U.S. Cross Country Road Trip: Best of the Southwest

I’m movin’ and groovin’ across the country to Los Angeles and my best friend Tyler is coming along for the ride. Check out the best places to visit, things to do and what you really want to know about a coast to coast road trip.


Road Trippity Dippity just “skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow!  What a Ride!’” 

-Hunter S. Thompson

 FleuSeason Road Trip Guide

The Lowdown:

  • Roswell, N.M. – Got cultured in all things aliens
  • Albuquerque, N.M. – Did not throw a pizza on Walter White’s house… but we thought about it
  • Page, Ariz. – We were completely blown away by Antelope Canyon
  • Sedona, Ariz. – Beautiful red rock formations, got our hike on
  • Phoenix, Ariz. – Just absolutely menacingly hot, but we persevered… and went to Rainforest Cafe
  • Slab City, Calif. – So weird, so wonderful, it gets its own post!

Lessons Learned:

  • Lesson #6 You’ll encounter every form of mold, smell, bug and creep in the cheap motels of the beautiful U.S. of A
  • Lesson #7 Sitting in a car doing nothing for hours is exhausting
  • Lesson #8 If your car doesn’t have air conditioning, take the northern route
  • Lesson #9 “Delaware, where the hell is Delaware?” I’m glad I can be that person for people  

What a ride indeed. But first, we must prologue.

On my study abroad trip in New Zealand a couple years back I was awestruck by how different the scenery was from anything I had ever seen. I remember my professor saying to a few of us in passing, “Any natural feature you see anywhere else in the world, you can find in the United States.”

That claim really stuck with me. Think about it, we have deserts, tropical islands, mountains, canyons, tundra, grassland, caves, salt flats, rainforests, even a tropical rainforest if you count Puerto Rico.

Still, whenever I dreamed of going anywhere, it was a place far away, I never gave too much thought about traveling right here in my own country.

But now that I’m moving to Los Angeles I’m getting to see some of the wonders of the States first hand.

If you’ve been reading along, you already knew that.

If you’re just tuning in and want to read about our journey through the South, you can read about the first leg of the trip here.

Now things are getting interesting.

A visit to alien country in Roswell, encroaching on Heisenberg’s territory in Albuquerque, becoming one with nature in Page and Sedona, becoming one with the car (literally melting into the car) in Phoenix, and a visit to the “Last free place on Earth” in the middle of the desert in California to finish off the trip before I begin the rest of my life as a slave to the Man in Los Angeles. And breath.  

 

Roswell, New Mexico

 

Alien lightpost and storefront in Roswell, N.M.

Best bits

  • ALIENS. That’s really it, honestly. 

Must do:

  • Hit the alien strip, buy a stupid t-shirt at the site of the landing and meet the chihuahua/alien creature that runs the store
  • Carlsbad Caverns are an hour and a half south, we were beat and didn’t go, but Nat Geo hasn’t let me live that down since, littering their feeds with photos of the beautiful collection of caves. Ugh.

There’s not much to Roswell, except that in July of 1947 an alien spaceship crash landed and caused decades worth of controversy, conspiracy, intrigue and an entire industry for the little town.

Government scandal, ALIENS. 

It turns out the alien landing site is a gift shop with exactly the man you would expect to be sitting in there, surrounded by alien themed mugs, toys and t-shirts, greeting visitors with an uninterested *sigh* “hello.”

"You got abducted... but did you die?
Well…?

Just when any normal person (not us, we were loving this) would start to think, “Wow, this is it?” I spotted a small creature running past one of the racks of neon shirts.

Walking to the back where this thing was headed it was hard not to get distracted by the incredible amount of alien junk the store had assembled. I dare say it might be the greatest alien junk store in the country, maybe even the world.

I passed a mysterious restricted section, a staircase with a closed door at the top with Alien landing zone in Roswell, N.M.multiple warnings not to trespass. At the top of the stairs stood a sinister Darth Vader cardboard cutout, thwarting any plans of breaking in. “That must be the exact landing point,” I thought.

Suddenly I felt something tugging at my shoelaces. I looked down to find a small, ugly, otherworldly creature viciously attacking the aglet of one of my laces.

I quickly came to a practical conclusion, “Hmm, must be an alien disguised as a small chihuahua.”

Brilliant disguise.

While this town’s claim to fame is the alien landing, turns out they also have a little motel that reminded me of a famous film/television motel.

Ty checked us into Roswell’s Bates Motel.

Like I always say, if you want something done right, don’t let Tyler do it. He managed to consistently find the creepiest, grimiest motels of the lot.

Lesson #6 You’ll encounter every form of mold, smell, bug and creep in the cheap motels of the the beautiful U.S. of A.

No matter how choosey you are sometimes, if you’re trying to road trip on the cheap, you’re going to come across some infestations, some prostitution, some mystery hair on the pillow when you check in (that’s my favorite).

Sometimes I would try to just bring in the clothes and things I knew I needed and leave them far from the bed on a desk or chair to minimize the risk of bringing any creepy crawlies with me. I try to give a little peek under the mattress for signs of bed bugs too.

Roswell's flying saucer McDonalds
Anywhere Roswelliens could sneak in alien junk, they did.

Read recent reviews carefully for any signs of the location being unsafe or dirty. I like Kayak.com.

Luckily we survived the night without a visit from Norman Bates, any extraterrestrial beings or any terrestrial bugs… that we know of.

Although I can’t say I left Roswell totally unscathed. Somewhere, in that ugly little creature’s belly, is my aglet (tip of a shoelace for anyone who missed that episode of Phineas and Ferb from back in the day).

 

 

Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

"Meth" rock candy from the Candy Lady, "Breaking Bad" prop makers

Dammit, just when I think I’m finally spelling it right, the little red line appears under it.

Best Bits:

  • Tons of shops filled with locally made art – great place to get some gifts for the fam
  • “Breaking Bad,” one of the, if not the greatest television show ever, was set and filmed here!!
  • Everyone talks really slow… it’s very zen

Must do:

  • Get “meth” at the Candy Lady candy store – ask if you can go in the back. You’re welcome
  • Geek out at least one “Breaking Bad” site
  • Get a margarita. You deserve it
  • Walk around and shop in Old Town. Probably get some chili chocolate
  • Let the chili chocolate melt in your car and regret getting the chili chocolate
  • Check out the biggest hot air balloon event in the world if you’re passing through in October
  • Try some sopaipilla, a sugary fried pastry. I couldn’t eat it but it smells nice

If you’re short on time like we were, you can’t go wrong visiting Old Town.

We excitedly made a beeline right for the Candy Lady, the candy makers that made the meth prop for “Breaking Bad,” but got distracted by all of the shops along the way.

Old Town, Albuquerque

Old adobe buildings, little alleyways with hidden shops around the corners, and a lot of them are selling locally made goods. This is a great stop to get some goodies for your friends and family.

One store owner said as we walked out, “May the road of wonder be wide and clear for you.” We’re in hippie country everybody!

The area also seemed to us the perfect place to get some authentic Mexican food. Remembering Lesson #5, to listen to the locals, we asked nearly every shop owner for their recommendation.

They all said the same thing, go to Church Street Cafe. Then they would almost retract that, saying if you know good Mexican food, it’s not good.

So, uh, no good Mexican food here? In New Mexico?

One Mexican shop owner firmly explained, “not around here.” So with expectations low, but still kinda high because everyone told us to go there, we ate and thought it was pretty good…

I guess that means we don’t know good Mexican food, but sometimes it’s good to be blissfully ignorant. I’ve been assured I’ll get plenty of good food in LA.

Meth Time.

You can pick up a little dime bag full of cotton candy flavored “meth” for a couple dollars on 424 San Felipe St.

The shop is full of other “Breaking Bad” treats and merchandise, and free samples of fudge! Always here for the free samples.

At checkout the woman behind the counter asked, “So are you a big fan of the show?”

I gave her a side eye and smile like girl whatcha got for me?

She walked us behind a curtain into a back room where Walt and Pinkman themselves were just finishing up a batch.

Posing with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman at The Candy Lady
Can’t you see we’re busy?

Even though we just ate, we were yearning for some Los Pollos Hermanos, which in real life is a fast food joint called Twisters, found at 4257 Isleta Blvd. 

You’ll know you’re there when you see the ostrich in the yard next door. Honest.

Ty in front of Twisters, where they shot Los Pollos Hermanos scenes for "Breaking Bad"

If I had the time I would have also liked to hit the carwash featured on the show, which you can find under the name “Mr. Car Wash” at 9516 Snow Heights Circle.

The White household is also nearby, but they’ve put up a fence in response to all of the pizzas being thrown on their roof.  

Continuing on through this foreign terrain we headed northwest to Page, Ariz., through Navajo Nation. 

Lesson #7 Sitting in a car doing nothing for hours is exhausting.

Ty tried to warn me, but I didn’t want to waste a second of the trip. If we got to a motel early I wanted to find something to do, or go out for the night, anything.

Sitting, half paying attention to the road with cruise control on and one hand on the wheel, is surprisingly exhausting.

We first got to Albuquerque in the afternoon with so many hours just begging to be filled with amusement, but I could not scrape myself off the bed if I tried.

I like to think I’m a master rallier and road trip burnout got me, so expect it to get you too. If you have the time, plan for an afternoon of nothing to try to avoid it.

 

Page Arizona

 

Lower Antelope Canyon April 26, 2018. ECF

Best bits:

  • Awesome outlooks, canyons and hikes around
  • “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” – I saw my first Circle K! I’m a “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” fan so that was cool for me…

Must do:

  • Spend some money to visit Antelope Canyon, you won’t regret it
  • Walk to the very edge of Horseshoe Bend and freak out all of the other tourists
  • Get breakfast at the Ranch House Grille in Page
  • If you haven’t been to Grand Canyon National Park, it’s about 2 hours south of Page and a little over an hour north of Flagstaff

One downside to taking the southern route across the country is the lack of major national parks. We really needed to get some Mother Nature time in so we scoured the map until we found Antelope Canyon. 

Since this would be our only national park, and seeing as it’s the sickest looking place ever, we decided to seize the opportunity and drive a little out of the way up to Page, Ariz. When else am I going to find myself driving around northern Arizona, ya know? 

Antelope Canyon: Here’s the deal

Lower Antelope Canyon April 26, 2018. ECF

There are two canyons, Upper Antelope is the most photographed, more popular canyon, which means it’s more expensive and more crowded. Lower Antelope, the one we picked, is apparently a bit longer, more narrow, and has stairs unlike its counterpart.

Upper Antelope has those famous light beams, so if you’re going for those, spend the extra bucks and go upper – but book ahead and make sure you’re hitting primetime, when the sun is directly overhead.

Warning you now, it is pricy and slots seem to fill up pretty fast.

Both canyons are on Navajo land so you’ll need to purchase a guided tour and pay the $8 Navajo Permit Fee.

Lower Antelope Canyon April 26, 2018. ECF
The chief on the boy’s shirt mirrors “The Chief ” rock formation behind him. “The Chief’s” nose is just above the boy’s head.

Lower Antelope has two guided tour services, Ken’s Tours and Dixie Ellis Tours. We used Ken’s Tours based on availability and price.

For an Upper Antelope visit prices jump a bit, and if you want to visit during peak hours (11 a.m. – 2 p.m.) expect to pay an extra $10.

Note: Our guide told us for Lower Antelope you’ll want to avoid the hours where the sun is directly overhead. I’d give them a call to see which hours they recommend if you’re trying to take photos at the perfect time.

At $48 each this stop really did a number on the road trip budget, but it was so worth it. 

Fun fact: The most expensive photo in the world was taken in Upper Antelope Canyon by Peter Lik. The image, called “Phantom,” reportedly sold for $6.5 million at auction. This claim has been met with suspicion and criticism, but I’ll let you read about that for yourself.

From the canyon it’s just a short drive to Horseshoe Bend, where you’ll have to walk about a mile for the breathtaking views.

At the edge of Horseshoe Bend in Page, Ariz.

Very atypical for American sites, there aren’t any railings spoiling it! You can quite literally fall to your death if you’re not careful. 

Really quick and easy stop, highly recommend making the time for it. 

By this time in the trip provisions were completely gone. I was down to my last Justin’s almond butter snack and we were hungry.

All I wanted was a nice greasy diner breakfast and all Ty wanted was a burger and fries. We wound up at this glorious diner that I can’t stop thinking about.

It was then that we went to the Ranch House Grille and I had my first plate of huevos rancheros. My life is forever altered.

I don’t even know who I was before I had it. 

 

Sedona Arizona

 

Views on a hike in Sedona, Ariz.

Best bits:

  • You can sleep in your car for free in some state park parking lots! The signs will explicitly say you’re able too
  • Beautiful Red Rock formations
  • Hot, but not too hot

Must do:

  • Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village and realize maybe you should have waited and bought goodies for your friends and family here instead of Albuquerque
  • Go to the Red Rocks Cafe and get the huevos rancheros
  • Soak up the energy at one of the vortexes
  • Hike a few of the many amazing trails – we chose a moderate 2-hour walk, Little Horse
    • Devil’s Bridge seems like a nice one too
  • See how the Sinagua people lived in cliff dwellings 1000 years ago at Montezuma Castle National Monument. I went as a child and it was incredible to see
    • There are other dwelling sites in the area too, some you can actually enter
  • Cool off, like really cool off, in the creek at Slide Rock State Park
  • Spend a couple of days here! There’s just too much to do in one day

We had a family vacation in Sedona years ago and I had so much fun I knew I had to make the stop on this trip.

What I didn’t realize, it’s wicked expensive. We arrived from Page, got some more huevos rancheros at Red Rocks Cafe, and started looking up motels… and then we quickly started settling into the reality that we were sleeping in the car tonight.

Ty was hungover and useless sludge after our outing in Flagstaff the night before so we didn’t plan on a major hike for the day.

Instead we walked around Tlaquepaque, the famous old outdoor market with even more goodies to get your fam. Even if you aren’t trying to go shopping, the market is beautiful to walk around in. 

Energy Vortexes: Find your center, get zen.

Boynton Canyon Vortex in Sedona, Ariz.

When I came here as a kid I remember seeing people meditating on the rocks and thinking, “What the hell are these idiots doing?” Fast forward 16 years later and I’m sitting criss-cross on the side of a vortex with my eyes closed and the wind blowing through my hair thinking I’m Pocahontas.

All the vortex did for me was make me really anxious. I expected it to do something and then I started panicking thinking it was going to give me bad juju… I guess I didn’t do it right.

Sedona has four major vortex sites, which if I understand correctly, are centers where the Earth’s electromagnetic energy is really concentrated.

The sites, found at Bell Rock, Airport Mesa, Boynton Canyon and Cathedral Rock, draw a wild amount of visitors so there must be something going on.

You might approach one of the sites and think, “But that rock looks just like all the other rocks,” and you would be correct. The only way I could tell we were at a vortex was from the meditators scattered about.

Sunset at Boynton Canyon Vortex
Step aside Simba…

When you start smelling the patchouli you’re getting close.

If you’re into that type of thing I think some of the yoga and meditation classes would be worth looking into. The instructors guide you into the right state of mind to feel the energy, I suppose.

Besides the energy aspect, we hiked to the Boynton Canyon site right before dusk and it was beautiful up there.

Regardless of your interest in the energy, all of the sites are near, or apart of, popular hiking trails so you don’t have to go far out of the way to check one out.

Sleeping in the car: “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.”

“Avengers Infinity War” just so happened to come out the day we found ourselves homeless so we figured hey, we’ll treat ourselves to a kids combo, watch the last show of the night and pass out in the car full of popcorn and blue ICEE.  

The movie had us shook. I was so full of emotions, theories and confusion. We ended up driving for over an hour trying to find a desirable parking lot and somehow came across a free campground with other cars and people doing the same thing.

I felt super vulnerable and nervous about sleeping in the car once it came down to it, but being around others doing the same thing made me feel better and I was able to sleep relatively well.

That was until the sun came out and unleashed its hellish fury upon us.

I was not about to leave Sedona before getting a good hike in so with a couple hours of sleep we drove to a trailhead and got walking.

With so many hikes to choose from, all of those, “best-of” and Trip Advisor reviews are your best resources here unless you talk to a few locals and get their take.

Not looking for anything too strenuous or time consuming with the heat, I picked out “Little Horse” after reading through a few articles.

Just two adult toddlers chillin at Chicken Point on Little Horse Trail in Sedona, Ariz.
Just two adult toddlers chillin at Chicken Point on Little Horse Trail in Sedona, Ariz.

L’ Auberge explained it as, “If there is one trail that has all of the features of Sedona that I love, Little Horse is it. Views of Sedona’s most memorable formations in the distance and then a gentle incline to Chicken Point where I am surrounded by awe inspiring spires such as the two nuns.”  

That description could not sound more ideal so we went with it.

Not too crowded or challenging, only took about 2 hours, and we met some lovely people along the way.

Get their early though, the small parking lot fills up fast. There was a line of cars waiting for spots when we got back.

They were super pushy too. We didn’t even have time to sit in the car, unwind and mindlessly scroll through stuff on our phones… I know, the nerve.

If you’re lucky, from the end of the trail at Chicken Point you can catch some bikers riding a little white line high above the rock wall next to you.

Unfortunately we were already on our way back when we passed a few bikers heading that way, but this is what the line looks like:

The best time my little 7-year-old self had ever had was at Slide Rock State Park in Sedona Arizona.

So you bet my 23-year-old self had to hit it up again.

Need to know about Slide Rock:

  • It’s slippery! That’s like the whole point! Some people wore some nifty water shoes
  • Water is very cold so go on a nice hot, clear day
  • $20 per vehicle of 1-4 humans, you can try parking elsewhere and walk in for cheaper
  • Plan to stay awhile, bring picnic supplies and make sure you clean up after yourselves 
  • Bathrooms are located right next to the creek
Posing with my fanny pack outside of Slide Rock State Park, Sedona, Ariz.
Didn’t bring our phones down to the water, so here I am by the car with the unsung hero of the trip, the fanny pack. Hello Aussie friends.

Remember being a kid when being in the water was everything and you never seemed to even feel the cold, let alone mind it?

It’s a shame we grow out of that because boy that water is COLD. 

But we came, we slid, we sprawled out on the rocks to dry and bake in the sun like lizards.

People of all ages came to play in the water, jump off the rocks, and watch some unsupervised pre-teens jump 30 feet off a ledge towards the end of the creek.

It’s good fun, I highly recommend going and making Sedona a stop on anyone’s road trip.

Nearly to our final destination, we shot down south to Phoenix for a day to visit an old friend.    

 

Phoenix, Arizona

 

A man below Hole in the Rock at Papago Park

Best bits:

  • It’s good to see civilization after being in desert towns for the last week
  • “Welcome to the Rainforest, can I get you guys started with a strawberry lemonade? A shark water?” Come on, who doesn’t love the Rainforest Cafe??

Must do:

  • Have air conditioning and drink tons of water!
  • Check out some of the bars in Tempe
  • Climb Hole in the Rock at Papago Park
  • Hike Camelback Mountain for some killer views of the city if you’re up for it

More Arizona! If it weren’t so viciously hot I’d consider moving to this state.

But that’s the thing, it is viciously hot. And my air conditioning broke in Page (so we thought…) and we had to drive down to Phoenix without air.

I passed out and woke up in a pool of sweat with a fast food receipt stuck to my back. Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving!

A couple of days later we turned on the ac for kicks and realized it was working all along! Why did we decide it was broken? Who knows!!?!

Lesson #8 If your car doesn’t have air conditioning, take the northern route

Privilege has been checked.

We were profusely sweating even with the windows down those few days we pretended not to have air conditioning. Just keep that in mind if you want to brave Arizona without it.

We came down here to meet my friend Dave from high school. We went out to a few of the bars around Tempe, spending the most time at Casey Moore’s Oyster House.

Since it’s so warm out, all of the bars we went to had outdoor areas, so that was nice.

Casey’s attracted people from all walks of life, it felt like a high school lunchroom out there. We had goths behind us, the most hipster human beings I have ever encountered in my entire life across from us singing Kanye’s new “poopity scoop” song and explaining its transcendence, some Key West style rednecks, potheads, the classic group of girls with bad highlights somehow managing to glare down at you even though you’re a foot taller than them, and then us normal, well-balanced folks 😉 

Major discovery: Roadrunners are real animals. I had no idea. My jaw literally dropped when this little roadrunner ran across, get this, THE ROAD.

In Phoenix, a 10 minute hike is enough

Hole in the Rock, Papago Park

The next day we walked around Papago park and climbed the mater-of-factly called, “Hole in the Rock.” 

Parking is just at the base so it’s not really a hike, but it’s so hot out the 10 minute climb up is all I really wanted to do anyway.

Hanging out in an alcove at Hole in the Rock at Papago Park, Phoenix, Ariz.

It reminded me of the Flintstones, and people of all ages were playing or sitting under the shade in the big cave. The rock has good traction so it’s easy to climb all over it.

We fully moved in to one of the alcoves so if you need me, you know where I’ll be.

Speaking of moving… homes… I can’t think of a good transition, but I heard the sentence below so many times I have to address it. I’d be driving and look in the rear-view mirror and could see people pointing at my license plate and mouthing…

Lesson #9 “Delaware, where the hell is Delaware?” I’m glad I can be that for people.

Not much of a lesson but driving around I feel like the Alaska and Hawaii of the country. I’m going to break it “way down for you,” like Kim K desperately defending Kanye on Twitter last week.

  • Yes, Delaware is a state
  • Yes, I am sure
  • It’s right along the east coast, right next to Maryland
  • Yes, that Wayne’s world skit does say, “Hi, I’m in Delaware!” Thank you for reminding me!
  • No it doesn’t “suck” …all the time at least. During beach season it’s a total pleasure living there
  • “I’ve never met anyone from Delaware.” Well now you have, congratulations

After saying our goodbyes in Phoenix we were off to the Slabs. We saved the weirdest for last!

 

Slab City

 

Slab City Televisions

Best bits

  • Desert squatter with no laws, no fees, and a ton of art
  • The most photogenic stop of the trip (don’t tell Antelope Canyon)

Must do

  • Walk around Salvation Mountain and snap those instagram famous pics
  • Buy a trinket or two from one of the residents
  • Drive down to East Jesus and see junk recycled into super cool, super fun art

I was so overwhelmed with how cool Slab City was, it had to get its own post! Check it out!

That’s it. Done. I’ve made it. Gloriously unemployed in LaLa Land.

Santa Monica, the end of Route 66
Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my $5 matcha green tea latte.

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