Being a couch potato in the Southwest is the equivalent of drinking orange juice after you’ve brushed your teeth. They simply don’t work together.
Look, we understand that when the heat gets to be a bit much it’s tempting to stay inside with your beloved air conditioning (if you’re lucky enough to have one of those, that is), but it’s been a long winter, especially for those of us who are considered a danger to the public when we attempt to ski.
Here in the Southwest, we’ve got a good thing going. Our cup overfloweth thanks to Mother Nature, who has gifted us with plenty of trails to hike, rocks to climb, hot springs to lounge in, and lots of weird hole-in-the-walls to visit.
Location: Montezuma County, Colo.
Though scarce when it comes to much civilization, the desolateness of McElmo Canyon, located just north of the Ute Mountain Reservation and south of the Canyons of the Ancients in western Colorado, is one of its draws, with the other being its mouthwatering landscapes.
This hidden gem contains even more buried jewels, like Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch – a full-functioning ranch – along with two local wineries – Guy Drew and Sutcliffe – and Sand Canyon. With plenty of horseback riding, ancient cliff dwellings, and breathtaking views, it’s a perfect, quiet, summer getaway.
Location: Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park might sound like the very opposite of getting off the beaten path, but bear with us. If you’re into the whole mainstream caving experience, there’s plenty of that with the Glenwood Cavern’s wide open spaces. However, if you’re all about getting off the underground cave trail, you might not know there are also tours available for portions of the caves that haven’t been developed. You’ll be able to squeeze and crawl through holes as small as 18-square-inches and see parts of the caverns most people don’t ever glimpse to satisfy the inner spelunker in you.
Location: Alamosa, Colo.
Beers and summer go together like Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Starr, so we can’t NOT include a brewery in this list.
If you haven’t been yet, you might want to skedaddle on over and day drink on Square Peg Brewerks’ outdoor patio. This award-winning Colorado brewery boasts a 2017 gold medal from Great American Brew Fest for their Waverly Tulip, a Dutch-style Kuyt, and isn’t to be underestimated.
Proudly #farmtotap, the brewers at Square Peg get their beer ingredients straight from their farm and process them locally through a three-barrel system, according to their website.
New MexicoCoyote Cantina
Location: Santa Fe, NM
Day drinking on a rooftop with a view of the street of Santa Fe? Yes, please. This sunshine bar above the Coyote Cafe is worth a day trip out to the artsy city.
Covered in beautiful, colorful art, this cantina is really the perfect spot to be “above it all,” as the website says. Watch the sunset as you enjoy a delicious sip of the Norteño Margarita, an infusion of green chile and tequila, with some tacos and churros. How much more New Mexico summer can you get?
Location: San Juan County, NM
The idea of exploring badlands doesn’t sound overly welcoming, but if you’re a hiker who’s eager to steer away from well-trodden trails, maybe this is the summer outdoors experience for you.
Lacking in clear pathways, guideposts, and toilets, the Bisti Badlands looks like the untouched landscape of another world. There are strange, mushroom-like rock formations all over, and it’s an area that doesn’t seem very friendly toward humans, especially with its unforgiving heat in the day and bitterly cold nights.
If you’re gonna take on these badlands, make sure to be prepared. Cell-phone service is scant out there and there aren’t convenient amenities. You’ll have to bring all your own supplies, including water.
Location: Fort Sumner , NM
For those of you looking for the strangest reason to road trip, we’ve got news for you. Colorado’s neighbor to the south is home to the Billy the Kid Museum.
In case you don’t know who one of the most famous outlaws in America is, let us give you a brief history lesson. Billy the Kid, born Henry McCarty, was a gunslinger of the Wild West who by the age of 21 had killed eight people. He was shot to death in 1881 after the 21-year-old escaped from jail.
At the New Mexico museum dedicated to his legacy, you’ll find unofficial artifacts that may or may not have belonged to the outlaw, newspaper clippings of his crimes, and paintings of the doomed man. It’s not just Billy the Kid-related items you’ll find here, though. If you take the time to wander around, you’ll find all manner of strange things like a taxidermied conjoined-twin calf and a supposed mastodon skull. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during the summer.
Location: Huntsville, Utah
Still wishing time machines existed? Well, if you road trip on over to Utah’s oldest bar, you can come pretty close to reliving the days of the Wild West. Shooting Star Saloon has been around for about 140 years now, surviving some pretty tough times, including the Prohibition era.
The bar’s exterior takes a page straight out of a Western, while the interior is a dive bar lover’s dream. The quirky inside matches the saloon’s reputation with a taxidermy moose and dog heads mounted on the walls, and some estimated $14,000 in dollar bills slapped to the ceiling.
“What a minute,” you’re probably thinking. “Rewind and go back to that part about the dog head.” OK, don’t get too upset. The dog was a nearly 300-pound Saint Bernard the locals like to call Buck. Buck died back in 1957 and his heartbroken owner decided to preserve him and, well, there he sits today.
Location: Carbon County, Utah
Here’s something you don’t get asked every day: wanna simultaneously hike and check out an art gallery at the same time? That’s a yes? Then it’s about time you check out Nine Mile Canyon over in Colorado’s western neighbor.
Don’t let the name fool you. Nine Mile Canyon is actually 40-miles long (don’t ask) and is covered in thousands of petroglyphs – some dating as far back as 400-1400 CE. Some of the oldest of the pictures and carvings are believed to have originated from the Fremont, an ancient tribe of Natives. The images depict all sorts of imagery, including hunting scenes, animals, and what some refer to as … drum roll, please … “ancient astronauts.” Intriguing, eh?
When visiting this picturesque hike (get it?), please abide by Leave No Trace. There’s lots of cool stuff in the canyon, like arrowheads, pottery, and rocks. LEAVE THEM THERE. And pack out anything you brought with you. By following simple rules like these, visitors to the canyon can help protect and preserve this phenomenal piece of history.
Location: Midway, Utah
Tucked away under an innocuous-looking lump in the ground lies the illustrious Homestead Crater, filled with water and carefully crafted by Mother Nature for about 10,000 years. At 55-feet deep, this natural hot spring is one of the few warm dive spots in the country. What’s more is that the limestone dome encasing the crater is slowly growing over time. You heard us – GROWING – thanks to the mineral-infused steam emitting from this natural hot tub. We don’t know exactly how it all works but, y’know, science.
Today, Homestead Crater is part of Homestead Resort. You can’t climb the hot spring’s rocky shell but the owners of the resort have created a tunnel to the natural pool the public can now access for anywhere between $13-$27 depending on the day of the week. Swimmers, divers, and loungers alike can enjoy the 90-96 degrees Fahrenheit waters, if that’s the kind of thing they feel like doing on a hot summer day.
Location: Supai, Ariz.
Don’t tell anyone, but Havasupai Falls is as close to heaven on earth as we’re probably going to get. Sure, everyone knows about the Grand Canyon, where they’re located, but few know about this jaw-dropping waterfall and swim area on the Havasupai tribe reservation.
Well, there’s a reason for that. Understandably, the tribe is a little protective about this secluded strip of paradise, and only gives out a few camping permits a year to see it. Even if you’re one of the chosen few to get a permit, the falls are a 20-mile round-trip hike that is not a walk in the park, so to speak, so you’ll have to either get a helicopter ride or trot in on a horse or mule.
Still, the trip is well-earned. The 100-foot falls feature shockingly blue water against a backdrop of beautiful, jutting cliffs. Here, visitors can swim, cliff dive, and explore to their heart’s content.
Location: Seligman, Ariz.
Nothing says summer like a small-town burger joint with two doorknobs on the front door. Say what? You heard us. A fake knob and a real one.
A leftover eatery from during America’s fascination with cruising highways, Snow Cap Drive-In likes to keep a sense of humor about themselves, which is probably why they’re still around.
The restaurant was started in 1953 along Route 66 by Juan Delgadillo and began attracting attention because of Delgadillo’s goofy antics, like taking off the top of his car and covering it in stickers and even a fake Christmas tree.
Today, the hole-in-the-wall diner includes an indoor restaurant space and an outdoor garden area. Visitors announce their visit via hanging up all manner of personal items, like pictures, stickers, and money. The restaurant still isn’t short on jokes, as you can tell by the double-doorknob gag.
Location: Golden Valley, Ariz.
An entire ghost town dedicated to Saint Nicholas? Yeah, it’s creepy for sure, but who can say no to a child sized Santa train in the summer? Apparently a lot of people, because Santa Claus, Arizona is devoid of human life.
Located in the Mojave Desert, you’ll find a whole lotta Joshua trees, eerie rock formations, and, of course, Santa Claus. The town was founded by Nina Talbot in 1937 in an attempt to bring more people to the area. For a hot minute, the town did bring in quite a few tourists, who found it charming to meet Santa any time of the year they wished. The post office proved especially popular in the month of December. Unfortunately, a small town dedicated to a year-round celebration of one holiday didn’t pan out and Talbot sold the property in 1949. Today, mostly all that remains of the once chipper village are two boarded-up buildings rife with graffiti.