American Southwest

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Thanks to its colorful scenery and quirky roadside charm, the American Southwest is one of the most pleasurable places to take a road-trip. Along the way, myriad cultural, historic, athletic, and sightseeing opportunities promise to entertain travelers of all ages and interests from avid outdoor enthusiasts to history buffs.

Things to do in American Southwest

Drive the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

As its name suggests, Canyonlands is legendary for its rugged canyons and colorful mesas. For the best views of the park’s natural wonders, drive your car up to Island in the Sky, an isolated, 1,000-foot sandstone plateau that has a specially marked loop for cars. Roundtrip, the route takes two hours, during which you’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding canyons.

Canyonlands National Park, Visitor's center is located on Grand View Point Rd., off of UT-313, UT, 435-719-2313, www.nps.gov/cany
Tags: things to do | outdoors | national park

Drive through scenic Bryce Canyon National Park

Horseback trail riding is immensely popular here, but we like the 38-mile, round-trip, scenic drive along Park Road (the only road that traverses the park). Make the trip to see the sprawling rock amphitheaters from 13 viewpoints. Along the way, be sure to stop at Sunset or Bryce Points for spectacular photo opportunities. Dawn is the most beautiful time to make the trip.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Visitor’s Center is located one mile inside the park gate along Route 63 (Park Road), UT, 435-834-5322, www.nps.gov/brca
Tags: things to do | outdoors | national park

Durango Silverton Railroad

Built in 1880, this narrow gauge railroad is legendary for helping to settle the Wild West. It still operates to this day, making the vertigo-inducing, 3,300-foot climb up the mountain from Durango to Silverton. Watch from your window as the train glides through mountain passes and along narrow straights. The train operates daily between May 3rd and November 1st.

Starts at 470 Main Ave., CO, 800-409-7295, www.durangosilvertonrailroad.com
Tags: things to do | history | train

Fremont Petroglyphs and Capital Reef National Park

Drive through Capital Reef National Park along Highway 12 to see the eccentric, multicolored geological formations that this area is famous for – one look at them and you’ll know why this area has been compared to a coral “reef.” While you’re here, don’t miss the fascinating Fremont Petroglyphs, a collection of ancient cave drawings created by ancestral Puebloans between 700 and 1250 A.D.

Capital Reef National Park, near Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Highway 24, UT, 435-425-3791 ext. 111, nps.gov/care
Tags: things to do | outdoors | national park

Go wildlife spotting in Zion National Park

Established in 1909, Utah’s oldest National Park encompasses a diverse array of ecological systems which, in turn, support a wide variety of wildlife. Traverse the evergreen forests, the meandering rivers, the secluded canyons, and the sun-burnt desert as you keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, mule deer, turkey, ringtail cats, and slow-moving desert tortoises.

Zion National Park, South Entrance and Visitors Center along Utah Route 9, UT, 435 -772-3256, www.nps.gov/zion
Tags: things to do | outdoors | national park

Hike through Arches National Park at sunset

The captivating red-rock formations and natural stone bridges of Arches National Park are easily accessible via short hikes off of the main park road. Sunset is the best time to walk the mildly sloping 1.5-mile Delicate Arch Trail, which leads to the park’s highlight – the slender, 46-foot-tall Delicate Arch. As it sinks in the sky, the sun lights up the slender curves of the arch and enhances the rock’s vivid shades of red and orange.

Arches National Park, Visitor's Center located on Park Ave., immediately after the park entrance along U.S. Highway 191, UT, 435-719-2299, www.nps.gov/arch
Tags: things to do | outdoors | national park

Hike to the Balcony House and Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park

The craggy Colorado hillsides of Mesa Verde are home to about 600 cliff dwellings that date as far back as 600 A.D. The most impressive of the dwellings are Balcony House and Cliff Palace, which are carved into the stone face of the canyon’s edge. The only way to reach them is with a ranger-guided tour; pick up tickets beforehand at the Far View Visitor’s Center and prepare yourself for a strenuous hike complete with ladders and tunnels (don’t worry, it’s well worth the effort).

Mesa Verde National Park, Visitor’s Center located 15 miles into the park along the main road, CO, 970-529-4465, www. nps.gov/meve
Tags: family | things to do | outdoors | national park

Off-road jeep tour through Sedona

Sedona is most famous for its massive red-rock formations - massive monolithic outcrops that change color and form with every passing ray of sunlight. While you’ll definitely want to get out and climb the gently sloping rocks, the best way to take them all in is with a back-country jeep tour. Pink Jeep offers the best outings with stops at ancient ruins, rock art sites, and coyote canyons.

Pink Jeep Tours, 204 N. Hwy., AZ, 800-873-3662, www.pinkjeep.com
Tags: views | things to do | outdoors

Petrified Forest National Park

At first glance, this bizarre surrealist landscape in the Painted Desert seems like an alien planet. Colorful badlands, petrified wood, fossil beds, and archaeological digs appear more like Mars than Arizona. Make the 28-mile drive along the park road, stopping at the many turn-outs for short walks and scenic views.

Off Hwy. 40 and Hwy. 180, AZ, 928-524-6228, www.nps.gov/pefo
Tags: things to do | national park

Route 66

Get your kicks by driving a preserved portion of America’s first highway. Along the way, pay your respects to vintage Americana: mom and pop diners, carport motels, and roadside attractions. America’s storied thoroughfare originally wound two thousand miles, all the way from Chicago to L.A. Even though Interstate 40 has replaced Route 66 as a high speed highway, a good portion is still preserved throughout the Southwest, including a 165 mile stretch from Williams, Arizona to Top Rock, at the California border.

Starts as the Main Street of Williams, Arizona, then picks up along the I-40 corridor. Continues until Top Rock, California., The I-40 corridor, AZ, www.national66.com
Tags: family | things to do | history | road trips

Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain

Scottsdale and neighboring Phoenix are all about relaxation and, consequently, upscale resort spas. Situated on 53-acres on Camelback Mountain, 98 quaint casitas provide swanky, spacious quarters designed to blend in with the desert environment of Scottsdale. There's also a mountain-side, infinity-edge pool and an exceptional, Asian-inspired spa that comes complete with Zen meditation garden and indoor and outdoor treatment rooms – the popular Watsu water massage is a must.

Scottsdale, 5700 E. McDonald Dr., AZ, 800-245-2051, www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com
Tags: things to do | resort

Sunset hot air balloon above New Mexico's desert

Glide over New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, just outside Albuquerque, and raise a glass of champagne to toast the last moments of day as they give way to the rising moon. The rich hues of pinks and red are magnificent from the ground, and doubly so from a private hot air balloon. Plan the excursion early in your trip so you can reschedule if winds cause cancellations (as they sometimes do).

Rainbow Ryders, 6390 Coors Blvd. (north of Montano Rd.), Albuquerque, NM, 505-823-1111, www.rainbowryders.com
Tags: smart splurge | views | things to do | outdoors

Visit the Taos Pueblo

Over 1,900 Taos Indians live in a traditional community in Taos Pueblo. Dedicated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the pueblo is believed to have been occupied as far back as 1,000 AD. Discover the customs and traditions of this long-lived Southwestern tribe on a walking tour of their homes, plaza, and chapels. Be sure to have an authentic Taos Indian lunch at Tiwa Kitchen, located within the pueblo.

3 miles north of Taos on Route 701, NM, 575-758-1028, www.taospueblo.com
Tags: things to do | culture | history | traditional | walking tour

Whitewater Rafting and Helicopter Tours - Grand Canyon

The best way to comprehend the Grand Canyon is to either get inside it or above it. Better yet, sign up with the Hualapai River Runners to do both! Raft the whitewater of the Colorado River and finish the experience with a stunning helicopter lift out of the canyon. The tour starts and ends at the Hualapai Lodge, which is located along historic Route 66 in nearby Peach Springs.

Hualapai Lodge, Hualapai Indian Reservation, 900 Route 66, AZ, 928-769-2219, www.destinationgrandcanyon.com/runners.html
Tags: smart splurge | views | things to do | whitewater rafting | helicopter tour

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