Tag Archives: geology

Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration.  It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah.  Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery

Must-Do Activity

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah.  Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon.  The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall.  It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.

Best Trail

There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name.  Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars.  Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive.  The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.

Camping

There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District.  White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required).  Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.

Related Sites

Arches National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

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

Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Chiricahua National Monument

Overview

Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument was established in 1924 to protect a spectacular collection of rhyolite rock formations.  Millions of years of erosion left behind tall pinnacles that rise above surrounding evergreen trees.  A six-mile long paved road leads up from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to Massai Point for great views of the volcanic pillars.  At an elevation of around 7,000 feet it can get cold in the winter, but still quite hot in the summer, so spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.

Highlights

Massai Point, Echo Canyon, Big Balanced Rock, Heart of Rocks Loop

Must-Do Activity

We recommend an all-day loop hike through Echo Canyon to the Heart of Rocks Loop where you will find rocks resembling camels, ducks, and anything else you can imagine.  The wildlife and vegetation here is diverse and representative of many ecosystems because of the elevation range of this “sky island.”  Many visitors that spend the night in the NPS campground report seeing coatimundi, a unique long-tailed omnivore related to the raccoon with a species distribution stretching into South America. 

Best Trail

There are 17 miles of trails in the park and hiking is the best way to explore the rock formations.  A self-guided loop at Massai Point is an option if you are short on time and cannot make it all the way to the impressive Big Balanced Rock.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a formation on the Heart of Rocks Loop that is appropriately known as Duck on a Rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The small 24-site NPS campground is known for its nocturnal visitations by coatimundi.

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – Big Balanced Rock is 22-feet in diameter, so how much is it estimated to weigh?

Yosemite National Park

Overview

Given its 4-million annual visitors, it can be hard to practice social distancing at Yosemite National Park.  In the summer, it can even be difficult to find parking in bustling Yosemite Valley.  The legendary valley is home to El Capitan and Half Dome, rock formations known around the world, as well as countless waterfalls.  For more ideas on what to do during your visit and how to avoid the crowds, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove

Must-Do Activity

When entering Yosemite Valley on Highway 41 from the south, your first sight of the valley is stunning upon emerging from a long tunnel.  You simply have to stop at the iconic Tunnel View parking area.  Although the forest here is denser than in the past, the scene has not changed much since President Lincoln signed the bill to preserve this area in 1864.  While the Yosemite Valley can get incredibly busy during peak tourist season, hike a mile up a trail and you might find a solitary place to enjoy one of the numerous waterfalls.

Best Trail

Formerly a paved tram route, the trail through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees is a major highlight outside Yosemite Valley.  We especially enjoyed snowshoeing there in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From May to November, you can drive up to Glacier Point for great views into Yosemite Valley from the cliffs above.  We chose this overlook for our original logo of Yosemite National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, even the one that goes over 9,945-foot high Tioga Pass, which crosses the Sierra Nevada and is closed in the winter (as is Glacier Point Road, though it remains open to cross-country skiers).

Camping

There are multiple campgrounds within the park and some take reservations, but there are no RV hookups except outside the park.

Related Sites

Sequoia National Park (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (California)

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

Explore More – John Muir wrote extensively about the Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada, but many of his readers do not know he was an immigrant to America; in what country was he born?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Overview

Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon at all, but instead a cliffside amphitheater eroded away into extravagant creamsicle-colored hoodoos.   Your first view from Sunrise or Sunset Point will surely take your breath away and not just because you are standing above 7,000 feet in elevation.  A portion of the main park road is only open during the busy summer season, but seeing the amphitheater under a fresh carpet of white snow makes the effort worthwhile to get here in the winter.  Learn more about the logistics of a winter visit in our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Navajo Loop Trail, Queens Garden Trail, Natural Bridge, Rainbow Point

Must-Do Activity

The amphitheater is beautiful from the overlooks, but to really experience this park you have to hike down from the rim.  Peakaboo Loop is a strenuous four-mile hike with approximately 1,700 feet cumulative elevation gain that offers up close views of the hoodoos.  It is accessed from Sunset Point or Bryce Point.  You could easily spend your whole trip in this northern section of the park and not be disappointed, but be sure to take a slow drive south with stops at Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point to complete the experience.

Best Trail

It is four miles out and back on the Under-the-Rim Trail from Bryce Point to the Hat Shop, in the quiet backcountry area where hoodoos are topped with boulders (like they are wearing hats).  Ask a park ranger about the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” program to earn a prize.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Douglas-fir trees snake their way to the light in the narrow Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop Trail.  A photograph of Tiff walking into a snowy Wall Street made the cover (see below) of our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon). 

Peak Season

Summer due to long, snowy winters at this elevation.

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main park road is paved, but there are dirt roads that access the lower elevations of the park, though we have been warned that they are in rough shape.

Camping

The National Park Service has a campground that is open year round, but we prefer camping along the dirt roads in adjacent Dixie National Forest.  A free permit is required to camp in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Related Sites

Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)

Zion National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

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

Explore More – Who described Bryce Canyon as “a hell of a place to lose a cow?”

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Overview

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona is worth a closer look than a drive-by on your way to Grand Canyon National Park.  As its name suggests, this thousand-foot high cinder cone is stained red as though in perpetual twilight.  Volcanic activity last occurred here in the year 1180 AD, but even though geologists consider this area dormant, it is just possible that a new cinder cone might start erupting at any time.

Highlights

Lava Flow Nature Trail, Bonito Lava Flow, Lenox Crater Trail, O’Leary Peak

Must-Do Activity

A 35-mile loop drive through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument to neighboring Wupatki National Monument passes through ponderosa pine forest and sunflower-filled meadows on its way to an arid, rocky high desert region that is dotted with ruins.  From the road you can see the San Francisco Peaks rising to the west, as well as a series of cinder cones outside the monument’s boundaries.  Several of these mini-volcanoes are accessible by roads, including our favorite: S.P. Crater.

Best Trail

To experience the black cinders you have to get out of your car and hike through them, but take your time as the elevation is around 7,000 feet.  Lava Flow Nature Trail provides interpretive signs along a partially paved one-mile loop.  You cannot climb to the top of Sunset Crater, but you can summit nearby Lenox Crater on a steep one-mile trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Sunset Crater and the Bonito Lava Flow are especially eye-catching when viewed from atop 8,900-foot O’Leary Peak, accessible by hiking to a fire lookout tower in adjacent Coconino National Forest.  The awe-inspiring vista will make you glad that movie producers were stopped from dynamiting Sunset Crater in 1928.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle, which also covers entrance to neighboring Wupatki National Monument.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The U.S. Forest Service runs the Bonito Campground across from the Sunset Crater visitor center from May through October.  Dispersed camping is allowed in portions of Coconino National Forest.

Related Sites

Wupatki National Monument (Arizona)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Capulin Volcano National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – How many millions of years of volcanic activity have occurred in the area around Flagstaff, Arizona?