Here's where our 10-day road trip from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado began. 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.
Due to the park being under '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 mile and a half elevator ride down. The structures are truly awe-inspiring, and thinking about how long it took to create them is just as baffling.
After walking around underground as long as we were allowed, we walked around the surface trails surrounding 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 natural opening as we finished our walk. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed to watch the daily sun down 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.
This forest was absolutely beautiful to drive through. The diversity of the land ranged from cacti to lakes to a wooded forest. The camp site we chose was perfect. We chose a spot right near Flowing Springs. This was wonderful, because we could let the dog run around and play in the water. We were also able to park the car close enough 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 main attraction 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 our dog. We started right 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 really 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 before our trip. The next morning we went to the visitor’s center to look for a trail we could camp on, but discovered they were all by reservation only and were already booked (bad planning on our part). The park ranger then told us we could not take the dog on any trail we went on other than the rim trail (this was really poor planning on our part, again), so we spent well over an hour trying to find the kennel and having the required paperwork faxed.
Once we were done, we drove over to Bright Angel Trailhead and finally began our descent into the canyon. We walked four and half miles down to Indian Gardens and decided it was best if we turned around there and headed 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, exhausting hike back up, we decided 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 other pit-stops along Highway 64 to look at areas of the canyon that were 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 in four states at once. The monument was a small plaque on the ground surrounded by Native American vendors selling jewelry and trinkets.
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 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 inspiring. 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 natural 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 traditional style 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 worth the money and the time spent there.
And that was it. What a crazy, wonderful trip it was!