Written by “Go-To Global Gal” Alyce; All photos by Alyce Howard

Buttes, mesas, and plateaus abound in Utah’s ever-changing scenery…

Since my undergraduate studies I have lived overseas in three countries (Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea)—an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and will always treasure. But despite all of my travels, there was one trip in the U.S. that I’d always wanted to take, one that to some may seem quite simple: a road trip across the U.S. Southwest. Growing up in the Midwest and Texas, in a family that enjoyed taking road trips to visit relatives in far-away states, there was just something about the iconic images of Route 66, old cars speeding along the desert highways, and the breathtaking vistas of the Southwest that really appealed to me. Sadly though, while I was growing up, driving all the way to Utah or the Grand Canyon just wasn’t really a trip that ever seemed possible thanks to the distance and a lack of family to visit in the area. When I came back to the U.S. from my time in Asia, I was determined to start exploring some of the more famous destinations of my own country that I had yet to visit. Later, shortly after I got married, my husband and I moved to San Diego where he was sent for work. During our move I was able to get a small taste of what a leisurely drive across the Southwest might be like, and I knew I had to make the drive one day.

The landscape in places may seem quite stark, but there’s a wild beauty to it that I love and can’t seem to get enough of…

At Arches National Park, Utah

The perfect opportunity presented itself when I decided to go home for a few months to spend time with my family and my mother who was recovering from surgery. Knowing it would be a long drive, and that I’d have two of “man’s best friends” with me—my very large Doberman and my Siberian Husky—I decided to make the trip more about the journey itself and roped my best friend into joining me. She flew out to San Diego from Iowa, and then she and I rode together in my little Kia Soul, mapping out a route that took us to the Grand Canyon, through some of the gorgeous country in Utah (areas surrounding the Mighty 5–the most famous national parks in Utah), over the Rocky Mountains, and then across the Great Plains.

Driving between cliffs just west of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado…

Collage of Arches National Park at sunset

Everything we did was accomplished on a shoe-string budget, but it was one of my favorite trips by far! There’s something deeply satisfying about heading out on the road with one of your best friends, exploring areas that neither of you have ever seen, and taking your time on the trip so you can stop and enjoy a hike, breathe the fresh air, and really take it all in.

We used websites like GasBuddy.com to map out the best prices of gas along our route, and BringFido.com to help find affordable, pet-friendly hotels along the way—something that can be a real challenge when you have a dog with you that’s over 80 pounds! We turned a 30-hour trip into a 4-day journey that was full of laughter, music, and scenery that literally had us oohing and aahing. (Be warned though: the signal for your smart phone can be spotty in many of these areas as they’re quite remote, so I recommend having a good old-fashioned map on hand if you don’t have a GPS system in your car!)

Arches National Park at sunset and a backdrop of snowy mountains

By far, my favorite stop along the way was Arches National Park, located about 30 miles off Interstate 70 in eastern Utah. We were inspired to travel through Utah thanks to the “Life Elevated” advertisements that I’d seen while living in California, and Arches was the one we decided we had to see. It was about an hour off of our route, round-trip, but it was more than worth the extra drive! The sun was setting and everything—the contrast

of deep shadows and red rock that seemed to glow, with the backdrop of a gorgeous blue sky, and snow-capped mountains stained pink and orange in the distance—combined to make one of the most stunning scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

If you enjoy sweeping desert dunes, canyons, buttes, plateaus, snow-capped mountains, and dramatic vistas then consider a road trip across the Southwest! Bring a girlfriend along—or even Fido—and enjoy the journey!

Want to see the parks that inspired me to drive through Utah on my road trip back to Iowa? Watch the video below!