U.S.A., this land is your land

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL -

Our read­ers share tales of their ram­bles around the world.

Who: Kelly Atkin­son (the au­thor) of Fair­fax, Va., and her friend Martta Howard of Austin.

Where, when, why: Na­tional parks have al­ways been high on my list of travel des­ti­na­tions. In the spring of 2014, I made plans withmy best friend to visit Utah’s sec­tion of the Grand Cir­cle, which con­tains Amer­ica’s largest con­cen­tra­tion of na­tional parks. We

vis­ited Zion, Arches, Cany­on­lands and Capi­tol Reef na­tional parks, Bryce Canyon, and the Nat­u­ral Bridges Na­tional Mon­u­ment, with a stop at the end at the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. We be­gan and ended the trip in Las Ve­gas, putting ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 miles on our rental car and walk­ing ap­prox­i­mately 200,000 steps.

High­lights and high points: All of the parks we vis­ited are along the Grand Stair­case, which con­tains var­i­ous lay­ers of ex­posed sed­i­men­tary rock that stretch from south­ern Utah to the Grand Canyon. I was fas­ci­nated with the change in land­scape as we vis­ited each park— from Zion with its lush canyons carved by the Vir­gin River, to Bryce with its val­ley of spired hoodoo rocks, to Cany­on­lands fea­tures, which were carved by the Green and Colorado rivers.

Cul­tural con­nec­tion or dis­con­nect: Dur­ing our visit to Bryce Canyon, I no­ticed the large num­ber of visi­tors from both Europe and Asia. I com­mented on this, andmy friend pointed out that peo­ple from for­eign coun­tries visit our na­tional parks be­cause they are a uniquely Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non. While Amer­i­cans are fas­ci­nated by cathe­drals and cas­tles in Europe, our visi­tors are fas­ci­nated by our ex­pan­sive and wide land­scapes that have re­mained largely un­touched. This gave me a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the parks and a re­solve to see more of them while they still re­main.

Big­gest laugh or cry: The most elu­sive ex­pe­ri­ence of our trip was the hunt for a slot canyon. On our way to Bryce, we planned to visit Buck­skin Gulch, touted as the deep­est, long­est slot canyon in the South­west. Af­ter walk­ing in the sun for about a mile, we reached an ap­prox­i­mately eight­foot drop into the canyon with no guar­an­teed way to re­turn. Rather than take the plunge, we de­cided to not push our luck and re­turned to the car. Our sec­ond at­tempt was a sched­uled tour of the Fiery Fur­nace in Arches Na­tional Park. De­spite a 15-page itin­er­ary and months of plan­ning, we missed the sched­uled tour by one day. There is al­ways next time!

How un­ex­pected: I was most sur­prised by how few arches ac­tu­ally ex­ist at Arches Na­tional Park. Inmy mind, I was picturing miles and miles of arches. Although the park has more than 2,000 arches, we were able to see only a hand­ful. Fond­est me­mento or mem­ory: I came back with a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this coun­try’s na­tional parks, which are truly na­tional trea­sures. We re­turned with our friend­ship in­tact and a re­newed ur­gency to add a na­tional park to all of our fu­ture trips. We have a trip sched­uled to Michigan’s Isle Royale next July and to the Moun­tain West Loop (a 1,777-mile route through six western states that in­cludes Yel­low­stone and Mount Rush­more) and Mon­tana’s Glacier Na­tional Park in the sum­mer of 2017. To tell us about your own trip, go to www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fond­est mem­o­ries, finest mo­ments and fa­vorite photos.

MARTTA HOWARD

Kelly Atkin­son andMartta Howard’s trek in­cluded Zion Na­tional Park. Above, stun­ning view of Zion Canyon from the Kayenta Trail.

Martta Howard, left, and Kelly Atkin­son saw the eerie hoodoo for­ma­tions of Bryce Canyon.

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