America the beautiful is known for its natural wonders, and the red rock formations in the Southwest are some of the most majestic in the world. What gives these rocks their reddish hue? It’s largely due to minerals made up of iron and oxygen. The sandstone found in these areas was either formed from ancient sand dunes or by deposition in lakes and streams – and either way, the reddish hue indicates that it was exposed to oxygen (in the air) before or while it was being buried. Here are 9 places in the U.S. where you can get up close and personal with nature’s work of art.
The Wave (Coyote Buttes North) - Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
The Wave is a stunning sandstone rock formation that swirls in bright red, orange, and yellow waves due to slow wind and rain erosion. This epic photo spot is so sought after (and fragile), that permits are only granted to a small group of visitors each day via a lottery system. To get to The Wave, visitors must navigate through a 6.4 mile-roundtrip hike across rugged terrain. If you’re not an experienced hiker and wayfarer, we recommend hiring one of the tour company guides that are authorized by the Bureau of Land Management.
Arches National Park – Utah Located in Moab, Utah, this scenic treasure features more than 2,000 naturally formed arches spread across more than 76,000 acres of national park lands. Many of the park’s most popular sites can be viewed from its 25-mile Scenic Drive. There are also opportunities for biking, hiking, camping and rock climbing. One of the most popular arches (seen above) is Delicate Arch, which is about a 50-minute hike each way, but well worth, especially at sunset where the views are incredible. Reservations are required from April 1 – Oct. 31, 2023, so be sure to plan ahead.
Antelope Canyon – Arizona
One of the other most photographed areas of the Southwest is Antelope Canyon in Northern Arizona. Guided tours are required to visit here because it’s located on private land within the Navajo Nation. Step into nature’s own sculptures as you gaze up at these pristine slot canyons formed by millions of years of water and wind erosion. The Upper Antelope Canyon tour is the most popular because it’s an easier hike (about a 20-minute trek each way), and it also boasts the most sunlight entering the canyons and walls up to 120 feet high.
Horseshoe Bend – Glen Canyon Recreational Area, Arizona You may recognize Horseshoe Bend from social media, as it’s another one of the most photographed spots in Arizona, and it’s especially popular with travel influencers. Perhaps that’s because it’s just a short hike to the overlook spot (1.5 miles roundtrip on a hardened path), and it’s open year-round. It’s also close to Antelope Canyon, so you can visit both marvels on the same day. The water down below is the Colorado River that loops around a sandstone escarpment. Visit at sunrise or sunset to snap the best photos and be sure to use a wide-angle lens or panorama mode on your cell phone.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – Border of Utah & Arizona Monument Valley is one of the most iconic landscapes in the U.S. with its sandstone buttes and miles of mesas – all protected by the Navajo Tribe who were the first to settle here. One of the best ways to view Monument Valley is by taking the 17-mile Scenic Drive (roughly a 2 to 4-hour trip) and stopping at the viewpoints listed on the map. Some of the most popular spots include John Ford’s Point, Artist’s Point, Three Sisters and the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah Bryce Canyon is unlike any of the other spots on our list. This unique national park is filled with irregularly eroded columns of rocks called hoodoos. In fact, Bryce Canyon is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere on the planet. There are opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, stargazing and more.
Garden of the Gods - Colorado This registered National Natural Landmark was voted one of the Top Attractions in the Untied States by TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards. Its Visitor and Nature Center are both free to the public. In addition to marveling at the whimsical rock formations and spotting wildlife on the trails, you can enjoy many of the activities offered there such as horseback riding, rock climbing, guided jeep tours, and shopping for local art at the Trading Post.
Red Rocks Amphitheater - Colorado
Situated between two geologically formed sandstone monoliths, Red Rocks Amphitheater, located just 15 miles west of Denver) offers an outdoor concert experience that you’ll never forget. The seamless acoustics and stunning setting have drawn many famous musicians over the years including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead. But catching a concert is not the only thing to do there. In the summer, it’s also the perfect spot to catch a film (preceded by a live concert or a comedian) at their Film on the Rocks event. There is also yoga on select Saturdays in the summer, exercise groups, hiking trails, a restaurant and even fossils to discover.
Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona We couldn’t round off this list without mentioning one of America’s truly most awe-inspiring and iconic natural wonders. The sheer size and color palette of the Grand Canyon’s layered bands of red rock will leave you breathless. There are so many ways to explore the Grand Canyon depending on your comfort level. You can simply take in the beautiful vistas from its north and south rims or get a bird’s eye view from a helicopter tour. Adventure-seekers can hike down to the Inner Canyon or take a boat ride along the Colorado river. No matter what you do, one thing is for sure. The Grand Canyon deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list.
Have you visited one of these areas? Did we miss your favorite spot to view red rock formations? If so, feel free to reach out and tell us about it at WinniWanderer@winni.com. Hearing from you will make our day!
By Staff Contributor