11 Hidden Gems on the Ultimate Road Trip Through the Southwest
Looking for a good reason to cruise through the American Southwest? These 11 destinations are must-stops.
1. Capulin Volcano – New Mexico
You don’t have to worry about lava when visiting the Capulin Volcano in northeastern New Mexico - it last erupted between 56,000 and 62,000 years ago. A paved road has been carved around the outside so tourists can drive to the top to hike in or around the volcano’s crater. The volcano is so tall that formations in Colorado and Oklahoma can be seen from its summit.
2. El Morro - Ramah, New Mexico
Located on an old westward trail, this large rock bluff was a shady oasis to the thousands of 19th-century travelers who inscribed their names and destinations along the rock face as they moved toward the Pacific. Prior to arrival of Spanish colonists in the 1500s, the site was home to ancient Puebloans who also left petroglyphs there to mark their territory.
3. Hovenweep - Cortez, Colorado and Blanding, Utah
Located on land that straddles southeast Utah and southwest Colorado, this area is home to a group of prehistoric villages stretching over 20 miles. The settlements were originally home to 2500 Pueblo people and date back to the 13th century. If you’d like to stay and learn more about the remaining stone-tiered structures, there’s a campground conveniently located onsite.
4. The Wave – Arizona/Utah
You can only see this eye-catching, naturally eroded sandstone rock formation near the Arizona/Utah border if you’re lucky enough to get one of the 20 daily permits allowing hikers access to the area. The kaleidoscopic and swirling patterns in the rock allegedly change color depending on when the sunlight hits them.
5. White Sands – between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico
This 275-square-mile desert is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield—which is rare since rain usually dissolves gypsum. The powder in this field originates in a nearby lake that has a high mineral content, and as the water evaporates the piercing white mineral deposits are left behind and transported to the dunes via wind gusts, making this unique desert a sight unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
6. Marfa, Texas
At first glance, Marfa may look like any other small town in far western Texas, but it has as much quirky character as any destination in the region. Since the 1970s, Marfa has been a hotbed of Minimalist art, and in addition to installations and galleries, Marfa has something most other art capitals lack: allegedly supernatural phenomena. If you drive east of town on U.S. Route 67 on any night, you may catch a glimpse of the “Marfa lights,” mysterious spheres of light that appear on the horizon and have never been explained.
7. Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona
Many, many people have seen the Grand Canyon, but not many have seen one of its most idiosyncratic features. The Horseshoe Bend is a sweeping, 270-degree semi-circle-shaped bend in the Colorado River accessible only by hiking nearly a mile off of U.S. Route 89. It’s worth the trek.
8. World’s Largest Pistachio – Alamogordo, New Mexico
The header says it all. This giant statue of a 30-foot pistachio lies along U.S. Route 54 and was built by a local pistachio farmer as a tribute to his father. While New Mexico may not sound like a nut-farming hotbed, pistachios grow well in hot, dry climates, making them an ideal choice for cultivation in the Land of Enchantment.
9. Antelope Island State Park – near Salt Lake City, Utah
Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, and its name is accurate. The island, which offers overnight camping, is home to antelope, bison, bighorn sheep, and other animals you don’t see every day. Combine that biodiversity with a dazzling view of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains, and you’ve got an ideal destination for a visit.
10. Albuquerque’s Hot Air Balloons – Albuquerque, NM
Since 1972, hot air balloon enthusiasts have been flocking to Albuquerque for what has become the world’s largest hot air balloon event. If you can make it to Albuquerque by October 4, you’ll be treated to the incredible site of over 600 hot air balloons taking flight.
11. Wheeler Peak Wilderness – near Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico’s highest point – it’s 13,167 tall – is also one of its most beautiful. The surrounding wilderness area encompasses nearly 20,000 acres of rivers, lakes, and hiking trails. If you visit, keep your ears open for the whistling of marmots. The critters spend eight months of the year hibernating, but they wake up for the summer and communicate with each other using these whistles.
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