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South West USA: New Mexico, Colarado, Utah (Yellowstone?)

Author meltwaterfalls
#1 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 06:30 
After getting some great feedback and recommendations in previous years I was just wondering if anyone had some tips for the South West USA?

I'm going to be based in Salt Lake City, but the plan is to make trips down to the 3 WHS (Chaco, Taos, Mesa Verde) in and around New Mexico Colorado boarder and hopefully head up to Yellowstone.

So I was on the scout for recommendations of places to see in the Parks, good places to be based around them (Santa Fe for Taos? Durango for Mesa Verde?), or other stuff nearby that is a worthwhile detour.

I may also be heading out to the Eastern edge of Grand Canyon, but still trying to sort out the logistics on it, but tips for there would also be welcome.

Author elsslots
#2 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 08:09 
Santa Fe for Taos indeed. Or in Taos itself, but that's smaller and I enjoyed Santa Fe more

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 09:07 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I presume you will have a Rentacar?
We have never worried about "centres" or accommodation in the US - there are just so many motels it has always seemed best to play everything as it comes - if you get to a place where you want a motel and can't find one you like then just drive for another hour or so! If you are in a great place then just stay there longer and stop sooner etc! If it comes to it you can always sleep in the vehicle!

Investigate the route into Chaco if there has been recent rain and take care on the dirt roads (all ways in are dirt!) - we passed a guy who had got his car completely stuck in a very muddy patch through not taking care. The main turnoff has a trading post where you could ask.

Monument Valley is an absolute must (both for itself and for all those B+W westerns) which you ought to be able to take in either going south or returning north. It isn't an NP as it is on tribal lands
Arches is a fine National Park which you will have to go past on 191 in one direction - near Moab. There are so many great NPs in the area - it all depends how much time you have . Ideally Arches needs some walking but you ought to be able to see quite a lot in a morning without having to do so.

Author meltwaterfalls
#4 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 12:01 
Actually, yep we were planning on motels, so probably having nearby centres isn't a priority. Stayling in motels was always the thing I remember most from my trips around bits of the States when I was younger, so I am looking forward to doing it for myself.

I just got a little excited about Durango as it seems to be a bit of a microbrewery hotspot or 'City of Brewerly Love' as it terms itself, and that will always peek my interest.

Santa Fe looked like a worthwhile place to visit anyway.

Author elsslots
#5 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 12:25 
Stayling in motels

it is the common thing to do indeed (or go camping), but I do find them very boring.
santa fe is one of the few cities in the SW US that has some atmosphere and there are several non-standard restaurants and b&b's

Author Solivagant
#6 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 13:21 
I just got a little excited about Durango as it seems to be a bit of a microbrewery hotspot

By all means visit Durango AND Santa Fe. I personally found the latter a bit ersatz with its streets of Pueblo Revival Architecture and endless "shopping opportunities" - but it should be "visited" and even "overnighted". I was just suggesting that I wouldn't identify a "centre". There is a lot to see in the SW and you need to keep moving forward rather then keep returning to a "centre"! There are good and natural "circuit" routes which should enable you to visit all the worthwhile towns and NPs/NMs.

Author elsslots
#7 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 13:42 
Had you seen my trip report in Dutch already?
Besides the 3 WHS you mentioned, I also visited Carlsbad Caverns (probably too south for you but near White Sands NP) and Grand Canyon (where you've been already I believe)

Author winterkjm
#8 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 16:10 | Edited by: winterkjm 
I would recommend a loop that is full of great places. Though it does depend on time, the places I laid out here would be a 6 night trip. 3 WHS and 1 Tentative site. I only included driving times, not time it would take to visit and explore each site. Total round trip would be about 32 hrs driving.

If you choose to go to Yellowstone NP it would have to be a seperate trip because the park is 6.5 hrs northeast of Salt Lake City (one-way) in the opposite direction of all the other places you are interested in visiting. And a day trip to Yellowstone would need to be the whole day, better if you could stay overnight. Concerning Southern New Mexico, places like White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns are just too far.

From Salt Lake City (leave early):

Arches National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Durango, CO overnight (7.5 hrs drive from SLC)

Aztec National Monument (part of Chaco nomination)

Chaco Culture

Taos, NM overnight (5 hrs drive from Durango [not including dirt road to Chaco])

Taos Pueblo

Santa Fe, NM overnight (1.5 hrs from Taos)

Pecos National Historic Park

Petroglyphs National Monument

Albuquerque, NM overnight (1 hr from Sante Fe)

Petrified Forest National Park (tentative whs)

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Flagstaff, AZ overnight (5 hrs drive from Albuquerque [add 1 hr of driving in the Petrified Forest]) - visit Lowell observatory in Flagstaff at night

Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument

Wuptaki National Monument

East Rim Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, AZ camping (overnight)

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (special permit may be needed)

Salt Lake City (8-9 hrs from East Rim Grand Canyon)

Author Solivagant
#9 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 17:18 
I only included driving times, not time it would take to visit and explore each site. Total round trip would be about 32 hrs driving.

Yes it would require quite a few more nights - for instance Arches and Mesa Verde in 1 day is going it. I remember we once did I think 14 NPs etc in 15 days from Denver back to Denver but not going as far as Grand Canyon on that occasion.

I personally would put Monument Valley ahead of a fair number of the NPs and NMs you have included -but that is up to meltwaterfalls to decide. He might find this site a useful source of info to help with planning

Author meltwaterfalls
#10 | Posted: 22 Aug 2012 19:04 | Edited by: meltwaterfalls 
Thanks for the info guys.

Solivagant: That website looks promising and I hadn't come across it before. Covers the area I will be focusing on. Will certainly look in on Arches (seems to be on our route) and try to head through Monument Valley (I have my Ennio Morricone CD on standby!)

winterkjm: Thanks for that, picked up a few bits that I hadn't noticed (Petrified Forest being near Winslow, Arizona [Eagles CD on standby!]). The whole itinerary may be a little too much for the amount of time we have though, but useful to refer back to.
re: Yellowstone, yep I should have made it a little clearer that that is part of a separate trip up from SLC

Els: yep, I have been looking through your Dutch travelogue (brushing up on my limited language skills but mostly using Google translate). Yep I have already been to the Grand Canyon, but I am keen to go for a revisit, however as we have both been there before it is a slightly lower priority.

Though as a general question how long would you recommend for each of the 3 WHS?
I am guessing that Mesa Verde is going to fill the best part of a day. Chaco may even be a similar amount due to travel conditions, and Taos Pueblo 1-2 hours. Does that sound about right or too little/ much?

Author winterkjm
#11 | Posted: 23 Aug 2012 02:04 | Edited by: winterkjm 
What month are you doing this trip? More hospitable weather goes from November - Early Spring. Yellowstone in November would be an ADVENTURE though!

I think Chaco requires half a day. It depends though would you also visit Aztec National Monument on the way from Durango? I think Aztec would take about an hour. I wanted to stop here as we were driving by, but some of the passengers lacked my interest in another Native American site!

Mesa Verde depends on how much of the park you want to see, there are 2 distinct areas. If you choose to take both routes it will be a whole day. If you choose 1 area it will take half a day. Cliff Palace is the most common route (more crowd but the most impressive cliff dwelling)

Some of the Arizona sites I will provide a couple extra details. In case you find yourself that way.

Petrified Forest National Park (can be visited comfortably in 3 hrs (Highly recommended, beautiful landscape)

Flagstaff, AZ Lowell observatory at night (was on the previous US tentative list) Hard to beat the star visibility around Flagstaff.

Walnut Canyon National Monument (worth a short stop 1 hr, but since you will already see many amazing Native American sites, probably not worth the time)

Sunset Crater Volcanic National Monument & Wuptaki National Monument (sites are right next to each other, together they can be visited in about 3 hrs. Wuptaki is as impressive as many sites in Chaco and Sunset Crater is otherworldly in its landscape)

Concerning Vermillion Cliffs I have never visited the site, but check out the pics here.

When I first saw the picture below I immedietly wanted to visit the national monument. However, a special permit is required to visit this area, and I don't know how long the hike would take. This area would be a place you would pass on your way back from to SLC.

Author meltwaterfalls
#12 | Posted: 23 Aug 2012 12:03 
Els, I liked the bit on your report about the distances involved. How it was the equivalent of driving Netherlands to Berlin, to Austria, to southern France and then back to the Netherlands with occasionally a day trip to Switzerland or Luxembourg.

Just totalled up the distance involved and realised it was the same as driving London to Moscow. That is without the Yellowstone part.

winterkjm I had a quick look at Vermillion cliffs and they look stunning, but it seems I may already be too late to apply for a permit, and I doubt I would be able to fit them in either. Hey ho, it is nice to leave things to warrant a return visit.

Author winterkjm
#13 | Posted: 23 Aug 2012 14:05 | Edited by: winterkjm 
Just totalled up the distance involved and realised it was the same as driving London to Moscow. That is without the Yellowstone part.

This makes it hard for the world heritage enthusiasts in the United States! The US is very large, often suprisingly so for those from other countries. Three years ago I drove from Wisconsin to California, it took about 40 hours, we made it a 4 day trip.

I am very envous that if you live almost anywhere on the European continent that within 10 hrs drive there can potentially be 25-50 world heritage sites. In the US you will be lucky to find more than 2!!!

How do I get to visit Aldabra? Forum / How do I get to visit Aldabra? /
 South West USA: New Mexico, Colarado, Utah (Yellowstone?)

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