We are really late with our blog posts, and we are trying our best to catch up so here is the 3rd and final part of our road trip by car in the American West. We will keep you posted !
This incredibly famous site (thanks to Western-type movies) is located on the Navajo reserve. After paying the entry fee onto the site, you immediately face the iconic 3 buttes, and the view is spectacular ! A new campground just opened in front of these natural monuments, so we happily planted our tent over there. Even better, there are very few people visiting this time of year, so we were the only ones on the campground !
We then took the road which goes around inside the valley: 27km of a half-paved road that probably hasn’t been maintained in the past 30 years. If you don’t want to risk damaging your rental car you can take one of the many guided tours offered on site, but if you drive slowly and carefully it’s definitely manageable.
The best part of our visit there was definitely watching the sunrise over the buttes while getting out of the tent.
Bandelier National Monument
We wanted to visit Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado as it looked fantastic (ruins of an ancient village built under a cliff). Unfortunately, the park is closed every winter. As our friend Uschi would say, it’s a good excuse to come back !
We therefore went to New Mexico directly, with our first stop in Bandolier National Monument. These ruins are visited with a little guide-book in hand that gives you a ton of information about ancestral puebloans (native americans who lived in the “Four corners” : Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico). We thought we would find some warmth by going to New Mexico, but we didn’t know that most of the state is actually above 2000m in altitude… In any case, this national monument is quite nice and makes for an interesting half-day stop.
We arrived in the city on the 11th of November, which is celebrated as Veterans Day in the USA. By chance, we arrived in the centre of town when the parade started. After a few groups on foot and a few floats, most of the parade was actually composed of old american sports car, which was strange to us ! Little anecdote: Tracy got to shake hands with the mayor of Santa Fe (who was surprisingly young and handsome) and he even gave her an American flag 🙂
The city in itself is very pretty and contrasts with the other american cities we have seen. Indeed, all the buildings are low adobe ones (all new buildings must be similar by law in order to keep a uniform visual style). There were lots of small markets full of colours, pearls, buffalo skulls and crowns of dried chilli peppers. Fun fact, the oldest church in the USA is in Santa Fe (it was built in 1610).
Petroglyph National Monument and Newspaper Rock National Historic Monument
These 2 national monuments offer numerous petroglyphs carved in the rock by ancestral puebloans (and the first spanish settlers for a few of them). Although their meaning has often been lost, the petroglyphs represent the spirit of the ancestors of modern-day puebloans and therefore are a big part of their heritage.
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, has been famous recently for being where the TV show ‘Breaking Bad’ was supposed to happen. We only visited the historic old town, and we really enjoyed it. The city seems to blend a US spirit with what we imagine Mexico is. An interesting place to see !
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
None of the photos we took can truly give the sense of awe and immensity we had when we entered this gigantic cathedral-like network of caves. A well made paved path allows the visitors to explore the cave by themselves, and the artificial lights installed by the rangers nicely emphasize the speleothems without giving the impression that you are visiting Disneyland either.
We managed to get 2 tickets for a half-day guided tour with 2 rangers. After having crawled, climbed and squeezed ourselves through tiny tunnels, we arrived at the Hall of the white giant : an enormous dome surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites, all coated in white. Fantastic ! This guided tour allowed us to enjoy this network of caves in a different way, and once again we were extremely pleased with the quality of the services offered by the NPS (National Park Service).
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located 30 minutes away from Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains National Park was our only stop in Texas. We had a really nice day over there hiking in the park among very colourful trees like the bright red maple trees (autumn is a great time to go over there).
White sands National Monument
The pictures, like the name of this place, speak of themselves: it’s white, it stretches beyond the horizon, you can run in the dunes and even sled (but let’s be honest, it costs 15$ and it doesn’t really work all that well) 🙂
After getting the appropriate permit at the visitor centre, we hiked in the dunes and planted our tent there. Watching the sunset and sunrise alone, sitting on top of a dune felt liberating, we loved it !
Joshua Tree National Park
This famous Californian park combines two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, and is full of extraordinary trees, the Joshua Trees, which are part of the Yucca family. We timed it so that we would be there at the end of the day, and the golden light of the sunset made our visit even better. Fun fact : Clement saw a tarantula crossing the road !
With all the campgrounds inside the park being full, we went north to plant our tent in a BLM (dispersed camping). Although this place was not recommended if there were chances of rain, we banked on the fact that a ranger had told us the forecast looked good and on the fact that we were in a desert.
The way back
Of course, it started raining at 3 o’clock in the morning. Fearing the car would get stuck, we packed our stuff and the tent as quickly as we could. In less than 30 minutes, the ground had gone from dry and hard-packed to a giant mud pool that sticks to absolutely everything. Just walking around for one minute we had 5cm of mud stuck under our shoes, and you can imagine how the tent looked like… But on the bright side, leaving this early we thought we would avoid the traffic jam around LA.
The traffic jam started at 5am, and only lasted for about 50 miles… As soon as we managed to get out of there, we went straight for the coast to take the road 1 and enjoy the spectacular views of the Pacific ocean.
We saw quite a lot of different animals during this trip, here are a few that we managed to photograph during the past month:
After 8000km in this wonderful Mitsubishi rental car, we have reached the end of the road trip.
We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and it is full of memories and emotions that we meet again with our friends Quentin and Hawa for Thanksgiving !