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Last week I returned from a short family trip out to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend, in far west Texas, has long been a special place for me. Though that trip was my fourth visit to the park, it was the first time I had been with a cell phone, let alone a smartphone. And as our phones had very spotty service, something that most city dwellers might struggle with, the notion of being off the grid was quite appealing to me and was there it was incredibly palpable. I couldn’t have been more at peace. The scenery is both harsh and enchanting, with mountains rising out of the desert floor seemingly by magic, and the dry desolateness of the vast stretches of Texas and Mexico left me wondering about the hardiness of the people who scratch out a living in that land. As I sat at a picnic table underneath the bright, twinkling stars I thought of something Teddy Roosevelt said, “I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.” I began to also think about all the other magical parks in America, places with names like Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, Olympic and Grand Teton. Places where one can go to get away from desks and computers, away from concrete and steel, away from the glow of cell phone screens. I was reminded of friends I had while I was living in Europe who spoke about longing to see the American West. To them America wasn’t just New York or Chicago, it was the West. There is a mystique and allure of the mountains, canyons, and valleys of this beautiful land that just begs to be discovered.
At Herff Travel we are lucky to work with top-tier tour providers like Tauck and Trafalgar who have been leading excursions to these places for decades. Tauck, founded by a European immigrant with a dream of America, is a pioneer of touring. Their first tour was through the backroads of New England in 1925 and they have maintained an integrity and level of service that is unsurpassed. They have partnered with Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, to put together tours of America through his renowned lens. Tauck’s tour of the Canyonlands includes Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. It is a tour full of hikes and river rafting trips. Imagine a trip along the Colorado river gazing up at the walls of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the world. Even the most adept poet would struggle to find words to describe it. Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon in Utah are otherworldly, with colors and formations that might leave you bewildered. But, if national parks have you grimacing at the thought of tent camping and rubbing sticks together next to a campfire, fear not gentle reader! I give you the Amangiri in Utah. Just north of the Grand Canyon and south of Bryce and Zion near the state line, the Amangiri is an oasis of serenity and beauty that allows you to immerse yourself in the solitude and stark beauty of the region with all the amenities and comfort you’d expect from a five-star Aman property. It is also an ideal spa retreat, as its spa is consistently voted at the top of discerning traveler’s lists.
Trafalgar has an 8-day Northern California tour taking you from the city to the wide-open country than from mountainous forested parks to the cypress-lined cliffs of the Pacific. You can ride a cable car in idyllic, bustling San Francisco one day and spot a grizzly bear in Yosemite the next, stopping at vineyards in Napa and Sonoma along the way and ending at the edge of the country watching the sunset from Big Sur.
A trip such as this can seem almost too short, while also deliciously sweet. It is a fantastic starter trip to see this incredible state. It even includes a stay at the iconic Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. Yosemite is surely the star of the show, though. In California’s rugged Sierra Nevada, it is populated with giant sequoia trees, waterfalls and granite cliffs made famous by the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams. Noteworthy, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1964, the first instance of land being set aside for public use and for preservation by the US government; this grant set in motion the movement that helped establish the national park system.
One cannot talk about national parks or the quintessential American West without mentioning the Rocky Mountains. This wild, restless landscape is an indelible part of our story and must be seen in person to truly be appreciated. Revealed America has a program called National Parks Revealed that can put together incredible itineraries in some of the most iconic parks: Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, etc. Places where you can stand on a precipice and see for miles and miles knowing full well you and your companions are the only people for miles around, relishing the splendid isolation. The wildlife and scenery are so astounding you can’t help but marvel at the grandness of it all. With activities like rock-climbing, horseback riding, ATVing, hiking, and white water rafting these places will have your heart racing. While vistas over mountains and quiet brooks bubbling in valleys you will surely have you feeling calm and serene.
We work with these companies to arrange all kinds of adventures from family/multi-generational gatherings to solo adventures. Trips to the national parks can be adrenaline packed and exhilarating or romantic and calming. You can choose to drive yourself and camp in the wilderness, or join a tour group and relax in plush hotels at the end of the day. There are towns and cities to visit that afford you a bit of respite from the wildness of the landscape where you can stop into micro-breweries, museums, and fashionable boutique shops. You can even find a place to pull your phone out from the very bottom of your bag (where it has hopefully been tucked away during your trip) and plug back into the grid for a few minutes, if necessary. While strolling the streets of these places can help you ground yourself, really a trip to the parks is about getting out of civilization. As Theodore Roosevelt, the champion of the national park system once said, “the beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel.”