In the Southwest US are the desert mountains, plateaus, and canyons of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

Desert animals come to mind—lizards, eleven species of rattlesnakes, and the venomous, but non-threatening, Gila monster (pronounced “hee-la”)—who live in the arid landscape among the giant saguaro cactus, Joshua trees, fossilized trees of the Petrified Forest, and majestic canyons. The cactus wren nests for protection within the thorns of a saguaro cactus; tiny tree frogs live in its mountains; turquoise, copper, and silver are abundant in its rock.

Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, the resort city of Sedona, the artsy city of Tuscon, and its sprawling state capital, Phoenix. Arizona and New Mexico are known for the Navajo Nation and other land reservations of Native American tribes, such as the Apache and Pueblo peoples.

Utah is home to the Great Salt Lake with its state capital, Salt Lake City, as well as the red rock canyons of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park. Nevada is not only known for its casino and entertainment cities of Las Vegas and Reno; it is also home to the Great Basin National Park and the most mountainous state with over 150 named mountain ranges.


Carson City (state capital), Reno, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Valley of Fire, Great Basin, ghost towns, Burning Man’s Black Rock City (leave-no-trace festival)


Salt Lake City (state capital and largest city), Park City, Wasatch Mountains, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Glen Canyon


Phoenix (state capital and largest city), Tuscon, Sedona, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Navajo Nation, Saguaro NP, Petrified Forest

New Mexico

Sante Fe (state capital), Albuquerque, Taos Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Culture, El Malpais, White Sands


Grand Canyon west, Arizona

Native Holy Land

Along the northwest corner of the state, the Colorado River slices through the land for over 275 miles, exposing a billion years in layers of jagged, copper-colored rock cliffs in the Grand Canyon.

Along with protecting its natural wonders, Arizona has designated the most land of any US state to several native tribes—among them are Navajo, Apache, and Hopi people. For thousands of years, Pueblo peoples honored the canyon as a holy ground for pilgrimage. Today this National Park is tended by indigenous Hualapai Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, and Navajo Nation.


HIGHWAY 95, Nevada

Arid High Ground

The Sierra Nevada Mountains that sit to the west of Nevada create a rain shadow across this state, a barrier preventing many Pacific storms from reaching the land. The mountainous high desert is rich in metal ores and was a destination particularly for silver prospectors in the 19th century; the state is still the largest producer of silver and gold in the country.


SAND HARBOR, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Majestic Mountains

The most mountainous state in the US, Nevada boasts over 150 named mountain ranges with over 30 peaks exceeding 11,000 feet in height. Most of Nevada’s mountains are rocky and arid, popular for hiking, each with distinct biomes and rock formations.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains briefly appear in the far western corner—the perfect day trip from Reno, Nevada’s second-largest city. At the state’s western bend, its shared border with California cuts through the length of Lake Tahoe. Golden beaches and tree-lined shores overlook the lake’s varied blue tones along Tahoe’s eastern shore.


Las Vegas, Nevada
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Desert Oasis

Las Vegas grew out of the Mojave Desert to become is one of the world’s leading casino hot spots. Along a magical, four-plus-mile Strip, each resort seeks to draw in visitors beyond table games with fine-dining, high-end shopping, and spellbinding nightlife and shows.

The Cosmopolitan mesmerizes with sleek, ultra-modern luxury. Twins Wynn and Encore dazzle with intricate floral creations. Canals with singing gondoliers flow through the Venetian. Under a whimsical Eiffel Tower, Paris transports visitors to a playful version of the City of Lights. And the Bellagio bestows grandly choreographed, music-filled fountain shows.

This fantasyland and adult playground is Mecca for food and entertainment enthusiasts, gamblers, and shoppers. Kids are welcome in some environments, but parents beware … They may ask, “Mom, What’s a peep show?” as my son did. I just responded with, “It’s like peek-a-boo sweetie.”

Great day trips from Vegas (as it’s referred to) are the areas Valley of Fire and Hoover Dam at Lake Mead or venture into Arizona to Grand Canyon West.

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