A mile deep, ten miles wide, and six million years in the making, the Grand Canyon is a masterpiece of geology. Beneath its scarlet-striped cliffs—and in the surrounding desert canyonlands—civilizations have carved out an existence for some 12,000 years. For creative travelers beginning their explorations of the canyon we recommend the beautiful and less-traveled North Rim. Hike along the rim to Walhalla Plateau, Cape Final, and Bright Angel Point. Descend into the canyon, traveling millions of years back in time through massive formations of Coconino Sandstone and fossil-rich Hermit Shale. Witness unforgettable sunsets from the viewing deck of the Grand Canyon lodge, perched a full mile above the Colorado River, where you can stay in rustic log cabins in the heart of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.
But there’s so much to the U.S. Southwest beyond the Grand Canyon. Crossing the vast Navajo reservation of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, one can experience one dramatic landscape after another: the Vermillion Cliffs, Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods. Deep in the maze-like canyons of southern Utah, the landscape takes on smooth curvatures that beckon for foot-borne exploration, with camera, sketch pad, or writing journal in hand, the sun-warmed rock in brilliant or soft colors all on an irresistible human scale. Such great national parks and natural areas as Arches, Canyonlands, Escalante, Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, and Valley of the Goblins lend themselves to multi-day hiking and camping trips, where it is possible to immerse oneself in the deep silence of the desert wilderness, and reflect on long-forgotten and primally resonant facets of our amazing planet.
Slow travel, outdoor camping, and non-touristy exploration are the best ways to take in the desert magic of the American Southwest. Spend a few days in the atmospheric cultural and contemporary art centers of Santa Fe and Taos. Northern New Mexico is a great jumping-off point to explore vibrant pueblos and remote Spanish-American villages, and to begin to develop an appreciation for the grand ancient civilization once centered at Chaco Canyon, a civilization that once reached every corner of the Colorado Plateau — until its mysterious collapse around 1300 A.D. The stunning cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are a great beginning, but only a beginning. Hike into the desert with a Navajo guide to the hidden desert canyon oases of Betatakin and Keet Seel, or set out with backpacking gear to explore the even more remote and difficult to access Grand Gulch/Black Canyon Primitive Area. Meet the Ancestral Puebloans’ contemporary descendants, and find out how the sacred desert landscapes continue to sustain them.
If you’d rather travel by water, take a multi-day float trip through archaeological and geological wonderland that is the upper canyon of the San Juan River. Paddle during the day, pausing to hike into side canyons, spot wildlife, or cool off with a swim. Learn to decipher the geology of magnificent canyon walls that lay bare millions of years of planetary record. Interpret the petroglyphs of Butler Wash panel, where at least three distinct cultures left their indelible visions in stone. Set up camp on sandy beaches and spend the cool desert evenings under a tapestry of stars.
The desert Southwest has so much to offer to creative travelers; it is a region that is absolutely unique in the world. It’s also a place we know and love – if you’re interested in beginning your experience there, don’t hesitate to get in touch!