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My husband and I did a quick road trip through some highlights in the Southwest. More time would have been nice, but my list shows you how it is possible to see the highlights and spend only 6 days doing it! We did not drive any at night so that we did not miss any of the scenery! I highly recommend taking more days than we did, but our time was limited so we did what we had to do. Be aware of time zones if you travel during a time when Daylight Savings Time is in effect. We traveled in 4 states and it was confusing. Nevada is on Pacific Daylight time. Arizona does not observe Daylight time so they are Mountain Standard (same as current Pacific time). The Navajo Nation, which is in Arizona, DOES observe Daylight Time, but the Hopi Reservation (surrounded by the Navajo Nation) remains on Mountain Standard Time. New Mexico and Utah are on Mountain Daylight Time. Just be aware in case opening or closing times of places would matter to you.....or if you want to be in place for an awesome sunrise or sunset wherever you are!
Day 1: We began and ended our road trip in Las Vegas. We reserved an Alamo car rental and the process of getting the airport shuttle to the car rental facility was smooth and quick. We chose a Ford Escape (mid-size SUV) and it was very comfortable and much easier to get in and out of than a sedan. We arrived in the afternoon and drove the Strip to our hotel (Venetian) where we stayed only one night just to experience a bit of Las Vegas before heading out. I will say that we are not Las Vegas fans but we can now check that off our list. We basically just looked around our hotel and walked outside as far as the Bellagio and Paris and then returned. Do not accept any of the cards that people are offering on the street....you can't miss them. They are flicking the cards, hitting them on their hands to get your attention. Their t-shirts say "girls girls girls" and they are soliciting business for prostitution. We were forewarned by another traveler, but you will see them everywhere. Disgusting exploitation in my opinion. Casinos are smoky and at most hotels you will find that you must wander through the casino to get to the interesting lobbies or other features of the hotels. I understand why they design them this way, so just be aware of this. If you want to see some entertainment or features of a particular hotel, research that ahead of time. All in all, I can now say I have been to Las Vegas. Checked it off my list. Travelers tips if you are unaccustomed to desert climate: Drink lots of water and bring moisturizing eye drops. We are from the humid South and the dry air was a bit uncomfortable to us. People were selling water bottles from coolers in the streets, some asked for donations and the person we bought from charged $1. Great to find on our walk on the Strip.
My husband picked this hotel as our one-night stay on the Strip. We have visited Venice, Italy so this appealed to us. In an attempt to save time, went straight to the parking garage (free) and took our own luggage in since we were traveling light. It was quite a winding distance from the parking to the front desk (winding through casino). We still had to wind back through the casino to get to the room elevators either way. In hindsight, we should have pulled up to the entrance and and used the complimentary valet service. I'm sure it is by design that "all roads lead to the casino". We only walked through 4 casinos on this trip and all were smoky. No smoking allowed in other parts of the hotel, but if smoke bothers you, be aware of this. It wasn't a heavy cloud, but noticeable. We had booked a room with a view and it did have a great Western view of the pool, the Mirage and Treasure Island across the street and the mountains in the distance. There was convention having a gathering by the pool and the band playing was loud but they didn't go extremely late. The room is a suite. King bedroom area with a step down to a sitting area with L-shaped sofa, table, desk, etc. Space was nice, but we were there for only one night so we did not enjoy it as much as we would have during a longer stay. There was a minor housekeeping issue (missed some spots vacuuming from previous guest) that I called to the attention of the front desk. Steven apologized and promptly offered to take care of it and offered a food/drink credit. They were very apologetic They had excellent customer service. The room did not appear to be recently updated (some scuffs on furniture and older looking upholstery and wallpaper) but that was not really a factor to us. The linens were nice and the bed was comfy. We enjoyed walking around the hotel's Grand Canal area. Street entertainers, exclusive shops, gondola rides available. Even if you don't stay here, come visit the Grand Canal. It has an outdoor look and feel even though it is inside. And the canal smells nicer than the real Venice in Italy! You can see the volcano eruption across the street at the Mirage from the front of the Venetian.
We enjoyed dinner here with a nice view of "St. Mark's Square" in the Grand Canal area of the Venetian hotel. The servers were especially attentive and helpful to answer questions about menu items. My husband had the pork chop and I had the whole wheat spaghetti and a salad (forgot the name but it is the one with citrus...very delicious). Food was excellent. Nice view of the other tourists enjoying the street entertainers.
We walked here to see the fountain show at night and this was the best part of Las Vegas for us. We watched one show from the front of the hotel with a nice view of the Paris Eiffel tower in the background. Then we walked around and watched another one from the street side. Depending on the time of day, the shows run every 30 min or every 15 min. We walked down from the Venetian and crossed the pedestrian overpass which put us in the building in the shopping area. Then we wandered (through the casino of course) and finally found the front exit out to the fountain. We did not scope it out ahead of time or we would have exited the shops back out on the front and just walked up the sidewalk to the fountain. The lobby has beautiful glass flowers on the ceiling. We did not know until later that we should have kept going until we found the conservatory/botanical garden area to see all the flowers. So check that out for us!
We headed from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam on the way to Grand Canyon. I recommend getting there early to get ahead of the crowds. They have a parking deck ($7.00 fee), then you have a brief walk over to the dam and visitor center. You can walk on the dam and look around for free, but the entrance to the visitor center has a fee to see the exhibits and to access a viewing area. We did that but did not pay for one of the other tours as our time was limited. You can drive or walk across the dam if you'd like. In fact, parking on the Arizona side is free, I think, but a longer walk to the visitor's center. The new Pat Tillman Memorial bridge is the fastest way to head east from the dam parking deck. If you want to actually see the dam from that bridge, you will need to go to the pedestrian walkway. The sides of the bridge are too tall for vehicle passengers to see the dam. Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel and I'm glad we stopped to see it! An hour was plenty of time for us to look around. Allow longer if you want to look around and also do a tour. They have descriptions on their website of the tours.
Because we knew that we were visiting several National Parks, we bought the Agency Pass for $80 (per car) and it was used here, at Petrified Forest, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park on this trip. It is good for a year. We got it at the entrance gate to Grand Canyon. We headed straight to the Visitor's Center and walked to Mather Point to get our first view of the canyon. Amazing! Even though the air was hazy, it was an awe inspiring view! We stayed at Yavapai Lodge and had dinner at the Arizona Room and breakfast at El Tovar the next morning. We were starving and had to wait a while for our table for dinner so we did not get poised at a prime spot to view the sunset, but anywhere you look the view is fantastic. We knew we would only have a brief time at the canyon (we stayed less than 24 hours) so we did not plan any hike, mule rides, etc. Just looked from the rim. I suggest you research all the options and plan what your tastes and time allows. Just walking around the bit we did and taking the bus to the points west of the lodges was fine for us. I would love to come back one day. This was our first trip and we are in our early 50's so we shall see!
We booked our trip only a few weeks prior to leaving so we were thrilled to find a room in the park. The Yavapai Lodge is not one of the ones on the rim, but we were told you could walk there in 1/4 mile. I actually think this distance must be from the registration/cafeteria area. The rooms are not immediately adjacent to this building. We did not walk, but drove to the parking lot near the rim lodges. Our room was in the older part of the lodge which was single story motel room style. Concrete block walls, but appeared to be recently painted and had updated furnishings. Large flat screen t.v. but we didn't even turn it on we were there for such a short time. Coffee maker and mini fridge in room. No air conditioning but it wasn't a problem. Very clean and comfortable. If we come again, I would try to book far in advance and get the Bright Angel Lodge because of its location and cute cabins. If no park lodging is available, the little community of Tusayan was very convenient to the park and had several lodging options.
Day 3 (2nd day at GCNP): We got up EARLY and drove to the shuttle stop red line (west of lodges) as no private vehicles are allowed in this area. We got on the first bus at 4:30 a.m. and got off at Hopi Point to wait for the sunrise. A few others showed up too and even though it was still a bit hazy, it was a real treat to see the sunrise and then watch the canyon begin to fill with light. We hopped back on the western bound shuttle and got off at a few more stops til we got to Hermit's Rest and then headed back. We were the only ones on the bus for most of the return trip and our driver was very informative and answered lots of our questions. She said the bus lines are very crowded by 10 a.m. so getting out early paid off as we were limited on time. We had breakfast at El Tovar Lodge which was awesome. We strolled around the rim trail a bit and looked at the Kolb Studio before heading back to check out of our room by 11:00. Then we were off again! For those who want to hike into the canyon, or see things at a more leisurely pace, of course more days are recommended.
We stopped by for a brief visit here and found it interesting. $16 per adult to enter. Informative movie and display area in visitor's center. You can see the crater from large windows if you don't want to or are unable to go outside. It was very windy so the included guided tour (for one hour) was not offered. I can't imagine what they would have talked about for an hour. We were allowed to visit the outside viewing area on our own (at our own risk, I suppose). It is a very large crater and impressive to see if this sort of thing interests you. The only food option is a Subway with limited seating. Some outside seating is also available. The visitor's center is undergoing an expansion, so it should be nice when completed.
We took a quick drive through, entering from the southern entrance and exiting to the north. We should have stopped at the museum near the south entrance for the orientation film, but we were in a hurry and thought we would catch it on our way out the northern entrance. Although the park is open until 7:30, the visitor's center closes at 6. We thought the scenery was nice and it was cool to see some petrified logs. This is really a "drive thru" park and you can quickly add it to your itinerary if you are in the area. I believe the fee to enter is $10 per car. We had the Agency Pass ($80 for a one year pass to all parks). So for us, a quick drive thru was fine. But if we had paid the single park fee, I would have felt like we should have spent some time in the visitor's center and museum to feel like we got our money's worth. In hindsight, since we were limited on time, if we had to eliminate anything on our itinerary, we would eliminate this stop.
We stayed at his historic, old Route 66 hotel for only one night. It was built in the 30's and movie stars stayed there back in the day! The lobby probably hasn't changed much since then. Very quaint with an upstairs gallery area with signed photos of celebrities. Our room was the "Jack Benny" room and was small with one double bed. Room and bathroom were clean. Definitely old and I doubt I would stay here again, but don't regret it. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. Again, nothing fancy but food was nine. A nice gift shop is on the premises. If you find yourself passing through Gallup, it's worth a stop to see the lobby for those who are interested in nostalgic places. Be aware that it must be common for people to come up and ask for money in parking lots in Gallup. I had read that in other reviews and it happened to us in the hotel parking lot and again the next day at a gas station. Nothing scary, but this is the only place we experienced this. We left the next day and drove north through the Navajo Nation on the way to the Four Corners area.
Day 4: We stopped at a Trading Post at the intersection nearest Four Corners and found that they had a nice gift shop. Ask to see the "private room" with the nicely made Navajo items. Beautiful baskets, etc. And best prices we saw on the trip. I wish we had purchased something here. We bought some Navajo Frybread from the trailer in the parking lot. The Four Corners Monument is a Navajo Tribal Park so your National Parks pass is not valid here. I think the entry fee is $3.00 per person. Gravel parking lot with portable restrooms available. We enjoyed standing on the spot that marks the place where four states meet (or close to it. some controversy apparently.....look up on Google earth and it's close). The monument is surrounded by vendor booths with Navajo people selling inexpensive craft items. This stop won't take much time out of your schedule but it is a bit out of the way. Our next destination was Monument Valley and we decided to head north and clipped the corner of Colorado and looped around through Utah and approached Monument Valley from the North. Nice scenic drive.
Interesting vistas of red buttes and mesas....worth a stop if you have time. Driving tours can be booked from vendors in the parking lot or across the road at Goulding's Lodge. We drove our own SUV (Ford Escape with no 4 wheel drive) and it did fine. We did not drive the entire loop. If you want to hear the narration and go places the public cannot access, consider booking the tour. I think it takes 3 hours. Be aware that the vans are "open air" so you may get dusty! We wanted to stay at The View Hotel which is in the park or Goulding's Lodge across the road but we did not reserve far enough in advance. We did have dinner at The View restaurant and tried some Navajo Food. It was quite tasty! They have a large gift shop on site. Lots of nice silver and turquoise jewelry but I don't know how prices compare. We went over to Goulding's and looked around a bit. There is a museum there that was closing as we arrived. Also a cabin that was part of the movie set for John Wayne's movie "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".
We enjoyed dinner here and the view was amazing. The food was good too. We tried the Navajo Sampler (World Famous Green Chile Stew -- Red Chile Pork Posole --Sheep Camp Mutton Stew -- Navajo Taco sample) and a full order of the Green Chile Stew. Both with Blue Corn Frybread. The frybread is a huge serving. Good service here. We are probably not the best restaurant reviewers.....we were tired and hungry at every meal.....it was all good!
Since we did not reserve far enough in advance to stay near Monument Valley, we had reserved a room at Wetherill Inn in Kayenta which is less than 30 min. south of Monument Valley. It was fine. Clean and had the basic complimentary breakfast in the a.m.
Day 5: We got an early start from Kayenta, heading West and decided to stop by the Navajo National Monument which was just a few miles off the main road. This is run by the National Park Service but there is no charge. We arrived just as they opened and took the easy hike out to the viewing area of the cliff dwelling. It was interesting and I'm glad we stopped. During the summer they have guided tours available.
I am really glad we decided to add this to our itinerary and wish we had allowed more time! We drove all the way to the southern point of the park drive and then stopped at most of the overlooks. We were moving quickly and did it in a couple of hours. Allow more time and hike some down into the "canyon" (technically it is not really a canyon). Very unique rock formations. Highest elevation of our entire trip was at Rainbow Point (9115 ft.) Snow flurries....pretty exciting for Alabama natives! If I ever come back here, I would want to stay in the lodge, although there were several hotel options right outside the park too. We headed over to Zion National Park. On the way to Bryce Canyon, we stopped at Bryce Canyon Trading Post which had a large gift shop with free coffee, good selection of gift items, friendly employees, and clean restrooms, near the intersection of US 89 and Utah Hwy. 12. Address is: 2938 Utah 12, Panguitch, UT 84759
Wow! After all we had seen on the trip so far, all we could say was Wow! We entered the park from the east late in the day but still enough light. You have got to come see this place! Tune your radio to the frequency listed on the signs so you won't be surprised by the technique required to move traffic including RV's through a tunnel built in the 30's that is not wide enough for modern day RV's to meet one another (basically they control the traffic and make it one-way as needed for RV's and everyone follows). On the 2nd day here, when we went back to the eastern side for another view, I had to get out of the car and explain this to the people behind us who were blowing their horn wondering why we were waiting. Please read the literature! Read the schedules for the shuttle buses as private vehicles are not allowed on all the roads. We enjoyed dinner at the restaurant at the lodge. Very nice atmosphere and good food. We found out that the lodge had vacancy when we arrived (they had not when we tried to reserve in advance). We would have loved to have stayed there, but our other hotel would not let us out of our reservation without paying. Most places required cancelling 2-3 days in advance. We stayed at the Pioneer Lodge in Springdale. All hotels in Springdale would be convenient to the park. Parking at the visitor's center in the park is limited and probably worse in Summer. You can read about the shuttle pick up areas in Springdale and the bus will take you to the pedestrian entrance to Zion and there is a short walk to the visitor's center. In the park, catch the shuttle bus and get off at most stops to look around (mostly up!) at the awesome rock cliffs. The movie at the museum is a good overview and worth the stop. The museum does not open until 10. The only food for sale in the park is at the Lodge. No where in the park sells disposable water bottles, so bring one and refill it at their water stations all through the park. Come prepared to hike. We really were not prepared, mainly due to our limited time and fast pace to see everything. We were planning to do one of the easy trails, but it was crowded with a school group of about 100 people at the time. Again, this park would have been a nice place to spend another day. Beautiful! Remember, don't miss the Eastern part of the park. Shuttle bus does not go there. If you are not entering or exiting the park at the east entrance, drive over there and turn around and come back. It's a different world over there!
Clean hotel. Rustic decor. Tight parking lot. Several cars had parked on or over the line, preventing other cars from fitting. Difficult to turn around in parking lot. No complimentary breakfast but 10% discount in restaurant. We did not eat there. If you need a place to stay in Springdale, this is fine. Ask where the Zion park shuttle buses pick up in town if you don't want to drive your car into the park (parking is limited). Springdale looks like a nice artsy town with interesting shops and galleries. Wish we could have spent more time looking around.
Drove back to Las Vegas after a whirlwind time at Zion National Park. Stopped to have dessert with some friends who live in North Las Vegas. Stayed at the LaQuinta Inn near the airport for an early flight. Very clean and nice place to stay. Day 6 involved returning car and catching the flight home. Very easy to maneuver the rental car return. Quick shuttle back to airport. Great trip.....too many miles (over 1550 in 5 driving days) and too few days. So if you go, spend more time, but GO.....see the sights! It's worth it!