Desert Road Trip


Davin and I recently celebrated our 20th anniversary together and to REALLY celebrate we are going on a road trip through the Mojave and Sonoran deserts! !!!!! !!!!!!

[Infinite exclamation points here.]

We both have an interest in desert landscapes and have talked about doing a trip like this for about as long as we’ve been together, but were always impeded by the fact that neither of us had a license to drive. We did not plan to be drivers. As city dwellers we felt contented with a life riding bikes and public transportation with the occasional cab ride. But then came a horrible bus experience in Florida, and then later, what can only be described as a 13 hour bus tour from hell just so we could spend one wholly insufficient hour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And so it was with much trepidation that we embarked on the journey to becoming people who can operate a motorized vehicle.

In a way this trip celebrates the freedom we are finding in being able to (sort of) drive places (we are super slow and still can’t do major highways, but getting there) as much as it also celebrates our lives together so far.

Our original plan for this trip was quite different than the one we will be taking. We originally planned to go more than a month earlier, flying in and out of a completely different state. But plans changed for various reasons and the trip we are taking now begins and ends in Phoenix, Arizona. There are countless national parks, amazing landscapes, and interesting places that I would love to see around southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, but we’re trying not to overdo it and want to keep things fairly flexible.


Our trip will take us to:

Any one of these stops will be so thrilling to experience in person, that I don’t feel let down about having to forgo Death Valley and a few other national parks that were on our original itinerary. Still, we are hoping that there will be time left for a few unexpected stops. We especially want to find more places to eat that specialize in local foods, much like the Desert Rain Cafe listed above. We also want to make some time to stop in at flea markets, farmers markets, and antique and thrift shops. If you know of any places like this that you think we should see, please let us know in the comments. Your suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

Subscribe to get weekly updates from Gayla

18 thoughts on “Desert Road Trip

  1. Hooray for celebrating 20 years! Your trip sounds amazing. The southwestern desert is one of my favorite places in the world. Hope you have a blast!

  2. If possible, don’t skip White Sands National Monument. It is so peaceful and beautiful and most of all, such a unique landscape! It seems deceiving when you first begin driving in, at first its a tiny speck from afar and as you get closer the dunes are inhabited by a lot of yucca plants, but keep driving slowly on the gravel road and suddenly you are surrounded by pure white dunes that are very easy to climb. If you can see sunset there, even better :)

  3. I grew up in Tucson. You will love it! There are lots of wonderful places to eat. Cafe Poca Cosa, a personal favorite of mine, is downtown. The owner’s sister runs a wonderful tiny lunch place right by the library that I can’t remember the name of. They are both just great. The lunch place only takes cash FYI. You would probably love Tohono Chul Park,, plus it has a nice tea house. Desserts and coffee at the Arizona Inn is lovely when they have their gardens in. Brooklyn Pizza and the B-Line are both down on 4th ave. Coffee and chai at the Raging Sage on Campbell. Man, I could go on and on… Have a great time!

    • Thanks so much for the recommendations! I was literally just looking up the Tohono Chul Park, but couldn’t get a good impression of it.

  4. Congrats on your big anniversary! And what a way to celebrate!

    Twenty-Nine Palms/Joshua Tree N.M. are both amazing places. I spent Spring Break down there for extra-credit in my science/horticulture classes – back when I was in high school (many, many MANY years ago). Springtime is the best, IMHO, but the desert is fascinating – year-round.

    Another side-trip that I would HIGHLY recommend is a visit to Indian Canyons (on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation). It’s down near San Diego (It’s about an hours’ drive from Twentynine Palms). There is an oasis there that is positively MAGICAL. If you are able to manage the side-trip – you won’t regret it.

    Enjoy your trip!

  5. Congratulations on 20 years! I am also a non-driver who has finally vowed to learn to drive, in part because I’m learning to garden, and I need to have a certain level of garden-centre-visit independence…

  6. Congrats on 20 years! And what with me being a small town dweller who had to learn to drive if I wanted to be able to buy groceries, congrats on that too, I think. :) I hope your trip is all the more amazing for the freedom a car brings, and that you suffer no breakdowns.

  7. Don’t skip White Sands and try to go at sunset. It might be my favorite place on earth to watch the sunset.

  8. Mesa, AZ has a huge flea market. For a beautiful (yet scary if you don’t like heights) drive check out the Apache Trail outside of Phoenix. There are also some interesting Hohokam ruins in Phoenix at Pueblo Grande Park with native plants/edibles. Deer Valley Rock Art center in Phoenix is also really cool. There was a really knowledgeable Native American interpreter/guide when I was there. I did my senior thesis on the Hohokam and water use, they definitely knew how to grow food in the desert!

    • Thanks for the suggestions! I’m checking out each one. I watched a video someone shot driving along the Apache Trail and while it looks amazing… no. I would be freaking out the entire time.

  9. Congratulations on completing 20 years together, I am sure this time must have been quite an adventure, shared lots of bitter sweet moments. And now to celebrate it, you are embarking on another adventure through the desert.

    My best wishes!

  10. What a wonderful sounding trip- happy early anniversary!

    We just went to Sedona, AZ- this is not a place to be missed! The landscape is incredible- totally unbelievable and indescribable, beauty as far as the eye can see. I would highly recommend going there, neat hiking, neat shops, very environmentally conscious town. We took a ‘Pink Jeep Tour’ and it was awesome, it’s 2 hours of off roading through closed trails to see all different rock formations, nature, and more. The tour guide knows all about the plants and rocks and is open to any questions you have. Normally I’m not this excitable, but this city and tour is totally worth it! (We recommend the Broken Arrow tour.)

  11. I live in Las Cruces, NM and we have a great farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. If your schedule allows, White Sand National park stays open till midnight on full moon nights. It’s great to enjoy the park in the evening for the sunset/ night because it’s not as hot and it’s very beautiful!

  12. As a lifelong desert dweller I have lots of ideas! Don’t miss the Desert Museum!!! It is a fabulous outdoor museum/botanical garden/zoo. It is also located near the west, Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park (though not affiliated with the Park). It is a great way to spend the morning (good to get their early when the animals are awake)and have lunch. Also on the west-side of Tucson is a new-ish brewery, Dragoon Brewery, they have sort of weird hours so check their Facebook page or website. They don’t have a kitchen but usually have a food cart parked in front. Great IPA and seasonal brews.
    You could also see if the Native Seed Search farm near the town of Patagonia (south of Tucson) is open for visitors and volunteers when you are visiting. Patagonia is also really beautiful and cool, with nice places to eat. To get their you drive through gorgeous desert grasslands and the up-and-coming winecountry of Sonoita/Elgin.
    Oh and Bisbee is a one-of-a-kind little mining town. With cool hotels, good local food, and a brewery too. It’s located in a canyon and kind of resembles a mini southwestern San Francisco (lots of Victorian buildings).
    Hope this post doesn’t overwhelm you. Enjoy your trip!!!

Comments are closed.