Best route b/w Smokies & Grand Canyon
We're driving from CT to Las Vegas for family Christmas visit. Leaving day after T'giving and would like to arrive in Vegas around 12/11, spend couple weeks & head back 12/26. Will need to hoof it back by 1/3. Did this summer of '02 and went thru heart of the country... best trip we've ever taken! Because of early winter, this year we're going southerly but don't know much of what to see. Plan to see Valley Forge, Blue Ridge Hwy, Smoky Mts., then ???
Only other thing we "must see" is Grand Canyon, just not sure of best route between. Considering AL, MS, LA, TX (I-20), or AR, OK, etc. (I-40). Biggest concern is winter weather. What to expect? What to see & do? Also what to focus on in VA/NC/TN? Any favorite places out there?
One other bit of info: it's my wife & I and 3 kids (10, 5 and 2). Hold the negative comments...they're great, adventurous travelers (the little one did well at 6 mos., but now will be TBD). But we're creative there. Thanks!
Winter in the Southwest USA
Were I planning this trip, I would include New Orleans (always a good time) and San Antonio along the way. Other possibilities I can think of offhand are Big Bend National Park in Texas, Carlsbad (NM) or Kartchner Caverns (AZ). Our editor says you can even SKI at Carlsbad! :) You could see the Arizona Desert Sonora Museum near Tucson, and if you like the "old west," (or the Hollywood version of it anyway) you might try the Old Tucson movie set and theme park nearby, before heading north to the Grand Canyon.
Once you are in the southwest (New Mexico and Arizona) you can almost count on good weather, even beautiful. We do get storms in the higher elevations sometimes, mostly the northern portions of the state (I live in AZ but the same holds true for NM), but the roads usually get cleared quickly and the Grand Canyon with snow on it is worth the trip from anywhere. Don't expect desert temperatures though, the GC is at 7,000 feet MSL (South Rim) so it does get cold -- and it is often windy. A big plus is you get to enjoy it without all the summer crowds, and the off-season rates are reasonable. Try getting a room at the El Tovar Hotel -- normally very expensive -- but in winter almost reasonable. The ambiance there is worth the splurge.
One Caveat -- Texas Highway Dept
Winter travel along I-40 is no problem except for the stretch thru Texas. For some odd reason, Texas has, (in my view) the very worst highway department for clearing snow-covered roadways. Coming from CT, you may be amazed what 6" of snow can do to I-40 in the winter months. Oddly, the exact amount of snow-fall results in clear, dry roads as soon as the road enters New Mexico. One bit of advice -- if you do hit snow on I-40 (get off the Interstate and travel the side roads) you will make much better time even if the roads have had no plowing.
On the other hand, Colorado gets high marks in this category and so on the eastward leg of your journey, you might consider traveling on I-70 -- it is gorgeous beyond compare in the Winter.
I-70 thru the Rockies in December?
Thanks for the I-40 tip through Texas. I will heed. But you mean to tell me that you actually recommend traveling through the Rockies in December? I do not doubt that the already-fallen snow would certainly be gorgeous, but it's the suddenly-fallING snow I'm concerned about.
About 13 years ago we were at a New Year's Eve wedding in Golden, and the day before the wedding we drove up thru the mountains on a record warm day. I joked with my wife that these winter snow storms can come out of nowhere and we could get socked in. No kidding, within an hour, that's exactly what happened - at nightfall, no less. She was scared to death, and we almost ran off the road once or twice. It will take some convincing to do that again, even on a highway (which I suspect would be better plowed than the state road we were on), now in a FWD minivan with three kids. But if you can help me convince her...
I would take a gale
I would take a full-blown ground blizzard along I-70 over 6" of snow ground into ice crests by 18-wheeler traffic along I-40, five hours after a storm any day of the week. The worst traffic jam I have ever been in happened along I-40 in December 1999 when we and an estimated 500 big rigs were "trapped" on the road east of Amarillo. Power was out for miles and the only light was the running lights of those 500+ rigs inching their way westward.
Even if storms close sections of the road for a little while, the Colorado Department will get it opened quickly. If snow is predicted along either I-10 or I-40 in Texas -- I will always head north... (Texas is also legendary for ice storms )
Shenandoah Valley & Random Ideas
There are a number of posts about the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah Valley on this forum (to access -- use the Search utility and select all scopes). "Angus Bangus" is a frequent poster on tips in this area.
Nashville is a very gracious (albeit fast-growing)city. I think your 10 & 5 yrs old would get HUGE kick out of the Space and Rocket museum in Huntsville. This is the site of the yearly Space Camp -- I wish I were 40 years younger so I could attend!
For the adults -- (I don't know if kids can take "the treatment") consider a stop at the Hot Springs National Park in Little Rock. The national park is unlike any other -- mostly a row of historical buildings where professional bathers are still plying their trade. Megan and I did it -- truly a remarkable experience!
I am a huge fan of Big Bend National Park in Texas.
Tombstone and the environs in Arizona is often intriguing to kids of all ages.
Actually you are traveling at the perfect time for a truly-awe-inspiring stop -- Stop by the Bosque Del Apache NWR (just south of Socorro, NM). Drive to the preserve at dawn and wait until about 7:00 am thousands of birds launch to go feed in the fields -- One of the most amazing experiences you will ever see. <a href = "http://www.roadtripamerica.com/journals/Number12.htm">
Hard to describe<a/> what 10,000 wings beating at once sounds like as they fly overhead.
If you like twisty, scenic roads. After you leave Bosque Del Apache proceed west on US-60 to the town of Eager, Arizona and then head southwest on US-191. This stretch of US-191 ranks as the curviest section of the federal highway system down to Clifton.
Don't miss the Saguaro National Park near Tucson.
South of Flagstaff, if the weather is good -- you might wish to check out 89-A -- beautiful route around Sedona down to Jerome -- a very scenic old mining town.
Las Vegas -- so much to see around there. Chocolate Factory is fun, the Dam -- always great. Petroglphys at Grapevine Canyon, hiking in Red Rock Canyon.