More than a walk in the park

In celebration of Independence Day in the United States I share some thoughts on my favourite regions and highlights of this wonderful country. With a passion for the outdoors, I am drawn time and again towards the national parks – one of the greatest creations- preserving the precious landscapes that make this land so special.

Here are a few of my favorites…

Yosemite National Park

No words can describe the grandeur and pure majesty of Yosemite. Legendary naturalist John Muir and the talented photographer Ansel Adams have tried to encapsulate the scale. From the moment you enter the park you will feel the energy and the spirit that make this place so unique. Some of the largest trees on the planet, the tallest waterfalls, the pristine alpine meadows and lake valleys, even some of the largest monolithic rock structures ever created, live in this park.

What to do
The iconic granite monolith Half Dome. Historically geologists thought the summit of Half Dome would never be touched by human hands or feet. Now one of the most popular activities in the park is the seventeen mile Half Dome hike and cable route. The combination of the Mist Trail for the finest waterfalls, combined with some of the best views of the park, are reasons why this hike and summit are so special.

 Zion National Park

Combined with spectacular Aeolian sand stone deposits, arches, narrow canyons and some of the tallest free standing vertical faces in the country. For true natural beauty Zion has as much to offer any place in the world.

What to do
Canyoneering combines route finding, rappelling, problem solving, swimming, and hiking. With a variety of canyons to explore, some barely wide enough for a human to squeeze through, the Zion offers canyons that range from beginners level to experiences requiring advanced technical skills. One of the most spectacular canyons in the park is the famous Zion Narrows carved out over millions of year and considered the largest slot canyon in the world this natural wonder is a must see when exploring the park.

Crater Lake

No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in colour; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It is a place of immeasurable beauty. One of the deepest and clearest freshwater lakes in the world reaching nearly 1932 ft. in depth, Crater Lake is recognized worldwide as a scenic wonder.

What to do
Volcano Boat Cruises are approximately 3 hours to 6 hours. They offer a fantastic perspective of the lake as you travel counterclockwise around the perimeter. An Interpretative Ranger from the National Park Service will be onboard the boat and offer cultural and natural history about Crater Lake. For the more adventurous type, the boat can be dropped off on Wizard Island for some additional hiking, exploration and beauty.

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The Grand Circle

As I stood high on the red cliffs overlooking the Colorado River, I was struck by the magnificent scale and beauty of the surrounding landscape. All around were staggering views of towering rock formations, dramatic buttes and mesas rising up from the escarpment. This, I would come to realise, was just an introduction to what would be an eye-opening adventure through the National Parks of Utah and Arizona.

This unique and exceptional landscape is part of the vast South-West region of the US commonly referred to as the ‘Grand Circle’ that not only includes Arizona and Utah but also portions of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. This ‘circle’ contains America’s largest concentration of national parks and monuments, woven together by extraordinary scenic byways and includes some of the most visited parks in America.

My exploration of this area focused on a selection of National Parks in Utah and Arizona that included the famous Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Arches National Park along with National Monuments such as Grand Staircase-Escalante and the sacred Navajo lands.

What I found was a diverse landscape of magnificent rock formations all carved through a magnificent history of environmental processes. Whilst the Grand Canyon was cut by the powerful Colorado River, Bryce National park has been created by an intricate process of frost weathering leaving the distinctive geological structures referred to as ‘hoodoos’.

I found all the National Parks to have a unique personality and history that made each an individual in their own right. Despite my initial scepticism, the parks were not overrun by coach loads of tourists and offered ample opportunity to escape and explore in solace. Of course the main view point areas are bustling with tourists striving for their personal snapshot but this is not the case throughout. Instead, the impressive operation of these parks has left a pristine landscape for travellers to discover in solace.

My personal recommendation for this area is to hire a guide to explore the more remote areas of the National Parks. Their knowledge of park history, landscape and culture is vast and not something to be found in a book. There is also a diverse range of activities throughout the area so that the more active travellers can not only hike but enjoy the other exciting opportunities such as canyoneering, rafting and kayaking that are off the beaten track.

An aspect to note, that is often overlooked when travelling to this area, is the rich history of the Native Americans. The Navajo Nation is the most influential Indian tribe in North America with a strong presence in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Travellers can get an insight into their history by visiting a reservation, with tribes welcoming individuals to learn more of the cultural and spiritual practises and how they have shaped the magnificent landscape. It is a very special and unique aspect to a trip and an incredible learning experience to beautifully complement the iconic surroundings.