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Safari America: Under the Desert Sky


American Southwest safari mapDay 1: St. George, Utah
Our Southwest canyon adventure begins in the red rock country of St. George, Utah as we meet for an informal welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Our Expedition Leader offers a brief orientation to the history, wildlife and ecology of the Colorado Plateau, which we'll explore in depth in the days to come as we make a grand loop through three national parks.

Days 2 & 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

From our specialty North American Safari Trucks with double-wide pop-top roof hatches, impressive vistas of the Colorado Plateau unfold immediately upon leaving St. George. Heading east, our destination is Bryce Canyon, a magical landscape evocative of another world. Its pink pinnacles, swirling sandstone formations and natural amphitheaters capture our imagination with endless geological surprises. We spend the next two nights at Bryce Canyon Lodge, a classic national park hotel set amid ponderosa pines on the canyon rim. The lodge, on the National Historic Register, is the only place to stay inside the park, offering ideal proximity for exploration. Meticulously restored to its original 1920s splendor, the lodge is replete with Old West atmosphere right down to replicas of vintage hickory furniture.

Our Expedition Leader guides us on intriguing walks into the canyon's maze-like depths. Rock walls create narrow channels for our wanderings while whimsical hoodoos—sandstone pinnacles carved eons ago by erosion—rise hundreds of feet into the sky all around us. The geologic term "hoodoo" was perpetuated by early geologists who thought the towering spires looked like they could cast a spell on onlookers. At sunset, the hoodoos, arches and fins evoke even more wonder as they turn varying shades of gold, maroon, peach and purple with the sinking rays.

Days 4 & 5: Zion National Park / Nat Hab’s Safari Camp
Venture westward toward Zion National Park to reach Nat Hab’s mobile safari camp. Here, we'll enjoy classic tents under the stars but with real beds, home-cooked gourmet meals and hot showers. Our intimate tented camp is reminiscent of African safari camps of old, offering simple yet comfortable accommodations in the silence of wild country. Though we're just 30 minutes from the park entrance, we enjoy total privacy in contrast to the busy hotels inside the park bounds. Setting out into this arresting landscape with our Expedition Leader, we see how Zion Canyon's overpowering beauty inspired the early Mormon pioneers who named the place after the biblical Promised Land. Its scale and scope is stunning, with monolithic sandstone cliffs towering 2,500 feet above us. The Virgin River flows fast and clear, carving a deep, multicolored canyon over millions of years and watering the fertile valley floor. Amid the scent of sage and sweet cottonwoods, listen for canyon wrens and watch for golden eagles and prairie falcons in the blue desert skies.

Zion was established as Utah’s first national park in 1919, though native people have lived in the canyon for thousands of years. The park’s cultural history is a primer on life over the centuries in the American Southwest, and we learn of the influence of ancestral Puebloan, Paiute and Mormon settlers in the valley. Guided by our Expedition Leader, spend two days exploring the secret recesses of Zion Canyon. Walking among giant cottonwoods that provide shade for wild creatures, listen for side streams coursing their way to the river where American dippers and phoebes find shelter in the willows along the banks. From secluded trails, we can't help but gaze upward in awe at the near-vertical rock walls, admiring their varied hues of pink, cream and carnelian. Once night falls, scan the glittering tableau for constellations, using our camp’s powerful telescope for a closer view of the stars.

Days 6 & 7: Grand Canyon National Park North Rim
Driving south from Zion, ascend the Kaibab Plateau on the north side of the Grand Canyon. This high-altitude tableland is covered in aspen, spruce, fir, ponderosa pine, pinyon and juniper, in contrast to the arid lowlands that encircle it. Our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon awaits just before Jacob Lake, where we stop for an exhilarating view of the west end. Near the park, witness the impact of wildfires over the past decade, including areas of new growth taking hold, perpetuating the cycle of life in a region shaped by powerful elements. Look for bison and Kaibab deer, which are often on view in the open meadows. We make our base for two nights at the historic 1928 Grand Canyon Lodge on Bright Angel Point, the sole North Rim accommodation inside the park. 

From the higher, less-visited North Rim, the canyon floor lies more than a mile below, its depths dissolving into purple shadows as we gaze into the chasm. At 277 miles long and up to 15 miles wide, the scale of the Grand Canyon can only be fathomed in person. Nearly 2 billion years of geological history are exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut through layer upon layer of sediment during the uplifting of the Colorado Plateau. We have plenty of time to explore, and our Expedition Leader knows the best trails, overlooks and hidden spots to share. Sunrise and sunset are especially magical times to gaze over the canyon and sky as changing light alters the colors minute by minute. And for those who are interested, a favorite traveler’s adventure is available: an optional mule ride into the canyon.

Day 8: Grand Canyon / St. George / Depart
Completing our canyonland journey, we depart Grand Canyon this morning to return to St. George in time for afternoon flights home (plan departures no earlier than 1:30 pm).

Please note: Due to the exploratory nature of our Safari America trips, we are still fine-tuning and perfecting this itinerary. If you book your trip before dates or prices are confirmed, please note that the itinerary is subject to change. Some departures are scheduled to visit Zion and Bryce in reverse order from the itinerary above. Itinerary changes will be communicated to you once your trip dates are confirmed.

Physical Rating: Moderate

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