three picture of historic stone structures, a red rock canyon, and rafters on a river

Western U.S.-Desert Southwest

Location and Geography

The Canyon Country of the Desert Southwest is considered by many to be the most beautiful place on earth. It gently stimulates the senses. The silence of the desert is coupled with the soft scent of sage. Gentle hues offer colors seen nowhere else.

The Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau is a physically distinct geologic feature that is essentially a huge basin ringed by highlands. It is located in western Colorado, southeastern Utah, northern Arizona, and northwestern New Mexico. It is 130,000 square miles in size, which is larger than every state in the union except for Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana.

The Plateau was spared much of the volcanic disruption of the regions surrounding it. It was once under water and over the course of hundreds of millions of years, sediment deposition developed the beautiful layers of sand and limestones. Volcanic pressure did push up some landforms such as the Abajo, La Sal, and Henry mountain ranges.

Flora and Fauna

The region has been remarkably stable over the millennia and has a fascinating range of flora and fauna. Separated only by cliff-walls, subarctic tundra and Sonoran desert are neighbors on the Colorado Plateau. Snow-capped mountains rise off the desert floor. Deep pools of water rest among petrified sand dunes. On burning cliff-faces luxurious flower gardens hide in corners of the canyon watered by springs.

The Plateau is the world’s foremost museum of earth history. To descend into its canyons is to experience history in reverse. Each layer of rock represents an earlier era on the calendar of geological time.

Canyon Country Geology

There are thousands of miles of canyons on the Colorado Plateau, encompassing some of the most unique erosional sculptures. There are alcoves, hollows, potholes, pour-offs, and plunge basins. We will explore windows, towers, and cliff-walls riddled with honeycombing or pitted with brittle fractures.

Canyon Country has at least 25 major plateaus, hundreds of mesas, thousands of buttes, domes, towers, monuments, temples, spires. There are whole valleys filled with tent rocks and goblins. Far out in the desert one can find solitary pillars and precariously balanced rocks.

History and Culture

Experience the remains of 12,000 years of human occupation in Canyon Country. It spans the entire range of human prehistoric development from the Paleo-Indian culture to the modern Pueblo Indians. The civilization of the Anasazi mysteriously disappeared around 1300 A.D. They left behind one of the richest archeological treasure-troves on the planet.

Thousands of prehistoric stone structure are scattered throughout the canyons and mesas of the Colorado Plateau. Explore granaries, pit-houses, cliff houses, kivas, watchtowers, and entire cities of stone. The archeological site density is as high as 80 sites per square mile in parts of southeastern Utah. In San Juan County alone, there are 15,000 known archeological sites, a mere 10 percent of the estimated total number.

Join Our Trek

The towns in which we stay are unique. Sedona, Bluff and Moab all date from the 1880s and are now artist colonies and magnets for outdoor enthusiasts.

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Kendra Norris

Alps Specialist

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