Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

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simon_in_exile
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Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by simon_in_exile » Wed Dec 05, 2018 12:24 pm

We’re a bit late in booking our Christmas/New Year holiday, but a US road trip is high up the wishlist.

We have 16 full days (17 nights), thinking of flying into Denver and out of Phoenix. Glancing at a map, I’d like to avoid interstates as much as possible, and visit Great Sand Dunes NP, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos, Albuquerque, Petrified Forest, Sunset Crater, Sedona, maybe south rim Grand Canyon, and a Phoenix/Scottsdale place with outdoor pool/jacuzzi.

I’ve already been to north rim Grand Canyon, four corners, Sw Colorado, Page / Glen Canyon. I’m aware the list above is very light in Colorado stuff, and doesn’t get to e.g. Canyon de Chelly, and doesn’t cover Sonoran Desert National monument (worth a visit?), nor the southern half of Arizona and New Mexico states... but we only have 16 days!

So...
Where else am I missing, what would you ditch, will snow be an issue on any of these roads for vehicles without chains, and do you have any must-drive routes?
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by VinnyD » Wed Dec 05, 2018 12:56 pm

I would ditch Albuquerque from that list unless you need to break a journey.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by simon_in_exile » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:12 pm

VinnyD wrote:
Wed Dec 05, 2018 12:56 pm
I would ditch Albuquerque from that list unless you need to break a journey.
Thanks Vinny. I would too, except for a quick Breaking Bad location tour (got the maps online).
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by VinnyD » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:29 pm

The museum is OK if you have some extra time.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Wilster » Wed Dec 05, 2018 5:05 pm

I don't know if your "light" on Colorado was to include Mesa Verde National Park (you could stay in Durango or Cortez), but if you're going to Great Sand Dunes, you would be "close." And maybe going too far West, too soon, but you have Monument Valley; although, that being written, I see you have Sunset Crater on the radar above. Flagstaff may also be a place to stay; a couple great steak places just out of town.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by twodogs » Wed Dec 05, 2018 5:23 pm

Take 285 south out of Denver to avoid I25. Princeton Hot Springs is on the way and depending on when you leave Denver might be a good place to spend the night.
https://mtprinceton.com/

I would skip Sunset Crater and the light that time of year in Sedona isn't very good for photographs the sun is too low. I would take 60/77 south after the Petrified Forest and visit http://biosphere2.org/visit/tours and https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm near Tucson then head up to Phoenix. Not much to see in southern New Mexico.

If we have kids with us we stay at the https://www.squawpeakhilton.com/ if it is just us we stay at the https://www.arizonabiltmore.com/ when we are in Phoenix.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by rider5 » Wed Dec 05, 2018 5:38 pm

If I remember correctly you've been through SW Colorado so good call to head into NM. The Great Sand Dunes is a good stop. I like the San Luis Valley of Colorado quite a bit. Once you're there you will be able to skip a lot of Interstate and make your way to Santa Fe via Taos.

I happen to like Albuquerque and the food is pretty good there too, just not as famous as Santa Fe. From there to Phoenix are a lot of possibilities, and going by the time of year I'm going to mention heading south and traveling west across the Mogollon Rim country. Of course that will mean skipping Sunset Crater and the Grand Canyon... so I don't know what you'll think of that.

I'll make my case later.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Lost Soul » Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:41 am

Make sure your rental car has snow tires. Don't try to do it online, just ask at the counter when you are picking it up. You don't need chains. A 4WD with snow tires is best, but you don't even need 4WD. You do need snow tires. I would rent a Ford Explorer with snow tires.
We have 16 full days (17 nights), thinking of flying into Denver and out of Phoenix. Glancing at a map, I’d like to avoid interstates as much as possible, and visit Great Sand Dunes NP, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos, Albuquerque, Petrified Forest, Sunset Crater, Sedona, maybe south rim Grand Canyon, and a Phoenix/Scottsdale place with outdoor pool/jacuzzi.
All worthy. Taos may have a dearth of rooms. It's a small ski town in the middle of nowhere that time of year. Book now. No need to worry about booking anywhere else.

GSD, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, part of Albuquerque and the South Rim are 7000 feet, and cold. Bring clothes. But if the sun is shining, it will warm up every afternoon and be quite pleasant. The North Rim is closed to cars all winter. The South Rim is open year round. I like Albuquerque. They have great Mexican food, and a tram from the NE corner of town up to the top of the ski area on the back side of the Watermelon Mountains. Great views to the west, even for non-skiers. Just to the west of Los Alamos you can drive through Valles Caldera, a dormant supervolcano.

I’ve already been to north rim Grand Canyon, four corners, Sw Colorado, Page / Glen Canyon. I’m aware the list above is very light in Colorado stuff, and doesn’t get to e.g. Canyon de Chelly, and doesn’t cover Sonoran Desert National monument (worth a visit?), nor the southern half of Arizona and New Mexico states... but we only have 16 days!
SDNM is fairly pointless. Saguaro National Park by Tucson is better and lusher, but it costs money. Same/same with Organ Pipe.

So...
Where else am I missing, what would you ditch, will snow be an issue on any of these roads for vehicles without chains, and do you have any must-drive routes?
I'll get back to you by Sunday.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Lost Soul » Thu Dec 06, 2018 12:02 pm

If it isn't snowing, consider heading west on I-70 from Denver for 100 miles. You'll cross the continental divide in a tunnel and then hit Frisco and Copper Mountain. Turn left and spend the night in Leadville. It's a nice, Victorian mining town two miles high. From there it's a straight shot south to the San Luis Valley and Great Sand Dunes NP. The San Luis Valley is one of the coldest places in the US because it is 7000 feet high and is the lowest place around. It could be -20C or -40C in Alamosa. From there it is a straight shot to Taos/Santa Fe. Then west to Los Alamos (the cottonwoods), Valles Caldera, and south to Jemez Pueblo and Albuquerque. Be sure to check out one of the 50 pueblos in the region. The biggest is probably Pecos, east of Santa Fe.

From Albuquerque, head west on I-40. Petroglyphs Nat. Monument is in west Albuquerque, just across the river, and is kind of cool. Another 50 miles brings you to the turnoff for Acoma pueblo. The road loops back to I-40 from Acoma. About five more miles brings you to the turnoff for El Maipais (bad country) National Monument. It's 10 miles south of I-40 and you'll have to backtrack after seeing it. Turn left at Grants heading for Zuni Pueblo. You'll pass Bandera Crater and ice caves and El Morro National Monument, where early explorers scratched their names in the cliff. Zuni has plenty of rooms. Those Indians are isolates, related to no others, over the last 10,000 years, and were the first to feel the wrath of Spain, in 1540. From Zuni you'll be off to the Petrified Forest NP. The visitor center is on I-40, but most of the petrified wood and a museum is on the south end, accessible by the park road. From here you have a choice- stay in Holbrook or St. Johns. North from Holbrook brings you to the Hopi mesas and the oldest town in the US at Old Oraibi, then Tuba City, Cameron and the South Rim. But if the weather is good, consider driving south from St. Johns, way out of your way, to Eagar, Alpine and Clifton. It is one of the prettiest roads around, but is windy, mountainous, and dangerous in bad weather. Still, I love it. Hannagan Meadow lodge is the place to stay on that HW. But the South Rim in winter is pretty nice too.

South of the South Rim is the town of Williams. I love that place. Flagstaff is much bigger, and lies at the base of a giant volcano. It was the highest mountain in the US until it blew the shit out of itself in the recent past. Flagstaff is also the place to see Sunset Crater, Meteor Crater, and Indian ruins at either Wupatki National Monument or Walnut Canyon National Monument. I love Walnut Canyon. There is a nice walking trail past the ancient ruins, if there isn't too much snow and ice. From Flagstaff there are two roads to Sedona. Take HW 89A. It's spectacular when you drive off of the Mogollon Rim. I-17 is meh. From Sedona, the pretty road to Phoenix is to hang a left (east) at Camp Verde, then Strawberry, Pine, Payson and Scottsdale. Skip if the weather is bad.

The Sonoran Desert National Monument is a road following the ancient trail from water at Gila Bend to water at Maricopa Wells. It's bog standard dry desert except for the forest of ironwood trees. Those small trees sink in water, as the name suggests. But this winter might be the time to see it. It got a two-year supply of rain in October. So did the entire desert to Organ Pipe National Monument. I hear the wild flowers are already going nuts. The desert is real pretty every 10 years after it floods.

Have fun, and feel free to ask questions. I love a good road trip.
Last edited by Lost Soul on Thu Dec 06, 2018 12:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by simon_in_exile » Thu Dec 06, 2018 12:07 pm

This is brilliant - thanks so much for replies.
Because of much cheaper flight options, we’ve now booked this in reverse, so will be flying out of Denver. Crucial to know about necessity of winter tyres, and as such I’ll confirm with the rental place that they have a suitable vehicle available (and get it in writing as I don’t trust them an inch).
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Lost Soul » Thu Dec 06, 2018 12:14 pm

You're fucked. Phoenix doesn't really do winter tires, unless you're really lucky and rent a car with out of state (Non-California) plates. Look for an 'S' on the sidewalls. There will be a few. I know Las Vegas has some winter tire rentals.

The mongs will say they have "all season" tires. Don't buy it. It's a marketing gimmick. Look for the 'S' or the 'M+S' on the side of the tires.

One thing you could do is exchange it in Flagstaff for a car with decent tires, if you can't find them in Phoenix.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Mike Hunt » Thu Dec 06, 2018 1:47 pm

Phoenix itself is fucking horrible, an overgrown suburb. Good food though.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by rider5 » Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:31 pm

It's unfortunate that you're reversing the itinerary. It's much nicer to start out in the cold and then travel down to a place that has nice weather for the end of the trip. But that's just my opinion because I used to love doing that in the winter when I lived in Colorado.

But anyhow I'd stay south for the return trip and forget about the things you mentioned on the Colorado Plateau. It's more than likely going to be cold up there and you'll have plenty of that in Albuquerque and the San Luis Valley. There's really nothing like the Rim country, where the Colorado Plateau province gives way to Basin and Range of the lower deserts. It's rugged, the geology is fairly complex, and you get the meeting of a bunch of different ecosystems which makes for some interesting flora and fauna.

Out of Phoenix I'd head east. I'm going to list some road segments that I think are pretty spectacular and will keep you off the worst Interstate in the West: I-40

Highway 88 (aka the Apache Trail) north out of Apache Jct, a suburb east of Phoenix. There were and probably still are some dirt sections but it's no problem in pretty much any vehicle.

Hwy 188 E to Globe, Safford, and Clifton. Most of this is pretty scenic but the area around Safford is just meh.

Hwy 191 north out of Safford is probably one of the most spectacular drives in AZ imo, it's a long windy road with a lot of elevation gain. It ends in one of the highest areas of the state at Alpine. Read cold and snowy.

But just south of Clifton I'd hit Hwy 78 into New Mexico. That will leave you east of the Gila Wilderness, which is pretty fantastic but is high country.

Hwy 180 north to Glenwood, Reserve, and then up and over the divide into the Rio Grande drainage. You'll pass by the Very Large Array which is interesting enough to gawk at for a while.

If you take 191 you can still hit Hwy 180 near Reserve, NM.

Then you're in Socorro on I-25 not too far from Albuquerque.

Accommodation is not my forte. Most of the towns mentioned are small but I imagine lodging is available. It's not going to be anything to write home about.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by simon_in_exile » Thu Dec 06, 2018 9:00 pm

It IS a shame (especially from frozen Russia) - actually we’re currently flying into LAX and driving from there becaus ethe connecting flights to Phoenix aren’t cheap. Might stop at Joshua Tree on the way, and maybe swap cars in Flagstaff.

Mogollon Rim sounds good to me - I’ve been to the Grand Canyon a few times and am happy to spend time elsewhere trundling around the under-appreciated corners, getting some good walks in. Zuni also sounds good. And accommodation-wise, clean and safe with a hot shower is enough for us.
I’m going to be plotting out all these routes at the weekend - really appreciate the ideas!
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Lost Soul » Fri Dec 07, 2018 2:34 am

I forgot Bandelier National Monument. It's between Santa Fe and Los Alamos and has a bunch of Indian ruins connected by trail. It's a nice place to get out and walk on one of the trails. They even plow the 2km main loop trail.
https://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

I mentioned Malpais for the geology. It's one of the newest lava flows around, and buried farms worked by Acoma Pueblo ca. 500 years ago. Anyway, here is a pretty interesting 20,000 word history of the Malpais, NW New Mexico, Arizona and New Spain.
https://www.nps.gov/elma/learn/historyc ... A_hist.pdf
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by avalon_ » Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:37 am

There's some great ideas on this thread. I have nothing to add, but I'd like to visit some of these places. I wish Abby and I could go on a roadtrip on my winter break.

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Gogo » Fri Dec 07, 2018 6:57 am

I followed LS's advice for a Tucson-Denver drive I had to do...13 years ago...it included some of the route Rider mentioned and it was tits-out but that was in May and I'm not sure about how it'll be in December.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Lost Soul » Sat Dec 08, 2018 1:00 am

HW 191 through Alpine, AZ is best seen from north to south, as originally described. Crossing the Salt River Canyon between Globe and Show Low is a nice way of getting there from Phoenix.

Same/same with HW 89A between Flag and Sedona.

So, LA to Flagstaff for tires, then south to Phoenix, then over to Globe and Show Low, then east to Eagar, and south to Alpine and Clifton on 191, then cross into NM at Mule Creek, and back north to Alpine on 180. Then it's north to St. Johns (boring) and Petrified Forest. Then New Mexico and Colorado. Settled.
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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by cuchulainn » Sat Dec 08, 2018 6:00 pm

Simon, I don't know how much time you plan to spend in LA, but there is a great food court downtown at Grand Central Market.

http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/

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Re: Denver to Phoenix, 16 days, Dec-January

Post by Chip_Oatley » Sun Dec 09, 2018 9:53 am

"Saguaro National Park by Tucson is better and lusher, but it costs money. Same/same with Organ Pipe."

$80 National Parks pass covers the entire carload of people and is good for a year.

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