When I went to US all I cared about were big cities. I wanted to take a walk in Brooklyn, listen some jazz in dark and industrial Chicago, admire the Hollywood sign in LA and drink in beatnik bars in San Francisco. It was only after driving through the country when I realised that the cities are really nothing special compared to the awesomeness of local nature. Driving through Europe means usually seeing a lot of forests and farmlands while driving on busy highways. Driving in US offers on the contrary, wide variety of landscapes- deserts, snow topped mountains, rocks, human sized cactuses next to the road and so on. And just when you start wondering, you realise that you haven’t seen any car for over an hour.
Here are ten national parks that I would visit even before going to NY or LA:
1. Grand Canyon
“It’s just a hole in the ground,” I have heard saying. I decided to check the hole out. It was quite early in the morning and we were hungry. Still half asleep we drove around to find breakfast. “F***” said the driver, switched into reverse and backed up. I had seen it too. It was something blue and enormous that flitted between the bushes. We drove back and all of a sudden we had reached to a different world that was hard to grasp with bare eye. I tried to see where it ended, but it was endless. All I could do was to sit down and start to draw wishing I’d taken my watercolours. Sometimes nature just takes our words away.
2. Monument Valley
Probably you have seen the famous mittens-shaped rocks in countless of westerns. But as always in America, in real life the whole area of the park is just so much bigger. And the famous rocks are just one rock formation of many. Actually there are countless of spectacular red rocks. The stilt stone ground is all red, because of iron dioxide. So it’s not recommended to wear a white dress there like I did- it’ll be red in no time. But the location is ideal for camping. How often have you camped on red ground? Be aware of the fact that monument locates in native Americans reservation. If you wish to celebrate the view with red wine or couple of beers you need to bring them from outside.
3. Mesa Verde
The cliff dwellings of Pueblo Indians is the largest archeological preserve in US. It looks like a secret city hidden in the forest, that you didn’t believe you can find anywhere besides fantasy books. The awesome thing is that this time it’s real and part of history. It takes a little courage to climb all the ladders to reach to the abandoned villages, but it’s worth it. Listening the stories of park rangers and imagining the life of the people who lived in such extraordinary conditions takes you to a different universe.
4. Arches National Park
If Grand Canyon makes you wonder how water can shape such an enormous craters in the stone, then Arches park is even bigger mystery for me, because now the hard work is all done by wind. I got dizzy just by thinking how long the wind had to blow to model these sculptures. So, what exactly can you see there? One of the craziest nature monuments is Balanced Rock- a huge egg shaped rock balancing on the edge of another rock. Lets say, standing next to it does make you feel tiny bit restless. The other thing you’ll see a lot in Arches park are arcs of course. The way up to the plateau where you can admire one of them, Delicate Arc, feels like a pilgrimage. Strange landscapes, lot of empty space and people all going to one direction. Reaching to the plateau that ends with an arc looking to vast emptiness really gave me shivers and reminded a gateway to another reality. Besides, did you know that “Thelma and Louise” is filmed in nearby Moab?
5. Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon looks like a stone forest with hundreds of stone trees. It’s as impressive looking from above as it is when you walk through it. This place really motivated me to read more about geology. Apart from awesomeness you should be aware that Bryce Canyon can get pretty cold. At the end of May we managed to build a snowman on the top and it was my first time camping when it was snowing. I was totally not prepared for that.
6. White Sands Monument
Did you know that there is a a place in the world so light in nighttime that you can read a book without using headlamp? The place is called White Sands and as the name says, the sand is white enough to give light. On a daytime you can hike through the dunes and get to know weird desert plants. And the sign above you “No water beyond this point” means that you better be stocked up before you enter. There’ll be no water fountains where you most need them.
7. Death Valley
Does the name of the national park gives you shivers? It should, because it’s not a joke to get stuck in the hottest place of the world. Many people who’s car has broke down have gone to find help and never returned. So, whatever happens, stay close to your car until you’re rescued. Besides being deadly, it’s also the quietest place I’ve ever been to. Closing the car door behind me I was hit by a silence that almost hurt my ears.
8. Antelope Canyon
Have you seen a movie 127 hours where a mountain climber becomes trapped into canyon? If you wish to see beautifully refined canyons like in the movie, Antelope Canyon can give you pretty good picture. It’s not the cheapest, but the combination of amazing colours, lights and smooth rocks that look like they’re made of velvet is totally worth it.
9. Yellowstone National Park
It is a park in U.S I have never been but surely in my bucket list. It’s paradise for people who love waterfalls, volcanoes and wildlife. Did you know that Yellowstone Lake is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent and that it’s still active? Most of the Yellowstone is covered by lava flows and rock from volcanic eruptions. Thanks to the volcanic characteristics of this place you can also check out geysers and animal lovers have a chance to meet grizzly bear.
10. Redwood National and State Parks
That name stands for four different parks and is compulsory for every tree lover since the coast redwood is the tallest tree on Earth. The trees are way too big for tree hugging, but they surely make you realise the power of nature. Thanks to the enormous trees the park has served as a filming location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Since the forests there are rain forests be prepared for showers.