The emphasis of Guadalupe Mountains is on hiking and camping, though several of the facilities offer both naturalistic and historical perspectives on the area. With ten backcountry campgrounds, two primitive campgrounds, and miles of trail, this is the park for the hiker.
The centerpiece is the former settlement of Tyuonyi. Both buildings on the floor of the valley and the cliff dwellings are part of a trail leading through the former Pueblo town. Hikers are encouraged to climb replica ladders to see what life was like inside the cliff dwellings, while at the end of the trail, there is an excavated kiva high up within the cliff face.
The North Rim has an emphasis on hiking and general appreciation for nature. It has fewer creature comforts and facilities than the South Rim, so the focus is very much on the Grand Canyon itself and the wide variety of trails offered.
While Bryce has educational exhibits and information on the geology and history of the region, the park is generally focused on hiking and the wilderness. The park’s emphasis on light pollution abatement allows for some incredibly stirring views of the night sky, while a battery of hiking options allow for enjoyment for a variety of skill levels.
Being that Arches is one of the more well-known parks in the world, a great deal of work and consideration has gone into protecting the delicate desert ecosystem as well as the deceptively fragile rock formations throughout the park. There is a large focus on education and hiking trails as well.
History of the Pueblo people and preservation of an important archeological site is the focus at Aztec. Various narratives are provided, and an archeological perspective is used to explore the items found at the site. From the scraps and shards and remains found on site, the daily life of the Pueblo of the settlement has been reconstructed.
The sprawling South Rim campus is a prime example of industrial tourism, as this side of the Grand Canyon shoulders the brunt of 6 million visitors a year. The facilities put great emphasis on accessibility and family-oriented educational programming. Multiple museums and exhibits detail the geologic and historical background of the park. It is also the starting point for hikes going down into the canyon itself.
This was one of the more serene and contemplative sites we had on the trip, due in part to it being the off-season. The Vermillion Cliffs are spectacular, and there are a number of impressive geologic formations right along the entrance road. Dipping our toes into the Colorado was icing on the cake.