I think that would be the most economical way and the only 'Back tracking' would be a 20 mile stretch back to Mt Carmel Junction. You could head to Page after GC and before Monument valley, but that would only save a few miles and you wouldn't get to drive to Marble canyon without making it more miles. [Don't mind being proved wrong though.]
What about weather? Can it be a factor in a decision which way we take the loop? Is there any possibility for waterfalls to still flow in Yosemite in late June?
I've been looking at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef the whole time but can't decide if it's a good idea (and how to) to include them in the itinerary.
Yes. I got some help behind the wheel. Thank god :)
How about this for an idea:
LA to South Rim (via Joshua Tree?), then up to Page, the North Rim, Zion/Bryce/Capitol Reef, then over to Arches/Canyonlands, then down to Natural Bridges/Monument Valley/Mesa Verde, and then continue the rest of the CO/NM leg as originally planned. After NM, continue back on I-40, until cutting up to Vegas, and then finish with Yosemite, Sequoia, SF, and down the coast to return to LA?
That might be too much stuff now, but other than the stretch of I-40 between Kingman and Williams, you wouldn't be doing any backtracking - and even that area you could change up by going to the Grand Canyon via the Phoenix area or by taking advantage of historic route 66 through that area.
The waterfalls usually flow through June and peak flow is usually in May with the snow melt but the Sierra's have had a lack of snow in recent years which could be a factor.What about weather? Can it be a factor in a decision which way we take the loop? Is there any possibility for waterfalls to still flow in Yosemite in late June? ]
You could have another month and wouldn't be able to fit everything in, so unfortunately you have to pick and choose. We all start out with way to much and then have to cut back, but it's always a great excuse for another trip !I've been looking at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef the whole time but can't decide if it's a good idea (and how to) to include them in the itinerary.
I don't know that it has been brought up yet, but if you belong to whatever auto club is the equivalent of AAA here in America, you will have some reciprocal benefits, and it might well help you with eliminating those extra charges the rental car companies always want to saddle you with. I think Southwest Dave can tell you more about that than I can.
Also, now that you have changed your itinerary, one thought comes to mind from an experience I had years ago. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is only open Friday through Monday, and I took some friends there on a 'closed' day. We were sorely disappointed. There might be other attractions that have limited access, so be sure to check before scheduling them.
If you are a member of your local club, go ask if they have any reciprocal arrangements with AAA. I know most do, at least to get free maps when you are over in the US. It does normally not extend to roadside service.
Roadside service would not be needed as that will be taken care of by the rental company. It's good to shop around for the best rental deals available to match your needs as they compete for your money, but we have found rentalcars.com to offer good value on our last couple of trips.
Our auto club is a part of a group that have arrangements with AAA. What kind of benefits can we expect?
Can you tell me about campgrounds in national parks? Do they have showers (at least in bigger parks like Yosemite)?
My friend said he wants to buy a t-shirt from every state we'll visit. I assume they sell stuff like this in visitor centers. Is it sensible to buy memorabilia in visitor centers or are they massively overpriced?
AAA - you can expect free maps. You won't need the emergency road service, as it will come with your rental car, but they probably wouldn't extend it to you anyway.
Campgrounds in national parks are pretty "bare-bones". You'll get a nice level site, water available nearby (have a container), public restrooms will probably include sinks and flush toilets. Showers may be available (usually coin-op) at a general area reachable by all campgrounds -- at least, that's the way the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was, and a couple of other parks. National forests are considerably more primitive -- water nearby, level site, but often the public facilities are outhouses of some sort with a faucet somewhere nearby to wash your hands afterward.
T-shirts for states, national parks, and other touristy places are all over. The NP gift shops will carry them. We found some reasonable prices in 2014, with t-shirts running $5-20, and sweatshirts running $15-35. For states and/or cities, often times the local Walgreens will have something very reasonable, such as 3 for $12. Walmart will also carry some local t-shirts that will be reasonably priced.
As far as other memorabilia, it depends on what you're looking for. We found that books are usually sold at their highest retail prices, and ordering them from Amazon is less expensive. They are also weighty if you have to fly home. Sometimes writing down the titles and authors, then ordering later from Amazon or similar is a lot cheaper and better for your luggage.
If you purchase something that is breakable, I would ensure that the clerk wrap it carefully, and then find some way to secure it in your suitcase so that it will not break.