Southwest Road Trip

Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip

by and - last updated on 6/20/2024

Thinking about planning a Southwest USA road trip? 

Discover why starting your journey in New Mexico could be the perfect choice! Join us as we share our adventure through New Mexico, Monument Valley Utah, and Northern Arizona, offering tips and insights for your own unforgettable road trip.

When we travel, we like to keep things interesting. Whether it's hopping across the pond to Europe or exploring corners of the U.S. that are different from our usual surroundings, we're always on the lookout for new experiences. Now that we have the freedom to travel at our own pace, we've set our sights on places that have long been on our radar but somehow always slipped through the cracks or we felt like we hadn’t spent enough time experiencing those things in the past. This time, our journey took us through three states: New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah, and Northern Arizona.

Throughout this blog, we'll lay out our itinerary in detail, offering practical insights and tips for anyone considering a similar trip. From must-see attractions to the nitty-gritty logistical details, and even some money savings tips.

For this itinerary, we opted to fly to New Mexico, where we rented a car to navigate most of our journey through the state then up to Monument Valley in southern Utah, before looping back into Arizona for the final leg of our trip. This isn't our first rodeo when it comes to this type of travel; we've found flying to a starting point before embarking on a road trip to be efficient and a great way to start a road trip.


Youtube Video Link
Click this video poster image to watch our Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Overview and Travel Guide which includes a map overview and the information you need to plan your visit through one of the most visually stunning national parks in the American Southwest. Get information about where to stay at the Grand Canyon, where to eat at the Grand Canyon, where to park, and how to get around the Grand Canyon. We include accessibility information and provide a detailed Grand Canyon National Park itinerary for visiting the south rim. This video is perfect for the first-time visitor or the visitor who has already been to the Grand Canyon but only explored it for a few hours. We’ve been there several times and each time we learn more. Our goal is to allow you to shortcut your trip planning by providing a large amount of information in a concise video. This video is the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.

Benefits to the fly-drive approach 

  1. Time-saving: Flying cuts down travel time significantly. Instead of spending days on the road, we can cover vast distances in just a matter of hours.
  2. Vehicle preservation: With the ever-rising costs of automobiles, preserving our own vehicles for as long as possible is a priority. By renting, we avoid putting unnecessary mileage on our personal cars.
  3. Comfort: As we find ourselves in the "third act" of our lives, long stretches behind the wheel can take a toll on our bodies. Flying allows us to minimize discomfort from extended periods of driving and sitting.
  4. Cost-effective: Renting a fuel-efficient car helps keep gasoline costs down, making our journey more budget-friendly and avoiding the long drive from the east coast (in our case) offsets the cost of flying.

Now that we've explained why we chose to fly to our starting point and rent a car, let's dive into some tips for making the most out of this type of travel. Whether you're a seasoned road-tripper or new to the game, these insights can help streamline your planning process and ensure a smooth journey. Once we've covered these practical pointers, we'll jump into the details of our itinerary, sharing highlights from each leg of our trip.

Practical road trip tips for flying and driving:

  1. Stay Hydrated and Snack Smart: Keep yourself hydrated by purchasing water and snacks upon arrival and during your journey, especially in the dry climate of the Southwest.
  2. Acquire a Cooler: Consider bringing a cooler or purchasing a cooler when you get there to store drinks and food items. This budget-friendly option allows you to enjoy meals on the go and avoid the high costs of dining out for every meal. We’ve recently started using a soft-sided cooler from REI that folds flat and fits into our luggage. This has been a game-changer for us.
  3. Choose the Right Vehicle: Rent a vehicle that suits the terrain and conditions of your trip. For remote or rugged areas, opt for a 4-wheel drive vehicle to ensure safety and accessibility.
  4. Plan with Flexibility: Create a list of must-see attractions and activities, but remain flexible with your schedule. Allow room for spontaneity and be prepared to adjust your plans as needed while still prioritizing your key interests.
  5. Research and Embrace Discovery: Research major attractions and sights in advance, while making note of any place that requires reservations up front, but remain open to unexpected discoveries along the way. Strike a balance between planned activities and the thrill of exploring new places spontaneously.

Rental Car Tips:

Save big on your rental car by exploring various deals through AAA, Expedia, or leveraging points from your travel credit cards. Take the time to compare rates from multiple rental companies. On our recent trip, we saved over $1000 simply by shopping around. For this particular journey, AAA came through for us. While it may require some extra time investment upfront, the significant savings make it well worth the effort.

Consider using Turo to rent a car. Turo is a peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace. Owners rent their vehicle to others. We’ve done this a few times and it has worked out okay for us. Be careful to make sure there isn’t a limit on the miles you can drive.

If you are road-tripping in Europe check out our pages with tips for European travel.

This route took us 17 days and we traversed 2,100 miles during our journey. We stayed in most locations for just one or two days. We had never been to New Mexico together (Terry had spent some time there years ago but didn’t visit the places that we went during this trip) and did not visit Monument Valley Utah on our last southwest trip. We had been to Arizona but felt that there were things we hadn’t done or that we hadn’t spent enough time there in the past. So we added the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Phoenix to the list.

Southwest Trip Route Map 

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The following sections of this page are divided into each State that we visited, with a link to the page(s) that cover those destinations that we visited while at a specific city. For example, while we were in Carlsbad, NM we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park. While we were in Albuquerque, NM we visited several destinations that can be seen on our Albuquerque Page.

New Mexico Destinations 

Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Albuquerque, NM    Map

Trip Starts - Arrived at Albuquerque International Airport, picked up our rental vehicle and drove to the Hilton Inn & Suites Airport. Come on over and read about our visits to the Sandia Peak Tramway, Petroglyph National Monument, Old-Town Albuquerque and the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.


Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Alamogordo, NM    Map

On day 4 we drove south to Alamogordo, NM. Click the "Read More" button to read about our visits to the McGinn's PistachioLand Farm and White Sands National Park.


Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Carlsbad, NM    Map

On day 5 we drove east to Carlsbad, NM with stops at the Tunnel Vista Observation Site on U.S. Highway 82 and Trestle Depot Recreation Area in Cloudcroft, NM. Click the "Read More" button to read about our visit to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Roswell, NM    Map

On day 6 we were on our way to Santa Fe driving north on U.S. Highway 285 which just happens to go through Roswell, NM. Since both of us are science fiction fans, and since the International UFO Museum is on Main Street, this was a must stop for us.

OK, so this place is touristy right? But they have a huge amount of information and displays about the famed 1947 "Roswell Incident" and they even have the U.S. Navy videos where it looks like a UFO flying around some Navy jets. It was fun & informative to walk about and learn about the "incident".


Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Santa Fe, NM    Map

Day 6: Continuation of our trip after Roswell, NM to Santa Fe. Click the "Read More" button to read about our visits to the Georgia O’keefe Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Ojo Spa Resorts, our exploration of old-town Santa Fe, and the Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return.

Utah Destinations 

 
Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Monument Valley, UT    Map

Day 10: Monument Valley straddles the border of Utah and Arizona, but technically lies within the Navajo Nation. This otherworldly landscape is famed for its towering sandstone buttes, called mesas, that jut dramatically from the desert floor. The most recognizable formations include Merrick Butte, John Ford's Point, and The Mittens.

In the interests of accuracy, the majority of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park that we explored was in Arizona - including the cabin that we rented. Yes, physically the valley extends quite a ways into Utah, but the area that most tourists visit is in Arizona.

Arizona Destinations 

 
Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Grand Canyon, AZ    Map

Day 12: This is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and for good reason. This massive canyon, carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and attains a depth of over a mile. For whatever reason, the highest area of the North Rim of the Canyon is higher (7,800 feet) than the South Rim (Yavapai Point at 2,400 feet).


Explore the American Southwest with this southwest USA itinerary through New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Utah and Northern Arizona. Get the Inspiration you need to plan your own trip
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Sedona Canyon, AZ    Map

Day 13: This is a visually stunning region known for its red-rock formations, towering buttes, and spiritual vortexes. These vortexes are believed to be areas of concentrated energy that can have a healing or transformative effect on visitors.

More Info for the Southwest United States 

  • Southwest USA Wikipedia Article
  • Amazon Search Results for "Southwest USA"
  • Youtube Search Results for "Southwest USA"
  • Our Youtube Channel
 

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Note: All images on this page are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

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