From Marfa to Ouray: Exploring top summer tourist landmarks in the Southwest

·4 min read

There is a reason national landmarks draw so much attention. Their photos are instantly recognizable, their summertime crowds immense.

But if you look beyond those stars of travel guides and social-media posts, you'd find places just as memorable, offering unmatched scenery and architecture, without all the tourists jockeying for the best view.

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Here are a few of the Southwest's destinations worth exploring, should you want to escape the crowds without sacrificing unique beauty.

1. North Rim of the Grand Canyon

What: A more serene place to visit this natural wonder.

Where: About 350 miles from central Phoenix. Az-67, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 86023

What to know: Unlike its heavily trodden sister to the south, the North Rim thrives on a relative lack of visitors. It attracts just a tenth of the 5 million annual visitors to the South Rim, so odds are good you'll find yourself alone on some promontory, where you can reflect on life rather than worry about a stranger's child who seems perilously close to the edge.

Cabins near the rim are often reserved up to a year in advance. Book as early as you can.

2. Monument Valley

What: The iconic Western landscape immortalized in film.

Where: About 380 miles south of Salt Lake City. Us Highway 163, Monument Valley, UT 84536

Why it's a hidden gem: This remote area features rocky spires and buttes that burst improbably from the stark desert floor. Only when you set foot in this otherworldly landscape do you realize no film could do it justice. Still, you expect a lone horse to appear on the horizon, with John Wayne sitting tall in the saddle.

What to know: Monument Valley is even more astounding at sunrise. Book a room at the aptly named View Hotel, just across the border in Arizona, and watch as the sun paints the landscape in pinks, reds and golds.

3. Ouray, Colorado

What: A small town nestled in the Rockies

Where: About 300 miles southwest of Denver.

Why it's a hidden gem: Those driving the scenic San Juan Skyway though the Colorado Rockies may be surprised to see this charming town cradled in a small valley that's surrounded by jagged peaks. It's like stumbling across a Swiss village, though one distinctly American with eclectic shops and a small brewery.

What to know: Venture way from the historic downtown to take in Ouray's Victorian homes. Then soak in the town's hot springs to chase away the mountain chill.

3. Marfa, Texas

What: An arts colony gaining national traction as a hub for contemporary artists.

Where: About 520 miles west of Dallas.

Why it's a hidden gem: The town, founded in the 1880s as a water stop, could have been just another place to refuel the car on the way from here to there in the vast west Texas desert. But in 1979, Marfa got the attention of Donald Judd, a noted New York artist noted for minimalism. That started the artistic wave that has since washed over the town, which boasts numerous galleries and art spaces.

Most important thing to know: Once the sun has set, head to the Marfa Lights Viewing Center on the outskirts of town. On clear nights, you should see mysterious orbs hovering near the horizon. Some have explained them away as headlights along the distant highway, though others believe them to be signs of spirits, if not UFOs.

4. Downtown Las Vegas

What: A glimpse of old Las Vegas with must-see museums including the Mob Museum and, just north of downtown, the Neon Museum, as well as the historic El Cortez Hotel & Casino, the longest continuously running hotel in Vegas.

Where: About 6 miles from the center of The Strip. Drive, call an Uber or Lyft, or take public transportation. Many hop-on-hop-off bus tours, including the Big Bus, make stops in downtown Las Vegas. Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV

Why it's a hidden gem: Many Las Vegas visitors never make it off The Strip, and museums aren't usually at the top of visitors' agendas in this gambling and entertainment capital.

What to know: Tours are required to visit the Neon Museum, home to signs of Vegas' glitzy past, and the guided tours are offered day and night. Book tour times in advance. On weekends, late-night tours are offered in addition to regular tours

5. Chimayó, New Mexico

What: A picturesque arts village centered around a chapel believed to have healing powers.

Where: About 30 miles north of Santa Fe.

Why it’s a hidden gem: For generations, members of the Trujillo and Ortega families have been weaving intricate rugs, blankets, coats and more in Chimayó. If you’re able to take your eyes off the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that provides the town’s backdrop, drop by their galleries to watch experts craft unique patterns on fast-moving looms.

What to know: Visit El Santuario de Chimayo, a Catholic chapel dating back to 1816. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands have made the pilgrimage to the chapel and “el pocito,” a small pit filled with dirt said to have healing powers.

El Santuario de Chimayó in Chimayó, about a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe,  is visited by over 300,000 visitors a year.
El Santuario de Chimayó in Chimayó, about a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe, is visited by over 300,000 visitors a year.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Grand Canyon, Las Vegas top travel spots in Southwest in 2022