States of wonder, States of awe
If you’re looking for a holiday with the wow factor, touring the USA’s National Parks will deliver, day after day, as Pat Richardson recalls.
How many of these are on your travel wish-list – the Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore? An escorted tour of America’s awesome National Parks ticks off all of them and more, with plenty of surprising sights in store. And every one will take your breath away – just as they did mine, when I made this unforgettable journey.
That journey began in Scottsdale, Arizona where, after a long day’s travel, I was greeted with the velvet caress of warm evening air, and a ‘meet your fellow passengers’ dinner. On the next day’s drive to Sedona, the first surprise was everywhere evident: Arizona’s desert land is truly beautiful. And the second? How much a tall saguaro cactus – you’ve seen them in 100 Westerns; tall with a single trunk and two or three ‘raised-arm’ branches – looks like a friendly local, waving you on your way! I found it hard not to wave back.
The desert town of Sedona is a vibrant arts community, set amid vivid red rocks, with names – such as ‘the bell’, ‘the nuns’ and a very convincing ‘Snoopy’ – that describe their strange and, yes, surprising, shapes. After a stop for lunch, we were back on the road heading for Lake Powell, another scenic wonder. The surprise? Although we saw only a tiny portion of this man-made lake, it’s huge, with 1,960 miles of coastline. That’s more than the entire west coast of the continental USA! Next morning, a breakfast cruise gave us a close up view of the crystal-clear water and sinuous shoreline of faded pink and vermilion rock. We could have been on another planet. Certainly the producers of Planet of the Apes thought so, as some scenes for the 1968 movie were filmed here.
Back on our comfortable coach, we set off for our next destination. Nothing you read, no picture you see, prepares you for the awesome scale and majesty of the Grand Canyon. And it is here that we begin to read the incredible story of how our planet’s surface was formed. It’s a story told by rock, and written by time. This canyon was gouged, over many millennia, by the Colorado River. As it cut down through 5,000 feet, successive layers of rock were revealed. The ‘youngest’ of these – the cap rock – was formed 260 million years ago, long before dinosaurs appeared. Each layer is clear and distinctive, and the sight is simply spectacular, especially at sunrise and sunset.
The old, old story continues in our next two National Parks, in Utah. First comes Bryce Canyon, where strange upright rocks known as Hoodoos – and believed by early people to be humans turned to stone – result from temperature variations. Daytime here can be as hot as 40C, but nights can bring frost, ice or even snow. This freeze-thaw cycle causes fractures, leading outer layers to break away. In Zion, the climate is less extreme, and the amazing red and white cliffs and rock formations are up close and personal, almost as if the ancient story is now a book and we are turning its pages as, with our guide’s help, we ‘read’ the patterns left thousands of years ago by flowing water, tides and tsunamis; and see where volcanoes or earthquakes sculpted warps, tilts and contortions.
The next long drive takes us to Salt Lake City, a huge man-made metropolis, and a huge contrast to the scenic splendours on this awe-inspiring journey. After some very welcome R&R, we are off again, this time to Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Here, we can opt to go canoeing, river-rafting, hiking or horse-riding. As well, this being cowboy country, we enjoy a chuck-wagon dinner and an evening of cowboy entertainment. Yee-haw!
We drive through another National Park – Grand Teton – which encompasses the soaring Teton mountain range, on our way to the world’s first, established in 1872: Yellowstone. It is, we learn, a vast caldera torn by huge volcanic eruptions, 2 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. Beneath the surface, immense magmatic forces are still active, and can be seen in the array of mudpots and fumaroles, hot springs and geysers – including the famous Old Faithful – which seethe and suppurate like open wounds on the Earth’s surface. It’s like being in a witch’s cauldron and yet, there is life here: we see herds of bison, elk, bighorn sheep, a few coyotes, and even glimpse a bear but not, alas, the recently re-introduced but elusive wolves.
After a stop at the unexpectedly fascinating Buffalo Bill Centre of the West in Cody, we have two more amazing rock formations to see: Mount Rushmore monument and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Although manmade, they are as unforgettable as any sights we’ve seen on this amazing tour.
Pat travelled with Collette on this ‘America’s National Parks and Denver’ escorted tour. In 2017, the itinerary includes two days in Denver, Colorado.
For more information visit www.gocollette.com or call 0800 8048336.