In addition to its waterfalls, the American Southwest has other attractions to keep you busy taking photos or admiring the scenery. I’ve singled out some of the features that you’re bound to see upon a visit to this part of the Wild West. Read below to get a brief introduction to these features.
Arches National Park: This spectacular wonderland of nature's sandstone sculptures contains the highest concentration of natural arches in the country. Its tremendous gallery of natural arches include Delicate Arch (Utah's state symbol), Landscape Arch, Turret Arch, Double-O Arch, Double Arch, Tower Arch, and countless others both named and unnamed. There are also interesting rock formations like the Three Penguins, the Three Gossips, Park Avenue, and Balanced Rock. Conveniently located near the slickrock mountain biking playgrounds of Moab, many of the arches are easily reachable.
Canyonlands National Park: This Grand Canyon-like region is home to some of the most remote and hard-to-reach parts of the United States. Thus, this national park offers the most unspoiled and untouched desert scenery anywhere. Many such places require a good deal of self sufficiency, but the rewards are more arches, slot canyons, sandstone formations, and true solitude. If you're not up for spending several days in the rugged backcountry either backpacking or in a four-wheel drive, there are attractions reachable in day hikes as well as roadside attractions such as Mesa Arch (pictured here).
Dead Horse Point: This spectacular peninsular overlook of the legendary Colorado River got its name from the mass deaths of wild horses who were chased towards this dead-end and left in the corrals here to starve when they weren't selected for use by cowboys. It's a worthwhile stop especially if you're visiting the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument: This beautiful arching natural bridge sits in one of the side canyons of the scenic Lake Powell. It is reachable by a strenuous backcountry hike or a pricey boat trip from Page.
Grand Canyon National Park: This is perhaps the most visited National Park in the United States. This world wonder attracts millions of visitors each year as they seek to witness the handiwork resulting from millions of years of geologic forces along with the cutting of the layers of rocks by the Colorado River. You can see the canyon from the South Rim as well as the less crowded North Rim.
The hardier visitors opt for a multi-day trek into the interior of the canyon. Meanwhile, fortunate visitors with the money and patience to sit for years on a wait list can join a Colorado River tour and see the canyon the way John Wesley Powell did.
Bryce Canyon National Park: This park is known for its striking hoodoo formations, which the Paiute Indians believed were legend people turned to stone for misdeeds. You'll see hordes of these pinnacles standing together like a crowd of people, which inspired names such as the "Silent City."
Upon a hike into the amphitheaters and amongst these hoodoos, your imagination will run wild as you might think you're seeing familiar-looking objects in these spires. Such formations include Thor's Hammer, the Fairyland Castle, the Tower Bridge of London, and even Queen Victoria herself!
The Subway: This semi-technical canyoneering slot canyon was carved out by flash floods leaving tunnel-like formations very reminiscent of subway tunnels in urban cities with underground public transportation systems. With a car shuttle, a dry suit and dry bags, and canyoneering equipment, you can do the all-day one-way hike in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park as it passes through waterfalls, crazy curved formations, and ice cold pools.
However, you need not have canyoneering equipment to get a taste of what this intriguing canyon is like. With permits in hand (also required of canyoneers), you can do an out-and-back hike up the Left Fork of North Creek into the mouth of the Subway passing by cascades and dinosaur tracks along the way.
Zion National Park: Anchored by Zion Canyon, this national park is a favorite amongst Southern Utah visitors as it features towering sandstone cliffs, slot canyons, natural arches, waterfalls, and a world famous adventure undertaken by hiking IN the Virgin River. Outside Zion Canyon, there are also attractions in the Kolob area of the park as well as the Kolob Terrace sections.
While in Zion Canyon, you can go on one of the strenuous hikes up to the canyon rim to get the sense you're on top of the world while getting incredible birds eye views of the panorama around you. Alternatively, you can remain in the canyon and get a stiff neck looking up at the features around you while taking on several of the easy walks between the river and the cliffs.
Monument Valley: This area on the eastern Utah/Arizona border conjures images of Wild West cowboy movies and the frontier spirit of the early United States. However, Navajo Indians who still inhabit the area have co-existed harmoniously with the rhythms of the land and are eager to take you on a tour to glimpse the culture, traditions, and their ways of interacting with the land for hundreds of years. The timeless sandstone buttes and natural arches beckon those who want to experience this ruggedly beautiful landscape.
The Zion Narrows: This narrow canyon cut forth by the Virgin River (which is responsible for Zion Canyon) presents an adventure that National Geographic magazine considered one of the top 10 adventures around the world. This memorable hike involves a nearly constant wade through the river while being dwarfed by thousand-foot sandstone cliffs rising vertically above you. Those fortunate to secure permits for the full 16-mile one-way hike can also spend the night in one of the campsites inside the Narrows itself.
In addition to relief from the desert heat of the summer, you'll also see hidden waterfalls, springs, and mysterious side canyons that tug at your sense of curiosity. Even if you can't secure permits to do the entire length of the Narrows, you can still get a taste of this wonderland by hiking up into the Gateway to the Narrows at the end of the Riverside Walk and go as far as Big Springs or a waterfall in Orderville Canyon before turning back.
Natural Bridges National Monument: This monument features three giant bridges in southeastern Utah. They are the Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge, and Owachomo Bridge. The first two bridges are so big that they have some of the largest spans in the world. The last bridge is the oldest of the three and is perhaps the most scenic.
Antelope Canyon: This spectacular pair of slot canyons near Page, AZ are immensely popular as they give visitors easy access to some of the most spectacular slot canyon scenery in the world.
Upper Antelope Canyon features cave-like darkness penetrated by sun beams providing an almost cathedral-like feel to the scene. The twistier and more rugged Lower Antelope Canyon forces you to use ladders and stairways to enter its eerie and narrow flash-flood-carved depths. Often you'll have to contort your body as you squeeze your way between some of its narrow regions.
Hole-in-the-Rock Road: This former Mormon wagon path traverses through the heart of the Grand Staircase National Monument en route to the northern shores of Lake Powell at the Hole-in-the-Rock site. Along this 60-mile unpaved route, you'll find numerous historic sites, slot canyons, and arches. While many of the sites here require some degree of self sufficiency and care due to its undeveloped nature, it's a great way to truly experience the rugged deserts of Southern Utah while rewarding you with unforgettable adventures away from the tour bus crowd.
Among some of the featured attractions found in a Hole-in-the-Rock Adventure are the Devil's Garden, Coyote Gulch, and Broken Bow Arch.
Sedona: This is Arizona's answer to Southern Utah's Zion National Park. It's actually a strange mix of suburbian development surrounded by scenic red rocks that could've easily been a National Park on its own. There's plenty of activities to do (not all of them nature related) such as shopping, golfing, helicopter touring, etc.
But even if artificial pleasures aren't your cup of tea, there are hikes and scenic driving opportunities here such as several natural arches and bridges reachable by hiking trail.
Meteor Crater: Said to be the best preserved meteor impact site in the world, this 4000ft diameter dent in the earth's crust is both massive and humbling. It's hard to believe that this was all caused by a 150ft rock slamming into the earth at 26,000 miles per second! In addition to getting upclose and personal with the crater, there is also a museum as well as a movie discussing the role meteors play in the grand scheme of things as well as some other tidbits like fossils, quirky history, and even views of the San Fransisco Peaks to the west.
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