We're taking the summer to explore the western U.S. and its water stories. We left our home in Tucson, Arizona on May 21 and are circling the western U.S. and part of Canada until August 21. My partner, David Chambers, is a writer and photographer, and I am a PhD student at the University of Arizona studying water issues. We are both experienced rock climbers and backpackers who love exploring the amazing landscapes of the west. We travel in our Subaru Outback and camp each night in the tent!
Hitting the road! A short, beautiful drive through the Sonoran Desert to Sedona.
The drive through the red spires of Sedona and the winding roads through Oak Creek Canyon are stunning. There are great campgrounds in the canyon, but we found a free camping spot off of a forest road in the hills above the canyon.
We were excited to go do some sport climbing at The Pit outside of Flagstaff, but unfortunately I rolled an ankle on the way down into the canyon (bummer!). We decided to take it easy and headed onward and east to Canyon de Chelly.
Canyon de Chelly National Mo, Arizona, United States
We found a great campsite among the cottonwoods just outside of Canyon de Chelly and took a sunset drive along the viewpoints above the canyon. What an amazing place! Tall red walls with a lush green river valley below where Navajo people still farm and graze their animals below ancient petroglyphs. The next day we did the short hike down into the canyon and the White House ruins - very worthwhile!
Indn Route 42, Oljato-Monument Valley, AZ, US
Monument Valley is iconic, but also very crowded and pretty expensive ($20 to get in, $22 to camp), so we continued on. You can get a great view of the iconic rock formations from the highway, also. The drive is awesome.
Hc 60 Box 1, Blanding, UT, US
When we saw that Natural Bridges was only 40 miles off of our winding path toward Durango, we couldn't resist! The dirt switchbacks of the Moki dugway are exposed, exciting, and they offer beautiful views of the Valley of the Gods below. Campgrounds at the National Monument were full, but we found a lovely quiet site in one of the dispersed camping areas nearby. We spent the next morning doing short hikes to the iconic bridges. Hikers looking for a longer day in the Monument will enjoy the longer hike through the main canyon.
Family time in Durango! This southern Colorado mountain town is a lot of fun. We spent several days staying with David's sister and her family, and we took day trips to hike and climb. David's four year-old nephew had his first outdoor climbing experience at the highway-side X Rock crag.
Arches, Canyonlands, and Indian Creek (both for the climbers and the National Park-goers) are all short drives from Moab, making it the quintessential hub for desert adventures (whitewater, canyoneering, mountain-biking included). We did some cragging at Wall Street, right next to the Colorado River (there is camping nearby).
Canyonlands, Utah, United States
Canyonlands is a big national park with several areas (The Needles, The Maze, and Island in the Sky). We explored the Island in the Sky area for two days, based out of the campground near the Green River overlook. We hung our hammocks from the shade structure at the campsite, and this made for a cool basecamp to escape the desert sun. We left the park by way of the Schaffer Trail, a small 4WD recommended track which switchbacked down the cliffs until it reached the Colorado one more. This is really worthwhile and super fun if your car can make it on the rougher terrain. The AWD Subaru Outback handled it fine. Those with lower clearance than this, beware. The lower roads in Canyonlands are strictly 4WD only and less-able cars will get stuck.
Capitol Reef, Utah, United States
We made a quick stop in Capitol Reef at dusk and did the short scenic drive through the park, which left us wishing we had more time there. Fruita is busy, but the valleys and canyons are absolutely gorgeous. For those in 4WD vehicles, there are long roads all over this park.
Dixie National Forest, Utah, United States
The high elevation forests of Dixie National Forest provided a cool place to stay for the night, with a lovely campsite next to a stream. In the summer heat, this area southwest of Captiol Reef can be a welcome escape.
Henrieville, UT, US
The drive from Moab to Zion National Park takes you through the scenic landscape of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
We spent a day in Bryce Canyon and hiked the Fairyland Canyon loop trail. It was a great day hike through canyons and spectacular hoodoos. (Tip: if you don't have a National Parks pass, this trail is technically before the entrance to the park!)
I am a PhD student at the University of Arizona studying water issues (geography.arizona.edu/user/sophia-borgias) and my partner, David Chambers, is a writer and photographer (davidvonnegutchambers.com). Our latest collaborative documentary project took place in central Chile (www.davidvonnegutchambers.com/maipo) and now we are driving all over the West, from Tucson to Canada and back again!