Last Thursday, Jolyn and I set off for our first major adventure of 2016. It was our goal to visit a series of National Parks in the southwestern United States. When planning a trip, we often overlook domestic travel in favor of foreign travel; experiencing something completely culturally new usually seems to appeal the most to us. However, we felt like there was a big, beautiful part of the United States that we had missed out. Between Arizona and Utah alone, there are eight National Parks, along with countless National Monuments, National Forests, and beautiful sites located on Native American reservations. (By the way, you may ask, “what is the difference between a National Park and a National Monument?” The answer would be this: National Parks are preserved for their visual or recreational value, whereas National Monuments have a particular historical or cultural significance.) So we had it all planned out: We were going to embark on a tour of the most intriguing sites of northern Arizona and southern Utah.
When planning for this trip, we found that by far the cheapest flight out of the New York area was to Albuquerque, New Mexico. So we decided to extend our road trip a bit; while New Mexico would only be a springboard for the rest of our trip, we figured that we could enjoy our short time there as well.
We caught a 9pm flight out of JFK, and landed in Albuquerque a bit after midnight. I had our rental car already reserved, and had even upgraded from our usual “rollerskate” variety to a slightly larger “compact” car – with a trunk large enough to fit all of our camping gear and clothing safely during our travels. Upon arriving at the rental car desk, I had already prepared for the litany of questioning I would soon be barraged with as I would be encouraged to purchase all of the possible upgrades to my rental vehicle. (As far as I was concerned, I had already upgraded my vehicle, bringing my total from $270 to $300 for nine days; what more did they want from me?) The conversation went like this (some parts slightly embellished, but the monetary figures are not):
Rental car agent: So, where are you traveling to?
Husband: Oh, all around, you know…Arizona, Utah, the grand tour.
RCA: Wow, that is a lot of driving! You know how long that drive is? Lots of hills, highways, elevation gains and descents…let’s see if we can get you in something with a bit more horsepower, maybe some cruise control…
H: Uh, okay…What are my options? Are you upgrading me out of the goodness of your heart? And will you reimburse me for the extra gas I’ll buy driving in these hogs?
RCA: Well, we can get you set up in this four-wheel drive SUV, with a thousand horsepower, cruise control, roadkill shield so you don’t even have to brake for buffalo…
H: Um, how much is that?
H: No thanks.
RCA: How about the sleek full-size sedan? It’s full sized. The stupid car you have is not full-sized. Do you know what that means? It’s not even a full car! It’s half a car! C’mon, do you really want to be driving around half a car?
H: How much?
H: No thanks.
RCA: Okay, well you really should get the full coverage insurance option.
H: My credit card covers rental car insurance, no thanks.
RCA: Yeah, but your credit card doesn’t cover everything. It’s only $24.99 per day.
H: No thanks.
I figured out that if I had listened to our friend at the rental car agency, my $300 rental would have cost me $800! Deciding to hold my ground, guess I was about to find out how miserable life was without cruise control.
After staying overnight at an airport hotel, we set off the next morning. Driving I-40 across New Mexico revealed a variety of outstanding landscapes, mostly centering around rock formations. Some rocks were red, some were gray; some dry and some grassy; some large and some small. Additionally, we realized just how so consistently high the elevation of the land was. The Colorado Plateau spans across much of the Four Corners states (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah), which results elevations of 5,000 feet and higher. The plateau is also perfect breeding grounds for remarkable landscapes, as 10 National Parks and 17 National Monuments are packed within this area.
We unfortunately had not planned on squeezing some of New Mexico’s finest attractions into our itinerary (Taos, Chaco Culture, Carlsbad Caverns, etc.), we did enjoy passing through and would like to return for another taste of the area. If you find yourself passing through Gallup, NM and are you’re getting hungry, we suggest the El Metate Tamale Factory…it’s in a nondescript neighborhood off the highway and is hard to find, but it’s worth it. We also stopped for silly pictures at the Continental Divide (the place where, basically, the rainwater flows either to the east or the west, depending on which side the divide you are on).
After a day of driving, we ended up in Sedona, Arizona, which we will cover next time!