Road Trip ’11 – My 10 Favorite Road Trip Stops

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The United States is really big. Like, REALLY BIG. A 3-week road trip across America is barely enough time to even scratch the surface. In fact, 3 months even would have been inadequate.

But you gotta start somewhere.

Texas

My 3 week road trip along the route of Old Route 66 taught me a lot of things about traveling in my own country. It taught me that this country is so much more diverse and beautiful than I ever realized. It taught me that the Southwest is HOT in the summer. It taught me that some tourist sites are tourist sites for good reason, and are worth visiting even if it does mean paying $4.12 a gallon for gas on your way out (I'm talking about YOU, Grand Canyon).

And it taught me that not enough Americans appreciate what we have right in our own backyards.

My sister and I made a lot of stops in just 3 weeks. We covered nearly 6,500 miles and went through more than a dozen states. So choosing my “favorite” stops is tough. But I've narrowed them down to the 10 that I found most memorable, in order of when we visited them.

My Top 10 Road Trip Stops

Oklahoma City National Monument and Museum

I only vaguely remember the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. But Oklahoma City has never forgotten. This museum was kind of a last-minute decision for my sister and I to visit, but it really is probably the best museum/memorial I've ever been to. Outside, 168 empty chairs representing the lives lost in the bombing sit on one side of a large reflecting pool that stands in the position of the destroyed Murrah Building. The nearby museum takes you chronologically through April 19 and the months following, in a multimedia experience that will definitely leave you thinking. I dare you to visit this museum and not be moved.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Cadillac Ranch

On the less serious side, stopping at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and (legally) vandalizing some old cars was also a trip highlight. This was one stop that had been planned from the outset of the trip, and it definitely did not disappoint. We brought our own spray paint, and left our marks on the half-buried cars. Someone told me that this is the most-visited roadside attraction in America. I can believe it.

Cadillac Ranch

The beauty of New Mexico

New Mexico seriously surprised me on this trip. I went into the state not expecting very much, and left with a new appreciation for this part of the country. Sante Fe is a really cool town, and Northern New Mexico is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, with big skies and colorful bluffs in all directions. Definitely do not skip this state if you head out West.

New Mexico

Monument Valley

Our day in Monument Valley — spent hot air ballooning and getting a private backcountry tour — was my favorite day of our trip. Utah is stunning, and Monument Valley is a truly special place. Getting to know more about its history and the Navajo people who call it home was great. And seeing it from a couple thousand feet up? Unbeatable.

Monument Valley, Uath

Antelope Canyon

This was another spot that was on our itinerary from the beginning. Once we figured out we'd be spending some time in Arizona, I knew we had to fit in the town of Page and its famous slot canyons. Located on Navajo land, Upper and Lower Antelope canyons provide tourists with access to narrow slot canyons where light beams burst downward at certain times of day. We only had time for Upper Antelope Canyon and had to pay to visit, but it was absolutely worth it.

Upper Antelope Canyon

RELATED: Is Antelope Canyon Really Worth Visiting?

The Grand Canyon

What road trip out West would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon? Yes, it's touristy. And yes, you should absolutely avoid buying gas anywhere near Grand Canyon Village. But this place is popular for a reason — it's breathtaking. My sister and I visited both the North Rim and South Rim in one day. And, while I wish we could have had more time to spend at this natural wonder, I'm glad we got to see both sides of this American icon.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Sedona

After the Grand Canyon, we spent a day and a half in the town of Sedona, Arizona. I'd been told that Sedona was pretty. But nothing prepared me to actually see it. Set in a landscape of towering red rocks and green cacti, Sedona is right up there on my list of scenic places I could see myself living someday (you know, if I won the lottery). My favorite thing in Sedona, however, has to be Slide Rock State Park. Here, you can play around in a river and take your turn slipping down a natural stone slide. It's so much fun.

Sedona, Arizona

Las Vegas

Las Vegas was the furthest point West on this road trip. And it was awesome. Even though my sister wasn't yet 21, we had a blast wandering around the Strip at night, and then visiting a few casino-hotels in the daytime. Vegas can be jarring if you don't know what to expect. But it certainly is entertaining. Even without the gambling and booze, we had a great time just people-watching and taking in all the sights and sounds. I definitely need to go back here soon.

Las Vegas

Whitewater rafting/zip lining

We spent a day in cool Colorado having a bit of adventure in the Rocky Mountains. We went ziplining in the Rockies, then spent about 4 hours rafting down the Arkansas River. Despite my borderline daredevil status, these were two activities I had never done before. Great guides and perfect weather made this a really memorable day.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Archway Monument

Crazy as it may seem, something from Nebraska is making it onto my list. I almost was going to end with Churchill Downs (the racetrack where the Kentucky Derby is raced each year), but, thinking back on it, the Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska, was really great. It's basically a museum/multimedia experience celebrating travelers in America — from the pioneers forging westward to road trippers like me. This place was Nebraska's saving grace, as far as we were both concerned.

Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska

Honorable mentions

Along with Churchill Downs, honorable mentions have to go out to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri, and Arches National Park in Utah.

Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
Churchill Downs

READ NEXT: The Perfect 10-Day Itinerary for the American Southwest

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Would any of these stops make it onto YOUR American road trip itinerary?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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40 Comments on “Road Trip ’11 – My 10 Favorite Road Trip Stops

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  1. These are great–isn’t New Mexico just amazing? Haven’t been to Nebraska, though… Thanks for the post. Putting Antelope Canyon on my short list!

    Nancy

      Glad you liked the post, Nancy! And yes, New Mexico was great! So much better than I was expecting. Antelope Canyon was awesome – definitely visit someday if you get the chance!

    Gorgeous photos! I cannot wait to take my own Great American Road Trip.

      Taking a big road trip has always been on my bucket list. I’m so glad that I can now cross it off! Though, there’s still sooo much of America left to see!

    Nice article and wonderful photos. Looks like you really enjoyed the Southwest. Did you get to White Sands National Monument?

    I spent 12 months driving around the US and missed entire portions of the country. I have managed to visit all 50 states and have been road tripping for over 20 years. So much fun. I visited Churchill Downs last week, for the first time. Louisville is a great little city.

    My favorites would have to start with Florida Keys highway and Big Sur. But there is so much….

      The Southwest was great. Really really enjoyed it, and I’d love to go back someday to see more. Unfortunately, we did not make it to White Sands. I’ve seen photos, though, and it looks amazing! Next time. I have a feeling there will definitely be a next time, with a country so big and diverse.

    We loved a lot of the same places! Arches, New Mexico, Sedona, Antelope Canyon…. the southwest is so dang beautiful.

      The Southwest is gorgeous. I was really blown away — and we barely even scratched the surface!

    This is a great roundup! So many places I haven’t been to yet. I’ve always wanted to go to Antelope Canyon, and I guess now I have to add Monument Valley to the list. Looks beautiful! I’m curious, did you check out Palo Duro Canyon while you were in Amarillo? What did you think of that one?

      I will from now on suggest Monument Valley to anyone visiting southern Utah. It was amazing. So much better than I had anticipated. And the hot air balloon ride made it really special.

      But no, we didn’t make it to Palo Duro Canyon. We had originally had it in our plans, but it took us much longer to get from Oklahoma City to Amarillo than we expected because we kept making a lot of random stops. I’ve heard it’s worthwhile, but I guess it’ll have to be saved for another trip!

    The vandal side of me is intrigued, and I’m going to have to make a trip to the Cadillac Ranch. Antelope Canyon looks like fun too. Amazing pictures!

      Despite it being over 100 degrees out that day, the Cadillac Ranch was so much fun. A definite road trip must if you’re passing through the area.

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you liked the photos.

    I think that you are so right that Americans (and other travelers) should really take advantage of all the US has to offer! We were in the States for three months and although since we were visiting family we stayed in Seattle for about 1 month, there is no way we could have seen nearly enough in that time! It’s a big country!

    I have really enjoyed all of your posts on your roadtrip, you guys saw some amazing things!

      While I’m not sure any country can overtake New Zealand as my favorite, I must admit that the U.S. can probably give it a run for its money, just because of how huge and different it is.

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my road trip posts, Annie. I’ve had so much fun writing them, and I really appreciate you following along! I still have a few more up my sleeve, so stay tuned!

    Every time I read one of your entries, I hate you just a little bit :-p Your photos are so stunning and you have so many fantastic, envy worthy adventures.

    I loved my brief experience road tripping around the US North West. While southern Idaho was a little dull, driving along the Colombia River on the way to Portland was awesome. And I love how many cool rest stops and quirky restaurants/touristy spots along the way too.

    While Australia’s of a similar size, the road trip experience isn’t the same here. There’s a big hunk of empty in the middle :-p

      Please don’t hate me! Lol. Sometimes this whole blogging thing is really weird. I’m not used to talking about myself so much in real life, so I am acutely aware of all the amazing experiences and adventures I’ve been lucky enough to have and to be able to write about.

      Even though you say Australia isn’t the same to roadtrip around, I think I’d still like to give it a go sometime! And, clearly you need to come back to do a proper U.S. roadtrip in the future!

    Great list of places! The only ones I have done on this list are Grand Canyon and Sedona. That photo of the Grand Canyon is spectacular!

      Thanks, Jeremy! If you ever get the chance to see more of the places on this list, do! All worthwhile stops.

    You are making me really want to do a US road trip. I keep hearing that Utah is amazing and your photos are stunning.

      I had been told that Utah was amazing, too, but I kind of only half believed it. But you know what? Utah IS amazing! I really need to go back and see more of it.

    Those are some amazing pictures and places. I really want to do a road trip through America; road trips are always such good fun! The cadillac branch especially sounds pretty interesting!

      I’ve always wanted to do a U.S. road trip, too. I think every teenager growing up here thinks about it. So I’m really glad I got the opportunity! It was so much fun.

    I’ve been to the Grand Canyon (for just a few hours) and Las Vegas (six days) and I stil want to go back. I’d definitely love to see some of these other sites.

      I really would like to go back to a lot of these places, too. I’d love to spend a few weeks out West without moving around so much. One or two days in each place wasn’t nearly enough in most cases!

    Great post! The photos are really great! I followed you through these adventures but it is nice to have a refresher!

      Thanks so much, Andi! I’m glad you liked this wrap-up. It was fun for me to write, too — a little reminder of all the fun I had. 🙂

    We are planning our second road trip for next year, I think everyone has their favourate spots but almost everyones list has vegas on it! That is where we ended up last time and where we plan to end up this time. Its the best place I have been.

      Vegas was so much fun. I’m not even really a drinker or partier, but the atmosphere was still so crazy and fun. I definitely want to go back soon and spend more time there!

    I have always loved gas stations that’s are in the middle of nothing. There is something magical in these places. have to make stop in these places.

      Those funky gas stations in the middle of nowhere can definitely be a lot of fun to stop at and explore. You never know what you might find…

    I totally agree about New Mexico! I just returned from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and Santa Fe. The landscape is absolutely beautiful!

      I’ve heard that balloon festival is amazing! Kind of jealous. Lol. But yes, the landscape up north is so pretty. It took me completely by surprise!

    “not enough Americans appreciate what we have lying right out our front doors.” You are so very right. Ever since I began to lust after travel, it was always a foreign country. I never considered the southeastern United States as an area for travel.

    It’s only recently that I’ve started looking around myself to what is actually there, and began to want to explore my own country a bit. Thank you for the reminder that not all travel has to be foreign!

      Especially for those of us in the U.S., there really is SO much to see right here at home. I mean, I like traveling abroad, too, but I also like traveling here at home!

    […] Or the time my sister and I decided to stop at a random attraction in Nebraska, which turned out to be one of our favorite road trip stops. […]

    […] in 2011, I did a cross-country road trip with my sister. My favorite part of that trip by far was the time we spent in the Southwest — […]

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