Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Grand Circle of the Southwest United States: The Ultimate Road Trip Experience

Visiting the southwest of the United States via road trip paints a picture of the region's multicultural background, with a mix of American, Spanish, and Native American influence and heritage. For thousands of years, the Puebloan people inhabited the area of the Colorado Plateau and the Sonoran desert. A large number of unique National Parks can also be found in this region of the country, like the famous Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Arches National Park.

Monument Valley - Arizona
Monument Valley, Arizona

A road trip to the Grand Circle (a nickname for this grouping of National Parks and sites) will take approximately 10 days, or longer for those that like to get out and experience everything this land has to offer. From the wide open desert expanses of Northern Arizona to the stunning Grand Canyon, you'll come across ancient Indian ruins, prehistoric rock strata in the canyons, and gorgeous, awe inspiring panoramic views of the southwest.

Sunrise, Grand Canyon
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

To the north, you'll gaze upon the unique hoodoos formations of Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument of Utah. Over long periods of time, erosion from water and wind have carved towering red and white rock spires out of the sandstone that remains. Zion National Park gives a challenge to hikers in the steep, dark canyons of the Virgin River known as the Narrows. Close in proximity to Bryce, this area of Utah is a favorite for travelers across the world.

Amphitheatre of Bryce Canyon National Park at Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon in Utah

Further east, the area of Capitol Reef National Park splits the state of Utah in two, with its giant crinkle in the earth's crust known as Waterpocket Fold. Heading east still, the destinations of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park await. This area of southeast Utah is centralized by the desert town of Moab, a hub for rock climbers, mountain bikers, hikers and photographers alike. The incredible views of the sandstone arches, wide canyons carved by the Colorado, and the unique desert wildlife make for an unforgettable experience and road trip.

When driving through this region, it's important to know the daytime temperatures crest near 100 degrees F during the summer. This means it will best to hike the parks during the morning and late afternoon to avoid the blistering heat. Parks can also get crowded during summer, so if possible, plan your visit before the summer or in the early autumn months.

Arcing slightly east, you'll drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison of Colorado. This deep, dark marbled canyon has steep black walls that plummet to the Gunnison River, thousands of feet below. Completing your trip, you'll head back west towards Nevada's Great Basin National Park and back towards Arizona.

View Over Canyonlands National Park
View over Canyonlands National Park

Phoenix is an ideal destination to fly into to start the trip, or Salt Lake City. These two places are close enough to most of the parks that it won't take much time to get to your first stop. Some of the cheapest deals can be found at, while I've found Enterprise to have some of the cheapest and most reliable rental cars. Have fun on your trip!

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