Southwest adventures: advice for traveling between the majestic landscapes
Set 5,000 feet above a vast desert valley, with towering buttes and mesas rising in the distance, Four Corners Monument is the only spot in the United States where four states – Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah – converge in one place. After snapping the requisite photo of yourself standing in all four states simultaneously, set out to explore Arizona’s most iconic natural landmark, Grand Canyon National Park. Marvel at the sight of the Colorado River cutting through the enormous gorge – up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep – as vibrant and rich earth-tone colors paint the canyon walls. Discover tips for traveling between the two tourist hot spots and how to make the most of this southwest journey.
Route recommendations for drivers
The Grand Canyon offers two primary destinations for travelers: the South Rim and the North Rim of the canyon’s edge. Open year-round, the South Rim sees the highest numbers of tourists and is home to numerous lodges, restaurants and popular hiking trailheads. The North Rim, located in Arizona’s high plateau region, is more remote, offers limited services and receives few visitors. If you’re driving to the South Rim from Four Corners, exit the monument via State Road 597, a half-mile road also known as Four Corners Road, and take Highway 160 west, to Highway 89 south, to Highway 64 west. The entire journey should take just under four hours. To reach the North Rim from Highway 160, take Highway 98 west, to Highway 89A north, to Highway 67 south, and you’ll reach your destination in about five hours. These highways provide adequate – but not abundant – services, so make sure you load up on gas and food when you get the chance.
Dealing with the weather and crowds
Peak tourist season at Four Corners runs between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. It's closed to the public on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The closest hotels to the monument are located about an hour away in Bluff, Utah, or about 75 minutes away in Kayenta, Arizona. During the summer, because midday temperatures often top out at 100 degrees F, try to visit the monument in the early mornings. You’ll find lighter crowds in late spring and early fall with tepid temps in the low 70s and high 60s, but come prepared for the frequent heavy rainfall. The monument is fairly empty during the winter when highs average in the mid-40s and light snow dusts the region.
The Grand Canyon sees its biggest crowds between mid-May and mid-October, so book your hotel early, particularly for the busy summer season. Summer temps at the Grand Canyon hover around the mid-80s, but bring plenty of water, sunscreen and protective clothing if you plan to trek to the bottom of the gorge where it can reach upwards of 100 degrees F. Spring and fall are usually mild seasons with temps in the mid-60s. The North Rim is usually open only from mid-May through mid-October and may shut down the rest of the year due to snow. Always check road conditions with the Arizona Department of Transportation. With snow sometimes falling as early as the fall and as late as the spring, highways in the high plateau may close or require snow chains.
Required stops: what to see along the way
There are plenty of natural wonders to enjoy during your drive between Four Corners and the Grand Canyon. For starters, from Highway 160, take Highway 163 into Monument Valley, where towering sandstone buttes, some measuring as high as 1,000 feet, rise from the desert floor. Explore the valley in your car via a 14-mile loop road or on horseback. Reservations for the latter fill up quickly, so book early.
It takes only 12 minutes to reach the Navajo National Monument from State Highway 564, also located off Highway 160. Explore the prehistoric villages of the Ancestral Puebloans that are tucked away inside the sandstone alcoves of the region’s rugged canyons and that date back as far as 1250 AD.
Tour buses: traveling in comfort
Some bus tour companies, like Travel Dream West, or booking companies, like Take Tours, offer multi-day excursions throughout the southwest aboard luxury motor coaches. Tours may last anywhere from 6 to 12 days and originate from such cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Itineraries vary according to each tour, but, in addition to Four Corners and the Grand Canyon, stops may also include Arches National Park in Utah and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Tours often include hotels and airport pickups.