Southern National Parks - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Southern National Parks

Southern National Parks

Situated in southern Utah are five national parks of spectacular beauty, each with unique geological formations, cliffs and canyons of every imaginable colour, and mighty rivers.

The most well-known parks are Bryce Canyon, with its weird orange 'hoodoo' pinnacle formations, and the magnificent lush canyons of Zion National Park. Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, a largely inaccessible landscape eroded into countless canyons and plateaus by the Colorado and Green Rivers that divide the park into three districts. The most accessible area of the park is the Island in the Sky District offering breathtaking views, while the Needles Region features spires, arches and red and white striped rock pinnacles that hold numerous opportunities for hikers. The rugged Maze District is the most remote section and is practically inaccessible.

The more visitor-friendly red desert landscape of Arches National Park features thousands of natural sandstone arches and other fantastic rock formations such as pinnacles, balanced rocks and spires that can be reached by short trails or roads, making the major sights easily accessible, including Fiery Furnace, Balanced Rock and the park's most famous feature, Delicate Arch. In the centre of Utah is the state's newest park, Capitol Reef. Its main feature is the multi-layered orange, red and white cliff walls that formed a seemingly impassable rock barrier to early pioneers, stretching for hundreds of miles and known as the Waterpocket Fold. Lifted up by forces within the earth's crust, the peaks and pinnacles formed sandstone sections that reminded them of the white domes of capitol buildings.

There are very few roads bisecting the southwestern region and it is difficult to access most of the backcountry, even within the national parks, where roads are limited to high-clearance vehicles, hikers and mountain bikers. One of the best ways to experience the landscape is by river and there are numerous companies offering whitewater rafting and gentle river trips with plenty of opportunities to admire the scenery.

Information & Facts

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

The smallest of Utah's national parks, Bryce Canyon is really a series of amphitheatres carved from the surrounding cliffs by erosion. From the plateau at 8,000ft (2,438m) above sea level, layers of multicoloured rock have been worn away exposing the Pink Cliffs and leaving fairytale sandstone formations in striking colours of red, white, yellow and rich orange. Its best-known features are the groups of top-heavy pinnacles of rock that have been left standing after millions of years of erosion, known as 'hoodoos'. A Paiute legend explains the silent columns of sandstone in terms of a legendary tribe who lived there in antiquity and were turned to stone by the powerful Coyote for their evil ways. Today views from the rim take in landscapes such as the 'Silent City' and 'Rainbow Point' where thousands of fiery-coloured hoodoos stand watch over arches, mazes and oddly shaped spires. Bryce Canyon is also one of the most accessible parks with many trails leading down among the sandstone pinnacles, as well as an easy Rim Trail with many viewpoints.

In 1863 a Mormon settler named Isaac Behunin built his cabin in the canyon and called his abode Zion, feeling that he had at last reached the Promised Land. Zion is an ancient Hebrew word meaning a sacred place of refuge. Today his sanctuary is recognised as a national park, protecting a spectacular landscape of carved canyons and towering rock walls, with cliff-hanging fern gardens and a great variety of animals, including the tiny Zion Snail. Sculpted by the Virgin River, Zion Canyon is the park's verdant centrepiece, a dramatic gorge between towering cliffs with the sounds of running water echoing off the walls. It can become very clogged in summer, but it is fairly easy to escape the crowds on many of the trails off the main route. The park encourages discovery, and visitors keen to explore will find a natural wealth of forests, waterfalls, huge stone sculptures and monuments, as well as numerous hiking trails, the most famous of which is through The Narrows where a hiker will wade, swim and hike between soaring pastel-coloured rock walls barely 20ft (6m) across in places. One of the highlights is travelling the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive with viewpoints of many of the park's most famous rock formations, particularly the 'Great White Throne', a massive block of sandstone considered to be the symbol of Zion National Park. The charming hamlet of Springdale at the southern entrance is the gateway to the park.

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