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 (4.95)
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

Afternoon: Program registration with the Road Scholar staff is in the hotel meeting room between 5-5:30 PM, which is also where the Orientation session will take place. Orientation and Introductions begin at 5:30 PM. The Group Leader will greet everyone with a warm welcome 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 any questions you may have. Participants will have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the group. Free time is reserved for your personal independent exploration. Evenings at leisure offer opportunities to make the program more meaningful and memorable through personal independent exploration, engaging in available activities on your own, or simply 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 conditions/circumstances including weather. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: Dinner following orientation (approximately 7 PM). Meals vary nightly and are generally served buffet-style. Salad and dessert nightly. A vegetarian or gluten-free option is available with advanced notice. Beverage choices are coffee, tea, and water. Alcoholic Beverages available for purchase

Evening: Take the remainder of the evening to rest from a day of travel in anticipation of the adventures ahead. Please remember that this program starts in Phoenix, AZ and ends in Las Vegas, NV. 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.

Montezuma Castle, Sedona
Sedona, AZ
Holiday Inn Express Sedona - Oak Creek

Activity note: Motorcoach ride about 120 miles/ 2.5 hours. A couple of half mile walks. Paved walkway at Montezuma Castle. Elevation in Sedona area 4000-4500'.

Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

Morning: Bring your luggage to the vehicle(s) at 8:15 AM and board for the departure. Journey north and watch the plant communities change as we move from the Basin and Range region to the central highlands and transition zone of the Verde Valley. Visit the picturesque, wonderfully preserved five-story, 700-year-old Anasazi pueblo ruins at Montezuma's Castle.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant, includes salad, coffee, tea, water and cookie.

Afternoon: Tour some of our favorite spots in Sedona. Late afternoon check-in.

Dinner: Plated dinner at a local restaurant. We'll have a choice of entrees with a non alcoholic beverage, other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At your leisure.

Oak Creek Canyon, No. AZ Museum, SF Peaks, Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, AZ
Yavapai Lodge West

Activity note: Motorcoach ride about 120 miles/2.5 hours. Time for a short walk to the canyon rim for sunset. Flagstaff and Grand Canyon South Rim elevation is ~7000'.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet at the hotel.

Morning: Load up for the trip up one of Arizona's most scenic highways through the steep, rock-walled cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon to the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Founded in 1928 as a community effort by a group of Flagstaff citizens, the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) is a private, nonprofit institution that was originally established as a repository for Native American artifacts and natural history specimens from the Colorado Plateau. The original founders, zoologist Dr. Harold S. Colton and artist Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, who were from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were dedicated to preserving the history and cultures of northern Arizona. From its humble beginnings in Flagstaff, 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 Museum of Northern Arizona plays a vital role as interpreter of the Colorado Plateau.

Lunch: Lunch in Flagstaff at Buster's Restaurant.

Afternoon: Continue our scenic journey to the Grand Canyon along Scenic Highway 180 through the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field. Stop at Scenic Mather Point, named after the first Director of the Park Service, for your first view of the Grand Canyon. Late afternoon Check-in at our Grand Canyon Lodge.

Dinner: We will have dinner at a Grand Canyon lodge's Cafe.

Evening: On your own, walk to the Canyon Rim for sunset(before or after dinner, depending on the season), or take in a National Park Service evening Ranger program (seasonal) or enjoy an evening at leisure at the Grand Canyon.

Natural or Human History at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, AZ
Yavapai Lodge West

Activity note: One mile history walk in Grand Canyon Village. Free afternoon to explore the canyon rim, historic village, or hike on the Bright Angel Trail.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Grand Canyon Lodge Cafe.

Morning: For early risers, there is the optional pre-dawn bus/van trip and walk to view sunrise over the Grand Canyon. After breakfast, We will have a history walk in Grand Canyon Village. 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: Lunch at a Grand Canyon Lodge Cafe.

Afternoon: In the afternoon, we will have free time to explore the Grand Canyon. Ride the Red Line Shuttle, walk on the rim, hike the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon, explore the bookstore, or visit the Kolb Studio. The Red Line Shuttle is a 14 mile scenic round trip with stops at iconic view points such as Trail View, the Powell Memorial, Hopi Point, the Abyss and Hermits Rest. The Rim Trail now includes the Geologic Walk of Time. 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 was originally a game trail down a geologic fault line, it has been used, modified, and expanded by successive generations of prehistoric and historic Indians, explorers, miners, and now park visitors. Originally home and office to Elsworth and Emery Kolb, the Kolb Studio 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.

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: Choose between Taking in a National Park Service evening ranger program (seasonal) or enjoy an evening at leisure at the Grand Canyon.

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

Activity note: Motorcoach ride about 180 miles/3.5 hours. Walk a few hundred yards on paved trails to the Watch Tower.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Grand Canyon lodge's Cafe.

Morning: Load up for the scenic drive 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 Fransico 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 Cameron Trading Post see displays showing how Native American rugs and jewelry are crafted, and lose yourself looking through its extensive selection of Native American crafts currently for sale.

Lunch: Enjoy a lunch at Historic Cameron Trading Post.

Afternoon: Continue our tour through the Navajo Reservation and the Painted Desert to Kayenta on the Navajo Reservation. Stop at the Code Talker Museum, hidden inside a Burger King.

Dinner: Dinner at historic Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post with an extensive menu created just for Participants. Gouldings Lodge is the premier accommodations in the heart of Monument Valley and its large picture windows in the restaurant offer magnificent views of the Valley's red rock splendor.

Evening: View a video on the Navajo Code Talkers and/or the 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: Dusty, bumpy 4 wheel drive tour through majestic scenery with multiple short walks. Elevation in Monument Valley is 5500'.

Breakfast: Breakfast at Goulding's Trading Post with an extensive selection of breakfast items including eggs, French toast and pancakes.

Morning: We'll depart from our hotel to travel to Goulding's in Monument Valley. 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: Enjoy a sack lunch amid the spectacular scenery of Monument Valley.

Afternoon: Continue your tour through Monument Valley. We explore all of the famous monuments including views of the Mittens, plus we visit 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. The 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: Dinner at historic Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post with an extensive menu created just for Participants. Gouldings Lodge is the premier accommodations in the heart of Monument Valley and its large picture windows in the restaurant offer magnificent views of the Valley's red rock splendor.

Evening: View a video on the Navajo Code Talkers and/or the locally filmed John Ford classic western movie, such as "Stagecoach" or another topic of local interest.

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

Activity note: Motorcoach ride about 150 miles/2.5 hours. 1.5 mile round trip walk with about 200' elevation gain to Betatakin Overlook (paved). 1/2 mile level walk on loose sand in Antelope canyon. Elevation at Navajo National Monument is 7000' ; Page is ~4300'.

Breakfast: Breakfast at Goulding's Trading Post with an extensive selection of breakfast items including eggs, French toast and pancakes.

Morning: After Breakfast, we 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. An orientation of Navajo National Monument begins 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. An excellent 25-minute video on the Ancient Ones is shown on request. 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. The trail is 1.2 miles round-trip and drops 160 feet to the viewpoint. Signs along the way identify native plants and describe how Native Americans used them. Then we head on to Lake Powell and Page.

Lunch: Lunch at Fiesta Mexicana in Page, AZ.

Afternoon: In the afternoon, tour 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: Dinner catered by Pepper's Restaurant (in the Courtyard by Marriott).

Evening: Attend a evening presentation on a topic of local interest. Past Favorites have included Wildlife of Glen Canyon, Geology of Glen Canyon, and Floating Hogans.

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

Activity note: 1.5 mile walk with about 200' elevation gain to Horseshoe Bend Overlook. Flat water float trip through the last free flowing section of Glen Canyon.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet in Pepper's Restaurant in the hotel.

Morning: We start our morning with a trip to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook Trailhead. This 1.5 mile round trip hike goes up and over a small hill (~300 feet) to the edge of a thousand foot cliff looking down on a meander of the Colorado River in a section of Glen Canyon that we will float later.Then it is on to our Glen Canyon Float 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: Sack Lunch on the river.

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

Dinner: Catered dinner at the hotel.

Evening: Attend a evening presentation on a topic of local interest. Past Favorites have included Wildlife of Glen Canyon, Geology of Glen Canyon and Music with Joanna Joseph.

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

Activity note: Motorcoach ride 150 miles/2.5 hours. Walk along the rim at Bryce Canyon on both paved and unpaved surfaces. Time permitting, walk below the rim on unpaved trails. Rim elevation is ~8000'.

Breakfast: Breakfast in Pepper's Restaurant

Morning: We will 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: Lunch: enjoy the wide variety at the lunch buffet at Ruby’s Cowboy Buffet & Steak Room.

Afternoon: 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: Enjoy the wide variety at the buffet at Ruby’s Cowboy Buffet and Steak Room.

Evening: Evening at leisure.

Zion National Park’s Slickrock Country & Zion Canyon
Zion National Park
Holiday Inn Express Zion National Park

Activity note: Motorcoach ride 85 miles/2 hours. 1.2 mile round trip, mostly paved and slight uphill walk to Lower Emerald Pool.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet at Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel

Morning: After loading up the bus, we depart Bryce for the scenic drive to Zion national park. Along the way we drive through stunning Red Canyon, once a haunt for Butch Cassidy and his gang!. Then it is on to the slick rock country on the eastern edge of Zion National Park, with a stop at Checkerboard Mesa, a 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: Lunch at the Majestic View, just outside of Zion National Park. The Majestic View, has excellent food and spectacular views and of the magnificent surroundings.

Afternoon: Travel to the visitor center at Zion National Park. The center has a large scale map of the park, where you can overview what you'll be seeing. You'll enjoy a pass through the non profit bookstore at the center as well. If time allows, walk to the Lower Emerald Pools (0.6 miles OW, 69 vertical feet) in Zion National Park.

Dinner: Enjoy dinner at the Majestic View Lodge and the majestic view from its huge picture windows.

Evening: Evening at leisure after a very full day.

Zion Nat. Park, Pa'Rus Trail, Weeping Rock, Riverside Trail
Zion National Park
Holiday Inn Express Zion National Park

Activity note: 1 mile sunrise nature walk 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 ~4000' elevation.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Majestic View dining room. Includes Scrambled Fresh Eggs, Hash Brown Potatoes, Bacon or Sausage, cold cereal, fruit, juice, coffee.

Morning: Optional pre-breakfast nature walk on the mostly paved PaRus Trail(1 mile One Way 50 feet). 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 head to the Zion Human History Museum to watch its 22 minute video introducing Zion National Park.

Lunch: Sack Lunch at the Grotto Picnic Area.

Afternoon: After lunch we head to Weeping Rock (0.5 mile RT and 98 feet). We walk up a short but steep trail and learn about what makes this dripping garden special. Paved trail ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs with trailside exhibits.Then it is on to the temple of Sinewava, the Riverside Trail(2.2 miles RT and 57 feet), 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: Enjoy dinner at the Majestic View Lodge and the majestic view from it huge picture windows.Choice of N.Y. Steak, Grilled Trout, Boneless BBQ Pork ribs or a vegetarian option.

Evening: Farewells and Program wrap-up.

Program Concludes

Activity note: Motorcoach ride 170 miles/ 3 hours.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel restaurant.

Morning: Complete the final portion of our drive to Las Vegas, traveling through the Virgin River Gorge carved by the mighty Virgin River through the Virgin River Anticline. Pass by Joshua Trees, the signature species of the Mojave Desert. Arrive in Las Vegas. Program ends at the airport at approximately 11 AM. We hope you enjoyed this Road Scholar program sponsored by Northern Arizona University and we look forward to hosting you in the future. Keep in touch via the Road Scholar Social Network and our NAU Road Scholar Facebook page: www.facebook.com/rsadventures; and www.facebook.com/NAUroadscholar where you can share memories, picture and comments. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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