Route recommendation for the southwest of the USA


My best route for the canyons

Reasons not see L.A and San Fran

For many travelers the US southwest still has a magical appeal. For several reason as I may add. That’s where the expression „god’s own country“ was invented. Straight roads straight into the horizon, mountains & canyons made of reddish sand- & limestone plus the highest density of National Parks. All this leads to Thelma & Louise daydreams, when hitting the road.

At the same time not only a few plan a trip to basically cover it all. A region arching from the Pacific coast to the Monument Valley. Maybe they have listened to „Route 66“ one time too often, or they follow an inner urge to check everything off of a must-see-list. Obviously I strongly disagree with this kind of approach and explain why. In case you agree to my line of argumentation, then I provide you with a very good possibility to travel the southwest and see some of the best spots there.

Usually those trips start either from Los Angeles or San Francisco and end in one of those cities. Basically this is a good idea, since international flight connections to both airports are very good. Also a massive variety of car rental companies provide you with the necessary mobility. Well and last but not least, who hasn’t heard about either of the cities?

Exactly. But why are you really going to Los Angeles?

  • Disneyland
  • Walk of fame
  • Hollywood sign
  • Universal Studios

are the usual suspects. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you will hate it. For many reasons, but especially just for the fact, that you need to spend at least 3 nights in a mega city, where nobody walks. You’ll feel that on every single yard you’ll snail-crawl along highways or streets. I-405 has its nickname „biggest parking lot in LA“ for a goddamn reason. Now, in 9 out of 10 times your journey will take place in June to September, which also are the hottest months in the year. While Santa Monica offers a constant breeze from the ocean, which makes hot days bearable, there are none in the metropolitan area of L.A. Smog, heat, traffic jam is what you will remember. Unless you are a total movie nut, who will relive those moments standing in line for a ride in Universal Studio, while a pipe and sprinkler system above your head provides the only mercy under the Californian sun, scratch the city of your list.

Why are you really going to San Francisco?

  • People with flower in their hair
  • Golden Gate
  • Crocodile road
  • Famous tram
  • Fishermen’s wharf

Well, trust me, the citizens of San Francisco are as kind as they are in many other cities. The time when they were wearing flowers in their hair is long gone (this was the late 60’s, dude). It may come as a shocker for you, but the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t golden at all. It’s an impressive red bridge for a perfect photo opportunity. On the other hand, I strongly doubt you’ll make a better shot than professionals, because they have time on their hands for perfect weather conditions.
You haven’t seen a tram before? Well, you might wanna choose New York, because they actually have a public transport system and in Central Park you also find winding bike paths. Good thing about them, you are not queuing up with your car to turn your wheel a few times from left to right, while hitting the breaks all the time. Finally, Fishermen’s wharf isn’t that unique at all, because what America can do best, is marketing. With all its Hollywood movies, they create a desire for perfectly scripted dramas in famous settings. But once you take away all the glamour, what’s left isn’t worth driving hours and hours towards the real uniqueness of the southwest: the mountains, cliffs and canyons, carved by nature over thousands and maybe millions of years. While every city offers a special flair, the journey’s goal are the natural wonders of the area, not the cities. Because once you look down from the rim of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon or from the top of Angel’s Landing at Zion, you will totally understand what the fuck I’m talking about.

The route

You’ve come so far? Good! The focus here is nature and what’s better than kicking it off in Las Vegas. Yeah, you heard me right. Simply because there is an international airport and many many rental companies. It’s totally up to you to decide how many nights you wanna spend in the city of sins, but after a long haul flight it might be a good idea to check in for a night. I’m well aware of other blogs regarding Las Vegas, that’s why I leave it at that.

My pace is medium. You should take 3 weeks to drive a loop of 2300km starting in Las Vegas. Taking into account one night each for arrival and departure, the trip itself asks for 19 nights, or roughly 120km/ day. At first glance, that doesn’t sound much, but please keep in mind traveling mountain roads for once. Plus some spots really ask for more than just one night. The spots on the map represent the main attractions (or halts) along the route. Please do your own research, what strikes your interest at each specific location.

Right after you have left Las Vegas, NV, you cross the border to Utah at Hoover dam. In Kingman, UT the motherroad Route 66 awaits you. Please make sure, that you have enough gas when heading to Havasu (or Hasupai) Canyon. Also it is mandatory to be physically fit. It’s quite a hike down and especially up on the way out. I urge you to check the website of the indian tribe way ahead!
Seligman is a ghost town and sits well at the Route 66 and I-40. For your information, all the Interstates are comparable to the European Autobahn network, while Highways might even have Stop signs. A day trip away is another encounter with Grand Canyon, now from inside the official National Park. As a side note, it is highly recommendable to see it from the north rim, but that’ll requires a long detour. The little city page is located at the artificial Lake Powell. Due to very low rainfall over the last years, the water level has decreased very much. The magic colors on the shoreline also faded a little bit. But still, the lake with the red cliffs and arches is a must see. It’s worth it to rent a houseboat and cruise in the little side arms. While you are there, check out Antelope Canyon too.

Next stop is Monument Valley. You gotta drive this straight road, which leads to the valley, which was on display in so many movies. Don’t forget to pull over and have an actual look in the valley. One will never forget those rocks, guaranteed. Same thing with Arches National Park and its infamous little sister Canyonlands. The detour is absolutely worth it and while you are Moab, throw in a little river rafting on the Colorado, too. That’s at least 2 full days, better plan for 3 just in this tiny little town!
I’ll be straight with you, I only once drove the curvy highway up to Capitol Reef. It was at dusk and we didn’t see that much. The moon lid up the surroundings and we almost hit a cow in the middle of the road. Heck, you wanna reach Bryce Canyon, don’t you. Just drive! This one is unique. You cannot leave without at least watching either sunset or sunrise at the dedicated spots in the National Park. Please do yourself a favor and do both. With a bit of luck those colors on the rocks will be burned into your brain for eternity.

By reaching Zion National Park, you past by Checkerboard and almost reached Las Vegas again. Well, now you go hiking, because that’s what one does in Zion. Before you finally end this road trip, little Gunlock Lake is a little gem with powderish red sand in the backyard of St. George. This recommendation may be the only one very personal of all the above. If you are running out of time, skip it.

You are welcome.

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