Monday, July 19, 2010


One of America's Best Ideas has been the creation of National Parks.  It started with Abraham Lincoln, back in the 1860s when he signed legislation protecting parts of Yosemite Valley and continued into the 1870s when Yellowstone National Park was created by congressional act.  In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allowed presidents the power to set aside tracts of land as national monuments, kind of a step lower than a national park, which can only be created by an act of Congress.  Today, there are national parks all around the world protecting areas of scientific interest, or scenic beauty for generations to come.

Many of the first National Monuments have been later created into National Parks, such as Katmai National Park in Alaska and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.  Presidents Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to originally protect these areas until Congress got around to finishing the job.  The National Park Service was created in 1916 and administers many more units than just the 58 national parks in the United States.

There are still many national monuments scattered around the United States and the Tadpole and I were fortunate to visit two of them on our latest camping trip, Devils Postpile and Lava Beds.  Coupled with Lassen Volcanic National Park, which we also visited, there was a definite theme to what we saw on this latest trip.  My point for all this history is I believe that many national monuments are neglected by the general populace, because they aren't national parks, they aren't the best of what America has to offer.

To this I say that most of the national monuments I've visited in my lifetime are vastly underrated.  They usually are smaller than a typical national park, but have many of the scenic vistas one comes to expect at a national park, but with usually no crowds to speak of.  On a hike out to Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument, we encountered the usual number of hikers who were willing to take the fairly easy 2.5 mile hike out to the falls.  However, once there, they took their pictures, and then made the return trek.  There were many times when we had the views all to ourselves.

Many times, while hiking in a national park, we've encountered other hikers, but there was no practical way of getting away from them, mainly because there were so many hikers.  In Devils Postpile, all we had to do is wait a couple of minutes, and we had the place to ourselves again.  We took the slower route to many areas of the park and enjoyed the solitude the park had to offer to us.

The same could be said for Lava Beds National Monument.  The park preserves multiple lava tubes, historical areas and beautiful landscapes we have come to expect from these kinds of areas.  The small campsites at both places were clean and never filled.  Contrast that to many national park areas where you have to get camping reservations 6 months in advance and there's no chance of having the campsite next to you empty.

Another enjoyable aspect of visiting national monuments is most people have gone out of there way to visit these areas, probably because they have an interest in what the monument is offering.  Many times, you'll find like minded people that you can share an experience with, that might not happen in a national park, because of the many tourists who are there, to enjoy, but not necessarily immerse themselves.

We had an enjoyable evening with an older couple taking their youngest granddaughter on her first camping trip in Devils Postpile.  We watched as two young men came into the campground and picked out a campsite.  I made a comment that I believed that these two young men were probably either walking the Pacific Crest Trail or the John Muir Trail based upon their backpacks.  Sure enough that had been walking for the past five days from Toulomne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to the Postpile, a distance of 34 miles.  That doesn't seem like they were walking very quickly, but the snow had slowed them down tremendously over many of the mountain passes.

I would not have been able to enjoy their stories had we avoided Devils Postpile.  It's on the route of both of those long range trails.  You don't encounter backpackers on the trail that often in many of the national parks, because they're walking through remote regions of those parks.  With the national monuments, many times the monument is the remote region.

The experiences I've shared in national parks and monuments have both been enjoyable and enriching.  I just think the national monuments are underused treasures of the national park system.  They are truly underrated.  But, let's keep that our little secret.  We don't want them to get too crowded.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
Devils Postpile National Monument - by truckgirl2
Skull Cache (Lava Beds National Monument) - by ChrissySkyking + Blaze
Cinder Hills Overlook (Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument) - by TerryDad2

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Sarah said...

the same is true here in the UK - some areas of natural beauty draw all the publicity and tourists, it seems, when others, just as spectacular, are overlooked.

the Devil's Postpile looks fascinating, similar to the Giant's Causeway in Ireland which I have had the pleasure of visiting on a cold winter's day - so it wasn't overrun as it usually is in the summer.

chaosmanor said...

One of these we'll make it to Devil's Postpile. We've intended to visit it on several trips, but something else has gotten in the way, or we wound up spending more time than planned elsewhere.

OTOH, we made it to Lava Beds, as you know. In fact, we were only a couple of days apart in our visits. It was actually quite interesting to compare our two visits. Despite the comparative smallness of the Monument, we only spent significant time at two places that you spent time at: the Visitor's Center, and Skull Cave. We went into a couple of lava tubes that you did not, and vice versa, we spent more time investigating the Modoc Wars cites, and we made it to Petroglyph Point, while you and the Tadpole entered several caves that we never made it to. When one considers how small Lava Beds is compared to Yellowstone or Death Valley, it is a bit surprising that we had so little in common in our day trips to the place. Of course, that made for better conversation :-)

National Recreation Areas are full of this "alpha and omega" sort of thing. The Santa Monica Mountains has several areas which are heavily visited, while others just a few minutes drive farther away get almost no traffic at all. You can probably guess which areas at which I tend to spend must of my time!!

The Giant's Causeway is an area that I definitely want to visit, if we ever make it to Ireland. I really want to compare it to the Devil's Postpile, but we'll need to visit *that* first ;-)