The world is bigger than we could ever possibly imagine, and it’s scary to think we will never even scratch the surface in this lifetime. Even if we do travel to the same places, we see the world through different eyes, creating a unique experience. As I dive head first into travel, I am inspired by each of your adventures and am starting Sonderlust Secrets as a series showcasing this. Interested in being featured?Quite recently, I found myself in conversation with a stranger. We were exchanging travel stories, casual remarks- ‘where’ve you been’, ‘I’ve been there’, ‘have you been here’… At one point, he was remarking on the wasteful use of water, the conservative political climate, the lack of public areas to walk, the ridiculous heat and the long drive to get anywhere. I had to interrupt him to confirm,
“You’re talking about Arizona?”
He replied, “Of course. Same goes for Utah, New Mexico…”
It might have been my mood, perhaps I felt too exhausted to bother overturning such remarks. Most likely, I had somewhere to be and I chose to acknowledge it right then. Regardless of my exit strategy, we parted ways.
It’s not such a big deal to leave people with their perceptions about places, whether incorrect, or ignorant, or just disagreeable. But something in how that conversation had taken a turn, I felt I should have steered it back to straight. Defending what you know, about where you’ve been, is important.
Was he correct? Yes, it’s dry and often hot. Yes, it’s spacious- so yes- it takes time to get around. Some destinations are unusual, absurd, and downright strange. Like anywhere else, you’ll find strange people.
Here’s what’s wildly wonderful about all of that. Here’s what I would have told that stranger about the American Southwest.
Valley of the Sun
Oh Arizona! Where sprawling cities are settled underground, in camouflage shades of beige and maroon. There’s a shift-shape quality of driving through Arizona. For hours, only tumbleweeds, sagebrush and rest stop exits and suddenly you’ve arrived somewhere- when the saguaro cacti pop up, along the roadside as though saluting you, waving at you, welcoming you.
In my opinion, a Southwest tour isn’t complete without visiting the Valley of the Sun state and stopping through Phoenix. It’s a very metropolitan city but it still is in the Sonoran Desert. You won’t see much wilderness within city limits unless you go looking for it.
Authentic or cheeky as it sounds, I like feeling a cowgirl looking for a cold beer and a hot meal. One memorable restaurant, that’s part of a hotel- is the Rustler’s Roost. It’s like going to an Old Wild West saloon- without the bullets whizzing by.
One fascinating thing about the people in these parts, is their love for hot dogs. The Sonoran hot dog is wrapped in bacon and loaded with beans, chopped tomato and onion, canned mushrooms, mayonnaise, yellow mustard and avocado puree. The best ones are found at food trucks after the sun goes down.
State of the Arch
I fell in love with Utah once upon a time. I went there and ended up never leaving for seven years. It’s so interesting to me, how many fellow Americans will do a double-take when I tell them I lived there. They’re perplexed. “But- why?” they ask. Some of my best friends remain in Utah and among us, like a secret, we know exactly why. The greatest snow on Earth is found in northern Utah. Its powdery perfection is made possible by the lake effect phenomenon. Moisture from the Great Salt Lake forms clouds and gets redistributed at high elevations in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. The dry, fluffy snow settles like pillows among pines and aspen trees. I spent many winters in Park City, skiing the country’s most infamous resorts, like Deer Valley (one of three resorts in the world that is “skiers only”) Snowboarding’s my true love and there are plenty other chairlifts for that. What’s exceptional about northern Utah – is accessibility. From Salt Lake City you can access 9 resorts within 30 minutes’ driving distance.
Utah’s a land of contrast. Down south, it’s a map of National Parks and mazes of trails. Whether you negotiate them by renting an off-road, a mountain bike or a river kayak, there’s endless adventure. From jaw-dropping rock formations, atop dinosaurs’ stomping-grounds and beneath big skies cluttered with stars- Utah is just as impressive, if not more, as any trip to the Grand Canyon. Obtaining camping passes ahead of time is definitely worth the money. Don’t miss Arches National Park, just outside of Moab and along the Colorado River. If you want even more removed, head to Canyonlands or Capitol Reef National Parks.
New Mexico is my second favorite place on the planet. Like Utah, there’s a lot of contrast. From the mysterious southeastern Roswell – infamous for UFO conspiracies, to the tall, snowy peaks of Taos, just north of the artsy community of Santa Fe. Climate-wise, New Mexico gets all the seasons, which debunks strangers’ impressions of the Southwest being unbearably hot all the time.New Mexico is the home of the International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. Nothing speaks adventure to me more than a hot-air balloon ride.
Cool Ways to Do the Southwest
If it’s not already obvious, the best way to see this part of the country is overland. A reliable, all-wheel-drive car is a must and bonus if you can load mountain bikes or mount a kayaks on top of it.
The best trip of my life through the Southwest was courtesy of a Jucy rental. A converted minivan that can sleep 4- it’s everything and the kitchen sink on wheels and it’s my dream to own one- somehow- someday. There are only a few places to find one in the U.S. For my Southwest adventure, I started in Las Vegas, Nevada drove the Jucy off the lot heading eastward.
I know this might sound crazy but one of my best friends who was living in Australia had an amazing, custom trailer- basically her home on wheels. She did some research and was actually able to get it across the ocean from a freight forwarding company. It was unbelievably worth it and actually cheaper than the cost of renting vehicles, and hotels.
Courtney is a well-traveled book junkie, a word snob and a technically creative writer. She’s got an amateur photography habit and a treasure hunting fever. Courtney obtained her B.A. from the University of Washington in international studies- specializing in foreign policy and diplomacy. A problem solver and decision-maker, Courtney’s approach to life draws on her ability to see the bigger pic