The Southwest region of the United States is by far one of the most iconic areas of the country and perfect for a road trip. Not only is this a bucket list trip for many people outside of the U.S. but it is a trip that every American should also make in their lifetime! Given how vast the landscape is and the possible destinations you can hit when it comes to planning a road trip itinerary, you have lots of options.
We made our first Southwest road trip in 2012, followed by additional trips visit specific national parks and camping in Grand Escalante National Monument, and then the ultimate trip of all 18-months in an RV where we spent the vast majority of our time in the Southwest. We fell so much in love with exploring this part of the country that we settled in Phoenix for 2 years so we could see even more. All that to say that we have spent quite a bit of time in the Southwest so I feel confident in sharing my 10-day itinerary in and out of Las Vegas.
When it comes to all the different places to visit in the Southwest, you sometimes have to make compromises, so please note that this one does not include the Grand Canyon!
There are a couple of things that you should know first off. To begin with, this trip was entirely planned by Mr. Misadventures. Taking photos of the landscape in the parks throughout Arizona and Utah is something he really loves to do so that is always one of our main focuses when we do road trips like this. Second, the method in which Mr. Misadventures and I travel might seem a little unconventional. We view first-time trips as a trial run. It is a scouting mission to see which places we like, don’t like, and want to return to. We don’t like crowds and often don’t go to the attractions that we are supposed to go and do the things that we are supposed to see. Having said that, I am sure I can pass on tips and tricks of the spots we visited by sharing our experiences of what went right and what didn’t.
Lastly, we are kind of food snobs and don’t eat fast food (unless we are really, really desperate) so our food and meal selections may be entirely different from what others would choose, but I will do my best to mention food options as I go through the days. I will tell you what we did and what is available in the spots we visited.
One more thing, I did this particular version of this trip in May. Spring is perfect weatherwise as we were traveling through the desert or high desert.
Whew, so now that I got that out of the way, let’s get my 10-day American Southwest road trip started!
On this page
Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion
On Day 1 we flew into Las Vegas in the morning. We picked up our rental car, an SUV so that we could hold our suitcases, camera equipment, and food/water supplies. Since we knew our food options would be limited we headed to Whole Foods in Las Vegas (6689 S Las Vegas Blvd is 7 minutes from the airport) to pick up groceries. We bought a large quantity of water and coconut water as we were heading into high temperatures and we would be hiking.
Also, we purchased canned goods such as olives, artichoke hearts, etc that we could use to picnic on, and that would not need refrigeration. We also bought some fruits and vegetables knowing we would eat them the first few days on the road. We brought an electric kettle from home and we picked up things like instant miso and oatmeal to go along with our tea bags and instant coffee packets. And of course, wine (cheaper to buy it in a store than in restaurants – if we found any). We grabbed a quick lunch from their salad bar and hit the road.
For the next 3 hours and 169 miles, we drove through parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah stopping from time to time to check out some of the small parks along the Virgin River. It was pretty dry (at least in the Nevada part) and our stops were fairly brief. The drive was pretty uneventful. I do love the 85-mile per hour speed limit and the gorgeous clouds that permeate the blue skies.
Our final destination for the day was Springdale, Utah at the foot of Zion National Park. It is an adorable little town that reminds me of Sedona. It is clean, highly organized, and a great launching point for whatever activities you may have planned in (or around) the national park. Every single hotel, motel, inn, and bed & breakfast I saw in Springdale looked extremely well maintained and there are plenty of options for every price range.
Our home-away-from-home for the next 2 nights would be the Desert Pearl Inn. The rooms were rustic luxury and well-appointed, it had the feel of a log cabin and we had a mini-kitchen and very large bathroom. Each room has a terrace which is great to sit out on while enjoying a glass as the evening cools. If you should ever find yourself wanting to stay here, make sure you request a room with a canyon view rather than one near the pool. The pool is gorgeous, but there is nothing like the canyons!
There is a good variety of restaurants that should appeal to nearly anyone ranging from barbeque places to Mexican and Thai. There are fast food options as well as fine dining too. The town also has a decent-sized grocery store, art galleries, and a movie theater.
Since you cannot drive your vehicle into the main part of Zion, only to the Visitor’s Center, the Museum, and the roads around the park (not through), there is a shuttle bus system that gets you in and out of the park. There are stops all along Zion Park Blvd. so if you are staying at any hotel on this road (which most of them are) then there will be a stop not too far where you can catch a shuttle.
As the years have progressed there are more and more lodging options near Zion including RV parks (some with cool glamping spots), and of course private homes and condos via Airbnb.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 1: 176 Miles
Accommodation: Desert Pearl Inn
Meals: Whole Foods groceries stash
Day 2: Zion National Park
Day 2 we woke at 5:30 a.m. so that we could catch the very first shuttle into Zion. But as is the style of the Misadventures family, as we were standing at the shuttle stop, we changed our minds and walked back to the hotel to get our car. We didn’t want to deal with the crowds and decided to explore the road around the park and see what kind of photo opportunities we could find.
We stopped at the Zion Canyon Park Museum. It was closed but it is a great spot to watch the sunrise. There is a large meadow that you can set your camera up in. Also, there are a whole bunch of benches at the back of the building placed to watch the natural show of the sunrise on the canyon walls. Having messed around getting to the shuttle stop, we had missed most of the sunrise and decided that we would get there before it happened the next day.
We headed up the road that surrounds the main park stopping here and there to take pictures. We went through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel which is kind of cool except that you can’t stop and take photos out of the cool tunnel windows, but you can take photos of the windows from the road below (with a good lens). Mr. Misadventures is fascinated with risking his life to take photos on the road. Nerve-racking for me, but the photos turn out pretty cool!
On the other side of the tunnel, we stopped to do a little hiking. We took the Canyon Overlook trail which is rated as a medium difficulty path. It took us an hour with little effort and there were plenty of photo opportunities for us. Lots of plant life, plenty of rocks for the hubby, and a gorgeous view of the canyon below.
On the way up there are a couple of bridges and partial caves that the trail runs through, the variety of greens and oranges in those spots are amazing. As I am always macro-focused, I took a ton of photos of beautifully colored flowers along the path including the Sego Lily which is the state flower for Utah.
We hiked back to the car and continued along the Zion-Mt Carmel road stopping to take photos and exploring various parts of the park that were accessible from the car. I have to say this park reminded us of Switzerland. It is super clean, super organized, there are plenty of pull-offs for people to stop to hike, picnic, or take photos. Could Utah be the Switzerland of America?
We exited the park and drove a while longer before stopping in Mt. Carmel Junction for lunch. We picnicked under some trees, stopped for gas and took photos of the retro signs at Thunderbird Restaurant, and then headed back into the park.
After lunch and driving back through the park we headed in and passed Springdale heading to Virgin, Utah where we would catch the road heading up to Kolob Terrace (if you reach the post office you’ve passed it). Kolob Terrace is a 21-mile drive to Lava Point. It is a pretty deserted area, we didn’t see many cars until we got to the lookout. There are great views and spots to pull off and hike.
The funniest part of the road is that it kept switching back in forth between the orange Zion National Park road to public roads which were your basic grey. It started to become a game because every time the road changed there was a sign, “Now leaving Zion Park” or “Now Entering Zion Park.” There are dozens of these signs! You don’t need a sign to see a difference in the roads, besides the color the general condition of the road makes it very easy to tell!
The road leading up to the Colorado Plateau view is mainly ranches and we saw lots of cattle and horses. And lots of signs for cattle (which I love)! We stopped at this funky meadow. Every single tree looked like it had been struck by lightning! I loved the contrast of colors including the little purplish bushes.
On the way up to the peak we were once again reminded of Switzerland, but a different part, the plateaus of the Jura mountains. The whole day made us very nostalgic for Switzerland and the Jura portions of France (where we used to live) and the gorgeous landscapes that were our backyard every day.
Once we got to the top it was a little smoggy due to some fire activity. We could see the Mt. Zion Temple as well as Zion and Bruce Canyons, Pinks Cliffs, and Kaibab Plateau (where we would be headed towards next).
We made our way home having spent nine hours exploring the area around Zion National Park. We didn’t see the Subway, we didn’t hike Angel’s Landing, we didn’t go through the narrows. We enjoyed Zion in our way, unobstructed by crowds, and taking our time, and enjoyed it. Which is exactly the way we like it.
Logistically, all our meals that day came from the groceries we bought at Whole Foods on Day 1. We stayed our second and last night in the Desert Peal Inn.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 2: 0 except for what we did inside and outside the park.
Accommodation: Desert Pearl Inn
Meals: Whole Foods groceries stash, dinner at Casa de Amigos
Day 3: Zion to Page
Having missed the sunrise at the Zion National Park Museum the previous day, we woke up at 5:30 (again) so that we could get there in time to see it happen! Mr. Misadventures headed to the meadow behind the museum to set-up his camera and I parked myself on a bench very jealous of the others around me who had nice warm mugs of coffee in hand as they waited the arrival of the sun!
It was peaceful and I wonder how full it gets in the summer when the swarms of tourists arrive. You have to be pretty dedicated to take sunrise photography. I was amazed to see that there were already groups of rock climbers on the canyon walls, they had to have gotten up even earlier than us!
As it was 6:30 and we didn’t have to be in Page, our next stop only 90-minutes away until 12:30, we had plenty of time to take more photos along the Zion-Mt. Carmel road. I have to say I spent a lot of time in the car reading the Zion National Park newspaper as it was pretty chilly out and I had taken a large number of photos the previous day. It was a day for textures and Mr. Misadventures got some pretty cool shots. A lot of them he laid on the ground to capture, sometimes upside down!
And of course more give-my-wife-a-heart attack road shots.
Satisfied that we had captured the last of Zion we headed to Page, Arizona where we would be spending the afternoon rafting down the Colorado River. We arrived in Page around 11 a.m. and decided to grab lunch before heading to the tour office. Page is one of the largest towns in about a 3-hour radius, which is why Mr. Misadventures intended it to be our home-base for the next four days. There numerous hotels, including the Courtyard Marriott that we stayed in. Some of the hotels looked more run-down than others so check the reviews.
There is a brand new Walmart, a Safeway with a Starbucks, several fast food places, and other local restaurants with offerings such as barbeque and steaks. There is also a Denny’s which we ate three breakfasts in. Considering that I had only eaten in Denny’s one time during the previous ten years, that is significant!
In terms of picking up food supplies, head to the Walmart and not the Safeway. I waited 45 minutes to have 2 deli sandwiches made and 30 minutes the next morning at the Starbucks to get 2 drinks, and I had to explain how to make a soy mocha to the barista, so that tells you a little something about the staff there. It is not good for anyone’s blood pressure to shop there, head to the Walmart instead.
Lunch complete we headed to the tour office, and after checking in and getting a safety lecture from the good people at Colorado River Discovery we jumped on a bus and headed to the Glen Canyon Dam where we would be catching our pontoons. We entered through a special tunnel and then a restricted area which required us to don hard hats in case any debris fell and bonked up on the head. It was only a five-minute walk down to the dock, a lot of drama for such a short distance (but I would probably be the one to get hit, so I guess I better just shut up!).
Glen Canyon Dam is only 16-feet shorter than the Hoover Dam, so it is pretty darn big. Earlier in the day, we had driven over the bridge going over the dam on our way into town, But you get a whole different perspective as you leave the dock!
I think the tour was labeled river rafting, but it really should be called river floating as there aren’t any rapids. The rapids start exactly in the spot where we would end our tour, Lee’s Ferry, which is also the beginning of the Grand Canyon. No matter as we had a funny guide full of details about the history of the river, the dam, and the canyons.
Here are some tips for the river tour:
> There are several companies based in Page that operate these tours. As with anything, make sure you check out the reviews for any company you are considering purchasing a tour from. We went with Colorado River Discovery and were very pleased with them.
> There is NO shade on the boat, be prepared for full sun exposure.
> There are two beach stops (unless the group votes otherwise) and there is NO shade, be prepared for full sun exposure.
> The water is 45 degrees (7.5 Celsius) all-year-round, so no swimming unless you like it real chilly!
> Feel free to bring your camera, I was worried that I would do something stupid with mine, but unless you lean over and drop it in the river, it will be just fine. (That’s the reason all the photos from the river are by my hubby!)
> It is a 90-minute ride back to Page once you end at Lee’s Ferry consider having a snack (if you didn’t already bring your lunch) as you will be famished!
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 3: 104 Miles
Accommodation: Courtyard Page at Powell Lake
Meals: Denny’s, Safeway sandwiches
Day 4: Antelope Canyon
Day 4 was a luxury as it was the first day since we started our vacation that I didn’t have to get up at five in the morning! Our plan for the day was to visit Antelope Canyon for a photography tour. But before heading into town we decided to drive out to the Navajo Bridge which we had passed coming back from Lee’s Ferry the day before at the end of our rafting trip.
The bridge sits over Marble Canyon and, along with the Glen Dam Bridge, is one of the only crossings over the Grand Canyon for hundreds of miles. Originally there was only one bridge but as cars got bigger and bigger it wasn’t wide enough to hold traffic going two directions so they built a wider bridge and left the original for pedestrians. I think that is cool. It is a good spot for the extremely rare condor sighting, but that is not something I can say is a hard fact. In any case, it is a great spot for photos like this one:
After checking this spot out for a while, we headed into the town of Page to start our tour. Mr. Misadventures had seen many spectacular photos of Antelope Canyon and wanted to take some of his own. He researched several companies doing the tour and decided to go with Antelope Canyon Tours in Page as it was run by the Navajo tribe that the site actually sits on which we thought would give us the best access and have the best experience. We were not disappointed.
Our group of eight was brought into the Navajo Nation from Page in an awesome Swiss jeep that is a hardcore 4×4 (to get over all that sand!).
I cannot stress enough how important it is to sign up for the Photographer’s tour rather than the regular tour if you want to spend any amount of time taking photos. Part of paying the extra money is that the guide makes sure that all the good spots for shots are set-up and that you don’t have people running in front of your photos. You basically get the “right-of-way” on the tour, all other tour guides defer to your group and photo-taking. Having said that, you are still a bit rushed, however, there is nothing much you can do about that, although I have some tips at the end of this section.
It is beautiful inside the canyons, and if you are an experienced photographer you will certainly get great shots. I am not an experienced photographer and I was stressed! I really shouldn’t have been as Mr. Misadventures was surely going to capture some great shots, but I felt the pressure none-the-less!
Antelope Canyon is a stunning slot canyon. The incredible variety of textures and shapes created by years and years of wear from water and wind against the background of beautiful golden sand is truly breathtaking. And although there are spots of the sun coming in from open pockets up above, it is a low-light environment for cameras. I will have to say that my iPhone photos turned out a whole lot better than some of the photos I took with my Canon – that is not the equipment but the user!
We left Antelope Canyon having taken hundreds of photos. We were dusty, hungry, and thirsty and decided to check out Big John’s Texas Barbeque in Page for an early dinner. They had outdoor seating and as dusty as we were we sort felt like we were camping out, the barbeque atmosphere was perfect! And the food was darn good!
Here are some tips for the Antelope Canyon tour:
> A tripod is essential. The low-light conditions make it imperative that you use one.
> Decide which lens is your favorite and bring that one. There is too much dust and too much rushing to try to change lenses in these conditions.
> Bring your camera and tripod only, you don’t need anything else. No bag, no water (you aren’t in there long enough). You don’t want to be burdened carrying anything else (even if it is on your back) while taking photos.
> Don’t do the tour in the middle of the day when it is the most crowded. Instead, do the first or last tour and you will have more time to take photos and fewer people to get in your way.
> If you plan to take photos, do the Photographer’s Tour. I watched others on the regular tour try to get photos and it was hard to do unless you are just using your cell phone, but you will get people in your photos.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 4: 0 except for what we did inside and outside of Page.
Accommodation: Courtyard Page at Powell Lake
Meals: Denny’s, Whole Food groceries stash, Big John’s Texas Barbeque
Page has grown so much in the time since I have been visiting! There are new hotels, RV parks, and private homes and condos right at the center of all the fantastic outdoor activities (including an annual balloon festival)!
Day 5: The Wave Lottery, White Pocket, and Cottonwood Cove in South Coyote Buttes
For Day 5 we would once again get up at the crack of dawn so that we could photograph the Wahweap Scenic Overlook at sunrise.
We ate breakfast in the car and then drove 45 minutes to the BLM Office in Kanab, Utah so that we could participate in the daily lottery to gain entrance to see The Wave. The Wave is a heavily protected sandstone rock formation that is famous with photographers. It is tightly managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order for it to remain savage and rural. They let twenty people in a day. Ten from online applications and ten via a lottery held in their office in Kanab. You can start completing an application in the office at 8:30 a.m. (Utah time). The drawing is held every day at 9:00 a.m.
The online information is a bit confusing which is why I am sharing it here. I thought that they picked 10 groups a day, but it is ten individual people. So if there are three spots left and a family of four is chosen, one person has to stay behind (which is exactly what happened when we were there). In general, it is a bit of a madhouse, although the staff does try to do their best to keep things organized. There were 122 people trying for those 10 slots the day we went.
They explain all the rules in English but there are a lot of foreign visitors that don’t necessarily comprehend English to the level that is needed to understand the process (I recommend printed versions in other languages). There was some “cheating” going on (although none of the cheaters won spots) and I think some of it can be attributed to language. The hike to the Wave is 6 miles (round-trip) in full, exposed sun and you need to carry in a lot of water beside your equipment. It is not for the novice.
If you are selected it is for the next day and the next day only. We didn’t win a spot, but it didn’t matter because we had back-up plans in place. In fact, right after the lottery, we met our White Pocket tour guide for the day, Virgil from Dreamland Safari Tours, who was whisking off to White Pocket. Now I am not saying this because we didn’t get selected for a spot to see the Wave, but it has been said and confirmed by the locals who have had a chance to see both the Wave and White Pocket, that White Pocket is just as good, if not better. I can tell you White Pocket is pretty impressive!
The other thing that I think is super important to note is that you should hire a local guide. People like Virgil, a Navajo Indian who spent his entire life in the region, along with the owner of Dreamland Safari Tours, Will James, know this land like the back of their hands. Its roads are pretty brutal and not only require a massive 4×4 but the knowledge of the roads. I cannot stress this enough.
Once our trusty guide, who kept us entertained with stories on the road, got us to White Pocket we were in complete awe. We spent several hours there taking photos. Not enough time for Mr. Misadventures we have been back several times so that he could capture the sunrise, sunset, and everything in between. This is the place that stuck with him the most, the one he cannot stop talking about, and the one he wants always wants to return to.
Virgil had to drag us off the rocks (my husband would have stayed there all day he if could) as we needed to refuel ourselves with water and lunch before heading to Cottonwood Cove, a part of the South Coyote Buttes.
After spending a magnificent morning photographing White Pocket, we headed to Cottonwood Cove which is part of South Coyote Buttes. I don’t want to say that Cottonwood Cove was a letdown because it was amazing, but it was no White Pocket! Nonetheless, we had a great time capturing the area. There are some unique aspects here like the huge amount of fins in the rock formations jutting both vertically and horizontally, I was fascinated by them and still blown away as to how they happen!
It is a little more of a hike (but not too much) to get to the good stuff than it was to get to White Pocket. It wouldn’t have been so bad except we were already a bit tired from the morning, the heat, and the amount of camera equipment we were hauling. Virgil was an absolute angel, his patience was incredible despite the fact he could have run circles around us city folk!
Most of the rock formations have names and Virgil knew them all but I had my hands full with camera equipment so I was unable to note them down!
At the end of a long hot day with lots and lots of photos taken, we hopped in our car and headed back to our base-camp in Page. We were so tired that we just simply picnicked in our room with supplies we had picked up in Las Vegas. We transferred photos to external hard discs and fell into bed! The next day we would be getting up early (again!) to spend another day with Dreamland Safari Tours doing a photography tour through The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.
Here are some tips for The Wave, White Pocket, and Cottonwood Cove:
> The Wave is part of Coyote Buttes North (they don’t say that on the site where you need to get your permit).
> If you want to get to The Wave make sure you are optimizing all your chances by doing both the online and in-person permit process. Still, your chances are very slim. The more days you can attend in person the better.
> You also need a permit to access White Pocket and Coyote Buttes South, you can get these online and in-person at the BLM office unless you are going with a hired guide who usually has a blanket permit.
> I HIGHLY recommend you hire a guide. I cannot stress this enough. Mr. Misadventures did a lot of research on White Pocket guides, there are several in the area but he ultimately selected Dreamland Safari Tours and we were beyond thrilled with them.
> If you don’t hire a guide (God help you!) you need a 4×4. You get to White Pocket via Pine Pocket Road and out by Pawhole Road. (More extensive directions in my guide.)
> Instead of splitting your day into 2 spots, if you are an avid photographer spend the day only at White Pocket, you won’t regret it.
> If I did this itinerary again I would have moved from Page after to Kanab after the 2nd day.
> Water, lots of it.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 5: 150 miles (distance between Page and Kanab there and back)
Accommodation: Courtyard Page at Powell Lake
Meals: Whole Food groceries stash for breakfast and dinner, lunch provided on the tour
Kanab has grown so much in the time since I have been visiting! There are new hotels, RV parks, and private homes and condos right at the center of all the fantastic outdoor activities!
Day 6: Photography Tour through Grand Staircase-Escalante
By Day 6 I was feeling a bit tired, the previous day in both White Pocket and Cottonwood Cove had been amazing, but the heat and driving and lack of sleep were sneaking up on me. We rose early and headed back to Kanab to meet our guide for the day. We were booked to do a photography tour through The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.
The Grand Staircase is an “area,” rather than an actual monument or site. It covers nearly 2 million acres of land on the border of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. We started out driving through Johnson Canyon a spot originally populated by the Anasazi, an ancient Pueblo civilization spread throughout Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. The area was then homesteaded by founding families of the Mormon Church, some of the lands are still held by the original families.
Next, we visited a slot river area off of Willis Creek Trailhead where we did a little hike on the river photographing up and back. It wasn’t yet super hot and we were on the water so it was nice, but we were there at the worst time of day for photos. It would have been better earlier or late in the day when the sun was not directly above us.
Our guide had run ahead of us while we took our time taking photos and when we returned to the car after hiking back up the river we were met by lunch! It was nice to be taken care of. Then we headed to an area called Kodachrome Basin. Before this area was a state park, it was visited by National Geographic magazine who photographed the area using Kodachrome film for a 1949 photo-spread, hence its name.
While approaching the main attraction we spotted pronghorn antelope grazing on Sego lilies like the ones I had seen while hiking the Overlook Trail in Zion. We watched them for a bit and drove to see Grosvenor Arch, named after the former president of the National Geographic Society.
After a short visit, we made our way to Candy Lane on Cottonwood Road following the cockscomb. We made several stops to take more photos of the area. I nearly had a heart attack driving up a tiny [crazy] and curvy road to get a look at the Brigham Plain Overlook, something that our guide said we definitely would not want to do in wet weather!
As the day started to close we had two more spots to hit. We drove through the badlands on Cottonwood Narrows North to see fossilized clams and oysters that were formed over 100 million years ago, part of the Dakota formation. I was blown away that I could just walk right up and touch something that old! I guess that is the macro side of me because I took a ton of photos, I was in such disbelief. I mean seriously, they look like they were left there last month!
I was pretty much toast but our guide insisted that I wouldn’t want to miss the view over Rim Rock. I trusted him and we hiked the 1 mile (in sand) to the edge to catch this view of the plain and the Hoodoo Overlook.
Our last stop of the day was to check out the Chinle Formation named after Chinle Valley in Arizona where you find the painted desert and these formations do look just like them. It’s a really beautiful area but probably better for photos in the morning.
We drove back to Kanab all the while enjoying great conversation with our guide who had been an exceptional host. It was a jam-packed day, I sort of equate it to a cruise, it is a good way to see if a certain area piques your interest and if you want to return and spend more time there.
The next day we would be leaving our base-camp in Page and heading to Monument Valley.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 6: 150 miles (distance between Page and Kanab there and back)
Accommodation: Courtyard Page at Powell Lake
Meals: Whole Food groceries stash for breakfast and dinner, lunch provided on the tour
Day 7: Monument Valley
I woke up Day 7 not feeling too hot. Despite having a great time, I was still feeling run down. Too much sun and not enough rest. We slept in a bit as the drive from Page to Monument Valley is only 2.5 hours. Still, when we did hit the road I ended up having Mr. Misadventures drive for about an hour so I could take a little nap.
Oh, why was I doing the driving? Easy, I don’t trust my husband when he is in “photography mode!” He is looking for shots instead of paying attention to the road, so I become the designated driver and he can direct me when to stop and when to go. This way we are both happy (and safe)!
In any case, our activity for the day was a sunset photography tour that would have us in place to take photos of the valley as the sun vanished on the horizon.
We arrived in Monument Valley which sits on the Navajo Nation land and picnicked in the car while we waited to check into our hotel on the reservation. Our spot for the night was The View Hotel which is basically the only hotel on the reservation (although now they have also built little cabins you can stay in as well). You are paying for the view, the rooms are decent enough but I found the rate to be on the expensive side. Also, there is no place to eat except for the restaurant on the property unless you bring your own food (which we did).
But, the view is spectacular. It can be obstructed by dust, which it was for us! Also, everyone has a view as all the rooms face the same side.
In the late afternoon, we met our guide from Monument Valley Safari tour company. He would be taking us on a 7-hour tour up to Hunts Mesa to capture this incredible valley. The only way to access this spot is by hiring a guide and in reality, much like when we drove to White Pocket, you need a heavy-duty 4×4 and serious knowledge of the area to get around. On the drive up we had a great time getting to know our guide Brian, the reservation, and Indian culture overall.
He was full of stories and facts and data and I cannot recommend him enough as a guide. He was there working the summer season to earn money for his next adventures in life. He had already been a Marine serving in Iraq and was studying to be a nurse in San Diego. He had lived both on and off the reservation and was an excellent source of info. Above all he was an excellent driver, the roads were very treacherous and I felt safe if not a little bounced around!
But it was all worth it when we got to the top and waited for the sunset. Brian decided to entertain us with a few songs and brought out a traditional instrument and shared some tune and more stories.
If I thought the ride up was harried, the ride home in the dark was a whole other experience! I am amazed that Brian would do that drive over and over because at the end of my little excursion my nerves were shot! Having not been in top form all day, I skipped dinner and went right to bed when we returned to the hotel! The next morning we would be leaving to head to Moab.
Here are some tips for Monument Valley:
> There aren’t that many options for lodging in the immediate area and only one on the reservation.
> Food options are equally as meager with your only choice being the restaurant in the hotel and some fast food spots outside.
> 18 companies run tours in Monument Valley…do your homework, read reviews, do your research. We had a wonderful experience with Monument Valley Safari and if you read some of their reviews you will see that Brian is mentioned a lot (we actually didn’t make a specific guide request, we just got lucky!).
> Bring water with you on your tour (and snacks if needed) there is none provided.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 7: 122 miles
Accommodation: The View Hotel
Meals: Whole Food groceries stash
There are a few more options for accommodations these days in Monument Valley including Goulding’s Lodge & Campground (they have a store, gas station, and private land that you can access to see some of the monuments) as well as private homes or rooms in the area. In the summer of 2019, we camped with our Tepui tent at the KOA Monument Valley.
Day 8: Monument Valley to Moab and Sorrel River Ranch
Day 8 was a travel day for us. We slept in a bit and had a picnic breakfast in our room while enjoying the view of Monument Valley. Our destination for the day was Moab where we would be staying at Sorrel River Ranch for a luxurious 2-day stay before heading home. The drive from Monument Valley to Moab is three hours and we had planned a stop along the way.
We took a little side road onto Highway 261 to drive through the Valley of the Gods. Made up of similar rock formations as those in Monument Valley, but FREE and self-guided we spent an hour driving the route and taking photos. It was a bit windy and nearly deserted, a good spot to beat the crowds.
The rock formations are in a lot of interesting and fun shapes and we made a game of figuring them out, this one looks like an Indian chief to me!
We enjoyed the time spent there but eventually made our way to Moab. Our final days on the trip were going to be spent in luxury, a reward for all the sand, dirt, heat, driving, early mornings, etc. Kristin of Camels & Chocolate had blogged about staying at Sorrel River Ranch for her anniversary when she was doing her Western Roadtrip and when Mr. Misadventures mentioned it as a possibility for the end of our trip I said, “right on!”
It was nice to see a little more civilization when we arrived into town, there were restaurants, grocery stores, even a Starbucks, but Sorrel River Ranch is not in town, it’s another thirty minutes out on Highway 128 (mile marker 17 to be precise). We drove along the Colorado River stopping at the Castle Creek Winery for a few supplies and headed to the ranch. We ended up with a great suite facing the river with an adorable porch.
We set-up an afternoon apéro with the wine, cheese, and crackers we had purchased at the winery and just relaxed. Mr. Misadventures took a dip in their beautiful pool while I tried to connect to the world with my laptop (without much luck, great for Verizon users, not so good for AT&T).
I was seriously eyeing the big bed for a nap but I kept myself awake with thoughts of what a good night sleep I was going to get!
We also had a huge bathroom and kitchen area which we neglected to take photos of! By the time the dinner hour came around we were just too tired to be bothered with dressing and walking over to the restaurant so we ordered room service and stayed in our sweats! Craving some red meat we both had steaks with fingerling potatoes and more wine from the winery – score!
Belly full and satisfied it was not too long afterward that I fell asleep in that bed! The next day we would be exploring Canyonlands.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 8: 176 miles
Accommodation: Sorrel River Ranch
Meals: Whole Food groceries stash and room service for dinner
Day 9: Sorrel River Ranch and Canyonlands
Having arrived in Moab to stay at Sorrel River Ranch the day before and getting some much-needed rest, we woke up feeling a little more refreshed.
We had breakfast in our little kitchen and prepared for the day. We had a choice between Arches and Canyonlands and went with the later because we hoped it would be less crowded. When we left Sorrel it was a bit windy but we didn’t pay much attention to it as we headed up the road. We passed a huge line of cars going into Arches and congratulated ourselves that we had chosen not to go there.
As we approached the park and only paid $10 to enter (score!) the wind was becoming more and more an issue. There was a lot of dust in the air and every time we got out of the car we were eating it! Mr. Misadvenutures didn’t want dust on his camera or mine, so I sacrificed my iPhone to take this photo….nothing but dust!
What I can say is that Canyonlands looks like a smaller, less crowded version of the Grand Canyon so it is definitely a spot worth checking out once the spring sand storms settle down. The park ranger we spoke too said May was late for the type of storm we were seeing. (We did eventually return to both Canyonlands and Arches for longer visits.)
We ate a picnic lunch in our car watching other people attempt to visit outside. It just wasn’t a cool day and we packed it up and headed back to the ranch where we hung out, watched a movie and I took a nap in the afternoon in preparation for our dinner in the resort’s restaurant.
I had been looking forward to this meal for the entire trip. It was the only opportunity in ten days to eat something that wasn’t brought by us as part of the groceries we purchased Day 1 in Las Vegas or some sort of fast food or sandwich. The stakes were high, too high. There was just too much pressure on that poor little restaurant and the meal was disappointing.
The ranch advertises itself as a farm-to-table property, and they do have a farm, but it is rather small and at the time we visited pretty sparse. Having just had a world-class farm-to-table meal at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Sorrel just suffered the comparison.
We started with the craft beer-braised American elk sausage with chipotle, cheddar, and Heirloom tomato ragout. It was the only starter that seemed to be somewhat local in terms of the elk. The tomato ragout did not come from the garden but the Swiss chard served with it did. The dish tasted fine, I liked the sausage, I’d only had elk as a steak before, so it was something new.
When our appetizers arrived we asked our waiter if he could reduce the volume of the self-playing piano that was close to our table, Mr. Misadventures and I were shouting to have a conversation and it wasn’t cool. The staff couldn’t figure out how to do it at first, but after several tries and several minutes, they got it ever so slightly lower.
Then the group of women having a bachelorette party at the resort arrived for their meal which added to the noise level, we were already annoyed so this wasn’t getting better. I don’t have anything against pianos or wedding parties, it just wasn’t our night, or the restaurant’s night with us.
For my main course, since I had eaten their steak the evening before, I decided on the spaghetti with garden vegetables so that I could try more of their farm product. The dish was good, but not more than that. My hubby had the salmon (from Alaska) which was pretty much the same.
We passed on dessert and headed back to our beautiful room for the evening to prepare for our departure the next day.
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 9: 50 miles
Accommodation: Sorrel River Ranch
Meals: Room service for breakfast, Whole Food groceries stash for lunch and dinner in the restaurant
Day 10: Moab to Las Vegas
When we originally planned our trip we were going to fly into Las Vegas and fly out of Salt Lake City, but when I went to book a car for our trip and configured it for the drop-off at a different airport the price doubled! We decided to drive the seven hours back to Las Vegas and stay the night at the Element in Red Rock Canyon and fly home from Vegas. Even with fuel-ups and the extra hotel night, we weren’t anywhere near the price we would have paid to drive to Salt Lake City!
The drive was pretty uneventful, just beautiful blue skies and even more beautiful 8o miles per hour speed limit signs in Utah and 75 in Nevada! The clouds were pretty cool too!
The highlight was finding out we were heading into a town (St. George, Utah) with a Starbucks! Which we stopped at for an afternoon pick-me-up. Knowing that we would have a room with a kitchen we also stopped at the Walmart that was in town (big town!) to pick up one or two items to finish up the last of our supplies that we had picked up on Day 1 in Vegas.
We would have loved to do a repeat performance at Raku, but being that is was a Sunday they are closed! In the end, it was wiser and cheaper to use up the remaining groceries. When we finally arrived at the Element, we unloaded the car, re-packed all our luggage and equipment, made ourselves dinner, and watched a movie, you really feel like you’re in your own little apartment at this hotel!
DRIVING DISTANCE DAY 10: 490 miles
Meals: Groceries stash for all three meals
Day 11: The End (Fly Home from Vegas) + Recap
Day 1: Las Vegas to Zion
Day 2: Zion National Park (and surrounding area)
Day 3: Zion to Page
Day 4: Antelope Canyon
Day 5: Kanab area (from Page) White Pocket and Cottonwood Cove in South Coyote Buttes
Day 6: Kanab area (from Page) Grand Staircase-Escalante
Day 7: Page to Monument Valley
Day 8: Monument Valley to Moab
Day 9: Canyonlands National Park
Day 10: Moab to Las Vegas
By the numbers our 10-day Southwest road trip looked like this:
- 1832 miles driven, all but 300 driven by me
- 500 additional miles in 3 off-road vehicles
- 20 additional miles on a riverboat
- 3 states: NV, AZ, UT
- 9 Parks
- 5 hotels
- 3 Denny’s breakfasts
- 3 Walmart visits
- 1 sand storm
- and 10 pounds of dust ingested!
This was our first attempt at a Southwest road trip and to be honest, this is probably the one that inspired our 18-month RV trip because we just decided we wanted to see it all! During that time we spent a lot of time in the Southwest and still missed pockets. All that to say that you really can’t go wrong with any length of trip. Just plan one and start!
How about you? Have you been on a Southwest road trip? What was your itinerary? If you haven’t are you inspired to take one? Do tell!
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Southwest Road Trip web story!
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