Over the broad Santa Cruz River Valley and bordered by mountain ranges to the north and west, Madera Canyon is a small, intimate chapel of textures, shapes and colors. An hour south of Tucson and east of Highway I-19, Madera Creek originates near 9,453-foot Mount Wrightson and winds through pine-oak forests and granite outcrops to the high desert far below. Part of Coronado National Forest, the canyon’s main attractions are hiking and bird-watching. The canyon is home to a host of colorful and unique species including the elegant trogon, whose breeding range is located here in Arizona’s “sky islands.”
If the Kentucky Derby is the crown jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, then the Red River Gorge deserves similar accolades for pure scenic beauty. Encompassing approximately 40,000 acres of eastern Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest “the gorge” as locals call it, is itself a jewel not to be ignored.
Southern Texas is situated in an optimal region for wildflowers. Field after field of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers are found hugging the rolling hills between Fredericksburg, Lampasas and Brenham. Austin, the state capital, sits in the middle of the triangle formed by these three towns.
The Terry Badlands look like the rest of eastern Montana from I-94: flat-topped buttes and a few erosion cracks in the sandstone cliff walls. Taking the Terry exit and proceeding north on Highway 253 for less than a mile and after crossing the bridge over the Yellowstone River, the gravel road sign heading west reads: “Scenic View.” As you travel through flat, prairie lands, you see isolated buttes scattered in the distant landscape. After a few miles, the earth becomes more rugged.
While most travelers believe the Florida Keys come to an end at Key West, 69 miles farther west you’ll find seven tiny islands that make up Dry Tortugas National Park. These islands retain an air of rich wildness and history unmatched anywhere else in the Keys. Discovered in 1513 by Ponce de León, the Tortugas were named for the sea turtles that still cruise the waters today.
In southeastern Indiana lies one of the state’s most rugged and photogenic areas. Clifty Falls State Park occupies 1,416 acres west of the historic Ohio River town of Madison. The main attraction is the spectacular, three-mile-long, 300-foot-deep canyon of Clifty Creek, cut into the high bluffs towering above the Ohio River. Most of the canyon lies within the 178-acre Clifty Canyon Nature Preserve.
Cedar Breaks National Monument covers 6,100 acres and lies 23 miles east of Cedar City in southern Utah. At more than 2,000 feet deep, the spectacularly colored Cedar Breaks amphitheater is laced with delicately eroded spires, fins, hoodoos and natural arches, the by-product of millions of years of sedimentation and erosion. The canyon’s rim soars at more than 10,000 feet in elevation and is forested with spruce, subalpine fir and quaking aspen.
Nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center is one of the top photo destinations for travelers to this area. This free city park is an easy 60-minute drive south of Denver. To reach the park, exit from Interstate 25 onto Garden of the Gods Road, head west and turn south on 30th Street. The splendor unfolds before your eyes as you approach the golden sandstone formations, with magnificent Pikes Peak as a backdrop.
The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located only 26 miles from the center of Times Square in New York City. Part of the suburbs near the town of Morristown, N.J., the refuge was formed when environmentalists and developers collided over the construction of a jetport in the 1950s. The Great Swamp Committee came to the rescue; it raised more than a million dollars to purchase the first 3,000 acres of land, which it then donated to the Department of the Interior.
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Waterton Lakes National Park is a land of serrated mountains, rolling prairies and mirror-like glacial lakes. Located in Alberta, Canada and directly north of Glacier National Park, Watertonis similar to its more familiar sister park and, in fact, the two are managed cooperatively as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. However, Waterton contains a more extensive road system, more prairie land and more easily found lowland wildlife than Glacier.
Established in 1978, the 50,000-acre Chama River Canyon Wilderness is located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The terrain is typical of the high-country desert Southwest, with red sandstone cliffs and a variety of vegetation due to the mix of desert and canyon river terrain. The areas along the riverbed, at about 6,500 feet above sea level, are piñon-juniper and cedar woodland. The higher elevations on the cliffs, up to 8,100 feet, consist mostly of ponderosa pine and fir.
The Muddy Mountains are located northeast of Las Vegas and include Valley of Fire State Park, well known for its colorful vistas. But the Muddies continue south of the park to the lesser known Buffington Pockets, which feature many of the same sandstone formations. The colorful layers and surprising textures and forms are found in the outcroppings of Aztec Sandstone, some of which have been quarried for decorative rock. This slick-rock country includes white domes, and red, orange and white “rainbow”-layered rock that are in sharp contrast to the towering dark gray cliffs to the east.
Enchanted Rock is an enormous, 640-acre pink granite dome located between Llano and Fredericksburg in the Hill Country of central Texas, about 90 miles north of San Antonio. It’s part of the Llano Uplift, a large region of granite bedrock that rises out of the surrounding limestone. Over the last several million years, erosion has exposed this 425-foot-high, billion-year-old dome and its smaller sister domes.