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Desert sightseeing: Arizona + New Mexico

Desert sunset on the road

Happy New Year, blog! How were your holidays? It’s been a little while between drinks, but I’m now back in Australia and it’s Summer, 2015. Far out. I really enjoyed our six weeks back in the US; from our base in Phoenix, we got to travel elsewhere around the country, too. I’ll save Phoenix itself for a separate post, but driving through Arizona and New Mexico was excellent. The American Southwest is amazing.

Arizona state border sign

We were in Colorado over Thanksgiving (which was great, you should go) and with driving from Phoenix to Denver and back, we also got in our fill of Great American Roadtrips. Jamie and I were joined by his sister Kylie on the return trip, so we stayed overnight in Santa Fe and Flagstaff before arriving back in Phoenix.

Kylie at Thanksgiving

(When we booked our flights to the USA, I told Kylie that she was invited for my family’s Thanksgiving, and she took me up on it. That’s her at my aunt’s Thanksgiving dinner in Colorado. Worlds collide.)

Some of the tourist sights we enjoyed:

Desert scenes in Arizona

The ever-changing desert scenery (Northern Arizona, north-west New Mexico)

You may think of Arizona as being full of cacti, but as you go into the northern highlands of the state, you get into chaparral grasslands and even alpine forest. There’s canyons, forests, mountains, cactuses, lakes, everything except ocean. I might be biased but I think Arizona is one of the most visually interesting states of the 50.

Desert winnebago

As you cross into New Mexico, you might even spot Walt and Jesse out there, somewhere along I-40.

Santa Fe hotel

Santa Fe (New Mexico)

We were here for a night, so we only got to scratch the surface of this small, culture-rich city. Even the hotel was cute.

Santa Fe street
Territorial + adobe
Bar in Santa Fe
Tiles in Santa Fe

I thought it was pretty cool to see an American city that is:

  1. One of the oldest continual settlements in the country;
  2. Laid out in a Spanish fashion, with narrow streets circling a central plaza, anchored by government buildings and a cathedral — like the Zócalo, but in miniature;
  3. Continually dedicated to historical preservation and the ‘Santa Fe’ style; all buildings have to be either adobe pueblo-style or Spanish Territorial;
  4. Full of beautiful things, including its buildings, local arts and crafts, the desert surroundings, and good Mexican food. Do I want Christmas salsa on the side? Yes, I really, really do.

It looked really pretty in the winter light, and there were these decorative tiles everywhere. I easily could have spent more time there.

grand canyon 1
Steph + Jamie, Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon (Arizona)

We paid a visit to the Grand Canyon, because if you’ve come all the way from Australia to this part of the world, you kind of have to. Again, we were here for less than a day, so we didn’t go camping or hike deep into the canyon or anything like that, unfortunately. It was still impressive.

Grand Canyon plants
Grand Canyon

Taking photos of the Grand Canyon almost feels pointless. We all know what it looks like, no? But then you get there and you’re blown away by the sheer bloody size of the thing, the inner crevices that took millions of your lifetimes to exist as they are now, and you know that committing it to memory just isn’t enough. Your photos aren’t about the canyon itself, they’re about you and who you are at that point in time. How old you are, why you came, who you’re with.

I went to the Grand Canyon with Jamie during his first trip to the USA, back in 2009. It might have been our previous visit, it might have been the fact that the canyon is nothing if not a colossal demonstration of the effects of time, but being there kept me quiet and lost in my own head for a while.

Painted Desert canyon

Painted Desert / Sedona (Arizona)

So you drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, and if you head east afterwards, past Tuba City and Cameron, you’re in the Painted Desert, most of which is in the Navajo Nation. The badlands continue south to Sedona, where alpine forest meets red rocks. Arizona doesn’t just have the one great canyon! It’s full of them.

Painted desert scrub

While traveling, I mostly shot on a low aperture (f/2.8) because I like the heightened bokeh, or background blur, even in these wide shots. They feel more candid, more personal somehow? Beautifully composed images of famous landmarks are so widespread that sometimes they just become wallpaper, visually perfect but vaguely soulless.

Eh. I enjoy taking photos, but I don’t want to obsess over getting the perfect photo.


Our last stop before Phoenix was Sedona, which, again, we could easily spend more time in. A friend of mine said that it’s the type of place he’d like to retire to one day, and I could see why. Imagine that being in your backyard.


I loved being able to show parts of this part of the world to my Australian family. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I will.

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4 thoughts on “Desert sightseeing: Arizona + New Mexico”

  1. Your photos are great. Yes, I’ve seen plenty of photos if THE canyon before, but I would argue that yours are different! I look forward to a road trip there and Colorado one day. Glad you had a good time.

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