The Park You Cannot Visit

On August 2, 2011 · 5 Comments

The U.S. National Park Service currently has 394 units, with one more arriving soon. These include all manner of parks, monuments, historic sites, battlefields, seashores, recreation areas, trails and various other interesting designations. Each one is a beloved national treasure whether famous like Yellowstone National Park or more obscure such as Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.

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One site, however, cannot be visited. Even though it’s located within a major metropolitan area with more than four million residents, you cannot go there. You can touch it ever so briefly but you can never truly experience it legally. Tourists are strictly prohibited. The site is the Hohokam Pima National Monument on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona.

This National Monument was established to protect Snaketown, an ancient village of the pre-Columbian Hohokam people who once inhabited a swath of the desert southwest. It is believed that they settled Snaketown sometime around 2,300 year ago, and abondoned it for unknown reasons (possibly drought) about 900 years ago. It was a large cultural center with a couple of thousand residents, intensive agricultural cultivation and a large system of irrigation canals. Archaeologists excavated Snaketown in the 1930’s and again in the 1960’s. When done, they completely reburied the site to preserve it for future generations.

Hohokam Pima National Monument falls within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Community. According to the National Park Service, "The Gila River Indian Community has decided not to open the extremely sensitive area to the public." This is as close as you can get to Snaketown without permission:

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Is it really closed? Yes, that’s true in a general sense, but thousands of people travel through the National Monument every day and probably never realize it.

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That’s because, in spite of the site’s sensitivity, Interstate 10 cuts through a corner of it. I guess "visit" depends on whether one considers a 30-second drive sufficient or not. In full disclosure, I’ve visited counties for less time and counted them, although I think that’s a bit different than experiencing a National Park Service unit.

People who collect parkstamps wouldn’t consider a freeway jaunt sufficient. No, they would insist upon on official National Park Passport Stamp to complete the deal and no stamp exists for Hohokam Pima.

12MC reader "Scott" mentioned these passports to me and I gave them a brief shout-out in one of the recent Utah articles. Scott also provide me with lots of National Park trivia that I will use in future articles.

I asked Scott if I could talk a little about the National Park Travelers Club‘s 9th Annual Convention and he said that would be fine. These are people who collect parkstamps avidly as a hobby, which is something I can understand completely with my somewhat-related desire to count counties.

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC area on Saturday, August 6th between 9:30 am and 5:00 pm, and you’re curious about parkstamps, then stop by the Columbia Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Capitol, 550 C Street SW, Washington, DC, for the Annual Convention. It is free to attend! I am seriously considering attending myself if I can work it into my schedule even though my stamp collection now stands at only 2.

This is a "big deal" year, the 25th anniversary of the creation of official stamps managed by the Eastern National organization. There are currently over 2,000 of these cancellation stamps in existence. As an added enticement, there will be an official park passport stamp available at the convention to commemorate the event but only for that one day. It would be a great, extremely rare stamp to jump-start one’s collection.

I am sure Scott will answer any comments you may have below if you would like further information. Likewise I’d be glad to provide contact information for Scott if you’d prefer to send him a message offline.


On August 2, 2011 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “The Park You Cannot Visit”

  1. Peter says:

    As the government designated the area as a National Monument solely to preserve it, and there’s nothing visible above ground, there seems to be no point in keeping it so designated. The Indian tribe can do just as good a job of preserving the ruins.

  2. Richard says:

    It would appear as if there is a surface road running through the “national monument” as well– Goodyear Rd. There’s no indication that’s not open to general traffic. I know there had been some talk of a EN stamp kept at a Gila River cultural facility, but it is possible that facility is no longer in existence. The fact is that in an administrative sense, the “monument” is run from Casa Grande, where a stamp, if one where to be kept, would reside. It would not be the first place in the system where there is no onsite NPS presence and nothing “above ground” per se– though admittedly there are recreation possibilities in such places and the NPS has an active management role (not the case at Hohokam Pima). If I had to guess, and this is just a guess, the federal designation operates as a backstop. It is true that the “tribal” role in preserving that site is sufficient, but the federal designation prevents anything untoward from happening to the land (prospecting, resource extraction) that might happen with or without Gila River involvement.

  3. Peter says:

    Access to Kalaupapa NHP in Hawaii, the former leper colony, is highly restricted.

  4. Scott says:

    Kalaupapa is one of the more difficult ones to visit — you must be 16 years old, by health department rules, and then either hike or mule down a 1500 foot cliff, or fly in to LUP airport, on one of the shortest scheduled commercial flights (MKK-LUP).

    There is no stamp for Hohokam, and no future plans to make one. Personally, I would prefer to see that site delisted from the National Park Service units, since I will not count it unless I actually get out to Snaketown.

    Not sure if any readers of this blog attended the NPTC convention this past weekend, but at the convention, next year’s site and dates were announced. You can watch the 3.5 minute preview video here:

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