Earlier this week President Obama created America's newest National Monument, Colorado's Chimney Rock, which supporters of preservation say could become a vital part of the state's tourist economy. In naming Chimney Rock a monument, Obama was following in the footstep of Theodore Roosevelt, who became concerned about a rocky spire sticking out of the Black Hills in 1906. Using the new Antiquities Act, the Roosevelt declared Devil's Tower to be a National Monument and, in so doing, created a new type of American park.
National Monuments have always been a motley group of unexpected landscapes, especially because they are created by presidents without the approval of Congress and because of their diversity (the Statue of Liberty is a huge commitment, others, not so much.). These protected areas run the gamut from Wile E. Coyote desert to sea forts to caves and mountains, but they all have caught the eye of executives who couldn't help but preserve them so that another generation of Americans could visit them and think, "What the hell?"
The strangest of America's National Monuments serve as a reminder that the diversity of this vast country is not merely demographic and geographic, it is also ecological and geological. Moonscapes dot Idaho and the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is filled with sharks that owe their safety to President Bush.