The U.S. Just Got a New National Monument Near the Grand Canyon—Here’s What to Know

It features more than 3,000 culturally significant Indigenous sites in addition to beautiful canyonlands and a wealth of wildlife.

A green-tinted Colorado River snakes between orange-hued cliffs that make up Marble Canyon in Arizona

The northeastern section of the new national monument stretches from Marble Canyon (pictured) to the edge of the Kaibab Plateau.

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Within the nearly 1 million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park is topography that includes deep canyons and towering buttes, biomes that range from savannah to sagebrush, and animal diversity that includes bighorn sheep, bison, peregrine falcons, and the endangered California condor. There are also more than 3,000 culturally important Indigenous sites, including Gray Mountain (called Dzilbeeh by the Navajo), which is part of ceremonial stories and rituals, and Red Butte (called Wii’i Gdwiisa by the Havasupai), an area believed to be the sacred birthplace of their people.

Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument

As of August 8, the area is now also home to the United States’ newest national monument: Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni is made up of three distinct areas to the south, northeast, and northwest of the national park, and it protects about 1,562 square miles of cultural and religious sites, flora, fauna, and waterways that flow into the Colorado River from future uranium mining. Its name comes from the Havasupai phrase for “where tribes roam” (Baaj Nwaavjo) and the Hopi phrase for “our footprints” (I’tah Kukveni). The new national monument will be managed through the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona

The Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument borders the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona.

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For decades, tribes and environmental rights groups have been lobbying for the government to protect the area permanently. The former argue that this is culturally significant land, while the latter point out the potential damage that uranium mining will cause to the Colorado River watershed. In 2012, President Obama set a moratorium prohibiting new uranium mining in the area, though it is set to expire in 2032. President Biden’s new designation will protect the land in perpetuity.

During a press call, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to hold the office, said the new designation “will help ensure that Indigenous people can continue to use these areas for religious ceremonies, hunting, and gathering of plants, medicines, and other materials, including some found nowhere else on Earth. It will protect objects of historic and scientific importance for the benefit of tribes, the public, and future generations.”

The latest in a string of new national monuments—with more likely to come

Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni marks the fifth new national monument of the Biden presidency, following last month’s designation of sites in related to the civil rights legacy of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, including Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago (the site of Till’s funeral), Graball Landing in Mississippi (where Till’s body was found), and the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, also in Mississippi (where Till’s murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury).

Before that, the administration protected Colorado’s Camp Hale, a site associated with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division that helped liberate Europe during World War II; the Castner Range, 6,672 acres of wilderness on a former weapons testing range in West Texas; and Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, a biologically diverse stretch of the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada that’s considered the creation site of a number of area tribes. Biden has also restored protections to Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, both in Utah, which are the ancestral homelands of various tribes, after President Trump rolled back protections to allow for mining.

In a statement, Biden said the designation “supports tribally led conservation efforts and helps address injustices of the past, including when Tribes were forcibly removed from lands that later became Grand Canyon National Park.”

Designating a national monument is a measure presidents can enact unilaterally (they’re given the authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906), unlike national parks, which require an act of Congress. It’s the fastest way for land to become federally protected. Each of the monuments helps Biden get closer to his “America the Beautiful Initiative” goal of conserving or restoring 30 percent of U.S. land by 2030. Even with the new nearly 1 million acres, only 13 percent of all land in the United States is federally protected, meaning it’s likely that Biden will be considering myriad other monuments in the coming months and years.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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