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Discover California’s Hidden Gems In Its National Monuments

Photo Courtesy NPS

Unlike some of its contemporaries in a collection of disparate regions as diverse and far-flung as the United States, this state is just about as well known as one can be worldwide. It contains the entertainment hub of the world and some of the largest attractions — human-made and natural — and is, in many ways, emblematic of the dreamiest pictures that come to mind when someone thinks of America.

Of course, the state in question is “The Golden State” of California!

There is little that hasn’t been written about California’s topline attributes. However, it’s some of its little-known gems that deserve their proverbial moment as the hero of the story.

Many of these treasures can be found within its contributions to the National Monuments of the U.S.

Read on to learn more!

California Coastal National Monument: This site protects California’s greatest resource: its stunning coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The California Coastal National Monument provides a one-of-a-kind habitat for wildlife and plant life on more than 20,000 rocks, islands, and exposed reefs along the California shoreline. In addition, it holds more than 7,900 acres of public land in six distinct parcels: Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Point Arena-Stornetta, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, and Piedras Blancas. This spot is as vital a monument as there is, and its creation in 2000 is one of the most monumental events in the conservation of the West Coast in recent memory.

Photo Courtesy BLM

The Giant Sequoia National Monument: A little further inland is another spot that protects a unique California feature. In April 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which protects more than 300,000 acres of prime California forestland, including a mile stretch of the Sierra Nevada where the Giant Sequoia can be found. This spot is truly a one-of-a-kind experience and should rank at the top of any nature lovers’ must-see list to experience the magnitude and wonder of these truly gargantuan trees and the forests in which they live.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Lava Bed National Monument: California also contains a wealth of natural history, such as what can be found at Lava Bed National Monument. This history, turbulent at times, is manifested in the remnants of volcanic activity dating back millions of years. The spot preserves and contains sacred Native American sites, hiking trails, and an elaborate more than 800 cave system. Visitors can hike, explore the caves, take a guided tour, or learn more about the area’s history and people. 

Photo Courtesy NPS

Mojave Trails National Monument: With a state as large as California, it’s bound to have quite a bit of topographical diversity, and this monument protects one of its great deserts. Mojave Trails spans more than 1.6 million acres of protected federal land and is a stunning patchwork of mountain ranges, millennia-old lava flows, and incredible sand dunes — truly an outdoor lover’s paradise! Today, visitors can drive the famed Route 66, visit Joshua Tree National Park, the World War II-era Desert Training Center, and Mojave National Preserve without ever leaving the monument preservation space.

Photo Courtesy BLM

Muir Woods National Monument: This monument, dedicated in 1908, asks visitors the question “What will you discover?” in Muir Woods, and what a question it is! There may be limitless things to discover and experience in this stunning deep forest habitat near San Francisco. From the unique and beautiful flora and fauna — including the famous towering Redwood trees — to the wildlife that roams the protected acreage, there isn’t much an explorer can’t find within this amazing destination.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Tule Lake National Monument: California has its fair share of dark history in addition to its ancient natural stories to tell, and this monument protects a painful but vitally important lesson from America’s past. Tule Lake National Monument was the site of internment camps during World War II before becoming a prison of war camp later in the war. Sadly, it was one of 10 throughout the country to house Japanese prisoners of war and civilians. Today, visitors are invited to learn more about the lives of the people who lived here, the hard times during the struggle against fascism worldwide, and the price these innocent people paid.

Photo Courtesy NPS

National AIDS Memorial: Another solemn reminder can be found at the National AIDS Memorial in San Francisco. This 10-acre plot commemorates the lives lost during the darkest days of the AIDS pandemic, the ones who live with this disease, and those left behind to tell their loved ones stories. Located in Golden Gate Park, it’s mostly intended as a space for healing and remembrance. The National AIDS Memorial is an important site not only to remember and celebrate the lives lost but also to remind each citizen to encourage and stand in solidarity with those fighting this ongoing epidemic.

Photo Courtesy National AIDS Memorial 

The Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial: The Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial, located in Riverside, California’s March Field Air Museum, gives overdue recognition and praise for those who distinguished themselves in aerial battle during America’s wars. This spot, dedicated on Oct. 27, 2010, protects the legacy and commemorates the great deeds of the men and women who fought valiantly in the air from World War I to the present. This memorial and the larger March Field Air Museum are essential for military and aviation buffs!

Photo Courtesy March Field Air Museum 

Mt. Soledad National Veteran Memorial: Another tribute to America’s fighting men and women can be found further south in San Diego, California. Mt. Soledad is unique in that it honors the men and women, living and dead, who fought in battle from the Revolutionary War to the present with a photo of the veteran. Thousands visit each year to pay their respect and honor these heroes. Since its dedication in 1954, this San Diego treasure has been one of the most visited veteran’s memorials nationwide. The memorial should be a must-visit for all Americans when in Southern California.

Photo Courtesy Soledad Memorial 

Prisoners Of War/Missing in Action Memorial: The Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Memorial in Riverside, California, is dedicated to the memories of those who never returned home from war — the brave men and women whose fate is either in captivity or still unknown to this day. Located at the March Airfield Museum, this memorial was dedicated in 2004 and honors the more than 607,000 prisoners of war and more than 170,000 servicemen and women listed as “missing in action” from the Revolutionary War to the present day, truly staggering numbers. All citizens owe a debt of gratitude to these brave soldiers, and this site preserves their memories forever.

Photo Courtesy California Through My Lens

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