Desert to the Mountain Highlights
This exciting 15 day tour that takes you through from the dramatic Desert scenery of Arizona's Red Rock Country and Utah to beautiful Colorado – the Centennial State and home to the Majestic Rocky Mountains. Colorado is a year round destination boasting over 300 days of sunshine per year. With western history abound, four national parks, forty State parks, and 26 world class ski resorts this is some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the USA. On this tour you will stay in the Mile High city of Denver and among other highlights visit the unforgettable Rocky Mountains, and Mesa Verde National Park with it’s Cliff dwellings and mesa top villages built between AD450 and 1300.
- Flagstaff & The Grand Canyon
- Monument Valley
- Arches & Canyonlands National Parks
- Gateway Canyons Resort
- Rocky Mountain National Park
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 thePuebloGrandMuseum, 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 Riverin 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 en route to Flagstaff, 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 some time exploring Sedona with it’s 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 throughOak CreekCanyon, a steep, narrow and very colorful gorge, is breathtaking. South of Flagstaff, 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. North of Flagstaff, theWupatkiNational Monumentpreserves 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.
The route north to Monument Valley 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. That same road leads to the South Rim of theGrand Canyon. If you have not visited before or if you want to have another adrenaline shot from that famous view, indeed, do so.
Once back on the road towards Monument Valley, a short stop at theNavajoNational 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.
With two more full days in the area, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the some of the most interesting scenery this area has to offer. It’s hard to imagine what forces of nature worked for millennia to sculpt the greatest density of natural arches in the world at Arches National Park. Over 2,000 structures range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch, which measures 306 feet from base to base. Towering spires, fins and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area. You can explore the many areas of Arches National Park by car or on foot. Two drives through the park take you to a number of exceptional viewpoints, including Delicate Arch Viewpoint from which you can see the park’s most famous arch at a distance. Take a moment to get out of the car and walk under the two largest arches, North Window and Double Arch, for a truly up close and personal experience. If you prefer to hike, there are trails to the park’s highlights that take from 1-1/2 hours to a half a day. We suggest that you do the longer hikes early or late in the day to avoid the mid-day heat.
Continuing from Moab, your next stop will be the unique Gateway Canyons Resort where adventure and peace coexists under impossibly blue skies. Owned by the founder of the Discovery Channel, Mr. John Hendricks, the resort is home to the famous Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum - one of the finest collections of American automobiles in existence today. With just over forty vehicles (including the Auto Museum’s own $3.24 million dollar version of the “Mona Lisa” – the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Concept Car),this fascinating museum tells a story…the story of how the automobile impacted society.
The nearby Summit School Ranch Equestrian Center at Whitewater is a perfect place to stop for a horseback adventure. Summit Canyon School is one of Gateway Canyons adventure ranches located 15 miles northeast of the resort. This is a 500 acre ranch with trails of varying terrain. In addition to horse riding, the resort offers a plethora of other exciting activities such as hiking, mountain biking, jeep tours and ATV tours. Spend a day exploring the beautiful Colorado National Monument and the surrounding area. Touted by Outside Magazine and USA Today as one of the top 10 best places for solitude in the US, the Monument features 11 canyons, 20,000 acres of arched windows, rock spires and natural monoliths - all thrown by the hands of wind and rain over millions of years. For anybody with an interest in Paleontology there is a lot of Prehistoric Dinosaur history in this region of Western Colorado.
Charming Grand Junction is filled with art galleries, clothing boutiques, antique shops and a variety of restaurants – many with delightful sidewalk dining. Downtown has retained the quaint charm of yesteryear, thanks to its Victorian-era architecture and a calendar full of free,old-fashioned community events like the Farmers’ Market Festival and the Parade of Lights. The streets of downtown Grand Junction are one of the nation's largest sidewalk sculpture galleries and are filled with almost 100 sculptures. For a fun start to any evening dine at the busy Rockslide Brewery Pub on Main Street. Late-night entertainment is also in full swing. With great coffeehouses featuring live music and dance clubs, too, downtown Grand Junction is bustling with activity, history and fun both day and night. Approximately sixty miles south of Grand Junction is the historic, laid-back town of Montrose - best known as the gateway to Black Canyon National Park, one of the least known but no less extraordinary National Parks.
The Black Canyon is a unique and spectacular canyon cut nearly 3,000 feet in some places and narrowing to only 40 feet in others. Plummeting as much as 2,700 feet almost vertically from the rim, it is one of North America’s steepest, darkest and most rugged gorges. The river cut through the soft sedimentary layers millions of years ago, wearing down to the older and harder igneous layer. Since then, the river has eroded rock at the rate of about an inch per century. Begin your visit at the South Rim Visitor Center, followed by the South Rim Drive from Tomichi Point to High Point. Twelve stunning overlooks include Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. The seven-mile drive with stops takes 2-3 hours to complete. A variety of hiking trails through the park ranges from the easy Cedar Point Nature Trail to the strenuous North Rim Vista Trail, each offering its own perspective on the flora, fauna and geography.
Nestled in a beautiful mountainous valley, Glenwood Springs sits on the western slope of Colorado as a hub to Aspen,Vail and Grand Junction.Set at the confluence of The Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers, Glenwood Springs is home to the world’s largest hot springs swimming pool.
Estes Park & The Rocky Mountain National Park
The valley of Estes Park inspires outdoor adventures from hiking Rocky Mountain National Park's 350 miles of alpine trails to whitewater rafting the Cache La Poudra River. Apart from access to the spectacular 265,000 acre National Park, the town of Estes Park offers everything you need for a relaxing stay in the area including art galleries, museums and the landmark Stanley Hotel, star of Stephen King's "The Shining."!The Estes Park Aerial Tramway sails above the treetops, providing views of 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the village and the Continental Divide.
At the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park is the 45-mile Trail Ridge Road, open from late spring to mid-fall, when snow forces its closure. Explore this wonderful area either by car, foot, bike or horse! With more than 350 miles of trails, pick an easy day hike or a strenuous days hike that requires backpacking. You can also camp out, fish (mostly catch-and-release) or rock climb.
Denver & Home
A last morning in Estes Park and still plenty of time to enjoy the town, before you take a leisurely drive back to Denver Airport to drop off your hire car and board your overnight flight home.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 14 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire (larger vehicles are available)
- A detailed travel pack containing driving instructions and maps
Daily departures from May to September.