America is a land of stories. From coast to coast, it’s not hard to find them if you know where to look. There are hundreds of landmarks across the country that give voice to its history, whether from the vantage point of western settlers, Native Americans, immigrants or Mother Nature.
Natural Landmarks That Will Leave You in Awe
While man-made monuments are great, there’s something truly powerful about feeling so small as you witness the sheer size of a redwood tree, a massive waterfall, an ancient mammoth or an expansive canyon – all created by nature’s tireless persistence. All four of these wonders can be experienced in both famous (and lesser known) landmarks across America.
Redwood Park, California
Ever wanted to know what it’s like to stand beside a redwood tree? The amazing breadth and height of this iconic species will take your breath away. Go for a short walk, a hike or a full-on camping trip under the shadow of these majestic trees that can live up to 3,000 years. Check out Roosevelt elk at Elk Meadow, watch the flight of a western red bat or spot a Steller sea lion on the park’s rocky coast.
Niagara Falls, New York
You will hear the falls before you see them. Actually, you may feel them before you see them, if the wind blows the mist the right way. Prepare to get a little wet – or perhaps very wet, if you plan to ride the Maid of the Mist. On this boat tour that sails at the base of the falls, the crew will give you a poncho, but be prepared to get soaked regardless.
In fact, if you like the idea of taking a shower as part of your tourist experience, visit the Cave of the Winds, where you will walk 175 feet down wooden walkways till you reach the “Hurricane Deck” at the base of the Niagara Gorge.
Waco Mammoth National Monument, Texas
Forty years ago, two archaeologists were digging through an area near the Bosque River hoping to come across old arrowheads. Instead, they found mammoth bones belonging to not just one mammoth, but an entire herd. The bones are 67,000 years old, and you can still see them where they lay in what’s known as the bone bed, beneath a shelter that was constructed to protect the bones.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Have you ever imagined yodeling into the Grand Canyon? Come try it out while hiking or riding a horse or mule across this stunning landscape. Stay overnight at the Phantom Ranch at the base of the canyon and enjoy the rustic atmosphere. Raft down the Colorado River for just a day or make it a longer trip. Gaze down 3,000 feet from the Toroweap Overlook – if you don’t get too dizzy. There is much to see at this sprawling national park, and it will make memories that last a lifetime.
Landmarks That Shine a Light on Immigrants and Pioneers
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York and New Jersey
It’s a surreal experience to stand where your ancestors once stood, viewing almost the same images they would’ve viewed. If any of your relatives passed through Ellis Island from another land into this country, you may find their names in the database at the National Immigration Museum that stands on this famed island.
Walk up the stairs and through the halls of the building they would’ve walked through and imagine the hustle and bustle of the crowds of immigrants, carrying their luggage and new dreams. Then, one boat ride away, visit Lady Liberty herself, take a walk inside, and read the text of the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus on the statue’s pedestal.
Angel Island, California
Alternatively, your ancestors may have arrived in this country via Angel Island. Sadly, the original immigration station on the island burned down in 1940, but the barracks in which new arrivals stayed still stands. You can still view Cantonese poetry carved into the wooden walls by those waiting for news about their immigration status.
Oregon National Historic Trail: Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming
This trail, the largest landmark on our list, snakes through seven states, and tells the story, not exactly of immigrants, but of emigrants, as those from the east who moved westward. If you’ve ever played the popular game Oregon Trail, you’ll know how difficult the journey was. Come view the landscapes these pioneers would’ve seen and walk the remnants of the trail just as they did.
Landmarks That Tell the Stories of Native Americans
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio
Near the city of Chillicothe, Ohio, is a large, grassy park with dozens of rolling hills. Those hills weren’t carved out by the hand of Mother Nature – these massive, graceful mounds were created by the Hopewellian Native Americans two millennia ago.
The word “Hopewell” refers not to one tribe, but to an entire network of tribes that stretched all the way from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains and comes from the last name of the landowners on whose property the mounds were first discovered. Come explore the six different mound sites at this park, all connected by a series of trails, and learn about the history of this unique landmark.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico
At this little-known national monument stand three sites – Abo, Quarai, and Gran Quivara – that give us a glimpse into a time and place when Pueblo Indians met Spanish settlers. All three sites contain fascinating architecture dating back to the early 1600s and even earlier, from Spanish missions and defense towers (“torreones”), to adobe pueblos, and more.
Of course, these are just a few of the amazing national landmarks this country has to offer. If you have any recommendations for other exciting American monuments, don’t hesitate to share in the comments!
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