Map of the Month: March 2024

Published March 8, 2024
Updated March 28, 2024

The United States National Park Service (NPS) currently administers 63 National Parks and 85 National Monuments, among the astonishing 423 total areas managed by the agency. That scope wasn’t always so large. In the years after its 1916 inception, the NPS oversaw only a small fraction of the national park and monument units that it oversees today.  

This month, we’re showcasing this early form of the National Park Service with a map titled National Parks and Monuments in the United States. The map is undated.

A map of the continental United States with Alaska and Puerto Rico shown in insets in the bottom left corner. National Parks and monuments that have been established are highlighted in red, with national forests in green.
The National Parks and Monuments System, shortly after the NPS was established.

It’s not terribly uncommon to encounter an undated map here at the Map and Geospatial Hub. In these cases, we typically scrutinize the geographical information on the map to determine, at least roughly, when the map was published, at least within a couple years or so. 

As I began to study the map, I found myself headed deeper and deeper into a bit of a rabbit hole of sorts. There are inconsistencies between the parks and monuments listed on the map with and the well-documented official dates of those units’ founding or renaming.

The first step to reconciling these discrepancies is typically to establish a definitive date associated with the appearance of one or more map features. In this case, I noted the presence of the Grand Canyon and Mukuntuweap (now known as Zion) National Monuments.

A zoomed in image of the Map focused on the Arizona-Utah border showing the Grand Canyon National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Navajo National Monument, and Mukuntuweap National Monument. Mukuntuweap National Monument is now Zion National Park.
Mukuntuweap National Monument (Now Zion National Park) and Grand Canyon National Monument. Additional Monuments can also be seen.

The Grand Canyon was first designated as the Grand Canyon “Game Preserve” by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Designation as a National Monument came two years later, in 1908. Grand Canyon wouldn’t gain status as a National Park until February of 1919 with the passage and signing of the Grand Canyon National Park Act. 

Separately, just north of the Grand Canyon in southwest Utah, we find Mukuntuweap National Monument. Mukuntuweap was renamed to Zion in March of 1918. The presence of these two units on the map, Grand Canyon and Mukutuweap, puts our date somewhere prior to March 1918. 

A zoomed-in portion of the map focused on central Arizona, showing the short-lived Papago Saguaro National Monument that would become Papago Park in the upper center, Tonto National Monument in the upper right, and Casa Grande Ruin National Monument in the lower center-right.
The short-lived Papago Saguaro National Monument is now known as Papago Park.

As we move to other features on the map, we see Casa Grande Ruin National Monument in south-central Arizona, established in August 1918. But, recall that, based on the features described above, the map appeared to be published before March 1918. Our investigation is now less clear cut than we thought.  

If the map was published after Casa Grande Ruin was established, Mukuntuweap should then be labeled as Zion. To further complicate matters, the Capulin Volcano National Monument, located in northeastern New Mexico and established in 1916, is missing from the map entirely. There are also two National Parks missing: Hawai’i Volcanoes, founded in 1916, and Denali National Park, established in 1917.

The state of Arkansas from the Map, showing the location of Hot Springs Reservation National Park in the southern central portion of the state.
‘Hot Springs Reservation National Park’, not ‘Hot Springs National Park’

To make matters even more contradictory and confusing, the map also includes a feature for Hot Springs Res. National Park in Arkansas. That’s another anachronism, as this unit officially became a national park in 1921 — three years after our supposed date of 1918. The reality is that the federal government designated the area as “Hot Springs Reservation” in 1832, far before the 1916 creation of the NPS.

However, in 1916, the reservation fell under the administration of the NPS. That likely explains why it’s listed as a National Park on this map. This, aside from the inconsistencies listed above, point to a general publication time of late 1918! It’s entirely possible the author simply wasn’t aware of those parks and monuments, though the true explanation will likely never be fully known.

Screenshot of the 1918 National Parks and Monuments Online Web App showing a digitized version with information on Grand Canyon National Park shown.
The Map and Geospatial Hub also hosts a digitized version of this map in an interactive application.

If you are interested in seeing more of this map you can view it online in a dedicated web mapping application hosted on ASU Geodata. In that web map, this digitized national park map has been overlaid across a modern map of the world, spatially referencing it to ground the data to real world locations. The info on the map has been digitized and expanded on, providing more insight into the park units and comparing it to the modern NPS system. 

If you’d like to get a scan of this map, please submit a Map/Geo Service Request and we’ll be sure to get back to you within two business days, but typically sooner. As always, we hope you enjoyed this map showcase and hope you look forward to next month!

    -Eric Friesenhahn, Map and GIS Specialist