8 National Parks in a Weekend

We visit America's treasures with the help of 485 horsepower.

Eight National Parks in a weekend. It's an ambitious plan. A plan that is, by necessity, centered around early mornings, late nights, and long hours in the car. A weekend road trip, perfected and optimized to within an inch of its life. A plan that will do more than a bit to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
My friend Lena and I set out for Zion National Park from Las Vegas early in the morning. It's a short 2.5-hour drive, fueled by casino coffee. Thunderheads take shape. The clouds are dark blue and boiling over Zion's red rocks as we find the Canyon Overlook Trail. Fat drops start to fall as the red rocks tear apart the soles of Lena's old hiking boots.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The view from the rim is worth any hike, or any pair of boots.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Soon we're back on the road, dodging thunderstorms and following one of America's most spectacular roads toward our next stop.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Bryce Canyon is staggering. Or is it the altitude? The elevation at this National Park tops 9,000 feet, and the trail around the rim has us lunging it.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The spires of red rock are called hoodoos. Each is made of layers of hard stone left behind as the softer stone around it eroded away. Most are as tall as a man. Some are taller than most buildings. Beautiful as they are, there's more to see. We hit the road again.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Capitol Reef National Park. It's as far north as our route will take us. A place that's just gobsmacking in scale, even from the roadside.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Rock formations too numerous to name (or know) form the Capitol Reef. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Most spectacular of all: The Waterpocket Fold, a hundred-mile-long wrinkle in the earth.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Even after leaving the park, the scenery is severe and spectacular. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Clouds hang low over the desert as we travel east. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
It would be no mistake to call the landscape "Martian"; the Mars Society maintains and operates a research station nearby.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The roads here are long, straight and fast. With 485 horsepower and comfortable seats, the Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack is an impeccable traveling companion.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Just outside of Moab, Arches National Park is one of the most iconic, and most visited parks on our trip. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
As at many of our National Parks, accessibility is one of Arches' finest achievements. While dozens of visitors mill around the paved paths, all it takes to find quiet and solitude is following one of many well-signed and easily navigable "unimproved" trails.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
We haul ass now, speeding through rainstorms to catch Canyonlands National Park by dusk. And we're glad we did. The southern entrance, thirty miles off the highway, leads to a Park that is essentially vacant and, for sheer beauty, easily the equal of any place on earth.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Tight rock canyons seem to stretch to the horizon. There isn't a human sound to be heard, just wind blowing through rock and leaves.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
One of too many canyons to count. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The Plum Crazy purple of the Charger soaks up a sunset.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Roads inside National Parks are things of beauty in themselves.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Dark, and leaving Canyonlands. Bats fill the sky. The road stretches on forever. We don't see another car for an hour.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Quiet, lonely, mysterious. Canyonlands National Park could almost singlehandedly define the American West.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Sunrise the next morning at Monument Valley.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
We backtrack to nearby Mexican Hat for breakfast. It's the name of both a town and a local rock formation, and one of my favorite places in the world to spend a night. There are no bad roads out of the tiny villiage on the banks of the San Juan River, and many bad choices.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Back on the road through Monument Valley. It's a Navajo Tribal Park, remote and still familiar from years in the background of blockbuster films.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
A three-hour highway haul takes us to Petrified Forest National Park. After the spires and canyons of the last half-dozen National Parks, the petrified forest seems austere.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
It takes patience and a closer look to see the beauty here. American Indian art carved into desert varnish on the sides of boulders, long views and big skies make this park a more subtle place, and equally worthy of admiration and protection.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The petrified forest. You'd mistake them for redwood logs at first—they retain all their tree-like detail—but on closer inspection, the quartz petrification is apparent. And beautiful.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
We hit the road again, turning West, toward the Grand Canyon.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Fauna is abundant, even just inside the entrance of the park.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Fauna comes in the form of visitors, as well. Chinese tourists crowd viewing platforms, boisterously photographing the scenery, and each other. I'm glad they're visiting, and glad they're having a good time. Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River has flooded places nearly as striking as their present overlook. In the United States we've made similar mistakes, flooding the irreplacable Glen Canyon and Hetch Hetchy Valley. A little appreciation for what can be concerved aborad goes a long way toward conservation at home.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Our last stop after a long haul from Arizona is Joshua Tree National Park. It's back in California, and just two hours from home in Los Angeles.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
The rocks aren't so red, and the desert seems even more willing to desiccate the unprepared. But what a place. Boulders the size of city blocks climb out of the earth. Joshua Trees, gangly things like something you'd imagine from a Dr. Seuss book, dot the horizon, then become dense like a forest. Just as in every other park we visit, there's no place on earth like it. But this one feels the most like home.Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com