This tour began at the Four Seasons Resort, Scottsdale AZ, and included Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, ending in Las Vegas to be near a major airport. Note the essay at the end on the historical significance of the area traversed.
I flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor airport where I had pre-ordered a shuttle online. The SuperShuttle serves all major areas near Phoenix at reasonable prices. I selected the group van and was pleased to be the only passenger. The drive to Scottsdale took about 45 minutes. I spent a night with friends in Cave Creek, 15 minutes from the Four Seasons, then moved to the resort the next afternoon. The deluxe rooms Tauck reserves are beautifully furnished with balconies and great views of the mountains. I had a wonderful afternoon in the delightful adults-only pool where the servers provide pitchers of ice water and offer a nice lunch menu.
My friends returned for a drink in the room and dinner in the beautiful dining room. Our meal was sensational and priced as one would expect in a deluxe resort. I had the next day at leisure because the tour group did not meet until a reception and dinner that evening. I explored the area, enjoyed water aerobics in the refreshing pool (the daytime temperature was about 110 F), chatting with other Tauck early-arrivals. Lunch by the pool was reasonably-priced and delicious.
Below are scenes from the Four Seasons Resort, Scottsdale AZ. Click on photos to enlarge them.
At 6 pm the participants gathered in a private salon for drinks and appetizers which disappeared too quickly because of the size of the group, 44 pax. I was disappointed because my previous trips with Tauck averaged about 36 participants. Tauck offers small group tours for a higher price but they sell out fast or they are in off-season. The high number makes for delays getting on and off the tour bus, slow bathroom stops, slower service at meals, and it is harder to get to know everyone. Given their prices, Tauck doesn’t need to pack participants into the bus in a way that resembles greed. There seem to be budget cuts also in the receptions which used to serve top shelf liquor, and the waiters brought one glass of wine with dinner, though a few were fortunate enough to plead for a second glass. The welcome dinner was good but not exceptional. Aside from disappointment over the huge group, the tour was superb. The tour director Elizabeth had great personal skills and the organization of hotels, tours sites, meals, and other events was very smooth and well-done.
Tues. Sept. 1. After an early breakfast the first day, we departed at 8 am due to a full itinerary that day. By 11 am we arrived in Sedona AZ with a photo-stop outside of town, then two hours to enjoy the city with lunch on our own. There are several restaurants with great views of the mountains from their outdoor terraces. While the city maintains an upscale appearance, to my mind it was just a fancy strip mall with lots of touristy shops and I would not have wanted to stay any longer.
Photos of a picturesque rest-stop and lunch in Sedona Az.
From Sedona the drive was just short of four hours to the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed a spectacular photo-stop prior to arriving at the Kachina Lodge, just steps away from the canyon rim, and more modern than its famous neighbor the El Tovar hotel, over 100 years old, where we enjoyed our meals. Accommodations were rustic but modern and pleasant. We had time for photos at sunset before our dinner. Dinner and breakfast at the El Tovar were excellent, and internet service in the room was decent. I like to upload my photos to my laptop daily while I remember them, rather than waiting until the end of a trip and facing too large a task.
Wed. Sept. 2: We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before gathering at the canyon rim behind the hotel for a 10 am lecture by a dynamic geology specialist. I was delighted to learn about the different layers of the canyon, how the layers were formed, the different stages of change in the canyon, and the reason for the different colors. I was disappointed we had no information of a similar nature at Sedona, but the lecturer pointed out that the red rock formations there were due to sandstone with oxidized iron, the same as red formations in the canyon. I had no idea the Grand Canyon is larger than the state of Delaware!
We departed the hotel at 11 am, but stopped within a half hour for another great view of the canyon at Desert View Tower. I had seen many photos of the Grand Canyon but none of them did justice to the spectacular depth and width and incredible nuances of color. We had ample time to traipse paths with different perspectives before lunch on our own in the visitors center cafeteria with a nice shop and clean restrooms.
Leaving the Desert View Tower at 1 pm, we arrived at the outskirts of Lake Powell in just two hours, stopping at the Glen Canyon Dam which caused the flooding of the canyons that created the lake. I wondered why Tauck would include a lake on a Canyonlands tour but I understood when it was explained that the dam flooded 96 separately-named canyons, now waterfilled and stretching like blue-green fingers deep into the multicolored-sandstone cliffs. We waited at the visitors center above the dam while the motor coach delivered our luggage to the hotel and returned with our room keys. It is a special feature of Tauck that one arrives to find one’s luggage in the hotel room.
The Lake Powell Resort hotel was very crowded for good reasons, the spectacular views and the marina below for boating on the lake. Our day ended with a special treat, a sundown cruise on the lake, starting with a champagne reception and a three-course dinner with wine.
Thurs. Sept. 3: An early wake-up today to make a 7:15 am bus ride to the Page AZ airport where we boarded Cessna Caravans for a 35 minute flight over Lake Powell and the canyons. The flight was very smooth and provided great photo-ops. I was delighted to see tour groups from Italy and France enjoying the USA and making the small airport buzz with humanity. And we were back at the hotel in time for a great breakfast in the lake-view dining room.
After a restful morning and lunch on our own, we boarded another vessel at 2:30 pm for a cruise on the lake including Glen Canyon to see the dam from below, and Antelope Canyon with its stunning rock formations just a few yards on each side of the vessel. I had time for the refreshing pool and some water aerobics including a chat in the water with a young couple from France thrilled with their first visit to the American West. Then a three-course dinner in the resort restaurant and an internet session in the room before retiring from a long and fascinating day.
Fri. Sept. 4: We were scheduled for an early departure at 7:30 am in order to make a rafting expedition on the Colorado River. Alas, a rock slide made it impossible for the bus to navigate the road to the rafts so we missed that promised event. And a real shame for the rafting company that lost so much business on a busy Labor-Day weekend. Instead we had a leisurely breakfast and departed at 9:30, driving into Utah with a visit to Pipe Spring National Monument, a fort that hosted Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. The rooms were furnished in a style typical of that era so one got to see what life was like on the frontier, but the substitute visit was no match for the lost rafting. The site was near Kanab UT, known as “Little Hollywood” because of so many movies and television series filmed nearby, including The Lone Ranger. Elizabeth played two episodes of that series on the motor coach video and we had a great laugh at the almost-forgotten hokiness of “hi ho Silver.” Which reminds me, the video players aboard also provided special programs on each of the parks we visited, made especially for Tauck by Ken Burns.
In Kanab we devoured a huge western barbecue lunch buffet before heading to nearby Bryce Canyon, my personal favorite. By late afternoon we were ensconced in delightful rustic cabins at the Bryce Canyon Lodge. The cabins were spread around a forested thicket a short walk from the rim of the canyon with stunning views of the incredible rock formations. The lodge itself is a short walk from the cabins and the excellent restaurant there was the scene of our three-course dinner. I had a post-prandial internet session since there was no reception in the cabins. How can one travel without checking on the New York Times?
Sat. Sept. 5: After a hearty breakfast in the Bryce Canyon Lodge (we always had a choice of buffet or ala carte) we boarded the bus for a visit to the visitors center and Bryce Point with another overlook for great photos.
After a big lunch back at the lodge, we were on our way to nearby Zion National Park. The highway into the park was the most scenic of any we traversed and we had a magnificent experience being right inside the canyon whereas previous lodging was on the rim of the canyons. Our evening three-course dinner took place in the Red Rock Grill of the Zion lodge. Walking back to the room after dinner, one could enjoy the clear starry night as well as five deer grazing on the lodge lawn.
Sun. Sept. 6: Those who went to breakfast early reported seeing many wild turkeys on the lodge lawn. We had several recommendations for nature trails, some reached by an excellent free-shuttle bus service. I chose a trail near the hotel following a group of boy scouts which I assumed would be headed to a great spot. I had good photo-ops but wished I had taken the shuttle to another trail where hikers got to see two waterfalls. But the 90-minute hike gave me a great appetite for our early lunch before checkout and a 12:45 pm departure for Las Vegas where we arrived at the Four Seasons Resort hotel by 4 pm. The hotel occupies the top four floors of the Mandalay Bay hotel with which it shares a lobby and casino. Here we gathered for a 6 pm cocktail reception followed by an excellent farewell dinner and warm good-byes to our delightful travel companions. Having led 150 tour groups in my second career, I felt it my place to publicly thank Elizabeth for all her hard work behind the scenes that participants often are unaware of. Their enthusiastic applause left no doubt of their appreciation.
Mon. Sept. 7: Labor Day. More than half the group departed on different flights with van services to the airport provided by Tauck and a box breakfast for those departing very early. Since I reserved an extra night, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the Veranda dining room of the resort before heading to the Bellagio hotel to see the advertised Chihuly exhibit. I had seen Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass sculptures at his museum in Seattle on the Tauck Tour of the Pacific Northwest the previous autumn. At the Bellagio, he installed a huge colored-glass ceiling and one other large sculpture, but the exhibit was quite small in a commercial gallery featuring small works ranging in price from 5000 to 45,000 dollars. The drawback of the Four Seasons is that it is located at the end of the strip, not within walking distance of anything important, and taxi fares were 18 to 20 dollars whenever I went out. So the “free” Chihuly exhibit cost me 25 dollars round trip. I was glad that we were not in the Bellagio however since the lobby was a mob scene and the pool overcrowded. But I was disappointed at the pool at the Four Seasons because the water level was much too low for aerobics. The sign saying maximum capacity 200 persons made me glad I wasn’t here in high season stewing in other people’s juice. There were only a handful of swimmers and most guests were just lounging in the hot sun with a pitcher of ice water nicely provided by the staff.
That evening I took a cab to the Wynn Hotel to see their acclaimed (“best show five years in a row”) Le Reve, a combination of water ballet, Le Cirque-style stunning aerial performances, superb lighting and music. The real star of the show is the pool that rises and falls with different scenes and a stage rising up from the water with colored water-fountains flowing from the sides. Slightly less spectacular was the line for the restrooms at the end of the show, making me so glad I’m not a woman. Another line for taxis to return to the Four Seasons for a short night before a 4 am wake-up call to make my 7 am flight to Rochester. Thus ended a really special tour, far better even than I had expected. The canyonlands and national parks are treasures everyone should see at least once in a lifetime.
Postscript: the Significance of the West in U.S. History.
We had a few days with long bus rides between canyons so I asked Elizabeth if I could talk about the historical significance of what we were enjoying. I took a graduate course in the History of the West and taught a unit on the west in my U.S. History Survey course at the College at Brockport, State University of New York. She declined the offer. Of course one can’t expect the escort to be a geologist, geographer, and historian. But I think all Tauck tour escorts should be required to read the works recommended to clients and share some of the material in commentary enroute.
I would have talked about Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis that “The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development.” Turner read his paper at a special meeting of the American Historical Association in 1893 just after the census bureau announced that there was no longer a frontier. Turner thought of the frontier as both a line that continually moved westward, and as a process of transforming new areas from savagery to civilization. In the process, democratic institutions were continually recreated. You can read the original thesis here:
In subsequent years the Turner Thesis came in for criticism from other scholars for a variety of reasons, including his lack of attention to the role of women. But there is no doubt that westward expansion shaped many elements of the American experience. There was no need for a hereditary noble class in the U.S., and pedigrees and college degrees were secondary to the skills required to carve out a living in difficult and dangerous circumstances. The ability to swing an axe or fire a rifle put a premium on “manhood,” perhaps enduring in the Marboro man (before he died of lung cancer). But women shared the pioneer burdens and probably were more valued for different strengths than those honored in eastern salons. Many of the new western state constitutions were more progressive than those of older states. Women were granted the right to vote in western states before the 19th amendment was belatedly ratified in 1920: in the Wyoming territory in 1869, in Utah in 1870, in Colorado in 1893, and in Idaho in 1896.
But the democratic promise of the west that Turner glorified was not so promising for Mexicans, Asian immigrants, and especially not for Native Americans who died by the thousands at the hands of Indian hunters, cavalry troops, starvation, and contagious diseases. We drove for a long time through the Navaho Reservation of southern Arizona without mention of the cruel mistreatment of that culture by Indian hunters like Kit Carson whose superior officer ordered him to shoot men on sight and take women and children captive. Thousands died on the infamous “Long Walk of the Navaho,” as they were forced to march through hundreds of miles of scrub land. Many hid out in the canyons and lived a miserable existence until they were finally allowed to settle on their reservation. The story is told by Hampton Sides in Blood and Thunder, published in 1907, available for purchase online.
The beautiful but rugged landscapes we traversed witnessed scenes of incredible heroism and barbaric cruelty and many stories of winners and losers. Of course, the winners write the history books. But the poignant scene of the American flag waving over the vistors center at Bryce Canyon reminded me of the irony of the west in American politics. Out of the new states was eventually born a conservative movement that honored individualism and private enterprise over government assistance. Yet none of these vast territories could have been settled so quickly and expeditiously without considerable assistance by the government in Washington. The U.S. army provided for the security of the pioneers. The telegraph connected the new territories with the established states. The Transcontinental Railroad and other expanding rail lines in the west received subsidies from the Congress in the form of land grants that could be sold to finance construction. The Pony Express and the Wells Fargo wagons received subsidies for carrying U.S. mail. The Homestead Act allowed settlers to move into new territories, stake out a claim on 160 acres, and rush to the land office to register their ownership. Hardly heard these days is the old phrase “doing a land office business.” Land Grant colleges provided inexpensive education to thousands of students.Taxpayers financed the construction of huge dams like Glen Canyon and Boulder dams that provide drinking water and electrical energy to millions of citizen in major cities like Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I wonder if our current penurious Congress would be able to overcome its stagnation to finance similar monumental achievements today.
Seeing the sensational National Parks and Monuments reminds one of the debt we owe to the public and private citizens who saw the need to create them and save them from destruction by greedy private interests. Successive presidents have continued the tradition of setting aside public lands for future generations. Millions of U.S. citizens and foreign tourists today benefit from the good works of farsighted officials that preceded them. So when we see the Red, White, and Blue waving proudly in those National Parks, it behooves us to remember than good government can accomplish noble deeds, contributing to an American experience we can all be proud of.