The tour operator I travelled with, Grand American Adventures, describes this part of America:
‘With its desert lands and wide stretching prairies, you can lose yourself in the immensity of Southwest America. Anyone wishing for endless blue skies with the occasional little fluffy cloud will be in their absolute element. This is where some of the most iconic landmasses on the planet occur. From the Grand Canyon to Arches, Bryce and Zion national parks, if you’re looking for fantastical rock formations then the Southwest proffers infinite examples’
That was exactly what I was looking for on my trip this year as I have only ever visited cities in America and I was really keen to get out and explore some of the sights that we grow up with seeing in movies and TV.
My four day active small group tour was described as: ‘If time is in short supply then our Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon Mini Adventure is just the ticket with so many gems packed into 4 days. The west comes alive with Zion’s incredible red rock views and scenic hiking trails. Spend a night with the Navajo people deep in the heart of Monument Valley, then top it all off with the grandest canyon on earth.’
Timewise this trip fitted perfectly and I also didn’t want to just stop and take a few photos; I wanted to get out there and hike, talk to the locals and as it turned out soak up as much as I could (but quickly realise that I would have to go back!)
My trip started and ended in Las Vegas, very easy to get to and a complete contrast to the rest of the trip. The four-day trip covers over 1,300kms and each day you’ll be up early and home late but not once did I regret it. If you have the luxury of more time to spend here then this company offer several longer trips that go at a slower pace. Grand American and their sister company Trek America are experts in small group tours across North America and our local tour leader was quite simply the best I have ever travelled with. The dream combination of incredibly knowledgeable, organised, skilled and funny!
With an early start out of Vegas, you quickly hit the desert landscapes and we arrived in Zion NP for a great hike that afternoon. This National Park is famous for its red sandstone, petrified sand dunes and narrow gorges. We drove out through the rest of the park the next morning and headed towards Monument Valley, made famous by movie director John Ford in the 1930’s. The long straight road in and miles of mesas and buttes (you’ll quickly become familiar with all rock-related terms) make this vast valley instantly recognisable. Asides from the sheer scale of this landscape, the highlight for me was our local Navajo guide who took us well off the beaten track and shared so much of his own and tribe’s personal stories. We spent the evening in the valley and had dinner together in the middle of the desert, around a campfire with the sun setting. In hindsight, this was the best part of the trip for me…even knowing what was to come next!
Up early again the next day, for our drive to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the South Rim for our first view and led, blindfolded by our tour leader, to the edge of the canyon. It sent a shiver down my spine as we took our blindfolds off to be met with the expanse that is the Grand Canyon. The size of Switzerland, it truly does stretch as far as the eye can see and I wouldn’t hesitate to say you simply HAVE to do a helicopter flight over it. Without that experience I could never have truly grasped the scale of this 8th natural wonder of the world. We ate pizza while the sun set that evening over it and were up at 4am the next morning to get in a hike for sunrise. Awe inspiring. The drive back to the lights of Vegas was along Route 66 with stops at the kitsch town of Seligman and Lake Mead.
All I could keep thinking is that I will most definitely back and with so many other parks in this area, all with their own unique characteristics I just have to make more time to explore.
The climate in this part of the States varies dramatically by season so plan your visit for temperatures that suit you best. At the end of July it was 40+ each day with monsoonal showers in the afternoons. I love hot weather and we made the most of long evenings and sunrise hikes but if you prefer your weather a bit cooler, than our spring or autumn is much more comfortable.