A Road Trip Through The American Southwest
Leading up to Thanksgiving break the air quality here in the Bay Area was almost unbearable and our calendar for the week was getting so full that we realized we wouldn't have much time to spend together, just the four of us. Very last minute, we made the decision to cancel everything and take a road trip through the American Southwest. We would ultimately end up in the Phoenix, Az area to spend the holiday with family. We didn’t have a plan when we left the house, but did have a short list of places we wanted to see and would map it all out along the way.
The Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, we packed the car up with everything we needed for a long road trip. Luckily, I had spent the day before doing all our laundry which makes packing last minute super easy. I gathered 4 days of clothes and extra underwear and socks for everyone just in case we had to stretch to more than 4 days. We threw together a quick snack bag and put waters and drinks into a cooler. I also grabbed pillows and sleeping bags for the kids as we weren’t sure where we would end up sleeping each night and if needed, they could sleep in the car while we drove through the night (they definitley came in handy on this trip!). The last thing we put in the trunk was hiking shoes, jackets, and hats for all.
Tip: If you are an avid traveler/weekender like we are, always have your toiletry bag packed and ready to go. After each trip I double check the refillable shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, etc and replace/refill. It’s an easy thing to do that will save you so much time and require little thought. Just grab it and through it in your suitcase.
That first day we drove 10 hours to Williams, AZ and arrived at 2am the next morning. Midway there, we stopped for a bathroom break and changed the kids into jammies. They slept a few hours before we got to the cute Route 66 town of Williams. No joke, this town is the spitting image of Radiator Springs from the movie Cars, down to the neon signs and gas stations. The kids woke up as we drove slowly into town and checked into the motel I had booked through Hotel Tonight from the road.
The next morning, we walked down the road to get breakfast at Anna’s Canyon Cafe. The kids had hot chocolates piled high with whipped cream and ordered pancakes. The adults ordered egg combos and strong coffee. Over breakfast we planned the next leg of the trip and landed on Santa Fe, NM. My great grandmother lives there and we love visiting with her. Plus, we could stay at her place for a couple nights. On the way to Santa Fe we made one stop near Flagstaff, AZ at an abandoned trading post called Twin Arrows. The kids weren’t too excited to stop at some old buildings on the side of the road but in the end they loved exploring it and seeing the two big arrows sticking out of the ground.
Tip: Along this route you will see countless signs for trading posts selling authentic Native American jewelry, blankets, moccasins, etc. My suggestion is to stop in to at least one if you have never been before, and if they advertise Indian tacos, definitely stop at that one. Most sell the same items so don’t waste time and money trying to hit all of them.
Santa Fe, NM
We arrived to Santa Fe as the sun was setting. The sunsets in New Mexico are spectacular so I was geeking out and screaming at the kids to look out the window. We unpacked our bags at my grandmothers house and then loaded everyone back in the car to head to dinner at Cafe Castros, one of our families favorites. We spent two nights with my grandmother walking around the plaza, drinking coffee and chatting, and eating all the Chile we could. The kids had their first experience with Sopapillas and honey and also got to spend $10 each to buy souvenirs at the five and dime general store. One of those nights, I took Bryan to El Rey for a quick drink at La Reina which I discovered earlier this year and wrote more about it in a previous blog post.
On Tuesday morning we set off for another long drive to a place neither of us had ever been to, and only dreamed of visiting and photographing. We drove 4 hours south toward Alamogordo, NM to visit White Sands National Monument. The drive down is not super interesting which made the time go slowly but we tried to spice it up by stopping at a cool ghost town and stopping for lunch. The ghost town of Duran, NM is a small town with a few standing structures that are completely abandoned. One of my favorites was an old General Store that had a friendly “Tourist welcome!” sign painted on it. I’m not sure if it was an original sign or if it was added on by all the graffiti artist that have come through. Either way, it was charming! For lunch we stopped at Blakes Lottaburger in Alamogordo, NM. Much like California is known for in and out, New Mexico has Blakes. The burgers are huge and the onion rings are perfectly crispy. We ordered ours with green chile and the kids ordered the kid sized burgers with fries.
White Sands National Monument
We made it to White Sands around 1pm in the afternoon. First thing we did was stop into the visitor center to get a map and speak to a park ranger. They always have the best advice for trails, hikes and even sometimes secret things to see. After getting some information from the ranger, we popped into the gift shop next door to buy some sleds for sand sledding on the dunes. They charge $10 for a used ones, or $18 for a new ones, plus $1.50 for a block of wax (they will buy them back from you at the end of the day but for much less). The ranger told us that there was dune access all over the park, meaning we could sled anywhere we could find a hill. When you first enter the park, you see white sand hills with lots of vegetation sprinkled in, but as you drive a few miles out you start to see those pure white sand dunes that are perfect for photographing and sledding on. We parked on the side of the road and started walking over the dunes to find a good spot. I underestimated the workout from climbing hill after hill but was so happy that I brought a few bottles of water with us in a backpack to keep everyone hydrated. The kids carried their sleds and walked barefoot the entire time. We spent the next couple of hours sledding, taking photos and reflecting on the beauty of the place. By sunset the temperature had dropped signifincatly so shoes and coats had to go on. We walked back closer to the car but ended up staying in the park until the sun had set. Yet, another great sunset in New Mexico! Visiting White Sands was truly a dream come true. It was small enough to do in a day and very kid friendly.
We left the park and drove 45 mins west to Las Cruces, NM and stayed at another last minute Hotel Tonight booking. The Hotel Encanto was cute, clean and had really comfy beds that we all happily crashed on after our fun day in the park. For breakfast the next morning we stopped in the neighboring town of Mesilla, NM at The Bean Cafe for some fresh coffee and killer breakfast burritos. As we made our way out of the state, I remembered the rule in my family that whoever visits New Mexico has to stock up on red Chile powder and bring some back for all. I did a quick google search and found Diaz Farms in Deming, NM. It’s a working Chile farm where they grow, dry and grind red chiles onsite. We bought bags of red chile powder ranging from mild for my grandma to XXhot for my crazy brother. They also sold fresh fruit, local honey and dry beans that are also grown on the property.
The drive from Las Cruces, NM to Surprise, AZ was a about 6 hours (longer because we made stops along the way). We spent 3 days with family, including Thanksgiving, eating, hanging out around the house and relaxing. We purposely did most of our driving days in the first part of the trip so that when we arrived back to Arizona we could focus on family time.
Joshua Tree National Park
We left the Phoenix area on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a week after we set off unexpectedly. When I mapped our way home, I realized we would be driving right along side our favorite national park, Joshua Tree. I suggested to everyone that instead of driving by it that maybe we should drive through it. At first we were really just going to drive right through, but then we thought to ourselves, what better place to let the kids run around and stretch and break up the drive home a bit then one of our favorite places. So we parked at the Jumbo Rocks campground and climbed some boulders for a couple hours. On the way out of town we had lunch at the Frontier Cafe in Yucca Valley, the wait for the food was long but they made a pretty good BLT. The drive home was longer than expected with the post holiday traffic but we made it home and had all of Sunday to recover.