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Tauck’s “Spirit Of The Desert: The National Parks Of The Southwest”

In the area referred to as The Narrows in Zion National Park

in Southern Utah, visitors wade across a shallow portion of the Angel River, which has an uneven rocky bed and a current that can be challenging. As I approached the river, which was filled with people of all ages attempting the crossing, an older woman with curly grey hair reached out with the walking stick she had been using for stability and offered it to a younger woman ahead of me who was looking tentatively at the crossing.

“Here, take this walking stick,” said the older woman. “It really helps. Just make sure you hand it to someone on the other side, as someone handed it to me.”

The young woman smiled and thanked her profusely, promising to hand it over to someone on the other side.

That moment was a perfect example of the sense of camaraderie in the national parks visited on Tauck’s Spirit of the Desert tour. The 10-day program is offered May – June and August – September and focuses on national and state parks in Southern Utah and Arizona, including Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Pipe Spring National Monument, The Grand Canyon (North Rim), Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Dead Horse State park.


The Spirit of the Desert gives clients a chance to get up close and personal with these iconic national parks. It’s part of Tauck’s Ken Burns’ American Journeys series, a collection of tours planned and designed with the guidance of Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, whose 2009 PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea helped generate a new wave of interest in the national parks.


Several short videos featuring Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, created especially for visitors on the American Journeys tours, are shown at various times during the tour. Their informative and inspiring content enhances the experience of the park visits.


Guests stay at lodgings that are often actually inside the parks, picturesque, historic lodges such as Bryce Canyon Lodge and Grand Canyon National Park Lodge, where guests can simply wake up, grab a coffee and sit on a bench looking out at some of the most epic and iconic views in the United States.


Along with the breathtaking natural beauty of the parks, visitors encounter people of all different nationalities hiking together, families with children, older couples, young couples and solo hikers. The diverse groups all mix together with a shared sense of appreciation and awe as they fulfill the vision of advocates of the national park system like Theodore Roosevelt, who fought to create these parks and the laws and systems that would protect them for future generations to enjoy. At the laying of the cornerstone of the gateway to Yellowstone Park, our first national park, President Theodore Roosevelt made a speech that summed up the vision and purpose of all of American’s national parks:


“This park was created, and is now administered for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” he said. “The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give, is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”


Although the national parks are some of America’s most amazing and valuable treasures, many continue to be under siege by those who want to extract their natural resources. Many public lands have been opened to drilling and fracking in recent months, so now is a good time to visit.


The first park on the tour is Arches National Park, which is famous for its abundance of naturally occurring arches, which look like modern sculptures but are actually sandstone structures formed by unique
natural conditions.


During that part of the tour guests stay at The Red Cliffs Lodge on the banks of the Colorado River, surrounded by steep red cliff walls. The lodge has an old-fashioned ranch vibe and houses a film museum full of posters and artifacts from famous movies that were made in the area there, including Rio Grande with John Wayne, and parts of Thelma and Louise.


From there. guests visit Bryce Canyon National Park with its amphitheater of Hoodoos, strange rock formations that resemble people. Lodging there is at Bryce Canyon Lodge, which is listed on the National Historic Register and is the only hotel located inside the park.


The visit to Zion National Park begins with a drive into the long and scenic Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and 2,640 deep, in the spacious and comfortable motor coach that is your home between park visits throughout the trip. Guests stay at the Zion Lodge at the bottom of the canyon, surrounded by gorgeous red and tan colored Navajo Sandstone cliff faces. There are a variety of sites to hike in and the park offers a free shuttle service that stops at the lodge which makes it very easy to explore.


The final stop is Grand Canyon North Rim which includes a visit to Cape Royal, the southernmost viewpoint on the North Rim with the widest panorama available to visitors of the Grand Canyon. Guests spend two days and nights at the Grand Canyon Lodge on The North Rim, a rare experience since only 10 percent of travelers visit there. Built in 1928, the lodge sits near the edge of the canyon. Its main lodge, with its large picture windows, cozy leather couches and rocking chairs is the perfect place to curl up with a book or just meditate while looking out at the view. A lecture outlined the history of the lodge, including details such as the charming national park tradition of “the sing away,” in which lodge workers would line up and sing a goodbye song to visitors as they left.


There are many ways to explore the parks, some included and some optional add-ons, such as a rafting trip on the Colorado River, horseback riding in Zion National Park, a mule ride down the Grand Canyon and thrilling rides in small aircraft over Capital Reef National Park and the Grand Canyon, allowing guests to see the stunning geography from the air. There was even an opportunity to examine ancient petroglyphs with a local guide. Local guides are brought onboard at various stops to enhance guests’ experience of the area.


Tauck guests get early admission to most of the parks on the tour, which gives them time to explore the pathways and hiking trails before they are opened to the general public. There are also ample opportunities throughout the tour to explore on your own.


The tour ends in Las Vegas at the opulent Four Seasons Hotel which is located adjacent to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, making it a fun and totally “Vegas” experience for those who want that. But it is also a luxurious place to rest and relax while getting ready for the trip home. The McCarran International Airport provides good connections for return flights.

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