Top Ten Places

Here are three lists of top ten places in the Southwest, in approximate order of merit - subjective, of course.

National Parks and Monuments



  1. Death Valley National Park, California - beautiful desert landscapes; multi-colored rocks, jagged mountains, sand dunes, salt flats and extremes of temperature
  2. Zion National Park, Utah - a huge variety of deep, narrow canyons, cliffs and rock formations, with some of the best hikes in the Southwest
  3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona - popular and familiar, but still overwhelmingly impressive. A lifetime could be spent exploring this park alone

  4. Cliff Geyser, Yellowstone NP
    Cliff Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
  5. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming - not really in the Southwest, but the variety and extent of amazing features in Yellowstone deserve inclusion. The park has thousands of active geothermal phenomena, a deep and extremely colorful canyon, many waterfalls, lakes and mountains, with abundant and unusual wildlife
  6. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California - hot springs, multi-colored volcanic formations, waterfalls and steep mountains, with massive snowfall during winter
  7. Canyonlands National Park, Utah - 530 square miles of wilderness filled with countless canyons, arches, spires, buttes and a myriad of other spectacular rock formations
  8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah - amazingly scenic area centred around Lake Powell with stark red rocks and innumerable steep remote canyons
  9. Joshua Tree National Park, California - many square miles of wild, unspoilt desert scenery, featuring the eerie Joshua Trees, varied cacti and unusual rocks
  10. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico - large expanses of pure white gypsum, flanked by distant mountains. A magical place, especially at sunset
  11. Yosemite National Park, California - at the center of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite has huge granite domes, glaciated valleys, waterfalls, lakes, meadows and giant sequoia trees

Campsites - Official



Difficult to decide - there are many National Forest Service campgrounds in interesting locations that are nice enough but not especially distinctive. Most standard RV/campsites are not particularly memorable. Some of the following sites are free, while for others there is a small fee, but all are quite special.

  1. White Tank campground, Joshua Tree National Park, California. There are plenty of well-separated sites right amongst the Joshua trees and the huge, distinctive granite boulders. A great place for watching stars and UFOs. Other campgrounds in the park are similarly good
  2. Squaw Flat campground, Canyonlands National Park (Utah) - the one developed site in the Needles section of the park. The camp has a very scenic location amongst large colorful rocks, with superb views of cliffs and eroded formations in all directions

  3. Goosenecks of the San Juan River
    Goosenecks of the San Juan River
  4. Goosenecks - a free state park site near Mexican Hat. Here it is possible to camp right on the edge of the canyon of the San Juan River, and look down upon the entrenched meanders far below
  5. Strawberry Crater Wilderness - on the road from Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, there are several camp sites set amidst an eerie landscape of black ash with only occasional trees, and colorful cinder cones in the distance
  6. Bachelor Cove, Lake Roosevelt - lakeside near AZ 188 (The Apache Trail). About a mile of sandy beach is accessible for camping (for a small fee); the water is clean and warm, and there are impressive views up and down the lake, and across to the gaunt, saguaro-studded mountains opposite
  7. Pipe Springs campground, Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas) - an official site set directly beneath the highest peaks in Texas, and right next to the start of several trails that lead up into the back-country. To the south there is a good view of the flat desert lands that stretch towards Mexico
  8. Beside Lake Mead at Pearce Ferry, Arizona. Several tracks lead along a promontory at the far eastern edge of Lake Mead to various viewpoints of the reddish, extravagantly layered cliffs that mark the lower end of the Grand Canyon. There are sandy beaches, scattered cacti and a generally peaceful ambience
  9. Rock Hound State Park, New Mexico - a cheap, well-maintained site with good facilities, extensive views over a large area of desert lands in the SW corner of the state, and just a few minutes walk away from sites in the surrounding hills where colorful, semi-precious stones may be collected
  10. Cottonwood Campground, Chinle. This is a free site, a very convenient base from which to explore the nearby Canyon De Chelly National Monument. The setting is atmospheric; often there are distant sounds of Navajo drums and chanting
  11. Circus Circus RV Site, Las Vegas, Nevada. Rather different to the other sites in this list, this relatively cheap RV site is within walking distance of the famous Las Vegas Strip and is always worth a visit - or at least it was before being bought by KOA, as now the rates are more than double

Campsites - Unofficial



Choices for this list are hard to narrow down. There are many unusual, individual places where camping (or parking a small RV in this case) is possible, often with no other people for miles around. Sometimes just the verge of a remote road or a lakeside beach can be as memorable as a famous scenic location. There were no other nearby vehicles at night when I stayed at all of the following places, in midsummer.


    The Colorado River, near Diamond Creek
    The Colorado River, near Diamond Creek
  1. Diamond Creek, at the end of Peach Springs Canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; at the junction of the Colorado river with Diamond Creek, in the Hualapai Indian reservation. Where else is it possible to drive to within 2 meters of the Colorado and camp alone, with only stars and the multi-colored layered cliffs of the Grand Canyon rising above? Note as of 2010, it appears this is no longer permitted
  2. Bonnie Claire Flat, north east of Death Valley National Park in Nevada - a completely flat dry lake bed, aside a largely untravelled road enclosed by barren, lifeless hills with oppressive heat and wind in summer. This was a quite amazing place to spend the night, yet it is difficult to describe exactly why
  3. Scottys Junction, Nevada - remains of a petrol station along US 95, surrounded by distant unvegetated mountains. There were various remnants of the station and out-buildings, along a little-used road many miles from anywhere. At night, there was no traffic, just the sound of wind, and ominous creaks from the long-abandoned structures nearby. The ruins have since been removed and the site cleared
  4. FR 110; the end of this forest track leading to Sycamore Canyon, Arizona - at the very edge of this spectacular but little-known canyon southwest of Flagstaff. A 40 minute drive along dirt roads leads to several viewpoints high above the eroded red and orange rocks with distant views south along the canyon towards Jerome
  5. Colorado River, Moab, Utah - along state road 279 that leads to a potash mine there is a large flat area next to the river, with high red cliffs at either side. At night, the only sound is from the rushing waters of the river; there is no traffic or other sign of civilisation. This is now a maintained BLM site - payment required
  6. Santa Fe National Forest, in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico - a short spur road leading to a car-park area off state road 126. The site has a great position atop a cliff edge with distant views towards the Jemez river valley beneath. The only artificial lights visible at night were from several campfires far below at one of the NFS campgrounds
  7. Near Congress, Arizona - just south of state road 97, off US 93. A short track along a ridge, surrounded by a rocky landscape densely-forested with many types of cactus, including the giant saguaro
  8. Rye Patch Reservoir, Nevada - a great overnight stop on the long drive across Nevada on I-80. There is an elevated area above the rough road to the north of the Reservoir, with uninterrupted views over the water and to desert lands to the north. Slowly moving traffic on the railway and interstate is just visible several miles east. The site is next to some interesting old mine workings, with bright turquoise minerals in many of the surrounding rocks
  9. Dinosaur National Monument, Utah/Colorado - along a remote track leading towards Harpers Corner, there are several places with great views of remote lands and colorful cliffs, with plenty of wood for campfires
  10. Sitgreaves Pass, Route 66, Arizona - a wide lay-by on a little-used road that extends back, along a small, high ridge with great views west; across the semi-ghost town of Goldroad and down to Bullhead City and the Colorado river valley in the distance. Several graves on the adjacent hillside contribute to a slightly spooky atmosphere at dusk

For comparison, these are typically the top ten most requested sections;
  1. Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
  2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  3. Death Valley National Park, California
  4. Arches National Park, Utah
  5. Zion National Park, Utah
  6. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
  7. Petrified Forest National Park
  8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  9. Yosemite National Park, California
  10. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
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