This are distinctive, prominent, and instantly recognizable USA national park landmarks.
Angels don’t need windows, but if they ever wanted to frame a great view, they might choose the North Rim’s Cape Royal (above) and its noble companion parapet in Arizona. Thrust far above the immense luminous space of the canyon, this natural arch overlooks the big bend where the canyon turns west, carving ever deeper into the heart of the Kaibab Plateau.
Like all good landmarks, Half Dome is an eye magnet. It towers over the other grand monoliths of Yosemite Valley and demands attention. The others in the pantheon, including El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, and Cathedral Spires, are no less illustrious; however, there’s something special about Half Dome.>
The mountain sprawls across the Alaska tundra like half a planet, gleaming white and broad shouldered. How big is it really? It’s hard to tell by looking. And one can read the facts, and accept them, and still not know the measure of the place. Alaska natives expressed their awe with a single word, Denali, which means “the high one.”
Grand Teton, the central crag of the Teton Range, scrapes the clouds nearly 7,000 feet above the Wyoming valley floor. Then consider the other mighty crags surrounding the 13,770-foot peak. Together they compose a formidable alpine stronghold of snow, rock, and ice, a seemingly untouchable and remote world.
Now you see it, now you don’t. Mount Rainier, true to its name, disappears behind cloud banks, stays hidden for days and weeks at a time, and reappears in most dramatic fashion. Sometimes, it floats above the clouds, visible only to mountaineers on its glacier-decked slopes and to thrilled passengers of flights climbing south from Seattle.
This landmark is the opposite of a high prominence, but to American immigrants in the late 1700s, it was an extremely important geographic feature. Settlement of the bluegrass region of Kentucky was held up for decades by Native American tribes, who prized it as a hunting territory, and also by the physical barrier of the Cumberland mountains.
Days could get long for immigrants headed to Utah, Oregon, and California. Starting at Independence, Missouri, where wagon trains formed up so people could travel together, trundling toward the sunset at the pace of a walking ox, settlers entered a world more open than most could imagine: no trees, little water, and grass that grew thinner as the miles went by.
As a landform, it seems almost impossible. From the relatively flat surrounding land, the treestump-like tower’s sides form smooth upward arcs, drawing our thoughts to the sky. The summit, hovering 1,267 feet above Wyoming’s Belle Fourche River, is flat, not visible from below, and therefore mysterious.
One pleasure of being in the red rocks of Utah is how intimate the landscape can be. Narrow canyons, room-size alcoves, little rounded peaks, streams you can step across, waterfalls and pools sized for a single person. Or two. The opposite pleasure is to get far above it all, up in the wind and weather, where the view is limited only by the arc of the Earth.
Whether, in the days of its use, anyone viewed the Bering Land Bridge as a landmark is doubtful. It wasn’t a bridge at all but rather a 1,000-mile-wide connector between Asia and North America. Sea level fell when Ice Age glaciers took up vast quantities of water and rose when those glaciers melted.