A National Monument in the United States is a protected area that is similar to a National Park except that the President of the United States can quickly declare an area of the US to be a National Monument without the approval of Congress. National monuments receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than national parks. Another difference between a monument and park is the amount of diversity in what is being protected; national monuments aim to preserve at least one unique resource but do not have the amount of diversity of a national park (which are supposed to protect a host of unique features). You will find some of the most remarkable places in the country in the wild and varied national monuments. Go directly to the National Monuments Photo Gallery.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 resulted from concerns about protecting mostly prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts—collectively termed "antiquities "—on federal lands in the West. It authorized permits for legitimate archeological investigations and penalties for persons taking or destroying antiquities without permission. And it authorized presidents to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments—"the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."
The Internet Brothers have visited several national monuments in the West, primarily in Colorado and Utah. Over the years many of these have been upgraded to National Park status like Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes. Many times we have stopped at Colorado National Monument on our way elsewhere because of its convenience to I-70 at the Fruita, CO exit. We have also been through the Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument a few times to get to other destinations, and Natural Bridges National Monument near Glen Canyon. In July 2009 we made our first visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City, UT and we're glad we did.
Nothing is subtle about the great natural rock amphitheater of Cedar Breaks and its gigantic spectacle of extraordinary fins and spires wrapped in bold colors. If Cedar Breaks were anywhere but in the region of southwest Utah that includes Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and a hop, skip, and jump from Grand Canyon, it would be considered a world-class scenic wonder. It is that, but the comparably small size against its park brethren relegates it to underdog status. Shaped like a huge coliseum, the amphitheater is more than 2,000 feet deep and more than three miles in diameter. It took millions of years of uplift and erosion to carve this bowl on the 10,000-foot Markagunt Plateau. Varying combinations of iron and manganese give the rock its different reds, yellows, and purples. It achieved National Monument status in 1933.
But there is more to Cedar Breaks than just the rock amphitheater. It is a subalpine spruce-fir forest—and meadows of grasses and wildflowers. In this sanctuary of clean, cool air, abundant rainfall, full sunlight, and fertile soil, nature exhibits its full potential. Floral displays begin in late June and include mountain bluebell, fleabane, beard-tongue, and pink spring beauty. In mid-July, when we were there, the displays begin to peak as the forest and rolling meadows fill to overflowing with larkspur, lupine, penstemon, columbine, Indian paintbrush, and many others. It was a lush, flowering wonderland that made us so glad we were there to see it. In sharp contrast to the flowers that rush through their lives is the bristlecone pine. This native of the Cedar Breaks highcountry is the Methuselah of trees.
You can get to Cedar Breaks National Monument from either the east or west on Utah Hwy. 14 or from the north on Utah Hwy. 143. This is a monument you can enjoy in a day or less. Make a point to stop by on your way to one of the other nearby national parks. Be sure to get out of your car and hike the Ramparts and Alpine Pond trails. Each is a two mile roundtrip that are well worth the time.
Established in 1911 by President Taft, Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Sheer-walled canyons, towering monoliths, colorful formations, desert bighorn sheep, soaring eagles, and a spectacular road reflect the environment and history of the plateau-and-canyon country. The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive, offering breathtaking views with a parade of geology, is only 8 miles as the crow flies. It twists and turns past sandstone monoliths that are 1.7 billion years old. Located within it's 32 square miles is a fascinating landscape of deep canyons and soaring cliffs. Hiking, sightseeing, bicycling, and ranger-led programs are just a few of the exciting choices of activities awaiting visitors.
If you're a bit adventurous you can take the Black Ridge dirt road off the Rim Rock Drive 13 miles to Rattlesnake Canyon, located within the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness that borders the National Monument. You probably need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate the last couple miles. The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches trail is a 4½ mile roundtrip that takes you to one of the largest collections of big sandstone arches not in Arches National Park. We visited the national monument and Rattlesnake Canyon most recently in October 2008.
To get to Colorado National Monument take I-70 to the Fruita Exit (#19). Turn left at the off ramp, cross back over I-70 and follow the signs. It really is simple and a great way to spend half a day when you're traveling through western Colorado. There is a small entry fee, but if you are only going to Rattlesnake Canyon, tell them so and they will let you in without paying.
This high, rugged, and remote region, with plateaus and cliffs so long they run across counties, was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped. Even today, this unspoiled natural area remains a frontier, a quality that greatly enhances the Monumentís value for scientific study. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in southern Utah, spans nearly 1.9 million acres of Americaís public lands. From its spectacular Grand Staircase of cliffs and terraces, across the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau, to the wonders of the Escalante River Canyons, the Monumentís size, resources, and remote character provide extraordinary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists in scientific research, education, and exploration.
And us... it's been a great place to explore for us too since President Clinton designated the area a National Monument in the late nineties. We took a drive on the Burr Trail Road in October 2008 going to Capitol Reef National Park, then spent part of a day in July 2009 going between the towns of Escalante and Boulder on Hell's Backbone Road just north of, and with views into, the Box Death Hollow Wilderness. You know with names like that you're talking rugged and remote. Hellís Backbone Bridge spans a crevasse on a narrow ridge no wider than the bridge itself. It is not for the faint of heart, but the scenery is beautiful. We had a picnic lunch up top. Here's our video of the bridge.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante is huge. You could explore for months and never get done. With that in mind, if you want a couple hour trip to learn what to expect, take Scenic Byway 12 from near Panguitch to Torrey. There are several National Monument and BLM offices and visitor centers along the way that can give you all the detail you want about exploring this unusual mountain and desert area.
This out-of-the-way destination sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. Intermittent streams have cut two deep canyons and three massive bridges in sandstone formed from what was once the shore of an ancient sea. At each of the bridges, trails descend into the canyons from the loop road. A longer trail meanders along the canyon bottoms through oak and cottonwood groves, connecting the three bridges in a loop hike.
The entrance to Natural Bridges is at the end of Highway 275, which is roughly 35 miles west of Blanding, UT on Highway 95. Driving time from Blanding is about 45 minutes. The scenic drive is open year-round. This paved, nine-mile loop provides access to all the bridges. Each may be viewed by walking a short distance to an overlook. An archeological site (Horsecollar Ruin) may also be viewed from an overlook along the scenic drive.
Proceed to the National Monuments Photo Gallery