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For all the things Arizona is, one word may describe it best. Monumental.
Monumental in its landscape. Monumental in its history. Monumental in
its effort to recognize the treasures within these borders and protect
Over the last century, Arizona's people and America's presidents have
worked hand in hand in the name of preservation. Today, Arizona has more
national monuments than any other state in America-eighteen remarkable
And so under the official banner of natural wonders, ancient cultures
and early history, this is the story of how one state so magnificently
defines itself: as Monumental Arizona.
Canyon de Chelly
From the air, Canyon de Chelly in northeast Arizona appears
as a mysterious, meandering crack in the earth
a secret, lost world
that even the sun has trouble finding.
Canyon de Chelly is a naturalsandstone cradle that has nurtured native
peoples for more than 3000 years. It was declared a national monument
in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover for both its geologic and historic
value. The Navajo, or Dine, are the most recent native people to live
here, their farms squeezed between cottonwood groves and canyon walls.
According to Navajo legend, Spider Rock is home to Spider Woman-a deity
who created many gods on earth and in the heavens. She taught the Navajo
how to weave and is their holy protector. The Navajo believe Spider Woman
keeps watch from the very tip of the spire.
Canyon de Chelly was the home of the Anasazi people, or "ancient
ancestors." They migrated here and were joined by others in time.
One of the best preserved Anasazi sites is White House Ruin. It is believed
to be a home of the gods who left their signature as what the Navajo
interpret as "White streak between the houses." Built around
the 1100s, perhaps a dozen families occupied this village.
The Navajo arrived in Canyon de Chelly in the 1700s. But in the 1860's,
U.S. government troops were ordered to forcefully remove the Navajo
in a campaign to assimilate them. Some took refuge on high islands of
rock, but eventually succumbed to a merciless standoff. After being
interned for up to four years at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the Navajo
were allowed to return to their native homeland under U.S. government
Canyon de Chelly is named for a Navajo word meaning "in the rocks."
And that is where the canyon's history and beauty will remain as a national
The first white settlers who crossed northern Arizona may have been
awed by the landscape. But it was a place to pass through. No water,
no arable land. Surely, there were greener pastures to call home. Like
Some Paiute Indians knew of this oasis in the high desert. They led Mormon
settlers to these burgeoning waters to be christened Pipe Spring. And
the resulting ranch became the most prominent territorial outpost in what
was then a young and very Wild West.
Pipe Spring was a tithing ranch, returning profits from beef and dairy
stock to the Mormon Church in nearby St. George. In its heyday, hundreds
of cowboys and ranch hands worked the spread.
Pipe Spring also was a fortress. The main compound, Winsor Castle, was
built over the spring itself, protecting its lifeblood. It had all the
comforts of civilization, furnished by its original managers, Anson and
Pipe Spring was a Mormon stronghold that eventually outlived its utility
to the church. But its landmark status gave it a value to be protected
and it became a national monument in 1923 under President Warren Harding.
And so Pipe Spring stands just as it did over a century ago. The spring
still flows. And the main pond reflects all the pioneering spirit it took
to build a monument.
Sunrise in Ironwood Forest just northwest of Tucson. Ragged Top Mountain
towers above the desert floor. Its yawning shadow crosses 129,000 acres
of pristine Sonoran terrain.
Temperatures will be up over 100 today business as usual in
this country. But at daybreak, the air is cool and clear and the desert
takes on its most inviting guise.
From the air, the saguaro cactus stands tall against the morning sun.
And so does the Ironwood tree but it has a more retiring presence.
And that's just the way Nature intended it.
The Ironwood Tree is a modest bit of branch and leaf that may not be
remarkable to the eye. But it is a "nurturer plant." The Ironwood
tree shelters young cactus plants from excessive heat and cold. It provides
nesting for birds and forage for bighorn sheep. Even its life span is
monumental up to 800 years.
For its biological and prehistoric significance, Ironwood Forest was
duly recognized in the year 2000 when President Bill. Clinton awarded
it national monument status.
Tsegi Canyon in Navajo National Monument. Now part of Navajo Nation,
the Hopis once claimed this land as the home of their ancestors-the
Hisatsinom, "people of long ago." A sacred migration in the
13th century probably led ancient tribes into these canyons, which provided
food, a reliable source of water and a remarkable form of shelter
Here, huge, yawning alcoves of unimaginable proportion hold entire
native villages. In a grand design, the Betatakin ruin sits just out
of reach of any inclement weathe yet maximizes the arc of the
sun in its daily journey.
Tucked into a sandstone wall in one of the more remote stretches of
canyon is Keet Seel, or "broken pottery" in the Navajo language.
Keet Seel remains as one of the largest and best-preserved native ruins
in existence. At its peak, perhaps 150 people called Keet Seel home.
When the early tribes left here, the Navajo arrived and the landscape
remained sacred. For their archeological value, President Teddy Roosevelt
elevated these canyons to national monument status in 1909 to be forever
Here stand the faithful, ever at attention. Shoulder to shoulder. Flank
to flank. Like soldiers ready for battle, this army of stone has been
in the making for millions of years.
The story of Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona began
27 million years ago. That's when a pyrotechnic blast unrivaled by any
other volcanic eruption in prehistoric North America set the sky on fire.
In a geologic instant, the dark side of nature turned this land inside
Then water, wind and ice took over, working silently like grains of
sand through an hourglass--polishing and perfecting every surface. And
this place became what the Apaches call, "Land of Standing-Up Rocks."
By the turn of the 20th century, the magic of the Chiricahuas transformed
the area into a mecca for tourism. This wonderland of rocks became such
a curiosity of nature, they were officially proclaimed a national monument
by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
Grand Canyon National Park. There is no other place in the world where
the face of the earth has been so marked by time. The side canyons here
are the result of good rains, not rivers. But the effect is just the
One of the newer monuments, declared by President Bill Clinton in 2000,
is a remote stretch of backcountry on the northern edge of the Park
If the Grand Canyon is a geologic main attraction, then Parashant is
the understudy. Parashant has the same raw talent and beauty--but still
is being groomed by nature. One million acres of canyon lands and highlands.
Two billion years of geologic history. Add to these dimensions a never-ending
supply of unspoiled vistas.
Grand Canyon..and Grand Canyon-Parashant. These two geologic wonders
stand side by side-an entire corner of Arizona that can be described in
one word: monumental.
In this country in southwest Arizona, the air temperature hovers around
118 degrees in high summer. Ground surfaces can reach 175. And yet hundreds
of species of wildlife thrive in the Sonoran desert heat. One plant
even prefers a southern exposure to soak up as much sun as possible:
the Organ Pipe Cactus.
This is the only place in America that the organ pipe cactus grows. The
species is a spillover from vast tracts of organ pipe found south of the
The organ pipe does resemble the great instrument of cathedrals and temples.
Some individual plants grow one hundred arms. For the organ pipe, life
is a numbers game. It takes tens of thousands of seeds to yield a single
plant. Then the odds are whittled down even more as the whims of nature
take over. So these are the survivors-the winners-of the curious game
played out in the desert. For its scientific value as a species, President
Franklin Roosevelt declared Organ Pipe a national monument in 1937.
The organ pipe cactus. It's an unmistakable fixture is Arizona's most
scorching tract of desert. All arms to the sun with a slight
lean towards Mexico.
Casa Grande Ruins
Man's fascination with the heavens above is endless. Kitt Peak Observatory
is situated high on a mountaintop southwest of Tucson. Here scientists
peer into the farthest reaches of deep space-all to understand the fundamental
nature of the universe.
Ancient native people's also studied the heavens above. Experts believe
one such site was erected specifically as an observatory: Casa Grande.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson awarded it National Monument status.
The largest structure ever built by the Hohokam, Casa Grande is Spanish
for "big house." Situated on an open plain, its walls are
oriented directly north, south, east and west.
The walls contain round portals. They are so placed that high priests
could chart the movement of the Sun, which they believed was the Father
of All. Here, one could measure time, mark the solstices and announce
the seasons with precision. When to plant crops or how far off is the
rainy season all were critical to survival in the desert. Those questions
were answered here at Casa Grande.
Sunset Crater Volcano
The San Francisco Peaks in North Central Arizona are the crowning glory
of a massive volcanic field formed two to three million years ago.
The newest addition to the geologic family is Sunset Crater. It stands
just 1000 feet tall above the high desert plateau. But while its stature
is diminutive in the shadow of giants, its effect on the landscape is
most pronounced-especially its color.
John Wesley Powell was one of the first geologists to officially chart
this territory in 1885. "The contrast in the colors is so great,"
he wrote, "that on viewing the mountain from a distance, the red
cinders seem to be on fire."
The fire must have been spectacular to local natives. Scientists date
the eruption of Sunset Crater at 1064 and believe the volcano stayed active
for another 130 years. Ash drifted over 800 square miles.
The best view of Sunset Crater is from above. The best light on the
volcano is at sunset when the oxidized cinders glow their brightest.
As a geologic marvel, Sunset Crater became a national monument with
President Herbert Hoover's signature in 1930.
When Sunset Crater Volcano erupted, it forced local natives from their
homeland. And so just as the cinder cone rose from the desert plain, so
did new villages of the Sinagua Indians on the Antelope Prairie. The sandstone
structures at Wupatki National Monument glow in the same fiery red hue
as the crater's rim.
As many as 3000 people once inhabited this open stretch of arable earth,
so productive in its time, it became a trading center and brought a
mix of tribal influences from the Pueblo and Hohokam.
A large circular foundation at Wupatki suggests a community room, where
kachina dances may have been conducted. Kachinas are spirits of good fortune
who can bring a bountiful harvest or a long-awaited rain.
The echo of ancient culture still surrounds the stone ruins of Wupatki.
So magnificent are the sites, President Calvin Coolidge officially welcomed
them into the ranks of national monuments in 1924.
In the far northern reaches of Arizona, the landscape leaves the high
desert plains and takes a decided step up. The marked transition is the
Vermilion Cliffs, an area President Bill Clinton made a national monument
in the year 2000.
The earth here was put together in the most amazing fashion many millennia
ago. Layer after layer of sedimentary material were neatly stacked,
one on top of the other. Ancient sand dunes, dinosaur bones and lake
beds all were pressed into a sedimentary timeline. As nature began to
sort through remains, Vermilion Cliffs' true identity emerged.
For 38 miles, the Paria River carves a determined swath across the
Colorado Plateau. It cuts the stone with such efficiency that in places,
the canyon walls nearly touch. Mormon pioneer John D. Lee ventured this
way in 1870 hoping for a suitable overland route to the west. He wrote
in his journal, "We concluded eight days of endless toil through
brush, water, ice and quicksand. For 48 hours, we couldn't even see
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is remote and forbidding. But its
other main trait is its beauty and that is what makes people
ignore John Lee's words 'til this very day.
Native American Mystery
Over the last century, four American presidents have designated five
national monuments in Central Arizona -- each a part of a puzzling ancient
Tonto National Monument is the former home of the Salado people. They
chose the Salt River Basin for its abundant water and farmland. The ancient
ruins reflect the natural wealth this setting afforded. Here they stand.
One thousand years ago, archeologists believe that native populations
were so established in the American Southwest, it may have taken just
a few hours to travel between tribal encampments. Sometime in the 1200s,
native peoples began to disappear. It did not begin with a particular
tribe or geographic area. The experience seemed universal. Why did they
leave? Where did they go?
Agua Fria, or cold water, contains one of the most significant systems
of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest with over 450 documented
ruins. They remain as fingerprints across the plateau tracing
a line to a rich human past.
Walnut Canyon was home to the Sinagua Indians, Spanish for "without
water." They occupied the high desert side of the canyon with a
southern exposure. The opposite side is Douglas Fir forest. Hunting
must have been favorable. But lack of water or perhaps too short of
a growing season may have been enough reason for the Sinagua to begin
leaving Walnut Canyon around 1250.
The Verde Valley was a Sinagua strongholda valley with ample
water. But even as idyllic as the landscape is, this 110-room pueblo,
called Tuzigoot, was abandoned in the 1400s.
Montezuma Castle is such a regal structure, early settlers mistook
it for an homage to the Aztec emperor. But the Sinagua deserted this
place one hundred years before Montezuma was even born. A stunning relic,
the castle became one of the first national monuments in America declared
by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.
So why did these ancient worlds slowly come undone? Natives today will
tell you it was simply time to move on
. Migration is a fundamental
part of tribal culture. Its symbol is a swirling circle motif. Find a
marker and you have intersected with Arizona's ancient past.
The Sonoran Desert is broad expanse of wilderness sweeping up from
Mexico and crossing southern Arizona from border to border. The Sonoran
Desert National Monument lies in its heart.
The mountains here rise abruptly from the desert floor, providing the
only relief from what otherwise would be an endless sea of sand and grit.
The lone peaks are called "sky islands."
The Sonoran Desert is the most biologicallydiverse desert in America.
The national monument, declared by President Bill Clinton in 2000, is
a garden adorned with palo verde, cholla, prickly pear and the mighty
Perhaps no other image so captures the essence of Arizona as the saguaro.
It rises to every occasion where it can find a foothold under the merciless
sun. The saguaro has been called the monarch of the desert, a totem commemorating
all the stillness, peace and wonder Arizona can offer.
These are Arizona moments. Magical. Monumental.
The story of Arizona can be told through its national monuments. Many
chapters are written in stone. Some are filled with desert wonder. Great
histories stand beside even greater mysteries.
They say the mark of a good story is one that is passed down through
the generations. And so is the tale of Arizona inspiring, magical,
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