On the Road: America’s Great Deserts and Their National Parks
Explore the warmth of these great American deserts — the Sonoran and Mojave — and the National Parks of Saguaro, Joshua tree and Death Valley on the journey of a lifetime.
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Program No. 13480RJ
10 days
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10 days
9 nights
25 meals
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Registration and Check In, Orientation and Introductions
Tucson. AZ
Hilton Garden Inn Tucson

Afternoon: Hotel Check in after 3:00 PM. Rooms may be available earlier based upon demand, call hotel for request. Northern Arizona University Road Scholar program registration from 4:30 - 5:15 PM in the hotel meeting room. Meet your program Group Leader and receive your program folder, name tag, the up to date schedule and other important information we will review during Orientation. Beginning at 5:30 PM in the hotel meeting room, your coordinator will provide an in-depth program orientation, review the schedule and lead group introductions. Come prepare for an adventurous week of learning and new friends! Unless otherwise specified, throughout the program, your naturalist Group Leader will describe and explain aspects such as geology, geography, human, and natural history as we pass though spectacular scenery. All transportation will be via motor coach unless specified otherwise. Please be aware that program activities and scheduled times could change due to local circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: After Orientation enjoy a buffet dinner including salad, main entree, sides and dessert in the Tucson Hilton Garden Inn conference room. Water, ice tea and coffee are included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase at the hotel lounge.

Evening: At leisure. Take the rest of the evening to settle in, relax, and get a good night's sleep for the full day ahead tomorrow.

Saguaro National Park West and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Tucson. AZ
Hilton Garden Inn Tucson

Activity note: Drive time to and from hotel 45 minutes. Prepare to be on your feet for a good part of the day. The walking distance at Saguaro National Park will be about 1/2 mile on a paved trail and on a level gravel dry stream bed. There will be multiple stops to discuss desert flora and fauna. The visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum will be a self guide, self paced experience. The museum trails are generally gravel with some rolling hills. Walk as much or as little as you like.

Breakfast: Full hot buffet breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel restaurant. Scrambled eggs, potatoes, meats, pasties, toast, fruit, cereals, juice, coffee and much more.

Morning: Travel to Saguaro National Park Rincon District Visitor Center. Upon arrival the group will view the spectacular park video in the auditorium as an introduction to the Sonoran Desert.Saguaro National Park is home to the world’s most recognized cactus, the majestic saguaro. This will be our first exposure to the Sonoran Desert and an opportunity to establish program themes such as desert adaptations, water issues and diversity. A guided walk among the desert vegetation by your naturalist Group Leader will be offered. Depart Saguaro NP. Drive 10 minutes to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum arriving before lunch.

Lunch: Enjoy a plated lunch at the Ironwood Terrace at the Arizona - Sonora Desert Museum. A selection of sandwiches with chips and cookie will be offered. Ice tea (try the prickly pear flavor), water, coffee and sodas are included from the beverage station. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: After lunch explore the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on your own. With a museum map in hand - an orientation by your Group Leader will help guide participants to the many fascinating exhibits, special events, natural features, docent demonstration areas and trails. Special presentations including the reptile demonstration, docent staffed exhibit tables and the famous "Raptor Free Flight Program" will be available. Stunning and often odd desert flora and fauna are on display throughout the museum.

Dinner: Festive plated dinner at Macayo's Mexican restaurant. Participants will choose a dinner selection from a group menu. Ice tea, coffee and sodas are included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase from servers.

Evening: After dinner your Group Leader will discuss travel plans and logistics for the next day's travel.

Yuma Territorial Prison Park and Colorado River Views
Yuma, AZ
Wingate Hotel

Activity note: In Yuma there will be an optional one mile walk from the downtown area to the Yuma Territorial Prison along the banks of the Colorado River and Gateway Park on a paved path.

Breakfast: Hot buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

Morning: After breakfast, depart for Yuma, AZ. Along the way we travel through the Sonoran Desert National Monument and follow the course of the Gila River on its route to the Colorado River. Dramatic changes in the desert landscape will be experienced on this day as we travel from the relatively lush Tucson portion of the Sonoran Desert to the dry lower Colorado River portion. Features and stories of historic and regional significance will be pointed out and discussed along the travel route by your Group Leader.

Lunch: Plated lunch at Lute's "Casino". Lute's has been a Yuma landmark for generations. It is full of interesting and zany trappings and it is where the locals gather to eat lunch. Participants will order from a group menu with a wide selection of lunch items. Water, ice tea, sodas, lemonade, coffee and tea will be included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: In Yuma enjoy a docent lead tour of the famous Yuma Territorial Prison Historic Park. Steep yourself in the history of the old west with a docent lead tour of the park museum and prison grounds. Enjoy sweeping views of the Colorado River and Yuma in the distance.

Dinner: Dinner at an Asian Buffet Restaurant. Enjoy a wide variety of Chinese entrees in addition to sushi, salad and dessert stations. Ice tea, hot tea, coffee and sodas are included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase.

Evening: A presentation on Western Water and the Colorado River by retired US Bureau of Reclamation manager Jim Cherry in the hotel conference room. For 33 years Jim Cherry worked for the US Bureau of Reclamation. Major responsibilities for Cherry included overseeing the operation of the Hoover, Davis and Parker dams on the Lower Colorado.

Algodones Dunes, Salton Sea and Arrive Desert Hot Springs
Desert Hot Springs, CA
Miracle Springs Resort & Spa

Activity note: There will be an opportunity for exploratory walks on a sand dune at the Algodones dune field and along the shore of the Salton Sea. Drive time for day in 3 hrs/175 miles.

Breakfast: Hot breakfast at the hotel with eggs, sausage, toast, cereals, fruit and yogurt available. Tea, coffee and juice included.

Morning: After breakfast, load luggage and travel to Desert Hot Springs. The group will travel through the Imperial Valley which lies mostly below sea level and is one of the richest agricultural areas in the US. Imperial Valley features include the Algodones Sand Dune Field, the Imperial hydrothermal area, and the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when Imperial Valley water suppliers breached a levee and allowed the Colorado River to overflow its banks and fill this below sea level basin. On board and field commentary will be provided by your Group Leader. Stops for viewing these interesting features will be made at appropriate places and times.

Lunch: Box lunch picnic on the shore of the Salton Sea at Salton Sea State Park. A selection of sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookie will be offered. Colds drinks will be provided.

Afternoon: Continue travel to Miracle Springs Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs California. Before arriving in the Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs area, we will travel through the Coachella Valley, the “Date Palm Capital” of the world. We will stop at the Oasis Date Garden to sample some of the many variety of dates. If you are adventurous you can treat yourself to a date milk shake!

Dinner: Dinner at the Miracle Springs Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs. A rotating nightly buffet dinner with salad, entree, sides and dessert will be offered. Ice tea, lemonade, hot tea and coffee are included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase from the resort lounge.

Evening: Evening presentation on the human and natural history of the Cahuilla and Agua Caliente native people presented by exuberant naturalist Jona Kalayjian. Jona brings a treasure trove of desert materials and pictures to share with the group to bring her cultural and natural history stories to life.

Joshua Tree National Park viewpoints and Hidden Valley.
Desert Hot Springs, CA
Miracle Springs Resort & Spa

Activity note: An optional one mile loop hike in Hidden Valley (Joshua Tree) will be offered. The trail is made up of gravel and some exposed rock surfaces. The trail is generally on gently rolling terrain but there are a couple areas that have a series of stone steps (newly reworked by the Park Service trail crew) that must be negotiated with extra care. The overall ascend up and down is about 20 - 30 feet at each location. Drive time to Joshua Tree is 1 hour/50 miles.

Breakfast: A full hot plated breakfast will be served in the hotel conference room. During our stay a rotating selection of eggs or pancakes, sides, toast, oatmeal and fruit will be offered. Tea, coffee, and juices are included.

Morning: Depart for Joshua Tree National Park. On board and field commentary will be provided by your Group Leader. Two deserts whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and feature creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the habitat of the Joshua tree. The park also contains many fantastic geologic formations. We will stop at the Twenty-nine Palms Visitor Center on our way to Keys View (5185 feet above sea level). This outstanding view point overlooks the Coachella Valley which includes the Salton Sea and the San Andreas Fault Zone.

Lunch: Picnic lunch at the spectacular Hidden Valley picnic area among the whimsical and dramatic boulders. Sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookie will be offered. Cold drinks will be available.

Afternoon: We continue our Joshua Tree National Park visit with an optional one mile hike into Hidden Valley on an rough unpaved trail that winds between unique desert plants including Joshua trees, and spectacular granite boulders; and leads us through the legendary cattle rustlers hideout.

Dinner: Plated dinner at the Miracle Hot Springs Resort.

Evening: An evening presentation by a local expert on a subject of regional interest.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Palm Springs Street Fair
Desert Hot Springs, CA
Miracle Springs Resort & Spa

Activity note: Expect much cooler temperature and possibly snow on the ground at the Palm Spring Tram Mountain Station. An optional hike in Long Valley will be offered depending on weather and trail conditions. From the station, a 200 yard long paved walkway descends to the valley floor. The 3/4 mile Long Valley Nature Trail Loop (relatively level) and the 1.5 mile Desert View Loop (some elevation gain and uneven footing) both start from the bottom of the walkway.

Breakfast: Plated breakfast will be served at the hotel.

Morning: Depart for the the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This is truly an engineering marvel and a breathtaking experience. Starting from an elevation of 2,643 feet at the Valley Station the tram will transport the group to the Mountain Station at an elevation of 8,516 feet. At the Mountain Station enjoy sweeping views of the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park. Trails lead into the San Jacinto Wilderness. Plenty of time for gazing and exploring (including a small museum and 2 videos) will be offered.

Lunch: Buffet lunch will be at the Top of the Tram Cafe. Participants will choose from two side salads, 3 entrees and sides. Hot and cold drinks from the self serve beverage station. Alcoholic drinks available for purchase.

Afternoon: Return by approximately 2:00 pm and enjoy a free afternoon at the Miracle Springs resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs. This is a perfect time to relax by the pools or schedule a spa treatment at the resort.

Dinner: Dinner on your own. Tonight we will take participants to the "Palm Springs VillageFest'. Transportation will be provided on this evening to and from downtown Palm Springs. This weekly street fair is consistently voted as Palm Springs number one community event featuring arts, crafts, food, and entertainment! The street fair offers a large variety of meal options.Your coordinator will provide dining suggestions to various eating venues in the area. NOTE: the "Capri Restaurant" on site at the Miracle Springs Resort has a full dinner menu for those that do not wish to "go into town".

Evening: A trip to the Palm Springs Street Fair will be offered this evening. Arts and crafts booths, food stalls and open shops all make for a festive evening of browsing and shopping.

Death Valley National Park Through The Mojave Desert
Death Valley, CA
Furnace Creek Ranch

Breakfast: A full hot breakfast will be served at the hotel.

Morning: This will be our longest travel day but we will break up the miles by taking the scenic back roads en route to Death Valley National Park (280 miles) through the Mojave Desert. On board commentary will be provided by your Group Leader. Stops for viewing these interesting features will be made at appropriate places and times. Our morning travels will take us past Amboy Crater Volcanic Field and then through the spectacular Mojave National Preserve to the Train Depot in the tiny outpost of Kelso. The newly renovated Kelso Train Depot is a National Park Service visitor center and museum with excellent exhibits and bookstore.

Lunch: Sack lunch on the grounds of the historic Kelso Depot. Sandwiched, chips, fruit and cookie included. Cold drinks will be provided.

Afternoon: Arrive in Death Valley National Park by approximately 4:00 pm in time for hotel check in. Unpack and relax before dinner.

Dinner: Enjoy dinner at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse. A nightly plated entree with salad, a side and dessert will be offered. Water. tea, coffee and sodas are included. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase from your server.

Evening: Evening at your leisure.

Explore Death Valley's Badwater and Zabriskie Point.
Death Valley, CA
Furnace Creek Ranch

Activity note: The optional Golden Canyon Trail proceeds along the bottom of the canyon floor. Except for a small step- up at the beginning, the natural gravel trail is mostly level (dry stream gradient). There is a customary turn around place at one mile ( 2 miles round trip) - further exploration up the canyon is possible, time permitting.This is an in an out the same way trail so one can go as far as one wishes and then turn around. Driving time is minimal today.

Breakfast: Enjoy a generous expansive breakfast buffet at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse. No one will go hungry here with plenty of hot and cold breakfast selections available.

Morning: Time to explore the park! On board commentary will be provided by your Group Leader. For a unique experience we will drive to and explore "Bad Water". Bad Water (salt flat lake) encompasses the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level and is the driest place in North America with an average rainfall of only 1.96 inches a year. This first excursion into the park is a perfect introduction to Death Valley’s many and varied landscapes. Make sure that you have plenty of film (or memory) in your camera. The touring continues with a stop at Zabriskie Point. A trip to Zabriskie Point for many is the highlight of the trip. The otherworldly "naked earth" scene that is exposed here dazzles the eye and has had the ability to strike fear in the heart of the hapless traveler.

Lunch: Lunch at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse. Enjoy generous hot and cold entree selection with sides plus salad and dessert bar. Self serve beverage station is included. Alcoholic beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Optional Hike on the Golden Canyon Trail led by your Group Leader. This trail provides a beautiful window into the heart of Death Valley. At the entrance to Golden Canyon you have a sweeping view across Death Valley toward the Panamint Mountains. The narrow, deep shape of the side canyons of Death Valley, such as Golden Canyon, indicate that the uplift of the mountains is relatively recent, consistent with other evidence that the landscape of Death Valley is quite young.

Dinner: Dinner at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse.

Evening: If available and scheduled by the National Park Service in the Furnace Creek area an evening ranger program will be offered.

Explorations in Death Valley National Park and Vicinity.
Death Valley, CA
Furnace Creek Ranch

Activity note: An opportunity to walk in the Stovepipe Wells (Mesquite) dune field will be offered. Multiple short drives as we explore the park, two hours total/100 miles.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse.

Morning: Continue our explorations in Death Valley and vicinity. Our first stop will be at the majestic Mesquite Sand Dunes. A short exploratory walk on the dunes will be offered. Perfect for photos! Continue 45 minutes to the mining ghost town of Ryolite. A Bureau of Land Management ranger will conduct a walk of the "town" bringing to life the past glory of this silver producing mining district. Picturesque old buildings and artifacts help set the scene for share stories and historic commentary throughout our walk.

Lunch: Box lunch picnic in the field. Sandwiches, chips, fruit, cookie and bottled water will be offered.

Afternoon: On the return trip to Furnace Creek a stop at the newly renovated Death Valley Visitor Center will be offered. The visitor center features a 20 minute park video, park natural and cultural history exhibits and bookstore.

Dinner: Plated dinner at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse.

Evening: Evening at your leisure.

Depart Death Valley En Route to Las Vegas

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet at the Furnace Creek Ranch Wrangler Buffet and Steakhouse.

Morning: Hotel check out by 7:45 AM. Depart Death Valley via Pahrump Nevada en route to Las Vegas. Program ends at McCarran Airport with participant drop off by approximately 11:15 am.