World class

During my 10 days in Portugal last month, there were times when my pal Ed would say, as we piled into the car, “All right, where we’re headed today is another UNESCO site.” I wasn’t familiar with the term. The first couple of times I replied, “Oh, really? Nice,” in a vague, clueless way. The third time, I fessed up. “OK, man, what the hell is a UNESCO site?”

As it turns out, UNESCO is the acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Its main function is to find the greatest examples of natural splendor and human achievements on this planet and then designate them as such. A special emphasis is placed upon significant archeological sites as well. To be named a UNESCO site, a place or building of interest must meet at least one of 10 criteria. I don’t have room to go into each of those here, but it’s sufficient to say that for something to be named a UNESCO site, it must be, in some way or another, downright cool. That makes the resulting UNESCO roster one of the best indicators of “World Class Stuff” in existence.

Upon getting back to the States, I was curious to see which places here qualified for UNESCO status. It was easy enough to get this info at the website, where one learns there are 830 properties in 138 countries which the World Heritage Committee, the ultimate arbiter of all things “UNESCAN,” considers to have “outstanding universal value.” Nineteen of those are here in the United States.

Right off the top, you got slam dunk no-brainers of unique natural awesumitude from 12 of our national parks: Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Redwood, Mammoth Cave, Olympic, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Hawaii Volcanoes, Carlsbad Caverns, Glacier, and the complex of parks at Glacier Bay, Alaska.

There are four sites of Native American origin: (1) The ruins of Chaco Canyon, N.M., “remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings and its distinctive architecture, with an ancient urban ceremonial center that is unlike anything constructed before or since.” (2) The still functioning and still amazing Pueblo de Taos, N.M., (3) Cahokia Mounds, just north of St. Louis, “the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico … covering nearly 1,600 hectares and including at least 120 mounds.” (4) The sprawling and wondrous complex of Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

That’s leaves three sites made by European settlers: (1) Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where two of Earth’s Greatest Documents, the Constitution and the DOI, were signed, (2) Monticello and the University of Virginia, honored here so as to give world-class props to the architectural aspirations of a certain Mr. Jefferson, and (3) The Statue of Liberty, the “towering monument” that was a gift from France “on the centenary of American Independence in 1886.”