ABOUT THE PACIFIC SOUTHWEST
The desert and mountain areas of this region make the Pacific Southwest a land of extremes, with a semi-arid to arid climate depending on the area. The desert areas stay warmer year round during the day, while it is much colder in the mountains regardless of the season. Generally speaking, in the valleys of the mountains where the altitudes are higher, winter temps reach the low 40s, while the coastal and desert areas are much milder with Phoenix staying in the mid 60s during January and San Francisco in the mid 50s. Summers in the Southwest region are hot and dry, with the hottest temps heating up the deserts in California and Arizona. Similar to the Pacific Northwestern region, the Pacific Ocean cools the air closer to the coast so summer temps remain comfortable in the low to mid 70s. This region gets very little rain in the summer, but that which does fall tends to occur in the mountains during thunderstorms. Spring and fall are relatively mild in terms of temperatures, but the foliage and spring flowering that one sees in other areas of the countries does not exist in the same way since much of the flowering is year-round.
Arches National Park, Utah – This site features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, with some of the most popular arches in the park being Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and Double Arch. Millions of years of erosion have created these structures located in a desert climate where the arid ground has life-sustaining biological soil crusts and potholes that serve as natural water-collecting basins. Other geologic formations include stone pinnacles, fins, and balancing rocks.
Big Bend National Park, Texas – Named for the prominent bend in the Rio Grande along the U.S.–Mexico border, this park encompasses a large and remote part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Its main attraction is backcountry recreation in the arid Chisos Mountains and in canyons along the river. A wide variety of Cretaceous and Tertiary fossils as well as cultural artifacts of Native Americans also exist within its borders.
Black Canyon of the Gunison National Park, Colorado – The park protects a quarter of the Gunnison River, which slices sheer canyon walls from dark Precambrian-era rock. The canyon features some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rock in North America, and is a popular site for river rafting and rock climbing. The deep, narrow canyon is composed of gneiss and schist which appears black when in shadow.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – Bryce Canyon is a geological amphitheater on the Paunsaugunt Plateau with hundreds of tall, multi-colored sandstone hoodoos formed by erosion. The region was originally settled by Native Americans and later by Mormon pioneers.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah – This landscape was eroded into a maze of canyons, buttes, and mesas by the combined efforts of the Colorado River, Green River, and their tributaries, which divide the park into three districts. The park also contains rock pinnacles and arches, as well as artifacts from Ancient Pueblo peoples.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – The park’s Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile (160 km) monocline that exhibits the earth’s diverse geologic layers. Other natural features include monoliths, cliffs, and sandstone domes shaped like the United States Capitol.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico – Carlsbad Caverns has 117 caves, the longest of which is over 120 miles (190 km) long. The Big Room is almost 4,000 feet (1,200 m) long, and the caves are home to over 400,000 Mexican free-tailed bats and sixteen other species. Above ground are the Chihuahuan Desert and Rattlesnake Springs.
Channel Islands, California – Five of the eight Channel Islands are protected, and half of the park’s area is underwater. The islands have a unique Mediterranean ecosystem originally settled by the Chumash people. They are home to over 2,000 species of land plants and animals, and 145 are unique to them, including the island fox. Ferry services offer transportation to the islands from the mainland.
Death Valley National Park, California, Nevada – Death Valley is the hottest, lowest, and driest place in the United States. Daytime temperatures have topped 130 °F (54 °C) and it is home to Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America. The park contains canyons, badlands, sand dunes, and mountain ranges, and more than 1000 species of plants grow in this geologic graben. Additional points of interest include salt flats, historic mines, and springs.
Grand Canyon, Arizona – The Grand Canyon, carved by the mighty Colorado River, is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 1 mile (1.6 km) deep, and up to 15 miles (24 km) wide. Millions of years of erosion have exposed the multicolored layers of the Colorado Plateau in mesas and canyon walls, visible from both the north and south rims, or from a number of trails that descend into the canyon itself.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada – Based around Nevada’s second tallest mountain, Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park contains 5,000-year-old bristle cone pines, a rock glacier, and the limestone Lehman Caves. Due to its remote location, the park has some of the country’s darkest night skies. Wildlife includes the Townsend’s big-eared bat, pronghorn, and Bonneville cutthroat trout.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado – The tallest sand dunes in North America, up to 750 feet (230 m) tall, were formed by deposits of the ancient Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley. Abutting a variety of grasslands, shrublands, and wetlands, the park also has alpine lakes, six 13,000-foot mountains, and old-growth forests.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas – This park contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, as well as the scenic McKittrick Canyon filled with bigtooth maples, a corner of the arid Chihuahuan Desert, and a fossilized coral reef from the Permian era.
Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii – The Haleakalā volcano on Maui features a very large crater with numerous cinder cones,Hosmer’s Grove of alien trees, the Kipahulu section’s scenic pools of freshwater fish, and the native Hawaiian goose. It is home to the greatest number of endangered species within a U.S. National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National park, Hawaii – This park on the Big Island protects the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, two of the world’s most active geological features. Diverse ecosystems range from tropical forests at sea level to barren lava beds at more than 13,000 feet (4,000 m).
Joshua Tree National Park, California – Covering large areas of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this desert landscape is populated by vast stands of Joshua trees. Large changes in elevation reveal various contrasting environments including bleached sand dunes, dry lakes, rugged mountains, and maze-like clusters of monzogranite monoliths.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California – Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world, is joined by all three other types of volcanoes in this park: shield, cinder dome, and composite. Though Lassen itself last erupted in 1915, most of the rest of the park is continuously active. Numerous hydrothermal features, including fumaroles, boiling pools, and bubbling mud pots, are heated by molten rock from beneath the peak.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado – This area constitutes over 4,000 archaeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloan people, who lived here and elsewhere in the Four Corners region for at least 700 years. Cliff dwellings built in the 12th and 13th centuries include Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms and 23 kivas, and the Balcony House, with its many passages and tunnels.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona – This portion of the Chinle Formation has a large concentration of 225-million-year-old petrified wood. The surrounding Painted Desert features eroded cliffs of red-hued volcanic rock called bentonite. Dinosaur fossils and over 350 Native American sites are also protected in this park.
Pinnacles National Park, California – Named for the eroded leftovers of a portion of an extinct volcano, the park’s massive black and gold monoliths of andesite and rhyolite are a popular destination for rock climbers. Hikers have access to trails crossing the Coast Range wilderness. The park is home to the endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and one of the few locations in the world where these extremely rare birds can be seen in the wild. Pinnacles also supports a dense population of prairie falcons, and more than 13 species of bat which populate its talus caves.
Redwood National Park, California – This park and the co-managed state parks protect almost half of all remaining coastal redwoods, the tallest trees on earth. There are three large river systems in this very seismically active area, and 37 miles (60 km) of protected coastline reveal tide pools and sea stacks. The prairie, estuary, coast, river, and forest ecosystems contain a wide variety of animal and plant species.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – Bisected north to south by the Continental Divide, this portion of the Rockies has ecosystems varying from over 150 riparian lakes to montane and subalpine forests to treeless alpine tundra. Wildlife including mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, and cougars inhabit its igneous mountains and glacial valleys. Longs Peak, a classic Colorado fourteener, and the scenic Bear Lake are popular destinations, as well as the historic Trail Ridge Road, which reaches an elevation of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).
Saguaro National Park, Arizona – Split into the separate Rincon Mountain and Tucson Mountain districts, this park is evidence that the dry Sonoran Desert is still home to a great variety of life spanning six biotic communities. Beyond the namesake giant saguaro cacti, there are barrel cacti, chollas, and prickly pears, as well as lesser long-nosed bats, spotted owls, and javelinas.
Sequoia National Park, California – This park protects the Giant Forest, which boasts some of the world’s largest trees, the General Sherman being the largest measured tree in the park. Other features include over 240 caves, a long segment of the Sierra Nevada including the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, and Moro Rock, a large granite dome.
Yosemite National Park, California – Yosemite features sheer granite cliffs, exceptionally tall waterfalls, and old-growth forests at a unique intersection of geology and hydrology. Half Dome and El Capitan rise from the park’s centerpiece, the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley, and from its vertical walls drop Yosemite Falls, one of North America’s tallest waterfalls at 2,425 feet (739 m) high. Three giant sequoia groves, along with a pristine wilderness in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, are home to a wide variety of rare plant and animal species.
Zion National Park, Utah – Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert, this park contains sandstone features such as mesas, rock towers, and canyons, including the Virgin River Narrows. The various sandstone formations and the forks of the Virgin River create a wilderness divided into four ecosystems: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest.
The Grand Canyon, which was carved over time by the Colorado River, is one of the major tourist attractions in the United States, and is visited by 5 million people every year
There is a Four Corners National Monument where you can stand in 4 states at once – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado
The entire coastline of California is considered a national monument, promising permanent conservation and ensuring there will not be new oil drilling within 12 nautical miles of the mainland (Source: Kickassfacts)
California has such devastating wildfires due to conditions like in 2017 with a wet winter allowing fresh vegetation to grow, followed by a very dry summer. The Diablo winds in the north and Santa Ana winds in the south are powerful warm winds that have the ability to spread the fires faster than would happen in other parts of the country
Areas in the Southwest like Zion National Park, are world renowned for rock climbing
Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park, and it has more than 300 active natural geysers, more than 290 waterfalls, and it experiences 1,000 – 3,000 earthquakes per year
Animals that are common in the area include rattlesnake, coyote, bobcat, jackrabbit, gray wolf, bison, prairie dogs, elk, bighorn sheep and coral snakes