24 Must Visit Sustainable Sites in the United States
As 2021 commences, vaccines get released, and you start to make your travel plans once again the choice of where you go and how it contributes to your transformative experience (and the planet) is in your hands. The power to consciously heal, travel safely, educate yourself on heritage, preserve the planet, and form incredible memories has never been more easily achieved than at these curated 24 locations aligned with UNESCO’s list of designated World Heritage Sites in the United States.
Located in Collinsville, Illinois near the city of St. Louis, this largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico is the pre-eminent example of a cultural, religious, and economic centre of the Mississippian culture (800–1350), which extended throughout the Mississippi Valley and the south-eastern United States. This agricultural society may have had a population of 10,000–20,000 at its peak between 1050 and 1150, which was equivalent to the population of many European cities at that time. It once covered more than 1,600 hectares and included some 120 mounds.Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site includes 51 platform, ridgetop, and conical mounds; residential, public, and specialized activity areas; and a section of reconstructed palisade, all of which together defined the limits and internal symmetry of the settlement. Dominating the community was Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the New World. Constructed in fourteen stages, it covers six hectares and rises in four terraces to a height of 30 meters. The mounds served variously as construction foundations for public buildings and as funerary tumuli. There was also an astronomical observatory (“Woodhenge”), consisting of a circle of wooden posts. Extensive professional excavations have produced evidence of construction methods and the social activities of which the structures are further testimony.
Chaco Culture is a network of archaeological sites in northwestern New Mexico which preserves outstanding elements of a vast pre-Columbian cultural complex that dominated much of what is now the southwestern United States from the mid-9th to early 13th centuries. It includes Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the associated sites at Aztec Ruins National Monument, and five additional protected archaeological areas. The Chacoan society reached its height between about 1020 and 1110.These sites were a focus for ceremonies, trade, and political activity and they are remarkable for their monumental public and ceremonial buildings and distinctive multi-storey “great houses.” The sites were linked by an elaborate system of carefully engineered and constructed roads, many of which can still be traced. These achievements are particularly remarkable given the harsh environment of the region.
The highly organized large-scale structures, featuring multi-storey construction and sophisticated coursed masonry, illustrate the increasing complexity of Chaco social structure, which distinguished itself within the regional culture of the ancestral Pueblo and dominated the area for more than four centuries. The high incidence of storage areas indicate the probability that the Chacoans played a central economic role, and the great size and unusual features of the ceremonial kivas suggest that complex religious ceremony may have been significant in their lives.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted and the Constitution of the United States of America framed in this fine early 18th-century building in Philadelphia. These events, which took place respectively in 1776 and 1787, were conceived in a national context, but the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these two documents have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of government. Independence Hall was designed by attorney Andrew Hamilton in collaboration with master builder Edmund Woolley to house the Assembly of the Commonwealth (colony) of Pennsylvania. Begun in 1732 and finished in 1753, it is a dignified brick structure with a wooden steeple that once held the Liberty Bell. The building has undergone many restorations, notably by architect John Haviland in the 1830s and under the direction of the National Park Service beginning in the 1950s, returning it to its appearance during the years when the new country’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and signed. In the Assembly Room, the momentous events that occurred there are explained and their international impact as well as the spread of democracy are discussed.
La Fortaleza, along with the later fortifications of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal and San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo), and a large portion of the original San Juan City Wall, were built between the 16th and 20th centuries to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. They are characteristic examples of the historic methods of construction used in military architecture over this period, which adapted European designs and techniques to the special conditions of the Caribbean port cities. La Fortaleza has served as a fortress, an arsenal, a prison, and residence of the Governor-General, and today as the seat and residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico.
These fortifications, which retain the general appearance of advanced 18th-century defense technology, clearly illustrate both a transfer of technology from Europe to America over a long period and its adaptation to the topography of a strategically significant yet difficult tropical site. Reflecting Italian Renaissance, Baroque, and French Enlightenment designs, the defenses express successive techniques and technologies in fortification construction. The varied examples of military architecture from the 16th to 20th centuries in the fortifications of San Juan are evidence of the imperial struggles that defined the development of the Americas. 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 Mesa Verde landscape is a remarkably well-preserved prehistoric settlement landscape of the Ancestral Puebloan culture, which lasted for almost nine hundred years from c. 450 to 1300. This plateau in southwest Colorado, which sits at an altitude of more than 2,600 meters, contains a great concentration of spectacular Pueblo Indian dwellings, including the well-known cliff dwellings. This rich landscape provides a remarkable archaeological laboratory for enhancing our understanding of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
Some 600 cliff dwellings built of sandstone and mud mortar have been recorded within Mesa Verde National Park – including the famous multi-storey Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House – and an additional 4,300 archaeological sites have been discovered. The cliff dwelling sites range in size from small storage structures to large villages of 50 to 200 rooms. Many other archaeological sites, such as pit-house settlements and masonry-walled villages of varying size and complexity, are distributed over the mesas. Non-habitation sites include farming terraces and check dams, field houses, reservoirs and ditches, shrines and ceremonial features, as well as rock art. Mesa Verde represents a significant and living link between the Puebloan Peoples’ past and their present way of life.
Monticello was the plantation home of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), author of the American Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. He designed both the plantation home (1769–1809) and his ideal Academical Village (1817–28) situated eight km away in Charlottesville, in central Virginia. The Academical Village still forms the heart of the University of Virginia, and exhibits a unique U-shaped plan dominated by the Rotunda with pavilions, hotels, student rooms, and gardens arrayed in rows to its south. The buildings are excellent and highly personalized examples of Neoclassicism, shown in their relationship to the natural setting and their blending of functionalism and symbolism. They were inspired by deep study of classical and contemporary examples and reflect Jefferson’s aspirations for the character of the new American republic. Both works have drawn international attention from the time of their construction.Jefferson’s Monticello and his Academical Village precinct are notable for the originality of their plans and designs and for the refinement of their proportions and décor. His house at Monticello, with its dome, porticos supported by Doric columns, and cornices and friezes derived from classical Roman buildings, and his Academical Village, with its Rotunda modeled on the Pantheon and its ten pavilions each offering a different lesson in the classical orders and architecture as drawn from published classical models, together invoke the ideals of ancient Rome regarding freedom, nobility, self-determination, and prosperity linked to education and agricultural values.
The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is a publicly-owned and managed archaeological park in the parish of West Carroll, State of Louisiana, United States of America. The site is located on the eastern edge of an elevated landform, Macon Ridge, in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Today the ridge, which is about 7-9m higher than the adjacent lowlands to the east, overlooks and is abutted on its eastern side by the Bayou Maҫon.
The site consists of an integrated complex of earthen monuments, in the main constructed 3,700-3,100 years ago in the Late Archaic period. The complex includes large mounds and associated borrow/quarry areas, six semi-elliptical earthen ridges with an outer diameter of 1.14 km and a large flat plaza bordered by the ridges. Mound A, one of the largest constructed earthen mounds in North America, dominates the site. Collection and archaeological excavations have documented the rich material culture associated with this complex.
The Poverty Point complex is recognised internationally as an important site not just because of its scale, the integration of the earthworks and the extent to which the complex is intact, but crucially because it was built by hunter-fisher-gatherers. The elevated natural topography of the site above the Holocene alluvial lowlands provided a secure place for human settlement in an area otherwise prone to flooding, and influenced the layout of the complex and the placing of the earthworks: it helps to make it clear why the site was selected as the location of the monumental complex. All the singular elements that make up the complex as they survive in shape and substance – the mounds, the system of ridges and swales, the aisles, the plaza with the posthole circles, the causeway, the bisector ridge, the dock and the borrow areas – as well as their spatial organisation in relation to the topography, illustrate the refined use of natural features and topography to create a designed monumental landscape.
The extensive earth rearrangements beneath the above-ground structures attest to the extensive earthmoving to combat soil erosion and to achieve the required design. The archaeological deposits concealed below ground represent a repository of potential further information on the property and its builders. The meandering Bayou Maҫon, with its riverine vegetation, and the boggy and wooded areas, provide a sense of the natural environment at the time Poverty Point was constructed.
The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a 12.4-kilometer (7.7-mile) stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas. The complexes were built in the early eighteenth century and as a group they illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. In addition to evangelizing the area’s indigenous population into converts loyal to the Catholic Church, the missions also included all the components required to establish self-sustaining, socio-economic communities loyal to the Spanish Crown.
The missions’ physical remains comprise a range of architectural and archaeological structures including farmlands (labores), cattle grounds (ranchos), residences, churches, granaries, workshops, kilns, wells, perimeter walls and water distribution systems. These can be seen as a demonstration of the exceptionally inventive interchange that occurred between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of all involved, but most dramatically in those of the Coahuiltecans and other indigenous hunter-gatherers who, in a matter of one generation, became successful settled agriculturists. The enclosed layout of each mission complex and their proximity to each other, the widespread sharing of knowledge and skills among their inhabitants, and the early adoption of a common language and religion resulted in a people and culture with an identity neither wholly indigenous nor wholly Spanish that has proven exceptionally persistent and pervasive
The Statue of Liberty, a hollow colossus composed of thinly pounded copper sheets over a steel framework, stands on an island at the entrance to New York Harbor. It was designed by sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi in collaboration with engineer Gustave Eiffel, and was a gift from France on the centenary of American independence in 1876. Its design and construction were recognized at the time as one of the greatest technical achievements of the 19th century and hailed as a bridge between art and engineering. Atop its pedestal (designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt), the Statue has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States since it was dedicated in 1886.
The Statue is a masterpiece of colossal statuary, which found renewed expression in the 19th century, after the tradition of those of antiquity, but with intimations of Art Nouveau. Drawing on classical elements and iconography, it expressed modern aspirations. The interior iron framework is a formidable and intricate piece of construction, a harbinger of the future in engineering, architecture, and art, including the extensive use of concrete in the base, the flexible curtain-wall type of construction that supports the skin, and the use of electricity to light the torch. Édouard René de Laboulaye collaborated with Bartholdi for the concept of the Statue to embody international friendship, peace, and progress, and specifically the historical alliance between France and the United States. Its financing by international subscription was also significant. Highly potent symbolic elements of the design include the United States Declaration of Independence, which the Statue holds in her left hand, as well as the broken shackles from which she steps.
This Pueblo Indian settlement in northern New Mexico, consisting of ceremonial buildings and facilities, and multi-storey adobe dwellings built in terraced tiers, exemplifies the living culture of a group of present-day Pueblo Indian people at Taos Pueblo. As one of a series of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries that have survived to the present day, Taos Pueblo represents a significant stage in the history of urban, community and cultural life and development in this region. Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited and is the largest of these Pueblos that still exist, with its North and South Houses rising to heights of five storeys. Taos Pueblo and the people of the Pueblo itself claim an aboriginal presence in the Taos Valley since time immemorial.
Taos Pueblo, whose culture and community are active and thriving, shows many similarities to settlement sites of the ancestral Pueblo people that are preserved in nearby places such Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. It is nevertheless unique to this region and not derived from Mesoamerican precedents. The property includes the walled village with two multi-storey adobe structures, seven kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), the ruins of a previous pueblo, four middens, a track for traditional foot-races, the ruins of the first church built in the 1600s and the present-day San Geronimo Catholic Church. The Taos mountains (Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains) provide the setting for the Pueblo. Within these mountains is the 19,425-ha Taos Pueblo Blue Lake Wilderness Area, a resource of critical importance to the Pueblo’s living culture and agricultural sustainability. The Sacred Blue Lake, intrinsically linked to the Pueblo’s culture, is the source of a stream that flows through the settlement.
The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright focusses upon the influence that the work of this architect had, not only in his country, the United States of America, but more importantly, on architecture of the 20th century and upon the recognized masters of the Modern Movement in architecture in Europe. The qualities of what is known as ‘Organic Architecture’ developed by Wright, including the open plan, the blurring between exterior and interior, the new uses of materials and technologies and the explicit responses to the suburban and natural settings of the various buildings, have been acknowledged as pivotal in the development of modern architectural design in the 20th century.
The property includes a series of eight buildings designed and built over the first half of the 20th century; each component has specific characteristics, representing new solutions to the needs for housing, worship, work, education and leisure. The diversity of functions, scale and setting of the components of the series fully illustrate the architectural principles of “organic architecture”.
The buildings employ geometric abstraction and spatial manipulation as a response to functional and emotional needs and are based literally or figuratively on nature’s forms and principles. In adapting inspirations from global cultures, they break free of traditional forms and facilitate modern life. Wright’s solutions would go on to influence architecture and design throughout the world, and continue to do so to this day.
The components of the series include houses both grand and modest (including the consummate example of a “Prairie” house and the prototype “Usonian” house); a place of worship; a museum; and complexes of the architect’s own homes with studio and education facilities. These buildings are located variously in city, suburban, forest, and desert environments. The substantial range of function, scale, and setting in the series underscores both the consistency and the wide applicability of those principles. Each has been specifically recognized for its individual influence, which also contributes uniquely to the elaboration of this original architectural language.
Such features related to innovation are subordinated to designs that integrate form, materials, technology, furnishings, and setting into a unified whole. Each building is uniquely fitted to the needs of its owner and its function and, though designed by the same architect, each has a very different character and appearance, reflecting a deep respect and appreciation for the individual and the particular. Together, these buildings illustrate the full range of this architectural language, which is a singular contribution to global architecture in spatial, formal, material, & technological term
The Outstanding Universal Value of the serial property is conveyed through attributes such as spatial continuity expressed through the open plan and blurred transitions between interior and exterior spaces; dynamic forms that employ innovative structural methods and an inventive use of new materials and technologies; design inspired by nature’s forms and principles; integral relationship with nature; primacy of the individual and individualized expression and transforming inspirations from other places and cultures.
The more than 120 limestone caves within Carlsbad Caverns National Park are outstanding and notable world-wide because of their size, mode of origin, and the abundance, diversity and beauty of the speleothems (decorative rock formations) within. On-going geologic processes continue to form rare and unique speleothems, particularly in Lechuguilla Cave. Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave are well known for their great natural beauty, exceptional geologic features, and unique reef and rock formations. The Permian-aged Capitan Reef complex (in which Carlsbad Caverns, Lechuguilla and other caves formed) is one of the best preserved and most accessible complexes available for scientific study in the world.
Everglades National Park is the largest designated sub-tropical wilderness reserve on the North American continent. Its juncture at the interface of temperate and sub-tropical America, fresh and brackish water, shallow bays and deeper coastal waters creates a complex of habitats supporting a high diversity of flora and fauna. It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America.
The Grand 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. The 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mile) deep gorge ranges in width from 500 m to 30 km (0.3 mile to 18.6 miles). It twists and turns 445 km (276.5 miles) and was formed during 6 million years of geological activity and erosion by the Colorado River on the upraised earth’s crust. The buttes, spires, mesas and temples in the canyon are in fact mountains looked down upon from the rims. Horizontal strata exposed in the canyon retrace geological history over 2 billion years and represent the four major geologic eras
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a major North American refuge of temperate zone flora and fauna that survived the Pleistocene glaciations. The park includes the largest remnant of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era left in the world, and provides an indication of the appearance of late Pleistocene flora. It is large enough to allow the continuing biological evolution of this natural system, and its biological diversity exceeds that of other temperate-zone protected areas of comparable size. The park is of exceptional natural beauty with undisturbed, virgin forest including the largest block of virgin red spruce remaining on earth.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes where ongoing geological processes are easily observed. This property serves as an excellent example of island building through volcanic processes. Through the process of shield-building volcanism, the park’s landscape is one of relatively constant, dynamic change.
The Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek national parks and protected areas along the boundary of Canada and the United States of America contain the largest non-polar icefield in the world as well as examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers. Characterized by high mountains, icefields and glaciers, the property transitions from northern interior to coastal biogeoclimatic zones, resulting in high biodiversity with plant and animal communities ranging from marine, coastal forest, montane, sub-alpine and alpine tundra, all in various successional stages. The Tatshenshini and Alsek river valleys are pivotal because they allow ice-free linkages from coast to interior for plant and animal migration. The parks demonstrate some of the best examples of glaciation and modification of landscape by glacial action in a region still tectonically active, spectacularly beautiful, and where natural processes prevail.
Mammoth Cave is the most extensive cave system in the world, with over 285 miles (458 km) of surveyed cave passageways within the property (and at least another 80 miles [128 km] outside the property). The park illustrates a number of stages of the Earth’s evolutionary history and contains ongoing geological processes and unique wildlife. It is renowned for its size and vast network of extremely large horizontal passages and vertical shafts. Nearly every type of cave formation is known within the site, the product of karst topography. The flora and fauna of Mammoth Cave is the richest cave-dwelling wildlife known, with more than 130 species within the cave system.
Olympic National Park features a spectacular coastline, scenic lakes, majestic mountains and glaciers, and a magnificent virgin temperate rainforest. Olympic National Park has a wealth of geological formations – including rocky islets along the coast formed by a continuously receding and changing coastline, deep canyons and valleys formed by erosion and craggy peaks and beautiful cirques sculpted by glaciation. Olympic National Park is also the lowest latitude in the world in which glaciers form below an elevation of 2000 meters and occur below an elevation of 1000 meters. The park’s relative isolation, high rainfall, strong west-to-east precipitation gradient, ten major watersheds and rugged topography have combined to produce varied and complex life zones – from coastline to temperate forest to alpine meadows to glaciated peaks. As a result, the park is rich in biological diversity and has a high rate of endemism.
The parks’ primary feature is the coastal redwood forest, a surviving remnant of the group of trees that has existed for 160 million years and was once found throughout many of the moist temperate regions of the world, but is now confined to the wet regions of the west coast of North America. The parks contain some of the tallest and oldest known trees in the world. Rich intertidal, marine and freshwater stream flora and fauna are also present in the two distinctive physiographic environments of coastline and coastal mountains that include the old growth forest and stream communities.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park has a distinctive climate, physiographic setting, mountain-prairie interface and tri-ocean hydrographical divide. It is an area of significant scenic values with abundant and diverse flora and fauna.
Yellowstone National Park is a protected area showcasing significant geological phenomena and processes. It is also a unique manifestation of geothermal forces, natural beauty, and wild ecosystems where rare and endangered species thrive. As the site of one of the few remaining intact large ecosystems in the northern temperate zone of earth, Yellowstone’s ecological communities provide unparalleled opportunities for conservation, study, and enjoyment of large-scale wildland ecosystem processes.
Yosemite National Park vividly illustrates the effects of glacial erosion of granitic bedrock, creating geologic features that are unique in the world. Repeated glaciations over millions of years have resulted in a concentration of distinctive landscape features, including soaring cliffs, domes, and free-falling waterfalls. There is exceptional glaciated topography, including the spectacular Yosemite Valley, a 1 kilometer (1/2 mile) deep, glacier-carved cleft with massive sheer granite walls. These geologic features provide a scenic backdrop for mountain meadows and giant sequoia groves, resulting in a diverse landscape of exceptional natural and scenic beauty.
Papahānaumokuākea is the name given to a vast and isolated linear cluster of small, low lying islands and atolls, with their surrounding ocean, extending some 1,931 kilometres to the north west of the main Hawaiian Archipelago, located in the north-central Pacific Ocean. The property comprises the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which extends almost 2000 km from southeast to northwest.
The property includes a significant portion of the Hawai’i-Emperor hotspot trail, constituting an outstanding example of island hotspot progression. Much of the property is made up of pelagic and deepwater habitats, with notable features such as seamounts and submerged banks, extensive coral reefs, lagoons and 14 km2 emergent lands distributed between a number of eroded high islands, pinnacles, atoll islands and cays. With a total area of around 362,075 km2 it is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The geomorphological history and isolation of the archipelago have led to the development of an extraordinary range of habitats and features, including an extremely high degree of endemism. Largely as a result of its isolation, marine ecosystems and ecological processes are virtually intact, leading to exceptional biomass accumulated in large apex predators. Island environments have, however, been altered through human use, and although some change is irreversible there are also examples of successful restoration. The area is host to numerous endangered or threatened species, both terrestrial and marine, some of which depend solely on Papahānaumokuākea for their survival.
The pristine natural heritage of the area has deep cosmological and traditional significance for living Native Hawaiian culture, as an ancestral environment, as an embodiment of the Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and where the spirits return to after death.
On two of the islands, Nihoa and Makumanamana, there are archaeological remains relating to pre-European settlement and use, including a large ensemble of shrines, heiau, of a type specific to Papahānaumokuākea, but which resemble those of inland Tahiti. These, together with the sites of stone figures that show a strong relationship to similar carvings in the Marquesas, can be said to contribute to an understanding of Hawaiians strong cultural affiliation with Tahiti and the Marquesas.