Road Trip of the Southwest for first-timers [part two]
This is an article and video on doing a road trip of the Southwest for first-timers (part two), if you missed the first part, click here.
On our way to Utah we stayed one more night in New Mexico at Red Rock Park, a wonderful state park just east of Gallup. Unfortunately, the winds were wicked on this day and sand just whisked through the campground like a snow storm, but in the form of red sand. We huddled down in our RV and got caught up organizing content and responding to emails and the like.
The next morning we drove into Gallup to walk through the famous El Rancho Hotel before stopping at another Wal-Mart to get a few supplies. We really wanted to get some beer, wine, toilet paper and a few other things. I discovered that alcohol was in a segmented area of the store with a gate. It was open a little so I walked in, just to be told they were not open yet. Apparently, in New Mexico, you cannot buy alcohol before 10am.
We did the rest of our shopping and went back to the cordoned off area, picked what we wanted and waited in a line. We waited for quite a while before reaching the cashier. When we did, she asked me for ID. I presented it and then she asked for Miha’s ID, which she did not have on her. The woman then said she could not sell to us, even though I was buying the alcohol. It was so ridiculous! I asked Miha to wait outside, but the cashier said because we walked in together than she could not sell to us. “What if I walked in with a stranger, or with my kids I asked?” She acted like a bureaucratic robot told what to do and was unable to think for herself. I now refer to New Mexico as the Nanny State.
At this point we were thrilled to be out of New Mexico and on our way to what I think is arguably the most beautiful state in the Union…Utah. As we neared Moab the landscape was yet again different and equally awe-inspiring to anything we had seen before. We could not keep from stopping to take photos and video footage.
When we reached Moab we stopped by my favorite grocery store, the Village Market, where we were finally able to get some beer, wine as well as some other provisions, like toilet paper, which had been non existent at every store we stopped in prior.
We found a wonderful place to camp along the Colorado River, along Hwy 128, which I think is one of the most scenic stretches of road in the country. Miha agreed and was enamored by the beauty before her. There is even a road that takes drivers into the La Sal Mountains, which is a fantastic way to escape the summer heat. The road ends up on the other side of the mountain range and comes out at Gateway, Colorado, another amazing area to explore.
I have been to Moab many times and if you’re not RV’ing and need a place to stay, I highly recommend:
- Sorrel River Ranch Resort
- Red Cliff’s Lodge -(Both resorts are located along the Colorado River off of Hwy 128).
After a day of exploring Moab (excluding Arches and Canyonlands due to closures) we headed to Dead Horse State Park, which Google said was open. We drove 50 miles (round trip) out of our way to see this park, only to find it was closed to residents only. We were so disheartened by yet another closure. We could not figure out why all the parks were being closed, especially those that you admire from the confines of a car. Plus, we were self-isolating in the comforts of our Cruise America RV. We were being responsible and so too were those we encountered. There were only a handful of people even on the roads.
Even though we did not get to enter Dead Horse, we did get to admire the stunning nearby landscape, both on foot as well as by vehicle.
Scenic Hwy 24 and 12 did not disappoint
We had planned on camping another night in the Moab area, but with so many closures we had seen most of what we could. We headed toward Capitol Reef National Monument and Bryce Canyon as they, along with a few other options, remained open. It had been another long day of driving and so we found a wonderful place to camp behind a majestic butte just north of Hanksville along Scenic Hwy 24.
After we got settled we collected rocks from a nearby fire ring to build a more secure one using a massive boulder as a shield from one side. We placed our lounge chairs next to the fire and enjoyed a cocktail as the stars above begin to reveal themselves. It was a glorious evening in a suburb setting.
The next day we made it to Capitol Reef, which ended up being one of Miha’s favorite places thus far on this Southwestern road trip. The towering buttes with layered landscape and a small creek running alongside was just magical. Even with all of Utah’s immense beauty, it’s difficult to rival Capitol Reef’s expansiveness, sweeping vistas and seemingly endless landscape. We walked along boardwalks where ancient petroglyphs reveal stories of a past civilization. We did short hikes to find photographic angles that would showcase the untamed beauty before us.
As we exited Capital Reef, we turned off of Hwy 24 onto another scenic route, Hwy 12, which is probably in my top-5 of the most scenic roads in the country. Just when we thought the landscape couldn’t get any more amazing, we entered the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It seemed like there was a scenic pullout every 1/4 mile or so and we stopped at nearly every one of them. It took us hours just to drive a few miles.
We finally reached our destination for the night at the KOA in Cannonville, which is perfectly positioned to explore Bryce Canyon to the west and Escalante to the east. It was a lovely campground with great views and it was nice to hook up again to charge all of our equipment and to take a long shower in the morning. When boon docking we needed to be more conservative with our water usage, but when connected to water we took advantage.
That evening we enjoyed the confines of the RV and played a game of chess. Miha had not played since she was a youngster, so I was trying to get her up to speed. It did not take many games before she got back in the grove, leveraging her strategic abilities. We listened to music and drank wine as the sun set, with its amber glow fading to darkness against the nearby bluffs.
Befuddled by Bryce Canyon – Road Trip Southwest continues…
Each morning we would break out our Bodum French press and enjoy a cup of coffee while looking out the window of our bed. I used up the last of our veggies to make an omelette with a side of some of our dwindling fresh fruit supply. Before long we were on the road once again.
One of Miha’s most anticipated places to visit was the Bryce Canyon National Park. To my delight, there was a bit of snow on the mini shelves of the sandstone towers, which was my first time seeing the canyon this way. Miha on the other hand does not care for snow as it indicates cold weather.
In fact, it wasn’t bad the first part of the day, but as we made our way to our last lookout, Rainbow Point, the wind began to pick up, along with more cloud cover. The chill in the air was certainly evident. Regardless, we were both thrilled to be there and very happy the park remained open. Miha was just befuddled by the uniqueness of the landscape, it’s such an odd form of erosion, made more fascinating when you hike down into the canyon among the giant hoodoos (spires).
Red Canyon looked like the set of a movie
After leaving Bryce Canyon we continued heading west on Scenic Byway 12 when we began driving through Red Canyon, which was yet another place we could not help but stop multiple times. We went on a hike and it felt like we were on the set of a movie, it was so majestic that it had an unreal feeling. There are two tunnels carved from red rock making the drive even more dramatic.
After spending a couple of hours exploring, we decided to continue onward. However in hindsight I wish we would have spent the night in the area, there are so many amazing sights and hiking trails to get up close to some of the more iconic landmarks.
Road Trip Southwest to Vermilion Cliffs and Marble Canyon
We headed south on Hwy 89 toward Kanab when we saw a sign for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and decided to head that way. Unfortunately, as we got close, we learned it was closed to local visitors only, similar to the other Utah State Park we had tried to enter. The road we were on looped back to 89 where we drove through the town of Kanab and then veered south on 89a. We crossed over the border where the road turned east. We had been looking for a place to boondock with no results. The landscape began to change from open plain to a mountainous forest. As we crested the peak, just past the Le Fevre Overlook, we found the perfect road to pull in and park for the night.
Nestled amount juniper and pine trees we went through what had become a routine of apéritif and chess before fixing something for dinner and settling in, watching a movie while cozied up in bed. It was so much fun to be traveling with our home, like a snail.
The morning was a bit chilly, so we turned on the heat and since we had internet access, went through some emails and other blog related housekeeping tasks. It was not lost on us that our epic Southwest road trip was nearing its end. Thankfully, I still had plenty to show Mihaela.
After getting packed up, we were off once again. We continued down 89a, past the turn off for Jacob Lake and the north Rim of the Grand Canyon (seasonally open from mid-May through September). As we began our decent off the Kaibab Plateau, the incredible view of the Vermilion Cliffs reveled themselves.
This geologic wonderland encompasses a massive swath of land. There are no visitor centers, no developed campsites. Just a sea of 3,000-foot cliffs, sandy slot canyons, pulled-taffy rock formations and miles of unmarked paths to explore.This is a place to enjoy unspoiled wilderness, starry silence and rugged remoteness.
As we ventured on, we went to the end of Marble Canyon to a place called Lee’s Ferry, the put-in point for those rafting down the Colorado River. Here we found a picnic area to have lunch and explore some of the riverside trails. Afterwards, we headed out of the Canyon to the Navajo Bridge that crosses the river. This is really worth a stop to walk across the pedestrian bridge to see the splendor of the canyon and the mighty river that runs through it.
Page/Lake Powell and a view that drew a tear
The Page/Lake Powell area has always been one of my favorite places in Arizona. I absolutely love water and Lake Powell is an incredible playground for water lovers.
Just as we were approaching the city I asked Miha if she would like to go to Horseshoe Bend today or tomorrow? She enthusiastically said today! Not expecting to be able to go, given all of the closures we had encountered.
About 3-4 miles from the entrance I said, “If they ever charged admission they would make a fortune due to the popularity the past few years propagated by Instagram. I kid you not, as we approached the entrance of Horseshoe Bend I noticed something was different, beyond some construction going on. As we followed a narrow road it lead us to a toll gate. I could not believe that my comment just moments earlier had come true. What I found odd was the fact that this area is (or at least was) part of the Glen Canyon National Recreational area, so I was perplexed when it was the city of Page collecting the entrance fee of $10. I don’t know this for sure, but presume that some sort of land swap must have taken place to make this happen for the city.
While I was disappointed by the new fee, they have made some remarkable improvements to the area. For starters, they have a solid path that leads to the overlook, making it accessible for the disabled. They also built a couple of really nice shade areas, as well as paved the parking lot.
As we got closer to the iconic Arizona sight, I could see Miha’s enthusiasm grow. We we looked over the edge, beyond a new railing in place, Miha started to cry. She was so enthralled by the beauty and was thrilled to finally be seeing the sight she had seen for so many years only in pictures.
After getting our photos and video footage, we both sat near the edge and just took in the beauty before us. A sense of serenity wafted over us, it was so peaceful, with out a sound other than that of a slight breeze. This was an unusual moment because there were only two other people at the lookout at that moment, so few visiting due to the self-isolation mandates.
We headed toward Lake Powell and while it was open to pass through the gates, every amenity was closed, including boat ramps and even scenic overlooks. It was quite ridiculous. Why keep people from a scenic overlook for crying out loud!
We had a really difficult time finding a place to camp since everything was closed. After driving well past the lake, and into Utah, we finally turned around and found a dirt road that lead up to the southern part of Escalante. After the long journey on the dirt road, we discovered quite a few campers at the base of a bluff, so we headed back the way we came and found a decent place to pull off of the road.
Out of the sight of the other campers, we took out a few chairs, a bluetooth speaker and had a glass of wine as we watched the sun set over the bluff in front of us. In just a matter of moments as we turned to head back into the RV, Miha noticed a huge ball of light in the sky…she even asked me what it was? It was the moon of course, but it was no ordinary rising moon, rather a pink super moon. The red/orange glow was quite remarkable. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much of a foreground to play with and both of us thought it would have been exceptional had we been parked near the lake.
After the moon rose a bit and was less extraordinary, we ventured back into the RV to begin fixing dinner, followed by a chess game, wine and some relaxing music. Both of us were thoroughly enjoying the RV lifestyle and particularly enjoyed the boon docking in remote areas.
Flirting with Flagstaff Road Trip Southwest
The next day we began our two-day descent from Northern Arizona toward the Valley of the Sun. Along the way we stopped several times to explore sections of the breathtaking badlands of the Painted Desert along Hwy 89, near Tuba City and Hwy 160.
Continuing South we wanted to stop by Wupatki National Monument, Grand Falls and Sunset Crater, but all were closed. Regardless of the closures, we still drove down 395, a diversionary road from Hwy 89 that connects Wupatki and Sunset Crater. It’s much more scenic than Hwy 89 and was well worth the extra time and mileage.
We called it a night at the KOA in Flagstaff. After getting hooked up we took our last remaining firewood and had a lovely evening on our patio huddled by the fire and under the clear evening sky displaying the brightest stars in the sky.
It was a bit of a somber evening as we prepared our last meal in our Cruise America RV, enjoyed one last bottle of wine while playing chess. After several games of “Mr. Mike Domination,” Miha won her first game. It was quite a battle and our longest game to date.
The next morning we after some breakfast and packing up we headed down the I-17 hill with a stop in Camp Verde. Unfortunately, the Montezuma Castle (an impressive cliff dwelling) was closed. We drove through town and checked out the Camp Verde Fort before making our final decent into the Valley, finally coming full circle by dropping off the RV at the Cruise America location in Mesa.
Despite the setbacks, we took the lemons of life and made some tasty lemonade. Overall it was an unbelievable trip where both of us became huge fans of RV’ing. We’d highly recommend renting an RV from Cruise America, the customer service was amazing and so too was our vehicle. Click here to read about some of our tips for first time RV renters.
This concludes the 2nd of 3 parts of our epic Southwest Road Trip. The third section shares our story after dropping off the RV and road tripping in a brand new Toyota Tundra to explore the off-road side of Sedona and surrounding areas, while staying at the luxurious El Portal in the heart of Sedona. Click here to continue reading.