To celebrate our engagement and my graduation, Matt and I went on a roadtrip across the Southwest. It will forever be one of my favorite trips. This is the itinerary that made it so amazing.
Day 1: Fort Worth, TX to Albuquerque, NM
- Oklahoma state line
- Cadillac Ranch
- Tucumcari, NM
- Albuquerque, NM
We started the first leg of our drive bright and early. Well, not bright since it was a rainy, stormy day, but definitely early. The plan was to drive from Fort Worth to Amarillo (5.5 hours) and stop there for lunch. We took a small detour around Oklaunion to pop across the border into Oklahoma, just to be able to say we did and cross one more state off the list.
Then back on the road to Amarillo.
We stopped for lunch at a place called Tyler’s BBQ, which we later found out was the #1 place to eat in Amarillo according to TripAdvisor. It did not disappoint!
The next stop, and first attraction on our list, was Cadillac Ranch. Due to the rainy May we were having all across Texas, the area around the Cadillacs was muddy and puddly. We couldn’t get very close because of these conditions, but we were able to get a few cool shots.
Cadillac Ranch will take up less than half an hour of your time, but it’s worth a quick stop since it’s right off the highway. This is a bucket list item for many people and a must-see attraction on many Route 66 itineraries.
We continued on out west into New Mexico.
Not too far past the state line, there is a town called Tucumcari, which I highly recommend stopping at. I was so taken with this little town, its reminiscence of the golden age of Route 66, and its retro neon signs. I would have loved to stay in one of the charming motels, but we already had a schedule to stick to. One day we’ll go back. For this trip, we stopped in the Tepee Curios to pick up a few little souvenirs in the form of postcards and a VW Bus (my dream car) Route 66 magnet.
Back on the road again for the final leg of the day, the stretch from Tucumcari to Albuquerque. There’s not much in between, but the views from the highway when you’re coming into the city are breathtaking.
We did a little exploring around ABQ in the form of a self guided “tour” of some Breaking Bad filming locations.
For dinner we went very touristy and ate at the 66 Diner because I’m a sucker for all things retro. Plus the milkshakes were supposed to be amazing (and they were).
Our ABQ accommodations for the night were at the Route 66 Hostel, which we loved. It had so much character, and we met some fascinating fellow adventurers.
Day 2: Albuquerque, NM to Holbrook, AZ
- Weck’s breakfast
- Sandia Mountain
- Continental Divide, NM
- Petrified Forest National Park
For breakfast in Albuquerque you are absolutely required to go to Weck’s and eat a bowl o’ papas (a bowl of fresh hash browns, green chile, cheddar and jack cheeses, and one egg any style). Matt and I still daydream about that bowl o’ papas…
In a spur of the moment decision, we went to Sandia Mountain and took the tramway to the peak. What a great decision that ended up being! The ride up provided an awesome view of the city, and the guide was very informative. There was a 30 degree temperature drop at the peak, so I would recommend packing a jacket for this excursion.
Once you’ve reached the peak, you can admire ABQ from 10,378 feet up and hike a few of the trails to take it all in.
Back on the road…
There isn’t much between ABQ and our next stop, Petrified Forest National Park, but for desert lovers such as myself, the views will suffice. A cool stop on the way is a tiny little town called Continental Divide. I thought this was super interesting, Continental Divide is the point that separates the watersheds that flow to the Pacific Ocean from those that flow to the Atlantic Ocean. I know it doesn’t seem like much to get excited about, but I’m an Earth nerd and I really enjoy stuff like this.
There are also some nifty souvenir shops in the area around Continental Divide you can visit. Matt and I are in the habit of purchasing one thing for our “souvenir shelf” from every trip we go on, so we bought a small kachina doll.
We next stopped at the Arizona state line because, if you haven’t noticed already, we really enjoy state signs.
About 45 minutes down the highway from the state line is Petrified Forest National Park. This place is on my top 5 for National Parks/Monuments. I visited once when I was a child and my parents took me on a Arizona Spring Break trip, that was when I fell in love with this region of the U.S.
The time you should spend at Petrified Forest varies by what exactly you want to do. I could easily spend an entire day at this park, hiking the trails, and staring at the painted desert. During this trip, we were pretty limited because we got to the park in the late afternoon and only had about an hour and a half until it closed for the night. We did minimal hiking and only stopped at the main attractions along the 28 mile drive through the park. The drive itself is enough to get your fill of the park’s beauty, but make absolute sure to stop out and see some of the big tree trunks.
Petrified wood has a beauty of its own. The palette of colors is amazing when you consider the fact that you’re looking at a piece of wood that’s over 200 million years old.
We left the park as the sun was setting, wishing we could have spent more time exploring the trails. I would recommend approximately 3 hours for this park. That’s enough time to drive the entire park, visit the museum, stop at all the main attractions, and hike one of the more popular trails.
We stayed the night in Holbrook, a small town close to the Petrified Forest. We wanted to stay at the Wigwam Motel but they were booked up, so we ended up staying at the Travelodge (which was actually ranked higher than the Wigwam Motel on TripAdvisor, #2 vs. #5, go figure).
Day 3: Holbrook, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ
- Barringer Meteor Crater
- Mountain biking at Schultz Creek in Flagstaff
- Exploring downtown Flagstaff
We started Day 3 with a visit to the Barringer Meteor Crater. I was so surprised at the distance from which you can see the crater, it is amazingly huge. The attraction isn’t far from the main route, so it’s totally worth a stop. We spent some time in the discovery center learning about meteor craters around the world, the Barringer crater, and the meteor that created it. Then we went out to the crater and hiked around the rim.
An interesting fact that isn’t really discussed about this crater: the meteor that created it is the same meteor in which moissanite was first discovered! In 1893, a chemist named Henri Moissan was excavating rock samples in the area surrounding the crater and Canyon Diablo when he discovered crystalline structures in the meteorite fragments. He mistakenly identified them as diamonds, but in 1904 he realized that they were silicon carbide, a new gem that came to be called moissanite. Until the 1950s, no other source of moissanite had been discovered, but scientists developed a way to create in the lab and by the 90s, they were being marketed and sold as a diamond alternative. I chose a moissanite for my engagement ring as an ethical, sustainable alternative to a diamond. I thought it was so cool to visit the birthplace of the moissanite.
Next stop, Flagstaff. We headed straight for Woody Mountain Campground in Flagstaff to set up camp. We loved this campground so much! It was freezing while we were there, but the atmosphere was so cool. And the proximity to downtown Flagstaff couldn’t be beat.
We decided to take our mountain bikes out for a ride at Schultz Creek. The trails weren’t too technical, but there was a lot of elevation to climb, which (coming from Texas) we weren’t used to, so it was a bit challenging.
We even got to see some little coyotes running around in the forest while we were biking. Definitely don’t see that in Texas.
We explored downtown Flagstaff a bit, poked around in the outdoor outfitter shops, tried some local coffee houses, etc. I loved the vibe of this area!
Day 4: Flagstaff, AZ to the Grand Canyon to Sedona, AZ
- Grand Canyon National Park
We packed up early in the morning and headed up to the Grand Canyon to get there right as they opened. Even being as early as we were, there was an insane amount of cars lined up to make their way into the national park. We decided to stop into the National Geographic Visitor Center, where we were able to purchase admission and shuttle tickets to get into the park. We wanted to stop and watch the IMAX film, but it was so crowded and all the showings were booked up. We just decided to head outside and hop on the shuttle. We spent about 30 minutes in the shuttle, stuck in traffic to get into the park, but luckily, after a certain point we were able to bypass traffic and take the bus lane to the visitor center.
We finally made it to our turning around point! The so called “grand finale” of our roadtrip.
We spent our entire day walking and hiking around the canyon, and taking in the beauty of wonder of God’s creation. We were sad we weren’t able to hike very far into the canyon, but we added “Hike rim to rim” to our bucket lists. More ideas for future adventures!
We left the park on the last bus of the night, and got a late start on our drive down to Sedona.
Day 5: Sedona, AZ
- Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park
- Mountain biking at Bell Rock Pathway and the Courthouse Butte Loop
- Chapel of the Holy Cross
- Sunset at the Sedona airport
So, the Grand Canyon was supposed to be the “grand finale” of our trip. But it definitely wasn’t the best thing we did, or my favorite attraction of this trip, Sedona took the gold on that. We had driven in to the town at night, so we weren’t able to see the landscape. But when we woke up on the morning of day 5, we were astounded by the view out our window. Sedona was absolutely breathtaking.
Our first stop was the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a beautiful little spot with spectacular views of the red rocks. We learned about the Buddhist traditions of stupas, and took a few moments to immerse ourselves in quiet thought and reflection (activities that are encouraged here).
Next, we decided to hop on our bikes and have a go at the trails. We rode the Bell Rock Pathway and the Courthouse Butte Loop. It wasn’t technical, but again, lots of elevation. The first half of the ride we zoomed downhill, and it was one of the best rides I’d done, but we paid for it on the way back to the car.
We stopped by the Chapel of the Holy Cross to see it for ourselves. We weren’t able to go in, but it was enough just to see this amazing chapel, built into the beautiful red rocks of Sedona.
For sunset in Sedona, we decided to drive up to the airport, which is considered to be the best place to watch the the sun go down over the red rocks. There were quite a few tourists there, so we knew we had made the right decision.
I fell in love with Sedona that day.
Day 6: Sedona, AZ
- Montezuma Castle National Monument
- Montezuma’s Well
- Devil’s Bridge Hike
To start our day, we paid a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument. This was an easy attraction to visit, we had our hiking boots on, but we soon learned that they were unnecessary since the trail to the castle was paved and decently short. I loved this place because 1) it is one of the four original sites designated National Monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt, and 2) I love cliff dwellings.
We also went to see Montezuma’s Well, a short drive away. This was a little bit more of a hike, but the water source was interesting to see, and we got to encounter a little bit of wildlife.
Our next activity on this busy day: hiking to Devil’s Bridge. We accidentally took the long trail, and turned (what should have been) a short hike to the bridge into a much longer affair. Overall, the hike was moderately challenging. Lots of climbing, but the views were incredible.
Day 7: Sedona, AZ to Carlsbad, NM
- White Sands National Monument
With a long drive ahead of us, we got on the road early. We opted to go down through Phoenix and Tucson and out to White Sands, New Mexico. We made a few stops in Phoenix to see Matt’s childhood home and where he went to school.
We got into White Sands in the mid-afternoon and took the opportunity to stretch our legs and run around on the dunes of White Sands National Monument.
This was definitely my #1 favorite attraction of the whole trip. We threw a frisbee, slid down the the dunes, laid out on the cool sand, and watched the sun set.
And then we got back on the road for another 3 hours of driving to Carlsbad, where we would stay for the night.
Day 8: Carlsbad, NM to Fort Worth, TX
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
On our final leg of the trip, we started out by going to Carlsbad Caverns.
We decided to take the time to hike down into the caverns, instead of opting to take the elevator down. The trail down was completely paved, so hiking boots are not a requirement. It was really cool descending into the cave, even if the first 20 minutes of the hike smelled strongly of bat guano.
We explored the caverns to the fullest extent possible,
and then we took the elevator back up the visitor center. We got in the car and set off for the final drive back to Texas.
And that’s our trip! It was one of my favorite trips of all time, and ranks above some of my European adventures. I was very surprised by how much I loved exploring the American Southwest, but for the first time I was able to really appreciate the beauty America had to offer in the way of travel attractions.
I can’t wait for my next American adventure!