United States UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Episode 480

categories: USA Travel

United States UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Amateur Traveler Episode 480

Hear about the United States UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the Amateur Traveler talks to Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere.com and The Global Travel Conspiracy podcast about these best of the best sites.


Gary says, of UNESCO sites, “They way I usually describe it to people is it’s like the Hall of Fame for National Parks or of historical places like it’s the best of the best. There’s a World Heritage convention (treaty) that was signed in the 1970s. Once a year they get together and add new sites to the list. Countries have to make proposals and it is a rather involved process. It can take many years.” Gary has been to all but one of the U.S. UNESCO sites, and that one is not generally open to tourists.

As of this recording, there are 23 UNESCO sites in the United States:


Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (1982)
Chaco Culture (1987)
Independence Hall (1979)
La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico (1983)
Mesa Verde National Park (1978)
Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (1987)
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point (2014)
San Antonio Missions (2015)
Statue of Liberty (1984)
Taos Pueblo (1992)


Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1995)
Everglades National Park (1979)
Grand Canyon National Park (1979)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1983)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (1987)
Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (1979)
Mammoth Cave National Park (1981)
Olympic National Park (1981)
Redwood National and State Parks (1980)
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (1995)
Yellowstone National Park (1978)
Yosemite National Park (1984)


Papahānaumokuākea (2010)

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Show Notes

Everything Everywhere
List of World Heritage Sites in the US
Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument
Midway Atoll
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Kluane / Wrangell – St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
Olympic National Park
Redwood National and State Parks
Yosemite National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Grand Canyon
Chaco Culture
Taos Pueblo
Carlsbad Caverns
Mammoth Cave
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Everglades National Park
Old San Juan
Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
Independence Hall
Statue of Liberty
Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings
National Parks of the U.S.
The Global Travel Conspiracy

United States UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Amateur Traveler Episode 480


Chris: Amateur Traveller Episode 480. Today, the Amateur Traveler looks at the best of the best, the greatest of the greatest, the National Park hall of fame in the United States, as we look at all of the US UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by TravelSmith. There’s no time like the present to take a trip and nobody makes is easier for you to pack up your things and head out than TravelSmith. With apparel, luggage, gear and tips for every traveler, TravelSmith helps you get there, look great and feel good. Check out TravelSmith.com today.

Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll be talking more about our sponsor, who is TravelSmith, but first, let’s talk about US UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’d like to welcome back to the show Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere.com and, now, from the new podcast The Global Travel Conspiracy. Gary, welcome back to the show.

Gary: Thank you. This is almost my second home.

Chris: And I have been on Gary’s show, too. If you are interested, he is on episode four or five so far.

Gary: I just had episode six come out last week.

Chris: Well, then I am apparently behind. What have you come to talk to us about today?

Gary: We are going to talk about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States of America.

Chris: Now, I think we talk about UNESCO quite a lot on the show, but this seems like a really good opportunity to say what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Gary: The way I normally describe it to people is that it’s like the Hall of Fame of National Parks or of historical places. It’s the best of the best. And so, there is World Heritage Convention that was signed in the 1970s, and even though the word UNESCO, UNESCO manages it, technically it is not UNESCO that runs it. It’s a separate treaty. There are members of UNESCO which are not signatories to the convention, and there are signatories of the convention which are not members of UNESCO. So it is a separate thing. And once a year, they get together and they add new sites to the list. And countries have to make proposals, and it’s a rather involved process that can take many years, and that’s kind of how it works.

Chris: And then once things are on the list, they tend to stay on the list unless they get destroyed or don’t meet certain standards.

Gary: There are only two which have ever been taken off the list. There is one, the Elbe River in Dresden, which was taken off the list for an absolutely ridiculous reason: building a bridge, which had been planned for 80 years. And the other was for a very good reason, which was an Oryx sanctuary in Oman, which was taken out because 90% of the Oryxes were killed because they found oil.

Chris: And you said UNESCO, U-N stands for United Nations there, and the ESCO, I actually don’t even know what that stands for.

Gary: It’s education and scientific organization.

Chris: Excellent. And how many UNESCO World Heritage Sites are there as of this moment in the US, because this number changes every year.

Gary: Right, so we are recording this in August 2015, and as of now, there are 23.

Chris: Okay. And in the US, are they mostly or all natural sites, or does it also include some historic sites?

Gary: Slightly more than half are natural. What you see in the United States, Canada, Australia, other “newer countries,” is a higher percentage of natural sites. I want to say that a site, can either be cultural, natural, or mixed, meaning that there’s both cultural and natural elements. And, in the United States right now, we have 12 natural sites, 11 cultural sites and 1 mixed site.

Chris: Excellent. In what order should we tackle these?

Gary: Well, first, of the current sites in the United States, of the 23, I’ve been to 22 of them. So, we should probably talk about the one I haven’t been to.

Chris: And may not get to.

Gary: Yeah, and I had to check the pronunciation before the show started. Papahanaumokuakea, which is basically the outer Hawaiian islands. We tend to think of Hawaii as being eight main islands, but, in reality, Hawaii is a really big state and it actually goes out really far. But those islands are uninhabited. They have never been inhabited, even by the ancient Hawaiians. It is the largest marine sanctuary in the world right now. And that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is only one bit of land that you can actually visit, and that’s Midway Island.

Unfortunately, the Fish and Wildlife Service, who now controls Midway Island, hasn’t allowed any visitors to the island in, I think, four years. So, every couple of months, I’m searching the internet, trying to find out if there are tours going to Midway. I think the last chartered flight was maybe 2010 or 2011, but there hasn’t been anything yet. So that’s the one I haven’t been to. And I came up with a list a couple years ago of the hardest World Heritage Sites in the world to visit, and this is, I would say, among the top ten hardest ones in the world.

Chris: And the others are also just remote.

Gary: Yeah, basically just remote islands that would take a very expensive, special effort to get to.

Chris: Excellent. Shall we go from west to east, since we are out there pretty far west at Vista?

Gary: Sure. We can start furthest west, and that would be Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Chris: Wonderful spot.

Gary: Yeah. I first went there back in 2006 as part of a geology field trip to Volcanoes National Park. It’s a very special place. One of the interesting things is that there is, I forget what the stat was, like, 50,000 dump trucks of new Hawaii being created every day. And it’s just this new lava. The other interesting thing is every time you go, you’re going to have a completely different experience because something’s erupting, lava’s flowing, steam, this and that. It’s always different. I’ve been there twice, and I’ve never seen flowing lava.

Chris: Well, my understanding is, right now, some of the craters that I have walked through are actually now filling up with lava. But we happened to be there one time when the Pu’u O’o vent was active, and had surface flow. So a lot of the lava flow in Hawaii is in lava tubes, so it’s underneath because it crusts over as it reaches the air and cools. We happened to be there, and you could walk for an hour on the older lava flows out to where rangers were there, trying to keep you from doing stupid things, which is apparently all too frequent. But we stood about three feet away from flowing lava coming towards us. Of course, it flows very slowly. It would flow and then crust over and then more lava would flow over it. It was fascinating. It was just an amazing experience. But yeah, it’s luck of the draw.

Gary: Here’s a geology tip for everyone: If you visit one of the lava flow areas which has flown, say, the last forty years, so from the ’70s onward, look underneath the rocks and you may find very small bits of the hair of Pele. The hair of Pele is what happens when you have molten lava and it gets thrown up into the wind, and the wind takes it and it creates, basically like fiber optic cables, except there is no way you could ever put data on it. It just strings it out into these hairs. And when it reaches the ground, it’s often this golden color. The problem is, they don’t last very long out in the rain. So, if it lasts more than a few months or a few years, it’s very rare. But on the underside of rocks, it can last quite a long time because it’s protected from the elements. So, do that, and you may actually be able to see very tiny bits of hairs of Pele in the park.

Chris: You can also see Pele’s tears, and those are easier to find, which are the little teardrop shaped amounts of lava that crystalize, basically almost like rain. Very cool.

Gary: If you go to the visitor’s center, they have some very large and very well preserved examples of both.

Chris: Excellent. We should say we were on the big island. I don’t know if we mentioned that.

Gary: Yes. I think there is a possibility that in the future for other Hawaiian sites to be included. I’m guessing it would probably be a serial site that included many of the traditional Hawaiian sites that are also currently part of the National Park Service. But that’d be in the future.

Next, we’ll go to Alaska. Believe it or not, Alaska only has one World Heritage Site, and it’s shared between Canada. It’s the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini/Alsek World Heritage Site. It’s two National Parks in the United States, a National Park in the Yukon, and a large Provincial Park in British Columbia. And basically, it’s all one site, even though it’s two countries and many parks. I visited the site from the Yukon side. I’ve actually done three aerial flights: a small plane twice and I also did a helicopter.

Basically, you have this massive ice field up in the top of the mountains. If you visit, obviously, by ship, you’re probably going to Glacier Bay National Park in the US side in Alaska, but if you have the opportunity, definitely take a plane to go up and take a look at the ice field, because there is really nothing quite like it. Some of the glacier, you can truly see a river of ice, and you get the impression that this is a massive river coming downhill.

Chris: Excellent. Well, I was just there this May to the US side, to Glacier Bay, in a small boat. One nice thing with a small boat is you’re allowed to overnight in Glacier Bay with the proper permits. So, we were sitting there in front of the most active glacier at the tail end of Glacier Bay, and there was nobody else around. The park was all ours.

Gary: Did you get to see any of the glaciers actually calving?

Chris: Yes, but they calved after we turned the cameras off and went back inside because it was cold. So, don’t have any pictures of calving glaciers, from there or any of the other glaciers that we visited.

Gary: It’s a tough shot to get, especially with still photography. You have to be ready.

Chris: Right. The fascinating thing for me about Glacier Bay is I didn’t realize how new it was. How in, not in my lifetime, but in my grandfather or great-grandfather’s lifetime, the glacier extended all the way out through what is Glacier Bay. Glacier Bay itself was all ice. So, fascinating, it’s relatively new. Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor, who is TravelSmith.

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Gary: Okay, so let’s move back down. Now we’re into the continental United States. And the other one is the second, and there’s only two, shared sites with Canada. This would be Glacier/Waterton International Peace Park. Basically, Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta are jointly a World Heritage Site. And, I’ve been to both. Waterton is much smaller than Glacier, but much more accessible. There’s resorts and a lot more hotels that are available. It’s much smaller, but Waterton Lake is extremely beautiful. And there are boat rides and it might be one of the most pleasant border experiences you’ll ever have entering the United States. Because there’s a boat, and it takes you to the end of the lake, and the end of the lake is surrounded by mountains. So, there’s just a guy in a little hut that says, “Welcome to America.” Because you can’t really go anywhere else, you’re just kind of surrounded by mountains. So, that’s that.

Chris: And this is spoken by someone who hasn’t always had pleasant experiences crossing the border to and from Canada.

Gary: No, but usually my problems go the other way, into Canada, believe it or not. But yeah, a lot of people they visit, you know we’re talking about US sites, if you’re on the Alberta side on the border, a lot of people go up to Banff and Jasper, but taking the time to go to Waterton is well worth it. And, as we’re recording this right now, I think there’s still forest fires still going on in Glacier National Park. So, it’ll be interesting to see what ends up happening with the park there, because the Going-to-the-Sun Drive, which cuts across the park, is also just a beautiful drive and one I would really love to do again.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely.

Gary: So, next we’ll go to Washington State, and we have Olympic National Park. Olympic is really one of the most overlooked National Parks in the National Park system. Maybe if you live in the Pacific Northwest, it’s on your mind a little more, but it doesn’t have the prestige as say, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon. But it’s a pretty special place, especially when you get on the western slope of the Olympic Mountains. It’s really, really wet, and it is basically a temperate rainforest. You get to some of the groves that have moss just covering everything. And it’s a really special place. I’ve never quite seen anything else like it in the world. And this is also where Forks is, the town of Forks, which is a real town in Washington and home to all the vampires from the “Twilight” movies.

Chris: Okay, having not read any of the books from the “Twilight” series, I did not know this.

Gary: Yeah, I’ve seen some of the hotels there had, “Vampire Fans Welcome.”

Chris: Okay.

Gary: So we move down the coast and the next would be Redwoods National Park and Redwood State Park in northern California. Collectively, they are a World Heritage Site, even though one’s run by the National Park Service and the other one’s run by the State of California. I think the redwood trees are kind of obvious, if you’ve never been there before. They’re just absolutely amazing. It’s a different experience, I think, actually getting up to Redwood National Park than what you may have seen some of the groves closer to San Francisco, like in Muir Woods.

Chris: Yeah, Muir Woods is not my favorite.

Gary: Really?

Chris: No, I recommend people actually go up into some of the state parks up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, because they don’t have the busloads of tourists. You can be nearly by yourself in great wonderful groves of trees.

Gary: Fair point. The one thing with this World Heritage Site is just that, because the state parks are also included, I don’t think there’s a huge difference between the Redwood State Park and Redwood National Park. They should certainly both be part of your visitation.

Chris: And that is a beautiful area. You don’t get to it as easily from San Francisco because you are a number of hours up at that point further north, because San Francisco is only a little more than halfway up the state, which I don’t think a lot of people realize. San Jose is, on the maps that are in two pieces, San Jose is usually shown in both pieces and San Francisco is only an hour north of San Jose. It’s a very pretty area, and we’re talking about, in this case, coastal redwoods that grow within the reach of the coastal fog, versus the larger sequoia redwoods, which grow in the Sierras.

Gary: The next one in California is Yosemite, and this is kind of a no-brainer. I think most people are pretty familiar with Yosemite. Surprisingly though, California only has two World Heritage Sites.

Chris: Interesting.

Gary: Yeah, you’d think there’d be more. Death Valley, I think, would be a great addition. I think there are other spots as well, but it’s just Redwood and Yosemite. And my hint for going to Yosemite is always go at the beginning or middle of May. Go before Memorial Day in the US, because the crowds are smaller.

Chris: And the waterfalls actually have water in them.

Gary: Yeah, so I’ve been there in both May and October, late September/October, and October is fine, except for the fact that the water’s just not flowing because there’s no melt water.

Chris: I’ve been there in December, which was an interesting time to go. Obviously much shorter days, but I have parked in the parking lot for upper Yosemite/lower Yosemite Falls, and been the only one there. There wasn’t as much water coming over, but it is an interesting thing to see Yosemite in December. And it’s very, very different from seeing it in the summer. And as you say, especially if you’re there in the summer, if you’re camping I’d recommend getting a camp site or think about getting a camp site potentially not on the valley floor, because the valley floor gets quite crowded.

Gary: Yes. There’s other great things to see year-round at Yosemite, too. If you go a little bit south, you have King’s Canyon in Sequoia National Parks. And if you go through the park, you can go to Mono Lake and Bodhi, the ghost town. I think those are all great things to see as well.

Chris: Absolutely. Bodhi is one of my favorites.

Gary: Next one, another no-brainer, and one of the very first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 1978, there were 12 sites put on the list, and the United States had two of them, one of which is Yellowstone National Park. I think it goes without saying, this is the oldest national park in the world, the United States’ first national park. It is kind of the grand-daddy of all national parks. It has the geology going on. It has wildlife, history, and the only thing that surprises me about going to Yellowstone is how many foreign tourists there are, which is not a bad thing, but they often overwhelm the domestic tourists. There’s more foreigners going there than there are Americans.

Chris: And the other thing that surprised me that I heard recently, and I heard it when I was in Iceland, which has geysers as Yellowstone does, but Yellowstone has 60% of the world’s geysers.

Gary: Yep, it’s a big, big park. It’s not the biggest, actually, in the United States, or even in the continental United States, for that matter, but it shows up on the map when you look at it.

Chris: I had a cousin from Colorado who described Wyoming as one of those cakes with the frosting all shoved up in one corner. And it is spectacular up there, while the rest of it might be a little flat for some people.

Gary: That being said, they have the Grand Tetons National Park.

Chris: That’s in that same corner, though.

Gary: And Devil’s Tower, and Wind River Canyon–

Chris: I haven’t been to the Devil’s Tower.

Gary: Yeah, you’ve gotta do that. It’s a good thing to do as part of a Black Hills trip, to South Dakota.

Chris: Good point.

Gary: But Wind River Canyon, we drove through there when I was on a geology trip, and that’s another fascinating place to go. And it’s not a park or anything, but it doesn’t get nearly the amount of visitation. So, in addition to Yellowstone, one of the very first World Heritage Sites ever, and the second in the United States was Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. It’s a very different type of national park in that it’s a cultural park. There is a plot of land, but, basically, most people know it for the mesas and the cliff dwellers that lived there. The dwellings are still pretty well preserved. It’s very easy to go and see them. You can still walk around, and it’s quite an experience. Mesa Verde was actually, I think, the first park created for cultural purposes in the United States. I’m getting that from a Ken Burns documentary. But, yeah, special enough that it was one of the first 12 ever made.

Chris: Interesting. You finally named the first one that I haven’t been to of this list. And I’m surprised you got so far in before we got to that.

Gary: All of these so far are like the big obvious parks. So, it’s like I said, this is the all-star team, or the hall of fame of parks.

Chris: And I should say that we cover more about Mesa Verde and that whole region on an episode we did on the Four Corners area of the US.

Gary: Yeah, there’s lots of stuff in there. In addition to the Four Corners, you’ve got Monument Valley and other stuff as well. Next one would be another one of the, “I’m sure you’ve been here, too.” Always considered it one of the big three parks, is the Grand Canyon.

Chris: Sure, been to both rims.

Gary: What’s interesting about the Grand Canyon is that it was one of the first uses of the Antiquities Act, used by Teddy Roosevelt to make it a national monument. And according to the act, the President can take federal land and turn it into a monument, but he cannot turn it into a park.

Chris: That needs an act of Congress. Well, and we say, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been to both the North and the South Rim, most of the tourism, I think it’s 90% of the tourism goes to the South Rim, which is easier to get to, especially from Phoenix. The North Rim is easier to get to from Las Vegas, if you happen to be in the area and closed in the winter.

Gary: I’ve only been to the South Rim so far. Going to the North Rim is one of my goals and then also I’d love to go rafting down it.

Chris: Oh, sure, that is one of my goals as well.

Gary: Next, we are going to go east a little bit, and we are going to go to the state that has three World Heritage Sites. That’s New Mexico. The first of which is the Chaco Cultural Site. This is a kind of a difficult one to get to. It’s a national park service site, Chaco Canyon, and I also believe that Aztec National Monument is a part of this site as well, technically. But basically, you’ve got to drive through several miles of gravel road to get here. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. But the ruins are pretty well preserved, I’d say as well preserved as a Roman ruin. And you see the remnants of the Chaco Culture that lived here, I think, over 1,500 years ago.

The thing about the United States, and I’d say this and Mesa Verde is the northern most extent that you see ruins of ancient civilizations. Mexico has quite a bit of it, the Mayans, the Aztecs, but as you go north, kind of beyond this area, the peoples were primarily nomadic and they didn’t build a lot of permanent structures. So this is one of the few that you are going to see in the United States, and it does take a bit more effort than some of the other sites to get to.

It’s not a popular park, compared to some of the others. I still felt it was well worth the time, and if you go, make sure it’s not raining hard, because the road there will literally, there will be streams that fill up when it’s raining hard and you can’t get your car across. Just letting you know.

The next one in New Mexico is Taos Pueblo. This is a very unique Heritage Site, not just for the United States but for the whole world, in that it’s a living community. If you go to Taos, this is basically the Indian Reservation there. The people are still living in pueblos. They are living without electricity and without water. They are cooking their food in adobe ovens, the same way they used to. And it’s not owned by the National Park Service. It is privately held by the tribe, and it’s not a ruin or a relic. It is a living community.

Chris: And as I recall, the longest continually inhabited structure in North America, I think. I don’t remember the reach but certainly the US.

Gary: Yeah, it could be all the Americas, for all I know. But it’s very close to the town of Taos. If you’re in New Mexico, I was literally able to park my car, just walk there. And like I say, from a World Heritage perspective, it’s unique for the world. I can’t think of many other things that are like Taos Pueblo.

Chris: Yeah, I think you’d have to go to some of the monasteries in terms of continuously inhabited in Europe.

Gary: Something like [inaudible 24:58] or something. And even then, you can only visit if you are a man. That’s the only other thing. The third one in New Mexico is Carlsbad Caverns. There are three national parks in the United States that are caves. I should say three things with a national park designation: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. And I think Carlsbad is far and away the best cave. The stalactites you see inside, most impressive. They let you bring a tripod, which is no small thing for cave photography. I mean, you need a tripod. I did it in Wind Cave but I had to pay money to have a ranger come with me for an hour and walk around as I took photos.

But Carlsbad is great, again it is one of the older parks. And there’s a whole network of caves that people can’t go into next to Carlsbad that go on for well over a hundred miles.

Chris: You mention the difference between those three. I’ve been in just one of those, which is Mammoth Cave, and I expected it to be more like what I had seen in Carlsbad. And so I was surprised that it didn’t have all the stalactites and stalagmites.

Gary: We can talk about that right now, because Mammoth Cave is also a World Heritage Site.

Chris: Okay, we’ll jump a little further east this time.

Gary: Yeah, we’ll just jump over there. It is the longest cave system in the world. But you’re right, from a visitation standpoint, it isn’t as impressive as Carlsbad, because it’s very smooth. It was created in a very different way. So, there’s only a couple of different places where you’re going to see stalactites and stalagmites. Otherwise, it’s big, geologically interesting and important, but not necessarily the greatest thing to visit. I remember when I went there, I, one: they do not allow you to bring tripods, so good luck with that. But trying to take a photo, where there’s no light, I mean, it is very difficult to do.

Chris: I thought it was worth visiting, but I would just go knowing what it is, knowing that it’s not Carlsbad.

Gary: And it’s one of the few World Heritage Sites that the United States has in the middle of the country. To be honest, there’s just not that many of them. The next one, we’ll go back over a little bit, is one of the most important places in the US that most Americans have no idea exists. It’s Cahokia Mounds State Park in Illinois. The reason why it’s important, it’s very close to St. Louis. Basically, from the park, you can see the St. Louis Arch. It’s that close. So it’s very close to the banks of the Mississippi, and at one point, this was the largest settlement north of Mexico in the Americas.

It had a population, they estimate, between 40,000 to 50,000 people. When you visit today, there’s not a whole lot there. There’s basically mounds of dirt, and that’s it. And they’ve recreated some of the wooden fences that they believe existed and defined some of the area, but that’s it. So from a strict visitation standpoint, again, it’s not the most interesting, but from a historic standpoint and an archeological standpoint, it is actually one of the most important spots in the United States.

Unless you’re a nerd about this, like I am, probably not a place that you’d want to go out of your way to visit, but if you’re in St. Louis, I would definitely think it’s worth a trip over.

Chris: I think I’m maybe a nerd about this the way you are.

Gary: Well, there you go. We’ll go to St. Louis. The next is one of the newer ones. This was created in 2014, the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point in Louisiana. Like Cohokia, it’s basically on a river. It dates back very far. I think they estimate they’ve found artifacts going back 6,000 years. And it is a series of semicircles of raised earth that you can still see, and it’s easier to see from the air, and one very large mound. They’ve dug up quite a bit. Again, it was a very important settlement for thousands of years. But if you go there today, you’re going to see some dirt hills.

Chris: And are these burial mounds?

Gary: No, they were not burial mounds. They believe people lived on the mounds, and it was kind of used to simply organize the community. In fact, I think they said they dug into the mounds, and they haven’t found anything. So, it was not used for burials. And again, this is in northeastern Louisiana. It’s a State Park. It gets very few visitors. I was there earlier this year, just because, again, I’m a nerd for these things, and I think there was one other car there. That was about it. Again, interesting, but from a visitation standpoint, not great.

So the next park is America’s newest World Heritage Site. It was just put on the list this summer, and that is the San Antonio Missions. And most people are probably familiar with the Alamo, which is the best known and most historic one, but the San Antonio Missions actually include five missions, four other ones in addition to the Alamo. The Alamo is actually owned by the Daughters of the Texas Revolution, and then the other four are part of a National Parks Service Site. It’s Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Concepcion, and Mission Espada. They are all actually pretty easy to visit. There is a road that connects them all called Mission Road, I think it’s Mission Road or Mission Drive. They’re about two or three miles apart from each other. If you have a rental car, it’s pretty easy to visit them.

Chris: And as I recall from what you were saying, while the Alamo is the most significant for US history in terms of what we know, the others were more spectacular, more interesting.

Gary: Yes, especially Mission San Jose, is where the actual park headquarters is. They still have the entire courtyard, the entire walls of the mission. It’s all still there. The Alamo is literally in the middle of San Antonio. It’s right downtown. There’s not a whole lot there anymore. You can’t get a feel for the scope of the entire mission, where you can for the other sites. So, I don’t say you shouldn’t go to the Alamo. The Alamo is the largest tourist attraction in Texas.

Chris: Among things we should not do in Texas is forget the Alamo.

Gary: No, or mess with Texas. But right across the street, there’s like two Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums, a Guinness Book of World Records museum, all of the most cliched tourist things in the world are at the Alamo. And I was working with the people in the San Antonio tourism for my visit, and an interesting fact, one of the largest collectors of Texas memorabilia in the world is the musician Phil Collins. Weird, he’s English, but Genesis was on tour once and he had a day off in San Antonio, and he went to the Alamo and became a fan. And he started collecting stuff. So he recently donated his collection of Texas artifacts to the State of Texas. It’s going to go on display near the Alamo along with some other things. So, there you go.

Chris: I would not have expected that.

Gary: No. So now, let’s go east to the most popular national park in the United States. Any guess which one it is?

Chris: Smokey Mountain National Park.

Gary: Yes, Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Chris: I knew I was missing a word there. That was my problem.

Gary: In North Carolina, Tennessee. The reason it’s the most popular is because basically there is a parkway that goes through it. So you get a lot of people driving over the mountains and going through the park. But it is still a very significant national park. Arguably, I would say, one of the top three national parks in the eastern United States, if not the most significant park.

Chris: Top three in terms of…

Gary: Oh, just in terms of impressiveness.

Chris: Oh, okay.

Gary: I would put it maybe with the Everglades and Acadia National Park in Maine.

Chris: I would’ve guessed Acadia, but I didn’t know what your third one was.

Gary: There’s like hot springs and other things like that in Cuyahoga Valley I recently visited, and I think a lot of that was basically so that they could have national parks in the east, whereas the Great Smokey Mountains is a park, there’s no doubt in your mind. But there’s also a lot of interesting history in the park, so you can find homesteads and farms and churches, and a lot of things dating back to and before the civil war. So it’s something else to pay attention to as well.

And I was there, I have some great photos of the Great Smokey Mountains. And it’s easy to see how it got its name because of the low hanging clouds. I have some photos of that that I really treasure. I saw it from the North Carolina side.

And we can go down and talk about the next one. Florida’s World Heritage, which is the Everglades. It’s not a swamp, as most people think. It is actually a river, an extremely slow moving river.

Chris: I did not know that.

Gary: It’s a slow moving river. And if you look at, say Google Earth, and you look at the city of Miami, it ends really, there is just a sharp line where there is city, and then there is no city, and it’s the Everglades. It is the only World Heritage Site in America which is listed as endangered because of the urban encroachment and a lot of other issues. There’s nothing else quite like it. If you visit Miami, very, very easy to visit the Everglades, as Miami borders the Everglades. One of two national parks that it borders. You can do fan boat trips, and you will see alligators. If you stop at one of the visitors centers for the national park, it is very easy to see small alligators on the sidewalk or sitting next to it. So, it’s a very fun place to visit, and a very unique place to visit, which I think is the reason it was declared a World Heritage Site because I’ve been to a lot of parks around the world, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the Everglades.

Chris: We’ve done a whole show on the Everglades and the area, by the way, if you go back in the archives. Did you get out on one of the boats in the Everglades or just head from land?

Gary: I definitely would highly recommend doing a fan boat tour. And bring your camera with you, bring a nice lens, because you’ll probably see a lot of interesting birds, as well as alligators and things like that.

Chris: Excellent.

Gary: Alright, let’s go down to Puerto Rico. This is one that’s in a US territory. This is basically old San Juan. So, the San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico. A lot of people, if you ask them what is the oldest city in the United States, a lot of them will say St. Augustine, Florida.

Chris: Sure, I’d say that.

Gary: But technically, it’s San Juan. San Juan is actually, I think, the second oldest city in the western hemisphere after Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. So, a lot of history there, Spanish history, some of the oldest buildings you’ll see in the United States. This is the most European of the American World Heritage Sites.

You’ll go to Rome, and all of Rome is basically a World Heritage Site, all of Paris. There’s a lot of places like this where they dump it all together, because if they tried doing it all individually, there’d be, like, 20. And so they do that with San Juan, and you just have a lot of the old buildings and churches and the fortification and the fort and everything else. It’s all just a big World Heritage Site.

Coming into the home stretch, we’ve got three more. We’re in the northeast of the US now. Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is a World Heritage Site.

Chris: That seems like an interesting choice.

Gary: I think it has more to do with architecture, not necessarily Thomas Jefferson. It is a reflection of Thomas Jefferson insofar as he was the architect for it. I think it was more of a preserving that particular type of architecture, and that kind of colonial buildings that you don’t really see anywhere else. An interesting aside, Mt. Vernon is on the tentative list to become a World Heritage Site in the future, and it has nothing to do with George Washington. What it has to do with the fact is that, because George Washington owned it, it was preserved and it’s one of the last plantations that’s left, and it’s the best preserved.

Chris: From the colonial era.

Gary: It’s not a recognition of George Washington, the fact that George Washington owned it meant that it’s now the best preserved. And I think that a lot of that is also true with the Jefferson aspect here. The University of Virginia part of it, I mean, it’s just easier to go to Monticello to be honest, but if you’re and academic or something and you’re going to be visiting that area anyhow, then I would actually, and I don’t know the answer to this, there are certain buildings in the University of Virginia which are included. So, it’s not like you just go on campus and the brand new student union is a World Heritage Site. There’s certain ones that are listed, and you have to go and actually check to see which ones are. And I don’t know off the top of my head.

Chris: Interesting. And you are fairly close to D.C. at that place, so you’re not that far away, if you’re going to the nation’s capital. It’s not that many hours to get down there to Monticello.

Gary: Right, and there’s loads to do there. So our penultimate one is Independence Hall in Philadelphia. If you’re in Philadelphia, very easy place to visit. It’s in the middle of the city, and it was chosen basically for the reasons you might think, the Declaration of Independence and its role in creating democracy. We were the first country to break free that was a former colony. If you look at the history of the world, that was kind of the initial seed of something which then became a very big deal, especially after World War II, after more countries became independent.

And last, but certainly not least, and perhaps the most obvious one, is the Statue of Liberty in New York. Not Ellis Island, though, just the Statue of Liberty. I think there’s been the debate as to what qualifies as a visit to the Statue of Liberty: if you take the Staten Island Ferry and just kind of drive by doesn’t really count.

Those are the 23 World Heritage Sites in the United States. And I suppose it’s probably worth noting to go over some of the sites on the tentative list, because some of these will be coming up for a vote in the next few years, depending on when people are going to be listening to this. Next year, the United States is going to be nominating the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chris: Wow, that would be quite spread out then.

Gary: Yes, it’ll be by far the most spread out serial site in the United States. And just of the top of my head, there’s one site in San Francisco, there’s two buildings in Chicago or in the Chicago area. There are three in Wisconsin: Taliesin, a building in Madison, and the Johnson Wax building, or the SC Johnson building in Racine, Falling Water in Pennsylvania. The Guggenheim in New York, which I am guessing how most people will claim to have visited the site, and there might be a couple of other ones.

Chris: I’m surprised that Phoenix and the Frank Lloyd Wright…

Gary: I think that might be on the list, too, not positive. Here are some of the other ones, just to give you an idea of what’s being thought of: Mt. Vernon, as I mentioned, the Dayton Aviation Site, so things dealing with the history of aviation, the Wright Brothers, the Copal Ceremonial Earthworks, Serpent Mounds in Ohio, I’m going to butcher the pronunciation, the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, that’s in American Samoa, The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, so it would be a swamp. To the best of my knowledge, there is no swamp that is a World Heritage Site anywhere in the world. Petrified Forest National Park and White Sands National Monument.

I should say also, the Civil Rights Monument sites. I think those are primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, but I don’t know what the status of those are yet. But I know the Frank Lloyd Wright will be the next one, probably in 2016.

Chris: Excellent. Of the ones that are not obvious, what was your favorite?

Gary: I think the history behind Cahokia Mounds is really interesting, and it’s something that most Americans don’t know anything about. From a visitation standpoint, kind of a dud, just to be honest. The thing with naming these is that it is like the most obvious best of list of a lot of national parks. In New Mexico, if we go down to Carlsbad Caverns, I know that is a draw for some people, but I don’t think Carlsbad Caverns is as big as it used to be, in terms of people going on a road trip. And also, Chaco Culture, which, again, most people they’ve never heard of it. And it’s this entire civilization that existed in the middle of New Mexico and very few people ever bother to get out of the park.

Chris: I think we’ve actually talked about almost all of these on various and sundry episodes that we’ve done, but it just seemed like a good idea to have one that kind of combined them, just as a way of referencing that this is something you might be interested in knowing a little more about. You are known for your photography, Gary, the prettiest one?

Gary: I will go with either Yosemite or Olympic National Park. Olympic National Park can be really beautiful when you’re in some of that rainforest area.

Chris: Very vivid green is my recollection of it.

Gary: The other national park I found very difficult to photograph, because the trees were so big, you can’t really get the scale for them. You can get the trunks of the tree as they are on the ground. But to truly show how massive these trees are in a photo is not easy to do. Because you back up far enough away and you can’t see the tree anymore, because there’s more trees. So it was very challenging.

Chris: Excellent. So now you have finished your quest to visit almost all, if we don’t count Midway and getting there sometime in the future, what’s your next quest? You said the national parks, and this isn’t the whole national parks system, just things designated national park.

Gary: Right, so there are 104 sites, between the United States and Canada, with a national park designation. As I’m talking to you, I’m in New Brunswick, and I just visited two sites in New Brunswick and one in PEI, and I’ll be going up to Northern Labrador. And that will be my 52nd one, so I’ll be exactly halfway through my quest to visit all the national parks.

Chris: Excellent. Well, Gary, where can people, I was going to say read more about your travels, but also see some of your wonderful pictures of these places?

Gary: If you go to Everything-Everywhere.com, you will find all of my stuff as well as links to all the social media. I have a very active Instagram account, and, like you mentioned at the start of the show, I have a brand new podcast called the Global Travel Conspiracy. And there is this little thing I occasionally do called This Week In Travel, with a couple other people. And you can also listen to us there, too.

Chris: I don’t want you to be confused by the title. It’s not Every Week In Travel, as we talked about on the show. It is simply This Week In Travel, whenever we finally get the band together and get a chance to record it. Probably every two or three weeks, I would say is more reality. Well, Gary, thanks so much for coming back on the Amateur Traveler. I know this is part of your quest to be one of the most popular and most frequent guests on Amateur Traveler. Where does this put your count, now?

Gary: Oh, man, I’d have to check. Like eight or nine? I know you’ve got the record on my show.

Chris: That’s true. I’m tied for the record on your show. And usually Gary is talking about much smaller places, so we occasionally give him one of these overarching things instead of just talking about things like Andora on Amateur Traveler, or the Federated States of Micronesia. Thanks so much for coming back on the Amateur Traveler.

Gary: Thanks for having me.

Chris: I’m going to skip the news of the community this time. We’re pretty well caught up on the emails that I’ve gotten, and I’m trying to get this episode finished up so my wife and I can go away this weekend. So with that, if you have any questions send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode on amateurtraveler.com. The transcript of this episode will come out in a couple months, and that’s sponsored by Jayway Travel, experts in Eastern European travel. We are actually using them to plan our trip to Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia that’s coming up here in a month. You can follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, or especially Instagram as chris2x. As always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

3 Responses to “United States UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Episode 480”

Izy Berry


This it is beautiful

Niefia Zupancic


I’ve tried multiple times to listen to this podcasts – shuts off after 10 seconds – is this link broken???



Hmmm, seems to be working for Niefia. You might try downloading it or bringing it up on a smart phone if you have one.

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