3 Life-Changing Places in the American Southwest that You Have to Visit Before You Die
Surprisingly one of America’s most geographically diverse regions, the American Southwest is the outdoor recreation capital of the U.S. Home to many of the nation’s most prominent national parks, the Southwest features some pretty impressive landscapes that are home to truly unique plants and animals.
For well over 10,000 years, the American Southwest has been inhabited by humans, and it continues to be a region where cultures collide. Hispanics, Latinos, Anglos, and Native Americans all come together in the Southwest, while ancient Puebloan society lives on through ancient rock art, cliff dwellings, and artifacts.
Whether you’re headed to the saguaro cactus-filled Sonoran Desert or the slot canyons of Grand Canyon, there’s plenty to explore in America’s Southwest. Cruise along Route 66 or partake in a bit of hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, or canyoneering.
Whatever your motivation to check out this beautiful and rugged region of America is, here are three destinations you definitely don’t want to miss.
Sedona has always been regarded by the local Native Americans as a sacred place. This jewel of the southwest is thought to be situated in an energy vortex, which explains the eclectic artistry and new age vibe seen throughout the town.
Upon arriving in Sedona, you can obtain a map of the local energy vortices. These trails all lead to amazing places, where some say they can feel vibrations emanating from the ground, and even the tingling of exposed skin, particularly around the shoulders and nape of the neck.
Taking advantage of Sedona’s vortices are said to help you recharge your own energy, and there are plenty of reiki masters, aura-reading stations, psychics, shamans, massage therapists, and spiritual counselors to check out.
Sedona’s vortex sites are easily accessible by vehicle, or you can simply seek out the area’s notable red rock formations by hiking its many trails. You may also want to try a bit of fly-fishing in the local streams.
Don’t miss driving the nearly 8-mile Red Rock Scenic Byway where you can check out famous landmarks like Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock as well as a few vortexes. Other areas of interest include the Palatki Ruins, Devil’s Bridge Trail, and Boynton Canyon’s ancient cliff dwellings.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Utah is home to many very popular national parks including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches National Park, but in Southeastern Utah you’ll find a much less touristy place full of natural beauty. The rather remote Natural Bridges National Monument is definitely worth making a detour for.
Primitive Puebloan people first settled in this region around 7,000 BCE. Evidence of their hunter/gatherer society is now only evident in the petroglyphs that are found throughout the area, particularly underneath the natural bridges.
Among the rock art are ancient ruins, kivas, and the scattering of flint tools, all housed amongst the massive natural bridges which were formed over years of water and wind erosion. The site is amazing to witness up close, and as you view the rock art, you might almost feel drawn into the surrounding rock itself and get transported back in time.
While Natural Bridges Monument may not offer the thousands of arches found in Arches National Park, it does offer up three impressive arches that are void of the usual mass of tourists found at Arches NP.
You can witness the three bridges by driving the Bridge View Drive loop road which offers nice overlooks or you can explore them up close by parking the car at the trail head and hiking the trails to the bridges. Owachomo Bridge is considered to be the oldest, but also the thinnest bridge with no telling how much longer it will hold up.
A 5-mile hiking path also connects all three bridges for those looking for an extended hike. This trail will allow you to pass through the Armstrong and White Canyons. You should allow time for viewing the crazy Photovoltaic Array, at one time the world’s largest solar plant, as well as the well-preserved Puebloan cliff dwellings of Horse Collar Ruin.
The Grand Canyon
It should go without saying that the Grand Canyon is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Many say that it’s one of nature’s greatest living paintings. Many visitors claim they have a life-changing experience upon gazing into the vast canyon for the first time. Some are touched spiritually, but most will find themselves in awe over the sheer magnitude of the region.
The Grand Canyon offers up easy walks that allow nearly anyone to see the glory of the canyon, as well as rigorous treks down into the canyon floor. Most visitors simply drive to the major viewpoints and don’t stray far from their vehicles. Therefore, you can easily escape the crowds by walking the Rim Trail along the south rim of the canyon.
Those looking for a true trekking experience that less than one percent of all visitors take up can look into the Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim Hike. This epic 24-mile hike runs from the North Kaibab Trail (North Rim) to the Bright Angel Trail (South Rim). It’s definitely a strenuous hike as it forces you to descend deep into the canyon and then climb back out again. Proper planning and preparation is needed.
Other notable spots to seek out include Plateau Point for its lovely views of the Colorado River, as well as Havasu Canyon and Peach Springs Canyon if you’re looking to go a bit more off the main tourist trails.
While 90% of Grand Canyon visitors see the canyon via the South Rim only, the North Rim offers equally as impressive views and a much more peaceful experience void of large crowds.
While the park may be beautiful, you should keep in mind that hundreds of people have disappeared in the canyon and have never been found. Research the dangers and learn how to stay safe, avoid getting lost by carrying maps and a GPS, and always carry plenty of water.
All three of these incredible American Southwest destinations can be visited quite economically. There are countless camping options and many major highways enter the region from other parts of the country. The only thing left to do is to search online for the best rental car deals, and then plan your route.
Some of our top recommended routes for seeing the region’s most famous parks and landmarks include driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix, Salt Lake City to Santa Fe, or Salt Lake City to Tucson.