Mission 66 Architecture

In the second half of the twentieth century, after World War II, American tourism to national parks surged. With the National Park Service’s hundredth anniversary fast-approaching in 1966, the U.S. government launched an initiative called Mission 66 to improve and revitalize national parks throughout the country to meet the new visitor demand as well as commemorate the anniversary.

As part of this improvement initiative, Mission 66 planners and architects developed the concept of the “visitor center” to streamline and standardize visitor services at federal parks nationwide. During the ten-year program, architects built approximately one hundred new visitor centers. Most of these “Mission 66 visitor centers” followed then-contemporary modernist architectural sensibilities and focused on creating open space to highlight the natural environment. Several of the most notable visitors centers are in the Intermountain West. Some of these have become historic sites in and of themselves, and all remain in operation today.

Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur National Monument

In 1909, Earl Douglass, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, discovered a site riddled with fossilized dinosaur bones in the northeastern corner of Utah and created a camp where he began excavating remains. In the following six…

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act, establishing Rocky Mountain as a national park and securing its boundaries. Lodge keepers owned private lands throughout the park where they maintained roads,…

Canyon Lodge at Yellowstone National Park

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park had been selected by the Park Service to be the inaugural project for Mission 66 since it was the first national park. Like most national parks, planning for new building projects started well before the…

Zion Human History Museum at Zion National Park

By the early 1900s, the scenic qualities of the two-thousand-foot Navajo Sandstone cliffs in Zion Canyon had been recognized as a potential destination for tourism. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order designating…