This past Fourth of July weekend, I was able to cross off one of the major national parks that had been on my bucket list for a long time. Hint: It contains stunning wildlife, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, and it got its name from its glaciers. That's right- Glacier National Park is the spot!
It is very remote (as are many national parks) and one of the only major airports nearby is Calgary International Airport, which happened to work out because got to experience Canada Day (July 1st). What better way to celebrate Canada Day and 4th of July than at the national park that sits on the US-Canada border!
On the US side is Glacier National Park which covers over 1,500 square miles of Montana's rugged wilderness. The park spans the border to Alberta Canada, forming the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and noted for its various ecosystems ranging from prairie to tundra. Here's how I was able to cover many of the major sights in this park in a three day weekend.
Check out the behind the scenes video (Caution: there may or may not be a bear attack in this vlog):
What are your favorite things to see in Waterton- Glacier National Park?
Navajo Nation is filled with so many natural wonders that we had to do a part two blog post. The road trip through this region continues with a trip to Monument Valley and the Petrified National Forest.
Monument Valley- Day 2
No trip to Navajo Nation is complete without seeing where the West Was Won: Monument Valley. Featured in numerous western movies, Monument Valley is the iconic landscape of the Southwest. The drive to the park is about an hour north of Canyon de Chelly, and the monoliths start around the town of Kayenta. The entire desert gradually turns into red sand as the park gets closer.
Monument Valley is right on the Arizona/Utah border. The park usually can reach three digit temperatures in summer, but on this cool January day it was 40 degrees with freshly fallen snow in the valley that added a decorative touch to the monuments. We made a brief stop at the View Hotel, a fitting name for a hotel that literally has the best view of the park. The horizon is unobstructed of anything man-made. The most famous monoliths that dominate the skyline are the left and right mittens, and three sisters. Inside the hotel, there is a gift shop which has the most extensive amount of Native American crafts that I have seen: turquoise jewelry, dream-catchers, blankets, and pottery.
We took our 4x4 SUV through the unpaved park loop, a 17 mile dirt road that passes through the monuments. Overall, I was surprised at how wide-open this park felt. I could hear my echo throughout the park and there were hardly any tourists or remnants of modern life in sight. It was a pure American adventure.
Petrified Forest National Park - Day 3
Forest? Wait, isn't this the desert? Well, not 217 million years ago it wasn't! This park has trees and fossils that are literally frozen in stone with some of the most beautiful natural art.
On the route back to California, we took highway 40, which happens to pass through the Petrified Forest National Park. The park is not to be missed. Upon entering the park, the first thing we saw was the painted desert - a pink and red landscape with wavy desert hills. We continued onward to find that the landscapes got even more surreal.
It is hard to imagine that this bone-dry terrain was once a swamp with large conifer trees that existed when the earth was a Pangaea and Arizona was located near the equator. The logs from the conifer trees crystallized by absorbing the minerals from the water. With time, they became as hard as rocks, although still look like wood. The bark contains semi-precious stones with different colors, like mustard yellow, burnt orange, and hot pink - making them a treasure trove for souvenir hunters in the park to this day. They are quite beautiful to look at and definitely give a sense of how dramatically the earth has changed over time.
Another notable sight at the Petrified National Forest is the Blue Mesa - an area that looks like a purple moonscape. The area is so fragile that hiking is not allowed. The ground is made of "conglomerates" or a collection of cobbles and pebbles cemented together that were carried in a stream laid down 225 million years ago. The ground is covered in purple, clay-like sand that feels like quicksand when you step on it. Fossils have been unearthed of dinosaurs and reptiles. These hills are shaped like tepees and you can see the striations of rock. It is because of all the colors that this area was dubbed the painted desert.
Overall, the Navajo Nation is filled with spectacular sights to photograph. If you can make it within three days like we did, then you will have no problem fitting in these sights. Of course, it is best to spend more time in each park as it will allow you to experiment with different lighting and take the hiking trails which gives you a closer look into the park. Exploring this area will definitely make you feel as though you have entered a whole new world without leaving the USA!
Three day weekends... They are the perfect time period for a sizable road trip, but a bit too short for an international getaway. So how can you use the time to properly escape? Hit the Route 66 and visit the out-of-this world scenery within the Navajo Nation of course! We chose this area because the landscapes are so foreign that it practically feels like being on a different planet. The scenery on this trip shows just how beautiful landscapes can get when you mix time with erosion. It is a geologist's dream and a photographer's paradise. On this trip, we managed to fit in Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and the Petrified Forest National Park within three days. Read on to see how we did it.
Check out the behind the scenes video:
Route 66 - Day 1
To make the trip in three days from Los Angeles, we set out Friday and took Highway 40. The historic Route 66 may no longer be in existence, but Highway 40 still connects some of the towns that were on the original route. The road is scenic, and the landscapes become much more snowy as the elevation increases into the Northern Arizona territory. We stopped off in Williams, which is a gateway town to the Grand Canyon and is filled with Route 66 nostalgia. There are old gas stations, neon signs, kitschy motels, and souvenir shops selling old car figurines and other 1950's tchotchkes.
Canyon de Chelly - Day 2.
About four hours east of Flagstaff is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced canyon de Shay), a National Monument located on Navajo Nation land. The canyon features sandstone cliffs that sharply drop down into the canyon floor, in a similar landscape to the Grand Canyon although with much less tourism. The cliffs are notable because of the White House Ruins, an abandoned Indian dwelling built into the cliff-side dating back to 1350 AD. The canyon is still home to many Navajo people even today. The views from atop the cliffs are breathtaking and you can hear the echo in the cliffs. The best views of can be reached via the hiking trail which is about a two mile hike into the canyon. There are many local Navajo artisans who sell paintings that depict replicas of the petroglyphs found inside the canyon. Without the hike, the canyon can be be viewed within about a hour, leaving plenty of time for our next stop.
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