2021 National Park Visitor Spending Contributed $42.5 Billion to Economy

How National Park Service visitor spending supports jobs and business activity in local communities

The Department of the Interior recently announced that visitor spending in communities near national parks in 2021 resulted in a $42.5 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 322,600 mostly local jobs.  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and community in America as well as to the local economies of gateway communities that support our national parks,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As we continue to welcome families to our parks and public lands across the country, the Interior Department is committed to making investments in our lands and waters that will support tens of thousands of jobs, safeguard the environment, and help ensure that national parks and public lands are ready to meet the challenges of climate change and increased visitation.” 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What the numbers show: According to the National Park Service (NPS) report, 2021 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, approximately 297 million visitors spent $20.5 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park. Of the 322,600 jobs supported by visitor spending, 268,900 jobs were in park gateway communities.

In western North Dakota, for example, 796,085 people visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park contributing nearly $51.2 million in visitor spending and supporting 675 jobs.

Badlands National Park National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In western South Dakota, 1.2 million people visited Badlands National Park in 2021and spent an estimated $88.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting. These expenditures supported a total of 1,190 jobs, $34.8 million in labor income, $61.0 million in value-added, and $114 million in economic output.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2021, 3.1 million park visitors spent an estimated $170 million in local gateway regions while visiting Joshua Tree National Park. These expenditures supported a total of 2,040 jobs, $76.7 million in labor income, $124 million in value added, and $208 million in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Joshua Tree National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And 14.2 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.3 billion in local gateway regions while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These expenditures supported a total of 18.8 thousand jobs, $618 million in labor income, $1.0 billion in value-added, and $1.8 billion in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benefits to State economies: In 2021, 35.1 million park visitors spent an estimated $2.4 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in California, the top state for visitor spending. These expenditures supported a total of 30.2 thousand jobs, $1.5 billion in labor income, $2.4 billion in value-added, and $3.9 billion in economic output in the California economy.

California was followed by North Carolina (21.0 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.7 billion in local gateway regions), Utah (14.8 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.6 billion in local gateway regions), and Virginia (22.2 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.3 billion).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional findings include: 

  • Visitor spending in 2021 meant $14.6 billion in labor income and $24.3 billion in value added
  • The lodging sector saw the highest direct effects with $7 billion in economic output directly contributed to this sector nationally
  • The restaurant sector saw the next greatest effects with $4.2 billion in economic output directly contributed to this sector nationally
  • The camping sector saw the smallest direct effect with $490 million in economic output directly contributed to this sector nation-wide
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion under the socioeconomic lens: The National Park Service is initiating a new socioeconomic monitoring project in 2022 that will survey park visitors in 24 parks each year for the next 10 years or more. One of the early parks surveyed under this method was Zion National Park in 2021 offering an updated picture of visitor spending.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Zion National Park was one of the first parks where visitors were surveyed under the new method. The results showed that our previous estimates or ‘profiles’ of average visitors underestimated the time they spent in the park and in gateway communities and we underestimated the amount of money they spent during their trips to the park,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “The new survey information will enable park managers to further improve the visitor experience and guide how to reach and engage with people who have yet to visit a national park.”  

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the NPS, Zion ranked No. 10 in the country for its number of visitors attracting 5 million in 2021.

An interactive tool enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual peer-reviewed economics report was prepared by economists from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service. It includes information by parks and by states on visitor spending, the number of jobs supported by visitor spending and other statistics.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in July

The ultimate luxury in life remains nature.

—Robert Rabensteiner

After spending two decades at L’Uomo Vogue—the menswear counterpart to Vogue Italia—Robert Rabensteiner is now the fashion editor-at-large for Condé Nast’s Italian division. Part of his job is appraising runway collections in New York, Paris, London, and Milan, his primary residence. Yet some of his most cherished trips to a remote chalet near his hometown in the Austrian Alps are far less elaborate. Hidden deep in the forest, the chalet is only accessible by riding a chairlift and then taking a half-hour trek. When his mother died, Rabensteiner sought refuge in the house and, more so, it’s calm setting. With this quote, he speaks to a feeling shared by so many of us: that the connection to nature offers an unparalleled source of wonder, healing, and joy. 

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also, check out my recommendations from July 2021 and August 2021.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its unforgettable vista.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and new-school Hollywood iconography serving as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Place in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

For a minute there, it seemed like society’s obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ’50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena last year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.

All this time, a few towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians (or, did they?). In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. One of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial is Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

The country was whipped up into a frenzy and soon after the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. But, I’m still withholding judgment!

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.”

2022 is the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. It all comes down July 1-3. And it’s going to be the biggest, best UFO Festival yet!

Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For colors—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic highways. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is home to one of the world’s most unique geological wonders: the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Formed millions of years ago when a fault line shifted and exposed thousands of acres of rust-tinted sandstone and slate-gray shale, the resulting rugged cliffs and arch formations are the red rocks Utah is known for.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grab a cinnamon bun or freshly baked mini-pie in the historic village of Fruita located within the park’s borders then stroll through verdant orchards and hunt for petroglyphs near the visitor center. Hikers won’t want to miss the 1-mile jaunt up to Hickman Bridge nor the chance to squeeze through a narrow slot canyon in Cottonwood Wash. Stay in nearby Torrey for the best BBQ and wild-west themed hotels and RV parks.

Some roads in Capitol Reef National Park remain closed due to flash flooding that occurred last Thursday (June 23, 2022). Check with the Park Service as to the current status before visiting the park.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Newport Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is absolutely worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell

From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

Read more: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

Monument Hopping: El Malpais and El Morro

Trek back through time

Hiking El Malpais and El Morro national monuments prompt a different view of the past.

If people had been there to see it—and there’s a chance Ancestral Acoma or Zuni people were—lava flowing across what’s now El Malpais National Monument might have looked a little like a dark ocean swelling with waves. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When an eruption began, magma poured and oozed from an erupting vent or fissures in the earth spreading across the ground into channels. Everything in its path would be knocked over, surrounded, buried, or ignited by the extremely hot temperature of lava. As the liquid fire continued to flow, it sometimes moved underneath and lifted a blackened crust.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As it reached the rim of sandstone mesas around the southeastern edge of El Malpais, lava rolled away from the rock walls, slipped into cracks, or filled in corners. Here, some of the continent’s newest rock now abuts the sandy floor of the ancient inland sea. 

Behind the park’s western visitor center, lava ran over Precambrian granite. So it’s 1.5-billion-year-old rock and on top of it is a 10,000-year-old rock.

Related: New Mexico’s Land of Fire & Ice: Hike through Volcanic Rock and Ice Caves at This National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), El Malpais has the unusual distinction of having a twin park in El Morro National Monument to its west along State Route 53. Together they offer an action-packed adventure. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I contemplated the geological forces as we drove west on State Route 53 crossing a landscape that has reshaped itself over thousands of years. Every time I stepped out of my car, I shifted back in time by thousands of years. At the eastern edge of the park, the newest flows are about 3,000 years old, give or take a millennium—just a blink of an eye in geologic time. Elsewhere, the lava was last liquid 150,000 to 170,000 years ago.  

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surviving in this region has long meant journeying around, not the shortest path to your destination but the one that passed by water sources which are how Spaniards began visiting what’s now El Morro National Monument. A drive of fewer than 30 minutes takes you from one park to the next. But for anyone on horseback, it would have taken at least a day. Back then, the road we now call State Route 53 which threads between heaps of lava rock and sandstone would have been a major trade route.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For thousands of years, people have found their way to a small pond fed by a reliable spring below a towering cliff. There, they rested, watered their horses, and camped under a diamond-specked sky. Quite a few labored to chisel their names into the sandstone wall.

Travelers knew to head to El Morro’s massive, cream-colored sandstone buttress for the pool of water at its base, the only reliable source in a region with no perpetual streams or rivers.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain and snowmelt still gather there, in a deep-green pool ringed by cattails that rattle in the breeze. Spaniards stopped here on their way to preach to the Zuni and Hopi or to colonize the region. Later, government survey teams and homesteaders spreading into the new U.S. territories in the Southwest did, too. They used knife blades or horseshoe nails to sign their names and record their destinations and purposes, even a poem, on the soft surface of the 200-foot-tall monolith of Inscription Rock. Those markings layer alongside much older petroglyphs and pictographs.

Related: A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

A short, steep hike leads to the mesa-top home of an Ancestral Zuni village perched on sandstone. The trail loops past a few rooms and kivas after dipping and twisting over sandstone bleached as white as the clouds above. 

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today that wall at El Morro National Monument serves as a guest book of history. Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate “passed by here” in 1598; hundreds of others did so as well, before and after. Inscription Rock is just one reason to put El Morro on your must-see list.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A superintendent in the 1920s scrubbed out signatures added after 1906 when El Morro became a national monument assessing them as illegal graffiti and leaving bald patches on the surface. No record remains of who made the arduous drive to see the area’s second national monument or who visited around 1918, during a major war and another pandemic. Now, as water works through and over the sandstone, the etchings’ lines soften, lichen obscures some, and rockfall has taken down others. It’s hard to hold history in place.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission is free—to the visitor center, the half-mile paved Inscription Trail, and even the campground. If you’re up for a little challenge tack on another mile or so and clamber up the Headland Trail. On the mesa top, you can explore the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo and snag some snaps of the nearby Zuni Mountains and remnants of ancient volcanoes.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in these faded bluffs, in the creases of lava flows, I start to see landscape-scale reminders that history is also happening now. We don’t live at the end of the timeline, a terminus point from which history is a fixed and distant object we look back on. Rather, it’s something that is in constant flux, written moment by moment. 

Related: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor centers for El Malpais (off I-40 at exit 85) and El Morro (between mile markers 44 and 45 on State Route 53) provide restrooms, maps, and rangers’ advice.

Travel on an ancient pathway by hiking the eight-mile Acoma-Zuni or Zuni-Acoma Trail (depending on your direction of travel). Trailheads are on SR-117 and SR-53 so set up a car shuttle.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A three-mile loop hike at El Calderon off SR-53 skirts cave entrances and climbs a cinder cone. Wildflowers may be abundant.

At El Morro, a trail passes along the base of Inscription Rock then switchbacks 200 feet up the mesa passing through an ancient pueblo before looping back to the visitor center in just over two miles.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at El Morro is one of nine sites spread among the junipers, each with a fire pit, a picnic table, and a view of stars thick overhead in this official International Dark Sky Park. Open on a first-come, first-served basis with water available seasonally.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

The annual party takes place from June 18 to June 25

Imagine being able to see billions of stars in the Milky Way just with your naked eye from your own backyard. It was once a common reality until artificial lights from our growing cities started encroaching upon the night sky. Today to see the Milky Way and most constellations other than, say, the Big Dipper you have to trek far, far away from humanity. The darker the sky, the better!

The ultimate stargazing spots are fittingly called Dark Sky Places: designated pockets where light pollution is at a minimum and the stars are out in all their glory. And the keepers of those Dark Sky Places are the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What began in 1988 as a grassroots movement among astronomers in Tucson is now international with 170 certified Dark Sky Places in 21 countries. Its mission is to protect natural landscapes, educate, and counteract the harmful effects of excessive light pollution linked to everything from insomnia to obesity to cancer. “It messes with our circadian rhythms,” says Ryan Parker, Chair of the Colorado chapter of the IDA. “Our body naturally needs to sleep and rest and rebuild. And when we don’t allow that to happen, it interferes with our natural homeostasis.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016. Many of the best protected night skies in the country are found within national park boundaries.

Grand Canyon joined eleven other national park sites certified by IDA. Including Grand Canyon, eight of the national park sites with IDA Dark Sky Park status are located on the Colorado Plateau. The NPS especially focuses on sustainable outdoor lighting because it combines technology, design, and practice in a way that allows parks to increase energy efficiency and enhance visitor experiences.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between its Dark Sky status and its ease of accessibility, the Grand Canyon attracts the astronomically inclined. There’s an annual Grand Canyon Star Party held in June and the Desert View Watchtower is a popular spot for capturing the Milky Way with astrophotography.

For over 30 years, the Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Conservancy have hosted a week-long June stargazing party with free entrance to the park and a multi-day program. And while during the COVID-19 pandemic the annual event went viral, the in-real-life celebration runs between June 18 and June 25 this year. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the event kicks off Saturday after sunset. So, 9 p.m. is reportedly the best time for viewing and visitors are encouraged to bring a red flashlight rather than a white one as that can interfere with the viewing.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night,” the NPS wrote on its website. “It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the South Rim, the seven-day event kicks off with a Mars Perseverance presentation on June 18 where visitors can learn about the Red Planet rover from the person who built it followed by presentations throughout the week on everything from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to learning how astronauts trained in northern Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s.

Each evening, the NPS will also host a telescope viewing behind the Grand Canyon Visitor Center while park rangers will offer constellation tours. Night sky photography workshops will also be available.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the North Rim, an astronomy-related evening program will be offered at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of the Grand Canyon Lodge and constellation talks will also be given throughout the night. During the day, solar telescopes will also be set up at the lodge.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to Know about the 2022 Star Party

  • Attend this free, open-to-the-general public, event. The park entrance fee ($35/vehicle) is valid on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.
  • The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 p.m. and many telescopes come down after 11 p.m.; however, on nights with clear and calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.
  • Campground or lodging reservations are recommended.
  • Dress warmly. Temperatures drop quickly after sunset—even during summer months.
  • View an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies by night and perhaps the Sun or Venus by day.
  • Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Rim Star Party 2022

  • Events include an outdoor evening program nightly just outside Grand Canyon Visitor Center at 8 p.m. followed by telescope viewing in the large lot behind the Visitor Center. To attend the evening programs arrive before 8 p.m. to be sure of getting a good view of the screen or arrive after dark and head straight to the telescope lot.
  • Park rangers offer constellation tours at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. The slide show, constellation tours, and at least one telescope are wheelchair accessible. The closest accessible parking is in lot 4. Lots 1 through 3 offer additional parking. During the Star Party, the Village Route (blue) shuttle bus runs every half-hour until 11 p.m. sharp.
  • The South Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association. Amateur astronomers from across the country volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Rim Star Party 2022

  • Telescopes are set up on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge every evening. An astronomy-related evening program will be presented at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Grand Canyon Lodge. Check park bulletin boards for the evening program schedule. Constellation talks are also given, throughout the evening.
  • By day, solar telescopes are set up at the lodge, the Visitor Center, and the general store (by the campground.)
  • The North Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona.

Park Alerts in Effect

  • Alert 1, Severity danger, Inner Canyon High Temp of 100 °F (38 °C) Excessive Heat Warning – Saturday, June 18, 2022; hiking into Grand Canyon is not advised this week. If you do, don’t hike between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Bring water and electrolytes, food and salty snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, a water spray bottle, loose/protective Clothing, wide-brimmed hat.
  • Alert 2, Severity danger, Grand Canyon National Park is in STAGE 2 FIRE RESTRICTIONS. Campfires are prohibited. Wood burning and charcoal fires including campfires and warming fires are prohibited.

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene

America the Beautiful: The National Parks

63 national parks draw millions of visitors a year to unique natural wonders and unforgettable terrains

In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City and was so struck with inspiration at the summer scene that he immediately composed a tune.

A decade later on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.

From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events but also in the natural splendor of the land spurring several conservation efforts including the creation of the National Parks System. Wilderness areas for people to enjoy the rugged beauty were set aside while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include a shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States and is protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park

Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Worth Pondering…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

—Catharine Lee Bates

What to Expect at the National Parks this Summer 2022

You’re hearing it could get crowded? It will, but this guide will help with how to avoid the commotion.

You’re hearing you might have to reserve your entrance time? You will this summer season but only at certain parks and only during certain times of the day. I have the details below.

You’re hearing the weather might be hard to plan for? It will likely be unpredictable but we’ve got the best ways to pack smart.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems like the US national parks have never been more popular as vacationers seek fresh air and the best of nature. Record numbers of visitors are expected to make their way into America’s 63 national parks this summer of 2022. 

Follow these tips and tricks to get you out of your vehicle and onto the trail so you can leave the crowds behind.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book your reservations in advance at these parks

To combat overcrowding and human impact on the fragile ecosystems at some of the busier parks, the National Park Service (NPS) will require visitors to make reservations in advance at seven national parks this summer: Glacier, Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, Haleakalā, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and Shenandoah. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Angel’s Landing is one of the most popular hikes in any US national park. The trail to the summit ascends a sandstone spine providing hikers with spectacular views and a true sense of adventure along the way. As of April 1, 2022, lottery-based permits are required to hike this trail. The lottery can be entered the day before your hiking day.

Related: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Starting April 3, Arches National Park implemented a temporary pilot timed entry system slated to expire after October 3, 2022. The $2 tickets will be required between 6 am and 5 pm and can be purchased on a first come first serve basis three months in advance.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

From March 1 through November 30, 2022, hiking Shenandoah’s most popular mountain—Old Rag— will require a $1 permit. Old Rag day-use permits can be purchased at Recreation.gov up to 30 days in advance of your hike.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 top tips on how to prepare ahead

Making park reservations before a visit isn’t the only thing you need to do to prepare for a trip to one of the national parks. Depending on your goals, there are several things you can do to ensure your trip goes as planned.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Make campground reservations

Camping can be one of the most rewarding (and easiest on your wallet) ways to spend the night at a national park. But during the summer, many campgrounds at the most popular parks—Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, and Zion, to name a few—get booked well in advance. Reserve a campground on Recreation.gov to make sure you don’t find yourself scrambling for a place to pitch a tent (or park your RV) at night.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check to see if the park you’re visiting is designated as an International Dark Sky Park and if it is make sure to spend at least several nights camping under the stars. Parks like Arches, Great Basin, and Joshua Tree can be spectacular during a new moon on a clear night.

Related: Escape Crowded National Parks at these 4 Alternate Destinations

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Plan for backcountry travel

Heading into the backcountry can be intimidating. But it can also be the only way to find peace and solitude in places like Yellowstone where the majority of visitors stick to the roadside attractions. Traveling into the backcountry away from roads, crowds, and on-demand rescue is a skill that can be honed over time.

To get you started consider the 8-mile round trip hike out to Chilean Memorial in Olympic National Park. Check with the park in advance to see if a backcountry travel permit is required—and don’t be afraid to ask park rangers for beginner-friendly recommendations!

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Use a map

While looking up “the best hikes in Arches” or “where to camp in Joshua Tree” is a great starting point for planning a trip to a national park, there is no replacement for a simple map. With an endless number of trails at each park, using a map to pick a route and destination can provide priceless insight into available options. Almost every major destination in a park has numerous trails leading to it and a map will show you all of them—the long way, shorter way, steeper way, a route that goes past a waterfall, and so on.

Consider visiting one of the lesser-visited parks

With 63 national parks in the US, it’s not hard to get away from the crowds even during the busiest season. Yet, parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion seem to get all of the attention.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s great news for those who are open to exploring any of the national parks but are hoping they won’t have to sit in a traffic jam while doing so. Parks like North Cascades in Washington, Capitol Reef in Utah, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Lassen Peak in California are easily accessible, experience a fraction of the visitors as some of the more popular parks and are just as spectacular.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring matters the most 

Pack the proper layers for hot days and cold nights: As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Having the right clothes can make or break your trip to a national park.

Related: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Avoid cotton, which doesn’t dry once wet, instead opt for synthetic materials, fleece, and wool. Make sure you have several layers so you can adjust as necessary depending on the weather and activity. A good rain shell, set of hiking pants, down jacket, and base layers will not only keep you comfortable but also safe out on the trail. And don’t be afraid to pack more layers than you think you’ll need.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink water

“A giant thirst is a great joy when quenched in time.”

—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968)

Not drinking enough water may be the most common mistake made by hikers. Whether you are walking in the heat or the cold, at sea level or a higher altitude, adequate hydration should always be a priority. When hiking in hot and/or humid conditions, one quart per hour is generally recommended as the minimum requirement. The same goes for altitude where although the temperature may be cooler, the air is drier and thinner. In milder conditions at lower altitudes, half of the above-mentioned quantity should normally suffice. Drink often. Rather than chugging water infrequently, take many smaller sips to continually hydrate. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. By then it is too late. 

Not the best place for a Tilley hat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun Protection

Wide-brimmed hats provide shade. Shade keeps you cooler. Cooler temperatures mean you don’t have to drink as much water. Rocket science it ain’t.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring snacks

If you plan on leaving the Visitor’s Center and heading out for even a short hike, it’s important to bring food. From a safety perspective, having extra snacks is crucial in case something unexpected happens, keeping you out for longer than originally anticipated. Not to mention, having to cut a trip short due to not being prepared can be a pretty big disappointment.

Related: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get appropriate hiking shoes

While a pair of tennis shoes will likely suffice during a short stroll, anything more than a moderate hike will be a lot more enjoyable with the appropriate footwear. Some prefer lightweight trail running shoes which have the traction necessary when ascending and descending steep and rocky sections of trail. What they lack, however, is support. A solid leather hiking boot while heavier than a trail running shoe provides ankle support that can come in handy, especially when carrying a heavier load on your back. 

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Escape Crowded National Parks at these 4 Alternate Destinations

It’s not easy to commune with nature when you’re surrounded by hordes of fellow visitors

If you are looking to experience the splendor of America’s national parks and other popular outdoor destinations this summer, you likely won’t be alone. Given the resurgence of outdoor travel and road trips during the pandemic, many parks set all-time visitor records in 2021 and are expected to be at least as popular this year.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll encounter trails and viewpoints full of tourists. As traffic jams and parking become ongoing problems, some national parks have instituted strict reservation systems. Yes, you can always find solitude in the vast wilderness of big parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone but you’ll still have to contend with traffic getting there.

This summer may be the time to try some alternative spots that offer some of the same features as their more famous neighbors. If you’re looking to dodge the lineups of slow-moving RVs and actually find a camping site, consider giving one of these lesser-known but still awe-inspiring destinations a try.

Related Article: Absolutely Best National Parks to Escape the Insanely Crazy Crowds

Sequoia National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Forest instead of Yosemite National Park

Last year, Yosemite National Park hosted more than 3.3 million visitors with the biggest crowds visiting during the summer months. The spectacular views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls lose luster after you’ve had to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic all day and then face selfie-stick-toting mobs at every viewpoint. Park lodging is often sold out a year in advance, campgrounds, are packed and the Valley takes on a circus-like atmosphere. To attempt to limit the crowds, Yosemite has instituted a reservation entry process for this year’s high season, lasting from May 20 through September 30.

Sequoia National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, about two hours south, Sequoia National Forest boasts similarly beautiful nature with cheaper entrance fees and only a fraction of Yosemite’s visitors. What you lose from missing out on Yosemite’s famous monuments, you gain by enjoying peace, solitude, and the fresh air you originally sought from the outdoors experience. Nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks also contend with crowds, particularly in their main thoroughfares.

Despite the wildfires that raged through the area in 2021, most of Sequoia National Forest’s campgrounds are already open for 2022 and the 1.1 million acres of the park still provide plenty of pristine forests to visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen National Park instead of Yellowstone

For an alternative to Yellowstone National Park, take the trek to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. Yellowstone has the iconic Old Faithful geyser and herds of bison. However, it also has herds of visitors in summer which can be as unpleasant as a close encounter with the cranky furry beasts. The more remote and often under-visited Lassen National Park has an equally entertaining collection of thermal features including the giggle-inducing hiking trails and viewpoints of “Bumpass Hell” and “Fart Gulch.”

Lassen Volcanic National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some segment of Lassen suffered from a major wildfire in 2021, much of the park remained untouched and most campgrounds will be open for the start of the summer season along with many of the popular trails.

Related Article: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

For those with a hankering for wide-open bison-viewing spots, you can still get your fill in the 70,000 acres of North Dakota’s peaceful and secluded Theodore Roosevelt National Park or South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain National Forest instead of Acadia National Park

New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest is a good alternative to Maine’s Acadia National Park. Given the record-setting 4 million visitors to Acadia National Park last year, it’s going to take a lot of work to find some solitude there this summer.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead, travel across state lines to the White Mountain National Forest and tackle the rugged beauty of the Presidential Traverse hiking trail. The full hike can be a challenge, as it goes along windswept peaks above the tree line but you’ll appreciate the peace and spectacular views you’ll earn along the way. The park offers plenty of more relaxing hiking trails as well.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument instead of the Grand Canyon

Instead of the Grand Canyon, take a trip to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona. The Grand Canyon is a truly spectacular destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. However, its millions of high-season visitors can make it feel like Disneyland at times—with the associated high prices and crowds. Instead, take a detour to explore Canyon de Chelly National Monument which features similarly stunning sandstone canyons as well as ancient cliff dwellings near the current residences of the Navajo Nation (which co-manages the park). The park charges no entry fees and has rangers leading free hikes and hosting educational evening programs.

Related Article: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

While summer seems like a great time to visit America’s most famous National Parks and other high-profile outdoor destinations, expected high-season crowds may detract from your experience.

It’s worth the time to research and explore many of the lesser-known neighboring parks as alternative summer holiday spots. You can always return to Grand Canyon and Yosemite in the off-season and soak in some scenic seclusion then.

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Ghost Wright: On the Future of AI

The Ghost in the machine

Meet Ghost Wright, my new writer. His first article appears below. But before I go on, let me be honest with you (as I always am). Even though Ghost Wright is a fairly capable writer (more on this later), I detest him. I loathe him. Okay, I mean it: I detest and loath Ghost Writer.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s why: Ghost Writer wants to make me and all my writer friends, go the way of the dinosaur. He wants to put us out of business. And he is no friend of yours, either, which you may figure out as you read on.

Ghost Wright is, indeed, a writer (of sorts). He (or “she” or “it”—pick one) writes articles on any subject a writer or publisher requests for a dollar or two (I used the free version) each using artificial intelligence (AI)—10 times faster than a human, maybe 20 times faster. For example, for a story about how to back up an RV, I can write it myself, or “Ghost Wright” can do it in a few minutes for a fraction of the time required to research the topic and write the first draft followed by several revisions.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright only exists in cyberspace. At this very moment, I bet he is writing thousands of articles for publishers, bloggers, advertising agencies, and “content creators”—anyone who needs editorial or advertising copy. I call him Ghost Wright because he/she/it is a ghostwriter on steroids. And, I’ll tell you a little secret. When starting down this AI road, the first task I assigned to my still unnamed “ghost writer” was best name for an AI writing tool using a “friendly tone”. The Blog Post Wizard generated close to a dozen friendly names including Publisho, Scribbly, Write Out Loud, Ghost Write, and Blog Fast. As I kept coming back to Ghost Write the bells chimed and the angels sang sounds of praise. Returning to Earth, Ghost Write seemed the perfect name for my phantom writer. But he doesn’t really have a name because he does not exist in real life.

A ghost-like setting? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright at work

To give you an idea of Ghost Wright’s skills, I asked him to write an article with this headline: “Learn how America’s national parks got their names”. Below is Ghost Wright’s lead paragraph exactly as he “wrote” it in minute or two.

“National parks in the United States were created by acts of Congress and named by local people. These names usually reflect the natural characteristics of an area such as a river, mountain range, or gorge. For example, Zion National Park was named after the nearby Zion Canyon in Utah.”

Following this lead paragraph, Ghost Write selected a number of national parks and spit out the origins of each.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The park’s namesake, Ebenezer Bryce, was an early settler in southern Utah who had a large influence on the area’s development. He and his many descendants helped found natural landmarks like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park (which was also named for one of Bryce’s grandchildren). Since its inception in 1923, this park has been visited by millions of tourists every year; it’s still a popular tourist destination today!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

”Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona and established in 1919, is the fifth-largest national park in the United States. Stretching 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, it contains some of the most iconic landscapes on Earth. The Grand Canyon has been around for 4 billion years but only received its official name after being officially recognized as a national park in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson.

The name “Grand Canyon” was given by John Wesley Powell during his second expedition down the Colorado River through what is now known as Marble Canyon on August 27th, 1869 (and yes, he named it before he even knew how big it was). He described it as being “one mile deep”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The name of the national park comes from the mist that hangs over the mountains. The mist is caused by cold air moving over warm air, a phenomenon known as adiabatic cooling. In this case, it happens when humid air from the Gulf of Mexico moves northward into a region where temperatures are colder than average. The warm and cool air mix together to form clouds which produce fog or mist when they reach ground level.

This happens often in Great Smoky Mountains National Park because there’s plenty of cold weather surrounding it: In wintertime, temperatures can drop below freezing even on sunny days; whereas during summertime they may hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This park is named for the petrified wood that can be found there. Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, it’s a great place to go hiking or camping. The park also offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, including bighorn sheep and black bears.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is located in California, a state that’s known for having some of the biggest trees in the country.

The park was named after the Sequoia tree and the Kings River. In fact, it was established only two years after Yellowstone National Park (which you may have heard of before), making it one of America’s first national parks!

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot has changed since the park was established in 1890: now there are over 400 units across America! But these two remain special because they’re home to some truly massive trees like General Sherman—which is more than 1,000 years old!”

The facts and specifics produced by the current generation of AI models including Ghost Write are not checked or verified. While it may be okay sometimes, at other times it can be absolutely wrong or so wishy-washy you can’t figure out what he’s saying.

Future generations may integrate fact checking but it will be awhile for commercial AI to incorporate this. So every AI-produced piece of writing has to have every fact and statement checked for accuracy, relevance, and context.

Ghost Write is a writing assistant and not a fact-checker. I still need to go through and correct the truthfulness of Ghost Write produced content.

Fact checking of the above article generated by Ghost Write uncovered numerous inconsistencies, incomplete information, and errors.

Several examples follow:

There is no evidence that Zion National Park was named by one of Ebenezer Bryce’s grandchildren. Zion was named by Mormon pioneer, Isaac Behunin in 1863. He thought it so peaceful that he named it Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Since its inception in 1923” is a misleading statement and only partially correct. In fact, Bryce Canyon became a national monument on June 8, 1923 and on February 25, 1928 Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

Grand Canyon is NOT the fifth-largest national park; it is the eleventh-largest at 3,021 square miles.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many species of wildlife can be viewed in Petrified Forest National Park but don’t expect to see either big horn sheep or black bears. Some of the many species of animals found in the park include 16 varieties of lizards and snakes, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit, bobcat, mule deer, and 258 bird species.

General Sherman tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base, Sherman Tree is considerably older than 1,000 years. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated to be around 2,200 to 2,700 years old.

NOTE: This article was NOT written by a real live person. It was 100 percent written using artificial intelligence by a fictional writer I call Ghost Write. A human “content creator” with minimum writing skills and virtually no knowledge of the subject could turn out articles like this all day long, good enough for search engines to interpret as real. Alas, these “content creators” are doing it 24/7 with one purpose: to attract visitors to a website or blog to earn money. I decided from the get-go not to monetize rvingwithrex.com.

RVs on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may have seen their work. In articles about RVing, you may notice that something seems wrong. The “writer” uses an RVing term improperly or offers advice that you know is wrong or at least written awkwardly, not like a knowledgeable RVer would write it.

And, to a website publisher’s or blogger’s joy, the articles written using such artificial intelligence are done in a way that pleases Google, so they stand a good chance of ranking high in search results.

An RV traveling on Newfound Gap Road, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My articles at rvingwithrex.com, on the other hand, are thoroughly researched and written for RVers. They may be rated lower because I do not play the game “SEO first, quality of content second.” SEO = Search Engine Optimization, i.e., more traffic to a website or web page from search engines.

I have posted it here to illustrate how easy it is to populate a website or blog with relevant content that attracts readers but generally offers only mediocre advice and information.

Ghost Writers? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So guess what you get when you search a particular subject written by artificial intelligence? You get low quality and often incorrect information.

Again, the above article was written in three minutes using artificial intelligence, not by a human. Would you have known if you read it elsewhere without any notice that it was the product of an algorithm? To read a real article on how national parks got their names, click here.

Okay, now the good news: Ghost Write will NOT write for rvingwithrex.com! Ghost Write will NOT run me outta Dodge! Be assured that all content on this site is researched for accuracy and written by the author.

Worth Pondering…

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Learn How America’s National Parks Got Their Names

The stories behind their names

What’s in a name? A lot, it seems, especially in America’s varied national parks. These vast landscapes of pristine and brilliant nature teeming with wildlife, plants, and rare geological formations have history—much of which can be told simply through their names. Some are named after people while others have Native American names with intriguing meanings. Here’s the lowdown on how 10 of America’s national parks got their monikers.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The early French-Canadian trappers called the region which includes the present-day national park, Le Mauvaises terres a traverser which translated means “bad lands to travel across.” Other traders applied the term “bad lands” to this locality as well as to any section of the prairie country “where roads are difficult….”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For hundreds of years, the Dakota people have also described this area as Mako Sica which translates to “bad lands”. This is largely due to the area’s harsh terrain—its lack of water and rocky surfaces meant it was tricky to traverse. The name has stuck in its English form to this day.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park is still pretty rocky and parched but it’s not so bad to travel through these days thanks to the many hiking trails that make its dramatic and unusual landscapes accessible. Take a walk here and you’ll get to see fossils from the now-extinct animals that once thrived here. You can also meet the bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and deer that roam the region and gaze upon some of the most striking geologic formations in the US.

The park received 1,224,226 recreational visitors in 2021.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is a mile-deep gorge in northern Arizona. Scientists estimate the canyon may have formed 5 to 6 million years ago when the Colorado River began to cut a channel through layers of rock. The canyon measures over 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn’t until 1540 by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, several centuries passed before North American settlers explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men on the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Benjamin Harrison first protected the Grand Canyon in 1893 as a forest reserve and in January 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt made more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area into a national monument. Grand Canyon became an official National Park in 1919.

The park received 4,532,677 recreational visitors in 2021.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, Petrified Forest National Park covers about 346 square miles encompassing semi-desert shrubs as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. The Park is known for its fossils, especially of fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch of the Mesozoic era about 225-207 million years ago.

National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the larger animals roaming the grasslands include pronghorns, black-tailed jackrabbits (hares), Gunnison’s prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Pronghorns, the fastest land animals in North America, are capable of 60-mile-per-hour sprints. They are the second fastest land animal on Earth.

The park’s headquarters is about 26 miles east of Holbrook along Interstate 40 which parallels the  Puerco River and Historic Route 66 all crossing the park roughly east-west.

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The site, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert, was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962.

The park received 590, 334 recreational visitors in 2021.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing America’s second national park (Yellowstone became the first national park on March 1, 1872). Created to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging, Sequoia National Park was the first national park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum. One week later, General Grant National Park was created and Sequoia was enlarged.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park to include the glacially-formed splendor of Kings Canyon. The newly established Kings Canyon National Park included General Grant National Park into it. Since the Second World War, Kings Canyon and Sequoia have been administered jointly.

The park received 1,059,548 recreational visitors in 2021.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The native Cherokee people traditionally called the Great Smoky Mountains Shaconage which translates to “place of the blue smoke.” Euro-American settlers drew from this name in their label of “Smoky Mountains,” with “Great” being added at some point or another to reflect the massiveness and grandeur of the range.

Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More often than not, the inspiration for the Cherokee name is plain to see on one of the many long, mountain-upon-mountain vistas the Great Smokies serve up from such vantages as Newfound Gap or Clingmans Dome. There’s a whitish-blue mistiness to the scenery, a beautiful kind of haze that slightly blurs the long ridges and rounded peaks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That haze is the optical result of a natural photochemical process. The trees, shrubs, and other plants of the dense and diverse Southern Appalachian forests emit natural hydrocarbons called “terpenes” that react with ozone particles from the stratosphere. Moisture condenses on these aerosols which then scatter the shorter wavelengths of light in the blue-violet spectrum to produce the signature haziness.

Seeing the soft-edged blush of the Great Smokies from a roadside pullout or a ridgeline bald never gets old. Next time you soak it in, maybe the old Cherokee name for this extraordinary range will come to mind: the “place of the blue smoke”.

The park received 14,161,548 recreational visitors in 2021.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of huge natural amphitheaters carved into sedimentary rocks by the Paria River and its tributaries along the edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau. Water and wind erosion has produced a fantastic array of brightly colored pinnacles, windowed walls, pedestals, fins, and spires.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ancient cultures are known to have occupied the Colorado Plateau for at least 12,000 years. Paiutes were living throughout the area when the first Euro-Americans arrived in southern Utah. They explained the numerous and colorful hoodoos as “legend people” who were turned to stone by the mythical Coyote. When Captain Clarence E. Dutton arrived with John Wesley Powell in the 1870s, he named many of the current features according to the Paiute names including Paunsagunt (home of the beavers), Paria (muddy water), Panguitch (fish), and Yovimpa (point of pines).

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ebenezer Bryce helped settle southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. He arrived on the Paunsagunt Plateau and Paria Valley in 1875 to harvest timber. The canyon behind his home came to be known as Bryce’s Canyon; today it remains the name of both a specific canyon and the national park. After 1900, visitors began to arrive to view the colorful geologic features and initial accommodations were constructed along the plateau rim above Bryce’s Canyon. By the 1920s, efforts were being made to set aside this scenic wonder of the Paunsagunt Plateau.

The park received 2,104,600 recreational visitors in 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument, named so by explorer John Wesley Powell, who believed this to be the Paiute name for the area, Zion got its new moniker in 1863. It was all down to Isaac Behunin, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the area to farm tobacco and fruit trees. He thought it so peaceful that he should rename it, Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The great cathedrals he mentioned were probably the incredible, precipitous red cliffs that rise on both sides of the Virgin River. In Hebrew, “zion” means “heavenly place” and standing atop the cliffs or even at their foot it’s easy to see why Behunin considered it a divine landscape. 

The park received 5,039,835 recreational visitors in 2021.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

In the arid Sonoran Desert, this national park teems with wildlife, insects, and plants. Horned lizards, roadrunners, and Gila monsters are some of the animals that call this harsh landscape home. But, it’s the plants that most people come to see and one plant in particular that has given the park its name: the saguaro cactus.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you were to ask a child to draw a cactus, they’d likely sketch out something that looks like a saguaro which has a thick trunk and vertically reaching “arms” covered in fine spikes. It’s estimated there are almost two million of these iconic plants throughout the national park, so it’s hardly surprising they’ve been given the limelight in this National Park’s name. 

The park received 1,079,783 recreational visitors in 2021.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dark Sky Reserve, this national park has a lot to preserve. If you visit, make sure you see the incredible homes carved into and built around the rocky, sandstone landscape. Dating back to around AD 550, these dwellings housed the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in this region for more than 700 years and there are 5,000 or so archaeological sites to explore within the national park.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploration is how the park got its name. When Spanish explorers in the American Southwest first came upon these towering rock formations they said it looked like a landscape of tables, covered with foliage and forest. They named it “Mesa Verde”, which is Spanish for “green table”.

The park received 548,477 recreational visitors in 2021.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Trees are an incredibly unusual-looking trees, in part because they’re not a tree at all! They’re a plant belonging to the Yucca genus that happens to resemble the size and growth pattern of a tree. Joshua trees are slow-growing adding only 2 to 3 inches each year. It takes 50 to 60 years for a Joshua tree to reach full height. They live on average about 500 years.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is named for the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) native to the Mojave Desert. Originally declared a national monument in 1936, Joshua Tree was redesignated as a national park in 1994.

The park received 3,064,400 recreational visitors in 2021.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer