Which National Park to Visit Based on Your Academic Interests

Are you ready? Whether you want to explore local places or plan a road trip, you’ll find a national park to suit your academic interests.

Summer is the perfect time to go camping and hiking in the great outdoors. There’s no better place to enjoy the outdoors than at one of the many national parks. But there are so many national parks out there that it can be very difficult to choose which one to visit.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could always go with the national park easiest to get to, but even then, it can still be hard to decide. Let your intellectual interests help you!

Here are some recommendations on what national park to go to—based on your college major or the academic pursuit most aligned to your interests. For some of us, it’s a long stretch into the distant past.

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

Biology: Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

This exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. The park is of exceptional natural beauty with scenic vistas of characteristic mist-shrouded (“smoky”) mountains, vast stretches of virgin timber, and clear running streams.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geology: Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is a world-renowned showplace of geology.

Geologic studies in the park began with the work of John Strong Newberry in 1858, and continue today. Grand Canyon’s excellent display of layered rock is invaluable in unraveling the region’s geologic history. Extensive carving of the plateaus allows for the detailed study of the Earth’s movements. Processes of stream erosion are also easily seen and studied.

The Colorado River has carved the Grand Canyon into four plateaus of the Colorado Plateau Province. The Province is a large area in the Southwest characterized by nearly horizontal sedimentary rocks lifted 5,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Archaeology: Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park is known for its Native American sites. With villages built into the cliffside and rocks painted with petroglyphs, it’s a place that has a strong connection to the people of the past.

What else would an archaeology major want in a national park? The visitor center also has the park’s museum and research collection—so there’s an added bonus.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Art: Petrified Forest

This national park is a great fit for a student of art. The part that should be most appealing to those interested in art isn’t the tree stumps preserved as stone, which the park is named for, but the Painted Desert.

Being surrounded by something so magnificently “painted” should make an artist feel right at home. In all seriousness, though, this national park is a beautiful and strange landscape that looks very little like anywhere else. If you want something new to draw or paint, this park might be the muse you’re looking for.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of where to go to begin discovering what the national parks have to offer. No matter what national park you choose to visit, you’ll be met with stunning sights and wonderful nature. You can’t go wrong with any of the national parks, so hopefully, this list has helped you choose.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

6 Unique Rock Formations

These amazing rock formations remind us that nature is still the best artist of the universe

Geology may sound boring on the surface but when you gaze your eyes on these incredible rock formations, you will find them anything but dull. Passionate rock lovers from around the world plan vacations to see some of the country’s strangest landscapes.

Many of the most spectacular formations are in the West where the mountains and canyons are younger and haven’t been softened by erosion and age. These craggy profiles and volcanic monoliths have intrigued humans for millennia.

Rock on with these six unusual rock formations below from Arches National Park to the Texas Hill Country.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah

Providing a dramatic craggy backdrop for many a cinematic Western movie, Monument Valley runs along the border of Utah and Arizona within the 26,000-square miles of the Navajo Tribal Park. U.S. Highway 163 scenic byway barrels through red rock buttes and spires.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The names of the formations offer lots of Wild West flavor: Grey Whiskers, the Totem Pole, the Sentinel, and the matching Left and Right Mitten Buttes which the Navajo believe represent the hands of the Creator. Director John Ford shot seven westerns here most starring John Wayne including The Searchers (1956) with the landscape playing a featured role. There’s even has a spot in the valley named after him: John Ford’s Point.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rocks of Sedona

You’ll find spectacular red rock buttes like those surrounding Sedona scattered throughout the Southwest but these particular rocks have something that sets them apart: mystical vortexes. Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

El Morro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro in New Mexico

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country.

El Morro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot. This massive mesa point forms a striking landmark. In fact, El Morro means “the headland.”

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock in Texas

Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top but an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to 40-story building.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away. Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park. The domes are a small and visible part of a huge underground area of granite, called a batholith. The Enchanted Rock Batholith stretches 62 square miles; most of it is underground.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, Utah

These knobby, colorful columns of red rock are just as weird as their name: hoodoos. The word hoodoo means to bewitch which is what Bryce Canyon’s rock formations surely do.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hoodoos we are talking about are tall skinny shafts of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins. Hoodoos are most commonly found in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. While hoodoos are scattered throughout these areas, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park. At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of a human, to heights exceeding a 10-story building.

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landscape Arch of Arches National Park

The largest arch on the planet, Landscape is rightfully famous. It is amazingly thin, delicate-looking, and photogenic. Landscape is an awesome sight; the amazing width of the stone arch, held in place by such a delicate, slender center. Only a few years ago, a short spur trail passed directly underneath the arch. Because of recent rock falls from the underside of the arch, visitors are no longer allowed to travel underneath the fragile-looking rock span.

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landscape Arch is located near the end of the Devils Garden Trail. There is more to see within the Devils Garden then just the impressive Landscape Arch. Private Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Wall Arch, Double O Arch, and the Dark Angel pinnacle are all within this rocky playground.

Worth Pondering…

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

—Neil Armstrong