I love road trips, I mean who doesn’t? I have done road trips all over the world in some pretty awesome places and a few in America too. However, the road trip I just did around the old west and the National Parks of the western US was as good as any road trip I’ve done before. Eight states, doing a weird kind of loop from Phoenix to Denver and some 2500 plus miles included some of the best scenery I have ever seen-anywhere. It included five awesome National Parks, several National Forests, three stops at Denny’s (because nothing else was open) and a ton of really fast driving. It was in a word-awesome. Sometimes we forget that America is as good as any country in the world for scenery. It has it all and this trip reminded me once again that I live in the greatest country in the world.
We started out from Phoenix in a rented little Chevy Aveo. I had never heard of it either but it was only two hundred bucks for a week including the drop off fee in Denver which was a steal in my book. We started out north on I-17 to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon National Park.
I had been to the Grand Canyon 4 times before, both before and during the time I was living in Phoenix for business school. But each and every time you see it, you are still blown away by its sheer size and surrealness. It looks fake, like what you are looking at doesn’t actually exist, as if it’s not really there. It’s the only thing I’ve seen that’s like that. It’s almost too big to fathom. I guess that’s what makes it so awesome and the greatest natural wonder in the world.
I believe the south rim is a much better place to view the Canyon than the north rim. There are a ton of trails and you can essentially jump down onto these rock offshoots that give you great views and a real thrill because you are basically over the Canyon itself, although getting out to some of them can be a little harrowing. From the Grand Canyon we headed back to Flagstaff to catch I-40 to Albuquerque through the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
Albuquerque is an interesting little city. Upon arrival into toen at 10pm or so, we asked at the hotel where we could get a nice dinner and lady at the desk replies, “Well IHOP is always good”. I thought she was kidding but apparently she wasn’t and not only was IHOP good for Albuquerque but it was the only place open past 10pm on a Saturday night! However, what she neglected to tell us was that there was an open Denny’s as well and Denny’s rocks so we went there. I crushed a Grand Slamwich and laughed a loud at some of the amazing people who eat at Denny’s late on a Saturday night in Albuquerque. I only have pictures on my blackberry so I can’t upload them here but trust me there were some amazing people.
The next morning we got up and checked out what Albuquerque had to offer. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t that much. There is an old town historic area that is OK. If you’ve been to any of the old west towns, there’s much better examples of the old west. Aside from that, the University of New Mexico is located there and we checked out their campus. It wasn’t too impressive. I love college campuses and have been to many around the country but UNM is not of my favorites. I did get to see The Pit though which was the site of the one of the most famous NCAA basketball championship games in history when NC State made the last second alley oop to beat Houston in 1983. For me, that made it worth it but for those that don’t care about sports so much, Albuquerque may be better off just driven through quickly.
From Albuquerque it’s only about an hour north up I-25 to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. Santa Fe is a town I’ve been wanting to visit for years now and is the main reason we went to New Mexico in the first place. The old town of Santa Fe is pretty much gorgeous. Honestly, it’s as quaint and charming as any somewhat major city I’ve seen in the US. The old style brown buildings, shops, restaurants and hotels make for an awesome backdrop to a really chill and laid back town.
Santa Fe is one of those towns that people just kind of end up in. Perhaps they go to visit and just never leave. It’s a transient town like many of the old west towns but has a lot of character and charm. The Old Santa Fe trail goes right though the old town and you think of Billy the Kid and all those old cowboys passing through town, heading into the saloons and gambling halls. I love all the old west stuff. I love the movies, I love imagining how it really was back when it was just a lawless territory full of prospectors, prostitutes and outlaws. Santa Fe is not to be missed, it’s a place you can spend several days exploring and there are many excursions you can do from there as well.
We then headed north by northwest up through the four corners region to Durango, Colorado. I have a buddy who lives in Denver who had always told me Durango was a cool place to check out on a pass through so that’s exactly what we did. The old railroad outpost is now a cool little place to visit with some nice mountain scenery surrounding it. The old souvenir shops and restaurants are done in the old west style and it’s a nice place to walk around for a bit before shoving off to your next destinations which in my case was Moab, Utah.
Moab is an awesome place to base yourself out of. It is the base camp essentially for Arches National park and several other adventure activities. It reminds me of a cool town you’d find in New Zealand like Taupo or Queenstown without the nightlife-it’s still Utah! It has a ton of adventure shops and stores and tons of souvenir shops and restaurants but they do close early. After dinner at Denny’s again and a beer and pool at Rio; which is the only bar open and looks like something out of Beetlejuice from the outside; we crashed and woke up the next morning to head to Arches National Park.
Arches National Park is really a sight to behold. Of the five National Parks we visited ion this trip, Arches is definitely my favorite. The rock landscapes are amazing and I’m not even talking about the actual arches themselves which I have to say were a little disappointing. But the rocks, the colors and the other worldly landscapes were breathtaking. Driving through those awesome chasms made me think of places like Morocco where in the south and east have similar type rock formations. It was a pleasure to be in Arches and it made me have a new appreciation for Eastern Utah. From Moab straight on up through Idaho is as good as it gets for scenery.
After Arches, we headed west to catch I-15 north but made stops in Provo, Utah to see Brigham Young University, which was fairly underwhelming in terms of a beautiful University but did have a great backdrop of some huge mountains behind which added to the allure of it. Then up to Salt Lake City to see the state capital, the Mormon church and the University of Utah which is clearly very excited to now, after years of getting screwed by the NCAA, to be in the Pac 12 as it has signs up everywhere about it.
From Salt Lake, it was due north up into Idaho and into the gorgeous potato fields and rugged green landscapes of Southeastern Idaho. The wide open spaces were a treat to see as the sun was starting to set as we raced to make it to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the night. After some pretty awesome driving and by awesome I mean really fast, we made it to Jackson Hole at about 10:30pm and quickly grabbed a hotel that was like a log cabin and then headed out to check out the town.
We had dinner at the Jackson Hole Brewing Company which was apparently well known for their pizza and beer. The pizza I got was awful but I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything better and the beer I got wasn’t much better. I am really not into microbrews at all. I hate to say it but I think they all suck. I like to know what I am drinking, where it’s from and I don’t love all these stupid names for microbrews. I get why some people like them but not for me. After the brewery, we decided to get a real drink at the world famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in the main square in Jackson.
The saloon style place with a stuffed bear, saddle style bar seats and live music at all times was pretty awesome. They had Old Everholt Whiskey which is my favorite because it was Doc Holliday’s whiskey way back when. They don’t come much cooler than Doc so if it was good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me! I didn’t stay out too long, only for a drink because I had some work to do and in the morning we started out on an amazing day. The first stop was Grand Teton National Park.
To be continued….