This bustling desert crossroads has an understated charm, one based more on its locals than on any kind of urban sparkle. In New Mexico's largest city, immediately west of the Sandia mountains at the point where the east–west Route 66 bridges the north–south Rio Grande, folks are more than happy to share history, highlights and must-try restaurants.
Sedona's a stunner, but it's intensely spiritual as well – some even say sacred. Nestled amid striking red sandstone formations at the south end of the 16-mile gorge that is Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona attracts spiritual seekers, artists and healers, as well as day-trippers from Phoenix trying to escape the oppressive heat.
Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks
If you think you’ve seen every possible hue of sandstone, the rising or setting sun over Utah's national parks will show you otherwise. Theme 1 Perhaps nowhere else in the Southwest can compete with southern Utah when it comes to the sheer number of geological works of art.
A vast sagebrush steppe, the western corner of the state is carved by mountain ranges and parched valleys. It's also the place where modern Nevada began. It was the site of the state's first trading post, pioneer farms and the famous Comstock silver lode, which spawned Virginia City, financed the Union during the Civil War and earned Nevada its statehood.
Flagstaff's laid-back charms are countless, from its pedestrian-friendly historic downtown crammed with eclectic vernacular architecture and vintage neon, to its high-altitude pursuits like skiing and hiking. Buskers play bluegrass on street corners while bike culture flourishes. Locals are a happy, athletic bunch, skewing more toward granola than gunslinger.
Carlsbad Caverns & Southeastern New Mexico
Two extraordinary natural wonders are tucked away in New Mexico's arid southeast: mesmerizing White Sands National Monument and magnificent Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This region also swirls with some of the state's most enduring legends: aliens in Roswell, Billy the Kid in Lincoln, and Smokey Bear in Capitan.
Crested Butte & Gunnison
This region of Colorado’s southwest is a playground for outdoorsy types, with skiing dominating in the winter and hiking, river-rafting and mountain-biking popular in summer. Fly-fishing is another activity that draws both locals and domestic tourists in waders to the icy waters of the great Gunnison River.
An energetic college town, Tucson (too-sawn) is attractive, fun-loving and one of the most culturally invigorating places in the Southwest. Set in a flat valley hemmed in by craggy, odd-shaped mountains, Arizona's second-largest city smoothly blends Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo traditions.
A soothingly schizophrenic city of big-time gambling and top-notch outdoor adventures, Reno resists pigeonholing. ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ has something to raise the pulse of adrenaline junkies, hardcore gamblers and city people craving easy access to wide open spaces.
One of the nation's first destination resorts, Colorado Springs is now the state’s second-largest city and one of many faces. Its natural beauty and pleasant climate attract legions of visitors from around the globe, who come to ascend the summit of majestic Pikes Peak and admire the exquisite sandstone spires of the Garden of the Gods.
Century-old buildings line Park City's one main street, looking particularly inviting after a new dusting of snow, or at nightfall when the twinkling lights outline the eaves. It's hard to imagine that this one-time silver boomtown ever went bust. Condos and multimillion-dollar houses abut the valleys and crowd the center of Utah's premier ski village.
Chaco Canyon & Northwestern New Mexico
New Mexico's wild northwest is home to wide-open, empty spaces. It is still dubbed 'Indian Country,' and for good reason: huge swaths of land fall under the aegis of the Navajo, Zuni, Acoma, Apache and Laguna tribes. This portion of New Mexico showcases remarkable ancient sites alongside modern, solitary Native American settlements.