The American Southwest
The American Southwest features inspiring, beautiful landscapes. In this entry, we will discuss Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Petrified Forest, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon (North Rim) National Parks; Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and Upper Antelope Canyon. I will also touch briefly on a few other locations in the region, including the Lake Powell region, three smaller national monuments, and Sedona. To cover all of these excellent parks, plan to visit for two weeks. Alternatively, divide this itinerary into two parts so that you can look forward to coming back to see the rest.
Starting in Albuquerque, I enjoyed a nice afternoon and evening in cultural Santa Fe before driving for about 4 ½ hours to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, known for its many twelfth-century Pueblo cliff dwellings. You will need a reservation for the tours to the Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
The six-mile Loop Road will allow you to visit several smaller sites.
Driving two hours to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, I enjoyed a short loop hike to the Mesa Arch.
Grand View Point, Green River Overlook, Shafer Canyon Overlook, and short nature trails to Whale Rock and the fascinating Upheaval Dome are excellent stops and will make for a memorable day. I did not visit the Needles District, which has a different entry point than the main section of the park.
A half-hour from Canyonlands near the adventurous town of Moab is Arches National Park. You will need a timed entry ticket to visit this very popular park. Take the three-mile round-trip hike to the famous Delicate Arch. Other worthwhile stops include The Windows, Double Arch, Balanced Rock, and Panorama Point. While you can drive the park road and make several short stops in half a day, Arches warrants a full day to explore all of these suggestions.
After a three-hour drive from Arches, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona and Utah can be visited by advanced reservation on a 3 ½-hour guided tour, which will allow access to many stops on the 17-mile loop road. The tours are informative and recommended. Sunrise at the Mitten Butte is recommended!
Also in the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, less than a two-hour drive from Monument Valley, is a beautiful park that is worth at least half a day to explore. The North and South Rim Drives feature nine overlooks. The White House Ruin Trail descends 600 feet to the canyon floor during a 2 ½-mile round-trip hike to a fabulous ruin; sadly, the trail has been closed since early 2020 due to public safety concerns.
Less than two hours from Canyon de Chelly, Petrified Forest National Park was another fascinating destination and worth a full day. Take the short hikes along the Blue Mesa Trail and the Giant Logs loop, and enjoy the views from the Painted Desert Overlook.
About 3 ½ hours northwest of Petrified Forest, the small city of Page, Arizona holds a number of highlights. Antelope Canyon can be accessed with an advanced reservation from the Navajo Park.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is the more famous and is quite stunning, while the Lower Antelope Canyon, which I did not visit, offers a somewhat different experience, such as ladders. The tour of Upper Antelope Canyon takes about two hours and moves somewhat quickly.
Near Page, Horseshoe Bend is a unique panorama worth a couple of hours. Page also features the Glen Canyon Dam and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Boat tours of the flooded canyon are a nice way to spend several hours and can take you to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. However, very low water in Lake Powell has resulted in limited access the past few years.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is less than 2 ½ hours from Page. While I have visited the South Rim, accessible to Phoenix and Flagstaff, and enjoyed it, I prefer the North Rim, which is considerably less crowded, higher, and offers numerous lookout points. Stay here at the North Rim Lodge. Bright Angel Point, and Point Imperial and Cape Royal along the North Rim Scenic Drive, will require at least half a day. Needless to say, the Grand Canyon deserves all of the awe and wonder of its reputation. Note that the South Rim, about ten miles from the North Rim, requires a 209-mile drive!
There are three other national monuments south of the Grand Canyon I have enjoyed with short visits over time: Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot, and Wupatki. Each of these monuments features smaller sets of ruins and are worth visiting. If you visit Sedona, justly famous for its red rocks and ambience, enjoy the 2 1/2-hour round-trip hike to the Devil's Bridge.
A little over two hours from the North Rim, Zion National Park is another superlative canyon park. Unless you are staying in the park, which I recommend, you will need to make shuttle reservations. The Narrows is a unique and premier half-day hike along and through the Virgin River to an amazing slot canyon.
Angel’s Landing is another famous trail. I also enjoyed the one-mile round-trip hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail.
Less than two hours from Zion is the wondrous Bryce Canyon National Park. Be sure to take the three-mile Queen’s Garden and Navajo Combination Loop trail to see the hoodoos up close. The 18-mile park road, which takes you to many outstanding viewpoints that include Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Bryce Point for views of the amphitheater, is not to be missed and will require at least half a day in addition to your hike.
From Bryce Canyon, a four-hour drive will take you to Las Vegas.
These destinations in the American Southwest will leave you with memories of beauty and fascination for all that you have seen. I know you will enjoy your visit!
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