3 reasons to visit the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona

December 21, 2015, 10:59 a.m.

These famous cliffs are a big draw for tourists wanting to soak in their stark beauty. We can think of at least three reasons why this location should be a must-see destination at the top of your travel list.

1. The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is not your typical tourist location, with a few packed pull-outs for selfies with a pretty vista in the background. This is an area with facilities as rugged as the landscape. Only a few signposts mark the monument, and as many people drive by on their way to Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon, you may have the place much to yourself if your timing is right. If you're seeking some quality quiet time in a beautiful place, this is a wonderful option.

2. By visiting Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, you're getting more than just one beautiful sight. Sure the cliffs are the headliner, but the 294,000-acre monument also contains Paria Plateau, Coyote Buttes and Paria Canyon in addition to the visually stunning and artistically inspiring Vermilion Cliffs. It's well worth spending several days exploring the area.

3. Not only will you see beautiful vistas everywhere you turn, but you will also be able to quite literally see history. The amazing colors found in the cliffs are made of silt and minerals deposited over millions of years. As Verlyn Klinkenborg writes beautifully in an article in National Geographic about the Vermilion Cliffs, "It's easy enough to see the stratigraphy in the layers of stone exposed on the cliff face, but there is also a stratigraphy of life-forms here, as well as a layering of human experience. Reach back far enough—190 million years and more, when this was a very different world—and you come to the ancient species, some crocodilian, some birdlike, that left their traces in the Navajo sandstone and in the formations that underlie it."

Visiting this place is not just about looking at something beautiful, it is also about seeing everything that has happened over an amount of time so huge it's hard to comprehend. The cliffs provide some perspective, a place to focus your eyes so you can begin to think about the ancient history and incredible changes the area has witnessed.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.