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Glimpses of the National Parks and Monuments
(From the Stanford University Press edition of "Oh, Ranger!")

"Oh, Ranger! I have just time enough to see one national park. Which one has the best scenery?" Now that is a hard question. It is also one often asked by those who have yet to see their first national park and who have a vague idea that a national park is "something like a city park, only larger." Actually, the national parks bear little resemblance to most city parks. Where the city parks are cultivated areas, the national parks are regions where Nature is permitted to take her own wild course with trees, flowers, animals, hills, and dales. The National Park Service seeks to keep the parks in as wild a state as possible. Only such roads, trails, and buildings are allowed as are absolutely essential to the comfort of travelers. Each of the fifteen major national parks is supreme in its own way, and each is different. Each was formed to preserve to posterity some striking and outstanding wonder.

Mount Rainier, for example, is a beautiful, stately, snow-covered mountain, an extinct volcano, down the sides of which flow twenty-eight glaciers or rivers of ice. Yellowstone National Park contains more hot-water geysers than can be found in all the rest of the world put together. Nowhere else in the world will the traveler find granite walls so stupendous as in Yosemite, nowhere else will he find waterfalls so high and astounding, or cliffs so precipitous. Sequoia National Park is the home of the finest groves of giant sequoias, including the largest and oldest living thing on earth, the General Sherman Tree. Crater Lake fills, with a deep blue, the cavity left when the top of Mount Mazama, one of America's greatest volcanoes, caved in and disappeared into its own depths, ages ago. Mount McKinley National Park contains the highest peak on the American continent, rearing its crest twenty thousand feet above the sea. Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, exhibits the mightiest and most colorful chasm in the world. Mesa Verde National Park preserves the ruins of a remarkable ancient American civilization. Hawaii National Park offers stupendous exhibits of volcanic activity, and much of the time a lake of boiling lava. And so on, through the whole list of the national parks.

Besides the national parks there are thirty-three national monuments under the direction of the National Park Service. National parks are reserved and dedicated by act of Congress, and, as a rule, they have been carved out of the public domain and set apart as national parks because they contain scenery or other natural phenomena so unusual and distinctive as to make their preservation in essentially their primal condition of national importance. Originally it was believed that only areas of considerable size should be included in national parks, but long since the element of size has been dropped as an essential factor in creating parks.

National monuments are set aside by order of the President under the Act of Congress of June 8, 1906, which is known as the "Antiquities Act." It authorizes the Chief Executive to "declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic and scientific interest that are situated upon lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments." Another section of this law permitted the President to accept donations of land which might be established as national monuments. It sometimes happens, as in the case of Acadia National Park, that Congress elevates a national monument to the status of a national park, and it is not unlikely that one or two of the smaller national parks will be reduced eventually to the status of monuments.

In the beginning, the Antiquities or National Monument Act was interpreted to authorize only the reservation of small areas including landmarks, historic structures such as old missions, prehistoric buildings such as cliff dwellings, and unusual features of scientific interest such as the Petrified Forest in Arizona, certain fine caves, Muir Woods, et cetera. In 1908 President Roosevelt, in order to stop exploitation of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado through mining claims and other filings on land which had no legal basis, ordered a national monument created nearly a thousand square miles in area on the ground that the Grand Canyon possessed "scientific interest." His power to do this was questioned in the courts, but he was sustained by them.

Theoretically, on the precedent of the Grand Canyon case, any president could make a national monument include any area that the nation might want or that should be preserved for all time, but, practically, Congress would not permit such a general usurpation of its powers and could control the reserving of such monuments by refusing to appropriate funds for their upkeep.

As a matter of fact, were it not for this question of funds for upkeep and operation, the national monuments and national parks would be almost on the same basis, for the National Park Service Act of 1916 authorizes both parks and monuments to be administered in the same manner and under identical policies. Today, Carlsbad Cave National Monument in New Mexico, Petrified Forest and Casa Grande National monuments in Arizona, and Pinnacles and Muir Woods monuments in California are operated exactly like national parks, while Sullys Hill National Park in North Dakota is handled like a monument, owing to lack of funds.

In spite of this seeming confusion between parks and monuments, no one will deny that Congress, in declaring the establishment of parks and in providing for them, has properly distinguished between the various reservations on a basis of merit, giving the great outstanding features, historic, scientific, and scenic, national park status, the lesser features being left to presidential reservation as monuments. And as monuments, because of public interest or because of discovery of more important features, claim national park status, Congress elevates them. It is likely that Carlsbad Cave National Monument, under the National Park Service, and the Bandelier National Monument, under the Department of Agriculture, both in New Mexico, may become national parks, the latter the National Park of the Cliff Cities near Santa Fe.

It should be noted here that there are fifteen monuments under the Department of Agriculture and eleven under the War Department, they lie within national forests or military reservations. It is more economical to protect these monuments with forces of these other departments, but it is believed that the policies governing them will ultimately be those of the National Park Service. As a matter of fact, the War Department has taken the position that the National Park Service should take over not only its national monuments but also the national military parks, which include Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Shiloh in Tennessee, Vicksburg in Mississippi, Chickamauga and Chattanooga in Georgia and Tennessee, and Antietam in Maryland, all battlefields of the Civil War, but most of them also very scenic and otherwise possessed of park characteristics.

There are also two other national military parks, Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, a Revolutionary War battleground, and Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky, containing the log cabin and part of the farm where Abraham Lincoln was born. This latter park, it seems, should have been under the National Park Service from its establishment, as there never has been any military significance to its creation and maintenance. So it appears that there will be ultimately a consolidation of national parks, national monuments, and national military parks under the National Park Service, which is equipped by experience, personnel, legal authority, and general policies to administer and protect them all in the interest of the nation.

Of the national monuments now under the National Park Service, two are in California, eight are in Arizona, six in New Mexico, one in Nebraska, three in Colorado, four in Utah, two in Wyoming, one in South Dakota, one in North Dakota, one in Montana, one in Idaho, and three in Alaska.

All of the monuments in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, with the exception of the Carlsbad Cave and the Dinosaur monuments, are under the administration of one superintendent with headquarters at Casa Grande, Arizona.

Following is a brief description of each of the national parks and monuments, together with suggestions for seeing them.


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap13.htm — 06-Sep-2004