Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Trip West

My Trip West

For the last two weeks, I have been on a western vacation; this is the seventh time that I have rode across our great country to see the wonderful sights; I will share some of the locations that I recently visited in the order.  Nearly all the national parks, monuments, and privately owned destinations had a video about the features and history of these special places.  If you tour the west in the future, be sure to watch the documentary films on each of the sites you visit; the shows are short but very informative and will help you see and appreciate these geological, geographical, and historical areas of interest.

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Monument

The vistas of the various colors of the Painted Desert are the design of the great artist above.  Though now arid and desolate, the Petrified Forest was at one time a great forest; the huge trees that remain are now stone and create a remarkable landscape.  Be sure to walk among the stone giants that once grew in very humid regions but are now frozen in time in a desert of remarkable beauty.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is privately owned and the cost for admission is $16.00 per person; but if you are interested in seeing the best preserved impact crater, it is worth the cost.  The crater is a mile wide and some 700 feet deep.  You can stand on the crater’s rim and imagine the colossal collision that occurred to create this vast hole.

Sunset Volcano National Monument

Just north of Flagstaff, Arizona is a series of volcanic peaks; one of those is the Sunset Volcano where you can walk among the lava fields and feel the cinders beneath your feet.  Walking trails allow you a first-hand view of the volcano area; informative signs tell of the history of the area and the people that once called the place home.

Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View on the south rim is my favorite place in the Grand Canyon.  The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, the western portion was my favorite spot; but, that end of the south rim has been so commercialized it has lost most of its original grandeur.  Tour buses from Las Vegas and Flagstaff fill the area with foreign visitors and the crowds are difficult for me to deal with; but it is the Grand Canyon and is a sight to behold.

Mesa Verde National Monument

Mesa Verde means green table and was one of the most exciting adventures during the whole trip.  While touring the Balcony House, I climbed a wooden ladder on the side of the cliff dwelling that was 32 feet high; the other three ladders we had to climb were only ten feet or more high, but exciting.  Of course, climbing a rock face with only a chain and footholds was definitely a challenge, but it was our exit to the tour; a fall would have meant certain death.  Our tour guide was excellent and told us about the people who lived in the cliff dwellings for some 700 years.  We also toured Spruce House which is the only self guided tour of the cliff dwellings in the park.  Prior to the Spruce House tour, we looked through the vast but wonderful museum that would take a day to absorb.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument; the stone bridges were in a vast river canyon.  The size of the three natural bridges was amazing with heights and spans over 200 feet.  The area was absolutely beautiful and we only saw one other group during our tour.

Arches National Park

Though very arid and dry, the rock formations and window rocks in the park are worth the effort to see; several rock arches are found throughout the thirty or so mile ride through the area.  The Balanced Rock and high rock spires are just a few of the unique features scattered across the landscape.

Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky of Canyonlands is a must see if you go out west; the area is a northern extension of the Grand Canyon and is just or more impressive.  The Colorado and Green Rivers carve the landscape beyond description; the only way you can appreciate its beauty is to visit the site.  Canyonlands and Arches are not far from Moab, Utah and contain some of the most impressive rock formations and canyons in the country.

Yellowstone National Park

Even though Yellowstone does not contain the great peaks and high mountain ranges as Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies, it is my favorite national park to visit because of the great herds of buffalo that roam free, the geysers and hot springs, the huge waterfalls of the Yellowstone River found in the grand canyon of Yellowstone, the beautiful and vast Yellowstone Lake, and the countless wildlife.  We watched two big herds of buffalo being forced back into the park by the rangers on horseback; I counted 192 animals in one herd that were being moved into the Madison River Valley just outside of West Yellowstone, Montana.  The park ranger told me that the buffalo would be killed if they were not forced back into the park; it is illegal for buffalo to be in Montana after May 15, since the cattle ranchers move their cattle on to Bureau of Land Management lands after that date.  Some favorite spots to visit in Yellowstone are Fountain Flats, Hayden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Lamar Valley; of course, you should never go to Yellowstone without visiting Old Faithful.

Glacier National Park

East Glacier has one of the remaining lodges that were made by the northern railroad in the early 1900’s; the area was to be the Swiss Alps of America.  You must walk inside the building and look at the huge trees that support the structure; I walked up to one of the timbers and could not reach half way around the massive tree.  Glacier has the sharpest most rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains found in the United States other than Alaska; and, these snow covered peaks are only comparable to the Canadian Rockies.  Places to visit are the following: East Glacier; Going to the Sun Road; Many Glaciers; West Glacier; and Polebridge which is a very isolated community.

Devil’s Tower National Monument

Devil’s Tower is a huge monolithic rock that rises some 800 feet from its base and sits on top of a small mountain; I walked all the way around this enormous rock formation.  If you visit the site, be sure to walk to the base and look up at the towering rock that was formed thousands of years ago by molten rock that cooled into the vertical column.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is my favorite private facility that celebrates American Indian people; this mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota will become the world’s largest rock carving being some 600 feet high and some 700 feet in length.  Presently the face of Crazy Horse is complete; all of the presidential carvings on Mt. Rushmore can be placed in the head of Crazy Horse.  The Crazy Horse carving was started on June 3, 1948; I went to the 50th anniversary of the carving and since my initial trip the place has blossomed beyond imagination.  If you are in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Crazy Horse is a must see!  The admission is $10.00 per person or $27.00 per vehicle, but it is worth every cent.

Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

Mt. Rushmore is nice to see one time; since this was my third time to visit the area, I just to a quick look and was ready for more adventure.

Badlands National Park

I have visited the Badlands three times; and I saw Wounded Knee Cemetery and the Badlands that were featured in the movie Thunderheart starring Val Kilmer.  The Badlands National Park is just north of Pine Ridge and Rosebud of the Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  The landscape is amazing and is considered sacred land by Indian people of the area.  If you are in the area, be sure you tour the Badlands National Park; I will never forget that just after dusk a full moon was rising over the desolate landscape and was awesome.

Cahokia Indian Mounds

My second visit to Cahokia was not as great as the first time; but, I walked to the top of the Monks Mound that stands 100 feet high and looked across the vast Illinois landscape.  As I was listening to the tour guide tell about the area being abandoned by some 20,000 people, I got the biggest laugh of the trip and lost my composure; therefore, I must share.  The tour guide was obviously trying to be funny but I lost it when he said, “One day the old chief woke up and went to the edge of the mound to view his vast domain.  To his surprise the chief said, ‘where the hell did everybody go’?”  If you are in the area, visit Cahokia; one of the best prehistoric American Indian museums in America.

I must mention two other places that I visited two summers ago:

Sequoyah National Park

To stand at the base of the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree is totally amazing.  If you have not seen these giant trees, you need to go and you will become a tree hugger like me.

Yosemite National Park

The waterfalls of Yosemite are the most amazing that I have ever laid eyes on; they are totally awesome and tumble from enormous heights.