Western National Parks 34-Day RV Caravan
There are some magnificent areas of the United States which have earned the acclaimed designation of National Park – our country’s most precious natural resource. On Fantasy’s Western National Parks Caravan, we visit seven of them, plus several state parks, national monuments and tribal parks!
Our adventures begin in Pahrump, Nevada where we meet our WagonMasters, have an orientation and enjoy a Get Acquainted Party followed by a Welcome Dinner with fellow guests. The next day we venture into our first National Park – Death Valley.
Native peoples have inhabited this area since the Ice Age. Later, prospectors and pioneers with their burros established towns and mining camps, with mines harvesting the mineral wealth. During World War II, Japanese internees were detained here and in 1994, Death Valley was declared a National Park. Our tour takes us to the famous overlook Zabriskie Point and the half-mile wide Ubehebe volcanic crater and we enjoy a buffet lunch at Furnace Creek Ranch.
We travel into Utah, home of “mighty five” National Parks, with our first stop at Zion. Along the way we stop at Valley of Fire, a Nevada State Park consisting of 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops. We camp for three nights just outside of Zion National Park, and can take our time using the shuttle bus system to thoroughly explore the area on our own schedule. Zion’s massive sandstone cliffs of ever changing colors soar into the brilliant blue sky and we have time to hike a few of the Park’s intimate canyons, to bicycle on trails or just spend the day absorbing the rich history of the past and present day adventures. We learn more about Zion’s beginnings at the Zion Canyon IMAX Theatre presentation – at six stories tall, the screen is the largest in Utah.
We leave Utah (albeit temporarily) for Arizona, spending three nights in Page, on the shores of Lake Powell. En route, we stop at Pipe Spring National Monument, home to a museum, historic fort and surrounding gardens and orchard. Here American Indians, Mormon ranchers, plants and animals have depended on the spring water found in this beautiful desert oasis. We cruise 50 miles of unique and beautiful Lake Powell shoreline to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the largest natural rock bridges in the world and a stop for a box lunch. After breakfast at the Marina the following morning, a Navajo tour guide takes us through mystical Antelope Slot Canyon, part of Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park.
We move on to spend two nights in the small town of Jacob Lake, where we build a campfire and have a cookout at the campground. Jacob Lake is the gateway to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – the less touristy, less crowded… ‘other side’ of the Grand Canyon, which the National Park Service estimates is only visited by 10% of Grand Canyon visitors. We have a full day to explore the solitude and serenity of the North Rim, plus enjoy a delicious lunch and the views from the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Returning to Utah, our next stop is beautiful Bryce Canyon. We’ll have plenty of time to explore Bryce Canyon National Park, a lacy combination of spires and pinnacles which form absolutely breathtaking views. The park is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a pioneer who was originally assigned by the Mormon Church to establish communities in Utah. He settled in the area and raised eleven children, claimed grazing rights, built a cabin and ran cattle. Our group has plenty of time for optional hiking, mule rides and shuttle bus tours of the area. That evening we enjoy western cowboy food and entertainment at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill.
The next morning we rideshare to Kodachrome Basin State Park – so named in 1948 after the color film by a National Geographic expedition because of the multihued sandstone layers and its 67 stone spires.
We continue driving through Utah’s picturesque scenery to Torrey, a pretty little town with tree lined streets settled in the 1880s’ by Mormon pioneers. It’s also the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges. It’s actually located on Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline, or wrinkle on the earth which extends for nearly 100 miles.
There’s lots to do in Moab, our next stop, but on the way we stop at both Goblin Valley State Park and the John Wesley Powell Museum. Major Powell was an early explorer of the Colorado River and his museum is dedicated to his life and accomplishments. The strange and colorful terrain of Goblin Valley State Park is covered with Mars-like sandstone goblins and formations, often compared to what we know of Mars.
There’s nothing quite as serene as an evening dinner cruise on the Colorado River surrounded by Canyonlands National Park’s amazing landscape, and that’s only our first activity in Moab. We have two days to tour Canyonlands’ 337,598 acres of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires, all sculpted by water and gravity over the years, along with its smaller neighbor, Arches National Park. It’s no wonder the red rocks of Arches are proudly displayed on Utah’s license plates. The Park has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, plus hundreds of soaring pinnacles and giant balanced rocks.
We also take the time to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, 2000 feet above a gooseneck on the Colorado River where vertical cliffs meet with canyons floor. A gruesome legend of the area took place in the 1800s when cowboys chased wild mustangs out to the point, creating a natural corral — selecting only the horses of great worth and leaving the weaker animals behind who ultimate perished.
We travel on to the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, camping in Cortez for two nights. Here, we take a guided tour of Mesa Verde National Park, where nearly 5,000 archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings of ancestral Pueblo people are preserved and protected. We enter the cliff dwelling Spruce Tree House, constructed in the 13th century and containing 130 rooms and eight ceremonial chambers, known as kivas. At one time, it is estimated to have been home for 60 to 80 Pueblo people.
It’s just a short drive to our next stop – beautiful Durango, Colorado. We board the famous Durango-Silverton train, which winds through spectacular scenery in the remote San Juan National Forest. Our coal-fired steam-powered locomotive travels on the same tracks used by miners, settlers and cowboys of the Old West, and has been in continuous operation since 1882.
Durango offers rivers to raft, trails to hike, mountains to climb, horses to ride and so much more – not to mention a picturesque downtown with plenty of boutique shops, galleries and restaurants. We have a full day to explore this picturesque town nestled in the San Juan Mountains.
We move on and head back to Utah, camping in Bluff for three nights. On the way, we stop at Four Corners – the only place in the United States where four states intersect and our opportunity to step from Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all at once. It’s now a Navajo Tribe National Monument.
We’ve all seen photos and movies featuring Monument Valley – also a Navajo Tribal Park. The only way to really experience the beauty of the area is with a Navajo guide on an open truck tour through the Valley. And that’s what’s in store for us – traveling each bend and over every hill, there’s a new and unique view …truly a land to behold. Today its contrasting red rocks and clear blue skies are a photographer’s dream. We enjoy a southwestern lunch at Goulding’s Trading Post – a story unto itself. Harry Goulding and his wife Mike were early traders in the area who were able to purchase land and construct a trading post where they traded with the Navajo people for hand crafted items in exchange for food and supplies. Harry was instrumental in bringing the first movies (think John Wayne) to the area.
We stop at Gooseneck, a Utah State Park near Medicine Hat. It’s a small park located on the edge of a deep colorfully layered canyon above the San Juan River as it meanders its way to Lake Powell. It’s right next to the small settlement of Mexican Hat, which gets its name from a large flat rock perched precariously on a small base at the top of a hill.
We’ve got three nights in Bluff, Utah, the first Anglo settlement in the area. It was settled in 1880 by Mormon pioneers in an effort to establish law and order and maintain friendly relations with the Natives in the area. Two hundred and fifty men, women and children left their homes in southern Utah to establish the mission, traveling for more than six months over the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail in arduous winter conditions. We visit the restored Fort Bluff during our stay.
We also tour Natural Bridges National Monument, where three majestic bridges, Kachina, Owachomo and Sipapu dominate the landscape. Declared a National Monument in 1908, it is Utah’s first public land. The three bridges were originally named President, Senator and Congressman and later inexplicitly Augusta, Caroline and Edwin. As the park was expanded and the focus became to protect and commemorative its original inhabitants, the names were changed to give them Hopi meanings.
It’s the grand finale to our 34 days of amazing sights and experiences in our country’s National Parks. And it’s none other than the Grand Canyon – the very popular South Rim. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world with tourists flocking from all over to visit. We take a guided bus tour along East Rim Drive, where we visit Desert View and the Watchtower, a tower modeled in the style of ancient pueblo watchtowers of the region. The tower itself is built into the rocks of the Canyon, and inside are murals by Hopi artist Frank Kabotie. The views of the Canyon and surrounding areas are outstanding. Next, we have a free day to further explore the Canyon on the Park’s shuttle buses, hike or even an optional helicopter ride. We share the excitement of Major John Powell’s original raft trip on the Colorado River through the Canyon via IMAX theatre, and – if you didn’t know – you can experience both the sun’s rising and setting over the Canyon.
Our Farewell Dinner that evening is at the Big E Steakhouse, and the next morning we enjoy a continental breakfast with our fellow travelers and Fantasy Ambassadors. We leave the Western National Parks Tour with a true appreciation for these lands and our country’s commitment to preserving them for generations to come.
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