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Trail of the Ancients

Imagine listening to the silence, standing on a 40 million year old geological formation, surrounded on all sides by dwelling places of the "sacred ones." And looking out over an enchanting earthscape filled with mesas, buttes, and flying pinnacles. Crouching down, you crawl through a small opening that suddenly expands into hundreds of pockets where thousands of ancients built their homes in the side of a cliff more than 500 years before Columbus set foot in the new world. Even better, you have the option to spend one night in a cliff dwellers cave.

America's Four Corners states, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona are incredibly rich in the culture of the ancients as diverse as Mesa Verde, home of the most famous cliff dwellers, Chaco Canyon, center of the Anasazi culture from 900 to 1100 AD, Canyon de Chelley, and Bandelier. The Chaco Cultural National Historical Park represents such a treasure that it is a World Heritage Site. Considered the "Stonehenge of the Southwest," thirteen major excavations present unique developments, including scientific inquiry into "archaeoastronomy." All of these ancient cultures are wrapped in some of the most fascinating landscape found anywhere in the country. This trip presents this intriguing region and its geography through the eyes of the ancient cultures.

The traditions and cultures of the ancients are tightly woven into the lives of contemporary Native American tribes including Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute and Hopi that it can be hard to separate the old from the new. To experience today's tribal life up close and personal, we can arrange for you to stay one night in an authentic Hogan.

PLEASE NOTE: If this 20 Day tour is too long for you or alternatively, you have other stops in mind we can tailor a different length holiday or route to suit your requirements. Please call one of our friendly and experienced consultants on (01892) 779900 for more advice or email us with your itinerary and we will be happy to assist in helping to plan your trip.

Not looking to drive so far? Why not let us suggest some alternative interesting routes with less mileage?




There is no better place to start your ancient journey than at the internationally famous Heard Museum. Feast your eyes on ancestral and contemporary arts and cultural artifacts woven into the story of the ancient peoples of the region. Learn the timeline of the ancient cultures, hear the pieces speak through their creators and appreciate the more recent contributions of today's tribes. The focus here is on delivering an accurate portrayal of the cultures, both old and new and a visit here will help put the rest of the trip into perspective.

Your first visit to ancient ruins is right in Phoenix, where a 1,500 year old Hohokam Village spreads over 102 acres. At the Pueblo Grand Museum, begin you visit with the exhibit titled "The Hohokam: The Land and the People for a full introduction, before hitting the trail through Doorways to the Past: Hohokam Houses along the Ruins Trail and Dig IT, where you can explore the archeology of the site.

Traveling outside Phoenix as you begin to approach Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you'll see the Great House in the distance surrounded by the architectural structure created to preserve the ruins from the harsh desert. The structure was once a part of Hohokam settlements scattered along the Gila River in the 14th century. It is thought that Casa Grande served as an astronomical observatory since the four walls face the points of a compass and the windows aligned with positions of the sun and moon. As at so many sites, the structures were surrounded by a Hohokam farming village.



89 miles

On your way from Phoenix to Payson, you'll be traveling a portion of The Apache Trail National Scenic Byway through the Superstition Mountains from Apache Junction to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Stop at Lost Dutchman State Park to learn the varied stories about the supposed lost gold mine worked by a lone prospector. Further on Tortilla Flat, booming with a population of 6, has ancient mining and agricultural relics.

The Apache Trail continues to Tonto National Monument established to protect the ruins of two cliff dwellings built by the Salado Indians in 1300AD. You can walk around inside the original structure with 19 rooms. The larger ruin of 40 rooms requires visitors be accompanied by a ranger, which can be booked in advance. The structures overlook Theodore Roosevelt Lake. At Jakes Corner, the Apache Trail joins another scenic road that takes you to Payson. Shoofly Village Ruins and Tonto Village are just north of there.



115 miles

The ancients considered the red rocks around Sedona sacred and the area has not lost its spiritual appeal even today. Before reaching there, you can tour Montezuma Castle National Monument, an imposing 20 room structure built 70 feet about the ground. The 5 story, incredibly well preserved structure was home to the Sinagua Indians who farmed the area between the 12th and 14th centuries. Further on, Tuzigoot National Monument features more 12th century dwellings. Unlike Montezuma, this monument is comprised of a cluster of lower scale buildings.

Plan to spend plenty of time exploring Sedona with great shops and restaurants surrounded by spectacular red rocks. The current city, established in 1902 became a magnate in the 1960s for artists, wealthy retirees, followers of new age religions and others seeking to escape the pressures of city life.

Before leaving Sedona, visit Red Rock State Park, where waterless hillsides 50 feet above the creek are the foothills of red rock cliffs to the north and the east. Between Sedona and Flagstaff, the drive through Oak Creek Canyon, a steep, narrow and very colorful gorge, is breathtaking.

South of Flagstaff, Walnut Creek National Monument features 12th and 13th century dwellings of the Sinagua Indians along the well protected ledges high above the canyon floor. The Island Trail descends steeply on 240 steps to a rocky plateau, an "island," where clusters of dwellings were constructed. The remains of 20 dwellings remain quite intact. Views from the high perch of the visitor center are dramatic.

North of Flagstaff, the Wupatki National Monument preserves pueblos built from flat thin deep red bricks. All in all there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert. Five separate Pueblos are accessible on separate trails. Wukoki, the most distinctive in the park, is visible for several miles across the flat surroundings.



212 miles

You can check another National Park off your list today, visiting the Petrified Forest National Park in Holbrook on your way to Chinle. With one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of over 200-million-year-old fossils, this is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. In the museum, the Park has archeological objects from Anasazi, Mogollon, and Sinagua sites; ethnological objects related to Hopi and Navajo cultures; Triassic invertebrate and vertebrate fossils collected from the Chinle Formation; representative geological specimens collected from the Chinle Formation; a photographic archive; and a biological collection.

At Canyon de Chelly, ancient ruins are dwarfed by the 1000 foot sheer walls rising up over the valley floor. At the overlook of Spider Rocks, you can see twin 800 foot towers of rock separate from the canyon walls. White House Ruins date from about 1200 AD. Four main gorges, Canyon del Muerto, Black Rock Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon can all be viewed from a series of scenic drives. This is southwestern scenery and ancient cultures at its best.

To gain a better appreciation for the natural wonders here and the Navajo culture that survives on the valley floor, you can catch a tour, led by a Navajo guide, that takes you to the Antelope House Ruin in Canyon Del Muerto, the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly, Kokopelli Cave, Petroglyph Rock, First Ruin, Junction Ruin, Ceremonial Cave and Ledge Ruin.


Monument Valley

128 miles

The route between Chinle and Monument Valley is about enjoying the scenery and Navajo culture all at once. A very scenic drive takes you across the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation with a stop at the Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa. At Tuba City, a little jog west takes you to the Little Colorado Gorge Navajo Tribal Park and the Tusayan Ruin and Museum. That same road leads to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. If you have not visited before or if you want to have another adrenaline shot from that famous view, indeed, do so.

Once back on the road towards Monument Valley, a short stop at the Navajo National Monument, which is right in the Navajo Nation, introduces you to three preserved intact cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

Reaching Monument Valley, you'll soon discover that it is not a valley at all, but a wide, flat plain with red mesas and buttes surrounded by empty sandy desert. If it looks familiar you must have watched a few western movies over the years, because this is where many were filmed. Make sure to visit the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park for the best views hidden behind the long straight cliffs.

To make your visit here more up close and personal, we can arrange for you to stay in an authentic Hogan Bed and Breakfast.


Nine Cortez

124 miles

The granddaddy of Cliff Dwellers settlements awaits at Mesa Verde near Cortez, Colorado, but first you'll experience a journey that takes you to the wild, remote forgotten country of southwestern Utah. From Monument Valley, it's a short drive to Mexican Hat and the Valley of the Gods. Then it's on to Hovenweep National Monument which features six separate prehistoric villages from the mid 13th century. Hovenweep Castle is the most impressive with several rooms and D shaped towers built on a sliprock right on the canyon ledge. The turrets enabled the settlement to be defended. The other villages are located on dirt roads, but it's only 2 miles to Horseshoe and Hackberry. Back on US 191, you'll be traveling north to Blanding and over to Dolores, Colorado and the Anasazi Cultural Center. You'll end your journey at Mesa Verde National Park, where we've arranged for you to stay in their version of a Kiva, the ceremonial house of the ancients.

You'll then have all the next day to explore Mesa Verde National Park where more than 1600 years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi walked the trails. Begun in 550 AD, the newest structures represent sophisticated building and cultural cohesiveness. Grab your sense of adventure and go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling area. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House and Long House can only be toured with a guide.

You may also take self-guided tours of Spruce Tree House, Step House, Badger House and other sites on the Mesa Top. The Far View Sites Complex can also be toured independently.

The 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road driving tour takes you through 700 years of Mesa Verde history to several scenic overlooks including Sun Point Overlook and Sun Temple. Prepare to be awestruck!



72 miles

It will be hard to believe that a tiny corner in New Mexico could be so rich in ancient history and so laden with scenic beauty. The Aztec Ruins National Monument were originally thought to be part of the 15th century Mexican civilization spread throughout the Southwest, yet they actually date from the 12th century. A walled village with 400 rooms on three levels and a dozen kivas have been uncovered. The nearby Salmon Ruins have been given the 2009 Historic Preservation award for the work of uncovering this ancient settlement. Here you can contrast a 11th century Chacoan great house and a 19th century homestead. Not far away, the San Juan County Research Center and Library holds artifacts collected from the ruins.

At the end of your exploration, get ready for a highlight of your trip, a truly unique lodging experience built into a cliff dwellers cave 70 feet underground. Kokopelli's Cave Bed and Breakfast has been featured on many TV shows and designated one of the 10 most unusual places to sty in the world. If caves aren't your thing, we can arrange for alternative lodging.



214 miles

A little over 50 miles from Farmington, Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been designated a World Heritage Site, to be preserved at all costs. The setting for this largest and best preserved village of the ancients is strange, in that it is surrounded by desolation and emptiness. With only a few low gorges interrupt the flatness, this civilization of walled villages enclosed with hundreds of inter-linked rooms thrived for over 300 years. All in all, the settlement was linked by a network of roads that stretched for 100 miles to the south, west and north. From there, scenic roads take you through the Santa Fe National Forest on what are truly the roads less traveled. Ultimately, you'll reach Taos, likely the second coolest town in New Mexico.

One more day in Taos lets you drive the Enchanted Circle National Scenic Byway, a circular route laden with old West culture and ancient history that begins and ends in Taos. Taos was settled by the Pueblo Indians about 1000 years and established as an outpost for the Spanish in 1615. It later became a gathering place for mountain men and has been an artist's colony since 1914.

You can meander through the western ruins of Elizabethtown and visit the Pueblo de Taos Indian Reservation which offers a glimpse of ancient living in the village's historic plaza, buildings, and side streets.

The Rio Grande Gorge bridge, twelve miles northwest of Taos on US 64, is a must-see side trip. When it was built in the mid-60s, it was called the bridge to nowhere, because funding didn't exist to continue the road on the other side. It is the second highest suspension bridge in the United States.


Santa Fe

70 miles

Next up, Santa Fe, THE coolest town in New Mexico. Enchantment of a high order is available in Santa Fe, older than the Plymouth Colony at Plymouth Rock and settled only two years after John Smith arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Beautiful adobe architecture surrounds a traditional plaza in high desert landscape. Always a royal place, Santa Fe served as the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico, the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, and the capital of the New Mexico Territory.

In a thriving urban atmosphere, every day dozens of local artists sell their work under the long portal of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building still in use in America. The Museum of Fine Arts, next to the Palace, is also older than the state itself. Paintings by Georgia O'Keefe, who called Santa Fe home for many years, are on display at the Georgia O'Keefe Museum located on Museum Hill with The Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Enjoy them all, as well as a respite on the wonderful plaza with its expansive views.



63 miles

Another scenic byway, the Jemez Trail, makes the route between Santa Fe and Albuquerque particularly interesting. Bandelier National Monument is an unexpected delight with some of the most unusual ruins in the Southwest. Just a few miles from the research town of Los Alamos, mountains rise to 10,000 feet over the Rio Grand River. The Frijoles Canyon Trail takes you upstream to the cliff dwellings and a pueblo complete with a ceremonial cave and underground kiva.

Bandelier is located on the Jemez Trail, about five miles from San Ysidro, located at the gateway of the majestic Cañon de San Diego. There are over 3,000 tribal members, most of whom reside in a single Puebloan village known as Walatowa - the Towa word meaning This is THE place. Enjoy traditional Jemez foods, and arts and crafts available at roadside stands in the beautiful Red Rocks area. Jemez Pueblo has recreation areas where you can picnic, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors.

A second day in Albuquerque will allow you to enjoy the city. How you ask, did the Confederate flag of the old South come to fly over Albuquerque? Founded in 1706 by the Spanish, who stayed until 1821 and ruled by Mexico until 1846, America governed New Mexico from 1846 until it became a state 1912. The territory sided with the Confederates during the Civil War. Walking through Old Town Plaza, you'll be thankful that the Spanish required a plaza in every city. Serenity reigns in quiet hidden patios, winding brick paths, gardens and balconies. Be sure to visit Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum, where you can learn about the rich cultural traditions of the Acoma people and their resiliency. Renowned Acoma pottery and never before displayed textiles are featured at this brand new facility. A trip on the Scandia Peak Tramway transports you high above the deep canyons and spectacular terrain surrounding Albuquerque. An observation deck over 10,000 feet up affords a panoramic view over the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment.


Las Cruces

224 miles

Between Santa Fe and Las Cruces, you can visit the Salinas Pueblo Mountain Ruins, three ancient sites that are loosely clustered around the town of Mountainair, New Mexico. The community at Abo was still thriving when Spanish explorers came upon it in 1581. How surprised they must have been to discover a complete civilization with church ruins rising into the sky.

The settlement at Las Cruces was not far behind. In 1598, working on behalf of the King of Spain, Don Juan Oñate made his way through the great Pass of the North (modern-day El Paso) and then north to what would become Santa Fe. The route became known as the Camino Real. Oñate's expedition which passed through modern day Las Cruces marked the first major European colonization of the North American continent, years before Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. After being formally laid out in 1848, Las Cruces became the haunt of many notable figures, such as Geronimo, Victorio, Albert Fall and the discoverer of Pluto, the late Clyde Tombaugh. None garnered more attention than the most infamous outlaw in the West, William H. Bonney, a.k.a., Billy the Kid. In 1880, Billy the Kid stood trial in a Mesilla, NM courtroom for the murder of Andrew "Buckshot" Roberts.


Silver City & Tucson

311 miles

One more ancient settlement awaits on your way to Tucson. The Gila Cliff Dwellings are deep in the Gila National Forest, surrounded on all sides by wilderness. The highway climbs north from Silver City into the mountains. Five caves contain over 40 rooms, as inspiring as Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde. From there, it's on to Tucson, formally founded in 1775, about the time the nation's forefathers were signing the Declaration of Independence. Locally, the city is still called the Old Pueblo for the adobe fortress or "presidio" that marked its early borders. Over the past three centuries, Tucson has grown from a Native American farming community, to Spanish outpost, to dusty frontier town, to bustling territorial days' railroad hub, to today's Southwestern metropolis of a million people.

For an introduction to Tucson and Southern Arizona's past, visit the Arizona Historical Society and Arizona State Museum. Stroll through a restored 19th century neighborhood on the self-guided Downtown Walking Tour and see Sonoran architecture. Be sure to visit Saguaro National Park, home to the famous cacti the symbolize Arizona.



387 miles

The Valley of the Sun will once again welcome you at the end of this fascinating trip. You have truly traversed the roads less traveled and learned about cultures and landscapes that most do not see. Spend one more day exploring Phoenix before heading home.

What's included?

  • Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
  • 19 nights accommodation and room tax
  • Fully insured compact car hire
  • A detailed travel pack with driving instructions and maps

How to book

Daily Departures 27 April to 30 October.

Our low season standard hotel price starts from £1689.00 per person based on 2 people sharing a room (Supplements or reductions for other room types available on request).

We can also offer this itinerary in a wide range of other accommodation types, including superior hotels, character properties and small inns.

Please call us on (01892) 779900 or email stating your travel dates, and preferred standard of accommodation for a detailed & competitively priced quotation.