Exploring Things to Do Using Rand McNally’s New Online Trip Planner
Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway
Hello from the road! To get you up to speed, I’m at the start of a three-week, 3,800-mile road trip out west using Rand McNally’s new TripMaker®, a free online road trip planning tool. You can read more about my pre-trip planning strategies and mapping—as well as setting TripMaker up on a Rand McNally GPS device—in Mapping and Creating the Great American Road Trip.
With the first leg of my trip—from Denver, CO, to Sedona, AZ, via Moab, UT, and the Grand Canyon—built out online in TripMaker and imported to my Rand McNally GPS device, I simply opened it on the GPS by clicking “Choose Destination ” and then “Multi-Stop Trips.” The GPS provided step-by-step driving directions for each leg of the journey. I set out from Denver via I-70 west into the Rocky Mountains and through passes that were often higher than 9,000 feet.
From the outset, I appreciated two handy Rand McNally GPS features. As I traveled, it was wonderful to see my actual elevation—which, by the way, could also be set to show remaining driving time and mileage to my next stop or ultimate destination. The GPS also showed me the posted speed limit for my location (refreshing it like clockwork with every speed-zone change) and my real-time driving speed. Any time I went 5 mph over the limit, the GPS voice guide “Tom” issued a “speed warning.” Thanks, Tom!
From Mountains to Arches
Just past the Utah border, I turned off I-70 and onto State Route 128, also known as the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway. And wow, was it stunning! Red cliffs and mystifying stone towers formed the backdrop of this winding two-lane highway hugging the Colorado River. Many Western movies and TV commercials have been shot along this 45-mile stretch for good reason: I found myself pulling over repeatedly to absorb the scarlet bluffs, some positively dramatic in the afternoon sun.
Arches National Park
I’d booked a room at the Sorrel River Ranch —along the Colorado River on SR-128, just 17 miles north of Moab. This one-time working ranch, established in 1903, is named for the red-rust color found in American Quarter horses, identical to the color of the surrounding red-rock mesas. Today, its 160 acres are home to a gorgeous, 55-room resort.
The next morning I rose early for a big driving day: Nearly 400 miles to Williams, AZ, with an extended stop at Arches National Park outside laid-back Moab. For those of you who’ve not yet been to Arches, add it to your must-see list immediately! Every turn through this cherished national park is absolutely breathtaking, and before I’d even left I knew that I’d have to return someday.
Chugging into the Canyon
From Moab, my GPS-voice buddy Tom and I hopped on US-191 and headed south to Flagstaff. I stopped for a quick bite at the retro, neon-happy Galaxy Diner, a TripMaker Things to Do suggestion. The décor certainly fits with TripMaker’s Quirky & Oddball categorization, but the diner’s milkshakes are nothing short of perfection. From there I was off to spend a night in historic Williams, AZ, so that, by morning, I’d be rested for my rail journey into Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Galaxy Diner in Flagstaff, AZ.
The two-hour ride on the Grand Canyon Railway proved to be a great break from driving, and a scenic and eco-friendly entry to one of the world’s great natural wonders. Plus it added some entertainment, with cowboys, lawmen, and musicians passing through the cars in Old West character and dress. That morning, the train pulled into the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and I got my first glimpse of Arizona’s preeminent attraction—well worth the wait.
The Sun Also Rises . . . on a 40th Birthday
I’d planned this dream road trip out west as a memorable way to celebrate my 40th birthday. On the morning of that milestone-marking day, I joined the Sunrise Tour (at 4:30 am!) along the canyon’s 7-mile Hermits Road. In unforgettable style, I got to see the dawn of my fourth decade on earth, as the golden sun slowly illuminated this spectacular sight. After three spellbinding days, I climbed back aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, this time into a first-class (caboose) car, to resume my dream road trip.
The Grand Canyon in all its twilight glory.
I’d heard wonderful things about Sedona, and after a 60-mile drive from Williams via SR-89A—a steep, winding highway known locally as Oak Creek Canyon Road—I saw for myself just how enchanting this small city is. I lodged at the Amara Hotel & Spa, a small-scale resort beside Oak Creek. It was ideal—spacious, quiet, with a pool, a spa, and a courtyard fire pit where guests cozy up under the cool night sky. The Amara is also within walking distance of Sedona’s main promenade, lined with restaurants and shops, many of which sell turquoise-and-silver jewelry alongside New Age energy and vortex rocks.
Where Scenery Meets Spirituality
In the Quirky & Oddball category, TripMaker had also recommended the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is just south of Sedona along SR-179, aka the Red Rock Scenic Byway. The unusual hilltop chapel is built into the rocky landscape, and, since 1956, it’s served as a Catholic and local landmark. It’s also an enchanting work of art befitting this discernibly spiritual corner of the world. Farther down the Red Rock Scenic Byway, several areas welcome hikers, bikers, nature lovers, and other travelers beguiled by central Arizona’s majesty.
Chapel of the Holy Cross near Sedona, AZ.
After a day in the fresh desert air, I retired to my room to resume planning the next leg of my road trip out west, which would take me northward to Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and up to Idaho. I couldn’t wait to see what TripMaker would recommend in Things to Do, both on my way and near my route!