Unfortunately, Native American history in the United States is often eclipsed by European history and culture. Thankfully—for those who care to look—every corner of the United States features landscapes that were cultivated by Native Americans, monuments to Native American civilizations, and traces of robust ancient Native American culture. If you’re curious about the first human beings who lived and thrived in North America—there are countless places to learn about America’s indigenous peoples.
RUSSELL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT, ALABAMA
Located near the small town of Bridgeport in northeast Alabama, Russell Cave has offered warmth and shelter to various indigenous peoples for over 12,000 years. Arrowheads, turkey and deer bones, and the charred remains of fire pits suggest that many different groups of Native Americans have utilized Russell Cave through the ages. Russell Cave National Monument offers tours of the interior of the cave, during which rangers demonstrate how Native Americans used various tools and developed techniques to survive the harsh elements during the colder months. Russell Cave National Monument is surrounded by bountiful forests teeming with deer, and distinctive limestone rock.
SITKA NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, ALASKA
Sitka National Historical Park in Alaska features ornate carved totem poles which have been collected through the years from various Native American tribes around Alaska. Totem poles tell tribal stories, pay homage to deceased tribe members, and serve as a reminder of important historical events. The K’alyaan Totem Pole serves as a solemn reminder of an 1804 battle that took place on the land which is now Sitka National Historical Park between Russian forces and the Tlingit Kiks.adi Native Americans. The Russians were victorious, but the Tlingit still celebrate the brave warrior K’alyaan who fearlessly led the Kiks.adi into battle.
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
Many people consider Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to be one of the great wonders of the world. Mesa Verde is home to an exquisitely preserved network of cliff dwellings that cause modern architects to gaze in wonder and speculate about how such a towering marvel could have been built with primitive technology. Mesa Verde was inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans for centuries, until a mysterious set of circumstances that archeologists have never fully understood caused them to migrate south. There are few things more captivating than spending an afternoon considering how such a robust civilization thrived for centuries in a harsh, arid climate. After you spend a few days hiking around bone dry Mesa Verde, the Ancestral Puebloans will have your undying respect.
KNIFE RIVER INDIAN VILLAGES NATIONAL HISTORICAL SITE, NORTH DAKOTA
Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site was once home to a thriving community of Hidatsa Native Americans who hunted buffalo, fished in the Knife River, and operated a booming trading center that served Native Americans and European settlers alike. The Hidatsa lived in earth lodges with rounded roofs. The Hidatsa considered the earth lodges living beings with a spirit that must be honored. There is a great deal of written documentation about life surrounding Knife River, so historians have a wealth of knowledge about the daily lives of the Hidatsa peoples.
ORGAN MOUNTAINS-DESERT PEAKS NATIONAL MONUMENT, NEW MEXICO
Multiple Native American Tribes—including the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Fort Sill Apache—worked tirelessly to ensure that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will receive unwavering federal protection for generations to come. The dramatic Organ Mountains have served as a sacred space for multiple Native American tribes for centuries. Petroglyphs depicting animals and people line the rocks, and countless Native American artifacts have been unearthed in the shadow of the Organ Mountains. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is also home to a cave where celebrated Apache warrior Geronimo is rumored to have successfully hid from the United States army when they were mercilessly trying to evict the Apache peoples from their tribal lands.
POVERTY POINT NATIONAL MONUMENT, LOUISIANA
Despite receiving extensive attention from archaeologists and historians in recent decades, there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding Poverty Point. Poverty Point National Monument features a series of earthwork mounds that were meticulously constructed by a group of Native Americans who lived in what we now call Louisiana thousands of years ago. Nobody really knows if the earthwork mounds were used for ceremonial, religious, or commercial purposes. Archeologists are in awe of the design and the manpower that the Poverty Point peoples used to construct the earthwork mounds. It is important to note that the name Poverty Point originates from a plantation that was located near the mounds. There were no Native Americans who referred to themselves as the Poverty Point peoples.
BERING LAND BRIDGE NATIONAL PRESERVE, ALASKA
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is one of the most important spots in human history. Although there is not a scientific consensus, many scientists believe that human beings first set foot in North America by crossing the Bering Land Bridge from Asia over 10,000 years ago. Though most of the Bering Land Bridge is currently underwater, a very beautiful and rugged portion of the bridge is still visible today in the western reaches of Alaska. The area surrounding the Bering Land Bridge is still home to multiple tribes of Native Americans who live in harmony with the land, including the Inupiat. A visit to the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve offers plenty of opportunities to learn about Alaska’s rich Native American history.
LAVA BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT, CALIFORNIA
Aside from being a geological wonder that is home to some of the most distinctive lava beds in North America, Lava Beds National Monument also features some of the most captivating petroglyphs in the West. Over 6,000 years ago, Native Americans who are related to the Modoc peoples carved a winding mural into a rockface. Geologists have determined that the area surrounding the petroglyphs was submerged underwater at the time when the mural was carved. The Native Americans who created the mural were dedicated enough to travel by boat in order to immortalize their life and times in stone.