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Trip List by StrandsDanville

Southwest-National Parks, Las Vegas & So Calif in 19 Days

19 Oct 2009  Assist others in planning a fantastic trip!
5.0 of 5 stars based on 12 votes

This list focuses on the Southwestern United States, to include Southern California. The contrasts of available experiences are simply unbelievable. From the glitz of Las Vegas and the National Parks to the beaches, attractions and Hollywood scenes of San Diego and Los Angeles!

The format used provides Google Maps for every location with very specific times to present a framework for pacing and very specific suggestions to take some of the "mystery" out of your own planning. You can use our guide as a beginning strategy then streamline it to obviously fit your desires!

IF you find errors or have improvement suggestions, we would like input to improve our Travelers List. Thanks!

  • 1. Southwestern United States - Nevada, Utah, Arizona & Southern California

    Being very long time Californians and having traveled many times to Las Vegas, the National Parks of Death Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon plus extensively around San Diego and Los Angeles, we asked IF we were planning an 19 day trip to this wonderland for the FIRST time, where would we go?

    Note: We offer other suggestions in a 15 Day travelers list focusing on just Northern California.

    Here are our suggestions:

    First the logistical strategy. We would rent a vehicle in Las Vegas, return in Phoenix. We would fly on Southwest Airlines from Phoenix to San Diego. Note: with proper planning and lead time, you can get a very low air fare. We would rent a vehicle in San Diego, return in Los Angeles. We would bring a preloaded GPS device with every accommodation, restaurant and attraction pre-categorized by trip day. Note: All 4 airports are a piece of cake to fly into or out of!

    Time of year would be May 10th through the 10th of October. The ideal period for both weather and fewest tourists would be September 20 through October 8! Starting in Mid-August, we would reverse the trip starting in Los Angeles and returning home from Las Vegas to hopefully drop a few degrees in temperature in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

    Mother Nature plays a major role for travel enjoyment. The elevation changes between Parks and marine layers off the coast on the Pacific Ocean will provide many contrasts. In May there still can be snow flurries around Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

    Here are elevations of each destination:

    Las Vegas - 2000 FT (610 M)
    Death Valley - (282) FT (86 M)
    Zion National Park - 3898 FT (1188 M)
    Bryce Canyon National Park - 8500 FT (2550 M)
    Grand Canyon North Rim - 8000 FT (2400 M)
    Page, Arizona - 4118 FT (1,255 M)
    Sedona, Arizona - 4326 FT (1,319 M)
    Phoenix, Arizona - 1117 FT (340 M)
    San Diego & Los Angeles - Call it Sea Level!

    Based on the elevations, Death Valley is the problem child. So prepare with lots of water, extra sunscreen and a willingness to bear the heat. I guess its called a lifetime of compromise!

    Use the Old Farmers Almanac for Sunrise/Sunset to plan your evening toasts, for tides (nature) to plan your tidepool exploration and for next year's forecast to assess potential rainfall and probable temperatures! (paste into browser)

    tinyurl.com/EARTH-SUN
    tinyurl.com/EARTH-TIDES
    tinyurl.com/EARTH-FUTURE

    Time Zones: Utah is one hour ahead. During DST CA, NV & AZ are all the same time!

    Sifting through the grains of salt or what is it we like that influences our recommendations:

    We are a couple in our mid-early fifties who really enjoy geography and nature. We love vigorous hikes, golf, wine tasting, picnics, fine dining, nicely situated accommodations (no camping), reading and crosswords, museums of art, history & science, shopping for artwork, theater and visiting several attractions in a day. We both drive at a steady clip on highways only, never in communities or in cities/towns, so Google estimated times for us are generally overstated! We get up fairly early and we do not "linger" meaning we typically pass everybody while walking along the trail, through the streets or in malls. Being very detail oriented, we are also very punctual with a daily routing plan to minimize our travel time between sites. We will travel for 18 days with 2 duffel bag style suitcases and one carry-on, so packing and moving to another location after one or two nights is nothing. Mr Strand would bring his golf clubs because they can stay in the trunk and hold the beach umbrellas and hiking poles (how's that for justification!). He would play in Las Vegas, Sedona with the Mrs and San Diego at Torrey Pines. Hopefully you find our personality types and interests similar to yours!

    Our suggestions for 19 days are carefully made with destinations like Capitol Reef, Arches, Grand Canyon-South Rim and exploring Phoenix dropped from our list in order to spend enough time in each destination and not endure an abundance of time in the vehicle! The flight from Phoenix to San Diego is an attempt to eliminate what we consider to be a very boring drive and also interject a change of pace and a "new" vehicle for California touring. It is unbelievable how much there is to see and do!

    Following are Google Maps for each recommended "adventure": (Paste into browser)

    Adventure 1 = Breathtaking National Parks & Decadent Fun!
    Google Map - tinyurl.com/SW-ADV-1

    We recommend arriving at McCarron Airport, shuttling to the off-site rental area and picking up a roomy comfortable vehicle (full size, hybrid, SUV) for major open desert highway cruising. The trip plan will cover 1,300 miles and 30 hours in the vehicle. The "extra" cost pays an intrinsic dividend every mile!

    2 Nights Death Valley National Park
    2 Nights Viva Las Vegas & Hoover Dam
    2 Nights Zion National Park
    1 Nights Bryce National Park
    1 Nights Grand Canyon National Park-North Rim
    2 Nights Page-Colorado River Rafting, Antelope Canyon & Lake Powell
    2 Nights Sedona Then Flight Departure From Phoenix
    Option: Additional time? Add one night at Monument Valley and take both Jeep & Horseback tours, especially if you enjoy photography.

    Adventure 2 - California Beach Life, Wild Animals, Wild People & Make Believe!
    Google Map - tinyurl.com/SW-ADV-2

    We recommend arriving at San Diego International Airport, walking through the elevated street crossing to the shuttle pickup area to your powerful, sleek looking vehicle (Hybrid, BMW) for cruising the beach scenes in Southern California. The trip plan will cover 300 miles and 8 hours in the vehicle. Like Adventure 1 the "extra" California Buggy cost pays an intrinsic dividend every mile!

    3 Nights San Diego
    3 Nights Los Angeles

    Budget your US dollar gasoline by using $3 per gallon and 22 Miles per gallon open road (Adventure 1) or $.136 per mile and 16 Miles per gallon city (Adventure 2) or $.188 per mile. Total estimate = Adventure 1, 1300 miles, $180 and Adventure 2, 300 miles, $55, for a grand total of $235! OR simply use $.15 per mile or $.09 per kilometer as a rule of thumb!

    Purchase the America The Beautiful annual pass for $80. It covers 4 adults and its the best $80 you will ever spend! This pass not only covers the National Parks but it substitutes for the Red Rock Pass in Sedona as well! Here is the purchase site: tinyurl.com/PASS-NP

  • 2. Death Valley National Park - DVNP
    Death Valley National Park, California

    Starting with 2 nights in Death Valley is a fantastic way to acclimate to the new time zone and just enjoy the immense dramatic vistas of the Nevada/California landscape. This way you will be "rested" to stay up and do some high-stepping in Sin City!

    The Park is the largest in the contiguous US, about the size of Connecticut, it covers 3.4 million acres. The main geographical attraction is it contains the lowest point (282 feet) below sea level in Badwater Basin. Note: The Dead Sea between Israel & Jordan is 1,371 feet below! The surrounding mountains reach a high summit of 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak.

    Here are 2 maps:

    Google Map (paste into browser) With Recommended Areas: tinyurl.com/DVNP-TOUR

    Amazingly, this suggested route forms a remarkable resemblance to the perimeter of the State of California! You start and finish in Yuma (Las Vegas), purchase provisions in Needles (Albertsons) have lunch in Lake Tahoe (Beatty), pass by Mt Shasta & Weed (Scotty's Castle), stay in SF (Stovepipe Wells), tour the Monterey Peninsula (Badwater Basin) and return via LA & San Diego (Pahrump)!

    DVNP (paste into browser) Interactive Map: tinyurl.com/DVNP-MAP

    Here is a suggested timeline for the DVNP tour:

    10:30 Leave McCarron airport and drive to Beatty for lunch
    Note: Along the way you will pass by Creech AFB. Of note is the paucity of planes. The pilots are all indoors flying drones half way around the world with their joysticks. In reality not very joyful!
    11:00 Stop at off-freeway convenient Albertson's on Farm Rd for room provisions and early morning foods for "beat the heat" touring before breakfast.
    12:45 Lunch at Ensenada Grill = Inexpensive and very tasty. Quite the combo!
    03:30 Tour Scotty's Castle - Walter Scott the PT Barnum of mining and his story about this Castle (actually a Spanish style casa) is extremely fascinating and a must visit on your tour of DVNP. Note: Last tour April through October is at 4:00.
    05:15 Dependent on time,etc. consider driving up to Uhebebe Crater to explore the formation.
    07:00 Check in to Stovepipe Wells for 2 nights. Enjoy a swim, a refreshment in the bar and a decent meal in the restaurant. This place is the only game in town but its rooms are fine. The noisy AC units should be music to your ears considering the alternative of no AC!

    The next day's tour:

    07:30 Get an early start to beat the heat. Enjoy your Albertson's refreshments and snacks and drive first to Badwater Basin.
    08:00 Many of the main viewing attractions are all within 15 miles of one another. Look on Google and DVNP maps for orientation. Start with Golden Canyon, then Devil's Golf Course, visit Badwater low point, drive up Natural Bridge Road, return via Artist's Drive and stop at Artist's Palette.
    10:00 Enjoy breakfast in Furnace Creek at the 49er Cafe
    11:15 Visit the air conditioned Furnace Creek Visitors Center
    12:00 Head back to Stovepipe Well's for refuge from the elements waiting for evening temperatures.
    01:00 IF you have 4WD or a high clearance vehicle AND it is not too hot for your liking then head over to Titus Canyon for a drive down the one way road. Also Pink Jeep tours does offer a guided tour as well.
    05:00 Take a drive up Mosaic Canyon Road and then head down to Mesquite Flat dunes
    06:00 Enjoy an early dinner at Stovepipe Wells
    07:30 From your elements study in the almanac determine when sunset is. Grab your favorite beverage, possibly some champagne, and head to Zabriske Point for a toast to Mr Sun Ball. On the way stop at Harmony Borax Works for an interesting walking tour of the 20 Mule team and borax mining outdoor exhibits.

    The final day heading back to Viva Las Vegas:

    07:30 Early breakfast at Stovepipe Wells
    09:00 Final stop at Dante's View on the way out to enjoy one last vista of the Valley of Death, oh my!
    01:00 Bright light city gonna set my soul, Gonna set my soul on fire,Got a whole lot of money thats ready to burn,So get those stakes up higher, Theres a thousand pretty women waitin out there, And theyre all livin devil may care, And Im just the devil with love to spare, Viva Las Vegas, Viva Las Vegas

  • 3. Las Vegas & Hoover Dam & Valley of Fire State Park
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    There is no place like this place, near this place, so this must be the place! Yes a billion dollars does get you something despite our milquetoast US dollar!

    We highly recommend spending your 2 nights in Las Vegas at the Wynn Resort, Encore. Steve Wynn is the real deal. He knows hospitality and he delivers on ambiance. The Resort offers convenient self-serve parking and its centrally located on the strip. You can easily walk to The Venetian and The Bellagio. We do not lay out by the pool. It is our understanding that other properties offer better pool sites, if this is high on your list. Although the Encore pool is still quite nice. Apparently it gets too much afternoon shade for the true God's and Goddess's of the Sun!

    Here is a Google Map (paste into browser) for the Las Vegas stay:

    We would take the vehicle to Downtown and the Fremont Street Experience in the evening and also to the MGM Grand to explore the properties in that area.

    tinyurl.com/VIVA-LV-TOUR

    Everybody is very unique when it comes to entertainment and value for the buck! So Las Vegas and choices are certainly personal. Briefly here is what we would do. Mrs Strand does not care for casinos, while Mr Strand is known to game a little! She would enjoy the Fashion Show Mall and perusing the shops. For dining, we would enjoy one of the fantastic buffets the first night (The Wynn buffet is very good) and fine dining the last. (Joel Robuchon at the MGM is excellent) Attending one of the Cirque du Soleil shows would be a memory of a lifetime!

    Craps offers the best odds for any game in the casinos. IF you do not know place bets and 8/6=6-5, 9/5=3-2, 10/4=2/1, then I suggest you not play. Mr Strand would place $100 in bets on Lady Luck The Multiple Point Shooter in an attempt to win his golf green fees and then stop!

    On day 2, we would head to Hoover Dam for the "Hard Hat" tour. The old film footage of this depression era public works project (actually built for irrigation control) is very interesting. The "Hard Hat" tour goes deeper into the turbine works of the dam. Mr Strand would play golf in route at Cascata Golf Course in Boulder City or possibly at the Wynn Resort dependent upon what the Mrs desired. It is very expensive but we all have our vices!

    If golf is not part of the plan (forbid!), then we would take the first 9:30 "Hard Hat" tour and continue on through Lake Mead National Recreation Area with a scenic drive for a picnic and hike at beautiful Valley of Fire State Park. Then head back via I-15 to Viva Las Vegas!

    So enjoy! Possibly your winnings will pay for the entire trip!

    After two nights, enjoy a nice breakfast before heading out on your 3 hour drive to Zion National Park. Utah is a Mormon State and it still has strict liquor sales control. We suggest buying alcoholic beverages plus room snacks in Sin City before reaching Springdale outside of Zion! A champagne sunset toast to Mr Sun Ball at Point Imperial on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon might be a special occasion to buy some bubbly for!

    Note: An alternate route is to drive through Valley of Fire State Park (possible short hike and a picnic) on the way to Zion, if you did not do this the day before. So much to see, so much to do!

  • 4. Zion National Park
    Zion National Park, Utah

    Zion National Park is very dramatic and extremely well serviced by our National Park system. The well developed town of Springdale lies along the Virgin River just after it exits the National Park canyon it has formed over the millenniums! The Park is closed to vehicle traffic except for those staying at the Park lodge. Shuttle buses run constantly up and down the highway in Springdale with multiple convenient stops for transporting you to the entrance of the Park as well as other locations in Springdale.

    Here is a Google Map for the Zion portion of your adventure: tinyurl.com/ZION-TOUR

    Spend some time with this Google Map by zooming in using Terrain Mode. You can see all the hiking trails and gain a feel for the steepness of the canyon walls. While in the Park, you should be able to spot some climbers scaling up these monoliths!

    On the way to Springdale and Zion National is Mesquite, NV. The Wolf Creek golf course here is beautiful. IF you are a golfer, then you may want to seriously consider playing it on the way!

    Here is a Zion National Park Interactive Map: tinyurl.com/ZNP-MAP

    There are many accommodations to choose from in Springdale. We highly recommend the Best Western Zion Park Inn near the beginning of town. Request a second floor room facing out over the river (not readily visible) and the unique sandstone canyon walls. There are no private balconies but there are shared balcony areas at the end of each hall. There is a nice swimming pool area and enjoying a nice refreshment before sunset or early morning coffee and newspaper on one of the balconies is a nice experience.

    For dining the first night, we recommend the Bit & Spur, right across the street. And Parallel 88 the second night. For breakfast, the Bumbleberry Inn or the Mean Bean Coffee House are a good start to the day. For hiking sandwiches, Sol Foods at the very entrance to the Park is good.

    After checking into the Best Western, we recommend exploring the town and taking an orientation ride on the park shuttle. We would stop in at the visitor centers and then take the shuttle up to the end point for a short stroll down the Riverwalk. Then on the way back, get off at Weeping Rock for a short walk to this "wet" formation.

    For the next day, we would plan a rigorous hike. Our first choice would be The Narrows which takes you "through" the river and up through the canyon. Ideally there would be a time and slot available to take part with a Park Ranger. There are guides in town with proper equipment for this trek.

    Here is an excellent guide published by the Park Service: tinyurl.com/ZION-TO-DO

    The guide gives schedules of Ranger Talks/Activities and maps of all the shuttle stops. Some of these activities require an advance reservation. We would review this guide for ideas and educational programs of interest. We enjoyed an easy hike from The Grotto, across the river and down the Kayenta Trail to the Emerald Pools. We also took the Hidden Canyon Trail hike which is just okay. For a spectacular view, Angel's Landing Trail, is the choice. Angel's Landing is NOT for acrophobics! The palms of your hands will turn into rain clouds and possibly wash away the narrow ledge trail, with its 1200 foot drop, away!

    Then after 2 nights at this "gorge"ous venue, it is off to Bryce Canyon and the Hoodoos!

    Note: Before leaving Springdale purchase plenty of room provisions for 2 nights in Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon plus picnic supplies.

    The drive from Zion to Bryce is a very scenic, 2 hour excursion with several "vista" opportunities to pull over and enjoy along the way!

  • 5. Bryce Canyon National Park - BCNP
    Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

    Paul Simon must have wrote, Whoo Do You Think You're Fooling and Don't Take My Kodachrome Away while Loving The Rock formations, the HooDoo's, in Bryce Canyon National Park, not far from Kodachrome Basin State Park, while he composed his somewhat bizarre song lyrics! Or possibly I digress in my thinking!

    The limestone formations (Hoodoos) within Bryce Canyon National Park are extraordinarily unique to our planet. They are a geological wonder which is not to be missed. The Park itself is relatively "small" and can be easily enjoyed over a one night stay!

    The Bryce Canyon Lodge is by far the best place to stay, both for setting and surprisingly dining! Plus there are Full Moon Hikes, Evening and Astronomy Programs, so you want to be right where the action is! The cabins have better heating than the hotel, so judge/forecast your need for the one night. The "motel" and restaurant options leading into the park and especially the town of Tropic should be very low on anyone's list for accommodations. IF you do not stay in the Park, then Ruby's or the new Best Western are your best options! FYI - We stayed in Tropic our first visit (live and learn)!

    Here is a suggested timeline for the BCNP tour:

    10:45 Arrive after 2 hour drive plus vista stops at the Visitor's Center. Tour facility and note schedule of Ranger Programs to do later in the evening.
    11:30 Drive on 63 to the end at Rainbow Point and enjoy a picnic. Then take a short stroll around the Bristlecone Loop Trail and take in the historic view from Yovimpa Point. On the vista sign is a black and white photo, before guardrails which is interesting.
    01:30 Head back to the Lodge for check-in, stopping at some vistas along the way. Pass on Inspiration and Bryce Point for visiting later in the late evening.
    02:45 Drive to Fairyland Point for a highly recommended fantastic trek through the Hoodoo amphitheater and back up to Sunrise Point, near the lodge. You can then walk back along the Rim Trail (down hill) to retrieve your vehicle.
    07:00 Enjoy an early dinner at the Lodge Dining Room
    Evening - Head to Inspiration Point for the Sunset and also partake in one of the many offered Ranger programs.

    Here is a link (paste into browser) of BCNP activiities: tinyurl.com/BCNP-TO-DO

    Here is a Google Map for the Bryce portion of your adventure: tinyurl.com/BRYCE-TOUR

    Note: The map only shows the destinations and not the names. But this is a very straight forward part of your tour!

    In the morning before heading to Grand Canyon North Rim enjoy sunrise on the Rim between Sunrise and Sunset points. Then Hike the easy to moderate loop trails starting from Sunset Point: DOWN Navajo and back up Queen's Garden (sunrise point)!

    By combining the Navajo Loop with the Queens Garden Trail, you can hike for 2.9 miles, looping from Sunset to Sunrise points. The combined trail has an ascent/descent of 580 feet. It is imperative to start at Navajo Loop to avoid the ascent coming from Sunrise Point. It will be self-explanatory once you see the trail. Most people take 2-3 hours to do the combined trails.

    Enjoy a hearty breakfast, after your sunrise hike, in the Lodge dining room. Great start to the new day!

  • 6. Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim - GCNP
    Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

    The Grand Canyon must be seen in person to completely appreciate it! The North Rim trumps the South Rim due to its far less crowded opportunities to just sit and enjoy both the sunrise and sunset. The Canyon is so huge that walking/hiking along the rim actually seems to get you nowhere. Even descending down the North Kaibab Trail into the Canyon creates the same feeling making it a disappointing hike unless you are going to the river (overnight undertaking).

    Keep in mind we have Colorado River rafting scheduled later in Page! For us, the Grand Canyon is enjoying refreshments, lazing, reading, marveling at the overlook vistas and reflecting.

    A stay in the Grand Canyon Lodge offers fantastic views from the dining room, its terrace and potentially, if you are lucky, from your cabin. The El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim cannot boast the same claim! Book a reservation at the Grand Canyon Lodge, as soon as absolutely possible, it's imperative for maximizing your enjoyment. The home run, is to secure a Pioneer Rim Cabin in this order of preference 306, 309, 305, 301, 320; then 310. They are situated right on the Rim with views right out your window and/or on the cabin porch. More than likely these cabins will be booked. If so, then opt for one of the 4 Western "Rim View" Cabins. The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite charges $525 per night and its rooms offer hardly any views because you strain to look up compared to straight down. This accommodation is great value despite being "rustic"!

    Check availability now: tinyurl.com/GCNP-LODGE

    Note: "Rim Side" will be offered if available. Call the reservations desk 877-386-4383 to "insure" cabin number request and then transfer to make your dinner reservation as well.

    Here is a Google Map for the Grand portion of your adventure:

    tinyurl.com/GRAND-T0UR

    Here is a link (paste into browser) of GCNP activiities: tinyurl.com/GCNP-TO-DO

    Here is a suggested timeline for the GCNP tour:

    12:45 After a 4 hour drive, hopefully spotting some elk and buffalo along the way roaming in the stunning alpine meadows as you enter the park, bring your picnic supplies and take a tour of the eastern overlooks. Start with Point Imperial and then progress via Walhalla, Vista Encantada & Roosevelt Point overlooks to Point Royal. Enjoy your picnic rim side while seated on a wedding site bench!
    05:00 Check into the Lodge and take a hike for sunset to the end of Transcept Trail. Return with your in advance dinner reservation to enjoy a nice meal in the "grand" dining room.

    The next morning:

    06:00 Grab a cup of coffee and take a early morning stroll out to Bright Angel Point for the morning sunrise.
    07:30 Enjoy a hearty breakfast before heading off to Page (3 hour drive) and outdoor recreation.

    We hope this time is very special for you!

  • 7. Page - Antelope Slot Canyon Exploring, Lake Powell Cruising & Colorado River Floating!
    Page, Arizona

    Page, AZ is situated in an obscure part of the US, meaning difficult to reach. But once you are in range, this interior wonderland is a must visit for water recreation and further exploration of the breathtaking sandstone/limestone formations of the Southwest. The appropriate name for the overall area is Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Glen Canyon Dam, built in 1963, creates the 186 mile long expanse of Lake Powell and controls the flow of the Colorado River.

    Note: Your National Park annual pass is also valid for this Recreation Area.

    For accommodations, we HIGHLY recommend spending your 2 nights at the DreamKatchers B&B with hosts Eric and Jarod. The B&B is located in Big Water, 15 miles from Page. This distance is pitch and putt compared to the overall driving on this adventure.

    Here is a Google Map (paste into browser) for the Page portion of your adventure:

    tinyurl.com/PAGE-TOUR

    After resting up and reflecting on the rim of the Grand Canyon, it is time to get moving again! Spend some time with the above map in terrain mode to gain an overview of where these sites and attractions are in relationship to one another. Switch to satellite mode to see all the Red soil and zoom in on the B&B hot tub!

    Also use this more graphical map of the Glen Canyon Recreational Area (GCNRA) showing better labels to supplement your review: tinyurl.com/GCNR-MAP (Primarily the boundaries of GCNRA, basically Lake Powell versus the Navajo Indian Reservation)

    Here is a suggested timeline for the PAGE tour:

    First day stop at Lower Antelope Slot Canyon in the gravel parking lot for a "chaperoned" tour. Pass on Upper Antelope and take the Secret Slot Canyon Hummer tour the next morning!

    8:45 Leave Grand Canyon Lodge for 2.5 hour drive to Page & Lower Antelope Canyon

    Here is detail map of Antelope Canyon entrances: tinyurl.com/ACYN-MAP

    The Corkscrew (Lower Antelope Canyon) & The Crack (Upper Antelope Canyon) = The Antelope Slot Canyon is on Navajo Indian Reservation land and it is owned and controlled by the Navajo Indians. In order to tour the canyons, you must pay a "Reservation Fee" and "Guide Fee" to a sanctioned Navajo Tour Group, aka The Monopolies! Currently Kens Tours, $26 for 1 hour, is the only Navajo guide for Lower Antelope Canyon. Upper Antelope Canyons tours, $32 for 1.5 hours, require transport to The Crack, in a 4WD vehicle, with staggered time Navajo Tour agencies from the town of Page.

    We recommend ONLY doing the Lower Slot Canyon and instead of the Upper the Hummer Secret Canyon tour the next day. The Lower tour involves scaling very well-constructed steel ladders down and through the Corkscrew formation with up ladders at the end along with a small hike back to the parking lot.

    Photography is a major draw. There are extended tours offered for the photography buffs. For best results you will need a tripod with the camera set at slow film speed. Handheld's should be set at high film speed. The guides offer setting advice to assist you in capturing that incredible shot. Judge your own sanity level with long exposures and potentially lots of people. The best sunlight time is high noon, surprise!

    11:00 Park at Lower Antelope Canyon entrance by the shack. Tours run every 30 minutes so no reservation (ha ha) is required. A guide will walk you to the canyon descent hole in the ground. Enjoy your digital moments and the entertaining climbs primarily down the ladders. Unfortunate note: Guides might warn you about potential flooding or forbid entrance. There are escape ropes inside if a surprise flood materializes. This is extremely unlikely BUT use your common sense judgment.
    12:15 Quick lunch in Page at the Dam Bar & Grille
    01:00 Rendezvous at Colorado River Discovery for 5 hour float down Colorado River (terrific)
    06:15 Enjoy a margarita, chips/salsa and appetizer's at Fiesta Mexicana
    07:30 Check-in at DreamKatchers B&B
    08:30 Enjoy a refreshment on the patio or at the hot tub on the roof!

    IF you pass on these tours, then stop at the Glen Canyon Dam and the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. There is a great guided tour (24 hour advance reservation advised), lasting 45 minutes, given every 30 minutes until the last tour at 4. It is only $5, quite the value! You can also take a short hike on the Hanging Garden Trail and even head out to Horseshoe Bend for the late afternoon light!

    Also, many take "long" Lake Powell cruise to Rainbow Bridge. We have not done this because of super boredom fears!

    Recommended restaurant's in Page are Bonkers and the Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge - What a name!

    Second Day:

    07:30 Enjoy a fine breakfast at DreamKatchers
    09:00 Take the Hummer Secret Canyon Tour. The Powell museum next door to the store is a worthwhile visit. DreamKatcher's will have a free pass.
    12:00 Lunch in town
    01:30 Last hourly speedboat rental is 2:00PM (minimum 2 hours, fuel burns at $40 per hour) Take high speed cruise of the both Antelope and Navajo Canyon's during your 2 hour splurge!
    05:00 Stretch your legs and take easy "stroll" to the Hanging Gardens just before reaching the Glen Canyon Dam entrance crossing!
    06:00 Dinner in town or pickup BBQ at DC's Backyard BBQ for consumption back at the B&B

    The next day it is off to the Red Rock Mountains of Sedona:

    Pack your picnic supplies for lunch in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona.

    07:45 Enjoy one last delicious breakfast at DreamKatchers
    09:00 Similar to Dante's View in Death Valley, it is appropriate to scale one more hill and this time say good bye to the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend Overlook. On Highway 89, 5 miles beyond Page, just south of highway marker 545, turn west on the dirt road which ascends the small hill. Drive a short distance west and park at the base of the hill. Climb, more trudge, up and down this very sandy (remember sand-stone formations) hill. 1.5 mile (2.4km) round-trip. Adios Rio de Colorado!
    10:30 Ladies and Gentlemen....Start your shopping! First stop at the Cameron Trading Post, then its off to the Oak Creek Vista Overlook for more Native American art.

    See detailed write-up in the Sedona section!

  • 8. Sedona
    Sedona, Arizona

    Sedona and its Red Rocks are supposed to be "experienced"! Many visitors come for the spiritual powers of the vortexes and their cosmic invigorating forces. We thoroughly enjoy geography and nature plus we do appreciate decorating and perusing art galleries. So Sedona has quite an appeal for us, but plain and simple....we fall short on the cosmic scale!

    Arts and Crafts, Trinkets and Trash - Sedona is brimming with galleries. We find Southwestern art pieces to be quite unique and attractive. We have acquired a few Indian pottery items, as well as, some carved stonework for display in our home. Some of the silver and turquoise jewelry pieces are also quite nice. Although we are literally blown away at the steep prices for Navajo rugs (you be the judge). Part of our fun, on every trip we take, is to find and purchase some item which defines some essence of our tour. For instance, a Maori greenstone fish hook in New Zealand, a Vikings horn in Norway, blown glass in Sweden, a didgeridoo in Australia and a HofBrauHaus beer mug in Germany! We feel Sedona offers a great place to find an emblematic piece or two for your time in the Southwest National Parks.

    Coming from Page, the shopping starts about halfway to Sedona at Cameron's Trading Post and then continues at the Oak Creek Vista Overlook with outdoor displays, just before descending on the "crookedest" highway in America. Both of these stops offer many Native American art pieces plus the Vista is fabulous. Our hard learned travel shopping experience is IF you find something you really like just buy it. The chances of returning after moving on is highly unlikely. The stubborn but foolish Mr Strand walked from two barter experiences (only a few dollars apart), one a hand-carved silver plate in Luxor and a hand-carved obsidian Chac-Mool with inlaid turquoise in Chichen Itza that he will always regret.

    For an accommodation in Sedona, we again highly recommend a B&B. The nicer properties are located in areas with wonderful views of all those Red Rocks! Our first choice is Adobe Village Graham Inn. It is situated adjacent to Bell Rock and the Courthouse Butte Loop trail which is a terrific way to start the morning!

    The Coconino National Forest offers an excellent web site: www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino listing the Recreational Activities for the Red Rock District. It provides details for all the scenic drives, hiking trails and picnic areas. Also Great Sedona Hikes lists some favorite trails: www.greatsedonahikes.com/

    From the Oak Creek Vista Overlook:

    tinyurl.com/SED0NA-TOUR (paste into browser)

    Your America The Beautiful Pass is honored in these "Red Rock Pass" locations!

    12:45 Picnic at Banjo Bill Picnic Area.
    Note: We would pass on Slide Rock State Park because it is touristy and does not honor the Federal pass for parking.
    02:00 Set out on a scenic driving and hiking tour of the Red Rock/Sycamore Canyon area. Study the Google Map above in Terrain and Satellite modes to gain an understanding of the Red Rock hiking. Effectively it is taking Dry Creek Road (FR 152), after passing through town, off 89A which leads up to the traiheads. Some may require traveling short distances on dirt roads. The Enchantment Resort and the longer Boynton Canyon Hike are also in this local.
    02:30 First head up to the easy Fay Canyon Hike, 3 miles in and out, for wonderful views.
    03:30 Then continue to the Palatki Heritage Site for Ancient Cliff Dwelling and Pictographs
    05:00 Then on the way back take the short dirt road to Devil's Bridge Trail #120 for another short hike to this natural rock bridge. Figure 1-1.5 hours
    Note: IF you pass on golf the next day, you can take a 2 hour off road jeep tour to further explore other Red Rock areas.
    06:30 Check into Adobe Village Graham Inn B&B. Relax after a long day
    05:00 or 06:30 on Monday or Wednesday You can walk over to the Sedona School of Massage and receive a "student" massage for $30!
    08:30 Casual dinner at the Red Rock BBQ!!

    The next day starting from the Adobe Village Graham Inn:

    07:00 Early morning hike before breakfast on the Courthouse Butte Loop trail
    08:15 Enjoy breakfast before golf OR take a jeep tour with lunch in Sedona at the Cowboy Club (cactus, rattlesnake, buffalo) and shopping in the many stores like the Sedona Arts Center, Tlaquepaque and Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art
    10:00 Tee off at Oak Creek Country Club will probably be the preferred choice!
    03:00 Relax and freshen up before heading to Sedona International airport
    03:30 Out of Africa, Out of Sedona, Red Baron, Red Rocks what in the cosmos does this mean? Does Bi-Plane come to mind? For $130 each, we highly recommend taking a 4PM (best lighting on rocks, too much sun in the eyes nearer sunset) 30 minute, Mystic Canyon Tour flight with Sedona Air Tours! The flight takes you out over the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Bell Rock/Cathedral Rock, then towards Mund Canyon, up to Oak Creek Canyon where you drove through approaching Sedona, out over the high plateau to Red Canyon and back to Sedona International. Yes we only live once and you will never forget this experience! 10X better than a Balloon Ride!

    Here is a Google Map (paste into browser) with "road limitations" giving a general idea of the flight plan: tinyurl.com/BP-ROUTE May the force be with you!

    05:30 Enjoy late afternoon hors d'oeuvres at the Adobe Village Graham Inn
    07:45 Head out for a late evening dinner in Sedona. On the way take a small detour and visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross on the hill to the east! Consider Cafe Elote, open Tuesday thru Saturday, appropriately specializing in Southwestern/Mexican cuisine for your last night in the Southwest!

    The final morning:

    07:30 Enjoy early breakfast and head on down the highway to Phoenix for your flight to San Diego and fish tacos for late lunch next to the Pacific Ocean! The drive is 114 miles and will easily be less than 2 hours!

    Note: Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so it is the same time as California!

  • 9. Phoenix
    Phoenix

    Target arrival time at the airport from 10:15 to 10:30, flight at 11:30!

    For this Southwest itinerary, due to overall time restraints, Phoenix will only be used as a transportation hub. Although do take note of the saguaro cactus beside the highways as you drive into Phoenix. They are majestic! On Southwest Airlines, the flight time to San Diego is only 1 hour, 10 minutes and should cost from $60-$80 per person. The drive is 362 miles with gas costing around $50.

    In our book flying is well worth it, especially after driving so many miles through the deserts and National Parks. You in essence get a "new" start for the California scene plus a new buggy to bomb around in!

  • 10. San Diego
    San Diego, California

    San Diego is a great city!!

    The beaches are most definitely the main attractions. From La Jolla Shores, Windansea Beach, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach to Coronado/Silver Strand Beach it is a series of communities all embracing the lifestyle of wind and surf! Everywhere you venture around the water there are magnificent marinas all populated by beautiful cabin cruisers for ocean navigation. There are people of all ages strolling through town in their bathing suits, wearing their flip flops and enjoying outdoor dining. Add in some mega attractions like the Zoo, USS Midway for the naval theme, Sea World, Birch Aquarium, Coronado's charming character and expansive, white sanded setting of the Del, world class Golf, Old Town and it totals to What Is There Not To Like?

    Flying into San Diego is a kick. It is one of only a few major cities in the world where you seem to land literally in the middle of town. This makes picking up your classic "California" buggy and getting right to the action a breeze!

    Geek Note: When flying turn on your auto GPS unit to display the town names as you fly over going 500 mph!

    Here is a Google Map, paste into browser, detailing all the the locations we recommend for your 3 nights in San Diego. Take some time to review it in order to see how close all the beaches and attractions are to one another. Although we do suggest staying 2 nights in Coronado and then 1 night in the La Jolla area before heading north to Los Angeles:
    tinyurl.com/SD-TOUR

    Here is some Southern California cost analysis of the attractions we recommend:

    San Diego Zoo $37 or Wild Animal Park which we do not recommend
    Sea World $69 Note: We in 2009 paid $53 at the Hyatt Regency
    Universal Studios $69 Note: AAA does offer a discount
    Disneyland/California Adventure 2 Day Hopper $151

    Total retail "Big 5" Attractions $326 ---$269 with 2010 Southern California City Pass,
    includes 3 days at Disneyland but we only have time for 2 with 1 early admission day. citypass.com/

    USS Midway $17 sandiegan.com/ Check this site for coupons $2 off
    Birch Aquarium $12 - $1 off coupon
    Hike, Bike & Kayak (Bike plunge & tandem kayak) $75 Call and ask where coupons are found. Potentially another 10% off!

    Our itinerary has you arriving around 12:30 from Phoenix. So here is our schedule for the first half day and evening:

    12:45 Arrive San Diego International and pickup "California" buggy
    01:45 Drive to Vons Grocery on Truxtin Road to procure provisions for the room, picnic & beach
    02:30 Drive to Ocean Beach for lunch at the South Beach Bar & Grill. Enjoy fish tacos and an IPA from the many on tap. Visit the Pacific Ocean by taking a walk out to the end of Ocean Beach pier (longest pier on the California coast)
    04:00 Drive to the USS Midway (this is a Navy town) for tour and ride on the flight simulator
    06:00 Head to Coronado Island for check-in at the Marriott Coronado Island Resort (save the exorbitant parking fees by parking out on the street in front of the resort)
    07:00 After settling in, possibly with a swim in the pool, take an enjoyable walk through the older neighborhood of Coronado to dinner with an ice cream treat! Here is a Google Map of the suggested 4 mile loop circuit: tinyurl.com/COR-STROLL (paste into browser) Note: Outside the Marriott just follow the bikeway along the Bay towards the bridge, around Tidelands Park, under the bridge and border the golf course until you reach Visalia Row and then turn towards Orange Avenue. Dependent on time for sunset, you may want to extend your stroll to watch it at Coronado Beach next to the Del. Bring some wine and cheese! tinyurl.com/COR-SUNSET Note: There is no shuttle (940) after 6:30pm, so its walk or take a cab!
    07:45 We recommend wonderful Thai food at Swadee's or pizza at Alexanders. Then enjoy an ice cream at MooTime Creamery (it's fun to let the server choose your flavors and possibly one mixer). IF the shops are open you can do some browsing all along this section of Orange Avenue which is very near the Del. PIZZA + ICE CREAM - WALK = BREAKEVEN CALORIES!

    The next day suggestions are as follows:

    07:45 If you do not enjoy the buffet at the Marriott, then take a nice stroll along the waterfront with skyline view and head to the Old Ferry Landing and up First Street to Tartine a European style cafe serving terrific bakery goods.
    09:00 Best to visit the world famous Zoo in the am when the animals are at their liveliest! Spend at least 4 hours at the Zoo and then walk around Balboa Park, stopping for lunch.
    01:15 Enjoy a fine lunch on the outside terrace at Prado!
    Golf Note: Coronado Municipal is a flat, mature, nicely manicured track that offers a very affordable green fee, if you are so inclined to play. But Torrey Pines South awaits!
    03:00 Head back to Coronado Island for a tour of the Del and spending some time on its beautiful beach. There is a nice view across the inlet of Cabrillo Monument. Many tripadvisor's suggest an excursion to the Monument but we say pass! Enjoy your time at the beach, poolside or even rent a jet ski at the Marriott pier for a thrill ride around San Diego Bay!
    06:30 Head over to Old Town for shopping, walking around and enjoy dinner at the Old Town Mexican Cafe. Utilize the next available interior table strategy by putting your name in a 1/2 hour before your want to eat. Then when you are ready, go back to the restaurant and you will get the next available table. Ole!
    09:15 On the way back from Old Town, stop off at the Gaslamp district to have a nightcap and walk around!

    The next day start's the journey North:

    Predicated upon your enjoyment level of physical activities, the departure time might vary! We would leave early and be in La Jolla by 8:15 at Hike Bike Kayak Sports for the combination bike ride "plunge" and kayaking among the La Jolla Caves!
    08:15 Arrive and check-in at Hike Bike Kayak Sports for van ride to the top of Mount Soledad, followed by a steep decent to Pacific Beach amongst the luxury homes, to Bird Rock, Windansea Beach and then past La Jolla Cove! About 2 1/2 hours of not to strenuous biking.
    11:00 Walk through La Jolla Shores to kayaks staged on beach. Take tandem paddle out to caves, into a cave and back to shore, spotting the many leopard sharks swimming just below the surface. This is great!
    01:00 Lunch across the street at one of the sidewalk restaurants. Choice of fine Italian at Osteria Romantica or possibly the Sushi place right next door!
    02:30 Check into the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club to relax and spruce.
    03:45 Off to Sea World! We recommend heading to the Hyatt Mission Bay and parking at the hotel. Confirm in advance, but take their exclusive water taxi ($3 round trip) to a private marina entrance at the park. Purchase your ticket from the concierge which is cheaper than at Sea World. Note: It is $12 to park your car at Sea World, so a double savings plus a boat ride to boot!
    OR Pass on SeaWorld and stay in La Jolla. Enjoy an elegant dinner at George's At The Cove in its California Modern area (ask for window just before sunset), budgeting an hour or more to tour art galleries on Prospect Street surrounding the entrance to Georges plus, if it is open, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Explore La Jolla Cove tide pools and see the seals at Children's beach. Check your Almanac for sunset and tides.

    And finally it's off to LA LA Land preceded by an early morning round of golf at Torrey Pines South:

    08:00 Tee time to play 18 holes on the South course, site of the PGA San Diego Open and the USGA US Open, won by Tiger Woods. If only 1 or 2 play, then the Birch Aquarium is not far away which offers very interesting exhibits. Plus La Jolla shops, art galleries and beaches (possibly an ocean swim in the rare Ecological Reserve in front of your hotel) are also available to pass the time while waiting for the golfer(s).
    01:00 After golf, head over to the Gliderport to watch the cliff gliders and have a picnic at one of their tables. The Gliderport also offers fast food style cuisine. Tradition has you taking one last look back at the coast and La Jolla plus you can see the golf course from the bluff.

    Hypothetically - Difficult to imagine that anyone would pass on golf! But getting earlier to the Magic Kingdom may be a higher priority. After exploring La Jolla and stopping at the Gliderport, you may also want to consider an early picnic and stop at Mission San Juan Capistrano on the way to Anaheim!

    Then the Magic Kingdom of Disney awaits!

  • 11. Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, California

    Los Angeles is Los Angeles!

    The final City on this fantastic journey will not disappoint. For us, we find LA to be an unusual place. Literally it is one gigantic concrete parking lot punctuated with neighborhoods like Beverly Hills that you find just by turning off main boulevards. The traffic is slow in every direction and it moves in waves from dead stop to 75 MPH and then back to dead stop. The beaches are terrific stretching from Malibu all the way to Redondo. Further down the coast are Newport and Laguna beaches confined in the environs of the OC (Orange County) Hard bodies promenade around Venice Beach with make believe characters like Goofy and Mickey cavorting around Disneyland. There is culture found at both the Getty Museum & Villa plus an architectural wonder or two like Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall. Add in the allure of Hollywood and Universal Studios and it totals to a place unlike anywhere else on the planet!

    We are recommending 3 nights in LA which really limits the activities. Plus the final day is catching your flight to head home so part of the plan is to be relatively close to LAX (Santa Monica) on the last day. So let's make the scenes......Amusement, Hollywood, Culture and of course the Beach!

    Here is a Google map, paste into browser, of all the suggested scenes making up the action: tinyurl.com/LA-LA-TOUR

    Amusement Scene - First half day and half day next:

    Disneyland and California Adventure require strategy! Tripadvisor Disneyland attraction has tons of sage insights on how to "maximize" your time at these theme parks. Per above, we recommend the 2010 Southern California Pass, staying within walking distance of the park, enjoying Disneyland from mid-afternoon to closing and then be first through the gate at California Adventure the next morning with your early morning pass. Consider purchasing "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland" and check out Ride Max: http://www.ridemax.com/

    03:30 Arrive from San Diego and check into the Candy Cane Inn! You will be spending little time in your room and this location cannot be beat for the price!
    04:00 Enter the Magic Kingdom armed with your strategy and have a blast!

    Amusement, Culture & Beach Scenes - Second Day:

    08:30 First in line at California Adventure, relatively small park, do not miss Aladdin and hit the popular rides right out of the gate!
    11:45 Head out in your California buggy to Culture in the form of architecture, International cuisine, jewelry and art! The Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry can be seen with a short detour along the way. You can drive around the Hall and then get back onto the freeway. Or see in street view on Google Maps by clicking the camera icon!
    01:00 Arrive at the Farmers Market in Hollywood for lunch. You will be amazed at the sheer numbers of International eateries to choose from. Everybody can enjoy their own favorite cuisine! Here is a listing of restaurants: tinyurl.com/LUNCH-FMKT
    02:30 Stop near Rodeo Drive and take a stroll among the shops in this famous high end shopping area. Possibly you will get the urge to buy a Rolex!
    03:15 Back into the buggy and off to the free ($15 to park) J Paul Getty Museum. This museum is extremely impressive especially the building materials. Take in the vistas of LA and the distant Palos Verdes hills and stroll through the gardens. The impressionistic art is also impressive. Obviously we are impressed!
    06:00 From the Getty head to Santa Monica for your 2 night stay!
    06:45 Check into your Santa Monica hotel. We recommend taking a flier on Priceline. The actual time spent at the property is limited so there is no need to pay a price for amenities you will not use. Although we would still bid for a 31/2 star property for $140.
    07:15 For dinner this evening, provided its a beautiful night with a gorgeous sunset, let's hit 3 restaurants and enjoy appetizers at each one!
    tinyurl.com/SM-DINE (paste into browser)

    First for appetizers of seafood and raw oysters (Mr Strand loves, Mrs Strand no way) head to BP Oysterette at 1355 Ocean Ave. Put your name in and have the hostess call you on your cell phone when you can be seated. Then take a walk across the street down to the pier and along the beach. After seafood appetizers take a stroll around the block and along 3rd Street Promenade. Then enjoy a salad at Anisette. Continue your stroll among the shops, possibly heading over to Main Street. Then finish your progressive dinner tour at Bar Pintxo for Spanish Tapas! Dependent upon your hunger, you can order as much or as little as you want!

    Hollywood & Beach Scenes - Third Day:

    07:30 Walk over along Main Street to the Grand Orange for a nice breakfast. Pack some refreshments for a short hike in the afternoon.
    08:45 Universal Studios, like Disneyland, requires some strategy. We recommend getting there when the gates open. There is some terrific exercise walking up the hill to the entrance. Go directly to the Studio Tour ride (highlight) to avoid long waits later on. Outside the park is the Universal City Walk which has some interesting shops and some eateries to grab a quick bite. We would only spend 4 hours at Universal and then head back to Santa Monica via the Hollywood Hills to Hollywood Highlands Center -Kodak Theater (Academy Awards) and Walk of Fame!
    01:00 And those Hollywood nights, In those Hollywood hills, It was looking so right,It was giving him chills, In those big city nights, In those high rolling hills,Above all the lights, With a passion that kills! Take a ride up to Runyon Canyon Park for a short hike and a sweeping view of LA and the Hollywood sign on the adjacent hillside! In this no leash park, surprise, there are lots of dogs, who do leave behind some residuals. But you may spot a celebrity on the trail! Here is a Google Map with the route over Mulholland Drive from Universal: tinyurl.com/HWOOD-DRIVE
    02:15 Arrive at the Hollywood/Highland Center and park for $2. Right on the street is the Kodak Theater (Academy Awards) and a section of the 18 block Walk of Fame sidewalks.Take a 30 minute tour of the Kodak Theater and accept your Oscar! Then Walk down the Walk along Hollywood Blvd and check out a few stars. Reality note: Hollywood is not in a real charming area so staying around the Center is our suggestion. hollywoodandhighland.com/
    04:00 Rent bicycles by the Santa Monica Pier at Sea Mist Bike Rentals. Take a cruise along the paths towards Venice Beach enjoying the vibes and hard bodies!
    06:00 Enjoy happy hour at the Casa Del Mar. This $500 per night property is beautifully situated on Santa Monica Beach. The happy hour prices are a bargain for such a nice setting.
    07:30 Last night special dinner in LA to celebrate the end of your magnificent odyssey during this very special trip. We recommend enjoying JiRaffe for your last evening!

    The last day and alas heading home:

    Dependent on your flight time. You can finish up with an early morning tour of the Getty Villa and then enjoy lunch on the terrace at Geoffrey's in Malibu! Moonshadows has better food but the view at Geoffrey's is very nice especially for one last toast to an excellent trip!