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Road Trip Across the Southwest

Jun 26

After two years in a row of easy, laid-back vacations (at an all-inclusive Sandals and a cruise to the Caribbean), we decided to take a more unstructured and adventurous road trip this summer!

We flew from Austin to Albuquerque, where we rented a car to begin our road trip across the Southwest United States. The end destination was San Francisco, but we stopped at 5 National Parks and other scenic spots along the way.

We planned the whole trip, route, and activities on our own, with lots of internet research. I’d say we did a good job of maximizing each of our 10 days! I’m considering a backup career as a travel agent. Just kidding (sorta).

If you want to see the route we took, crossing 6 states and driving over 1,500 miles, click here.

Let’s get to the photos!

 

Albuquerque

The Standard Diner in downtown Albuquerque had a really really great brunch.

Of course we had to make our own Breaking Bad tour and visit Walter’s house, the car wash, and Hank’s house.

 

The Painted Desert & Petrified Forest National Park

Our breakfast in Flagstaff, AZ. We tried to find the best coffee & breakfast everywhere we went. 

 

Grand Canyon National Park

Our first camping spot of the trip.

Grand Canyon Ooh Ahh trail

We woke up before sunrise one morning to hike to an area called Ooh Ahh Point to watch the sun rise over the canyon. 

Grand Canyon Ooh Ahh trail

Grand Canyon sunrise

Grand Canyon sunrise

He wrote three postcards to his family throughout the trip. Such a thoughtful son!

Grand Canyon South Rim

 

Horseshoe Bend

This was a quick stop on our trip – just a short hike off of the highway – and was definitely worth the stop!

Horseshoe Bend Photography

Horseshoe Bend Photography

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

We added a 5 hour detour to Bryce Canyon later in our planning. I saw photos online of the unique canyon hoodoos, and I couldn’t pass on the chance to go there!

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon sunset

 

Zion National Park

Zion national park

This little guy snuck up behind us while we were eating lunch and ran off with a whole block of cheese. We chased him down and got it back!

Zion national park big bend

Hiking to the top of Angel’s Landing at Zion was one of the highlights of our trip. At the start of the trail at the bottom of the mountain, we really had no idea what we were about to tackle. What started as a scenic – yet steep – hike, turned into a long climb along the side of a cliff face with a 1,000 foot drop on either side.

The mountaintop point was named “Angel’s Landing”, because it was said that it was so high that only angels could land there.

Zion angel’s landing

The photos don’t do it justice, but here you can see part of the “trail”. The rocky path was usually only wide enough for one person to climb at a time, and the cliffs on either side of the path were only inches away!

Zion angel’s landing photography

The view from the top was completely worth it!

Zion angel’s landing photography

Zion angel’s landing photography

 

Yosemite National Park

yosemite national park east entrance

Our first view of Half Dome as we entered the park through the East entrance. A photo of this mountain has been my computer background for as long as I can remember, so seeing it in person was a big deal!

yosemite tunnel view

The wildflowers in the meadows around the park were gorgeous.

yosemite postcard

yosemite mirror lake

Yosemite is such a huge park, that you actually have to drive miles or hours to get from point to point.

Our last camping spot of the trip, and also the most remote and bear-prone #wewerealittlescared

yosemite glacier point

yosemite glacier point

yosemite glacier point half dome

yosemite sunset hills

One of my favorite views we saw on the entire trip. We were driving to our camping spot at sunset and saw this view break through the trees. Of course we had to pull over and look.

 

San Francisco

I honestly didn’t take many photos while in San Francisco. We loved our time here, but I decided to be more present and take a break from photography for a bit!

My attempt at a selfie while we biked across the very windy Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

And now for the awards…

BEST HIKING: ZION

Zion is MADE for hiking. I loved that most of the trails had amazing views throughout the hike, instead of hiking for hours to see one view. The view from the top of Angels Landing was incredible but was almost rivaled by what you can the entire way up the mountain.

MOST UNIQUE: BRYCE CANYON

I first saw a photo of Bryce Canyon on our TV’s rotating slideshow of screensaver photos. I knew right away that we had to see it, and the hoodoos were even more amazing in person.

EASIEST TO GET AROUND: PAINTED DESERT + PETRIFIED FOREST 

This park is tiny compared to the others, and you can drive straight through the park – seeing every major viewpoint – in just a few hours. In some places, you can drive up to a cliffside and see the entire view without even getting out of the car.

MOST IMPRESSIVE VIEWS: GRAND CANYON

 Of course. It has to be the Grand Canyon. There’s probably no other place in the world that gives you that feeling.

MOST ICONIC VIEWS: YOSEMITE

A picture of Half Dome has been my computer background photo for as long as I can remember. This park has a ton of history and so much iconic scenery.

MY OVERALL FAVORITE: ZION

I love rocks. This sounds weird, but I’ve always loved a red rock and a desert landscape. Zion takes that to the extreme. So because of my personal preference, and because of the great hiking, Zion was my overall favorite.

Zion angel’s landing photography

We’re already planning a similar trip further north!

UPDATE: See photos from our 2019 trip to Glacier, Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks! >

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austin, Texas + ready to travel anywhere