In a land of stark white sand, a little fall color really stands out. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico preserves part the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Gypsum sand is considered rare because gypsum is water soluble – it dissolves in water like sugar in iced tea. The 275-square miles of dunes are comprised of over 4.5 billion tons of gypsum sand. It is one of the many things that make White Sands a unique and special place. Photo by Jim Langford (www.sharetheexperience.org).
Take a look at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah. The monument is best known for its geologic amphitheater – a brilliantly colored limestone coliseum that plunges a half-mile deep. In addition to enjoying incredible views, visitors can wander among timeless bristlecone pines, stand in lush meadows of wildflower, ponder crystal-clear night skies and experience the gorgeous fall colors of the park’s subalpine forest. Photo courtesy of Gary Fua.
Bandelier National Monument’s human history extends back for over 10,000 years when nomadic hunter-gatherers followed migrating wildlife across the mesas and canyons of New Mexico. Between 1150 and 1550 CE, Ancestral Pueblo erected permanent settlements whose remains give us clues about their lives and culture. Built along the base of a cliff, the homes at Long House stood three to four stories high. The cliff face and remaining structures are decorated with hundreds of petroglyphs showing a variety of subjects. A visit here is like traveling back in time. Photo by Sally King, National Park Service.
Dinosaur National Monument offers a lifetime of places to explore. Depending on your interest and time, you can discover dinosaur fossils, Native American rock art, homesteader cabins, early 20th century ranches, remote canyons, dramatic vistas, peaceful rivers or windswept peaks. Some places are easily accessible from the monument’s roads, while others may require extended hikes or river trips. Looking down hundreds of feet to the Green River as it curls past narrow canyon walls, you’ll know it was worth the exercise. Photo by National Park Service.
The imposing rock formation of Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska rises 800 feet above the North Platte River and the surrounding prairie. For pioneers and travellers, it was visible for several days before they actually reached it and meant the end of the Great Plains and the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. Visitors today can get a sense of frontier time as they look out over some of the the best preserved prairie in the country – gorgeous grasslands relatively untouched by human disturbance. Photo by B. Wagner, National Park Service.
Our nation’s first national monument, Devils Tower was established on this day in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Unforgettable to all who see it, this ancient volcanic column rises above the rolling grasslands in eastern Wyoming like a sentinel. Northern Plains Tribes have lived and held ceremonies near this remarkable geologic formation for thousands of years, and today, many tribes continue to hold traditional ceremonies at the park. The rock tower was called “Bear’s Lodge” and “Bear’s Tipi” by the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow and Lakota tribes. Made famous in the 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the monument holds an undeniable attraction to many people. Photo by National Park Service.
In the heart of Dinosaur National Monument, the Yampa River flows through Sand Canyon and meets the Green River in Echo Park. Following the water, you’ll pass through wide, rocky canyons and cross from Colorado into Utah. If you look close enough, you can see Native American pictographs and the dinosaur fossils that gave the park its name. Doesn’t that sounds like a terrific summer adventure? Photo by National Park Service.
Bobcats thrive at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico but are rarely seen. Mostly nocturnal, they use stealth and excellent night vision to hunt small mammals in darkness. Bobcats are usually tawny with darker spots and streaks on their body and legs, and light-colored undersides. They have short black tufts on their ears and a ruff of longer fur on their face. The kittens may look like ordinary house cats, but they quickly grow to twice the size of domestic cats. Photo by National Park Service.
Sometimes you have to get below the surface to truly appreciate public lands. Cave systems are fascinating places and can be found at several unique parks across the country. Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota boasts over 195 miles of mapped and surveyed passages, an underground wilderness that appeals to human curiosity. The splendor of this hidden gem is revealed through fragile formations and glimpses of brilliant color. Its maze of passages lure explorers, and its scientific wealth remains a mystery. Photo of a lantern tour by Christopher Raborn (www.sharetheexperience.org).
There are no live dinosaurs today at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, but there are other surprises. For most of its length, the Ruple Point Trail crosses a rolling terrain filled with sagebrush and juniper. Near the end of the trail, a short descent suddenly reveals breathtaking views of Split Mountain Canyon and the Green River 2,500 feet below. It’s a great reward at the halfway point of this 9.5 mile hike. Take plenty of water! Photo by National Park Service.