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National Monuments of the USA:…..Braced by a belief that our world brims with a bounty of boons, I booted the bucket list.  When I look over my life it is clear I keep changing, so why feel compelled to visit a place the person I was before wanted to?  Rest assured this approach does not imply casting fate to the wind: I constantly seek opportunities and try to capitalize on inspiration when it is fresh.  A keystone of my prospecting is to engage friends on recent discoveries, which uncovered a fresh pursuit. Chatting with a friend  Kelly, who is employed by the USA’s National Parks Service (NPS), she posed the question “whether I was familiar with US National Monuments.”  


National Monuments?  “Sorry”, I replied, being clueless about the designation.  It is difficult because the United States has a monstrous hoard of “national” this and that.  Beyond national parks there are national forests, national historic parks, national historic sites, national battlefields (not to mention national battlefield sites and national battlefield parks!), national memorials, national recreation areas, etc., etc. 


Kelly shared that our country has 130 National Monuments, most managed by the National Park Service.  This compares to 58 National Parks, which may only be created through an act of Congress and must possess a unique natural, cultural, or recreational resource in need of protection that could not be adequately provided without supervision.  National Monuments may likewise be legislated by Congress, but are not so rigidly defined and may alternatively be ‘proclaimed’ by the President.  National Monuments also receive federal oversight, but not exclusively through the NPS (who tend to all of our National Parks). 


This conversation got the wheels in my brain spinning.  Recognizing each National Monument must possess distinctive attributes prompting their status, the vast number seemed to guarantee some appealing destinations. With great excitement I began researching, only to receive a hefty helping of humble pie.  I like to consider myself a seasoned traveler, particularly in my own homeland.  What a disappointment to learn I had only been to three National Monuments!  The good news is that all were vibrant and memorable: San Juan Islands in the Pacific Ocean, Misty Fjords in Alaska and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (officially named the ‘World War II Valor in the Pacific’ National Monument). 


It was clear there was much ground to cover, with several gaps I should be ashamed of.  The Statue of Liberty would be the most embarrassing omission, but I marveled at the rich diversity, most of which I had been totally ignorant.  Fortunately travel has molded my view of ignorance as an opportunity.  In the past there have been adventures resulting from confronting my ignorance, though these days the confrontations are more intellectual and expose my person to less physical peril! 


National Monuments span geographical wonders, historical commemorations and cultural landmarks.  This allure evolved a new travel theme because pursuing these points should combat ignorance and enable me to better understand my own country, its people and ecology.  One does not need journey far to travel and stellar rewards often lay waiting nearby. 


Thus, I intend to embark upon a monumental task of checking these places out.  Rather than a bucket list, my hope is for this to become a beacon lighting the way to new insights and delights.  I will not be ticking off each location like members of a roll call, but aspire to explore this collection as time permits and see what might be reaped.  There is no possibility of visiting them all anyway – several National Monuments may best be described as a no man’s land, because they are underwater.  I was astonished to discover the Marianas Trench on the list.  Vaguely aware this is the deepest spot on our planet’s surface, I was mystified how the USA could claim ownership?  Turns out the US has oceanic jurisdictions extending out from the Northern Mariana Islands (a US Commonwealth) and Guam (a US Territory).  Surrounding both are 200 mile / 320 kilometer ‘Exclusive Economic Zones’ (EEZ), entitling management and protection of watery natural resources within those bounds.  The journey is already educating me without physical movement.  


The Marianas Trench is one of five National Monuments lying beyond the fifty states (and Washington, D.C., which possesses two), and four of those are underwater with rarefied access.  Buck Island Reef National Monument is the exception.  While most of the site is submerged (though here there is the opportunity to snorkel), the uninhabited island has hiking trails and is right next to St. Croix, the only member of the trio of US Virgin Islands which I have not been to! 


This juxtaposition of Buck Island Reef to St. Croix begs calling out a hypothesis before the trek begins: seek and ye shall find.  Travel has taught me surprises lurk everywhere, so I strive to dig deep and poke around when in a new neighborhood.  It is with confidence and great expectations that I look forward to validating this assertion by documenting encounters with unanticipated treasures along the way.  As much as I enjoy researching and planning a trip, these companions are the cherry on top.  I often find travel resembling a gift wrapped present: you know something exciting is in there, but not exactly what until you peel away the covering. 


So, dear traveler, I hope you will bear with me.  The endeavor will stretch across years and while installments may be intermittent, I am intrigued.  Your benefit is that the mundane will be discarded, but faith in the reward of travel suggests I will have a cornucopia to share. As much as I aspire to validate my hypothesis, there is little concern the path will fail to yield personal growth.  Traveling has proven the most powerful mechanism for me to broaden my understanding and appreciation for our world.  Pursuing US National Monuments will be my New Year’s Resolution for 2020, and possibly for several years afterwards.