We deliberatly saved this trip for the last year before our oldest graduated highschool so that we could make the most of the Grand Canyon.
We had thought about a raft trip through the canyon, but they take several days and cost a bundle for 7 people.
We decided to hike to the bottom and spend the night at Bright Angel Campground.
That was quite and expeirence. If you want to do this, you MUST make a reservation at the earliest allowable date. Check with the park
service. There are cabins at the bottom at Phantom Ranch. These are booked a year in advance.
We made this trip in May. We had cold nights for the first two weeks with snow at the Grand Canyon at the top. Five thousand feet down at the bottom it was hot.
Out west, elevation is everything. It can snow any day of the year in Sequoia National Park and 20 miles away at in the valley they grow oranges all year.
Late summer is the rainy season in New Mexico etc, so early summer is better for this trip.
The kids were 11, 12, 13, 14 and 17 on this trip.
We have visited Westpoint, Anapolis and the Airforce Academy. Of the three, the Airforce Academy has the least to see. There is a modest visitor's center and a pretty cool chapel. We went to mass at the Chapel which was kind of cool and spent about an hour at the visitor's center. We were able to see the Air Force Acadamy, Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods all in one day.
Don't miss Pikes Peak. There are bunch of peaks just over 14,000 feet high in Colorado, but this one id accessable with little trouble. You can walk up if you have lots of time and energy, or you can drive up. I hightly recommend taking the Cog Railway. The drive can be hard on the car and you will be so focused on the road that you can't enjoy the magnificent scenery. If you do take the Cog Railway, you only get an hour or so at the top, so make sure you don't get stuck in the gift shop. Get out and look around! We were able to see the Air Force Acadamy, Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods all in one day.
The Garden of the Gods is low haning fruit. On your wester trip, you will likely see lots of red rock, but this place is beautiful. Its basically a public park and you just drive up and park your car and walk around the paved pathways. I think you can get rock climbing permits as well. We were able to see the Air Force Acadamy, Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods all in one day.
We stopped at the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the way from Colorado Springs to Mesa Verde. The climb up to the top of the Dunes is quite and experience. TAKE WATER! It's not a long climb, but walking in the soft sand is a lot of work. Try to get there early. The wind picks up later in the day as the sand warms and at some point it gets to be too much. The round trip up and back takes an hour or two and its appropriate for any reasonably fit individual. The view of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the background is awsome!
On the way up
Sangre de Christo Mountains viewed from the top of the Dunes
Mesa Verde is a great place to see cliff dwelings. Take as many RANGER led tours as you can. You can book your ranger led tour at the visitors center. We camped here two nights and spent one whole day touring the dwelings. We managed to get on 3 different tours.
Four Corners is the only place in the United States where you can stand in four states at once. This is where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. If it is crowded, you may have to wait in line for your photo op. The spot is actually on a Navajo indian reservation. There were warning signs about theft etc, but we didn't have a problem. Around the outer perimeter of the area, they have booths where the Navajos sell their crafts. Turquoise is a big thing in New Mexico, so you can by Turquoise jewelry etc. We were probably in and out of here in a little over an hour. We were able to stop at Four Corners, tour Antelope Slot Canyon and enjoy the scenic drive through Monument Valley all in one day on the way from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon.
John in Utah, Mary Clare in Colorado, Joey in Arizona, Anne Marie in New Mexico, Mark in the Middle
Antelope Slot Canyon tours are run by the local indians. The tour is a little pricy, but well worth it. It takes about an hour. The slot canyou fills with water when rain runs down from the local mountains. They keep track of this, so there is no danger. We were able to stop at Four Corners, tour Antelope Slot Canyon and enjoy the scenic drive through Monument Valley all in one day on the way from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon.
The Entrance to Antelope Slot Canyon
Inside Antelope Slot Canyon
The Family Inside Antelope Slot Canyon (for perspective)
For us, this was a drive through on the way from Mesa Verde from to the Grand Canyon. You could spend more time here. If your a camera buff, you could spend alot of time here. We were able to stop at Four Corners, tour Antelope Slot Canyon and enjoy the scenic drive through Monument Valley all in one day on the way from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon.
We saved our Southwest trip until the kids were old enough to do more than just look over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Many people take day trip to the Grand Canyon on a bus when they are in Las Vegas and thats it. You can do better. We looked at taking a raft trip, but that was very pricy for 7 people and it also requires a greater time commitment. We decided to hike to the bottom and spend the night. We hiked down the Kaibab trail to Bright Angel Campround where we spent the night. We hiked out on the Bright Angel trail the next day. This was early May so the temeratures at the bottom were in the 80s and not the deadly hot like it can get in mid-summer. I hired a donkey to carry two seabags full of stuff for us to lighten our load. There are cabins available in the bottom at Phanotom Ranch. You must reserve these over a year in advance. You can get Breakfast or Dinner at the Canteen at Phantom ranch. Its pricy, but good. We opted to get breakfast so we could hike out on a full stomach. You eat family style and it was the best breakfast we ever had. You get your money's worth. As it was, we were able to reserver a campsite at Bright Angel. I faxed in my reservation request on the New Years day which was the first day the window was open for May camping and we got it. The rim is about 6000 feet above sea level and the floor of the Canyon is about 1000 feet. This makes for a temperature differences of 20 degerees or more between the rim and the floor. It was snowing in late May when we arived at the Grand Canyon and we got 2 inches of wet snow the first night we were there.
We saw Hoover Dam on the way from the Grand Canyon to our campground west of Las Vegas. We took the Dam tour and lots of Dam pictures. I bought the Modern Marvels episode about Hoover Dam to watch before we left on the trip, so we already had lots of Dam knowledge. We camped on the mounain above Las Vegas that night. We were going to drive in just to look around, but we were too tired and we just stayed in camp and had a fire. We could see Las Vegas from the camp and that ws pretty cool.
Drove from just west of Death Valley to Sequoia in about 5 hours. Its only 100 miles as the crow flies, but the mountains don't allow you to drive that way. Approaching Sequoia from Bakersfield, we drove past orange groves where they grow oranges year round. Twenty miles past that up the mountain, we entered Sequoia National Park where they can close the roads any day of the year for snow. We setup camp and went to see the General Grant tree and also drove in to for a look at Kings Canyon. The next day, we toured a cave, did laundry and visited the General Sherman tree. We saw about 7 black bears while we were in the park. You could spend more than a day and half here, but that was enough for us to catch the highlights.
When I was a kid, you could tour Universal Studios and see actual sets and how they filmed things. That's all gone, however, the set from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is still standing and its part of a public park that you can visit. It was cool to see an actual set from something you saw on TV. I would love to have seen the set from Wonderful Life, but its long gone too. We saw the Dr. Quinn set and the Labrea Tar Pits all on the way from Sequoia to our campsite at San Clemente State Beach.
All kinds of prehistoric animals, most of which are now extinct got themselves trapped and well preserved in these tarpits that are actually right in downtown Hollywood. We chose this over the walk of fame. Its actually kind of the same idea if you think about it anyway. You can walk around on boardwalks over the tarpits and see where they are excavating. There is also visitors center which is sort of a museum/science center with lots of sckeletons and other stuff to see. We saw the Dr. Quinn set and the Labrea Tar Pits all on the way from Sequoia to our campsite at San Clemente State Beach.
Skeleton from some long dead animal.
An excavation site where they look for remains of long dead critters.
When we talked about going to the South West, the kids all wanted to know if they would see those big catuctuses. Those big cactuses are called Saguaro cactuses and the Saguaro Desert is where they live. There is actually a Saguaro Desert National Park near Tuscon which was a little too far out of our way for us to include. The Cactuses live along southern Arizona and California and in northern Mexico.
This is a classic touristy place, but a good time at a fair price. You can pan for gold, tour a fake gold mine and enjoy a good gunfight in the street. The saloon is open for lunch and it looks like something out of the movies. The trip would not have been complete without something like this.
We eschude the artsy fartsy part of Sedona for some good clean fun at Slide Rock State Park. Everybody there was having a great time. The natural water slide here was bout 50 yards of red rock washed with snow melt. We went to mass in Sedona, played for 2 hours at Slide Rock and visited the Meteor Crator all on the way from Sedona to Winsolow.
The Meteor Crater is about a mile across and 500ft deep. You can hike the rim if you want. It was windy the day we visited with gust up to 100 mph. I think this is not uncommon here. There is a visitors center as well. We went to mass in Sedona, played for 2 hours at Slide Rock and visited the Meteor Crator all on the way from Sedona to Winsolow.
Petrified means "Turned to Stone". Minerals turned the logs here to stone. A few hours is probably enough for most people at the Petrified Forest National Park. If you don't know what to expect, you might be disappointed because the trees are all lying down. There are places where petrified trees stand upright (including Yellowstone), but not here. The Petrified Forest is still beautiful and well worth the visit. There are easy trails to walk around among the rocks and its pretty cool. We saw this on the way from Winslow to Sante Fe.
Ever heard of the "Fastest gun west of the Pecos", well this is the Pecos. We camped along the Pecos while vising Sante Fe. There is a beautiful trail on the other side of the river to the top of the hill.
Bridge across the Pecos to the trail up the hill on the other side.
Carlsbad Caverns are known for the massive bat flight at sunset. There was a SEVERE drought when we were there. It was the first time EVER that we were told we couldn't use charcoal at a campground. The drought cut down on the mosquitoes which left the bats with no food source, so the big flyout was kind of humble. The few bats that did participate in the show did the best they could to put on a show. The caverns themselves however were FANTASTIC. Carlsbad caverns are massive like Mammouth Cave, but they are MUCH more beautiful and it was well worth the visit just for the Caverns. We took a both a guided and unguided tour while we were there.
We camped at Brantley Lake State Park while we visited Carlsbad caverns. It was flat and windy. We had to put rocks down in the corners of our tents to keep them from blowing away. In included it here just so I could show you the wind and the Horntoad. Camping is definetly more adventurous than a hotel.
The wife and daughters were having a fit over the wind, so I did the only logical thing and took a picture.
Our own version of Steve Irwin and his catch of the day. A Horntoad.
Sunset at the Brantley Lake State Park campground near Carlsbad.
This was low hanging fruit for the deadhead. We drove from Carlsbad NM to Pittsburgh in two days with a stop for the night just west of St. Louis. It doesn't matter how late you get home, so we decided to take a couple of hours and see the Gateway Arch. It's nice that there was still something to look forward to during the long drive from New Mexico. There is a visitor's center which is nice. We took the eleveator to the top.