In this article I’m gonna share with you how to organize a road trip through the American West – Nevada, Arizona, Utah – in the best possible way.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles (California) for 3 years, and even though I explored nearby, I never really went beyond the Grand Canyon and truly explored Nevada, Arizona and Utah. So this year I decided to fulfill one of my biggest desires: to see Monument Valley. I planned a 4 days road trip and included as many stops as I could handle, on my quest for the American West.
I’ll introduce you to two places that are incredibly dear to me, but that I visited back in my years in LA (Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon), and to the adventures in Nevada, Arizona and Utah that I experienced in May 2017.
I need to thank Avis USA and Budget USA for partnering up with me and making this possible, and I wanna thank Lexi Powell for following me in this crazy-spiritual-road-trip: nobody could have been more perfect to travel with! Thanks babe!
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
[Fee: 15$ per vehicle]
Even though I’ve never exactly entered the National Park, I spent quite some time in Joshua Tree, since this area in san Bernardino County is worldwide known as one of the most mystical and spiritual places in California. I headed there in December 2015 to attend a spiritual retreat with Agape’s leader Micheal Beckwith and to enter the New Year in complete silence and meditation. Its vibes are stuck in my soul forever. I am so grateful that Joshua Tree exists! It saved me from a very dark moment of my life.
It owns its name to the JOSHUA TREE, the common name of Yucca brevifolia, a particular type of arborescent typical of North America.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Leaving Los Angeles behind and arriving in Nevada, Vegas is a must-see. But it’ would be even better if Vegas was your last stop of the trip, so you could really relax and (let’s be honest) get a lil crazy! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas 😉
7 miles South of Las Vegas Blvd, close to Jean Dry Lake, you can find Seven Magic Mountains by Ugo Rondinone. On the road from LA to Vegas we diverted to check out this two-year public art installation: I saw so many pictures of it that I really wanted to see it with my eyes. It was worth stopping by but be aware of the tourists (there were plenty, and I had to photoshop a few out of this shot as well!). More info about Seven Magic Mountains can be found HERE.
Oh Vegas! I feel like so many people are disgusted by this place but I find it interesting (and obviously fun!).
First of all, I think it’s great to have Venice, Rome, Egypt, Paris, New York all in the same place.. because guys, if you can’t afford to travel, at least you can get a sense of how it’d feel like! There are families that are never gonna be able to afford a trip to Europe, so I’m kinda glad Vegas was built.
WHERE TO STAY: You wanna choose a hotel directly on The Strip (the most famous part of Vegas), otherwise you could get tired walking back and forth.
This was my fifth time in town. When I visited I stayed twice at Excalibur Hotel (I feel it has the best value for money), once at The Stratosphere Hotel (incredible view but suuuch a long walk to the main strip), once at Hard Rock Cafe Vegas (very nice but a little off the strip) and once at SLS Las Vegas for work (so good!). My favorite hotel to hang out at is probably The Cosmopolitan, even though most people seem go crazy for Aria.
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK, NEVADA
[Fee: 10$ per vehicle]
Just one hour driving from Vegas, you can feel literally feeling like on Mars. Valley of Fire was one of my favorite stops during this trip.
The red Aztec sandstones gave me and incredible sense of WILDNESS AND FREEDOM.
The park is very easily visitable by car: at the entrance you’ll be given a useful map and you can stop by the different points of interests. We started off with the Beehives and then moved on first to the visitor center, then Seven Sisters and Elephant Rock.
The Rainbow Vista is definitely worth the hike if you are not in a rush. It takes one hour but it might be the most photogenic place in the park.
From Valley of Fire we drove straight to Page, Arizona. Unfortunately due to the bad weather conditions we didn’t get a chance to see either the Coral Pink Sand Dunes or Coyote Buttes, but definitely stop by if you can!
HORSESHOE BEND, ARIZONA
[Entrance is free]
SO. I DIDN’T EXPECT THIS AT ALL.
I saw hundreds of pictures from Horseshoe Bend and no one can make justice to this place. It simply is breathtaking.
We woke up at 5am to get there at dawn.. so worth it! Even though it was kinda cloudy that day and we didn’t experience a proper sunrise, it was stunning.
Expect a short hike from the parking lot to the actual lookout pint, and be ready to have plenty of people around: even though it was 6am, there was a wedding taking place on my left when we shot this picture 🙂
This magic was created by the Colorado River, which incised the meander in a horseshoe-shape during the centuries.
If you are afraid of heights (300 m drop right here!) this place will definitely test you: I was terrified at first! There are no protections whatsoever, so be careful!
Horseshoe bend is just 5 minuted driving from Page, Arizona. We stayed at Page Boy Motel and were quite satisfied with it 🙂
GLENN CANYON DAM BRIDGE, ARIZONA
While waiting for our appointment to visit Antelope Canyon, my friend and I decided to check out the Glenn Canyon Dam, visible from Page’s Visitor Center, which was rich in information and incredibly interesting.
If you have time, I definitely suggest you to visit the real Glenn Canyon and Lake Powell as well.
ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA
[Average cost to visit Antelope Canyon is about 40-50$]
Unfortunately, tourists can visit Antelope Canyon only through a booked tour with the Navajo Tribe (after 11 visitors accidentally got drowned in 1997).
I am very sorry to say that my experience in this magical place wasn’t successful at all.
First, it was raining and the colors were much less bright than the famous pictures I’ve seen from Upper Antelope Canyon. Secondly, I got so annoyed by our tour guide! Everything was about taking clichè shots. She was telling us all the time how to set our cameras (“Of course you can get great shots, you have to set your camera on P”…yeah sure), how to pose, what to do… It was beyond touristic. It totally killed the magic for us. Plus, they didn’t allow me to bring all my photographic equipment with me, but they didn’t have a place to store bags. So they literally forced me to drop my gear on the entry’s counter in front of dozens of tourists saying “Just go. We’ll take it later”. They left my gear in there for I don’t know how much time, and when I came back I found it in THE TRASH BIN.
I suggest visiting anyway cause what the wind and the water did to this place is a pure miracle, but don’t book through this company. Just don’t!
SORRY FOR THE RENT!
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARIZONA
[Fee: 12$/15$ per person]
I visited the Grand Canoyn back in March 2014 with my dad. Everybody (when possible) should go once in their lifetime.
These pictures were taken with an Iphone.. but still 😉
Day 1 we biked on the edge on the Canyon (which was terrific and terrifying at the same time) and Day 2 we hiked an interesting trail that heads down into the deepest layers of the Canyon. If you wanted, you could even spend the night INSIDE the Grand Canyon.
Be mindful of two things: 1. The temperatures – it can get quite freezing so pack smartly! and 2. The wild squirrels – your lunch will be gone in a second if you don’t keep an eye on your backpack 😉
MONUMENT VALLEY, UTAH
[Fee: 20$ per vehicle (up to 4 people)]
So here we are. I planned this last road trip for months, very carefully, and it was all for a reason: the Monument Valley.
Monument Valley National Park is located on the Arizona-Utah border and is characterized by vast sandstones buttes that were brought to our collective culture thanks to many movies which were shot here, including films by John Ford, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood.
With our car we hit the “Mittens’, the road that makes a loop tour through the entire park, but the park is visitable also by foot or through a guided tour. The car tour takes about 1.5 hours.
The park is home to the Navajo Tribe, which proudly runs hotels and tours in the area. There would be so much to say about Native Americans and what I saw here, but I don’t even know where to start from. I’ll just say it deeply touched me how this tribe is still surviving and doing its best to preserve their sacred territory, that every day is invaded by tourists..
But most of all it moved me to see in what conditions they are forced to live. There were no supermarkets in the area, just Mc Donald’s and Burger King. I was shocked to realize I arrived in one of the most important places in the world, and the people who keep it alive are not even fully supported by the government. I might be wrong, but this was my impression. It’s easier to build a Mc Donald’s than to provide healthy foods for your people, apparently.
BACK TO OUR STORY. I wanted to see Monument Valley SO BADLY that I flew all over the world from Europe and I drove for 3 days to get here. But I got tired and sick so not only I couldn’t make it for sunset time… I didn’t even wake up to catch the sunrise.
So when I finally got here (around 10 am) I WAS INCREDIBLY PISSED. The lighting was too bright and not good for pictures at all. So I felt my dream was ruined and I was in a bad mood all day. I really had to force myself to stay in the present moment, to remind myself that pictures aren’t everything in life. and that I was in a really sacred place. In the very end (5 minutes before leaving) Monument Valley rewarded me with this old wild west vibe, decent lighting and beautiful clouds. We shot this last pic and I left a little less frustrated!
The famous Forrest Gump scene was filmed on Highway US 163, Mexican Hat. From Monument Valley we drove for 10-15 minutes and reached THE location. There were a few tourists but that didn’t stop us to get my favorite shot from the entire trip:
So Monument Valley wasn’t my favorite stop on the road trip, even if it was the reason I hit the road first. Funny, right? Horrible, right? How picture-making can influence our lives. Lesson learnt. Be present in the freaking moment, or plan to stay more days in ONE location instead of binge-traveling 😉
After all that emotional mess, all I needed was some Vitamin S. If is there a place I’d love to live in after I retire (or even sooner), it’s Sedona AZ.
To me this town represents the perfect mix between nature, civilization and spirituality. Surrounded by the Red Rocks and home to different “energy vortexes” (intersections of natural electromagnetic earth energy), Sedona is known worldwide as the capital for spirituality and meditation. Crystal shops, meditation centers, yoga studios, healing masters, spiritual inspiration.. Sedona has all of this and much, much more. PLEASE, PLEASE GO SEE THIS TOWN IF YOU ARE EVER IN ARIZONA!
Besides the many energy vortexes, my favorite sacred place of prayer is the Amitabha Stupa. A “Stupa” is considered as the living presence of Buddha on Earth.
I really got incredible answers while meditating in front of the Stupa. This town means so much to me and I wish everybody could experience it. I hope to go back soon.
As always, I hope this was useful and that you could use some info for your next trip in the American West! This road trip (and lessons learned along the road) for sure has changed me forever. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the king of Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac:
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
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