Mister Harms Travels The American Southwest

Summer break for a teacher means school’s out and summer travels can begin.  My family and I love to travel, and road trips especially are a family favorite!  Packed into a car, listening to music, crossing off state license plates, and seeing the nation - what could be better? We have had the privilege of traveling through many states throughout the years, as our goal is to hit all 50 states!  One of our favorite road trips was the American Southwest, and I’ve complied a list of 8 “must-see” parks if you’re ever in the Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico region of the United States.  We absolutely loved this region and know you will too. Enjoy the trip!

1. Arches National Park

With an astounding 2,000+ arches, this could be one of my favorite national parks in the entire United States! At every turn, this park will give you photos that will make you look like a National Geographic photographer. With famous structures like Balanced Rock, Devi’s Garden, and Courthouse Towers, you will come away with more photos than you’ll ever need. Everywhere you turn, is an Instagram worthy photo. One of the most iconic structures, also on the Utah license plate, is Delicate Arch. Make sure you set out early and walk the adventuresome hike that brings you to the base of Delicate arch. It’s a hike you’ll never forget! This park also contains Double Arch which was used in the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

2. Zion National Park

While making your road trip through the Southwest, don’t miss out on Zion National Park located in the Southwest corner of Utah. This park can get congested with traffic, so take advantage of their free, internal bus services. With a variety of trails, rivers, mountains, wildlife, and nature talks, this park will definitely become an all-time favorite for your crew. There were two major highlights for our family. The first was called “The Narrows”. This hike is exactly like its name, a long narrow hike through an impressive chasm with steep walls up both sides of the trail. If you hike the whole thing you could travel nearly 10 miles round trip. Bring some shoes or sandals that can get wet because the entire trail is waking through a river of clear water about knee deep. It’s a memory you’ll never forget. Angels Landing is another hike you’ll want to take for a fantastic, breathtaking overlook! It gives you a view of the entire valley within Zion National Park.

3. Bryce Canyon National Park

If you’ve seen pictures of this park, you know it’s amazing. It’s like no other place on Earth. This park feels like another planet with all of its orange spires lunging toward the sky. It’s a smaller park in size, but big on beauty. Talk a walk through the spires or get a fabulous photo from the overlook. Make sure you allow time to see Bryce Canyon if you are anywhere near Southern Utah. You won’t regret it.

4. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Though not well known, this national park is a must see! Tucked away (after a long drive to what seems to be the middle of nowhere) is this fantastically, fabulous park named The Great Sand Dunes. You probably won’t spend a whole day here, but a few hours is totally worth the drive to southern Colorado! As we got closer and closer we wondered if we were in the right spot? It didn’t seem like much. Once we turned the corner however, we arrived to the base of a beautiful mountain range on one side and some ginormous, desolate sand dunes on the other. It’s like we were instantly transported to the Arabian Desert. You can run up and down the sand dunes, play in the river, or just soak up the views of these unbelievably large sand dunes. For the adventuresome travelers, I recommend renting a sand sled at the nearby entrance shop. Take your sled with you on the long journey to the top of the dune, wax that baby up, and ride your way to the bottom. Hold on tight though! Sand sledding seemed twice as fast as sledding in the snow back home. One word of caution, if you wipe out you’ll literally eat dust as sand will be everywhere. It’s so worth it though and you’ll be glad you went out of your way to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

5. Four Corners Monument

Where else in the world can you stand in four states at one time? That’s right, no where else. This unique landmark is managed by the Navajo Nation Reservation and is a pleasant stop for all ages. In the middle of the desert plains is this plaque-like monument on the terrain that shows where the four state boundaries converge. Visitors of all ages can walk, run, or skip, through four states in less than 5 seconds! How cool is that? It’s reasonably priced and won’t take much time out of your road trip to see this unique, roadside stop. You’ll even be treated to some unique, hand-made, Navajo gifts. If you’re anything like me, and love all things about the 50 states, you’ll love the Four Corners Monument for sure!

6. Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

Established in 1906, this park has done a fantastic job of preserving the Archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in this region between 600-1300 A.D. There are nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. When you arrive, make sure to start your experience in the Visitor Center. When done, you’ll drive quite a distance into the region where the dwellings are located and the walking trails begin. Once you’re at the dwellings, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time nearly 2 millennia. Walking through these cliff dwellings was incredibly surreal. The ranger led hikes allow you to go right into the dwellings and walk where the ancient people walked. Being an American History teacher, this was definitely a favorite of mine. I was able to take so many pictures and bring them back for my students to see when we learn about the Anasazi and Pueblo peoples. This park is an absolute beauty for any history loving traveler, however my entire family enjoyed this park as well! It’s worth the stop!

7. Canyonlands National Park

If you’re in the Moab region of Utah to do some rock climbing, mountain biking, or even enjoying some off roading SUV adventures, make sure to swing through Canyonlands National Park. It’s not a well known park, but it’s still a national park with fantastic things to see and do. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. This park is more of a desert atmosphere, but offers opportunities for hiking, sightseeing and adventures. Think of it as a mini Grand Canyon. In addition to the canyon like views, you’ll see some impressive buttes, monoliths and even a few famous arches. I enjoyed this quaint park and highly recommend it for the smaller crowds as well as the serenity it offers.

8. Grand Canyon National Park

Of course, if you’re traveling the American Southwest, you need to see the Grandest of them all - The Grand Canyon. Even with the expectation of the canyon being grand, I was still blown away with the awe and majesty of this landmark. It exceeded my highest expectations of grand. With breathtaking views, and beautiful hikes, you’ll never want to leave this park that spans the 277 miles of the winding Colorado River. There are a few different entry points, but the Southern Rim is open all year around and as some of the best views of the canyon. You’ll want to take some time to hear a few ranger led tours and see the educational exhibits that are there. Also, the Grand Canyon has some of the most pristine night skies on the planet, so make sure to take in some stargazing in the evenings.

The American Southwest

Of course there is so much more to see and do in the American Southwest, but these 8 parks will give you a wide variety of adventures for your next road trip.  How about you. Have you been to the Southwest?  What were your favorite sights and activities? Comment below as I would love to hear from my fellow travelers! There’s more travel posts to come, so get signed up on my email list to be in the loop on future travel tips!

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