Geology factors into many units of the National Park System, but there are some parks that rise above all others if you have an interest in the geologic past...and present. What follows is a short list of some of the most geologically fascinating parks in the system, though we're sure you can add others.
Bryce Canyon National Park
National park travelers are keenly aware of the changing seasons. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a completely different experience in August than in October. The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon need to be seen both in the blistering July sun and the January snow to be fully appreciated. And, of course, there’s Yellowstone – a bustling city on a summer weekend and a tranquil white wilderness on a bright February morning.
Horses have a long, long history in America. They came to the New World with the Spaniards, and have carried riders ever since. In many national parks horses are icons, seen as both honorable steeds that carry mounted rangers and as work horses that carry both visitors and gear. But they also have impacts on the landscape, and there have been calls to ban them from the parks. But should they be banned?
The coming months could tell whether Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts are both still in an acquisition mode, or will look to stand pat, as concessions opportunities are weighed in Yosemite National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For mind-blowing scenery, vast vistas of eroded stone, and rugged topography, Utah is the place. The Beehive State is home to five national parks (Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion) and five national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante (managed by the BLM), Rainbow Bridge, Natural Bridges, and Hovenweep) for good reason. It’s the greatest earth on show.
There are few better places to stare into the dark starry skies than Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. OK, Natural Bridges National Monument on the eastern side of the state isn't too shabby for star-gazing, either. But it doesn't have an astronomy festival, and Bryce Canyon's 14th Annual Astronomy Festival arrives next week.
It sounds counterintuitive to head to the Utah desert this summer to cool off. But Utah is an enigma: it is desert, canyons, and high mountains in one trip. You find groves of Ponderosa pines and wildflower meadows in abundance in Bryce Canyon National Park. The days are warm, the nights are chilly. The view of the desert is astounding, and at night visibility is measured in light-years.
Bryce Canyon National Park officials, rather than forcing private equestrians to pay a guide to lead them on trail rides, should see the marketing and PR value in having rangers saddle up to lead rides much as they lead hikes, for free.
You can bring your own horse to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah's redrock country and ride off into the shimmering sunset, but under a rule change you'll likely have to hire a guide from the concessionaire who offers trail rides.