Seeing glories of the Southwest |

Seeing glories of the Southwest

Tour bus travel is the only way to do what our group of “Over the Hill Gangers” do. We saw spectacular autumn beauty, visited National Parks Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyons, Arches and Canyonlands. We learned the wonders of the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. We rode through snow-covered Colorado Rockies and through dry yet beautiful lands of Arizona and New Mexico. We renewed and learned more history of the wonderful development of this part of our U.S.A. and much more, all in 12 days and something more than 3,000 miles. Whew!

The oohs and ahhs were so frequent as we rode through the higher elevations to see the beautiful golden aspens on mountain after mountain, nature’s spectacular performances in lightning and thunderstorms, and the miles and miles of incredible rock and land formations. Then at the lower elevations there were the impressions of endless vastnesses that stretched from horizon to horizon. Oh, and the clouds! Such glorious formations!

But to be specific, we did as well as saw. At a quick stop at Rachael in Earthling Country, Nev., we learned all we needed to know about space aliens. Later Ash Springs was a pleasant picnic spot on 93 in southern Nevada. What a surprise Mesquite was! No small desert town this. Glamour and glitz, new buildings and huge casinos on Nevada’s border at Highway 15.

Zion Park now provides constant free shuttle bus service to tour the valley floor. One can hop on and off at convenient locations. Climbing out of Zion through that marvelous rock mountain Highway 9 to the high plateau lands was unforgettable. Bryce was unforgettable, too. There was nothing to equal its unusual beauty. It was cold at its 8,300-foot elevation. Bryce is at the top of the Grand Staircase, and the roads we traveled (89 to 12 to 24 to 70) gave us special visual treats not seen by the fast-highway travelers.

A night at Moab, we had a “Cowboy Dinner” before a cruise on the Colorado to see a moonlight “light show” on the towering cliffs there. In this general area were also Arches National Park and the Canyonlands, which must be seen to be believed. Incredible rock formations, 2000-feet canyons, a bright green Colorado River – oh my! Incredible.

Now we were in the San Juan Range of the Rockies, west of the Continental Divide in the town of Ouray (“Youray”). It was a charming place with 14,400-foot, snow-topped Rockies surrounding us. Next day a wonderful twisty/turny ride took us to a lower elevation at Silverton, a high-mountain, ex-mining town. Here, we boarded the Durango Historic Narrow Gauge Railroad Steam Train. What a ride! Twelve cars, plus a caboose with fire crew to watch for spark-started fires, followed a cliff-clinging track to Durango. Again yellow aspens colored the mountains. Durango was another surprise. A very up-scale town, very attractive and a pricey place to live according to a realty magazine.

Out of the mountains, following 160, 84 and 286 for a long morning’s ride, brought us to Santa Fe. The scenery, the architecture, the skies all let us know we were in the Southwest! Because this was Sunday, there were sales opportunities everywhere in this tourist-filled city to purchase Indian turquoise jewelry. This was a must for many. We lunched here and visited museums and old churches before leaving for Albuquerque where we were to see at sundown the “Moon Glow” of the Albuquerque Balloon Festival of 2004. It was a push for our driver, but we had time to check into our motel before driving to the huge gathering at the Festival Field. This event had been anticipated as one of the highlights of our tour and we scurried not to be late. We made it from the parking area, down a long ramp, through the crowded concession area to the grassland for the balloons … just in time to have it start to rain … and it poured! Thus ended our opportunity to see the much touted Balloon Festival because inclement weather canceled all performances for two days, by which time we were far away. However, the next day was not wasted as the group scattered to Old Mexican Town, the tram to the top of Mt. Sandia, the new Indian Casino and relaxing at our good Comfort Inn.

Leaving Albuquerque, we passed through a most interesting landscape of flat lands with hundreds of plateaus rising all about. We were on Highway 40 for a fast drive of 367 miles to Flagstaff for the night. Along the way we stopped to see the Petrified Forest, an Arizona National Park, and to see the renowned meteor crater and museum.

The weather changed to be bright and shining once more – perfect for the visit to Grand Canyon. Six of the group opted to take the helicopter ride over the Canyon at Tuscayan, while the remainder continued to the Canyon’s rim and visited famous El Tovar, Bright Angel and Hopi House buildings. When we gathered together again we went to the close by IMAX to see a thrilling movie of Powell and his crew running the Colorado River. Don’t miss this if you have the chance to see it.

Next stop was to be Laughlin for the night, but on the way our driver detoured a couple of miles to Seligman (on old 66) where we had our entertainment for the day. Take the time on your next ride on 40 to get an ice cream cone at THE store there. You will be glad you did.

Good fun for gamblers this night plus good food at the River Palms. Next day we were northbound and stopped at the burgeoning town’s Parumph Winery. Sixty-eight miles from Las Vegas, this town is booming with handsome homes at low prices. Next stop was for a tour of Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, before crossing western mountain ranges to reach the town of Bishop for our last night. A marvelous choice: the best motel of all was the Creek Inn, our final dinner was excellent AND right next door was the best bakery I have ever seen. The bus was loaded with paper bags of breads from Shatz’s.

Bus travel is the way to go for these Grass Valley Sierra travelers. Never does one have to think of where to stay, what roads to take, where are the best places to eat and all of the other besetting questions. That is how we are able to see and do so much. We are a pampered lot and have a great time.


Audine Smith is a resident of Nevada City.

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