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Having recently experienced the loss of two important family members, my sister and I decided it was important for us to take the road trip that had been on our bucket list for some time. With a new outlook and appreciation for life, we decided “now” was the time to stop talking and start walking…or in this case, start driving. We were looking to discover and educate ourselves about the country that we call home. We were looking for stimulation to remind us of the beauty that exists in the world, and for healing to help us through this hard time in our lives.

Maeve & Fiona

My sister, Fiona, and I on our road trip across the Southwest

Starting in New Orleans, my sister Fiona and I rented a car that we drove for the next two and a half weeks across the Southwest and then up to our home in San Francisco. We really enjoyed ourselves in the major cities we visited–New Orleans, Austin, Fort Worth, Amarillo, Colorado Springs, Denver, Santa Fe, Flagstaff and Los Angeles. Each city is rich in culture and history; each city presented a different style that could be seen and felt in its architecture, art, cuisine, and in the way people dressed and treated each other. However, it was the beauty and spiritual properties of the National Parks, and other natural wonders of the Southwest, that surprised and pleased us the most.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Standing in front of The Great Sand Dunes National Park, we felt as though we were looking at a mirage. The stark, off-white dunes stood out in such contrast against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind them that it was hard to believe what we were seeing was real. These dunes are the tallest in North America. With dramatic peaks reaching up to 750 ft., they were formed by a combination of strong conflicting winds, two neighboring creeks and a valley floor with a never-ending supply of sand.

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Taking in the beautiful sights at The Great Sand Dunes National Park

Ojo Caliente
On our way to Santa Fe, we stopped at a little town off Route 285 in Taos County called Ojo Caliente. We had heard about the healing qualities of the hot springs, and after long days of driving, we felt we could benefit from them. Each of the pools was rich in different minerals: iron, lithia, soda and arsenic. The minerals pour out of hot springs coming from the desert landscape that surrounds them. Arriving later in the evening, we were happy to find that they are open late, and we were able to soak under the bright stars of the desert night sky. The next morning we tried the mud bath, which was fun and left our skin feeling silky smooth.

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Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa

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Having fun in the mud baths at Ojo Caliente

Sedona
Sedona was a beautiful and curative experience, pleasing our senses both visually and spiritually. Enormous, towering monoliths layered with different shades of red, orange, brown and white created an amazing contrast against the flat desert landscape that surrounded them. While at the peak of the Cathedral Rock hike, we took a moment to catch our breath and sank into meditative silence. For centuries, Sedona has been regarded as a sacred place by Native Americans. Others see Sedona as an energy vortex, which can be explained as a place where spiraling energy creates the perfect environment to facilitate prayer, meditation and spiritual healing.

Fiona in Sedona

The view from the top of Cathedral Rock in Sedona

The Grand Canyon National Park
We entered The Grand Canyon National Park around 8am, and the landscape around us seemed to be glowing in shades of pink and orange as it was lit by the morning sun. We drove to a lookout point on the North Rim and stepped out of the car into the chilly 10 degree air with high winds. Although it was cold, what really got our attention was the immense size of the Canyon, measuring up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep in certain areas. The fact that this canyon has slowly developed over millions of years into the dramatically stunning site that it is today, is a great lesson in patience and persistence.

Maeve at the Grand Canyon

Looking out at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim

Joshua Tree National Park
As we drove across the I-10 on our way to Los Angeles, we stopped to check out Joshua Tree National Park. We took the Cottonwood Springs exit and were able to easily drive into the park to check out the Cottonwood Oasis. We checked out part of the Cottonwood Wash Trail, which led to a second oasis and some dry falls (only active during wet years). We had a great time climbing on piles of boulders and checking out all the different cacti, yucca plants, and of course the Joshua trees that gave the park its name.

Fiona at the Joshua Tree

Fiona at the Joshua Tree

Maeve at the Joshua Tree

Exploring at the Joshua Tree

By the end of our trip, we were full of experiences that had opened our eyes to different cultures within our country and the natural wonders occurring from geological processes taking place over hundreds of millions of years. Looking back on the trip, I am reminded of the diverse creations of human beings and the strength, endurance and beauty of the earth. I feel thankful to be living in a world that continues to teach, care, challenge and inspire me.