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Best Western US Travel Destinations For Canyon-Lovers

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Canyons are deep clefts between cliffs, often carved by water. Over time, a rushing river can reveal layers of time down the face of the cliff.

Because canyons are protected from wind and other destructive forces, they can become time capsules of paintings and carvings of cultures that have disappeared. Depending on the type of stone, canyons can be straight-walled or quite fluid.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon, Arizona

The sandstone base of Antelope Canyon provides travelers an amazing view of what happens when a canyon gets curvy! As water flows through sandstone, the force of the fluid creates curves. If you’re interested in visiting one of the best canyons in Arizona that shows off the incredible power of water over time, a guided trip to either the upper or the lower slot canyon is a wonderful investment.

There are no square corners in these canyons. You cannot enter them without a guide, either. Not only is Antelope Canyon on Navajo land, but there is a real risk of getting lost once you’re inside these canyons. A guide who knows the region is critical to a safe, enjoyable visit.

While planning your trip to Antelope Canyon, book a visit to Monument Valley. This area does allow hiking with your dog. Like many regions of the desert, you will need to be prepared with your own water and food. There is camping and you will find cabins for rent on the outskirts of Monument Valley.

Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is actually 70 miles long. This is a driving tour with many stops to view the rock art of the ancient people of the Fremont culture that flourished here 1,000 years ago. There is a prehistoric museum at The College of Eastern Utah that can help you prepare for this amazing journey.

There is camping at Nine Mile Ranch if you want to linger in this remarkable wilderness. There are also picnic areas at Cottonwood Glen. There are regions that are friendly to hikers along this stretch but do take care to look for private property postings. It is requested that you drive slowly on the dirt sections of the road to keep down the dust.

While you are encouraged to view all the natural features and the ancient art of this canyon, please do not touch any of the rock art. It is requested that all visitors leave nothing but footprints. Do bring water and make sure your vehicle is fully gassed up. Bring sun protection, eye protection, binoculars, and cameras so you can study the dwelling caves high up the canyon walls.

Santa Elena Canyon, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon, Texas
Santa Elena Canyon, Texas

In southern Texas, you will find the remarkable Big Bend, National Park. The Santa Elena Canyon features a trail that is less than 2 miles that is friendly for hikers of all skill levels. The Rio Grande flows through this canyon; be prepared for a water crossing to complete this beginner-friendly trail.

One of the most interesting features of this canyon is that it was formed by the Terlingua fault rather than erosion. The vision of the sky above this starkly torn canyon is quite jagged; your trip to this remote region of western Texas will have a deeply rustic feel as you get further into the canyon.

Do time this hike with care. If you can start in mid-morning you can enjoy lots of light without being in the direct glare of the west Texas sun. This is an ideal trip for spring or fall; summers here can get incredibly hot.

Chaco Canyon, Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico

Chaco Canyon, Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon, Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico

Chaco Canyon was the home of the ancient Anasazi people. The region is full of ancient structures, many abandoned almost 800 years ago. If you are planning a driving tour of Chaco Canyon with occasional stops to walk the ruins, do make sure that your vehicle is in good repair, full of fuel, and high enough to safely navigate rough dirt roads. Be prepared to travel slowly.

If possible, approach Chaco Canyon from the north to enjoy mostly paved roads. For advanced hikers, there are several trails that include both steps and rock scrambling. If you’ve never done any scrambling, this may not be the best place to start as it’s quite remote. However, you can find many easy hiking trails right off the driving route, such as the Petroglyph Trail. Bring your camera, sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen so you can carefully study these remarkable pieces of art.

It is important to carefully consider your footwear if you are going to be hiking in canyons. Not only do you need to keep sand out, but you need to protect your ankles from rolling. Canyons often have water at the bottom, and that can mean mud. When you’re ready for a hiking break, take the time to check the bottoms of your hiking shoes. Shoes filled with mud or sand will be heavier and may become slippery.

Echo Canyon, Nevada

Echo Canyon, Nevada
Echo Canyon, Nevada

Remnants of the Fremont culture can also be found in Echo Canyon of Nevada. The river of this canyon leads into the Echo Canyon reservoir. If you are a traveler who loves to swim, canoe or kayak, this park may be an ideal spot for a long, relaxing vacation.

Time in Echo Canyon can be split between several activities. There are hiking trails that lead into Ash Canyon. Do be aware that you may see remnants of the Fremont culture both in pictographs and in pottery shards. If you see any pottery in the sand along the trail, do not touch it. Often, this thin-walled grayware will not survive the manual effort it will take to remove it from the sand. Again, be prepared to take lots of pictures but leave only footprints.

There are no ancient permanent structures in Echo Canyon. It appears that the region was used as a spot for hunting and gathering but not for living. Modern travelers who long to visit the desert in the summertime would do well to check out this region; at 5,000 feet in elevation, the nights can be quite comfortable.

Canyons offer visitors the chance to study the history of a region, both geological and human. Often, canyons become gathering points for wildlife. Bring your camera and binoculars. Follow all the rules regarding camping, trash disposal, and fire use to keep these canyons safe for all who use them.

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