Continental Capers Home Page CONTINENTAL CAPERS
Serving Travelers
Worldwide Since 1970
  Voyages of Discovery  Voyages of Discovery Home Page UNIQUE ADVENTURES
With An
Astronomical Orientation
Journeys of a Lifetime
American Express Travel Services Representatives Arizona Wonders Tour
Astronomy, Archaeology & Geology
(2005 September 21– October 2)
Reservations More Information
Detailed Itinerary

A Twelve-Day Trek to Experience the Astronomical, Archaeological
and Geological Delights of the Grand Canyon State
Be sure to also see
(1) Tour Overview
(2) List of Attracions   
(3) Itinerary Summary   
(4) Itinerary Map
(5) Hotels
(6) Costs

(Cities show place of overnight accommodation)
DAY #1
Sep 21
DAY #2
Sep 22
DAY #3
Sep 23
DAY #4
Sep 24
DAY #5
Sep 25
Grand Canyon
DAY #6
Sep 26
Grand Canyon
DAY #7
Sep 27
DAY #8
Sep 28
DAY #9
Sep 29
DAY #10
Sep 30
DAY #11
Oct 1
DAY #12
Oct 2
(Note: Many links in itinerary open in a new window)

Arizona Wonders

Explore a State Like No Other

Immerse yourself in Arizona's stunning scenery, explore ancient Indian ruins and visit observatories that have made Arizona an astronomical capital.

Travel with experts that will give you a new perspective on the geology, archaeology and astronomy of this grand state.

Do this in a private, small group setting (tour limited to 30) while traveling on a new, climate-controlled, safe and reliable motor coach.

And stay in historical hotels and luxury resorts carefully selected to enhance the beauty and atmosphere of your surroundings.

Most Meals Included
(Meals provided shown by B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)


La Posada Historic Railroad Hotel
La Posada Historic Railroad Hotel

Our tour departs Phoenix International Airport at 1:00 p.m. aboard a luxury, climate-controlled motor coach for Winslow, Arizona, 60 miles east of Flagstaff. This peaceful town lies in the high desert of Arizona's northeastern plateau, 4,850 feet above sea level and centrally located on the western border of Navajo County, in the Little Colorado River Valley. We check in at one of the last great railroad hotels built to resemble a Spanish hacienda. You wil stay in grand rooms with beautiful furnishings and six foot long porcelain bathtubs. Private tour of this unique national historic landmark is included. Wander through the hotel gardens and its splendid ballroom, arcades, lobby and courts. Welcome dinner provided.

Accommodation: La Posada Hotel   (D)


Painted Desert/Petrified National Forest
The Painted Desert
Today we continue our journey east to the Petrified National Forest and the Painted Desert. Here is an seemingly alien landscape formed from erosion of the stratified rock layers of the Plateau Providence. Spread across this exotically beautiful and multi-hued vistas are the fallen petrified remains of vast forests and swamps where dinosaurs once roamed over 200 million years ago. After a short visit to the Rainbow Forest Museum exhibiting early reptiles, dinosaurs and petrified wood, we spend the morning traveling through this unique park to the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

Meteor Crater
Canyon Diablo Meteor Crater
(Courtesy and © Daniel D. Durda
After lunch we travel back westward to one of the most dramatic holes in the ground, the Canyon Diablo Meteor Crater, largest and best preserved impact feature on Earth. Only 50,000 years ago something overwhelming happened here—a house-sized meteoroid moving at 40,000 miles per hour slammed into the Arizona plateau about 35 miles east of present day Flagstaff. The resulting shock wave devastated the area and scattered debris for miles around. The impact excavated a mammoth hole in the rock layers that measures about 0.75 miles across and 594 feet deep, more than enough to contain the entire height of the Washington Monument. An upturned crater rim resembling a 3/4-mile line of hills, rising 100 to 150 feet above the surrounding plain, signals our arrival at this vast formation.
   From the rim, views of this immense crater leave one speechless. We will visit their updated visitor center and museum on the crater rim, and view an educational flim. Our tour culminates with a privileged, private rim tour of this extraterrestrial wonder including its scientific and social history.
   Finally, we continue further west to the old lumber and rail town of Flagstaff, which sits at the cross roads of all of Northern Arizona's wonders. Here we stay at a hotel renown for its beautiful setting on 500 acres within the magnificent Flagstaff forest! Enjoy a Flagstaff welcome diner at our hotel.

Accommodation: Little America Hotel   (B,D)


San Francisco Peaks from Flagstaff
San Francisco Peaks from Flagstaff

Flagstaff sits on the high northern Arizona desert plateau at an elevation of 7,000 feet making it one of the highest cities in the United States. The San Francisco Peaks, tallest of Arizona's mountains, form an exquisite backdrop. (Humphrey's Peak rises to nearly 13,000 feet). Lying like an oasis in the desert, this western town resides within one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the world. Once only a rest stop for weary travelers, modern Flagstaff is not only a popular tourist center but a mecca of eduction and science. Northern Arizona University, Lowell Observatory, the U.S. Geological Survey Flagstaff Field Center, the U.S. Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station, Museum of Northern Arizona, and the Arboretum at Flagstaff all call this city home.

Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon
After breakfast we travel to southeast Flagstaff to spend the morning exploring Walnut Canyon National Monument and its Indian ruins. Here you will find numerous prehistoric archaeological sites which are spectacularly located on the sheer cliff walls and rim of the canyon. Browse the visitor's center museum at the top edge and, for the hardy, walk down (and up!) 240 steep steps that will take you through winding canyon trails. Here you can explore 25 ancient cliff dwelling ruins dating back over 2,000 years that formed vast networks of communities. Different life zones overlap here, mixing species that usually live far apart. On sun facing walls grow desert cacti with mountain fir hanging on opposite cliffs.

Historic Lowell Observatory Rotunda
Historic Lowell Observatory Rotunda
   We return to Flagstaff where you can lunch at a local restaurant before we head for historic Lowell Observatory, a large, private nonprofit scientific institution know for profound scientific discoveries, modern research and education. You can roam through the observatory's state-of-art visitor center, gift shop and museum. Our Lowell experience will teach you about the observatory's fascinating history and its current research. Our private tour includes the old Rotunda Library, Percival Lowell's mausoleum, the Pluto Walk, and the Pluto Discovery Telescope, a 13-inch photographic refractor used by Clyde Tombaugh to discover the planet Pluto.
   Have dinner and relax. Then, a short ride will take us to Lowell Observatory for private nighttime viewing on Mars Hill with Lowell telescopes including the historic 24-inch Clark refractor used by Percival Lowell and other Lowell astronomers to study Mars and other solar system objects. Weather permitting we will observe the red planet at one of its best USA apparitions in nearly fifty years!

Accommodation: Little America Hotel   (B)


Dinosaur Footprint
Dinosaur Footprint

We spend the morning visiting one of the jewels of Flagstaff, the Museum of Northern Arizona and one of Arizona's finest. This small but thorough museum emphasizes the anthropology, biology, geology, and fine arts of Northern Arizona and is a wonderful introduction to the geology history and culture of the Colorado Plateau. Its large gift shop contains some of the most beautiful native American art and crafts imaginable, all from reputable artists.

Mt. Humphrey
Mt. Humphrey, Highest Arizona Peak
From here a short drive takes us to the San Francisco Peaks and the Arizona Snowbowl. These lofty peaks, stretching nearly 13,000 feet above sea level, stand in stark isolation on the southern section of the Colorado Plateau. As dramatic as they appear today, these mountains are probably the eroded remains of a large strato-volcano that once stood 20,000 feet high. Even this mountain range still remains visible from a hundred miles away on clear days. We drive to 9,000 feet through magnificent aspen (perhaps with leaves turning to fall golden colors). Here we will have lunch (included) at the Snow Bowl Lodge amidst the beauty of these spectacular volcanic mountains, a biological "sky-island" home to conifers and alpine tundra and home to diverse wildlife.

Arizona Snow Bowl Ski Lift
Arizona Snow Bowl Ski Lift
Then take the sky lift ride (included) to the top of the Snow Bowl for a grand view of spectacular Northern Arizona deserts, forests and pastures from 11,000 feet above sea level.

Return to our hotel to relax before departing for a famous Flagstaff landmark, the Horsemen Lodge, northern Arizona's most unique western-style steak house. Here you will enjoy an authentic western dinner (included) while experiencing the ambience of bygone days in a western atmosphere filled with cowboy art and animal mounts from local Flagstaff hunters.

Accommodation: Little America Hotel   (B,L,D)


Sunset Crater Ciner Cone
Sunset Crater Cinder Cone

After breakfast we leave Flagstaff behind as we head north around the eastern face of the San Francisco Peaks where vast carpets of grasslands, often filled with wild flowers, spread before the majesty of these still proud volcanic mountains. Here too we can see where mountain glaciers have eroded the eastern side of this proud volcanic mountain. We will stop briefly at Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument where a 1,000 foot high volcanic cinder cone began forming in 1064 A.D. making it the youngest crater on the Colorado Plateau. Cooled, dark lava now hardened to a jagged surface now populates what was once lush open meadows and forests. Continuing north across the vast, imposing northern Arizona plateau, we stop for lunch at the famous Cameron Trading Post where you can also browse through its vast gift shop.

Canyon of the Little Colorado
Canyon of the Little Colorado
After lunch we head west stopping to gape at the awesome wonder of the Canyon of the Little Colorado River with its narrow almost colorless, gray walls concealing astonishing depths that are grim and forbidding. The Little Colorado River winds northwestward from forested headwaters in the White Mountains of Arizona. Flowing through woodlands and grasslands to the arid depths of the western Grand Canyon where the river cuts deeply producing the Little Colorado's valley within Navajo and Hopi Reservations. Here is a befitting preview to prepare you for one of Earth's greatest treasures, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.

Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Journeying further westward we spend the remainder of the afternoon sightseeing the grandeur of the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. Here you will find indescribable colorful vistas and mile high canyon walls that form a vast erosional feature nearly 300 miles long, perhaps the world's most spectacular natural feature. Deep within canyon corridors, the Colorado River winds through vast networks of huge amphitheatres, incredible tributary canyons, and stunning, isolated plateaus and mesas. From its rim to its deepest depths can be found more life zones than exist within any other U.S. national park. After checking in at our Grand Canyon Village lodge located on the canyon's rim 7,000 ft. above sea level, you can view a spectacular sunset (6:21 p.m.) before heading for dinner (included) in the Kiva Room of our lodge.

Accommodation: Thunderbird Lodge   (B,D)


Grand Canyon Vistas
Grand Canyon Vistas

Spend today on you own exploring one of Earth's greatest wonders. Rise early if you wish to see sunrise (6:20 a.m.), explore Grand Canyon Village, take a sightseeing bus or helicopter ride. Walk, hike or take the local shuttle to neighboring vistas to view the canyon's multicolored walls and view the raging Colorado river that appears only as tiny, wandering stream from atop the canyon. The choice is yours. However, plan dinner so you can see another spectacular sunset (6:19 p.m.). And, for those willing, join us for optional star gazing later in evening with our telescope.

Accommodation: Thunderbird Lodge   (B)


Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon

Today we journey south along the western edge of the San Francisco Peaks passing through Flagstaff on our way to magnificent Oak Creek Canyon. We stop briefly at the Oak Creek Canyon Vista at the edge of the Mongollon Rim, which provides breathtaking views far down the valley to the Red Rock Country and Sedona. After descending into the head of the canyon through tight switchbacks, we travel along one of the most scenic roads in America. Here you will see a changing community of plants and rich geologic formations of sandstone and limestone within a short drive as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation and precipitation. Steep white, yellow and red canyon walls support tall ponderosa pine, cypress and juniper while, along the cool creek waters, forests of sycamore and other deciduous trees grow in abundance. Hopefully fall colors of red and yellow will greet us before the canyon opens up into the Red Rock Country and Sedona.

Red Rock Country
Red Rock Country Near Sedona
Set between the lush gorges of the canyon and the massive the fiery red cliffs of sandstone, Sedona has grown from a small artist colony into a vibrant town of shops, malls, galleries, new age medicine, restaurants, motels, luxury resorts, sprawling housing developments and sky-rocketing property values! Our bus will take us past the bustling sections of Sedona into peaceful Boynton Canyon where breathtaking scenery surrounds the Enchantment Resort. Its Pueblo style architecture blends perfectly with the areas beautiful landscape of tall, exposed red bed sedimentary cliffs. Check in at the Enchantment Resort, have lunch with spectacular views of Boynton Canyon and enjoy the afternoon at leisure in one Arizona's most special settings. Tonight feast at a special outdoor barbecue (included) followed by evening star gazing with our telescope.

Accommodation: Enchantment Resort   (B,D)


Night Sky Observing in Red Rock Country
Night Sky Observing in Red Rock Country

You have the day at leisure to rest and enjoy the amenities of this world-class resort including the Mii amo Spa recognized as among the top destination spas in the world. For the more adventurous, explore the red rock country, visit Sedona or take our bus into nearby historic mining town of Jerome. Views of the red rock area, the Mongollon Rim and San Francisco Peaks from this once thriving copper mining town are stupendous since this town hangs from the slopes of Cleopatra Hill high on Mingus Mountain with upper Jerome 2,000 feet above the Verde Valley! Have dinner on your own in Sedona or in the resort's Yavapai Restaurant with its massive windows allowing you to watch the Sun's fading light paint canyon walls with breathtaking colors. Later in the evening you are welcome to observe the sky through our telescope.

Accommodation: Enchantment Resort   (B)


Montezuma Castle Cliff Dwelling
Montezuma Castle Cliff Dwelling

From Sedona we will drive south a short distance to the Verde Valley and to Montezuma Castle National Monument, one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in Arizona. Sinagua families lived within the massive walls of these dwelling six hundred years ago. One of the most impressive is a five-story, 20 room village set in a shallow limestone cave 100 ft up a cliff overhang.

Continuing south we cross the broad, fertile Verde Valley and ascend the slopes of the Mazatzal Mountain range in the transition zone between the northern plateau region and the basin, range providence of the south. (Look back as we ascend out of the Verde River basin for a breathtaking sight of the Verde Valley.) We will have a box lunch at Sunset Point Overlook, a popular rest area overlooking am imposing valley and mountains. Off in the distance is the ghost town of Bumble Bee, about a mile and one-half across the valley.

Casa Grande
Casa Grande Ruins
We continue through Phoenix making a short detour southeast of the capital city to visit one of the most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America. When the first Europeans arrived in this area, little remained of a vast ancient culture. However, at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument you can see the "Big House," the ruins of huge, 4 story earth-wall structure built 650 years ago by the Hohokam people in the desert county of southern Arizona. Casa Grande Ruins is the nation's first archaeological preserve and is now protected by an enormous flat overhanging structure. Some speculate this building was once an astronomical observatory. Regardless, hard packed caliche mud make up thick walls rather than bricks and stones. Around the main building are the remains of a walled village. This is desert country but our visit it timed for the cooler days of fall.
   Our day ends in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson. Check in at Tucson's most dramatic, luxury resort. Dine in one of the fabulous resort restaurants set among the desert environment of Ventana Canyon.

Accommodation: Loews Ventana Resort   (B,L)


Kitt Peak National Observatory
Kitt Peak National Observatory
(Most KPNO Images © NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Spend the morning at leisure or sleep late. (We will not return to the resort until late evening.) Explore this all inclusive resort on 93 acres of prime mountain foothill land. Walk its nature trails, swim, pamper yourself in its full-service spa, and have lunch in one of its fine restaurants. After lunch we travel to Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) about 56 miles southwest of Tucson. Here high above the Sonoran Desert, 6,875 ft above sea level, under some of the finest night skies in the world, is the world's largest collection of optical telescopes. Kitt Peak, on the Tohono O'odham Reservation in the Quinlan Mountains is home to twenty-two optical telescopes including the Mayall 4-meter reflector, the McMath-Pierce telescope, world's largest solar telescope, and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions. We will have an afternoon tour including the visitor center, followed by a simple supper and nighttime observing. (Bring warm clothing for temperatures can be 20° colder than the desert floor and it is often windy.)

Accommodation: Loews Ventana Resort   (B,D)


Diverse Arizona
Arizona Diversity

Our last tour day ends with a visit to one of the world's most unique institutions, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 14 miles west of Tucson. This facility is actually an outdoor museum—a world-renown zoo— holding examples of the extraordinarily diverse fauna and flora of the Arizona Sonora desert all in natural settings. Nearly two miles of paths on 21 acres of beautiful desert lead through diverse landscapes with over 1,200 species of plants and hundreds of animals indigenous to this region. Wear comfortable shoes, wide-brimmed hat and use sunscreen since this is an outdoor musuem!

Saguaro Cactus
Arizona Desert
Have lunch at the museum's cafeteria or restaurant before continuing on to the nearby Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park. Here the Saguaro dominate in one of few regions where these massive, tree-like cactus can grow. We will take the scenic Baja Loop Drive to view both these exceptional plants, some 50 feet high, and the myriads of other desert vegetation that populate the Sonoran desert. We return to our resort for a sumptuous farewell dinner.

Accommodation: Loews Ventana Resort   (B,D)


After breakfast, if you do not have a tour add-on, depart for home knowing you have made a memorable and distinctive journey through one of America's greatest wonders.   (B)

« Return to Top of Page »


« Limited availability »
Return to Top of Page
A World of Wonders—See Them With Us
Page last updated August 24, 2005
Send comments or suggestions to
All content unless otherwise credited © 2005Continental Capers Travel Center, Inc.