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Your Desert Dream Road Trip

When you need quiet & inspiration, this California-Arizona-New Mexico-Colorado road trip is for you too

If you want to really know America, you need to go by car. I grew up doing road trips through the mountain region with me family every year — Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California — and I have come to appreciate just how precious that time was, embracing all of that wild space. This is largely why I have found myself retracing some of the similar trips, so if you love vast, slow spaces, this trip is for you. If you like hiking time, this trip is for you. If you If you love photography, this trip is for you. Just go already, you won’t regret it….

Drive 1: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, CA

While Palm Springs & Palm Desert remain a popular vacation draw for many — myself included- it is worth driving out of your way to vast Joshua Tree National Park. Make a pit stop in Pioneer town to see the wild west sets and eat at Pappy + Harriet’s, before preparing to hike the park among its enormous stacks of boulders and the twisting, sculptural forms of the park’s namesake trees (actually giant agaves) that create a landscape like nothing else on Earth. Good hotels in the immediate area are scarce unless you are staying in Palm Springs, but there are plenty of camping options and very cool Airbnbs like the Joshua Tree House.

Drive 2: JT to Sedona, Arizona (via Phoenix or Flagstaff)

This drive is not too far, maybe five hours, and is shorter through Flagstaff, but the views of Sedona are worth it. The gorgeous landscape (think red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests) + the energy vortexes will put you in your best frame of mind. Uptown Sedona is dense with New Age shops, spas and art galleries, while the town’s outskirts, numerous trailheads access Red Rock State Park, which offers bird-watching, hiking and picnicking spots.

Drive 3: Sedona to Santa Fe, New Mexico

I’m not going to lie, this part of the drive can be a long haul so be sure to have your podcasts and audiobooks loaded in advance. I do love Santa Fe though — the architecture, the history, the art, the shopping, the FOOD. It’s mandatory to shop the plaza at least once (home goods and sheepskin/furs/leather can be less expensive here and free to ship out of state), and I love to scout some vintage clothes at the store Double Take, pick up luxury cowboy boots at Back At The Ranch, or a new piece of silver & turquoise jewelry. There are an abundance of art galleries in this area, and The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is a gem. Eat at The Shed (the green chili enchiladas are my favorite) or the green chili burger at Shake Foundation. Side trips to the arts/ski community of Taos or Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch are well worth it too (both about one hour away). Lots of lovely inn and funky motel options here, but I especially love the Inn of The Five Graces

Drive 4: Santa Fe to Southern Colorado to see the Great Sand Dunes

So my end goal is always Denver/Boulder — about five hours from Santa Fe — but if you have it in you to veer off path a little, then head over to Great Sand Dunes National Park and feel like you are on another planet, and perhaps make a stay of it at Zapata Ranch too.

This post originally appear on Co-owner Carrie A Mitchell's travel blog

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