More National Parks in the Movies

National parks have provided a backdrop for dozens, if not hundreds of films throughout the years.

The Navajo Bridge spans the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Navajo Bridge spans the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in 1910 with “The Immortal Alamo”, Hollywood directors have been coming to national parks year after year to capture majestic scenery for their productions. From faraway planets to jurassic jungles to Old West hide-outs, great American landscapes have played just about every role imaginable. Movie directors often appreciate these lands because of their undeveloped character, which means manmade infrastructure like electric wires don’t have to be edited be out.

A movie can be as well known for its setting as for the acting or music. Some of the most iconic, recognizable features of national parks have been preserved on film as natural wonders, plot devices, and new worlds.

As you take a look at the following, you’ll find some of your favorite movies, you will learn where that beautiful scenery is located, and you can go there for a visit.

National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area played a key role in Planet of the Apes, Badlands National Park was prominently featured in Dancing With Wolves, and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was filmed in Arches National Park.

The list rolls on, not unlike credits at the end of a movie…

One of over 2,000 arches in Arches National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
One of over 2,000 arches in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planet of the Apes (1967)

Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

What better wild place to play a dusty ape planet than the high desert? While the crashed rocket scene took place at Lake Powell, much of astronaut George Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) journey takes place around Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Taylor’s journey with Cornelius and Zira through “the forbidden zone” was filmed along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

Other movies filmed at Glen Canyon include: Bandolero (1967), Beastsmaster 11 (1990), The Big Country (1957), Damnation Alley (1976), The Flintstones (1993), Highway to Hell (1989), Maverick (1993), Broken Arrow (1996)

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Location: Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Lt. John Dunbar, exiled to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military. Directed by Kevin Costner, Dancing With Wolves won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Most of this epic movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, including Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, and private ranches near Rapid City and Pierre.

Other movies filmed at Badlands include: Starship Troopers (1997), Armageddon (1998), How the West Was Won (1962), Thunderheart (1992), Dust of War (2013), The Last Hunt (1956)

Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Location: Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park near Moab was featured in the opening sequence of the third Indiana Jones movie. If you’re familiar with the terrain, you may recognize some land markers as young Indy (River Phoenix) explores the high desert as a Boy Scout. It’s there in Arches that Indiana encounters a group of no-gooders with the cross of Coronado.

Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Location: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona; Canyonlands National Park, Utah

In this modern take on the Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Armie Hammer (the masked hero) share adventures throughout the rugged western lands of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. While much of the movie was filmed in and around the iconic sites of Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park, the movie crew also headed to Canyon de Chelly National Monument for a few scenes.

Other movies filmed at Canyon de Chelly include: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), The Big Country (1957), McKenna’s Gold (1967), The Desert Song (1942)

Sculpted formations at Arches National Park in late afternoon light  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sculpted formations at Arches National Park in late afternoon light © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Star Trek V, The Final Frontier (1989)

Location: Yosemite National Park, California

Not your typical Star Trek setting, but nonetheless Yosemite had its moment of trekkie glory when Captain Kirk (William Shatner) decides to take a casual climb up El Capitan during the crew’s shore leave. “Why are you climbing the mountain?” asks Dr. Spock. “Because it’s there,” says Captain Kirk. Sounds good enough to me.

Other movies filmed at Yosemite include: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Maverick (1994), Order of the Eagle (1989)

Worth Pondering…

Nature does nothing uselessly.

—Aristotle

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National Parks in the Movies

Have you ever watched a movie and thought the scenery was beautiful and wondered about the location? Chances are it was filmed in a national park.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to all they give us in terms of outdoor recreation and environmental protection, the national parks also bring flair and realism to the movies. There is a long list of Hollywood stars who have acted on the nation’s outdoor stage. From far-away galaxies to jurassic jungles to the rustic Wild West, epic American landscapes have played most every imaginable role.

To honor that, Vogel Talks RV presents a list of five of the biggest parks cameos of modern film making. When planning your next road trip or summer vacation consider these iconic destinations.

National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Death Valley National Park played a role in Star Wars, Devil’s Tower National Monument, of course, was prominently featured in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, and Thelma & Louise drove through parts of Canyonlands National Park.

The list rolls on, not unlike credits at the end of a movie…

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Location: Death Valley National Park, California

One of the most successful movies of all time, Star Wars wouldn’t be complete without footage from Death Valley. George Lucas selected Death Valley as the location for numerous desert and dwelling scenes on Luke Skywalker’s dusty planet of Tatooine. Remember R2D2 and CP30’s spat after crashing on Tatooine? That scene is at Mesquite Flats. Other Death Valley scenes include R2D2 being kidnapped by Jawas, some of the Tusken Raider scenes and the Sand Scrawler scene.

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you do venture out to the desert, remember to bring plenty of extra water. And may the force be with you.

Other movies filmed at Death Valley include: Cattle Drive (1959), Homer and Eddie (1990), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Zabriskie Point (1970), Spartacus (1960), One-eyed Jacks (1961)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Location: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

A single image is conjured when people think of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The bizarre rock formation on which the spaceship lands was not a special effect, unless one considers nature a special effects expert.

The Devil’s Tower is, in fact, a 1,267 foot igneous intrusion and the chosen landing site for the movie’s alien mothership. Visitors have described an elevated sense of well-being and serenity at this small park’s signature volcanic pillar, a sacred site to more than 20 Native American tribes and perhaps certain extraterrestrials.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Location: Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert scenes for this road trip movie were filmed in and around Moab, Utah, including in Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Don’t be fooled by the final plunge-into-the-Grand-Canyon scene. That memorable scene of Thelma and Louise dropping into the canyon in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird was actually a plateau at Utah’s Deadhorse Point State Park.

Other movies filmed at Canyonlands include: The Lone Ranger (2013), 127 Hours (2010)

Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)

The Shining (1980)

Location: Glacier National Park, Montana

Opening scenes of this creepy Jack Nicolson movie show Jack Torrance driving up the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. Overhead shots were also filmed around Mary’s Lake and the Going to the Sun Highway.

Other movies filmed at Glacier include: Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Continental Divide (1980), Dangerous Mission (1958), Forest Gump (1993), and Thelma & Louise (1991)

The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Location: Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park acted as the scene for most of the climax of Spielberg’s sweeping tearjerker. The towering forests were the perfect vehicle for a boy and his alien to lose themselves in.

Other movies filmed at Redwood include: Outbreak (1995), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Worth Pondering…

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

—Aristotle

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Top Campgrounds, RV Parks & Resorts in Areas of Natural Beauty

These special RV parks and resorts are situated in areas of natural beauty in the U.S. and Canada. These campgrounds with a view, from Utah to South Carolina and British Columbia to Texas, are the perfect spots to park an RV.

Blake Ranch RV Park, Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blake Ranch RV Park , Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab is known as Utah’s adventure capitol, offering activities such as biking the Slickrock Trail, off-road routes, rafting down the Colorado River, and hiking to Delicate Arch, Utah’s famous icon. Enjoy the breathtaking natural surroundings of Moab at OK RV Park. The park provides easy access to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. From scenic parks to adventure, Moab offers something for everyone.

Located 12 miles east of Kingman, Blake Ranch RV Park offers the best darn place to park your rig in northwestern Arizona, with all the conveniences RVers expect. There’s plenty to see and do in the area. Drive the twisted ribbon of pavement along the storied Route 66 to the historic town of Oatman, a favorite Arizona road trip. Additionally the ghost town of Chloride is an easy day trip.

The mountains and lakes around Kingman offer numerous recreational opportunities. Fourteen miles southeast of Kingman is beautiful Hualapai Mountain Park at an elevation of 6,700 feet. The shoreline on the Colorado River provide opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, and other water sports. Grand Canyon West is home to Arizona’s second largest tourist attraction, Grand Canyon Skywalk, an easy day trip from the park.

JGW RV Park, Redding, California
JGW RV Park, Redding, California

Family-owned JGW RV Park welcomes RVers to enjoy its 32-acre facility nestled among the native black oak trees along the scenic Sacramento River. The park has a grassy, natural setting for viewing birds and wildlife and for strolling along the riverbank. You can also fish for steelhead, trout, and salmon.

A wonderland of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, the Redding area offers unique experiences that include glistening lakes and world-class rivers to scenic drives and backcountry roads. Vibrant attractions include Lassen Volcanic National Park, Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Shasta Lake, and the Sundial Bridge, a Redding icon.

OK RV Park makes a great home base for touring Petrified Forest National Park. Located 26 miles west of Petrified Forest National Park along I-40, OK RV Park in Holbrook has easy-in, easy-out large gravel pull-through sites suitable for big rigs. Each site has full hookups with 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. The park also features a laundry room, clubhouse, and clean, modern restrooms.

Elephant Butte Lake RV Resort is just a quarter of a mile from the entrance to Elephant Butte Lake State Park, which contains the largest lake in New Mexico. The resort is the perfect staging location for planning activities and outings for Spaceport America, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and nearby ghost towns.

A 55-minute scenic drive from the world famous Las Vegas Strip and just 45 minutes to Furnace Creek at the heart of Death Valley National Park, Wine Ridge RV Resort and Cottages is nestled on a ridge below the majestic Spring Mountain range and Charleston Peak. The Resort includes the pristine vineyards and winery of the award winning Pahrump Valley Winery and 5-star Symphony’s Restaurant.

OK RV Park, Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
OK RV Park, Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel Talks RVing selected the list of top campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts from parks personally visited.

Blake Ranch RV Park , Kingman, Arizona

Bridgeview RV Park, Lethbridge, Alberta

Elephant Butte Lake RV Resort, Elephant Butte, New Mexico

Interstate RV Park, Davenport, Iowa

iRVin’s RV Park & Campground, Valemont, British Columbia

JGW RV Park, Redding, California

Lincoln Road RV Park, Helena, Montana

Whiskey Flats RV Park, Hawthorne, Nevada  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Whiskey Flats RV Park, Hawthorne, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom & Pop RV Park, Farmington, New Mexico

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro, South Carolina

OK RV Park, Moab, Utah

OK RV Park, Holbrook, Arizona

RV Park USA, Comfort, Texas

Spartanburg/Gaffney KOA, Gaffney, South Carolina

Whiskey Flats RV Park, Hawthorne, Nevada

Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump, Nevada  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump, Nevada

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin (Death Valley National Park) for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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National Parks Best Seen in Spring

Spring feels like a new beginning as nature bursts with life, plants are in bloom, and everyone becomes a little more eager to get out and explore the great outdoors.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better way to experience nature than in one of our magnificent national parks.

Following are four national parks that are tops for replenishing your get-up-and-go and best visited in spring, each offering a wonderful array of seasonal experiences.

So venture forth now and you’ll avoid the hordes of summer vacationers!

Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is a stunning park no matter what the season. But spring takes its grand appearance to new levels.

When you first see Zion, it’s hard not to be blown away by the massive canyon walls that seem to stretch for miles into the sky. And visitors are encouraged to explore those canyons, sandstone cliffs, and rugged trails in order to truly appreciate the park’s beauty.

What makes this park really pop in the springtime is the chance to see canyon walls covered in hanging gardens of wildflowers.

Easily one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes on the planet, Zion National Park’s cooler spring temperatures make for more pleasurable hiking along its many trails. Spring visitors to Zion enjoy fewer crowds, spectacular high-volume waterfalls courtesy of the snow melt, and rare glimpses of green contrasting against the sun-drenched orange rock.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park 

Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves.
Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, springtime offers an opportunity for a first trip of the year. And if you are just getting back out there, the last thing you want is a crowded park. This spring, avoid the crowds and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a unique and exciting adventure.

At this southern New Mexico national treasure visitors explore a world over 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Giant rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes. Visitors can experience famous cave rooms full of fissures and tunnels. Guided tours will inform about rock formation, cave exploration, and the animals who can survive at such deep depths.

Spring is a great time to visit Carlsbad Caverns as the bat population makes its presence known.

Arches National Park 

With the highest density of natural stone arches in the world (more than 2,000 of them), and driving through Arches National Park is a surreal experience. In April and May, and even early to mid June, you’re likely to have it mostly to yourself. Temperatures are a mild 65-75 degrees, and the La Sal Mountains are still snow-capped, which makes for startling photos of the orange sandstone arches and clear blue sky.

Stargazing in and around Arches is world-class thanks to minimal light pollution. In spring, the sky is particularly clear.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When viewed from afar, Joshua Tree National Park seems like long stretch of quiet desert. In fact, many first time visitors are surprised to find that the park is full of vitality. While the park is full of history and amazing geology, springtime brings out the best of the best.

During March and April, the trees that gave the park its name begin to bloom with their large, creamy flowers. The rest of the park follows with annual flowers popping up along all elevations. Once May and June roll around, the cacti are bursting with bright flowers. Joshua Tree National Park quickly becomes a desert in bloom.

Springtime brings numerous birds into the area, many in transient or getting ready to nest. For birds, Joshua Tree offers a relaxing warm home, away from the harsh weathers during migration.

So what’s not to love? Perfect temperatures, bird watching, and a desert land of wildflowers in bloom. Sounds pretty awesome.

Worth Pondering…

The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.
―Amy Seidl, Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

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Top 10 National Parks for Camping

National parks provide the opportunity to explore nature at its best.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the diversity of beautiful wildlife to the endless possibilities in their miles of trails these parks have much to offer in new experiences, sights, and sounds.

Camping in America’s national parks allows a visitor to more fully appreciate the beauty of America’s natural treasures.

There are many opportunities for camping at national parks with several different types of camping from which to choose. This ranges from camping at full-facility campgrounds, to backcountry camping with limited facilities, to wilderness camping where you might find no facilities at all.

From a planning standpoint, campgrounds can generally be divided into two categories:

  • Campgrounds that accept reservations
  • Campgrounds that operate on a first-come, first-served basis

If you’re in search of a camper’s delight, these are the best national parks for you.

Arches National Park, Utah

Located in eastern Utah, Arches National Park is a unique geological wonderland. The park preserves more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, and many other unusual rock formations.

Let's Go RVing to Joshua Tree National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Let’s Go RVing to Joshua Tree National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Devils Garden Campground is located 18 miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, as well as both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV dump/fill stations. Some sites will accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length.

All 50 sites in Arches’ campground are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March – October).

…Continue reading →

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Colorado deserts that range in altitude from 1,200 feet in the Pinto Basin to 5,814 feet.

Joshua Tree offers nine campgrounds with tables, fire grates, and toilets. There are no hookups for recreational vehicles. Black Rock and Cottonwood have fresh-water fill-up and dump stations. Water also is available at the Oasis Visitor Center, Indian Cove Ranger Station, and West Entrance. Since this is a desert, water is scarce; arrive with a full tank.
Recreational vehicles are prohibited at Cottonwood and Sheep Pass group sites. At Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, and at Indian Cove group sites, motorhomes and trailers, including their tow vehicle, cannot exceed a combined vehicle length of 25 feet.

First-come, first-served campgrounds include Belle, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, and White Tank. Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds are first-come, first-served June through September.

Continue reading →

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries.

The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Open year-round, the Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park. Sites are first-come, first-served. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this developed campground has 71 RV/tent sites, each with a picnic table and grill, but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hook-ups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets, but no showers.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series

Part 2: Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 3: 10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

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Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

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Top 5 National Parks: Is Your List Better Than Mine?

People like lists. No, check that, they love them. Particularly when they disagree with them and think they have a better list. So, here’s my personal Top 10 list of national parks.

How does it match up with yours?

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee, North Carolina)

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits astride the Tennessee-North Carolina border amid the majestic southern climax of the Appalachian Highlands. The most visited national park draws more than nine million adventurers and sightseers each year. And for good reason—the Smokies are within a day’s drive of a third of the U.S. population, and very few places in the East are in their league as an outdoor-recreation destination.

Great Smoky Mountains protects one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, a place that supports more than 4,000 species of plants, approximately 100 species of native trees, 66 mammals, approximately 240 species of birds, and more species of salamanders than are found anywhere else on earth.

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4. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef’s red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. Cathedral Valley and other backcountry regions are reached by traveling on dirt roads.

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3. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands likely won’t make everyone’s list, but then, that’s probably because they haven’t visited.

Canyonlands National Park covers a vast area of rock wilderness in southeastern Utah. Over millions of years, the rivers and their small tributaries have carved the flat sandstone rock layers into many amazing forms with a wide range of colors.

The 530 square miles of the park contain countless canyons, arches, spires, buttes, mesas and a myriad of other spectacular rock formations.

The sheer unbridgeable canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers divide Canyonlands into three distinct sections—Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze—which differ in the types of landscape found there, the number of visitors and the available facilities.

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2. Grand Canyon National Park

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosion decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Nearly five million people see the Grand Canyon each year. Most of them see it from their car at overlooks along the South Rim.

A much smaller number of people see the Canyon from the North Rim, which lies just 10 miles (as the condor flies) directly across the Canyon from the South Rim. The North Rim rises a thousand feet higher than the South Rim, and is much less accessible.

John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.”

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1. Arches National Park

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located five miles north of Moab, Arches National Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch. Towering spires, fins, petrified dunes, massive sandstone buttes and walls, and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area.

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How can a Top 10 List omit such icons of the national park system as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Acadia, you ask? Only because they’re on my Bucket List.

Worth Pondering…
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
—Susan Sontag

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Utah: Five Spectacular National Parks

Utah’s five national parks have it all.

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see unique soaring spires, towering pinnacles, sandstone canyons, and intricately eroded arches of sculptured stone for starters.

Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries.

The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef’s red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park—where a variety of fruit may be picked in season.

The visitor center and campground are open year-round. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. Cathedral Valley and other backcountry regions are reached by traveling on dirt roads, so make sure to inquire locally about current road conditions.

The park is 11 miles east of Torrey or 37 miles west of Hanksville on Utah Highway 24.

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Canyonlands National Park

The Island in the Sky region is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado Rivers, or thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires create the incredible beauty of Utah’s largest national park.

The rivers have sliced Canyonlands National Park into three districts, each named according to its distinctive landscape.

Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down to the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west. The southern tip overlooks the rivers’ confluence.

The Needles District is named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins.

The remote Maze District is Canyonlands’ most jumbled stone playground, requiring backcountry use permits year-round.

Major entrances to the park are accessible from U.S. Highway 191. Access to Island in the Sky is 35 miles northwest of Moab and access to the Needles District is 22 miles north of Monticello.

Canyonlands is world-renowned for its four-wheel-drive vehicle and mountain bike routes, and its whitewater rafting. Visitor centers are open year-round.

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Arches National Park
Arches National Park has about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display—such as Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch, and Courthouse Towers.

Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah’s most iconic feature is a must-hike destination in the park. Arches contain 73,000 acres of varied landscapes, with a paved 40-mile scenic drive from the park entrance to the campground at Devil’s Garden.

There are numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. Two trails, and a viewpoint accessible by car, offer different views of Delicate Arch, the park’s most famous geologic feature.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road guides and hiking brochures are available at the visitor center and the park entrance, located five miles north of Moab via U.S. Highway 191.

Arches National Park is open year-round, as is the campground. Water is only available seasonally.

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Come visit Utah. Come and live Life Elevated®! 

Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series

Part 1: Utah: The Ultimate Road Trip

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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MapQuest Launches Web-based Guide for National Park Week

National Parks Week 2012 is April 21 to 29, and the National Park Service has joined forces with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to offer free admission to all 397 national parks.

To coincide with the week-long celebration, MapQuest has launched a web-based guide to the natural wonders of the National Parks.

The new guide contains detailed descriptions of 58 major destinations, plus tips on where to enjoy popular activities, wildlife, and learn about park history.

Select MapQuest park entries also feature vivid HD video, eye-catching photography, and special insiders’ commentary by park rangers.

MapQuest National Parks

The MapQuest team is a collection of adventure seekers, backcountry hikers, photography enthusiasts, and family road trippers.

America’s national parks hold a dear place “in our hearts as an amazing collection of destinations preserving some of our nation’s most treasured natural, cultural, and historical resources. We want to share that passion with you in MapQuest National Parks.”

As you explore this site, “we hope you will experience the same awe and wonder at the incredible vistas, stunning natural features, and incredibly preserved history that inspired us as we created this project.”

With park rangers as your guide, explore six of the most visited parks by video:

  • Yellowstone
  • Yosemite
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Grand Teton
  • Grand Canyon
  • Great Smoky Mountains

And enjoy the feature photography by QT Luong, a world-renowned nature and adventure photographer who captured riveting images in all 58 national parks.

“We hope this project will bring inspiration as you make your travel plans for summer and beyond. National Parks Week, coming up April 21-29, is a great opportunity to get out and experience the national parks around the country free of charge. We wish you happy and safe travels!”

Website: parks.mapquest.com

Arches National Park: A Sample

Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches, natural bridges, towers, rock fins, and other awesome formations. You’ll want to take in its wonders, hike its scenic trails, and explore its canyons.

From ancestral foraging and hunting grounds, to rugged frontier, to tourism hot spot, Arches has shared a variety of special relationships with humans throughout its history. In the last century, the citizens of nearby Moab have worked to promote the park not only as a symbol of the city, but also of Utah itself.

Delicate Arch, the most widely-recognized landmark in the park, has appeared on Utah’s license plates and postage stamps. Interestingly, it and many more of the park’s famous sightseeing spots were not included in its original land grant, when it was founded as Arches National Monument in 1929.

However, expansions of the park’s territory protect more than its iconic rock features — Arches National Park’s delicate, intricate ecosystems are home to an abundance of specially adapted wildlife, including some species on the road to recovery.

Arches National Park (Source: parks.mapquest.com)

Facilities at the park are somewhat limited.

If you’re looking to camp in Arches, it’s advisable to make a reservation.

Additional RV parks and amenities can be found in and around Moab.

Park Information and Details

Located in Utah

Established: 11/12/1971 (36 of 58)

Size: 76,678.98 (43 of 58)

Visitation in 2011: 1,040,749 (17 of 58)

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
— John Muir

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