Weeklong trip to SW America: advice?
November 20, 2008 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Travel Filter: 7 day trip to SW America during holidays. Suggestions?

I apologize for being so lazy, but you all rocked it last winter for my trip to Mexico, so I've come back for more:
- I have a week off (12/28 - 1/4) and want to go to the Southwest (traveling from NYC).
- I've been to Vegas and the Hoover dam, but that's it.
- I'm down for camping, hiking, white water rafting, mountain biking... all that.
- I'd love to see the Grand Canyon or Painted Canyon, Arches, whatever you think is worth it. It is all new to me.
- Ideally someplace warm.
- I will be traveling alone, and am down for solo stuff (as long as I can find my way back) or group package deals.
- Budget $1000 - 1500
- I can rent a car.

Thanks for your help!
posted by cgs to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did this with a friend 2 years ago in the spring and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. That being said I have no idea about the weather now other than it is probably very cold.

it snowed on us outside of Mesa Verde in april when we camped. Also half of the park was closed off til the spring. No matter what plan for cold weather.

There will be a lot of really awesome places you can go visit, but you should go to Chaco Canyon. It is a journey to get to, it is a national (or state I forget) park in the middle of reservation land, and you have to cross a lot of unpaved roads (we figured it was the indians not wanting it to become super touristy) so if you rent a car get the insurance or lie or something. But once you get there is is stunning, great hikes, vistas, amazing relics, and the rangers there know their shit. On top of all that, they live there, and one of them operates an observatory, and there are nightly star viewings where he talks all about the site and the sky. Camping only if I recall.
posted by Large Marge at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2008

Definitely see Arches, but make sure you set out early in the morning before the trails get too crowded.
posted by pravit at 3:56 PM on November 20, 2008

I spent a couple days in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah in October. It is an out of the way jewel in the National Park System that is every bit as awe-inspiring as some of its better know Utah neighbors. Here is a photo from the southern part of the park, and another from the northern area.

It is recommended you rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle as roads to the most outstanding features are unpaved and may be touchy in winter. At least have a 2-wheel with above average clearance. The week after Christmas is not necessarily the one I would choose for the Utah desert, as it may be kinda cold, but you shouldn't have to worry too much about snow.
posted by netbros at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2008

Definitely see the Canyon but keep in mind that up in that part of Arizona, it's actually quite chilly in the winter. Now, if you want to roll down here to Phoenix (which I do not recommend you waste your one precious week doing) you'll get weather so heavenly you'll never want to leave.
I also vote for a trip to Monument Valley. And you won't be alone for long. Plenty of travellers doing the solo thing around that area.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:20 PM on November 20, 2008

Cold or not, the Grand Canyon is one of those things you should make sure to see. There's simply nothing else like it anywhere, and there's no substitute for seeing it in person.

Also impressive in terms of natural wonders are Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in SW Utah. Not sure about the average climate at these for that time of year... they are, however, right on the way between the Grand Canyon in northern AZ and Arches in eastern UT.
posted by JustDerek at 5:01 PM on November 20, 2008

Seconding Zion National Park. Angel's Landing is an amazing hike and was definitely a highlight of a SW camping trip I took last summer.

It might be too far, but I'll never forget the otherworldly feeling of Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley National Park.

Both places are pretty cheap to camp in if I remember, but would probably get pretty cold at night that time of year.
posted by matteesee at 7:54 PM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: It depends where you start, cgs, but if staying warm is one of your goals, probably Tucson is your best bet. (Many of the suggestions above are excellent places, but I wouldn't go there, particularly, the last week of the year. Arches N.P., for example, probably my favorite place in the region after the Grand Canyon, is between 4100—5650 feet above sea level... a little higher elevation than NYC. And in December, on average, the temperature drops below freezing on 26 out of the 31 days. Chaco Canyon likewise is amazing, but not for a first exploration of the area.)

I'm personally big on loop trips, with a lot of driving, and over the years I've been through every county in AZ and UT. If I ran the zoo... I mean, your tour... it might go like this.

Day 1: fly into Tucson. Regroup. Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to get some understanding of where you are. Rest up.

Day 2: drive west to Organ Pipe Cactus N.M., and spend the day there. Camp, if you like the looks of it.

Day 3: Head up through Ajo on Hwy. 85, then east on I-10 into Phoenix (just to get a glimpse of it before running away), then north on I-17. Possible stops at Montezuma Castle N.M., Tuzigoot N.M. (I'm big on visiting National Park Service sites). Tuzigoot is less interesting, but it's not far off Alt. U.S. 89, the road you want to get over to for a drive through the unbelievably beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, via the millionaires and New Age crystal healers in Sedona. Stop somewhere in or around Flagstaff.

Day 4 (and 5): Drive up U.S. 180, past Humphreys Peak (highest point in AZ) and hang out at the Grand Canyon. Like people say, this is the one spot not to miss, whatever else you decide.

Day 6: Leave Grand Canyon by the Desert View entrance, heading east on Hwy. 64, then have lunch (or breakfast, if you're an early riser) at a Navajo place somewhere in Tuba City. (Maybe here.) Then drive Hwy. 264 to the east across the Hopi Reservation, to get a look at that, then drop down on Hwy 87 or 77 to spend the night in or near Holbrook, possibly at Wigwam Village. (I never stayed in this one, #6, but years ago I did stay in Village #2, near Mammoth Cave N.P. in KY.)

(Alternate Route for Day 6: just as good, turn right at the intersection of U.S. 89 and head to Holbrook via Wupatki N.M., the Sunset Crater N.M. volcano site, maybe Walnut Canyon N.M., and I-40.)

Day 7: Drive through Petrified Forest N.P. in the morning, and head back to Tucson mostly on Hwy 77, via Show Low, Globe, and the Salt River Canyon.

It works out to just over 1,000 miles of driving, which really isn't that much for the week. And you get to see some of the best scenery in the world, a lot of geology, some history, and also learn a bit about the Sinagua, the Hopi, the Navajo, as well as the Anasazi who came before them.

p.s. Death Valley N.M. is probably my third favorite place out there, truly incredible, but I don't think of that as the Southwest. Still, it is a great spot in winter — average temperatures in December 38—65° F. (I've been to 53 of the 58 counties in CA as well.)
posted by LeLiLo at 9:49 PM on November 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you hit Santa Fe, NM and want to head northwest to Moab, the drive is beautiful and you can hit several places in SW Colorado along the way- including Durango and Telluride (about an hour out of your way, but worth it), and Mesa Verde National Park.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 7:17 AM on November 21, 2008

« Older Focus StealingHow can I sto   |   Ellul'sive author Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.