On The Road: Absolute Southwest- A Canyonlands Adventure
This one has it all – three iconic National Parks, two National Monuments, a raft trip on the Colorado, a Jeep trip in Monument Valley and quintessential S.W. landscapes throughout!
Rating (5)
Program No. 8718RJ
12 days
Starts at
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12 days
11 nights
31 meals
11 B 10 L 10 D
Getting There
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Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Phoenix, AZ
Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Airport North

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m. PLEASE NOTE: This program begins in Phoenix, Arizona, and ends in Las Vegas, Nevada. Most airlines will book flights that arrive in Phoenix and depart from Las Vegas. If you drive your own car you may leave it at the starting hotel parking lot during the duration of the trip. Several airlines sell one way tickets between Las Vegas and Phoenix at affordable prices if booked far enough in advance.

Afternoon: Program Registration. After you have your room assignment, inquire at the hotel front desk for the location of our Road Scholar meeting room and come to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information. This room is also where the Orientation session will take place. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Road Scholar “On The Road” programs are journeys by motorcoach that take participants to multiple study sites in a region with a number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary amplify the program theme. Some journeys involve great distances and may take hours, others are much shorter. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. Field trips will be led by our Group Leader, a seasoned and experienced naturalist, unless specified otherwise. All transportation will be via motorcoach unless specified otherwise. Periods in the schedule labeled “Free Time and “At Leisure” offer opportunities to make the program more meaningful and memorable while going out to explore on your own, engaging in available activities independently, relaxing, and making new friends among fellow participants. The Group Leader will always be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In the hotel restaurant, meals are generally buffets including salads, main dishes, desserts, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead. Prepare for check-out and our first scenic journey in the morning. Throughout the program, our Group Leader will describe and explain aspects such as geology, geography, human, and natural history as we pass though spectacular scenery.

Montezuma Castle, Sedona
Sedona, AZ
Hilton Sedona Resort

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 120 miles, approximately 2.5 hours. A couple of 1/2 mile walks; paved walkway at Montezuma Castle. Elevation in Sedona area 4,000-4,500 feet.

Breakfast: At the hotel, enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet including eggs, breakfast meats, cereals, muffins, whole grain breads, fruit, juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Bring your luggage to the vehicle(s) at 8:15 a.m. and board for departure. As we journey north, our Group Leader will provide commentary on the changing view outside the window. We’ll observe plant communities as we move from the Basin and Range region to the central highlands and transition zone of the Verde Valley. For our first field trip, we’ll visit the picturesque, wonderfully preserved five-story, 700-year-old Anasazi pueblo ruins at Montezuma's Castle.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, eat a plated lunch with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Arriving in Sedona, we’ll ride through some of our favorite spots in Sedona with a few stops and short walks. Late afternoon we’ll check into our hotel.

Dinner: At the hotel restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with a non-alcoholic beverage; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

Oak Creek Canyon, No. AZ Museum, SF Peaks, Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, AZ
Grand Canyon South Rim Lodges - Yavapai West

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 120 miles, approximately 2.5 hours. Flagstaff and Grand Canyon South Rim elevation is about 7,000 feet.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll head out on one of Arizona's most scenic highways through the steep, rock-walled cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon to the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff. Founded in 1928 as a community effort by a group of Flagstaff citizens, MNA is a private, non-profit institution originally established as a repository for Native American artifacts and natural history specimens from the Colorado Plateau. The founders, zoologist Dr. Harold S. Colton and artist Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, were dedicated to preserving the area’s history and cultures. From humble beginnings in Flagstaff, the MNA has evolved into a regional center of learning with collections, exhibits, educational programs, publications, and research projects that serve thousands of people each year. As the only accredited museum within 150 miles of Flagstaff, the MNA plays a vital role as interpreter of the Colorado Plateau.

Lunch: At a Flagstaff restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with a non-alcoholic beverage; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Continuing our journey to the Grand Canyon, we’ll ride along Scenic Highway 180 through the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field. We’ll stop at Scenic Mather Point, named after the first Director of the Park Service, for our first view of the Grand Canyon. Late afternoon check in at our Grand Canyon Lodge.

Dinner: At the Grand Canyon lodge café.

Evening: Depending on the time of our arrival and local conditions, we’ll attend a National Park Service Ranger program. You will surely want to walk to the Canyon Rim for sunset (before or after dinner, depending on the season) and take in the incredible views.

Sunrise, Grand Canyon Village, Free Time
Grand Canyon, AZ
Grand Canyon South Rim Lodges - Yavapai West

Activity note: Walking 1 mile in Grand Canyon Village.

Breakfast: At the Grand Canyon Lodge café.

Morning: We’ll go on a walking field trip in Grand Canyon Village to learn about its history. Grand Canyon Village includes Verkamps Visitor Center, the El Tovar Hotel, Mary Jane Colter's Hopi House, rock walls and trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corp, the Bright Angel Lodge with its famous Geological Fireplace, and Kolb Studio.

Lunch: At the Grand Canyon Lodge café.

Afternoon: Your trip leader(s) will offer a guided walk along the Geologic Walk of time and/or the bright Angel Trail. The Trail of Time is an interpretive walking timeline trail that focuses on Grand Canyon vistas and rocks to guide visitors to ponder, explore, and understand the magnitude of geologic time and the stories encoded by Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes. The Bright Angel Trail — originally a game trail down a geologic fault line — has been used, modified, and expanded by successive generations of prehistoric and historic Indians, explorers, miners, and now park visitors. The Kolb Studio, originally home and office to Elsworth and Emery Kolb, now holds an exhibit documenting their extraordinary photographic career at the Grand Canyon as well as a small bookstore of the non-profit Grand Canyon Association. Or you can take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. You can ride Red Line Shuttle, walk on the rim, hike the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon, explore the bookstore, and visit the Kolb Studio. The Red Line Shuttle is a 14-mile, scenic round-trip with stops at iconic viewpoints such as Trail View, the Powell Memorial, Hopi Point, the Abyss and Hermits Rest.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Take in a National Park Service evening ranger program (depending on season and weather) or just relax and ponder the immensity of the Grand Canyon. Prepare for check out and our next scenic drive in the morning.

Desert View Watch Tower, Cameron Trading Post, Navajo Res.
Monument Valley, UT
Goulding's Lodge

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 180 miles, approximately 3.5 hours. Walking a few hundred yards; paved trails.

Breakfast: At the Grand Canyon Lodge café.

Morning: We’ll depart on a scenic journey out the east rim of the Grand Canyon, with a stop at Mary Jane Coulter's Desert View Watch Tower and Cameron Trading Post. The Desert View Watchtower, constructed in 1932 as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower, commands a magnificent view of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert to the east and the San Francisco Peaks to the south. This 70 foot (21 meter) tower is the highest point on the South Rim. The interior walls of the tower feature murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. At historic Cameron Trading Post, we’ll see displays showing how Native American rugs are crafted as well as displays of jewelry, pottery, baskets, and a gallery of historic and museum quality pieces.

Lunch: At historic Cameron Trading Post, we’ll have a plated meal with a non-alcoholic beverage; alcohol not sold on the Navajo Reservation.

Afternoon: We’ll continue our field trip through the Navajo Reservation and the Painted Desert to Kayenta on the Navajo Reservation. We’ll also stop at the Code Talker Museum, hidden inside a Burger King!

Dinner: At historic Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post, we’ll order from an extensive menu designed just for Road Scholar with beverage choices of soda, coffee, tea, water; alcohol not sold on the Navajo reservation. Large picture windows in the restaurant offer magnificent views of Monument Valley's red rock splendor. In 1938, Harry Goulding got movie director John Ford to visit here by showing him evocative photographs of Monument Valley. It started a lifelong friendship and Monument Valley served as the iconic backdrop for Ford's western movies.

Evening: We’ll view a video of a locally filmed John Ford classic western movie, such as "Stagecoach" or another topic of local interest.

Monument & Mystery Valleys by 4WD Truck
Monument Valley, UT
Goulding's Lodge

Activity note: Riding in a 4-wheel drive truck; dusty, bumpy. Elevation in Monument Valley is 5,500 feet.

Breakfast: At Goulding's we’ll order from the breakfast menu with choices such as eggs, French toast, pancakes; beverage choices include soda, coffee, tea, water; alcohol not sold on the Navajo reservation.

Morning: At Goulding's, we’ll board a 4-wheel drive truck and head out on a field trip to explore Mystery Valley and Monument Valley. Mystery Valley is home to a large collection of Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art, and we’ll spend the morning seeing the centuries old home of the Ancient Ones.

Lunch: Amid the spectacular scenery of Monument Valley, we’ll have sack lunches.

Afternoon: Continuing our Monument Valley field trip, we’ll see famous monuments including views of the Mittens and the Monument’s restricted area. This area contains many rock windows and arches of unique shapes and sizes — unparalleled photo opportunities in one of the West’s most photographed destinations. This great valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. Fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience. Monument Valley was once a vast lowland basin. For hundreds of millions of years, materials that eroded from the early Rock Mountains deposited layer upon layer of sediments. Over tens of millions of years geologic forces elevated these horizontal strata one to three miles above sea level. What was once a basin became a plateau. Natural forces of wind and water that eroded the land spent the last 50 million years cutting in to and peeling away at the surface of the plateau. The simple wearing down of altering layers of soft and hard rock slowly revealed the natural wonders of Monument Valley today.

Dinner: At Goulding's.

Evening: We’ll view a video of a locally filmed John Ford classic western movie, such as "Stagecoach" or another topic of local interest. Prepare for check-out and our next scenic journey in the morning.

Navajo Nat. Mont., Glen Canyon Dam, Upper Antelope Canyon
Page/Lake Powell, AZ
Courtyard by Marriott

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 150 miles, approximately 2.5 hours. Walking 1.5 miles round-trip to/from Betatakin Overlook; paved, about 200 foot elevation gain. Walking 1/2 mile at Antelope canyon; level, loose sand. Elevation at Navajo National Monument is 7,000 feet; at Page, about 4,300 feet.

Breakfast: At Goulding's.

Morning: After checking out, we’ll depart for Navajo National Monument. This National Park Service Monument contains some of the Southwest's best preserved ruins of the "Ancestral Puebloans" or Anasazi culture. Our Group Leader will lead an orientation discussion on Navajo National Monument at the Visitor Center. A small museum and exhibits of prehistoric pottery and other artifacts attempt to piece together what life was like for the early peoples. We’ll also watch an excellent 25-minute video on the Ancient Ones. We’ll then walk to the overlook for the Betatakin Ruins, one of the best preserved ruins has original walls and an intact roof. The easy, paved Sandal Trail begins behind the visitors center and winds through a piñon-juniper woodland to Betatakin Point Overlook, which has a good view of the ruins across the canyon. Signs along the way identify native plants and describe how Native Americans used them. We’ll then we head on to Lake Powell and Page.

Lunch: At a restaurant in Page.

Afternoon: We’ll take a field trip to see the displays and witness the views from the Visitors' Center at Glen Canyon Dam at the head of the 275 mile long Lake Powell. Completed in 1963 this engineering marvel was one of the Bureau of Reclamation's crowning achievements. Controversy has never been far behind its completion as the effects of its operation have been determined to have had adverse effects on the downstream Grand Canyon environment and the flooding of the spectacular Glen Canyon upstream. Just outside of Page Arizona is Antelope Canyon. This iconic slot canyon is popular with both photographers and other sightseers. Upper Antelope Canyon is called Tsé bighánílíní, "the place where water runs through rocks" by the Navajo. The short walk through this slot canyon is on level soft loose sand. It has just the right combination of length, depth, width, rock color and ambient light. The sunlight filtering down the curved sandstone walls makes magical, constantly changing patterns and shadows in many subtle shades of color. Some sections of the canyon are wide and bright, while others are narrower and more cave-like, with no light reaching the sandy floor.

Dinner: In the hotel, we’ll have a catered dinner with beverage choices of coffee and iced tea; other beverages available for purchase at the bar.

Evening: We’ll gather for a presentation on a topic of local interest.

Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Glen Canyon Float Field Trip
Page/Lake Powell, AZ
Courtyard by Marriott

Activity note: Walking 1.5 miles round-trip to Horseshoe Bend Overlook; about 200 foot elevation gain. Getting on/off a pontoon raft.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: Our first field trip today is a hike to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook Trailhead. This 1.5 mile round-trip hike goes up and over a small hill (about 300 feet) to the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff looking down on a meander of the Colorado River in a section of Glen Canyon that we will float later. Then it’s is on to our Glen Canyon float field trip. At the put-in, with the dam soaring 700 feet above you, you will board a comfortable pontoon raft for your journey downstream. For the next fifteen miles, you will experience one of the most dramatic stretches of river in the western United States. Your experienced guide will tell the story of the area’s soaring sandstone cliffs, crystal blue-green waters, abundant wildlife, exploration by Major John Wesley Powell and others, and the river's modern role in the Southwest’s water and power delivery system. A stop to view an impressive set of ancient petroglyphs will offer a you chance to stretch your legs while bearing witness to the area’s former inhabitance by ancient native cultures.

Lunch: During our field trip on the river, we’ll have sack lunches.

Afternoon: The river portion of our field trip ends at historic Lees Ferry, gateway to the Grand Canyon. Here we will board our bus for the ride back to Page.

Dinner: Hotel catered dinner.

Evening: We’ll gather for a presentation on a topic of local interest. Prepare for check-out and our next scenic journey.

The Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 150 miles, approximately 2.5 hours. Walking at Bryce Canyon rim; paved and unpaved surfaces; walking below the rim on unpaved trails if time permits. Rim elevation is about 8,000 feet.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll check out then drive through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument with a stop at its Big Water Visitor Center to see the exhibits on recent dinosaur discoveries in the area. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, at 1.7 million acres, dominates any map of southern Utah. It is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service. The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. The Grand Staircase is a geological formation spanning eons of time and is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. Travel up Scenic highway 89 towards and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Lunch: At a popular restaurant, enjoy the wide variety at the lunch buffet.

Afternoon: We’ll drive into Bryce Canyon National Park. The major feature of the park is Bryce Canyon, which despite its name, is not a canyon but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos, formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors. Bryce sits at a much higher elevation than nearby Zion National Park. Walk out to viewpoints such as Fairyland Point, Inspiration Point Bryce Point and Sunset Point to be amazed at the spectacular Hoodoos. Depending on conditions, walk along the rim. Visit the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center.

Dinner: Restaurant buffet.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and our next scenic journey in the morning.

Zion National Park’s Slickrock Country & Zion Canyon
Zion National Park
Majestic View Lodge

Activity note: The motorcoach ride today is about 85 miles, approximately 2 hours. Walking 1/2 mile round trip to Lower Emerald Pool (0.6 miles OW, 69 vertical feet); mostly paved, slight uphill (time dependent).

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: After loading up the bus, we’ll depart Bryce for the scenic journey to Zion National Park. Along the way, we’ll drive through stunning Red Canyon, once a haunt for Butch Cassidy and his gang! Then it’s on to the “slick rock” country on the eastern edge of Zion National Park. We’ll stop at Checkerboard Mesa, drive through the Zion Tunnels, and down the Switchbacks into Zion Canyon carved by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Spectacular Checkerboard Mesa is a massive petrified sand dune with horizontal layers laid down in the Jurassic Period and vertical cracks formed during weather over millions of years. The Zion Tunnels were built during the 1920s through solid sandstone walls with views through the "galleries" out to the Pine Creek Valley.

Lunch: At the hotel just outside of Zion National Park, amid spectacular views, we’ll have a buffet lunch with beverage options of coffee, iced tea, water.

Afternoon: We’ll travel to the visitor center at Zion National Park. The center has a large scale map of the park, where we can overview what we’ll be seeing. There is also a non-profit bookstore. we will also walk to the Lower Emerald Pool.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated dinner with beverage choices of coffee, iced tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure.

Zion Nat. Park, Pa'Rus Trail, Weeping Rock, Riverside Trail
Zion National Park
Majestic View Lodge

Activity note: Walking 1 mile on Pa'Rus Trail; 0.5 mile/ 98 vertical feet walk to Weeping Rock, 2 mile/ 57 vertical feet Riverside Walk to beginning of Narrows. Zion Canyon is at about 4,000 feet elevation.

Breakfast: At the hotel, the breakfast buffet offers choices such as scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, bacon or sausage, cold cereal, fruit, juice, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Early risers can elect to go on a pre-breakfast nature walk on the mostly paved Pa'Rus Trail for spectacular views of the West Temple, Temples of the Virgin, Crawford Arch, and Bridge Mountain. We will walk this at a slow pace with plenty of opportunity to discuss the geology and natural history we observe along the way. After breakfast, we’ll head to the Zion Human History Museum and watch a short video introducing Zion National Park.

Lunch: At the Grotto Picnic area of the park, we’ll have sack lunches.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll head to Weeping Rock and walk up a short but steep trail paved trail ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs and trailside exhibits. We’ll learn what makes this “dripping garden” special. We’ll then move on to the Temple of Sinewava, the Riverside Trail, and beginning of the Zion Narrows, a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon: 16 miles long, up to 2,000-feet deep, and at times only 20 to 30-feet wide.

Dinner: At the Lodge, choose from menu items such as N.Y. steak, grilled trout, boneless BBQ pork ribs, or a vegetarian option. At our farewell dinner, share your favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: We’ll gather for a program wrap-up. Then prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Transfer to Las Vegas, Program Concludes

Activity note: At the hotel, leave keys in rooms as we will be on the road before check out time. The motorcoach ride today is about 170 miles, approximately 3 hours. Airport arrival expected by approximately 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll check out of the hotel, board our motorcoach, and complete the final portion of our drive to Las Vegas. We’ll travel through the Virgin River Gorge carved by the mighty Virgin River through the Virgin River Anticline and pass by Joshua Trees, the signature species of the Mojave Desert. Our journey will end at the Las Vegas airport. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!