I have been to six continents but had never traveled to any of our national parks, so I decided it was time. At my age, I couldn't do it on my own, so I opted to do a tour.
Len and I flew to Rapid City, S.D., and were met at the airport for a car ride to the hotel. Check in was easy. The room was lovely, and we rested before meeting the rest of our group for cocktail hour.
Our tour had only 31 people, which included eight young people, ages 9 to 24, and they were a delight the entire trip.
So the trip began.
Mount Rushmore was first on the list. Since grammar school, I had been seeing pictures of Mount Rushmore - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt - but to see it in person was unbelievable. And it was a lovely park that they were in.
Next was Tatanka, where the bison roamed and the Lakota Indians lived. Kevin Costner was so impressed with the area that he purchased land to build a hotel. He then contracted with a sculptor to design bison familiar to the area.
However, with no backers, he just cleared some land, had the sculptures displayed, and built a Visitors Center so people could learn about the Lakota Indians and how they lived.
We traveled on to the Black Hills, to the town of Deadwood, which felt much like a movie set. We saw the saloon where Wild Bill Hitchcock gambled and was finally shot to death.
This town began in 1870 when miners came to mine for gold.
On the way to Cody, we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield. The Homestead Act gave the land to the people and the Railroad Act brought the people west.
We rode up Big Horn Mountain to the Bear Lodge for lunch. There are lots of mountains throughout Wyoming and we were more than 8,000 feet high.
After checking in, we walked to the Irma Hotel, which Bill Cody (aka Buffalo Bill) built. We were in time for a "Western bank robbery," but the show was amateurish so we went inside for dinner.
First on the agenda the next day was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West - where we learned all about Bill Cody and his life.
Then we were off to Yellowstone, the first national park to be established - in 1872 - and the one that Teddy Roosevelt visited often.
Driving through we saw lots of herds of moose. We stayed at the Monmouth Hotel, which was built in 1883. In the morning, we saw the other parks in Yellowstone and lots of bison on the roads.
We continued on to Salt Lake City, which was very clean and very hot. We visited the Morman Tabernacle, the cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which was dedicated in 1893.
On Sunday, we had a special treat. The Morman Tabernacle Choir was in town, so we went to the rehearsal in a most magnificent conference center to hear them practice prior to their performance.
Then we were on to Bryce Canyon, which was named a national park in 1928. Copper mining is a big industry there. There was much fog and it was overcast from the California fires.
Still, Bryce was my favorite park so far. The colors were magnificent and looking down into the gorges was something to see. There are just no words for the beauty of Bryce.
We continued on to Zion, the second part of the Grand Staircase (Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon). Zion was declared a national park in 1919. A tunnel goes inside the cliff - five tunnels were cut for ventilation within one mile. It cost $50,000 to build in 1927.
We walked about a mile on the Emerald Lake trail. We stayed that night at Lake Powell Resort.
The next part of the trip took us to the Grand Canyon. This is Navajo country, and we lunched at the Cameron Trading Post, which was and still is an active trading post.
After lunch, we went right into the Canyon. There is a mule ride, but reservations must be made at least 18 months in advance.
The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but very, very hot. Our hotel was right on the ridge, with magnificent views. We enjoying watching the "crazy" young people sitting on the ledge with no shoes on.
Las Vegas was where we spent the last night of the trip, with a wonderful farewell dinner and gave high accolades to our fabulous guide.
All in all, this was a most wonderful trip.
Joan Flynn is the manager of Classic Travel on Hilton Head Island. firstname.lastname@example.org