There’s a certain “love the one you’re with” aspect to judging things. Whether books, or movies, or music, or – in this case – national parks, we often give preference to our most recent experience. Still bathed in the glow of something amazing it is difficult to rank older experiences objectively. Was that incredible place we just left really that much better than the incredible place we visited earlier in the year? We can’t sample them back to back in a blind taste test. Which is probably why our annual “Best Of” travel articles are always so hard to put together. It’s also why this particular post is expressed in the form of a question.
We can’t say for certain that Bryce is the best of the 62 national parks that we’ve now visited. There are so many wonderful places. Some we love for the singular experience we had while there, like having our campground overrun by a herd of bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The best places, though, are the ones that completely take us by surprise. The Grand Canyon, as incredible as it is, is somehow made smaller because of its familiarity. It’s exactly what you expect, only more so.
The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, Yellowstone in Wyoming and most recently Bryce in Utah all caught us totally unaware. More than that, each place created some dissonance between what we were seeing and what we thought we should see. The Sand Dunes didn’t seem like something we’d find in the U.S. Yellowstone didn’t feel like something that should even be on this planet. And walking among the towering hoodoos of Bryce made us feel like we weren’t in a national park at all, but touring the ruins of a three thousand year old city in a place like Turkey or Egypt.
Part of the illusion comes from the amazing way nature has of constructing things that look as if they were built by craftsmen, like these grottos.
Elsewhere the color and quality of the dusty trails and rock walls give the impression that they were built out of the same materials ancient civilizations used to raise their cities.
Shannon hunkers down in what could be a Babylonian alleyway.
Watching the sun rise over these formations felt like witnessing the dawn of a completely different era. That’s something that is pretty hard to top.
And yet we haven’t been everywhere so tell us what we’ve missed. Share with us your favorite U.S. park and what it is that sets it apart?