Utah, known as the "Beehive State", is home to several
national parks and monuments. We
have chosen three of our favorites for your examination. There are
some similarities between these parks, but each is known for its unique
collection of landforms, geologic setting, and beauty.
near Moab, in southeast Utah, Arches National Park is an area of
incredible chromatic beauty that serves to highlight the park's
unusually large collection of natural arches.
The park's rock formations range from browns,
through oranges and reds. When they are capped with snow, the gullies
and rills are highlighted and the area takes an alternative, variegated
flavor. However, the changing colors (and they seem to change by the
hour) serve only to highlight the beautiful natural arches and spires
preserved in this unique National Park. Arches National Park is small,
but packed with much to see and great hiking. For more
information and photographs, see our one-page
guide to Arches National Park.
Canyon National Park, located at an elevation of approximately 8,000 ft
(2438 m) in south central Utah,
is the home of a fascinating geology that has spawned a unique,
whimsical and almost startling collection of landforms.
Carved into the colorful Paunsaugunt plateau in southern Utah,
the park is not a canyon but a series of horseshoe shape amphitheaters
excavated by rainwater and frost action. The percolation of the
rainwater slowly dissolves the area's limestone and the process has left a
series of "hoodoos", vertical columns that have eroded into a myriad of
whimsical shapes. Some of the landforms seem almost
identifiable, while others are beguiling, humorous or sometimes, just
plain eerie. Hiking or horseback riding in Bryce Canyon National
Park is a huge treat. For more information, see our concise, one
page guide to travel in
Bryce Canyon National Park.
the southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park you will find the majestic
Zion National Park surrounding Zion Canyon and the North Fork of the
The Park is known for its high plateaus comprised of sandstone layers cut
with a riot of
narrow but deep canyons that are surrounded by soaring rock towers and
elegant mesas. Known as a showcase of geology, the
area's limited precipitation has created an arid climate whose sparse
vegetation puts the park's underlying rock formations on startling
display. If you had to use one word to describe Zion National
Park, it would have to be "grandeur". Even the names
attached to the prominent landforms suggest it, as they include aptly
named "courts, cathedrals, patriarchs and sentinels"
For more information and photographs explore our guide to
Zion National Park.
Well, it isn't called the "Grand Canyon State" just for fun.
Arizona's Grand Canyon is world famous and one of the state's most
popular tourist destinations. Our second Arizona National Park
lies to the east and has treasures of its own.
in north central Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a world icon and,
some would say, one of the wonders of the world. Over millions
of years, the Colorado River and its associated stream network
have eroded their way down through the Colorado Plateau, a
slightly tilted domain of sedimentary rock layers that
were deposited horizontally and then lifted 5,000 to 13,000 feet above sea
level. The Grand Canyon, thanks to its wandering Colorado
River, reveals almost two-billion years of geologic history. The
strata are colored in brown, red, oranges and pink (to mention a
few hues) and some layers have been able to resist erosion
better than others. The juxtaposition of resistant and
weak layers have created a series of mesa, buttes, temples,
all creating just plain unforgettable views.
For more information, photographs and maps, see our Guide to
Grand Canyon National Park.
200 miles (322 kms) east of the Grand Canyon and near the border
with New Mexico, the Petrified Forest National Park contains one of the
world's most colorful concentrations of petrified wood (wood the has
been naturally transformed to stone). Sitting amid the multi-hued
scenic badlands of the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest National
Park is an unusual visual treat.
The Painted Desert resembles a palette created by a talented
artist who was attempting to imagine a uniquely colorful
landscape, where the color of the landforms and not their shape is the
main attraction. Wandering the park is like exploring an imaginarium
- everywhere you turn there is something new and unexpected.
For additional photographs and information on visiting, check out our
Guide to the
Petrified Forest National Park.
Although the "Centennial State" has a number of national parks, we
have chosen two located in the southern section of state, as they
fall more closely with our theme of National Parks of the Southwest.
Mesa Verde means
"green table" in Spanish and this national park in Southwestern Colorado is
collection of flat, green mesas (tablelands with steep cliffs).
The mesas might be of interest because of their scenic allure, but the
attraction here is that they are sprinkled with a large number of archeological sites, including hundreds of cliff dwellings and some cliff apartments
nested in caves and overhangs on the these steep sided mesas.
Ancestral Pueblo people made this area their home between 600 A.D. and
1300 A.D. When they mysteriously abandoned Mesa Verde and their
homes, the area became lost to
history for hundreds of years. Many of the cliff dwellings
constructed by the Pueblo Indians survived abandonment and these
are the focus of our
Guide to Mesa Verde National Park.
If you want to see the tallest sand dunes in North America (750 feet)
in the midst of a 30 square mile dune field surrounded by a gloriously scenic
mountains (especially when the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains are snow capped) Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the place for you. Combined with wetlands from the Medano
Creek, grasslands and scenic trails leading to extravagant vistas, Great
Sand Dunes offer a variety of activities for the entire family.
For more information and photographs, click for our Guide to the
Great Sand Dunes National Park.
With nicknames like the "Golden State" and the "Silver State" you
might get the idea that these two state were centers of mining in their
early years. However, we feature these two states because they share
"ownership" of one of the most famous and purposefully named deserts in
you are looking for the hottest, driest and lowest area in the United
States, this is it. In addition, Death Valley National Park is a
beautiful, primitive desert with sand dunes, snow capped mountains,
colorful sedimentary rock layers and three million acres of a unique, arid
Perhaps its attraction lies in its name Death Valley. Although the
majority of the pioneers of the American West moved through here with
only modest difficulty, many of them thought this area would lead to
their "death". Good planning
and water conservation served most pioneers quite well and there were
only a few fatalities in Death Valley during these times.
All deserts are dangerous environments
and Death Valley is an extremely hot and arid location. Tourists have
been known to die here (2009) due to exposure to the area’s unbelievable summer
heat. While deserts can be dangerous, they can also be extremely scenic
and peaceful, if you take the advice offered by the park's rangers. We consider Death Valley one the premier outdoor
experiences in North America, but you do have to like aridity to
understand the lure of this exotic national park. Click for our
Death Valley National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California
where the Mojave Desert merges with the Colorado Desert. The Park
is known for its Joshua Trees, Cholla Gardens and massive jumbles of
rectangular boulders. Joshua Tree is a great place to visit from
the fall through early spring if you are driving to Los Angeles, Palm
Springs, or San Diego.
Known as the "Land of Enchantment", New Mexico has much to offer in
the way of scenery and attractions. However, our focus is on its
greatest natural treasure, which just happens to be underground.
Carlsbad Caverns, the largest and most complex of the cave systems in
New Mexico, was discovered by native Americans over 10,000 years ago and re-discovered by the cowboy Jim White at the end of the 19th century. In 1923 the area was established as the Carlsbad Cave National Monument and eventually became a
Stalactites (dripping from the ceiling) and stalagmites (growing from
the ground to the ceiling based on dripping water from above) are almost
everywhere you turn, as are a number of unusual and colorful limestone formations.
Exploring the caverns is a marvelous adventure.
The majority of the viewing is in large,
spacious areas accessible by elevator or you can choose to walk in the
natural entrance to the caverns. In addition, there are fee-based
tours of smaller caves and more unusual scenery, although these tours
may require slightly more strenuous activity. Read our
Guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park for more details.
If you want to go to the detail page for any of the parks listed
above, click the park's name in this menu to our