A few years ago, when we road tripped across America to see national parks – my family committed to seeing all the national parks that we could! At the end of winter, right before spring travel takes off, my family takes an annual National Park trip to see some of the crazy beautiful areas in the United States of America.
As all stands by passengers know, you have to be very flexible when booking trips like this, sometimes it might take an extra day or two to get to your final destination.
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Original Plans for Roadtripping from Tucson to El Paso
Our original plan was to fly to Phoenix on March 1 so we could take a road trip through Arizona before spending some time in Tucson.
Any good baseball fan (which I am not) would know that flying to Phoenix during March is hard due to spring training. Whoops! Also, during this particular weekend, there were terrible weather patterns all over the United States including snow and rain – which always messed up standby plans.
Diverted to Los Angeles
Flexibility is critical when flying standby by – you need to ensure that your hotels can be canceled, or you at least have good status with a hotel and they will take pity on you.
I originally booked an IHG free night Stay in Phoenix and had to cancel it and swap it out for a night stay in Los Angeles. Luckily for us, there was availability for a free night stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Los Angeles Airport Hawthorn.
If you are planning on staying in Los Angeles for an extended period, I do not suggest staying at this hotel because it is close to the airport and it isn’t much you can easily walk to (there is a Starbucks and McDonald’s across the street).
But if you need a quick and easy hotel stay close tot he airport, with free breakfast and a free shuttle, this is one of the best places to stay.
We’ve stayed at this hotel on a previous trip and remembered how easy it was to get to the airport.
Breakfast is your traditional Holiday Inn Express continental breakfast with some hot items and many cold items. They have the Cinnabon cinnamon rolls which always makes me happy.
The shuttle runs every half hour to go to the airport and is very easy to catch. There is a little sign for the shuttle bus next to a gazebo where you can wait for the next bus.
The hotel suggests getting to the waiting spot 10–15 minutes before you want to leave. We listened to those instructions and were the only ones to get on the bus. The hiss door wasn’t even open until about 5 minutes before we left.
LAX Airport and Priority Pass
We jumped on the 7 am bus for our 945 am flight. The Los Angeles international airport is enormous, and all bags for our airline need to be dropped off at gate 3 even though we were going through TSA at Gate 2.
No worries – we got to the airport so quickly, and the lines were surprisingly short that we finished going through TSA (we got pre-check due to one of my credit cards benefits) before 8am!
One of my favorite past times is to go to airport lounges and hang out before my flight. This comes in handy for long layovers or for when you get to the airport super early. With priority pass, I am able to gain access to these lounges for free – and even better, I can bring two guests with me for free!
We spent some time in the Virgin Atlantic lounge. The lounge had a minimal continental breakfast, coffee, beer, and wine for guests. Even though this isn’t one of my favorite lounges, it was more comfortable sitting here than waiting by the gate.
Tacos in Tucson
Our original plan was going to put us in Tucson late in the evening, so landing in Tucson at 12:30 out a wrench in our itinerary
As soon as we landed, we knew we wanted tacos. What’s better than finding a 2019 James Beard-nominated restaurant El Charro!
After almost two days of traveling – we were starving! Looking up a few recommendations we knew we wanted to try to (beef jerky) that they were known for but wasn’t sure if that was what we wanted to eat.
Our waitress was kind of us to get us a sample, and it was delicious! El Charro is the only restaurant in Tucson that is allowed to slow cook the beef jerky under the Tucson sun!
We opted for a sampling of tacos, tamales, and flauta instead!
Saguaro National Park West
Since we missed one day of our trip, we went straight to Saguaro West to see the cactus and catch the sunset!
After completing the drives and walking along the trail, we perched on top of the hill and watched the sunset!
While traveling, we are always coming or going when the sun is setting, so it was so lovely to be able to sit back and relax during the sunset.
Walmart Grocery Pick up
One of the ways that we save money and time while traveling is Walmart pick up! Our pick up time was from 7-8 pm which gave us just enough time to leave the park at night and grab our order.
Even though our grocery bill was close to $150, we saved a lot of money and time by having picnics in the parks and picked up a couple of things we forgot at home.
Staying at the Sheraton in Tucson
While in Tucson, we spent two nights at the Sheraton in a suite. This hotel was booked by using points earned through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card!
The suite had a king bed in one room, and a living room with a sofa bed in the other. A bathroom corridor connected the two rooms.
They had a lovely continental breakfast that had many warm items and traditional cold details available.
The breakfast potatoes were my favorite!
Full day in Tucson
Our first full day in Tucson allowed us to get a taste of this city. Everything is so spread out, and there is very little that is connected by an interstate.
We began the morning by going to the Saguaro National Park west entrance. We used our national parks pass to get in, but if you do not have a national pass, paying for them, the park allows you to enter the west and east side for 7 days.
There weren’t too many handicapable trails on this side of the park that we could take, but we began our morning with a nature walk by one of the park rangers. We always travel with our Air Travel with Mobility Devices – read our full review here on Air Travel with Mobility Devices!
When spending time in a national park, I prefer to watch the video provided or listen to the park rangers talk. This way, you are more knowledgeable about the area and what you may see.
After our informative talk, we made our way over to Ez-Kim-In-Zin point for a picnic. This is one of the highest parts of the west side of the park, and ifs a very peaceful place to have a bite to eat.
We continued down the Golden Gate Road road and Sis, and I took a brief hike to see the pictographs. There wasn’t a path for mom to hike, so she stayed back while the sis and I took the quick walk.
After getting to the top of Mica hill, we were able to see some tiny pictographs on the rock wall. Historians do not know what these drawings mean to this area, but it brings many novice hikers to see the ancient drawings. These drawings reminded me of the drawings that we saw in the Petrified Forest.
Continuing on we left Saguaro National Park to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson
It was absolutely stunning to see this mission in the middle of the desert heat! We stopped to view the mission because it was suggested as one of the top things to do in Tucson.
When we arrived, there were a bunch of booths set up and each one was cooking Frybread. On a previous trip through North Dakota, we discovered what fry bread was and was excited to try it again.
For my New Orleans folks – fry bread is like a big flat beignet that can be sweet (powder sugar and honey) or savory (cheese and meat)!
We walked into the mission after our snack and enjoyed seeing all of the wood carvings and religious symbols throughout the Mission.
There is also a statue of Saint Francis where locals and tourists come to pray to the Saint. Many people claim that praying to this statue has answered their prayers.
After admiring the mission, it was time to continue onto our quest of eating delicious food in Tucson.
El Güero Canelo
Now, I know what you are thinking – hot dogs and fast food on vacation?
When reading up on what to do in Tucson, El Güero Canelo kept popping up as one of the best places to get a Sonoran Dog – a what?
Basically, this fast-ish food restaurant is known for their hotdogs wrapped in bacon. Sign me up!
They also add many toppings which give your hotdog a taco flavor! This is precisely how I make my hotdogs from my favorite hotdog shop in New Orleans – Dat Dog.
Another exciting thing about this place is that many of their soft drinks come in glass bottles. They also have a salsa bar that is to die for, and the peppers attached are hotter than hot!
30-Foot Neon Cactus
For the last thing of the other, we drive to the other side of town to see the 30-foot cactus light. This art installation Is on the neutral ground, so there is not a safe place to stop.
My sister snapped this photo while I was slowly driving by! We thought that a 30-food cactus would be much bigger.
Road trip to El Paso
After spending just a mean 40 hours in Tucson, it was time to move on to our next stop: El Paso!
Before we could leave the great state of Arizona, we had a couple of road trip bucket list items to get out of the way.
Murals in downtown Tucson
The murals in downtown Tucson are fabulous! New Orleans has some instagramable locations, but I had so much fun finding some of these stunning murals in Tucson!
I met someone on the street also taking photos of the murals, she told me that the greetings to Tucson mural was nearby and I wanted to take a picture of it. Unfortunately, there was a truck in the way, so I had to resort to just this artistic selfie!
Chiricahua National Monument
Jumping onto I-10, we made a detour to conga national monument. This National Monument used to have a cost, but many people were using their national parks pass that it became a free national monument!
We only had about 2.5 hours to spend in this monument, so we drove up to the top of the mountain to take in all of the rock formations.
Hiking in this park is a must! My sister and I took a few moments to walk down the Massai Trail to get some good snapshots of the rock formations, but completing the full 5-mile hike will really put you in touch with nature.
Roadtripping From Tucson to El Paso
Returning back to I-10, our road trip took an exciting turn, down a dirt road! At first, we weren’t sure if the route was safe, but a local stopped to ask us if we were okay.
After informing us that taking the dirt road will allow us to see fort Bowie from a distance, we bravely proceeded on towards El Paso!
El Paso – Holiday Inn Express
Our family knows how to turn a 5-hour road trip into a 12-hour extravaganza. We finally made it to El Paso and spent two nights at the Holiday Inn Express close to the El Paso Airport.
Even though we had a couple of weird items in the room that needed to be fixed – the Keurig machine was broken, the table was wobbly, this Holiday Inn was pretty nice. We opted to stay in a handicapable room with a roll in shower.
I will say, even though we do need a handicapped room for our travels, the roll in shower does not work for our family. Since we do not need to use a roll in shower, it’s better for us to have a handicapped bathtub.
The complimentary breakfast was your typical Holiday Inn breakfast, but it was delicious. My favorite thing was getting the Cinnabon cinnamon rolls.
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Road Trip to White Sands National Monument
Whenever we first embarked on our National Parks Journey, we purchased National Park Passport Stamps book, so we could take a small souvenir stamp at every national park we visited. This book introduced us to White Sands National Monument.
My goal in life is to visit every National Park Service location, so I have a lot of places to mark off of our list!
White Sands National Monument
Even though White Sands National Monument is only an hour and a half away from El Paso, make sure you fill up on gas, water, and snacks.
White Sands National Monument doesn’t have much to it, but it is an amazing site to see in the middle of the mountains. These sands are made of gypsum and cover over 275 square miles of desert. It is actually the largest gypsum in the world.
Other than hiking, sand dune sliding and visiting the visitor center, there are not many sites to see in white Sand National Park. The only handicapable boardwalk trail was under construction when we went so we could not experience the handicapable facilities of this monument.
Sis and I took it upon ourselves to find the largest sand dune in the park and actually slide down it! At the national park, you can rent a small plastic snow sledding sled and experience going down the snow sled.
After a while, we picnicked in the White Sands National Monument and enjoyed the sites. Luckily for us, there wasn’t much wind in the National Monument, so we were able to enjoy a sand-free picnic.
After lunch, we spend some more time photographing the Sand Dunes. Let me just say, photographing the dunes is not easy! It’s hard to show the massive height of all of the dunes and to give people the perspective that this is not just a beach!
Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch
After a long week of road tripping, we ended our trip with one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. My sister found out about Cattleman’s Ranch in Fabens, Texas and we were just dying to go!
Cattlemen’s ranch is on an actual working ranch and was nominated as the manliest steakhouse by Men’s Magazine in 2012. Now, these three southern ladies were ready to tackle the manliest steaks Texas had to offer.
We all went back and forth on what we wanted to eat and somehow all settled on the Lady Filet, a petite 6-ounce steak. All meals are served with a baked potato, rice or corn on the cob, and the whole table splits ranch beans, coleslaw, bread.
This was one of the best steaks I have ever had, my only regret is not getting the 10-ounce filet mignon steak! Even though I was quite full, that steak was one of my favorite things I had ever eaten.
Tucson to El Paso Trip Wrap Up
Even though we ran into a couple of bumps into the road, in the beginning, and couldn’t see the Cactus Organ Pipe National Monument, we had a wonderful time attending more National Parks.
We are hoping to go back to Tucson and El Paso to experience more of the towns!
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