Tag Archives: geology

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Overview

Completed in 1941 after fifteen years of work, this granite outcrop had the 60-foot tall faces of four prominent American presidents blasted and chiseled into its façade.  The mountain is named for a New York attorney who visited the Black Hills to inspect mining claims in 1885.  Sculptor Gutzon Borglum originally carved Thomas Jefferson over George Washington’s right shoulder, but the granite there had flaws and the figure was blasted away.

Highlights

Grand View Terrace, Avenue of Flags, Sculptor’s Studio, Evening Lighting Ceremony

Must-Do Activity

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is inspiring to see during the day, but for the full effect do not miss the Evening Lighting Ceremony offered May to September.  Held in the outdoor amphitheater, this audiovisual presentation is one of the most patriotic events held at a National Park Service (NPS) site. 

Best Trail

Leaving from the Grand View Terrace, the 0.6-mile Presidential Trail forms a loop with 422 stairs that gets closer to the carvings for a unique perspective and access to the Sculptor’s Studio.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you keep a sharp eye, you may spot mountain goats around the park.  Not native to South Dakota, they were introduced to the Black Hills in 1924 and have successfully adapted to their new environment. 

Peak Season

Summer, especially 4th of July weekend

Hours

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

Fees

No admission fee, but there is a $10 parking fee (America the Beautiful Pass not accepted)

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved, but there are size limits on the Norbeck Highway due to tunnels.

Camping

There are campgrounds in Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Black Hills National Forest.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Explore More – In the 1920s, who was the most controversial inclusion of the four presidents featured: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt?

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 rock 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