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.