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.
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