When I knew I might be facing a job change, I also knew two other things: I was going to make sure I took a week off in between and I was going to do something BIG. I considered buying a plane ticket to visit my sister who moved to Las Vegas last year…but then realized it was definitely driveable. And driving would be so much more interesting!
I recruited my brother to join me on my adventure; I Google Mapped out a route that would take us through Moab/Arches National Park, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, so many places I’ve been dreaming about visiting! We planned to car camp when we weren’t in Vegas, see as much as we could and soak it all in.
COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
We left on a Friday evening, just barely escaping the evening rush hour traffic, and found ourselves at Colorado National Monument late Friday night. Crossing our fingers, we tried the campground on the monument, Saddlehorn Campground, and to our delight, found many open campsites. We parked, pulled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars.
And then we woke up to find ourselves surrounded by this.
It was incredible! We spent as much time as we could exploring our immediate vicinity before it was time to hit the road. We wanted to stop at Arches National Park before parking in Vegas that evening.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
A few hours west, we rolled into Arches National Park and hiked the Devil’s Garden / Primitive Trail. A short, relatively easy trek, we climbed up some rocks to take in the view.
After about an hour and a half though, in the midday heat, we climbed back in the car and drove south a few miles to Moab for gas and lunch before hitting the highway again.
Throughout this whole trip, we spent a lot of time driving in the car but DAMN was it beautiful! We hardly minded the long hours because there was so much to look at.
We finally pulled into my sister’s apartment late Saturday night. We filled our bellies, caught up with my sister and her boyfriend and new pets and hit the sack. We had exploring to do in the morning!
We had all Sunday with Trisha in Vegas – we’d planned to leave for our next leg on Monday morning – so we packed in as many Vegas things as possible into one day. Upon waking up, we slathered on sunscreen and headed out to Trisha’s favorite trail just outside Vegas city limits.
We hit the Eagle’s Nest Trail in Kyle Canyon for a toasty 3ish mile hike. It was really awesome to see a different side of Las Vegas – the glitz and glamour are all well and fine but hiking and an active lifestyle? Not something that jumps to your mind when you think about Vegas.
After hike, it was time for a cool down…what else do you do on ‘Sunday Funday’ in Las Vegas than drink margaritas in a pool? So we did exactly that.
That night, we ate dinner on the strip and celebrated the eve of my sister’s first day teaching at a new school. If you’re gonna do Vegas in 24 hours, call my sister. She’ll show you the spots!
On Monday morning, we stopped by my sister’s new school on the way outta town. It’s hard to believe my younger sister is old enough to be teaching high schoolers but she is!
Mid-Monday morning, we began our trek to Grand Canyon National Park!!! We back-tracked a bit (drove north from Vegas back up to St. George, UT before heading east) but made great time. As we drove east across Northern Arizona, we watched a spectacular thunderstorm drench the valley around us. The lightning was incredible.
Chris insisted on pausing to watch the storm (I wanted to ‘out run’ it and keep driving – look at that radar!!). He was behind the wheel so we stopped to watch for a while.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
It remained rainy and gray the rest of the drive and we feared we wouldn’t be able to see much at the Grand Canyon. Fortunately, we were able to wait out the rain and as the clouds blew over, we were treated to very cool, moody Grand Canyon view.
(quite possibly my most favorite photo – Chris matches the Grand Canyon.)
As the sun lowered in the sky, we set out to find a campsite for the evening. Grand Canyon campsites fill up the minute online reservations are open (6 months ahead of the date) so we drove 12 miles back out to a forest service road just before reaching De Motte Campground. Alarms set for 5 a.m., we planned to hit Bright Angel trail again for sunrise.
Unfortunately, the time change screwed us up and when we pulled into the park in utter darkness, we realized Arizona (and the Grand Canyon) were on Arizona time, not Mountain Time. Whoops. We were an hour early. Instead, we posted up in a parking lot and napped for an hour, waking just before a cloudy sunrise.
Sunrise was tranquil and beautiful, even with the heavy cloud cover. Knowing we had a big day of driving ahead of us, we sought out (way overpriced) coffee, mailed our postcards and hit the road. This time, bound for Colorado/Utah/Arizona/New Mexico!
After a quick stop at the Four Corners (which charges $5 a person to get in, by the way), it was on to Colorado and Mesa Verde National Park!
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
Chris and I arrived at Mesa Verde early enough to pick a campsite and drive out to the two site we wanted to see, Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace. Spruce Tree House is the best preserved site at Mesa Verde and offers self guided tours so we did that first. We then drove over to Cliff Palace, expecting to just look from afar as we hadn’t bought guided tour tickets. Amazingly, Chris was able to talk us into a smaller-than-normal tour (don’t worry, we bought tickets after the fact) and we spent more than an hour listening to the best tour guide in all of Mesa Verde tell us about the history of the Ancient Pueblo people.
Seriously, Ranger Arragon (not sure of the spelling) at Mesa Verde is phenomenal – if you find yourself at Mesa Verde and can request him, do it.
We camped out at Mesa Verde that night and warmed up next to a campfire. As we were turning in for the night, we listened to a pack of coyotes howl and yip in a nearby canyon; in that moment, I felt like, YES. THIS is where I need to be. In this moment. In this place. In this experience.
The campground had posted signs for a pancake breakfast and Chris and I had no intention of missing it on Wednesday morning.
Absolutely the bomb. Three giant, fluffy pancakes and turkey sausage for the WIN.
Back in the car after breakfast, we pointed our wheels east and north to return to Denver by Wednesday night.
About halfway to Denver, we were stopped on 285 for the USA Pro Challenge bike race. Every possible route through the town of Salida was closed for an hour so Chris and I parked on a side street to watch the bikers fly through town. Just minutes after parking, the leader group sprinted past us.
Definitely not an expected experience on our trip but it was really neat to cheer on these badass bikers as they raced toward the end of their 96 mile day.
Soon after, the town and roads opened back up and we were on our way back home.
A few hours later, I was back in my apartment, exhausted but so content. The trip was a whirlwind of activity but is definitely a favorite memory already. I can’t wait to get back out to each of the national parks we visited again to truly experience it – we could have easily spent 5 days at each park! There was so much more to see that we just didn’t have time to see or do. Next time!
Ironically, I spent my final days of ‘funemployment’ recovering from my trip – I was so wiped out! Lots of sleeping, lots of alone time, lots of puppy snuggles put me in the right spot to start fresh at work on Monday.
tl;dr had a blast road tripping; saw 4 national parks, 4 states and covered 1800+ miles in 5 days.