The 15 most spectacular sights in Southwest USA

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Rough Guides Editors
11/9/2020

A vast expanse of stunning desert scenery, the Southwest is arguably the USA’s most spectacular region. For splendour and sheer scale, the landscape consistently defies belief – a glorious panoply of cliffs and canyons, buttes and mesas, carved from rocks of every imaginable colour, and enriched here by shimmering aspens and cottonwoods, there by cactuses and agaves.

Ranging through the Four Corners, and plenty of other corners besides, we’ve been exploring the highways and byways of the Southwest for more than 25 years.

Here are a few of our highlights from the new Rough Guide to Southwest USA.

1. Canyon de Chelly

Perhaps the most beautiful canyon in the entire Southwest, Canyon de Chelly is all the more extraordinary for its magnificent Ancestral Puebloan ruins.

© Anton Foltin/Shutterstock

2. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Taking a steam train up to the old Colorado mining town of Silverton is the perfect way to spend a day in the Rockies. The trains run between May and October, making up to three daily return trips along a spectacular route through the mountains that parallels the gorgeous San Juan Skyway.

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3. Acoma Pueblo

The amazing Acoma Pueblo, 50 miles west of Albuquerque, encapsulates a thousand years of Native American history. Focused around the ancient village known as “Sky City”, atop a magnificent mesa, it has adapted to repeated waves of invaders while retaining its own strong identity.

4. Toroweap Overlook

This wide, rocky hilltop is a unique Grand Canyon overlook with an immediate visceral impact. The view may lack the usual buttes and pyramids or labyrinthine spurs and mesas, but tiptoe to the southern edge of the parking lot, and the ground suddenly drops 3000ft from your feet.

© ShuPhotography/Shutterstock

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5. Saguaro National Park

Flanking Tucson to either side, the two-part Saguaro National Park offers visitors a rare and enthralling opportunity to stroll through desert “forests” of monumental, multi-limbed saguaro (pronounced sa-wah-row) cactuses.

© Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

6. White Sands National Monument

These knife-edge, snow-white dunes are hidden away in lonely southern New Mexico. Though their whiteness is beyond dispute, they’re not sand but fine gypsum, deposited on an ancient seabed 250 million years ago.

© sunsinger/Shutterstock

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7. Monument Valley

Your first real-life glimpse of the silhouetted buttes of Monument Valley is a guaranteed heart-stopping moment. This classic Wild West landscape of stark sandstone buttes and forbidding pinnacles of rock, poking from an endless expanse of drifting red sands, has become an archetypal image.

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8. Mesa Verde

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9. Lincoln

The scene of Billy the Kid’s legendary exploits remains a lonesome frontier outpost. Though not strictly speaking a ghost town, this tiny settlement, 12 miles east of Capitan on Hwy-380, is a perfectly preserved Wild West scene.

© underworld/Shutterstock

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11. Horseshoe Canyon

Remote Horseshoe Canyon is home to the most extraordinary rock art in North America. No one now knows the meaning of the mysterious, haunting figures that line the sandstone walls of the Great Gallery and they’re only accessible via a long desert hike.

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13. Zion National Park

Carved by the Virgin River into the red-rock country of southern Utah, Zion is the state’s most conventionally beautiful park. The lush oasis of Zion Canyon is the centrepiece of its soaring cliffs, riverine forests and cascading waterfalls.

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15. Historic hotels

Wild West relics that make memorable overnight halts include the Strater in Durango, La Fonda in Santa Fe, and Mary Jane Colter’s extraordinary La Posada at Winslow.

Narrow gauge railroad station in Durango © John S. Sfondilias/Shutterstock

Explore more of the Southwest with The Rough Guide to Southwest USA. Compare flights, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

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