We just returned from our National Park Tour. During our travels we visited 27 National Parks (plus other National Monuments) over 136 days. We covered about 17,000 miles in our 2003 Toyota 4Runner 4WD, visiting 34 states. And we hiked over 400 miles while in the parks, including several overnight backpacking trips. Take a look.
Over 200 million years ago, the Guadalupe Mountains were a marine reef under a tropical sea. When the sea evaporated, the Capitan Reef was buried in sediments and mineral salts. Later, an uplift created the mountains that today tower above the Chihuahuan Desert. These mountains include Guadalupe Peak, which at 8,751 feet tall is the “top” or highest point in Texas. We spent five days exploring this remote place.
Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains, is the first of three “cave” national parks we plan to visit on our TTP NPS journey (the other two parks are Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Wind Cave in South Dakota). Those two parks require tours to enter their caves. But Carlsbad is unique because we could journey underground to parts of the cave on our own.
When we researched national parks to include on our Trekking the Planet NPS journey, we were surprised to discover sand dunes in the middle of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Great Sand Dunes contains the highest dune in North America, Star Dune (at 755 feet). The park lies at an elevation of 8,000 feet, so we were concerned that visiting in late March could be tricky. But little did we know that we would not only be seeing sand dunes, but experiencing snow.
Here are some panoramic photos that we took of the first five parks we visited. Click on any of the pictures for a larger view. Enjoy!
Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 arches etched in Entrada sandstone. It also has the highest density of natural stone arches in the world. We had been to Arches 21 years ago when our daughters were 2 and 5. Because of their ages, we didn’t do much hiking, so our goal this time was to do just that.
The Colorado River is a major waterway of the western U.S. It is 1,450 miles long and flows through five states. The Green River is the Colorado River’s chief tributary. Beginning in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, the Green meets the Colorado in Canyonlands National Park. We spent three days exploring the park, including a hike to the confluence of these two rivers.
Athough petrified wood can be found in all 50 U.S. States, Petrified Forest National Park has some of the highest concentrations in the world. We spent two days exploring this park as well as taking two overnight backpacking trips in the north and south wilderness areas.
There are four deserts in North America: the Mojave, Great Basin, Chihuahuan and Sonoran. The Sonoran Desert is the most complex and diverse of its counterparts, with its physical features ranging from mountain ranges to arid plains to grassy plateaus to lava flows. It also contains a cactus found nowhere else: the saguaro.
The Pacific Crest Trail spans three states as it travels from Mexico to Canada: California, Oregon and Washington. The Oregon portion of the trail is the shortest of the three states, covering a distance of 455 miles. As we trekked closer to the California/Oregon border we heard all kinds of stories from other hikers. “Oregon is flat, and you can easily hike 25 to 30 miles each day,” one person told us. “It’s a “green tunnel” of shady forests with not many mountain views,” said another. All we knew was, after over 1,300 miles of hiking in California, we were ready to tackle a new state.
The Cascade Range of mountains extend about 700 miles from British Columbia, Canada to Northern California. The Cascades differ from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in their series of volcanic peaks dotting Northern California, Oregon and Washington. In fact, all of the volcanic eruptions over the past 200 years in the contiguous United States have taken place in the Cascades.
It had been a traumatic experience for us to leave the PCT in the High Sierras, due to the raging river crossings. As we rejoined the trail in South Lake Tahoe, we weren’t sure whether we would encounter other issues that would force us to make a similar decision. We knew that we would still face some snow, but weren’t sure to what extent it would affect our hiking progress.