Best route from Denver to Flagstaff? (Pueblo, Grand Junction: how much, hotels, price)
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Hubby, the kids and I are taking a road trip from Lincoln, NE to the Grand Canyon in July. We need to stop in Flagstaff to meet up with friends before heading to the Grand Canyon. From Denver, would it be easiest/quickest to take 25 down to Albuquerque and then 40 into Flagstaff; or should we take 25 to 160 and then 89 south into Flagstaff? Hubby is not fond of winding roads and feels more secure on main highways, but those national parks along 160 are calling my name. Just how bad is 160 for "flat-landers" like my husband?
Also, we'll be breaking up the trip-- driving most of it the first day, and then finishing up the remaining stretch to Flagstaff (approx. 6 hours or so) the next morning. Any thoughts on a good stopping point?
I-25 S to I-40 W should be the fastest route to Flagstaff. Not the most scenic, but interstates rarely are. 160 is not really all that bad, but it is "winding" in spots, and wouldn't qualify as a major highway. Unless you're terrified of mountain driving, I don't see why you'd want to avoid it for that reason. It would certainly provide you an opportunity to stop at some interesting sites along the way, including the sand dunes, mesa verde, and others.
I-25 to I-40 is your best bet. Denver to Albuquerque is about an 8 hour drive. There are a lot of motels near I-25 and Tramway on the east side of town and very affordable. Albuquerque is a Route 66 town and motels are plentiful. Flagstaff is about a 5 hour drive from Albuquerque, maybe a little further.
The implication seems to be 2 days of driving, so any national parks you see will be a fleeting glimpse from a car window. The only one near your proposed routes is Mesa Verde NP, just east of Cortez, CO, off of US 160. It definitely would be worth visiting, but the major portion of it somewhat removed from the highway, and even a quick glance would mean a detour of 1-2 hours. If you only allow that, you'll want to return for a more leisurely sojourn.
Great Sand Dunes NP would prove an even longer detour.
Wolf Creek Pass on US 160, between South Fork, CO and Pagosa Springs, CO is the only section between Walsenburg, CO and Flagstaff, AZ that could be considered daunting. But considerably tamed since they 'improved' the road several years ago. Even if all two-lane roadway, this is a fairly easy, and often scenic, route. Probably preferable if you haven't seen this part of the country before. If your husband finds it too 'winding' he might consider sticking with interstates the rest of his driving career.
Sticking with I-25 and I-40 might prove faster, maybe, but as the crow flies anything but the shorter route. You can also enjoy all the many semi-trucks on I-40 as well. I-40 has certain attractions, scenic at times, but nowhere close to US 160. If you do opt for this route consider visiting some of the nearby Indian pueblos. The Acoma Pueblo, several miles east of Grants, NM, can transport you into another world. An authentic, and very old, adobe pueblo, it is situated on top of one of the sandstone mesas only vaguely guessed at from I-40, some 10 miles north of it. Be advised, though, if in a big hurry this won't work, as the excursion likely to take 2-3 hours total.
If on US 160, Kayenta, AZ might prove a good place for the night. It is large enough, with enough tourists passing through, to have several viable hotels. Were I you, I'd head directly to the Hampton Inn, find the pool, and consider yourself ensconced for the night.
There are other options from Denver, CO. One might make their way through the mountains by many paths, but if scenic, winding and quite possibly slow. I-70 can prove a fast and beautiful route through the mountains. One could travel it into Utah, turning south on US 191 to pass through Moab, UT and the striking scenery of southeast Utah. Not at all a bad option. Of you might be more adventurous and turn off, say, in Grand Junction, CO to at last take US 550 through Ouray, CO and thence Durango, CO. Absolutely marvelous mountain scenery. But once in the mountains this road defines 'winding,' and once your husband recovers he may disown you. Such is the price of beauty.
Anyway, once in Arizona you might want to reconsider and invite your friends from Flagstaff to join YOU at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Never been to the south rim, so maybe swell, but due less crowds, elevation, probably scenery, and most everything else I can think of, the north rim is the place to be. The Park Service has a lodge there, too.
There is another reason for ending up in that part of the country, which is it puts you close enough (relatively speaking) to venture a bit further to Zion National Park. Yes, the roads can be a bit 'winding,' particularly within the Park, but otherwise largely free of traffic getting there. And if you have the slightest interest in national parks, Zion is an absolute gem. The Grand Canyon is great, certainly worth visiting, but if visiting Zion with a film camera you'll probably use all the film you have and wish for more. Not to mention the town of Springdale, UT, just on the west edge of the Park, can make a delightful place to lodge. The whole place, totally, absolutely, fantastic.
But if settling for Flagstaff, well, it has certain charms as well. One would be the nearby town of Sedona, only a few short miles to the south. I-17 is the fastest route, but AZ 89A, through Oak Creek Canyon, is THE route if you value scenery at all. Better pack more film (or batteries for the digital) for Sedona as well.
Speaking of Zion NP. Having visited Zion twice in the past 5 years, I could kick myself in the butt for the many times I was in the general area and drove right by without visiting the park. Zion NP a real gem. It has become my favorite of all the National Parks I've visited over the years. Don't make the mistake of passing it by.
As for getting there from Denver, just take I-70 thru the Colorado Rockies and into Utah for quite a stretch to US 89 near Monroe Utah. Follow US 89 southward thru the very scenic Sevier valley to just south of Orderville UT and pick up Utah highwy 9 at Mt Carmel Junction. Utah 9 will take you to Zion NP thru the western entrance to the park.
The problem with this route is that it will bring you closer to the Grand Canyon than to Flagstaff. You could have your friends meet you at the Grand Canyon or even at Zion. Flagstaff is a nice Arizona mountain town, but it's not worth passing up a chance to visit Zion NP.
If you absolutely must stop in Flagstaff, then take I-70 out of Denver, thru the Rockies into Utah to US 191 south thru Moab, to US 163, then US 160, then US 89 into Flag. The scenery will knock your socks off. This route offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the USA and the route is easy to drive with very light traffic most of the way. ( this is the route I follow from Grand Junction-CO to Prescott-AZ when visiting the in-laws. It's a great drive! )
Last edited by CosmicWizard; 06-09-2009 at 10:25 AM..
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