Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Grand Circle of the Southwest United States: The Ultimate Road Trip Experience

Visiting the southwest of the United States via road trip paints a picture of the region's multicultural background, with a mix of American, Spanish, and Native American influence and heritage. For thousands of years, the Puebloan people inhabited the area of the Colorado Plateau and the Sonoran desert. A large number of unique National Parks can also be found in this region of the country, like the famous Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Arches National Park.

Monument Valley - Arizona
Monument Valley, Arizona

A road trip to the Grand Circle (a nickname for this grouping of National Parks and sites) will take approximately 10 days, or longer for those that like to get out and experience everything this land has to offer. From the wide open desert expanses of Northern Arizona to the stunning Grand Canyon, you'll come across ancient Indian ruins, prehistoric rock strata in the canyons, and gorgeous, awe inspiring panoramic views of the southwest.

Sunrise, Grand Canyon
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

To the north, you'll gaze upon the unique hoodoos formations of Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument of Utah. Over long periods of time, erosion from water and wind have carved towering red and white rock spires out of the sandstone that remains. Zion National Park gives a challenge to hikers in the steep, dark canyons of the Virgin River known as the Narrows. Close in proximity to Bryce, this area of Utah is a favorite for travelers across the world.

Amphitheatre of Bryce Canyon National Park at Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon in Utah

Further east, the area of Capitol Reef National Park splits the state of Utah in two, with its giant crinkle in the earth's crust known as Waterpocket Fold. Heading east still, the destinations of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park await. This area of southeast Utah is centralized by the desert town of Moab, a hub for rock climbers, mountain bikers, hikers and photographers alike. The incredible views of the sandstone arches, wide canyons carved by the Colorado, and the unique desert wildlife make for an unforgettable experience and road trip.

When driving through this region, it's important to know the daytime temperatures crest near 100 degrees F during the summer. This means it will best to hike the parks during the morning and late afternoon to avoid the blistering heat. Parks can also get crowded during summer, so if possible, plan your visit before the summer or in the early autumn months.

Arcing slightly east, you'll drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison of Colorado. This deep, dark marbled canyon has steep black walls that plummet to the Gunnison River, thousands of feet below. Completing your trip, you'll head back west towards Nevada's Great Basin National Park and back towards Arizona.

View Over Canyonlands National Park
View over Canyonlands National Park

Phoenix is an ideal destination to fly into to start the trip, or Salt Lake City. These two places are close enough to most of the parks that it won't take much time to get to your first stop. Some of the cheapest deals can be found at, while I've found Enterprise to have some of the cheapest and most reliable rental cars. Have fun on your trip!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Travel to 30 of the Most Popular (and Least Appreciated) National Parks in the United States

united states flagWith hundreds of National Parks and historic sites to choose from, the National Parks system of the United States has a park close to everyone, no matter where you live in America.

In the east, you'll experience some of the country's best known and most traveled to destinations, like Acadia National Park and the top draw Great Smoky Mountain National Park. To the south, the Everglades and Dry Tortugas are big attractions, while in the midwest and Great Plains, the country shifts from rolling valleys and forests to the rocky cliffs of the Great Lakes to the scenic farmlands and desolate Badlands National Park region of South Dakota.

Yellowstone National Park

Heading further west, you'll encounter some of the grand, dramatic scenery of Yellowstone, the Grand Circle, and the majestic granite peaks of Yosemite. To the north, the icy glaciers of Washington state cover Mount Rainier and the Cascades, while the coast varies greatly with the old growth of the Redwoods and Olympic National Park.

As you can see, there are hundreds of historic sites and National Parks desitnations to cover in the United States. Each have their own unique personality, wildlife and charm to call their own. Break them down into sections and explore each area by road trip, or just do it all in one fell swoop by taking an extended road excursion.

I've highlighted 30 of some of the most popular and underrated National Parks in America here, many of which I've personally visited and loved. Don't know where to start with your National Parks journey? Pick one, any one. Choose the closest one if you're under time constraints, or if you have the time, choose one far away. Once you've been bitten by the road trip travel bug, there's no headed back!