Is there a place on Earth with more natural wonders than the South-West of the United States? I can hardly think of anywhere else with a bigger concentration of treasures: dry and deadly deserts, extraordinary canyons, huge waterfalls, stunning rock formations and even the biggest trees in the world! It was a great challenge for me to rank all these beautiful places as I enjoyed them a lot, but I tried anyway and here’s the result, with my 17 favourite State or National Parks in the South-West of the United States. This is the second part, from rank 12 to 8.
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Have a look at the beginning of the list with parks ranked from 17th to 13th
12. Monument Valley
For more pictures have a look at my gallery about Antelope Canyon & Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is one of the most famous images of the South-West of the United States. Who never saw pictures of these extraordinary rock formations in the middle of the desert?
The reason why I decided to rank it only 12th despite such an incredible sight is mostly because of its touristic exploitation that I really disliked. First, the entry price is quite expensive considering that you probably won’t spend more than a few hours in the park: 20$ per vehicle, and as Monument Valley is located in an Indian reserve, the pass “America The Beautiful” can’t be used. Then the so famous picture just above was taken from the visitor centre… surrounded by hundreds of other tourists. It definitely loses a lot of its charm when you have to share this spectacular view with so many other people around you. Finally, the only way to explore the park is by driving on a track (the Valley Drive) circling around the Mesas (the name of these amazing rock formations). If you read some of my previous articles, you already know that I don’t like it when people are allowed to drive in the middle of a natural place, and I would rather have preferred hiking. So if Monument Valley is still an unmissable stop during a road trip in the South West of the United States, for me it wasn’t the unforgettable moment that I expected.
11. Joshua Tree
For more pictures, visit my gallery about the Joshua Tree National Park.
For me as well as for many other music lovers, the Joshua Tree was the name of a U2 album before being a beautiful National Park. I described my musical journey in a very special article that you can read by following this link.
For more pictures, visit my gallery about Arches & Canyonlands.
The city of Moab in the East of Utah has the privilege of an incredible location. Two extraordinary National Parks can be found nearby: Canyonlands, ranked a little higher on this list, and Arches. The name of this park describes it pretty well: it shelters the greatest concentration of natural arches in the world, with every possible size and shape. It is said that there are more than 2000 arches inside the park! Some of them are easily accessible (the impressive Double Arch or the Windows), but you’ll have to walk a bit more for some others. The most famous is Delicate Arch, symbol of Utah, located at the end of a quite steep 2.5km/1.5mile trail. Try to go there in the late afternoon for the best luminosity.
The most arduous hike of the park is called the Devils Garden Trail. You’ll find many other arches along this 6.7km/4.2miles return track, but the most spectacular one is only 1 mile away from the car park: Landscape Arch, 89m long, 32m high, making it the biggest arch in the world!
Beside these many natural bridges, you’ll also find in Arches National Park the very photogenic Balanced Rock (how can such a huge stone not collapse?) and shortly after the entrance of the park, the Park Avenue Viewpoint looks almost as if you were in a boulevard of New York, with huge buildings on both sides.
Ironically, one of the most spectacular arches in the area isn’t located in the National Park but a few miles away from Moab to the West. To find Corona Arch (and its neighbour Bowtie Arch), take Utah Scenic Byway 279 along the Colorado River, park your car at the designated car park and follow the relatively easy 3.2km/2miles return trail leading to it. Don’t forget your camera! On your way back to Moab, watch out for the signs “Indian Writing” by the side of the road: they point to a rock covered by dozens of gorgeous petroglyphs. Superb!
9. Sequoia & Kings Canyon
For more pictures, visit my gallery about Sequoia & Kings Canyon.
Back to California with these National Parks but with a completely different atmosphere compared to the dry and arid places listed before. The Death Valley National Park isn’t far away, but there’s really not much in common between this desert with almost no vegetation and Sequoia National Park where you can find the biggest trees in the world!
The two biggest living organisms on Earth can be found in the forest covering the Sierra Nevada, within the boundaries of Sequoia and its neighbour Kings Canyon National Park. The biggest one is the 2,200 years old General Sherman Tree: with a height of 84m and a circumference of 31m it’s not the tallest nor the widest of the forest but no other tree can compete with its enormous volume of 1,500m3. As a comparison, it’s more than half of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool. The second one is a youngster, only 1,600 years old, but already 82m tall: the General Grant Tree, located in Kings Canyon.
Apart from these two giants, there are dozens of other super big sequoias within the two parks, like the 79m high Sentinel Tree just in front of the visitor centre for example, or the Tunnel Log, an 84m high sequoia that fell across a road in 1937 and through which it’s now possible to drive… only if your vehicle is less than 2.4m/8feet high!
Don’t leave Sequoia without a hike to Moro Rock, a huge block of granite offering a tremendous view over the surroundings. And if you’re lucky you might even see black bears on the way… They’re wild and potentially dangerous animals but completely inoffensive if you stay far away and don’t try to bother them.
8. Grand Canyon
You might wonder why the Grand Canyon, one of the most famous places in the world, is only ranked 8th in this list, but wait to see what comes at the 7 first ranks… The moment when you have your first glance at this extraordinary sight is unforgettable. The Grand Canyon is 2,000m deep at its deepest and 29km wide at its widest! The most popular access (the only I’ve been to myself) is the South Rim, via road 64. On the other side of the Colorado River, the North Rim is accessible via road 67 which is only open between May and October. It’s way less touristy than the South but don’t worry, the Grand Canyon National Park is so huge that it’s always possible to escape the crowds, even on the South Rim. Walking along the edge of the canyon is a gorgeous stroll, leading from a lookout to another, with a constantly changing landscape. If you’re really fit (and brave), you can also try to hike down the canyon, via Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail. Going down might seem easy but remember that you’ll have to climb back up afterwards! Don’t overestimate your strength, be very prepared and take 2 days if you want to hike the entire trails all the way down to the Colorado River.
Finally, much closer to Las Vegas, the West Rim is where you’ll find the famous Skywalk: a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge 1,300m/4,000feet above the ground. It might seem attractive at first sight but keep in mind before going there that the West Rim isn’t part of the Grand Canyon National Park, which means that you’ll have to pay not less than 43$ to enter… and an astronomic total of 80$ to experience the Skywalk! And that doesn’t even include pictures: cameras are prohibited on the Skywalk and it costs an extra 30$ for a souvenir photo. I strongly recommend you to avoid the West Rim and to not encourage this business.
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