The Top Ten Potential Future National Monuments

The shortlist of public lands angling for national monument status has leaked—and here's our top picks.
  |  Gorp.com
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Picture of San Rafael Swell, Utah
Picture of San Rafael Swell, Utah  (Dennis Flaherty/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

When an internal Interior Department memo leaked last spring that outlined the possibility of indoctrinating new public lands into the hallowed, government-protected collection of national monuments, speculation was rife. Which of the 14 huge tracts of land—in nine Western states—under consideration might ultimately be chosen to join the 100 already designated national monuments? Would bring more on board mean some of the existing monuments might graduate to national park status, as has happened before? How many will even be chosen? No one can say for sure, and history doesn't offer that much insight; the second Bush designated two in his two terms, while Clinton designated 19 over eight years. The National Park Service simply states: "National Monuments are usually smaller areas established primarily to protect historic, scientific, or natural features containing fewer diverse resources or attractions than national parks."

So, as we wait to see what will happen, we decided to comb through the wealth of mountains, islands, prairies, deserts, and rivers and pick out OUR top ten picks.

10. Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA
From kayaking and peak bagging (7,055-foot Snow Mountain among them) to fishing and birding, there's plenty to do in this half-million-acre playground less than 100 miles from San Francisco. This 100-mile stretch of California's inner coastal range is both a critical corridor for migrating wildlife and a biological hot-spot of global significance. Mountain lions, black bears, and herds of tule elk prosper here, as do osprey and a huge population of wintering bald eagles, amid rolling oak woodlands draped with Spanish moss. Sparkling snow fields, wildflower meadows, and pristine waterways (like Cache Creek, a Wild and Scenic River) beckon exploration.
Additional Information at Tuleyome

9. Northern Prairie, MT
This sea of green and gold in north-central Montana is a sight seldom seen anymore on earth—vast, undeveloped prairie practically unbroken by roads, farms, or buildings. (The United States alone has lost one million acres of grasslands per year—over the past 25 years.) These grasslands, which moved in after the glaciers receded 10,000 years ago, are the breathtaking habitat of 90 mammal species, including herds of pronghorn antelope, and North America's most endangered mammal, the black-footed ferret. A national monument designation here would link over 2.5 million acres of protected prairie bordering Canada's Grasslands National Park and Montana's Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area. Birders will relish the chance to spot sage grouse, burrowing owls, and ferruginous hawks nesting and migrating amidst endless native grasses. In years to come, the area may host a new “home on the range” for bison.
Additional Information at The Nature Conservancy

8. Northwestern Sonoran Desert, AZ
The new monument would preserve a huge tract of desert about 30 miles west of Phoenix. It would match the size of the existing Sonoran Desert National Monument, which currently protects nearly 500,000 acres south of the city. The Sonoran is the most biologically-diverse of all deserts in North America and this particular patch is a sprawling, pristine stretch of wildlands branded by the area's signature Giant Saguaro cactus and also boasts waterways that slice through rust-colored mudstone, cool pools surrounded by willows, sycamores, and cottonwoods and the mountainous remnants of its volcanic past. Rest in the shade of a Palo verde or Joshua tree and enjoy a famous sherbet-tinted sunset with resident desert tortoises and bighorn sheep while listening for the maraca-like clatter of the desert mascot, the rattlesnake.
Additional Information at the Bureau of Land Management

7. Otero Mesa, NM
These 1.2 million acres are the last lush tracts of grassland that once carpeted much of the Chihuahuan Desert. Otero Mesa, situated in southern New Mexico about 40 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas, is the healthy, diverse home of at least 13 grass species that support 1,000 native wildlife species, including desert mule deer and the last genetically-pure pronghorn antelope herd in the state. Mountain lions also skulk around the rolling terrain, which rises from 4,000 feet—where Soaptree yucca bursts from the valley bottom—to 7,000 feet on several isolated peaks. Sweeping views from the mesa include the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains to the north, the Guadalupe Mountains to the east, and the Tularosa Basin to the west.
Additional Information at the Coalition for Otero Mesa

6. Owyhee Desert, OR and NV
Canyon connoisseurs should add Owyhee to their life lists. Powerful rivers have worn through juniper-covered desert to form rugged, secluded, sheer-walled canyons. But this monumental corner where Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho come together is also a six-million-acre riot of sagebrush and stone—including multi-colored spires, natural arches, and ancient volcanic sculptures. Last year, Congress protected 267,000 acres of the Idaho portion of the area as the Owyhee River Wilderness, where river-runners' dreams come true on the area's eponymous waterway. If they look carefully at the canyon rims, they may spot members of the world's largest herd of California bighorn sheep, a stealthy cougar, or a stately elk.
Additional Information at the Bureau of Land Management

Published: 4 Aug 2010 | Last Updated: 9 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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