Today is an important day. It’s June 8, 2017, the 111th anniversary of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law gave the President of the United States the ability to set aside land to preserve it for the generations to come. In short, it gave the president the ability to create national monuments.
The Importance of National Monuments
Forgive me. I am about to get a tad bit political and gush a bit. Bear with me.
I know national monuments have become a political hot button issue of late with the last-minute creations of monuments in Alabama, Utah and Maine. Some folks will argue these were land grabs by outgoing President Obama. Others will say they are necessary to preserve our past for future generations.
Recently, President Trump ordered a review of the national monuments created over the past 21 years. In all, 27 national monuments are under review in 11 states, plus all of the marine national monuments. President Trump could reverse the designations of those national monuments, depriving future generations of those amazing places.
Bonnie and I support of the National Park Service. We fully support the president creating national monuments. Congress works very slowly these days and some of these sites can’t wait.
Since we started traveling together in 2009, we have visited 25 national monuments, ranging from the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. to the battlefield at Little Bighorn. They have preserved everything from the birthplace of George Washington Carver to fossil beds in five states. We are better people because of the national monuments we have visited and what we have learned from them, not to mention the natural beauty found there as well.
To highlight both the immensity and the diversity of our national monuments, let’s examine the three we visited in the Flagstaff area just a few days ago: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument.
(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy for more information.)
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Located just east of Flagstaff, AZ, Walnut Canyon just seems like a particularly pretty canyon covered in Ponderosa pines. It really is a pretty canyon which warrants preservation, but it is also home to the ruins the cliff-dwelling community of the Sinagua.
To go back 700 years in time, just walk down the 240 steps to the Island Trail which leads you through 24 cliff dwellings with many more visible on the opposite walls of the canyon.
What a way to live! There is a nice breeze blowing through the canyon, which cools it down significantly. The ledges provide a great view of the canyon and ample space for the Sinagua to live and work.
The walk isn’t too strenuous, but the hike back up is 185 vertical feet. I was huffing by the end of the walk.
A quick note on the history of the canyon: the area became a popular location of the locals in Flagstaff in the 1880s, which resulted in significant looting of the artifacts in the area. The looting continued until 1915, when Woodrow Wilson designated the area a national monument.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Located just north of Flagstaff, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument preserves one of the most recent volcanic events in the San Francisco Volcanic Field: the Sunset Crater Volcano erupted about 900 years ago.
The event had a massive impact on the entire region, affecting Native American migration, not to mention covering a large area with lava which still remains to this day.
We hiked three short trails experiencing the lava fields up close. The amount of ground still covered by lava is immense. Indeed, one side of the volcano is still without vegetation, leftover from an eruption almost 1,000 years ago.
Like Walnut Canyon NM, President Hoover preserved Sunset Crater Volcano to prevent human destruction of the area. Indeed, even after the creation of the national monument in 1930, the Park Service closed the trail to the top of the volcano due to significant erosion.
Wupatki National Monument
Our final national monument of the day brought us to Wupatki National Monument. Located about 35 miles north of Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki NM, a Forest Service road connects to Sunset Crater Volcano NM.
Settled about 100 years after the eruption, the monument preserves multiple pueblos, including the impressive 104-room Wupatki Pueblo, located at the visitor center. The Wupatki Pueblo also had a ball court and a unique geological formation called a blow hole.
The blow hole is a vent to an underground cave system which expels or draws air based upon the air pressure. This is very similar to the original entrance to Wind Cave National Park.
The pueblos supported a much larger group of people who lived nearby, but it is unknown if the various other pueblos in the monument worked together or competed with each other.
Like the other national monuments, President Coolidge designated Wupatki a national monument in 1924 to preserve the area from looting.
Wupatki NM and Sunset Crater Volcano NM are truly best visited as one park. They even have one admission price for both and the Coconino National Forest surrounds and connects the two with a loop road, making for a 49-mile journey.
The terrain differences between the monuments are pretty amazing as well. Whereas Sunset Crater Volcano is located at a much higher elevation and is covered in Ponderosa pine forest, Wupatki is squarely in the Antelope Prairie and the Painted Desert can be seen to the north.
Planning Your Visit
You can easily visit all three national monuments in one day. We started fairly early in the morning (around 9:30) with Walnut Canyon NM in order to avoid the heat.
We easily made it to Sunset Crater NM by lunchtime. We walked nearly all of the trails at both Sunset Crater and Wupatki NM. After our visit, we then drove back and were easily back at our campground by around 4:30 p.m.
Take some sturdy shoes for walking through the lava fields and plenty of water in the summer. It gets hot.
We planned on returning to Flagstaff in April 2020 with my family but, alas, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel that trip. Our host through VRBO, Jeff, was great about giving us a full refund on a weeklong rental. If you are looking at visiting here with a large family, be sure to check out his home.
I had no idea the Flagstaff area was so different in terms of climate and geography. It was such a welcome change after staying near Winslow for a couple of nights.
I am so thankful a president many years ago thought these places were worth preservation.
If you are interested in commenting on the review, the comment page is available here until July 10.
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.
We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.