It’s amazing how many epic places we have in our own backyard in the Southwest. The desert can seemingly be some of the unfriendliest terrain, but if you know where to go you’ll come across vast landscape formations that will blow your mind. Some you may recognize from films or commercials and will seem vaguely familiar even though you’ve never seen them in person. All of them are awe-inspiring and will make you wish there was no to end to your road trip.
Monument Valley – If you’re able to escape the crowds to find some peace and quiet among the incredible landscape your mind will be blown. This national monument offers a couple of different ways to see these red rock beauties, the most popular being the driven self-guided tour where you can stop for photo ops and to just take in the scenery. There are hiking and horseback riding options as well. Do your research as this is one destination will you’ll want to make the most out of.
Shiprock – If you like adventure and have a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, then Shiprock is a must do. This otherworldly rock formation is literally in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico near the 4 Corners of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. You can see the formation from a distance, but to get up close you’ll have to drive down a long dirt road. Give yourself plenty of time to get there as its distance from the main roads can be deceiving. Worth going to, this lesser known destination looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.
The Grand Canyon – If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon one thing you should know is that photos will never do it justice. This is one destination that you must visit in person to get the full effect of this incredibly vast landscape. You will be blown away. If you go to the South Bend you can camp walking distance from trails that lead down into the canyon. Definitely bucket list-worthy.
Carlsbad Caverns – Tucked away in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico are the Carlsbad Caverns, 72 floors of caves that go straight into the earth. If you’re able to make it to this national monument, you won’t be disappointed. The caverns are comprised of 119 caves made from sulfuric acid dissolved limestone formations. Without any light, the caves would be pitch black, but certain sections of the exhibit are lightly lit making for an almost eerie environment. Once you make it all the way down, you won’t want to miss the Big Room cavern chamber, the 5th largest in North America.
Bandelier – Hidden away near Los Alamos in Sandoval in New Mexico is an experience you won’t find anywhere else. Not only can you view the cave dwellings of the native American tribe that lived in this area, but you can actually climb inside. This very interactive national monument is one of the coolest we’ve been to. The end of the self-guided tour leads to a dwelling high up on the cliff. Definitely worth doing if you’re not afraid of heights! Plus you can camp above on the cliffs and hike down to the monument, which makes for a gorgeous way to start your day.
Antelope Canyon – Have you ever seen photos of Antelope Canyon and wondered, where the heck is that? These beautiful formations are located in Arizona near the Utah border. Hiking through the canyons will make you feel like Indiana Jones and is a must for photographers. To access the canyons you’ll have to go on a tour. Unfortunately, it’s not self-guided and goes quickly, but still a destination worth seeing.
Sedona – Known worldwide as being a very spiritual destination, Sedona has so much more to offer other than the typical tourist traps. The best parts of Sedona are outside of their small downtown area. Visit their famous vortexes or go hiking in one of their many red rock formations. Bring your camera! Our favorite hike is Cathedral Rock although it’s become massively popular over the years. Go early in the morning or during the week to avoid crowds. You’ll probably want to give yourself at least a couple days in this town so that you have to time to explore its wide range of captive beauty.