After graduating college, John and I took a trip to the Western U.S. to visit Carlsbad Caverns, Tonto National Forest, The Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde. We also had our dog, Maria, with us for our ten day road trip from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. The journey that changed my (and I hope John's) life started with an 8 1/2 hour drive from Dallas to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
We arrived at Carlsbad Caverns later than we'd hoped, and due to the park's observation of 'winter hours' and the length of the dog boarding process, we missed the world famous Chandelier Room. Regardless of that bummer, the caverns are incredible and well worth the one and one half mile elevator ride down. The structures are truly awe-inspiring, and thinking about how long their creation took is baffling.
After walking around underground as long as we were allowed, we walked around the surface trails that surround the cave. We had a great time looking at the cacti (which neither of us had ever seen), birds, and bats. The bats were starting to stir around the cavern's natural opening as we finished our walk. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed to watch the daily sundown bat show, so we headed out to find a campsite.
After a night under the stars at a last-minute camp site outside of the park, we hopped back on the road early the next morning. On the way to Tonto National Forrest, we stopped in El Paso, Texas, for a meal at the famous Rosa's Cantina. Rosa's was definitely worth going out of our way. We finished the seven-hour drive to Tonto National Forest after gorging ourselves with burritos.
Tonto Forest was absolutely beautiful to drive through. The diversity of the land ranged from cacti to lakes to a wooded forest. The campsite we chose was a wonderful spot near Flowing Springs. We were able to let the dog run and play in the water and were close enough to the car that we didn't have to pack everything to our campsite. We woke up early the next morning and took a nice dip in the creek before heading to the primary destination of our trip: The Grand Canyon.
When we got to the Grand Canyon National Park, we walked the Rim Trail for a couple of miles and had a great time exploring around with Maria. We started by Mather Point and walked down to the Hermit's Rest. The trail itself was quite crowded and was hard to walk with the dog, but we were able to walk off the trails and hang over the edge of the canyon. This was so much better than walking along the trail, but it was a little dangerous.
After walking the rim, we went to the Mather campsite that we had secured with a last minute reservation. The next morning, we went to the visitor’s center to look for a trail we could camp on, but discovered that they were all reserved. The park ranger then told us we could not take the dog on any other trail than the rim trail, so we spent well over an hour trying to find the kennel and having the required paperwork faxed. This episode of poor planning disrupted our day but not our trip.
Once we were done, we drove over to Bright Angel Trailhead and began our descent into the canyon. We walked four and half miles down to Indian Gardens and decided it was best that we turn around and head back up. We were still a few miles away from the Colorado River, and we knew we wouldn't make it back to the top by sundown if we continued any further. After that long and exhausting hike back up, we decided that we needed to stay in a hotel.
We found a room at the Bright Angel Lodge and woke up the next morning to the most incredible view of the Grand Canyon and the trail we had walked the day before. The hotel was quite impressive for a fair price. On our way out, we stopped at the Desert View Watchtower and explored around that area of the canyon. We also made a few more pit-stops along Highway 64 to look at areas of the canyon that are not a part of the national park.
Our next stop at Four Corners National Monument was nothing more than a cool picture and the ability to say that we've been there. The monument was a small plaque on the ground surrounded by Native American vendors selling jewelry and trinkets. It was nice to stretch our legs in four states at once, but their strict dog ban didn't seem to make much sense.
Once we'd arrived at Mesa Verde National Park, we found the visitor's center and purchased one of the last tent spaces available. Thank goodness we did. The next closest camping area is nearly 20 miles away from the mesa.
The next day was, by far, the best day of our trip. We went on the "Balcony House Tour" with our amazing tour guide who had been with the park services for over 20 years! Learning about how these people lived was truly fascinating. The preservation of the buildings and the original stonework was incredible to witness even though there have been modern reinforcements and other additions to the structures for preservation's sake.
After our guided tour, we got back into the car and drove through an area of the park that had been scorched by wildfires. We continued the drive to the "Step House" where we took a self-guided tour and were able to get up close and personal with a few kivas (ceremony rooms) and a recreated pit-house. The pit-houses were where the native people would store meat and take shelter from extreme weather. There was even an ancient corn cob from hundreds of years ago!
We definitely saved the best park for last and saved one great food stop for last too: The Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, Colorado. The traditionally styled saloon was awesome to walk around and look at, especially with a good, local craft beer in hand and a world famous Diamond Burger on the way. This stop was well worth the money and the time spent there.
Durango was the last stop of a trip to remember for a lifetime. It was the trip that inspired us to keep traveling and to share what we find along the way. What a crazy, wonderful trip it was!
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.