I had never been out to the Southwest US before and thought that a road trip would be a great way to see as much as we could in a short amount of time.
While I would have loved to expand our route to include Utah, we’ll just have to make another visit to see all the unique national parks that they have.
Planning Our Trip
We wanted to leave Chicago the Wednesday night before Memorial day and return on Tuesday night following Memorial Day. We are always trying to maximize our vacation days and this set up gave us 6 days on the ground for only 3 vacation days.
Booking Our Flights
Flights into Albuquerque were quite expensive so we also looked into Phoenix but it was also quite expensive. Never one to pay too much for travel, I started thinking how we would be able to get the cost down. It was then that I remembered that Andy had a stockpile of Southwest points. We both decided that it was a good use of the points to cover the flights for this trip.
Selecting Our Rental Car
We have learned over the years that the prices of rental cars can vary dramatically and to always do research before booking. Luckily Andy has mastered the art of finding the cheapest rental car. Whenever we’re going on longer trips, we always book a midsize car instead of the economy or compact. While we normally get upgraded when we book the less expensive cars, we didn’t want to risk it and be stuck in a tiny, uncomfortable car for hours.
Southwest Airlines website had cheaper rental cars than we could find through Hotwire or Priceline. Since in addition to getting the car for less, we also earned Southwest points for the rental.
We were extremely fortunate that we got a Chevy Cruz for this trip. The mileage was pretty good and it was a very comfortable car to drive and sit in for an extended period of time.
Determining the Route
This was the hardest part of planning the trip because although 6 days sounds like quite a bit of time, you also have to factor in driving over 1,200 miles.
Andy is a master road-tripper and can drive for hours upon hours, I’m more novice and require more stops. I decided that I would plan the trip so that I could plan the length of the drive as well as plan as many stops as I would need.
I utilized Google maps to get timing to drive the route and also used Roadtrippers to see what attractions we could see if we veer from our route slightly. While 2 days of our trip had quite a bit of driving, the other 4 days were much shorter drives.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
While we would have liked to have more time in the city, we had to get on the road so we could make it down to White Sands.
Alamogordo, New Mexico
When looking for things to see on the drive from Albuquerque to White Sands I stumbled upon the World’s Largest Pistachio. This was totally up my alley as I love random attractions. When we arrived we were in time to take a guided tour through the pistachio farm which was really fun and very educational.
White Sands, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument was the highlight of our trip around the southwest. It was really beautiful and totally unique from other national parks that we have visited.
After spending the day at the dunes, we were happy to check into the Days Inn Las Cruces where we promptly showered to get all of the sand off of us.
While we didn’t spend much time in Tucson, we did make a stop by Kartchner Caverns State Park. The cave was very interesting and really unique but sadly we weren’t able to take any photos of the inside.
We arrived in the evening and checked into our hotel, the 3 Palms where we were upgraded to a whirlpool suite. Knowing that we wanted to take advantage, we added buying a bottle of champagne to our to-do list following dinner.
In the morning we woke up early to meet up with one of my friends from college, Natasha and her husband Aaron for breakfast.
After breakfast we went on a tour at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. The tour was interesting and we had fun but it didn’t live up to the amazing tour at the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica.
Sedona is where we spent more time than anywhere else on our trip. We spent a night at the Beaver Creek Inn which is just south of Sedona and the perfect starting point to see a few of the attractions in the Sedona area.
To check out the sights, ruins, hiking and more – check out our 2 days in Sedona post.
One of the sights that I found in Flagstaff was a Louie the Lumberjack statue. When we arrived we both kind of laughed – it was much smaller and less interesting than we thought it would be. We snapped a few photos and headed to grab some dinner.
One of the things that you notice when you drive around Flagstaff is that there is a very earth and health conscious population that lives here. If you are looking for healthy food or have any dietary restrictions, it is a great place to dine.
We were originally going to drive through Flagstaff and stay closer to the Grand Canyon but all of the hotels very near the Grand Canyon were either booked or extremely expensive as it was Memorial Day weekend. We found a great deal for a room at the Twin Arrows Casino Resort which was the nicest room that we stayed in during our entire trip.
In the morning we woke up early and drove a little over an hour to the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Andy had previously visited the Grand Canyon as a child and then went rafting through it in the summer of 2001. I had only flown over it. Because I have never seen it, we knew that the Grand Canyon was one of the must see items on our list.
We first went to the South Rim visitor center and walked around the surrounding area. We then took the long drive up to horseshoe bend. While horseshoe bend was pretty cool, the 2.5 hour drive each way made for a very long day in the car.
If you’re interested in doing any hikes or seeing the further away attractions, I recommend spending more than 1 day at the Grand Canyon.
We decided to stay in Holbrook as it is the halfway point between the Grand Canyon and Albuquerque. It is also right next to Petrified Forest National Park, which was an easy stop for us first thing in the morning.
We stayed in the most unique place that I have probably ever stayed – a Wigwam Motel which was both fun and a memorable experience.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
We arrived to Albuquerque with not too much time before our flight. We did leave enough time to swing by Gruet Winery to sip on sparkling wine before we had to return the car and catch our flight home.
What We Would Do Differently
We had a really great and very busy 6 day road trip around the southwest but there are a few things that I would change if we were to do it again.
- Spend 2 days at the Grand Canyon
It was really hard to see the Grand Canyon in only 1 day, especially with journeying up to horseshoe bend. There were also a couple other places that Andy wanted to see as well, which we had to cut out because of timing.
- Do more hiking in Sedona
We only did 1 hike in Sedona which was really fun. In hindsight we should have shifted our schedule around to make room for another hike or two.
- Skip the Southwest Animal Conservation Center
While we did have a good time there, if we wanted to spend more timing hiking in Sedona we would have to take it from somewhere.
- Spend more time at the Petrified Forest
While it was possible to see the Petrified Forest in the 2 hours that we did, it was quite rushed and would have been fun to go on one or two of the hikes.