Summer Travel: Why the Southwest is a Surprisingly Good Destination Spot

Summer Travel: Why the Southwest is a Surprisingly Good Destination Spot
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I road-tripped from Seattle, WA to St. Louis, MO in May. I took about 5 days to make my way down the west coast of California, through Arizona, New Mexico and on a last minute detour through Oklahoma. One would think that someone who's had her worldviews warped by travelling overseas and has let the beautiful state of Montana take her off guard would have expected more from the Southwest yet once again I ended up with a surprisingly stunning and incredibly satisfying trip that I did not see coming.

Everyone knows that most of California operates as a great vacation spot so we're going to skip the obvious this time around.

1) The desert is actually gorgeous. Go figure.

I'd never seen a cactus in real life before I stepped foot in Arizona. Cartoons and old westerns definitely do not do them justice. Maybe it's the fact that they can grow taller than a NBA star and cast some type of magical shadow over an average sized person like you or me. Maybe it's how they sprinkle the redish tinted land so that they end up looking more like bushels of flowers in the distance than the deceitful, painful plants they actually are. Either way, I'm pretty sure cacti have some exotic mystic powers in order to be able to lure someone out of their perfectly air conditioned car just to get a closer look at them. In all seriousness if you're someone who loves intense natural colors, the "Painted Desert" is a must see. I also have to throw in that no states invests more into their highway art than Arizona and California which, if you're road-tripping, I promise will come in more handy than you think. I'd plan this trip for August though to avoid crazy temperatures.

2) Phoenix, AZ

#phoenix is gorgeous. Enough said.

A photo posted by Jalayna (@_jreshea) on

I wasn't in Phoenix for long but I loved my stay there. The city is like a Portland/LA mashup. Anyone who's ever been to Portland knows that it's creepy how clean it is. There's a museum bookstore cashier in Phoenix who can vouch for me when I say that Phoenix has all the ambiance of LA without half the pollution and litter.

Now, I'm a museum girl. Whenever I got into a major city on a trip, I found an art museum to go to. In Phoenix, while they have a few to pick from I chose the Heard Art Museum and it was an absolute dream. The Heard Museum is dedicated to Native American art, origins and impact on the Southwestern region which in my book makes it a necessity. Not only does it cover historical pieces of Native American culture and tradition but it also holds a very large collection of contemporary Native American art. Before the Sacramento Crocker Art Museum (also visited on this particular trip) I had never seen a piece of CONTEMPORARY Native American art.

Yet here in the middle of a gorgeous desert was a treasure trove of people trying to piece together their past and their present. I learned so much about a people who are all too often left out of the history books and forgotten despite their ongoing roles in American history. There are sculptors dedicated to the Native Americans veterans and paintings on their interpretation of the bombings they've endured carried out by the US government. There's even a full walk-through exhibit on their experience being forcibly assimilated into American society via boarding schools.

This exhibit is EVERYTHING. There's so much #pain & #power in it.

A photo posted by Jalayna (@_jreshea) on

Which brings me to my next point.

3) Knowledge runs deep in these parts.

As I left Arizona and went into New Mexico I saw that different tribes were known in different areas. The Cherokee and Navajo tribes are infamous but the Hopi and Zuni are two of the several lesser known tribes in the region. Passing through the states you see a lot of advertisements for their goods (clothing, moccasins, jewelry, blankets, ect.). They reminded me of the impact the Native Americans had on the rise of the Grand Canyon as a national monument and regional attraction which you can find out more about through the Heard Museum.

While Albuquerque is the capitol of New Mexico, I stayed in Santa Fe because of some deep rooted "Rent" complex (as in the Broadway Musical) from high school. I have to admit the New Mexico desert is highly disappointing in relation to Arizona's. Yeah I said it. *Rihanna voice*. But they make up for it in art museums (I warned you guys about this in point #2). If I haven't stated it before, art is my mode of choice when it comes to analyzing the connections many Native Americans make between their past and their present. Many of the art museums also include a ton of insight on their history for all you history buffs.

My personal favorite New Mexico museum was the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

Nothing is more invigorating to the art geek in me than a sculptor garden in the summer.

There are a couple other options that I made plans to visit but didn't get to see because of emergencies so maybe you can fill me in if you decide to go. The New Mexico Museum of Art looks like it has a fascinating collection of contemporary art and while the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is less about Native Americans and more about regional impact on her art, there's a clear influence there that resulted in some beautiful work. If that doesn't do it for you there are several other museums to visit in the area as well PLUS the biggest bonus feature that I didn't see coming.

While I originally planned to go through Texas before heading back to St. Louis, I ended up going through Oklahoma instead. Now I know Oklahoma technically isn't a part of the Southwest region of the states but that's why it's a bonus feature. It's relevant because Oklahoma has Native American roots as well. I seriously underestimated Oklahoma. Most of the attractions dedicated to Oklahoma Native American heritage are closer to its New Mexico boarder but it's worth checking out since Oklahoma has the second largest population of Native Americans right behind California. Here's a resource for festivals, centers and more information on Native Americans across Oklahoma.

So there you have it for all my summer travelling boos who want to deepen their understanding of the world a little bit.

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