Western U.S.-Desert Southwest

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

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 and as such 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 and, over the course of hundreds of millions of years of sediment deposition from the waters under which it was submerged, developed a very thick and hardbaked layer of various sand and limestones. In some instances volcanic pressure was able to push up some landforms such as the Abajo, La Sal, and Henry mountain ranges.

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 improbably off the desert floor, each carrying its arctic-alpine biota like the cargo of an ark. Among petrified sand dunes rest deep pools of water, and on burning cliff-faces luxurious flower gardens hide in alcoves 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 epoch on the calendar of geological time.

Here too, also frozen in time, lie the remains of 12,000 years of human occupation, spanning the entire temporal range of human prehistoric development from the Paleo-Indian culture to the modern Pueblo Indians. The civilization of the Anasazi, which mysteriously disappeared around 1300 A.D., left behind one of the richest archeological treasure-troves on the planet. Scattered throughout the canyons and mesas of the Colorado Plateau are thousands of prehistoric stone structures — granaries, pit-houses, cliffhouses, kivas, watchtowers — entire cities of stone. In parts of southeastern Utah, the archeological site density is as high as 80 sites per square mile. In San Juan County alone, there are 15,000 known archeological sites, a mere 10 percent of the estimated total number.

There are thousands of miles of canyons on the Colorado Plateau, and every one of those miles is a hoard of erosional sculptures. There are alcoves, grottoes, potholes, pouroffs, plunge basins, and rincons. There are windows and towers, cliff-walls riddled with honeycombing or pitted with conchoidal fractures. Above the rims of the canyons one finds retreating cliff-walls hundreds of miles long, each leaving behind it a landscape strewn with gigantic erosional remnants. There are at least 25 major plateaus, hundreds of mesas, thousands of buttes, domes, towers, monuments, temples, spires. There are whole valleys filled with stone hoodoos and goblins. Far out in the desert one can find solitary monoliths and preposterous balanced rocks.

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

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Brittney Clarke

Alps Specialist

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