Journey to the Four Corners
America's Four Corners states, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona are incredibly rich in the culture of the ancients as diverse as Mesa Verde, home of the most famous cliff dwellers, Chaco Canyon, center of the Anasazi culture from 900 to 1100 AD, Canyon de Chelley, and Bandelier. The Chaco Cultural National Historical Park represents such a treasure that it is a World Heritage Site. Considered the "Stonehenge of the Southwest," thirteen major excavations present unique developments, including scientific inquiry into "archaeoastronomy." All of these ancient cultures are wrapped in some of the most fascinating landscape found anywhere in the country. This trip presents this intriguing region and its geography through the eyes of the ancient cultures.
- Grand Canyon
- Monument Valley
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Santa Fe
There is no better place to start your ancient journey than at the internationally famous Heard Museum. Feast your eyes on ancestral and contemporary arts and cultural artifacts woven into the story of the ancient peoples of the region. Learn the timeline of the ancient cultures, hear the pieces speak through their creators and appreciate the more recent contributions of today's tribes. The focus here is on delivering an accurate portrayal of the cultures, both old and new and a visit here will help put the rest of the trip into perspective. Your first visit to ancient ruins is right in Phoenix, where a 1,500 year old Hohokam Village spreads over 102 acres. At the Pueblo Grand Museum, begin you visit with the exhibit titled "The Hohokam: The Land and the People for a full introduction, before hitting the trail through Doorways to the Past: Hohokam Houses along the Ruins Trail and Dig IT, where you can explore the archeology of the site.
Traveling outside Phoenix as you begin to approach Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you'll see the Great House in the distance surrounded by the architectural structure created to preserve the ruins from the harsh desert. The structure was once a part of Hohokam settlements scattered along the Gila River in the 14th century. It is thought that Casa Grande served as an astronomical observatory since the four walls face the points of a compass and the windows aligned with positions of the sun and moon. As at so many sites, the structures were surrounded by a Hohokam farming village.
The ancients considered the red rocks around Sedona sacred and the area has not lost its spiritual appeal even today. Before reaching there, you can tour Montezuma Castle National Monument, an imposing 20 room structure built 70 feet about the ground. The 5 story, incredibly well preserved structure was home to the Sinagua Indians who farmed the area between the 12th and 14th centuries. Further on, Tuzigoot National Monument features more 12th century dwellings. Unlike Montezuma, this monument is comprised of a cluster of lower scale buildings. Plan to spend plenty of time exploring Sedona with great shops and restaurants surrounded by spectacular red rocks. The current city, established in 1902 became a magnate in the 1960s for artists, wealthy retirees, followers of new age religions and others seeking to escape the pressures of city life.
Before leaving Sedona, visit Red Rock State Park, where waterless hillsides 50 feet above the creek are the foothills of red rock cliffs to the north and the east. Between Sedona and Flagstaff, the drive through Oak Creek Canyon, a steep, narrow and very colorful gorge, is breathtaking. North of Sedona, Walnut Creek National Monument features 12th and 13th century dwellings of the Sinagua Indians along the well protected ledges high above the canyon floor. The Island Trail descends steeply on 240 steps to a rocky plateau, an "island," where clusters of dwellings were constructed. The remains of 20 dwellings remain quite intact. Views from the high perch of the visitor center are dramatic. Further North past Flagstaff, the Wupatki National Monument preserves pueblos built from flat thin deep red bricks. All in all there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert. Five separate Pueblos are accessible on separate trails. Wukoki, the most distinctive in the park, is visible for several miles across the flat surroundings.
Get ready for the magnificence of the Grand Canyon today, truly a wonder among natural wonders. Take the free shuttle bus from the Canyon Plaza Visitor Center to some of the best viewpoints along the South Rim, or enjoy the 25-mile Desert View scenic self-drive. Visit the Yavapai Observation Station, the Tusayan Museum, and the Kolb Brothers Studio for more fabulous views and a glimpse of the cultural heritage and history of the Grand Canyon. Treat yourself to a helicopter ride over the North and South Rims of the Canyon for thrilling bird's eye views of the Colorado River more than a mile below.
Keep an eye out for spectacular Vermillion Cliffs on the left today as you head for Lake Powell. Viewing the 3,000-foot escarpment, you may be able discern distinct geologic formations contained within the cliffs. Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the country, longer than the entire west coast of the continental United States. The lake lies within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, established to protect the Colorado Plateau. It's easiest to explore the area's 96 major canyons by watercraft or tour boat. There are also hiking and biking opportunities in the 1.2 million acres wilderness.
This route is about enjoying the scenery and Navajo culture all at once. A very scenic drive takes you across the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation with a stop at the Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa. At Tuba City, a little jog west takes you to the Little Colorado Gorge Navajo Tribal Park and the Tusayan Ruin and Museum. Once back on the road towards Monument Valley, a short stop at the Navajo National Monument, which is right in the Navajo Nation, introduces you to three preserved intact cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people.
Reaching Monument Valley, you'll soon discover that it is not a valley at all, but a wide, flat plain with red mesas and buttes surrounded by empty sandy desert. If it looks familiar you must have watched a few western movies over the years, because this is where many were filmed. Make sure to visit the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park for the best views hidden behind the long straight cliffs.
Mesa Verde National Park
The granddaddy of Cliff Dwellers settlements awaits at Mesa Verde near Cortez, Colorado, but first you'll experience a journey that takes you to the wild, remote forgotten country of southwestern Utah. From Monument Valley, it's a short drive to Mexican Hat and the Valley of the Gods. Then it's on to Hovenweep National Monument which features six separate prehistoric villages from the mid 13th century. Hovenweep Castle is the most impressive with several rooms and D shaped towers built on a sliprock right on the canyon ledge. The turrets enabled the settlement to be defended. The other villages are located on dirt roads, but it's only 2 miles to Horseshoe and Hackberry. Back on US 191, you'll be traveling north to Blanding and over to Dolores, Colorado and the Anasazi Cultural Center. You'll end your journey at Mesa Verde National Park, where we've arranged for you to stay in their version of a Kiva, the ceremonial house of the ancients.
You'll then have all the next day to explore Mesa Verde National Park where more than 1600 years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi walked the trails. Begun in 550 AD, the newest structures represent sophisticated building and cultural cohesiveness. Grab your sense of adventure and go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling area. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House and Long House can only be toured with a guide. You may also take self-guided tours of Spruce Tree House, Step House, Badger House and other sites on the Mesa Top. The Far View Sites Complex can also be toured independently. The 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road driving tour takes you through 700 years of Mesa Verde history to several scenic overlooks including Sun Point Overlook and Sun Temple. Prepare to be awestruck!
A little over 50 miles from Farmington, Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been designated a World Heritage Site, to be preserved at all costs. The setting for this largest and best preserved village of the ancients is strange, in that it is surrounded by desolation and emptiness. With only a few low gorges interrupt the flatness, this civilization of walled villages enclosed with hundreds of inter-linked rooms thrived for over 300 years. All in all, the settlement was linked by a network of roads that stretched for 100 miles to the south, west and north. From there, scenic roads take you through the Santa Fe National Forest on what are truly the roads less traveled. Ultimately, you'll reach Taos, likely the second coolest town in New Mexico.
One more day in Taos lets you drive the Enchanted Circle National Scenic Byway, a circular route laden with old West culture and ancient history that begins and ends in Taos. Taos was settled by the Pueblo Indians about 1000 years and established as an outpost for the Spanish in 1615. It later became a gathering place for mountain men and has been an artist's colony since 1914. You can meander through the western ruins of Elizabethtown and visit the Pueblo de Taos Indian Reservation which offers a glimpse of ancient living in the village's historic plaza, buildings, and side streets. The Rio Grande Gorge bridge, twelve miles northwest of Taos on US 64, is a must-see side trip. When it was built in the mid-60s, it was called the bridge to nowhere, because funding didn't exist to continue the road on the other side. It is the second highest suspension bridge in the United States.
Next up, Santa Fe, THE coolest town in New Mexico. Enchantment of a high order is available in Santa Fe, older than the Plymouth Colony at Plymouth Rock and settled only two years after John Smith arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Beautiful adobe architecture surrounds a traditional plaza in high desert landscape. Always a royal place, Santa Fe served as the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico, the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, and the capital of the New Mexico Territory.
In a thriving urban atmosphere, every day dozens of local artists sell their work under the long portal of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building still in use in America. The Museum of Fine Arts, next to the Palace, is also older than the state itself. Paintings by Georgia O'Keefe, who called Santa Fe home for many years, are on display at the Georgia O'Keefe Museum located on Museum Hill with The Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Enjoy them all, as well as a respite on the wonderful plaza with its expansive views.
Another scenic byway, the Jemez Trail, makes the route between Santa Fe and Albuquerque particularly interesting. Bandelier National Monument is an unexpected delight with some of the most unusual ruins in the Southwest. Just a few miles from the research town of Los Alamos, mountains rise to 10,000 feet over the Rio Grand River. The Frijoles Canyon Trail takes you upstream to the cliff dwellings and a pueblo complete with a ceremonial cave and underground kiva. Bandelier is located on the Jemez Trail, about five miles from San Ysidro, located at the gateway of the majestic Cañon de San Diego. There are over 3,000 tribal members, most of whom reside in a single Puebloan village known as Walatowa - the Towa word meaning This is THE place. Enjoy traditional Jemez foods, and arts and crafts available at roadside stands in the beautiful Red Rocks area. Jemez Pueblo has recreation areas where you can picnic, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors.
A second day in Albuquerque will allow you to enjoy the city. How you ask, did the Confederate flag of the old South come to fly over Albuquerque? Founded in 1706 by the Spanish, who stayed until 1821 and ruled by Mexico until 1846, America governed New Mexico from 1846 until it became a state 1912. The territory sided with the Confederates during the Civil War. Walking through Old Town Plaza, you'll be thankful that the Spanish required a plaza in every city. Serenity reigns in quiet hidden patios, winding brick paths, gardens and balconies. Be sure to visit Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum, where you can learn about the rich cultural traditions of the Acoma people and their resiliency. Renowned Acoma pottery and never before displayed textiles are featured at this brand new facility. A trip on the Scandia Peak Tramway transports you high above the deep canyons and spectacular terrain surrounding Albuquerque. An observation deck over 10,000 feet up affords a panoramic view over the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment.
You can check another National Park off your list today, by visiting the Petrified Forest National Park in Holbrook. With one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of over 200-million-year-old fossils, this is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. In the museum, the Park has archeological objects from Anasazi, Mogollon, and Sinagua sites; ethnological objects related to Hopi and Navajo cultures; Triassic invertebrate and vertebrate fossils collected from the Chinle Formation; representative geological specimens collected from the Chinle Formation; a photographic archive; and a biological collection.
Phoenix & Home
On your way back to Phoenix today, go via Payson and you'll be traveling a portion of The Apache Trail National Scenic Byway through the Superstition Mountains from Apache Junction to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Stop at Lost Dutchman State Park to learn the varied stories about the supposed lost gold mine worked by a lone prospector. Further on Tortilla Flat, booming with a population of 6, has ancient mining and agricultural relics.
The Apache Trail continues to Tonto National Monument established to protect the ruins of two cliff dwellings built by the Salado Indians in 1300AD. You can walk around inside the original structure with 19 rooms. The larger ruin of 40 rooms requires visitors be accompanied by a ranger, which can be booked in advance. The structures overlook Theodore Roosevelt Lake. At Jakes Corner, the Apache Trail joins another scenic road that takes you to Payson. Shoofly Village Ruins and Tonto Village are just north of there. The Valley of the Sun will once again welcome you at the end of this fascinating trip. You have truly traversed the roads less traveled and learned about cultures and landscapes that most do not see. Drop off your hire car later today and fly home.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 15 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire (larger vehicles are available)
- A detailed travel pack with driving instructions and maps
Daily departures from April to October.