The vast expanse of the North American continent is home to several stunning natural wonders, with the varied climate and diverse terrain providing spectacles such as Niagara Falls, Death Valley and the Rocky Mountains. These natural landmarks are spread across the entirety of the United States, making it very difficult to see them in one trip. The south-western corner can be a good area to focus on, as the states of California, Nevada and Arizona all contain areas of natural beauty and it is relatively easy to travel between the three states.
Arizona is home to perhaps the most famous natural wonder of all, the Grand Canyon. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it is considered by many to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and it is easy to see why. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide, and was formed by the Colorado River millions of years ago. The area is of huge significance to geologists because of the ancient rocks that have been preserved within its cavernous interior. Historically the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans, and they are involved in the management and conservation of the area for future generations.
Visiting the Grand Canyon can be a surreal experience. All the well-known clichés of it seeming like another world are true; it can be difficult to comprehend the scale of the landscape, while also coming to terms with where you are. Depending on the time of day, the red stone dramatically changes colour and contrasts with the shade of the sky above, giving the illusion of an oil painting. Sunset is a great time to visit; the constant changing light results in some fantastic photographic opportunities, and the peace and tranquillity of the area at dusk feels slightly unreal. In the day time, there is the chance to walk or hike (depending on personal preference!) into the canyon, but it can be tough going at times. There is also a company which offers helicopter flights over the canyon if your budget allows.
Another of America’s natural wonders is the Yosemite National Park, situated in central California. Occupying over 700,000 acres, the park was also designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, and is internationally recognised for its granite cliffs, groves of Sequoia trees and clear waterfalls. It is renowned for its biodiversity; it is home to nearly 200 rare plant species, and animals and birds thrive on the green grasslands and natural water sources.
Yosemite is managed by the US National Park Service, and tourism is encouraged year round depending on the weather; the park is known to close during mid-winter because of high snowfall. Most people tend to visit the park to take in the natural beauty, whether it’s through walking, hiking or cycling. Traditional chopper style bikes are available for hire; these don’t have brakes, so to stop you need to cycle backwards which can take some getting used to! One of the major landmarks of Yosemite is El Capitan, a granite monolith reaching a kilometre high and very popular with climbers due to its unusual geology. The Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre and Yosemite Museum are also situated within the park. The museum explains the history and culture, and there is even a life-size replica campsite illustrating how the original indigenous people lived.
These are not the only natural sights this area of America has to offer; popular visitor attractions also include Death Valley, the Joshua Tree National Park and Sedona National Park, the latter of which is dominated by giant sandstone monoliths and a desert-like terrain. The US has much to offer in terms of natural landscapes and it’s definitely worth researching some of the options on offer.