A leaked Department of Interior document, reported in The New York Times, names 14 new sites the Obama administration is considering designating as National Monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
The apparent secrecy surrounding the document has riled Republican Congress members like Bob Bishop (R-Utah). National Monuments can be designated by the President and do not require Congressional approval like National Parks.
Nearly every president since Roosevelt, under whose presidency the act was passed, has designated areas as National Monuments. Only Nixon and Reagan did not.
In addition to complaints about presidential power, conservatives believe these lands were chosen for protection specifically because they shelter valuable fuel resources such as coal and natural gas. National Monument designation would put an end-run around possible exploitation.
Get there first
While the politically motivated are shaking fists at each other, you can be the first to put together a trip to some of the highlights, as you see them.
For coastal mountains and biological hotspots, there’s the Berryessa Snow Mountains in California. A good contrast might be the open plains of Montana’s Northern Prairie, which is one of the largest unplowed grasslands in the world.
Or maybe you don’t have to choose. If you took a couple of months, a few friends (or not), a GPS, some Western wanderlust, and a really great playlist, you could probably visit each of these 14 spots and have them largely to yourself, before they’re designated anything but really large (some as large as 500,000 acres), stunning spaces, wildlife corridors, and geologic formations.
Here are the 14:
- San Rafael Swell, UT
- Montana’s Northern Prairie, MT
- Lesser Prairie Chicken Reserve, NM
- Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA
- Heart of the Great Basin, NV
- Otero Basin, NM
- Northwestern Sonoran Desert, AZ
- Owyhee Desert, OR/NV
- Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (expansion), CA
- Vermillion Basin, CO
- Bodie Hills, CA
- The Modoc Plateau, CA
- Cedar Mesa Region, UT
- San Juan Islands, WA
Author disclaimer: I’ve only been to the San Juan Islands, where I bobbed in a kayak, holding onto a giant kelp tentacle while a curious, sparkly-eyed seal popped his head up among the seaweed to check me out.
Matadorians, where on this list have you been? And where are you going next?
Add some overlooked national parks to your road trip itinerary using From Packed to Deserted: U.S. National Parks by Visitor Numbers.