Stunning photos of UNESCO sites in the U.S.
World Heritage is a designation given to “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity” and therefore should be “protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.” As of 2020, there are 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.
Here are stunning photos from all 24 sites.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
This 52,485-acre park in Montezuma County was the first destination in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, earning the designation in 1978 due to its “great concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings, built from the 6th to the 12th century,” including the popular Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
Roughly half of the world’s geothermal features can be found among the 2,219,791 acres of Yellowstone, including approximately 500 geysers. Of course, the most famous geyser is Old Faithful, which erupts every 44 minutes to two hours and reaches heights of 185 feet.
Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini–Alsek, Alaska
Located on the border of the U.S. (Alaska) and Canada (British Columbia and Yukon), this park system was named a UNESCO site in 1979 for its “impressive complex of glaciers and high peaks” and spectacular array of wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep, and mountain goats.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is believed to be around 70 million years old, while horizontal strata from the site reveals over 2 billion years of geological history, covering all four major geologic eras. The area was added to the UNESCO list in 1979 and celebrated its 100th anniversary as a National Park last year.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park is 1.5 million acres of tropical wilderness, making it the largest reserve of its kind in North America, protecting one-fifth of Florida’s Everglades. “The exceptional variety of its water habitats has made it a sanctuary for a large number of birds and reptiles, as well as for threatened species such as the manatee,” thus earning the site UNESCO designation in 1979.
Independence Hall, Pennsylvania
Independence Hall in Philadelphia is America’s most historic building. It’s where both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787) were signed. These documents established the “universal principles of freedom and democracy” for the country.
Redwood National and State Parks, California
The coastal redwood trees of California’s Del Norte and Humboldt County are some of the tallest and oldest in the world. The tallest among them is Hyperion, which stands a staggering 379 feet and is estimated to be somewhere between 600 and 800 years old. The exact location of the tree has never been revealed.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest cave system in the world, with more than 400 surveyed miles of passageway. The caves are home to more than 130 species of animals, including bats, crickets, and eyeless fish that have adapted to their dark environment.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park in northwest Washington is famous for its diverse ecosystems, including “a spectacular coastline, scenic lakes, majestic mountains and glaciers, and a magnificent virgin temperate rainforest.” You’ll also find an endless array of wildlife: Roosevelt elk, sea otters, bald eagles, black bear, gray whales, mountain goats, mountain lions, etc.
Cahokia Mounds, Illinois
The Cahokia Mounds site just outside of St. Louis was the largest and most important settlement in Mississippian culture. Occupied from AD 800 to 1400, it covered nearly 4,000 acres and was made up of roughly 120 mounds. The largest is Monks Mound, which is 100 feet high and has an area of over 12 acres.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
According to National Park Service records, no other park saw more visitors in 2019 than Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And it’s no wonder why. Designated a UNESCO site in 1983, this sprawling 522,419-acre park is home to “more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe.”
La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico
The structures that comprise this World Heritage Site in San Juan were built between the 15th and 19th centuries as defensive fortifications for the city and the Bay of San Juan. Among them is the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, which was a key military outpost for Spain and eventually the U.S. for nearly 500 years.
Statue of Liberty, New York
Designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built with the help of architect Gustave Eiffel, the Statue of Liberty (also known as “Liberty Enlightening the World”) was a gift from France in 1885 to commemorate 100 years of friendship between the two countries. The statue itself stands 151 feet tall while the entire structure is 305 feet.
Yosemite National Park, California
Steep cliffs, stunning waterfalls, crystal-clear water, and row upon row of giant sequoia groves are just some of the features in Yosemite’s diverse landscape. Of course, the park is also home to one of the most coveted rock formations among climbers: El Capitan, which is 3,000 feet along its tallest face.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
New Mexico is the only state with three exclusive UNESCO sites. The first named to the list was Chaco Culture National Historical Park in 1987. Between AD 850 and 1250, Chaco Canyon was a prominent ancestral Pueblo culture center, where ceremonies, trade, and political activity took place for the Four Corners region.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mauna Loa (the second-biggest volcano in the world) and Kilauea, can be found in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Mauna Loa last erupted from March 25 to April 15, 1984, while Kilauea’s latest activity was on May 3, 2018 following a 5.0 earthquake earlier in the day. Fortunately, in both cases there were no fatalities.
Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia
On top of being a Founding Father and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a well-regarded architect of the classical tradition. He designed his primary plantation home, the Monticello, as well as the Rotunda building on The Lawn of the University of Virginia.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
The Puebloan people of Arizona and New Mexico are believed to have lived in this settlement roughly 1,000 years ago. The buildings are made entirely of adobe, with walls as thick as several feet. Large timbers brought down from the mountain forests were used to hold up the roofs.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Made up of more than 100 limestone caves with rare speleothems (cave formations), Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been described as an “underground laboratory.” Lechuguilla Cave in particular offers a rare glimpse into ongoing geological and biological processes in a “pristine setting.”
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Montana
In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, merged with Glacier National Park in Montana to create the first International Peace Park. It was added to the UNESCO list in 1995 for having a “distinctive climate, physiographic setting, mountain-prairie interface and tri-ocean hydrographical divide.”
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaii
Papahānaumokuākea in Honolulu County is 583,000 square miles and consists of 10 islands and atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The area is of great importance to the Native Hawaiian culture because it represents the connection between its people and nature. It is also viewed as the site where life begins and ends.
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Louisiana
The earthen ridges and mounds found at Poverty Point State Historical Site in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana, date back to 1700 BC and were built by Indigenous people during the Late Archaic period. It is believed that the site was used as a settlement and for ceremonial purposes by the hunter-fisher-gatherers of the Poverty Point Culture.
San Antonio Missions, Texas
The San Antonio Missions is made up of five mission sites and a historic ranch in and around the San Antonio area. Built in the 18th century by Franciscan missionaries, the buildings are of cultural significance because they “illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain.”
The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Arizona/California/Illinois/Pennsylvania/New York/Wisconsin
The U.S.’s newest entry to the UNESCO World Heritage list consists of eight buildings across the country (located in California, Pennsylvania, New York, Arizona, and two each in Illinois and Wisconsin) designed by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Included among the sites is Wright’s most famous work, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.
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