National Park Hopping in the Desert Southwest

Extras, North America, United States — By on October 10, 2011 at 6:00 am

By JoAnna Haugen
Special to The Lost Girls

Dry deserts, jagged mountain peaks, crystal clear streams, wide open spaces, clean air, miles of hiking trails void of people—doesn’t that sound pretty awesome? If you’re itching to escape the every day hustle and bustle, consider hitting up these popular national parks  here in the U.S. on your next trip:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico: On the surface, this national park is reminiscent of much of the desert landscape found throughout New Mexico. Cacti, scrub grass, thorny shrubs, and only the occasional tree dot the rugged earth. But underneath all of this is a maze of 117 known caves formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Perhaps the most famous of all the national parks in the Southwest (and possibly the country), the Grand Canyon really is as spectacular as people say it is. This yawning gap in the earth is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep. There are two ways to explore this park: from the South Rim, which is more easily accessible but much more crowded, or the North Rim, which is much quieter but difficult to reach.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada: Nevada may be known as the home of Las Vegas, but in a different part of the state is Great Basin National Park. Few people reach this park, but when they do, they’re rewarded with the darkest night skies in the lower 48 states, alpine lakes in the shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, and 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees.

Death Valley National Park, California: Some call Death Valley National Park the home of superlatives, and for good reason! It is home to the hottest, driest, and lowest places in the U.S. With three million acres of wilderness, visitors can go from the searing heat of Badwater to snow-capped mountains in the same day. Visitors to Death Valley will also find several abandoned mines, multi-colored rock formations, and a surprising number of plants and animals throughout the park.

Zion National Park, Utah: Utah is packed with national parks, so it’s entirely possible to go park hopping in just this state alone. One of the highlights, however, is Zion National Park, where massive, towering canyon walls narrow as visitors travel further into the park. The colorful rock formations are punctuated with trees and split by the Virgin River. Hikers will find no shortage of interesting and challenging routes throughout.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Spanish for “green table,” Mesa Verde highlights the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in this part of the country from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. In those 700 years, the people who lived in present day Mesa Verde National Park constructed 600 cliff dwellings, which are some of the best preserved in the U.S. An additional 4,000 archeological sites offer additional insight into this particularly historic period of time.

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JoAnna Haugen writes WhyGo Las Vegas, a Las Vegas travel guide affiliated with BootsnAll. Follow her on Twitter at @WhyGoLasVegas for the latest updates on Sin City.

Photo credits: Death Valley, Raj Hanchanahal Photography; Zion, andrew c mace

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