The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part I

A Road Trip through California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada


The Grand Circle is known as one of the best road trips in the US. Taking a minimum of ten days, starting and ending in Las Vegas, you circle round some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Monument Valley. We only had six days in which to visit so it was difficult working out what to leave out. It was early March and not unlikely that we’d hit snow somewhere on route which was a factor in our final decision and starting from San Diego in the south-west corner of California also meant a bit of a trek to get into the region and would mean a further overnight stop so we really only had five days. Pouring over maps, and reading reviews of hotels, motels and B&B accommodation we eventually decided on our trip.

Buy an America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass ($80) at the first park you enter to save you money.

San Diego to Sedona

It would be a long drive to our first overnight stop in Sedona. But a fairly easy route along Interstate 8 to Yuma, which immediately started us thinking about film and song titles we knew about the US, left at  Gila Bend up onto the Interstate 10 and then skirting Phoenix on Interstate 17 and finally up towards Flagstaff, finally getting off the highways and onto the State Route 179 (also known as Red Rock Scenic Byway, an “All-American Road[1]).

South Arizona Sand-dunes

We expected the journey to be fairly mundane as it was almost entirely on highways, but since it was the first time we’d driven this route there were several surprises along the way, not least the huge sand-dunes somewhere close to Yuma I think, where we spotted dune buggies and dune boards. The traffic was sparse until the Phoenix area when it was much more dense until we had passed the Phoenix Cardinals Stadium in Greendale. And the sight of the ‘three-armed cactus’ –  Saguaro Cactus – alongside the road made us feel as though we were in a Western movie.  Fully expecting Red Indians to come over the ridge! Unsurprisingly the flower of this plant is the state flower of Arizona.

Saguaro Cactus

But the most exciting views were when we turned off Interstate 17 and onto 179 where the road winds through the pinion-covered Coconino National Forest with views of spectacular red rock buttes and mesas jutting out from the earth with names like Coffeepot, Cathedral and Thunder Mountain (you can see where they got the roller coaster idea from). We stopped off at  a couple of the scenic pull-outs to take some photos around Bell Rock and stretch our legs around the Courthouse Butte Loop before driving on and through Sedona, known for the spiritual and metaphysical as well as hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, the red rock vistas and scenic drives and on to the 89A to our B&B for the night in Oak Creek Canyon close to Slide Rock State Park.

Thunder Mountain
Entering Sedona (Oak Creek Valley)

Shortly before our arrival there had been a fall of snow in the region and on entering Oak Creek Canyon we were surprised to see it lying all around, though thankfully the road was completely clear. Because of the weather and the fact it was almost dark, we didn’t venture back down into Sedona, but had an early night, looking forward to the drive to Grand Canyon and hoping that the snowfall wouldn’t be a problem.

(click an image to enlarge)

Astonishingly I had never heard of Sedona before I started planning this trip. How on earth has it stayed such a secret to us Brits? It is definitely a place to spend more time in and explore.

[1] There are 27 of these designated by the US Department of Transport, for their exceptional and unique recreational, natural and scenic qualities.

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

47 thoughts on “The Canyon Circle Road Trip: Part I”

  1. This is exciting, visiting such wonderful places. I’m getting homesick for the road. I look forward to more of this trip and reading about your past adventures.

  2. Again, thanks for the link.

    Sedona was one of my favorite places to visit, although I wish I would have stayed longer. I did get in one nice hike that I am not sure you can get to, with all the houses going up all over the place. I left at sunset when the mountains turned a gorgeous deep red that didn’t last very long. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a good place to take any photos, and by the time I got to where it was a good place, the effect was gone. It didn’t last very long. I learned one thing: Shoot the moment, regardless of whether you think it’s a quality shot. Better this than no shot at all.

  3. Lovely to read about your US travels – I did a trip around the southwest last April so this brings back lots of great memories. Sedona was a particular favourite stop of mine, as you say it’s so strange that no-one in the UK seems to have heard of it. Loved the setting and would definitely like to go back and see more (there’s a wine region just outside that sounds like my kind of thing too!).

    1. Sedona looks like the kind of place that even I could enjoy walking around as there are lots of different trails. Maybe May is a good month? Not too hot then but less risk of snow? And a wine region is my kind of thing too 🙂

  4. We stopped at those same sand dunes on our way back from California toward Texas. Unfortunately for me as a photographer, almost all the dunes had dune buggy tracks on them so I couldn’t take pictures of nature as I wanted to.

    We spent a couple of hours at Slide Rock State Park. You’ll have to serve as a promoter of the Sedona area to your fellow Brits.

  5. Oh Jude! I see I commented in 2014 on this, but honestly, it’s so nice to see it again four years later when I’m planning a trip to that area. Sadly, I’m not going to the same places you went, but only to the ones you missed: Arches, Canyonlands, and Monument Valley and then a lot more in Arizona (including Flagstaff) and then on to New Mexico and southern Colorado. I can’t wait to see that scenery. I love that you thought of movie and song titles along the way; I would love to have read about which specific ones you thought of. I’ll link this to my next journey post which is scheduled for April 18. Thanks for linking!

    1. I am glad you are going to different parks as I know you will take some amazing photos and I am probably not going to get back there to see them for myself.

      1. I can’t wait, Jude. I have so many things on my list to see. I hope to hike in many of the parks, and it may be more time consuming than I imagine, so I hope I can see everything. I can’t wait to take photos. I also have an unusual writing intention for this trip, which I’ll post about right before I go. Also, going to try out the wide angle lens. 🙂

        1. Sounds exciting stuff, Cathy! Counting down, I bet. Like Jude I’m not gonna make it so you’ll have to do it for us. 🙂 🙂

        2. Thanks, Jo. I’m very excited, but also a little nervous. Mike will be with me for 10 days, but the rest of the time I’ll be on my own. To be honest, I feel safer traveling alone in many foreign countries than I do here in the U.S.!

        3. I only went to Cape May alone, but usually I have Mike with me, or a friend. With all the violence, hatred and gun-toting here in the U.S., I’m going to be wary, especially as I hope to do hiking in wilderness areas. And then of course, there are rattlesnakes! 🙂

        4. Mmmm… yes I see what you mean. Take care where there are snakes – boots and trousers. Fully charged phone (though there may not be a signal). And make sure you tell someone where you are staying where you are going and when you ought to be back. Now I am sounding like your mother!! Or maybe MY mother!!

  6. I thought this was new and I had somehow missed it, but I see it’s from before we met. Very interesting! We stayed a couple of nights in Sedona on our way to the Grand Canyon but, like you, I hadn’t heard of it before I started planning our trip.

  7. It’s only now that I have become aware of that trip of yours. I need to read all posts about it. Last year we went to Sedona and the Grand Canyon ourselves, but had to cancel Bryce and Zion as my wife at that time was wheelchair-bound. This year we didn’t do any travelling far due to Covid, but that part of the Southwest certainly is on our bucket list still.

    1. It’s a fabulous region. We loved Bryce even though we couldn’t get to much of it due to heavy snowfalls the night before we arrived. And Zion just seemed so peaceful. And somewhere that not many Brits know about. Of course travelling in March had it’s issues! But not in terms of overcrowding. We haven’t travelled at all for a couple of years due to health issues of one of my sons and then Covid. I really hope we can go somewhere next year even if it is only to parts of the UK.

      1. We’r eplanning to take up RV-ing, because we think it might be easier to stay safe these days in an RV than in motels or AirBnBs. At the beginning of September we’re taking our first short trip in a rented RV to see how it works out for us.

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