Trip Idea: The South West
Our trip through the south-west took us to 4 different states, from red rock desert to "Switzerland of America", and to a new found community of who we call "our people".
Who: 5 adults & 3 kids; ages 5, 3, & 1.5
Where: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona
Length: 6 Days
Type: Car/Off Road Trailer Camping
When: May 2018
Really this trip was all over the place which is just how we like it! We had so many ideas for this trip that we DIDN'T have time for and we'll share them all with you so you can plan your ultimate South West trip with your own family.
And so it begins...
We left our house pretty late after Andrew got home from work. I (Laura) had the bags packed, food organized, and the trailer ready to go so that we could boogie out of town quickly. We didn't really have a destination for our first night. Since we have an off-road capable camping trailer, that can basically go anywhere and be comfortable, we decided to just drive until we were too tired and find a place to camp. We ended up at Starvation Reservoir right at sunset.
Our destination for day 2 was Glenwood Hot Springs (big surprise there, I know, another hot spring) but we stopped in at Dinosaur National Monument along the way. Naturally, we HAD to earn some Jr. Ranger badges while we were there. The kids loved it and honestly so did the adults. There are so many dinosaur bones there! The girls would yell out "Dad! Look at that one! It's huge!" while looking at the ginormous wall of bones preserved in the hillside. We didn't stay long although long enough for Juniper to completely lay herself out on one of the information signs. It became very apparent as to why there were rubber protectors on the corners of the metal information signs. They are placed at a perfect height to clip a 2-year-old. Thankfully, no lasting damage occurred to either Juniper or the sign.
Glenwood was wonderful and a perfect place to spend the day as a family. While we were doing our research, we noticed that Glenwood has a new soaking location that we've never been to. We ultimately decided to go to Glenwood Hot Springs Resort because it seemed like a better fit for kids (not to mention a bit cheaper), although we'd like to check out Iron Mountain Hot Springs too someday.
The big pool is a perfect temperature to stay in all day without getting too hot or cold. There is also a hot pool that even I can only stay in for a few minutes at a time. During the summer months they open up their water slides but we were too early in the season for them. We brought snorkels and Denali spent the entire time "looking for fish".
Side Note: You can take a train from Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs! We've always wanted to do this but have yet to give it a try. It would be the perfect adventure for a little one that loves trains!
After soaking until our fingers and toes were well past pruned we drove to camp. Andrew had researched sites beforehand and found a great one that would put us halfway between Glenwood and our next destination, Ouray. It seemed like the end of the world because we were so stinkin' tired and cranky when we found out that the campground didn't open until the following week! We didn't have any service and ended up driving around looking for a place to camp. It took us what seemed like hours till we finally gave up and I walked into the only thing open in tiny Marble Colorado, a bar, and asked if they knew of a place we could camp for the night. Some nice dudes in the bar told us we could set up camp for the night at the local fire station. It was not an ideal night but we set up camp, passed out, and took off first thing in the morning. It's all about the adventure right?
Worth it scale: 7 | I'd go back to Glenwood in a heart beat. The pools are perfect for the entire family and the city itself is a great place to stay and experience.
Crystal Mill is one of the most photographed mills so naturally, we had to go check it out. Be warned people, you definitely need a hight clearance off-road vehicle for this bad boy. This is also NOT a smooth ride! By the time we got to the mill, I was SO excited to get out of the car. The drive there was absolutely incredible and stunning but wow it was rough.
A little history for ya: the mill was build in 1892 and was used to compress air for mining machinery. Andrew and I were shocked that they even had the ability to do that back then.
Worth it scale: 5 | It's a beautiful drive through gorgeous mountains and the mill itself was pretty cool to see. You drive by a few mountain lakes that were jumping with fish and the majority of the drive is next to a cascading river. The drive was quite long for our little ones (and me to be honest) and there wasn't much to do while you were there unless you were a photographer. I probably wouldn't go way out of my way to see it but if it's near where you're already headed then why not!
Ouray or Switzerland of America was next up on our adventures. We had been to Ouray as a family once before so we knew a bit what to expect. Last time we camped at Ridgway State Park but felt it was too far away from all the action for our liking so this time we wanted to stay closer to town. Amphitheater Campground was the perfect mix of being close to town but still feeling like you were in nature. We would stay here again for sure.
It didn't take us long to get from Marble to Ouray and we spent the rest of the day swimming in their hot pools. They've done some major renovation to the place, adding slides and a rock wall to climb and jump from. Along with resurfacing the other pools and adding an additional pool. It would be very hard to beat the experience you have while soaking in Ouray. The pools are nestled between towering mountain peaks and you truly feel as though you've stepped into Switzerland. Like Glenwood, the main pool is a great temperature to stay in all day if you wanted. We certainly did.
Side note: There were some pros and cons of taking this trip the weekend BEFORE Memorial Day. Pros include; less people, nice temperatures, lower rates. Cons include; campgrounds being closed and slides at both pools being closed until the following week.
Worth it Scale: 8 | Okay so i'm probably a little biased because I LOVE hot springs! Probably a bit obsessed really so this place is like heaven to me. The town of Ouray has a lot of history and walking downtown is very nice. You can also visit Ouray in the winter time to catch their ice climbing competitions. Heck, you could do some ice climbing yourself!
We had time to kill before we needed to be in Silverton Colorado for our train ride so we explored some of Ouray's 4X4 trails in the morning. My family went here when I was a kid and we took these same trails. I remember hiding my face in a pillow the entire time because I was certain we were about to fall off the side of the road in our Astro van and die at any moment! Well, I survived and going back as an adult has made me realize that I was such a freakin' scaredy cat! The roads are narrow and do have quite the drop-offs at some points but after Jeeping in Moab, it was nothing to be worried about.
Our Silverton to Durango train ride was one of the main highlights for the kids and I on this trip. You get to take an old steam engine train down a winding canyon, passing over rivers and by waterfalls. At one point you're hundreds of feet above the canyon floor and squeezing through narrow rock walls. It. Was. Amazing! One thing we grossly underestimated was how long the train ride would actually take. Most people park in Durango and take the train to Silverton and back. It's quite an expensive ride so we decided that just Denali, Sage, and I would take the train from Silverton to Durango and Andrew and Juniper would just meet us there with the car. We're really glad we did this, although it would have been fun for the entire family because it took 3.5 hours for just our one leg of the ride. The girls were ready to get off by the time we got to Durango.
Side Note: There are different car options when riding the train. We purchased an enclosed car because we were nervous about it being cold. We ended up sitting in the outdoor train car because the views where so beautiful and the weather was warm enough. We were only able to switch our cars because the train was not full but if it had been then we would have been stuck inside which I don't think we would have enjoyed as much.
As we pulled into Durango we passed by a group of boys that decided to show us their, uh, whiter parts...The girls were really confused and kept asking me "but why did those boys have their pants down?". It actually made me laugh a lot as I tried to explain why someone would do such a thing.
After 4 days of camping, we decided to clean up and stay in a hotel in New Mexico. We had points so why not? The kids played at the pool and watched some shows while mom and dad just chilled! A night off from setting up camp was really nice.
Worth it scale: 5 | As amazing of an experience as this was, the price of the tickets is what places it at a 5.
What I haven't mentioned before this point is that the entire reason this trip was planned was so we could attend the Overland Expo in Flagstaff Arizona. If we hadn't needed to head towards Arizona at this point there were many different places to explore. Places we thought about exploring were the Chaco Indian Ruins, Mesa Verde National Park, or Pagosa Hot Springs. On our way to Flagstaff, we drove through Petrified Forest National Park. While driving through I joked with Andrew about how if this was the first National Park I had ever been to that I probably wouldn't bother going to any more of them. Okay, it's really not THAT bad. Although not particularity beautiful, the fact that there is SO much petrified wood is really cool! I don't think you need more than one day in this park but it is worth stopping by.
We chose to skip the crowds and the price of camping AT the Overland Expo West and stayed Cave Springs Campground. The campground was totally a 10 in our books. Gorgeous trees, space between sites, flush toilets, they even raked the sand for us! We were actually really sad to be staying at Cave Springs for only a single night. We also chose to stay here because I had heard about a really fun natural swimming hole near Sedona Arizona called Slide Rock State Park.
Slide Rock was a total riot! The wet sandstone creates a slippery natural water slide that empties into a big swimming hole. It was pretty packed while we were there and it was still pretty early in the year so I can't imagine how busy it is in the middle of the summer. The girls thought the water was way too cold and Andrew was really nervous about little Juniper near the water and I just swam and had the time of my life. We decided we need to go back in about 4 years. We felt that we would really be able to enjoy it when our kids are a bit older.
Worth it scale: 7 | We'll be back to Sedona and Slide rock for sure! It was like this mix between Moab UT and Zion National Park. There was so much that we didn't get to explore but what we did explore was awesome! The only reason for a 7 and not a higher rating was how busy Slide Rock State Park was. We once again may lean towards this place a bit more because we love natural swimming holes.
Dinner was at the best Mexican joint with the prettiest view! We definitely give this place a thumbs up!
The Overland Expo!!! Dude, we really enjoyed ourselves at this place. I think it was mostly because we finally found "our people". Never have I felt so at home with a group of people before. We related to everyone and wanted everything! I actually ended up making a friend there who I still talk to on a regular basis. We left feeling totally inspired and excited to build ourselves another overlanding trailer. Andrew and I could have spent the entire weekend there but the kids were pretty done after an entire day of wandering around amazing tents and trailers.
If you haven't figured it out by now, Andrew and I are actually totally cool with not having a plan. Sometimes we prefer not to have a plan because it leaves the opportunity open for doing whatever comes our way. Sometimes this is fabulous and sometimes this bites us in the butt. This particular time, it bit us in the butt a bit.
We didn't have a plan of where to camp for night 6. We wanted to leave it open depending on how we felt. If we decided to spend the entire day at the expo then we could, or we could travel longer and stay closer to home. We debated staying at The Grand Canyon National Park for the night but decided it was too far out of the way for just a pit stop. Ultimately we decided to camp on the beach at Lake Powell and stopped at Big Bend in Page Arizona on the way there. Big Bend is worth the stop, the view is really beautiful.
Here is where trying to find a place to camp horror story number two comes in. We found the camping area just fine but the beach was pretty slammed. As we drove around trying to find a place to park and set up camp we ended up getting stuck in some pretty deep sand. It was late, we were hungry, and it had been a long day already so you can imagine how frustrated Andrew and I were. I decided things would be better after we got something in our stomachs so we cooked some dinner. Meanwhile, the wind kicked up and blew sand EVERYWHERE! There was sand in every corner of our trailer and every crevice of our body. We were able to eventually get ourselves unstuck from the sand after much digging and praying. Andrew and I were so shot by that point. We were donezo! It seems crazy but we decided to call it and just drive the last 6 hours home that night! It was painful but the kids fell asleep and stayed asleep for the majority of the drive which was really nice.
Well, that's it folks! Hope you enjoyed and feel inspired to go on your own journey through the South West!