Stunning landscapes so arresting that they’ll live forever in your mind’s eye… impossible red rock arches opening before you like grand entryways, offering a sense of endless possibility… canyons and immense cliffs, seemingly carved by a giant to form an island in the sky… fanciful hoodoos come alive while gods and legends linger everywhere… how the human spirit is cheered and fortified by the spirit of the desert.
On the ground or by air, explore Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks. Fly over the remote reaches of Capitol Reef and see the Grand Canyon from the air en route to Las Vegas. Spend two nights on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim for a fresh, “new” perspective of the park, enjoyed by fewer than 10% of park visitors. Attend special talks and lectures by local experts from Ken Burns's documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Enjoy independent sunrise and sunset spirit-of-the-moment experiences in the national parks… and gain insights through filmed vignettes by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, sharing their own personal stories and of those who shaped the creation of the national parks.
Arrive Grand Junction
Tour begins: Red Cliffs Lodge, 5:30 PM. A transfer is included from Grand Junction Regional Airport to Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, Utah. The "Spirit of the Desert" defies just one single definition. It's the spirit of the moment, a mood, a feeling harmonious with nature yet transcendent of earth and sky. It moves the senses to create, the mind and soul to soar, adventurers to be bold. And, starting tonight, you will become part of its amazing story. Learn about the days ahead through filmed vignettes by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who explains:
"If you really want to witness the national parks when they're most beautiful, you want to see them at sunrise and sunset - the times when we typically shot most of the footage for our film. Nothing quite compares to those parts of the day. From 10 am to 3 pm, standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon is certainly awe-inspiring; but standing on the rim as the first rays of light hit the canyon, or when the last rays of a sinking sun move through it, is an experience beyond words."
In the vignette, Dayton introduces the “Dawn Patrol” and “Sunset Scouts,” independent explorations that take place at these optimum times of the day; mostly optional, they create an emotional connection to the parks that deepens your appreciation of all they offer. Following pre-dinner drinks featuring hot and cold canapés, join us for a "cowboy cookout" dinner at Red Cliffs Lodge as Tauck's Spirit of the Desert begins.
Arches National Park... sandstone arches, then a float trip on the river
Rise early for a memorable journey to Arches National Park. You won’t believe your eyes – over 2,000 arches comprise the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. National park status didn’t come easily... first declared a national monument in 1929, it took 40+ years to achieve. You’re sure to recognize Delicate Arch, the amazing Balanced Rock, and a variety of sensational geological formations during guided sightseeing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Get set for adventure this afternoon when you depart on a scenic float trip along on the Colorado River* – rock towers, colors and light reflect upon the water like mirror images. Continue your red rock exploration with an independent Sunset Scout, then the evening is spent at the lodge, where you dine at your leisure and are steeped in the authenticity of an architectural style that defines the West.
The desert from a Navajo perspective... and inspiration at Canyonlands National Park
You have the option this morning of joining your Tauck Director for a trip to enjoy spectacular views of Book Cliffs, Arches National Park, Colorado, and the La Salle Mountains... and perhaps see some dinosaur tracks! A lecture by a local Navajo connects you to the sacredness of the desert, to the ancient spiritual life that transcends today’s world. Depart for the fun little town of Moab, then on to Canyonlands National Park, whose countless canyons, mesas and buttes shadow the Colorado River and the Green River. These rivers divide the park into four districts – today you’ll explore the northern section, Island in the Sky. There is no better way to experience Canyonlands than at sunset – and the setting sun, during a picnic dinner at Dead Horse Point overlooking the U-turn in the Colorado River, is nothing short of inspirational.
Flying over Capitol Reef National Park and on to Bryce Canyon National Park
Enjoy some free time this morning – go on an optional Dawn Patrol or visit the Film Museum at the Lodge (both on your own). For the past 70 years, many of the most famous western movies were filmed in and around Moab – learn about the filming locations and the stars who brought them to life. Vignettes today include Dayton Duncan’s insights on the best way to access the major sights in the national parks; some are available at a turnout, while others require back-country hiking or an aerial overview... like the way you’ll see Capitol Reef National Park today, on a flightseeing excursion. Cross the Waterpocket Fold, which is sort of a “warp” in the Earth’s crust that runs nearly 100 miles, and see Strike Valley, the spectacular sandstone Capitol Domes, colorful cliffs, soaring spires, odd monoliths and more. Arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park, home to some of Earth’s more whimsical geologic formations; spend some time at the Visitor's Center and enjoy some free time before dinner – there is an optional Sunset Scouts this evening.
Bryce Canyon and Zion, plus a talk on "singaways"
Another independent Dawn Patrol is available this morning – a hike along the rim of Bryce Canyon to catch the shocking array of colors illuminated by the first rays of light on the hoodoos below. More of a series of horseshoe “amphitheatres” than a canyon, morning walks reveal millions of pinnacles positively glowing... This afternoon, depart for Zion National Park; en route you’ll learn about the park’s complicated creation via a film vignette by Ken Burns, who shares his favorite memories of the park. Upon arrival, a guest lecturer from the Zion National Park Forever Project gives a talk about the park's unique geologic history and its diverse flora and fauna. There is an independent Sunset Scouts opportunity tonight to the historic Virgin River bridge located at the mouth of the canyon.
Striking images on a full day in Zion
“I was so impressed by the red cliffs and wilderness surroundings of Zion Canyon that I determined we should... have it made a national park.” The words of conservationist Horace Albright set the stage for the expansion of national park designations in the Southwest, and the creation of Zion National Park in 1919. Zion’s most striking images are unique sandstone cliffs that range from towering monoliths to narrow canyons, changing in color from light cream to pink to red. Tour the park by narrated tram through Zion Valley, traveling to the Temple of Sinawava and the Great White Throne, then have some free time to explore as you please. Late afternoon, internationally acclaimed environmental historian and author Alfred Runte gives a talk on the history of the railroad in the national parks. Those who wish a little time for personal reflection this evening might do an independent Sunset Scouts’ visit to the Virgin River, a tributary of the Colorado River that earned the designation “wild and scenic.”
Pipe Spring Nat'l Monument & the Grand Canyon
A film vignette by Dayton Duncan tells the story of Grand Canyon National Park, and how it exemplified the struggle that often occurred when creating a new national park. Leave Zion, and en route to Grand Canyon National Park get a guided tour of fascinating Pipe Spring National Monument to learn about Paiute Indian and Mormon pioneer history. Drive to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, a place more intimate and less crowded than the South Rim, with fewer than 10% of the park’s total annual visitors. Following lunch, explore the North Rim, including the vistas from Point Imperial (absolutely awesome). Dinner tonight is at your North Rim lodge.
Exploring the Grand Canyon
A Dawn Patrol takes in the fantastic North Rim – and remember, sunrise comes pretty early! Naturalist John Muir remarked: “The dawn, as in all the pure, dry desert country is ineffably beautiful; and when the first level sunbeams sting the domes and spires, with what a burst of power the big, wild days begin.” The day is free to explore “your park” as you please; optional activities include additional ranger talks about history, geology, etc., and mule rides. Or, you just might want to sit for a spell in the Adirondack chairs on the porch of the lodge with a nice refreshing drink in hand – and gaze at one of the most fantastic views on Earth. It's a National Park memory to treasure...
Flightseeing from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
A final Dawn Patrol takes in the spectacular sunrise, at your own pace, from the North Rim of the canyon. The last of our vignettes features reflections by Ken Burns about our own private memories of the national parks – these memories are not about the “views,” but instead they are the memories of those you shared the views with. Dayton Duncan’s vignette explains how the parks belong to all of us, and the need to continue to help to protect them for future generations. The most fitting farewell to the Southwest and the Spirit of the Desert is a flightseeing trip from Kanab over the western regions of the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas for your return home. Join us tonight for a farewell reception and dinner at your Four Seasons hotel.
Tour ends: Las Vegas. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Checkout time is 12:00 noon. Allow a minimum of two hours for flight check-in.