A Utah Road Trip: Exploring the Landscapes and Cultures of South East Utah

Tour Monument Valley, Arches National Park and other iconic destinations in Utah’s canyon country and absorb the rich culture of its prehistoric peoples, Native Americans and Mormon settlers

Highlights

  • Immerse yourself in the amazing landscapes and geology of National parks and monuments on this Utah guided tour.
  • Let our expert guide explain the processes producing their dramatic landforms. What was sea, or river, or desert? Why are the rock layers folded?  Why are some layers tall and strong and others weak and eroded? Destinations include Colorado National Monument, Arches National Park, Deadhorse and Goosenecks state parks and Monument Valley. 
  • Explore the cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and pictographs of Fremont, Ancient Puebloan and recent Native American peoples and hear more about their history during a back-room tour at the outstanding Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding.
  • Consider the hardships and ingenuity of Mormon settlers as they spread across southeastern Utah in their attempts to tame the wild landscape.
  • Cross the San Juan River into Monument Valley, the backdrop for many western films but more importantly the home of the Navajo.
  • Amble the streets of the sleepy desert town of Bluff and the thriving adventure town of Moab.
  • The small group tour begins and ends in Grand Junction, Colorado

Review from a Recent Run

“Some trips are memorable for the destinations, others for the experiences. This tour was both. I’ve traveled extensively, and I can now say Utah is the most beautiful, visually exciting place I’ve seen. There was so much to look at, I didn’t want to blink, but the team’s attention to the little details also made the trip a joy. The talks gave me a deeper appreciation of what I saw. The small group experience meant we could always both see and hear, something you can’t count on when you sign up for a tour.” KB, 2023

Overview

Southeastern Utah holds a wealth of fascinating geological and cultural stories. Join geologist Russell Davies to learn to "read" the landscapes and hear about the influence of the rocks on the history of the area. 

Starting in Grand Junction, we drive west through Colorado National Monument in Grand Valley to the flat desert landscape of eastern Utah and on to dramatic Colorado River overviews at Dead Horse Point State Park on our way to explore the bustling town of Moab, where we will spend two nights. From our location in Moab we will spend a day exploring the dramatic but accessible landscapes of Arches National Park.

We then head south for three nights in Bluff, Utah, a quiet but historical town. We will visit narrow canyons with cliff dwellings and see paintings and etchings of long-vanished families and communities, amble through a reconstructed Mormon town, walk to the edge of a deep canyon overlooking the sinuous river meanders of the San Juan River and enjoy a Navajo-guide led tour of Monument Valley. 

We then return to Grand Junction through Moab taking a picturesque loop through the La Sal Mountains into Castle Valley ad along the Colorado River.

Activity Level: Easy to Moderate. Walks are generally easy and less than 0.5 mile (0.8km), with the option of longer and slightly more challenging walks up to 2 miles (3km) on several days (see our definitions here). 

Transport: We will use a comfortable coach suited to the number of attendees.

Accommodation: We will be lodging in very comfortable hotels with iconic views of red rocks, landscapes and rivers. See our list of hotels in the Need to Know tab.

Weather: Spring and Fall days in southern Utah are generally mild to warm, with cool nights. Rain, and even snow, is always possible.

Further Tour Information

Now go to the top of the page for Itinerary, Need to Know and Gallery.

 

Tour Map

Day 1:  Grand Junction, Colorado

Maverick Hotel View

The group will meet in the early evening for introductions and an overview of the tour over drinks on a terrace overlooking the landscape of western Colorado.

Overnight in Grand Junction. Free evening for dinner.

Day 2:  Grand Junction to Moab, Utah

We begin our journey by heading to the Colorado National Monument, discussing the landscapes and geology and the history of the Grand Valley as we experience sheer-walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive. We then head west on I-70 and stop at Sego Canyon to view petroglyphs and pictographs on cliff walls and have a picnic lunch.

Turning south towards Moab, we drive to Dead Horse Point State Park, named for its use as a natural corral by cowboys in the 19th century where horses often died of exposure.  The location above the edge of the Colorado River provides dramatic views of Canyonlands National Park. 

We finish the day with a short drive into the bustling town of Moab. After checking in to our hotel we will  head to the Sunset Grill restaurant for a group dinner. On a hill overlooking the town of Moab and the desert beyond, the restaurant is the former home of Charlie Steen, "The Uranium King of Utah".

Overnight in Moab. Group dinner at Sunset Grill.

Day 3  Arches National Park Tour

We will spend the morning and early afternoon with the fossilized dunes of an ancient desert in Arches National Park. We will hear how the complex blocky terrain developed and how the spectacular arches were created within narrow bands of eroded sandstone. Our visit will include several short walks to some of the arches, including the Delicate Arch view point (0.5 mile / .8km), Sand Dune and Broken arches with a slot canyon segment (1 mile / 1.6km) and Tunnel and Pine Tree arches on the Devil's Garden trail (1 mile / 1.6km). We will enjoy a picnic lunch in the park.

We will make a stop along the Colorado River to see some Fremont rock art before returning to Moab, where participants will have time to explore on their own before selecting a restaurant for dinner.

Overnight in Moab. Free evening for dinner.

Day 4:  Moab to Bluff, Utah

Today we head south from Moab through Spanish Valley and past the La Sal and Abajo mountains to Utah's Scenic Highway 95. This road is part of a large loop known as "the Trail of the Ancients" and hosts a succession of well-preserved archaeological sites. We will stop at Butler Wash Indian Ruins, where an easy round-trip walk leads to an overlook of several ancient dwellings (1.5 miles / 2.5km, 200 foot / 60m elevation gain), and to the roadside archeological site called Cave Tower Ruins, which includes a partly restored kiva, a tower, and a small block of rooms. 

We then drive the loop through Natural Bridges, Utah's first National Monument, where three majestic natural sandstone bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence.  

Weather permitting, we will take the steep switchback roads of the Moki Dugway, with mind-bogglingly beautiful views of Monument Valley's red-rock spires rising from the vast desert floor, into Bluff, where we will check into Bluff Dwelling Resort and Spa for three nights.

Overnight in Bluff. Group dinner outdoors at the hotel with views of the red rocks.

Day 5:  Monument Valley Tour

We begin the day with a visit to the remains of an Ancestral Puebloan Great House over 1000 years old on a hilltop overlooking Bluff and then stop at the renowned Sand Island Petroglyphs, a 300-foot (100m) long panel overlooking the San Juan River with images that are 300 to 3,000 years old.  

We will then take a short drive westward to the spectacular views of the meanders in the San Juan River at Gooseneck State Park and enjoy a picnic lunch while hearing how the landscape was formed. We then drive into the dramatic setting of spires, buttes and towers that is Monument Valley, familiar as the backdrop of numerous western films, and a highlight of the trip: a tour of the Navajo Tribal Park from a Navajo guide. 

We will have dinner at The View restaurant, overlooking the towers of the Valley, before returning to Bluff.

Overnight in Bluff. Group dinner in Monument Valley.

Day 6: Around Bluff, Hovenweep National Monument

The morning is free to explore the town of Bluff and Bluff Fort or to relax and enjoy the hotel amenities. An optional activity is to explore the treasures along Comb Ridge including Wolfman Panel, a renowned petroglyph site with remarkable precision in the rock art, and Monarch Cave ruin, a well-preserved cliff ruin from the Ancestral Pueblos. These require a short drive from the hotel and MODERATE walks through uneven terrain with round trip that does not exceed 2 miles (3km) (extra cost).

Overnight in Bluff. Group dinner at Desert Rose Inn in Bluff.

Day 7:  Bluff to La Sal Loop to Castle Valley to Grand Junction; tour ends

We will depart Bluff in the morning for the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding. The museum has an extensive collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts on display as well as rebuilt walls and kivas of a  Puebloan village. Our visit will include a back-room tour to see many items not normally on display. A picnic lunch is provided on the museum grounds.

We continue northward to a spring at the edge of Canyonlands National Park and to Newspaper Rock, a cliff panel with pictographs drawn by different Native tribes over a period of a thousand years.  This dramatic assemblage is now protected as part of the Bears Ears National Monument.

We return to Grand Junction by way of a loop road across the La Sal Mountains into Castle Valley (where we will see some dinosaur tracks), a scenic drive along the Colorado River and a stop at the ghost-town of Cisco.

The tour ends in Grand Junction, where participants can be delivered to a downtown hotel to continue their exploration of the American West or to the Grand Junction airport.

Note: this provisional itinerary is subject to change as specific locations and accommodations release more information regarding access for the coming year.

Single Supplement

Single room supplement is £720 / $900

 

Activity Level and Transport

The activity level for most activities is rated as EASY, requiring an average level of fitness (see our definitions here). Most stops will require walks of less than 0.5 mile (0.8km), but a few days have optional walks of up to 1.5 to 2 miles round trip (2.4 to 3.2 km) with MODEST elevation gains (up to 400 ft / 120m). Some walks will take place on irregular surfaces, so sturdy footwear is required. The activity level will be described at each stop and participants can decide whether to participate.

Spring and Fall days are generally mild to warm (18-28C/65-82F) with cool nights (10-18C/50-65F). However, changeable conditions should be anticipated, with rain or snow possible, and a wind- and waterproof jacket is recommended. Tour elevations are between 4000-6000 ft (1200-1800 m). 

Transport will be in a comfortable mini-bus.

The Tour Includes / Excludes

The Tour Includes:

  • The services of your tour expert, who will be with the group throughout the tour, providing pre-visit briefings, walking seminars and available to answer questions.
  • A tour leader, who will attend to logistical matters, oversee the group's health and safety and assist participants with their queries.
  • All transportation costs from the start to the end of the tour, including the services of a professional coach driver.
  • All accommodation costs for the nights stated, assuming double occupancy rooms. Single occupancy rooms are generally available for a surcharge. See single supplement header. 
  • All breakfasts, lunches and dinners, except for the two dinners marked "free evening".
  • Entry fees, local guide fees and activity fees, where arranged as part of the tour.
  • Most gratuities and all service charges

The Tour Excludes:

  • Travel insurance. Guests should carry their own health and travel insurance.
  • Alcoholic drinks with meals are not included.
  • Optional activities as described in the tour itinerary or extra activities that are not described in the itinerary.
  • Personal expenditures, including bar bills, laundry bills, and the cost of meals on the two free evenings.
  • Transportation to the start venue or from the end venue of the tour (air fares are not included).
  • A hotel room on the final night after returning to Grand Junction.
  • Passport and visa fees.

Suggested Reading

An extensive reading list will be provided upon registration.

Accommodation

Night 1: The Maverick Hotel, Grand Junction, Colorado

Dining at the Maverick Hotel

Built against sprawling red rock canyons, this unique Colorado hotel offers guests access to mountains, rivers and hiking trails as well as proximity to downtown Grand Junction.

 

Nights 2 and 3: SpringHill Suites, Moab, Utah

SpingHill Suites, Moab

One of Moab's newest hotels and the nearest to Arches National Park. Wonderful views of the Park and the Colorado River.

 

Nights 4, 5 and 6: Bluff Dwelling Resort and Spa, Bluff, Utah

Bluff Dwellings Resort Room

Bluff's newest hotel is nestled among the majesty and solitude of hundred-million-year-old sandstone cliffs, where history whispers ancient legends from ancestral Puebloan-inspired dwellings.

Note: If required for reasons beyond our control, GeoCultura reserves the right to substitute alternate accommodations.  All attempts will be made to substitute hotels of equal quality.

Deposit and Payment Terms

Deposit: A deposit of 10% of the tour price is due upon booking a tour.

Final payment:  Full payment is due 60 days before a tour begins, or upon booking if within the 60-day window.

Cancellation by participant: A participant may cancel a booking after securing a confirmed place on a tour for any reason. The following refund terms will apply:

  • Greater than 60 days before tour begins: Any monies paid plus half of the deposit will be refunded
  • 30 to 59 days before tour begins: 35% of tour price will be refunded
  • 15 to 29 days before tour begins: 25% of tour price will be refunded
  • Within 14 days of tour or during the tour: No monies will be refunded

Cancellation by GeoCultura: GeoCultura reserves the right to cancel any tour due to low enrolment, inability to run the tour or concerns about the safety, health or welfare of participants. If a tour is cancelled before it begins, all monies paid will be refunded (including any deposit).

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions page for additional details.

Russell Davies

Russell Davies splits his time between homes in Dallas, Texas, and Grand Junction, Colorado. He developed an interest in the rocks around Moab, Utah, over 30 years ago and has been leading geological field trips to the area ever since.

Russell is employed as a global geological advisor to the oil and gas as well as alternative energy sectors. He works on consulting projects for a range clients, teaches and has published papers on the structural geology of areas around the globe, including on the deformation of rocks across the Colorado Plateau.

He finds time each year to explore the high desert plateau and deep canyons of SE Utah, searching for ruins, rock art and new hiking trails and unraveling geological mysteries, making geology more of an avocation than a vocation. In his spare time he reads, hikes, bakes bread, rock crawls in a jeep and spends time with family.

Upcoming tours
23 - 29 Apr 2024
Prices from GBP £3,840.00
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