As part of the National Park Week, today is Military Monday. Today, we recognize and honor the service and sacrifice of the U.S. military and also discover connections and opportunities within the parks.
The National Park Service preserves and shares the stories of the American military over the last three centuries. The relationship between the national parks and our military goes way back. The U.S. Cavalry served as the first park rangers at our first national park, Yellowstone National Park. Hundreds of soldiers were stationed at Fort Yellowstone.
During World War II, many parks served as training and care locations for military personnel. Today, dozens of national parks commemorate military battles and achievements.
As you plan your next trip, discover the people who have protected our freedom here in America and learn about the places that shaped our military history and culture.
Each of us have our favorite national park. Now that they are closed, perhaps we will appreciate them even more. Mine, as you may know, is Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. In fact, I was just there in November. Above are three of my photos from that trip. The national parks are a true American treasure. When we can travel again, I strongly suggest you place one or more on your travel plans.
But Bryce is not in the top five most visited. What are the top five?
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
4. Zion National Park, Utah
3. Yosemite National Park, California (only about 90 minutes from us)
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Most visited: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
I am sure each of you have a favorite. Some others I enjoy:
Badlands, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Acadia.
An article from Oyster: The major parks in Utah — Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion — all offer a range of trails and experiences for visitors. You’ll also find that Zion and the Grand Canyon in particular are well suited to travelers who have any mobility issues. Zion offers a tram through the center of its majestic valley with clear views of the major summits and cliffs all around. Along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the four main viewpoints (Yaki, Moran, Grandview, and Desert View) are all accessible. While Bryce Canyon is the least accessible of the major parks, though Sunrise Point and Sunset Point can easily be reached for some spectacular views.
The American Discovery Trail is a system of recreational trails and roads which collectively form a coast-to-coast hiking and biking trail across the mid-tier of the United States. Horses can also be ridden on most of this trail. It starts on the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and ends on the northern California coast on the Pacific Ocean. The trail has northern and southern alternates for part of its distance, passing through Chicago and St Louis respectively. The total length of the trail including both the north and south routes is 6,800 miles (10,900 km). The northern route covers 4,834 miles (7,780 km) with the southern route covering 5,057 miles (8,138 km). It is the only non-motorized coast-to-coast trail.
The trail passes through 14 national parks and 16 national forests and uses sections of or connects to five National Scenic Trails, 10 National Historic Trails, and 23 National Recreation Trails. For part of its distance, it is coincident with the North Country Trail and the Buckeye Trail.
Joyce and Pete Cottrell, of Whitefield, New Hampshire, were the first to backpack the entire official route of the American Discovery Trail. They hiked the segments out of sequence over two calendar years, finishing in 2003.
The first hikers to complete the trail in one continuous walk were Marcia and Ken Powers, a wife and husband team from Pleasanton, California. Their trailwalk lasted from February 27 to October 15, 2005. They started out from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware and ended at Point Reyes, California. They trailed 5,058 miles (8,140 km) by foot, averaging 22 miles (35 km) a day.
The first person to backpack the entire 6,800 miles (including both Northern and Southern sections) in one continuous hike was Mike “Lion King” Daniel. He started from Cape Henlopen State Park on June 17, 2007, and ended at Point Reyes, California on November 5, 2008.
The first person to cover the entire equestrian route on horseback was Matt Parker. He undertook the journey between May 2003 and November 2005. (wiki)
South Dakota can generally be divided into three regions: eastern South Dakota, western South Dakota, and the Black Hills. The Missouri River serves as a boundary in terms of geographic, social, and political differences between eastern and western South Dakota. The geography of the Black Hills, long considered sacred by Native Americans, differs from its surroundings to such an extent it can be considered separate from the rest of western South Dakota. At times the Black Hills are combined with the rest of western South Dakota, and people often refer to the resulting two regions divided by the Missouri River as West River and East River.
Eastern South Dakota generally features higher precipitation and lower topography than the western part of the state. Smaller geographic regions of this area include the Coteau des Prairies, the Dissected Till Plains, and the James River Valley. The Coteau des Prairies is a plateau bordered on the east by the Minnesota River Valley and on the west by the James River Basin. Further west, the James River Basin is mostly low, flat, highly eroded land, following the flow of the James River through South Dakota from north to south.The Dissected Till Plains, an area of rolling hills and fertile soil that covers much of Iowa and Nebraska, extends into the southeastern corner of South Dakota. Layers deposited during the Pleistocene epoch, starting around two million years ago, cover most of eastern South Dakota. These are the youngest rock and sediment layers in the state, the product of several successive periods of glaciation which deposited a large amount of rocks and soil, known as till, over the area.
Due to a higher elevation and level of precipitation, the Black Hills ecology differs significantly from the plains. The mountains are thickly blanketed by various types of pines, including ponderosa and lodgepole pines, as well as spruces. Black Hills mammals include deer, elk (wapiti), bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pine marten, and mountain lions, while the streams and lakes contain several species of trout.
Last year I had the great opportunity to visit Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. All were amazing and the week is one that I know I’ll never forget. One spot along the drive was a little more important than the others though, thanks to the access it provides to two of the national parks on this list. Moab, Utah was my home base while exploring both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as it is for millions of others every year. While the national parks are indeed amazing, so are the many other experiences offered in and around Moab so today I want to share more about how to visit the two national parks near Moab, as well as what else you can experience while visiting this unlikely touristy hotspot in the middle of nowhere. The trip was part of an ongoing project with Marriott International, The Americas, to highlight some incredible places around the country, including our national parks.
Moab has always been a small community, whether it was in its early frontier days, when it was a uranium mining boom town or today, when tourism is the chief draw to this rocky landscape. Don’t let its small population fool you though, there’s a lot to see in do in and around Moab, one of the best spots I’ve ever visited for outdoor recreation. Sure, like me, most people visit to explore the two nearby National Parks – Arches and Canyonlands. But there’s plenty more to do outside of the parks, from rafting, to mountain biking and especially four-wheeling experiences. Given this interest in outdoor recreation, any number of outfitters, restaurants and hotels have popped up, with plans for even more in the future. Moab is easy enough to navigate, one road in and out provides everything you’ll need during your time in what is honestly one of the most beautiful places in the country. I’ll detail the two national parks in a few paragraphs, but if you’re looking for a place to stay here are two properties that I recommend whole-heartedly from personal experience.
SpringHill Suites Moab: This was one of my favorite hotels of the trip, thanks in large part to how expertly they’ve brought the natural elements into the hotel experience. Set among the region’s famous red rocks, every room enjoys stunning views at this new 99-suite hotel. It’s that suite experience that always makes SpringHill a great option for me; I love having the extra space to spread out and just relax after a long day of exploration. Add in complimentary breakfast and one of the closest locations to both Arches and Canyonlands and you have a hotel experience that is hard to beat.
Fairfield Inn & Suites Moab: Located next door to the SpringHill Suites, the Fairfield enjoys the same stunning location and access to the parks, as well as shared amenities like the large and inviting pool. Also like their sister hotel, the Fairfield has thankfully fully embraced its location, making the experience feel unique and bespoke. Add in amazing views of the red rocks and the Colorado River below and you have another incredible hotel to call home for a few days.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Arches was first designated a National Monument in 1929 and
then a Park in 1971; the massive 76,000 acre site recognized for the more than
2,000 sandstone arches that grace its lands. The most famous, Delicate Arch,
even adorns the Utah license plate and driving to the park itself it’s hard not
to be enthralled by the natural beauty of the region. Arches National Park
though is about so much more than its namesake geology, there also exists
around the park enormous formations that look like the handiwork of the gods.
Spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths are all strewn
about the landscape, creating a red rock diorama that looks more like Mars than
anywhere on Earth.
According to the rangers at Arches, if you have three hours
your can complete the entire driving loop, spending ten minutes at each
viewpoint. And, to be honest, if you’ve made the trek to Arches in the first
place I can’t imagine spending less time than that. One thing to keep in mind
is that Arches is a very popular park, much more so than nearby Canyonlands so
you will have traffic to deal with in the park itself and you’ll also need to
be patient when it comes time to park your car at each viewpoint. My advice is
to arrive early and enjoy as much of the park as you can before the heat of the
day and thousands of other intrepid souls join you. There’s a lot to love about
exploring Arches National Park, but some of my favorite spots include:
Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers: This is the first section of the park that all visitors see when driving in and, for me at least, it’s one of the most remarkable. Visitors can walk among the massive monoliths and towering walls to see views of the nearby La Sal Mountains. The sheer walls of this canyon reminded early visitors of buildings lining a city street, hence its name. It’s also, I think, the perfect first introduction to the wonders of the park.
The Windows Section: Considered by many to be the heart of the park, here you’ll find a large concentration of arches and it is one of the most scenic locations in the park. There are also a number of short hikes to help visitors better appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
Delicate Arch: The park’s most famous formation, it’s what all visitors want to see. Getting there though can be more of a challenge. There are two viewpoints for the arch, one requires no hiking and the other is a moderate hike. If you want to reach the arch itself though, you have to be prepared. It’s 3-miles round-trip and takes between 2-3 hours to do. Starting at Wolfe Ranch, the trail climbs 460 feet up a steep slope and has no shade, so be prepared.
Landscape Arch: Although the park calls this 1.6-mile round-trip hike easy, I’d honestly place it in the moderate category for the average person. It’s well worth the effort though as you hike along a fairly flat trail to reach the massive Landscape Arch, admiring the scenery along the way.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Canyonlands National Park is massive; almost on a scale that
is hard to comprehend. The Park comprises 337,598 acres of colorful canyons,
mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high
desert. Canyonlands is split up into four sections and each one definitely has
its unique personality. Thanks to its proximity to Moab and for the peculiar
features found there, the most popular to visit (and the one I’m highlighting
today) is Island in the Sky district.
What I love about Canyonlands is how primitive and raw it
feels. This is unadulterated backcountry in its purest form and to experience
it, if only briefly, is a true joy. The Island in the Sky Mesa rests on
sandstone cliffs more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding desert terrain.
That means the scenes from the various overlooks provide views that are
constantly changing and totally unique. If you only have a few hours, Island in
the Sky is the easiest section to visit and there are many great spots and even
short hikes to enjoy. Just keep in mind that the entrance to the park is about
25 minutes from the main road and there’s a fantastic state park along the way
(Dead Horse Point), so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the area. There’s
a lot to love about exploring Canyonlands National Park, but some of my
favorite spots include:
Scenic drive: I toured the entire mesa top on the 34-mile round-trip scenic drive, stopping all the time at overlooks and even to tackle short hikes. From my own experience, the drive is easy to follow, wasn’t too busy and of course features some incredible spots.
Mesa Arch: One of the Park’s most recognizable sights, it’s also a very easy 0.5-mile hike to reach. This cliff-edge arch has stunning views towards the La Sal Mountains and is perfect at sunrise.
Grand View Point: This is one of those “mandatory” stops that all visitors to Canyonlands include, and with good reason. It’s usually one of the last stops for people driving the scenic route and from here you can see the White Rim, mountains and features in both the Maze and Needles sections of the park. Throughout the day rangers give geology talks and there’s even a moderate hike that takes you an additional mile to another viewpoint. It’s a great capstone to a wonderful day spent exploring the Park.
White Rim Overlook & Hike: This is an easy hike as long as you have enough time. It’s almost 2 miles round-trip, and the rangers at the park suggest you give it between 1 ½ – 2 hours to hike. Walking to an east-facing overlook you’ll see views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin and La Sal Mountains and you’ll get the best light in the late afternoon.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just two of the country’s great natural treasures and they should be places everyone has on their travel bucket list. No matter how you choose to experience Moab though, just make sure you take the time to experience the grandeur which surrounds it for a trip you’ll never forget.