The American Southwest is one of those storied places in our world, packed with so much history, intrigue, and beauty. Its a region you can criss-cross a hundred times and still find more things to do. Perhaps your RVing journey has already taken you there, or perhaps its on your list of places to visit in the future, but, in either case, we wanted to offer up some of our favorite spots across the area so that you can add them to your itinerary.
1. Carlsbad Caverns (Carlsbad, NM)
It’s a cliche to say that a place can take your breath away - but it’s hard to find a better way to describe Carlsbad Caverns. Located in the far southeast reaches of New Mexico, this massive underground network of caves looks like something straight out of Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Center of the Earth, filled with stalactites, fossils, and glistening malachite-colored pools. Its famous “Big Room” is the largest natural underground chamber in North America and the 32nd largest in the world. Another one of the networks caves, nicknamed “Green Lake Room” was at one point on the military’s list of potential fallout shelters in case of a nuclear detonation on US soil.
The Caverns’ 800,000-strong bat population can be seen emerging en masse at dusk, and is incredible to watch from a distance (the park offers designated areas for this). Additionally, for all of our ornithologists out there, the park’s Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area is also home to potentially the world’s largest colony of Cave Swallows.
Camping is permitted in the back country of the park, and is also available in the nearby town of Carlsbad.
2. International UFO Museum (Roswell, NM)
Probably one of the most eclectic sites in the continental US, the International UFO Museum recounts Roswell’s well-documented relationship with extraterrestrial happenings going back to the 1950’s. Its a place that manages to straddle the line between serious and corny with aplomb, and serves as a kind of centerpiece for the town. The museum is engaging for all ages, using life-sized dioramas, real-world historical documents, and personal anecdotes of alien encounters to tell its stories.
The scope of the Museum has expanded in recent years to include research of UFO and extraterrestrial activity around the country, rather than just Roswell. If you’re ever in the vicinity of this unique and compelling spot, make sure to visit!
3. Zion National Park (Springdale, Utah)
Utah contains a number of famous National Parks, but, for us, Zion stands head and shoulders above the rest due to its unique biodiversity and topography. Located at the junction of a plateau, basin, and desert, it’s home to almost 400 different species, spread across four different “life zones” within the park. It also has a rich history of human habitation, from the Ancestral Puebloan/Anasazi migrations starting around 6,000 BC to the more recent Mormon settlements in the 19th century.
If you get a chance to visit this stunning location, we’d encourage you to check out The Narrows. This hike, located in one of Zion’s slot canyons, allows you to wade through the Virgin River for periods of time, and provides some of the lushest, most wildlife-dense views in the entire Park. It’s no surprise it’s one of the most popular spots for nature photographers in the US.
Several RV parks and campgrounds dot the surrounding area.
4. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Durango/Silverton, CO)
The Durango & Silverton Railroad is one of the few railways left in the US that still uses a steam-powered locomotive. Its been in service since the late 1800’s, when it was used as a transport for silver and gold mines. Nowadays, its a popular tourist attraction in southwest Colorado, winding for almost 50 miles through the back country of the Rocky Mountains. The Depots for the train are relatively unchanged from their original construction, and the railroad strives to maintain the spirit of the Old West gold rush days.
Additionally, Durango and Silverton boast attractions and artifacts from Colorado’s early days of incorporation and are worth spending some time in on their own.
5. Grand Canyon National Park (Mohave County, AZ)
No list about the American Southwest is complete without mentioning the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the most visited, most photographed, and most renowned sites in the entire world - and there’s a good chance that you may have been here before. If you have, then you know that there’s no feeling quite like standing on the lip of the Canyon and taking in the view. Breathtaking doesn’t begin to cover it. If you haven’t been, however, then this is definitely a spot that should make your list ASAP.
Because of its immense size, there are myriad lookouts, trails, and campsites along the length of the Park, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. One of the more well-known stretches of the Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, isn’t actually located within the Park premises, but is absolutely worth visiting.
Even though we’ve covered some of our favorite spots here, there are so many other places we love that didn’t make the list: Places like historic Route 66, 18th-century Spanish missions, the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans, and all the ghost towns and abandoned mines peppering the landscape. Each and every one of them is a snapshot into a unique swathe of American history, all of them converging into this single beautiful tapestry that is the Southwest.
No matter where your travels take you across this wonderful region, we’d love to share in the adventure with you. Make sure to tag @RVibrake in your photos, and, as always, happy RVing!