Copyright 1992, by Bob Soetebier
During the last week of April and the first 3 weeks of May, we "bit the
bullet/threw caution to the wind" and took a trip to the Southwest U.S.,
visiting 17 National Parks/Monuments and a dozen various state parks.
We timed the trip perfectly as we caught all the desert cactus in full
We hiked between 6 to 10 miles per day. Some of those hikes included
elevation gains of 1000 to 2000 feet. A few of the hikes were at
elevations between 8,000 and 10,000 feet! We had absolutely no adverse
affects from hiking at those altitudes. (We did not expect any problems,
since we have ridden our bicycles over at least four mountain passes,
crossing the Continental Divide twice at elevations over 11,000 feet in
the past with no ill effects.)
We highly recommend these "not-to-be-missed" sites:
Red Rock Canyon S.P. west of Oklahoma City on I-40 and about 5 miles
s. of the Interstate at Hinton, OK. (But be forewarned, if you go there
on a weekend, so does almost everybody from OK City, too!) There's some
great swimming and "slickrock" hiking/climbing down in the canyon and up
along the rim.
If you've never been to Carlsbad Caverns, then be sure to do the
entire tour: Take the 1-3/4 mile walk down through the natural cave
mouth opening and the more-or-less level 1-1/4 main route, too. Both are
self-guided. Regardless, on the return, you are required to ride the
elevator 700-feet back up to the surface from the main trail.
While in Carlsbad, New Mexico, be sure to allow at least an hour or
two for their great 1-1/2 mile paved Living Desert Museum S.P. trail
which sits on a ridge about 1000 feet overlooking the town and river
By all means do not miss doing the 3-1/2 mile Echo Canyon Loop Trail
at Chiracahau National Monument in S.E. Arizona (2 hours east of Tucson
on I-10, then 40 miles s. of Wilcox, AZ.) The trail does have a 500-foot
elevation loss/gain (with a *very* gradual/easy rise/return!) There are
literally hundreds of thousands [This is NO exaggeration!!!] of unusual
rock columns, spires, and balanced rocks of all sizes here, with some
great views to boot!
you've ever wondered what a literal forest of huge (30- to 50-foot high)
human-form-like cactus would be like, this is where to see it!
Flagstaff, AZ. (The water was VERY cold, though, as it is fed by
"snow-melt." As a matter of fact, I was the ONLY person out of the
hundreds of "youths" that were there who got in the water at all. I went
in for three trips downstream, and was almost completely numb within a
few seconds... but it was great!) Also take a hike (up to 8 miles round
trip; since it's one-way in/out, you can do as much/as little as you
like) in the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. This is an absolutely
incredible walk along the stream between the high multi-colored canyon walls.
Just s. of I-40, 3 miles east of Flagstaff, definitely take the 1-mile
walk around Walnut Canyon Nat'l. Mon. to see the hundred or so high up,
clifface ancient Anasazi Indian Dwellings that you can enter.
Also be sure and go about 15 miles n. of there to Sunset [Volcano]
Crater Nat'l. Monument, where you can take the 1-mile self-guided nature
trail literally through lava tubes, cinder cones, and even a lava
perpetual ice cave.
Of course, don't miss seeing the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead
and Nevada's Valley of Fire S.P., too.
If you can, see ALL the National Parks/Monuments in Utah! That state
has some of the most incredibly colorful scenery/rock formations of
anywhere, and it is literally non-stop throughout southern Utah!
George, UT (in the s.w. corner of the state.) There are tons of huge
rock formations in every color of the rainbow there! [Note: Even though
there are camping facilities at Snow Canyon, it is not necessarily a good
idea to linger in this area as it has a "history" of radioactive
contamination from nuclear fallout from previous nuclear bomb tests in
Nevada! (For more info, refer to John G. Fuller's *excellent* 1983 book,
At Zion N.P. (n.e. of St. George), be sure to do the 2-mile level,
paved "Gateway to the Narrows" trail (at the end of the park canyon road)
along the river; the 1- to 2-mile "Dripping Springs" trail; and the
1-mile Canyon Overlook trail from the small parking lot at the n. end of
the longest (of two) road tunnels.
At Bryce N.P. (n.e. of Zion N.P.), do the 1-mile loop mostly level
trail at the end of the 18-mile (one-way) paved park road. You'll be up
at about 7,000 feet with some great views, and you'll get to see a lone
1,000-year old tree right on the trail, too. Also, be sure to do the
1-1/2 to 3-mile King and Queen's Garden loop trail from the canyon rim,
closer to the park headquarters and campgrounds. These trails have some
steep climbing, but are well worth getting down into and between the many
Capitol Reef National Park in s. central Utah is a well-kept secret.
It is literally and oasis, and was the site of an early (now abandoned,
but somewhat preserved) Mormon settlement. While at C.R., be sure to
hike the mostly level (but very sandy) 4.5-mile Grand Wash Canyon and
West of Blanding in s.e. Utah, stop at Natural Bridges Nat'l. Mon.
Three of the worldest largest natural rock bridges are here, and you can
see all three from the loop road (along with being able to hike down to
and under each one, too.) This is also the site of the first operating
solar-cell array in the U.S. It is adjacent to (just across the road
from) the visitor's center, which is solely powered by this amazing unit.
(Anasazi Indians' cliffface rock paintings) right alongside the road
to/from "Needles." Right along the east side of the road north from
Blanding and Monticello (on the way north past Canyonlands to Moab, Utah)
To see some of the 1500 natural rock arches in Arches N.P. (at Moab in
e. central Utah, and s.w. of Grand Junction, CO), you'll need an absolute
minimum of 2 full days as you must not miss doing the 3-mile (the first
trail. (Actually, if at all possible, plan at least 3 to 4 days for this
one. You won't regret spending the extra time here.)
The 5-mile strenuous "primitive loop" Devil's Garden Trail area
includes Landscape Arch (which is HUGE!); but, if you want to see it, you
had better go this year or next, as the park rangers told us that it is
expected to collapse within 3 years. Do take the strenuous side trail up
to (and under) it to fully appreciate its magnitude, though. Same goes
for Double-O Arch which is mid way on this trail.
In any case, if you go to any of these areas, BE SURE to carry PLENTY
of water with you (rangers recommend a *minimum* of
one-gallon/person/day) as you'll be using alot!
east of Montrose, Colorado [which is about 60 miles s. of Grand Junction
in w. central CO not far from the Utah border.] The Black Canyon is
absolutely incredible. You're up at about 8,000 feet looking down into
this very deep/steep striated-rock canyon, with a variety of immediate
scenic pull-offs and short hikes to choose from.)
If you are considering such a trip, don't hesitate, just DO IT!
You'll be glad you did, and you'll be absolutely amazed in these fabulous
places! --- One tip though: If you plan on seeing more than just one or
two Nat'l. Parks/Monuments in a single year, be sure to stop by any
Nat'l. Park/Monument site (like St. Louis' "Gateway Arch") and buy a
$20.00 "Golden Eagle Pass", which is good for one year, and gives you
"free" admission [per "car load"] into all Nat'l. Parks/Mon. You'll save
a bundle as most of these places charge between $3 and $5 admission (it's
$10 for the Grand Canyon!) Regardless, your admission ticket/receipt is
good for up to 5 to 7 consecutive days for readmission.
[NOTE: Underlined items in trip account link to additional related info about the points of interest.]