Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

… was authorized by legislation on this date in 1899. It is the fifth oldest of the National Parks, after Yellowstone, Yosemite,, Sequoia, and General Grant (now Kings Canyon).

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park encompasses 235,625 acres on the west-side of the Cascade Range, and is located about 100 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. Mount Rainier National Park is approximately 97 percent wilderness and 3 percent National Historic Landmark District and receives approximately 2 million visitors per year.

At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the most prominent peak in the Cascade Range. It dominates the landscape of a large part of western Washington State. The mountain stands nearly three miles higher than the lowlands to the west and one and one-half miles higher than the adjacent mountains. It is an active volcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago. The park contains 25 named glaciers across 9 major watersheds, with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams and over 3,000 acres of other wetland types.

Mount Rainier National Park

Casa Grande Ruin Reservation (Arizona)

… was authorized on this date in 1889. It was designated Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in 1918.

Casa Grande

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande, or “Big House,” one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America. Casa Grande Ruins, the nation’s first archeological preserve, protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries. You are invited to see the Casa Grande and to hear the story of the ancient ones the Akimel O’otham call the Hohokam, “those who are gone.”

The Casa Grande was abandoned around 1450 C.E. Since the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built it left no written language behind, written historic accounts of the Casa Grande begin with the journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino when he visited the ruins in 1694. In his description of the large ancient structure before him, he wrote the words “casa grande” (or “great house”) which are still used today.
. . .

[S]everal influential Bostonians urged Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar to present a petition before the U. S. Senate in 1889 requesting that the government take steps to repair and protect the ruins. Repair work began the following year, and in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison set aside one square mile of Arizona Territory surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins as the first prehistoric and cultural reserve established in the United States.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The cover was completed in 1932.

Yellowstone National Park

AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park.

Yellowstone Act

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River . . . is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate or settle upon or occupy the same, or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed therefrom.

SEC 2. That said public park shall be under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior, whose duty it shall be, as soon as practicable, to make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same. Such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition.

. . .

s / Ulysses S. Grant, March 1, 1872

Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872.

Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872.

Death Valley (California)

… was proclaimed a national monument on this date in 1933. It became a national park in 1994.

Death Valley

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

On any given summer day, the valley floor shimmers silently in the heat. For five months of the year unmerciful heat dominates the scene, and for the next seven the heat releases its grip only slightly. Rain rarely gets past the guardian mountains, but the little rain that does fall is the life force of the wildflowers that transform the desert into a vast garden.

Despite the harshness and severity of the environment, more than 1000 kinds of plants live within the park. Those on the valley floor have adapted to a desert life by a variety of means. Some have roots that go down 10 times the height of a person. Some plants have a root system that lies just below the surface but extends out in all directions. Others have leaves and stems that allow very little evaporation and loss of life giving water.

Death Valley National Park

Aztec Ruins National Monument (New Mexico)

… was proclaimed 91 years ago today.

Aztec Ruins

Around 1100 A.D. ancient peoples embarked on an ambitious building project along the Animas River in northwestern New Mexico. Work gangs excavated, filled, and leveled more than two and a half acres of land. Masons laid out sandstone blocks in intricate patterns to form massive stone walls. Wood-workers cut and carried heavy log beams from mountain forests tens of miles away. In less than three decades they built a monumental “great house” three-stories high, longer than a football field, with perhaps 500-rooms including a ceremonial “great kiva” over 41-feet in diameter.

A short trail winds through this massive site offering a surprisingly intimate experience. Along the way visitors discover roofs built 880 years ago, original plaster walls, a reed mat left by the inhabitants, intriguing “T” shaped doorways, provocative north-facing corner doors, and more. The trail culminates with the reconstructed great kiva, a building that inherently inspires contemplation, wonder, and an ancient sense of sacredness.

Ancestral Puebloans related to those from the Chaco region farther south built an extensive community at this site beginning in the late 1000s A.D. Over the course of two centuries, the people built several multi-story structures called “great houses,” small residential pueblos, tri-wall kivas, great kivas, road segments, middens, and earthworks. The West Ruin, the remains of the largest structure that they built and which has since been partially excavated, had at least 450 interconnected rooms built around an open plaza. Several rooms contain the original wood used to build the roof. After living in the area about 200 years, the people left at about 1300 A.D.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Early U.S. National Parks

There are currently 59 units of the U.S. National Park Service designated “national park.”

This list comprises the first 28 of the 59 national parks (through 1950). The year given is when the site was established as a national park — some were national monuments or another designation before becoming a “national park.” National monuments could be (and were) proclaimed such by the president; it took an act of congress to authorize a national park.

How many have you visited? (In my case, 24.)

Yellowstone — 1872
Sequoia — 1890
Yosemite — 1890
Kings Canyon — 1890 (originally General Grant NP; renamed 1940)
Mount Rainier — 1899
Crater Lake — 1902
Wind Cave — 1903
Mesa Verde — 1906
Glacier — 1910
Rocky Mountain — 1915
Haleakalā — 1916
Hawai’i Volcanoes — 1916 (Hawai’i Volcanoes and Haleakalā originally Hawai’i NP; separated in 1961)
Lassen Volcanic — 1916
Denali — 1917 (originally Mt. McKinley NP; renamed 1980)
Acadia — 1919 (originally Lafayette NP; renamed 1929)
Grand Canyon — 1919
Zion — 1919
Hot Springs — 1921
Bryce Canyon — 1924 (originally Utah NP; renamed 1928)
Grand Teton — 1929
Carlsbad Caverns — 1930
Great Smoky Mountains — 1934
Shenandoah — 1935
Olympic — 1938
Isle Royale — 1940
Mammoth Cave — 1941
Big Bend — 1944
Everglades — 1947

The National Park Service itself wasn’t created until 1916.

Governors Island National Monument (New York)

… was proclaimed under the Antiquities Act by President Clinton on his last day in office, 2001.

From the Proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

On the north tip of Governors Island, between the confluence of the Hudson and Eastern Rivers, Governors Island National Monument served as an outpost to protect New York City from sea attack. The monument, part of a larger 1985 National Historic Landmark District designation, contains two important historical objects, Castle William and Fort Jay. Between 1806 and 1811, these fortifications were constructed as part of the First and Second American Systems of Coastal Fortification. Castle William and Fort Jay represent two of the finest types of defensive structures in use from the Renaissance to the American Civil War. The monument also played important roles in the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and World Wars I and II.

The fortifications in the monument were built on the most strategic defensive positions on the island. Fort Jay, constructed between 1806 and 1809, is on the highest point of the island from which its glacis originally sloped down to the waterfront on all sides. Castle William, constructed between 1807 and 1811, occupies a rocky promontory as close as possible to the harbor channels and served as the most important strategic defensive point in the entrance to the New York Harbor. The monument also includes a number of associated historical buildings constructed as part of the garrison post in the early part of the 19th century.

Governors Island has been managed by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard over the past 200 years. With the site no longer required for military or Coast Guard purposes, it provides an excellent opportunity for the public to observe and understand the harbor history, its defense, and its ecology.


From 1794 to 1966, the U.S. Army on Governors Island was part of the social, political, and economic tapestry of New York City. Today the island is vibrant summer seasonal venue of art, culture and performance against the backdrop of two centuries of military heritage and the skyline of one of the great cities of the world.

In 2003, the island was sold and transferred to two parties: 22 acres, designated as the Governors Island National Monument and administered by the National Park Service; and 150 acres is administered by The Trust for Governors Island. Today, city and federal agencies are planning the future of this former military installation into new public parkland and a spectacular destination in New York Harbor.

At this time, Governors Island is open to the public on a seasonal basis. Public services and facilities are very limited.

National Park Service