Guadalupe Mountains National Park is about 100 miles east of El Paso, near the New Mexico border. It is about 45 miles from Carlsbad Caverns, making it a perfect day to visit two parks in one day.
The visitor center is one of the few structures in the park. It is conveniently located near the campground, as well as the start of the primary trails.
One trail goes all the way to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. We chose a different trail, the Devil’s Hall Trail.
After a couple of miles you reach the wash that leads to Devil’s Hall. The wash is full of rocks and boulders, which for me, was too much to overcome to make it to Devil’s Hall. Still it was a scenic workout.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a collection of ruins of a number of structures, including the 4 story high ‘Big House’. This Hohokam village was abandoned around 1450.
While the structure survived harsh environments for centuries, in the 1930s the park service built a ramada over it to protect it. An earlier wooden one was built in 1903, but did not stand up to the weather well.
There are a number of other much smaller ruins throughout the area.
A closer look at Casa Grande shows the amazing abode structure in detail (along with a plethora of birds)
In the southwest United States there is a variation of a yucca known as a Joshua Tree. It was named that by some Mormon settlers in the 1800s.
The Joshua Tree National Park covers a vast area of Southern California. The parts of the park at a lower elevation are in the Sonoran Desert, while those where the Joshua Trees are located at a higher elevation are in the Mojave Desert.
In addition to the tree there are many interesting rock formations throughout the park. A combination of volcanic activity, seismic activity and erosion has lead to some great shapes.
Some have eroded to look like faces and skulls in the rocks.
Climbing around on the rocks is a favorite activity – even in a vampire cape.
From Keys View you can see all of the Coachella Valley, from Salton Sea at -230 elevation to 10,800′ San Jacinto Peak. The view below is looking back towards Palm Springs.
The southern portion of the park is in the lower elevation Sonoran Desert. It features an area known as the Cholla Cactus Garden – an area with more chollas than I have ever seen in such a small space.
Joshua Tree National Park is a unique natural setting well worth the trip.
The Vermillion Cliffs are an eroded escarpment across far northern Arizona, rising as high as 3000′ above the nearby valley. It provides a very scenic drive from the Grand Canyon North Rim to Page, Arizona.
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is at an area where the cliffs meet the Colorado River in Marble Canyon.
In the 1800s this area was known as Lee’s Ferry, with some historic structures situated along the river.
Many rafting trips depart from here and head down river.
Back at Marble Canyon is the Navajo Bridge, the last crossing of the Colorado River downriver for almost 300 miles (until you reach the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas).
There is an impressive view of the canyon from the bridge.
A bit further up the road, just before reaching Page, is the famed Horseshoe Bend. While impressive, it is not in my opinion as impressive as Gooseneck State Park in Utah (visited earlier in this trip).
While we have been to the Grand Canyon a few times we had never been to the hard to get North Rim. There is a saying, go to the South Rim first, because when you go to the North Rim you will never go back to the South Rim!
That saying is true – similar fantastic views with (literally) 10% of the people. Nice and quiet.
There are minimal amenities, but that is ok, there is a place to eat and sleep (if you are lucky – which we were).
There are more views of the side canyons and they connect to the main canyon, adding interesting views.
The view from Point Imperial.
Cape Royal views.
The views of Angel’s Window.
More Cape Royal views.
Sunset from the North Rim Lodge and Bright Angel Point.
Our southbound trip continued with brief visits to two National Park Service units. The first was Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
Great Basin National Park’s claim to fame is Wheeler Peak, a 13,000′ high mountain, as well as Lehman Caves.
We were too early in the day to visit the cave, so we headed up the Wheeler Peak drive. Unfortunately as we got to the 9000′ level the road was closed as there was apparently snow further up. Still we had some nice views.
Our trip south continued into Utah, where we headed up into the mountains for a visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument. In my opinion Cedar Breaks is more worthy of National Park status than Great Basin, as the views were amazing.
Day 3 found us in the western end of Colorado, leaving the town of Cortez in the early morning light. Our primary destination was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but our route there took us past Telluride.
Colorado Highway 145 took us out of Cortez, and past the town of Dolores, along the Dolores River as it made it’s way up the canyon. The green hills and fields was a dramatic change from the deserts of Monument Valley, just a hundred miles or so behind us.
As we neared the summit of Lizard Head’s Pass, we went through the small town of Rico
The mountains become more dramatic the nearer we got to Telluride.
As we made the turn to go up the valley to Telluride we passed a field of deer.
Telluride is a very exclusive ski community (don’t even ask how much real estate costs in town). They have far less development than other famous ski towns in the west (Aspen, Vail, Jackson Hole), and they like it that way.
After a brief visit we continued on our way, passing more scenic valleys.
After another hour or so we reached the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, Colorado. It is so named because of the steep walls of the canyon prevent sunlight all but 33 minutes of the day in the steepest part.
The Painted Wall is over 2200′ of sheer cliff, the highest in Colorado. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, while not a large park, is impressive.