Tag Archives: geology

Pinnacles National Park

Overview

California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state, including Alaska.  The newest is Pinnacles National Park, upgraded from a National Monument in 2013.  Rising above the agricultural Salinas Valley, it does have quite a long history, going back even before President Theodore Roosevelt officially recognized its significance in 1908.  The park’s West Entrance is accessible from Highway 101 and the East Entrance is closer to Interstate 5 and the Central Valley.  It is actually faster to hike from one side to another, than to drive two hours around. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Scenic views, talus caves, rock climbing, endangered California condors

Must-Do Activity

In addition to its striking granite spires, the park is known for talus caves, which are tunnels formed by boulders falling and catching between narrow canyon walls.  Flashlights are necessary to navigate through them, although small gaps in the chaotic ceiling often allow shafts of light through in picturesque fashion.  You might spot a bat flying through the caves, which are seasonally closed for their protection.

Best Trail

Mild temperatures make this a park for hiking in all seasons.  Just be sure to hold onto the chains while navigating the Steep and Narrow section of the steep High Peaks Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While you may not see a bat in the talus caves of Pinnacles National Park, it is likely you will spot the nine-foot wingspan of a California condor slicing the blue sky outside the caves.  This is perhaps the most successful of all release sites for this species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pinn/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is not a road connecting the East and West Entrances, which are about a two-hour drive apart.

Camping

The West Entrance gate is locked every night as it is day use only, but there is a campground that takes reservations at the East Entrance.  No backcountry camping is allowed.

Related Sites

Yosemite National Park (California)

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Sequoia National Park (California)

This design we created to celebrate Joshua Tree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Accessible by a nine-mile roundtrip hike with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, how tall is North Chalone Peak?

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Colorado National Monument

Overview

The name Colorado translates from Spanish as “red colored” and Colorado National Monument is exactly that.  From the numerous overlooks along Rim Rock Drive, the farm-dotted Colorado River Valley stretches out to the Book Cliffs and the evergreen forests of Grand Mesa.  But your attention will be drawn to the red rock formations in the foreground, like Independence Monument topped by an improbably placed American flag.  Do not miss a visit to neighboring McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (held by the Bureau of Land Management), which has been proposed to be combined with Colorado National Monument to form a new National Park.

Highlights

Museum, film, Rim Rock Drive, Serpents Trail, Independence Monument View, Liberty Cap Trail

Must-Do Activity

Enjoy the stellar scenery and hiking while watching the cliffs for raptors, especially during the golden hours when the red rocks really shine.  While Interstate 70 offers easy access to the National Monument on the way to Arches National Park, we recommend heading south along twisty Highway 141, passing through stunning Dolores Canyon.

Best Trail

There are many great (and steep) canyon hikes in this area, including the former roadbed of Serpents Trail, once known as the “Crookedest Road in the World” until closed to vehicles following a highway reroute in 1950.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Sunrise and sunset are the best times for photography at the numerous overlooks along 23-mile Rim Rock Drive.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/colm/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

From Saddlehorn Campground you can see the lights of Grand Junction, Colorado and Interstate 70, but up here you feel like all of that is a million miles away.  Free backcountry camping permits are also available.

Related Sites

Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Explore More – John Otto petitioned hard for the creation of Colorado National Monument in 1911 and served as its caretaker for 26 years at what ridiculously low salary?

Top 10 Natural Bridges/Arches at NPS Sites

Although they look similar and are often listed together, arches are primarily wind formed, while natural bridges are carved by flowing water (though few still have water running beneath them).  The burnt-orange sandstone of southern Utah is famous for its numerous holes in the rock, as evidenced by the list below.  However, there are some other notable instances of these geologic features located throughout the National Park Service (NPS) system.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Channel Islands National Park (California)

A ferry ride out to Anacapa Island will swing by Arch Rock rising out of the Pacific Ocean

9. Zion National Park (Utah)

310-foot Kolob Arch is tucked against a cliff, so it is hard to see and harder to photograph

8. Golden Spike National Historic Site (Utah)

You can drive right up to the natural limestone Chinese Arch

7. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Brimhall Natural Bridge is not easy to get to (it may require a swim), but it is incredible

6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

It is a challenging eight miles roundtrip to kayak through Petit Portal on Lake Superior

5. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Seeing Druid Arch and Angel Arch requires two long day hikes, but both are worth the effort

4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

It is an easy two-mile hike to see the massive Twin Arches (which are actually natural bridges)

3. Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Three impressive natural bridges, including the 268-foot span of 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to…

2. Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

290-foot tall Rainbow Bridge (the largest natural bridge in the world) is surrounded by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

…and finally the #1 NPS site for natural bridges or arches:

1. Arches National Park (Utah)

This park contains 2,500 wind-carved holes ranging in size from a minimum of three feet to 290-foot wide Landscape Arch (the fifth longest span in the world)

Honorable Mentions

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

No surprise that you can also find these impressive geologic features in the fifth National Park in southern Utah

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Balanced Rock does not technically count as either an arch or a natural bridge, but it is neat

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Holei Sea Arch still exists but its access trail was destroyed by lava flows

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

The sea caves were formed by wave action on Lake Superior

Natural Bridges National Monument

Overview

South of Canyonlands National Park is isolated Natural Bridges National Monument.  First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was not accessible by road until uranium mining developed this part of Utah in the 1950s.  As you may recall from our post on Arches National Park, bridges are created by flowing water, unlike arches that are primarily carved by wind.

Highlights

3 huge natural bridges, scenic views, ruins, hiking, stargazing

Must-Do Activity

The monument is home to 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge as the largest in the world.  Kachina Bridge, at 210 feet and growing, may catch up to it someday.  Perhaps the most visually striking of the three standing bridges is the 180-foot span of Owachomo Bridge that is only nine feet thick at its center.  Handicap accessible overlooks are available along Bridge View Drive.

Best Trail

A nine-mile loop hike connects all three natural bridges, which are also accessible by shorter trails from the rim drive.  Do not attempt this rugged trek if you are not prepared; it is a rocky canyon bottom at high elevation with little shade.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest of the three standing natural bridges in the National Monument.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nabr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The secluded nature of this region and its elevation of 6,500 feet were factors in naming it the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007.  If you make it out this far, you might want to spend the night under the stars at the campground.

Related Sites

Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – In 1992, how many tons of rock fell from Kachina Bridge (the youngest of the three)?

Arches National Park

Overview

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah is home to 2,500 wind-carved holes in its famed orange sandstone, ranging in size from a minimum of three feet to 290-foot wide Landscape Arch (the fifth longest span in the world).  As opposed to natural bridges which are carved by flowing water, arches are primarily wind formed, although water and ice can contribute. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, Landscape Arch, Fiery Furnace, Devils Garden Trail

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you reserve a spot on a ranger led hike through the twisting labyrinth of Fiery Furnace (additional fee).  You can get a permit to go alone, but we are glad we had a guide or we might still be trying to find our way out.  The beautiful red rocks really show their color at sunrise and sunset, so find a nice place to watch the show when you come.  As depicted on the state license plate for Utah, Delicate Arch is a popular venue for sunsets.

Best Trail

When the crowds in the park overwhelm you, take the easy 8.3-mile drive down dirt Salt Valley Road to the trailhead for less visited Tower Arch.  Seeing Tower Arch is worth the strenuous 3.4-mile roundtrip hike, but it can be hard to photograph.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Double Arch is located near the North and South Windows and photographs well in the late afternoon.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main road that dead ends at Devils Garden is paved, but there are some dirt roads in the park that require four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles.

Camping

Devils Garden Campground is a great place to spend the night, with easy trail access to Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch.  The public land around Moab under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management is often overrun by dispersed campers.

Related Sites

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Joshua Tree National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – At 290 feet, Landscape Arch is the fifth longest span in the world; what country contains the four larger arches?

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