Who knew the desert was so colorful. This barren wasteland, sprinkled with bursts of color and nothing else around to distract from it. Between the red rocks, pink canyons, painted car art, Vegas Strip, Christmas lights, rainbow sliders, rainbow lattes and good ol’ painted sunrise skies… it looks like Lisa Frank threw up on my Facebook wall. I couldn’t be more pleased.
This rainbow-colored road trip was a two-week loop around upper Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Late fall, early winter is actually a pretty good time to visit this part of the country. Temperatures are cooler, crowds have lessened and a 4-day Thanksgiving weekend helps you cover more ground in remote locations where there is no wifi for you to travel-work from.
We started in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is in the top ten most beautiful areas of the country, in my opinion. I decided to make my travel-work destination the L’Augberge de Sedona. What a beauty this place is! It sits next to a creek and it has the coziest little cabins with fireplaces.
We fit in a couple of hikes while there, my favorite being Cathedral Rock. It was spectacular! I was so proud of myself for completing that hike. It was straight up for a majority of the way; scrambling over rocks and gripping cracks to get up. The weird thing is, when I’m hiking I barely even notice the pain from the cancer in my hips. It’s when I’m sitting still that it gnaws at me. At some point, walking may be difficult so I never miss an opportunity to hike!
After hiking, we visited the gorgeous Chapel of the Holy Cross and had lunch at Tii Gavo (at Enchantment Resort). Stunning views from the restaurant, and the chicken chimichunga is the best one I’ve ever had.
With our bellies full, we headed off to Vegas Baby!
Although we stayed in Vegas, this was not really a Vegas stop. We basically saw everything just outside of Vegas and then had an evening on the strip. Most people do not consider or even know about the sights off the strip, but there are some real hidden gems less than an hour away.
One of which is the Valley of Fire State Park. Completely majestic. The color of the rock is astonishing. This is a good half, to full, day visit. The two main things I wanted to see were Fire Wave and the Pink Canyon. Fire Wave is their main attraction and it’s a good alternate if you just can’t seem to get on the lottery list for “The Wave” in Utah (Google it, it’s mind-blowing). Fire Wave is a short, 1 hour round-trip hike. Be prepared for a crowd which makes it hard to get photos, and try to go in the morning or high noon when the sun is hitting the rock instead of behind it.
Then there is Pink Canyon. This is not an attraction on the park map, I found it by googling. It is an absolute treasure! On the way to Fire Wave, there are 5 dips in the road. Stop at the 5th dip and park only on the concrete slab. Head off to your right into the slot canyons and feast your eyes on the sherbert ice creamy goodness!
We also attempted to find Windsone Arch, but we were not successful. This is also not on the map, but the pictures make you wonder why it isn’t. What we did find was a new rock formation! I call it Sphinx Rock. Can you see the resemblance? We also found our own Heart Rock. I think these both need to be on the park map!
While in the Vegas area, we stopped to see Seven Magic Mountains. This is an art installation that went up in 2016 and is supposedly coming down early 2018. So glad we got to see it! This is a fun photo opp. I recommend going at sunrise to get people-free shots. And yes, yes I did bring a prop with me. I had to get an ice cream and carry that cone down the strip without breaking it for a 20 min walk, then bring it with me the next morning. The things you do for a the perfect shot.
And this was not actually planned, but… I had to make eight magic burgers at Sugar Factory to commemorate my visit!
So now we’re off to Reno. There is absolutely NOTHING to see between Vegas and Reno. We did find one roadside attraction called the International Car Forest. It’s like a graveyard for cars turned street art. It was right on our path, so why not. When we showed up, there was a group of people filming a rap/reggae music video. It’s one of those random, trash-to-treasure type places perfect for an artsy film of some sort.
Now it’s Thanksgiving! My cousins live in Fernley just outside of Reno, so we spent the holiday with them. A classic Thanksgiving lunch with all my favorites, and they even gave us some ham and Martinellis for the road!
Heading out to Salt Lake City from Reno, there is a must-stop destination called the Bonneville Salt Flats. Many a car commercial and photo shoot have happened here. Look up a video called “Piano Guys: A Sky Full of Stars” and prepare to be awed! We were pretty lucky with weather, as it was blue sky and puffy clouds + about an inch deep lake of recent storm water that created some pretty awesome reflection shots!
A two-hour drive East takes you to Salt Lake City, which is a beautiful capital city at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. This is Mormon country, so the landscape is dotted with glowing white temples that protrude from the skyline. We spent some time at Temple Square, making sure to have a meal at their famous The Roof restaurant which overlooks the temple. I just have to dine with a view! Make reservations well in advance for this restaurant. We happened to visit on the night of the Christmas lighting so it was extra special! I was standing at the window getting shots of the temple when bam! All the lights turned on at once. It was awesome.
After Salt Lake City, the trip became solely focused on checking off National Park sites. A few that I’ve seen before but do not have a stamp!
We even squeezed in an extra day to hit up Idaho and get a cluster of National Park sites in the southern portion of the state. Idaho… I’m coming back for you. Sit tight.
So, those were my trip highlights and here is my trip goal progress report:
- Dining with a View: (2) Sedona, AZ (1) Salt Lake City, UT (1) Lake Powell, AZ = 4
- Quirky Roadside Attractions: (2) Nevada (1) Utah = 3
- National Park Sites: (4) Utah (4) Nevada (5) Arizona (4) Idaho = 17
Collecting 17 National Park stamps is not too shabby for a two-week trip! Especially considering some of them were very remote. And what’s even better… I completed ALL the National Park sites in Nevada and Arizona!!! Arizona is quite the accomplishment, there are a TON there.
To see a comprehensive list of all our stops, keep reading.
Tell me what you think! Did I miss anything really cool? Leave a comment below, I’d love to add to my travel list!
L’Auberge Resort – Cozy, upscale resort on a creek in downtown Sedona. Voted one of the best resorts in America!
Montezuma Castle National Monument – Indian cliff dwellings.
Tuzigoot National Monument – Indian ruins.
Walnut Canyon National Monument – Indian cliff dwellings.
Tii Gavo – Southwest cuisine with breathtaking views!
Chapel of the Holy Cross – Hillside chapel known for stunning architecture and views.
Seven Sacred Pools – 7 pockets carved out of the sandstone that collect rainwater and form pools. Possibly need to see in Spring or Summer after a heavy rain.
Cathedral Rock – A top hike of the area, 1 mile out and back. When you reach the end of the trail there is an epic photo opp on the edge of a cliff.
Grand Canyon National Monument – I’m sure you know what this is 🙂 Most definitely a must-see destination at some point in your life!
Pipe Spring National Monument – Offers a glimpse of American Indian and pioneer life in the Old West.
Navajo National Monument – Indian cliff dwellings.
Lake Powell National Recreation Area – Possibly the coolest summer lake destination in the country! Filled with neat hikes and deep slot canyons you can take your boat or jet skiis into. There is also an awesome restaurant at the Lake Powell Resort called the Rainbow Room, which has sweeping views of the lake.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – Encompasses the largest land area of all U.S. National Monuments. Until Trump reduces it soon…
Hoover Dam – Named one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century.
Lake Mead Nat’l Recreation Area – What I consider the perfect houseboat destination!
Valley of Fire State Park – Red rock, rock formations, colorful and uniquely patterned rocks. Who knew rocks could be so interesting!
Seven Magic Mountains – Even these rocks are cool! Painted towers of rock, perfect for your next photo session.
Las Vegas Strip – Hardly in need of a descrip, but if you haven’t been… add it to your list!
Tulle Springs National Monument – Not currently developed as a National Park site, but you can get out take a shot at digging for your own fossils. They still have their own stamp, so I had to visit it.
Sambalatte – Pick up a rainbow latte to go along with your rainbow road trip!
Golden Spike National Histoic Site – Location of the ceremonial final spike driven to join both ends of the 1st transcontinental railroad across the US.
Great Basin National Park – Nevada’s only “National Park” (there are 59 “parks” but countless national monuments and sites). BIG w/ a pretty diverse landscape for a desert.
Bonneville Salt Flats – The coolest photo shoot spot ever! During the winter and spring, after a good rain or snow, there is about an inch or two of water that sits on the flats and looks like a lake. Awesome walking-on-water shots!
UP House – Quicky photo opp stop. They built the house to look like the house from UP!
Temple Square – The whole city of Salt Lake is centered around this square. The temple is gorgeous during the day and at night.
Mormon Tabernacle – Watch/listen to the organ rehearsals everyday at 12pm for free!
The Roof Restaurant – Dining with a view! Overlooks the temple. Go right before sunset!
Shops at South Lake – Not normally a must-stop trip destination, but when they have Hogsmeade Village from Harry Potter… you fit it in! And I got new boots to boot!
Bryce Canyon National Park – One of my favorite National Parks! The hoodoos are spectacular. I can’t wait to go back when it’s snowing to see the white on red!
Capitol Reef National Park – I like this park because they have a scenic drive, apple-picking, fun short hikes and lots of scenic spots.