After departing San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, we head east through California's historic gold country and make tracks for Yosemite where everything is super-sized, including some of North America's tallest cliffs, waterfalls and trees. We check into our hotel in the scenic Yosemite National Park region - our 'home' for the next two nights.
Yosemite National Park sits nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range of northern California. Here green forest meets granite walls measuring several thousand feet in height. Rock climbers come from all over the world to scale the rocks whilst hikers get to walk to the base of some of the largest waterfalls in the world. After a visit to see the amazing giant sequoia trees, Yosemite Valley beckons. Here we may bicycle, take a dip in the Merced River or wander the meadows. We get to hike on one of the many trails that allow that enables us to leave the crowds behind. The famous sites situated along these trails include Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, Mirror Lake and Half Dome. The views are breathtaking from every vantage point - the granite formations of Half Dome, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks are sure to be forever etched on our minds.
One of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth, Death Valley is blessed with some of the most extreme and beautiful landscapes. Sculpted by erosion, richly tinted mudstone hills and canyons await exploration, and sand dunes and salt pans make for some exceptional photos. We cover some great distances today, but also get to see some fascinating and contrasting scenery on our road trip.
We make our way to Utah and our destination - Zion National Park. Like an oasis rising up from the desert floor, Zion's multi-coloured cliffs and spring-fed hanging gardens are spectacular. Zion Canyon was named by the early Mormon settlers of Utah who thought of it as their 'promised land'. Some of the best hiking in this desert terrain of southwest USA can be found here in and around the fertile Virgin River Gorge. With an early arrival today and two nights here, we will have plenty of time to explore.
We have a full day to further explore the delights of Zion National Park. There are various hikes to choose from, ranging from easy to strenuous ones. We warm up our legs by taking some of the short hikes from the valley floor to view the Lower Emerald pool and then continue on to the sparkling Upper Emerald pools, passing a waterfall along the way to discover Zion's 'beach'. We can also cool off from the summer sun by exploring the Riverside Walk section of the Virgin River. If you are feeling ambitious, enjoy the park's more challenging option and ascend 760 metres (2500 feet) to experience unbeatable panoramic views from the top of Angels Landing. After a beautiful but strenuous hike along the knife-edge ridgeline you will be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking and powerful panoramas you will ever experience. If weather conditions permit, you may choose to hike deep into the Zion Narrows. Of course, horse riding is available if you'd prefer a seat with a view!
Leaving Zion National Park we climb in elevation to almost 2438 metres (8000 feet) and traverse a high plateau to Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is a fascinating natural amphitheatre of pink, orange and white sandstone spires, known locally as 'hoodoos'. There are a variety of scenic overlooks and trails that range from easy to moderate in difficulty. The Navajo or Peek-a-Boo Loop trails will enable us to hike right in amongst these unique rock formations. Some of us may prefer to hike on the Queen's Garden or Peekaboo Loop trails or remain on the rim and photograph the ever-changing shadows and hues as the sun makes its way across the wide-open sky.
Returning south along Scenic Highway 89, we descend from the high plateau to the arid plains and past the Vermillion Cliffs en-route to Lake Powell. Located on the border of Utah and Arizona and created by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, Lake Powell has a shoreline that stretches longer than the western coast of the USA! Many say that Glen Canyon was even more spectacular than the Grand Canyon before the dam was built. Now the lake is a haven for water sports or just relaxing in one of the many sandstone coves. We enjoy our day of fun in the sun and stay overnight in a hotel near this beautiful lake.
In the heart of the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley is sacred land to those who call it home. The red sandstone monoliths and spectacular sunsets and sunrises have been the backdrop to countless 'westerns' featuring cowboys riding off into the desert. We can explore the incredible array of rock formations on an optional guided backroads tour and learn the magic and myth of the rich Native American culture. The Navajo Tribal Lands of Monument Valley are a true photographer's paradise. We enjoy a guided 4X4 exploration of the tribal lands with a Navajo guide, and in the evening enjoy an included dinner by dining out on the famous Navajo tacos.
After a spectacular sunrise we leave Monument Valley and drive towards Grand Canyon. Traversing the eastern entrance of the canyon, we catch our first glimpse of it at Desert View. This incredible spectacle is difficult to comprehend, even as you stand at the rim or hike down into the canyon. Carved over several millennia, this massive wonder of nature is 445 kilometres (277 miles) long, up to 29 kilometres (18 miles) wide and over 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) deep. Snaking through the canyon floor is the mighty Colorado River, which runs 2330 kilometres (1450 miles) through seven US states and two Mexican states.
In your free time, we highly recommend a scenic flight over the canyon, which offer a perspective that you cannot see by visiting on foot. Also recommended is the film show at the IMAX Theater, which will give you a good overview of the area and how it developed. Alternatively, stroll the easy meandering South Rim Trail, hike your way down the more challenging trail to Plateau Point, or simply relax at the canyon's edge and enjoy a spectacular sunset over one of the World's natural wonders. There is also time to shop for local souvenirs.
En route to Vegas we travel a section of the original Route 66 and visit the quirky town of Seligman. And now for the hedonistic Sin City, which really has to be seen to be believed. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the United States and renowned as the 'tacky capital of the world' - home to pirates and pyramids, weddings and waterfalls. If it is gambling you want, you have come to the right place as nowhere else in the world will you find so many casinos. But if you really want to look at something different, stop by one of its countless wedding chapels.
In Las Vegas we enjoy a city tour that takes us to some of the quirky things that epitomises this city, as well as learn about some of its colourful history. We also have time for some last-minute bargain shopping and relax by a pool before nights out on the town amidst the bright lights, casinos and world-class shows.
On our final day we return to California and drive across the great Mojave Desert to the city of Los Angeles. This tour ends at our gateway hotel at approximately 17:00 hrs. Flight Inclusive clients depart this evening for an overnight flight.