After two months exploring New Zealand and China in the beginning of 2017, Alex and I figured we ought to give our home country a little bit of exploration before it was time for Alex to start a new job in April. We had been talking about doing a two or three-week long US road trip for years. Driving from Omaha to Seattle through Glacier National Park had always been high on our list, but doing that in spring didn’t sound like such a great idea.
We settled on spending two weeks in the Southwest, exploring mountains in Colorado, deserts in New Mexico and California, and canyons in Arizona and Utah. I had spent hardly any time in these places, aside form Colorado. Alex, on the other hand, had spent much of his childhood visiting family in the Southwest. We had friends and family along the way who we were excited to visit, and we couldn’t wait to drive to warmer temperatures (of course, the joke was on us, because it turns out the Southwest isn’t all that warm in the springtime).
We took off from Omaha on a windy, snowy day in March and planned to drive as far as we could toward Santa Fe. After a night in Denver with our friends, we made it, and were greeted with some bitter cold, but a little bit of spring. Santa Fe was a place I’d always wanted to visit. I remember my parents visiting a few times when I was a kid. My dad especially liked it, and I knew he would have loved knowing we took the time to stop there. Alex and I spent our day and a half in Santa Fe eating all the southwest and Mexican food we could get our hands on, staring at jewelry and art we couldn’t afford, and gallery-hopping on Canyon Road.
After our short time in Santa Fe, we headed west toward Flagstaff, where Alex’s Aunt Bev and Uncle Vann live with their two giant mastiffs, Vidar and Roxy. Bev and Vann are newly retired, and were pretty much living the dream in a little house in the woods outside of Flagstaff. We ate barbecue, played board games, snuggled the dogs, and explored the town during our time there. On our last morning, we were greeted with a beautiful snowfall, and decided to head west for more sun.
We hadn’t planned on going to Joshua Tree in our initial itinerary. It was far (five hours from Flagstaff), and not exactly on the way to anything else we were interested in, but it was close to L.A., where Alex’s sister Annie lives, and we really wanted to be able to see her. Joshua Tree turned out to be one of our favorite places on our journey. We were really looking forward to camping for the first time since we had left — we’d been forced to stay in Airbnbs and with friends so far because of the cold. Among the throngs of spring breakers and L.A. inhabitants longing for a weekend in the desert, we found some quiet at a campsite a few miles from the park. We set up our little tent, and enjoyed the night keeping warm by the fire, something we had missed during our time in New Zealand, where there’s a fire ban practically everywhere.
In the morning, we met up with Annie and set out to explore the park. Throughout the week, we had slowly been regretting our decision to travel at that time of year (it was too cold, spring break meant too many people, etc., etc.), but if there was something that we were very lucky to see, it was the superbloom happening all throughout California. Joshua Tree is already one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve seen, and the wildflowers made it that much better. We had such a lovely time exploring terrain that felt otherworldly, and even in a park that’s seeing an unbelievable increase in visitors year over year, we found beauty and quiet in some off-the-beaten-path places.
After a wonderful weekend, we said goodbye to Annie and headed back the way we came, this time toward Phoenix to spend a quick night with Alex’s parents and his (other) sister, Christi, who happened to be there. We drove north the next day, making a pit-stop in Sedona to hike and explore, and then made our way to the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had seen this giant hole in the ground that is so “America,” and while it was more naturally beautiful and breathtaking than I could have ever expected, it was also crowded and exhausting. We hiked and looked and photographed, and then made our way toward Page, Arizona to set up camp for the night. In Page, we did two things we had really been looking forward to: we checked out Horseshoe Bend at sunset and spent a few hours in Antelope Canyon, which far exceeded any of my expectations.
From Page, we made our way to Utah, a state neither of us had ever explored, and one that we were really looking forward to. Driving in Utah reminded me of driving in Nebraska a little bit — there were run-down towns and miles and miles and miles of nothing. But it was beautiful and unlike any landscape I’d seen before. We drove first to Zion National Park, where we camped and hiked and relaxed after so much hopping around over the past few days. It was nice to be in one place for a minute. Over the next five or so days, we stopped in Bryce Canyon National Park, Coral Reef National Park (surprisingly one of our favorites), and ended in Arches National Park and Moab before making the long drive back to Omaha. Utah was breathtaking, strange, peaceful, and wonderful. We loved getting some time to ourselves and moving a bit slower after having spent our first week on the road moving around and visiting family. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time. We’ll be back.