Part 1 of an EPIC Southwest USA Road trip
This Southwest road trip itinerary goes through 4 states: Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico
Southwest USA has never been very high on my list of places to visit. Maybe because I have been to the country many times (but always on the East and Southeast coasts), maybe because I had other priorities or maybe because I simply didn’t know too much about it. Of course I knew about the “big ones” (for instance Grand Canyon), but I think that was not enough. I have always been attracted to more “exotic”places. Anyone who knows even a little bit about me, knows that Asia is my favourite part of the world. And you can find a lot about it on my blog like here or here, about my favourite country in the world.
But after last year, when we did this amazing roadtrip through Romania, Mike from Mikesroadtrip, started telling me more and more about the Southwest and how much he would love to show me around this area that he calls home. The more he told me about it, the more excited I got. Fast forward half a year and here I am, in Arizona, getting ready to start our roadtrip.
This was a trip of many “firsts” for me: first time roadtripping in an RV, first time “boondocking”, first time seeing landscape that looked like from another planet, first time I saw the pink super moon, first time travelling on a brink of an epidemic burst out (the coronavirus was slowly making its way to the USA 🙈).
Our home for these two weeks was a lovely RV from Cruise America. It was small/medium size RV that could accommodate 5 people. While I think the space would be a bit crammed for 5 people, it was perfect for the 2 of us. We had plenty of space, even with all our heavy gear (mostly Mike’s).
But now I am sure you are curious to see more so, here is how our 2 weeks road trip itinerary throughout the Southwest looked like:
Superstition Mountains/Appache Junction (2 days), Arizona
We started off in Mesa (near Phoenix), were we picked up our new home for the next 2 weeks. As we picked it up in the afternoon, we drove straight to our first stop for the night: The Lost Dutchman State Park.
The RV Camp park is right at the foot of Superstition Mountains and it offers incredible views over the mountains. That’s where I learned the famous saying amongst locals: “when then mountain turns pink it’s time to drink”. So ….Cheers! 😉
Superstition Mountains are a local’s favourite place for hiking and they have some incredible views from the base as well as from the top.
Next day we took on Hwy 88 to Tortilla Flats and Canyon Lake. We stopped many times along the way as the scenery was incredible. Tortilla Flats is an old stage coach transformed into a tourist attraction. It exudes a certain old Wild West charm and it is in a very picturesque location, right next to Canyon Lake, Due to so many stops, a roundtrip back to Superstition Mountains took us almost half a day. But we came back a bit earlier to get ready for another sunset and see that mountain turning pink again 😉
Next morning we started making our way up to Canyon de Chelly, passing through Tonto National Forest and Payson. We were planning to go to the Petrified Forest , but of course it was closed, so instead we went to Winslow, Arizona. Winslow is a small town famous the world over for one single line from the Eagles song “Take it Easy” :”….I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona“. And not only that, but this was an important stop on the famous Route 66.
As we usually make many stops along the way, we decided not to drive more than 200-250 miles a day and just take our time and enjoy the scenery. That meant that we stopped for the day and boondocked before we reached Canyon de Chelly. You can read about our scary experience here 😱
Canyon de Chelly (1 day)
With only 30 miles between us and Canyon de Chelly, we got there early in the morning and we had the whole place to ourselves. What a spectacular view that was. And it just kept getting better, the more we advanced.
Canyon de Chelly is considered a National Monument and it is part of US National Parks. However, the land belongs to Navajo Nation and it is considered sacred ground. The Navajos have been inhabiting the canyon floor for 300 years now, but it was the old Anasazi civilisation who was there before. But even before Anasazi, some primitive peoples inhabited the area 2000 years ago.
The canyon has 2 rims (North and South) and no less than 19 overlooks offering different views. We stopped at 7 of them and it was perfect. I would suggest you start with the South rim, which is the most spectacular of the two. That is where you can find the best overlook, at Spider Rock. However, I recommend that you do not head there straight away, but instead, work your way from the overlooks along the way: the Tunnel, Tsegi, Junction, White House, Sliding House, Face Rock and then the 7th one will be Spider Rock Overlook.
The canyon floor can be visited only accompanied by a local Navajo guide. However you can drive through on the rim of the canyon and check the overlooks by yourself. Canyon de Chelly is certainly not as famous as other national parks and monuments in the USA and in the area but, trust me, it is worth a visit! I think its lower fame is due to the fact that there are too many sensational places within the same region
Monument Valley (1-2 days), Arizona/Utah
Next stop on our Southwest roadtrip itinerary was the famous Monument Valley, only 93 miles from Canyon de Chelly. After another night of boondocking (again on Navajo nation land), we were in for a treat at the Gouldings campground, located right outside of the National Park. We were even considering staying two nights here, but we had a lot of milleage to cover. If you have time though, 2 nights would be even better.
Although always associated with Arizona, only the Monument Valley park, which is again Navajo nation land, belongs to it, the other part lies in fact within the borders of Utah. Unfortunately, the park was closed so we had to content ourselves with views from outside its borders. But I certainly cannot complain! We were offered a tour around Gouldings estate and discovered some amazing landscape. A few short hikes offered us various views over the park and some really good spots for photography.
Next morning, we stopped to the iconic road view, en route to our next destination
Mesa Verde & Durango, Colorado (1 day)
On our way to the next destination, the scenery kept changing and I was amazed by so much diversity. As usual, we made a few interesting stops like: the Mexican Hat and Bluff, Utah and we continued our way towards Colorado. Unfortunately Mesa Verde National Park (our next destination) was closed, so that’s where things started to take a different turn. Given that we were not far from it, we then decided to make our way towards Durango, Colorado.
The distance to our next destination was quite long and because the campground there was closed, we had to boon-dock again. I started liking this boon-docking thing, though so I was happy to do that. First of all, the boon-docking offers you privacy, as you are completely alone and secondly, you can spend the night in a very scenic location with an amazing view. …Like we did! 😉
Angel View, New Mexico
After driving for quite a long time, we were getting really tired, as the day was coming to an end and we still hadn’t found our camping spot. At this point we were ready to just settle for whatever we can find. After 2 unsuccessful side road drives, we saw a sign saying “scenic overlook and camping ground”. 5 miles onto the dirt road and our jaws just dropped! We have found THE PERFECT spot! We never expected to be able to park in such a scenic location! And there is more… we had the whole place to ourselves! aaaaand….the timing could not be better! 😀 The sun just started setting and everything was turning red around us. We had the most dramatic and beautiful sunset yet and in a perfect place!
Isn’t life just too good to be true sometimes? 😍
Then, next morning we woke up to this view!
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (1 day)
Just like Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, Chaco Canyon is not on top of the most popular places in the US. However, I found it extremely interesting and something that you do not see so much in the country. Chaco Culture is an ancient culture dating back from pre-colombian times. Thousands of people used to live in the ancient Puebloan village between 850-1250AD. It is incredible how well preserved some of these ruins are.
There are lots of hikes to do inside the park so you can easily spend a full day there, without even seeing everything. We did only one hike though, which was the shortest but it offered us amazing views over the whole area.
One thing that you have to take into account, if you are planning to go to the park, is the 20miles drive on rugged dirt road. There were portions of the road where we could only drive 5mph and we thought that our RV was going to fall to pieces! So, if you have the option, I would really recommend a 4×4!
Like I mentioned earlier, our initial plan was to camp on the grounds of the canyon. One of the reasons was that this place is considered one of the darkest places in the United States and therefore perfect for start watching. We were planning to do a bit of night photography here too, but unfortunately the park closed at 5pm and we had to leave the grounds.
After driving back on the dirt road, we found a good spot for boondocking and camped for the night. The next day some more interesting sites in New Mexico were waiting for us, like: El Morro National Monument, Santa Fe and White Sands National Monument.
However, things don’t always go according to plan! The state of New Mexico started closing all the national and state parks so there was no point continuing our trip! Or was it….? We started hitting a low that day and being very discouraged by this completely new situation and were on the brink of returning home.
Luckily we found a really nice campground for the night, at the base of Red Rock Canyon in Gallup, NM and we slept on our decisions!
Stay tuned for part 2! 🙌
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