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Arizona’s Ancient History Shines In Its National Monuments

Photo Courtesy NPS

The Southwest of the United States is a bit of a world unto itself. One can drive 50 or 100 miles in one direction or another and feel as though they are in another universe. In some areas of the region, a couple of 100 miles will take the traveler through a mountain pass, a high desert, and a low, flat valley — all without even filling up a gas tank.

For this reason, the American Southwest is a known top-of-any-list destination for nature lovers, who answer the siren call of the stunningly beautiful and diverse topography by the thousands annually. No state is more emblematic of this topographical smorgasbord than Arizona.

Aside from dense, lush forests, parts of the Chihuahua Mountain range, and a well-known desert basin replete with cactus and famous petrified trees, Arizona is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World — The Grand Canyon!

There is very little that the adventure-minded cannot see or experience in this natural wonderland. Thankfully, many of these treasures are preserved in Arizona’s National Monuments and Memorials. Read on to learn more!

Montezuma Castle National Monument: Take a walk through history at this monument. The 20-room high-rise castle — built into the limestone walls of an Arizona canyon — leads visitors in the footsteps of the ancient Native American people who lived and thrived there for centuries. About 600 years ago, the Sinagua people made this area their home; the remaining dwelling where they once lived is a testament to their will, ingenuity, and determination to survive the harsh desert climate. Visitors can tour the ancient ruins, as others have been doing by the thousands since this National Monument was established more than 100 years ago.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Navajo National Monument: Not far away from Montezuma Castle, another testament to an ancient civilization that long inhabited this part of North America can be found. Navajo National Monument celebrates the history and lives of the Navajo people. The Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Zuni, and Navajo Tribes all made their homes in the canyons near Kayenta, Arizona. Today, visitors can hike in the area and walk among the cliff dwellings established sometime around 1300 A.D. This site is a true treasure trove of a monument for history buffs!

Photo Courtesy NPS

Coronado National Memorial: Somewhere around the year 1540, an armed expedition of more than 300 Europeans, over 1,000 Aztecs, and numerous enslaved peoples set across Northern Mexico and Southwestern present-day America. The party was on an exploration trip that would drastically change the cultural and biological landscape of the area. At once precipitating the collapse of some parts of Native culture and the fusing of Native and European culture, this expedition and its reverberations would be felt for centuries and are still felt in today’s modern Southwestern culture. Hiking, picnicking, birding, and exploring the famed Coronado Cave are popular activities at this site.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Pipe Spring National Monument: Life in the high desert centuries ago was exceedingly hard. Of course, one reason for that was the lack of readable water sources. This monument preserves the legacy of a spring that changed the landscape, the culture, and the future of this part of Arizona. From the Kaibab Paiute Native Tribes to the Mormon settlers who would later come, Pipe Spring was a life-saving and life-giving water source in an unforgiving terrain. Today, those who visit can explore the still-standing cabins and red clay bluffs surrounding the area or hike the Ridge Trail to get a taste of what life must have been like in the high desert hundreds of years ago.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: Travelers to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument will feel as though they are transported to another planet! A thousand years ago, the Earth exploded and spewed forth a sea of lava that dramatically changed the landscape and the lives of the people dwelling in the region. Today, as if frozen in time, the lava flow and rock fields surrounding it remain as geological displays for modern-day travelers to experience for themselves. There is much to be learned about the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived here for generations before and after the great eruption. There is something for everyone at Sunset Crater Volcano!

Photo Courtesy NPS

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument: This spot features a natural landscape that looks as though it has been ripped right out of an old 1960s western flick. Encompassing a remote parcel of some 280,000 acres of unspoiled Arizona land, Vermilion Cliffs contains some of the most coveted hiking in the Southwest, with famous views almost beyond description. In addition to the embarrassment of hiking trail riches, the monument is home to a growing number of endangered California Condors. This geological wonderland is an outdoor lover’s dream.

Photo Courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Sonoran Desert National Monument: This destination is one of the most biologically diverse desert areas in North America! One of its distinctive features is the widespread growth of saguaro cactus. Additionally, the area and the monument that protects it contains three different mountain ranges — the Maricopa, Sand Tank, and Table Top mountains — although all are separated by long, wide valleys. There are also three protected wilderness areas, numerous historic trails, and even an archeological site or two to explore. For those interested in the topography and biodiversity of the American Southwest, this site can’t be missed.

Photo Courtesy Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

Chiricahua National Monument: This monument is often referred to as a “Wonderland of Rocks,” and that is a pretty apt description! The rock pinnacles that make up the distinctive feature of Chiricahua Rock are the result of the erosion of volcanic ash from an eruption of a volcano thousands of years ago that occurred just to the south of the present-day site. The more than 12,000 acres of preserved land is a must-visit for hiking, camping, and stargazing.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Located in the breathtakingly beautiful Sonoran Desert, Organ Pipe may look like a typical desert landscape, but it belies a teeming ecosystem of plants and animals unparalleled in the region. Designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, the area provides a natural habitat for a diverse and thriving collection of wildlife and plant life. Visitors can learn more about the history of the Native people who have thrived in the Sonoran Desert for millennia or simply enjoy a hike, drive, or sit under the stars, marveling at the great bowl of the Western Sky. This unique monument is a true gem of the American Southwest.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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