Adventure Travel: Yep, It’s Now Officially ‘A Thing’
If you are a regular hiker or backpacker or kayaker who frequently heads out to wilderness trails you may be somewhat bewildered that the world has given a name to your activity – adventure travel. There is now even an Adventure Travel Trade Association with over 1000 members to help folks find the roads less traveled that you discovered long ago.
The definitions of “adventure travel” are loose but generally a vacation built around exploration will involve three elements: a physical activity (often outside one’s typical “comfort zone”), a brush with a different culture, and an immersion in nature. In the United States, this makes adventure travel synonymous with the Southwest.
Nowhere in the country can you hike and backpack in terrain that is more “alien” than the North American deserts of the Southwest. Gaping gorges, slot canyons, rocky moonscapes, and majestic mountains mix with intoxicating dry air and sunshine to form nature’s most beguiling cocktail.
Culturally, the Southwest remains a bastion of Native American life, with large swaths of land still owned by Indian tribes. Some of the natural treasures of the region, such as Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, are located on tribal lands. Many of the celebrated hiking routes in Arizona and Utah travel past petroglyphs and pictographs, rock carvings and rock paintings that can be thousands of years old. Any vacation in the American Southwest ultimately becomes a cultural exchange with the people who live every day in lands most consider exotic.
Yes, the Southwest is a gift to adventure travelers. But lurking inside that word “adventure” is risk. Deserts can be hot, forbidding places. One of the cardinal rules of adventure travel is to respect the dangers of the destination. The best way to prepare for the obstacles of a desert exploration is to count on the experience of others. Trails do not always identify themselves on slickrock, and arroyos do not always run in solitary straight lines. Guided tours help ensure that travelers do not get more adventure than they bargained for in the desert.
Professional navigation is also invaluable off the trail. Now that adventure travel has become big business the destinations have spawned reservations, regulations, and permits. Some have quotas on how many explorers can access the trail at all. Then there are the logistics of food and transportation in the desert. These are all adventures no traveler is eager to go on. Guided tour operators can sweat those details.
Don’t be misled. Adventure travel does not mean going to an inhospitable land and fending for oneself in a challenge for survival. It is broadening one’s experiences, exploring the natural world in all its splendor – and doing it safely.