The seven Natural Wonders of the USAby Thomas Wikman
Jan 3, 2010
The Bottom Line This is my list of the seven Natural Wonders of the United States. I hope this list will be helpful to visitors planning a visit to the United States.
In 1987/1988 I visited the United States for the first time in my life. I came as an exchange student and I stayed for nearly a year. During that year I traveled six times across the United States and Canada. During the summer of 1988 I bought a car for $250 and I traveled across and around the United States. I saw many amazing things and many amazing natural wonders including the Grand Canyon, the Appalachians, the Rocky Mountains, Zion National Park, the Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Salt Lake, the California coast (highway-1), Florida Beaches, the Bayou, Niagara Falls, and much more. I visited United States on more occasions and I finally moved here in 1996 and I have continued traveling in the United States. The United States is a huge country. It is as large as the continent of Europe (including European Russia). Still it holds a lot of amazing natural wonders for its size. I am writing this review in the hopes that it will be helpful to European and other overseas visitors who are coming to the United States to see a little bit more than just one destination.
I am going to list a couple other lists of natural wonders of the world for comparison.
CNN's and USA Today's list the seven natural wonders of the world.
Great Barrier Reef
Harbour of Rio de Janeiro
This Life Magazines 15 natural wonders of the world
The Galapagos Islands
The Grand Canyon
Deep Sea Vents
The Rock of Gibraltar
The Great Barrier Reef
Angel Falls, Venezuela
Below I am listing my selection of the seven most amazing natural wonders in the United States in my opinion. I am not including places that I have not visited so the list may change when I visit those places. To see my list of the seven man-made wonders of the United States click here.
1. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a huge and very deep and steep-sided gorge that was created by the Colorado River during the last six million years. The Canyon is 446 kilometers long (277 miles long), 6.4 to 29 kilometers wide (4 to 18 miles wide) and 1.83 kilometers deep (over a mile deep) at its deepest point. The Grand Canyon attracts about five million visitors every year. Two very popular spots to visit at the Grand Canyon are the South Rim and the famous Skywalk at the Grand Canyon West. The south rim offers the best scenery and the Skywalk is a really cool structure consisting of a horseshoe shaped bridge protruding out and above the canyon.
I have visited the Grand Canyon twice most recently in 2007. I cannot think of any place that I have ever seen that is more awe inspiring then the Grand Canyon. One of the great things you can do at the Grand Canyon is get to the edge of the south rim before sun rise and see the enormous canyon emerge out of the darkness. The first things you'll see are huge red glowing cliffs emerging from the darkness about 15 kilometers away and then the huge black abyss below you and between you and cliffs starts sinking and shrinking and opening up an enormous landscape in its place. You will be looking down at a landscape with mountains, mesas, and a desert full of tiny little green dots. Those little dots aren't pebbles, they are bushes and trees. They also offer helicopter rides and airplane rides above the canyon, boat tours on Colorado River and you can also hike down into the canyon. All of it is a lot of fun.
To read more about the Grand Canyon click here and to read more about Grand Canyon West click here.
2. Hydrothermal features in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a truly remarkable place. It is not only the first National Park in the world and the Serengeti of North Americas (an abundance of Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Wolves, Cougars, Bison, Elk, Bald Eagles, etc.) What makes Yellowstone National Park so special is that it sits on top of a so called super volcano. The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest known center of active volcanism in the world. The caldera measures 30 by 45 miles (that is quite large volcano). Because of the super volcano Yellowstone has the largest concentration of geysers and other hydrothermal features in the world. It has more than 12 times more active geysers than Iceland, and more geysers than all of Russia. There are 300 geysers in Yellowstone and a total of at least 10,000 hydrothermal features altogether. In fact more than a third of all active geysers in the world are located in Yellowstone National Park. I can add that the current caldera was created by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago. This eruption released 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometers) of rock, ash and pyroclastic materials. If this super volcano were to erupt again it would not only be the end of the United States but the end of human civilization.
When you visit Yellowstone you can easily imagine the super volcano below your feet. There are many places with lots of little fumar holes pouring out steam, there are geysers, hot springs, mud volcanoes, Sulphur volcanoes and you can see the rising steam and the smell the sulphur in many places around the park, and every now and then there is a small earthquake. This is exciting in itself, however, the wildlife and the scenery adds to the ambiance. Once we saw a Grizzly Bear and five wolves fight over a Buffalo carcass and we have seen bear here every time we visited. The Hydrothermal features in Yellowstone are like no other hydrothermal features in the world, however, Yellowstone National Park offers so much else.
To read more about Yellowstone National Park click here.
3. Florida Beaches
I've been to the Riviera, the Grecian Islands, other places in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, Australia, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, California beaches, the Pacific Beaches in Costa Rica, Texas Beaches, and I have relatives who have visited the South Pacific Islands, Brazilian beaches, and other South American beaches. I've also visited many beaches on the west coast of Florida as well as the east coast. The Florida beaches stand out as among the best in the world. They are long, wide, and they stretch along a very long coast line. They are definitely commercialized and there are many resorts, hotels, restaurants, night clubs, party places, and nearby amusement parks, however, Florida is large and in general the beaches (except some) are not over crowded unlike many other beaches around the world.
4. Carlsbad Caverns
The Carlsbad Caverns is a very large system of caves and cave room located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. The total length of the rooms and the passages is not known, however, the explored area of the main cavern is more than 30 miles long. The main attractions at the Carlsbad Caverns is the huge and beautiful "big cave room", the various cave passages, and the bat watching. Every sunset half a million bats ascend from a hole in a ground. The bats for a tornado shaped miles long bat cloud that rises up into the sky and towards the horizon. Seeing these bats emerging at sunset is a en experience for life in itself.
The Big Room is 357,469 square feet or 33,210 square meters (about 700 acres). The ceiling height in the Big Room is about 330 feet (100 meters) and there are many holes, or pits, in the Big Room, the deepest one them being the bottomless pit which is 140 feet deep. There are about one million stalagmites, stalactites, columns and soda straws in the Big Room and the big room is also astoundingly beautiful. Once it was considered the largest cave room in the world but they have found a larger cave room as well as larger caves in other places around the world. However, the Carlsbad Caverns are well prepared for handling visitors and they offer many guided tours of various length and degrees of difficulty through the various cave passages.
My kids loved the "Big Room". You can walk around the big room as you want and they decided to name the various nameless but strangely shaped stalagmites and stalactites that they saw. They used names like the Ewok's spears, Chewbacca's head in snow, Princess Lea's drapery, the drone fingers, the Prince of insufficient light, Jabba the Huts hand stand. In summary the Carlsbad Caverns are astounding and impressive but could also be a lot of fun.
To read more about the Carlsbad Caverns click here.
5. Mammoth Caves
Mammoth Caverns is the largest cave system in the world and it is a very special place to us for some very personal reasons that I have decided are probably not appropriate to reveal. However, the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky is another natural wonder which has made a deep impression on me. The mammoth caves have more then 365 miles (587 kilometers) of confirmed passage ways. The reason I am putting Carlsbad Caverns ahead of the Mammoth Caves on this list is because even though the Mammoth caves are astounding and huge they are not as beautiful as the Carlsbad Caverns.
The Mammoth Caverns are located in central Kentucky nearby a small town called Cave City. However, to get to the caves and the cave hotel near the entrance you have to exit Interstate 65 and follow a small road through a thick dense forest. When we did this it was very foggy and very spooky. The Mammoth Caves frightened my wife to some degree because of the spooky surroundings at the same time as she loved these caves. We had a very interesting time here. Just like in the Carlsbad Caverns you can take cave tours of various lengths and difficulty, however, there is a lot less prepared for visitors here compared to Carlsbad Caverns. The Mammoth Caves are bigger, darker, spookier and not as beautiful (even though they are also beautiful) and they get a lot fewer visitors then Carlsbad Caverns. At the same time as they are also more romantic in some sense.
6. Arches National Park
Utah is a state with a lot of natural beauty. There are beautiful mountains, the Salt Lake, the Zion National Park, Monument Valley, and much more. Salt Lake City with its Temple Square is also an amazing place. However, one place that I particularly enjoyed, not so much for its natural beauty as its cool and impressive formations is the Arches National Park. Here you have naturally formed arches which are quite big, including the double arch (two connected arches), the Delicate Arch, the Skyline Arch, and the world's largest natural arch the Landscape Arch (100 meters or 300 feet). You also have other interesting rock formations, for example, the Balancing Rock, the Courthouse Towers and the 150 feet tall Dark Angel. What makes the Dark Angel special is that its shape looks just like, well I am not going to say (guess), but it must be one of the world's natural wonders.
7. Monument Valley
Monument Valley is located in Utah and Arizona nearby the four corners area. It is a region featuring clusters impressive sandstone buttes some of them 1,000 feet tall (more than 300 meters). Monument Valley is very much representative of the area. Arizona, New Mexico and southern Utah and Colorado features a landscape with deserts, prairies, and strangely shaped mountains like, for example, mesas (mountains that look like table tops) and buttes (tree stump looking mountains), and towers. However, in Monument Valley this landscape is particularly extreme. Why I am placing Monument Valley on this list is because the rock formations in Monument Valley are quite unique and impressive. When we were here there were only a few other people around which also added to the feeling of being far away on some other planet.
Near misses and places I did not visit
I also considered a number of other fascinating natural wonders in the United States including, Grand Teton National Park (incredibly beautiful mountain range), White Sands National Monument (snow white desert in New Mexico), California Beaches, Hawaii Beaches, California Coast (along Highway-1), Zion National Park, Salt Lake, Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Bayou, and others.
However, I also had to exclude many attractions which seriously could have replaced some of my seven choices and that's the attractions I have not personally seen yet. Attractions that I have not seen but I know very well could make it on this list if I had seen them are, for example, Yosemite, Denali National Park, Mount McKinley, Glacier National Park, Devils Tower, Lake Tahoe, and the famous huge and/or active volcanoes of Hawaii, for example, Mauna Kea, Kilauea, and Mauna Loa. Other places I have not seen include Black Canyon, Bryce Canyon, the Badlands, and the Everglades.
The United States features a lot of man-made wonders as well as many natural wonders. In addition these wonders are relatively easy to access by air or by car (excellent highway system) and there are a lot of great accommodations at most attractions and visitors are treated very well in the United States. Therefore, I suggest that if you have time, that you visit not just one place in the U.S. but some of the other great places there is to see here.