The American Southwest

May 14 - May 26, 2002

Jeanne and I had been talking about this trip for some years. While we've both traveled extensively, neither of us had ever seen the canyon lands of the Southwestern United States. We determined to remedy this oversight and the graduation of our daughter-in-law from medical school in San Antonio gave us the excuse.

Tuesday, May 14 - Houston to Vega, TX (632 mi.)Trip Map

The first day was a long one but we still didn't get out of Texas. We wanted to push on as far as possible so we could do more sightseeing in new areas. We stopped at the Comfort Inn, Airport, in Amarillo. It was clean and well maintained. We had a very nice diner at the El Tapatio restaurant adjacent to the motel. They serve excellent Margaritas.

Wednesday, May 15 - Vega, TX to Gallup, NM (390 mi.) Continental Divide

Today was a much shorter day. We crossed the Continental Divide and, of course, stopped for pictures. I had picked up a copy of Tony Hillerman's "The Wailing Wind" to read on vacation so was quite interested in seeing Fort Wingate off to the left as we continued on into Gallup. Jeanne wanted to shop, so after we checked in to the motel, we drove back into town. The first place we stopped, The Galanis Trading Company, turned out to be the best. When Jeanne asked about prices, they suggested we shop some of the other stores in town and then come back and compare their prices and quality. We did and they were the best. We bought a number of pieces of jewelry and were well pleased. Highly Recommended!

Thursday, May 16 - Gallup, NM to Grand Canyon (267 mi.) Grand Canyon

Heading west from Gallup, our first stop was Meteor Crater, Arizona. We're glad we saw it but it is just a big hole. It must have been one heck of a bang though. We continued on to Flagstaff where we stopped for lunch. All the conversation in the restaurant was about the forest fires burning out of control. Luckily, they were all south of Flagstaff and we were heading north. Shortly after lunch we arrived at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.

We stayed at the Maswik Lodge which was the only accommodation available in Grand Canyon Village when we booked in early March. The room was on the second floor and very nice with a small balcony. It was not air conditioned. This was not a problem at night but the room faced west and became quite hot in the late afternoon. There are much better places to eat than the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria. If you want a choice of places to stay at the Grand Canyon, book six months or more ahead.

Friday, May 17 - Grand CanyonGrand Canyon

That said, we did not spend much time in the room. The scenery was too spectacular. We did not go down in the canyon but walked most of the rim trail around Grand Canyon Village. There was something new to see at every turn of the trail. Some folks have a problem with the altitude but we did not except for a bit of tiredness the first evening. The rim trail is fairly flat. Likely the situation would have been different had we descended into the canyon.

Saturday, May 18 - Grand Canyon to Zion National Park to Tropic, UT (632 mi.)Zion Canyon

This was a long day but there was just no other way to do it to see both Zion and Bryce in two days. We probably short changed Zion but felt it was not as impressive as Bryce Canyon. In Zion you are in the bottom of the Canyon and are always looking up. The views are limited and, after a while, your neck begins to hurt. We're glad we saw Zion but were ready to stop when we finally arrived at the Canyon Livery Bed & Breakfast in Tropic, UT about 8 o'clock. The Canyon Livery is a very nice B&B convenient to Bryce Canyon. The rooms are nice and the breakfast was excellent - Recommended!

Sunday, May 19 - Tropic to Bryce Canyon to Cortez, CO via Grand Staircase National Monument (380 mi.)Bryce Canyon

We needed to get back to US 89. Our choices were approximately 39 miles of seasonal road through the Grand Staircase National Monument or backtrack about 110 miles through Kanab, UT. Our hosts at Canyon Livery told us it would take about the same amount of time either way, two hours. They thought the seasonal road was in pretty good condition so we determined to give it a try.

First though, we drove through Bryce Canyon, entering early on Sunday morning. This was excellent planning as there were no crowds going in at about 9:00 o'clock. Coming out at about noon, was just as easy although the road was almost solid with incoming traffic. Bryce Canyon is easy to see from the car and there are numerous places where you can park and observe the scenery.

By 12:30 we had left Bryce Canyon and were beginning our excursion through the Grand Staircase National Monument. The road began with the stark warning "Impassable When Wet". It is a "washboard" dirt road and any speed over 20 MPH or so is not only foolish but makes the vehicle almost impossible to control. Much of the road is only wide enough for one car so you must be careful of oncoming traffic. Otherwise, the road was not too bad with only one washout that made me glad we were in an SUV. The scenery was worth the trip. We arrived safely at US 89 at 2:40, just about the 2 hours promised - average speed about 19 MPH.

Monday, May 20 - Mesa Verde (45 mi.)Cliff Palace

We spent the day at Mesa Verde and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jeanne doesn't get along with ladders very well but she managed the tour of Cliff Palace. She wisely did not go with me on the tour of Balcony House. That tour is not recommended for those with a fear of heights or who are subject to vertigo.

Cliff Palace and Balcony House are the only ruins you can actually visit. Many others, however, can be viewed from the Mesa Top Loop.

Tuesday, May 21 - Cortez, CO to Santa Fe, NM (212 mi.)
Wednesday, May 22 - Santa FeSanta Fe

In Santa Fe, we stayed at the El Paradero Bed & Breakfast. We had a very nice room and the B&B was only a few blocks from both shopping and restaurants - Recommended.

Santa Fe is loaded with artists and artist's shops. Mostly Jeanne shopped for art work, while I enjoyed looking at the wares of antique map dealers. We did find time to take a guided tour of the town.

Thursday, May 23 - Santa Fe to Carlsbad, NM (268 mi.)Pecos River

Jeanne and I spent 6 months in Carlsbad in 1966. We had not been back since and we determined to stop and see how the place had changed. Surprisingly, we were able to drive directly to our old apartments which were still in existence some 36 years later. They didn't look much different either. Apparently they have been well maintained. We made a quick tour of Carlsbad Caverns (the third time) for old times sake and had a nice Mexican dinner at a local restaurant.

Friday, May 24 - Carlsbad to San Antonio, TX (459 mi.)

There was not a lot to see on this drive. Going east from Ft. Stockton on I-10 we saw a lot of windmill farms for generating electricity. They are supposedly environmentally friendly but they sure destroy a lot of natural beauty. Unlike the old windmills used for pumping water, which have a certain charm, these completely dominate the mesa tops. They are a plague on the West Texas landscape.

Saturday, May 25 - San AntonioRiverwalk

San Antonio was a family reunion. The occasion was the graduation of our daughter-in-law from UT Medical School. Our daughter and her family came in from Dallas for the occasion also. Graduation went off without a hitch and a great time on the Riverwalk was enjoyed by all.

When in San Antonio, we usually try to stay on the Riverwalk. This time we chose the Marriott. It was very nice if a bit expensive. We had a great view of the Riverwalk from our room.

Sunday, May 26 - San Antonio to Houston (220 mi.)

A nice drive home on Sunday morning. We stopped for lunch at "Frank's" in Schulenburg as is our custom. The food was excellent as usual.

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Copyright © 2003 by J. E. Rickenbacker. All rights reserved.