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- The list of stunning UNESCO world heritage sites includes sites all over the US.
- Some are areas of outstanding natural beauty that are home to threatened species, while others preserve the history of human activity in the US.
- Here are the remarkable sites around the country.
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UNESCO lists stunning natural and man-made sites around the world that it considers worth protecting for their cultural, historic or scientific significance.
The storied list includes world-famous locations such like India’s Taj Mahal and Peru’s Machu Picchu, but it also includes many sites across the US.
Some are already widely-known and act as big tourist attractions, while others are not as celebrated.
UNESCO sites can suffer from over-tourism, and the organization has backed the idea of “sustainable tourism,” encouraging those that visit to sites to leave them untouched.
They also urge visitors to listen to those that manage the sites if they express concerns about overcrowding or ask people to stay in certain areas.
There are 23 UNESCO sites in the US, including in Hawaii and Alaska. Check them all out below:
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
UNESCO calls the 4,920 feet (1,500 meter) deep Grand Canyon the “most spectacular gorge in the world.”
The Grand Canyon National Park is home to many rare or endangered species of animals and plants.
UNESCO says that the canyon is “among the earth’s greatest on-going geological spectacles.”
“Its vastness is stunning, and the evidence it reveals about the earth’s history is invaluable.”
La Fortaleza and San Juan, Puerto Rico
Defensive structures built in the bay of San Juan, Puerto Rico, between the 16th and 20th centuries “clearly illustrate both a transfer of technology from Europe to America over a long period,” according to UNESCO.
“As one of the first as well as one of the last of the numerous seats of power in Spain’s American empire, these structures are now potent symbols of the cultural ties that link the Hispanic world.”
The US National Park Service notes how “countries fought for control of this tiny yet strategic island for centuries,” with the forts where soldiers lived and the structures that they built still intact.
La Fortaleza, the official residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico, was built to help protect the harbour of San Juan.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stretches more than 200,000 hectares (2,000 square kilometers) and has “more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe,” according to UNESCO.
UNESCO describes the park as “relatively untouched,” by humans, giving us an idea of what the environment was like before we came along.
UNESCO says the national park “contains one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old growth forests remaining in North America.”
Independence Hall, Pennsylvania
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Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed, and is one of the most important buildings in American history.
UNESCO notes that the “universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents are of fundamental importance to American history and have also had a profound impact on law-makers around the world.”
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains some of the world’s most unique landscapes.
It includes Mauna Loa and Kilauea, which UNESCO describes as “two of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes where ongoing geological processes are easily observed.”
Thanks to ongoing volcanic activity, “the park’s landscape is one of relatively constant, dynamic change.”
Statue of Liberty, New York
The Statue of Liberty’s design and construction was recognized when it was gifted from the US to France as “one of the greatest technical achievements of the 19th century and hailed as a bridge between art and engineering,” according to UNESCO.
The statue was designed “to embody international friendship, peace, and progress, and specifically the historical alliance between France and the United States.”
UNESCO notes that it has “welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States.”
Monticello and the University of Virginia, Virginia
Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the third US President Thomas Jefferson designed Monticello as his plantation home. He also designed the Academical Village, which forms part of the University of Virginia.
Designed across the 18th and 19th centuries, they were both “inspired by deep study of classical and contemporary examples and reflect Jefferson’s aspirations for the character of the new American republic,” according to UNESCO.
Cahokia Mounds, Illinois
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Located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the “largest pre-Colombian settlement north of Mexico.”
It is a “pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic centre of the Mississippian culture,” according to UNESCO.
UNESCO notes that the area “graphically demonstrates the existence of a pre-urban society in which a powerful political and economic hierarchy was responsible for the organization of labor, communal agriculture, and trade.”
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
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Yellowstone National Parkcontains “contains half of all the world’s known geothermal features, with more than 10,000 examples,” according to UNESCO, as well as the highest concentration of geysers on the planet.
Most of the park, which takes up almost 900,000 hectares (almost 9,000 square kilometers) is in Wyoming.
It’s home to geothermal features like geysers, which are rainbow-colored thanks to different types of bacteria.
Yellowstone is also full of animal life, including bears, bison, elk, and wolves.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
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UNESCO recognizes more than 80 caves at this New Mexico site. The caves, it says, are “outstanding not only for their size but also for the profusion, diversity and beauty of their mineral formations.”
Some of the caves, it says, act as an “underground laboratory” that means people can study geology “in a pristine setting.”
Some of the chandeliers of rock are up to six meters (18 feet) long.
Glacier Bay, Kluane, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Tatshenshini-Alsek National Parks, Alaska
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These four national parks along the border between Alaska and Canada “contain the largest non-polar ice field in the world as well as examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers.”
They are filled with tall mountains and glaciers, and are home to animals like bears, wolves, and caribou that are typically endangered but are “self-regulating here.”
Glaciers here are still moving and altering the region, which is an important part of many animals’ migration patterns.
The area is made up of many environments, from forest to tundra, and UNESCO describes the parks as “an area of exceptional natural beauty.”
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
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Taos Pueblo is the only Native American society that is still active that it recognized by UNESCO. The settlement was first created more than 1,000 years ago and is still in use today.
UNESCO says that the “culture and community are active and thriving,” and that the community “represents a significant stage in the history of urban, community and cultural life and development in this region.”
Visitors can tour the settlement, where around 150 people live full-time, and are encouraged to “ensure the culture and traditions of our home are maintained and kept intact.”
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This cluster of islands close to Hawaii is “one of the largest marine protected areas in the world” with its hotspots and coral reefs creating a home for animals like dolphins and sea turtles.
Many endangered and threatened species “depend solely on Papahānaumokuākea for their survival,” UNESCO says.
The monument has recently had to stop public access to the site, though people can still access aquariums and learning centers close to the site, and visit nearby islands that boast similar features.
According to UNESCO: “Island environments have … been altered through human use, and although some change is irreversible there are also examples of successful restoration.”
San Antonio Missions, Texas
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The five complexes that were built along Texas’ San Antonio river in the 18th century “illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend” the region, according to UNESCO.
They were the base through which Spain sought to convert the indigenous populace to Catholicism and “included all the components required to establish self-sustaining, socio-economic communities loyal to the Spanish Crown.”
The churches are still in place, as well as accommodation, workshops, and farmlands, UNESCO says.
Yosemite National Park, California
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California’s Yosemite National Park stretches for more than 3,000 square kilometers (30,000 hectares) and is filled with geological features like waterfalls, hanging valleys, and domes of rock.
Past glaciers have created a unique landscape, including iconic landmarks like El Capitan.
UNESCO says the park has “exceptional natural beauty, including five of the world’s highest waterfalls.”
Chaco Culture, New Mexico
Chaco Culture is made up of a series of archaeological sites that preserve “outstanding elements of a vast pre-Colombian cultural complex that dominated much of what is now the southwestern United States from the mid-9th to early 13th centuries.”
Evidence of the culture that dominated the region for more than 400 years is still preserved, including walls and roads, in the heritage site, which includes Chaco Culture National Park.
UNESCO notes that the civilization’s “achievements are particularly remarkable given the harsh environment of the region.”
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
UNESCO recognizes the Pueblo Indian dwellings built in Colorado between the 6th and 12th centuries.
Elaborate dwellings are built into the cliff face, and visitors can explore them with ladders.
The view from the structures is also particularly breathtaking.
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, Montana
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The park, spread out over Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta, is made up of two national parks that were merged to create “the world’s first International Peace Park.”
UNESCO describes the park as “offering outstanding scenery.”
“The park is exceptionally rich in plant and mammal species as well as prairie, forest, and alpine and glacial features,” it says.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park has the world’s longest cave system, comprising more than 348 miles (560 kilometers) of surveyed underground passages.
The caves have been found to be home endangered species of plants and animals.
The Everglades, Florida
Florida’s Everglades have an “exceptional” variety of habitats including forests and marshes that support endangered animals like the manatee.
The Everglades contain the largest mangrove system in the western hemisphere and are the “largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent.”
UNESCO has it on its list of sites that are “in danger,” which means that it thinks a major response to save the area is needed.
Olympic National Park, Washington
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Filled with old forests and snowy peaks, Washington’s Olympic National Park is unique in the sheer scale of its wilderness.
This makes it rich in many plant and animal species, including endangered species like the northern spotted owl.
Redwood National and State Parks, California
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California’s Redwood Parksare home to a group of trees that have existed for 160 million years, and are the tallest living things on the planet.
The park is more than 53,400 hectares (534 square kilometer), and “contains some of the tallest and oldest known trees in the world.”
It also contains coastal mountains and beaches, making it home to a diverse range of plants and animals including sea lions and bald eagles.
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Louisiana
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UNESCO calls the site “a remarkable achievement in earthen construction in North America that was unsurpassed for at least 2,000 years.”
The site, close to the Mississippi River, shows monuments constructed around 3,500 years ago by hunter-fisher-gatherers.
UNESCO describes it as an “exceptional testimony to a vanished cultural tradition” that has remained well-preserved.