Southwestern United States - our tour
Our tour was the result of a work colleague bringing in a brochure, advertising escorted tours of “Enchanting Canyonlands”. And we thought that we could do that ourselves. Well after some planning, and a few missed flight opportunities, we ended up flying out from the U.K. to San Diego.
http://www.americansouthwest.net/index.shtml is one good source of information for this whole area.
If you’re intending to visit several National Parks, its well worth investing US$50 in an annual National Parks Pass, (http://www.nps.gov), especially as I think that some parks are raising their visit prices in 2006.
Arrived San Diego after nearly 24 hours travelling. Stayed overnight at the Best Western Severn Seas, 411 Hotel Circle South, (http://www.bw7seas.com). We chose this location, as it was both near the airport, and close to the highways heading north of the city. There is a complimentary bus service from the airport, which is useful if you’re not collecting a car straight away. The rooms are adequate rather than large. Plenty of parking space. Eat breakfast in the café next to the motel which was fine.
"Death Valley and Las Vegas"
Picked up rental car early in the morning, no queuing, and reasonably light traffic heading north. There were major bridge and highway building works east of Los Angeles, which slowed up the traffic.
We took I-15 towards Las Vegas, and then branched off at Baker to head up SR-127 to Death Valley National Park, (http://www.nps.gov/deva).
As we didn’t have too much time, because of the distance from our starting point, we just visited the salt lake and Badwater basin – the lowest point in the western hemisphere. Certainly makes a change from the city.
Took I-95 into Las Vegas, about 2.5 hours driving. We stayed overnight at La Quinta Inn, 7101 Cascade Valley Ct, Las Vegas, NV 89128, which is on the northern outskirts of the city. We chose this location, so we could head out northeast the next day to Zion National Park.
Cruised the strip in the evening, just to see the sights and the lights, the rollercoasters, and the fountains at Bellagio’s.
"Zion and Bryce Canyon"
Drove the 170 miles northeast mainly on I-15 to Zion National Park, (http://www.nps.gov/zion). Visiting the park is by shuttle bus, which we took from the Visitor Center to the end of the trail, then walked down to The Narrows. This park is a mixture of cliffs and canyons, and there were climbers on the near-vertical cliffs.
Afterwards drove Hwy 89 for about 85 miles upto Bryce Canyon. Stayed overnight at Best Western Ruby’s Inn, (http://www.rubysinn.com), on Hwy 63 close to the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. We eat at The Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room, aka Ruby’s Inn Restaurant, and bought some supplies at the General Store. The outside temperature is close to / below zero at this time of year.
Early morning visit to Bryce Canyon, (http://www.nps.gov/brca), crisp blue sky and snow on the ground. Wrap up well, its cool here in April!
We drove down to Rainbow Point, then stopped at all the scenic points on the way back. This place is visually spectacular, especially when there’s snow. Described as “An ever-changing diversity of naturally carved amphitheatres, balanced rocks, gravity-defying bridges, and rock spires of pink, red, and orange hues.” It definitely has a “wow” factor.
"Scenic Route 12"
Leaving the park we took National Scenic Route 12, followed by SR-24 up to I-70 near Green River.
Driving SR-12 is highly recommended, this is probably one of the most impressive routes that you can drive anywhere in the world, with its changing landscapes, and 9200 feet altitude. Stopping at one viewpoint, we could see snow on the mountains 150 miles away.
Where “awesome” is definitely the right word to describe it!
East of Green River, we took Hwy 191 south to Moab. The distance is about 275 miles. Stayed overnight at the Super 8 Motel, 889 North Main, in Moab, (http://www.Super8Moab.com), We chose this location, so we could go out of town the 5 miles north on the highway to Arches National Park.
We eat at Smitty’s, 540 South Main, enjoying the steaks.
"Arches, Four Corners, and Monument Valley"
Morning visit to Arches National Park, (http://www.nps.gov/arch), to see the sandstone towers and arches. Walked around the Windows Section, up to Skyline Arch, and the Delicate Arch viewpoint. Very different from the canyons of the other parks.
In the afternoon, continued southbound on Hwy 191 down to Bluff, where we detoured southeast to visit the Four Corners Monument just off Hwy 160. [Note – Hwy 163 East from Bluff seems to have been renumbered Hwy 162.] This is the meeting place of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Headed back northbound on Hwy 191, so we could drive southwest on Hwy 163 through Monument Valley to Kayenta. The rock formations of buttes and towers were colourful in the evening light.
We stayed overnight at Cameron Trading Post, Cameron, AZ.86020 (http://www.camerontradingpost.com), 54 miles north of Flagstaff on Hwy 89. This is a good location, if you’re coming from the north or northeast, as you can go directly onto the East Grand Canyon Access Road (Route 64) early the next morning. This place has a huge souvenir shop, grandly titled the Historic Navajo Trading Post. We eat in the restaurant, with its antique furnishings and metalled ceiling.
"The Grand Canyon"
Grand Canyon visit day, (http://www.nps.gov/grca). Drove in through the eastern entrance, and stopped at all the viewing points on the North Rim, starting at the Watchtower at Desert View.
Its certainly big/grand and deep.
One of the features of the gift shops is a book about all the people who have visited the Canyon, but never made it out again.
We had a late afternoon helicopter flight booked with Papillon (http://www.papillon.com) from the Grand Canyon airport at Tusayan, but we had to switch to their sister company, Grand Canyon Helicopters, as it was “too windy” for the lighter helicopters!!
We took off to the music of the Ride of the Valkyries from “Apocalypse Now”. Very spectacular views, even if it was a little bit white-knuckle at times.
Left the park through the southern entrance on Route 64 down to I-40, then east to Flagstaff. About 80 miles.
Stayed overnight at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott, 2005 S.Milton, (http://www.fairfieldinnflagstaff.com), which is convenient for I-40 and Route 66.
We eat pizza and pasta at Stromboli’s, 1435 S.Milton, within walking distance from the motel.
"Meteor Crater, and back to the Coast"
Departed Flagstaff, eastbound on I-40, on a roundtrip to visit Meteor Crater, (http://www.meteorcrater.com), which is about 700 feet deep, and 2.4 miles in circumference.
Then southbound on I-17 to Phoenix, and eastbound to Yuma, and San Diego. This is a very long drive, and not recommended, just necessary to get us back to the coast, and our starting-off point. Near the Mexican border, all the traffic was stopped for checks by the Border police. We note that some of the Trailer-park sites are being bought-up by property developers, which seems to be a major issue. Made it back to San Diego very late in the evening.
"Coastal chilling in California"
We stayed two nights at the Best Western Inn by the Sea at La Jolla, 7830 Fay Ave., CA 92037, (http://www.lajollainnbythesea). This location is close to the upmarket shops, including Armani, and fancy restaurants. At the end of the street is the HardRock café, unfortunately closed for refurbishment. Its within walking distance to the sea and beaches.
One of the beaches was occupied by Pacific Harbor Seals, who were looking after their young. Apparently these residents are not universally popular, so they were being monitored by La Jolla Friends of the Seals, (http://www.lajollaseals.com).
In the evening, we headed south out of town, down the coast to Pacific Beach, to eat at the affordable Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill, 4465 Mission Boulevard, CA.92109, close to the beach, where we eat steak, pizza, fajitas & nachos, and took some leftovers for lunch the following day. Followed by a walk along the beachfront.
The next day we moved to get a different perspective on San Diego, crossing the bridge to Coronado Island. We stayed at the friendly Coronado Inn, 266 Orange Avenue, CA 92118 (http://www.coronadoinn.com)
The first evening we eat at Bay Beach Café, 1201 First Street, Coronado, CA.92118, with a terrific night-time view of the city. We enjoyed clam chowder, steaks, & chicken, but didn’t enjoy the servers removing plates before we had finished. The staff’s attitude seemed to be – we close at 9pm, whether you’ve finished or not. Its in a good location, near the ferry crossing, to walk along the promenade, after eating.
The next day it decided to rain, so off up I-5 to Carlsbad for some outlet shopping. You need to keep your eyes open for this shopping centre, as there are no signs on the highway.
In the evening, back on the island, we eat at Marie Callender’s Grill, 1300 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA.92118, (http://www.mcpies.com). We enjoyed steak, chicken, & burgers, with pleasant friendly service, and a ‘stay as long as you like’ attitude. A good ending to a wonderful tour.