Denver to Phoenix: A 10-Day Southwest Road Trip

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Denver to Phoenix. I knew it would be ambitious to fit all of the places I wanted to see into a ten day road trip. And packing so much into this short time would likely instill a desire to further explore certain destinations in the future. And that’s exactly what happened.

The trip was a great time of seeing old friends and making new ones, just about every kind of weather you could imagine, a couple unexpected difficulties, and a few new experiences. But first, here’s a look at my trip by the numbers:

Days: 10
Miles Driven: 1,537
National Parks: 3 (Rocky Mountain NP, Arches NP, & Grand Canyon NP)
Miles Hiked: 9
Photos Taken: 1,389
Ballparks: 2 (Coors Field/Chase Field)
Parking Tickets: 1
Cameras Broken: 1

My Route from Denver to Phoenix

My Route from Denver to Phoenix


Day 1

Over eight years. That’s how long it had been since I graduated from college and, as a result, the same amount of time since I had seen a dear friend of mine. Because of this fact, I decided to begin my journey in Denver to visit her and finally meet her husband and daughter.

I landed in the Mile High City excited to see my friend and eager to explore a destination I had long desired to visit. As I drove toward the city, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the sight of the majestic Rocky Mountains towering in the distance. I met up with my friend at a local shopping center , was introduced to her six year old daughter, and then we were quickly back on the road. Our destination? The Google offices in Boulder!

We were greeted by my friend’s husband, who then graciously gave me a tour of a place that seemed more like a playground than a place of work. Our walk through the building left me astonished — and laughing in amazement — at the things I was seeing inside an office building: a climbing wall, massage chairs, a stage in the lunch room, a Nerf gun wall, a teepee for meetings, and even an office bar. Possibly my favorite aspect of the office was the ‘Google 100 Rule’, which states that there must be food within one hundred feet of any work space.

Day 1

Next we were off to Sleepytime Drive, home to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory. I donned my hair and beard net and we were off on our 45 minute free tour of one of the largest specialty tea manufacturers in North America. The tour was quite informative as we learned how the teas are blended, packaged, and shipped. Two pieces of information particularly shocked me: the fact that all tea comes from that one location and that the factory is almost fully automated. Hands down the highlight of the tour is the Mint Room! This section of the factory is where all the peppermint used in Celestial Seasonings teas is stored. Yes, the scent is so powerful that is requires its own separate room in fear that other ingredients will be permeated by the smell.

With some new flavors of tea in hand, we piled back into the car and headed toward Estes Park for a quick stop in the quaint town and a scenic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. The Stanley Hotel is a must-see in Estes Park, as it was the inspiration for novelist Stephen King’s The Shining. After feeling a little creeped out by The Stanley, we made the ascent into Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite the overcast day, the Rockies were still magnificent to behold in person!

Day 2Colorado State Capitol Staircase

My second day in Colorado was all about exploring downtown Denver. My friend and I began our day with a great cup of coffee from Fluid Coffee Bar, then took a walk through the rain over to the Courthouse and the Colorado State Capitol Building. I was disappointed to find that the exterior dome of the Capitol Building was under restoration, but that didn’t prevent us from roaming around inside. We were able to see a magnificent staircase, stand on the step that’s exactly one mile above sea level, and even observed Senate in session. The afternoon consisted of taking photos inside the Brown Palace Hotel, the second-oldest operating hotel in Denver, and playing tourist along the 16th Street Mall.

Being in Denver during baseball season, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Rockies play at Coors Field. After parting ways with my friend for the day, I headed to the ballpark for dinner and some exploration before the game between the Yankees and Rockies began. Coors Field was a great modern ballpark that continued the Denver theme with a row of purple seats in the upper deck, marking the city’s one mile elevation point. Despite a 3-2 loss for the home team, I did have the privilege of watching Rockies legend Todd Helton hit a homerun.

As dusk approached, I ended my day by racing over to the Colorado Convention Center in order to capture the iconic photo of the giant Blue Bear peering inside. All in all, a great day taking in the sights around the Mile High City!

Day 3Red Rocks Amphitheater

My last day in Denver. After a quick stop at the Donut Hut, we made our way to Red Rocks Amphitheater where we took in the sweeping views of Denver in the distance, stuffed our faces with donuts as people ran up and down the steps around us, and took in the sweet melodies of practicing musical groups. My mind was quickly made up that if any of my favorite bands were to play here, I would have no choice but to make a trip simply to experience this incredibly intimate venue.

Denver Skyline

My friend and I said our goodbyes, then it was off to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for a skyline photo from the atrium balcony. I’d say it was worth the stop! I decided to end my time in Colorado with a tour of the Coors Brewing Company in Golden. Apparently there isn’t normally a very long wait for the shuttle to the factory, but of course there would be on a day that I was on a strict schedule to get to Utah at a reasonable hour. The free tour was incredibly informative, but the best part was the three glasses of beer you could sample in the hospitality lounge — for free! Knowing I had a long drive ahead of me, I chose to have one sample — a test market product called Batch 19. My opinion? Let’s just say, I really hope it hits the market!

Golden, Colorado Sign

I hopped in my car and headed west on I-70. My trek across Colorado brought me past towns called Rifle, No Name, and Parachute and, after experiencing a snow squall and a traffic jam due to a rockslide, I finally rolled into Moab, Utah four hours later than I had originally planned. My home for the next two nights was the Lazy Lizard Hostel, but within five minutes of entering my private room I was on my phone booking another hotel for the following night. Yes, it was that bad.

I stuck it out for the night — falling asleep in the clothes I had worn all day, on a mattress with a sheet that didn’t fit, and no blanket to cover myself.

Day 4

My day started early so I could capture the beauty of Arches National Park in the morning light. Within ten minutes of entering the park, my Phillies shirt caused me to meet two guys from my hometown who had now lived out West for the past 20 years…small world! The next five hours was spent hiking and seeing amazing rock formations and arches, like Balanced Rock, Courthouse Tower, and the North & South Windows.

Once the heat of the day really kicked in, I decided to head into town to make my hotel switch. The Motel 6 of Moab was the best decision I made when it came to accommodations! Considering my experience the previous night, I could not have been more happy with the professionalism, cleanliness, and location of this property. The change in lodging was perfect, as the Motel 6 was just a quick 10 minute drive to the entrance of Arches.

Arches National Park

I arrived back at Arches simply to take one hike that evening – one that leads to the most recognized arch in all of Utah, Delicate Arch. I quickly learned how out of shape I was as the climb wasn’t incredibly difficult, but certainly strenuous at points. The end result was well worth the trek, as I had the privilege of viewing Delicate Arch in the golden light of sunset!

Day 5Two Mittens, Monument Valley

An early morning start to Arizona brought me through Monument Valley, where I had to stop along the road to get the iconic photo from Route 163. I was in awe of the sandstone buttes towering around me as I drove towards the Visitor Center. I snapped a few photos of the Mittens from the Visitor Center observation deck, then everything came to a halt. The shutter on my camera was suddenly locked closed! I remained calm, thinking maybe it was just the battery, but the problem remained. I began to panic at the thought of the possibility of not being able to photograph Horseshoe Bend, the whole purpose of my stop in Page, Arizona.

Monument Valley Road

During the last two hours of my drive to Page, I devised a course of action regarding my camera, deciding on how much I was willing to spend on repairs, or a new camera altogether. I arrived in town, checked-in to Best Western Plus, was able to purchase a new camera, made a short hike through sand, and strolled up to the Horseshoe Bend overlook right on schedule. I was very happy that the events of the day didn’t derail my plans of documenting a breathtaking view, but I was also extremely sad that my faithful camera of seven years had kicked the bucket!

*Update* I have now been to Page, Arizona twice and highly recommend the following two hotels:
Best Western Plus at Lake Powell
Super 8 Page

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona

The first five days of my roadtrip from Denver to Phoenix saw me exploring the Mile High City with an old college friend, taking in stunning views at Arches National Park, driving through Monument Valley, my camera kicking the bucket, and photographing the absolutely incredible natural phenomenon that is Horseshoe Bend.

My next five days would be spent entirely in Arizona. And what a great last few days it was!

Day 6

Mother’s Day. An early morning rise found me back at Horseshoe Bend, but the harsh shadows didn’t allow for any worthwhile photo opportunities. Tip #1: arrive at sunrise for morning shots of Horseshoe Bend. After the failed attempt, I made my way back to my hotel for breakfast where I overheard a family discussing how amazing nearby Antelope Canyon was. The regret I already had for not making time for Antelope Canyon only worsened at this moment. Tip #2: If you ever find yourself in Page, MAKE time for Antelope Canyon.

After a Mother’s Day call and a stop at Glen Canyon Dam, I was saying goodbye to Page and on schedule to spend the rest of my day at the Grand Canyon. That plan was quickly ruined when my direct route south was detoured due to a sinkhole, taking me nearly 60 miles out of the way.

I finally arrived at Grand Canyon National Park around 3pm, about two hours later than I would have liked. I was like a little kid in a candy store, being distracted by every viewpoint and stopping at each one to snap away with my camera. Eventually I made it to the Visitor Center, stopping to ask a ranger where the prime sunset-watching location was located. His answer was simple, and made me feel a little foolish for even asking such a question, “It’s the Grand Canyon, my friend. Anywhere is good.” Knowing I was running out of time to catch a shuttle further into the park, I settled on Mather Point and prepared myself for the show. When the blaze of color — oranges, pinks, vibrant purples — began to light up the Canyon walls, a reverence fell over the spectators that had filled the viewpoint. Hardly anyone uttered a word and, if they did, it was a whisper. Truly a magnificent sight to witness!

Once vibrant color gave way to darkness, I climbed back in my car and headed south to Flagstaff. Despite the helpful desk clerk at Hotel Aspen InnSuites explaining the city’s light ordinance, and that most neon signs along Route 66 would be dim, I ventured out and found that Hotel Monte Vista and Orpheum Theater were shining brightly.

Day 7

My morning was dedicated to driving along Route 66 and exploring the old motels, diners, and signs that still marked the once thriving existence of the Mother Road. I was back on the road by noon, with my course set for Sedona.

As I rolled into the beautiful red-rock-city of Sedona, my first view was Uptown — a collection of shops, restaurants, and other tourist attractions. I made a quick stop at Days Inn, my home for the next two nights, where the man at the counter provided a full itinerary of sights, restaurants, and even made a phone call to book the scenic Schnebly Hill Road tour for the next day. Based on his recommendation, I had an enjoyable lunch at The Hideaway, where they are known for their antipasto and list of local Oak Creek beers.

Next up was a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a cross-shaped chapel built into the red rock buttes of the surrounding country-side. Marguerite Staude, who dreamed up the idea, was not of a particular faith but was very “spiritual”. She wanted all religions to feel comfortable, so no formal services have been held at the chapel. Well worth a visit for an architecture lover!

Cathedral Rock

My day concluded with a sunset view of Cathedral Rock, the most famous rock formation in Arizona. The best vantage point is located at Red Rock Crossing Park, where you’ll pay a nominal $10 entrance fee for access to the second most photographed location in Arizona — right behind the Grand Canyon! I had the pleasure of meeting several other photographers waiting for sunset, including one from Pennsylvania who comes back to Sedona every year.

Day 8

The day started off with the Schnebly Hill Road tour with Arizona Safari Jeep Tour. The Mongollon Rim Run, the most popular tour, was a jostling 2-hour adventure that had us climbing over 2,000 feet in elevation and to the edge of the Colorado Plateau. I snickered at a few of the rock formations that we passed along the way — Cow Pie Rock, Snoopy Rock, and Kissing Rock were just a few. The payoff was the panoramic views of the Sedona area from Schnebly Hill Vista!

After exploring Uptown a bit more, snapping photos of Bell Rock, and a quick return visit to Chapel of the Holy Cross, I was off to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled among a grove of sycamore trees, Tlaquepaque is a collection of shops, every medium of art gallery you can imagine, and fine restaurants. Fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, the beautiful grounds are bursting with lush gardens and sparkling fountains. I chose to feast at El Rincon, the most recommended Mexican restaurant in Sedona. After a fantastic meal and a few margaritas, I can vouch for its worthiness!

Schnebly Hill Road Jeep Tour & Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

Day 9

Before leaving Sedona, I decided to make a quick visit to Airport Mesa for views of Sedona and Coffeepot Rock. My stop turned into me making many new “friends”. Just see the photo below! As I headed south towards Phoenix, I enjoyed one last view of Bell Rock in my rear view mirror.

I arrived in a steamy 105° Phoenix and made my way to my Airbnb. I was surprised to find snacks, a bottle of wine, a binder with tourist info, a patio with pool access, a fire pit, and an extremely spacious room. Easily my best Airbnb experience yet!

My new friends at Airport Mesa & the view at my Airbnb

My goal to visit MLB ballparks was continued, as I enjoyed a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. The roof was not opened because of the heat and, let me tell you, it was very strange watching baseball in an air-conditioned indoor stadium. I made my way back to my home for the night, where I bumped into my Airbnb host arriving home from work. After conversing for awhile, she gave me an excellent suggestion for dinner — Delux Burger in North Phoenix. The restaurant had a trendy, stylish setting with gourmet burgers and a great selection of draft beer. As fatigue — and reality of my trip coming to an end — set in, I decided to call it a night and relax at my Airbnb.

Chase Field, Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks

Day 10

Not a very exciting tenth and final day to my trip, as I had a mid-morning flight home to Philadelphia. After discovering a sweet note from my Airbnb host on the windshield of my car, I packed up and made the sad-my-trip-has-come-to-an-end drive to Sky Harbor International Airport.

I hope you find this recap of my travels from Denver to Phoenix helpful in your future road trip planning!

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Recap of a 10-day American Southwest road trip from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona. Click to read the itinerary or pin for later!