America's Oldest Places
People may erroneously believe that America's history begins with the 18th-century Revolutionary War, or just prior, stretching further back to the Pilgrims settling Plymouth Colony in the early 17th century. While those eras do mark some of the earliest and most climactic moments in American history, many folks are unaware that a number of older, even prehistoric, civilizations thrived on our land well before those early settlers arrived -- we're talking some 900 years prior. Here, we've dug deep into North America's past to unearth some of America's oldest places, which can still be visited today.
Archeological excavations have shown that their town was quite sophisticated, with some 500 thatched-roof homes built to surround a number of plazas. Other finds indicate that a number of flat-topped temples and burial mounds, religious symbols discovered on pottery, copper and stones, provide evidence of occasional human sacrifices. The historic site is located in southern Illinois, and features an interpretive center, guided tours and educational programs.
A steep path leads to the cave, and can be reached on foot; visitors can peer into the small and shallow sandstone cave and see the abstract drawings covering the walls. Folks looking to document the drawings up close may be disappointed: The cave entrance is protected by an iron grill and flash photography is prohibited. Still, visitors are able to clearly see and film or photograph (without flash!) the paintings from this vantage point, particularly with the help of a flashlight.
Three villages comprise the pueblo: Sky City (Old Acoma), Acomita and McCartys. Guided tours of Old Acoma depart from the Sky City Cultural Center. Plan to spend time in the cultural center and Haak'u Museum, where visitors can watch films about the history and culture of Acoma, as well as purchase traditional pottery. You'll be in luck if you've worked up an appetite on your tour: The center's cafe dishes up tasty traditional fare, like green chile stew and fry bread.
Many of the historic buildings and spaces still stand and can be visited, including the Plaza de la Constitucion, the historic city gate and the Castillo de San Marcos, built in 1672. It is also possible to see the spot where Aviles is believed to have come ashore, near the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, just north of the Castillo de San Marcos. For an overview of historic St. Augustine, consider joining one of the city's many tours, such as the Old Town Trolley historic tours.
Today, Santa Fe also lays claim to having the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, as well as the oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, which began in 1712. Today, visitors can explore most of the historic city on foot, meandering through winding streets lined with unique, adobe-style buildings, art galleries and boutique shops, as well as museums and historic sites.