Those travelling on the group flights will arrive into San Francisco the day before. The tour departs from the San Francisco hotel at 07.30am - please ensure that you have checked out, eaten breakfast and are in the hotel reception to meet the group and your leader approximately 15 minutes prior to this time.
We start our trip in one of the USA's most interesting cities: San Francisco, a city that spreads over steep hills on a narrow peninsula. Impressive bridges connect the different parts of the city, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge. Before leaving San Francisco we enjoy a brief orientation tour around the city including a close-up view of the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge. Completed in 1937, this iconic suspension bridge stretches for 2.7 km (1.7 miles) and is probably the most photographed bridge in the world. After departing San Francisco we travel east (for approximately 300km - 4 hours) through California's historic gold country and set up camp at the scenic Yosemite National Park region - our 'home' for the next three nights.
Day 2 - 3
Straddling the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range of northern California, the Yosemite National Park consists of the most unusual formations. The Sierra's geology, being of volcanic origin, consists almost entirely of granite. The last ice age's massive glaciers sawed some of the huge granite domes in half, cutting deep valleys. 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 bike, take a dip in the Merced River or wander the meadows. We get to hike on one of the many trails that enable us to leave the crowds behind. The famous sites situated along these trails include Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls and Mirror Lake. The views are breath-taking from every vantage point - the granite formations of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks are sure to be forever etched on your mind.
Leaving Yosemite's towering sequoias behind, we make our way from west to east traversing the 10,000 feet Tioga Pass over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and skirting the eerie shores of Mono Lake before journeying down the Extraterrestrial Highway and stopping at the Little A'Le' Inn. The Great Basin Desert actually extends right across to California, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. We cover some distance 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. Exceeding all descriptions, the Virgin River has carved a dark red sandstone canyon so deep and impressive that it is hard to capture on camera. Famous for its soaring towers and massive monoliths, the first glimpses of Zion can be seen from the pretty town of Springdale which it backs onto. 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 after we set up camp for our two-night stay.
We have a full day to further explore the delights of Zion National Park. Hire a bike or visit the ghost town where 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' was filmed. Walk up from the valley floor to Emerald Pools boasting three levels of cascading waterfalls (always a hit with the kids!), or try rive-tubing before taking a dip. For the more adventurous, there is the challenging option to ascend 2500 feet to experience unbeatable panoramic views from the top of Angels Landing. This 8km trek has a very exposed section at the top but those not wanting to hike this section can continue along the trail to alternative viewpoints. If weather conditions permit, you may choose to hike and wade deep into the Zion Narrows, a deep chasm cut into the red rocks. There is also a chance to partake in some horse-riding or just relaxing by the pool.
Leaving Zion National Park, we travel some 140km's and climb in elevation to almost 2438 metres (8000 feet), traversing 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 Trail enables us to hike right in amongst these unique rock formations. Some of us may prefer to hike on the Queen's Garden Trail or remain on the rim and photograph the ever-changing shadows and hues as the sun makes its way across the wide-open sky. A short drive takes us to our lovely campsite at nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park.
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 spend an evening camped under the stars.
In the heart of the Navajo nation, Monument Valley is sacred land to those who call it home. The red sandstone monoliths, hidden sand dunes and spectacular sunsets and sunrises have been the backdrop to countless 'westerns' featuring cowboys riding off into the desert. We explore the incredible array of rock formations on a backroads tour, and learn the magic and myth of the rich Native American culture. There is also ample time to relax and view the valley's surreal sunset.
Day 10 - 11
Leaving Monument Valley we drive through the Painted Desert towards the Grand Canyon (around. 250km - approximately 4 hours). Traversing the eastern entrance of the canyon, we catch our first glimpse of it at Desert View. Neither words nor pictures can describe the Grand Canyon; the size of this incredible spectacle is incomprehensible as you stand on the rim, before hiking down into the canyon itself. 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. Some of the rock layers exposed are over 1.7 billion years old and light plays with forms and colours as the sun moves across the sky and offers an ever-changing panorama. 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 helicopter flight over the canyon, which offers perspectives that you cannot see by visiting on foot. Also recommended is the film show at the IMAX Theatre, 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.
We leave nature behind and head into Las Vegas, Nevada (approximately a 6 hour journey), and all of its neon splendour. Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in United States and the entertainment capital of North America - home to pirates and pyramids, weddings and waterfalls. If it is gambling you want, you have come to the right place! Nowhere else in the world will you find as many casinos, clubs and all-you-can-eat buffets.
For Land Only travellers, your tour ends here at approximately 17:00hrs. If you are not on the group flights and are planning to depart this evening, please do not book a flight that departs before approximately 21:00hrs as we can not guarantee that you will make your flight in time. For those on the group flights, your overnight flight departs this evening, arriving into London the following day.