When Ken and I went back through our Southwest trip, we started out with a separate list of our favorite towns/cities and our favorite attractions. It soon became apparent that it was really very difficult to separate the two. So, we re-calibrated and, instead, are giving you one list of our top five cities that includes our favorite attractions in those areas.
We realize, more than ever, that by putting the time and effort in to studying our potential destinations in advance, asking for advice from fellow RVers and then talking to local residents once there, we get a really great combination of classic ‘must see’ stops along with some unique finds along the way.
One of the best parts about taking a breather from travel and spending some of that time reviewing the last adventure is that we find, through this exercise of choosing our favorites, we are getting to relive some of those marvelous times together.
It reminds me of the rules for writing a good paper, 1) Tell me what your going to tell me 2) tell me 3) Tell me what you told me. For us it appears the most enjoyment in travel comes from: 1) Finding out all we can about where to travel 2) Travel 3) Review the trip.
Ken and I really wrestled with the list for this post to the point that I thought I’d mention some of the contenders that didn’t quite make the cut:
Note: where city names are highlighted you can link to our original trip posts for that location. Usually there are several posts for each location so click ‘Newer Post’ at bottom of blog to page. I didn’t do hyperlinks to attractions, national parks, etc., in this blog since you can find those in the original posts.
- Oklahoma City, OK- Alfred P Murrah Memorial, Bricktown, some great bbq! (Link to original post here).
- Rodeo, NM – wonderful place to kick back in the middle of nowhere, enjoy jeep trips in to the mountains (right through ‘Paradise’!), and enjoy the small town café and tavern
- Palo Duro Canyon – it’s this kind of place that makes us want to buy a smaller rig that we’d be comfortable in taking in to more of the national parks.
- Quartzsite, AZ– RVers gotta go once just to experience it! We really loved our side trips 4-wheeling with other Escapee jeeps and visiting the Desert Bar. Best of all we met many
- El Centro, CA – we liked it so much here we went back again mostly because of the perfect weather, great Italian restaurant and laid back atmosphere. I also loved meeting Leonard Knight at Salvation Mountain on one of our day trips, and watching the harvests in the huge fields of vegetables across the Imperial Valley.
Ok, so here’s the final cut…the top 5….
#5 Roswell, NM – UFO Museum, Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge
Granted, you really have to have the right mindset for Roswell ! To some it would be downright tacky. But, we found it to be wacky fun.
Lamp posts still decorated for Christmas in Roswell
The museum hasn’t been updated in many decades which, to us, adds to its quirky charm. If you go in knowing its not going to ‘wow’ you and take the time to read a lot of the information, it’s really pretty interesting. In fact, we’ve agreed that if we get by this way again, we will take the time to go to the museum again and sit through the hours of low-budget films about Roswell. You can spend the who day just watching films! Ken and I always enjoy attractions where we come away with lots to talk about and this definitely fits that bill. I can’t say that either of us were any more or less convinced that aliens actually crashed but we certainly have a much better understanding of the whole event and spent a lot of time talking about what did and didn’t make sense to us.
We didn’t know anything about the nearby Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge until we arrived in Roswell. Our timing was quite good to catch the thousands of sand cranes coming in. This is one of those ‘take your breath away experiences’ at sunset, the lines of cranes all across the glowing sky, the sounds of nothing but nature all around you. I’ve had folks say that with HD Discovery Channel you don’t need to leave your armchair for this kind of experience. Well, it’s just totally different being there for us.
Bitter Lake was definitely a Top 5 for Ditka and Sox
Cranes arriving at sunset
We found the smalltown atmosphere we love in Roswell with friendly folks, decent restaurants and comfortable weather for exploring. It was where we really started feeling we reached our general ‘Southwest’ destination after days of travelling through Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
Our timing was wrong to hit the wine-tasting room in downtown Roswell called Pecos Flavors Winery as they were closed the day we planned to visit. This place is actually rated the #1 attraction in Roswell and another reason we’d probably go back.
In fact, next time in Roswell, while we were comfortable at the RV park in town, we’ll probably go to nearly Bottomless Lake State Park which we now understand to be a major attraction in itself.
So, I guess, in a way, part of our attraction to Roswell is that it’s a place we definitely want to visit again, now that we have even more things we want to do there.
#4, Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon/Jerome/Camp Verde, AZ
Staying in the Camp Verde area, we were in easy driving distance to a huge variety of attractions.
Our timing was just right to make a trip to the Sedona Film Festival to get in on a showing of the winning film, The First Grader, and get to participate in the post-showing discussion with the film’s producer.
Sedona’s Red Rock area is just gorgeous and we had the unique opportunity to see it during the deepest snowfall they’d had in 20 years.
Snowy Sunday Morning – Red Rocks of Sedona
Oak Creek Canyon was one of our favorite driving trips followed closely by our day-trip up to Jerome, AZ.
Scenic overlook above Jerome, AZ
Our hike in search of the vortex near Cathedral Rock was also one of our favorite days.
In front of Cathedral Rock, Sedona
While we weren’t particularly blown away by the Montezuma Castle Monument, we found the Montezuma Well site intriguing.
Camp Verde turned out to be a perfect center of operations for us, with things to do in many different directions while we could still come ‘home’ to a really nice RV site, and head across the highway to wonderful meals at great prices in ‘The Gathering’ restaurant at the casino. Every night, this restaurant had a top-notch unique special for under $10. After long days of adventure, a quiet evening with a nice dinner that we didn’t have to prepare just added to our enjoyment of this location.
#3 Borrego Springs, CA
We had no idea when we started our winter adventures that we would end up boondocking in Borrego Springs. In fact, if you would have asked us where is the Anza Borrego Desert, if we would have answered right, it would have been a guess!
One of the absolute best parts of this lifestyle is its flexibility. Our RV friend, JoAnn, called and asked if we wanted to join them boondocking in Borrego Springs and next thing you know we’ve got the map out and the good ol’ GPS is calling out: ‘Rerouting’!
Our Rockhouse Road boondocking site with JoAnn and Doug
We probably would not have enjoyed this location so much had it not been for Joann and Doug.
Doug admiring one of the newer sculptures
This is one of their favorite places and they knew all the great attractions, hikes and drives for us to make the most of our experience, including hikes through slot canyons, driving tours to visit all the gorgeous Galleta Meadows sculptures, daytrips to mountaintop Julian for their famous pie and west to Temecula to see the Jojoba SKP Co-op. There were sunsets and sunrises at Font’s point, and jeep adventures getting lost out in the Borrego Badlands.
Sunrise at Font’s Point
Of course, it was this time with Joann and Doug when we got to meet other great RVing friends such as Richard and Marlene and JoAnn and Fred, not to mention, had no end to the number of great dining adventures they all knew about.
Borrego Springs itself is a really neat little town with a farmer’s market and a rather upscale, artsy feel without the stuffiness that sometimes goes along with that. We were glad we’d been forewarned that the grocery shopping was limited and a bit pricey.
While Ken is not convinced he enjoys the actual boondocking experience, we would love to go back to Borrego, especially to take in more of the hiking. They also have a wide variety of programs, such as birding and astronomy workshops that operate out of the museum/visitors center along with unique little community get-togethers where winter residents are made to feel welcome.
Unless we go to boondock with other couples, we will probably stay in the very nice RV sites at Anza Borrego State Park. This will require some pre-planning since they take reservations and the nice sites for big rigs tend to fill early. You can read Laurie and Odel’s rave review on that park here --- again, one of the awesome parts of getting to know fellow RVers, especially those with such informative travel blogs!
#2 Ajo/Why, AZ – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
We found the Ajo/Why area to be at the top of our list for the most naturally beautiful and diverse desert area we found on our trip.
Hiking Alamo Canyon, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
I also found it interesting that we both rated it so high considering that other than the hiking and beautiful natural surroundings, you’re pretty isolated here – our Sprint cell phones didn’t work, there aren’t a lot of choices in dining or attractions.
We really loved driving and walking this national park. They’ve done a wonderful job of making the visitor’s center and the driving tour very informative. I’d suggest you take a picnic lunch and plan to make a full day of the 21 mile driving tour.
Variety of cacti on Ajo Mountain Drive: ocotillo, saguaro, organ pipe, teddy bear choila, buckhorn choila, prickly pear
While we drove down to Lukeville to see the infamous border fence, we probably wouldn’t do that again. Not much to see at the border and the café that was recommended there was nothing special.
I thought the campground in the national park was absolutely beautiful and it would be my pick for our next stay even though it is essentially bookdocking. They have showers and a dump station and with Ken’s ‘geezer pass’ we could stay for only $6 per night. Sights are available for rigs up to 40 feet. Ken thought the roads were really tight for a big rig and prefers the rather drab but full hookup campground we used on the Indian reservation where we were serenaded by burros every evening and he could sit outside with the other men shooting the breeze over coffee every morning.
Despite the reputation for problems this close to the Mexican border, we experienced no issues and saw nothing else to indicate there were any issues while we were there. Of course, we did see an abundance of border patrol and regularly came across impromptu security checkpoints along the highways in this area.
#1 Tucson/Benson, AZ
It might be cheating a bit to put Benson and Tucson together since they are about 40 minutes apart but if we had to pick any of the areas we visited to stay for an extended period it would be in this area.
We include Benson because we not only found the SKP Co-op there to have a really homey and welcoming feel but Benson itself has a comfortable small town feel still with the conveniences of a nice grocery store and a Walmart. Of course, the Horseshoe Café and the ice cream shop with 44 flavors of soft serve were some of our favorite Benson stops. The other attraction to Benson is its close proximity for day trips to the quaint little town of Bisbee, AZ or the drive in to the Coronado National Monument.
We really had all the best of the best here: some of the best scenery, best attractions, best dining and best RV sites. We had the special conveniences of the big city (ie., Trader Joe’s!) alongside some of the absolute best desert landscape (ie Saguaro National Park).
And, in fact, if we had to pick one attraction that most represented this trip it would be the Desert Museum. I think if I lived in Tucson I could visit that museum--which is really more of a sanctuary of living desert plants and animals—once a week and never tire of it.
Yes he’s alive!! Captured this shot of a coyote among his natural desert surroundings in the Desert Museum
It’s great that they have all the plants labeled for us desert newbies!
We also found a beautiful place to stay in the Tucson Mountain Park. I think being happy with your RV site makes the general surroundings feel more attractive.
First rain we’d seen since leaving the Midwest approaches our site at Tucson Mountain Park
I could sit for hours in that area of West Tucson amidst those majestic Saguaro’s as they seem to reach up in worship to the sun and moon.
Saguaro National Park
Sadly, our visit to this area was just shortly after the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabbie Gifford who was still in the hospital there with well wishers still standing vigil when we happened to drive through that part of town. This will always be on of those ‘do you remember where you were when’ times for us.
There’s another reason, I think we both remember the Tucson area as a highlight. It seems that in Tucson we really finally got out of vacation mode. We didn’t try to plan too much in one day and enjoyed several down days hanging close to the campground. We just kept extending our stay.
I might mention what could be a downside to doing these reviews. When I talk to Ken about our next snowbird adventure and whether it will be Florida or Texas next, his answer is the Southwest, again! We’ll have to weigh our passion for experiencing new places against having fallen in love with New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California.
We have one more Fab Five to finish this review. That will be on RV Parks and we are arguing over ….oops, I mean discussing which will make the Top 5 cut.