Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Break -- Canada to Four Corners? and or California?

Hi Jamie,

My boyfriend and I are contemplating a road trip down to the States (we live in Calgary, Alberta) and I found your website. The routes look great, but we have no idea where to go. Here's what we do have:
- 4 weeks mid-March to mid-April
- more time than money (say $2000-$2500 total between the two of us)
- a love for scenery, hiking, camping, and weird, cool, quirky little spots (much less love for big cities). The California coast, Arizona, New Mexico, and the deep southern states all look fascinating, but I'm not sure if we'll have time to see all that, plus the long haul back home.

I'm also wondering if there will be options to camp for the night? We don't have a lot of money and would like to save as much as possible on accommodation.

Thanks in advance,


Hello Sunita --

Thanks for writing -- I hope this reaches you in time to help make your Spring trip a fun one.

This time of year, Arizona is a great place to be -- the weather's getting warm, and the desert wildflowers should be coming out in abundance -- I did the trip you're thinking of 2 years ago, and it was spectacular. And time is definitely more valuable out here than money is -- sites are spread out all over a 500 by 500-mile area, and there is ample camping & hiking, and unforgettable scenery like Monument Valley, the cliff palaces of Canyon de Chelley and Mesa Verde, and the eroded redrock sculptures of Arches and Capitol Reef national parks.

(Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado, is "open" all year, but tours of the main archaeological sites don't start until mid-April....)

Daytime temperatures across the Southwest are usually nice by March / April, but be sure to carry water in case it gets very hot. Night time temps dip below freezing, so be prepared (the start gazing is amazing, too).

Camping is readily available all over Utah and Arizona and New Mexico -- most of the land is public parks, but the elevation is pretty high so it may be snowy in places (but being Candian, you 're probably used to winter...) New Mexico is home to many Native American sites, as well as pueblos around Santa Fe that are still lived-in much as they have been for 200 years or more. Acoma, west of Albuquerque, is an amazing place -- an historic pre-Columbian adobe town, standing atop a 1500-foot mesa, it's rightly called "Sky City".

And if you want to mix in some weird and quirky spots, you're in luck! Because all these places are linked by that great old oddball American highway: Route 66, which cuts across the Southwest USA from Texas to Los Angeles. There are giant dinosaurs outside souvenir stands, motels shaped like Plains Indian TeePees, and some of the world's greatest neon signs.

The California coast is also a wonderful place to be, and if you manage to avoid the rain storms the 100-mile stretch of coast known as "Big Sur " (between LA and SF) is also unforgettable (and there is camping here among redwood forests -- though food and lodging otherwise can get very expensive in this part of the world).

To help save money along the pricey California coast, avoid tourist towns like Santa Barbara, and take advantage of some really cool ($25-a-night) Youth Hostels which are great for people of any age, with an adventurous spirit -- many are found in old lighthouses or ex-US Army barracks, but in beautiful settings (right off the Golden Gate in Fort Mason, San Francisco, for example)

Hope this helps whet your appetite -- you've got a great trip ahead of you. I've got new books out on RT66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, and these two roads along with US-93 (the main route south from Calgary) are all in my "big book", Road Trip USA. Check them out! and

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen



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