National Park System units or administrative areas dominate the recently released Smithsonian list of “The Ten Most Spectacular Geologic Sites” in America. Meanwhile, Yahoo! Travel has rated a geology-themed national park as one of “America’s Most Over-Rated Tourist Attractions.” Now that is a mixed bag!
Smithsonian considers these to be the ten must-see geologic sites in the continental United States (National Park Service-administered sites are boldfaced):
1. Grand Canyon (AZ)
2. Yellowstone National Park (WY/MO/ID)
3. Niagara Falls (NY)
4. Meteor Crater (AZ)
5. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (WA)
6. La Brea Tar Pits (CA)
7. San Andreas Fault at the Carrizo Plain (CA)
8. Mammoth Cave National Park (KY)
9. The Ice Age Flood Trail [sic] (WA/OR/ID)
10. Lava Beds National Monument (CA)
It’s easy to understand why fully half of the slots on the Smithsonian list are accounted for by places that are in the National Park System or administered by the National Park Service (in the case of Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail). After all, the bar is set very high for admittance to the National Park System. No site or area is supposed to make the cut if it isn’t truly exceptional in the national frame of reference.
This leaves us to wonder why Andrew Harper over at Yahoo! Travel has gone out of his way to single out Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park as one of America's most over-rated tourist attractions. This is what Mr. Harper has to say about visiting Petrified Forest:
From the north entrance of the park off of Interstate 40, a roughly 25-mile driving route meanders south among a spare expanse of rocks and sand, until you find yourself on Highway 180. Then you drive back up to Interstate 40 and continue on your way, an hour closer to the grave.
Hard to mistake the intent there! As diss-ing goes, this one is about as cruel as it gets. You can imagine what Mr. Harper has to say about Fisherman’s Wharf, Wall Street, Plymouth Rock, the Alamo, Hollywood, Bourbon Street, and RMS Queen Mary. These sites and Petrified Forest are all places that leave Mr. Harper “underwhelmed” or “exhausted.”
I’m curious to know whether these feelings are shared by Traveler readers who’ve visited Petrified Forest and the parks on Smithsonian’s list. Are the five NPS-administered sites on the Smithsonian list really the very best geologic sites in the Park System? Is Petrified Forest really a place that leaves visitors underwhelmed and disappointed?