Please help me plan a road trip in the Southwest US
September 26, 2018 12:33 PM   Subscribe

The corpse family is attempting to find traditional geocaches in all 50 states and DC. I'm planning a road trip to look for them in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado, or something along those lines. I've never been to that part of the world and know nothing. Please advise.

Here's the area I'm eyeing, to give you an idea where the geocaches are -- all over the place, basically, but also there are large areas with none. I'm thinking we could fly in to... somewhere... rent a car, and drive around to those four states, then fly out of somewhere else.

This would be in April. No leg of the drive should be more than two hours -- we can do more than two hours of driving in a day but there should be a significant break in the middle, preferably with a hike.

We'd stay in hotels / motels (we're experienced campers but flying with camping gear sounds like a hassle). Let's say we'd have six days to do it.

I'd like to get in plenty of stops at cultural / historical / natural touristy interest, too.

We have California but don't have Nevada, Kansas, or Texas.
posted by The corpse in the library to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds fun, but, I think you're in for a significant amount of driving. Also most of those geocaches are probably a good distance from a road and could require a significant amount of hiking. Bring lots of water. That's legit desert and there aren't many services in those areas. If you're going into Escalante, a high clearance vehicle is recommended if not absolutely necessary.
posted by trbrts at 12:58 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the big issue is Arizona and Utah- even though it looks like there are loads of geocaches, those areas are far apart and not well connected by roads. I would probably stick to Colorado and New Mexico for a driving trip, as it looks like you could do a fairly interesting trip either from the Durango area down into Farmington, continue to Albuquerque, then I-40 to Gallup and then maybe to Flagstaff or back up to Durango, or same loop starting in Albuquerque.

There is an airport in Durango serviced by American and I think one in Flagstaff, but these are all relatively small cities/towns without major airports. If you fly into Albuquerque you have a lot more options. There should be plenty of lodging options in Durango, Farmington, Albuquerque, and Gallup.

As trbrts mentions, this includes a lot of very deserty desert (although there is also mountain and forest) and will be hot even in April. Some of the desert scenery along this route is very striking, including the Bisti Badlands and potentially El Malpais, depending on what you decide. I've hiked the Bisti in June and lived to tell the tale, so it's doable. There are hiking trails along this route and there shouldn't be any stretch longer than two hours without something of interest (although some are close). There are several important archaeological sites along this route, including Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Canyon. Mesa Verde is only a little off the route near Durango (and Canyon of the Ancients a little farther still). Pagosa Springs is in the other direction but it's lovely.

I would try to plan a separate trip about the same length to hit all the incredible Utah parks, and another shorter trip for the Grand Canyon area. If you try to do all four states in six days you will be doing a LOT of driving in desolate areas and I don't think there's any way to meet your stipulations of no more than two hours without a place to stop.

Let me know if you have any questions as you try to figure this out. I live in Albuquerque and have spent significant time in the Four Corners area. This is just sort of off the top of my head so I could try to be more specific if needed!
posted by Missense Mutation at 1:56 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

We did the geocache in Goosenecks State Park in Utah - it is a beautiful spot with an easy cache. I highly recommend it and there are petroglyphs nearby.

The Hopi nation does celebrate daylight savings time but Arizona does not. So, be aware that you will cross into/out of Mountain time sooner than some maps may indicate.
posted by soelo at 1:58 PM on September 26, 2018

I love this part of the country, and am going to suggest you add in some National Monuments to your trip - specifically:
Colorado National Monument - just outside Grand Junction, and so spectacular it makes me weep. The views are vast and the drive up/down is hair-raising (but in a good way - just make sure the driver keeps their eyes on the road!). This is easy to do as part of a visit to Mesa Verde - which, if you want to stay nearby, try the lovely little town of Cortez, and have breakfast for me at Pippos.
At the other end of spectrum is El Morro National Monument, which is not too far from Gallup (we've always camped in the 7-spot campground, usually with only one or two other parties and the coyotes). It represents the only fresh water for hundreds of miles around, and as a result, humans have been visiting (and leaving evidence of their visits in the soft sandstone at the base of the seep) since there have been humans in the area. One of my favorite places on the planet. If you stay in Gallup, or even just pass through, stop in at the historic El Rancho Motel - if only to see the lobby.
posted by dbmcd at 2:39 PM on September 26, 2018

You should be aware that nearly any road smaller than a state highway is going to be dirt or gravel, and even the well-maintained ones will likely have some rough patches and cross some sandy arroyos. You'll want to have an SUV with all-wheel or four-wheel drive, and always keep a few gallons of water on hand just in case. Many areas will have no cellphone reception, and it can be a long wait for another vehicle to come along. Also, gas stations can be a hundred miles apart and not every town on the map will have one, so be very conservative about your gas level.

dmbcd is right that Colorado National Monument is amazing, but be sure to drive the rim road west-to-east. Eastbound you're driving right at the edge of a sheer cliff for 20+ miles. There will be mind-blowing scenery everywhere on your trip, but to me the most mind-blowing of all is at Dead Horse Point State Park, just northwest of Moab.
posted by wps98 at 5:12 PM on September 26, 2018

This is all useful, thank you -- it sounds like limiting it to two states might be wise. Flying into or out of Denver and into or out of Albuquerque would be easy; so is flying into or out of Salt Lake City, and into or out of Phoenix. Any recommendations on which of those would be most awesome, in April?

Going east/west is also possible but north/south seems appealing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:50 AM on September 27, 2018

This would be in April

Many people visit New Mexico thinking it is the desert and the desert is always warm and sunny. This is quite incorrect. What makes something a desert is simply having low precipitation.

In April you will find many mountain areas in New Mexico will either still have snow or have the possibility of snow. You will also find many of those same mountain areas might be quite warm. You'll want to keep this in mind when you plan. As you go further North the possibility of snow increases and some of the geocaches on your map will have deep snow in April. However it's possible this has been planned for and the caches are accessible even in deep snow if you are equipped to travel in snow (cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.)

No leg of the drive should be more than two hours -- we can do more than two hours of driving in a day but there should be a significant break in the middle, preferably with a hike.

We'd stay in hotels / motels (we're experienced campers but flying with camping gear sounds like a hassle). Let's say we'd have six days to do it.

And you are considering SLC to Phoenix??? According to google maps that's over ten hours of driving time. Which, over 6 days at two hours a day will give you plenty of time as long as you don't leave the direct route, however unless you are willing to limit yourself to geocaches only on that route I'm not sure how you'd do that given your constraints.

Albuquerque to Denver is less than 7 hours total driving, so that's going to give you more time to check out other areas, however that route is all freeway so might be less interesting overall.

Your biggest constraint here is that you are limited to two hours of driving between motels, and there's parts of the southwest where that gets tricky. Check out the details of any route you are considering and look at where you can find motels. Does your family care about if they are "brand name" motels? That will limit your options further. If you are willing to stay in AirBnBs that will give you more choices. Also be sure to avoid rush hours into and out of cities, as this will cut into your two hours a day of driving a great deal.

Be aware that most of the freeways between cities will be two lanes each way, and many smaller roads will only be one lane each way. There's a potential for accidents to block the road until they are cleared. This does not happen often, but depending on the reasons for your two hour limit could cause you some issues.

If you want to go to geocaches that are further from the main road, you might consider flying in and out of the same airport. There are also many smaller airports in the area, however it's likely that flying into, say for instance Durango, will require an additional flight leg.

Also if you want to camp but don't want to fly with gear, there are many places that rent gear. You might be able to mail it back if you are flying out of a different airport.
posted by yohko at 5:17 PM on September 27, 2018

Two hours of driving between breaks, but more than two hours a day.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:28 PM on September 27, 2018

If that link is the area you're talking about you need to make sure you have an clear idea of how big that area is and how much nothing is out there. I'm from the Southwest and that's a whole nother level. A lot of it is stunningly beautiful, but you might drive for an hour in spots and not see another car, especially at night. You see that most of that map is reservation land.

You see where Glen Canyon is? I arrived at the middle of Lake Powell and realized I was supposed to be on the other side, and no ferry, so I drove around the top. It was hours and I couldn't have seen more than a few cars, none in the last hour or so, and got blocked by free range cattle toward the end. And that is a big destination area, unlike a lot of the rest of that map.

Not that you shouldn't go, you should, it's amazing, but please be prepared and realistic. There will probably be lots of spots with no mobile phone reception. Bring lots of water, gallons. People die every year doing things like this.
posted by bongo_x at 11:45 PM on September 27, 2018

The screenshot was to give people an idea where geocaches are — to make it clear that we can’t just tootle on over to the four corners monument and snag them all, and to show where they’re concentrated.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2018

If anyone stumbles across this AskMe while planning a trip: we ended up getting geocaches in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

The daily drives, with plenty of stops and detours for touristy things:
Las Vegas to Jacob Lake, Arizona
Jacob Lake to Grand Canyon Village
Grand Canyon to Phoenix
Phoenix to Lordsburg, New Mexico
Lordsburg to Silver City
Silver City to El Paso
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on May 13

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