The National Park System (NPS) in the US is world-famous, with hundreds of millions of people traveling nationally and internationally to witness the beauty of places like the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains or Redwood national parks. Financially the impact is huge: national parks in the US brought close to $36 billion to the economy in 2017. While the services they provide go well beyond the economic contribution, it still remains an important part of the conversation in the current political climate, where the Department of Interior made allegations in early 2017 regarding conservation stifling economic growth. In that context, the presidential administration decided to conduct an unpopular review of national monuments created after 1996. Many national monuments are the national parks' wilder siblings, with less infrastructure, less visitation, but equally beautiful and important for conservation. Twenty-seven such monuments entered the review list, with Grande Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears being ultimately dismantled and drastically reduced in size.
Between August and November 2017 we traveled to 20 of the 27 national monuments under presidential review to add our voices to nationwide efforts of generating awareness of their importance and beauty. The review started a heated debate regarding public lands, of which people spoke overwhelmingly in favor. The review succeeded in creating more division and in reducing the size of two national monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. But it also brought us all closer to lesser known national monuments that deserve to be discovered and appreciated just as much as the national parks of the nation.
The national monuments we visited were located in the western part of the US and the creation of each one was the result of many years of efforts by local groups and stakeholders to protect habitats which varied from deserts, to ponderosa pine forests, to blissful waterways. These monuments are also home to a variety of rare flora and fauna and preserve millennia of human history and artifacts. In some cases they have become the economic engines for gateway communities, while others remain wilder and less developed. During a visit at any of them it is important to understand that the experience will be different than when visiting a national park, with less infrastructure, plenty of opportunities for solitude, and higher risks of getting lost while being on your own in remote, harsh environments. The trip to the 20 national monuments took us almost three months, with stops in several cities for presentations at Patagonia and REI stores (link to an interactive map of our itinerary). The descriptions you’ll find in this online resource for each of the national monuments we visited can be read individually as a quick guide to all the basics you need to know when planning a trip.
In the following pages you’ll find individual short guides to each of the 20 monuments. You can browse through all of them or go directly to the one that interests you:
1. Basin and Range, Nevada
2. Bears Ears, Utah
3. Berryessa Snow Mountain, California
4. Canyons of the Ancients, Colorado
5. Carrizo Plain, California
6. Cascade-Siskiyou, Oregon/California
7. Giant Sequoia, California
8. Gold Butte, Nevada
9. Grand Canyon-Parashant, Arizona
10. Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
11. Hanford Reach, Washington
12. Ironwood Forest, Arizona
13. Mojave Trails, California
14. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, New Mexico
15. Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico
16. Sand to Snow, California
17. San Gabriel Mountains, California
18. Sonoran Desert, Arizona
19. Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana
20. Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona