This story was originally published on Departures.com in December 2020.
The American southwest is a road trippers dream, though it’s an area of the country that’s sometimes overlooked for such getaways. That’s a mistake, as the region offers the chance to build a sensational choose your own adventure style itinerary where you can cobble together epic hikes, unforgettable scenery, and natural world wonders — not to mention a collection of some of the finest resorts found anywhere in the continental U.S. From road trip kitsch to the pinnacle of luxury, all set against the backdrop of wide open American beauty, an American southwest road trip offers something for everyone.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Start your journey in Santa Fe and stay in style at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. The resort boasts spacious suites as well as a range of private casitas, totaling only 65 rooms. The property itself is set on 57 acres of land and offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, and if you can pull yourself away from the lap of luxury, serves as a gateway to the region’s wondrous hiking and skiing, depending on the season.
You’ll need to fuel up before you do, making it a good thing that you’re only minutes from Santa Fe’s charming downtown. Partake in a range of outstanding regional delights. Grab a Christmas burrito (topped with half red chile and half green hatch chile) from Tia Sophia’s, hatch chile mac n’ cheese at Cowgirl BBQ, and a Frito pie from the Five & Dime General Store.
Consider a side trip to Taos, or to really fulfill your fever dream visions of what an old school American road trip is, head an hour south to Albuquerque. There, you can drive down an original swath of the original Route 66 still decked out and looking the part with oversized signs, random attractions, strings of roadside shops and diners, and all the Americana you can handle.
Canyon Point, Utah
Head northwest into Arizona and just barely tiptoe your way past the Utah border to an area known as Canyon Point, arriving at Amangiri and its wondrous 600-acre sanctuary. Immerse yourself in its tented pavilions, with fewer than a dozen lavish outposts spaced across the property to deliver the utmost in swanky seclusion while being designed to fit into the natural features of the land. The setting may leave you feeling like you’re on another planet, though at the least, it’s certain that you’ll feel like you’re on another continent. Enjoy your private fire pits and plunge pools, stargaze the night away, and then spend the day adventuring, whether from horseback or hot air balloon.
The property is ideally positioned to jump off to one of Utah’s many wonderful national parks, such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Even closer, in Arizona, is Horseshoe Bend, whose famous snaking river-scape is instantly recognizable. Scenic photo in hand, the active side of Horseshoe is found at Antelope Canyon, which offers a wondrous slot canyon hiking experience. Even the Grand Canyon itself isn’t far afield.
Start heading towards the aforementioned natural wonder of the world while driving south towards Scottsdale, Arizona. After another hard day of beautiful hikes and jaw dropping, bucket list views, you may need some help ushering yourself back into relaxation. Put your feet up at the Sanctuary on Camelback, tucked into the surroundings of Camelback Mountain, and offering accommodations including a range of suites, casitas and villas.
Grab a treatment or two at the world-class Sanctuary Spa to help you unwind before devouring a meal at the on-site restaurant Elements. The adjacent Jade Bar offers more casual fare, and a newly reinvented cocktail menu built around fresh and seasonal ingredients. Tennis or golf may beckon during the daytime, or perhaps it’s another trip to the spa, though either way you’ll need to be sure to retreat to the see and be seen resort pool and lounge.
Death Valley, California
The longest drive of your journey takes you to Death Valley National Park. You’ll cross into Nevada along the way and pass right by Las Vegas, and the bright lights may beckon, but this trip is less about glitz and glam than the glory of nature’s surroundings; less slot machines and more slot canyons. Stay at The Oasis at Death Valley, which actually features two hotels, the family-friendly Ranch, and the higher-end Historic Inn. The latter is a AAA-rated four-diamond resort fresh off a $100 million renovation, now boasting 22 new casitas dotted around its famed spring-fed pool, naturally at a balmy 87 degrees year round.
You’ll be in the midst of Death Valley’s wholly unique and otherworldly landscape, and given the area’s historic high temperatures, be sure to plan appropriately. Epic sunrises, sunsets and night skies await, along with labyrinthine hikes and drives, sand dunes, and famous spots such as Badwater Basin — the lowest elevation point North America at 282 feet below sea level, as well as Zabriskie Point, and the Racetrack, where rocks go mysteriously gliding across the desert floor.
Palm Springs, California
If you did anything in Death Valley, it was work up a sweat, which is why capping off your road trip with a bit of mid-century modern indulgence is only fitting. Head southwest to Palm Springs for a stay at the five-star Parker Palm Springs. Choose between the two-bedroom Gene Autry Residence, one of twelve private villas, or several different rooms styles matching your tastes, whether poolside or with a hammock stretched across a private sandy courtyard. Across them all you’ll enjoy exquisite stylings flecked with bright colors and bold looks.
It’s all evocative of Hollywood’s heyday, and that’s before you get to the on-site Palm Springs Yacht Club, which offers a master’s class in the right way to spend your days, with endless assortments of spa treatments and packages. If the need to explore arises, you’re right beside Joshua Tree National Park, Coachella Valley, and Mt. San Jacinto State Park. But if you decided to keep your robe on and the Frank Sinatra blasting, we wouldn’t blame you.