Top 5 Basecamping Trips in the Southwest
Basecamping can provide a truly wonderful experience that explores the best of both worlds in the outdoors: excellent hiking adventures by day, and comfortable accommodations by night. Hiking in the southwestern United States provides the adventurer with endless opportunities to see outrageous and iconic scenery, experience world-famous geology, and enjoy the whimsical color tapestry that pulls at the senses. The Goat has decided to let you in on his personal favorite hiking and camping adventures in the American Southwest, so load the car, strap in, and grab the camera ’cause we’re going outside!
5. Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve, California
Though just the name evokes a barren wasteland of intense heat and suffering, long-time westerners know that Death Valley is one of the most fabulous places on the face of the Earth. It is a land of extremes, but one of those extremes is intense beauty. Being in Death Valley confronts the hiker with the dichotomy of life itself, in one breath being the lowest, hottest place in North America, in the other breath being a place with 11,000 foot mountains that receive feet of snow every winter.
In one breath being a howling desert, in the other being a place with flowing natural springs and over 1,000 different species of animal, including several like the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, that are indigenous to Death Valley and only Death Valley. To the east of Death Valley lies the Mojave National Preserve, a little-known slice of desert heaven that holds its own distinctions.
Think the largest, densest stand of Joshua Tree, icon of the Mojave, lies in Joshua Tree National Park? Think again. That belongs to Mojave National Preserve. Think the tallest sand dune in the United States lies in Great Sand Dunes National Park? Think again. Kelso Dune, which rises nearly 900 feet above the desert floor reigns supreme, right in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve. Death Valley and the Mojave National Preserve is a southwestern adventure that is not to be underestimated in its grandeur, taken for granted in its diversity, or passed up by the outdoor adventurer.
4. North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The visitation to Grand Canyon is well-documented. Last year alone (2015) Grand Canyon National Park received over 6 million visitors for the first time in its history, breaking the string of a decade at over 5 million. To say it is well-loved is a bit of an understatement, and for good reason; It’s the Grand Canyon. However, over 90% of people that visit Grand Canyon visit the easily accessible South Rim, and only 5% of total people that visit actually go below the rim, given that the average visit time to this fabulous natural wonder is about 2.5 hours.
This leaves us with the isolated, lonely North Rim. Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which soars to over 8,500 feet on the Coconino Plateau, sees about 1/10 of the visitors that flock to the South Rim; good news for you. From the North Rim, hikers and campers are treated to all the dramatic vistas, epic geology, and fantasy of the Grand Canyon, but with a sense of solitude that can be hard to bargain for at the South Rim. North Rim contains some of the park’s most thrilling hiking adventures, outrageous fall colors, and even brings a sense of the pioneer spirit to any of its adventures.
3. Superstition Mountains, Arizona Sonoran Desert
Some say it’s the views. Some say it’s the ancient spirits. Some say it’s the lost gold mine. The Goat says he’s just lucky. The Superstition Mountains, located just 45 minutes east of the heart of Phoenix, Arizona, provide some of the best hiking, backpacking, and camping opportunities near a large metropolitan area in the United States, and perhaps the world. Hiking and exploring this fantastic wilderness from a basecamp, however, may just be the best way to see it.
Legend has it that within the Superstition Mountains lies an incredibly rich gold mine, the likes of which Arizona has never seen. The Dutchman, Mr. Jakob Waltz (who was actually German) gave clues on his deathbed as to its whereabouts, but it has yet to be located. Camping near the wilderness and tackling its hundreds of miles of excellent trails gives the outdoor adventurer a wonderful opportunity to search high and low, through deep canyons to 5,000 foot peaks. Meanwhile, sweeping views, excellent and explosive geology, and in the heart of the wilderness, solitude await as you dive deep into the legends and lore of the fabulous Superstition Wilderness.
2. Sedona, Arizona Red Rock Country
Sedona is world famous for its grand red rock monoliths, spiritual healing power, and upscale tourist traps. However, we geologists think of Sedona as the “Pangean Riviera”, as the beautiful rocks here tell a wonderful story of a paradise by the sea.
Though it’s lost its ocean views over the eons, Sedona is still one of the most gorgeous places in the American Southwest, and a base camping trip here will give the intrepid hiker and explorer all they can handle, from rugged red rock cliffs and world-class rock climbing, to intimate canyons, to soaring spires and outrageous sunsets whose colors can only be matched any the rocks themselves!
1. Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah Canyon Country
This tour de force of South Central Utah’s two epic parks will forever change your vision of what Utah’s Canyon Country is truly all about. Think you’ve seen it all? We think you’ve seen almost nothing until you behold the majesty contained within Capitol Reef and the Grand Staircase. Capitol Reef, home to the largest geologic structure in the southwest, harbors towering sunset red cliffs, arches, canyons, and utter solitude, with some of the best star-gazing in the lower 48. Grand Staircase is home to some of the most rugged, thrilling, and scenic canyons and slots on the Colorado Plateau and the entire world.
Placing your basecamp near the town of Boulder, Utah will lend you, the intrepid hiking adventurer, an opportunity to ping-pong between these two giants. The close proximity, beauty, and above all the unspoiled wilderness experience you are highly likely to obtain in these two outstanding places was the deciding factor in our countdown. The Goat approves!
So there you have it ladies and gentleman, the Top 5 Camping and Hiking Trips in the American Southwest. You can tackle them yourself, or to enhance your experience, you may choose to tackle them with our fabulous geologist/guides that will school you on every whit and whimsy in these beautiful rocks. See you on the trail!
Hiking and exploring Grand Canyon, or any of the National Parks, is a special experience. Although it is possible to see these places yourself, hiring a guide is a great idea. For instance, guiding services provide logistical support, and plan everything for your best possible trip. They provide a great safety net on the trail, and are trained in backcountry medicine. Above all, they provide a depth of knowledge of the region that turns a walk into a true adventure.
Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism provides all of the support you need, and pairs that with expert geologist/guides. Our backcountry meals use fresh ingredients, and are planned by a professional chef. Furthermore, we provide top-of-the-line gear and passion for the places we explore. In conclusion, you can visit National Parks, but going with a guide can create and even more memorable experience. Don’t be shy, and call us!
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For adventure hiking vacations in a geologic time machine, see our epic tours in Grand Canyon, Utah, and Arizona!
For geological musings read The Goat’s geology blog.
Explore Further, Be Wild, See Through Time — Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism