14 national treasures in the West
These unique landscapes have been suggested for national monument status. But you don't have to wait for Washington, D.C., to decide. Here's where to go right now.
A half-million acre portion of Northern California’s Inner Coast Range, it offers pleasures like steep, oak-dotted hillsides, rushing creeks, and wildlife such as bald eagles and tule elk. Groups like Winters-based Tuleyome are pushing for its protection, as national monument or as part of the National Landscape Conservation System.
You can access existing Snow Mountain Wilderness from the little town of Maxwell, off I-5. For directions and road conditions, contact the Mendocino National Forest office in Willows: (530) 934-3316.
Today the Bodie Hills are valued for other assets—bird-watching, horseback riding, and hiking among stands of aspen and pinyon pine.
That’s why groups like Friends of the Inyo are eager to see them preserved as a monument or perhaps as a wilderness area, making sure that Bodie’s historic backdrop remains intact. More
A Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established on the Oregon side of the border in 2000; now some environmentalist want to extend it south into California.
The most accessible portion of the existing monument is the Hyatt Lake recreation complex in Oregon.
Despite its size and rugged remoteness, Cedar Mesa can be enjoyed by the casual traveler. For the first time visitor, one sure bet is Natural Bridges National Monument, on the north edge of the mesa. Another good stop is the trail to Butler Wash Ruins, off of Utah Highway 95: a half-mile stroll leads to impressive, 800-year-old ancestral Pueblan ruins.
To venture deeper into the mesa, consider joining up with one of the companies that lead guided trips into the area: these include North Wash Outfitters and Four Seasons Outfitters. More
The Heart of the Great Basin centers on three mountain range—the Monitor, the Toquima, the Toiyabe.
One of the best backcountry drives in the West is on FR 002, which goes over the crest of the Toiyabe and then down through Kingston Canyon. What else to do in the vicinity? Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park has some interesting fossils. And Austin is a charmingly eccentric Old West mining town.
From Austin, take Big Creek Road south to FR 002 across the Toiyabes to Nevada Highway 376. More
About 50 miles east of Roswell, New Mexico, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve offers the sand dunes and shinnery oak the chicken loves. The preserve has even made this part of New Mexico a must stop for birders eager to add the species to their life lists.
Join the hosts of bird watchers at the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in April. For maps and more, contact the BLM’s Pecos office at 2909 W. Second Street, Roswell, NM; (575) 627-0272.
Pronghorn antelope roam here, and in spring and fall migrating waterfowl are drawn to the plateau’s lakes—Honey, Clear, Tule. Lava Bed National Monument sits at the Western edge of the plateau.
Best bases of exploration are Susanville and Alturas, California. More
In recent years, the prairies been threatened by plowing for winter wheat and other crops, and have been suggested for National Monument status. But the Nature Conservancy has already taken the lead in preserving these remarkable lands. They’ve purchased 60,000-acre Matador Ranch, south of Malta, Montana, and are using it as a model of how to manage grasslands.
This area is "like the old-growth forests of plains,” says the conservancy's Barbara Cozzens. “Once they’re plowed, you can’t ever replace them.” Just as important, to be out on those prairies under Montana’s big sky is to feel a sense of infinity you won’t experience anywhere else.
Matador Ranch is open to the public for special events, including two birding weekends in May. More
But as the state has grown, more and more of its desert lands have been swallowed by subdivisions and shopping centers. The existing Sonoran Desert National Monument protects 487,000 acres of this landscape south of Phoenix; the proposed new monument would protect more desert to the West.
From Phoenix to the eastern national monument boundary, take I-10 east and south about 16 miles to Exit 164/Queen Creek Road, turn right and continue on AZ-347 about 15 miles to Maricopa, AZ. Turn right onto AZ-238 and continue west about 16 miles to the national monument. More
The 1.2 million-acre mesa consists mainly of rolling hills, much of it covered with grasslands. In fact, it’s one of the largest intact grassland areas in the Chihuahuan Desert that extends from Northern Mexico into New Mexico and Arizona. Environmental groups are fighting to preserve it from oil and gas development.
Who’s here? Pronghorn antelope, black-tailed prairie dogs, golden eagles—and hardly any people. Best time to visit is in fall, after summer monsoons have turned the grasslands vivid green.
The mesa lies northeast of El Paso, Texas; take Texas 62 east, then turn north on Hueco Ranch Road and into New Mexico. The dirt road is suitable for cars—but take it slow. More
Tropical paradise it may not be, but the Owyhee is gorgeous in its own austere, sculptural way—the canyonlands of the Owyhee River are some of the most beautiful anywhere in the country.
The Idaho portion of the region was set aside as a wilderness last year; a proposed monument would extend protection into Idaho and Nevada.
Today, 83 of the islands are set aside as San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge; many of them are off-limits to visitors, but you can hike and bird watch on Matia and Turn islands, both of which are Washington State Parks.
This is also a great place for kayaking; numerous outfitters (including Sea Quest Expeditions) lead trips.
Interstate 70 skirts the area, making it one of the more accessible proposed monuments; you can hike it and backpack it or experience it via jeep or even hot air balloon.
Schafer is talking about Vermillion Basin, in far northwestern Colorado. Stunningly beautiful, the basin is a maze of cliffs and canyons, many glowing with the red-orange rocks that give the region its name. Some of Colorado’s best petroglyphs can be found here; it’s also home to endangered species like the greater sage grouse.
Schafer, of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, and other activists hope to shield the land it from possible oil and gas development.
You can get your best introduction to the basin from Lookout Mountain. From Craig, go north on Colorado Highway 13 about 40 miles; then west on CR 4 for roughly 60 miles, then south on CR 67 for approximately 15 miles. More