Envision a place where art exists in the form of a landscape. Where hues off of an orangey-red brush have painted layers into the sandstone. Where ancient waters danced and formed towering geological sculptures. Where the hot breath of the winds turned the sprawling land arid. Perhaps you've just pictured the surface of Mars. Perhaps these places are one in the same.
The incredible desert region of the Southwest holds a top spot as one of my all-time favorite road trip destinations. I took a solo adventure through these incredible locations early last year, and have been dreaming of them ever since. Without further introduction, this is my unofficial guide to road tripping the other-worldly desert region of Southern Utah & Northern Arizona.
Moab with it's adventurous energy, extreme adventure opportunity, and endless terrain, has always been one of my favorites. It is the epitome of a cool desert town, with everything from funky vegan food joints, to beautiful handmade Native American gift shops. Moab is home to Arches National Park, which is a climber’s playground and photographer's dream. Take the time to hike to the famous Delicate Arch in the park, as well as sticking around long enough to watch the sky explode into color at sunset.
Another Moab must see is Dead Horse Canyon, where you can hike the windy rim trail along the edge of an impressive desert canyon. The landscape here stretches for miles and the grandeur of it will make you feel small. Dead Horse Canyon is ideal for an easy day hiking trip with short trail options and plenty of breathtaking photo opportunities.
Spend the night in one of Moab’s many campgrounds, and grab breakfast the next morning at my favorite breakfast spot, The Peace Tree. What I love most about this place is their yummy fresh food and healthy meal options. It’s a great place to grab a smoothie and sit on their patio to watch every imaginable adventure-mobile drive by on the main street.
About three hours south of Moab, Monument Valley sits on the border of Utah and Arizona, and is just about the most wild west setting you can imagine. Coming from the north, you’ll drive into the valley on its famous stretch of highway; a long and straight road leading right into the desert monuments. Be prepared to feel like you’ve ended up in the middle of nowhere, but also in the middle of the most postcard worthy landscape.
Book yourself a stay at The View campground, where you can choose between cabins or your own tent site with a view that pictures won't do justice. Wake up early enough to watch the millions of stars speckling the sky turn into a glorious watercolor sunrise over the monuments.
Heading southwest towards Page Arizona, take the time to visit the Antelope Canyons. This unforgettable stop gives you the chance to hike into a slot canyon and walk alongside the beauty of twisting cavern walls that have been carved and reformed by flood waters for years.
Due to the frequency and dangers of flash floods in the area, you’ll have to book a tour if you want to experience the canyon, but I preferred the experience this way. Guided tours are provided by the Native American community, and offer a great background story to the beautiful formations as you walk alongside the sculptured walls. The tours can cost up to $110 depending on which company you book with, so I suggest choosing the Dixie Ellis tour for only $25. Booking online in advance gives you the upper hand against the overwhelming amount of tour busses that show up midday with hopes of experiencing this beautiful place as well.
While in the Antelope Canyon area, venture south a bit to discover the grandeur of the Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend. A short 10 minute hike will bring you to a cliff edge, overlooking the seemingly mellow Colorado River below you, and the results of its powerful carving ability over the generations. If heights aren’t your thing, there are plenty of safe places to capture a few good photos far from the edge. But if you’re a daredevil who likes to scare their mom like me, walking right up to the ledge will remind you just how small you are.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Heading north back into Utah, end your trip with one of the most insanely beautiful destinations in the country, Zion National Park. The park holds a sort of prehistoric feeling, as though you can almost imagine the place filled with dinosaurs. With its lush canyon floor and towering rock walls, Zion is a place far from anything I’ve ever seen before, and begs to be explored. The best way to get around is by the parks free bus system, allowing for each section of park to be discovered and easily accessed. Take a hike through the narrows, or alongside the emerald pools, and you’ll feel the magnificence of Mother Nature and her ability to offer such beautiful things.
My suggestion for seeing a good portion of the park in a short amount time would be to catch the narrated tram from the Zion Lodge just before dusk to get amazing insight into the history of the park, and have the opportunity to witness the setting sun cast a shadow into the canyon, giving the park a whole new type of light.
With so much to beauty and mystery, I know I will never get enough of America's desert regions. Road trips will always be my favorite way to experience these places; offering the most flexible way to explore and stop at any place that catches my eye. If you find yourself in the amazing desert of the Southwest, take in as much as you can. Chase the sun all day until it dips behind the orange landscape and gifts you with a sky full of stars like you’ve never seen. Allow the red sand to gather onto every surface of your car and breathe in the heat of the land with every window down as you drive down the open roads. These regions are magical, and they are just calling you to come immerse yourself in them. Go Forth & Enjoy!
Check out my road trip video below!