Take heart, gentle traveler, for there is a way to mindfully take joy in the true national treasures of the United States. The men and women protecting our parks are fighting an uphill battle to protect us from ourselves, and we can help them. Follow the rules posted on the clearly posted signs. They are meant to protect both you and the wildlife. Place trash in proper receptacles. They’re everywhere. Adhere to the trails. The maps are free and comprehensive. Do not try to steal the limited, federally-protected nature. Basically, don’t be terrible.
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.
The park was formed specifically to protect the area around the New River Gorge Crossing, and stretches for over 50 miles along the banks of the river from the Bluestone Dam to Hawk’s Nest State Park. Conservation of ecology, history and wildlife all play a major role in the park’s mission.
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.
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.
The Fremont people originally populated the region as early as 1000, but in the 13th century, likely due to sustained drought, they left the area. Paiutes would eventually move into the area long after. In 1872, John Wesley Powell’s team of explorers would survey the area, just as Mormon settlers moved into the area, some settling into what would become Fruita.
The focus of the park is the geologic history of the region and the preservation of the delicate ecosystem within the caves. Both self-guided and guided tours serve to educate and inspire. The native bat colony is also a star attraction, second only to the stargazing to be had.