Green Table – Mesa Verde National Park, CO (part I)

Park Point Overlook - Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Mesa Verde – Spanish for “green table” – probably conjures up images of a giant plateau topped with luscious greenery. Or a dinner table covered with a green tablecloth. Depends on your thought process, I suppose. Or your level of hunger. Clearly I’m hungry as I’m writing this. Maybe I should go eat lunch first.

Okay, lunch eaten.

As I was saying, “mesa verde” = “green table” which in this case obviously refers to a giant green plateau. From a distance, that is in fact what Mesa Verde looks like. But Mesa Verde is so much more than just a large, green plateau. Mesa Verde is a place where thousands of years of history is preserved in the cliff faces and stone remains left behind by ancient peoples. Because of this, Mesa Verde has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park contains over 4,000 well-preserved archaeological sites, including the largest known cliff dwelling in North America. Continue reading

The place where 4 states don’t quite meet

dscn5984

After Canyonlands National Park, our next destination was Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. The two parks are only about 3 hours apart by car, but we drove at least an hour out of our way (through the absolute middle of nowhere) for the sole purpose of visiting Four Corners Monument. Here, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, making this the only location in the US that 4 states come together. The monument itself is overseen by the Navajo Nation, as it also marks the border between the Navajo and Ute Indian reservations. Continue reading

Whales, Ruins, and…a Meteorite Crater? – Canyonlands National Park, UT (part II)

Upheaval Dome

Okay, so obviously we didn’t see whales in Utah. But we did climb a giant rock that was somewhat shaped like one.

For day #2 in Canyonlands, we headed back into the Island in the Sky district, this time keeping right at the fork in the road. We followed the right fork all the way to the end, parking at the trailhead for Upheaval Dome. Upheaval Dome is probably the most unique geologic feature in Canyonlands. Or anywhere, really. I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it. It gives the appearance of a giant mound of sand inside a large crater. However, the rocks visible at Upheaval Dome are from the same rock layer that, elsewhere in the park, lies nearly a mile underground. Somehow, those rocks ended up at the surface. There two possible explanations for how this happened. Continue reading

Island in the Sky – Canyonlands National Park, UT (part I)

Grandview Point Overlook - Canyonlands National Park, UT

After two wonderful days in Arches National Park, it was time to explore Canyonlands. Canyonlands National Park is located west of US Highway 191 in southeastern Utah. The park is transected by both the Green and Colorado Rivers, which converge, effectively splitting the park into three disconnected sections (there are no bridges across either of the rivers).

The northern third is the Island in the Sky district. The western portion is The Maze district, and the southeastern section is The Needles district. The Maze can be accessed only by long drives down rough roads, for which a high-clearance 4WD vehicle is required My mom’s Corolla obviously doesn’t fit this description. This is the most rugged and primitive section of the park, and is therefore the least visited. The Needles and Island in the Sky are more developed and easily-accessible, though both of these districts also have some roads that can only be traversed with 4WD. We didn’t visit The Needles because it was significantly farther from where we were camped, but I’ve heard this area is extremely cool. Next time, I suppose. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!

DSCN3645-1

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I’ve put together a list of my favorite National Park Service sites:

NATIONAL PARKS

#1: Glacier National Park, MT

dscn7824.jpg

I’m probably always going to be biased towards my home state, but I think just about anyone would agree with me that Glacier is one of the most beautiful places in the country. How can you top big blue skies, crystal clear waters, rugged mountains, and powerful glaciers? Not to mention the thousands of wildflowers, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and the largest grizzly bear population in the Lower 48. Glacier has been dubbed the Crown of the Continent, due to both its ecological importance and its natural beauty, and I can’t think of a more accurate nickname for such a special place. Continue reading

Sand, Sand, and More Sand – Arches National Park, UT (part III)

Sister and I under Broken Arch - Arches National Park, UT

For day #2 in Utah, we headed back into Arches to explore the other half of the park. We followed the main road all the way to the end this time, to the Devils Garden campground, picnic area, and trailhead. Just before the picnic area is a short trail to Skyline Arch.

Skyline Arch (Day 2)
Skyline Arch – Arches National Park, UT
Continue reading

102° – Arches National Park, UT (part II)

Delicate Arch from Frame Arch - Arches National Park, UT

Delicate Arch is arguably the most iconic image of Utah. It’s on their license plate, state quarter, and probably every other photo of Utah you’ve ever seen. And with good reason…it’s huge! You don’t really realize just how huge until you’re standing under it looking up and realizing that, in the grand scheme of things, you’re pretty insignificant.

So for obvious reasons, Delicate Arch is a must-do if you ever visit Arches National Park. It’s a 4-mile round trip hike and it’s not overly steep, but you’ll spend most of the time walking across giant rock faces in 100-degree heat. The day we did this hike, it was 102°F. And it’s dry heat. You could drink a gallon of water and still not be properly hydrated because the air is so dry. We each had 2 Nalgenes and some Gatorade with us, and we finished them by the end of the hike. In fact, we were drinking 5-6 Nalgenes per day each and by 9pm maybe, maybe we’d have to go to the bathroom. Long story short, it’s hot and dry in Utah in late July. Arches may be a better destination for April or May. But the end of July was when we could go, so we just had to suck it up. Continue reading