Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

I just returned from a wonderful tour of Central Europe with my mom and have already started writing about our experience. But, before I share all about that adventure I figure I should catch up on an older one- the quick trip to southern Utah and northern Arizona Mitchell, Gaius, and I made in March. Since our journey out west took us north from Texas to Canada, then across to the Pacific coast, we didn’t have an opportunity to explore much of Utah or Arizona before winter hit. With spring on the horizon we decided to head out and see as much as we could before I jetted off to Europe at the end of the month with my mom.

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Utah.

We planned a quick trip from California with stops in Las Vegas, Nevada, St. George and Kanab, Utah, and Page and Sedona, Arizona. Of course the week we chose to travel to Las Vegas they had their first snowstorm in 11 years and the highway we needed to take was closed. Luckily the storm only lasted one day, the roads were reopened quickly, and we were able to travel through safely.

I-15 From CA to Las Vegas, NV.

We only stayed in Vegas for two nights and the first was spent setting up camp then trying Sushi Twister, an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant off the strip. Our RV park was also off the strip but conveniently offered a free shuttle service that we used to get around.

We spent the day walking along the strip and stopped for lunch at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. We ordered “Trash Can Nachos” which were stacked and baked in a tin can before being inverted and poured onto the plate at our table. We also ordered a hawaiian chicken sandwich and a mac-n-cheese burger. It was all terribly unhealthy but super delicious.

Our main objective in Vegas was to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.” We love catching the touring Cirque shows and had just seen “Volta” with my mom in San Jose, CA. We saw “O” with family when we were in Sin City for our wedding and were excited to see another performance on one of the big stages. We attempted to walk off some our lunch then headed over to the show, which turned out to be a disappointing experience due to the person seated next to me using a bright cell phone to scroll social media and text for nearly the entire show. They didn’t even silence their phone so in addition to the brightness, noisy alerts and notifications sounded every few minutes.The person got mad and became even more rude when I politely asked if they could put their phone away or step out of the theater, and with no staff in sight to help, the rest of the show was quite uncomfortable.

After that incident we were so ready to escape the crowds and head out into nature again. After a short drive we arrived at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. Though its name suggests wintery weather conditions, Snow Canyon is actually named after an explorer and only sees about an inch of snow on average each year. However, we arrived just in time to see the aftermath of the largest snowstorm the area has experienced in over 20 years…

…Not enough snow to pull out the skis but temperatures did drop down below 30 for the first few nights of our stay and we had to take precautions to keep the pipes and tanks in our RV from freezing. During the days, we had clear skies and bright sun with a cool breeze. Hiking conditions were fantastic. We hiked over massive petrified sand dunes, through a cool slot canyon, and along the nice paved, ADA accessible trail.

The park has two great accessible trails. One is paved and runs along the main park road while the other is an old dirt and gravel service road that travels through the park and has stunning views of the canyon. These are the only trails within the main park that dogs are permitted to use. Dogs are permitted on all trails that are part of the separate Paradise Canyon trail system which is accessed from a road outside of the main park. We didn’t see the Paradise Canyon trails this visit but I’d love to check them out with Gaius next time.

Our next stop was to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where we volunteered working with dogs, pigs, bunnies, and parrots. To read about our volunteering experience, click here. After volunteering in Kanab we traveled to Page, Arizona and stayed at Lake Powell’s Wahweap campground.

Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir and although I’ve learned that reservoirs are not among my favorite destinations, during our off-season visit things were quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed walking along the huge accessible trail that travels through the campground loops, to the picnic areas, and down to the lake. Lake Powell also has accessible parking spaces for RVs and vehicles with boat trailers.

During our visit in Page I was most excited to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Both sites have become extremely popular, largely due to social media, and stay busy pretty much year-round. But, what else would you expect from a place that looks like this?

Horseshoe Bend.

We woke up early hoping to see Horseshoe Bend before the crowds arrived and to avoid using the shuttle service that is mandatory between 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, due to construction. I learned the construction project includes adding an ADA accessible trail (yay!), visitor center, and larger parking lot. During daily construction hours the parking lot is only open to shuttles. The shuttle is accessed just down the road from the trailhead and the fee is $5 per person.

The early morning trip was well worth it and although the small parking lot was half full by 6:30 am, we had no trouble finding a spot. The view at sunrise was spectacular and we even caught a really cool rainbow on our walk down the short trail to the bend. Visiting Horseshoe Bend is free but to see the equally stunning Antelope Canyon, one must book a tour.

Heart-shaped lighting on the canyon wall in upper Antelope Canyon

Also worth it! I had seen many amazing pictures on social media depicting a seemingly empty, peaceful, and colorful canyon. Though the canyon is truly magnificent, those pictures are somewhat misleading in terms of what to expect out of the typical Antelope Canyon experience. The canyon is fully-packed with tour groups and photo ops are basically staged by the tour guides who move visitors along through the canyon ensuring that everyone is able to take pictures without any photobombers.

Our guide was very eager to point out the most interesting features to photograph and served as a personal photographer, taking pictures of each party with their phones. The experience can be somewhat overwhelming if crowds aren’t your thing, but if you want to enjoy the beauty of the canyon up close then this is the only way to do it. The canyon has an upper and lower section with tours offered for both.

We chose the upper canyon because it is supposed to have better lighting during the winter and spring when the canyon is typically not as well-lit. The upper canyon is more accessible with a level walking trail. The lower canyon requires guests to climb a few short ladders. Both are reported to be equally as stunning. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the upper canyon but I’d love to try the lower canyon on our next visit.

Next we headed to Cottonwood, Arizona and stayed a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park located on the Verde River Greenway. The area is very popular for bird watching and mountain biking though I’ll admit we didn’t do much of either.

We did attend a chuckwagon supper and western show at the Blazin’ M Ranch adjacent to the park. Neither of us had ever been to such an attraction and thought, “well why not?”

The ranch is set up like an old western town with shops selling local goods and a saloon that makes surprisingly strong drinks. I had the most amazing prickly pear margarita.

Guests of the ranch can also enjoy the shooting range, farm animals, museum, western portrait studio, and tractor-pulled wagon ride before heading into the dining hall for the barbeque supper and dinner show. Everything was very good and although it could be considered a bit hokey, it was a nice family-friendly way to spend an evening.

Our next stop in Arizona was Sedona. I had heard so many great things about this little desert town but I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. And we weren’t the only ones with an itch to visit- it was packed! Crowds were possibly a little higher than usual due to spring break season but we still had a nice time on the trails and exploring town.

We met up with two other couples that I follow on Instagram who happened to be traveling through the area at the same time. One couple we met for drinks and a fun hike to Bell Rock, and the other we met for a nice dinner. It’s always great making new friends and meeting other travelers on the road.

We had a great time hiking with our new pals (and their fur babies) at Bell Rock, one of Sedona’s vortex sites, believed to radiate soothing and healing energy that can be felt and harnessed by visitors. Maybe it was all in our imaginations but we agreed that we definitely felt a little extra chill and peaceful near the vortex.

Just down the interstate in Camp Verde is Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the country. Ninety feet up into a limestone mountain sits this impressive, 5-story dwelling that was built and inhabited by the Southern Sinagua people, who were indigenous to the southwestern United States. Early American settlers erroneously credited the masterful engineering of the Southern Sinagua to the Aztecs, naming the site Montezuma Castle, after the famous Aztec emperor. Doh!

A short, paved, accessible nature trail leads visitors to the best view of the castle.

Nearby Montezuma Well was used for farming and has a few additional dwellings. Though the water in the well is carbonated and contains arsenic, it’s home to several unique species of leeches, water scorpions, and freshwater snails that are found nowhere else on earth. Southern Sinagua farmers made their homes in the limestone cliff along the well and built canals for irrigation.

We did some hiking out in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, away from the trails most popular with tourists. The hiking here was just as beautiful and offered the more peaceful, quiet experience we prefer. We also felt comfortable bringing Gaius along, who isn’t a fan of loud noises and does better in smaller (or no) crowds.

After hiking all morning we dined at the Hideaway House restaurant where we had an awesome lunch, complete with drinks and a view of the red rocks. Their patio is dog-friendly so Gaius was able to join us for the meal too.

The week in Sedona seemed to fly by, and though it was beautiful, it was also a bit expensive. We visited the farmers market and a few craft markets during our visit but didn’t end up buying much because things were too pricey.

Next we stopped in Needles on the California-Arizona border for a bit more exploring. By night we had amazing cotton candy sunsets and by day we hunted for bright, delicate wildflowers.

We made a quick trip to Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge, which was little more than a tourist trap. The bridge formerly spanned the River Thames in London, England but now sits over a canal on Lake Havasu in Arizona. The City of London dismantled the original London Bridge and put it up for sale when they realized a bigger and sturdier bridge was needed. It sold to the founder of Lake Havasu City, who hoped it would bring people and new development to the area. It worked!

From there we headed back to my mom’s house. I packed my bags for Europe, kissed my dog and husband goodbye, and off we went! Stay tuned for the first country of our tour: Poland! Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Taos, New Mexico

After a hot two weeks in Palo Duro Canyon we were excited to hitch up and head over to Taos, New Mexico for cooler temperatures. We drove through some heavy crosswinds on our way out of Texas but our Tundra handled the drive with ease. Once over the border, we traveled via the incredibly scenic NM-518 through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and got a good taste of what it’s like to tow our RV on steep grades. Using lower gears and minding the speed limit is a must. The heavy wind and mountain passes definitely had an impact on our fuel economy as we dropped from an average of 11 mpg to only 9.5 for this trip. 

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Fun fact, the bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge ranks somewhere between fifth and seventh (depending on the source) for the highest bridge in the United States. I made sure not to mention this to my heights-loathing husband until after our visit.

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When our navigation indicated the destination was just a quarter mile ahead, I was sure we had been led to the wrong place. I’m not sure what I was expecting but as we traveled down the flat road, the massive gorge and bridge pretty much came out of nowhere.

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Visitors headed from Taos can drive over the bridge, park in the lot, and use the sidewalk that crosses the bridge for spectacular views of the gorge. I expected there to be more parking and I imagine finding a spot can be difficult on a busy day. Along the bridge there are several suicide prevention phones that call out to a crisis hotline with the push of a button. It was sort of a sobering moment to see the phones and remember that not everyone visits the bridge for the same reason. I learned the phones were installed a few years ago in an effort to end suicides at the bridge. For anyone who is thinking of suicide, please know there is help. You can confidentially chat online with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.

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We visited the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge a second time to hit up the West Rim Trail on our mountain bikes. As the name implies, the trail runs along the west rim of the gorge offering dramatic views of the scenery.

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The trail is mostly flat with large rocks making it the perfect challenge for beginners, like us. We visited on Memorial Day and surprisingly there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the trail. We ran across fewer than 10 hikers and bikers during our trek. There’s no shade along the trail, so visitors should come prepared with water and sun protection.

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Adding to the magic of the area, we came across a rock garden with prayer flags and an encouraging note that said, “Don’t quit your daydream.” I couldn’t agree more!

Accessibility Notes: Accessible parking and restrooms are available in the parking area for the bridge. Paved pathways allow access to restrooms, covered picnic tables, and a few scenic overlooks with benches that run above the rim of the gorge.

At the time of our visit there was not an accessible sidewalk or path from the parking area to the paved sidewalk that crosses the bridge. In others words, I saw no safe way for someone in a wheelchair or scooter to get to the sidewalk and cross the bridge without entering the roadway. To access the bridge’s sidewalk from the parking area, visitors must cross a dirt and brush field and step over a steel road barricade.

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There was an open area that could possibly provide an accessible route to the bridge’s sidewalk but it was barricaded off during our visit, possibly for construction.

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Taos Pueblo:

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Designated as a World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Taos Pueblo has been inhabited for over 1000 years.img_1636.jpgWe arrived at the Pueblo just in time to participate in the free guided tour (gratuity appreciated). As we were led through the Pueblo, our knowledgeable guide shared the history of the Pueblo Indians and talked about how they live and thrive today.

Made entirely from adobe bricks and plaster, the Pueblo walls are several feet thick and well-insulated, providing warm winters and cool summers. The Pueblo consists of many homes, arranged similar to apartments with adjoining walls. Each home in the Pueblo is owned and maintained by a family. IMG_1648.jpgMany residents operate curio shops in their homes, selling artwork, jewelry, crafts, and traditional foods to Pueblo visitors. Being the bread-lovers we are, we purchased a some fresh frybread, baked over a cedar fire in a dome-shaped adobe oven known as a Horno. It was absolutely delicious!

We learned from our guide that the Pueblo has no electricity or plumbing. All water for cooking, drinking, and bathing is supplied by the pristine Red Willow Creek. The water is so clean and pure, no filtration is needed.

Accessibility Notes: With its flat and solid terrain and wide pathways, the Taos Pueblo is accessible and can be enjoyed by visitors of all abilities. Some homes with curio shops have shallow steps (1-3 inches) and may be a tight squeeze for larger wheelchairs or scooters. I did not see any reserved accessible parking, however there were staff available to help direct visitors to parking areas.

Black Rock Hot Springs:

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When I learned there were a few hot springs along the Rio Grande I had to check it out. Out of Taos, a quick drive up Highway 522 North then a left turn down County Road B007 will take you to Black Rock Hot Springs. County Road B007 is gravel with some rather large potholes but you couldn’t ask for a more scenic drive as you head down into the gorge. Pass over a few one-lane bridges and you arrive at the Rio Grande with easy access to the water.

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Accessibility Notes: Unfortunately not much has been done to make the hot springs accessible. The trail that leads down the gorge to the hot springs is steep, narrow, and requires maneuvering over large boulders. However, there’s a road on the left just before crossing the John Dunn Bridge that leads to a parking area that sits directly on the bank of the river. The bank is mostly flat and visitors using wheelchairs or scooters who don’t mind a little dirt and sand could possibly access the water from here. There is no reserved accessible parking, however there is a fair amount of parking along the road, and the riverbank, and in the parking areas. On a busy day, parking could be challenging. That being said, we visited on Memorial Day weekend just after lunch when it was probably as busy as it gets, and we were able to park our big truck with no problem.

Thanks for reading!