Once a year for the past decade my husband’s side of the family takes a trip to go skiing. We usually drive to wherever we decide to go mostly because of our love for road tripping. This year we split up and the hubby went on a solo trip, taking his time driving up to Colorado and had a week of skiing trees and floating in the powder. One week later I flew to Albuquerque, NM and then we road tripped across the Southwest.
Our route looked something like this: From Albuquerque we drove to Gallup, NM then over to the Petrified Forest National Park, AZ for sunset and then to Jerome, AZ where a friend lives in a 108 year old home. Then we drove up to Page, AZ and even further to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT to stay for 3 nights/ 4 days due to a blizzard. When the blizzard was over we took our time driving home to Austin, TX!
Here are the top highlights from our Southwest Roadtrip and recommendations if you ever make it way out west!
1. Gallup, New Mexico
This town still has an incredible charm that kicks you out of modern life and takes you back to the 1950’s when Hollywood glorified the West and road tripping thrived. Route 66 cuts straight through Gallup and is home to several Native American Tribes. You can see in the way the town is preserved, the signage, the buildings and the over all aesthetic still looks as it did many years ago.
We had lunch downtown at a local art cafe called Gallup Coffee Company, loaded up on coffee and then popped into two turquoise dealers: Richardson’s Trading Co & Cash Pawn and Apache Trading Co. Though both places were very nice and well organized, we preferred the Apache Trading Co. The sales woman there took the time to educate me on the different artists and mines, the different styles between Zuni (more inlaid stones and details) or Navajo (more molded and silver use), and didn’t make us feel pressured to buy. Many Native American’s still travel into town and sell their handmade items to the local stores for resale and a big plus was that the saleswoman was able to negotiate the price down for me. I ended up with two beautiful rings, a black onyx and green turquoise, and a dream catcher for under $150. Considering one ring alone was priced at $130 I think this was a great deal! (The other two rings featured below were purchased at other stores at the end of the trip).
In Navajo Tribe culture Turquoise represents happiness, luck and health!
2. The Petrified Forest National Park
This gorgeous National Park gets it name from the thousands of Petrified tree logs that sprinkle the 170 square miles of the park. The giant trees fell during the Late Triassic Period, roughly 225 million years ago and over time fossilized creating the beautiful texture you see below. Each color of rock represents the different types of contamination from over time. Over 800,000 people visit the park every year to photograph the gorgeous landscapes, hike and backpack through the mesas or to just drive through and see the sights.
Due to my undying love for beautiful jewelry we stayed in Gallup a little too long and arrived with just enough time to drive through the park and visit the Blue Mesa overlook and walk the Crystal Forest Trail. Both incredibly beautiful and full of eye catching photography candy, we were even able to play with our shadows and snap a few Instagram worthy images.
You can find the park standing firmly 26 miles east of Holbrook and along Interstate 40, which runs parallel to the Southern Transcend Railroad and the historic route 66. In the distant past part of the park was near the equator on the Southwestern edge of the Supercontinent Pangea.
3. Jerome, Arizona ~ The Wickedest Town in the West
Oh Jerome. We have a deep love and appreciation for this soulful place. It’s old, quirky, some say haunted and literally sliding down the side of the mountain… slowly. About 10 years ago a good friend from Austin moved back to this, his hometown. Since then we have been out several times, either stopping by for a bite when road tripping or just to check in and make sure his 108 year old home is still standing. Here is his house and his VIEW of the old mine and vista from his very rickety porch… I wouldn’t complain waking up to this everyday.. not too shabby.
This old mining town turned into a so-called ghost town after the mine crashed in the mid 1950’s. At it’s peak over 12,000 people lived here, which is just crazy to think of considering how the town is laid out, roads snaking their way up the steep cliffsides and how little the town feels. Roughly 450 people live in the town today and due to the vast popularity in the summer it becomes a busting tourist attraction, drawing in people from all over the globe.
You can find anything you need in this tiny resort above the desert, beautiful views from the top, adorable bed & breakfasts, cafes, artist shops, galleries and museums. Stay a couple nights at the historic Conner Hotel, or the Mile High Inn. Grab a bite to eat at the Haunted Hamburger, Asylum Restaurant, or Mile High Grill. (If you go to Mile High get the pancakes)! Walk the windy streets all the way up to the top and check out at the local shops including Moonshine Leather Co. featuring Altai Goods, the Turquoise Spider, and the others featured here.
4. Page, Arizona
This American Treasure of a location features several exciting things to do. Around and just outside Page you will find the gorgeous Glen Canyon Rec Area and Lake Powell, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend State Park, Marble Canyon, and the Vermillion Cliffs just to name a few. Head North to access the Wave, Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and on to Bryce Canyon. Head South and you’ll find yourself face to face with the greatest natural formation, The Grand Canyon. The hubby has been through this area more times than we can count and this trip we were under a time crunch- to beat the Blizzard to Bryce- so we opted to visit two locations here: Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope.
Horseshoe Bend was super easy to access, just follow the signs, park where designated and follow the trail to the edge to gaze at the wondrous power of mother nature.
Lower Antelope Canyon aka the corkscrew is one of my top 5 favorite places and one of the most intense locations I’ve ever been. It makes you feel wildly free and claustrophobic at the same time, it challenges your sense of direction, awareness and spirit. Once you’re in the canyon, the light is bouncing around everywhere and depending on how you photograph the rock the colors can dance the spectrum from deep red to solid blue, to hyper yellow or dark brown. It is insane! There are two ways to enter, either a small slit in the ground followed by old small ladders or in reverse, climbing down 5 flights of stairs to arrive at the bottom floor. Either way, you are immediately surrounded by towering Navajo sandstone, which was carved out of the rock by flash flooding over time, and continues to change to this day.
Lower and Upper Antelope are also very easy to come by, as now they have guided tours running daily, weather permitting. The tour runs about $32 per person for an hour, you can pay more for the Photography tour and have more time as well. Our tour guide was a young local girl who knew the area and history of the canyon well, plus she took some cool photos of us, see below! Last, I recommend going in the winter when there are less people…smaller groups means more time to explore with less chances of people in your photo.
Check out my husband’s amazing work of Antelope Canyon and his many travels Here.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park
Our last big stop was glorious Bryce Canyon National Park, my husbands most favorite park so I’ll spend a little more time talking about this. After booking-it up from Page to Bryce (to beat the blizzard), we made it just in time for the white out conditions. We had originally planned to camp in the snow at Bryce, had the truck packed full of our gear and supplies and even though we probably still could have, we decided it best, given the conditions, to get a hotel. And when you’re in Bryce everyone knows the ever so popular and amazing Ruby’s Inn. Owned now by best Western, Ruby’s Inn is a monstrous hotel with gift shop, grocery store and restaurant, hot tub, indoor pool, fitness center, even a liquor store (score!). They even offer activities galore like ATV or horseback guided tours, bike rentals, helicopter tours, or even a laundry mat.
The first night Winter Storm Kayla dropped over 15 inches of snow in the canyon, and continued to snow for 3 solid days. We had almost white out conditions for our first full day in the canyon, at a freezing 12 degrees and super windy. But this didn’t stop us from first scouting out every open trail and look out: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point, and then making our way down.
Here is the first viewpoint from that day, a snowy and gorgeous iPhone pano!
Let me just preface the next part by saying, we were totally bundled up from head to toe (same gear as my Iceland post). If you’re out in this kind of weather, please be smart and be prepared with warm clothes, layers, good hiking shoes, maybe a few power bars and bring water! Even though you’re cold and may not feel thirsty it’s best to stay hydrated. (We saw several tourists starting to hike in tennis shoes or Uggs and that’s just not cool, y’all). I prefer to wear Sorel snow boots, Patagonia layers, Columbia or North Face snow pants, North Face Ski Jacket, and then of course, beanie, gloves, maybe a neck scarf and yes thick socks! (Hint, best time to buy… end of season when its all on sale!! Plus become an REI member and get dividends.. just saying’). Do yourself a favor and invest in quality items.
From Sunset Point you really do have the best view of the park, on a clear day. Looking down to the left there was an indication that someone had tried to start down the Navajo Trail and after walking about 50 feet they stopped and turned around. Since my husband has been there many times he decided to keep on the “trail” and basically forged his way through the snow and into, what looked like to me, the blizzardy, snowy, unknown. He swore to me he was going the right way and I humbly followed going down and down and down the trail. I put total faith in him because even if my nerves get the best of me the adventure is always fun and worth it in the end. Down and down we go into the Hoo-doos on a snowy unmarked path, past Thor’s hammer, past the towering cliffs and finally the walls creep up around us and were zig-zagging down to the bottom. When we finally stopped to look back, I was in shock that we had just made that path in the snow and no one was around… there was no sound except for the wind and the snow.
We stayed out on the trail for a few hours admiring the landscape and aloneness, but it was COLD. The blizzard would stall and then pick up again and repeat. We tried to make our way up to Wall Street the back way and eventually turned back. It was nice to finally run into another frozen but cheerful couple on the path heading back to Queens Garden. We we finally made our way back up the Navajo Trail we saw another set of foot prints coming down which made us happy knowing we helped clear the way for other adventurers who are brave enough, or crazy enough to be hiking beautiful Bryce Canyon in a blizzard!
One of my favorite photos was shot on our way back up to the look out, of the Park Ranger leading the way for a group of Japanese tourists (the ones wearing sneakers)… they didn’t stay too much longer after this photo was taken, but at least they tried. You can really see how dense the snow is here.
What I love about the Southwest is that it changes every time we visit, every trip is different, every park is amazing, every day is something awesome and I feel like we’ve only touched the surface. We grow, we learn and we love and we’re thankful for the opportunities in life that allow us this time.
Till next time, Adventure On, y’all.