My Christmas Southwest Solo Road Trip

Overview

Total of 5200miles travelled for a length of 3 weeks

Bing Maps

National Parks (9):

  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  • White Sands National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Death Valley National Park 

National Monuments (3):

  • Chiricahua National Monument
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument

States Travelled (10):

  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • California
  • Oregon

Expenses

CategorySum of Amount
Food & Drink-624.19
Gas-445.65
Hotel* Exclude Points-912.34
Shopping-21.48
Travel-121.9
Grand Total-2125.56
Travel includes all the entrance tickets and parking.

Hotel Points spent:

ChainPoints
IHG10000 + 2 Certificates
Hilton72000
I value the above for about $250 for IHG (0.5pp) and $288 for Hilton (0.4pp)

In total I consider lodging expense is about $1450 or roughly $85 a day for total 17 days. Note In Austin I stayed with friends for 3 days.

Why did I travel?

I guess this can be a summary of me lacking friends or families in the USA. I’ve stayed for holidays in the past years, it almost always got me depressed. I could blame on the weather, the lack of motivation when workload is low and sky is always gray.

I’ve been to the USA for more than 11 years by now, I’ve been only taken less than one every 2 years thus out of the 50 states I was only able to see a handful. USA is big, I guess the pandemic forced me to focus on my second home country more. It was rather sad that I have only been to 3 out of 58 national parks in the States before this trip and all of them were in Washington. I simply had seen too little.

Itineraries

Day 1

I got up at around 6am to do some last minute loading and ready for the road. Days before I went to REI to get a warm cloth and winter gears for the road. I even got an Autosock as an alternative to snow chains. None of those turned to be actually needed, as the weather was as cleared at it can be and it was warmer than I anticipated even in snow zones.

Snowy maintains on I90, this is at a rest stop just after Snoqualmie Pass
Some grassy areas in Eastern Washington before branching off to I84
At a rest stop right before Boise. Enjoying a bit sun break. I remembered the temperature being around 50F. Quite warm for the time being
American BBQ at a restaurant next to the Hotel I was staying at in Boise. Indoor dining was enjoyable since I haven’t had it for quite some time due to the lock downs in Washington. The server was quite friendly and chatty, despite there were moderately amount of customers in the restaurant it felt there were just more servers who were desperate for work. I left a decent tips.

Day 2

Started early in the beautiful Boise
Passing through some Snowy mountain backs towards Utah. I’ve been on this road a few years back in my way back from Minneapolis before I left for BCT, driving the opposite direction gives you different angle of views.
Last rest stop before Moab, UT. Quite clear and sunny, though a bit cold but nevertheless it’s good spirit. The stop was quite but you can sense during summer seasons this would be popular among tourists.

Day 1 & 2 are mostly just driving, I have enjoyed the route both in Utah and from Washington to Idaho. Though I probably didn’t do a good job documenting the job. After all it was for me to enjoy the solidarity.
I had Thai for dinner, great food and service. It was a bit pricy (I think I ordered a fried rice, it was $16 pre tax and tips. I somehow had the impress that Utah was a bit more affordable, I guess not)

Day 3

Arches day

Even just the entrance of the Park was just stunning. Crystal clear blue sky
First Arch stop
I think the pictures definitely don’t do enough justice to the majestic view of those natural formations.
Had the entire Arch myself, hearing my own echo while stepping under the Arch was just mesmerizing
I am guessing it was for Asian tourists. Though at the time I didn’t see any.
The Dedicated Arch from distance
I am guessing this is the most important picture

My phone magically died right before I was my turn to go under the Arch. Nevertheless, the hike to the Arch was quite nice. Enough to get your legs worked out but not long enough for total exhaustion. It was a nice introduction of my beloved hiking activity again.

Landscape Arch

There were quite a few trails I would love to more but couldn’t get to all of them due to time constraint.

Soon after the Arches, it was almost late afternoon and time to head to the nearby Canyonlands.

I only managed to snap one picture as most of the spots were closed

It was definitely a bit longer drive that I initially thought from Arches to Canyonlands. My final stop for the night was Cortez, CO. Just outside of Mesa Verde.

I arrived the town quite late, I quickly checked in to the Holiday Inn Express Mesa Verde-Cortez and had a quick dinner and drink next to it (the Hotel staff gave me a 10% off coupon). It was quite busy the restaurant (Destination Grill). Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep that well due to that I had chosen a room close to the elevator and the Ice machine was waking me up every half an hour at night. For $68.88 a night with taxes I shouldn’t really complain. The only thing was that there Texan family who drove an Volvo SUV did not wear masks in the hotel lobby ignoring the clear signs. I don’t think the staff said anything. I feel bad and also a bit irony in those people’s mind.

Day 4

I had a really early start (I think left the hotel right around dawn)
It was an impressive dwelling done by the Pueblos. The large part of the trail was closed.
Some view points in the park. Again, the my camera doesn’t quite do the justice.

Mesa Verse was pretty quiet in that morning, and the closure of almost all the major spots didn’t help either. I quickly made a descent and continued East towards New Mexico.

Random Colorado town, quite scenic. I chose this route partially to avoid shutdown situations in New Mexico. It turned out not to be as bad as I thought in the end however.

A prime truck park along the rural highway, was not expecting finding one there. I am guessing even in rural America people still stop on Amazon?
The major reason why I took the detour
Ice and Sands. In summer it would be quite difficult to ascend due to the heat trapped in the sands.
A random old train station in Trinidad.

I stopped in Trinidad to get food and gas before heading to Raton, NM for my night of staying. I wish I stayed in Trinidad for the night though, the downtown was lovely to explore over sunset time. It felt lively and walkable. I chose to stay at Raton largely due to the cheaper hotel and also closer to Texas for my next day long drive to Austin.

Sunset and entering New Mexico

Day 5

Started my day before Dawn due to the 10+hour drive plus timezone difference.
Had to stop for this very famous sign. Welcome to Texas!

Didn’t take many pictures zig zagging through rural Texas from NM all the way to Austin. It was definitely convoluted route that Google Maps was able to derive thankfully. The temperature was just progressively gets warmer and warmer. It was probably low 20s in Raton and by the time I passed by Lubbock, TX it was already above 50F. Approaching Austin, I could have the windows down in my car already.

My first impression about Texas was 1. Gas was incredibly cheap, which explains why everything can be big. Though there were also plenty of EVs visible as well. 2. Drivers aren’t crazy as I was imaging how people drive there.

At night, I ordered Texan BBQ to treat the family that hosting me for the next 3 nights. It was delightful with the Margaritas

Day 6

Christmas Eve! The reason I was quite in a rush is to get to Austin by the 24th, Dec. Turns out, Hispanics do their Christmas dinner on the Eve instead of the Americans do the next day.

What a lovely day. I don’t celebrate Christmas normally but it was nice to be with friends. Thanks to Stephanie and Oscar for hosting.

I think one thing I learned is that Hispanics are quite similar to their fellow Americans when comes this type of traditions despite how media portray them differently. I guess it was more of less a surprise as someone coming from Asia.

Day 7

There’s many things I enjoy in life, but nothing beats in a December out with just a T-shirt. I had my first run in park in probably a few month.
Texan ducks?
A park on top a hill in Austin. Was really really busy that day, but nevertheless the view is stunning. This was in Mount Bonnell
River view in the same park, I think I should really just stay in Austin over the winter months.
Got some Asian from Austin 99Ranch for dinner

It was just a peaceful day to enjoy my 2020 Christmas. Something I definitely would not have had I just stayed in Washington

Day 8

Today I finally got the chance to go out and explore Austin downtown.

My hair? haircut?
People do water sports there too!
Downtown Austin is a mix of the past and new.
Yeah, even Seattle doesn’t get any of those
Random street sign
Look, I found some Trump protesters too
Me at the state Capitol

There’s quite a few things I learned about the Texas history, perhaps unsurprisingly it’s close ties to its motherland Mexico.

Even enjoyed a good Belgium beer in town
One last picture of the lovely park in Austin downtown before sun goes down
I did some shopping at the HMart in Austin, quite large and impressive. I used to think Seattle has good Asian scene, this trip has really taught me to look outside of the box. I am fully committed to find a winter home next year.

Day 9

Leisurely got up in Austin and said goodbye to my good friends who hosted my throughout Christmas and made my way to San Antonio.

The first stop was the Botanic Gardens. It was more of less a tourist trap. Nevertheless, the lake there was nice.

Up next was the Japanese Garden, again it wasn’t bad but with the amount of crowds it just didn’t meet the bar.
Finally got a chance to walk through the San Antonio river walk. Again, incredibly touristy. More of so it was probably me out of a place being a solo traveler.
The Alamo. It was fully booked that I wasn’t able to get in either.
Had a nice dinner at the local Hispanic market. Good meal for sure, but it was also $50. But hey, you have to spend money to have a good time right?

Day 10

Time to leave Texas and head back to New Mexico!

Cheapest Premium gas I had ever gotten in my life
Random rest stop in Texas
85MPH is probably too slow for the road
Stopped a random Vietnamese restaurant in TX before heading to Carlsbad. I normally don’t eat lunch, the reason I got lunch was again trying to avoid contacts in NM
My gorgeous hotel (Candlewood Suites Carlsbad South) room in Carlsbad. I got a suite upgrade I think.

Day 11

Woohoo, Carlsbad!

My signature ugly face again.
Morning scenery while waiting for the cave to open
Hello cave!
It’s deep!
The most floors I’ve seen? It was nice to walk one way down and take the elevator up!

After Carlsbad, and it was time to hit to Guadalupe Mountains

I didn’t really get to do much other than snap a picture since it was just on the road to White Sands.
I thought it was upgraded to National Park status.
It was getting late hence I didn’t get to take many pictures.
A first rest top in Arizona
And a big beer to calm me through the night.

I stayed at Holiday Inn Express in Willcox, AZ for only 10k IHG points, what a steal!

Day 12

I was in Arizona! First step was to see Chiricahua National Monument.

Found this random Germany car parked by the Visitor Center for some reasons.
First image of those rocks. It was a rather cold morning
It’s magical to see how the rocks just lay on top of each other
Did a little hike to find my favorite rock!
Another angle
The landscape there is amazing too

I drove to Tucson and stayed there for the night, it was much warmer than the mountain top for sure.

Day 13

It’s last day of the year, while waiting for the Ball to drop I decided to spend some time with the cacti and the Sonoran desert.

It was hovering around 30F or below. Quite cold in the early morning.

I guess either I was just very energetic and decided to get up uber early or rather followed those summer guides which all recommended going to the desert in the early mornings to avoid the heat.. Except there’s no heat in winter.

I was semi-surprised that Arizona, a state Biden carried, actually has pretty strict social distancing rules.
Javalina – they call it Desert Pig.. it’s not even close to a hog at all.
Longhorn. I learned this word back in the Windows Vista days. Nevertheless it is a majestic animal, very handsome!
Probably the only NP that’s so close to a metropolitan

They say it’s my new hat. I like it
Getting ready for the new year!

In the afternoon while there’s still warmth in the desert, I decided to tour Pima Air & Space Museum. I was surprised how big this place is. I wasn’t expecting much coming from another Airspace stronghold state. This Museum is hands down the best even for a casual aviation person like me

Yes, this is a dreamliner!

Day 14

It’s the New Year! It also means it’s time to move to Phoenix

Did a short hike in a state park in between Tucson and Phoenix. The parking lot was full for the longer trail due to being a holiday. I opted to enjoy solitude over the easy route.
Another NM!

After the NM, I decided to go see the Heart Museum

I am not an artistic person, it’s also interesting to learn some history where those sort of “White Men’s Burden” happened in repeat.

Finally, I moved my way to Scottsdale, a hippy neighborhood to enjoy some good food and beers.

The ribs and fries are delicious. It was a German beer hall, I felt a bit guilty in ordering American generic food.

I stayed in a Holiday Inn in the neighborhood, partially due to I wanted to be walkable. It wasn’t quite as walkable as I would like. I think probably in the summers it’s just not very pleasant to walk around with over 100F degree desert heat.

I had originally planned to see if there’s any camping oppurtunies, but seeing how full the state park was on my way to PHX, I quickly dispersed my wish. For some reasons, I thought being from PNW has a better chance in beating perhaps-not-so-active Arizonians?

Day 15

I got up relatively leisurely since I decided on just staying in the city for one more night than fighting space in a more touristy Sedona where I planned on visiting next.

North Mountain Park

I enjoyed the quite Saturday morning while overlooking greater Phoenix. It was very relaxing enjoying the sun slowly getting up and warm the earth.

Too bad my first planned stop @ Camelback Mountains didn’t work out due to the parking lot was complete full at 8am 🙁

After that, I decided to head to Phoenix Mountains Preserve

It was again, jam packed but I was very lucky to secure a spot at very end of the park where someone’s leaving. I say very lucky was indeed that when I saw a steady inflow of cars circling the park lot throughout the afternoon while I was with the mountain.

I was really amazed how many good hikes were out there in the PHX area. Totally transformed my views on deserts.

While I was relaxing (it wasn’t super difficult of a hike, just a bit over 1mile and 1k elevation gain. Being in hibernation mode probably totally destroyed my fitness level), there’s a Christian follower chatting with Turkish guy with the intend to convert. The Turkish guy was much older and just listened and replied in line with something like aren’t religions the same? Basically one Truth vs. another.

I went back to my hotel early after exhausted from the hikes. I initially wanted to go to another restaurant. After stopping by a Safeway to get some water and discovered the delicious looking BBQ wings, I decided to just get wings and ate with my leftover food from my previous night. I could afford a fancy meal, but wasting food isn’t probably a good thing regardless. As I always quote, people in Africa are starving.

Some soju and proteins in my stomach I quickly fell in my deepest dream.

Day 16

Last Sunday before back to Seattle again. This means I will have to start driving north.

Pinnacle Peak Park

One last hike to warm up before heading to the red country!

Enjoyable AZ highway!

I decided to take the advise from the book and took AZ87 instead of interstate to stop by Payson

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Much of the State Park was closed, still great to see the Bridge however. The Park ranger gave me a coupon that I can come back again for free until June or something. Who knows, maybe I will go back?

More desert pigs!
Montezuma Castle National Monument

Stopped by a few NP sites on my way to Sedona!

Montezuma Well (Montezuma Castle National Monument)

And boom!

Sedona!
A Church
Airport Mesa

For some reason was so motivated to even do another moderate trail

Cathedral Rock
The peak
It’s the rock climbing in reverse

Don’t know how I got that much energy in a day, maybe the red rocks are just motivating? No wonder I lost to much weight!

I had a delicious Thai curry that night and went to sleep in the Holiday Inn. The receptionist was so friendly, he recognized my address home as he’s from the Greater Washington area too. What a small world, since I was the only 3 guests home, he gave me a Suite upgrade! In for a treat!

Day 17

More RedRock Arch? – Devil’s Bridge 
Boynton Pass Vortex

There were a student teacher couple that sat on top of the Vortex playing instruments. Before the each play the instructor always said his prayers. I thought it was pretty cool

After saying goodbye to the Red Country I made my way to Slide Rock State Park. It was $10 for the entrance fees. A bit pricy for such a small park, nevertheless it’s enjoyable and relaxing

After that I took continued the Sedona – Flagstaff Scenic route north. Though too bad, West Fork Trail was packed and not allowing more cars. I decided to check in to my hotel in Flagstaff early. The reception was friend and asking me how I liked Washington that she had a friend that lived in Bellingham but too bad she didn’t get to visit before the friend had to move to Colorado for a new job

There’s Amtrak that stops here. You can come either from Chicago or LA.
A beer to watch trains passing by. The brewery was quite tech savvy. It’s not just menu online, it’s fully automated. You put your payment online and the food are drinks are brought onto your table! Very cool

I ended the day early figured I’d just get up early the next day. Besides vacation means relaxation too, no need to torture myself.

Day 18

Finally, Grand Canyon day!

First stop is the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

It was quite cold, so I didn’t do a hike. It was part of a scenic route to get to Wupatki National Monument

Unfortunately, it was quite a detour I had to take due to the fact that the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon was closed. I was really hoping it would open, but yeah too bad.

Mather Point

To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the first part of the Canyon that much. It was just so overly crowded. Especially the trail was icy and snowy, that made it harder to dodge crowds.

The second part which is the drive to Desert View was much better

Not sure why my eyes were so brown

It was getting quite dark due to I wasted so much time taking detours earlier. I quickly descended towards Williams, AZ

Maybe I was tired or just frozen, I went to the bar next to my hotel. For some reasons I didn’t go in from the front entrance. Thus made me waited for 15 mins without service and I had to make an angry inquiry about it.

Day 17

Vegas, baby, Vegas! To be honest, I wasn’t too excited since I don’t find casinos or strip clubs interesting even to a slightest bit.

View point on NV93
here comes the Hoover Dam!

The security there was quite intense, seems to be back in the Cold war era again.

Lake Mead
Historic Railroad Hiking Trail

A nice flat trail. Tons of locals enjoying the day. Though I probably walked a bit far than I planned. I kept bumming to the same people and were offered advises on what other trails were good.

The campground was open, since I purposely hadn’t booked my hotel stay yet and hoping something spontaneous would happen. Then, I decided I should give Vegas a chance since I am already there practically.

I checked in to my hotel, cracked a beer open and waited for my delicious Pho to arrive. After a short break, it’s completely dark and ready for Prime time.

Fountains of Bellagio

Everything was quite commercial. With bars and restaurants mostly stayed closed on a cool Wednesday January night I didn’t stay long before heading back. I guess I have to come back for the buffets next time around.

Day 18

Bitter sweet, it’s time to the last major stop – Death Valley. I have definitely underestimated how magical that place is. Probably the only place I want to say that I wish I had more itme.

The first stop is the Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon

Even downtown Vegas is insight

The Red Rock is definitely amazing, but it’s also time to get to Death Valley

Dante’s View
Zabriskie Point
Artists Dr

I didn’t get enough time to do any hikes. Just quickly sped through the famous stops.

I stayed in a motel in Beatty. There’s very delicious BBQ joint in town which I enjoyed profusely. The motel wasn’t bad, water pressure was good and the heat was on when I checked in. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep as well due to the loudness of the AC. The bedding was bit moldy smelling.

Day 19

Started in Nevada desert and heading towards Oregon. I didn’t take any pictures and stopped at all. For one thing it was 8.5hrs drive, another thing I hit major construction that already put things behind and then snow storm approaching Central Oregon.

Fortunately, I didn’t arrive too late in town of Burns, OR. I checked in @4pm, and thinking it’d be another motel. The Best America Value Inn really surprised me. It was clean, organized (key card access) and even has breakfast provided. Bedding was pretty nice, not upscale per say but definitely nice and comfortable.

Day 20

Last day before home. I started relatively early so that in case another snow storm again I’d have time to spare.

It’s probably the coldest day I’ve ever experienced after Minnesota
Approaching Mt. Hood was beautiful

Mt. Hood drive was both beautiful and also busy. All those weekends snowshoers. I didn’t take pictures since there was no rest stop along the way for some reasons.

Driving back through I5 was uneventfully. After reached in Bellevue I was hoping to get some Asian groceries. The line quickly cancelled my last hope.

I got home before dark. It was warmer than I imagined, less cloudy. Spring was almost here it seems? Maybe I carried enough sunshine with me back. Who knows. The first stare at my computer screen again after 21 days was strange. The fonts seemed smaller than I remembered, I needed more time in search the icons I wanted to click.

Back to my regular life.

Afterthought

I quickly rejoined my old life. Work to exhaustion, eat some food and drink to go to bed. USA is so beautiful and vast and yet I am hiking in a corner trying to ever beyond reach corporate ladder. Often time, I think I am very jealous of my coworker’s wife Azami. A campervan is all that’s needed. She might not be rich, but she’s surely free. Yet, I continue to bury myself in the glory-seeking. Earning money to make myself feel good about numbers in my bank accounts?

I have thought about taking a gap year. Pandemic happened. All God’s plan it seems. Is He calling me to just get a house and settle down and learn to enjoy happiness of family life that everyone around me is doing? Maybe, I am not just adventurous enough where the most consistent part of all my failures is still me, and only me.

Closing

Special thanks to friends who hosted me in Austin. Friends didn’t forget asking my whereabouts whilst I am on the road. Friends that inspire me to travel and take risks.

3 comments

  1. Amazing! Thanks for sharing your travel story. World is big, thus we should continue our adventure. Love your free soul!

  2. Aww! I finally read about your adventures. I have had a lot of freedom and I have definitely treasured every moment of it, but there is always a need for balance. Career came first for you, but now that you have the skills and the stability, I hope you get to explore and adventure to your hearts content. There is so much to enjoy out there! You can have the best of both worlds!

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