If there is a way to get a real taste of the USA, it’s on the road. We set off to discover one of the aridest and hottest areas of the States following an itinerary of about 2.300 km through 4 states: California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. An unforgettable road trip where we discovered some of the most beautiful parks in the west of the United States of America.
However this time I left Will at home and I flew to L.A. where I met my new travelling companion, my mum, whom I had not seen for more than a year. In Los Angeles, the city of angels, our 15-day road trip in the USA began and ended.
On the road in the USA: the itinerary
Los Angeles, California
The Californian metropolis is the land of Hollywood and music, the unbridled luxury of Beverly Hills and the iconic beaches of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. To discover the real origin of L.A. we visited the district of El Pueblo, where the city was founded in 1781. Spanish at first and then a Mexican outpost, El Pueblo is home to historic buildings, lively flea markets and colourful Mexican restaurants. After taking a couple of selfies on the Walk of Fame we finally leave for the long-awaited national parks.
Las Vegas, Nevada
First stop Las Vegas, Nevada, 430 km north-east of Los Angeles (about 4 hours drive). A very popular route, especially during the weekend, where you can get stuck in traffic for hours (aka travel on weekdays if you can). Entering Las Vegas by car can be chaotic. 6-lane roads, fast traffic and not much time to get oriented. It is better to check the itinerary for the hotel parking in advance, as often, the hotel and its parking lot have different addresses. After an evening spent in this kaleidoscopic city among Venetian canals, dancing fountains and casinos, we leave for a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon with Papillon. From above, the contrast between the city of excesses and the surrounding desert is even more evident. In a few minutes, we reach the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the southern part of the canyon. Suspended in mid-air within this immense chasm of the earth we feel really small. And this is just a taste of the Grand Canyon’s size! Departing from the Grand Canyon airport of Tusayan, Arizona, you can fly in its central part, wider and deeper. It must be so exciting!
Grand Canyon, Arizona
As our trip on the road in the USA continues we travel from Las Vegas and head towards the small town of Williams (350 km – about 3.5 hours) along the legendary Route 66. Williams, with its vintage charm, takes you back to the time when the street was in vogue. From here, in less than an hour, we reach our first long-awaited destination: the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. We spent days reading guides, watching photos and videos, but none of this seemed to have prepared us for the sight of this vast landscape carved by the Colorado River. Sitting on the edge of the canyon we watch the sun setting while fantasising about what other wonders are on our way. The following day we follow the Rim Trail, a road that runs along the South Rim – the south bank of the canyon – stopping by different viewpoints including Desert View, the highest, Buggeln, Grandview Point, Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Hopi Point particularly beautiful at sunset, Shoshone Point and Hermits Rest. The entry cost is $ 25 per vehicle, including passengers.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
We drive north for about 200 km (2 hours drive) following the Colorado River and we reach the area of Page, between Arizona and Utah, one of the most beautiful areas of the United States. Here, for thousands of years wind and water have eroded the sandstone creating a unique and wild landscape and producing the Antelope Canyon, a place that I have dreamed of visiting for years. Protected by the Navajo tribe, the Antelope, can be visited only with authorised Navajo guides. We chose a photographic tour that brings us first to the famous Upper Antelope Canyon or Tsé bighánílíní, the place where the water flows through the rocks, and then to the less frequented Rattlesnake Canyon which takes its name from the sinuous shape of the rocks. Once inside the canyon, we find ourselves surrounded by all shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and purple. I could photograph these rocky walls for hours! The cost depends on the chosen tour.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
We say goodbye to Page stopping at the viewpoint overlooking the Glen Canyon dam for a quick look and, leaving Lake Powell behind us, we head towards Bryce Canyon National Park (200 km, 2.5 hours), one of the most beautiful stops of our trip on the road in the USA. We arrive there greeted by rain and fog – certainly not the best weather for visiting a national park – but also by spectacular amphitheatres and an incredible number of pinnacles. The Paiute tribe has made this place their home and, through the paths that cross the park, it is possible to follow their footsteps and explore the valley. The entry costs $30 per vehicle, passengers included and it’s valid for 7 days.
Zion National Park, Utah
It’s love at first sight. An immense gorge carved by the Virgin River, cliffs that drop down to about 3,000 meters, bright red rocks, the Lower Emerald Pool, the breathtaking view from the Angels Landing – 5 hour hike – and the vertiginous rocky walls of Wall Street, reachable by walking through the river along the Bottom-Up Zion Narrows Hike. But the first thing to take our breath away is the road that leads from the Bryce Canyon to the Zion (140 km – about 2 hours). The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway UT-9 crosses the park from west to east and is considered one of the West’s most beautiful scenic drives! The entry costs $30 per vehicle, passengers included and it’s valid for 7 days.
Valley of Fire, Nevada
The last naturalistic stop of our trip on the road in the USA: the Valley of Fire, about 220 km from Zion (2.5 hours). Once entered, we are overwhelmed by an explosion of deep red rocks, spectacular trails and testimonies of Native Americans. Do not miss the Arch Rock, the Rainbow Vista, the beautiful Fire Canyon and unique Elephant Rock. The tour by car, without stops, takes about an hour. To venture on foot through the red sands of the Valley of Fire, there are three easy trails: the Mouse’s Tank, 30 minutes, with its petroglyphs – ancient rock carvings left by Native Americans, the Atlatl Rock, 30-60 minutes, full of ancient testimonies and the White Domes, a path that leads to one of the most spectacular panoramic points of the entire valley. More difficult is the Fire Wave Trail, but it rewards you with an incredible view over a red and white wavy stripe sandstone. The entry costs $30 per vehicle, passengers included.
One more hour by car and we move from the arid and wild nature of the Valley of Fire back into the hectic reality of Las Vegas, but only for one night. The following day we continue towards our final destination: Los Angeles. After our unforgettable trip on the road in the west of the USA, we say goodbye again and fly towards two opposite parts of the world. It’s time to go back to Italy for mum, while I return to my beloved Australia.
How to plan a trip on the road in the USA
When to go
It is hard to tell you what is the best time for a trip on the road in the USA. It all depends on what you want to visit. The west of the United States is full of parks and places to discover and the best time to visit them is from April to October when the mild climate makes them perfect for hikers. During our trip, in August, we found pleasant temperatures in the parks and along the coast while a super hot sun was heating the Mojave Desert and Las Vegas.
Rent a car
What would a road trip be without a car? We booked ours with EasyTerra, a great web-site to compare the prices of the major rental companies such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty and to choose the best deal. We picked-up and returned our car to the L.A. airport’s office and by choosing a hybrid model we cut our travel expenses to the minimum! In the USA driving is on the right and an international driving license is required. However, in some states, including California and Nevada, the Italian driving license is accepted.
Tips to prevent panic while driving:
- If the road has at least two lanes you are allowed to overtake both on the left and on the right.
- You can turn right safely even with red light unless a road sign indicates otherwise.
- You will often find yourself at four-way intersections where everyone has the stop sign. In this case, priority is given based on the order of arrival.
Info and tips for a trip on the road in the USA
Book everything in advance
Being used to travel around Asia, I landed in the States thinking of finding a cheap accommodation day by day without too much trouble. WRONG! In August the selection is reduced to the bones and the prices rise considerably. It is better to book in advance. The same goes for car rental.
American health care is excellent but really expensive and when I say expensive I talk about three-zero numbers. Never ever go to the States without a health insurance (I say this from experience).
The ESTA form (for most of the European countries) or tourist visas, depending on the applicant’s nationality, may take a few days. Apply in advance!