Our trip begins this morning in Durango, Colorado. We rendezvous at our host hotel at 7:45am and, after introductions and a short orientation, jump into our van and head west! Driving across the southwest corner of Colorado, we watch through the windows as the San Juan Mountains fade from view and the landscapes of the high desert begin to materialize. Our first hiking destination is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. With more than 6,000 recorded archeological sites, these canyons provide our first opportunity to visit Ancestral Puebloan ruins, some dating back to the 10th century. In addition to offering a window into Native American history, our hike affords spectacular views of the canyons and mountains that surround us. Back on the road, we on to our first campsite on the banks of the San Juan River. After setting up camp, we discover that we aren?t the first people to spend a night here. The cliffs are lined with petroglyphs drawn by travelers, some who passed through more than 3000 years ago. Tonight we enjoy a crackling fire before tucking into our oversized tents and falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the nearby river. Lunch and dinner included.
Transfer time: 2.5 hours
Hiking: 6?8 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +400'/-600'
After a hot cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast, we load up the van and set out for spectacular Monument Valley, a Navajo Nation Tribal Park. Few landscapes represent the quintessential vision of the American Southwest more than this marvelously photogenic grouping of colorful buttes and mesas. Viewing the formations from a distance can be awe-inspiring, but hiking among them offers an opportunity to immerse ourselves in this geological wonderland and snap some great photos along the way. Our hike leads us out among the iconic East and West Mittens, where the scale of the surrounding landscape is awesomely apparent. Afterwards, we have lunch at the View Restaurant, enjoying panoramas of Monument Valley through the windows as we eat. Later this afternoon we visit Butler Wash, descending the cliffs into the wash to examine a mysterious panel of petroglyphs. After our big day of exploration, we return to our familiar camp alongside the San Juan for another peaceful evening under the stars. All meals included.
Hiking: 5.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 500'
We say goodbye to our camp along the San Juan this morning and travel deeper into this remote and beautiful section of the Four Corners region. Stopping along Cedar Mesa, we hike into a rugged gulch, passing otherworldly rock formations and giant juniper trees. Our trail leads to an ancient Anasazi dwelling built high up on the towering cliff-face, prompting us to wonder about the former inhabitants? daily commute. After our hike, we continue our drive to our next campsite along one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the United States. We enjoy views of the Bears Ears?the namesake buttes of the nearby national monument?and climb up through the countless geological layers of the Colorado Plateau before dropping down to our campsite on the northern tip of Lake Powell. Here, along the banks of the mighty Colorado River, and surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery in the Southwest, we pitch our tents for the next three nights. All meals included.
Hiking: 9.4 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 1,249'
Today?s amazing hike transports us into the farthest reaches of Stair Canyon, a gash in the surrounding plateau that serves as one of the major drainages leading into the Colorado River during summer monsoon season. Our trail winds through colorful Wingate and Kayenta Sandstone, passing by the entrances of slot canyons and beautiful pour-overs, worn smooth by the rushing water that carved this remarkable landscape over the centuries. Part-way through the hike, we scramble up the canyon wall for an awe-inspiring view of the nearby Henry Mountains. Although we retrace our steps to the trailhead, the return hike feels like we?re in a completely different canyon as the afternoon light exposes features that were invisible on the hike in this morning. Once back in camp, we relish a delicious dinner prepared by our guides and share stories around the fire as millions of stars make their appearance overhead. All meals included.
Hiking: 8?10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +200'/-500'
Prepare for another adventure-filled day in the Irish Canyons! These slot canyons are famous among canyoneers, but there?s plenty to discover without putting on a harness and a helmet. We spend the day exploring two of the canyons and their many forks, following the path that water has carved for us through a beautiful layer of Navajo Sandstone. Slide your hand along the smooth rock and feel the textures as we continue as deep into the canyons as we can. From shallow slots with walls we can see over, to cavernous 50-foot-tall "hallways", to impossibly narrow openings in between sandstone walls, we get a satisfying taste of the amazing geology that these canyons offer. Once we?ve had our fill of this outdoor playground, we head back to camp for an early dinner. Our plan is to be at the Hite Overlook at sunset, a prime location to watch the colors change across this magnificent landscape as the sun sinks below the horizon. All meals included.
Hiking: 5?6.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 400'
After breaking camp this morning, we point towards the rising sun and begin our return trip to Colorado. Along the way, we stop to hike in fascinating Mule Canyon, rich with artifacts and ruins. On our way up and down the canyon we encounter numerous sites along the trail and scramble up rocks to find more unique archeological gems hidden above our heads. During our time here, we only scratch the surface of the vast number of treasures located in this tranquil ravine. The intricate network of villages throughout this large canyon is astonishing and includes a series of line-of-sight towers thought to have been used for quick communication between communities. Back in the van in mid-afternoon, we cross the Colorado border and drive the final stretch to our campground located in Mesa Verde National Park. After setting up our tents and taking a refreshing shower, we kick back and enjoy one more evening in the Four Corners under the dark desert skies. All meals included.
Hiking: 7?10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +380'/-880'
No journey through the Four Corners would be complete without a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. This forested mesa was home to Ancestral Puebloans for 700 years before being abandoned around 1300 AD. Lying at 7,000 feet and containing more than 600 cliff dwellings, including enormous Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde was established as a national park in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. A ranger-led hike on one of the park?s iconic trails is today?s highlight. We hike down from the mesa-top and climb a 32-foot ladder to reach the ruins, and have an opportunity to explore this amazing structure using the same passageways as its original inhabitants. After hiking back up to the rim, we embark on some additional exploration around the park and stop at a variety of overlooks offering postcard-worthy views of Mesa Verde?s other spectacular cliff dwellings. In early afternoon, we begin the drive back to Durango, stopping for a final lunch with our guides and newfound friends. We arrive back at our host hotel in Durango at 2:30pm. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 2?4 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 200'