American Southwest National Parks & Dinosaurs Tour
"sample" family oriented TOUR ITINERARY FOR 8 FULL tour DAYS that begins in las vegas, nevada and ends in salt lake city, utah
All our itineraries are custom designed for your specific tour needs. This is just a sample itinerary.
Arrival Day ~ Las Vegas, Nevada
SITES: Zion National Park, Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park
Short walks to sites at Zion and Bryce NPs
Bryce Canyon City
4.5 hours driving time plus scenic stops
ZION CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Massive canyon walls ascend toward a brilliant blue sky. To experience Zion, you need to walk among the towering cliffs, or challenge your courage in a small narrow canyon. These unique sandstone cliffs range in color from cream, to pink, and to red. They could be described as sand castles crowning desert canyons.
As Utah's oldest and most visited national park, Zion’s topography is an exquisite spectacle of canyon–mesa country. Encompassing one of the most scenic cliff-and-canyon landscapes in the USA, Zion’s 229 square miles (593 km) are internationally known for their dramatic canyons, towering rock faces, overhanging cliffs, sparkling waterfalls, hanging valleys, high plateaus, rock formations, dripping springs, shaded pools, and particularly for the Virgin River Narrows – one of the premier hikes on the Colorado Plateau. The word Zion is ancient Hebrew meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary, and Zion National Park is just that – an exquisite respite from the surrounding world.
The Virgin River winds its way through Zion Canyon’s scenic 15-mile stretch, cutting through reddish and tan Navajo Sandstone, nourishing the landscape, and serving as a natural corridor for exploration. The Canyon is up to a half mile deep, serving as a haven for rock climbers with massive cliff faces radiant in the sunshine. Some of Zion’s most noted geographical features include the Virgin River Narrows, a gorge as narrow as 20 feet (6 m) wide and up to 2,000 feet (610 m) deep; Angels Landing; Emerald Pools; Hidden Canyon; The Great White Throne; Checkerboard Mesa; The Three Patriarchs; the Temple of Sinawava; and one of the world's longest arches, Kolob Arch.
The Kolob Canyons region in the northwest of Zion National Park is little-traveled in comparison to the more popular Zion Canyon, but every bit as stunning. Home to Horse Ranch Mountain, Zion’s tallest peak, as well as twisting slot canyons, sinuous arches, extravagantly streaked and colored rocks, hanging gardens, drifting streams, and picturesque gorges with sheer cliffs towering above emerald vegetation. The name Kolob comes from Mormonism, where it is considered the dwelling closest to the throne of God.
Zion National Park encompasses 5,000 feet of elevation change. Such unique geography and resultant variety of microclimates allows for remarkable plant and animal diversity: Zion is home to over 78 species of mammals (including 19 species of bat), 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish. Visitors to Zion can spot badgers, bank beavers, bats, bighorn sheep, cougars, coyotes, desert cottontails, foxes, jackrabbits, Merriam's kangaroo rats, mule deer, porcupines, raccoons, rattlesnakes, ringtail cats, rock squirrels, skunks, and whiptail and collared lizards. Soaring over canyons or chasing one another through the trees can be found bald eagles, California condors, canyon wrens, dippers, gnatcatchers, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, pinyon jays, red-tailed hawks, and white-throated swifts.
Plant species common to Zion include cottonwood, cactus, datura, juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, boxelder, sagebrush, manzanita shrubs, cliffrose, serviceberry, scrub oak, yucca, gambel oak, aspen, and various willows.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is a geologic masterpiece considered by many to be the most colorful of all the National Parks. Sometimes referred to as a forest of stone, Bryce is unique due to its thousands of delicately carved spires, called hoodoos, which rise in brilliant color from the canyon floor. Centuries of wind, water, and geologic mayhem have etched what was once mere sedimentary rock into towering pinnacles and immense amphitheaters. These superb formations stretch for miles along the eastern edge of the 9,000 foot high (2,743 meters) Paunsaugunt Plateau. Evening and early morning light bring the brilliant hues of these formations to life, giving them a lustrous transparent glow. It is just a quarter of the size of Zion National Park.
With rim elevations that vary between 8,000 and 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 meters), Bryce canyon transcends over 2,000 feet (650 meters) of elevation and three distinct climactic zones. This diversity of habitat provides for high biodiversity. Over 160 species of birds, dozens of mammals, and more than 1,000 plant species proliferate within the canyons and plateau that compose Bryce. While touring in the park one may see black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, ground squirrels, marmots, mule deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk, and even possibly mountain lions. And should one care to search, one may find migratory hummingbirds, peregrine falcon, swifts, swallows, jays, nuthatches, ravens, eagles, owls, and California condors taking wing.
Bordering the rim of the canyon are ponderosa pines, high elevation meadows and fir-spruce forests, beyond which spread panoramic views of three states, up to 160 miles (260 km) distant. This area boasts some of the nation's best air quality, which, coupled with the lack of nearby large light sources, creates unparalleled opportunities for stargazing. Stargazers can see 7,500 stars with the naked eye, contrasted with the 2,000 or less that can be seen most other places.
Bryce’s namesake, Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer who homesteaded in the area in the late 1800’s, described his namesake canyon as a "helluva place to lose a cow.” This remains true today, as the throng of intertwining slot canyons, spires, and hoodoos define a labyrinthine web that is exhilarating to explore.
Tour Day 2 ~ The Compelling Grand Canyon, North Rim
SITES: Bryce Canyon National Park, Red Canyon, Kanab UT, Grand Canyon North Rim, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (A release site for the California condor), the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River, and passage through the Echo Cliffs.
Medium-short hike to viewpoints
Different viewpoints will be visited throughout the day
In the morning we drive onto the North Kaibab Plateau and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We will visit a number of scenic overlooks. In the later afternoon we will leave the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau and drive along the base of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (a release area for the California condor) past the small village of Cliff Dwellers and Lee’s Ferry for a stop at the historic Navajo Bridge. We will be captivated by an overlook of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon & above Marble Canyon in upper Grand Canyon. We will drive through the Echo Cliffs on the way to Page Arizona & Lake Powell.
In or near Page AZ
More than 5 hours plus all stops
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Worthy of its rank as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon overwhelms the senses and captivates the imagination with its spectacular combination of incredible scale, dramatic views, awe-inspiring rock formations, and untamed beauty. Over a mile deep (1.6 Km) at its deepest point, 18 miles (29 Km) across at its widest, and 277 river miles (446 Km) long, the Grand Canyon is deemed to be one of the world’s most visually commanding landscapes: an immensely majestic gorge with temple-like bluffs; plummeting depths; fiery chestnut cliffs, towering plateaus; and vibrant, labyrinthine topography dappled with deserts, plains, forests, mesas, lava flows, cinder cones, streams, waterfalls, and one of America’s premier whitewater rivers.
Not only is the Grand Canyon a crowning gem in America’s national park system, but as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canyon is considered to be of outstanding significance to the common heritage of the entire human race. John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who took three months to explore the Grand Canyon by boat in 1869, described its stunning vastness as “the most sublime spectacle in nature,” saying of it that, “the glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon - forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.”
Of the five million annual visitors to Grand Canyon National Park, only 10% get to experience the rugged solitude of the North Rim. More than 1,000 feet (305 m) higher than the South Rim, here the Canyon reveals its perfect balance of serenity and power, peace and intensity. Here one can absorb the breathtaking enormity of the Grand Canyon, unmatched in majesty and magnificence, and appreciate the subtleties of one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world.
Untamed and isolated, the North Rim remains little changed from what it was in 1908 when President Teddy Roosevelt frequented the area as one of his favorite hunting retreats. With elevations ranging from 8,000 to 8,800 feet (2,438 to 2,682 Km) above sea level, the North Rim is a forested plateau nestled on the desert highlands of Northern Arizona. Blanketed with mountain ash, fir, pine, spruce, birch, and aspen, the pristine seclusion of the North Rim instills visitors with a sense of peaceful exhilaration.
Due to its broad scale, both in elevation and extent, Grand Canyon National Park nourishes an extraordinary diversity of habitats within a remarkably compact geographic area, its equivalent only found elsewhere in a 1,500-mile stretch. Its impressive biological résumé includes numerous rare, threatened, and endangered plant and animal species, as well as some endemic species, like the tuft-eared Kaibab squirrel found only on the North Rim. Within the boundaries of the park there are over 1,500 plant, 355 bird, 89 mammal, 47 reptile, 17 fish, and 9 amphibian species. Visitors to the North Rim may spot goshawks, porcupines, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, California condors, antelope, coyotes, mountain lions, northern goshawks, or the ever popular black-bellied Kaibab squirrels.
Tour Day 3 ~ Land of Contrasts around Lake Powell & Mingle with Monuments of Nature in Monument Valley
SITES: Lake Powell, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Black Mesa, Tsegi Canyon, Mystery Valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Morning Lake Powel boat tour to Rainbow Bridge National Monument and a late afternoon & evening tour of Monument Valley
Starting at 7:30 am Arizona time, we will take the early morning 50 mile, 5 ½ to 6 hour boat tour to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a truly one of a kind excursion. At the monument, your tour boat will dock and you will set off a fairly easy mile-plus trail to Rainbow Bridge. The bridge itself extends 290' into the sky and 275' across Bridge Canyon. Witness first- hand the power of water in sculpting this remarkable landscape
At or near Monument Valley
2 hours plus all stops
MONUMENT VALLEY NAVAJO TRIBAL PARK
The landscape of Monument Valley is dominated by immense spires, mesas and buttes formed from red, orange and white colored sedimentary rock. Monument Valley is instantly recognizable as the sweeping backdrop of the classic Southwest. A striking panorama of windswept desert punctuated by immense sandstone monoliths ascending some 1,000 feet (300 m) above the earth, this desolate countryside evokes a timelessness that few others can. Monument Valley has been the setting for over 16 major motion pictures (including the unforgettable John Wayne masterpieces Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), as well as countless commercials, making it easily one of the most extraordinary, beautiful, and legendary landscapes in the world.
The remoteness of this otherworldly place sets it apart from the crowds and hectic pace of outside life. Surprisingly, the area has hardly changed in the years since Monument Valley’s film debut in 1925 (The Vanishing American). It has been one of Hollywood’s favorite shooting locations, becoming an enduring image of the American West as the setting for more Westerns than any other site. The supreme backdrop for gunslingers, settlers, soldiers, Stetsons, rifles, spurs, gunfights, stampedes, runaway stagecoaches, showdowns, heroic rescues, cattle rustlings, cavalry charges, and Indian attacks, Monument Valley embodies a romanticized tribute to the untamed frontier. John Wayne himself referred to this isolated valley it as the place "where God put the West."
Positioned within the Navajo Indian Reservation on the Arizona/Utah border, Monument Valley is not only a Navajo Nation tribal park, but a current residence. Families continue to live, love, and create here as they have done for generations, their livestock grazing on the slopes of the monuments, unheeding of the visitors thrilling at their sparse pasturelands. They live among the specters of the ancient ones who abandoned their nearby cave and cliff dwellings hundreds of years ago. To them this land is known as the Valley of the Rocks, the playground of rivers past. Their spellbinding art, culture, and traditions infuse this remarkable topography with a uniquely Navajo flavor.
Visitors to Monument Valley enjoy an exclusive shopping experience, with an prodigious array of handcrafted items for sale, including traditional and contemporary artwork, jewelry, pottery, baskets, silver, and Navajo rugs (some of which so masterfully wrought that they could be traded for a pickup truck), and other intricate crafts.
Tour Day 4 ~ An Archaeological Treasure at Mesa Verde National Park
SITES: Four Corners Navajo Nation Monument, Mesa Verde National Park
Some really fun Ranger Guided Hiking Tours, Hikes into other ruins and to other overlooks as time allows
ACCOMMODATIONS: Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde NP
Less than 4 hours of driving time plus scenic stops
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
As the nation’s leading archeological sanctuary, Mesa Verde National Park’s 81 square miles (209 km2) enclose the greatest concentration of ancient archaeological sites that the United States has to offer. The soft sandstone and shale of this section of the Colorado Plateau has been dissected into a convoluted succession of canyons and mesas, which in turn shelter over 4,000 Ancestral Puebloan sites, including well-preserved cliff dwellings, pit houses, mesa-top pueblos, and kivas (rooms used for religious rituals).
Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table. The park sits on a 2,590 meter high mesa that offers expansive views into each of the four corner states. Mesa Verde is listed as a World Heritage Site and there are five major cliff dwelling areas. It is also possible to climb down into ancient kivas (ceremonial rooms) and peer into ancient pit houses, all of which were constructed by the Anasazi. The pueblos have been uninhabited for over 600 years and archaeologists suggest that the cliff dwellings may have only been used for 75 years prior to the mysterious demise of the community.
Additional morning tour of Mesa Verde NP, Afternoon at Durango Mountain Resort accommodations FUN afternoon activities include 4 Purgatory Plunge Zipline rides, Alpine Slide, scenic chairlift, mountain bike uplift and trails, miniature golf, a session on a climbing wall, mechanical bull & bungee trampoline
ACCOMMODATIONS: Durango Mountain Resort (ski area resort)
Less than 2 hours
Durango is nestled in the Animas River Valley surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. The Animas River—El Río de las Animas—runs through downtown and boasts gold medal fly fishing waters, and is popular for whitewater rafting, kayaking and canoeing. Durango is also popular for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, road biking, backpacking, rock climbing, hunting, off-roading, year-round fishing, kayaking and golfing.
Durango is near five major ski areas, including Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort. Durango is most known for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a heritage railway, which travels from Durango to the historic mining town of Silverton, Colorado on steam-powered trains with rolling stock dating back to the 1920s and before.
Durango's two oldest hotels, The General Palmer and The Strater Hotel, are both at the South end of Main Avenue, one and two blocks away from the train station, respectively. It is also home to many restaurants. Many serve specialty foods including Mexican, Italian, French, Thai and Japanese and others serve American favorites. Main Avenue is walked by thousands of tourists each week, making it the most popular shopping and relaxing tourist destination in Durango. (From Wikipedia.org)
Tour Day 6 ~ Durango-Silverton Railroad Ride & Hot Springs in the Rockies, Ouray Colorado
SITES: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Ride, Animus River, Silverton Mining Town, Ouray CO, Waterfalls, San Juan Rocky Mountains
Durango Silverton Railroad Ride, numerous waterfall viewings, Hot springs pool swimming in Ouray, Colorado, walks & hikes to local waterfall attractions such as the breathtaking “Box Canyon Waterfall & Park”, walk to the “Baby Bath Tubs” (1 mile round trip), and/or shop in the local antique & specialty stores & galleries..
ACCOMMODATIONS in Ouray, CO
1.5 hours plus scenic stops and train ride
Silverton is a former silver mining camp, most or all of which is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District. Silverton is one of the highest towns in the United States, at 9,305 feet (2,836 m) above sea level.
Silverton is linked to Durango by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a National Historic Landmark. Silverton no longer has active mining, but subsists on tourism, outdoor recreation including snow skiing, maintenance of US 550, mine pollution remediation, and retirees
Optional morning hike or hot spring swimming in Ouray, short walks to scenic sites
SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Vernal, UT
About 5 hours driving time from Ouray, plus stops
COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. But this treasure is much more than a monument. Towering monoliths exist within a vast plateau and canyon panorama. You can experience sheer-walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive, where you may spy bighorn sheep and soaring eagles.
Independence Monument is all that remains of a continuous ridge that once formed a wall between Monument and Wedding Canyons. A cap of durable Kayenta rock has protected this picturesque 450 feet (137 meters) high monolith from the relentless erosion that carried away the surrounding rock.
DINOSAUR DIAMOND SCENIC & HISTORIC BYWAY (Utah & Colorado)
(Copied from Wikipedia)
The following Colorado routes are included in the Colorado portion of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway:
Interstate 70 between Grand Junction and the Utah state line. (I-70 runs concurrent with U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 50 in this area)
U.S. Route 40 between Dinosaur and the Utah state line
State Highway 64 between Dinosaur and Rangely
State Highway 139 between Fruita and Rangely
Tour Day 8 ~ Travel to the Jurassic
SITES: Dinosaur National Monument & NEW Visitor Center
Hike in the park, Travel tour to Salt Lake City
An especially nice Radisson very near the airport (but without the airport noise)
3.5 to 4 hours, Dinosaur National Monument to Salt Lake City, plus stops
DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
Dinosaurs once roamed here. Their fantastic remains are still visible embedded in the rocks. Today, the mountains, desert and untamed rivers flowing in deep canyons, support an array of life. Petroglyphs hint at earlier cultures. Later, homesteaders and outlaws found refuge here. Whether your passion is science, adventure, history or scenery, Dinosaur offers much to explore.
Dinosaur National Monument is shared across the Colorado-Utah state lines. The park entry is just south of Wyoming and east of Vernal in Utah. The site was declared a National Monument on 1915.
Most of the dinosaur bones exposed here are contained within a covered quarry with some 2000 specimens jutting out from the sandstone walls.
The rock layer enclosing the fossils is from the Jurassic Period some 150 million years old. The dinosaurs and other animals' fossils were washed into the area and buried presumably during flooding events. The forces of weathering and erosion exposed the bones which were first discovered in 1909.
The Quarry Exhibit Hall located over the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry is open. The Quarry Exhibit Hall allows visitors to view the wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones in a newly refurbished, comfortable space. Here, you can gaze upon the remains of numerous different species of dinosaurs including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, and Stegosaurus along with several others. Exhibits, including an 80-foot long mural help reveal the story of these animals and many others that inhabited the Morrison environment during the last Jurassic. There are even several places where you can touch real 149 million year old dinosaur fossils! Rangers are available to answer questions and occasionally present talks on different topics related to the quarry or dinosaurs throughout the day during the summer.
To access the Quarry Exhibit Hall, visitors must first stop at the Quarry Visitor Center located approximately ¼ mile from the exhibit hall. The visitor center features a staffed information desk, exhibits, and sales area for the Intermountain Natural History Association and park film.
This tour day will end on arrival in Salt Lake City, UT
Day 9 ~ Departure Day