Grand Circle is a commercially-coined term, but a useful one nevertheless,
tying together southwest USA's most spectacular national parks, monuments
and roads into a huge circle encompassing much of Utah, part of Arizona
and smaller sections of Colorado and New Mexico. This area is geologically
known as the Colorado Plateau and 300 million years ago used to be
seas and dunes that dried and solidified into wild coloured sandstone
that was then eroded into weird shapes - buttes, spires, arches, canyons
and cliffs - by rivers and rains.
Geologically speaking the Plateau's youngest rocks can be seen at
Bryce, the middle-aged at Zion and the positively geriatric at the
base of the Grand Canyon.
The Plateau's first residents, known as the Anasazi ( aka Ancient Pueblo Peoples)
arrived around 2,000 years ago, building into caves and alcoves of
canyon walls. Examples of their structures and art can be seen in Canyon de Chelly pictures.
Zion Canyon, Utah
Visitors flying in to explore the great sights of SW USA could arrive at Salt Lake
City, Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix but best of all Las Vegas for ease, convenience and entertainment, renting
a vehicle on arrival. This is a must-drive route, public buses are
just not going to do the job, though a fixed tour bus is an easy option.
Motorcyclists will be ecstatic about the rental Harleys available,
the climate and the roads, car drivers delighted by the light traffic
and heavy sights, but probably the most convenient form of transport
on this grand tour - though not cheap - would be an RV (Recreation
Vehicle, i.e. motorhome), giving maximum flexibility and mobility
with minimum packing and unpacking.
Route 24 to Moab, Utah.
Bug Crew used an RV (that one in the photo above) and roamed the area for six weeks; for
a normal holiday-maker however, a one week trip is possible, a
two week trip would be fine and three weeks would be perfect.
Even with 6 weeks time and moving fast it's not feasible to visit
all the National Parks in the Grand Circle, so we have distilled The
Circle into a two week trip-of-a-lifetime route of magical roads and
fantasy landscapes, choosing our favourites and correcting some of
our (logistic) mistakes.
This is only a suggested itinerary. Bearing in mind that the Bugcrew
were primarily interested in demented visuals with moderate walks
attached, had no 4WD available, nor a lot of time, but were RV based,
our preferred parks reflect our situation. Locals
or tourists with more time or differing inclinations may well prefer
other parks, or to spend more time in fewer parks. This latter
option is probably the most sensible way to go.
Bryce Canyon, Utah.
is a possible two week National Parks itinerary,
including walks ranging from one hour to all day:
1 night in Las Vegas, Nevada.
2 nights in Zion Canyon NP (National Park), Utah.
2 nights in Bryce Canyon NP, Utah.
3 nights in Moab, Utah, after a long but stunning drive on Route 12
to/through Capitol Reef NP, Utah, and on Route 24 (mostly) to Moab.
With Moab as base spend 1 day in Canyonlands NP, 1.5 days in Arches NP, and half a day in Sand Flats Recreational Area on a bike, ATV
or Hummer hired/arranged in Moab.
1 night in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, part Utah, part Arizona.
2 nights in Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.
1 night in Las Vegas = 12 nights.
The other two nights could be spent in Las Vegas recovering from an
international flight or throwing the pension down the toilet, breaking
the long Route 12/24 drive at Capitol Reef, adding Grand Staircase
Escalante NM (National Monument) or Canyon de Chelly NM to the trip,
or participating in some extra activity time in Moab - white water
rafting, for example. Or a hundred other possibilities.
best time to drive this route is September, May or June as crowds will multiply astronomically during July and August and
winter months can get chilly. All locations are open year round, except
the Grand Canyon's North Rim which opens only in the summer months.
Wild flowers bloom primarily from April to July.
rooms or RV spaces ahead is essential on this tight schedule, even
in off-peak months,
though with more time you could afford to call and book only a couple
of days ahead as you travel.
Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona