North America has a lot to offer to travelers, especially the ones who enjoy nature. I consider myself lucky to have explored it from coast to coast, but there is still so much to see. One of the regions I had not visited yet was the American Southwest, home to canyons, deserts, cacti and so much more. In September of 2019, one of my friends and I set off out of Las Vegas on a two-week road trip through the red rocks and arches, going from National Park to National Park. Here are some of the places I think everyone travelling through the area should visit.
1. Zion National Park
I listed Zion as number one, not only because it was one of our first stops, but also because it was my absolute favorite. The narrow canyon, rough hikes, clear turquoise river and incredible vistas did not disappoint. It is also home to my two favorite hikes of the whole trip: The Narrows and Angel's Landing. We spent two full days in Zion to make sure we had plenty of times for the hikes and also to take our time exploring the park and not overexerting ourselves in the heat. We also took a moment to swim in the Virgin River (if you want to know more about that particular experience, you can read it here.) I loved the atmosphere in Zion. Even though it was crowded and felt squeezed between the canyon walls, it felt different from the other parks we visited. I guess seeing the canyon from the bottom probably gave a different perspective.
2. The Grand Canyon
You can't visit the American Southwest without visiting the Grand Canyon. I mean, you could, but you would miss out on one of the most impressive feats of nature. We were incredibly lucky and, not only did we get to see the canyon from the rim, meet moose and walk around the rim at sunset, we also went rafting on the Colorado river, in the middle of the Grand Canyon! It was an incredible experience. The Canyon in itself is impressive and breathtaking, but to be in the middle of it showed me how small we all are compared to the immensity of this canyon.
3. Arches National Park
Arches is a very small National Park compared to the other two, but it is definitely worth the visit. Not only does it offer beautiful views on the surrounding lands, but it is also home to more than 2000 natural stone arches! Isn't it amazing that these arches were naturally made by wind, water and sand over the years?
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, like Zion and Arches, is located in Utah and is the home of the Hoodoos. You can walk along the trail that zigzags to the bottom of the canyon and see these stone spires from up close or watch them from the rim of the Canyon, but they still make for an impressive view.
5. Anteloppe Canyon
You have probably seen the pictures of Antelope Canyon all over Instagram, but it's hard to imagine exactly how deep and twisted the canyon really is until you have stepped into it. It looks beautiful on pictures, but you cannot understand how much better it is in real life until you have seen it with your own eyes. The visit is expensive and time restricted, but having a guide with you showing you the particularities of every turn and giving you cues about the best spots for photos is really worth it.
6. Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire was one of our first stops of this journey and I'm still not sure if the name is from the bright orange and red hues of the rocks or because the air is so hot it might actually burn you. Good thing the hikes were pretty short and we had cold water in the van because I am not used to this heat. But the different colors of the surrounding canyons and the enormous boulders made for an interesting stop and I would go again if I had to start the trip over. It was worth it!
7. Coral Pink Sand Dunes
I know I'm no better than a 5 year old, but I still love playing in the sand. Especially this much sand! Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a very small park that only takes an hour to visit if you want to walk around the dunes for a while, which we did. It wasn't in our itinerary at first, but since it was basically on the way, we decided to stop by and I'm so glad we did. The dunes were about 10 meters high and the sand was a deep orange color that contrasted so well with the blue sky, my arts teacher could have used it as an exemple in 5th grade arts class. Plus, I love walking barefoot in the sand so I will always make a detour to visit a desert or a beach.
There are still so many places in this area that I wish to visit like The Wave and Havasu Falls, but I am very satisfied with our trip. Being in nature for two weeks, camping and taking our time was exactly what I needed at that moment. And filling my eyes and memories with so many gorgeous views was certainly a huge plus of this whole experience.
Have you been on a road trip through the American Southwest? If so, please let me know what you think are not-to-miss places.
other articles you might enjoy
It's no secret, road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. It allows you to see so much more of a destination than just taking a train or a plane. You get to stop wherever you want and for as long as you want and make your journey, the destination. Although I have taken multiple road trips with my little blue Nissan Versa, Dory, I decided to leave her at home this time and get the full road trip experience, even sleeping in the car. True I've slept in Dory before, but I don't think that would be comfortable for a long trip. Instead, my friend and I opted for a rental, and not any rental. A camper van from Escape Campervans.
Escape Campervans started in New Zealand in 2003 and now has 12 locations in America, spread across Canada and the United States. They specialize in small camper van rentals with one little detail: their vans are all hand painted by LA artists and all feature an original, one of a kind and colorful design. So not only are the vans easy to drive and well equipped, they are also amazingly beautiful. Out of the 600 of their fleet, we saw at least 40 and I can honestly say I was disappointed by maybe two. Not that I found them ugly, they just weren't as beautiful as the others in my opinion. But obviously, the prettiest one was ours: Poppy.
This is Poppy, our Mavericks camper van. It was surprisingly spacious and had a couch and table that converted into a queen bed, as well as a fully equipped kitchen in the rear. It came with all of the essentials like pans, silverware, an actual refrigerator, a sink, a gas stove, a solar panel, etcetera. We even had a solar shower, that we ended up not needing as the campgrounds were well equipped with actual showers everywhere we went. Being used to a tiny Versa, it was weird at first driving in the van, but you get used to it quickly and it was super easy to drive. You can park in regular parking spaces and there is a distance detector when backing up to help you avoid any accidents. Except for a fan or heater during the night, I can't think of anything more we could have needed. After roughing it in a tent in Banff a few years ago, I had trouble calling this camping. It was way too comfortable!
We landed in Las Vegas and rented the van out of there. We had roughly planned our itinerary, but had plenty of time for surprises and spontaneous detours. We hadn't made reservations either except for our two nights in Zion and one night in Kanab. We ended up visiting Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon and ending our trip in Death Valley before driving back to Sin City. Two full weeks of camping and I would have kept going for another two weeks!
The Escape Campervans Experience
When I rent a hotel room or car, or purchase a particular activity while traveling, one of the things I always notice is the service. Working in the travel industry, I know what kind of guest service I should expect depending on what I purchased. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but the service that we had with Escape Campervans was way above my expectations. We arrived early and were welcomed and assisted right away. The man working that day spent almost an hour with us, not because the process and paperwork took a long time, but to go over our itinerary, see if we had any camping experience or needed any information and answer our questions. The paperwork was done swiftly, but thoroughly, he gave us all the instructions in case we had an accident or had any issue with the van during our trip. All of that was done while other employees were getting our van ready, so when we were done, it was waiting for us in front of the door. We went around it together, noting any scratch or bump so we wouldn't be charged for something that wasn't our fault and he explained how every part of the van worked: the stove, the refrigerator, the sink, etcetera. And off we were, ready for all the canyons, deserts and cacti.
At the end of our trip, the same employee welcomed us back. Even though he was already helping other customers, he explained the process so we could start gathering our luggage and filling paperwork while he was finishing up. He then inspected the van with us, noted the number of kilometers and wished us a safe trip home. Everything was simple and well organized and I really enjoyed the whole experience.
What I wish I knew before the trip
I don't think there is anything that I would change about this trip, but I wish I had known what the weather was going to be like. We didn't rent the bedding as sheets are not hard to pack and after a quick visit to Walmart, we both had a cheep pillow and blanket, but looking back, it might have been a good idea to just rent everything. On our first night in Lake Mead, it was so hot it took me a while to go to sleep. We were lying in the van, with the windows open as far as they would go and we were just sweating. Even turning up the engine to start the AC for a while did not help. But for all of the other nights, we were freezing. I guess I knew the weather dropped in the desert at night, but I never expected it to be this cold. On one night there was even snow on the ground when we woke up. Aa actual comforter or sleeping bags would have made it easier.
It also would have been good to know that National Parks campgrounds fill up very quickly even in low season. We were never stranded and always managed to find a place to sleep. Having a camper van that can fit anywhere really helped, but we probably should have made reservations for the busier places we visited like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Luckily we had reservations in Zion or I have no idea where we would have ended up!
This trip was perfect in my opinion. We had good weather, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and our ride certainly helped. Not only was it super comfy, but having everything we needed onboard made it very convenient to just stop by the side of the road and cook tacos for lunch. Having a refrigerator was the best in this warm weather as we would come back to the van after a hike and have cold water waiting for us. Plus, with the beautiful design, we met so many people who just stopped by for a chat. I would do the whole thing again any day.
Other articles you might enjoy