Winter Road Trip through the Southwest
For my midwinter February break, I had planned a week in Costa Rica. As much as I wanted to travel internationally, COVID made me rethink my plans. This past summer I enjoyed road tripping around the Western USA but there were still places I wanted to see.
I only had one week of vacation so decided to save a couple of days by flying to LAX and renting a car for a one way trip to Dallas. I was able to snag a flight SEA-LAX in First Class on Alaska Airlines for $118.40.
Hertz was having a promotion where you could rent a car in California and drop it off in Texas for only $12.99/day. Unfortunately Hertz is in bankruptcy so many of their cars are old with high mileage and their service is lacking. The best car I was able to snag was a two year old Chevy Equinox with 33,000 miles.
I stayed my first night at the Hyatt Regency LAX. Parking was free as a Globalist during the current promotion and I received a $50 credit for breakfast (or other snacks) at the restaurant in the lobby.
The next day I drove to Las Vegas. On the way I stopped by the unique Barstow McDonalds built into old train cars. It would end up being the first of two unique McDonalds I would see along my trip. I can’t comment on the food as I chose to eat elsewhere…
Vegas is still lacking some of the magic of pre-COVID times. While I typically stay at a Caesars Rewards property, for my one night stay I picked the now smoke-free NoMad Las Vegas, a hotel within a hotel at the Park MGM. I had an offer for a discounted night along with resort credit and free slot play that I was able to combine with a Hyatt promotion that got me double stay credits plus 4x Hyatt points due to the M life/World of Hyatt partnership.
I spent the day driving from Las Vegas, across northern Arizona to Holbrook. Along the way, I drove portions of Route 66 and visited tourist sites (both current and from years past).
From Holbrook it is a short drive to the Petrified Forest National Park. In addition to the petrified wood you get some great views of the Painted Desert.
After the park I drove southeast through New Mexico past the test site of Trinity, the original atomic bomb test. Unfortunately the area is closed to visitors despite being a National Historic Landmark.
I spent the night in Alamogordo at a Holiday Inn Express using points.
Alamogordo is just outside Holloman Airforce Base and the White Sands Missile Range. White Sands National Park, one of the newest National Parks, is carved out of a portion of the Missile Range. A rare snow storm had hit the US including New Mexico. Typically one of the big draws of White Sands is the ability to sled down the sand dunes. During my visit, it was snowing and possible to actually sled down the snowy dunes.
Driving east I crossed the very snowy mountain pass in the Lincoln National Forest to Carlsbad, New Mexico. A new Hyatt House opened in 2020 in the oil boom town. Carlsbad also has a ton of delicious options for Mexican food.
For the first time on my trip, I would be staying consecutive nights in the same location. My first stop of the day was to Carlsbad Caverns National Park where I hiked down 750 feet into the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cave is huge and fortunately you can take an elevator back to the surface.
Just across the border in Texas is the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a predominantly wilderness park. The peak of the mountain range is the highest point in Texas. One of the most dramatic sites is El Capitan at the southern point.
Both parks can be done in the same day (unless you want to do a long hike to the peak).
My original plan was to drive east into Texas however another snow storm moved in to Texas. Not wanting to get stuck in an area with snow, no water or electricity, I decided to book another night in Carlsbad and change my plans to fly out of El Paso.
Since I had another day in Carlsbad, I decided to drive up to check out Roswell where there is a UFO themed McDonalds.
I made a stop at the International UFO Museum where you can learn about the history of out of this world experiences in the area around Roswell.
Fortunately things warmed up and I was able to drive down to El Paso with no problems. El Paso sits just above Ciudad Juarez. From the scenic drive you can get some great views of both cities and into Mexico.
I used 5000 Hyatt points to stay the night at the Hyatt Place El Paso Airport.
Before flying out of El Paso I visited Chamizal National Memorial a piece of land that was disputed between the USA and Mexico until 1964. It is now a recreation area part of the National Park System.
I was able to get a last minute First Class ticket on Alaska Airlines from El Paso back to Seattle for $209. In the end I drove a total of 1,798 miles. While I hoped to escape the winter weather of Seattle, I ended up in hitting one of the coldest snaps in the US in years.