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MNTravelogue

The American Southwest - from California to Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah






By Wilfredo R. Valenzuela
Photos: Wilfredo R. Valenzuela and Cindy Valenzuela-Rivera
American Southwest
June 1-10, 2016

 
 


A few years ago, I wrote an MN Travelogue about our tour of the American West, with Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming as our farthest destination.  This year, we took a tour of the American Southwest, a region of the United States which roughly covers southeastern California, the southern tip of Nevada, the entire state of Arizona, western New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, and southern Utah.  The predominantly desert area has colorful landscape and breathtaking views.  We went on our road tour in early June, before it got unbearably hot in some parts. 


We rented a van and started the tour from my brother Jun’s house in Lakewood, California.   The tour group included Jun’s wife Iou and our guests from the Philippines – my brother Danny, his wife Cindy, their son Kitt, and granddaughter Kaye.  We all had just returned from a road tour of the East Coast from Virginia to the New England states, organized by Cindy’s brother Arnel and his wife Ginny after the wedding in Virginia of their son Nick and his now wife Marylou.  The American Southwest offered a sharp contrast to the verdant beauty of the East Coast. 

From Lakewood, we drove to Laughlin, a small water sports and gambling town by the Colorado River in Nevada.  We arrived late in the afternoon.  The temperature was still in the low 100’s F.  We hurriedly entered the Tropicana where we were staying for the night and did not venture to walk outside until later in the evening.  We were told that the temperature was rising to 116°F (about 47°C) a couple of days later.

 After shopping in an air-conditioned outlet mall, and feasting on a couple of buffet meals at the Tropicana, we left Laughlin for the Grand Canyon in southwestern Arizona.  Danny was thrilled with his purchase of two pairs of Rockport shoes on closeout sale at the outlet in Laughlin.  The beer we had that night cost more than his shoes.

The Grand Canyon is a gorge which was formed by the Colorado River.  This natural wonder is awe-inspiring no matter how many times you have seen it.  We spent several hours at the Grand Canyon, taking short hikes, enjoying the sights from different viewing points, and skipping lunch, as the heavy buffet breakfast at the Tropicana was more than enough to get us through the day.  Lots of water was all we needed under the hot sun.

Along the way, we also visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona before driving on to Santa Fe.  The weather was very hot, dry and windy as we had our lunch in a shaded picnic area in the park.

We arrived in Santa Fe in the early evening.  It was Cindy’s birthday, so she treated us to a tasty dinner in a Mexican restaurant.  The birthday dinner came with a Filipino crooner at the restaurant who serenaded us with Spanish songs that we requested. 
Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico.  With an elevation of more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is the highest state capital in the United States.  We thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant Santa Fe town center.  The city imposes the Spanish Pueblo Revival architecture as the building style.  Structures have the appearance of adobe construction although other materials such as lumber, brick or concrete are now commonly substituted and walls are coated with earth tone stucco.  The buildings have rounded corners, thick walls, and flat roofs with protruding wooden beams. 


From Santa Fe, we drove to Cañon City, Colorado, along the Continental Divide with the scenic view of the Rocky Mountains most of the way.  The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is the main attraction near Cañon City.  The area was badly damaged by a wildfire in 2013.  It was rebuilt and the park reopened in 2015.  The Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest bridge in the United States.  We crossed the 1,260-foot bridge on foot and rode the gondola on the way back.  Kaye took the zip line, swiftly crossing the gorge with the Arkansas River more than 1,200 feet down below. 

It was late spring but it certainly felt like summer while we were in Nevada and Arizona, and we experienced winter as we drove through the snow-covered Monarch Pass on our way from Cañon City to Grand Junction in Colorado.  We stayed overnight in Grand Junction before proceeding the following day to the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

Colorful natural stone arches and fascinating rock formations are found in the Arches National Park. We were reminded of some scenes from an Indiana Jones movie as we toured the park. 

Many of the magnificent arches and rock formations have been named for what their shapes evoke; names such as Tower of Babel, Balanced Rock, Sheep Rock, Delicate Arch, Dark Angel, Three Gossips, Courthouse Towers, and so on.  There are numerous hiking trails at the Arches National Park, all with spectacular views, but we did not have enough water to wander off too far in the heat of the day.

We left the Arches National Park to reach Bryce Canyon, also in Utah, in the early evening.  We have been to Bryce Canyon a few times before, but we wanted to catch a view of the rock formations at Bryce Canyon with their vibrant colors enhanced by the setting sun.  We stayed overnight at Panguitch near Bryce Canyon and woke up early the following morning to once again enjoy the stunning beauty of Bryce Canyon at sunrise.

Right across the Plaza Hotel where we stayed is Freemont Street in old downtown Las Vegas.  We spent the rest of the evening walking along the lively pedestrian street with drinks in hand, listening to music bands and watching street performers in interesting costumes.

The next day, Cindy and Kaye braved the Las Vegas heat to continue shopping.  It was only 110°F.  But Kitt was happy to simply ask his mother to buy him a pair of jeans, while he enjoyed the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel room.  Later in the day, we went to the Westgate Las Vegas, formerly Las Vegas Hilton, where Jun has casino privileges.  We bet on the NBA basketball finals game which was in full swing at the time.  We lost the gamble but we were served a few rounds of free drinks.  That’s what happens in Las Vegas.  Before we knew it, our exciting and memorable tour of the American Southwest was over.
See previous MNtravelogue-USA
August 1 2011: America the Beautiful: The American West
July 2 2011: America the Beautiful: The American West
December 26 2010: Up and Down the California Coast in 7 Days, from the Ancient Redwood Forests to the Birthplace of the Golden State

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