Road in Monument Valley

Southwest Canyons

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The Southwest region of US is a vast and remote land that has kept its wilderness beauty intact. The diversity of canyons and rock formations is truly without parallel in the world over. This is a land of harsh environment that invites the adventurous spirit. The effort is rewarded with breath-taking views of wildness all the way until the horizon.

Get inspired by the wild west beauty of this route and start your own.


Las Vegas is an excellent gateway to the Southwest region. It is easy to reach by flight and with plenty of cheap accommodation. We have used these quality to make a drive round tour, starting and ending in Las Vegas with a rental car.

Desert land is notorious for boiling hot weather but this region has often also heavy rains even in the summer. At higher altitude, as is the case of Bryce Canyon, the temperature is cooler and the breeze very comfortable for hikes. Everywhere else in this route, make sure you take always several liters of water with you.

Geography

  • Region: North America
    • Country: United States
    • States: Nevada (NV), Arizona (AZ), Utah (UT)
  • Trip Duration: 11 days
    • Time of year: July 2018
  • Route Distance: approx. 4000 km
    • Start and end in Las Vegas
Route map for Southwest Canyons – for interactive map, follow the post: Southwest Canyons – Maps

Highlights – Part 1

Historic Route 66

Grand Canyon

Monument Valley

Bluff Fort

Highlights – Part 2

Canyonlands

Antelope Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Zion

Photos

All photos used in this post can be browsed in large size in the post Southwest Canyons – Media in the section Galleries.

Interactive Maps

To explore the places of this route in an interactive map, follow the post Southwest Canyons – Maps in the section Maps.


Southwest Canyons – Part 1

The first stretch of this route covers the south of the Grand Canyon and the area around Monument Valley. This region is the focus of Part 1 of the route that starts in Las Vegas takes the drive mostly in northern Arizona and entering in Utah to end in Bluff.

Explore the interactive map in the post Southwest Canyons – Maps. The route stops with distances covers are listed below:

100 mi / 170 km / 2 h

Start

Las Vegas – Kingman

100 mi / 170 km / 2 h
75 mi / 120 km / 1.5 h

Historic Route 66

Kingman – Seligman

75 mi / 120 km / 1.5 h
125 mi / 200 km / 2.5 h

Grand Canyon

Seligman – Grand Canyon Village – Desert View Tower

125 mi / 200 km / 2.5 h
130 mi / 210 km / 2.5 h

East Grand Canyon

Desert View Tower – Little Colorado River – Kayenta

130 mi / 210 km / 2.5 h
45 mi / 75 km / 1.5 h

Monument Valley

Kayenta – Monument Valley – Road 163

45 mi / 75 km / 1.5 h
30 mi / 50 km / 0.75 h

North Monument Valley

Road 163 – Bluff

30 mi / 50 km / 0.75 h

Historic Route 66

This trip starts in Las Vegas. heading towards southeast. The drive stretch Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Village in Arizona, is a long drive along the south of Grand Canyon and passing through Kingman and Seligman.

A few dozen miles after entering the state of Arizona on Road 93, there is a sign to the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk. The famous glass bridge that attracts half-day visitors from Las Vegas to peak into Grand Canyon. To enter the reserve where the Skywalk is located, there is a price of close to 50 USD per person and more to get to the bridge itself. If you continue to Grand Canyon Village, you will see better views and should skip this attraction altogether.

Road Runner, Seligman
Route 66 Road Runner in Seligman.

Between Kingman and Seligman, there is an excellent picturesque drive, an old stretch of the Historic Route 66 (AZ 66) in Arizona. We recommend to take this road and slow the pace to absorb the landscape. If instead you are short on time, a much faster way is to continue on I 40 to Seligman.

This town is a great opportunity to stop for a break in the long drive from Las Vegas, find a place to eat and take some rest. Seligman is a sleepy town but it has a few very interesting cafes, souvenir shops and accommodations. We were immediately attracted by a nice looking spot with a characteristic Route 66 theme, Route 66 Road Runner cafe/shop. There is decent food and coffee, a large selection of souvenirs, but it is the eye-catching decoration outdoor and indoor what makes this place special.

Suggestions – Historic Route 66

Best Drive – peaceful road stretch of old Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman.

Great StopRoute 66 Road Runner cafe and souvenir shop in Seligman, a place with character and a nice looking house front.

Avoid – Grand Canyon Skywalk is expensive and lies a long drive out of the main road, suggest to avoid.


Grand Canyon

Leaving Seligman behind, we head towards Tusayan and Grand Canyon Village. As we get closer to Tusayan, a more green landscape with large trees appears, this is part of the Kaibab National Forest. The Grand Canyon National Park entry gates are located shortly after Tusayan. We have purchased the National Parks Service ticket at the park gates, but these can also be purchased at their office in Tusayan. If you plan to visit more than two national parks, buy the one-year access ticket as it is the most convenient and affordable (80 USD to access to all national parks country-wide).

Grand Canyon Village is an historic little town with several beautiful lodges along the ridge of Grand Canyon. There is very scarce accommodation, so book ahead if coming on high season. The lodges along the rim are excellent for sunset and sunrise walks. We stayed at, and highly recommend, the Bright Angel Lodge which managed by the national park. You can also get to the village by train, a very picturesque way to cross the landscape and arrive here. This place has an impressive history of more than 100 years attracting visitors and a sustainable nature tourism infrastructure with wooden lodges.

The village is an excellent base for a few days with many hiking possibilities along the canyon for all ranges of difficulty. It is also surrounded by trees which offers pleasantly refreshing forest walks.

Mather Point, Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon view at Mather Point.
Hopi Point, Grand Canyon.
Hopi Point, Grand Canyon.

To both sides of Grand Canyon Village, the walking paths along the canyon rim are very well marked and flat, which makes them perfect for visitors of any age or physical conditions. The views from the rim at different points of the above walks are all overwhelming. While some of the viewpoints can be full of people with selfie sticks, once out of the village it is easy to keep walking and escape crowds. There are also bus routes that serve the main viewpoints and make it possible to do single way hikes to the more distant points. The viewpoints surrounding the village that we found more spectacular were:

  • West of village – Mohave Point and Hopi Point. For an easy walk, take the bus to Mohave Point and walk back to Hopi and Powell Points. You can take the bus back to the village or continue on a couple more miles of easy hike.
  • Within the village – Mather Point. Walk along the south Rim trail from the Bright Angel trail head to Yavapai Point and further to Mather Point. Enter the Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio for amazing views at the small terrace.
  • East of village – Yaki Point. For wonderful morning colors of the canyon, take the earliest bus to Yaki Point to catch the sunrise.

For the ones looking for more active and demanding treks, some hikes bring you down the canyon. The most famous of these treks is Bright Angel Trail. It is possible to do a strenuous return walk within half-day or full day or to continue for a full 2-day walk to Grand Canyon North Rim.

Suggestions – Grand Canyon

Park ticket – buy the National Parks Service one-year access card to enter all national parks and monuments.

AccommodationBright Angel Lodge, a simple but tasteful historic lodge.

Easy hike – Hopi Wall, take the bus to Mohave Point and walk back to Hopi Point and Powell Point.

Best experience – Yaki Point under early morning colors, take the earliest bus to catch the sunrise.

Active hike – Bright Angel Trail, be brave and walk down the gorge on a day or multi-day hike.

Safety! – be always extra careful when walking close to the cliff edge, several hikers have died in the past year due to improper safety measures.


East Grand Canyon

We leave Grand Canyon Village and head east through a few miles of forest and passing a number of interesting viewpoints. Worth of mention is the Grand view. Further east, the vegetation starts to be more scarce and the desert kicks back in. In this area, a mandatory stop is the Desert View Tower. Here there are shops, restrooms, and an ugly tower, but the panorama from the viewpoint is unmissable.

Desert View Tower, Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon view at the Desert View Tower.
Little Colorado River
Little Colorado River.

A few miles onward, the landscape becomes even flatter, more arid, and merges into native Indian areas. There are no villages or restrooms until the next town, Cameroon. There are however a few tent-shops and tribal parks with Indian artwork that are worth the stop. The ample views of the gorge and the river are truly amazing in this area. A wide view of the Little Colorado River, the visible thin water line down the canyon, can be enjoyed at Little Colorado River Viewpoint.

Little Colorado River
Panorama at Little Colorado river.

Suggestions – East Grand Canyon

Great panoramas – stop at Desert Tower and Little Colorado River viewpoints for wide panoramas views.

Avoid – the Desert Tower is an ugly construction best to be avoided, skip entering and head straight to the viewpoint a a few meters away.


Monument Valley

We continue along northern Arizona in direction of Kayenta in a couple of hours of event-less drive. Kayenta is the largest town in a radius of many miles in the area. But this is mostly a drive-through town with a few reasonable motels, eateries and gas stations. The most interesting place to mention is the restaurant Amigo Cafe with the best tacos and tamales in the whole region, extra friendly staff and really tasty home-made food.

Kayenta is a great place for a base to one of the most impressive sites of the region. Within 1-hour drive from Kayenta, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park offers uniquely beautiful landscape of red rocks planted in the desert expanses.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, view from the entrance building.

At the entrance of the tribal park there is a large and uncharacteristic building. Tickets are sold in this construction which also houses a souvenir shop and a restaurant. In the car park right in front of the building, several companies organize departures of guided tours into Monument Valley park. These are done in large all-terrain high-clearance vehicles carrying up to 20 persons in open air. Get ready for a lot of dust if you embark on one of these. Our suggestion is to take your own car into the park at the end of the day when there are less people.

The dirt road within the park is quite rough but still possible to do with a small car though though one has to be very careful and drive at really slow speed (walking speed). It is highly recommended driving along this road, as one gets very close to the large amazing rock formations, though the most impressive views are from afar.

Road in Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, dirt road.

There are several viewpoints along the way that show these formations in the horizon. The colors are truly unique with spectacular reddish light of the soil against the blue and white of the sky. Such scenarios remind us of all the wild west cinema that inspired generations of adventurers. Target to be here at sunset or sunrise as the colors will be at its finest.

Sunset at Monument Valley
Rock formations at sunset in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Suggestions – Monument Valley

Best Experience – visit Monument Valley Tribal Park during the sunset as the colors are at its best.

Eat in Kayenta – head to Amigo Cafe with an empty stomach for the best tacos and tamales in the region.

Avoid – open-jeep tours inside Monument Valley are incredibly dusty. Be sure to take cover for face or venture with your own vehicle with care.


North of Monument Valley

Navajo flag, road 163
Navajo flag by the road 163.

The rock formations of Monument Valley are visible for many miles beyond the park as the surrounding area is very flat. For the asphalt lovers, an excellent view of Road 163 is well worth the stop. North of Monument Valley, Road 163 at place that is now known as Forrest Gump Point (with such name since it has been used as a filming location for the movie) offers a picture perfect scenic background. You can see several miles-long straight asphalt with the rock formations in the horizon. Be extra careful of high speed oncoming traffic as you can get easily distracted with framing this dreamy view in your camera viewfinder (not a hard task if you are aware since you can spot and hear the few cars passing miles ahead). In this place there is also a small shop and a pile of rocks with a Navajo flag.

Road 163, Forrest Gump point
Forrest Gump point on road 163, north of Monument Valley.
Bluff Fort Historic site, open-air museum.

Continuing to drive north into Utah, Mexican Hat is the first small town. We have stopped to eat at a simple burger place but that ended up in being the least pleasant eatery that we have been in the whole trip, unfriendly owner and tasteless food. There is also not much of interest other than a peculiar rock formation nearby that actually looks like a hat standing on top of a large rock. A few miles ahead though, a really well taken care attraction deserves a proper stop in Bluff.

Bluff Fort Historic Site is an open-air museum that recreates the life of the first European settlers that ventured in these arid lands. The houses, the tools, the activities, a lot of information available about the settlers life and their not always peaceful interaction with Indian natives. Other than the museum, Bluff has a nice choice for accommodation if you are looking to sleep in the area.

Suggestions – North of Monument Valley

Scenic Photo spot – Road 163, north of Monument Valley at Forrest Gump Point is a perfect scenic background photo spot.

Safety! – be always aware of oncoming traffic when taking pictures.

Avoid – eating in Mexican Hat town, very poor choices.

Excellent open-air museumBluff Fort Historic Site, enter in the life of the first European settlers.


Next post in this series:
Southwest Canyons – Part 2

Continue reading the second post:

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