By Debi Lander
America’s National Parks have been called our greatest national treasure. I agree. Trips to any of the 58 parks provide dramatic views, unforgettable memories and fun times.
Florida offers three national parks: Biscayne, Dry Tortugas and Everglades. If you haven’t visited, consider a road trip.
The state of Utah (13th largest by land area) boasts five National Parks and they rank as some of the most spectacular in the country. Last summer, I traveled out West to visit two of Utah’s finest: Arches and Canyonlands.
The town of Moab, Utah makes a good base, with plenty of lodging options and restaurants. It caters to outdoor types especially those into camping, hiking, biking and rafting. One morning, make sure you watch the sunrise as it hits the surrounding red rock canyons. They burst forth with fiery blazes. In fact, you almost need sunglasses. It’s impossible to ignore the power of Mother Nature.
I started at Arches and followed my usual protocol of watching the introductory film in the Visitor Center. The one in Arches is, hands down, the best intro I’ve seen in the national parks. After watching, I understood how arches, the rarest of geological formations, develop. Water is the architect and if all conditions are perfect, it seeps into crevasses and weaknesses in the sandstone, expands and contracts with the weather and after centuries, an arch is formed. Ironically, the same forces that form an arch also destroy it.
The arches are delicate and park rangers promote the catch phrase, Don’t bust the crust. It’s the blackish stuff you see on the ground, known as “biological soil crust,” and it is essential in preventing erosion. This topsoil is so fragile that one step can wipe out years of growth — a very important reason to stay on the marked trails.
Fortunately, you can explore much of Arches by driving and taking short hikes. In the summer, temperatures soar.
Double Arch stands as the largest formation and its parking area always remains crowded. But, if you see nothing else, don’t miss this area. Double Arch is massive, on a scale you can’t imagine until you stand humbled at its feet.
Nearby rests North and South Windows and Turret Arch. These immoveable sandstone creations somehow emit excitement, a feeling even children grasp.
Next day, I headed toward Dead Horse State Park, on the way to Canyonlands. The overlook offers a majestic viewing point 2,000 feet above the gooseneck bend in the Colorado River. The horizon looms 100 miles away, and I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the rock real estate and inhospitality of the region. Hard to imagine ancient Puebloan people ever lived in these parts.
Further along, I entered the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands and trekked the trail to Mesa Arch, an arch spanning 50 feet across the mesa’s edge. It frames a castle-like scene. Then, I slowly and carefully sat down at the top of a 500-foot vertical cliff and took in the spellbinding, sweeping panorama. No words needed. Go early and soak in the sunrise as it illuminates the arch.
I hiked to more outlooks including the aptly named Grand Point Overview. This section of Canyonlands is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, except the gorge does not drop quite as deep, and the walls of the canyon are farther from the river.
Whether you are looking for landscape or adventure, the Utah parks won’t disappoint.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
View from Mesa Arch in Canyonlands