When I realized I was going to be given extra time off in the early Spring of this year, I was thrilled. Free vacation?! Yes, please! Little did I know, March is not a desirable time for most to embark on adventures. Though I am not opposed to Solo-travel, I am someone who feels experiences should be shared by many. Thankfully my sweetest friend Emily agreed to the trip and got to partake in all things RedRocks with me. (Instagram: #ourredrocksroadtrip)
We decided that a road trip throughout Southern Utah and Northern Arizona was the way to go. In 6 days and 6 nights we conquered so much more than we imagined. This trip should absolutely be a "MUST" for American travelers (and foreign travelers a-like) trying to explore more of North America.
Here was the plan:
- Meet in Salt Lake City and catch a nights sleep
- Day One- Arches National Park; Moab, UT
- Day Two- Canyonlands National Park; Moab, UT / Head to Monument Valley, AZ
- Day Three- Monument Valley Morning / Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend; Page, AZ
- Day Four- Bryce Canyon National Park; Bryce, UT
- Day Five- Grand Canyon National Park; AZ
- Day Six- Recoup Travel Day to Las Vegas
- Fly to Los Angeles
When it comes to raodtrips, there is a level of whimsy one always wants going into the experience. LIFE ON THE OPEN ROAD. No rules or restrictions! Well, while that is all well and good, this type-A planner wants to offer a few tips to make your drive a smooth one! I went ahead and mapped out our route about a month in advance, as well as made rental car reservations. I felt, though it was not considered "peak season," that nailing down that reservation was the most important aspect of planning. The rental car WILL be the priciest expenditure of the whole trip - in a few I will offer penny-saving tips on how to beat out some of that cost. Next, I am a HUGE proponent of AirBnb. I have had nothing but good experiences and foresee all future travel accommodations booked through them - but for roadtrips that can be tricky. Roadtrips can have and should be left open to (controlled) detours. The best way to ensure that you are having a good time, but also have a place to crash, is reserving hotels and motels along the way ahead of time. Particularly in "peak season;" i.e.; the summer months. Most places won't charge you until check-in and have a "24hr. before arrival date" cancelation policy. Map out your destination towns, and hunt around for the best rate! Check in and out at you leisure with no time restrictions - the key is to see all you can, safely!
I had known Emily was interested in taking a trip with me, we just never landed on exactly what to do. She reminded me that she had purchased a National Parks Annual Pass later last year and the plans just started unraveling! With an Annual Pass, typically, the card holder and every member in their vehicle gets access to the park upon entry. This was a clutch resource to have going into the trip. If you are an outdoorsman, this pass is a one-time payment of awesomeness! First up, a 3.75hr drive to Arches National Park!
There is a paved 36 mile loop that takes you from each trailhead and scenic viewpoint. It takes a couple hours to simply drive the loop without even stepping out of the car. We dedicated about half a day to the drive and getting out to do some hiking. The moment you start the drive you are awestruck. Colossal rocks jetting from the ground tower over you as you wind your way through what feels like another planet. It is so surreal. We made our first stop at Double Arch. Designated parking is easy to find and it was an EASY walk to the Arches.
You are able to climb up the formation and sit under its windows. I suggest (carefully) doing this to see the back side of the arch. It is a peaceful feeling when you stop and take a moment to breathe. I was very comfortable hiking in high-rise Lululemon yoga pants, black Mossimo tee from Target, Osprey Raptor 10" hydration pack, and Merrell Women's Chameleon Shift Traveler Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot. (Photos Side/Below By: Emily Magers)
Now, it was onto Delicate Arch. We wanted to make sure we approached the famous Arch close to sunset. With a scenic drive over to its trailhead, we were loosing light not to the horizon but to the clouds. A grey blanket started to cover our hike, but we didnt mind too much. From the cars to Delicate Arch is 3 miles round trip. The walk is predominantly up hill, so brace yourself. On the hiking scale, this trek is considered STRENUOUS. Once we reached the beautiful structure we were stunned. It is TRULY magnificent. Many people sat on the winding wave of red stone surrounding the frail formation. It is as if it is an Earth made ampetheatre inviting you to rest and reflect after your pilgrimage up.
We crashed for the night 5 miles (or less!) away from the Park off Hwy 191, just South of the Colorado River. Aarchway Inn was cheap, clean and a great place to rest after an long day of adventure! We head into town for quality Mexican food at a hole in the wall, El Chorro Loco. Reasonably priced and seeminglya town favorite! Full and exhausted we prepared for the following day and hit the sack!
When we had originally mapped out the trip, Canyonlands was an after thought. "Maybe we can swing by it on the way out?!" I am SO glad we did because this park gave us some of the best views and best photos of all. We decided to wake early and head to Canyonlands before making the shorter 2.75hr drive down to Monument Valley. We back tracked up Hwy. 191 a bit to get to Hwy. 313, leading you into the park but it was no major detour. You see so much on your drive in before even hitting the Information Depot - there you pay to enter, grab and map and other knick-knacks and head on in. For us, we were most interested in Mesa Arch, so we head straight for it!
Mesa Arch is a short and easy trail leading to an INCREDIBLE look out over the canyon. See for yourself!
We couldn't believe we almost wrote off this portion of the trip. It just goes to show that controlled detours may lead to memories and adventures you will never forget. We felt very fortunate to be able to take this time together when we did. Because it was not yet peak season, often we had these outrageous places seldom shared, or completely to ourselves.
Sitting in this space, hidden under an element created archway, with nothing but my balance and my echo was humbling. Being a student of Geology and Geography in college you must know I was FREAKING OUT this entire trip. It also felt really good to talk to Emily about the science behind these formations. With each word of explantation, I too, was relearning how amazing this planet and its forces are. Here are some portraits we managed to snag while up at Mesa.
I want to take a moment to touch on some of those portraits. The camera can be quite the trickster. A few of the ones you see where we appear CLOSE to the edge definitely seem more thrilling than they were. I want to encourage all explorers and adventurers to know their limits, perform SAFE photography and hiking and be smart. Always obey the rules posted by the National Parks Service and take care of one another.
We had gotten some unbelievable time with Mesa Arch and decided to get on the road to Monument Valley. A quick stop of gas, and it was on the road again! We made sure to stop while driving back south through Moab to grab some collectibles.
When I travel, I collect Christmas Tree Ornaments from the places I visit. Every December 25th, I can stop and reflect on how truly blessed my life has been and feel encouraged in the new year ahead to dedicate time to travel and its joys. It is my one true love, Shawn aside. Back on the road, we caught word that we would be chancing some desert thunderstorms approaching the lower part of Utah, crossing into Northern Arizona, but we didnt expect what came next.
Next Up: Monument Valley
Getting in just around sunset, the evening was about dropping our bags, grabbing some grub and washing up for the next days agenda. We stayed at Goulding's Lodge, one of two places to stay in the immediate area. RESERVE IN ADVANCE! Goulding's was no frills but totally great. They even provide Off-Season Specials that save you a boatload!
The weather getting into Monument Valley was a trip. Dropping down from the plateau into the valley, we saw bursts of storm showers in the distance. Moving our way closer to the jarring formations in the distance, we started to get spots of rain. Before we even blinked they were finished and what was left was a colorful reminder that nature is incredible. This photo does the rainbow, NO justice; Where, in the driver seat, I screeched on my brakes when I noticed this in the rear view. (No one was around, the desert can be well, deserted.) We decided to hop out and make the most of the photo opp. I think we nailed it!
Hwy. 191 almost reaches the Southern tip of Utah, before turning into Hwy 163 toward Oljato-Monument Valley. This Navajo Nation and its land actually sits on the border of Utah and Arizona, with the majority of the larger, more notable formations on the Arizona side. There are many famous photos of the final stretch of road before hitting the tribal park. We of course had to stop for the photo opp. Ourselves and a nice French solo-traveler, with cameras clicking, stood in awe of our surroundings.
The Navajo Tribal park is owned by the Natives and is not a US National Park. This 17 mile loop of the Valley is $20/car, up to 4 people. Many people make this trek with larger SUV's and vans as to accommodate their families and fellow travelers. As for a couple girls who rented a hot rod, Dodge- Charger (Alamo Rentals decision, not mine....) I was concerned about how the red, unpaved road would be on our low rider. From local info and opinions I gathered before hand, we tried our luck heading out on the loop without a tour guide. There are several options for guided, SUV tours for the area. Most take you off the 17 mile loop into privately owned areas to get up close and personal with the structures. A definite perk for ponying up cash for the tour! If you are looking to have a nice view and little joy ride, I think heading out on the road around the valley unguided is just fine. Be aware that in the summer months, during peak season, the locals warn that the road is bumpier, more warn and less kind on low riding/nice rented vehicles. Chances of getting dings, dents or even stuck are higher!
It is hard to not want to stop at every single turn and take a picture. You are surrounded by insane views the entire time. So you are not hopping out every hundred feet, be sure to get great panorama's and really make the most of wide shots! Being a Native American woman (Creek and Cherokee) I took immense pride in this experience and this time with nature. There is something so truly special about the Navajo Nation. Every person inhabiting this area is a pure Navajo Native, working on the land they have known and grown for centuries. The art, textiles, jewelry and storytelling that happens in this place is so fascinating. There is even a turn off on the loop where you can drive up and purchase hand made crafts and jewels from woman creating right under the shadows of the giants!
Preserve Your Penny:
- If you plan a trip hitting several sites, purchase a National Parks Annual Pass. It will save you big bucks in the long run and it is an amazing thing to have in your wallet! Our one time purchase got us into 4 parks on this trip alone, and still lasts the remainder of the 12 months.
- Cheap (but safe) motels do the trick. No need for the Ritz! This is a dirty, adventure filled experience that simply needs a place to lay your head at night.
- Road snacks for the win! Stopping along the way for sit-down meals, or even fats food will add up, not to mention won't feel good on a hikers tour. Grab light, and healthy snack foods to hold you over for your adventures and then treat yourself in the evenings!
- Bring your own easy to carry water bottle and refill as you go. Many hotels have water stations for you to use! Plastic water bottles are SUCH an unnecessary buy for many reasons!
Thanks for tagging along, Part 2 of our RedRocks Roadtrip will be coming up shortly! Stay tuned!