Experiencing Awe in the National Parks!

Visiting National Parks

We have traveled extensively throughout the western United States and have visited many of the popular National Parks throughout the years. This year was not an exception and we visited six national parks and three national monuments. King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks were new to us on our travels and some were favorite parks to revisit again this year.

Our National Park and Monument Visits this Year

We visited Bandalier National Monument near Santa Fe first. Unfortunately, the wild forest fires earlier this year in New Mexico destroyed much of the forests at this monument. We were able to have a lunch-time picnic in the camp ground area, but the rest of the park was closed to visitors. There were no entrance fees to this park due to the damage. We bought our National Park Pass for the next 12 months at this location.

Zion National Park is our family’s favorite National Park. It is located in southwestern Utah near St George. The Kolob Canyon entrance on the north-west area was a new place to visit this year. Our visit was on a beautiful summer morning after rainfall the previous afternoon. The red rock canyon walls glowed this morning at sunrise. Birds were flying and we listened to the sounds of the distant wildlife. Very few visitors were present while we were there. Our hike was peaceful and only disturbed by one other couple at the summit. We also visited the main park near Springdale, Utah. A park tram is required transportation throughout the river valley of this part of Zion park. Another hike after lunch to Emerald Falls and pool was undertaken. The temperature became very warm and near 100 degrees by the end of this hike. We rode the tram through this beautiful park with such names as The Court of the Patriarchs, The Weeping Wall and Angels Landing. The red rocks and sheer cliff walls gave incredible beauty to this park.

Yosemite National Park was our next park destination. With the late snowfall this year in May, there were still many snow patches throughout this park and full roaring rivers. We waited for a mudslide to be cleared on the east side entrance at Tioga Pass on a rainy early afternoon. There were throngs of people throughout this park. The waterfalls were full and free-falling throughout due to the late snow melt and the rainy summer morning. We marveled at Half-Dome and El Capitan and the many waterfalls which were normally not flowing in late summer at this park.

The next day, we visited King’s Canyon National Park located south of Yosemite near Fresno, California. Sequoia National Park also shares this visitor entrance. These were two new parks for us to visit and we were able to visit both parks during the same day. The scenic byway to King’s Canyon National Park follows the South Fork of the King River through a spectacular river canyon wilderness of 37 miles. The rapids were full and roaring and the waterfalls magnificent. Grizzly Falls and Roaring River Falls were spectacular. The King’s River was so high that the bridge to the Visitor’s Center on one road was destroyed earlier this year. Repairs were taking place but it was still possible to drive to the Visitor’s Center on a detour road.

Sequoia National Park was the second National Park created many years ago. It is located just south of King’s Canyon National Park. General Sherman, the largest tree in the world, grows in this park. A hike down a hill at over 7,000 feet altitude was a bit of a challenge when walking back up to the parking lot. There is also a handicapped access to this towering tree. The largest grove of sequoias in the world is located here. Other famous large sequoia trees that we saw included the General Grant tree and the Centennial Christmas tree at Sequoia National Monument located between King’s Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park.

We included a trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon to again view this beautiful National Park. We enjoyed an early morning walk from Mather Point near the Visitor Center to the Geology Museum before there were many visitors present. The Visitor Center was undergoing renovation at the south entrance and was closed that day. After our rim-side walk, we drove through desert scenery to the east entrance and stopped at many of the overlooks along this scenic desert rim drive. The stone Watchtower at the east entrance allows a wonderful look of the muddy Colorado River at the bottom of this magnificent canyon. The park was crowded with visitors speaking many different languages by early afternoon. During previous years, we visited the west rim and north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Another National Monument that we visited was Lowry Pueblo in the Canyons of the Ancients north of Cortez, Colorado. Be aware that this monument is a covered restored archaeological site in a pasture, and took many miles of driving on gravel roads to arrive at this site. Walkways were present as well as a gravel parking lot. There were no other people present when we visited this site.

Rocky Mountain National Park was the last national park we visited on this 18 day road-trip. This national park was the first that I visited thirty-five years ago and is still one of my favorites. The east entrance is located near Estes Park, Colorado, with the towering snowy mountain peaks visible from this town. With the heavy snowfall in May, the Trail Ridge park road opened very late on July 30 and expectations were that it would close in September for needed road repairs. Favorite hikes include Bear Lake, Sprague Lake and Lily Lake as each are easy difficulty trails for those who do not live at mountain altitude year round. New wildlife spotted this year included moose that have migrated from the west side of the park to the east side. One of these animals gave us a scare on a walking trail around Sprague Lake. A bull moose unexpectedly passed down the hill across the trail in front of us. We were speechless! Thankfully, this moose only had eyes for a female moose across the lake eating plants growing in the water.

National Park Passes

The annual pass for entrances at all National Parks and Monuments cost $80 for one calendar year. This allows the holder of the passport and three additional adult passengers in this car to enter any of the National Parks when showing this pass for no additional fees. The America the Beautiful Inter-agency Pass for Seniors can now be bought at age 62 for a fee of $10. Like the annual pass, the holder of this pass and three additional adult passengers in this car can enter any national park and national monument throughout the United States for the lifetime of the cardholder. Baby-boomers may be very interested in this cost savings as National Park entrance fees otherwise range from $10 to $30 per one day to seven day passes at each individual national park. National Monuments such as the Arch in St Louis may be accessed with the National Park Pass to allow a limited number of family members including the card-holder to enter at no additional fees.


Visiting National Parks during our family vacations has been a tradition for many years. We enjoyed the natural beauty of the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountain ranges, wilderness areas, river canyons, waterfalls, sequoia trees and other natural wonders of the south-west USA. We were deeply appreciative that these parks were set aside many years ago for visitors to still enjoy the magnificence today! What a wonderful way to spend our summer vacation this year!

Photo Links

For photo slide-shows of many of these National Parks, go to Mike Oberg’s contributor site at http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/695472/mike_oberg.html

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