The high-altitude deserts of south-west USA - some are as high as 9,000ft above sea level – are home to some of the most incredible landscapes on earth. A geological wonderland of twisted rocks, gravity-defying arches, towering spires and plunging canyons characterise its unique and unforgiving terrain. This fly-drive holiday visits some of the region's most spectacular national parks and protected areas as you swap the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip for Zion's cliff-framed meadows and hanging gardens, Bryce Canyon, with its cavernous amphitheatres and the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley – the famous backdrop to countless Hollywood Westerns. Finally, drop back south to the Grand Canyon's dizzying precipices and the sacred gorges of Sedona.
Days 1-2: UK/Las Vegas
Begin your trip in style with included airport lounge access before your flight to Las Vegas. This truly remarkable city rises from the desert like a neon oasis, its world-famous casinos and clubs, flamboyant hotels, top-class restaurants and big-name shows making it one of the world's truly great party towns. Its big, brash, boisterous and an utterly stark contrast to the natural beauty, tranquillity and relative isolation that awaits on the remainder of the holiday.
Days 3-4: Zion National Park
Collect your hire car this morning, driving northeast through the desert to Utah's Zion National Park. Your hotel is ideally situated right on the edge of the national park, just a stone's throw from its jutting sandstone monoliths and surprisingly verdant valley floors. It's also at the confluence of several hiking that wind their way up into the canyon. You'll also well placed for rides on the shuttle bus, which stops at eight major locations throughout the national park. Then, in the evenings, you'll return to homely dining, a heated pool and a spa with views of the Virgin River.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park
Famous for its unique geology, Bryce Canyon is made up of a series of spectacular horseshoe-shaped amphitheatres, carved out of the red rock by centuries of weather erosion. The colourful limestone has been transformed into all manor of bizarre shapes, from slots, canyons and hoodoos to dramatic fins and spires. To make exploring easy, the park's shuttle bus picks up in town for a four-hour circuit of the park. If you prefer to explore on foot, a network of gravity-defying trails descend through fragrant juniper bushes to arrive in the grand amphitheatres below.
Day 6: Torrey/Capitol Reef National Park
Once called the Land of the Sleeping Rainbow by the region's Native-American tribes, Capitol Reef National Park is certainly one of the most unusual places you'll visit, even among the incredible geological anomalies and landscapes displayed on this journey so far. The park's defining feature, the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, rises above the semi-arid plateau. A seemingly impenetrable cliff, its most scenic portion is Capitol Reef itself, named for its resemblance to Washington's capitol buildings. Take it all in on ambling hikes and dusty 4x4 trails before spending the night in the small town of Torrey, 11 miles west of the park entrance.
Days 7-8: Arches National Park / Canyonlands National Park
It's hard to comprehend the forces of nature that sculpted Arches National Park. Over 2,000 structures, from towering spires to precariously balanced rocks, complement the eponymous arches themselves, all creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively compact area. You'll spend two nights in the town of Moab, from where you can access both the Arches and Canyonland National Parks. At Canyonlands, the scenic drive to the Island in the Sky mesa provides the best views, with overlooks perched 1,000 feet about the surrounding terrain. Your accommodation for the night will be at Red Cliffs Lodge, but for something special, consider an upgrade to Sorrel River Lodge, where spa treatments and rooms complete with handcrafted furnishings look out to views of the Colorado River.
Stay: Red Cliffs Lodge (Superior)
Day 9: Mesa Verde National Park
While Mesa Verde does indeed have some dramatic landscapes, it's standout highlight is the ancient homes of the Anasazi, cliff dwellers built into the rocky hillsides more than 1,600 years ago. Since the most popular sites – Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House and Long House – can only be toured with a guide, it's best to get tickets for these tours as soon as you arrive at the Park. Alternatively, the six-mile Mesa Top Loop takes you on a scenic drive past many of the park's lesser sites, all accompanied by dramatic views, of course.
Day 10: Monument Valley Tribal Park
Having featured in such film classics as Easy Rider and Forrest Gump, the towering buttes and mesas of Monument Valley form one of the USA's most familiar landscapes, and one of its most spectacular. It's also a region steeped in Native-American history, once as the home of the Ancestral Puebloans and later the Navajo, who called this site the 'Valley Between the Rocks'. Take the 17-mile Valley Drive, which brings you through unending desert landscape to eleven marked stops, each one showcasing fine views of the park's iconic sandstone towers.
Day 11: Grand Canyon
At 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon, a World Heritage site and natural wonder of the world, is a truly remarkable place. Taking the Desert View Drive – a 25-mile route along the canyon's south rim – you'll pause at a series of viewpoints to enjoy magnificent views across the layers of multi-coloured rock, some dating back millions of years, that form the canyon's sheer rock walls. Please note, El Tovar may be closed for renovations in late 2019 or early 2020. During this time, accommodation will be at Maswik North, comprised of cosy cabins and historic lodge buildings just moments from the canyon’s edge.
Day 12: Sedona...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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