USA’s National Parks – Part 1

It has been 5 years since my tour through the USA but it is still so fresh in my mind. One of the greatest things about the trip was seeing the changes to the surroundings in each location we arrived at. We were lucky enough to visit six of the stunning National parks on our six week tour, each with their own unique features and each so special. Join me as I look back at some of the USA’s National parks – Part 1.

Yosemite National Park, California is now in its 27th year.  The first view after you enter the park is that of Yosemite falls. Standing as the tallest falls in the park, with the mighty El Capitan rock face in the background, the park hints at its greatness immediately. This park is a mix of mountains, water and greenery which deserve at least a few days of exploration time.

Journey into the high sierra and find further views of granite mountains including the great climbing favourite, Half Dome where the photos you take are so spectacular it almost looks like a painting.

If climbing isn’t your bag, the valley trails could be for you. Marvel at the giant red sequoias in Mariposa Grove or walk through the lush forest paths. This is where bear or moose sightings are most likely to occur, but fear not, the park rangers do a fantastic job of patrolling the land. Elk are everywhere in Yosemite, but these gentle giants are nervous souls and the most trouble you are likely to have is with a herd of them crossing the road.  

Zion NP, Utah stands out on its own as an unusual blend of rich green scenery and desert sands. The word Zion means “promised land” and has long been sought out by explorers as an oasis to shelter in from the desert heat. 

The park’s many paths and pools are all shaped by water from the ever-changing Virgin river. Waterfalls and flash floods can occur with the rising sweep and fall of the river, gradually eroding the steep cliff sides and creating new pathways in the valley bed. This changing landscape is in turn responsible for the green trails and unique mix of birds, insects and animals found here. Mojave desert species thrive in the lower levels of Zion along with other species unique to the parkland.  

The variety of rock layers in Zion provide a range of natural landscapes for the keen explorer to discover. Angel’s landing is a challenging hike or the Emerald Pools is a slightly softer climb, both with rewards at the end for the worthy trekker. Pink Cliffs also feature and the neighbouring pinpoint tops of Bryce Canyon are found nearby.   

Grand Canyon NP, Arizona – Everyone knows the name, but the vastness of the Grand Canyon is still surreal upon that first view. I could and did spend hours looking at those views. 

The canyon is 446km long, up to 18km wide and 1.6 km deep. The jagged cut landscape of rugged erosional forms fill visitors with a sense of wonder as they stand at the canyon edge, jutting out over the basin bed. Wind your way through the desert plants to uncover dirt paths into the canyon where the exploration of the valley can reveal base rock layers up to 2 billion years old. 

Knowing that the Grand Canyon, like all the national parks, is a constantly changing landscape makes it all the more special to see. Stick around if you can for a sunset or sunrise in this beautiful place. One early morning hike saw me taking a hairy, scary walk along a dimly visible path into the canyon to find Ooh Aah point, a popular sightseeing spot. Upon the sun’s rising, the canyon slowly lit up and revealed its wonders as we watched in quiet awe. These are the types of experiences every traveller wants to have and ones I will remember forever. 

Helicopter rides, the Grand Canyon walkway and bungee jump over one of the streams are all ways to get an alternative look at the stunning canyon landscape.

Now because I like you all so much, here are a couple of tips for Grand Canyon visits… Several tourists lose their lives each year by falling into the canyon as they work on taking the perfect selfie. No joke. It sounds silly, but with the uneven grounds it is easy to trip or lose your footing. Take care around the rim edges and don’t be one of those people that loses their life for a photo.

Do any hard treks as early in the day as you can. If you aren’t keen on setting an alarm, think of yourself at the canyon base in the midday Arizona heat. Last figures showed two thirds of people caught in this situation needed assistance to get back to the top. So head out early, carry a hat, take PLENTY of water and an emergency snack. Your body will thank you for it! 

For more information about any of America’s National Parks, check out the www.nps.gov website. We used this prior to visits for up to date information about the areas open and fees to enter. You’ll also find printable maps of hiking/cycling trails and ideas of things to do in each park.

USA’s National Parks – Part 2 coming soon….

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