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Southwest Trip (AZ, NM, CO, UT) need advice!

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Thread started 12 Jul 2012 (Thursday) 08:28   
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pixelsoldier
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I will be taking around 2.5 - 3 weeks in the Southwest at the beginning of August and need to plan my itinerary of where I am going. I will not be travelling alone, but with my family who would prefer to be able to stay in places for several days at a time rather than being constantly on the road. This will be our first time in the Southwest and we would like to spend it seeing the awesome landscape, experiencing the culture and also enjoying some of the activities on offer like hiking, biking even rafting and horse riding.

We will be driving from San Francisco to Flagstaff in 2 days (not sure where we will stop but probably not Vegas). We are thinking of renting a house in Flagstaff for 5 days to a week from where we will be able to visit the Grand Canyon, Sedona and other places (any suggestions?). After a week we will drive to Santa Fe NM where we will stay for 3 - 4 days visiting the surrounding areas like Taos.

After Santa Fe I was thinking that we could drive up to Southern Colorado and through Utah to see some more National Parks stopping off on the way. I guess my biggest question would be does anyone have any suggestions as to how best to organize this trip between Santa Fe and say Zion NP seeing as we will have 7+ days to spare?

Thanks in advance.

Post #1, Jul 12, 2012 08:28:16


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pudgy_groundhog
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I know a base sounds ideal for not having to move often, but you'll just end up spending more time in your car driving to and from places rather than actually enjoying places (especially sunrise and sunset). For instance, you'll want to see sunrise and sunset at the Grand Canyon - not very practical if you are staying in Flagstaff.

And I know 2.5-3 weeks sounds like a long time, but when you realize just how much there is to see and do and factor in the time you'll spend driving, it's nothing . Unless your heart is set on Santa Fe, I would probably opt to spend the time in AZ/UT. According to Google, it's about a 6 hour drive from Flagstaff to Santa Fe. If you were to go there, that's another two days mostly just of travel.

I would start by researching the different parks, prioritizing what you want to see and do, and choosing places you can stay a few nights with plenty of stuff to do (for instance, Monument Valley is kind of a one shot deal and you would have to decide if you want to drive that far for a short stay). If you did a big loop I would choose some of these places for multi night stays: Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Page, Escalante, Bryce, Zion. Depending on your interest and driving times, you could extend to Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, etc. I would personally opt for fewer places just to minimize time in the car.

Another thing to consider is that for a trip in August, you might be limited to where you can get lodging. For lodging inside the parks, you can keep calling to try for a cancellation. Also to consider is the heat that time of year - picking some things you can do in the water or places that are cooler (i.e. Bryce is at a higher elevation) might be a good idea.

I would recommend the Laurent Martres books - useful in planning and to have with you on the trip. Might help you narrow down where you want to visit.

For logistics of planning and itinerary, I would suggest also browsing the Tripadvisor forums. There are many, many trip reports there, itinerary examples, and useful information (I would do some reading before asking a general question there - they will probably just tell you read past threads, lol).

If you've never been to the Southwest - you are in for a treat! No matter what you guys choose, you'll have a great trip. :)

Post #2, Jul 12, 2012 09:46:20


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smmokan
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I'd skip Santa Fe and spend more time in SW Colorado and Utah. It's going to be REALLY hot in Utah that time of year, BTW. I'd recommend the San Juan mountains around Telluride and Durango, and the areas surrounding Crested Butte and Aspen. They're all much nicer than anything you're going to find in Santa Fe (IMO).

Post #3, Jul 12, 2012 14:12:56


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pixelsoldier
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Thank you both for your responses. Contrary to what both of you have told me, I think that Santa Fe will be staying on the list of places to visit as members of the family are keen on going. Unfortunately this might mean we miss out on some of the National Parks in Utah as not everyone is willing to spend all our time on the road seeing new and interesting places.

Post #4, Jul 12, 2012 14:31:46 as a reply to smmokan's post 18 minutes earlier.


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pudgy_groundhog
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Well, you have to keep the family happy! :)

I still recommend breaking up your time in northern AZ to avoid lots of car time each day. Sedona has lots of walks/hikes of varying lengths, jeep rides are popular, and in the summer Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock Park are supposed to be nice (I'm sure the kids would like that). There are also things you can see from Sedona like Montezuma's Castle, Tuzigoot, Jerome, etc. Two nights in the Grand Canyon is good and if you are looking for some water activities, 2-3 nights n Page would be good. I haven't done it, but I know the float trips are popular there, as well as activities on Lake Powell (renting a boat, taking the tour to Rainbow Bridge, kayaking). There are beach areas as well on the lake (Lone Rock Beach is one we visited), although I don't know how crazy it is in the summer. You can see Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Glen Canyon Dam tour, and there's a lot of other stuff off the beaten path if you are so inclined (Water Holes slot canyon, Yellow Rock, etc).

Coming back from Santa Fe, I'm not familiar with southern Colorado. If you are going to Zion or Bryce on your way back, you could stop at Page (Google maps says it's about a day's drive from Santa Fe). Spend a few nights in Page, a few in Bryce, a few in Zion.

Page to Bryce and Bryce to Zion are shorter drives 2-3, so you can still do something on the day you drive between them. e.g. we did Buckskin Gulch in the morning, then drove to Bryce with a stop in Kanab for lunch, and caught sunset and a ranger program with star gazing that same night in Bryce.

You could also stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon if you are going that way (advantage, fewer people, higher elevation so cooler; but less facilities - so lodging could be an issue).

If you stay in Flagstaff there are some National Monuments close by you can see: Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, Wupatki. There's also an observatory in Flagstaff that looks neat.

Post #5, Jul 12, 2012 15:47:09


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Gizmo1137
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pudgy_groundhog wrote in post #14706347external link
I know a base sounds ideal for not having to move often, but you'll just end up spending more time in your car driving to and from places rather than actually enjoying places (especially sunrise and sunset). For instance, you'll want to see sunrise and sunset at the Grand Canyon - not very practical if you are staying in Flagstaff.

And I know 2.5-3 weeks sounds like a long time, but when you realize just how much there is to see and do and factor in the time you'll spend driving, it's nothing . Unless your heart is set on Santa Fe, I would probably opt to spend the time in AZ/UT. According to Google, it's about a 6 hour drive from Flagstaff to Santa Fe. If you were to go there, that's another two days mostly just of travel.

I would start by researching the different parks, prioritizing what you want to see and do, and choosing places you can stay a few nights with plenty of stuff to do (for instance, Monument Valley is kind of a one shot deal and you would have to decide if you want to drive that far for a short stay). If you did a big loop I would choose some of these places for multi night stays: Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Page, Escalante, Bryce, Zion. Depending on your interest and driving times, you could extend to Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, etc. I would personally opt for fewer places just to minimize time in the car.

Another thing to consider is that for a trip in August, you might be limited to where you can get lodging. For lodging inside the parks, you can keep calling to try for a cancellation. Also to consider is the heat that time of year - picking some things you can do in the water or places that are cooler (i.e. Bryce is at a higher elevation) might be a good idea.

I would recommend the Laurent Martres books - useful in planning and to have with you on the trip. Might help you narrow down where you want to visit.

For logistics of planning and itinerary, I would suggest also browsing the Tripadvisor forums. There are many, many trip reports there, itinerary examples, and useful information (I would do some reading before asking a general question there - they will probably just tell you read past threads, lol).

If you've never been to the Southwest - you are in for a treat! No matter what you guys choose, you'll have a great trip. :)

+1 On all the driving from a base, which will definitely eat into your time. It is doable if the family prefers it and there are many local things to do in each of the towns you identified, but you will have to set your sights shorter. I do however do not agree with skipping Santa Fe, it has some wonderful culture and from a photographic point of view, the light there is wonderful. Additionally Taos is handy and worth visiting.

Post #6, Jul 12, 2012 16:03:58


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pixelsoldier
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Thanks again Katherine, you're really helping me out here and I appreciate it a lot. I had a look at your gallery and your photos are stunning. I'm jealous at all the amazing trips it seems you have been on.

Thanks as well Gizmo.

I know it seems a bit silly to stay have a base but we are also having this holiday just to relax and enjoy ourselves without moving about constantly. Hopefully we will still get to see some of the Parks along the way or on the way back from New Mexico.

So far I think my itinerary will look something like this

- Flagstaff (maybe Sedona) ~ 1 week and visit GC as well as Sedona and all the other places nearby
- Santa Fe ~ 3 - 4 days as well as visiting Taos

These are the only semi fixed places on the itinerary so far but the following is a possible return route

- Durango
- Moab (Arches NP and Canyonlands)
- Bryce and Zion

And maybe we would have to miss Page (unless there is some way of including it)

Post #7, Jul 12, 2012 17:05:07 as a reply to pudgy_groundhog's post 1 hour earlier.


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Cali_PH
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Katherine and Gizmo basically gave all the advice I was going to, and more.

Good luck trying to decide how to balance 'relaxing and enjoying' yourselves without moving much, but driving more back and forth...especially if that means you're going to have to miss some locations you wanted to see. I spent months planning a 2 1/2 week trip earlier this year and I agonized over those kinds of decisions constantly. :lol:

I'd really second Katherine's recommendation of the Martres books...seeing some of those shots and reading a bit about the locations can really help prioritize locations.

I like your inclusion of Moab and Bryce/Zion, but the main roads between the two are long, and include a of cool locations to see (Monument Valley/Page and more to the south, Capitol Reef/Goblin Valley/many more to the North). Even if you didn't want to stop and spend time anywhere, you'd probably stop periodically just to take pics from the road. If you can, I'd really recommend at least one night stop between Moab and Bryce/Zion.

Post #8, Jul 13, 2012 11:57:00 as a reply to pixelsoldier's post 18 hours earlier.




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pudgy_groundhog
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If you are set on one location, I would choose Sedona over Flagstaff. 1) it's setting is prettier I think - the red rocks are more unique to the southwest than the high desert and pine trees in Flagstaff 2) there is more to see/do in Sedona that is a shorter distance away. You can easily do a hike in the morning, go back to hotel room/eat lunch in Sedona and then do something in the afternoon

If your priority is "relaxing and enjoying" and avoiding time in the car, I would scrap the Grand Canyon and just stop there on your way back from Santa Fe (north rim if you are going up that way to go to Bryce and Zion).

Post #9, Jul 13, 2012 12:26:34


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pixelsoldier
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More great advice! And yes, after looking some more at both Flagstaff and Sedona, it did seem better to stay in Sedona.

As for the ride back from Santa Fe, I am now thinking of driving to Durango and staying there for a night then driving to Moab (stay 2 nights) through Ouray, Telluride and Monticello.

Where would you suggest stopping between Moab and Zion/Bryce?

As for the GC, I think we will see how things go in Sedona and if we have time we might take a day trip to GC, if not we will definitely go on the way back. We definitely have to see it though as it would be stupid not to.

EDIT: I will be ordering the 3 volumes of Martres' books tonight.

Post #10, Jul 13, 2012 14:29:25 as a reply to pudgy_groundhog's post 2 hours earlier.


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Gizmo1137
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pudgy_groundhog wrote in post #14711724external link
If you are set on one location, I would choose Sedona over Flagstaff. 1) it's setting is prettier I think - the red rocks are more unique to the southwest than the high desert and pine trees in Flagstaff 2) there is more to see/do in Sedona that is a shorter distance away. You can easily do a hike in the morning, go back to hotel room/eat lunch in Sedona and then do something in the afternoon

If your priority is "relaxing and enjoying" and avoiding time in the car, I would scrap the Grand Canyon and just stop there on your way back from Santa Fe (north rim if you are going up that way to go to Bryce and Zion).

+1 on all points, good suggestions here. While I like Flagstaff and appreciate some of the hiking opportunities it affords, Sedona would be my choice for a "base" as well, for reasons given. Flagstaff is an easy drive from Sedona, so staying in Sedona does not take Flag out of the equation.

Post #11, Jul 13, 2012 14:33:19


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pudgy_groundhog
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You can make a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Sedona, but it'll be around five hours in the car (not sure if that qualifies as relaxing for you guys). It would be easier to just stop there on your way to/from somewhere if it fits in (although if you are driving through CO to Moab and down to Zion/Bryce, you'll likely miss it).

Post #12, Jul 13, 2012 14:39:23


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patrick ­ j
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pixelsoldier wrote in post #14708228external link
- Santa Fe ~ 3 - 4 days as well as visiting Taos

- Durango
- Moab (Arches NP and Canyonlands)
- Bryce and Zion

And maybe we would have to miss Page (unless there is some way of including it)

Canyonlands and Arches are both great, they can be very hot in August, but just take it easy and you shouldn't have any problems, most of the good stuff can be seen without a lot of walking. The Dallas Divide (the road that goes up out of Ridgway to Telluride) is really scenic in the fall, probably pretty good in summer too. If you are a hiking family, Ice Lakes Basin can be spectacular, but it's a bit of a haul to get up there. It's 2000 vertical feet, I can give you directions if you might be interested. Pictures of a lot of this stuff are at my Flickr page.

Post #13, Jul 13, 2012 18:17:48


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FlyingPhotog
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If you're doing Durango, you must do the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RR!

Post #14, Jul 13, 2012 18:23:51


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airfrogusmc
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FlyingPhotog wrote in post #14713120external link
If you're doing Durango, you must do the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge RR!

For sure!!!
ANd 550 north to Ouray is a sweet drive.

Also the train in Chama NM is something that shouldn't be missed.

Post #15, Jul 13, 2012 18:25:08




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