Last week I went on a 7-day, 3200 mile road trip with my father through the western United States. Below is a rundown of all of the parks we visited. All of the photos can also be found on my flickr account.
Badlands National Park — South Dakota
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Badlands, but it was a scenic park with lots of color rock formations that seemed to appear out of nowhere, as well as home to the largest herds of Bison I have seen.
Mount Rushmore National Monument — South Dakota
U.S. Presidents’ faces carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. We arrived there once it was dark, but that didn’t stop me from getting an interesting shot before they lit up the monument.
Rocky Mountain National Park — Colorado
I have to say, I think the drive to Estes Park, Colorado was more scenic than the park. I’m guessing this park looks a lot more beautiful in the winter and spring when the peaks are still covered in snow.
Garden of the Gods — Colorado
An interesting and beautiful park of red rock surprisingly hidden in a Rocky Mountain community. Although the park was very beautiful to take in and walk through, nothing in particular caught my eye enough to take a picture.
Great Sand Dunes National Park — Colorado
North America’s tallest sand dunes. I hiked up one of the taller dunes (High Dune — 650 feet). The dunes are located in a plain that is surrounded by mountains. The area used to be a lake, but the water dried up long ago, leaving the wind to sweep across the lake bed and form dunes from the sand.
Bandelier National Monument — New Mexico
Historically one of the most fascinating parks we visited on the trips. We got to walk through the remains of some cliff dwelling Natives, and even got to climb ladders into their former rock carved homes. History doesn’t always make great photos though. I did however get some more interesting shots of Native American buildings in other parks below. The one photo I did like from the area was that of the Rio Grande right outside the park.
The Very Large Array — New Mexico
A science/astronomy nerd’s dream visitor center. The laboratories are run 24/7, so cell phones have to be turned off when entering the property to not interfere with the radio antenna readings. We got to see the antennas rotate and tilt a lot, and the visitor center contained lots of information about the discoveries made here. We happened to visit a lightning storm, so walking up to the huge dishes wasn’t really an option (although on nice days you can!), so we settled for the scenic views from the safety of our vehicle.
El Malpais National Monument — New Mexico
The main attractions of this park are the lava tubes, but unfortunately the tubes are closed due to some fungal disease that is killing all of the bats. All that’s left then is hardened lava flows, which although interesting, do not make for interesting photos.
Petrified Forest National Park — Arizona
Possibly my favorite park of this trip. Petrified trees form when they are buried in the sand and then covered with layers of sediment and compressed for a long time, essentially turning into rock. Silica (?) that seeps its way down into the trees eventually grows crystals, leaving behind a rock in the form of a tree that is full of very colorful crystals.
Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments
Sunset Crater contains a volcano that was active hundreds of years ago when the Natives (Wupatki) still lived on this land. After the eruptions, the Wupatki left to inhabit other areas.
Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
It’s a hole in the ground. Granted, it’s a very big hole, but still just a hole. Next.
Navajo Bridge/Vermillion Cliffs/Glen Canyon
A huge collection of monuments and recreational area in northern Arizona/Southern Utah. If I had a motorcycle, this is the area I would want to ride it. For our trip, a minivan had to suffice.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park — Arizona/Utah
This place is the worst. With all the money they rake in, you would think they could at least fill in some of the car destroying potholes in the park. Ultimate tourist trap.
Four Corners Monument — Colorado/New Mexico/Arizona/Utah
A Navajo park worth paying the small entry fee for. The sole purpose of this park is to get a picture of yourself taken while standing in four separate states at once. Cool.
Mesa Verde National Park — Colorado
A well-preserved historical park that focuses on the history of the Natives that lived on top of this plateau. Some of the larger cliff dwellings require a modest entry and guided tour fee ($3), but well worth the price.
Arches National Park — Utah
One of the most spectacular National Parks in existence and one of my all time favorites. Lots of scenery from the road, lots of scenery from the trails. As with most of these western parks, they are just as amazing in the dark.
Originally published at bertwagner.com on September 19, 2012.