Visiting the southwest of the United States should be on every adventurer’s wish-list but figuring out exactly where the southwest is might pose a bit of a challenge. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Arizona and New Mexico are definitely in. After that, it can get a bit messy. Depending on who you talk to, the southwest may or may not include parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. And just about every other State that borders those has at some point or another laid claim to being a member of the club.
We’re going to take a winding road trip from southern New Mexico to Death Valley and give you a quick peek at some of our favorite stopping points along the way. Bring plenty of water, a great sound track, and hop aboard.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico
Just a few miles from the Mexican border you’ll find one of the biggest limestone chambers in the country. It’s got a huge bat population, and you can watch them emerge from the caves by the thousands at twilight.
International UFO Museum and Research Center, Roswell, New Mexico
A mecca for conspiracy theorists, alien junkies, and anyone looking for information about the 1947 “Roswell Incident”. One of those quirky stops that gives you something to talk about when you’re back on the road.
American International Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
One more stop to creep yourself out before heading north. This museum holds the largest collection of live rattlesnakes in the world. Who knew there were so many different species of this deadly reptile? If you suffer from ophidiophobia (yes, it’s a thing), try timing your visit to Albuquerque to catch the jaw dropping International Balloon Fiesta instead.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Stopping in Santa Fe should always include a chili lunch, a long walk, and a visit to this lovely museum. They’ve got a permanent collection of over 3,000 works by this American modernist including paintings, sculptures and sketches. O’Keefe spent much of her life in the southwest and captures both the beauty and diversity of the high desert terrain.
Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico
These adobe homes have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years and the pueblo is both a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take the guided tour through an ancient Native American community that still resists the introduction of electricity, running water and indoor plumbing.
The Four Corners, Teec Nos Pos, Arizona
The official address might be in Arizona, but this is the only spot in the country where four states meet up. Go ahead, stick one foot in New Mexico, one in Colorado and then lean over and place your hands in Utah and Arizona. Yeah, you look dorky but everyone else is doing it…
Oljato-Monument Valley, San Juan County, Utah
No trip through the southwest is complete without a visit to this iconic landmark. The huge sandstone buttes can be admired on a 17-mile loop through territory belonging to the Navajo Nation. Watch the sunrise over the Mittens and be prepared for a soul-stirring experience you’ll never forget.
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Jacob Lake, Arizona
The park is closed from Mid-October to mid-May and harder to get to, but well worth the effort if you want to avoid the crowds to the south. You’ll get panoramic views from Point Imperial, Cape Royal and the North Rim Lodge. The Grand Canyon may be one of the few natural wonders in the nation that simply can’t be oversold. Even if you’re wary of all the hype, you really need to check it out.
Lake Mead, Nevada
Just 25 miles from the Las Vegas strip you’ll find Lake Mead, formed by the damming of the Colorado River. This reservoir supports over 20 million people and a tour of the massive Hoover Dam will give you a real sense of the scale of this enormous man-made wonder.
Death Valley, California
Crossing this desert valley from Las Vegas to Los Angeles takes about four hours, but you’ll probably want to take your time exploring the biggest National Park outside of Alaska. It can be ridiculously hot in summer, so you might want to save this one for the late fall or early spring because there is absolutely no shade. Anywhere. Along the way, you’ll see spectacular sand dunes, craters, canyons, unique salt formations, roadrunners, desert kit foxes and plenty of cacti. Every year, Death Valley claims lives with heatstroke and dehydration, so be sure to bring plenty of water and exercise a big dose of common sense.
The southwest is filled with natural wonders and man-made attractions, steeped in Native American cultures that stretch back for hundreds of years. Find your own favorite stopping points in a region that’s marked by extremes, from the peaks of the southern New Mexico Ranges to the Badwater Basin that lies almost 300 feet below sea level. Enjoy the ride!