After spending the first eight days of our vacation on the California coast, we decided we’d better turn east, or we’d never get to see the Southwest at all. We had so many places on our list of possibilities, but we had to make some severe cuts if we wanted to get where we intended. It was a daily process of “we are here, where do we want to go now?”

Joshua Tree National Park

Empty landscape with distant mountain ranges, oases, incredible boulders jutting out of the ground. I learned about different types of cactus: cholla, ocotillo, saguro, barrel, and prickly pear. They had informative short nature trails that Brad could handle with his new hip. Definitely stay in the Jumbo Rocks campground. Watching two brilliant blue lizards fighting (mating?) was a thrill.


No matter what, plan your trip around being out at sunset, whatever the consequences (no dinner), it’s worth it. The beauty of this place is stunning, whenever you see it, but at sunset it comes alive with color. Since downtown Sedona is a tourist mecca and a traffic nightmare, it’s better to stay a little out of town. We chose Dead Horse State Park, close to Jerome, an old copper mining town that almost died until the artsy people reclaimed it. Now it is full of galleries and is quite enjoyable to cruise around. Also close by are Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle, dwellings of the Sinagua tribe, who lived there for over 300 years and suddenly disappeared with no trace around 1400.

Grand Canyon

If possible, get reservations to the campground inside the park. We didn’t know when we’d be there, when we tried to get in it was Easter weekend, so we had to drive back outside to a dumpy little RV park for $47/night. Not cool. If you go in at the South Gate, make sure that you drive to the right (east), to avoid the crowds. The Mather Point is crazy. Grandview was much more comfortable. We stayed for about 3 hours to watch the sunset. We couldn’t go down the canyon and I think it would be a whole different experience. Although the steep walk would kill me, and I wouldn’t ride mules, but I would love to do the raft trip sometime.

Death Valley

We stayed across the street from Furnace Creek, in a flat gravel parking lot, surrounded by RV’s with their generators running. Not pleasant. BUT… the stars, satellites, and Milky Way were so spectacular that it made up for it. I honestly expected lots of cactus with blooms, and was disappointed that there were none to be seen.

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