The American Southwest has been immortalized in art, literature, and music as a desert land of enchantment. The climate is hot and dry, the scenery will make you feel like you’re on a different planet, and the culture is a unique blend of American, Spanish, and Indian traditions.
The Southwest is a broad region encompassing several states (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, to name a few). While you can’t see everything, we’ve picked out a few places that might provide you with a memorable road trip.
Whether you need something to do in the summer break, or want to get away from East Coast spring rain, a trip to the Southwest will certainly yield some magical memories.
This city is one of the oldest in America, founded as a Spanish colony in the mid 16th century—though Indian tribes had inhabited the region long before. A walk around the downtown is like stepping into a time machine and arriving at a network of charming streets filled with adobe buildings, all centered around a sleepy colonial plaza. There are many museums appealing to lovers of art, history, and even science, as well as fantastic restaurants and art galleries (the city’s art scene is one of the best in the country). The main attraction is the Albuquerque Balloon Festival or Balloon Fiesta, a week long extravaganza featuring thousands of colorful hot air balloons.
#2: The Grand Canyon
We would be remiss to not include one of the most stunning attractions in the Southwest, and probably the most famous. The Grand Canyon—in some areas wider than the state of Delaware—will take your breath away, especially at sunset and sunrise. Visitors have the option of taking a train to the site, though be forewarned if you choose that option, cowboy reenactors will get on board to perform a live holdup for cash (no joke). For the more adventurous travelers, donkey rides are available down to the bottom of the canyon, as are hiking, rafting, and helicopters tours.
#3: Las Vegas
This glittering desert gem is another one of the Southwest’s premier attractions. Even if you don’t gamble, you can still enjoy the incredible range of hotels on the famous Las Vegas Strip. From pirate islands to volcanoes to ancient Rome to the canals of Venice, a theme for every taste can be found in the City of Sin. If you’re interested in seeing one of the numerous Cirque du Soleil shows, make sure you book your tickets and arrange your trip several months in advance, because they tend to sell out.
#4: Monument Valley
This park is the quintessential land of desert buttes rising into wide open skies. If you’ve ever seen a Western and marveled at the rocky scenery, this is the place you’ll want to visit. The park, which straddles Utah and Arizona, sits smack-dab in the middle of ancient Hopi and Navajo tribal lands. That said, it’s a bit out of the way from major cities (around 5 hours to Phoenix) but it’s well worth the car ride to see the sandstone formations climbing out of the ground like monumental, giant’s fingers. Besides…the ride to and from the park will also expose you to some incredible scenery.
#5: Taos Pueblo
This New Mexico landmark is one of the most ancient continuously inhabited places on the planet. The adobe style has become part and parcel of buildings all over the Southwest, but if you want to see the real deal that inspired generations of concrete look-alikes, visit Taos Pueblo. It’s one of the most photographed places in the world, and you’ll see why when you get there. Taos Pueblo is also a Native American reservation, so if you’re looking to learn more about America’s Indigenous cultures this is a must-see stop on your Southwest Itinerary. Catch the iconic panoply of buildings at sunset or sunrise and you’ll see why many painters have been inspired to translate the charm of these ancient buildings to canvas.