We've spent the past summer partnering with Holiday Inn to find the most epic road trip. To decide on the final route, we had travelers show us their favorite places to visit.
The Southwest is home to geological wonders, Route 66 kitsch, and essential historic sites such as The Alamo. It has a groove all its own, from lazy afternoon swims in natural spring-fed pools, to tantalizing Tex-Mex cuisine. Once you hit the Texas border, you're in a whole other world. This 1,800-mile road trip takes you to some of the best places the Southwest has to offer, according to our contest.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a great first stop on a Southwestern adventure. Researchers are still in the process of exploring the cave, and are continually finding new rooms and features. 116 caves have been discovered within the caverns so far, and many are open to be explored! If you're on a tight deadline, skip the epic switchbacks into the mouth of the cave in favor of the elevator, and stop by the Underground Lunchroom to mail yourself a postcard from 750 feet underground.
Highway US-70, Alamogordo, NM, US
There are few landscapes as memorable as Alamogordo, New Mexico's White Sands National Monument. The dunes get their distinctive color because they're composed of gypsum powder, and are incredibly stunning. Whether you just hike around the dunefield, or want to try sand sledding, it's easy to spend a day here... and make a point to catch a sunset. The brightly colored sky lights up the white sand in a beautiful way.
Route 66, Santa Rosa, NM, US
The Blue Hole of Santa Rosa has been a favorite stop for road-trippers since the heyday of Route 66. The swimming hole features clear, deep water that makes for the most refreshing way to cool off. Jump off of the rocks or just float along and enjoy the setting... either way, you can't help but enjoy this lovely New Mexico oasis.
924 E Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
The whole town of Tucumcari, New Mexico is worth exploring, but make a point to stop at Tee Pee Curios. It's a shining example of the retro kitsch for which Route 66 is known, and the proprietors are incredibly passionate about the history of the place. They sell classic souvenirs, but also tons of authenticated Native American crafts. You'll leave here with a new appreciation for Route 66 and a totally unique gift.
Interstate 40, Amarillo, TX, US
Cadillac Ranch is pretty humble as far as art installations go, but few pieces have made such an impact on American culture. Ten vintage Caddies are buried nose-down in the desert, right off the side of the highway. There's just something so cool about the spot, though. Maybe it's the fact that you're encouraged to bring spray-paint cans and add your mark to the cars!
11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX, US
For some great hiking and stunning scenery, check out Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The colors of the rocks and the canyon are breathtaking, and there are some awesome trails and campsites here. Make sure to check out the views above and inside the canyon!
101 E. 12th Street, Shamrock, TX, US
Another Route 66 icon, the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn is a can't-miss photo op. The café and gas station are closed, but the building has been lovingly restored, and there's hope that one day, it'll bring in customers again. Until then, snag a couple of photos here... because seriously, look how cool the architecture is!
660 SR 66, Arcadia, OK, US
POPS Soda Ranch is a great example of classic Route 66 kitsch. It serves up delicious diner fare in the restaurant, but the main draw here (if you couldn't guess from the 66-foot-tall neon soda bottle outside) is their massive selection of 600 kinds of soda from across the globe. Mix and match a 6-pack of the most intriguing flavors and take it with you to enjoy on the road!
2680 N Highway 66, Catoosa, OK, US
The Blue Whale Catoosa is definitely the sweetest roadside attraction on Route 66. A man named Hugh Davis built the massive sculpture as an anniversary present for his wife Zelta, who loved whales. It quickly attracted attention from passersby, and Hugh decided to open it to the public. Poke around inside the whale, and see the other little pieces of art around.
Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the most bustling metropolis areas in all of Texas, so stop by to find out what all the fuss is about. Check out the the Fort Worth Stockyards, uncover the mysteries of the grassy knoll (made famous by JFK's assassination), eat a steak or some brisket, catch a rodeo, and get ready to see why Texas is such a big deal.
2501 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX, US
The Texas coast, facing the Gulf of Mexico, has some awesome beaches and resort spots, such as the island of Galveston. In fact, you won't find a more classic vacation spot than the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. You'll find rides, games, fried food, and fun along with ocean breezes and seashore views!
Austin is the capital of Texas, and it's also located right in the heart of Hill Country, the part of central Texas that's home to many swimming holes, rolling landscape, incredible BBQ joints, honky tonks were locals line-dance the night away, and fields of bluebonnets. Austin is also famously quirky (their "Keep Austin Weird" campaign speaks to this), so don't be afraid to do something a little crazy, like see a freak show performance at the Museum of the Weird or try a donut burger from Gordough's.
Remember the Alamo! This historic former mission played a major role in Texas's fight for independence from Mexico: Even though the Texans lost the battle fought here, "Remember the Alamo!' became a rallying cry that helped propel the state to freedom. Soak up the history here, and snap a photo!
Whether you're exploring a cave, diving into a swimming hole, or snapping pics of Route 66 icons, the Southwest is bursting with flavor, culture, and personality. Hit the road and enjoy it all!