After I plotted the map I found in the APP, I began researching things to do near the parks and restaurants not to miss. (I can't help myself, we really like to try to fit in everything we can when we travel). And began mapping the things I was interested in. My favorite sites to find things to do are busytourist.com, thecrazytourist.com and atlasobscura.com. I liked that these websites seem to be a great compiled lists of more than just what's popular. They seemed to have a more complete list that didn't seem driven by paid advertisers suggestions. After I added these things to the map I took a look at what was most "out of the way" on the route and decided if it was worth the extra time or not to include it on this trip. Some tuff choices were made, some things were left off due to likely being crowded and us not wanting to quite, "join the masses" yet. But overall I'm super happy with the choices we made!
The next thing I did was research each parks "things to do", to see if it was something we really would be interested in, looking to cut out parks that weren't as "epic" as others! (we had limited time for the kids spring break). The FACEBOOK group I mentioned above was really helpful for things I just couldn't decide on. You can use the search function and look for previous posts on particular things as well as create your own post asking for direct suggestions. I'm not going to lie, this road trip was a labor of LOVE! It took me weeks to put together exactly what we wanted to do.
Here's what we came up with:
Our First Stop was Big Bend National Park! This park was MASSIVE! I had a quarter tank of gas going into the park and became super scared I would run out before seeing a gas station! There was NOTHING for MILES! We opted to come in and go straight to our "hotel", which was not a hotel, called Terlingua Nights. It was actually a PERFECT spot for the night! It is a tiny cabin type accommodation, but very clean and had hammocks and fire pits you could enjoy at night. We had no idea the show the sky was about to put on that night and how clearly we could see the milky way out there! My kids hung out in the hammocks as long as I would let them! We had a Jeep tour guide meeting us at 5am to make it down to the Santa Elena Canyon for sunrise portraits, so it could not be a late night! The next morning we woke up early and went on the most AMAZING private Jeep Tour. Our tour guide was worth every penny as he knew all the BEST spots for pictures and helped us to get to just the right spots within the sunrise. We started at the Santa Elena Canyon and to watch the sunrise light up the canyon was really a sight to be seen! We spent 3 hours with our guide and that was definitely not enough time to see ALL of Big Bend, but it was just enough for this road trip!
We left Big Bend about 11 and began our drive to White Sands National Park. It was a 7 hour drive. Along the way we stopped for the Prada Marfa Art instillation we saw on the side of the road. It was just when we needed a break from driving so it was great to get out and stretch our legs and take a quick picture. We went straight to our hotel after the drive because we had planned to do the White Sands National Park at sunrise. We arrived at 7am and it was EPIC! (Note that the visitor center does not open until 9, so if you plan on needed a disk to slide, bring it with you!) This was one of my FAVORITE stops for portraits. It really was such a beautiful, one of a kind place and I could have photographed there all day! But, we had plans to be in Arizona so we left at about 9am.
Our drive to Tucson was about 5 1/2 hours. We went to my grandparents house to visit and took them on the drive through Saguaro National Park. It really is a "drive thru" park which was PERFECT for my grandparents mobility. There are several overlooks that we got out and took pictures at, but mostly we just enjoyed the view while catching up. They took us to dinner after at the base of the mountain, Saguaro Corners Restaurant . It had large windows where we could watch the sunset and local wildlife. The food was fantastic! We stayed the night and then headed to Sedona after breakfast.
Sedona was the most BEAUTIFUL place I have ever seen! I lost my ever loving photographer mind as we drove in! It took about 4 1/2 hours to get there from Tucson. The red mountains were SPECTACULAR! I could not wait to get my camera out! We had scheduled a fun jeep adventure for the late evening and it was the MOST FUN THING we did on our trip! We chose the high adventure one and we have never giggled so much! SO FUN! I cannot recommend this excursion enough! We stayed the night and chose a fire grilled pizza restaurant near our hotel for dinner. The Next morning we went to meet a friend at the Mesa Grill Sedona. It was a really fantastic restaurant at the airport where you could watch the planes coming and going. The food was absolutely so yummy! It was on the pricier side, but so worth it! We left about 10 to head to our grand canyon helicopter ride. I wish I had more time to explore this area. It really was a cool place and I WILL BE BACK! I think it would make for a PERFECT girls trip!
It took about 2 1/2 hours to get to the Grand Canyon from Sedona. The drive was Beautiful though so we enjoyed every minute of it! As we were arriving we noticed the weather was getting foggy. Turns out a snowfall was coming in and it would ground our planned helicopter ride. We decided to just drive up to the Grand Canyon visitor center ourselves to take a few pictures. It was very cold, but the grand canyon was so worth it to see! I actually grew up in Arizona but had never been so it was fun for it to be my first experience with my kids! We didn't stay too long with the storm rolling in we knew we needed to get to our hotel before dark. As we were leaving they shut down a major road because of snow and our GPS re routed us through a 10+ mile dirt road! ( FYI GPS does not work very well at national parks so you should plan for your route out until it can pick up signal again) It was so scary to be driving on a deserted dirt road out in the middle of nowhere with a storm coming in! BUT, we made it! AND there was an unexpected GORGEOUS view on the other side! I can't even tell you where we were exactly, but the views from this point forward on our trip were SPECTACULAR! We made it to our hotel in Page that night. We chose the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel. It was BEAUTIFUL there and the PERFECT choice for the night. The views from the hotel were PERFECT!
The next day we left EARLY because we needed to be all the way to Arches National Park by dark that day and we wanted to try to fit in a glimpse of the Big 5 along the way! (This is quite a task and not recommended if you truly want to explore each one) First up was Zion National Park. it was about 3 hours from Page. There was morning snow falling so were not sure if we were going to make it to this one, but we pushed on and made the visit more of a "drive thru". BUT, It was stunning to see these red mountains dusted with snow! We got some really amazing pictures here! I honestly thought the snow made it that much more magical!
After Zion, we drove to Bryce Canyon National Park. This took about 5 hours. This park had most of it closed off due to the weather (it was really coming down by this time) so we just went to the overlook that was open. It too, was a sight to be seen with all the snow! It reminded me a little of the grand canyon at this viewpoint with such a vast canyon to look onto. We were here about 45 minutes before we headed to Canyonlands. (we decided to skip Capitol Reef).
The drive between these parks was AMAZING! There was snow on one side of the road but not the other and after every beautiful view came another along the way. This part of our drive was THE BEST! We were suppose to meet friends in Canyonlands but they were running late so we didn't stay long here either. It took about 5 hours to get from Bryce Canyon to Canyonlands. We only went to the first look out area as it was dusk and would be dark soon. I LOVED Utah so much that I can totally see us going back to enjoy these parks more thoroughly in the future! The colors and differences in each park were so fun to photograph. I would love to meet clients at these parks one day. The MAGIC that I can see being captured in each of these places makes my creative soul sour! I'm so inspired! So, If you want to book a photographer on your next trip, CALL ME! I'd love to create a little MAGIC at these EPIC locations with you!
We finally made it to our hotel for the night. Red Cliffs Lodge! The drive in was BEAUTIFUL but it's a one lane road on the side of the cliffs! A little nerve racking when it was starting to get dark and you're not sure where you are going, but BREATHTAKING the next morning when we were leaving to head to Arches. Our friends stayed with us at this BEAUTIFUL Hotel and honesty, i'd go back just for the hotel! It was a sight to be seen. The property was absolutely STUNNING!! Our rooms were joined so the kids could go between and play. It had a separate table area in the rooms where they played cards most of the night. They had horses you could ride (we didn't have enough time to do this) and a museum too! Apparently, a lot of movies have been shot out there. I could absolutely see why. I am so obsessed with this hotel! We ate breakfast there before heading out to Arches with our friends and it was SO GOOD! Both dinner the night before and breakfast at the hotel were some of my favorite meals of the trip. I plan to go back here the next time we are in this part of Utah for sure!
PICTURES COMING SOON!
We went to Arches first thing in the morning because we had heard they start to fill up and close the entrance pretty early. With Covid, apparently we were not the only people who thought a national park vacation would be a good idea! We explored Arches National Park with our friends for hours. It really was a beautiful park to see. We still didn't have time to do every hike, and see every arch, but we did see a lot in the 4 hours we were there and captured some really great portraits too!
PICTURES COMING SOON!
Next, we began our decent home, back to Texas! We had planned to go to Colorado but they were about to have an unexpected MAGOR storm so we did not think it was a great idea to continue on. Instead we split the 14 hour drive home in half staying the night along the way. This drive home was SO BORING compared to the Beauty that was Sedona to Arches. But, it was nice to be home after this long trip! 3,298 miles and 55 hours of driving!
This was my first LONG road trip, but now i'm hooked!
I'm already planning for an epic summer trip up the east coast next.
I cannot recommend this road trip enough. We got some much needed time out of the house, FINALLY, and we got to take pictures in some of the U.S's most BEAUTIFUL places! I would absolutely do this again!