Show Me the Parks - Page 3

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Land of Hidden Worlds: Zion National Park  (PhotoDisc)
The Road to Nowhere: California's Death Valley  (PhotoDisc)

Day 6: Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park (86 Miles)
Backtrack slightly today and head south toward Mount Carmel Junction and the jewel of Utah parks, Zion (435.772.3256; www.nps.gov/zion). Red-rock monoliths rise 2,500 feet above Zion Canyon, which is a half-mile wide at its entrance and narrows to only 300 feet at its end eight miles later. Along the way, the Virgin River cuts a path through the park leading to hidden trails, waterfalls, and improbable hanging gardens tucked into damp, cave-like grottoes. Along with sightseeing by car, activities among this astonishing geological paradise include hiking, biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, swimming, or fishing.

Watchman Campground (800.365.2267; www.nps.gov/zion/pphtml/camping.html), inside the national park, is a good base for hikes and bike rides, though with no showers and limited facilities. No problem. The town of Springdale, offering full services, is only 0.5 miles away.

Days 7-8: Zion to Death Valley National Park (300 Miles)
It's a daylong drive from Zion to Death Valley, out of Utah and across Nevada into the eastern edge of California. Once into this forbidding landscape, stop at Furnace Creek for an overview of the 3.4-million-acre park. It's truly a land of extremes: Elevations range from 282 feet below sea level to 11,049 feet. Since summer temperatures routinely top 120 degrees Fahrenheit, most visitors unsurprisingly come between October and April to hike, golf (yes, call it extreme links!), bike, or ride horses.

Death Valley (760.786.3200; www.nps.gov/deva) is immense and largely empty, save one terrific hotel and restaurant, the Furnace Creek Inn (760.786.2345; www.furnacecreekresort.com), and several camping areas. Camping at either Furnace Creek or Sunset campgrounds (800.365.2267; www.nps.gov/deva/pphtml/camping.html) situated near the hotel provides you with a compromise. You'll be parked on a large, flat, characterless pad along with many others, but you will be close to restaurants, groceries, gas, propane, golf, horseback rides, and the park highlights.

Day 9: Death Valley to Las Vegas (144 Miles)
Complete the loop by returning east to Las Vegas, though not before stopping at nearby Red Rock Canyon (www.redrockcanyonlv.org), perhaps Las Vegas' finest natural attraction. Located 17 miles west of the city, Red Rock Canyon contains 197,000 acres of contrasting layers of sandstone and limestone geology. Hiking or driving a scenic loop here will provide a memorable summary of the high desert lands you've just visited… as well as a last natural respite before your return to the glitz, the glam, and the games of Sin City.

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Best Hotels in Las Vegas

$219
Average/night*
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#1
Four Seasons Las Vegas
$159-$319
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#2
Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino
$105-$260
Average/night*
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#3
The Signature at MGM Grand
$139-$399
Average/night*
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#4
Encore at Wynn Las Vegas

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