Valdosta Daily Times


August 4, 2013

Hidden Gems: Visiting underrated national parks and monuments


- — Colorado National Monument (Colorado): This monument is highlighted with steep-walled canyons and monoliths in the beautiful sandstone region of western Colorado that attracts rock climbers from far and wide. It is home to a variety of wildlife including mountain lions and desert bighorn sheep. Twenty-three-mile Rim Rock Drive connecting the east and west entrances offer views similar to those of Monument Valley. A campground near the visitor center and west entrance provides scenic views from a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River Valley. Lodging is available in nearby Grand Junction. Kent Moore, a friend of ours who considers himself an avid traveler considers Colorado National Monument one of the most underrated units of the National Park Service. We agree.

Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho): The name for this monument visited by Apollo 14 astronauts for training prior to their moon mission is certainly appropriate. Nearly three-quarters of a million acres of rugged landscape filled with lava fields and cinder cones makes earthbound visitors feel as if they may be walking on the surface of the moon. Although the area appears uninhabited, birds, animals, and plants have adapted to live here. A seven-mile paved loop drive provides access to a number of hiking trails and a cave area where visitors can walk through lava tubes. No lodging is available in the monument but a unique campground in a volcanic field of cinders and volcanic rocks is near the visitor center.  

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana): This impressive monument memorializes members of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne that fought and died here. A 4.5-mile tour road includes multiple stops where visitors can use cell phones to listen to narratives describing the troop movements and battle. CDs for self-guided tours are available for purchase in the visitor center. A trail leads to “last hill” made famous as the location of Custer’s Last Stand. Local members of the Crow Nation offer guided tours (fee charged). A walk through the adjoining National Cemetery offers a somber reminder of the costs of war. Neither camping nor lodging is available in the monument.

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