The Wonderful National Parks of the West

Out west, the landscapes are vast and beautiful. There’s no place better to check them out than at these National Parks.

Magnificent mountains, diverse forests, and unusual geological features are among the significant features found in the National Parks of the West. These extraordinary landscapes are great places to enjoy outdoor recreation, to learn about nature and history, and to savor a scenic driving tour.

These areas give you a chance to get back to nature, explore the wilderness, and gaze up at pristine night skies. The western United States has a plethora of National Parks and each one is distinct and unique. We don’t expect you to visit all 12 straight away, we’ll give you some time…

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It’s iconic. It’s dramatic. It’s historic. One mile deep and 277 miles long, the Grand Canyon is a mesmerizing force of nature. One of the world’s seven natural wonders, it’s almost overwhelming to stand at the South Rim at dusk and watch rose-hued rock faces turn a fiery burnished bronze.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is characterized by its pinnacles, rock fins, and 2,000 gravity-defying arches. The spans of these natural stone wonders range from three feet across to 290 feet in the case of Landscape Arch, but the most famous of all is the 52 foot-tall Delicate Arch—so iconic it appears on Utah license plates.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Arches’ nearby neighbor, Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create a 387-mile outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

The park’s namesake tree, the Joshua tree, is an admired inhabitant that resembles something you might find in a Dr. Seuss book. For years, novice and expert climbers have ventured to the park to climb giant, sculpted slabs of rock while hikers explore the vast desert terrain.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

At first glance, you might wonder where the forest went. Stone log fragments litter an otherwise drab section of the high desert. However, this span of desert was once a lush, green, forested oasis with 200-foot conifers and was ruled by dinosaurs. Of the 50,000 acres of designated wilderness, the brilliantly-colored petrified wood, impressive fossils, and the Painted Desert incite the most excitement.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde is the only national park dedicated solely to human endeavor and houses some of the largest and most important cliff dwellings in the world. Built by the Ancestral Puebloans, the known archeological sites number more than 5,000 and include mesa-top pueblos and masonry towers, as well as intricate, multi-storey dwellings wedged beneath overhanging cliffs. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Aside from being home to the world’s largest tree (by volume) and protecting vast areas of towering inland redwoods, a big part of Sequoia’s appeal is that it isn’t all that crowded. Take a stroll under the big trees in the Giant Forest, view wildlife in Crescent Meadows, climb to the top of Moro Rock.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Drive along the Badlands Loop Road to experience magnificent craggy buttes, pinnacles, and spires that seem to surprise the surrounding prairie grasslands. This Mars-like landscape has several accessible trails and overlooks including the Pinnacles Overlook, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, and Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for hikers hoping to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Home of the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is much more than a single sandstone canyon. Here, you’ll find the largest concentration of eroded auburn spires, or hoodoos, on Earth. Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration, and Bryce viewpoints are the spots to hit for the best views in the shortest amount of time.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Just when you thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, Zion comes along and blows your socks off. Carved by the Virgin River, the landscape is a geological masterpiece, defined by its canyons, plateaus, and soaring sandstone cliffs. But it’s the variety, not just the magnitude that gives the park its grandeur.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Absolutely Best Road Trip from LA to the Grand Canyon

This road trips goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA

The open road is calling and few road trips are as awe-inspiring as a drive from Southern California to the Grand Canyon if you know how to do it right. From the otherworldliness of Joshua Tree National Park to the mountain biking, hiking, and golfing hub of Prescott to historic Route 66 in Williams and the vastness of the Grand Canyon; a road trip through the deserts, mesas, and forests of California and Arizona is hard to beat.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As communities re-open after their COVID-19-related closures, keep in mind that some parks, businesses, and attractions may still be closed or have new protocols in place. Before traveling, familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations for the destinations you plan to visit.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start in LA

Begin your adventure in Tinseltown known for its movie stars, palm trees, beaches, and surf. Take in the Hollywood sign, meander around Manhattan Beach, or head to Malibu to see what stars may come out to play.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 1: Joshua Tree National Park

Created as a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994, Joshua Tree National Park has long held a mystical quality. A haven for artists, rock climbers, musicians, and adventurers alike, Joshua Tree has long been a sought after destination for those seeking enlightenment and adventure in the desert.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 2: Prescott

A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row where the old saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor and nature enthusiasts are equally well served in Prescott. Set amidst the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest, the western town offers more than 400 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Paddle on any of four pristine lakes in the area and enjoy a picnic lunch before getting back on the road.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 3: Williams

This northern Arizona town is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old timey western shoot outs are staged in the middle of Main Street on weekends. And bear, bison, and wolves roam in Bearzona, a nearby, drive-through animal park.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway where visitors can hop aboard lovingly restored rail cars and be entertained by musicians and the antics of cowboy characters as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 4: The Grand Canyon

Whether you drive to the Grand Canyon or arrive via the Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll soon understand why it’s a treasured wonder of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado, the multi-hued rock walls revealing millions of years of geologic history descend a mile deep and stretch for 277 miles.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To understand about the Park’s colorful story, the Grand Canyon Historic Village is an important stop. You’ll find many National Historic Landmarks including the iconic El Tovar hotel, shops, and art galleries within the canyon-side village.

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.

Stop 5: Mojave National Preserve

On your return to LA, stop and become overwhelmed by the vastness of Mojave National Preserve. Established in 1994, Mojave National Preserve is home to such wonders as the Kelso Dunes, the Marl Mountains, and the Cima Dome, as well as volcanic formations such as Hole-in-the-Wall and the Cinder Cone Lava Beds.

Mojave National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

Grand Canyon RV Park: Road Trip Heaven

Perfectly placed adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and within walking distance of the Route 66 historic district

Some of the happiest travelers are the ones who never leave home. Why? Because they take their home with them in the form of an RV!

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year hundreds of thousands of these dedicated RV travelers map out their personalized Great American Road Trip and push a pin into one of the world’s great destinations, the Grand Canyon. As they wrap up their driving day, they find a great place to spend the night at the 5-star Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. But it’s not just the park’s many amenities that attract RV travelers. It’s the location, location … and history.

Historic Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 once stretched uninterrupted from Chicago to Los Angeles. Over time, however, it lost ground to the interstate system until, on October 13, 1984, I-40 bypassed the final, stubborn section of Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. Having outlasted every other mile of America’s Mother Road, Williams retained a retro-hip 1950s vibe highlighted by kitsch signage, neon lights, and cool diners—an absolute must-do for road trippers.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perfectly placed adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and within walking distance of the Route 66 historic district, the highest rated and only all-paved RV park in the Williams area offers three levels of options, from pull-through sites to buddy spaces to back-ins. Each full-service site is equipped with 50-amp utility services and is large enough to accommodate big rigs.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And while the Tin Can Tourists who once traveled Route 66 would have been astounded to receive a Western Union telegram at their campsite, today’s guests can stay as connected (or as disconnected) as they wish, with free Wi-Fi as well as high definition digital TV. Other amenities include coin-operated laundry machines, updated shower facilities, a community picnic area with gas grills and fire pit, and access to the hotel’s indoor swimming pool and hot tub.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guests of the RV Park and Railway Hotel enjoy an extra perk for their traveling pets, namely the animal equivalent of a luxury vacation. The Grand Canyon Railway’s Pet Resort is one of the area’s most comfortable and modern facilities where dogs and cats, both small and large, enjoy abundant indoor space for lazing about. This is especially useful since they must be leashed at all times at the Grand Canyon South Rim and are not permitted on trails below the rim, on park buses, or in park lodging (service animals are exempt).

Aboard the Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But from their base in 28 clean, cool kennels at the pet resort, dogs will enjoy individual playtime in the outdoor exercise yard and dog run. Kitties, too, can enjoy a dog’s life in 16 sun-filled cat condos overlooking the basketball and volleyball courts. From atop their private sitting ledge, felines savor the setting as they take a catnap.

En route to the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For both people and pets, the location and amenities of the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is about as good as it gets — a welcome adjunct to the railway itself.

Arriving at the Grand Canyon Train Depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon Railway takes passengers on one of America’s most picturesque train journeys. Departing each morning from the station beside the RV Park, the train chugs north out of Williams for a ride up and over the massive Colorado Plateau. At just over two hours, the journey gives RV travelers the chance to take a 65-mile shortcut and leave the driving to the engineer. It’s a perfect way to arrive at Grand Canyon National Park rested and relaxed without worrying about navigating an RV through the twists, turns, and often dense traffic that concentrates at the park’s south entrance.

Departing the train at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And it’s all made easier by a quiet night, modern conveniences, and the perfect location of Grand Canyon RV Park.

Worth Pondering…

The Grand Canyon…

Do nothing to mar its grandeur…

Keep it for our children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

—Theodore Roosevelt

Chasing John Wesley Powell: Exploring the Colorado River—Canyonlands, Lake Powell & Grand Canyon

Retracing John Wesley Powell’s first descent of the Colorado River and its canyons 150 years later

One hundred fifty years ago in May 1869, a one-armed Civil War veteran set off with nine mountain men on a scientific expedition to map one of the last blank spaces left on the US map: The Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon.

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Wesley Powell’s 1,000-mile, three-month adventure, officially called the Powell Geographic Expedition, started in Wyoming and ended in Arizona. But the heart of it went through Utah and its jaw-dropping wilderness—through what would become Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Lake Powell (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area).

Colorado River south of Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Certainly, some of the scenery and route has changed since the 1869 trip (which Powell repeated in 1871): dams were built, altering the rivers and flooding the canyons he explored. But much of the route remains protected, ensuring a rugged and wild adventure for those following in Powell’s wake.

Here are key segments of his trip through Canyonlands National Park, Lake Powell, and Grand Canyon National Park—and what they offer today.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“God help the poor wretch that is caught in the canon during highwater.”
— Jack Sumner, member of the Powell expedition

Cataract Canyon sits 3 miles below the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers— and it bedeviled the Powell crew. The rapids appeared so dangerous, the crew spent days portaging their boats past cataract after cataract.

Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park as seen from Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, a large sign warns paddlers of “hazardous rapids” as they enter Cataract Canyon and the free-flowing Colorado River. Some 400 miles away from the dam that impounds the Green River and 180 miles from another on the Colorado, this segment of the river provides the most powerful white water in the country. It boasts 30 big rapids including The Big Drop, where the river drops over 30 feet in less than a mile.

Canyonlands National Park; the Colorado River is down there somewhere © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boaters and paddlers can obtain permits through Canyonlands National Park which manages the canyon. Cataract itself is 14 miles, but river trips are usually about 48 miles, starting upstream on the Green or Colorado and ending on Lake Powell.  

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who don’t want to travel via river, there’s still plenty to do in the surrounding national park, from taking in breathtaking vistas in the park’s Island in the Sky district on its paved scenic drive, to hiking or four-wheeling in The Needles district, or serious backcountry trekking in the remote section called The Maze.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Powell described Glen Canyon as a “land of beauty and glory” and named it for its many glens and alcoves near the river. About 100 years later, the canyon was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River forming a lake named for the one-armed explorer.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 2,000 miles of shoreline, Lake Powell offers boating, kayaking, and fishing amid rugged red rock canyons and mesas.

For visitors seeking more solace than the lake’s annual 3 million visitors provide, the surrounding Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers numerous hikes, multi-day backpacking trips, and mountain biking.

Grand Canyon

“The limestone of this canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors—white, gray, pink and purple, with saffron hints.”
— John Wesley Powell

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 900 hundred miles and three months after they launched their boats, Powell and crew reached what he later named the Grand Canyon. Theirs was the first recorded passage of white men through the entirety of what Powell called “the great unknown,” though Grand Canyon has been inhabited for 12,000 years.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It contains 277 miles of the Colorado River and is up to 18 miles wide. Most of the 5 million annual visitors come for the majestic views of its fantastic shapes and colors—red, buff, green, pink, slate, and violet.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those who venture below the rim can hike and camp in the backcountry (with permits), take a mule ride down to the bottom, or raft the mighty river that carved the canyon 5 to 6 million years ago. Whitewater trips last from 3 days to 3 weeks.

Worth Pondering…

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

—Arthur Ashe

Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon

Woman dies from fall at Grand Canyon, the fourth park death in less than a month

A 70-year-old woman died after a 200-foot drop last week at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim—the third person to fall to their death in the national park, and the fourth body recovered in the area in less than a month, AZ Central reported.

Rangers at Grand Canyon National Park received reports at around 1 p.m. of a person in need of aid near Pipe Creek Vista, officials said. The woman fell before rescue efforts could begin. A technical rescue team was deployed via helicopter to locate the woman’s body, and a group of about 15 people later assisted in recovering the body, officials said in a statement.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On March 28, a 50-year-old tourist from Hong Kong died after falling hundreds of feet while taking photos at Eagle Point in Grand Canyon West. Less than one week later, a 67-year-old man fell over the canyon edge. His body was recovered about 400 feet below the rim. A fourth body, identified as a possible international tourist, was also recovered in March in a wooded area south of Grand Canyon Village.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Not to Die at the Grand Canyon

About a dozen people die each year in the park, and while that’s a small number compared to overall visitors, there are ways to make sure you don’t become one of those fatalities.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch your step. It may sounds like a cliché, but it’s a salient bit of advice in the wake of a third death in 10 days in (and near) Grand Canyon National Park, whose centennial celebration is expected to lure five million visitors to its rims this year. National Parks are often so well manicured and lighted and signed that selfie-snapping tourists tend to forget they’re in a dangerous expanse of a park that lies between 7,000 and 8,000 feet of elevation, where rattlesnakes roam, where temperatures easily creep past 100 degrees, and where there are a dozen ways to die.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to survive the Grand Canyon, therefore: Don’t underestimate it. This may be a National Park, but it’s also a wild place.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What goes down must come up. What those who stumble down from various points into the canyon itself can too easily forget is that the route down is twice as easy a trek as the way back out when it’s likely to be hotter, windier, and steep. People need to know their limits. It’s easier in than it is out with the return typically taking twice as long. It never hurts to train for a few weeks before your trip. Not a lot of people live in an area that’s nearly 7,000 feet in elevation.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get wet. With water, that is. Many of the 685 deaths catalogued adroitly in the oft-updated book Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon by Thomas Myers and Michael Ghiglieri are from dehydration and heat stroke, which can be prevented by hauling enough of that precious stuff of life to keep you hydrated for the long haul: A minimum of a liter per hour. And be sure to add some salty snacks, to keep the electrolytes flowing.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get dressed. But leave the Instagram-cute outfits back at the Airbnb and be sensible about your wardrobe choices especially if you plan on hiking into the canyon. Flip-flops? Nope. Sturdy boots or trail runners. Tank tops and crop tops? No! Layers, bandannas, even a couple not-so-cool trekking poles. Consider that depending on the time of day and time of year you start your hike, the way back may be windy and frigid.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the weather. The Grand Canyon can see monsoons from July to September, often accompanied by thunder and lightning strikes. Be on the lookout for bad weather and be ready to call it a day.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take the path more traveled. While the designated trails are well-maintained (and often paved) in the park, visitors craning for a better view (or selfie) often sneak a few feet off the trail, where they may not realize until it’s too late that what presents as stable ground is actually paper-thin, thanks to millennia of the very same erosion that carved that canyon wall in the first place.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pay attention to your surroundings. Among the more modern dangers in the Grand Canyon or anywhere is distraction from people who are on their dang phones walking and texting, not looking where they’re going.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Increasingly, people endanger themselves in that never-ending quest for the epic selfie which is doubly dangerous on an unstable trail because it typically means you’re neither looking at the ground nor how close you might be to the edge of a cliff. Selfie taking is scary, in part because your focus is typically on the camera. Put the phones away and enjoy yourself.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this advice is to suggest the Grand Canyon has turned into a deathtrap locale best avoided altogether in favor of the sanctity of a Florida theme park. About a dozen people die each year in the park but the odds of that tragic end are roughly 1 in 400,000, which is less than those of being attacked by a dog, killed in an airplane crash, or stung by a bee, according to the National Safety Council.

Worth Pondering…

Take care of yourself. You’ll find it hard to get a replacement.

Williams: Gateway to the Grand Canyon & Much More

Cowboy shootouts. A bear and bison park. Historic Route 66. Welcome to unexpected fun in this gateway to the Grand Canyon

The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams, Arizona’s, rough-and-tumble past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. And that’s fortunate for Grand Canyon-bound visitors seeking a fun, full-service spot as a base before and after a trip to the canyon’s South Rim, 56 miles north.

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town of 3,000 residents, considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon, is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway, an excursion train that traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between a historic depot and the canyon.

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’ve been to Williams before, you might not be aware of these surprising facts and how they can enhance the visitor experience.

On the Right Track

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon Railway takes passengers on one of America’s most picturesque train journeys. Departing each morning from the station beside the RV Park, the train chugs north out of Williams for a ride up and over the massive Colorado Plateau.

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At just over two hours, the journey gives RV travelers the chance to take a 65-mile shortcut and leave the driving to the engineer. It’s a perfect way to arrive at Grand Canyon National Park rested and relaxed without worrying about navigating an RV through the twists, turns, and often dense traffic that concentrates at the park’s south entrance.

Get Your Kicks On Route 66

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams boasts the final stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (on October 13, 1984). The original “super-highway,” as Route 66 was known in 1926, spanned more than 2,300 miles from Chicago to Long Beach, California and opened up the West to road travel. (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 singer Bobby Troup marked the day Route 66 was bypassed, October 13, 1984, by plunking out the 1946 tune on a piano in the middle of America’s most iconic byway—called “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house curio shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and classic diners and motels, which preserve a bygone era.

Shootouts On Main Street

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a nightly shoot-out downtown at 7:00 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day in which classic Old West “outlaws,” the Cataract Creek Gang, get killed (civic boosters prefer the term “plugged”) as hundreds of “witnesses” (i.e., visitors) look on. The costumed bad guys—cowboy hats, spurs, and all—bounce back and come back the next day to perform their evil deeds again. And get plugged again.

See the Forest and the Trees

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams is surrounded by the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest. You can explore the Kaibab National Forest’s 1,100 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads via mountain bike, all-terrain vehicle, or four-wheel drive. Elevations range from about 3,000 feet to 10,418 feet on top of Kendrick Mountain. Hikers can explore more than 300 miles of trails, some along the rims of the Grand Canyon.

Where the Wild Things Are

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bearizona Wildlife Park on the eastern outskirts of Williams is a rare spot where you can see bears, bison, wolves, and other North American critters, seemingly wandering free in the 160-acre facility. Guests view them from the comfort (and safety) of their cars through three miles of Ponderosa pine forest in the drive-through park.

Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A separate 20-acre walking area set up like a more conventional zoo is home to otters, beavers, porcupines, and more. The park also features a Bearizona Barnyard petting zoo, a special exhibit of “kindergarten” bears not old enough for the adult enclosure, and a high-country raptors show of hawks, owls, falcons, and other birds of prey.

Fill ‘Er Up

Remember when gas station attendants wore jumpsuits? Remember when there were gas station attendants?

Pete’s Route 66 Gas Station Museum (101 E. Route 66) does. The cheerful red and white vintage building contains car-culture memorabilia harking back to another era. It’s open daily in summer.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort in Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

Making a Grand Trip Grander

The Grand Canyon’s fantastic landscape turns a train trip into a fascinating geology lesson

Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has enchanted millions of people from around the world. From its yester-years of transporting ore to present-day journeys to the canyon with authentic characters that bring the Old West to life, the story of the railway is almost as dramatic as the spectacular surroundings.

The Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey in 1901 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey to the Grand Canyon on September 17, 1901. And since that time, notable passengers to ride the Grand Canyon Railway include Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.

The Grand Canyon Railway pulls out of the station in Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway and rolled out of the historic town of Williams, we were traveling across the bottom of what was once a prehistoric sea. We also traveled across the peak of a huge mountain—all at the same time.

On board entertainment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shallow sea that once covered Arizona dried up at the end of the Pre-Cambrian Era billions of years ago, but the soft curves of the seabed are still distinct atop the 1,152-square-mile Kaibab Plateau which is a only a fraction of the 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau it rests upon.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the rhythm of the steady and hypnotizing click-clack of the historic train, the dramatic landscape became a mesmerizing sight. It commanded our attention throughout the 65-mile journey to the Grand Canyon Village where even more spectacular wonders awaited.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But for now, on a trip that lasts just over two hours, we looked outside our window and peeked into the past as we witnessed billions of years of geological evolution caused by erosion, volcanoes, weathering, and tectonic uplifts. The show began as we departed the depot in Williams and traveled across the deposits of dozens of now-extinct volcanic cones that erupted from roughly 15 million to just a few thousand years ago. It is the accumulated ash, cinders, and hardened lava thrown across the ground that created the land on which we traveled.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not long into the northbound trip, we looked to the right and saw the largest volcano of all in the range of the San Francisco Peaks, outlined on the broad plain roughly 30 miles east of the tracks. Like Washington’s Mount St. Helens, the summit here—estimated to once have exceeded 15,000 feet—was reduced to 12,633 feet after a high-pressure eruption blasted the peak from the top of the now-extinct volcano.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the scenery is already larger than life, the grandeur of this world is magnified when viewed from the comfort of the Grand Canyon Railway’s parlor cars, observation cars, and historic Pullman coaches. Incredibly, the magnificent drama of the Colorado and Kaibab plateaus heightens when you roll into the station at the Grand Canyon Village. As volcanoes were creating new land, rivers were washing it away to create one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic train to the Grand Canyon. Like us, you’ll travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. Spend several nights in Williams next door to the train depot at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort.

Grand Canyon Railway station at the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estimated to be between 1.7 million and 2 billion years old, the canyon floor is roughly half as old as the planet itself! And, that is something worth contemplating as the train pulls into the Grand Canyon Village.

Grand Canyon Railway station is a short walk to the rim of the Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

King of the Road: America the Road Trip Capital of the World

Get your kicks on Route 66

You can travel by plane, by bus, or by train, but you’ll never experience the satisfaction you’ll have with an RV road trip. There’s something about the long and winding road—and the RV lifestyle—that’s partly hypnotic and wholly satisfying.

In a commission survey for Hertz in the UK which polled 2,000 British adults, the top road trip in the world is a drive along Route 66 with 56 percent of respondents naming the US as “the road trip capital of the world”.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road! Route 66. Main Street of America! Will Rogers Highway. The quintessential American Road Trip!

“The influence of social media has had a huge impact on destinations of choice, bringing increased awareness of less well-known areas, as well as ensuring that gems such as the Route 66 are still as popular as ever,” Temerity Vinson, senior director of international marketing said in a news release.

Historic Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mother Road stretches from Illinois to California through eight states. Once among the main routes for cross-country travelers, the largely two-lane road was decertified as a U.S. highway in 1985 in favor of modern interstates.

Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mention of Route 66 to most baby boomers conjures up images of George Maharis and Martin Milner cruising along in their early Corvette roadster in the television series of the same name.

While reminiscing you have the popular rhythm and blues standard (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 echoing through your mind. Composed in 1946 by songwriter Bobby Troup, this hit song was followed by the Route 66 TV drama in the early ’60s.

Powderhouse Visitor Center and Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the original highways in the U.S. highway system, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, totaling in 2,448 miles of ribboning highway. A major route for western migration in the 1930s, the route is chock-full of history, nostalgia, and sites you’ll see nowhere else.

Route 66 Mural in Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas or see a living ghost town with gunslingers and burros (Oatman, Arizona). Spend the night in a tipi at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. And be sure to visit the near-by Petrified Forest National Park.

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, Route 66 was followed in the Hertz survey of British adults by the roads around Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Highway, giving the U.S. three spots on the top 10 list.

Wigwam Motel in Hollbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrating its centennial this year, Grand Canyon National Park has become one of the country’s most beloved sites. More than 6 million people visited the park in 2017.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is difficult to comprehend through photos or words.  Much of the canyon is over a mile deep, 15 miles wide, and 277 miles long, carved through geologic formations that are over 1.7 billion years old.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular viewpoints, such as the South Rim, are visited by over 90 percent of the park visitors. Roughly 30 miles of the canyon along the South Rim is accessible by the road. The North Rim, about a 220-mile drive from the South Rim, gives access to the Kaibab Plateau and Bright Angel Point.

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Centennial celebration events will include a historical symposium, a living history week, and an effort to showcase some of the lesser-known sites through social media and other events throughout the year. Focused ranger-lead talks on the geology, cultural history, and natural resources will be available as well.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to celebrate the Grand Canyon on its 100th birthday is to see it yourself and take in the natural wonders spanning 13,000 years of human life, and eons of time before that.

Take the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Furthermore, the survey identified the ingredients of an epic road trip as wide-open roads, driving past famous attractions, and spotting wildlife along the way. Discovering views and enjoying the scenery is the main purpose for adults over 38-years-old while millennials want to enjoy a new experience.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the survey, over two-thirds of millennials use Instagram to plan their trips, and 36 percent say they’d have a hard time remembering it if they didn’t post photos to the platform.

Worth Pondering…

I hear the highway calling. It’s time for a road trip.

100 Years of Grandeur

Standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to feel insignificant

The ancient curves of red rock draw the eye toward the hallowed waterway below. Stunning and ever-changing light bounces off spectacular geologic formations, reflecting the winged shadows of raptors floating overhead.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier this year (February 26, 2019), the US celebrated the 100th anniversary of the designation of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Grand Canyon, as a national park. However, the underpinnings of what would become a national treasure and bucket list destination began to take shape eons ago.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is difficult to comprehend through photos or words.  Much of the canyon is over a mile deep, 15 miles wide, and 277 miles long, carved through geologic formations that are over 1.7 billion years old. The vast majority of the Grand Canyon National Park is extremely rugged and remote, and many places are only accessible by pack trail.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular viewpoints, such as the South Rim, are visited by over 90 percent of the park visitors. Roughly 30 miles of the canyon along the South Rim is accessible by the road. The North Rim, about a 220-mile drive from the South Rim, gives access to the Kaibab Plateau and Bright Angel Point.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And then, there is the human history, the stories of those individuals with a pioneer spirit, ingenuity and steadfast commitment that laid the groundwork for how we experience the Canyon today.

The first known Europeans to view the Grand Canyon—a scouting party of the Coronado expedition in 1541—arrived, peered down, attempted to scramble down to the river, failed, and left. Only Native Americans would gaze upon the canyon’s wonders for more than 200 years.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interest in the canyon and the Colorado River would spike with the classic account of Maj. John Wesley Powell’s harrowing first expedition down the river in 1869, and, 13 years later, the reports of Capt. Clarence Dutton, whose monograph was published by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exploits of those explorers were accented by the work of illustrators Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes. Holmes classic set of drawings, including those entitled “Panorama from Point Sublime,” remain to this day some of the great depictions of the Grand Canyon as viewed from the South Rim.

El Tovar, Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The enterprising Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1901 and soon after, in 1905, El Tovar opened and quickly developed a reputation as the fanciest hotel west of the Mississippi.

The Fred Harvey Company, now named the Xanterra Travel Collection, was hired to manage the hotel. They knew how to address the needs of tourists lured to the West by the railroad’s promotional images of the extraordinary Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The company soon needed help keeping pace with the increasing number of adventuresome travelers eager to explore the Western landscape and turned to a former St. Paul, Minnesota art teacher for assistance.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mary E.J. Colter, who would become the chief designer and architect for the Harvey organization, drew inspiration from Native American and Spanish Colonial design. Rather than mimicking European architecture, her creations were meant to blend in with or enhance their surroundings. She was responsible for the design of 23 buildings, including Hopi House, Bright Angel Lodge, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest, and The Watchtower, during more than four decades with the company.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Grand Canyon National Park Lodges welcomes guests on the South Rim with iconic accommodations like El Tovar and Bright Angel and encourages guests to sleep in the area’s rich history.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fred Harvey Company, in the earliest years of the nineteenth century, envisioned that the El Tovar Hotel, resting on the canyon rim, would enable people from around the world to experience the wonders of the Canyon. That vision is now a reality.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to celebrate the Grand Canyon on its 100th birthday is to see it yourself and take in the natural wonders spanning 13,000 years of human life, and eons of time before that.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.

—John Wesley Powell

America’s 10 Most Popular National Parks, Ranked

The top 10 national parks according to which ones are the best

The national parks system is arguably the best idea America ever had. More than 300 million people visit every year, pouring over $35 billion into the national economy.

Many parks offer free entrance days—for some, every single day is a free entrance day—and if you want to go all out, an $80 annual pass gets you unlimited access to all the national parks for the entire year.

But which parks to visit? There are currently a whopping 60 national parks in America. To help narrow the playing field, we have thusly ranked what are, per to National Parks Service’s 2017 data, the 25 most-visited.

Now, it should be noted that the least-visited national parks are often the least-visited not because they are uncool, but because they are geographically inconvenient for most visitors to reach (like Virgin Islands National Park or Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic). By the same token, Great Smoky Mountains National Park wins “most-visited” year after year on a technicality (basically, people drive through it a lot just to get from Point A to Point B).

But while it is widely known that there is nothing bloggers love more than to put things in numerical order according to how good they are, I don’t love it enough to do 60 things or even 25 things. I will be doing 10 things.

Did we rank the parks according their uniqueness, or photogenicness, or diversity of flora and fauna, or for the level of adventure contained therein? Yes. We ranked them according to which ones are the best. Let’s begin.

10. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands, near Moab, has always been upstaged by its more famous neighbors, Grand Canyon to the south and Arches to the north; and yet it merits a visit just as much as they do. Ancient waters and relentless winds have carved intricate canyons, pillars, stairs, and narrow paths through the sandstone, creating a stunning park that’s best explored on foot or bicycle. There are very few paved roads throughout the park’s 527 square miles.

9. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lassen Volcanic is one of few locations on Earth where you can see all four types of volcanoes—plug dome, shield, cinder, and cone. While Lassen Peak is the most famous, as well as the dominant feature in the park, there are numerous other—literally—hotspots to explore including mud pots, stinking fumaroles, and hot springs.

8. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree is no more, but we’ve still got General Sherman—the biggest tree in the world, weighing in at 275 feet tall and 60 feet wide. We’ve also got the underground stalactites and stalagmites of the Crystal Cave system. This is a park where you go to be fully immersed in nature; most of it isn’t accessible by car.

7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

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

The Clingman’s Dome observatory tower offers truly incredible panoramic views of the whole mountain range and to really cap things off you can pick your fill of wild strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries while you’re hiking around.

6. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve


Zion is a perennial favorite. Backcountry hikers and climbers come here for The Subway, a nine-plus-mile hike that can involve rappelling, depending on which direction you try to tackle it from. The slot canyons here, set off by rust-red rocks and waterfalls (don’t miss Weeping Rock) are undeniably iconic, and Angel’s Landing is a great underrated hike.

5. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

One of the most beautiful places in America, this park contains a massive collection of naturally formed amphitheatres and spire-shaped features called hoodoos that are some of the most distinct-looking geological features you’ll ever see in your life.

4. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Joshua Tree become more beloved every year. Climbers enjoy the wide variety of rock faces available to them here. The dry, arid desert is notably home to 501 archaeological sites and camping among the rugged geological features and famously twisted Joshua Trees—to say nothing of the stargazing—is something everyone should do at least once.

3. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Most of the meager attention that gets paid to Capitol Reef—it’s competing with four other national parks in the state of Utah alone—revolves around the Waterpocket Fold, a unique 100-mile-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. But you don’t have to be a geology nerd to enjoy what this park has to offer.

2. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Thanks to millions of years of sandstone erosion, we’re blessed with the beauty that is the Arches National Park. There are over 2,000 natural stone arches in this 119-square mile park, the most famous being the 65-foot Delicate Arch.

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Truly a sight beyond words, the Grand Canyon should be on every RVer’s bucket list. You can’t describe in words what takes your breath away with each view.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im