RetreaTours RoadtripThe American Southwest
We’ve been incredibly blessed with the opportunity to housesit for dear, generous friends during these lean lockdown times. We moved from Denver to Palm Springs in late April 2021 and took this opportunity to see some U.S. National Parks. Despite having lived on the road internationally for the past 8+ years, BJ and I haven’t traveled in the U.S. together at all!
We rented a Hyundai Venue (one-way) and absolutely packed it to the gills. I’m honestly not sure what it was so full of, besides Good & Plenty and sour gummy bears. We left Denver on April 15, which was also the day our COVID-19 vaccines were in full effect; we still wore our face masks, and we were happy to have that vaccine protection on the road.
There’s a full photo album at the bottom of the page and a brief description of each segment below!
Colorado National Monument
Denver to Ouray, CO via Vail and Colorado National Monument
It was lightly snowing as we headed out of Denver, our amazing home base since early February. We stopped in Vail for a peek, the final weekend of their extended ski season. (It was the very first time this native Floridian had ever seen people skiing!)
We took our time through Colorado National Monument which was absolutely gorgeous—a fantastic introduction to the red rocks to come. It even snowed during our hour-long drive through the Monument. By the time we got to our hotel in the mountain town of Ouray, it was snowing heavily. The next morning, the car was covered in 4-5 inches of snow. It was my first-ever opportunity to clear snow off of a car, and I accidentally did it in my flip-flops. (See, I was going to the car to get my boots and, well, I was so excited to do it that I just charged ahead. And, yes, there’s a photo of it below!)
The scene we woke up to in Ouray, a delightfully charming town!
Ouray to Telluride day trip
We took a drive over to Telluride to have coffee with Oprah, but when we couldn’t find her house(s), we just poked around and marveled at the mountain views. The Telluride Gondola was closed while we were there but we got a good feel for this beautiful little town!
We ordered take-out tacos at GNAR, once voted Colorado’s Best Taco joint, on the way back to Ouray, where we enjoyed an evening in the town’s nearly-empty hot springs while the snow fell on us. Ouray definitely charmed us, even if we still messed up the pronunciation most of the time.
The local Thai restaurant had Khao Soi, a northeastern Thai dish that we both love and highly recommend (it’s like a perfectly spiced coconut curry ramen noodle dish!)
Castle Valley, Utah, on our way into Moab.
Ouray, CO to Moab, UT the looooooong way: The Unaweep/Tabeguache Byway and Castle Valley
The drive from Ouray to the border of Colorado near Gateway was absolutely epic, with impossibly tall red cliffs and sweeping riverside vistas along the Unaweep/Tabeguache Byway. However, the road that Google suggested that we take to enter Utah was, well… let’s just say that the sign at the border said it was unmaintained until the summertime, and they weren’t lying.
We took the Dolores Triangle Safari Route and mud-plowed our way through the eastern edge of Utah. BJ says not getting stuck in that mud was one of his proudest achievements, and I agree wholeheartedly. Add “expert mud driving” to his long list of skills!
Silver lining: we got to see some pretty cool dinosaur tracks at Bull Canyon Overlook (the whole reason we took this route in the first place!) and the breathtaking rock formations that give Castle Valley its name.
The stars were out at Double Arch in Arches National Park.
Around Moab, UT: Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point State Park, Dinosaur Tracks at Mill Canyon
Moab was a fantastic home base to see some truly iconic formations. We hit Arches National Park before sunrise and then we went back for sunset (that’s the photo at the top of this page) and some star photos.
Canyonlands is a huge, beautiful national park just 30 minutes away from the entrance of Arches, but it seems no one has ever heard of it! You may have seen photos of its famous Mesa Arch.
We stopped by Dead Horse Point State Park–a truly awful name, but there’s a picture-perfect bend in the Colorado River as you look out over Canyonlands NP.
We also scoped out the dinosaur tracks at Mill Canyon, just off the main highway, 29 minutes NE of Moab. This site was only discovered in 2009, but contains over 10 different types of tracks from 112 million years ago!
Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon
Moab to Bryce Canyon via Capitol Reef National Park, Scenic Byway 12 & The Hogback
Scenic Byway 12 took us to Bryce Canyon, via Capitol Reef, another stunner of a National Park. Part of Scenic Byway 12 is referred to as “The Hogback” for its relatively steep drop-offs, with unbelievable panoramas unfolding on both sides of this engineering marvel of a road.
We spent two full days exploring Bryce Canyon, which is one of my favorites; it’s BJ’s goal to get back there one day where there is snow on the hoodoo formations.
I know we don’t get out much (which is quite an understatement for the past 12 months) but the little General Store at Ruby’s Inn was like Disneyland to us, and the washer and dryers at Ruby’s campsite were top notch. 10/10 stars, would do laundry there again. (Hey, it can’t all be red rocks and rainbows, sometimes you have to do the wash!)
Horseshoe Bend, AZ
Bryce Canyon NP to Zion NP the extra long way: Horseshoe Bend, Navajo Bridge, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
The drive between Bryce and Zion is only two hours, but we managed to make it in 6 and a half! A friend planted the idea of stopping at Horseshoe Bend, AZ, a site I have long wanted to see. I couldn’t justify a 4-hour detour through Arizona until I learned we may also see California condors at Najavo Bridge and Vermillion Cliffs.
The California condor comeback is such a success story: from a population of only 22 condors in 1987 to over 500 today due to diligent breeding programs. They are still endangered and extremely rare, so it was a real treat to see several of them up close at Navajo Bridge and from a distance at the Cliffs.
Horseshoe Bend, AZ
Zion National Park (St. George, UT)
This was our first visit to Zion National Park, and it was just as lovely as everyone says. No private cars are allowed in right now and we lucked out with the shuttle ticket ‘lottery.’ Well, it’s not so much a lottery as “Tickets go on sale online at 5 PM the day before and are sold out by 5:02 PM, so keep your wits about you and pray!”
While we didn’t hike The Narrows, we walked to the beginning of it; what a joy to walk along the Virgin River with the squirrels and the deer! We enjoyed a few other hikes within the park before returning to our hotel in St. George where we did, in fact, ride the downtown carousel (photo below).
Caesar models good mask-wearing outside Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas strip.
St. George, UT to Las Vegas, NV
From St. George we headed to Las Vegas, Nevada. Now, we certainly don’t want “to yuck anyone’s yum,” as they say, but Las Vegas was definitively not for us. However, we were fortunate enough to get last-minute tickets to the art collective Meow Wolf’s newest art experience, “Omega Mart,” which was an absolute blast.
In other news: on our way out of Las Vegas we visited the Largest Chevron Station in the World (hey, you gotta take the superlatives where you can get’em!)
Las Vegas to Palm Springs via the Mojave National Preserve
We drove through the Mojave National Preserve and saw our first glimpses of Joshua Trees; we have yet to visit Joshua Tree NP but we certainly will make it a priority!
We were on Route 66 for a matter of minutes, but still had time to take a photo (in the album below). On the way into Palm Springs, we spotted a piece from the current Desert X art show, Nicholas Galanin’s piece called Never Forget (pictured here).
Finally, we headed to our new ‘home’ in Palm Springs and got to spend some time catching up with our gracious hosts and Moki the Wonder Dog! This whole area is just a wonderful crash course in mid-century modern design and we couldn’t be more grateful to be here.
Flip through our American Southwest road trip photos below!