The American Southwest: Land of Enchantment
Any great trip is filled with emotional moments of self discovery, wide-eyed amazement and life-changing interactions with local peoples. Almost anyone lucky enough to explore the Southwest corner of the United States and its natural wonders would probably admit they experienced all three on their trip to the region.
Renowned worldwide as the historic land of outlaw gunslingers, vibrant native communities and—more recently—thriving modern cities, the U.S. Southwest has long stoked the imaginations of naturalists, filmmakers, historians and artists alike; the latter group forever seduced by its prehistoric rock formations, whose reddish hues change to stunning blues and purples as the sun settles each day.
Of course, adventure travelers have made the area a top destination for decades, relaying home stories and photos of stunning vistas, enduring cultural traditions and exciting wildlife. Travelers embarking on Discovery Adventures’ stunning 12-day Historic Parks of the American Southwest tour can forge their own connection to this remarkable region as they explore six national icons—Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park—across the four states of Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.
This exciting, authentic adventure—voted one of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2010—departs from the glitzy gambling and nightlife capital Las Vegas before setting out across this dusty and often unforgiving terrain.
It’s during their visit to Mesa Verde National Park that Discovery Adventurers learn the history of The Ancestry Pueblo peoples who inhabited the area from 500 AD to 1300 AD. Masters of utilizing the towering local rock formations to their advantage, the Pueblo built fortified communal dwellings on sheltered niches in the surrounding cliffs, the ruins of which are still preserved in the park. Later in Monument Valley—its towering rock formations immortalized in director John Ford’s classic 1940s and 1950s westerns—travelers have the chance to explore one of the scenic marvels of the Southwest aboard 4x4 vehicles under the care of an expert Navajo guide who sheds light on the vibrant history of the local native peoples. Travelers have plenty of time to explore the area and purchase traditional, hand-made Navajo art and other goods.
But it’s not until setting foot in any of these historic parks that visitors truly appreciate the forces of nature that shaped the jagged rock faces of places like Zion National Park, or carved out the dozens of inviting red sandstone passageways of Arches National Park. In Zion, for example, hiking paths take globetrotters along the Angels Landing Trail where they can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, all the while traveling from desert to forest terrain over the course of a morning. The climate in these parts also varies wildly—temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, while soaring mountains typically boast snow-capped peaks in winter.
Inside Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park, fascinating hoodoos—geological formations formed by millennia of wind, water and ice erosion—have enthralled visitors since the area became a tourist draw following Mormon settlement in the 1850s. Travellers also flock in droves to nearby Canyonlands National Park and its famed Dead Horse Point, where spectacular sunsets have encouraged countless repeat visits since first transfixing the area’s Pueblo inhabitants generations ago.
Of course, the highlight of any visit to the area is the vast Grand Canyon. At more than 6,000 feet deep and 277 miles long, this huge gorge—carved by 17 million years of constant erosion at the hands of the fast-flowing Colorado River—has provided adventurers with an unforgettable backdrop of rocky buttes, sheer limestone cliffs and an ever-changing palette of natural colours. Long a holy site to the native peoples of the Southwest, thousands of tourists each year take photos from the canyon’s numerous observation points, raft down the mighty Colorado, hover overhead by helicopter or descend to the canyon’s expansive floor. Of course, Discovery Adventurers have the opportunity to take the latter option, hiking those depths to enjoy the Grand Canyon from the bottom up.
With such a wide of array of natural and cultural highlights to behold in the historic parks of the U.S. Southwest, travelers to the region are left asking themselves one burning question when they return home: ‘When can I visit again?’