbal, with its dependencies, is another accomplished example of the military architecture of the second half of the 18th century.
  • La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site represent the continuity of more than four centuries of architectural, engineering, military, and political history.

During the 16th century, recognizing the need to protect the Spanish treasure fleets on their voyages to and from the New World, the Spanish erected vast fortifications throughout their territories in the Caribbean Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. Designated a World Heritage Site, the Spanish system of fortifications in San Juan, Puerto Rico is the oldest European construction in territory of the United States and one of the oldest in the New World. These fortifications guarded the entrance to the Bay of San Juan, helped the Spanish maintain sovereignty over Puerto Rico, and protected Spanish commerce in the Caribbean basin. The forts and three miles of city wall are fine examples of military architecture reflecting the power and glory of the Spanish Empire and the beginning of European ascendancy in world affairs.

Constructed between 1533 and 1540, La Fortaleza consisted of a circular tower and four massive stone walls. In 1846, La Fortaleza was enlarged and its street façade altered. The original tower, now called Torre del Homenaje, or tower of homage, still stands; its name derives from an island tradition in which the resident governor climbs to the top of the tower to pledge a solemn oath of loyalty and courage during dangerous times. Today, the building, at one time designated the Spanish Captain-General of Puerto Rico's official residence, serves as the official residence and offices of Puerto Rico's Governor.

The Spanish began construction of a stronger and more efficient fortification for the protection of the city’s anchorage at the entrance of the San Juan harbor in 1539. Castillo de San Felipe del Morro has a round masonry tower and resembles a castle.

Castillo de San Cristobal, which dates from 1634, was part of the new defense line to protect San Juan against land approaches coming from the east.  The Spanish erected the fortification on the northeastern edge of San Juan, which was 150 feet above sea level and a mile away from the headland where El Morro stood.

In 1678, King Charles III--who had designated San Juan as the defender of the first order--sent two Irishmen to strengthen the city’s fortifications and defense lines. By the end of the 1780s, Thomas O’Daily and Alexander O’Reilly had rebuilt El Morro, San Cristobal, and the defense wall into its present day image, thus transforming San Juan into the most powerful stronghold in America.

With the new upgrades, San Cristobal became the largest Spanish fortress in the New World with 450 canons and expanding over 27 acres of land. The Irish engineers designed the defense system on the principle of “defense in depth,” which meant that enemies would have to break several barriers--that were each higher and stronger than the one before them—to besiege the fort.

For the explorers and colonists of the New World who came from the east, Puerto Rico was an obligatory stopping-place in the Caribbean. This was the start of its primordial strategic role at the beginning of the Spanish colonization. For centuries, the island was a stake disputed by the Spanish, French, English and Dutch. The fortifications of the Bay of San Juan, the magnificent port to which Puerto Rico owes its name, bear witness to its long military history. San Juan had the first municipal government in the New World outside Santo Domingo, as well as the first military presidios in Spanish America. By the 19th century, the old city had become a charming residential and commercial district. The city itself, with its institutional buildings, museums, houses, churches, plazas and commercial buildings, is part of the San Juan Historic Zone which is administered by municipal, State and Federal agencies.

At the San Juan National Historic Site visitor center, visitors have the opportunity to participate in ranger-led orientation talks about the fortifications and to see the film, "The Fortifications of Old San Juan." Programs are available in English and Spanish. Afterwards, park visitors can explore the fortifications, enjoy the beautiful natural setting and enjoy the historic city of San Juan.

Plan your visit

San Juan National Historic Site, a World Heritage Site and a unit of the National Park System, is located at 501 Norzagaray St., San Juan, PR. Click for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. La Forteleza is also a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the La Fortaleza National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. La Fortaleza is open 8:00am to 3:00pm on weekdays. For more information, call 787-721-7000. Castillo de San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe de Morro are open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. For more information, visit the National Park Service San Juan National Historic Site website or call 787-729-6960.

San Juan National Historic Site is also featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary, the Historic Places in Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands Travel Itinerary, and the Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Culture Travel Itinerary. San Juan National Historic Site is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Forts of Old San Juan: Guardians of the Caribbean. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website.

Many components of San Juan National Historic Site have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including La Forteleza, the Castillo de San Felipe de Morro’s Lighthouse, the Castillo de San Cristobal’s Entrance Gate, Northeast Gate, South Gate, Guardhouse, and the Troops Quarters. San Juan National Historic Site has also been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, New York

This World Heritage Site is a shining beacon of liberty to people around the globe. A gift from the people of France, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions of immigrants who arrived in the United States by sea.

The Statue of Liberty is a masterpiece of the human creative spirit. Its construction in Paris represents one of the greatest technical exploits of the 19th century. It continues to welcome immigrants at the entrance to New York harbor, and is directly and materially associated with an event of outstanding universal significance -- the populating of the United States, the melting pot of disparate peoples in the second half of the 19th century. The fact that the statue, whose funds were raised by international subscription and was designed in Europe by Frederic Bartholdi, strengthens the symbolic interest of this world-renowned work.

Some of the money to erect the statue was contributed by American schoolchildren. It is certain that for millions of immigrants who came to America in the 19th century seeking freedom, it was the fulfillment of their dreams. The sculptor intended his work to be an immense and impressive symbol of human liberty, and it is one of the most universal symbols of political freedom and democracy in the world.

“Liberty Enlightening the World” was extensively restored in time for the spectacular centennial of American independence on 4 July 1986. It has continued to inspire people around the world.

Liberty’s image and symbolic meanings have continually changed since her dedication on October 28, 1886. During the late 19th century, one of the largest periods of immigration in American history, Liberty stood as a “Mother of Exiles,” and provided thousands of immigrants with their first visual representation of America, liberty, and freedom. Throughout the 19th century, political instability, religious persecution, unstable economies, and vast unemployment prompted many Europeans to leave their homelands to take their chances on a better life in the United States. On the final stretch of their journey, as immigrants made their way into New York Harbor to the immigration station on Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty served as a colossal symbol of freedom and opportunity for all newcomers to the United States.

Liberty Island is best known for its role as the home of the Statue of Liberty. The island's history, however, extends much further into the past than that of the Statue. Over the centuries, Liberty Island has felt the presence of several different groups, including Native Americans, early colonists, and the Unite&d States Army.

Visitors may explore Liberty Island’s cultural history through a choice of ranger-led or self-guided tours of the Statue of Liberty and its surrounding grounds. From the lobby inside the statue’s pedestal, visitors can view the original torch, the Statue of Liberty Exhibit, and learn more about Liberty Island’s cultural significance. Take an elevator up the ten-story pedestal observatory that provides full circle views of New York harbor along with a close-up of Lady Liberty. Advanced reservations allow visitors access to the statue’s Crown. The statue grounds and pedestal are free to visit. Making reservations for the ferry to Liberty Island and access to the Crown is highly recommended because of the volume of visitors. Visitors can also tour Ellis Island where the Ellis Island immigration station's Main Building houses the Ellis Island Museum.

Plan your visit

Statue of Liberty National Monument, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor off Lower Manhattan, New York, NY. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Statue of Liberty National Monument is open daily every day except Christmas, December 25, when it is closed. The park is accessible by Statue Cruises Ferry Service only. The National Park Service recommends planning your visit, making reservations and purchasing tickets prior to the day of your visit. For more information, visit the National Park Service Statue of Liberty National Monument website or call 212-363-3200.

Statue of Liberty National Monument is also featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary. Statue of Liberty National Monument has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record.

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Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architecture from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas. It is unique to this region and has successfully retained most of its traditional forms to the present day. Thanks to the determination of the Native American community -- members who have called this place home for the past 1000 years -- Taos Pueblo and its living culture have been successfully preserved.

Taos Pueblo displays the traditional method of adobe construction. The Pueblo proper consists of two clusters of houses, each built from sun-dried mud brick, with walls ranging from 70 centimeters (28 inches) thick at the bottom to approximately 35 centimeters (14 inches) at the top. Each year, the walls are still refinished with a new coat of adobe plaster as part of a village ceremony.

Taos is the best preserved of the pueblos north of the borders defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). In the modern historical period the two major characteristics of the Pueblo society seem mutually contradictory -- unchanging traditions deeply rooted in the culture and an ever-constant ability to absorb other cultures. A sovereign tribal government governs the Pueblo. It is the only World Heritage Site in the United States cited for the significance of its traditional Native American living culture.

Situated in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, Taos Pueblo exemplifies the enduring culture of its Native American inhabitants. A powerful reflection of the cultural interactions between American Indians and the Spanish, the pueblo provides remarkable insights into the heritage of the American Southwest. One of a group of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the valleys of the Rio Grande, Taos has survived for hundreds of years with its cultural integrity intact while simultaneously borrowing from Spanish and Anglo-American cultures over centuries of contact.

Archeological remains within the Taos Valley date its earliest known human occupation to around 900 AD. Various precontact Anasazi tribes are believed to have moved into the area around this time, sticking close to the life-sustaining Rio Grande River tributaries around the present-day border of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Traditions surrounding the Taos Pueblo eventually emerged out of the various cultures present in the valley.

The original pueblo site is directly east of where the adobes stand today. Likely constructed around 1325 AD, the first Taos Pueblo is now a ruin and sacred site referred to as “Cornfield Taos.” The limited archeological excavation at Cornfield Taos provided evidence that the Pueblo relocated slightly to the west to its current location, around 1400 AD – though at present it is not clear why.

Throughout its early years, Taos Pueblo was a central point of trade between the native populations along the Rio Grande and their neighbors to the northwest, the Plains Tribes. Taos Pueblo hosted a trade fair each fall after the agricultural harvest. This fair impressed the first Spaniards who made contact with the ancient pueblo. Eventually trade routes would link Taos to the northernmost towns of New Spain and the cities of Mexico via the famed Chihuahua Trail.

The first Spanish visitors to Taos Pueblo arrived in 1540 as members of the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition, which stopped at many of New Mexico’s pueblos in search of the rumored Seven Cities of Gold. At the time, Hernando de Alvarado described the pueblo as having adobe houses built very close together and stacked five or six stories high. Throughout recorded history, descriptions of Taos Pueblo stress the adobes’ stacked and stepped-back form. The buildings at Taos originally had few windows and no standard doorways. Instead, access to rooms was through square holes in the roof that the people reached by climbing long, wooden ladders. Cedar logs (or vigas) supported roofs that had layers of branches, grass, mud, and plaster covering them. The architecture and the building materials were well suited for the rigors of the environment and the needs of the people in the Taos Valley.

Visitors to Taos can explore the Pueblo’s other notable features, including its surrounding defensive wall, the sacred ruins of Cornfield Taos, large unexcavated ancient trash middens, and a ceremonial racetrack. Rubble mounds and a lone bell tower mark the ruins of the original Spanish church, San Geronimo de Taos.

Plan your visit

Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site, is located at 120 Veterans Highway, Taos, NM. Taos Pueblo is also a NationaL Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Taos Pueblo is open daily from 8:00am to 4:30pm, except when tribal rituals require closing the Pueblo. From late winter to early spring, the Pueblo closes for about ten weeks. Entrance fee may apply. For more information, visit the Taos Pueblo website or call 575-758-1028.

Taos Pueblo is also featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itineraryand American Southwest Travel Itinerary Taos Pueblo has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey, as have the ruins of the original San Geronimo Church.

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Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, (a World Heritage Site in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States), West Glacier, Montana

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and World Heritage Site straddles the northern Rocky Mountains along the border between the United States and Canada. The world's first "international park," the combined site encompasses breathtaking snowcapped mountains, high-altitude lakes, and rivers cascading from glaciers. Glacial landforms, preserved fossil assemblages, breathtaking rock formations and other geological features provide outstanding aesthetic beauty.  Ancient cedar-hemlock forests, alpine tundra, and extensive bunchgrass prairie provide diverse natural habitats for over 300 terrestrial species of animals. These mountains are home to a number of threatened or endangered species including the grizzly bear, gray wolf, lynx, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon.

Waterton-Glacier's distinctive climate, its interface between mountain and prairie ecosystems, and its three separate watersheds, all help to create a rich diversity of flora and fauna that is particularly impressive given the relatively small area included in the parks. Straddling the world's largest peaceful border, Waterton-Glacier symbolizes goodwill and cooperation between Canada and the United States. Referred to as the Crown of the Continent’s Ecosystem, this area is home to one of the world’s most remarkable and unique natural environments.

In addition to its natural beauty, the parks have a long and rich history for the continent’s native populations. American Indians have lived in and used these mountains for over 10,000 years and this long occupation continues to the present day. The Blackfeet Indians and their closely related tribes north of the border occupy traditional lands east of the park boundaries. On the western site, Kootenai and Salish Indian tribes. To this day, all of the nearby tribes look to the mountains as sacred areas and continue to visit them for reasons both traditional and ceremonial.

Early European explorers arrived in the Waterton-Glacier area primarily in search of animal pelts. Over time, this exploitation of the region’s natural resources expanded to include the establishment of a mining industry, and groups of settlers soon began to migrate to the area. By 1891, the completion of the Great Northern Railway allowed a greater number of people to enter into the heart of northwest Montana, leading to a significant increase in the region’s settlement along with the development of small towns.

Around the turn of the century, people began to view the land differently, recognizing that the area had a unique scenic beauty. Efforts for the area to gain national recognition of the site’s natural and cultural significance prevailed. Waterton Lakes became Canada’s fourth national park in 1895 and Glacier National Park became the tenth national park in the United States in 1910. Decades later, in 1932, the United States and Canada merged the two sites to create the world’s first International Peace Park to commemorate the peace and goodwill the two nations continue to share.

Today, visitors to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park are given a variety of options through which they can experience the area’s natural grandeur, scenic beauty and rich history. In the United States, one of Glacier National Park’s major highlights is the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50 mile stretch traversing the park's wild interior that is a National Historic Landmark. Winding around mountainsides and offering some of the best sights in northwest Montana, visitors are invited to drive all or part of the road’s distance, with opportunities to hike, camp, and obtain food and lodging along the way. While Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the main highlights in Glacier National Park and provides access to the Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, and the St. Mary Valley, the park offers many other magnificent places to discover. The North Fork, Goat Haunt, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine are also worthy of exploration. Each location in the park is unique, allowing visitors to discover historic homesteading sites, changing landscapes, Native American history, wilderness, peace, alpine meadows, and glacially-carved valleys.

The historic Lake McDonald Lodge (also known as Lewis Glacier Hotel) is a National Historic Landmark and one of the finest examples of a Swiss-Chalet style hotel remaining in the United States, with the exterior of heavy European character, and interior of rustic design unique to the American West. Constructed in the late 19th century and inspired by the Swiss alpine traditions, this historic “destination resort” in an exceptional scenic setting still remains as picturesque as when it first opened. Within the boundaries of Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Sperry and Granite Park Chalets, and the Two Medicine Chalet comprise one of the largest collections of Swiss-chalet structures in the United States.

Plan your visit

Glacier National Park, part of the Waterton Lakes-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site and a unit of the National Park System, is located in the northwest corner of Montana along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, approximately 33 miles from Kalispell, MT and 125 miles from Great Falls, MT. Glacier National Park is open every day of the year. Winter weather tends to dictate when most visitor facilities open and close. Generally from late May to early September, facilities are open to welcome summer visitors. Visitor Centers throughout the park open and close at different times during the year and are staffed with Park Rangers who provide interpretation and information to help in trip planning. For more information, visit the National Park Service Glacier National Park website or call 406-888-7800. For information on Waterton National Park in Canada, visit the Parks Canada Waterton Lakes National Park website.

Glacier National Park is the subject of an online lesson plan, Going to the Sun Road: A Model of Landscape Engineering. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website.

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was established as the nation’s and the world's first National Park in 1872. In 1978, just over one hundred years later, it was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list -- the United States' first World Heritage Site. It encompasses covers 9,000 kms (3,500 square miles) in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and includes portions of Idaho and Montana. Sited atop a gigantic volcanic caldera, Yellowstone is famous around the world for its geologic features and abundant wildlife.

The park is part of the most seismically active region of the Rocky Mountains, a volcanic "hot spot." Three cycles of past volcanic eruption produced huge explosive outbursts of ash. The latest eruptive cycle formed a caldera 45 kilometers (28 miles) wide and 75 kilometers (47 miles) long, when the active lava chambers erupted and collapsed. The crystallizing lava is the source of heat for hydrothermal features such as geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. Yellowstone contains 200-250 active geysers and perhaps 10,000 thermal features.

Along with the geysers and hot sprints, Lodge Pole pine forests dominate the landscapes of the park. There are seven species of coniferous trees and some 1,100 species of vascular plants growing in the park. The park is one of the few remaining intact large ecosystems in the northern temperate zone of the earth. The park's bison are the only wild, continuously free-ranging bison remaining from herds that once covered the Great Plains. The park is also home to grizzly bears, gray wolves, large herds of elk, among others.

Yellowstone National Park is also a place with great historic and cultural value. American Indian archeological sites date back 10,000 years. Perhaps equal importance is the fact that the park’s establishment spawned the “national park” idea that has spread throughout the world.

Among its natural wonders, Yellowstone preserves heritage sites and historic buildings that are importance features in the United States’ first national park. The Grand Loop Road Historic District encompasses a 140 mile stretch of road that was constructed to blend into its natural setting. The road takes visitors to all of the major sites in the park.

Fort Yellowstone, a National Historic Landmark that was the historic and is the current administrative center of the park, is on the Grand Loop Road. In 1891, Fort Yellowstone was formally established as a western military outpost dedicated to the protection of the natural resources and wildlife of the first national park of the United States. Fort Yellowstone embodies the initial American military and civilian efforts to implement conservation policies and procedures. The historic fort encompasses the area the army set aside to preserve and protect the natural resources and wildlife of the park from 1886-1919.

Another historic place to see along the Grand Loop Road is the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. By the start of the 20th century, the bison population in Yellowstone had dwindled significantly, bringing the species close to extinction. In response, the park opened Lamar Buffalo Ranch in 1907 with the sole purpose of raising 27 bison and keeping them safe and alive. The ranch operated until 1952 when the bison were released back into the wild.

The remains of the first structure the government built for the public in a national park are in Yellowstone. Constructed in 1881, the Queen Laundry Bath House was a simple log building that was designed to preserve “the park’s natural features ‘from injury and spoliation' while providing a place for visitors to enjoy. The early public policy reflected by the Queen’s Laundry Bath House has influenced the National Park Service's approach to managing parks and making them accessible to visitors to the present day.

Four decades after the park's creation, the Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District in Yellowstone became the site for a fish hatchery in 1912. The hatchery stocked the rivers and lakes with fish for commercial sport. For over half a century, nearly 818 million trout eggs were grown to distribute to the waters of Yellowstone and other waters in the National Park System. The Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District represents the struggle between Yellowstone's early wildlife conservation efforts and commercial fishing aspirations.

Yellowstone also offers splendid opportunities to stay in historic lodgings. The most spectacular example is Old Faithful Inn, a National Historic Landmark which dates from 1903-04 -- one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States and a masterpiece of rustic architecture. Lake Yellowstone Hotel is another option, and there are others.

The park provides a number of visitor and information centers with a wealth of information to assist visitors as they explore the park. Opportunities for visitors with a range of interests and abilities abound throughout the year. It is recommended to check the park website for information about seasonal closings and changes before going to the park.

Plan your visit

Yellowstone National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located primarily in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, and extends into parts of eastern Idaho and southern Montana. Yellowstone has five entrance stations and access to each one varies throughout the year. Click here for information about the entrances and seasonal access. The North Entrance near Gardiner, MT, is the only park entrance open to wheeled vehicles all year.

The park has a number of visitor centers. For more information, visit the National Park Service Yellowstone National Park website or call 307-344-2386.

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Yosemite National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” —John Muir

Found on the west slope of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite National Park preserves an area of outstanding scenic beauty and great wilderness value. The park represents practically all the different environments found within the Sierra Nevada, including sequoia groves, domes, valleys, polished granites, and other geological features illustrating the formation of the mountain range. It also contains numerous cultural resources.

Yosemite exhibits an exceptional glaciated landscape, including the spectacular Yosemite Valley, a 914-meter (1/2 mile) deep, glacier-carved cleft with massive sheer granite walls. These geologic features provide a scenic backdrop for mountain meadows and giant sequoia groves, resulting in a diverse landscape of exceptional natural and scenic beauty.

No other area portrays the effects of glacial action on underlying granitic domes as well as Yosemite. The most awe-inspiring of all the great rocks in the Park is El Capitan, 2,308 meters (7,569 ft) in elevation. This rock formation is the largest exposed monolith of granite in the world.  Other formations such as Half Dome and Mount Watkins provide for spectacular vistas and are some of the most photographed landscapes on earth.

Since its significance was recognized by the United States Congress in the early 1860s it can be said that Yosemite's natural beauty was the impetus for the first implementation of the national park concept as we know it today.

Following the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s, many settlers came west into the area. Hikers in the park can visit a well-preserved silver mine active from 1879 to 1890, called Golden Crown, near Bloody Canyon. The first tourists arrived around 1855. Early visitors included soldiers, artists, writers, and sightseers. Early settlers helped as guides and protected the park, as did soldiers. Between 1891 and 1913, approximately 500 African American soldiers helped guard the park and improve access to it. These “Buffalo Soldiers” played an important role in the story of the American West. The park continued to have military connections, as many of its tourist facilities hosted recovering soldiers during World War II. The Ahwahnee Hotel served as a naval hospital.

Yosemite National Park includes more that 60 listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Five of these are National Historic Landmarks -- The Wawona Hotel & Thomas Hill Studio, The Ahwahnee Hotel, LeConte Memorial Lodge, Rangers' Club, and Parsons Memorial Lodge -- all of which illustrate the development of this spectacular early national park.

The National Park Service Rustic style became a cornerstone of the National Park Service’s belief that buildings should blend in with their natural surroundings and that natural settings could influence architecture. Indigenous building materials, such as native rocks, logs, and shakes (wood shingles), were utilized to give structures in parks the feeling of having been executed by pioneer craftsmen with limited hand tools, thus making them sympathetic with their natural surroundings and with the past. Early park buildings in Yosemite reflect and influenced the emergence of the Rustic style which came to be used in national parks across the United States.

The Sierra Club built LeConte Memorial Lodge in 1903 in memory of one of its founding members, Joseph LeConte. The Lodge became Yosemite National Park's first visitor center. The first director of the National Park Service, Steven Mather, personally financed construction of the Rangers' Club in the early 1920s, and influential early example of the Rustic style. It was initially used as a residence for the first group of rangers at Yosemite. Parsons Memorial Lodge is another early Rustic style building, as is the Yosemite Museum from 1925, the first building constructed as a museum in the national park system. Its educational initiatives served as a model for parks nationwide. The museum still functions much as it was originally intended, exhibiting items such as those that reflect the Native American occupation of Yosemite Valley and its surroundings.

Yosemite is known for its its historic lodgings. The Wawona Hotel, which dates from the 1870's, is the largest Victorian hotel complex in a national park and one of the few remaining in the United States with this level of integrity. The studio of famous landscape painter of the Hudson River School, Thomas Hill (1829-1908), is part of the hotel complex. Hill used the hotel pavillion as his studio painting many works of the region there. Built to accommodate affluent and influential visitors to Yosemite, The Ahwahnee Hotel is a monumental example of Rustic architecture. Wrought-iron fittings, stained-glass windows and murals in geometric Indian/Deco designs on the interior enhance the hotel's intentionally rustic atmosphere. Camp Curry offers simpler accommodations in Rustic wood frame cabins and tent cabins offering visitors an opportunity to be close to nature. The historic camp also includes a store, dining facilities, a lodge and a post office.

With spectacular scenery all around, activities in Yosemite National Park range from the relaxing -- bird watching, art, and photography -- to the more adventurous -- such as rock climbing, hiking, and biking. Other recreational options include horseback riding, fishing, and water sports. Rangers offer guided tours, events, and special activities. Visitors can explore nature and the park's cultural history at a number of locations. Yosemite Valley Visitor Center provides an orientation to the park, a movie, and brochures. Next door to the visitor center, the Yosemite Museum offers the opportunity to learn about the cultural history of the park, particularly about the Miwok and Paiute tribes.

Plan your visit

Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site and unit of the National Park System, is located at Yosemite Village, CA. Yosemite is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. please note, some Park entrances and roads might be closed due to weather conditions. For more information about access, activities, safety, and more, visit the National Park Service Yosemite National Park website or call 209-372-0200.

Yosemite National Park is also featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary.

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