On the Road Again

Can't-Miss Roadside Attractions and Rest Stops Throughout the Southwest

Life is a highway, but if you need to stretch your legs, here's where to go.

By Gwendolyn Knapp Published in the Fall issue of Houstonia Magazine

Of course you need to refuel, recharge, and (more than likely) crash hard after hours of endless driving. But add one of these pit stops to your itinerary, and you’ll quickly realize what The Odyssey tried to convince you of back in ninth grade: The journey is the thing.

Roy’s Motel and Café

Amboy, California

—gas station, food—

No longer a motel or a café these days, this historic Route 66 landmark is still there selling gas in the middle of nowhere, but just south of Mojave National Preserve. Venture farther west, and you’ll find EddieWorld (eddieworld.com) in Yermo, a pit stop to rival Buc-ee’s. 

 Monument Valley

Monument Valley, Utah

—attraction, historic site, gas station, food, lodging—

The sweeping view of the Navajo Nation’s Tribal Park (navajonationparks.org) is worth the trip alone: John Ford shot some of his most famous movies here, a few lonely hours’ drive south of Arches National Park, for a reason. But the on-site resort also has a Trading Post, guided tours, a restaurant where Navajo fry bread and epic sunsets abound, and best of all—RV camping. 

World Famous Crochet Museum

Joshua Tree, California


An hour from Mojave National Preserve, eccentric Joshua Tree National Park (nps.gov/jotr) is a delight for its eponymous yucca species, cacti, and this colorful collection of crocheted animals, clothing, and ephemera located in a vintage Fotomat stand (free entry, too). 

Rain Spirit RV Resort


Jerome, Arizona

—attraction, historic site, gas station, lodging—

This artsy old copper mining town is a mountainside National Historic Landmark and also haunted as all get-out thanks to the Grand Hotel (jeromegrandhotel.net), a former insane asylum, and the town fave: Haunted Hamburger (thehauntedhamburger.com). Book a spot at nearby Rain Spirit RV Resort, and take a day to scope out the town’s shops, galleries, and wineries, including Caduceus Cellars (caduceus.org), run by Maynard James Keenan of Tool.     


Tempe, Arizona


You don’t have to abandon your weekly bruschetta fix (or happy hour) for the road; Houston’s go-to Heights wine bar is actually based in Phoenix, with several locations like its Tempe annex, just minutes off of I-10. 

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango, Colorado


Just an hour from Pagosa Springs, the old coal-fired, steam-run locomotives at this historic depot will thrust you back into the 19th century and across the San Juan Mountains. Take the glass-domed Knight Sky railcar in summer and fall, or the Cascade Express in winter, for a five-hour trek across a snowy wonderland. 

Ojo Caliente

Santa Fe, New Mexico

—attraction, historic site, food, lodging—

Tucked between Santa Fe and the Carson National Forest, these natural sulfur-free mineral hot springs have been held sacred by Pueblo tribes for thousands of years. Now they’re a truly Zen resort and spa, and there’s even RV camping for after you dip in the healing waters.    

Hotel El Rancho

Gallup, New Mexico

—attraction, historic site, gas station, food, lodging—

Spend the night, grab a meal, or just peruse the lobby’s memorabilia at this famous Route 66 landmark, which hosted oodles of old Hollywood stars (Bogart, Doris Day) in its heyday. And do explore the town of Gallup, chock-full of tribal art, crafts, and history.    

Mortenson Silver & Saddles can be found along the Turquoise Trail.

The Turquoise Trail

New Mexico

—attraction, historic site, gas station, food—

Stretched along 50 miles of Highway 14, this scenic route of old New Mexico mining towns offers tons of shops, galleries, museums, and restaurants—try The Hollar (thehollar.com) in Madrid—and as the name promises, oodles of turquoise to behold (or purchase). 

Cadillac Ranch

Amarillo, Texas


This public art installation—10 Cadillacs buried nose-down in a dusty cow pasture in Amarillo—was erected in 1974, and today you can leave your mark on one of the hoods (cans of spray paint are sold nearby; tagging the cars is encouraged) or just ponder why they’re all facing the same direction as the Cheops pyramids. 

Image: Travel Texas

Balmorhea State Park

Toyahvale, Texas

—attraction, historic site, lodging—

Jump into one of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pools— 1.3 acres of water that stays 72–76 degrees Fahrenheit year-round—and make it a night at one of the 34 campsites, all an hour north of the Davis Mountains on TX-17.   

Bowlin’s The Thing

Benson Arizona

—attraction, gas station, food—

It’s a gas station, a souvenir shop, a DQ, and an alien/dinosaur museum ($5 entry) all rolled into one, but “The Thing” actually refers to the main exhibit inside, a roadside attraction east of Tucson, a solid day’s drive along the nation’s southern reaches from the Davis Mountains, since the 1960s. 

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