American Southwest and the National Parks of the West

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This is one of the quintessential “classic” western road trips. Through a rich combination of stunning landscapes, fascinating cultures and unique experiences, it takes the travelers on a genuine American journey through a region full of complexity, contradictions and beauty. From hiking along the rim of the majestic Grand Canyon, to dining in out-of-the-way tiny ghost towns, to meeting with Native Indian elders, this trip will leave the travelers with life-long unique memories.

The basic trip starts in Las Vegas and makes a broad sweep across the states of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, visiting iconic landmarks and National Parks of the region such as Hoover Dam, Route 66, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce and Zion. With minor customization, this trip can also start in Los Angeles or Phoenix.

For travelers with a little more time, this trip explores  the Four Corners region, Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Capitol Reef. Add another few days to explore Death Valley National Park and surrounding ghost towns.

Duration
14 to 21 days

Start-end points
Las Vegas, Phoenix or Los Angeles

Best time to travel
Spring, late summer/fall

Character
Road trip, with a combination of nature and culture

Intensity level
Moderate but can be fully customized

Suitable for 
FIT/ SAT, individuals, families and group


Highlights

  • Hike along the Virgin River in Zion National Park
  • Walk among the crimson hoodoos in the Red Canyon
  • Hike along the rim of Bryce National Park
  • Study ancient Paiute petroglyphs in Parowan
  • Experience the pioneer life in Cedar City and St George
  • Explore ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings
  • Drive along the mesas of Monument Valley
  • Discover majestic stone arches in Canyonlands National Park
  • Stargazing the Milky Way at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley
  • Get spooked in the ghost town of Rhyolite
  • Experience the Strip and Old Las Vegas
  • Cross the Hoover Dam from Nevada to Arizona
  • Get you kicks on Route 66
  • Take a train from Williams to the Grand Canyon
  • Watch the sun set on the Grand Canyon from Hopi Point
  • Enjoy a traditional Navajo meal at historic Cameron Trading Post
  • Learn about Navajo culture and traditions with a tribal Elder
  • Cruise the deep canyons of Lake Powell
  • Enjoy an authentic cowboy dinner in Kanab

Suggested itinerary at a glance

Day 1-3 • Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon

Las Vegas. This desert boomtown turned glitzy metropolis is a convenient starting point for your journey. Once called “sin-city”, it is today a place better known for fun, food and entertainment. Take a stroll on the Strip and visit the “old” Las Vegas to experience the fast-paced, round-the-clock pulse of the city.

Leave the urban glitz behind and rapidly enter a landscape of arid desert expanses and mountains in the far horizon. Nature becomes the main actor of your journey. A visit of the Hoover Dam gives a full measure of the colossal work undertaken to harness the power of the mighty Colorado River.

As the song says: “get your kicks on Route 66”. Leave the highway and travel through history and nostalgia. Stop for lunch or maybe just an ice-cone at one of the tiny communities dispersed along this remote segment of the original American “mother road”.

Williams is your getaway to Grand Canyon National Park. From this charming Old West town, ride the historic train or drive through an increasingly greener landscape all the way to the verge of a fissure in the earth. From the edge of the South Rim, take in the full measure of the deepness of the Canyon and the majesty of the mountains in the far horizon. The ever-changing colors at sunset from Hopi Point will stay with you forever.

Day 4-6 • Grand Canyon National Park and the Land of the Navajo

Hike along the rim trail to Yaki Point in the company of condors soaring high above the edge of the Canyon. At Navajo Point on the eastern end of the Park, climb to the top of the imposing stone watchtower. With his walls adorned in traditional and mysterious Indian art, it stands guard at the edge of the canyon and the Land of the Navajo stretching the the east and north.

The site where the Canyon meets the desert plains is also the historic trading place a two cultures, the Anglo settlers and the Native Indians. At the beautiful Cameron Trading Post, stop for a hearty Navajo meal on the edge of the Canyon and to admire the exquisite craftsmanship of traditional tribal jewelry and rug weaving.

Marble Canyon, Lee’s Ferry and Vermillion Cliffs are just a few of the unique sites you can visit on your way to Page, a small town perched above the vast expanse of Lake Powell. Nearby, a tribal elder welcomes you at the Navajo Village for an evening of immersion in this ancient culture and a traditional dance performance.

Day 7-9 • Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell and Grand Staircase Escalante to Kanab

Another marvel of engineering, Glen Canyon Dam commands the flow of the mighty Colorado River from Lake Powell to the Grand Canyon and beyond. Descend over 500 feet below ground level to view the gigantic turbines. Their enormous power generate enough energy to serve millions of people across seven states.

Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. On a motorboat, cruise along its waterways, deep coves and narrow canyons stretching for hundreds of miles. Follow a tapering canyon to the gigantic yet delicate stone arch of Rainbow Bridge. In places, you can touch the smooth face of the multi-colored rock soaring high above or swim in the cold pristine waters

Journey westwards on the road stretching between the stunning landscapes of Grand Staircase Escalante and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Stop at Big Water to examine the fossils of dozens of dinosaurs found in the area. For a view of a more recent past, leave the main road for a short drive to the ghost town of Pahreah on the Paria River. As you drive, the mountains around you are turning into a deep shade of red. At the end of the main road lies the small town of Kanab, the perfect place to rest and enjoy an authentic old west BBQ meal.

Day 10-12 • Zion National Park, Red Canyon and Bryce National Park

The beautiful drive from Kanab takes you along the Mount Carmel scenic byway and through a long tunnel dug deep in the mountain. It exits high above the eastern valley of Zion National Park. Drive down and through the valley to the Temple of Sinawava for the trailhead of a hike along the Virgin River. Surrounded by majestic red cliffs you soon arrive at a deep gorge carved by the river, the entrance to the Narrows. The sheer granite walls of the Court of the Patriarchs, the roaring high waterfalls and the deep blue of Emerald Pool are only some of the wonders of Zion.

Start the day with an easy hike among the strange pillar rock formations of the Red Canyon. These crimson-colored “hoodoos” are a first taste of the unique landscape ahead. Drive further to enter Bryce National Park. Stroll along the rim between Sunrise and Sunset points for a full experience of the “Bryce Amphitheater”. Starting at your feet on the edge of the cliff, it stretches far into the horizon in a festival of shapes and colors on a grandiose scale. A drive on road along the Canyon takes you to numerous vista points, each with its own unique experience. Piracy Point, Natural Bridge Point and finally Yovimpa Point.

If you have the inclination and time, explore less-traveled and remote parts of the area. The tiny town of Cannonville is a scenic getaway to the gigantic Grosvernor Natural Arch and the multicolored rock formations of Kodachrome Basin.

Leaving Bryce Canyon, drive up through mountains and forests to Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is a place of unique flora and one of the best sites on the continent for stargazing.  Descend then to the small historic town of Cedar City. Nicknamed “Festival City”, its renowned summer Shakespeare festival attracts performers and audiences for all over the world.

Day 13-15 • Parowan Petroglyphs, Kolob Canyon and St George to Las Vegas

Visit Homestead State Park in Cedar City for a fascinating introduction to the recent history of the West from the perspective its Mormon settlers. Drive then to the Parowan Gap for an appreciation of the Native culture. Shaped as a sharp V- gap in a mountain, this sacred place is the site of a unique collection of petroglyphs etched over thousands of years by local and nomadic Indians tribes. Discover astronomical calendars and cryptic messages left by the Paiute, Hopi and Navajo people of the region.

Entered from the main road to St George, Kolob Canyons is part of Zion National Park. While there are not many opportunities for accessible hikes, enjoy a drive through the park’s natural beauty surrounded by gigantic red granite formations. This is no less impressive than Zion Canyon itself.

The historic town of St George is a central to understanding the settlement of the Southwest. Take a tour of the city in the company of actors dressed in period costumes while reenacting the early days of the city. Visit the Tabernacle and Mormon Temple to complement this experience.

The road to Las Vegas is a fascinating transition from the rugged landscapes of the Virgin Mountain range to flat and arid desert. Stop by the Valley of Fire for a visit of the Lost City Museum and ancient Native American-Indian petroglyphs. Soon, the arid desert gives way to the outskirts of the ever-growing city of Las Vegas. Enjoy the many opportunities for relaxation and entertainment in the city.


Suggested extended itineraries at a glance

from Lake Powell

Day 1-3 • Navajo Nation, Monument Valley and Natural Bridges

Depart from Lake Powell towards Kayenta, deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation. Visit Navajo National Monument and discover the culture of the ancient Anasazi cliff dwellers. Visit the Valley of the Gods and explore the traditions of the Ute Mountain Indians. Drive through the awe-inspiring Monument Valley surrounded by high mesas. Visit Natural Bridges National Monument and view its grandiose yet delicate natural stone arches.

Day 4-6 • Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, Capitol Reef

Using the town of Moab as a base, visit Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. This is a very vast area with long travel distances between the different points of interest. There are numerous opportunities for riding deep into remote canyons or viewing colossal rock formations and natural arches. Leave Moab and drive through Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park.

 

from Las Vegas or Los Angeles

About 3 to 4 days • DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

From Las Vegas or Los Angeles, arrive in Death Valley National Park and settle in Furnace Creek. This is one of the largest National Parks in the US with vast travel long distances between the different points of interest. Plan to visit the lowest point in North America at Bad Water Basin and walk on the surface of its flat dry lake.

At sunset, go up to Zabriskie Point for a spectacle of changing colors on the mountains. Then turn your glaze upwards for a crystal-clear view of the Milky Way. Scotty’s Castle, the sand dunes, Titus Canyon, the Panamint Falls and the Charcoal Kilns are only a few of the sites of the Park.

Visit the ghost-town of Rhyolite. Born literally overnight in the middle of the desert with the news of the discovery of gold and silver, appreciate how rapidly this boomtown became a thriving community of thousands before dying off, all in the span of a few short years. Walk around abandoned buildings of what were schools and saloons.



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