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Travel future: Las Vegas and Southwest USA road trip

Monument Valley on southwest USA road trip

I love a good road trip – a bit odd for a non-driver I know, but where I lack in driving skills I make up for it with my navigation, trip planning and snack-supplying expertise. But although I’ve done some epic road trips around Australia and New Zealand, I’m yet to experience the road trip in its spiritual home – the USA. It already feels familiar after seeing it in so many films and TV shows, from Thelma and Louise to Tombstone. My trip starts off in Las Vegas and loops through the southwest USA, through seven national parks, five states and something like 2000 miles. Here’s what the next three weeks have in store…

Las Vegas sign, USA

The famous Las Vegas neon sign – photo credit Michael Koukoullis

Week 1: Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon

The trip starts off with my first trip to Las Vegas. While my boyfriend is working at a trade show, my sister and her husband are joining me for a week of being a complete tourist in Sin City. We’re all Vegas virgins so plan to travel the world via the casinos – from New York and Egypt to Paris and Venice – catch a show, hang out by the pool and partake in a cocktail or two. If you’ve got any recommendations of places to eat, drink or for quirky things I should check out while I’m there do let me know. We will be escaping for a couple of days to visit the Grand Canyon to stretch our legs and try to catch that perfect canyon sunset.

Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Arches National Park in Utah – photo credit Jim Lemire

Week 2: National Park hopping through Utah and Colorado

Once my sister heads home, we pick up a rental car and head out for two weeks road-tripping. Our first state is Utah, where we’ll be visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. From there it’s on to the wild west town of Kanab, where hundreds of western films were shot. It’s also home to the US’s biggest animal sanctuary, where we’ll be volunteering for the day. Then we drive on through the iconic landscapes of Monument Valley on our way north to Moab, where we have a couple of days to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Then it’s across the border into Colorado to check out the ancient cliff houses at Mesa Verde before a couple of lazy days in a cabin by the river near Durango.

Route 66 sign, Arizona, USA road trip

Signpost along Route 66 in Arizona – photo credit bernachoc

Week 3: New Mexico and Route 66

From Durango we head south into New Mexico with a night up into the mountains at Taos before carrying on down to arty Santa Fe. We’re big Breaking Bad fans so will see if we can spot any filming locations en route as we travel down to Albuquerque where we pick up Route 66. The Mother Road will take us past petrified forests and painted deserts, as well as plenty of kitschy roadside attractions as we cross into our final state, Arizona. Our last stop is at Sedona, where we have a couple of nights to soak up the spiritual atmosphere and red rock views. And because I can’t have a trip without a wine region visit, I’d like to fit in a tasting trip through the nearby Verde Valley before heading on to Phoenix airport for our flight home.

Southwest USA road trip map

So that’s my southwest USA itinerary. Have you ever visited any of these places? If you have any tips or suggestions of places to see, eat or drink while I’m out there, please let me know.

49 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sounds like an epic road trip! Last time I was in Utah I checked out Little Wild Horse Canyon (a nice little safe slot canyon) and Goblin Valley National Park. Not sure how close you’ll be to those two, but they were pretty awesome. Goblin Valley especially looks like something from another planet!

    Have a great road trip : )

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks for the tip, Goblin Valley looks amazing and isn’t too far off our route so might be a possibility – so much to see in this area it makes it difficult to narrow it down to fit into two weeks!

      March 27, 2013
  2. I wish I could go on a road trip soon! Got any tips for first timers? 🙂

    March 27, 2013
    • My tips would be to take it slowly – don’t plan it so you are moving on every day as it gets exhausting packing up constantly, and make sure you allow plenty of time to stop off en route as you’re always coming across interesting things in the road. Happy travels!

      March 27, 2013
    • Thanks a lot! :3

      March 27, 2013
  3. Sounds like an amazing itinerary! I did Vegas, the Grand Canyon and a bit of Route 66 a few years ago and loved it. If you’re looking for drinks, Mix Lounge at THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay has a great view over Vegas. Moab and Monument Valley are still on my to-do list! Have fun 🙂

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks, I’ll try and check out the Mix Lounge, I love a drink with a view!

      March 27, 2013
  4. You will have a ball. Have road tripped to all these places at various times and will happily advise. Am on a short trip to NY at moment so not blogging much- way too much to see and do. I have blogged on a few of these places.

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks, I will check out your blog for some suggestions, although we have the route sorted I’m always on the lookout for suggestions of things to see and places to eat/drink.

      March 27, 2013
  5. Check out Red Rock Canyon 20-30 minute ride west of the main strip of Las Vegas.Charleston Peak which is north west of the stip and Valley of Fire which is East. All within 20-45 minutes of the strip and all beautiful. I lived in Vegas one summer (yes 99 degrees was considered down right cool).

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks Karen, sounds great for when we have had enough of the madness on the strip. 99 degrees sounds pretty warm to me, though with yet more snow in the UK today I’ll take anything over freezing!

      March 27, 2013
  6. Sounds amazing Lucy – when do you leave? The only tips I can give are soak it all up and take inspect repellent to Grand Canyon – I got bitten to pieces there by midges. Look forward to reading all about it 🙂

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks Suzanne, we leave in the middle of next week so not long to go. Good tip re the insect repellent, I hadn’t got that on my packing list!

      March 27, 2013
  7. These are all great places – you’re going to have a blast!

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks, I can’t wait to get out there now!

      March 27, 2013
  8. Jeff Broman #

    I live in Arizona so I definitely have some tips for you. When you are driving to Sedona make sure to take Route 89a which starts just south of Flagstaff. It is the only way into Sedona from the north and the drive down into Sedona is beautiful. If you have time check out Flagstaff which is one of my favorite place in Arizona. The historic downtown area is cool and there are a lot of great restaurants.

    Check out the sunsets/sunrises in Sedona from the top of Airport Road. There are two viewing areas. The first one you will come to requires a hike up to the top of the rocks. This spot allows you to see almost the whole valley. The second viewing area is at the top and has great views too. Check them both out. Take a Jeep up into the off road areas. You can often find discounts for this on Groupon. Do not try to take your rental car into the areas the Jeep tours go. You will probably damage the car.

    If you have time check out Jerome which is 30 miles south of Sedona. It is an old mining town that was abandoned and now is full of art galleries and interesting restaurants and bars. They also have a couple of tasting rooms for the local wineries.

    There are so many things to do in Las Vegas. One of my favorite place to eat is the Peppermill Restaurant. It is classic old school Vegas. I like their breakfasts. Go hungry because the portions are huge. Make sure to visit Downtown Freemont street at night. They have a great light show. I also recommend visiting the Neon Museum. (you need to make reservations for this).

    If you need any other info let me know. Have fun.

    March 27, 2013
    • That’s great Jeff, thanks so much for all the suggestions and advice, I shall try and fit in as many as possible!

      March 27, 2013
  9. This sounds like a fantastic trip! A lot of these spots are on my to-visit list too and I can’t wait to read your posts. Tips… as I’m sure you’ve heard, the mountain biking in Moab is legendary, so if that’s your thing make sure to leave time to rent bikes and go for a ride (I’m a wuss and haven’t been but all my mountain biker friends love it). If you happen to be passing through the tiny town of Cortez, CO (near Mesa Verde) around lunch time, eat at Once Upon a Sandwich. Corny name, but it’s a no-frills mom and pop shop with the best pork green chili I have ever tasted and everything else I’ve tried has been good too. In Durango if you’re in the mood to treat yourselves go to Cosmopolitan for dinner – it’s quite pricey but one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. Also from Durango you can take a 1-hour drive or a train over to Silverton, an old mining town in the middle of the mountains. The scenery on the way there is incredible but it could be a scary drive if you’re not comfortable driving on mountain roads. In Vegas wear comfy shoes and whatever you do, don’t let a friendly Craps dealer talk you into letting him “teach” you the game – fastest $100 I’ve ever lost! Have fun!

    March 27, 2013
    • Thanks Lauren, we should be at Mesa Verde near lunchtime so will try and stop off there, and great tips for Durango too as I haven’t planned a lot there yet. Fingers crossed for some good sunny weather for the photos now!

      March 28, 2013
  10. Speechless with envy!

    March 27, 2013
    • Sorry Jo! Hope I can do all these amazing places justice on the blog afterwards, I can feel a few long photo editing days coming up when I get home!

      March 28, 2013
  11. Sounds great. I’ve done part of this trip on the back of a motorcycle and loved it. Sedona and Sant Fe are two of my favourite spots in the US. Have fun. Look forward to your posts.

    March 28, 2013
    • Thanks Darlene, I have heard nothing but good things about both Sedona and Santa Fe so can’t wait to see them both.

      March 28, 2013
  12. Enjoy your trip! I am planning a road trip of undetermined duration next summer when my son graduates from high school. I want to do a western US tour, hiking and camping and exploring as many National parks as possible. Just living on the road and enjoying all the sights with no agenda!

    Have a great time!

    March 28, 2013
    • Sounds like a fantastic idea, I had trouble narrowing down all the things I wanted to see into the two weeks of road-tripping and we won’t be able to do everything, so a longer term trip where you can take it at your own pace sounds great. Maybe next time!

      March 28, 2013
  13. We’ve been to the “O” show in las vegas, which was really great

    March 28, 2013
    • Thanks for the tip, I’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil show so that’s a Vegas must-do!

      March 28, 2013
  14. We have visited many of these places. I would love to go back! I WILL go back! As you are travelling from Bryce southish to Mon Valley rather than directly east to Moab, you will miss Capitol Reef which is a shame. (The road between Bryce and Capitol Reef also runs through Grand Escalante, a stunning painted landscape.) If you can tweak your itinerary to include this national park, I would, especially as you are going to be there in April and that is when the fruit trees in the many old orchards bloom. The blossom against the red canyon walls is a sight not to be missed. I blogged about it last April. Will add link later.
    At Moab, don’t miss the Hummer sunset tour. It’s so much fun! As someone else has suggested, mountain biking is THE thing to do in Moab. And try to make time for Canyonlands as well as Arches but do not accept the guidebooks that say you can do Arches in a day. It’s stunning and the one park we definitely felt we didn’t see enough of. (Pick your hike route to Delicate Arch carefully as the more obvious one actually takes you to a distant viewpoint across a gorge rather than to the base of the arch itself.)
    If there is a full moon while you are in Mon Valley, do take the moonrise Navajo trip.
    Antelope canyon at Paige is a must but be careful to pick a less busy time. A photographers tour might be a good idea and try to do both canyons, not just the upper canyon.
    Just outside (west of) Mon Valley is a little visited Ancient Peubloan site called Betatakin. Well worth the visit but try to allow enough time to hike right out to the settlement rather than just the viewpoint which is still worth the visit alone but we wished we’d found time for the hike.
    And finally, your route could easily be diverted to visit Canyon de Chelly. We only had 2 weeks and just couldn’t fit it in but it is right at the top of my list for next time, and there will be a next time.
    Oh ,and I absolutely detest Vegas. If/when the hedonistic, debased lifestyle, the sight of elderly folk staying up all night in dingy, smoky hotel lobbies with sticky carpets frantically spending their savings on the slot machines, the phalanxes of pimps on the strip flicking their seedy little cards at your man even though you are with him, the endless all you can eat artery furring buffets and the interminable queues for the thrill rides get you down ;), escape to Red Rock canyon. It’s pretty well on the tourist map but still the vast majority of people who visit Vegas never go so you can expect some much needed peace/reality check. Most definitely off the regular tourist map is a fascinating and rather moving little museum on the route from Vegas to Zion that preserves all that is left of the ancient settlement flooded when Lake Mead was created. Well worth an hour as a route stop.
    I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice I to say you will have a marvellous time.
    PS take warm things. We were there in April too, and had quite a lot of snow at Grand Canyon and at Bryce. Very pretty, especially at Bryce, but also bitterly cold. Sedona can also be very cold then and some of the monuments at Mesa Verde may not yet be open, because of snow.

    March 28, 2013
    • Fantastic, thanks so much for all the tips and suggestions. Antelope Canyon is a definite (I changed my route to fit it in, but that has meant Capital Reef might have to wait for another trip – gorgeous photos though) and I will look into Canyon de Chelly and Betatakin too. I’m interested to see what I make of Vegas as it’s definitely one of those places that polarises opinion! Sure it’ll be an experience either way…

      March 28, 2013
  15. What a great trip (I’m a native New Mexican)! When you’re driving from Taos down toward Santa Fe/Albuquerque, there’s a couple routes you can take. If you can work it out, I’d suggest you detour through the Jemez Mountains–great scenery, hiking, hot springs.

    I’m sure you will get a million restaurant recommendations (and a million conflicting opinions) for Santa Fe/Alb by the time you get to those places, but some of my Santa Fe favorites are The Shed and Tia Sophia’s, and you can’t go to Albuquerque without eating at the Frontier. Another fun place in Abq. is Duran Central Pharmacy in Old Town. It’s a full-service drugstore/pharmacy with a full-service New Mexican restaurant at the back.

    March 29, 2013
    • Thanks Margaret, I will make sure to check out some of those restaurants, and the Jemez Mountains sound great so will look that one up too!

      March 30, 2013
  16. Sounds fantastic! When do you leave? Look forward to your live re[ports 🙂

    April 2, 2013
    • Thanks Madhu, we leave home tomorrow afternoon and fly out of London on Thursday morning, so not long to go now. Can’t wait for some sun after such a long English winter. I shall no doubt be Instagramming and Tweeting some pics along the way!

      April 2, 2013
  17. Cassie | Ever In Transit #

    I guess you aren’t making it out to San Francisco, but it looks like a great trip nonetheless! I haven’t been to the Utah parks yet, but my husband has and has been raving about them, wanting to go back. I almost missed the fact that you are going to Best Friends! I have two friends that have both been out there twice (separately), and I really want to join one of them the next time!

    Look forward to you photos and stories!

    April 2, 2013
    • I did the coastal San Francisco to LA route a few years ago and have family in San Francisco so will definitely make it out there again soon, so I’m focusing on the inland bit this time. So looking forward to volunteering at Best Friends, I’d never heard of it til I started researching this trip and it sounds fantastic – I’m going to be working in the cat section so there’ll be lots of cute kitten photos to come no doubt!

      April 2, 2013
    • Cassie | Ever In Transit #

      I learned about Best Friends a few years ago when I saw an episode of a TV show that was following their trainers. They profiled how Best Friends saved some of the most violent and abused pit bulls rescued from a dog fighting ring run by Michael Vick, an American Football star, subsequently convicted for his crimes. This episode is so sad, but shows what amazing work they are able to do! Check it out if you can, the series is on DVD if you can find it, or you can download it from Amazon and probably Itunes, too.

      Have fun, and let me know the next time you come to San Francisco!

      April 3, 2013
  18. Seems like an awesome trip to me! I hope one day I can experience it as well. Enjoy ! I’m looking forward to your next reports! Adios 🙂

    April 6, 2013
    • Thanks, I should have lots of photos and posts to come in the next couple of months!

      April 7, 2013
  19. I recommend checking out the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

    The best times to check out the Grand Canyon is at sunrise and sunset. You’ll see alot of pretty colors changing.

    Regarding Sedona, check out this blog:

    April 7, 2013
    • Thanks, I remember reading that post a while back but I will definitely revisit it again before I get to Sedona. Weather forecast looks a bit cloudy for the Grand Canyon but I am keeping my fingers crossed!

      April 7, 2013
  20. Hey Lucy, I just love the Southwest! Did you happen to make it to the “west’s most western town” of Wickenburg? I recently finished a video on the area if you and your readers are interested:

    April 26, 2013
    • Hi Mike, funnily enough I am in Sedona at the moment and have just been reading about Wickenburg. Hope to make a stop there on our way to Phoenix tomorrow and will check out your video, thanks!

      April 26, 2013
    • mikeroadtrip #

      Oh, that is wild! I’m actually still here in Wickenburg. If you do come through the area, let me know if you’d like to meet for coffee or lunch? I know the Phoenix area well and would be happy to provide suggestions if you’re interested. Cheers, Mike

      April 26, 2013
    • Great, we fly out of Phoenix tomorrow evening so probably won’t have chance to see much there, but will drop you a tweet if we make it through Wickenburg tomorrow afternoon!

      April 26, 2013
    • mikeroadtrip #

      Sounds good. Please do!

      April 26, 2013
  21. Beautiful shots!

    April 29, 2013
  22. I did almost an identical trip with my kids in the late 1990’s. What a blast! We loved Santa Fe, the Durango-Silverton train ride, Los Alamos, NM, Monument Valley, and of course, the Grand Canyon. Sedona and Slide Park were a great way to end the vacation.

    May 7, 2013
    • It’s such a great route – so much to see and do on the way around. I think I’ll be writing it all up for the next few months!

      May 7, 2013

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