Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)

… was proclaimed 91 years ago today (December 9, 1924).


Wupatki National Monument was established by President Calvin Coolidge on December 9, 1924, to preserve Citadel and Wupatki pueblos. Monument boundaries have been adjusted several times since then, and now include additional pueblos and other archeological resources on a total of 35,422 acres.

Wupatki represents a cultural crossroads, home to numerous groups of people over thousands of years. Understanding of earlier people comes from multiple perspectives, including the traditional history of the people themselves and interpretations by archeologists of structures and artifacts that remain. …

Today, Wupatki National Monument protects 56 square miles … of high desert directly west of the Little Colorado River and the Navajo Reservation. Its vistas preserve clues to geologic history, ecological change, and human settlement. All are intertwined.

Wupatki National Monument

El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)

… was established by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act 109 years ago today (December 8, 1906).

El Morro

Paso por aqui . . . A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a massive sandstone bluff made El Morro (the bluff) a popular campsite. Ancestral Puebloans settled on the mesa top over 700 years ago. Spanish and American travelers rested, drank from the pool and carved their signatures, dates and messages for hundreds of years. Today, El Morro National Monument protects over 2,000 inscriptions and petroglyphs, as well as Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

Explorers and travelers have known of the pool by the great rock for centuries. A valuable water source and resting place, many who passed by inscribed their names and messages in the rock next to petroglyphs left by ancient Puebloans. The ruins of a large pueblo located on top of El Morro were vacated by the time the Spaniards arrived in the late 1500s, and its inhabitants may have moved to the nearby pueblos in Zuni and Acoma. As the American West grew in population, El Morro became a break along the trail for those passing through and a destination for sightseers. As the popularity of the area increased, so did the tradition of carving inscriptions on the rock. To preserve the historical importance of the area and initiate preservation efforts on the old inscriptions, El Morro was established as a national monument by a presidential proclamation on December 8, 1906.

El Morro National Monument

NewMexiKen photo 2007Click to enlarge
NewMexiKen photo 2007
Click to enlarge
NewMexiKen photo 2007Click to enlarge
NewMexiKen photo 2007
Click to enlarge

Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

… was first proclaimed a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act 109 years ago today (December 8, 1906). It became a national park in 1962.


With one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225 million year old fossils, this is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science.

Petrified Forest was set aside as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific value. It is recognized today for having so much more, including a broad representation of the Late Triassic paleo-ecosystem, significant human history, clear night skies, fragile grasslands ecosystem, and unspoiled scenic vistas.

Petrified Forest is one of the national parks that has Class I air. Class I National Park Service areas have the highest level of air quality protection under the law. These areas are defined as national parks larger than 6,000 acres or wilderness areas over 5,000 acres that were in existence when the Clean Air Act was amended in 1977.

Petrified Forest National Park

NewMexiKen photo 2011
NewMexiKen photo 2011
Click for larger version

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

… was established by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act 109 years ago today (December 8, 1906).


Nestled into a limestone recess high above the flood plain of Beaver Creek in the Verde Valley stands one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling served as a “high-rise apartment building” for prehistoric Sinagua Indians over 600 years ago. Early settlers to the area assumed that the imposing structure was associated with the Aztec emperor Montezuma, but the castle was abandoned almost a century before Montezuma was born.

Montezuma Castle National Monument encompasses 826 acres and lies in the Verde Valley at the junction of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range physiographic provinces. Although the climate is arid with less than 12 inches of rainfall annually, several perennial streams thread their way from upland headwaters to the Verde Valley below, creating lush riparian ribbons of green against an otherwise parched landscape of rolling, juniper-covered hills.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

NewMexiKen photo 2003
NewMexiKen photo 2003
Click for larger version

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

… was established this date 2002. It runs from Santa Fe to Los Angeles with portions in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California.

Old Spanish Trail

There was money to be made in transporting New Mexico serapes and other woolen goods to Los Angeles, and in wrangling California-bred horses and mules back to Santa Fe. But a viable overland route across the remote deserts and mountains of Mexico’s far northern frontier had to be found.

It took the vision and courage of Mexican trader Antonio Armijo to lead the first commercial caravan from Abiquiú, New Mexico, to Los Angeles late in 1829. Over the next 20 years, Mexican and American traders continued to ply variants of the route that Armijo pioneered, frequently trading with Indian tribes along the way. And it was from a combination of the indigenous footpaths, early trade and exploration routes, and horse and mule routes that a trail network known collectively as the Old Spanish Trail evolved.

Santa Fe emerged as the hub of the overland continental trade network linking Mexico and United States markets—a network that included not only the Old Spanish Trail, but also the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. After the United States took control of the Southwest in 1848 other routes to California emerged, and use of the Old Spanish Trail sharply declined.

National Park Service

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

… became law on this date in 1980, more than doubling the size of the national park system.


According to America’s National Park System: The Critical Documents edited by Lary M. Dilsaver:

In the waning days of the Carter Democratic administration, Congress acted to further protect and expand preserved areas in Alaska, many rescued from exploitation two years earlier by presidential proclamation. This complex and lengthy act defines preserved parks, forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, and Native American corporation lands and the degrees of preservation and usage for each. It prescribes timber, fish, and wildlife protection and use by Native Americans and other citizens.

New areas for the national park system included Aniakchak National Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The act also added new lands to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Monument and Preserve, and Denali National Park and Preserve (renamed from Mount McKinley National Park).

New wild and scenic rivers under Park Service administration included Alagnak, Alatna, Aniakchak, Charley, Chilikadrotna, John, Kobuk, Mulchatna, Noatak, North Fork of the Koyukuk, Salmon, Tinayguk, and Tlikakila rivers. Other wild and scenic rivers are designated or expanded in wildlife refuges and in other areas.

The vast majority of acreage in the Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Noatak, and Wrangell-St. Elias units is designated wilderness.

Zion National Park (Utah)

… was established on this date in 1919.


Located in Washington, Iron, and Kane Counties in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. Within its 229 square miles are high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons, and the Virgin River and its tributaries. Zion also has 2,000-foot Navajo Sandstone cliffs, pine- and juniper-clad slopes, and seeps, springs, and waterfalls supporting lush and colorful hanging gardens.

With an elevation change of about 5,000 feet-from the highest point at Horse Ranch Mountain (at 8,726 feet) to the lowest point at Coal Pits Wash (at 3,666 feet), Zion’s diverse topography leads to a diversity of habitats and species. Desert, riparian (river bank), pinyon-juniper, and conifer woodland communities all contribute to Zion’s diversity. Neighboring ecosystems-the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Rocky Mountains-are also contributors to Zion’s abundance.

Zion National Park

Originally Zion was proclaimed Mukuntuweap National Monument (July 31, 1909); Mukuntuweap was incorporated into Zion National Monument (March 18, 1918); Zion National Monument became Zion National Park.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (New Mexico)

… was proclaimed a national monument 108 years ago today by President Theodore Roosevelt (1907).

Explore the world of ancestors of Puebloan people who lived in the Mogollon area over 700 years ago. Enter the village they built within five of the natural caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon. Become inspired by the remaining architecture. Admire the spectacular views from inside these ancient dwellings.

Within a few miles of the cliff dwellings, elevations range from around 5,700 to 7,300 feet above sea level. In the immediate vicinity of the cliff dwellings, elevations range from 5,700 to about 6,000 feet. The terrain is rugged, with steep-sided canyons cut by shallow rivers; forested with ponderosa pine, Gambel’s oak, Douglas fir, New Mexico juniper, pinon pine, and alligator juniper (among others); and usually dry. There are numerous caves in the area. There are several hot springs in the Gila National Forest and within hiking distance of the Visitor Center (there is also a privately-owned hot spring in the nearby community of Gila Hot Springs). Temperatures usually range from hot to very hot. The Visitor Center is located near the junction of the west and middle forks of the Gila River.

When visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, you’ll see corn cobs that are over 700 years old! The ancient Puebloans of the Mogollon area grew corn, beans and squash, including some varieties from Mesoamerica. This substantiates trade amongst the peoples of a large region.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Arches National Park (Utah)

… was redesignated from national monument to national park on this date in 1971.

Delicate Arch 2010, NewMexiKen photo
Delicate Arch 2010, NewMexiKen photo

Arches National Park preserves over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, like the world-famous Delicate Arch, as well as many other unusual rock formations. In some areas, the forces of nature have exposed millions of years of geologic history. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures that is unlike any other in the world.

Arches National Park

For there is a cloud on my horizon. A small dark cloud no bigger than my hand. Its name is Progress.

The ease and relative freedom of this lovely job at Arches follow from the comparative absence of the motorized tourists, who stay away by the millions. And they stay away because of the unpaved entrance road, the unflushable toilets in the campgrounds, and the fact that most of them have never even heard of Arches National Monument.

The Master Plan has been fulfilled. Where once a few adventurous people came on weekends to camp for a night or two and enjoy a taste of the primitive and remote, you will now find serpentine streams of baroque automobiles pouring in and out, all through the spring and summer, in numbers that would have seemed fantastic when I worked there: from 3,000 to 30,000 to 300,000 per year, the “visitation,” as they call it, mounts ever upward.

Progress has come at last to Arches, after a million years of neglect. Industrial Tourism has arrived.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968)

“In 2010, the park received over one million visitors.”

Arches is magnificent and should be high on any list of must-see national parks.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site (Oklahoma)

… was authorized on this date in 1996. It is one of three National Park Service sites in Oklahoma.


The site protects and interprets the setting along the Washita River where Lt. Col. George A. Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry on a surprise dawn attack against the Southern Cheyenne village of Peace Chief Black Kettle on November 27, 1868. The attack was an important event in the tragic clash of cultures of the Indian Wars era.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

November 10, 1978

… was a great day for the National Park Service and, of course, for us.

On that date President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-625, the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The bill authorized $1.2 billion for more than 100 parks, rivers and historic sites and trails.

Among the National Park Service units that associate this date with their authorization, enhancement or re-designation are:

Valles Caldera National Preserve (New Mexico)

About 1.25 million years ago, a spectacular volcanic eruption created the 13-mile wide crater-shaped landscape now known as the Valles Caldera. The preserve is known for its huge mountain meadows, abundant wildlife, and meandering streams and for preserving the homeland of ancestral native peoples and embracing a rich ranching history.

National Park Service

On October 1, the National Park Service assumed management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a 89,000 acre former ranch in the Jemez Mountains. It closed for the season the day before!

The Preserve had been under a unique trust management since it was acquired in 2000 for $101 million. In brief, it was managed by individuals who seemed to largely confuse their hired role with personal ownership. Access was severely limited and eventually the complaints led to the transfer to a presumably more public oriented Park Service.

So you can imagine how surprised we were yesterday when an un-inviting (I’m being nice) park ranger told us access was closed until May — except for the mile drive down to the visitor center. In other words, closed to general public access for seven months out of 12. Why?

These photos were taken along the short drive to hear the inexplicable bad news. Below the gallery is a description of the Valle Grande from Scott Momaday’s magnificent House Made of Dawn.

Click any image for larger versions. Note the damage from fires on the slopes.

Of all the places that he knew, this valley alone could reflect the great spatial majesty of the sky. It scooped out of the dark peaks like the well of a great, gathering storm, deep umber and blue and smoke-colored. The view across the diameter was magnificent; it was an unbelievably great expanse. As many times as he had been there in the past, each new sight of it always brought him up short, and he had to catch his breath. Just there, it seemed, a strange and brilliant light lay upon the world, and all the objects in the landscape were washed clean and set away in the distance.