TRAVEL: The Great American West for 2024

Monument Valley is the spitting image of the old American West. By Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

At this time of the year, we start dreaming about great places to visit in the coming year, and I’d love to share with you a few reasons to start thinking about the great American West.

I’ve just completed the #PhotowalksTV episode of the epic 30-day Western travel photography road trip, exploring 9 states from the South Bay Bubble to the vibrant landscapes of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming, 3,300 miles of breathtaking landscapes and iconic destinations, including Prescott, Arizona, Monument Valley, Moab’s Arches National Park, Prescott, Arizona, Glenwood Springs and Boulder, Co.,Jackson Hole and Grand Tetons National Park, Badlands National Park, Mt. Rushmore, Park City, Utah and Victor, Idaho.

It’s a fun and hopefully inspiring episode to amazing places that are in our backyard. Who needs international travel? I hope you enjoy watching!

Monument Valley is the spitting image of the old American West. By Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

A few travel trips for you

Monument Valley is one of the most awesome places in the world, the quintessential western stop, with the wide open spaces and those three huge mitten rocks that were seen in most classic western films by director John Ford, part III of the Back to the Future trilogy and Mission Impossible II. Go down the way to “Forrest Gump” road (it’s actually called that) and you see the wonderful country backdrop where Forrest stopped running in the 1993 film, and a site that’s been used on countless record covers through the years.

There are two main places to stay in Monument Valley, which is technically on the border of both Arizona and Utah. The jewel is called the View Hotel. It’s very expensive—I spent more here than any other hotel in my lifetime, and that’s $400 nightly. But you get a room with a killer view, overlooking the western mittens and for me, it was money well spent. The other option is Goulding’s Lodge, which will run you about $260 a night on a non-summer weekend stay. Goulding’s is a few miles down the road from the mittens.

Cowboy on a horse in the Badlands of South Dakota, by Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in the heart of the Rockies, is one cool jem of a town where the infamous 1800s era gun slinger Doc Holliday was buried, is said to be the place where teddy bears were named (which is either true or not) and home to the best western shop I’ve been to (Bullock’s) as well as two incredibly relaxing hot springs. We stayed at a Best Western a few blocks from the main hot springs, but fell in love with the historic Hotel Colorado during our visit. Dating back to 1893, Presidents Taft and (Teddy) Roosevelt stayed there, as did (the Unsinkable) Molly Brown. The hotel is beautiful, and I hope to stay there on the next visit.

The Badlands are like visiting another planet, with unique rock formations that make a jaw-dropping stop early in the morning and late afternoon. I wish I had spent more time there, but I’m glad we also explored other parts of the state, notably Custer, a cool little town that’s a far cry from the touristy (but still fun) old town of Deadwood. Custer leads to a wonderful state park that features a “Wildlife Loop,” where we were guaranteed to see big animals, and indeed we did. In the Badlands we stayed at a fantastic little farm called the Circle View Guest Ranch, where a room will go for around $200 a night in the summer, and comes with an amazing morning breakfast.

Jackson Hole’s wildlife, by Jefferson Graham for the PhotowalksTV series

Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons were one of the big highlights, an awesome national park with some of the most majestic views ever, and a fun little western town that happens to be one of the wealthiest in the nation. The dinkiest hotel room in Jackson starts at $400 nightly in the summer. To save $$$, you have to drive over the hill, for about an hour, to the little town of Victor, Idaho. Initially I was upset about having to make this drive to save money, but in the end, I was glad I did. I saw my best skies and sunsets in Victor, and as loyal readers may remember, those amazing $10 Huckleberry milk shakes.

Otherworldly Moab, Utah and the Arches National Park, from the #PhotowalksTV series by Jefferson Graham

When you’re on the road, you tend to be on a schedule. If it’s Tuesday, it’s Beaver, Utah, and we’re expected in Henderson tomorrow. You can only do some much. We scratched the surface of western South Dakota but never got to the east; In Colorado we zipped through Glenwood and Boulder, but missed out on key spots like Aspen, Vail and Denver. We made it to Arches National Park in Moab, but didn’t have time for nearby Canyonlands.

I can’t wait to go back next summer and see and photograph all the places we missed!

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