Venture into the legendary rock-carved landscapes of the American West, exploring Utah's Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. Get a glimpse of the powerful forces of nature that shaped these sandstone arches, fantastical formations, and colorful mesas and canyons. Delve into the fascinating history of the ancient people that built civilizations here, and ponder their petroglyphs and cliff dwellings. Among the soaring buttes of Monument Valley, find new perspectives of the Old West alongside Navajo guides.
Hike and picnic among the intriguing rock landscapes of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks alongside a National Geographic biologist.
Marvel at the Ancestral Puebloan dwellings and intricate Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde National Park.
Arrive to your riverside lodge by raft after a thrilling float down the Colorado River as it cuts through eastern Utah’s crimson canyons and towers.
Set off on a jeep tour of rugged Monument Valley with Navajo guides, and sit down together over a traditional lunch.
Itinerary - 7 Days
Day 1 — Grand Junction, Colorado
Arrive in Grand Junction and transfer to your hotel. Spend the day relaxing at the hotel’s outdoor pool and tennis courts, or explore the lively town’s galleries, boutiques, and cafés at your own pace.
DoubleTree by Hilton Grand Junction
Day 2 — Moab, Utah
Take the slow, scenic way to Moab—on a leisurely raft trip along the Colorado River into Utah canyon country. Float along a tranquil stretch of the legendary waterway, past the bizarrely shaped rock pinnacles known as Fisher Towers, encountering a few rapids along the way. Stop for a picnic lunch along the riverbanks, surrounded by the area’s picturesque rock-carved landscape. Continue by raft to our lodge set among rust-hued cliffs. Tonight, join fellow travelers for a welcome reception on the terrace, which offers stunning river views.
Red Cliffs Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Arches National Park
Rise early to explore Arches National Park. Go on a series of short hikes to discover some of its 2,000 sandstone arches, and sit down to a picnic set against this gorgeous natural backdrop. Head to Dead Horse Point, a promontory high above a gooseneck in the Colorado River. Local legend holds that this narrow spot was once used as a corral for wild mustangs, and a herd of horses died of thirst within view of—but 2,000 feet above—the mammoth river.
Red Cliffs Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Canyonlands National Park/Bluff
Visit Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument, where a stunning concentration of more than 650 petroglyphs adorn sandstone rock faces and record some 2,000 years of human activity here. Continue on to the one-of-a-kind Needles District in the southeast corner of Canyonlands, and hike among this spectacular landscape punctuated by colorfully striped sandstone spires. Picnic among the rugged scenery, then retreat for the night to the historic town of Bluff—established by Ancestral Puebloans around 650 A.D.
Desert Rose Inn (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Monument Valley/Bluff
Get immersed in what is perhaps the most iconic landscape of the American West—Monument Valley. Here on the Navajo Indian Reservation, majestic red mesas and lonely buttes rise above the valley floor. Join a team of native guides on a jeep tour of the rugged valley floor and its geological wonders. Take in thousand-foot-tall sandstone buttes made famous by countless Western movies, hear about the Navajo perspective of the area’s history, and enjoy a traditional Navajo lunch. After a thrilling day of exploration, return to Bluff and dine at a local restaurant. Enjoy the rest of the evening at your leisure.
Desert Rose Inn (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Durango, Colorado
Set off on a breathtaking drive through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, an archaeological hub of cliff dwellings, rock art, and kivas (ceremonial rooms). Arrive at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mesa Verde National Park, a complex network of Ancestral Puebloan dwellings dating to the 6th through 12 centuries. Discover the remarkable ancient culture that built these villages and imposing cliff dwellings, and see the famous Cliff Palace, with 150 rooms constructed out of nothing more than natural sandstone, wooden beams, and mortar. This afternoon, continue on to the historic railroad town of Durango, and cap off your adventure through the American West with a farewell dinner.
Strater Hotel (B,L,D)
Stewart Aitchison has been exploring, photographing, teaching, and writing about biodiversity, geology, and the American Southwest for forty years. He frequently travels as a naturalist and photo instructor aboard the National Geographic-Lindblad fleet. Stewart also spent ten years as a field biologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving the Colorado Plateau's natural and cultural heritage. His travels and studies have resulted in more than 20 books, including the bestselling Grand Canyon: Window of Time, a photography book focused on the history, geology, and mystery of this natural wonder. His latest book is The Desert Islands of Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Stewart's photos have appeared in National Geographic, Arizona Highways, the Los Angeles Times, Mountain Bike magazine, National Wildlife, Nevada magazine, Outdoor & Travel Photography, Reader's Digest, and Sierra.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What to Expect
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. This expedition is designed to accommodate guests at different activity levels, with easy or moderate hikes ranging from one to four miles on well marked trails with uneven terrain and sometimes slippery rock. Activities include multiple hikes, a raft trip on the Colorado River, and a 4x4 excursion in Monument Valley.