Over­seas Walk: Walk­ing through the canyons of USA

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By An­drea Liv­ingston

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.

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