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December 22, 2014

United States National Monuments: Pipe Springs and Vermillion Cliffs


An ornery resident at Pipe Springs National Monument

An ornery resident at Pipe Springs National Monument

 In Arizona, just across the border from Utah, are two contrasting National Monuments, tiny Pipe Springs and massive Vermillion Cliffs.

United States National Monuments can be quirky. Unlike National Parks, the President has the power to declare a place a National Monument without approval from Congress. The Presidential authority is granted by the Antiquities Act which states that “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” can be proclaimed by the Chief Executive as National Monuments. Soon after it was passed, the Antiquities Act’s broad definition enabled Presidents to establish a wide range of places, large and small, as National Monuments. The choices are at times arbitrary and are often controversial.

South Coyote Buttes in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

South Coyote Buttes in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Only 40 acres in size, Pipe Springs NM preserves a piece of Mormon pioneer history from the mid-19th Century. The monument has a cluster of rustic buildings, a corral, and the namesake spring. When it was named a National Monument during the Harding administration, the Mormon settlement had been place less than 65 years. In truth Pipe Springs NM is today more of a roadside curiosity than a true tourist destination. It is a place to visit as you drive by, not a destination on its own.

At 293,689 acres, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is over 7,000 times larger than Pipe Springs. Though the Bureau of Land Management does not manage the land as a wilderness area, Vermillion Cliffs is primarily a backcountry destination for its visitors. Inside the National Monument, The Wave is the most famous attraction.

(left) Do you see a face in this rock at South Coyote Buttes? (right) Gigi wonders what's in the doors of Winsor Castle at Pipe Springs NM.

(left) Do you see a face in this rock at South Coyote Buttes? (right) Gigi wonders what’s in the doors of Winsor Castle at Pipe Springs NM.

One of the few buildings at Pipe Springs NM

One of the few buildings at Pipe Springs NM

Visiting The Wave requires a difficult to obtain permit. There are just 20 permits issued per day and these permits are issued through an over-subscribed lottery. According to the lottery permit statistics, most of the visitors to The Wave come from out of the country. Vermillion Cliffs, unlike Pipe Springs, is a true international tourist destination.

Despite several attempts, we’ve never been able to get permission to visit the Wave. So this time through we opted for another worthy hike in the area, South Coyote Buttes. Not quite a mini version of The Wave, South Coyote Buttes is interesting nonetheless. And for sure our visit has wetted our appetite for seeing The Wave. Now if we can only get the damn permit.

A mini-Wave at South Coyote Buttes

A mini-Wave at South Coyote Buttes

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 More facts on the area:

Vermillion Cliffs occupies an expanse of land between Grand Canyon National Park (1,217,262 acres) to the south and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (1,880,461 acres) to the north. Including the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park, and Canyonlands National Park there’s over 5 million acres of nearly contiguous public land. It could take a lifetime to explore.

A first-come first-served permit is required to visit South Coyote Buttes.

A first-come first-served permit is required to visit South Coyote Buttes.

Gigi

Gigi

Taking in the view

Taking in the view

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Sandstone layers

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