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The Great American Road Trip: Exploring the Southwest

With CoVid and social distancing on everyone’s mind, I think that nature and wide open spaces are very attractive right now and for our immediate future.

One of our very best family vacations was a road trip through the Southwest to several national parks. Scene above look familiar? This is my own phone shot literally from the front seat of the car, but it’s the same exact shot and view featured in the movie ‘Forrest Gump‘.

I would recommend this trip to anyone, families or couples, who wants to get a taste of the American Southwest and experience a few of our best national parks along the way.

Santa Fe

You can start in Santa Fe, which has several deluxe properties to stay at, including the Inn of the Five Graces, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and the Inn & Spa at Loretto. Santa Fe is chock full of unique art galleries, great shopping, fabulous food and you can day trip to visit Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos (Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb) and the Bradbury Science Museum, as well as Georgia O’Keefe’s house and studio in Abiquiu.

Inn of the Five Graces
Inn & Spa at Loretto
Santa Fe Garden Sculpture
Santa Fe adobe house


From Santa Fe, you can drive up to Taos for a fascinating visit at Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a US National Historic Landmark.

The adobe buildings here have been continuously lived in for over 1,000 years. It’s sacred ground and also very private, no photos allowed. It’s a great place to learn about Native American culture and history while touring with a community member, and taste some fry bread made right in the front of you.

It’s worth stopping at the Santuario in Chimayo, a National Historic Landmark that is famous for it’s healing holy dirt.

El Santuario de Chimayo

MESA VERDE National Park

From Taos you can drive into Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. I think Mesa Verde is a DO NOT MISS! This was the ancestral home of a Pueblo people who built entire villages into the sides of the cliffs and lived here for 700 years, from 550 A.D to 1300 A.D.

There are over 600 cliff dwellings, some of which you can visit with a guide. Note that only one can be accessed by walking in, the others require some climbing (which kids will love). Absolutely fascinating and spectacular views from atop the mesas!

Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling
Approach to Cliff Palace

Steep climb into Balcony House!

Driving the GRAND CIRCLE

From Mesa Verde, you can start driving towards Moab, UT and the “Grand Circle” . The Grand Circle Road Trip is one of the most famous National Parks road trips in the country. The trip is predominantly in the state of Utah but crosses into Arizona as well. It includes Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Grand Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and more!

Much has been written about Moab, “The Adventure Capital of the Southwest”. Here you can go cosmic hiking, biking, jeeping, climbing and white water rafting. Most people head to Moab to go to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Be prepared for heat like Hades if you go in the summer!

Arches National Park

Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches and looks like another planet. It’s most famous and instantly recognizable arch is the 52-foot tall Delicate Arch, but there are different sections of the park with names like Park Avenue, Windows Section, Fiery Furnace and more. There are short, medium and long hikes throughout.

Delicate Arch
Park Avenue
The Three Gossips
Windows Section

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is only about 30 minutes away from Arches, but looks incredibly different! This is the land of runaway outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s more remote and vast, and you can explore on foot, horseback, mountain bike or four wheel drive. The Islands in the Sky loop is a favorite to drive. The Needles section has a great hike on the Cave Spring Trail.


Monument Valley

From Canyonlands, next stop is the iconic Monument Valley, perhaps the most famous example of the classic American West landscape. It’s located within the Navajo Nation on the border of AZ and UT. A photographer’s dream!

There’s only one hotel to stay in here, The View Hotel, which is Navajo-run and offers spectacular views of the famous “mittens”. Hundreds of movies and commercials have been made here, and you should make a stop at Goulding’s Trading Post Museum onsite to see some cool old western movie memorabilia.

The Mittens of Monument Valley

Grand Canyon

After Monument Valley, head to the granddaddy of all national Parks, Grand Canyon. Most people go to the more commercialized South Rim, which offers many more activities, restaurants and lodges than the North Rim. The South Rim is where is where you can drive right to the rim, hike down to Phantom Ranch, stay at the famous El Tovar Hotel or venture out onto the glass-bottomed Skywalk.

The rims also look quite different-the North Rim is a higher elevation and is covered in trees for a forest-like setting while the South Rim offers deep canyon views and it’s easier to see the sheer magnitude of Grand Canyon. But whichever rim you go to, the views are jaw-dropping and the experience will stay with you for the rest of your life.

There are plenty of activities for all ages, from Junior Park ranger programs to wildlife tours to mule and horseback rides to helicopter tours, and more trails to hike or climb than you can count. Everyone should see the Grand Canyon at least once in their life!

Grand Canyon

Route 66

Get your kicks on Route 66!

From Grand Canyon, you can drive into various parts of Arizona, but for kicks we chose to drive a section of the famed Route 66, from Kingman AZ to Winslow to Holbrook, and then backtracked back to Flagstaff and Miz Zip’s Cafe.

The “Main Street of America”, or “The Mother Road” as John Steinbeck dubbed it in his famous book The Grapes of Wrath, the now-faded glory of Route 66 was the inspiration for the beloved Disney Pixar movie Cars, and its creators drove this same stretch of road many times for creative juice.

There’s a special feeling you get driving Route 66, with plenty of fun and historic places to stop at like the El Rancho Hotel, the Holbrook Museum where you can mail a letter via Pony Express, and the Route 66 Museum to check out cool memorabilia.

And, you can even stand on the corner of Winslow, AZ while blasting the Eagles song “Take it Easy” but I can’t guarantee there will be a girl in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at you!

The Wigwam Motel-yes, you can stay in these concrete teepees!


To end your trip, I recommend a luxurious stay in Sedona as a reward for all that driving!

Enchantment Resort is wonderful for families, you can stay in your own casita and there are plenty of activities onsite. They also have a renowned destination spa Mi Amo which should not be missed. It’s easy to get to the town of Sedona from here as well.

Enchantment Resort, Sedona

For something smaller and more intimate and offering a different style, L’Auberge de Sedona is a great option.

L’Auberge de Sedona

America truly is a beautiful country and worth your time to explore.

Contact me to help plan your family adventure or a romantic couples getaway to this gorgeous part of the country!

NOTE: I have received no payment to feature any hotel or place of business in this blogpost, strictly my own opinions based on my personal experiences-DRB

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Hi I'm Denise

Founder of Luxury Travel Adventures

With 70+ countries stamped in my passport, I’ve gained lots of first-hand knowledge and invaluable on-the-ground contacts—and I love putting my experience and expertise to work for my clients. 

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