Arizona and New Mexico Road Trip From LA
In early March, my Fiancé Adrian and I rented a van and set out on a road trip with our three dogs. We've been wanting to buy a travel van for years so we thought we'd try out life on the road for 9 days.
Before we left, I created a list of places that would be cool to check out and then we remained flexible on the itinerary. Having no hotel or Airbnb reservations made it easy to go with the flow. We were on a tight budget and planned the trip last minute so a van rental ended up being an affordable choice and then we could also stock groceries in the fridge and drawers.
The list is organized in a way that would take us on somewhat of a loop. There definitely wasn't enough time to check out all of these spots but it's ideal to have options mapped out and then see what we gravitate towards in the moment:
Arizona the way there
Arcosanti "An experimental micro-city seeking the radical reorganization of the built environment by integrating Architecture and Ecology" (6 1/2 hours from LA) *Dog friendly in certain areas
Montezuma’s Castle "Ancient ruins" (40 mins from Sedona) *Dog friendly
Jerome "Miner ghost town" (40 mins from Sedona / out of the way)
Grand Canyon (2 hours from Sedona) *Dog friendly in certain areas
Blue Canyon - Hopi Indian reservation (2 hours from Grand Canyon) You need a guide to see this land + ask about bringing your dog in advance.
Petrified Forest National park (2 hours 40 mins from Blue Canyon) *Dog Friendly
Bisti Badlands (3 hours from Petrified Forest) *Dog friendly
Chaco Culture National Historical Park "Ancient ruins" (2 hr 20 min for Abiquiu + 3 1/2 from Taos) *Not dog friendly for historical sites but okay for trails
Santa Fe (1 hour from Albuquerque + 1 1/2 from Taos)
+ Bandelier National Monument (1 hr outside Santa Fe) *Dogs not permitted on trails
Tent rocks (1 1/2 hours from Santa Fe) *Dogs not allowed
Albuquerque (1 hour from Santa Fe)
South New Mexico
White Sands (3 1/2 hours from Albuquerque) *Dog Friendly
Gila Cliff Dwellings "Ancient ruins" (4 1/2 from Tucson) *Service dogs only
Chiricahua (2 hours from Tucson) *Dog friendly in certain areas
Bisbee "Old copper mining town"
Saguaro National Park *Dogs allowed in most areas
Sonoran Desert (2 hrs from Saguaro)
Back home to Topanga Canyon
Don't forget to pack:
Cold temp sleeping bags - We car camped in Bisti Badlands and would have been miserable without these
Clothes for hot and cold temperatures- it can be extreme
Aux cord + cell car charger
You can download free audiobooks for the road from Hoopla if you have a library card
Extra water + insulated stainless steel water bottles (if you want to get fancy and filter your water on the go, I just heard of a rad Berkey filter water bottle)
Dish soap + paper towels
Bandanas + hat
Bath towel + soap (should you find a shower and want to scrub your filthy bod)
Basic first aid supplies
Separate bag for dirty clothes
+ all the obvious stuff
Sedona- Vortex Land
We car camped in National Forest Land and basically just pulled off on the side of the road there because we were so tired. The next day, we checked out Amitabh Stupa & A Peace Park, Devil's Bridge- a 2-mile roundtrip hike to a large natural stone arch and Cathedral Rock Trail (1.5 roundtrip). We also took a pretty drive through Oak Creek. It was more crowded than I had imagined but undeniably beautiful. We tried to feel that Sedona vortex energy but can't say that we did.
Jerome- Mining Ghost Town
An old mining town built on the side of a hill. I think we were expecting a ghost town but it has lots of restaurants, galleries, tourist stuff, etc. It's location was pretty wild and some of the buildings were interesting. We didn't spend much time here but cool to see if you're into that kind of thing and already passing through.
Petrified Forest National Park- Rainbow Petrified Wood & The Painted Desert
One of my favorite stops of the trip. We car camped the night before at the gift shop parking lot. The park opens daily at 8 am so we headed in after we made breakfast. I couldn't get enough of it. The landscape is so breathtaking, colorful and mesmerizing in person. I found it so peaceful and inspiring. I had just assumed it would close at sunset but it actually closes at 5pm. That was a major bummer because I had saved the Blue Mesa hike for last, to have the nicest light, and we got kicked out just as I was basically skipping down the trail with excitement.
We hit up Jerry's Mexican American Food Cafe ($) on the way to Bisti, we needed a little break from our groceries, and it was pretttttty tasty. I ordered a sopapilla and loved it. I've never had anything like it in LA or Mexico. It is kind of like Frye Bread and the flavor reminded me a little of biscuits and tortillas.... I had it with honey and it was delicious. I wish I had also ordered a savory version to try. Adrian got the enchiladas with christmas style chile (red + green).
Bisti Badlands- Life on Mars
We car camped near the entrance and it felt like we were camping in outer space. It's dead quiet, dark and bone chilling cold at night in the badlands. This is when you unpack your low temp sleeping bags. In the morning, it was like waking up on another planet. The landscape is so unique and surreal. We made breakfast + coffee, packed up water and snacks and set out to explore. It felt like any minute we'd run into the Goblin King. We had a good time exploring this landscape and felt like March was likely an ideal time of year to do it.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park- Ancient Pueblo Ruins
To get to this park, you have to drive on what feels like endless miles on a washboard road and it is ROUGH. There are two entrances to the park and one is much longer...so check out a map, before you head that way, and take the shorter entrance road. With that being said, it's worth the trip! The park contains ancient ruins of the ancestral Pueblo peoples and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's impressive, beautiful and well preserved.
Santa Fe + Taos
Car camped in Santa Fe National Forest and it was lovely and much warmer than our night in the badlands. After breakfast, we drove to Taos in the AM and enjoyed the scenic drive. Walked by the river, went on a hike, scoped out some thrift shops, explored around a bit. Unfortunately Taos Pueblos was closed that day and we opted out of checking out the Earth Ships because of the pups. One day! We also heard that in Santa Fe Ten Thousand Waves, an outdoor Japanese spa in the mountains, is a must.
White Sands National Monument- White Crystal Dunes
We camped at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and it had bathrooms + showers, felt safe and comfortable.
We woke up early to get to White Sands National Monument at 7 am (either wanted to be there around sunrise or sunset). There was hardly any other people there and the wide open space was DREAMY. I didn't know this before going, but the dunes are actually made of gypsum crystals. It feels cold on your feet and has a certain fluffiness to it. That made it all the more magical. We brought water with us and trekked out a bit (be sure to be mindful of your direction and how far you're going...it would be easy to get disoriented otherwise). It is a surreal place and feels like you're in a distant land you imagined as a child. It started to warm up and the sun bouncing off the white sand is extremely bright. Our dog, Bowie, has blue eyes and white fur and actually got some sunburned eyelids and irritated eyes. We had a bandana around her head and pulled over to shade her eyes but the bounce back from the white sand ended up getting her anyways. That's how bright it is, even in the early morning. We felt so bad about it! If you go with your pup, Bowie would recommend buying one these UV dog goggle options. Otherwise, I've never seen our dogs so excited and happy. Running like maniacs, rolling down hills and body slamming each other. They slept like rocks for the rest of the day.
Check for closures before you go! There's missile testing nearby and they close the national monument on test days. You don't want to drive out to butt fart nowhere and have the one point of interest be closed.
Saguaro National Park- The Land of Giants
We car camped at Gilbert Ray Campground for $10 and it was located right outside of the national park. This was our favorite campground on the trip and we ended up staying an extra night. We spent the days exploring Saguaro National Park, eating at Coyote Pause Cafe and scoring at the thrift store next to it.
Road Tripping With Dogs
Taking a road trip with our three dogs felt somewhat similar to road tripping with kids. They can't be left unattended in the car (it's too hot), not every places allows them, they need breaks and there are certain things you'll end up not doing. However, it was so much fun to have them along and they were stoked to adventure every day. If we were traveling for longer, maybe some of the days I would have rented a dog friendly Airbnb so we could check out some of the "human only" sights. If you make the trip with your pup, be sure to bring extra water for them as well. Even in March, there were some pretty hot days and they ended up drinking a lot. I would only do this trip with my dogs in the mild weather times of year.
Our van rental was from Escape Campervans
There are some rules about free car camping that are helpful to know. We were on tight budget so we were down to rough it for most of the trip. Turns out it is legal to park it for the night in National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, Wildlife Management Areas and National Grasslands. You can read more about car camping rules and info here.
While this was a great option for us, it did feel a little less comforting at times. Nothing happened but when you're parked in what feels like the middle of nowhere...you can get a little spooked sometimes. I would recommend to just follow your gut on this one, if you find a spot that feels right then go for it! If you're at all uneasy, renting a campground spot is a reasonable alternative and then you'll also have access to a bathroom, fire pit, possibly shower, etc.
While on the road, our van had a wheel bearing issue and we spent an extra day and a half in Holbrook, AZ. Escape Campervans ended up sending out another van for us but I would recommend confirming a thorough mechanic inspection for any rental before driving off- including requesting they check the wheel bearings. It seemed to be an overlooked detail.
Doesn't hurt to pack a tripod!
Well, there it is! My whirlwind, car camping, dog pack guide to Arizona and New Mexico. If you've been and have a favorite I didn't mention, feel free to leave it in the comment section.
Happy travels baby