39¢ Wonders of America
Issue Date: May 27, 2006
City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 204,000,000
Printed by: Avery Dennison
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforation: Serpentine die cut 10 ¾
The U.S.P.S. chose forty American natural and man-made superlatives - the tallest, the loudest, the oldest, the longest, the deepest, the largest, the windiest, the hottest, the fastest - to create a colorful set of stamps.
American Alligator The largest American reptile, the adult alligator can reach up to 18 feet in length and can weigh 600 pounds. They can live 35 to 50 years in the wild. Alligators feed mainly on fish, small mammals, and birds. Large males sometimes attack dogs, pigs, or even cattle, but usually avoid man. Once hunted extensively for their hides, alligators were given protected status from 1967 to 1987 and have made an excellent recovery.
Moloka’i Cliffs The northern side of the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i is an almost-continuous towering cliff, reaching to 3,600 feet and intersected by deep valleys. The sea cliffs along the northeastern coast of Moloka’i are the highest in the world.
Saguaro Cactus The largest American cactus, the saguaro, grows in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, Arizona, and California. It can reach close to 60 feet tall and weigh up to 10 tons. Saguaros begin to grow upward-curving arms at about 65 to 75 years old and are considered mature at 125 years old. The largest plants, with more than five arms, are estimated to be 200 years old.
Bering Glacier The Bering Glacier near Cordova, Alaska, is North America’s largest glacier. It is about 126 miles long and about 30 miles wide near its end in Vitus Lake. Large amounts of snow in the region build up and turn into ice. At some point, the ice becomes so thick that it begins to move downhill under the pressure of its own weight. The glacier surges, or moves rapidly, every 20 years or so. These surges are generally followed by periods of retreat, so despite periodic advances, the Bering Glacier has been shrinking overall.
Great Sand Dunes The Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado are the tallest dunes in North America, with crests reaching 750 feet. Creeks carry loose sand from the east and north sides of the dune field and re-deposit it where prevailing winds can carry it back to the dune field. The Ute tribe called the Great Sand Dunes “the land that moves back and forth.”
Chesapeake Bay The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the US. It is almost 200 miles long along the Maryland and Virginia coastline and varies from three to thirty miles wide. Until later in the 20th century, Chesapeake Bay was famous for seafood production, particularly rockfish (striped bass) and shellfish. (Chesepiooc is an Algonquian word meaning “Great Shellfish Bay.”) The bay still yields more fish and shellfish than any other estuary in the US. With environmental controls and fishing limits, rockfish, once almost extinct, have made a comeback.
Cliff Palace The Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, is the largest cliff dwelling in America. Cliff dwellers built their homes in sandstone canyon walls between 1000 and 1300 A.D. Structures were built several stories high of hand-hewn stone and adobe. Logs and branches were mortared for ceilings. Even after 700 years, the masonry walls are well preserved. The Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas (ceremonial rooms) and held a population of approximately 100 people.
Crater Lake Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States, lies in the heart of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The lake is 1,943 feet at its deepest point. Crater Lake was formed about 6,600 years ago when lava escaped from underneath 12,000-foot-high Mount Mazama. No longer supported by the lava, the top of the mountain collapsed, leaving a huge depression. This bowl-shaped crater gradually filled with melted snow and spring water.
American Bison The American bison is the largest land mammal in North America. Measuring up to 11 feet long, it can weigh more than a ton. Millions once ranged between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. But with the Westward Expansion of white civilization, the bison was slaughtered for meat, hides, and sport. By 1889, only a few hundred could be found. Protective measures allowed the bison to survive and multiply. Today, there are approximately 250,000 in the United States.
Coastal Reef Off the Florida Keys Stretched beside the chain of Florida Key Islands is a ribbon of coral, America’s longest barrier reef. Barrier reefs lie between the water near the shore and the open sea, protecting the mainland. Coral reefs are living organisms created over thousands of years by the limestone deposits of tiny creatures called polyps. Coral reefs need water above 70°F. The reef along the Florida Keys is possible because of the warm flow of the Gulf Stream.
Pacific Crest Trail The Pacific Crest Trail is the nation’s longest designated hiking trail. It follows high crests of the California, Oregon, and Washington mountain ranges from Canada to Mexico. In 2,650 miles, it crosses many national and state forests and parks, using paths made by the Indians, pioneers, trappers, and shepherds. The trail passes through zones ranging from desert to arctic alpine. It rises from about 200 feet at the Columbia River to more than 13,000 feet in the High Sierras.
Gateway Arch The Gateway Arch, designed by architect Eero Saarinen, is America’s tallest man-made monument. It rises 630 feet above the city of St. Louis, Missouri, as a national monument to President Thomas Jefferson and America’s Westward Expansion. Construction of the stainless steel arch began in 1963 and was completed in 1965 for a cost of less than $15 million.
Appalachians The Appalachians are the oldest mountains of North America, formed some 480 million years ago. The major ranges in the Appalachian Mountains include the White, Green, Taconic, Catskill, Berkshire, Allegheny, Blue Ridge, Black, Cumberland, and Smoky Mountains. Large, broad-leaved deciduous forests flourish in the southern Appalachians, and a mix of northern hardwoods and conifers predominate in the north.
American Lotus Growing in lakes, ponds, and streams, the American lotus, or yellow water lily, is the country’s largest flower, up to ten inches across. The flowers and leaves stand above the water’s surface as high as three feet on rigid stems. The center of the flower, the seed pod, is cone-shaped and is used in dried flower arrangements.
Lake Superior The largest of the five Great Lakes, Lake Superior is also the largest body of fresh water in the world. It covers 31,700 square miles, an area the size of South Carolina. Of all the Great Lakes, it is the deepest and coldest, 1,330 feet at its deepest point. About 200 rivers empty into Lake Superior, some forming waterfalls as they plunge over high, stony headlands.
Pronghorn Pronghorn are America’s fastest land animal, running up to 60 miles per hour. They are found only on North America’s western plains and deserts where they have roamed for the last million years. With no cover to hide in, the pronghorn has to be able to outdistance wolves and coyotes. At high speed, it covers the ground in great strides of 14 to 24 feet.
Bristlecone Pines One species of bristlecone pine, the Great Basin bristlecone, lives longer than any other tree. It is found at the timberline in the mountains of California, Nevada, and Utah. Dense, resinous wood and slow growth help keep the trees from drying out and protect the bristlecones from insects, harmful bacteria, and fungi. The oldest living tree when this stamp was issued was a 4,765 year-old bristlecone pine named “Methuselah,” growing in the White Mountains of California.
Yosemite Falls Yosemite Falls is 2,425 feet, the highest waterfall in North America. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite Falls has three distinct sections. From the 1,430-foot sheer drop of the Upper Falls, the water travels through a series of cascades, rapids, and small plunges that stretch for 675 feet. The 320-foot Lower Falls ends in a plunge pool frequented by visitors and nature photographers.
Great Basin The Great Basin is the largest desert in the United States. It includes most of the state of Nevada as well as areas of California, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon. It encompasses nearly 200,000 square miles, making it larger than California. The region is actually formed by a series of basins, surrounded by the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Plateau, and the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The Basin’s deepest depression is Death Valley, which lies 282 feet blow sea level.
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Opened in 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is the longest span in North America. The suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island is 13,700 feet long. The bridge is supported by two 693-foot towers and more than 143,000 miles of cables. The bridge is named for Giovanni da Verrazano, the first European explorer to sail the area.
Mount Washington Mount Washington, the windiest place in America, is located within the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeast at 6,288 feet above sea level. On April 12, 1934, a wind gust of 231 miles per hour was recorded on Mount Washington. That is the maximum wind gust ever recorded on land that was not associated with a tornado or hurricane.
Grand Canyon America’s largest canyon, the majestic Grand Canyon, was carved by the Colorado River over thousands of years. The canyon stretches for 277 miles, is 18 miles across at its widest place, and more than one mile at its deepest. Humans have lived in the canyon for more than 4,000 years. Members of Coronado’s 1540 expedition were the first white men to discover the canyon. Congress declared the area a National Park in 1919.
American Bullfrog The American bullfrog is America’s largest frog. Adults may reach more than six inches in length and weigh up to one pound. They have strong legs capable of leaping up to six feet, teeth, and a muscular tongue. Adult American bullfrogs are fierce predators who prey upon snakes, birds, fish, baby ducks, insects, and even other frogs.
Oroville Dam Oroville Dam is America’s tallest dam. Located in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the dam stands 770 feet tall and measures 6,920 feet long at its crest. The reservoir, Lake Oroville, holds 3.5 million acre-feet of water for densely populated cities in dry southern California. A hydro-electric system housed in a giant underground cavern beneath the lake generates 2.8 billion kilowatt-hours of power annually.
Peregrine Falcon The world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon, has the capacity to dive with speeds up to 200 miles per hour. The bird uses its speed and agility to seize prey in mid-air. Cones in the falcon’s nostrils regulate breathing at high speeds with such efficiency that the design was incorporated in fighter jets. The peregrine falcon was added to the endangered species list in 1970. Conservation efforts allowed the species to be removed from the list in 1999.
Mississippi River Delta America’s largest delta is located at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The Mississippi River Delta covers approximately 11,000 square miles, or about one fourth of the state. The delta was formed over thousands of years. As the Mississippi River slows to meet the Gulf of Mexico, suspended particles sink and form the sediment that add to the delta.
Steamboat Geyser Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, is recognized as the world’s tallest active geyser. Although eruptions of 10 to 40 feet are common, the geyser is capable of sending massive plumes of steam 300 feet into the air. These infrequent, major eruptions last 3 to 40 minutes, followed by powerful jets of steam lasting up to 48 hours.
Rainbow Bridge The world’s largest natural bridge, Rainbow Bridge in Utah, is an arch left after Bridge Creek eroded softer sandstone layers. The breathtaking arch is 290 feet tall and 275 feet across. The Navajo consider it a sacred symbol of the gods responsible for clouds, rainbows, and rain. For centuries, difficult access and a remote location kept the bridge hidden from white men. In 1909, native Paiute guides led the Douglas-Cummings survey party to the landmark.
White Sturgeon The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. The enormous species has inhabited Pacific coast rivers and bays for more than 175 million years. In the 1800s, a white sturgeon was caught in Idaho’s Snake River that reportedly weighed 1,500 pounds and measured 20 feet long. The more common maximum size today is around 12 feet long. White sturgeons may live to be over 100 years old.
Rocky Mountains America’s longest mountain chain, the Rocky Mountains, extends north and south more than 2,000 miles in the western The Rocky Mountains form the Continental Divide, which separates rivers flowing west to the Pacific from rivers flowing east to the Atlantic. Lewis’ and Clark’s explorations of the mountains in 1804 were followed by fur traders, Mormons, and adventurers. The first wagon train crossed the Rockies in 1832.
Coast Redwoods Coast redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, standing from 200 to 350 feet tall and living up to 2,000 years or more. They range from southern Oregon to central California. Groves thrive within 50 miles of the ocean, where the climate provides abundant water and a moderate temperature. Most new redwoods grow from sprouts that shoot up around the base of an existing tree. When the parent tree dies, the new generation of trees rise around it in a circle known as a fairy ring.
American Beaver The American beaver is the largest North American rodent, living throughout the continent. Although the average beaver ranges from 30 to 60 pounds today, a few specimens have been found that weigh over 100 pounds. The height of a North American beaver standing upright is about three feet. The average life span of an American beaver is 11 years. Beavers build lodges in deep, slow-moving water.
Mississippi-Missouri River System The Mississippi-Missouri river system is the longest in the US, stretching more than 3,700 miles. It begins in Montana, flows into the Mississippi River in St. Louis, and drains into the Gulf of Mexico. America’s great Westward Expansion relied heavily upon the Mississippi-Missouri river system.
Mount Wai`ale`ale Mount Wai`ale`ale, on the Hawaiian island of Kaua`i, is the world’s rainiest spot with an average annual rainfall of about 460 inches. In 1982, a record 683 inches of rain fell. Kaua`i is conical, exposing all sides of the mountain to winds and moisture. Moist Pacific trade winds are funneled into Mount Wai`ale`ale’s crater by neighboring mountain ranges. The cool elevation condenses the moisture into rain.
Kilauea The world’s most active volcano is located on the island of Hawaii. Kilauea had 45 separate eruptions in the last century. The current eruption began in 1983 and produces more than ten million cubic feet of lava every day. Kilauea is a shield volcano, made almost entirely of basalt (hard, shiny volcanic rock). Unless moisture enters the vent area, shield volcanoes rarely exhibit the explosive nature of composite volcanoes.
Mammoth Cave Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest recorded cave system. With more than 360 miles mapped, it is at least three times longer than any cave known. Geologists estimate that there could be an additional 600 miles of undiscovered passages. The cave lies in a central-Kentucky limestone ridge. Over millions of years, mildly acidic water ran through cracks and wore away limestone to form the cave.
Blue Whale The world’s loudest animal, the blue whale, has a call that reaches 188 decibels and carries through hundreds of miles of ocean. (A jet engine only reaches 140 decibels.) The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived, up to 100 feet long and 196 tons. Today, only about 12,000 blue whales remain. The largest concentration in the world, approximately 2,000, feed off the coast of California in the summer and fall.
Death Valley Death Valley lies chiefly in east-central California. Pioneers heading for the gold fields of California named Death Valley after they crossed it in 1849. The valley is 156 miles long. It has the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level. The highest temperature ever recorded in the United States, 134˚F, was reported in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Cornish-Windsor Bridge The Cornish-Windsor Bridge is the longest wooden, covered bridge in the US and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. It is 450.5 feet long at floor level. The bridge crosses the Connecticut River and connects the towns of Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont. The plank-covered roadway is wide enough to permit two-way traffic. The present bridge was built by James Tasker and Bela Fletcher in 1866 at a cost of $9,000. It was framed on a nearby meadow and later moved to its present location.
Quaking Aspen Aspens send roots out horizontally underground. New shoots grow from these roots and develop into tree trunks. Each new trunk sends out a set of roots to form still more shoots. All the growth that started from one tree is called a clone and shares an interconnected root system. One quaking aspen clone in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, named Pando, has more than 47,000 trunks. This clone may be the world’s most massive organism, weighing about 13 million pounds.
Wonders Of America Sheet
On May 27, 2006, the USPS issued a stamp sheet honoring 40 American natural and man-made superlatives.
The stamps were issued in Washington, DC during the 2006 World Philatelic Exhibition. While they don’t honor each of the 50 states specifically as previous large se-tenant sheets had, they do represent every region of the country.
Artist Lonnie Busch, who had created the artwork for the 2002 Greetings from America issue, illustrated the stamps. Each of the Wonders of America stamps features large lettering describing the superlative plus smaller type detailing the name or location of the featured subject. More information about each of the wonders was also printed on the backs of the stamps.
To accompany the stamps, the USPS also produced a 52-page coloring book for school children. The book was filled with neat information about all the stamps and their subjects, fun activities, and black and white versions of the stamps for children to color. You can find a PDF of the booklet here.
You can also click on the sheet above to read about each of the specific wonders.