Illustrating America's Natural Heritage

Sites are designated as national natural landmarks in recognition of specific biological communities, geological landforms or processes, or paleontological resources. The outstanding resources at these sites tell the geological and ecological story of America. To draw attention to and spur learning and appreciation of America’s natural heritage, this page provides an introduction to some of the different natural features that can be found across the country. Newly created artwork pieces portray and celebrate the beauty and diversity of each of these natural features.
Graphic drawing of a moose standing in waterfall pool
Waterfall artwork produced by Dennis Caldwell for the National Park Service.

Waterfalls

Characterized by a river or other body of water's steep fall over a rocky ledge into a plunge pool below, waterfalls are often focal points of beauty and inspiration. The process of erosion plays an important part in the formation of waterfalls. However they can also form as a result of an earthquake, landslide, glacier, or volcanic activity that disrupts a stream bed.

From plunging to cascading, there are national natural landmarks designated for their outstanding illustration of the different types of waterfalls. Some of these include:

Dismals, AL
Burney Falls, CA
Gulf Hagas, ME
Nancy Brook Virgin Spruce Forest and Scenic Area, NH
Great Falls of Paterson-Garrett Mountain, NJ
Tinkers Creek Gorge, OH
Nay Aug Park Gorge and Waterfall, PA
The Glens Natural Area, PA
Piney Falls, TN

Did you know?

Moose are excellent swimmers, in fact, they are born knowing how to swim. Aquatic plants make up a large part of their diet and moose can close their nostrils allowing them to graze under water.
Graphic drawing of two people exploring a cave feature
Cave artwork produced by Dennis Caldwell for the National Park Service.

Caves

Characterized by a natural opening in the ground extending beyond the zone of light, caves occur in a wide variety of rock types. They can range in size from single, small rooms to interconnecting passages many miles long. Solution caves are the most common and well-known type of cave; others include lava, sea, and glacier caves. Spelothems, or cave formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and drapery are mineral deposits that decorate the interior of most caves.

Caves provide habitat for many animals, including those that live in complete darkness and have evolved to be eyeless. Others may utilize a cave or cave entrance for a portion of their lives, such as bats or salamanders.

From limestone caverns to volcanic lava tubes, there are national natural landmarks designated for their outstanding illustration of the different types of caves. Some of these include:

Shelta Cave, AL
Cathedral Caverns, AL
Onyx Cave, AZ
Black Chasm Cave, CA
Lake Shasta Caverns, CA
Mitchell Caverns and Winding Stair Cave, CA
Florida Caverns Natural Area, FL
Donaldson Cave System and Woods Site, IN
Marengo Cave, IN
Wyandotte Cave, IN
Marvel Cave, Missouri
Lost Sea (Craighead Caverns), TN
Cumberland Caverns (Higginbotham and Henshaw Caves), TN
Natural Bridge Caverns, TX
Cave Without a Name, TX
Caverns of Sonora, TX
Grand Caverns, VA
Luray Caverns, VA
Organ Cave System, WV
Lost World Caverns, WV
Cave of the Mounds, WI

Did you know?

To survive the low-oxygen air in caves and months without food, some cave dwellers have super-slow metabolisms. And because they live slowly, they live long. The southern cave crayfish (Orconectes australis) has been found to live up to 50 years.
Graphic drawing of two prairie dogs at sunset
Prairie artwork produced by Dennis Caldwell for the National Park Service.

Prairies

Characterized by grasses and a near complete absence of trees and large shrubs, prairies provide habitat for a diverse array of critters including bison, antelope, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, spadefoot toads and dung beetles. Historically North America’s most extensive biome, much of this ecosystem has been altered, elevating the importance of remaining prairie and the collaborative efforts to connect, conserve and restore these subtle, yet grand landscapes.

From shortgrass to tallgrass, there are national natural landmarks designated for their outstanding illustration of the different types of prairies found across the country. Some of these include:

Harrell Prairie Hill, MS
May Prairie, TN
Willamette Floodplain, OR
Hayden Prairie, IA
Markham Prairie, IL
Hoosier Prairie, IN
Golden Prairie, MO
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, NE
Dixon Vernal Pools, CA
Bueyeros Shortgrass Plains, NM
Big Basin Preserve, KS
Buffalo Slough, SD

Did you know?
Prairie dogs, belonging to the Sciuridae (squirrel) family, use complex communication similar to our own. Recent studies show their vocabulary is more advanced than any other animal language that’s been decoded.
Graphic drawing of turtle basking in cypress swamp
Swamp artwork produced by Dennis Caldwell for the National Park Service.

Swamps

Forested wetlands characterized by slow-moving or still waters, swamps are highly diverse ecosystems teeming with wildlife including river otter, American alligator, flocks of warblers, turtles, frogs and dragonflies. These critically important ecosystems act like giant sponges that moderate the effects of inland flooding and protect coastal areas from storm surges. Swamps also function as water treatment plants, filtering wastes and purifying water naturally.

From cedar to bald cypress-tupelo, there are national natural landmarks designated for their outstanding illustration of the different types of swamps found across the country. Some of these include:

Seashore Natural Area, VA
Francis Beidler Forest, SC
Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, MD
Henderson Sloughs, KY
Tamarack Bog Nature Preserve, IN
Heron Pond-Little Black Slough Natural Area, IL
Okefenokee Swamp, GA
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, FL
Acushnet Cedar Swamp, MA
Big Lake Natural Area, AR
Beaverdam Creek Swamp, AL
Pachaug-Great Meadow Swamp, CT
Tamarack Swamp, PA
Cornwall Swamp, VT
Bergen-Byron Swamp, NY

Did you know?
The bald cypress-tupelo swamps, found in the southeastern United States, are ancient ecosystems. Cypress trees in North and South Carolina have been dated at over 1,500 years, making them the oldest trees east of the Mississippi River.

Last updated: July 9, 2019

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