There are few places in the world that generate more iconic imagery than California and the western USA, and even fewer live up to it in reality. The sights and amazing natural wonders just roll off the tongue, with probably nothing more aptly named than the Grand Canyon. Then there’s Monument Valley, whose towering sandstone pillars are immortalised in countless Westerns, the Painted Desert, Yosemite, home to the highest waterfall in the USA, the lofty snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The natural splendours of this huge region are quite simply astonishing. Combine these with the allure of such genuinely unique cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas and you have a destination that simply cannot be matched.
Inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans, California and Arizona were then visited by Spanish explorers searching, as always, for gold. They found none, but established missions all along the California coast. During the 19th century, California, Nevada, Utah and most of Arizona, were ceded to the USA for just $15 million and by a twist of fate, barely a year later, gold was finally discovered and the Californian Gold Rush began. Prospectors flooded in and within just a year San Francisco’s population rocketed from just 600 to 25,000. They were soon followed by the transcontinental railroad and the ‘Golden State’ was born.
Los Angeles is the archetypal US megacity, crisscrossed by six-lane freeways. Nevertheless, it is home to some very attractive and exciting neighbourhoods like Santa Monica. No visit would be complete without a stroll down the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Then it’s off to San Diego, which has the laid-back atmosphere so typical of Southern California – its surfing beaches, cultural attractions and the balmy climate have made it one of America’s most popular cities. Finally, there’s Las Vegas, originally an isolated oasis in the Mojave Desert and now a vibrant, exciting and genuinely fascinating manmade wonder that attracts over 40 million visitors a year and boasts 15 of the world’s largest hotels.
In contrast, San Francisco is charmingly eccentric with a topography few cities in the world can match. Its centre is easily explored using the iconic wooden cable cars that trundle up and down the steep hills and valleys. The magnificent brick-red Golden Gate Bridge beautifully completes the picture.
For many, however, the real attraction will be America’s most famous national parks. The Grand Canyon is such an astonishing natural wonder that the sheer scale of it is almost too much to comprehend. Over a mile deep and 14 miles across, this geological masterpiece offers a glimpse of the enormous complexity and beauty of the normally hidden rocks beneath our feet. Subject to weather conditions, there is the option of a spectacular helicopter flight over the canyon.
We’ll also visit the extraordinary Monument Valley. Immortalised by John Wayne in classic westerns such as Stagecoach and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, this instantly recognisable landscape, with its fiery-red spindles of rock, is even more spectacular when you find yourself within it.
In nearby Utah we visit Bryce Canyon, an enormous amphitheatre created by thousands of spires, pinnacles and towers of eroded pink-hued rocks that have produced an intricate labyrinth of deep gullies.
Finally, high in California’s Sierra Nevada we visit Yosemite and some of the world’s most pristine and awe-inspiring wilderness. Dominated by the huge mass of the Half Dome rising to almost 9,000 feet, its vertical granite wall is so huge and smooth that until 50 years ago it was thought to be unclimbable.
The wildlife is as varied as the landscapes. There are the black bears of Yosemite, mule deer and chipmunks at Bryce and rare mountain lions at even higher altitudes, whilst coyotes still roam the deserts and vultures soar over the canyons.
From the highest plateau to the deepest gorge, from LA to San Francisco, this tour showcases the very best of western USA’s natural and manmade wonders and you will return home with some truly amazing memories.