- We take a daytime flight to Salt Lake City and meet our tour leader on arrival. Transfer to a nearby hotel for an overnight stay before our journey to Moab tomorrow.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Moab, 1-night on half board basis.
- In the morning we set off for Green River, stopping to bird at Price en route. We arrive at Green River – the former stomping ground of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch – in time for lunch, with a further opportunity to bird there.
- We continue in the afternoon to Arches National Park for more birding. Just north of Moab, along the Colorado River, Arches National Park has more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the product of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion by wind and water.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Moab, 2-nights on full board basis.
- This morning we head into Arches to explore the elevated plateau with its extensive landscape of glorious panoramas, set against dramatic snowcapped mountains on the distant horizon.
- Due to the rivers, which provide food, water and shelter, 273 bird species have been recorded here, including blue grosbeak, yellow-breasted chat, spotted towhe, canyon wren, great blue heron and Cooper’s hawk. Even on the hottest day turkey vulture, raven and white-throated swift wheel overhead. Upland areas, dominated by grasses, shrubs and small trees, are frequented by Say’s phoebe, black-throated sparrow and western meadowlark, while piñon and scrub jays, juniper titmouse and black-throated grey warbler are seen in the piñon-juniper woodland.
- In the afternoon we pay a visit to the wetland of Matheson Natural Reserve.
- Today we continue west to the dramatic mesa landscapes of Islands in the Sky, a huge, flat-topped mesa with panoramic outlooks. Of the 50 or so mammal species that live here, small ones that find it easier to locate shelter, and need less food and water – such as desert cottontail, kangaroo rat and mule deer – are common and easily seen, while many others are nocturnal. North America’s largest rodent, the beaver, burrows dens into the banks of the Colorado and Green rivers, which are too wide and fast to dam.
- In the afternoon we head south to Canyonlands National Park, famed for its dramatic big sky landscape carved out by the Colorado River. Due to the desert environment, the birdlife is similar that of Arches, but the scenery is very different.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Monticello, 1-night on full board basis.
- This morning we continue south, birding as we go, passing a pair of remote towering buttes known as “Bears Ears", whose rich history is indicated by the many early human and Native American artefacts found at archaeological sites.
- Further west, we visit Natural Bridges National Monument which became Utah's first national park in 1908. The profound silence may give an impression of lifelessness, yet there are many animals. The desert climate favours reptiles such as lizards and snakes which regulate body temperature with sunshine and shade. Various amphibians include one species of salamander. Frogs and toads take advantage of springs and pools – when present – and remain dormant during drier times. Hearing a cacophony of toad calls in White Canyon is a memorable experience
- Accommodation: Hotel in Torrey, 1-night on full board basis.
- In the morning we visit Capitol Reef National Park, a 65-million-year-old fold in the earth’s crust along the Fremont River. Away from the river, the landscape is arid with natural bridges and arches, black volcanic boulders washed down from plateaux, and a series of cliffs known as the Fluted Wall.
- As we walk trails in search of birds, we can see the adaptations local plants have made to ensure their survival. More than 230 bird species have been recorded here, including peregrine falcon, golden eagle, Mexican spotted owl, Bullock's oriole, and the rusty-brown coloured canyon wren. We should also see rock wren, which inhabits rocky slopes as high as 3,300 metres, and dusty-blue-coloured piñon jay, which was introduced as a game bird in the 1950s.
- We then continue on to Bryce, arriving in time to watch sunset over an unparalleled panorama of rock features.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Bryce, 1-night on full board basis.
- After an early start to see sunrise from the canyon rim, we take a morning walk in Bryce Canyon. The small and intimate park is full of geological features such as intricate pinnacles and hoodoo rocks that take on human forms and contain every colour of the rainbow, yet are very different to those of Zion and the Grand Canyon
- In the afternoon we take a scenic drive along the rim for more views. As this is higher in elevation, the forests contain birds such as Townsend’s solitaire, Clark’s nutcracker, migrant Townsend’s and yellow-rumped warblers mingling with resident mountain chickadees, or both mountain and western bluebirds, and flocks of pinyon jays. Utah prairie dog, mule deer and elk are also present.
- Finally we head west through Red Canyon and along the Sevier River.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Page, near Lake Powell, 1-night on full board basis.
- The morning is devoted to a boat trip on Lake Powell to Forbidding Canyon and Rainbow Bridge, the sacred site the Navajo First Nations people know as 'the rainbow of stone', where we walk and explore the surroundings.
- Since Glen Canyon dam was built in 1963, some 315 species have been recorded here, including wintering divers, dabbling ducks, waders, gulls and terns. Further downriver, large populations of waterfowl include diving ducks, coots, grebes and loons – mainly American coot and Western grebe, though small numbers of gadwall, green-winged teal, ring-billed gull, common goldeneye and redhead are also present.
- Back at Page, we have lunch before continuing southwest to the rim of the Grand Canyon – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – where we stop at several viewpoints to see the canyon in all its splendour. We should even have time for a late afternoon walk to watch California condors coming in to roost.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Grand Canyon National Park, 2-nights on full board basis.
- It’s worth rising early to enjoy a view of sunrise from the rim, where the canyon is around 16 kilometres wide and over one and a half kilometres deep.
- We have a full day to explore various viewpoints and vistas. Among the birds we may come across are Townsend’s solitaire, Clark’s nutcracker, yellow-rumped warbler, juniper titmouse, western bluebird, mountain chickadee, or possibly a flock of elusive pinyon jays. The main attraction, however, is inevitably the play of light on the rock, which causes the colours to change throughout the day.
- The shuttle-bus offers a convenient way to get around, and we have plenty of time for photography, as well as just to wander and take in this world-famous natural attraction.
- Rising early again gives us another opportunity to appreciate sunrise over the canyon at a time when few others are out and about, as only then can we fully enjoy the sheer scale and magnificence of this unique location, and its extraordinary serenity.
- Thereafter we have much of the day to continue exploring and see birds that include Townsend’s solitaire, juniper titmouse, western bluebird, mountain chickadee and pinyon jay.
- In the afternoon we set off north to another of the American Southwest’s treasured national parks: Zion, whose steep canyon walls, great domes and towers rise high above the Virgin River. At Checkerboard Mesa we stop and walk a trail for a view of the “temples” – natural domes that inspired the early Mormon pioneers.
- Accommodation: Hotel in Springdale, 2-nights on full board basis.
- Today we explore Zion National Park. The corridor of the Virgin River provides easy passage for migrants and a home for colourful breeding species such as the western tanager. Typical species of the region are vermilion flycatcher, rock wren and greater roadrunner, and as we walk we may see black-throated grey and yellow-rumped warblers, black-headed grosbeak, and American dipper and black phoebe along the river.
- In the afternoon we explore a more remote section of the park, venturing higher into lush forests of ponderosa pine near a small reservoir. The scenery is stunning, and with luck we may encounter higher elevation birds such as Steller’s jay, pygmy nuthatch, raptors, and possibly California condor.
- Our final dinner tonight in Springdale is a celebration of our trip through the national parks of South Utah and the Grand Canyon in the American Southwest.
- Today we may have time for a final early morning visit to Zion before we head off for the long drive back north to Salt Lake City, arriving towards the end of the afternoon in time to board our overnight flight back to the UK.
Day 13 Arrive UK
All prices are per person and include:
- Services of the naturalist leader
- All meals
- Guided activities
Mid-range hotels and motels. All rooms have an en suite bathroom.
All meals are included. Breakfast is usually taken in the hotel, whereas dinner may be either in the hotel or at a nearby restaurant. Lunches are a mix of picnics and light meals taken at local diners.
Any visitor to the US Southwest may be surprised by the number of species that have found year-round or seasonal niches in the region’s desert basins and mountains, as well as by their sheer resilience and resourcefulness in coping with the arid and frequently unforgiving environment. The limited choice of watering places is an advantage for us, as more species tend to concentrate in fewer and often more open areas, making them easier to observe than in a well-watered location with dense foliage.
- Canyon wren
- Pinyon jay
- Bullock's oriole
- Great roadrunner
Desert conditions create a survival problem for both desert animals and plants, but animals have an additional problem – they are more susceptible to extremes of temperature. For four or five months of the year, daytime temperatures may exceed the narrow range in which the biological processes of animal tissue can function. And when combined with the scarcity of life-sustaining water, survival can become extremely tenuous. Fortunately, most animals have evolved either behavioural or physiological strategies to overcome these problems, plus ingenious mechanisms to acquire, conserve, recycle, and even manufacture water.
Many mammals, as well as reptiles, are crepuscular i.e. active only around dusk and dawn, while others are entirely nocturnal; some smaller animals burrow below the surface to escape the high temperatures there – these also include many insects and all the desert amphibians. And a few enter a state of estivation when the days become too hot and the vegetation too dry, and sleep away the hottest part of the summer; they may also hibernate in winter to avoid the cold season.
- Bighorn sheep
- Mule deer
- American beaver
Desert flora have evolved adaptations to the extremes of heat and aridity by using both physical and behavioural mechanisms, in much the same way as desert animals have done to ensure their survival. The extraordinary variety of different adaptations displays a huge amount of ingenuity.
The American Southwest – and Utah in particular – is home to jaw-dropping scenery. For sheer spectacle, few regions of the world can match the number and variety of majestic natural attractions that are preserved for posterity as national parks or national monuments. From the 2,000 plus stone arches of Arches National Park to the 320-kilometre-long paradise of Lake Powell, awe-inspiring Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park’s exceptional vistas, and the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the multi-coloured desert rockscapes are sensational and inspiring!
There is a half-day boat trip on Lake Powell.
There is plenty of scope for photography on this trip, with the varied and spectacular scenery of the national parks, plus a rich variety of birdlife, plus some mammals.
There is some walking, most of which is taken at a slow but regular pace, and is on flat and level trails – although some of these can be quite rough underfoot.
On this tour we reach a maximum altitude of 2,400 metres above sea level. (Bryce Canyon)
Even in late summer the daytime temperature can climb into the low 30s Celsius, particularly in some of the enclosed canyons. However in this desert environment, after dark when the skies are clear, the temperature drops quickly and it can get surprisingly cold.
Price includes return scheduled flights London – Salt Lake City – London
By 12-seat van carrying a maximum of eight passengers plus driver, driven by the tour leader.
Space on the vehicle is relatively limited , so we advise you to pack as light as possible.