The Desert Southwest

Owachomo Bridge. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

During the early 1990's and again in 2000 and 2002 we visited this part of the USA — looking for the pre-Columbian and Native American cultures, discount high-summer accommodation and guaranteed sunshine. See the sketch map to show the main routes and features of the region — collating material from several sources, plus our own experiences. To make a round trip involves large distances — east-west across the region is around 500 miles — plus a major concern is the limited options for crossing the Colorado River and returning to your entry airport of choice. As you can gather we have fond memories of the region, and have retained mementoes that we've included on the map below.

Please note that all the photographs are our own, taken in the late 1990's — some locations may be different now — or even demolished — but they do give a flavour of the region.

Getting to and around the Desert Southwest

Flying in is the best option — then renting a car for a round trip. Phoenix Sky Harbour [PHX] is the biggest airport in the region with direct flights from Canada, Mexico and the UK and 80 locations within the USA. McCarran Las Vegas is also a huge airport now with international and domestic flights by over 30 operators including BA, Virgin and Thomas Cook from the UK. Although called Albuquerque International Sunport there are no direct international flights, although it is good for links to other hubs and designed to reflect the local adobe style architecture.

Two Amtrak passenger rail services pass through the region: the Southwest Chief from Chicago via Albuquerque to LA and the Sunset Limited from New Orleans via San Antonio to LA. Albuquerque and Tucson are the only big cities in the Desert Southwest with a city centre station; Albuquerque has a rail link to Santa Fe and the Southwest Chief links with the Grand Canyon Railway at Williams, Arizona. Other tourist trains are the Verde Canyon Railroad at Clarkedale, Arizona, the Durango and Silverton Railroad in Colorado and the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad on the border of Colorado and New Mexico.

The El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico on I-40 / Route 66.

As can be seen on our map the region has a number of Interstate highways going east-west and north-south that provide a framework for the regional road network for access to the more remote parts of the region. Some of these Scenic Highways and Byways are just that with wonderful vistas across dramatic landscapes and sometimes scary mountain roads like the Hogsback and Moki Dugway in Utah. The old Route 66 is accessible on and around Interstate 40 especially around Kingman and Williams, Arizona.

Although a strict itinerary is not essential, because of the distances involved and lodging availability outside city centres, planning your trip in detail is a good idea to avoid disappointment or a long dash back to the airport!

Momentos include a bill from The San Juan Inn and Trading Post, Mexican Hat Utah; postcard from Cafe Diablo, Torrey, Utah; promo sticker for the 2002 Winter Olympics; room card from the Boulder Mountain Lodge, Escalante, Utah; promo card for the Friends of Capitol Reef, Torrey, Utah; bill from the Camelback Inn, Scottsdale, Arizona; entry ticket for the Frank Lloyd Wright Institute: Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona; business card for the View Motel, Cottonwood, Arizona; pass for the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico; business card for Rancho de Corrales restauarant, Corrales, New Mexico, post card for Loews Ventana Canyon hotel, Tucson, Arizona; bill from Canyon de Chelly Motel, Chinle, Arizona.

See the map in a larger format at http://lenoreandericstravelblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/desert-southwest-usa-map.html

For an accurate highly detailed map the AAA 'Indian Country' map covers most of the region.

Monument Valley from the Moki Dugway [U261], Navajo Nation Arizona/Utah.

Desert Southwest accommodation

Types of accommodation vary considerably depending on location: huge hotel and golf course resorts around Phoenix/Scottsdale; the [in]famous casino hotels in Las Vegas; also heritage hotels and National Park lodges, plus iconic motels and friendly B & B's in the more remote areas — some have changed little in the intervening years since our last visit. If you want really high temperatures, near empty pools, huge casitas [southwestern style cottages] the resort hotels around Phoenix and Scottsdale offer reduced rates during the summer months.

The Registry Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona [now demolished].

Scottsdale — a city in the Phoenix conurbation — has some 70 hotels and resorts and can be a great starting place for your trip. We've stayed at the Marriot Camelback Inn Resort and The Registry Resort [unfortunately now demolished] in a grand casita room overlooking the McCormick Ranch golf course. In Tucson we've stayed at the Arizona Inn a 'private enclave' near the university and at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and the Wyndham Westward Look, both on the southern edge of the Santa Catalina Mountains. On Scenic Byway 12 in Utah is the charming Boulder Mountain Lodge with it's own farm supplying the Hell's Backbone Grill on site. At the northern end of Monument Valley, the San Juan Inn on the north bank of the river is also a trading post and has a restuarant with 'the only Utah State restaurant liquor license within 100 miles in every direction'. In Moab we stayed at the iconic Apache Motel and the Dream Keeper Inn B & B both close to the lively downtown area. The National Parks, National Forests and State Parks in the region also offer accommodation and camping facilities. We stayed at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge — well appointed log cabins and spectacular views over the canyon from the lodge dining room.

Boulder Mountain Lodge, Escalante, Utah.

Itineraries

The numerous desert National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Trails, National Forests, BLM [ Bureau of Land Management] land plus State Parks — Utah alone has 43 —  and Tribal Visitor Centres offer fantastic opportunities for experiencing the great outdoors and the history of the various peoples who previously and currently inhabit the region. Additionally there are numerous museums and art galleries throughout the region: beautifully designed and maintained, containing fabulous art and artefacts collected by both individuals and institutions. The region was identified as having tourism potential by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Company who provided access, food and lodging for railroad passengers in the early 20th century. The few remaining Harvey House hotels have had a recent renaissance, recognised for their cultural and historical significance with high quality refurbishments and are well worth visiting.

Brochure produced in association with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey Company, 1937.

Itinerary #1: Phoenix/Flagstaff/Moab/Escalante/St George/Las Vegas/Kingman/Phoenix

We think several trips are required to do justice to the size and diversity of the region. This initial route commences in Phoenix/Scottsdale and features locations travelling north, crossing the San Juan and Colorado rivers then turning west to the National Parks and National Monuments of SW Utah, turning southwest to Las Vegas and returning to Phoenix via the Colorado Bridge/Hoover Dam and Kingman.

Deer Valley Rock Art Centre, Glendale, Arizona.

[Administered by The School of Human Evolution and Social Change, ASU]

Phoenix/Scottsdale

Top visitor attractions we've visited are the Heard Museum of American Indian Art & History: a permanent collection and changing exhibitions. The Courtyard Café at the museum has a 'lush courtyard patio or [. . . ] quaint dining room' and features southwestern style food. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art [SMoCA] is a minimalist building ['an ingenious renovation of a former movie theater'] designed by award-winning architect Will Bruder who also designed the Deer Valley Rock Art Centre — an austere boomerang shaped building built over the outfall from a flood control dam — it's an archaeology museum and desert preserve for Native American petroglyphs. Will Bruder also designed the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix. Celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose a desert location near Phoenix for his winter base. The Taliesin West complex of home, studio and architectural offices, started in 1937, is open to visitors via guided tours. Wright acted as consultant during the construction of the very Wright-like Arizona Biltmore Hotel completed in 1929 and today nearing completion of a multi-million dollar renovation. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is an excellent introduction to the flora of the Sonoran Desert and the neighbouring Phoenix Zoo is home to around 90 types of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Sign in  Scottsdale for Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home, studio and school of architecture.

East of Phoenix is Globe, a copper mining town and home to the Drift Inn — opened in 1902 and one of the oldest saloons in Arizona with original swing doors to prove it! Very popular with mine workers and for biker's runs — the real USA. 

Verde Valley Railroad train with open deck cars, Clarkedale, Arizona.

North from Phoenix, Arizona

Heading north on N Scottsdale Road, The Boulders at Carefree is worth a look, a luxury resort comprising casitas and villas interspersed around huge boulders, as are the two 18 hole golf courses, cafes and restaurants plus the El Pedregal shopping precinct. Further north off I-17 is Old Town Cottonwood, updated somewhat since our visit with wine tasting offers from Verde Valley wineries, but Kactus Kate's Saloon still going strong! Nearby is the Verde Valley Railroad who also offer wine tastings from local growers during the summer months. Nearby Sedona is famous for it's red rock formations at Red Rock State Park, the Slick Rock State Park where Oak Creek forms a natural water slide, great fun — and cluster of upscale dining and lodging options.

Oak Creek at Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff at the intersection of I-17 from Phoenix and the I-40 running east-west is surrounded by ponderosa pine forests; it's also a main stopping point for the Amtrak Southwestern Chief. Although 100 car freight trains rumble through several time a day, the west bound double deck passenger Train #3 arriving at around 9.00pm is a great sight — just like the movies! The historic downtown area retains a lot of westernstyle buildings, numerous places to eat and a profusion of micro-breweries. It's also a university town with support for numerous outdoor activities. The Arizona Snowbowl and Summer Scenic Skyride [chairlift] in the San Francisco Peaks takes you up to 11,500 feet [3,505 m] for wonderfu lviews of the surrounding countryside — or skiing! The Museum of Northern Arizona focuses on the history and culture of the Colorado Plateau. In nearby Winslow is the historic La Posada Hotel & Gardens. Originally a Harvey House hotel built in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railroad, after a long period of negotiation and restoration the hotel is now open again, refurbished to renowned architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter's 1930 vision. Colter worked for the Fred Harvey Company for nearly 50 years, designing bars, cafes, hotels, restauarants, shops even in her retirement in the 1950's. Her designs for the original interior and fittings for the recently renovated La Fonda on th Plaza hotel in Santa Fe — was one of her personal favorites. She was also responsible for a number of buildings in their entirety at the South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park designed to compliment the environment by adopting the indigenous Native American architectural styles.



The Grand Canyon looking south from the North Rim

The Grand Canyon

I-40 bypasses Williams, Arizona west of Flagstaff — it's on old Route 66 — the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway linking the town to the South Rim Village, Grand Canyon National Park. Trains feature a range of restored diesel locomotives and classic carriages on a 2 hour 15 minutes journey each way. The Grand Canyon National Park is a fantastic world renowned geological phenomena accessible from the more popular South Rim or the less easily accessible North Rim. Full details are on the National Parks website.

Iconic Monument Valley / Navajo Nation Tribal Park

Navajo & Hopi Nations/Monument Valley

North on US 89 takes you to Sunset Crater NM — formed by volcanic eruption around 900 years ago and Wupatki NM — pueblo ruins occupied from around 1100 to 1250. Onto US 160 and into Navajo Tribal Lands and through Tuba City to Kayenta and US 163 for iconic Monument Valley — a Navajo Tribal Park with a Visitor Centre, Scenic Drive, Hiking Trails and Campground. Support the Navajo Nation and utilise the facilities available, including the new [2008] View Hotel, owned and run by members of the Navajo Nation. The Hopi Tribal Lands are upland areas called mesas east of Monument Valley, surrounded by the Navajo Nation. They are farmers, hunters and craftspeople, possibly living in the same location for 3,000 years. Numerous museums and galleries in the region have examples of Hopi pottery and Katchina dolls respresenting various dieties. Across the San Juan River is the quaintly named Mexican Hat [a nearby rock looks a bit like a sombrero] the start and/or end of rafting trips on the San Juan river and a good option for a stop over at the San Juan Inn & Trading Post or the Hat Rock Inn with pool overlooking the river.

Goosenecks State Park / Valley of the Gods / Natural Bridges NM

Close to Mexican Hat is Goosenecks State Park where the San Juan River has cut tight meanders through 100 feet of rock strata. Worth a detour. For a [usually] quiet hour in summer visit the BLM Sand Island Campground on the north bank of the San Juan near Bluff, Utah. There ar petrogyphs chipped into a rock nearby and you can wade in the water, and view the local fauna. The nearby Valley of the Gods has scenery similar to Monument Valley, but without the tribal restrictions — you can hike, backpack and camp — accessed on a dirt loop road off U-261: the Trail of The Ancients National Scenic Byway leading to the  Moki Dugway — dirt switchbacks rising 1100 feet in 3 miles up to Cedar Mesa — it's a scary ride! Also with easy reach of Mexican Hat on U-95 is the Natural Bridges NM. You can see the three bridges from the car with easy hikes for better views and photo opportunities.

Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Newspaper Rock National Historical Site on U-211 in Indian Creek Canyon is well work stopping for: petroglyphs up to 2000 years old made by various cultures. It's easy to see and has a small campground opposite.

Newspaper Rock National Historical Site, Utah.

Moab / Arches NP, Canyonlands NPDead Horse Point State Park, Colorado River

Onward and upward on US-191 to Moab, Utah — 'The Uranium Capital of the World' during the 1950's — a good place to experience the great outdoors—check out the offers at the big Visitor Centre on Main and Centre streets. On our first visit, we encountered an wandering cowboy leading a horse with a full saddlepack; we could walk down the middle of the empty main street at night and encountered a local who told us: "I knew it would change when they tarmac-ed the road". The front design of the Uranium Building on Main Street is a good example of mid-century modern architecture and signage. Moab has good access to Arches NP and Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point State Park and the Colorado River for boating and rafting trips. Nearby there are three Scenic Byways and it's also a big centre for mountain biking — with a trails app for your phone! There's a new cycle/pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River and new cycle paths linking the city with the National and State Parks. There's 70 Moab restaurants reviewed on Tripadvisor including two microbreweries and two wineries — so lots of choice today. To buy beer, wine or spirits on our first visit you visited a forbidding cinder-block building with a grilled access hatch; today the State Liquor Store #27 is a big bright supermarket-style building but closed weekends and holidays. The monthly price list is published on line.

Canyonlands NP: the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers at 'Island in the Sky'.

Capitol Reef NP

Our next location on the itinerary is Capitol Reef NP, Utah's least visited National Park, accessed by either heading north and west from Moab, turning west at the intersection of US191 and I-70 to Green River, a river trip location and truck-stop, then south on U-24; or retrace the US191 to Blanding and follow U-95 or Bicentennial Highway across the Colorado at Hite Crossing Bridge to Hanksville and pick up U-24 west to Fruita in the National Park and Torrey, Utah. The landscape roundabouts can be somewhat raw — like driving through a quarry, but there is some respite at Mesa Farm market — a green oasis at Cainville offering produce from their sustainable garden, orchard and goat herd plus salad plates, coffee, juices and baked goods to eat in or take away. Capitol Reef National Park celebrates the nearly 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold geological feature [a warp in the Earth's crust] and the human settlements supported by the Fremont River. Early Native American Fremont Culture existed in the region around 500 AD; Mormon pioneers in the 1800's settled in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District — a few remaining buildings and a mixed orchard of over 3000 trees — when in season, the fruit is available to visitors for a modest fee. Visitors can camp and pick-nic at the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek.

Entrance to Capital Gorge at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Just outside the park is the pleasant community of Torrey, known for the avenue of trees providing shade to pedestrians along Center Street during the summer months. Populated by descendents of the pioneers and newcomers who have introduced some interesting takes on contemporary domestic architecture. Torrey is home to Cafe Diablo: excellent meals using all locally sourced ingredients, many from their own organic farm, fresh, home-made bread, pastries and ice-cream and an international wine list. Further northwest on U-24 is the Fishlake National Forest; the lake otself is situated on the east side at an elevation of 8,848 feet — it's a pleasant diversion, we rented a metal canoe for a couple of hours and got sunburned — so take care!

The Lodge at Fish Lake, Fishlake National Forest, Utah.

Grand Staircase-Escalante NM / Bryce Canyon NP / Zion NP

Travelling south from Torrey on Utah Scenic Byway 12 is a wonderful ride along the east/south east side of Boulder Mountain, although the Hogback is an [in]famous stretch of road on the top of a narrow ridge of slickrock that immediately cascades down on both sides of the road. The national monument visitor centre is actually to the south at Kanab on US89. Boulder and Escalante are small communities along USB 12 offering dining and lodging facilities. There is access to numerous trails and dirt roads including the Burr Trail Road and Hell's Backbone Road within Grand Staircase-Escalante NM. GSENM, administered by the BLM, comprises three sections: Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. A succinct description is on the Utah.com visitor website. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 5.5 mile hike from the entrance and campground at the BLM Calf Creek Recreation Area — but well worth the effort.

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, Utah.

When visiting campgrounds in the US look out for the hosts who take jobs or volunteer during the summer months and get a free site for their RV or tent in exchange for welcoming guests taking fees and light maintenance — some live permanently on the road and are real characters.

Bryce Canyon National Park was created to preserve the landscape around spectacular cliffs and spires, called 'hoodoos' carved by nature from the multi-coloured limestone of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. It's not actually a canyon, more like amphitheatres. There's a scenic drive and a shuttle bus in summer to the trailheads for walks and hikes. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is a National Historic Landmark opened in 1925, there are also deluxe cabins with stone chimneys. At the Lodge is an attractive wood-lined restaurant, pizzeria and coffee shop. 

Zion National Park is Utah's olded, designated in 1919, comprising Zion Canyon created over millennia by the Virgin River and the country surrounding the canyon. It attracts over three million visitors a year. A Shuttle Bus operates the Scenic Drive in the summer months to help cope with these numbers. It has two visitor centres but no lodging or dining facilities within the park. The three main sections of Zion National Park are Kolob Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Zion Terrace. All three are very scenic and have many hiking opportunities — the most popular is The Narrows involving wading or swimming through the Virgin River — great in summer, a permit is required to go beyond the first mile or so.

St George is the largest city near the southwest Utah National Parks and derives a lot of income from associated tourism, especially for golf. It has a pleasant historic [19th century] downtown featuring Brigham Young's winter home; Ancestor Square has a selection of restaurants [top TripAdvisor selection is the Painted Pony] and has four nearby State Parks.


Las Vegas Neon. Note Louis Armstrong featured on the marquee!

Las Vegas and The Hoover Dam

Vegas is difficult to avoid — even if you have as big an aversion to casinos as we have — when making a round trip in this region. It's bonkers, but can be great fun. The offer is constantly being amended, updated, refurbished or rebuilt — so it's a bit different since we visited. We stayed at the Flamingo — not expensive and close to many attractions. We enjoyed the rooftop VooDoo Lounge bar at the Rio, saw the sea battle at the Treasure Island and the fountains at the Bellagio

The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River is on your return to Phoenix. Traffic now goes over a bridge downstream rather than across the top of the dam, but still a great sight. Head south down US93 to Phoenix or stop off at Prescott — the first state Capitol of Arizona 1864-7 and 1887- 1889. Courthouse Square and Whiskey Row on South Montezuma Street are historic protected areas in downtown Prescott.

Iconic Saguaro Cactus, Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

Itinerary #2 Southern Arizona: Tuscon

Head south into the Sonoran Desert on I-10 towards Tuscon and you see more and more cactus including the iconic Saguaro, celebrated at Saguaro National Park, nothwest and southeast of Tuscon. Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona and has a history stretching back to Hohokam peoples living in the valley arpund 1000AD, then Spanish explorers established the Presidio of San Augustine del Tucson in 1775. Tucson and what is now southern Arizona was part of Mexico from 1821 and became incorporated into the USA in 1851. More than 40% Hispanic, with a resultant plethora of Mexican restaurants, Tucson is also home to the University of Arizona and a large student population. Of particular interest to us at the University was the Centre for Creative Photography with it's international reputation as a respository of photographs, archives and manuscripts, books and reference materials, particularly for 20th century North American artists. Near Saguaro National Park [West] is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: 'a fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium' — 85% is outdoors and has an ongoing conservation programme. The ASDM has both casual and fine dining facilities. South of Tucson is Mission San Xavier del Bac, the parish church serving the Tohono O’odham community for whom it was established in the late 1600s. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation, Arizona.

Tucson has plenty of hotels and resorts, guest ranches and B & B's. We stayed in the city at the historic Arizona Inn and in the valley at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. The Arizona Inn was created in 1930 by Isabella Greenway [Arizona's first Congresswoman] to maintain the employment of WW1 ex-servicemen at her furniture workshop: the Arizona Hut and is still owned by the current generation of the Greenway family. It retains a privileged clubby atmosphere: pink adobe style casitas, manicured lawns, high tea in the library and old style swimming pool.

Casitas surrounded by gardens and lawn at the Arizona Inn, Tucson, Arizona.

Lowes Ventana Canyon Resort hugs the base of the Santa Catalina mountains with two golf courses and numerous other facilities — especially for children — surrounded by Sonoran Desert landscape. The deep-set terraces and dark concrete 'Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired' architecture is offset by wide vistas of desert, golf course and manicured gardens.

Between Tucson and the border with Mexico is Tubac, first settled in 1752, and now an artist's colony with numerous galleries and shops. Southeast of Tucson is Tombstone: famous from Western films as the site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. It was originally a mining town: millions of dollars worth of silver were extracted in the late 19th century, then virtually abandoned after the closure of the mines. Today the 1380 inhabitants rely entirely on tourism. It's reached via A-80 across open grassland with no contemporary suburbs — like a film set — but real!

Tombstone Courthouse, Cochise County, Arizona.

At the border — best to walk across — everything is very organised on the US side, cross through to Nogales, Mexico — it's party time! Cheap over-the-counter- prescription drugs, Mexican food in bars, cafes, restaurants and on the street and buckets of beer on ice are the order of the day. Great fun, but don't get too enthusiastic if youv'e got to drive back to your digs in the USA.

Itinerary #3: Alburqueque, Santa Fe, New Mexico

East of Phoeniz on A-191, within the Navajo Nation, three miles from Chinle is Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Two canyons combining into a V shape have allowed originally Puebloan peoples, then Hopi to be protected in cliff dwellings and farm the canyon bottom. Currently Navajo families farm the canyon, but don't live in the stone built remains. Visitors can drive the North and South Rim Overlook Drives for free and stop at the various overlooks, but must join a guided tour to the canyon bottom. Ansel Adams' famous monochrome photographs of Canyon de Chelly helped popularise the region and encourage tourism — and lot's of amateur photographers.

Panorama of Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Navajo Nation, Arizona.

Gallup, New Mexico, apart from featuring on the Route 66 song and being 'a retro world of pop-culture nostalgia' [Fodor's] it no longer has a Harvey House hotel: the 1923 'El Navajo' hotel and Santa Fe Station designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. The hotel was closed and demolished in 1957. Trains still stop at the unmanned station, although it is now the Gallup Cultural Centre. Numerous films have been made around Gallup and the The El Rancho hotel [see photograph of sign above] has hosted movie stars and has traded on this association as an attraction. Gallup is surrounded by Native American tribal lands and a base to visit Hope, Navajo and Pueblo indian cultural centres. It is home to The Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial and the Red Rock Balloon Rally — when lodging prices double.

Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico.

Between Gallup and Albuquerque are the Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, Pueblo indian reservations. There are numerous other pueblos round Alburqueque too [19+ in New Mexico] that welcome visitors and have catering, guided tours, museums and retail opportunities. Cultural etiquette is essential — check restrictions on entry. 

Albuquerque, on the Rio Grande is the biggest city in New Mexico and a bit grungy when we visited in the late nineties. Downtown has subsequently undegone an 'urban revival' — although still a 'work in progress' [according to Sunset Magazine] — old buildings have been taken over and 'hipster-ized': urban lofts, cafes and groovy shops, without losing it's mojo. It is on Route 66 and has a downtown Amtrak station as part of the Alvarado Transportation Centre: built on the former site and emulatiung the design motifs of the Fred Harvey Alvarado Hotel, it was designed by Dekker Perich Sabatini and constructed in phases 2002-2006. It also incorporates a bus terminal and the Rail Runner Express urban rail system. Accommodation and restauarant offers now feature cool cafes and refurbished downtown hotels and B & B's.  In 2005 The Flying Star Cafe was established at 723 Silver Avenie. it is in the refurbished Gas Company building designed by acclaimed New Mexico based architect John Gaw Meem. We ate at the Rancho de Corrales New Mexican Restauarant, unfortunately it burned down in 2012.

Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico.

Bandelier National Monument is north of Albuquerque, near Los Alamos and features cliff dwellings and a loop trail. A shuttle bus operates in the summer. There are numerous Pueblo Indian reservations in this region between Albuquerque and Taos, north of Santa Fe, some dating back to the 1450's.Their main creative specialism is pottery, but ceremonial drums and woven products are testimony to a long creative tradition.

The San Geronimo Church, rebuilt around 1850 in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is justly celebrated as a city that adopted a architectural style to create an environment that's attractive to residents and visitors alike. In the early 20th century residents started to adopt the adobe building style of the surrounding Pueblo dwellers. The first major building in this Spanish/Pueblo Revival style was the Museum of Fine Arts on the Plaza, built to designs by Rapp & Rapp in 1917. Subsequently, from the 1920's many residents built their homes in this Santa Fe style, incorporating antique and Native American decorations and fittings. Another exponent of this style was architect John Gaw Meem who also developed the Territorial Revival style: a more symmetrical approach to planning and with larger windows, appropriate for domestic, institutional and public buildings. Meem produced designs for the remodelling of the La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza [recently refurbished again by the current owners] and won a competition in 1930 for the Laboratory of Anthropology building on the University of New Mexico campus. He was subsequently appointed official architect to the University, a post he held until his retirement in 1956. In 1957 he 'city spirit' was enshrined in the Historic Zone Law: Santa Fe Ordinance 1957-18: "reated an historical district and provided regulations for buildings constructed or altered therein.'

New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico designed in Spanish/Pueblo Revival style to designs by Rapp & Rapp in 1917.

The Lensic Theater designed by Boller Brothers of Kansas City in a Moorish/Spanish Revival style, opened in 1931 and restored and renovated 1999-2001 by Fisher Dachs Associates and Santa Fe architects Craig Hoopes + Associates.

Attracted by the clear air, native american culture and unspoiled landscape, Santa Fe became a popular artists colony during the first 20 years of the 20th century — the Museum of New Mexico offered regular exhibitions for emerging artists. Today there are numerous galleries attracting visitors and numerous cultural and historical organisations for residents and visitors too. Upmarket bars, cafes and restaurants; B &B's and hotels cater for the dining and lodging needs of visitors. The most famous visual artist resident in New Mexico was Georgia O'Keefe who moved permanently from New York in 1949, three years after death of her husband the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She lived either at Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Centre [owned by the Presbyterian church since 1955] or her home and studio also at Abiquiu, north of Santa Fe. Her home and studio that can be visited by reservation. The Georgia O'Keefe Museum and Research Center are both Pueblo Revival style buildings near Santa Fe Plaza, renovated in 1997 and 2001 respectively by Gluckman Mayner Architects, New York.

Santa Fe Railroad Depot, New Mexico

Taos

Artists also established a colony at Taos, north of Santa Fe. The Taos Society of Artists existed from 1915 to 1927. The collections of the Harwood Museum, originally the home of artists Burt and Elizabeth Harwood and now administered by the University of New Mexico, celebrate the work of Taos artists. The Taos community attracted socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan who invited many creative luminaries including DH Lawrence to visit. Lawrence exchanged the manuscript of Sons & Lovers for a property on the estate owned by Mabel Dodge Luhan. Film star Dennis Hopper owned the Mabel Dodge Luhan house from 1970, but eventually settled in the old El Cortez theatre as a studio and home. You can purchase a group ticket to visit a number of museums housed in other artist's and collector's former homes.

Spanning the New Mexico and Colorado borders is the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, built to service silver mines in 1880, the route was abandoned commercially in the late 1960's. The most scenic part of the route between Chama and Antonito was purchased by the two adjoining states who established a commission to run the railroad in 1970. Visitors can travel the full route or half way and return by bus for either journey.

Chama Station on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, New Mexico/Colorado.

Desert Southwest Conclusions

Fact checking, reading around and kick-starting memories to draft this profile, we've noticed that since our visits to this region of the USA, the main changes we've noticed are that many small communities have 'upped-their-game' — rediscovering the value of their downtown areas to tourists and obtained grants to improve the look and attraction of their town centres; iconic hotels have been refurbished to reflect their historical origins; some of the bigger cities have enhanced their public transport offer with trams, light rail and commuter lines and wine makers have utilised local climatic conditions to grow vines and develop wine producing facilities, on-site or downtown shops and wine bars for visitors to discover the range of wines on offer. Of course, the huge vistas and astonishing dramatic landscapes within and around all the various national and state environmental facilities continue to offer the visitor a similar experience to those we encountered around 15 years ago, but this in-depth look at places we only wizzed through previously has stimulated us to revisiting the region — we hope it does the same for you.