In our new Just Back From series, Newmarket Holidays long haul product manager, Mandy McGlade, describes her adventure to the national parks of Western USA. From the natural marvels of Zion National Park to the bright lights of Vegas, here’s what she got up to on the exhilarating tour.
The national parks of Western USA have been on my wish-list for as long as I can remember, so to say I was excited for this trip was an understatement. I love to travel and would do it all the time if I could. Fortunately, I have the best job, travelling the world and creating tours to wish-list destinations.
I flew into Denver, Colorado on a ten-hour direct flight. I set off north into the mountainous state of Wyoming. For the first night’s stay, I arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming’s friendly capital city. Cheyenne was charming with its downtown area filled with all things Wild West: larger-than-life cowboy boots, rodeos and western museums.
The next stop on the tour was the epic, 1,745 metre-high Mount Rushmore. I had goosebumps as I looked out onto the intricately carved rock faces of the four US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It was an incredible sight.
Deadwood’s goldmining and gunslinging past
The following day, I made the short drive to Sheridan, where I took a step back in time and visited Deadwood. The now-quirky town was made famous in the late 1800s for its goldrush and ensuing gunslingers. Spending the night surrounded by the towering Bighorn Mountains truly exceeded my expectations.
The next day, I made my way to Cody via the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield. Every bend in the road revealed a different landscape, alternating between dramatic mountains, rolling hills and lush waterfalls. Unsurprisingly, I made sure to continuously stop to snap some photos.
Next on the tour was Cody, Buffalo Bill’s hometown and the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. I really enjoyed my time here, the town had a great variety of restaurants and bars, plus it had a fantastic atmosphere.
World’s first national park
When it came time for Yellowstone National Park, I woke up at first light. I was thrilled about the day ahead. Yellowstone, considered to be the US and the world’s first national park, is famous for its grizzly bears, gray wolves, otters, bison, mountain goats, hot springs and geysers. In fact, it contains approximately half of the world’s geysers.
Words can’t do justice to my experience at Yellowstone, it simply blew me away.
There were bubbling springs, deep canyons and vivid colours around every corner. Herds of bison holding up traffic. Snow-capped mountain peaks. Iridescent lakes. Some of my favourite sites were the thundering waters and expansive views of Yellowstone Canyon, the turquoise pools at Midway Geyser Basin and the shooting sprouts of the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts roughly every hour.
Once I tearfully farewelled Yellowstone, I set out on the drive through the dramatic mountain ranges of the Grand Teton National Park, and onto the mountain resort of Jackson.
Fringed by forest and mountains, Jackson was the ideal place to recharge my batteries before I continued the tour through Western USA.
‘The greatest snow on earth’
The next stop was Utah’s Salt Lake City, one of the US’s most popular skiing destinations because of it’s tagline: ‘the greatest snow on earth’.
The stay happened to coincide with the rehearsals of the Tabernacle Choir, a free weekly concert.
Next stop was Bryce Canyon, the gold and orange rock formations rivalled the rugged beauty I’d seen in Yellowstone a few days earlier. The colours were unforgettably intense.
Around the river bend
I continued south towards Monument Valley, with a stop at Glen Canyon Dam, a modern-day feat of engineering that holds back the waters of Lake Powell.
Slightly downstream from the dam was the stunning Horseshoe Bend, possibly the world’s most famous river bend. Looking out over the bend at the sheer beauty of Monument Valley reminded me of classic Western movies, as well as Forrest Gump.
In the valley of the Navajo Nation
Monument Valley is located on the land of the Navajo people, one of the largest Native American Indian tribes. The local Navajo guide was brimming with passion and gave us a fascinating insight into the richness of Navajo culture and life.
Sadly, the tour was coming to an end. Lucky for me, the Grand Canyon was still on the list. I drove into the park, then taking shuttle buses to various viewpoints. The vast views of the South Rim overlooking Colorado River will stay with me forever. I also took to the skies in a helicopter, which took us over the North Rim, a lesser-known part of the Grand Canyon.
After natural wonder after natural wonder, the tour finished in none other than glittering Las Vegas. I explored The Strip, taking in the dancing fountains of the Bellagio and watching gondolas sailing down a reincarnation of Venice. I was lucky enough to return to the skies again, observing the neon metropolis from a sleek helicopter.
This was truly the trip of a lifetime, taking in some of the USA’s – and the world’s – most breath-taking natural sights. I covered a lot of ground, too. Eight states, multiple national parks, authentic cowboy towns, and bustling cities. This trip had it all.
Experience Mandy’s epic adventure on our 17-day ‘Wonders of the US National Parks’ trip.