Southwest Road Trip

Ten days in a car driving through 13 states…this past summer Tyler and I completed this week and a half long road trip without driving each other crazy (or maybe just a little). Since then I’ve gotten so many questions about our itinerary that I thought I might as well write it down! Before we go into details, I’ll begin by giving a rough outline of our route; we began in our home state of  Minnesota, then traveled South through Iowa, Missouri (barely), Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. From there we turned West to New Mexico, Arizona, California, and back Northeast through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska. Seems overwhelming…and to be honest it kind of was.

 

Day 1 and 2-Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma

Like I said, we started in Minnesota and left Friday night, spending the night driving through Iowa and Missouri for about 10 hours to arrive at our first destination around 8 in the morning. Coronado Heights, probably the most underrated castle you will ever visit in Kansas. To be honest we felt really awkward driving around the outskirts of Lindsborg, Kansas, because all we saw were cows and drilling rigs for oil. Although we were the only ones there, literally, it was pretty cool to explore and you could even climb on top of the roof of the structure.

 

 

(find more at: www.kansastravel.org/coronadoheights.htm)

After spending about 20 minutes here, which really would be the max, we drove an hour to Strataca, an underground salt mining museum. It sounds really boring I know but actually turned out to be one of Tyler’s favorite things on our trip! It was only $20+tax each and although we got there when they opened at 9, the first tour was already full so we ended up waiting about 30 minutes. We rode an old elevator shaft down 650 feet in complete darkness and from there it was basically a self led tour, including what time you went on the Dark Ride and Train Ride. On one of them they let us pick out and take home a large chunk of un-mined salt, which sounds weird but they actually look kind of cool, so don’t buy any at the gift shop. Overall it took us about two hours to complete the tour. (And yes the hard hats are required the entire tour.)

 

 

(find more at: underkansas.org)

From here we drove another hour to the Old Cowtown Museum, which is a re-creation of life in the 1870’s. This was something we both decided we would never go back to. It was really cheap at only $8 per person, but most definitely one of our least favorite stops. When we looked online we thought it would be quirky and fun, but it ended up just being hot and boring. There was nothing to do, nothing interactive, and none of the “actors” seemed to be in the performing mood. Not to mention the only thing at the Saloon was bottled water and soda…

 

 

(find more at: www.oldcowtown.org)

Final destination for the day…(after another 3 hour drive)…the Blue Whale of Catoosa, on Highway 66, nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma. This was a fun, easy stop but don’t plan on staying long or on going swimming. After climbing to the top of the whale (on a very sketchy ladder) we counted a good 20 turtles swimming around with thick weeds everywhere. There were even a few people fishing. There were also two large groups of people celebrating birthdays so it was a lively area with no chance of snagging a table to sit down and relax.

 

 

(find more at: bluewhaleroute66.com)

Afterwards we went to have dinner and drinks at the Margaritaville in Tulsa and checked into our hotel for the night for a much needed rest.

Day 3-Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico

Up bright and early at 5 am to drive 3  hours to Turner Falls State Park in Oklahoma, which opened at 6 am and is home to Oklahoma’s largest waterfall. Although the entrance looked more like a water park and almost turned us away, I convinced Tyler to go and was so happy that I was born with a stubborn streak. It was $14 per adult, and included a gorgeous self-lead, easy hike to the waterfall and pretty tricky and steep hike to the top of the waterfall. There is even a castle on the way to the waterfall that you can stop by and climb inside and on top of, although this area was pretty crowded. This was one of my favorite places, and we spent a few hours here hiking and wading through the water. Our only disappointment was not bringing our swimsuits or looking more into the ziplining they have here. On our way to our next destination we found an AMAZING fried pies shop that was so good the line was literally out the door! We got a pepperoni one and an apple one (both were delicious!) but can’t seem to remember the name of it, so if anyone knows please let me know! 🙂

 

 

(find more at: www.turnerfallspark.com)

Although we were a little full after this yummy treat, we had a good 2 hour drive to the Ida Claire restaurant in Dallas, Texas. Although it was very cute and we got to sit in the vintage airstream trailer (we made reservations two weeks ahead of time) random people kept coming in during our meal to take pictures inside while we ate…very awkward. The food was ok and the drinks were very strong so after making Tyler drink mine I ended up driving through downtown Dallas…let’s just say I won’t be doing that again.

 

 

(find more at: ida-claire.com)

Five more hours of driving towards the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and we decided to stop for the night.

Day 4-New Mexico, Arizona

We started the day with another 5 hour drive to our first destination the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. This would be something I definitely recommend, no matter how far out of your way it is. (Although beware that the road to the park entrance is occasionally closed due to missile testing.) It was gorgeous and not too busy in the morning so we were able to take our time to hike were we wanted with plenty of parking space. We didn’t see any wildlife like we had hoped but we did bring out our inner child by running down at least 10 different sand dunes. I would recommend bringing a sled to ride down like we saw many people doing or buying one at the gift shop while entering the park.

 

 

(find more at: https://www.nps.gov/whsa/index.htm)

After a few hours here we drove to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which were really, really cool but very, very far out of the way. Although maps will tell you it is only a 4 hour drive, in reality it took us about 5 or 6, simply because you have to drive through such steep mountain inclines and such bendy roads. Their website even states that although the cliffs are only 44 miles from Silver City, New Mexico, it usually takes about 2 hours to get there. And of course once we finally did arrive it started raining, so we decided to jog the 1.5 mile hike. It was pretty amazing once we were able to look around inside the structures, and we were even able to notice some wall paintings (in red) on the walls and ceilings of a few rooms.

 

 

(find more at: https://www.nps.gov/gicl/index.htm)

We then drove 7 hours through Arizona to spend the night (even though I was too excited to finally be visiting California for the first time to actually get any sleep).

Day 5-California

Another day another early morning, we were getting pretty used to starting our day with a couple hour drives. Although we did not have too much on the agenda today, we lost a lot of time by getting stuck in morning rush hour traffic in Los Angeles. Even though we had planned to be in the car for 6 hours, we ended up being in the car for at least 8 before we reached our first destination-the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We were able to find a spot on the street to park and were even able to watch a new star getting put in (of who we have no clue) which was pretty neat. We spent about an hour here before leaving for the Hollywood Sign.

 

 

(find more at: www.walkoffame.com)

If you do go to the Hollywood Sign I would recommend wearing comfortable clothes and setting aside more time than we did so that you can actually hike to see the sign closer up (the shortest hike is 3 miles roundtrip). After having to park about 1 and a half miles down the mountain (yes, it is THAT busy) we did not feel like doing the hike and instead wanted some beach time so we looked on from the observatory area instead.

 

 

(find more at: https://hollywoodsign.org)

Hiking back down to our car was much easier, and anytime you tell me I’m going to the beach I will be a happy camper. Santa Monica Beach & Pier were the most relaxing few hours we spent in California. We walked around the beach for a while and grabbed lunch on the pier, which was really busy and had some very interesting street vendors/performers. We then went back to the beach, stripped down to our swim suits and jumped in! …Juussstt kidding the water was a lot colder that I had thought it would be and the furthest I could make myself go was up to my knees BUT still worth it for us both to take our first steps into the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

(find more at: santamonicapier.org)

These final four hours in the car towards San Francisco were some of my favorite. Driving through Malibu and up the coast of Highway 1 was absolutely gorgeous. We made a few random stops along the way just to admire the coast and try our luck at seeing someone famous, but with no success.

Day 6-California

If we thought Los Angeles traffic was bad, we had obviously never driven through San Francisco. We had planned to leave by 5 am, giving us an extra hour of driving time in case of traffic and 45 minutes to explore the Fisherman’s Wharf area (we had heard that in the morning you  could see all the fishing boats come in). Instead, we ended up arriving in the pier area not at 7 like we thought, but at 8:40 with five minutes to find a parking spot and run the entire way to Pier 33 where the Alcatraz ferry leaves. We had been told to arrive 15 minutes prior to our boarding time but instead arrived 5 minutes late (I’m not a fast runner…) and were still allowed to board. We got the “early-bird” tickets which were awesome, we were able to beat the crowd onto the island and stay ahead of huge mobs of people the entire time we were there, making the self-lead tour go much more smoothly. The island itself was gorgeous, and I would most definitely recommend this if you have enough time! (About 2-3 hours with the ferry and tour.)

 

 

(find more at: https://www.alcatrazcruises.com)

We then drove a short distance to the Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, walking around to explore places like the Baked Bear and the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. Not to mention we were able to find all the seals on floating docks (it turned out to be mating season…) and we found an AMAZING place by the Wharf sign that had the best clam chowder we have ever had!

 

 

(find more at: www.fishermanswharf.org,

www.thebakedbear.com, www.ghirardellisq.com and https://www.pier39.com)

On our way out we stopped at Lombard Street and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. To be honest I enjoyed Lombard Street much more. We parked at the top of the hill and walked down and back up twice, which left our legs more than a little tired. Known as the most crooked street in the world, not only were the road and surroundings adorable, but the houses and gates lining the street were some of the cutest as well! After making it back to our car we grabbed our camera and drove down the the street as well, trying not to hit the people standing in the middle taking selfies…

 

 

(find more at www.sftravel.com)

Afterwards we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped on the other side to take some pictures!

 

 

(find more at: www.goldengatebridge.org)

After a nice long day out of the car, we drove a final 3 hours towards Yosemite National Park, staying about 30 minutes outside the park entrance.

Day 7-California, Nevada

Waking up and entering Yosemite National Park was a great way to start the day. We drove through the park, which took a while with the construction, and then made our way down to Sequoia National Park. Spending as much time as we could with both. (Yosemite National Park was Tyler’s favorite, and we would recommend stopping at both places. Although we were short on time, we could have easily spent a day or two at each park.)

 

 

(find more at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm)

 

 

(find more at: https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm)

After spending the day exploring these gorgeous parks we drove 6 hours to Las Vegas, checked into Caesar’s Palace and spent the night out and about! We walked up and down the strip, watched the Bellagio fountains go off, went in just about every hotel and casino on the strip and went on Slotzilla, the zip line that takes you above and through Freemont Street. We opted for the higher line which was a little pricier, but definitely worth it. I would recommend booking your tickets online pretty early, as the higher zip line sells out quickly.

 

 

(find more at: www.lvcva.com, www.caesarspalace.com and

https://vegasexperience.com/slotzilla-zip-line/)

Day 8-Nevada, Arizona

We ended up getting up pretty early just to get a head start on our day. We began with visiting the 7 Magic Mountains, a public art display created by Ugo Rondinone. It was gorgeous, peaceful, and a great place to take some pictures! (Not to mention only a 15 minute drive from the strip.)

 

 

(find more at: www.sevenmagicmountains.com)

On our way back into the city we stopped at the Las Vegas sign which has a person working there solely to take pictures for tourists. There was a line but it went super quick. After that we drove through the strip to the Stratosphere. Although we had purchased our tickets online, we still had to spend quite a bit of time waiting in line since they only had one working elevator bringing people up to the top. After arriving at the top we looked around, watched some people doing the crazy rides at top like the “Sky Jump” and “Insanity,” but to be honest those were almost cooler than the views themselves.

 

 

(find more at: www.vegas.com and www.stratospherehotel.com)

We then drove 1 hour to the Hoover Dam, which was hot and busy. Not only did we think we might melt, but there were SO many people it was hard to get a picture without people in the background. When we went the elevators were closed so we did not do a tour, but definitely look forward to doing one next time we go!

 

 

(find more at: www.usbr.gov)

We then drove to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, not knowing what we were getting into. At this entrance you are charged to enter the park and charged again because you are required to take a tour through them. Although they have the Skywalk at this entrance, you have to pay for that on top of the entrance and tour fee and are not allowed to take pictures on the Skywalk itself. So, instead we left and drove 4 hours towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where you are only charged for entering the park (which was included on our National Park Annual pass, get yours here: www.nps.gov) and are allowed to explore as you wish at your own pace. We arrived at the park about 1 or 2 hours before sunset, explored the canyon, saw plenty of elk and deer, and watched the sun go down over the canyon, which was an amazing experience.

 

 

(find more at: www.nps.gov)

We then spent the night about an hour from the South Rim, so it was a nice easy drive to our home for the night.

Day 9-Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado

Our original plan for this day was to hike to the Havasupai waterfalls but decided we would not have enough time to complete the entire hike there and back, so instead we drove 4 hours to the 4 Corners Monument and three more hours to Arches National Park in Utah. The 4 Corners Monument was pretty neat, but way out in the middle of nowhere. It was pretty hard to get a picture of yourself on all four states since that was what everyone there was trying to do, but we managed to snag one. We only spent about 15 minutes here, but if you wanted you could have stayed longer to look at the small shops set up around the monument area.

 

 

(find more at: navajonationparks.org)

We then traveled up to Arches National Park, something truly unique and worth seeing. We spent a few hours here driving through the park and hiking to various sightseeing spots along the way.

 

 

(find more at: www.nps.gov)

We stayed right up until the park closed, and then began the long journey home.

Day 10-Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota

Drive 17 hours home. That’s it. Our last day was a pretty boring one, but we were so excited that soon we would be able to wake up in the mornings and not have to get in a car and drive that we didn’t care, not to mention we would be able to sleep in our own bed! 10 days and 13 states later we had no regrets, only more memories to share together, thanks for reading! 🙂

 

 

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