Road Trip 2020 - Part 2
Next up...ZION BABY!!
When we booked our van, the owner John highly suggested we camp in Zion National Park but that you usually have to book it 6 months in advance. Surprisingly (and probably again due to Covid) Mike was able to book two back to back nights only 3-4 weeks in advance which we were so stoked about. You also have to book shuttle tickets to get to a lot of the trails which are in hour blocks and are released every two weeks. It's basically like buying concert tickets and as luck would have it we were able to book everything with no problem. The camp we stayed in was called Watchman Campground which was nestled in the south entrance of the park with beautiful views and conveniently close to Springdale which was the town just outside of Zion that had all the restaurants. One thing we didn't know though, was that none of the campgrounds in Zion had showers....oops. Not only that, but all the rivers were contaminated by a harmful bacteria that was poisonous if you ingest it! We made one really sad attempt to sneak into the showers at a nearby campground in Springdale after our first hike that went horribly wrong. We basically lied to the front desk and told them we never got our shower tokens and when they asked what our last name was, Mike blurted out "Herman" and as soon as they looked it up they quickly realized we were phonies and we ran out of there as fast as we could hahah. We ended up having to shower in our sink that night (!) but the next day found out that an outdoor sports store called Zion Outfitters in Springdale had public showers on the lower level that you can buy coins to use. That was probably the best 5 minute shower I've ever taken.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion was absolutely incredible, but VERY different from any of the other parks. It almost seemed like Disney World with their visitors centers, souvenir shops and bus lines to get to the trails. It's so giant that you figure that's kind of how they have to organize it. We decided our first trail was going to be The Narrows and boy we were in for a treat. What we thought was going to be an hour hike (we read the map wrong) ended up being a FOUR hour hike, that we actually had to cut short otherwise we'd miss the last bus back. This though, was one of our favorites. We had no idea it would be a like a friggin pilgrimage going through rivers that started off relatively shallow and continued to get deeper and deeper until we were up to our waist in the water. We loved every second of it and the scenery along the way was incredible.
As for places to eat, Springdale is the way to go. My friend Stanley recommended this one restaurant called Bit & Spur and it was SO good. We even stayed long enough to see a bunch of deer come straight up to the tables and hang out in the grass. The view wasn't so bad either!
There are a million trails to do in Zion. We decided to pick ours based on how long and difficult they were which if you download the AllTrails app on your phone it lets you narrow them down really easily. We did the Emerald Pools Trail the next morning and then went straight into town to watch the Jets Game (we can't help ourselves!) and then back to do the Watchman Trail which was conveniently walking distance from our camp. That followed by another chill dinner and since there were no campfires allowed because of the dry heat we decided to make our own little movie theater in our camper van :)
This was Emerald Pools
And here's photos from Watchman Trail
These last two photos freak me out cause it looks photoshopped or edited and I swear it's not, thats JUST HOW BEAUTIFUL IT WAS
North Rim, Grand Canyon
The next day we woke up early, made some breakfast and drove straight to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!!! I had been to the south rim before so seeing it from another view was absolutely amazing and, of course, always breath taking. (Spot the squirrel in the first pic).
To break up the trip to Arizona Mike also found a cool turn off spot where you can get out and walk over the Old Navajo Bridge in Glen Canyon which was not only beautiful drive but the view of the Colorado River running under it was incredible.
We continued through to get lunch at a sports bar in Flagstaff which ended up being a really cute/hippie town along the famous Route 66. Then we went direct to Sedona where we stayed at our first hotel! We used the app Hotel Tonight and found a big room at the Sedona Summit for super cheap. We crashed early that night cause the next morning we were hiking Devils Bridge! Love love loved this trail. Not only was it nice and open, but then it got a little challenging and you had to actually climb rocks to get to the bridge, which, once you were there, was unbelievable. NOTE: the photo makes it look scarier than it was. Once you're on the bridge it was actually pretty wide!
We headed straight into town after that to shop and grab some lunch and found a place called the Cowboy Club which was serving rattle snake sausage and cactus fries...needless to say we were in, and it did NOT disappoint. Sedona is absolutely beautiful anywhere you go.
Next up, Phoenix! We once again used the Hotels Tonight app and found a spot at The Scott in Scottsdale, and dear lord, this place was stunning. Not only was it a breath of fresh air from hiking and being in the van all day but it had to be one of the most beautifully decorated hotels I've ever been to. We purposely planned to get there early to take a day to relax and chill by the pool. We just sat and stared at the pool for HOURS, drinking Pina Coladas and spoiling ourselves. It was pure heaven and I cannot recommend this hotel enough.
That night we walked around town and ate another amazing restaurant our friend Lizz recommended called Culinary Dropout. We stuffed ourselves, grabbed some more wine and ended our night happily in a comfy hotel bed.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The next day was our longest drive, 6.5 hours to White Sands National Park!! We stopped quickly to get lunch at Isabels South Of The Border in Wilcox, AZ for some Mexican Pizza (friggin delicious by the way) and chimichangas before racing against the sunset to get to White Sands on time.
You honestly can't see ANY views of the sands until you're about 5 minutes away from the entrance which is bizarre. These huge, gorgeous white dunes appear out of no where and all of the sudden it's like you're on a different planet. I definitely recommend not stopping along the way and going straight to the 8 mile loop until you get out of your car. The dunes got better and better the deeper we went into the park. We ran around, up and down the dunes for about an hour until the sun set and it was unreal. Bold statement; but I think this was my favorite part of the trip. It actually felt like we were dreaming.
PRO TIP: The gift shop there sells sleds that you can rent to slide all around the dunes but by the time we called they were sold out. Would recommend calling as early in your trip as possible! We also tried to camp IN the park but it was closed, so instead we found a spot at Silver Campground in CloudCroft, NM.
That next morning we were up and onto another VERY exciting spot!!
The Turquoise Trail, New Mexico
But first things first, Mike knew we'd be passing through Lincoln, NM from the movie Young Guns. For any of you that love old westerns, you'll need to go here. You actually see the houses that they lived and worked in and it tells all about the infamous Billy The Kid and the history that went down there. The town itself was like walking around a museum.
Our next stop was one I was looking forward to the entire trip (for obvious reasons)... The Turquoise Trail!! It was on the way to Santa Fe where we were staying that night, but on the drive there we just happened to drive through a town called Capitan. As we were driving I kept seeing signs about Smokey The Bear and museums and historic sights. It wasn't until we looked it up that we realized that's where the original Smokey The Bear was from and buried! We would have stopped if we knew, but to read the fascinating story about him and his history in Capitan Click here.
The Turquoise Trail has a ton of towns along it, so Mike picked out two to stop at. Madrid and Cerrillos. Madrid was mainly picked out so we could go to the Mine Shaft Tavern and try their famous Green Chile Burger, because green chiles are a specialty in New Mexico. This place was amazing. Not only was it like eating in a mine/saloon, but the food was insanely good and just what we were craving. We made friends with the waitress who happened to be from east coast and told us that she came to New Mexico on a road trip and never went back! She told us that the best turquoise can be found at the Casa Grande Trading Post in Cerrillos where they source the turquoise right from those mountains and the owner himself makes it into the most beautiful jewelry. She also told us on thursdays starting at 4 there's a farmers market with live music set up. Unfortunately we couldn't hang around and wait for that but definitely suggest anyone that can plan around that to do so!
I didn't take a ton of photos here cause I was too damn excited to get some turquoise jewelry.
Aaaand onto the next stop!
Santa Fe, New Mexico
We really didn't know what to expect from Santa Fe but knew the architecture would be amazing. We found our hotel on HotelTonight (again) and stayed at La Posada De Santa Fe, which was adorable and friendly. We quickly unpacked some stuff into our room, showered and walked straight into town to explore. It was just as cool as we were expecting, with SO many good stores selling gorgeous home goods and jewelry. We did some research and found a place called Coyote Cafe that had a rooftop cantina for some margs and tacos for dinner and called it a night.
We were coming to the end of our trip but had one last stop before heading back to Aspen!
Taos, New Mexico
Taos was another place we were super interested in seeing. One place we were really looking forward to but unfortunately was closed due to Covid again was Taos Pueblo, a city in New Mexico that apparently is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. The photos online look incredible...maybe another time :( Luckily Taos was just as beautiful and had a ton of stores to hop in and out of and a had cute little eatery called La Cueva Cafe that a local told us to go for lunch.
Another bonus of going through Taos on the way back was that they have a ton of natural hot springs everywhere! Mike had found a bunch but we decided to go with Manby Hot Springs because it was in the Rio Grande Gorge and looked like a moderate hike so we figured if anything it would be less crowded. We were warned a little bit about the drive to the hike, but weren't fully prepared. This was legit off-roading and I think I held my breath the entire way because I was scared the car would flip over. Luckily it hadn't rained so the roads were dry but if it did you would just park near the entry and walk to the downhill hike..but that was a long drive so that would have sucked.
We got to where we could park, congratulated the car behind us who got through as well, and descended down into the gorge to get to the most beautiful hot springs we've ever been to.
And that was the ending to our trip!! It was one hell of a ride, and we checked off a TON of boxes on our bucket list. We drove the last 5 hours to Aspen and actually were worried it'd take 7 hours because it said highway 82 was closed (which it does sometimes due to weather) but when we drove past it, it was open! We were so thankful not only because it cut out 3 hours of driving but the highway was INSANELY beautiful and had the most incredible views up and down the mountains. Definitely don't listen to google maps and try to get on that highway if you're going to Aspen from that direction.
Hope you all enjoyed reading about our trip and hopefully you got some good recommendations out of it! If you want a list of itinerary just comment below and I can send it along. Already wishing we were back on the road! Till next time...