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Soaring red-rock towers, vast canyons, stunning mesas and snow-capped mountains... all of these amazing natural wonders can be seen in America's National Parks in the western section of the United States.

But these vast sites -- from high-altitude Glacier National Park in northwest Montana to Death Valley National Park in California, the lowest, driest, hottest location in the Western Hemisphere -- also contain many historical attractions, too. See the Native American cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, tour the one-time guest ranch at Holtzwarth Historic Site in Rocky Mountain National Park or walk through the Old Faithful Historic District in Yellowstone National Park.

Visitors from all over the world descend upon the U.S. West National Parks to enjoy pristine wilderness; learn a bit about the area's flora, fauna, history and culture; spot native wildlife; and have fun!

Statue of Liberty

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park's famous Delicate Arch. Appropriately named Arches National Park contains more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches carved by water and wind erosion. The most famous arch is Delicate Arch, pictured on the Utah license plate. But there are many other nifty rock formations found throughout the 76,000-acre park located in southeastern Utah.

Viewing points allow you to see the arches and unusual landscapes from afar, but at several points throughout the park, you can take short, accessible trails to get closer to the formations. Other longer trails are ideal for visitors who have more time to spend in the park, and who are up for a challenging hike. Trust me -- your reward will be an up-close-and-personal look at some of Mother Nature's most beautiful and intricate work.

 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon at sunset. Powerful, immense and awe-inspiring are words visitors use to describe the Grand Canyon, which stretches 27 river miles across northwest Arizona. At its widest point, it is 18 miles long, and at its deepest, a mile deep. To say the Grand Canyon is big is quite an understatement.

Most visitors admire the vistas across the canyon on the South Rim, which has many overlooks where cars and touring motorcoaches can pull over safely; it's open year round. The less-traveled North Rim is only open during warm-weather months; while it's only 10 miles directly across the canyon from the South Rim, it's a 220-mile drive by car!

Hardy folk can hike down trails into the canyon -- remember though, that since you're descending first, the hard part will be hiking back up at the end of your journey. Ranger-led guided hikes, nature walks, river talks and kids' story time also interest visitors interested in learning more about the ecology of the area.

 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. Located in southwest Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park gives visitors a glimpse into the fascinating history and lifestyle of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in cliff dwellings here from 600 to 1300 A.D.

Three main cliff dwellings -- Long House, Cliff Palace or Balcony Palace -- have been preserved in the park and are open to visitors on ranger-led tours. (Escorted vacation itineraries with a visit to Mesa Verde National Park typically include this tour in the price of your package.) Otherwise purchase tickets at the main Far View Visitor Center at the main entrance to the park.

On your tour of the dwellings you'll learn how the Ancestral Puebloans built their elaborate stone communities into the nooks and crannies of the cliffs. They spent much of their time farming beans, corn and squash, and supplementing their diet by hunting deer, rabbits and other game. They also worshipped in subterranean kivas -- which visitors can see by descending down ladders. Touring the cliff dwellings does involve walking on narrow paths, as well as some climbing up ladders to access the sites. But, if you are able to make the short hike, seeing in person how these ancient people lived is an intriguing journey back in time.