I never pass up the chance for a good road trip. So after picking up my car in California in August, 2021, I figured it would be a good chance to do a little exploring. I took a road trip across the southwest of the USA. Opting for a southern route across the USA, I hit some awesome spots in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Here are a few of the highlights….
I continued my road trip across the southwest and drove south from San Jose. Instead of taking my normal route to LA, I drove through Bakersfield, Barstow, and camped a night in Palm Springs. The following day I headed to Calexico and Yuma. California is vast, dry, and arid. The drought was affecting everyone. Signs were all around the city blaming politicians for the water crisis. Pickup trucks, cars and buses crossed the border to Mexicali.
A bit further down the road was Yuma, where there was another large border crossing. There was a wall that extended half the way; as I crossed into Arizona the wall turned into a barbed wire fence. At that point border patrol cars populated the highways and off roads. At least twice in a very short time, I saw border patrol chase after a group of people wandering in the barren land. Despair crept in and gave me a guilt trip – why should I enjoy a life so free and easy? I thought as I ramped onto Route 8 to Tucson.
The road trip across the southwest was showing me new things.
A cool thing to see here is the picturesque Mission San Xavier del Bac, one of the oldest Spanish missions in the country. Also, Tucson has real Mexican food – you’re close to the border here, so those chimichangas and chalupas are authentic!
It’s one of the sunniest cities in America with about 300 days of clear weather. Doesn’t that already make you happy!? Add to that all the attractions a large city has to offer, surrounded by majestic desert landscapes. Therefore, it’s worth checking out. Don’t miss the incredible cacti of the Desert Botanical Garden or the hike up Camelback Mountain.
This town is reputed to be magical – not just for its breathtaking scenery, but for the energy vortexes that have attracted healers and seekers from around the world. A big part of Sedona culture is metaphysical pursuits, from spirit quests in the desert to inspired self-care in the spas. It’s a good place to take time to rest, recharge and tune in. Of the trails I checked out, Devil’s Bridge was highly trafficked, but Cathedral trail was much quieter.
My fave town, hands-down. There was so much good camping around Flagstaff, but my top pick was Lockett Meadow in the Coconino National Forest. The drive up to this primitive campground under the San Francisco Peaks was spectacular. Quiet groves of aspen and pine trees engulfed the cool, shady campsites, and there were lots of nearby trailheads, including one leading up to Humphrey’s Peak – Arizona’s highest point. Only the adventure tourists brave this mountain, but get there early because the camp spots fill up quickly. All the more reason to road trip across the southwest.
The brochure states, “Discover a place that time has forgotten.” This little town of less than 10,000 is a portal to some truly spectacular sites of indigenous civilization. The most famous is Mesa Verde National National Park, which preserves the ancient dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Imagine scaling primitive wooden ladders and ducking through rock tunnels to reach their multi-story sandstone structures built into inaccessible niches in the desert cliffs – it’s a sight to see!
The Wild West lives on in Durango, from the historic storefronts of downtown to live country dancing in the saloons, from surrounding ranch lands to a narrow-gauge railroad through the mountains. Nevertheless, it was the Himalaya Kitchen that drew me in for a taste of a different mountain range altogether – they actually have a Tibetan yak dish on the menu!
Nestled under the quiet San Juan Mountains, this is yet another nature-lover’s paradise. But you don’t have to be rugged to enjoy the biggest attraction: the hot springs. Full-service spas tap into the healing mineral waters of the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs, revered for generations by the Southern Ute tribes and still delighting visitors today.
This was where I really dove into the hardcore outdoor adventure culture of the Southwest: hiking, trail-running, off-roading in ATVs, and best of all, mountain biking the Whole Enchilada. This gnarly route starts in the La Sal Mountains and ends down at the Colorado River – an 8,000 foot descent over 34 miles! It’s fairly extreme but the rush and spectacular desert canyon scenery make it one of the most celebrated mountain biking experiences in the country.
In the heart of New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains, hidden under the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert shared by Mexico and the U.S., lies a network of awe-inspiring caves. Formations of stalactites have fairytale names like Witch’s Finger, Bottomless Pit, Temple of the Sun, Totem Pole and Rock of Ages – many of which were given to them by a teenager who first explored the caves on a wire ladder in 1898. This national park’s namesake, Carlsbad Cavern, is one of the largest such chambers in the world.
The culture of this high desert town is an alluring blend of Native American, Spanish and Anglo heritage modernized by art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and people who like to be unique. Sante Fe has a 400-year-old Plaza and adobe architecture, beautiful sunshine and clean mountain air, more art galleries than any town of it’s size, and a foodie scene that will satisfy even the most sophisticated palettes. Definitely visit Ten Thousand Waves (a Japanese style spa in the pine forest), the Georgia O’Keefe Museum (celebrating the revered painter of the American Southwest) and art districts like Canyon Road, Baca Street and the Railyard, where you can find everything from fine oil paintings to Native weavings to traditional Mexican pottery.
Roswell will forever be associated with UFOs, as it is the alleged crash site of an alien spaceship that was concealed by the military. Truth or hoax? You decide at Roswell’s acclaimed International UFO Museum and Research Center, which is at once a colossal tourist attraction and an invitation to think critically about the possibilities of life on other planets. Not into that? Try birdwatching at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, or go for a swim in one of the cenotes (sinkholes) at Bottomless Lakes State Park.
The most interesting part of my road trip across the southwest was Texas!
This is a rodeo town. It boasts of having the world’s first rodeo (a claim disputed by others, including Deer Trail, Colorado) but there’s no doubt that West of the Pecos Rodeo is one of the biggest and best in the world. Every year from July 4th, 1883 until today, folks have flocked to see the bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback event, and even the wild cow milking. Yes, that’s right – two men run around the ring trying to rope Ol’ Bessie and milk her.
My favorite thing here was visiting Hico’s Billy the Kid Museum. The infamous child-outlaw was supposedly shot dead by the Sheriff in Sumner, New Mexico, and buried in 1881. But an enduring legend is that there was never a body in the grave, that the Kid escaped to become an old man in Hico where he didn’t reveal his true identity until age 90. Other than that, the town has some cool old storefronts and vintage murals that make it very picturesque.
I came here for the Ironman 70.3, an awesome race that’s been going on for 30 years. The swim is a 1.2 mile lap in historic Lake Dunbar. The run is through the Texas Tech campus, and the bike is 56 miles out-and-back through the West Texas countryside. The only thing you have to watch out for is the heat!
South Padre Island
This barrier island resort has its share of touristy stuff. But there’s still plenty of natural beauty! I was enraptured by bird life, beautiful sunsets, pods of dolphins in the Gulf, and sea turtles. The turtles are even rehabilitated at Sea Turtle, Inc. I spent most of my days kite surfing with Pro Kite.
My road trip across the Southwest was great! If anyone hasn’t seen this part of the country, I highly recommend checking it out! Or learn more about Travel with KDalive.