Travel Guide: the Incredible Natural Landscapes in the U.S.A. (Part 1)

The Earth’s natural features – timeless in their slow progression, yet shocking in the suddenness with which they can change – enforce our awareness of the fleeting and fragile quality of human endeavor.  We can but marvel at the beauty and power of great mountains, volcanoes, deserts, canyons and caves, and the ingenious fitness of plant and animal life to survive in them.

In the U.S.A., there are twelve of such incredible natural landscapes.  This article presents the first six, listed in alphabetical order:

1. Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Appalachian range runs for more than 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) from Quebec in Canada southwest to Alabama.  The Blue Ridge Mountains make up some 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) of this mountain chain, beginning in southern Pennsylvania and running through Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina to Georgia.  The range is noted for its wooded scenery and includes two outstanding national parks – Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina state border and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

2. Bryce Canyon.  A network of ravines, running for 20 miles (32 kilometers) along the eastern edge of Paunsaugunt Plateau, makes up Bryce Canyon in southern Utah.  The ravines were formed by erosion, which carved the plateau into thousands of rock towers, columns, and spires.  The shales, sandstone, and limestone of the plateau are rich in minerals – iron compounds, copper, and manganese – which contribute to the array of colors, from fiery red, through orange to deep purple, seen in the geological formations.  Today the canyon is preserved as a national park.

3. Canyonlands National Park.  A wilderness area, situated at the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers in Utah, constitutes Canyonlands National Park.  The rivers have carved two deep gorges into the red sandstone, and action by water and wind has created spectacular landforms, including mesas, spines, and arches varying between 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) and almost 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) high.  Near the water, cottonwood and similar plants are found, and in the rainy season, from May to August, many wildflowers bloom, among them the Sego lily.  There is a wide variety of birds and other animals, including a herd of desert bighorn sheep indigenous to the area.  Many ancient native American rock paintings decorate the walls of Horseshoe Canyon.  The park was established in 1964 and covers 527 sq. miles (1,365 sq. kilometers).

4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  A fabulously decorated system of underground chambers, Carlsbad Caverns lie beneath the arid Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.  The caves also contain one of the largest colonies of bats in the world:  11 species make their homes here, including western pipistrelle, pallid, lump-nosed, fringed myotis, and Mexican free-tailed bats.  Not all the caves have been explored, but those that have form a labyrinth some 23 miles (37 kilometers) in length.  The Big Room (14 acres/5.6 hectares) is the biggest chamber in the U.S.A.; the deepest of the major caverns lies at 1,013 feet (309 meters).  There is also an underground lake in which the water remains fresh because it does not support any life forms.  As an entity, the caverns contain a matchless array of spectacular limestone formations:  stalagmites, stalactites and the rarer epsomite needles, soda straws, cave pearls, and lily pads.  In 1923, the Carlsbad Caverns became a national monument, and in 1930 they were designated a national park covering an area of 73 sq. miles (189 sq. kilometers).

5. Devils Tower.  The monolith known as Devils Tower is an excellent example of a volcanic intrusion that has been exposed by erosion.  It is 865 feet (263 meters) high, and its base is 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter.  It is faced with fluted columns and has a flat top 275 feet (85 meters) across, so the whole structure resembles a giant tree stump.  This rock tower, situated in north-eastern Wyoming, near the Belle Fourche River, was declared a national monument in the U.S.A.

6. Great Basin National Park.  A nature reserve 120 sq. miles (310 sq. kilometers) in area, Great Basin National Park was established in 1986.  It occupies a region of great scenic beauty in the old Humboldt National Forest of Nevada.  The mountainous landscape comprises the forested slopes of the southern Snake Mountains; the highest point, Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet/3,982 meters), is covered with ice and snow even in summer.  On its eastern slopes are the Lehman Caves, a national monument since 1922.  Spectacular stalagmites and stalactites adorn the network of tunnels and galleries, inside which prehistoric native American artefacts and burial sites have been found.

The second part of this article, listing the rest of the U.S.A.’s spectacular landscapes, is coming up next.