Arizona Spring Road Trip

Surprisingly, after all the family health-related travel Mike and I have done the past 7 months, when the time came to visit my aunt in Tucson, we both felt a road trip was in order. We didn't know exactly what routes we'd take, but the more scenic byways, the better!

Road trip!

The Highway of Legends was our first detour. This Scenic Byway along Colorado Hwy 12 finally got us off the I-25 shlog between Walsenburg and Trinidad, CO, traveling to the west around the Spanish Peaks.

Scenery from the Highway of Legends

The tourist season officially starts in April so there wasn't anything open in LaVeta or Cuchara yet, but the Deerprint Wine & Bistro looked interesting as a stop on a future visit to the Sand Dunes.

The next morning we started out from Raton, NM where I experienced my first swim in a saline pool at our motel. I highly recommend!

With high wind warnings in the area, we breezed through Santa Fe and Albuquerque without stopping, turning south on 117 just east of Grants, NM to explore El Malpais National Monument.

Views from a rocky overlook at El Malpais NM in New Mexico

This was a real winner of a stop. Easy access, good roads, uncrowded and the shortest route to Tucson!

La Ventana Arch, just a short walk from the main road

Along the road in El Malpais NM

We always enjoy the Tucson area, especially the desert habitat for birds, plants, and scenery. We especially like going there when it's not too hot.

Hummingbird at the feeder

Hummingbird feeding on blooming Ocotillo

While staying with my aunt, we took one day to hike in nearby Catalina State Park, After checking out the 1 mile birding loop, we decided to hike to Romero Pools, 2.7 miles in.

Hiking in Catalina State Park, near Tucson

Wildflowers along the trail

Saguaro cactus, and ocotillo
Cactus in bloom

We loved the saguaro and blooming ocotillo studded views. But after 3 miles of rugged terrain and still no pools, we turned around.

Susan with her aunt Lois

After a day of rest enjoying the company of my aunt, we headed home the same way we came, via Globe and Show Low, AZ. This time the skies were clear and we better enjoyed Salt Creek Canyon.

The scenic view along the Salt Creek Canyon road

At the canyon bottom Salt Creek flows by

Another view of Salt Creek Canyon

At Show Low, we headed north to Holbrook, the fastest route to Bisti Badlands. We barely made it before sundown, so booked 2 nights in Farmington, NM.

Our first view of Bisti Badlands as the sun went down

Nice light on the formations in the badlands

In the morning, we drove to Chaco Culture National Historical Park via some very cool unpaved backroads.

Big New Mexico views southwest of Farmington

Susan surveying the enormous ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Inside the ruins at Chaco

Doorways in the ruins

After we toured Chaco, we headed back to the Bisti Badlands to spend the rest of our day.

About a mile in we found incredible erosion-formed rock formations

We took almost 200 photos here, but here are some of our favorites.

Sometimes it's hard to judge the scale of what you're seeing...

... so Susan posed with some of the smaller formations

We hiked a total of around 5 miles until dusk and barely scratched the surface. There are no trails. And the landscape often looks like a desolate alien world.

Guided by a major wash that runs through the middle of the badlands, it was a blast to walk around towards whatever looked interesting. Which was everything. We'll definitely go back!

Our final view, near the trailhead

We had planned to drive straight home the next morning, but detoured once again, turning north at South Park to go through Creede and Lake City and adding 2 hours of gorgeous scenery to our day.

Panorama from an overlook in Colorado, on the way home

This road trip turned out to be over 2,000 miles of scenic drives, and we got to see more of our National Park Service gems plus some other fun new areas! Here's a map of our trip route.