Exploring America's Beauty - American National Monuments and Natural Wonders
The American National Parks usually appear front and center in conversations about the natural beauty of the United States. And we can see why. These protected regions offer much of this country's most beautiful, natural features. We see the National Parks on the covers of National Geographic magazines, in movies and TV shows, and described in artful wonder in hundreds of books, fiction and nonfiction alike.
But the American National Parks are not the only protected nature areas in the U.S. Though other nature areas sometimes seem overshadowed by the National Parks, the American National Monuments, State Parks, and other protected lands play a considerable role in preserving and displaying the beauty of America.
The Beginning of the American National Monuments
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized U.S. presidents to create National Monuments by way of a simple, presidential proclamation. Over a century later, our country is now home to well over one-hundred National Monuments, each one preserved and protected for our families and future generations to enjoy.
Believe it or not, the Antiquities Act has not gone by without some controversy. For example, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter used the provisions of the Antiquities Act to designate no less than 17 National Monuments in Alaska, effectively preserving more than 56 million acres of Alaska wilderness in doing so. In just one use of the Antiquities Act, President Carter more than doubled the size of the National Park system (most National Monuments are administered under the National Park System).
Mining, foresting, and agricultural interests in Alaska were furious at the sudden use of the Antiquities Act to protect 56 million acres of resource-rich lands. But environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, nature enthusiasts, and wilderness explorers the nation over celebrated the decision.
Today, much of the Carter-designated National Monuments in Alaska have been absorbed into huge National Parks. As a result, Alaska has more federally protected lands than any other state in the U.S.
National Monuments Today
According to the National Parks Traveler, 27 U.S. states serve as homes to National Monuments. Arizona alone is home to 18 National Monuments. New Mexico has 12, and California has 10.
Many of the National Monuments were created not just to preserve wildlife-rich lands, but to also preserve historically significant, culturally prominent, or scientifically unique regions. That's how we got our first National Monument, Devil's Tower.
Devil's Tower National Monument was designated in 1906 to protect an incredible, 1,267-foot tall monolithic rock formation in Wyoming. Not only is this astonishing display of volcanic rock a bit of a scientific wonder, but the giant stone also has cultural and historical significance for local Native American tribes.
We can find similar stories for other National Monuments like Chimney Rock National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Mt. Rushmore National Monument, and Bears Ears National Monument. Each of these monuments preserves valuable land (protecting it from commercial development). But each monument also preserves precious Native American ruins, incredible geological formations, and other features of cultural and natural significance.
Whether our National Monuments are designated to preserve nature, to prevent development, to protect a distinctive, natural feature, or to eternalize a historical feature of Indigenous culture, our National Monuments are wonders to behold. We should continue to preserve them, to add new monuments to the roster, and to ensure that the history, culture, and natural beauty of the U.S. is made available for centuries to come.
State Parks and Natural Wonders
National Parks and National Monuments still only cover a portion of the millions of acres of protected lands in America. There are also thousands of State Parks and locally designated natural wonders, all of which fall under state protection laws instead of federal protection laws.
It's difficult to keep track of how many State Parks there are, as more parks are added each year. But as of 2018 (according to The National Association of State Park Directors):
1). There are 8,565 State Parks in the United States.
2). Altogether, American State Parks comprise 18,694,570 acres of protected lands.
3). The State Parks maintain 12,672 hiking trails for a total of 52,603 miles of trails. That's more than twice the circumference of the Earth's equator in hiking trails!
4). Our State Parks are home to 221,367 campsites, 8,909 cabins and cottages, and 856 group facilities.
5). Altogether, our country's State Parks receive more than 807 million visitors each year, more than double the U.S. population!
Some of the best known State Parks include Niagara Falls State Park in New York (also the first State Park ever designated), Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, Myakka River State Park in Florida, Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
In addition to National Parks, National Monuments, and State Parks, both federal and state governing bodies can protect natural regions and unique habitats in other ways. These can fall under categories like:
National Seashore, (like Cape Cod National Seashore).
National Historical Parks (like Chaco Culture National Historical Park).
National Lakeshore (like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore).
National Forests (like Dixie National Forest).
Historic sites (like the Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield).
Tribal lands (like Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park).
Nature viewing centers (like the Apollo Beach Manatee Viewing Center).
Celebrating Our Monuments, Parks, and Protected Lands with Vintage Poster Art
To celebrate some of the most incredible scenic places in the world, Anderson Design Group created the American National Monuments and Natural Wonders Collection, an array of dozens of vintage art posters. Each hand-rendered poster features a National Monument, a State Park, or a natural wonder.
And don't forget, our local Nashville art studio donates a portion of its profits from each art piece purchased in-store or online to the National Parks Foundation. Doing so helps ensure that the National Monuments will be there for generations to come.
We don't just create vintage travel art and nature art of America's beautiful lands. We also travel to these places and take in all their wonder and majesty. That gives us an added appreciation for these lands and an understanding of the need for their protection.
So when you purchase vintage home decor, travel posters, art prints, signs, banners, notecards, or postcards from Anderson Design Group, you're supporting local artists and you're supporting the conservation of our country's most beautiful lands.
We hope you enjoy the wonders of our natural world as much as we do. Let's make sure our nature becomes our grandchildren's nature. Let's preserve our natural lands in both vintage art and in our actions.
After all, we are the custodians of all that we see and enjoy in this life.
Until next time,
Anderson Design Group Writing Staff