Overseas Walk: Walking through the canyons of USA
For nearly 26 years specialist walk-tour company Wild Quest has been guiding Kiwi seniors around some of the most magnificent back country and outdoor hot spots in the South West of the USA.
I was fortunate to tag along on their very last Canyonlands Tour in 2016. Company owner and Guide Erskine Sandilands is due to hang up his hat on this ambitious and finely honed trip. Drawing on his years of personal wandering and trail discovery amongst these vast and attractive landscapes, he said “this is the best Canyonlands itinerary I have ever done”. I will be first to say yes indeed it is.
Having helped Erskine facilitate his tours for the past nine years I am familiar with his style and drive for excellence. I get to talk to his clients on the phone, book their flights and administer Insurance and personal travel extensions. As I pack my bag I feel I have done this all before but without the photos and souvenirs!
A rule I made was to not pre-empt anything, not to research the National Parks, or hotels we were to stay nor worry about the food, or fuss over
how long the walks might be. But to just come on-board with absolutely no expectations, ready to be wowed and open to the ‘newness’ and excitement of discovery with walking new lands.
As a tour guide and travel company owner with an eagle-eye for detail perhaps Erskine could have been under some pressure in having me along.
Viewing each day from different hats – guiding, marketing and as a tour member experiencing things for the first time I was in for quite a reward!
Arriving in Los Angeles on a warm balmy evening to stroll the beach and boardwalk to shake out the wrinkles of a 12 hour flight and then enjoying a convivial evening meeting and chatting with fellow travellers, the scene was set for a wonderful adventure.
The tour is 25 days long. It sounds a tough ask, but for lovers of daily walks, balmy dry air, moderate temperatures, Autumn colours, fewer tourist numbers and epic desert and canyon landscapes to wander amongst there wasn’t anything tough about it!
I was staggered how the relaxed touring hours, variation of moderately graded walks and mix of free time kept everything so balanced.
After 25 days, most of us mused we could continue walking for another month! Every single day offered up something unusual and different.
An enormous variety of walks in state and national parks each with their exotic landscapes and vastness, teeming with unusual plants and wildlife. Embracing the best trails of California Arizona Utah and Nevada, yes this was the perfect itinerary for walking enthusiasts!
The California hinterland was first with a stop in Palm Springs, San Jacinto and its 8,000ft views!
Joshua Tree National Park presented us with our first desert environment to walk and rock hop. Then cactus spotting and naming became a ‘thing’ as we moved toward Tuscon and the rich redrock landscapes of Arizona.
The giant saguaro cactus dominated horizons and had us mesmerised with
ideas and insights to the Wild West and all the hardships that would present in such harsh environments. John Wayne movie buffs will love it!
There is much to learn about desert life and the critters that dwell within. A day walking the vast Sonora Desert Museum was time well spent and what treasures we found.
After some excellent trail walks many tour members took advantage of a heli flight over the Burnt and vibrant red rock monoliths surrounding the township of Sedona (the Queenstown of Arizona).
A visit to the stunning cliff dwellings of the early native North American In- dians and walking amongst small cavehomes peppering the walls of Walnut Canyon was a fascinating day. Waking up on the South Rim of the famous Grand Canyon was also something to behold.
I never understood the obsession with this place until standing there drinking in the enormity and depth of every direction. I changed school on the spot and now say ‘OK, I get it’. Simply breath taking. A free day presented opportunities for several short enjoyable strolls or more taxing ascents down to the Colorado River far below.
As we moved toward the Canyons and Mesa’s of Utah the more prevalent
the animals. Chipmunk, squirrel, mountain Lion, coyote, elk, deer. All being admired in the wild.
Monument Valley with its ‘mittens’ (monoliths shaped like gloves) was captivating and we enjoyed a 6km walk amongst them with not one other tourist. First Nations Reservation Land surrounded us and their native history was much talked about, with the interpretation centre helping us make sense of the struggles.
The area has long roads emulating Route 66 which made us feel young again. Heading north we see red arches begin to appear on the horizon, these eroded and wind sculpted mountain holes provided the most fantastic photo opportunities.
Now in Utah’s famous 5: Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce National Park, Zion National Park. Each vastly different from the last, we see Slick Rock in Moab, enormous red archways’ creating windows to frame the sunsets and valleys.
We walk dwarfed by canyon walls so high the squawk of crows are magnified tenfold and discover a park of ‘goblins’ which had us very amused as we walked amongst the movie-set creations of nature.
A valley of coloured rock-spires made a unique labyrinth of trails to explore, a winding wonderland of red earth and the Virgin River carved long ‘narrows’ of water through rock in which to wander ankle deep while sandwiched by enormous towering rock walls.
Beautiful autumn colours amidst ancient orchards and old farm settlements were showing off petroglyphs in the afternoon sun. So much diversity in one State.
Nevada did not disappoint, after all they have their jewel in the desert crown with the city of Las Vegas.
However, before drowning in glitz and glamour, we visited the Hoover Dam which was a juxtaposition of manmade monuments after our large collection of nature walks and was strangely amazing.
Perhaps this softened us to the bright lights of the desert city where we were entertained on many levels – never
ending sidewalk shows, theatre shows, people watching, fountain watching and general nightlife casino amusements. Just an overnight in Vegas with an early getaway to walk in the sanctum of the Getty Museum and its beautiful and artful grounds overlooking Beverley Hills and downtown LA.
The warm smouldering evening sun was befitting on the close of our magnificent walking tour.
Not a day without a Wow! No super early mornings, no maddening crowds, no rain or stress. Only an endless supply of pleasant enjoyable walks every single day.
With quality accommodation, a super comfortable coach for the long parts, daily sandwich picnic lunches and a bunch of fun-seeking Kiwi seniors this made for one perfect adventure, one perfect itinerary.
I would like to acknowledge and applaud Erskine Sandilands for his unrivalled and legendary efforts to showcase the magical walks of the South West USA to hundreds of Kiwis through the years, and while I am sad to farewell Erskine
from his perfect itinerary – I am so very very excited to now be the caretaker of
this famous Canyonlands tour! Please join me in keeping this wonderful tour alive and thriving, it’s one that just keeps on giving.
Departing 06 October 2017. For Itinerary and booking procedures contact Andrea 0800 874 748 or download at wildsidetravel.nz.
Right: the famous Chimney Stack. Below: Taking a jump!
Above left: Walking along a desert landscape. Middle left: Time to sit down on the rocks. Below left: Andrea Livingston in canyonland. www.walkingnewzealand.co.nz
Above: Following a path in the canyons. Below left: Stopping to admire the height of one the canyons.
Above left: Walking along a narrow path through a colourful landscape. Below: A rest area in a national park.
Above left: The group enjoying a walk in a national park. Below: Another time to jump, this time under an arch.