Exploring the Southwest USA on Amtrak Southwest Chief and driving to Sedona AZ

Last week, OurFarmilyReviews.com Contributor Marilyn (Grandma, as my kids refer to her) set her sights, with her friend, on a two-week long sightseeing trek around the Southwest (USA). I’m pleased to present this update from her including excerpts from her friend Susan, which comes to you as she’s on the road traveling via train from Chicago to NM to pickup a car rental with select accommodations as they enjoy traveling USA’s Southwest.

Leaving from the Midwest

We kicked off the trip leaving the Chicago area and traveling the first leg via Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. I haven’t taken a train trip in 20 years and it’s hard to believe that I’ll arrive in New Mexico tomorrow morning. If we were driving it would take 2 1/2 days. Wow! And, round trip, it was only $200. Much cheaper than paying for motels, food, and gas.

Santa Fe to Canyon de Chelly

We arrive in Raton, NM in the morning, departed the train to grab the rental car at Hertz. $600+ later, we drove to Santa Fe, approximately 2 ½ hours without stops and checked into Villas de Santa Fe where we spent the night and then explore Santa Fe galleries.

We had a fun day in Santa Fe. Went to a couple of museums, including one dedicated to Georgia O’Keefe and a bunch of galleries. I relly liked our timeshare which was the Villas of Santa Fe, via Diamond Resorts.

The following day, we checked out and drove to Canyon de Chelly (about 4 ½ hours) where we spent the afternoon and evening exploring the Visitor Center and South Rim Drive for about 2 hours and spent the night at Thunderbird Lodge, Chinle, NM.

When we drove to Canyon de Chelly, we really enjoyed the scenery on the way. There are 2 rim drives that allow you to look down into the canyon. I loved Canyon de Chelly! The drive was really interesting with lots of buttes and long vistas. Right around Canyon de Chelly, we drove right next to a mesa edge and below was the Painted Desert, with lots of rocks that were pink and purple and white. That last one ends at spider woman rock. The canyon floor there is 1000 feet deep and the rock is 700 feet high. Impressive! Very dramatic.

We stopped at the visitor center at Canyon De Chelly and got a description of the two rim drives which told about each of the stops, what we could see and the history of each spot. That was very helpful and interesting. We especially enjoyed Spider-Woman Rock.

Today we drove on the north rim of Canyon De Chelly. There were only three stops and each one involved some walking to get to the overlook. The rocks were all swirly, lumpy, and full of interesting colors and textures. When we got to the viewpoints, we could see lots of Indian ruins and we just loved the scenery.


The place we stayed last night in Chinle, NM was called Thunderbird Lodge. It was really a fun place to stay, an old lodge with lots of little rooms next to each other. Very rustic, but the rooms were nice.

The drive across from Canyon De Chelly to Sedona today was really beautiful. We were definitely in the backcountry. We went into a grocery store, which was one of the only businesses we saw in 4 hours. It’s definitely Navajo land out there and the Navajo reservation is huge. The land was just so dramatic with lots of rock outcroppings in shades of bright orange. You really can imagine buffalo being chased by Indians to appear at any moment in the distance.

Sedona Arizona and Beyond

Today, we arrived in Sedona, AZ and will be here for two days.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore Sedona then, the following day, depart for the Grand Canyon where we’ll find our accommodations at the Grand Canyon Inn and Motel. The following days, we’ll make stops in Valle, Cameron, drive along the Vermillion Cliffs and spend the night in Bryce Canyon, UT.

As we leave the Bryce area, we’ll drive to Capital Reef, through the Escalante area, and then on to Moab. This whole trip, without stops, is 6 hours.

Bryce to Capital Reef: This drive cuts through a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park and then follows a breathtaking scenic route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a good, paved highway, but steep in spots. It descends into the Escalante Canyons region and then climbs over Boulder Mountain. From Boulder Mountain, you can see the Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park.

We’ll then travel to the Capitol Reef National Park into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that, weather permitting, are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. In every direction the views are fascinating. From the road, you can enjoy sheer sandstone cliffs, uniform layers of shale and rocks that have been lifted and folded and carved into shapes that stir the imagination. Entrance fees of $5 per vehicle are charged for the Scenic Drive.

Next, our southwest travel adventure takes us to Moab, to Visit Arches and the Canyonlands. Main Points of Interest include Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, Windows Section, Delicate Arch Viewpoint, Devils Garden- (Landscape Arch).

Leaving Moab, we’ll drive to Pagosa Springs, Colorado to spend the night and the following day we’ll leave Pagosa Springs to drive toward Raton where we’ll return the car, hook up with Amtrak’s Southwest Cheif and ride the train back to Chicagoland the following afternoon!

I’m in Sedona [Arizona] now where it feels good to be in one spot while I’m enjoying a beautiful sunset tonight.

Photos by Marilyn. Editorial contributions from Marilyn and her friend Susan.

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5 thoughts on “Exploring the Southwest USA on Amtrak Southwest Chief and driving to Sedona AZ

  1. That sounds like an amazing trip. We went on a hot air balloon ride in Sedona .Wonderful! It’s a . beautiful part of the country. Thanks for sharing! kristiedonelson(at)gmail(dot)com Thank you.

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