Our family had the epic vacation last summer. Some people were so impressed they asked for the itinerary. Here it is.
We rented a nice, clean minivan. Made a huge difference to have a nice car, and it wasn’t wildly expensive. Under $300 I think.
Day 1 – Drive from Austin to El Paso. Stay in the Camino Real Hotel in downtown: it is very inexpensive if you book online, the rooms are big the architecture is historic and there are restaurants nearby, less than a mile by foot. Be sure to get there before the stores close and walk down El Paso St. in the afternoon to see the Mexican markets. People walk over the footbridge from Juarez to shop there by day and cross back over. What a mind-blowing experience to see store after store of gimcrack that people cross the Rio Grande to come buy in droves.
Day 2 – We’re driving to Sedona, AZ, but it is SO worth it to take the scenic route. Take 191, a two-lane road. Look out for the speed trap (we were given a warning; I don’t remember why). It is mile after mile of heart-wrenching scenery, not traditional gushing forests and mountains, but landscape features that you have never seen. Trust me, you have NEVER seen. Stuff that you did not know existed on earth. Why would you want to take the interstate anyway? Through Tucson and Phoenix? Blech!
We stopped at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and spent about 1.5 hours there marveling at the beauty. That evening we arrived in Sedona. Now, we had a condo provided for us by my wife’s generous parents. It will probably be a challenge to get a condo, and it will be pricey. This is the part of the trip you will have to figure out on your own. Sedona is a touristy, upper-class town, and aside from sleeping there, we didn’t spend much time there, although it had stupefying scenery and a happening retail center in town.
Day 3 – The Grand Canyon. It’s a longer drive than it looks so don’t piddle around getting away in the morning. Wear good shoes, take hiking supplies, and savor the experience. If you park take a shuttle, you can reach hiking trails that go as far down into canyon as you’d like to go. There is a 2-3 hour route (1/4 way down) and a 6 hour route (half way down), and longer routes to the very bottom.
Day 4 and 5 – We did things within easy reach of Sedona. In the town of Cottonwood, there is the Verde Canyon Railroad. You can take a ride that lasts probably 4 hours out and back. Mellow and relaxing. Beverages (including adult) and snacks are available. Look up Slide Rock and plan to spend 2-3 hours there. It is a long natural water slide. The kids had a great time.
Day 6 – We drove through Flagstaff and were charmed by the delightful highland city. Seems like a wonderful place to live. Then we took Interstate 40 to Meteor Crater. Beware, it is like $10 per person to get in, but it’s pretty cool. It is run by an independent organization and I was a little miffed at the price to see the big hole in the ground, but it is an authentic, massive crater about 1 mile in diameter. You can see the raised edges of it from several miles away.
From there we were headed to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. But first we got off track and got tangled up in Winslow, which I didn’t mind because I had always wondered about Winslow Arizona from the Eagles song “Take it Easy” (…well I a’standin’ on a corner in Winslow Arizona and it’s such a fine sight to see. It’s
a girl my Lord in a flat bed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me…). At Holbrook, take 180 to the southern point of the Petrified Forest and drive the scenic route back up to I-40. Then cross over I-40 and take the little road tour to see the Painted Desert. There just didn’t seem to be enough time to soak it all in, and I felt we were cheating ourselves for not stopping longer. But we had to get to Albuquerque for our reservations at High Finance restaurant!
Yes, this restaurant is amazing. Located at the top of the Sandia Mountains, it is an excellent restaurant, kinda pricey, but we figured we were on vacation and it was once in a lifetime. Be sure and take the tram to the top: do not drive around to the back and drive up. Go to the NE corner of Albuquerque and take the Sandia Peak Tramway. Unless you are afraid of heights. There is another restaurant on top that is more of a burger joint if you prefer.
We spent the night in Albuquerque.
Day 7 – Big day. We drove through Roswell, NM just to see what was up. We didn’t stop except to use the bathroom. Roswell has turned the whole UFO thing into one advertising gimmick
after another. Cardboard cutouts of lime green aliens were everywhere. The UFO museum in Roswell looks like a complete dump and tourist trap, so we didn’t stop. The whole city and UFO thing is totally overrated.
Drive down to Carlsbad Caverns. Again, you will feel that you are being completely irresponsible because you are going through this incredible place so quickly; we spent about 1.5 hours there going through one of several paths about 1000 feet underground. But what an experience.
Next on the agenda was the Star Party at McDonald Observatory. Here is what you should do. If the weather is pleasant (and it was fabulous in July- warm days, cool nights at that altitude), DO NOT GET A HOTEL. Instead, stay at the Stone Village Tourist Camp in Ft. Davis, TX. This turned out to be a highlight of the trip. I was unable to get a hotel reservation at any hotel I’d heard of. This place was a
last resort. It turned out not to be a hotel, but a hybrid hotel/campground. The rooms are rustic, stone wall, some of which have a screen for the front wall so that you are open to the outdoors. It was so much better than another mind-numbing typical hotel experience.
We checked into our rooms with an hour of daylight left (before you drive during the day, because the drive and view is magnificent getting to Ft. Davis). We found a bit to eat of one of a half dozen local restaurants (Mexican food for dinner, totally 100% authentic cooking and delicious), and then drove to the McDonald Observatory for their nightly Star Party, a MUST for everyone, even if you don’t have kids. It is hard to explain to make it sound interesting, but it is excellent and not to be missed. Multiple telescopes from small to huge in size, and a presentation that will make you feel that you understand the sky for the first time in your life.
Day 8 – Drive home. We passed through Marfa where No Country for Old Men was filmed just so I could say I’d been there. Then we went through Alpine up to Ft. Stockton, and back to Austin. This longer route was also a nice scenic detour and I definitely recommend it, although I didn’t recognize much from the movie.
If you’d like additional information, feel free to contact me.