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The Southwest

“Edge of Seventeen” Stevie Nicks (1948, Arizona)

Learn more about the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Big cities

Houston

State: Texas

Population estimate: 2.3 million

What it’s known for: NASA Johnson Space Center

Home to the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston is known for its important role in the country’s space exploration efforts.

Locals love: Whiskey River

This true Texan hangout is where you’re sure to find plenty of cowboy boots and even a mechanical bull.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix

State: Arizona

Population estimate: 1.6 million

What it’s known for: Sunshine

Phoenix’s nickname “Valley of the Sun” comes from the fact that is has over 300 days of sunshine year round.

Locals love: South Mountain Park

Considered the largest municipal park and one of the largest city parks in the U.S., this is a great place to spend the day. 

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio

State: Texas

Population estimate: 1.5 million

What it’s known for: Tower of Americas

This 229-meter observation tower provides great city views from Downtown San Antonio. 

Locals love: The River Walk

Along the San Antonio River, this community area has walkways full of shops and restaurants.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City

State: Oklahoma

Population estimate: 644.000

What it’s known for: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Known for being proud of its Western roots, Oklahoma City is home to the famous National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

Locals love: Bricktown Entertainment District

If you’re looking for a fun and lively area, you’ll fit right in. With over 45 restaurants, shops, and bars, your plans are set for the weekend.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque

State: New Mexico

Population estimate: 559.000

What it’s known for: Desert royalty

Albuquerque is frequently called Duke City after the city was dedicated to a Spanish Duke.

Locals love: Nob Hill

This popular area has streets lined with unique, locally owned stores.

Road Trip Worthy

Antelope Canyon - Page, Arizona

The Southwest is filled with incredible landforms, but Antelope Canyon in Arizona is a must-see. This canyon is considered a slot canyon because of its shape. Over the years water has rushed through the rocks causing it to erode and hollow out giving it the unique slot shape. The canyon has two parts (upper and lower), each providing different experiences. The upper part is more popular among tourists, mostly because it is easier to travel through. The lower part, on the other hand, takes a little more skill and coordination. 

 

Because of the canyon’s popularity, both parts require reservations, and you must be led by an experienced tour guide. People have described Antelope Canyon as a “fantasy world of sandstone”. If you’re up for an adventure, good with a camera, and don’t mind tight spaces, then book your reservations—Antelope Canyon awaits. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in West Texas, Big Bend National Park got its name from the large arc of the Rio Grande that creates part of the border between Texas and Mexico. Once inside the park you’ll feel as though you have just walked onto the set of an old Western film. The park’s diverse landscape contains part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grande, and mountainous terrain. Park rangers are dedicated to protecting the rich ecosystem within the park as well as its natural beauty. 

 

Activities that are openly permitted in the Big Bend include day hikes, trips down the river, bird viewing, stargazing, and more. If you don’t want to get out and explore the Wild West, then take a nice scenic drive through the park instead. 

 

There are many legends that still give the park its mysterious solitude and wonder. No matter how you choose to enjoy Big Bend National Park, you’ll always leave with a good story to tell.

Chaco Cultural Site - San Juan and McKinley Counties, New Mexico

When people think of the U.S. they have a hard time imagining ancient ruins because the country seems so young compared to other parts of the world. The Chaco Cultural site in Northwestern New Mexico, however, will make you rethink that idea. This site holds one of the best examples of pre-columbian history and ancient ruins in the U.S.; for that reason, it has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex and immense structures that were built by the Chacoan people between the 9th and 13th centuries are the best preserved in North America. 

 

Despite the site’s isolated location, the canyon receives nearly 40,000 visitors each year. This isolation also offers a great benefit to Chaco Canyon, as it has allowed for the site’s Night Sky Program to thrive. Without the threat of light pollution from any major cities nearby, a night of stargazing in the canyon is an exclusive experience and will give you the chance to view the night sky as the Chacaon people had years ago.

Route 66 - Southwest Oklahoma to Arizona

You can’t come to the American Southwest without driving through the Iconic Route 66. Although the historic highway isn’t what it used to be, the portion in the Southwest (Oklahoma to Arizona) still attracts many free-spirited travelers. Many know the route as a representation of the Great American road trip. We encourage you to take your time along Route 66 to enjoy the roadside oddities, classic diners, ghost towns, and historical monuments. 

 

The unique establishments aren’t the only sites worth stopping for. You’ll find remarkable geological formations, sunset views, and even pass by more notable canyons. It’s best to plan your journey in advance to make the most of your time. But if you really want to embrace the American free spirit, this route is perfect for spontaneous travelers with many lodging options scattered along the way. 

 

On Route 66, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.  

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is as exciting as it sounds! This nine-day event is the largest hot air balloon event in the world. Taking place every year in early October, visitors come from all over to see the Albuquerque sky flooded with hundreds of colorful hot air balloons. During the nine-day event guests are able to view different shows featuring the balloons and their pilots. 

 

Other activities you can enjoy include concerts, competitions, and carnival games and rides. So if the hot air balloons don’t impress you, the wood carving competition just might. With lots of art vendors, too, this event has something for everyone. 

 

To get the most out of your experience and to avoid the crowds, it’s best to come early on a weekday. Balloon shows can start as early as 5:00 a.m., but if you’re not an early riser you can attend the popular Balloon Glow night show. The Balloon Fiesta is so celebrated, it may be considered one of the most photographed events on Earth.

Antelope Canyon – Page, Arizona

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chaco Cultural Site – San Juan and McKinley Counties, New Mexico

Route 66 – Southwest Oklahoma to Arizona

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Words & Expressions to Know ​

  • Corn-fed: Describes someone who looks well-fed, big, healthy, or hearty.
    • “She has grown so much! She’s a corn-fed Texas girl.”

  • Howdy: Greeting, short for “How do you do?” But it’s not a question meant to be answered. It is just like saying hello to someone.
    • Howdy partner!” 

  • Tump: Describes something falling or tipping over, usually on accident.
    • “The truck tumped over in a ditch.” 
 
Albuquerque President Obama

Regional Cooking

Southwestern cuisine is one of the most loved in the entire nation. The region is known for its rustic style cooking with a heavy Mexcian influence, but also has Spanish and Native American flavors. A few main ingredients include corn, beans, tomatoes, onions and peppers. 

New Mexican cuisine, Arizona’s Sonoran cuisine, and Tex-Mex are the most notable from this region. Not only do the unique flavors of Southwestern dishes set it apart from others, but so do the cooking styles. Common ways to prepare Southwestern dishes are  flame roasting, cast iron skillet roasting, adobo, barbecuing, and grilling. Each style gives that traditional smoky flavor Americans love.