My husband Ron and I just completed a 10 day, 1200 mile bus tour of the Grand Circle: five national parks and three national monuments mostly in Utah. We traveled with Road Scholar, a group that specializes in educational travel for old people, I mean senior citizens. The first rule of thumb on a guided bus tour for this age group is never, EVER be more than 2 hours from a bathroom.
Son Nick, a seasoned world-wide trekker, was appalled by our travel choice. First he deemed the cost of the trip ($3300 for two people) unduly extravagant. Nick is quite frugal (as in cheap). While in Nepal last year, he avoided airfare from Mt Everest base camp to Katmandu by hiking two days overland to the nearest bus stop. “I don’t do backpacking,’ I tell Nick,” or sleepovers in fields or bus trips where my seat-mate is a goat.”
Nick disapproves of highly structured vacations. He believes the best travel memories are unplanned discoveries. He recalls the colorful Hindu festival he happened upon in India that featured painted elephants and a landscape aglow with candles. I haughtily informed Nick that one day on our trip we were running ahead of schedule. In a moment of heady exuberance we left the main highway to view Gooseneck Canyon. “It was so remote, “I told Nick, “the bathroom was an outhouse and there was no gift shop.”
I understand traveling 1200 miles in 10 days with 30 other people on a bus isn’t for everyone. I found it a trip of a lifetime largely because of our guide Darrell McMahon. This man is a genius at conveying the geologic history of the area in an informative, humorous manner. When we visited Bryce Canyon National Park, he announced we would be joined by a renowned geologist. Darrell appeared wearing a fake beard and ratty hat. He introduced himself as Clarence Dutton, a geologist who mapped 12,000 square miles of the high plateaus of southern Utah between 1875-1877. Later in the week, Darrell dressed as a condor to describe the bird’s appearance and behavior. Darrell concluded by saying a condor is a lot like a Road Scholar participant—it can eat 20% of its weight in one sitting.
Even though our trip featured walks and hikes, we spent lots of time on the bus. There is no other way to visit so many parks in so little time. Darryl’s commentary and corny jokes helped pass the time (what do geologists use to season their supper? Basalt and pepper.)
Road Scholar caters to senior citizens like me who account for an ever-increasing share of domestic travel. According to survey data, seniors gravitate toward guided tours, expect to experience cultures firsthand, demand expert tour guides and prefer no worries. While world trekkers like my son seek adventure and spontaneity, my peeps want to know motel rooms are booked and Wi-Fi is available.
The tour of Utah’s Grand Circle was very special because of the spectacular scenery and a top notch guide. Our affable and highly intelligent group obviously made a deep impression on Darrell. At our last dinner together he told us, “Of all the tour groups I have led, I can definitely say you are one of them.”