Our epic American road trip kicked off in earnest when we left the comforts of our California home-away-from-home and turned our car east. Due to be at a wedding in Aspen, Colorado in 48 hours, we did what any normal people would do – divert through two extra states to tick off some critical bucket list items.

How is it that I had never before seen the Grand Canyon?

The next 20+ hours of driving went as smoothly as we could have hoped. We were able to navigate the two-lane state roads of Arizona and Utah using our phone GPS with no major incidents or loss of power. We listened politely to each other’s favorite podcasts and made our way through an entire book on CD.

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We watched in awe as the breath-taking scenery changed from arid desert to rolling hills to jagged peaks to stretches of nothingness as far as they eye can see. Being from much more populous areas of the country, both Drew and I were surprised by the utter lack of people.

Where is everyone? Did the heat scare them away?

I think we’ve established pretty well on this website that we are not the most enthusiastic tourists, preferring to wander around a place lazily rather than checking another attraction off the list. In the case of the Grand Canyon, we dutifully drove hours out of the way for the chance to gaze upon one of the wonders of the world.

We happily paid the $30 entrance fee (just increased in June 2015) to drive the hallowed roads. The park is massive, and we avoided the busier South Entrance, entering instead via the East Entrance, which saved us significant driving time later. The approach to the park is stunning, and various smaller canyons and rock formations surrounded us as we meandered along the curvy road, trying to take pictures out of the window. Once in the park, we went straight to nearest canyon viewpoint, just a few hundred feet beyond the gate. Tourists streamed out of cars and vans and massive touring coaches. We grabbed our various cameras and phones and went to join the crowds.

Total time being proper tourists? 30 minutes.

The canyon is indeed grand, and I struggle to think of a better word for it. But once we picked our jaws up off the floor, we quickly tired of looking at a giant hole in the ground. While I would still insist that others make their pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon at some point, take care to plan your visit based on the stamina you have for other visitors, your interest in driving from viewpoint to viewpoint, and if you have time to add on a trek or raft ride in the park (which we didn’t). We played around with our cameras, took some selfies, and ate a snack. And then got back in the car.

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An unexpected highlight of our few days on the road was a stop in Moab, Utah. Picked mostly for its proximity to our final destination of Aspen, Moab is also home to Arches National Park, and a cool place to go ‘glamping’ – camping turned up a few notches. Our comfortable canvas tent held a huge squishy bed, the floor was carpeted with embroidered rugs and we even had a battery operated light and fan to help ward off the desert heat.

With no television or internet access, we read, watched the sunset, had a picnic and fell asleep to the noises of the desert.

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I loved camping as a kid and have such fond memories of our annual family visits to a local state park. Glamping is relatively new to the hospitality landscape. It is set up like a normal hotel experience (reception, check-in, coffee/tea in the ‘lobby’), but the rooms are individual tents and most people share one of many communal bathrooms. Lest sharing a bathroom with strangers causes anxiety for you, keep in mind that these were literally the nicest I’ve ever seen. Glamping provides all of the fun of camping without dealing with the gear or the terrible sleep on the ground.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

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As we turned our car east once again to head into Colorado, we agreed that the diversions around the Western US were well worth the extra time in the car. This is one mighty pretty country, if we do say so ourselves.

American Road Trip: West


Logistics:

We’re trying our best to avoid the typical fast food traps on our drive across the country. We have a rhythm we’ve fallen into on the road. As we start to get hungry, the passenger will google ‘restaurants in xx’ city based on whatever small towns we’re approaching. The results are mostly Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews but that tiny bit of research have resulted in some total gems. We particularly enjoyed Poncho’s Place in Piru, CA and The Blue Coffee Pot in Kayenta, AZ which has Navajo diner food.

In Moab, we glamped (now officially a word, says me) at Moab Under Canvas. We had breakfast at the fantastic and quirky Jailhouse Cafe before exploring Arches National Park for a few hours. The entrance fee there is $10 per car.

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  • June 10, 2015

    What a gorgeous photos guys! I agree with you, if I had choice in the matter at the time, I’d rather visited the less touristy part of the Grand Canyon than the South Rim. But my parents took me and my brother on this road trip at the time, so I wouldn’t complain 😉 But I get what you mean. The year after our America road trip, when we went to Switzerland and Italy, I jokingly asked my parents where all the parking spots were, not more than 5 meters from a viewpoint: “mum dad, I’ve become one of those lazy Americans, I need these parking spots at the viewpoints” (no offence to the Americans) 😉 Let’s just say, that that was one thing that we noticed during our America travels.
    Added glamping in the States to my bucket list by the way!
    Maaike (Travellous World) recently posted…Oh, oh The Hague…My Profile

    • June 11, 2015

      it is so true. We Americans make anything, including viewing amazing natural sites like the Grand Canyon, accessible to everyone, which can be good or bad. It was a great for us, since we had a major time crunch. Definitely check out glamping. It was super fun!

  • June 12, 2015

    What a difference 3 months makes! We visited the GC back in March and although there was definitely more people there than any of the other places we visited, it wasn’t all that hard to escape the crowds. Just another reason why the off-season is our preferred time to travel!

    And I’m glad you guys enjoyed Moab; it was probably my favorite stop on our road trip too!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…On Grand Expectations & Grand CanyonsMy Profile

    • June 12, 2015

      Def agree with the off-season point. The GC was a last minute add-on, so we didn’t have much choice. But I’m psyched that we checked out Moab. Cool town and amazing scenery. Arches National Park was one of our fav stops so far!

  • June 12, 2015

    Be sure to add Zion National Park to your next trip – it’s stunning and magical!
    Leigh recently posted…Making the Most of Business TravelMy Profile

    • June 12, 2015

      so many beautiful national parks! Hard to get to them all…

    • June 20, 2015

      Agreed ! Zion is amazing! BUT be warned its the busiest Utah National Park- so if you plan to go back, I suggest March 🙂

  • June 18, 2015

    I loved getting to visit these parks for the first time myself a few months ago. Aren’t those empty Arizona roads something?! I thought it was sort of refreshing to realize there are still so many places that are empty and wild. Beautiful, beautiful photos!
    Julie @ A Life Exotic\ recently posted…Arches National Park, UtahMy Profile

    • June 18, 2015

      We had the same thought. Even near the east entrance of the Grand Canyon, we were on a small road, devoid of any houses, towns or even other cars. It makes you appreciate the expanse of the US.

  • June 19, 2015

    I grew up in San Diego, but had somehow managed to miss seeing the Grand Canyon until about a year and a half ago. I think because I went in with different expectations my view of it was a little different. For some reason I expected it to be pretty “meh”, a take it or leave it type of site. I was so utterly blown away by it’s “grandness” and felt like more people should have pushed it’s grandiosity on to me and encouraged me to go sooner. It sounds like if they had I may have been less impressed when we did finally see it though 🙂
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted…Merida Cenote DivingMy Profile

    • June 21, 2015
      Julie

      I think you’re right – the expectations you have going into a place like the Grand Canyon totally dictates how you end up seeing it (or maybe that applies to all of life in general!). We had been told again and again, well it’s cool but not THAT exciting. Then when we saw it, that’s kind of the feeling we had. If we weren’t so pressed for time during our visit, lingering and driving around would definitely be worth it!

  • June 20, 2015

    yay! Welcome to Utah! My “new home!” I am a New England Native living in Utah- It feels like a different country at times!

    So glad you made it to Moab! What a beautiful spot! I spent a weekend there in Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point State Park, and my favorite spot (water!) Negro Bills Canyon.

    The most amazing thing about these parks is the star gazing at night. Never have I ever seen such a starry night sky with no light pollution. Hope you enjoyed it!

    Katie @ Katie Wanders

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