Southwest Road Trip

One day, we got a text from our Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Rich asking if we’d be interested in touring the Southwest for a week. After our cousin, Maria, told us she and her fiancé, Gabriel, would be getting married in his home town of Nogales, Mexico, our Aunt and Uncle went to work creating a pre-wedding adventure!

It all started with the map…

If we were going to drive from Albuquerque to Nogales, we weren’t gonna miss a thing!

Some of the stops included the Petrified Forest, Antelope Canyon, The Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Silverton/ Durango. Of course, Kathleen and I were more concerned about the food stops along the way!

After consulting Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, every “must-see” online list, and friends, we sat around Kathleen and Rich's kitchen table and came up with a dream itinerary! Check out the itinerary, our day-by-day activities, and photos of everything!


Day 1 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Day 2 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta + Three States

Day 3 l Narrow Gauge Train

Day 4 l Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Horseshoe Bend, and Texas BBQ

Day 5 l Antelope Canyon + The Grand Canyon

Day 6 l Devil's Bridge, Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita + Chapel of the Holy Cross

Day 7 l Tucson

Day 8 l Wedding Day!

Day 1 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Day 1 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

  • Fly into in Albuquerque

  • Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Sunset

  • Shop for road trip goodies!

Rich and Kathleen arrived in Albuquerque two hours before Samantha, my mom, and I so they went to Sam's Club to pick up road-trip necessities. We landed without a hitch... until I went to pull my bag off the conveyor belt. The second I pulled on the handle, the zipper snapped! Socks were being thrown at me from kind strangers down the belt and three people helped me grab the bag. Eventually we figured it out - who knew American Airlines has a "Baggage Hospital"

Six days of our 8-day trip was spent living out of the trash bag Samantha is holding in the photo since our bag was in Texas being fixed hahahha

We quickly dropped our bags at the hotel and went to the Sunset Session of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta! Even though we didn't get to see the balloons fly on the first evening, it was so cool to watch the balloons light up and dance in the night!

*I took this video! Samantha would have been much more steady :)

Day 2 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta + Three States

​ Day 2 l Hot Air Balloon Fiesta + Three States

  • New Mexico: Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Sunrise

  • Arizona: Petrified Forest

  • Colorado: Night in Durango, CO

When the alarms went off at 4am I was thankful my body was still on East Coast time! We headed to the final day of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta for the Final Sendoff! Hundreds of balloons went up at the same time! I've never seen anything like it!

We left Albuquerque and drove three and a half hours west to the Petrified Forest in Arizona! We heard mixed reviews about the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Some people said it was cool but not worth a trip, other people said it's a must-do. Here's my review! I LOVED it! As much as I think Pennsylvania wins the fall with our mountains and changing leaves, I had my head out the window like a dog looking at the pinks, greens, and dark purples that painted the mountains of Arizona!

After checking out Arizona, we hopped in the car and drove four hours up to Durango, Colorado for the night!

Day 3 l Narrow Gauge Train

Day 3 l Narrow Gauge Train

The Narrow Gauge Train is known for the views and they did not disappoint! We took the train up to Silverton, spent a few hours in the town, then took a bus back down.

Tips for a day on the Durango - Silverton Narrow Gauge Train:

  1. Check ahead to see if they are in season! If you go during off season or close to the end of the season (like we did) many of the attractions in Silverton are closed.

  2. Thee Pitts Again - Do not miss this food stop! Featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and I miss it already!

Day 4 l Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Horseshoe Bend, and Texas BBQ

Day 4 l Mesa Verde, Four Corners, Horseshoe Bend, and Texas BBQ in Arizona

The Mesa Verde Tour is a no-brainer, must-do! Inexpensive and one of the best tours of the trip! With little planning, we lucked out and our tour guide has been there longer than any other guide. His respect for the space and the ancestors that once inhabited Mesa Verde was felt by the group and his knowledge was a gift!

At the end of the tour he asked if we would mind if he played a song of gratitude to the spirits of Mesa Verde on a flute his grandfather taught him how to make. I still get chills listening to it!

After Mesa Verde, we headed to Four Corners! Was Four Corners the best part of the trip? No, but it's cool to say we've done it! We grabbed a photo and left to the next adventure!

If you go to Horseshoe Bend, bring water and babywipes! Your shoes and socks will be filled with sand and it is totally worth it! My advice, go at sunset! It's unreal! But heads up, post sunset, HUSTLE out if you want to go to Big John's Texas BBQ! The restaurant lines are no joke!

Big John's Texas BBQ. I cannot stress this enough, if you do one thing on this itinerary, eat here! My words won't do justice to the mouth watering Brisket Nachos that came into my life on Tuesday October 15, 2019.

Day 5 l Antelope Canyon + The Grand Canyon

Day 5 l Antelope Canyon + The Grand Canyon

  • Antelope Canyon

  • Lower Antelope Canyon

  • Upper Antelope Canyon

  • South Rim Grand Canyon

  • Dinner in Flagstaff

  • Night in Sedona

While the mystery of where the Microsoft screen saver photo was taken will forever drive me crazy (both the tour guides at Lower AND Upper Antelope Canyon claimed it was at their perspective canyons) this was my favorite (non-food) stop along the way!

I prefer Lower Antelope Canyon to Upper Antelope Canyon. Upper is better if you have trouble walking or climbing steps and is said to be better for photos but the experience at Lower Antelope Canyon, in my opinion, was worth every step and still left us with as many beautiful photos as we snapped touring the Upper Canyon.

Grand Canyon thoughts:

- If you are a big camper, camp the canyon and really spend time enjoying it!

- If you're driving through, stop by

- If you're like me, you'll leave thinking "it's incredible that that is a natural part of the earth" and "Yep, that's a big hole"

- After about 10 minuets I was ready to go

Day 6 l Devil's Bridge, Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita + Chapel of the Holy Cross

Day 6 l Devil's Bridge, Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita + Chapel of the Holy Cross

Devil's Bridge is incredible but not for everyone. I read online that the hike was 5 miles but that was if you have a jeep that can go past the paved parking lot. The paved parking lot is another 0.75 miles. If you can't get a spot in the small paved lot, the next available parking is on the road an additional mile away! The hike is worth it, but go early to find parking or be ready to take a longer than expected hike!

After your hike, make a trip over to Cowboy Club for a Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita and Cactus Fries! The fries weren't my favorite but the Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita!!!!!!!! YUMMM!

After lunch, head over to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. I'm someone who enjoys learning the history of places and the Chapel has some pretty fascinating history! After her dream to build in Budapest in the 30s was stopped because of WWII, Marguerite Brunswig nearly gave up. The structure is unlike any other church and they welcome people of all faiths.

Day 7 l Tucson

Day 7 l Tucson

  • Tucson

  • Tombstone

At this point of our trip, Samantha and I opted to rest while the rest of the caravan traveled to Tombstone. We heard that seeing the old town was "really cool," but I enjoyed the southern Arizona weather and pool and a little r&r before our cousin's wedding!

Day 8 l Wedding Day!

Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Afternoon, Sunset Session!

Tip: When the line at the front of the sign is too long, go to the back side of it. The words might be backwards, but you can horizontally flip your photo in post!