Please be aware that local circumstances could require adjusting the schedule and/or program elements. In the event of changes, we will notify you as quickly as possible. We appreciate your understanding.
WINE SOCIAL: We'll gather in our private meeting room before dinner for a wine social to begin getting to know one another in a convivial atmosphere.Dinner: Enjoy a plated dinner in an elegant, inviting atmosphere. Meals feature traditional American and California cuisine.Evening: ORIENTATION: Back in our meeting room, we'll have introductions and then review the up-to-date schedule, discuss responsibilities, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, any other administrative issues, and answer your questions.
PROGRAM OVERVIEW: Your study guide will provide an overview of the parks you’ll be exploring during this exciting new program. From mountain to desert, you’ll gain insights into the spectacular national parks of the West as we visit seven world-famous gems of American wilderness: Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion national parks.Lodging: Doubletree Hotel San Francisco AirportMeals Included: Dinner
Yosemite is known for its majestic granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. Two designated “Wild & Scenic Rivers” — the Tuolumne and Merced — begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley. Yosemite Falls, one of the world's tallest, is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Falls (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Falls (320 feet).
We’ll meet our local guide at the Tunnel View, and travel on to Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Sentinel Bridge, and Lower Yosemite Falls, learning about various aspects of natural and human history as we go.
At the conclusion of our first field trip, we'll take the motorcoach to check in at Yosemite Lodge, the property closest to Yosemite Falls. The main complex was redesigned with an emphasis on glass and wood detailing to blend harmoniously with its surroundings. Landscaping of indigenous trees, shrubs and wildflowers further reflect the natural beauty of Yosemite Valley.Dinner: The Yosemite Food Court offers an extensive buffet with various stations serving pastas and pizza, grilled items, salads, fruits, vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrées, desserts, and beverages.Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: Our study guide leads a fascinating examination of the park’s natural wonders, addressing aspects of park history, geology, ecology, natural and cultural history including the Native Americans of Yosemite.Lodging: Yosemite LodgeMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
FREE TIME: You’ll have some free time to explore on your own. Multiple opportunities are available! Don't forget to check out the Ansel Adams Gallery!Dinner: Dinner in the Food Court, with its many options. Share your favorite highlights of the day with new friends.Evening: PRESENTATION: We’ll be joined this evening by none other than “John Muir” who will share perspectives on his life and his love for this special Park.Lodging: Yosemite LodgeMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
The transfer should take approximately 4 hours.
Lunch: We’ll stop for a quick lunch at Bear Mountain Pizza between Fresno and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks.Afternoon: FIELD TRIP: Sequoia National Park. Upon arrival, we’ll visit the Giant Forest Museum for a basic introduction to the primary features of the Giant Forest including its sequoias, meadows, and human history. Then we’ll walk the 2/3 mile Big Trees Trail (paved/boardwalked) that circles Round Meadow, a large grassy clearing usually filled with wildflowers in spring and summer, and lined by several very large sequoia. You’ll learn about giant sequoia ecology and recent studies suggesting that natural forces should be allowed to operate freely throughout the groves, enabling the giant sequoia ecosystem to be perpetuated much as it was in millennia preceding human arrival on the scene.
At the conclusion of the field trip, we’ll drive to Wuksachi Lodge and check in at this upscale mountain resort built in 1999 amid a marvelous mountain forest setting.Dinner: Dinner in the Wuksachi Lodge. With soaring glass windows that frame giant trees and majestic mountain peaks in the background, the dining room combines an upscale, rustic decor with forest-inspired colors. The chef likes to use fresh seasonal ingredients for a changing menu of salads, entrées, meat, fish, pasta dishes and vegetarian options, and desserts.Evening: FREE EVENING: It's been a full day so this evening is free to explore the Lodge, get to know new friends, or just relax.Lodging: Wuksachi LodgeMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
We’ll begin at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center in Grant Grove Village before walking to the General Grant Grove that preserves giant sequoias including the famous General Grant Tree, second largest in the world and estimated to be more than 1,600 years old. The trail is gently-graded and paved, looping one-third of a mile through the sequoia grove.
Our natural history specialist will guide us during our Kings Canyon exploration, delving into the history of the establishment of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the re-establishment of fire in the parks and the logging history of the Giant Sequoias.
At the conclusion of the field trip, we’ll board the motorcoach and continue our journey of discovery en route to Joshua Tree National Park.Lunch: We’ll stop for lunch at the Hometown Buffet. While there's always something new to try at Hometown Buffet, you'll also find a delicious line-up of freshly prepared comfort foods. Or create your own salad…but don't forget to leave room for dessert!
Afternoon: TRANSFER: It’s a long drive from Kings Canyon National Park to Joshua Tree National Park, so for your comfort we have planned an overnight in Victorville, California, in the heart of the high desert. After checking into the hotel and having dinner and a good night's rest, we'll resume our journey to Joshua Tree tomorrow.Dinner: Dinner is in the Great American Grill at the hotel.Evening: FREE EVENING: Take a dip in the hotel pool, use the fitness room, try your hand at bowling or miniature golf in the entertainment center adjacent to hotel, or relax.Lodging: Hilton Garden InnMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Entering the Park at Joshua Tree Visitor Center, gain an overview of the Park as you travel along park roads. We’ll then walk along trails (paved or hard-packed sand) to see and learn about this special place shaped by forces such as strong winds, torrents of rain, and climatic extremes.
Specific stops will be determined by temperatures but we hope to visit Keys View, the highest trail in the Park accessible by a paved road. Count on a brisk breeze (and bring your windbreaker). We'll walk along a paved quarter-mile loop with (weather permitting) scenic overlooks of valley, mountain and desert from its elevation of 5,185 feet.
At the conclusion of the field trip, we’ll drive to Twentynine Palms, California. Local lore says it was so called by gold miners because of 29 palm trees surrounding an oasis. We’ll check in to our hotel.Dinner: We'll head out to dinner at the 29 Palms Inn, an outstanding restaurant noted for its homemade breads, fruits and vegetables picked fresh from the Inn’s own garden.Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: We'll step out into the high desert to explore the universe surrounding us and have an expert-led look at the astronomy of the desert night sky using sight, binoculars, and telescopes (provided).Lodging: Hotel 29 Palms Inn & SuitesMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Travel along the road to the Cottonwood Visitor Center, stopping for walks along trails (to be determined by temperatures at the time). Our route may include the Cholla Cactus Garden, an easy quarter-mile sandy loop trail. Learn about the cholla cactus (commonly called teddy bear cholla...but don't be deceived...it certainly can sting) and the ocotillo (desert flora) amongst others.
At the conclusion of the field trip, we’ll depart via motorcoach for Grand Canyon National Park, stopping en route in Parker, Arizona.Lunch: We'll stop for a tasty lunch.Afternoon: TRANSFER: The coach continues along the Colorado River. Our local instructional specialist joins us in Kingman, Arizona; from here it’s approximately three hours until we reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we climb out of the basin and range topography of Western Arizona, we ride through the vast landscape of the Colorado Plateau — our home for the next six days. Reaching Williams, Arizona, we find ourselves in the middle of the largest continuous Ponderosa Pine forest in the world, with pines and grasslands as we approach the Grand Canyon.Dinner: We arrive at Tusayan, just outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, for dinner before an excursion into the Park.Evening: EXCURSION: We plan to arrive at the rim of the Grand Canyon in time for sunset (depending on time of the year). Your study leader will provide a brief orientation to the landscape that surrounds you and then we’ll head over to our lodge accommodations for a late check in. After a long day, enjoy a some “down time” to re-energize for another big day tomorrow.Lodging: South Rim LodgeMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
FIELD TRIP: After the class, we’ll walk to the rim for a talk by our expert interpreting what you see in front of you and relating it to what you’ve learned.Lunch: We'll have lunch as a group at the Maswik Lodge cafeteria.Afternoon: FIELD TRIP: This afternoon we break into smaller groups so that you can experience Grand Canyon National Park according to your abilities and interests.
For robust participants who would like to take on the infamously difficult trails of the inner canyon, you'll have the option to join a naturalist who will lead a hike down the steep and twisting Bright Angel trail.
A second option for those who prefer something less demanding, is a naturalist-led walk along a canyon rim trail to some of the Park’s most inspiring overlooks which also includes a visit to the historical district of the South Rim. There we'll see a number of the Park’s human-created attractions including the Visitor Center, historic El Tovar Hotel and the Hopi House.Dinner: We’ll have dinner in a room with a large second-storey deck that looks over the canyon to another magical sunset. There will be a bar for those who wish to purchase drinks.Evening: Enjoy a relaxing evening after dinner. Depending on the season, there may be musical entertainment available.Lodging: South Rim LodgeMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Either before or just after breakfast, be sure to check out of your room and load your luggage onto the bus.Morning: FREE TIME: There will be some free time before we depart. You may want to re-visit your favorite sights, see something new, or simply gaze out at this most extraordinary natural wonder. Options include taking the Park’s free shuttle service to viewpoints and trails on the western end for rim hikes where you can then take a shuttle back to the Lodge area, etc.
EXCURSION: After departing the lodge, we’ll travel for 30 minutes along the South Rim to the Desert View Watchtower, built in 1932 as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower. This iconic structure commands a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and the San Francisco Peaks. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the tower was designed by architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter in collaboration with Hopi artisans and notable Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, whose murals adorn the interior.Lunch: To extend our stay as much as possible, we'll have sack lunches at picnic tables on the site of the Desert View Watchtower.Afternoon: TRANSFER: One of the most beautiful stretches we will travel lies before you. We ride down from the 7,000-foot elevation of the South Rim to the Colorado River at a 3,600-foot elevation in Marble Canyon. We now say goodbye to our Arizona instructional specialist.
EXCURSION: We’ll stop briefly to walk across Navajo Steel Arch Bridge that spans the 500-foot walls of Marble Canyon. The views will take your breath away as you gaze down at the river below and the towering 800-foot walls of the surrounding Vermillion Cliffs.
We head into Utah for the beauty of "Color Country" en route to Bryce Canyon National Park where we pick up our next instructional lecturer. We'll be staying at a hotel just outside the Park and will check in upon arrival.Dinner: Dinner is in the dining room of our Inn just outside the Park.Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: Our study leader will discuss the unique geology of Bryce Canyon National Park. As the National Park Service notes, “What is Bryce Canyon? Words confound when nothing comparable exists. A cave without a ceiling? A forest of stone? Even 'canyon' is misleading since Bryce is carved by freeze-thaw cycles, not a river.”Lodging: Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand HotelMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
We continue hiking down into the canyon along the so-called Queen’s Trail. If you use your imagination, the many hoodoos may look like a garden, presided over by the “Queen Victoria” hoodoo that gives the trail its name. Those who prefer a less strenuous outing can view Bryce from above, walking the rim.Lunch: We'll have box lunches in the canyon.Afternoon: FIELD TRIP: Continue after lunch to view and learn more about the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. We’ll explore Rainbow Point, where the Park stretches out before you back to the north, and the expansive view of Yovimpa Point to really appreciate the sequence of rock layers called the Grand Staircase. Different sections or steps in the Grand Staircase are named for the dominant color of rock. You’ll come away with a better understanding of the geologic forces in Bryce’s landscapes and an enhanced appreciation of its almost surreal beauty.Dinner: We’ll eat out at a popular “barn” and grill for a delicious Western dinner accompanied by cowboy music.Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: A National Park Service ranger will talk about some of the current challenges and issues facing the park.Lodging: Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand HotelMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
After lunch, we take go to the Zion Human History Museum for a short multi-media presentation providing an overview of the Park. Aftewards, we’ll make a short hike along the Emerald Pools trails to see the pools themselves — named for their green tint from algae — that characterize this delightful, secluded oasis.
Travel then to the Zion Park Inn to check in before dinner.Dinner: At the entrance to the Park in Springdale, we'll have dinner at Switchback. They feature artfully prepared dishes with enticing flavors of the American West, France and Italy!Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: An expert will capture the essence of Zion National Park in a presentation that will include it's extraordinary geology, and may include elements of its Anasazi history, the building of the Zion Tunnel and the plants and animals resident there, as determined by your questions and interests.Lodging: Best Western Zion Park InnMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
We’ll hike along the Virgin River, an easy 2 mile round trip hike on paved trails, to the spectacular Zion Narrows gorge for views of the towering, vertical rock sides of the canyon. The Narrows were carved by the river in ancient times and are today characterized by soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens.
Adventure awaits you as the hike ends at the entrance of the Narrows, and you have the option to hike up the river a few hundred yards to get a feel for being inside a slot canyon. The only way up is "IN" the river! You can choose to either embark on this quite difficult hike (as you can't see the river bottom and are walking on slippery rocks and boulders), or to explore the rest of the river. A little rest time is of course an option as well.Lunch: Enjoy a box lunch in the beauty of the Park.Afternoon: FREE TIME: The afternoon is free for you to explore the Park on your own. You may want to revisit the Park visitor centers and bookstores that offer a wealth of interpretive resources. The Zion shuttle makes your exploration simple to and from the hotel.Dinner: Dinner will be in a local favorite restaurant in Springdale.Evening: EVENING PROGRAM: In Zion's IMAX Theater, we'll view "Treasure of the Gods" — an original giant-screen motion picture by Academy Award Winning Director Keith Merrill. Experience the myth, magic, and drama of Zion Canyon’s history and legends, with scenes from southwest National Parks and Native American lands.Lodging: Best Western Zion Park InnMeals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner