The group flight is a day flight that arrives in San Francisco in the afternoon. Land only clients should make their own way to the start hotel this evening.
The group will meet at 7:30am in the lobby to start the trip. Please eat breakfast and check out by this time. Please also have your passport and insurance information available for some last minute pre departure paperwork. One of the USA's most interesting cities, San Francisco spreads over steep hills on a narrow peninsula. Impressive bridges connect different parts of the city, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge. Our hotel is about one mile from Union Square and Chinatown. An early start is recommended so that we can take a short driving tour and allow everyone time to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Some groups may opt for an early lunch at one of the city's great restaurants before heading to Yosemite National Park. Please note that this trip is only scheduled to spend a morning in San Francisco. If you want to spend more time here (and there is lots to do!) then we suggest you fly a day earlier than the group. In the afternoon we drive towards Yosemite N.P. (300 km - approximately 4 hours). Straddling the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, the park consists of the most unusual formations. Being of volcanic origin, the Sierra's geology consists almost entirely of granite. The last ice age's massive glaciers sawed some of the huge granite domes in half, cutting deep valleys. Black bears often frequent the park's campgrounds, and although rarely a threat to humans, they are interested in our food and you need to follow the leader's instructions to avoid this type of bear encounter!
Day 3 - 4
Yosemite National Park encompasses a huge area - from the western, low lying foothills to the Sierra's crest at over 4000m. Famous for its granite domes, cliffs, spires and bedrock, all carved into a wonderland of rocks by massive glaciers. The hiking and scenery is incredibly varied, the highlight being Yosemite Valley, ringed by sheer granite walls rising straight up to heights of 1,500m. Huge waterfalls thunder into the valley, some of them 700m high. We'll spend two days exploring Yosemite on a variety of hikes and trails. Glacier Point, which offers some of the most amazing views in the whole park, is the starting point for our first hike. The Panorama Trail lives up to its name, as you will see three major waterfalls and continually have sterling views of many of Yosemite's picturesque granite outcrops. The trail passes many streams that offer the opportunity to take a refreshing dip. This will be a good hike to acclimatize to altitude (17 km, approx. 300m elevation gain/loss).
Cathedral Gorge is a little frequented beautiful high desert park in eastern Nevada comprising 1,608 acres of spectacular geological formations - spires and pillars carved by centuries of water running over clay in a Pliocene-era lakebed. Here, abundant bird-life includes hawks, migratory songbirds and hummingbirds, as well the fabled roadrunner. Stone structures left by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built the camp in the 1930's provide additional interest. This is a long driving day, but the solitude of the campground entices every group.
Today we move on to the fabled national parks of the Colorado Plateau. Along the highway we enjoy the views of distant Joshua Trees. As we enter the gorge of the Virgin River, we ascend to the higher plateau above. Zion National Park exceeds all descriptions: the Virgin River has carved a dark red sandstone canyon so deep and impressive that it is nearly impossible to capture it on camera. On our first walks we will explore the beautiful springs of Emerald Pools or ascend to Hidden Canyon, a gash in the rock.
A highlight for many will be a trek to the top of Angel's Landing in Zion N.P. A steep ascent of 450m will reward you with breathtaking views of the valley below (the short top section is very exposed but those not wanting to hike this portion can still enjoy alternative viewpoints on the trail). Depending on weather conditions, we may choose to wade in the Narrows, a deep chasm cut into the red rocks. Then we're on to the next highlight - Bryce Canyon (140km transfer). We reach Bryce in the afternoon as the soft light bathes the rock formations below. As we near the rim we are surprised by the sheer beauty of the delicate stone towers shimmering in hues of red. We take a short walk along the rim. We spend the next two nights camping at Kodachrome State Park (40km from Bryce N.P). Kodachrome Basin is a beautifully situated state park surrounded by Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful campgrounds in the southwest. Massive sandstone chimneys change from gray and white to shades of red depending on the day's mood. Numerous rocks and coves offer solitude, quiet and unique desert beauty. Time permitting we can take a short (8km) moderate hike to Panorama Point.
We have all day to explore this wonderland of rocks on hidden trails that wind through the stone towers. The colour contrast of the red, pink and purple rock towers with the deep blue skies is unreal. Gnarled conifers grow between the rocks, adding to the contrasting colours. Hiking trails may include Navajo and Peekaboo Loop or even Fairyland Loop Trail. Optional activities include a horse ride through the stone tower formations (about US$45). In the afternoon we enjoy far reaching views of the desert below as we drive to and hike at Rainbow Point.
Drive to the desert oasis of Moab on the shores of the Colorado River, widely accepted as the birthplace of mountain biking. The town is nestled in a valley created by a fault, surrounded by a vast wilderness of red rock. Colourful sandstones abound and the colours of the soil range from pink to red with evergreen juniper and dwarf pine dotting the slopes. Arches National Park is a favourite among many - a plethora of fragile yet huge sandstone arches carved into the rock by wind and frost erosion. Upon arrival we will hike through famous formations such as Park Avenue, The Windows and of course, the famous Delicate Arch for sunset. On the second day in this area, some groups may want to challenge themselves by undertaking the Primitive Loop Trail (9km), as an alternative to visiting Canyonlands N.P. Depending on weather conditions, the leader might choose to do an early morning and a late afternoon hike to avoid the afternoon desert heat. The optional hummer tours in this area are highly recommended. During the summer, a short float trip on the Colorado River can also be refreshing.
Canyonlands National Park consists of vast gorges carved into the desert. The canyons are over 700m deep and in their bottoms we can see the mighty Colorado and Green rivers cutting away at the red sandstone. This park was Edward Abbey's (famous and beloved American naturalist and author of 'Desert Solitaire') favourite! Join our leaders for a variety of hikes and see why- you will not be disappointed! In the heat of mid-summer the groups may opt to take shorter trails leading to fantastic viewpoints and stunning geological formations. Alternatively, the optional activities mentioned yesterday could be undertaken today. Exploring Moab, one of the best of the eclectic, 'cool' small towns that pop up in the American West is also a possibility.
We continue on to another park jewel: Monument Valley Tribal Park, located in the heart of the Navajo Nation. Monument Valley's giant sandstone buttes have been the backdrop for numerous movies. We explore the valley by jeep with a local Navajo guide. The brilliant red sandstone and constantly changing light ensure there's no shortage of photo opportunities in this dramatic landscape. We camp at a site in the area with showers.
A drive through the Painted Desert takes us to our last highlight of the journey - the Grand Canyon (around 250km - approx. 4 hours). Neither words nor pictures can describe the Grand Canyon. Though far from being the world's deepest, it is certainly the grandest of all canyons! Its size is incomprehensible to those peering into the gorge from the top: 16km wide and over 1,500m 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, offering an ever-changing panorama. In the afternoon we should have time to walk along the West Rim Trail. As we head out we soon leave the crowds behind and enjoy the views and solitude. Please note that, due to federal restrictions in Grand Canyon N.P, the leaders cannot hike with the group. They will fully prepare you for all the trail options prior to your hikes.
Today you have a chance to opt for a more challenging hike into the depths of the canyon along the Bright Angel or Kaibab Trail, or board a plane or helicopter for an unforgettable flight over the canyon (extra charge).
We have to say goodbye to one of the world's greatest sights and head west towards Las Vegas (approx. 6 hours transfer). There might be some time for last minute shopping once we arrive Las Vegas. In any case, you have all night to enjoy the craziest city in the world!
End Las Vegas.