Top places to go in the Southwest in 2022
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Once an offbeat playground for neighboring San Antonians, today Bandera’s dude ranches, boot boutiques, and BBQ draw in crowds seeking to channel their inner John Wayne. As one could expect from a cowboy capital, folk here are mad about the cow; there’s none too rare an occasion to sport leathers from year-round rodeo to a jolly at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon, the oldest continuously operating honky-tonk in Texas. When it comes to the chow-down, Keese’s smoked brisket finished with creamy Blue Bell at the Bandera General Store’s soda fountain is the way to do it.
Y’all know that the cowboy fun doesn’t end there. Discover over 30,000 artifacts dedicated to America’s West at the legendary Frontier Times Museum, which opened in 1933. After that, saddle up and explore the Hill Country on horseback. There are thousands of acres of trails looping through canyons and scenic vistas, and a slew of ranches holding the horsepower to tackle them.
In Bandera, the rule is ranch. Dixie Dude Ranch has 20 cabins and lodges, offering both an authentic experience and excellent value; stays are neatly packaged with meals, fishing, horse-riding, and campfire sing-a-longs. Meanwhile, Outdoorsy renters can park RVs at Twin Elm Guest Ranch, which provides them with similar ranch amenities.
Summers in south-central Texas regularly see brutal triple-digit temperatures, so for optimal cowboy hat meets tank-top conditions, visit between late fall and winter. The beginning of each year marks peak allergy season. Sufferers should avoid January to March when cedar pollen counts here are the highest of any plants, anywhere in the world.
Planning a visit to coincide with the twice-yearly Biker Rallies of Texas festivals means a chance to spectate leather in black, too. Bandera is packed each March and October with motorcycle enthusiasts statewide who come together on wheels for bike shows, live music, tattoo contests, games, and of course, barbecue.
With the Grand Canyon, Prescott, and a smattering of other parks and destinations, Arizona is no stranger to visitors, but curious types will find far more quirk and beauty under some of the state’s less turned-over stones, like Bisbee. Tucked 200 miles away from Phoenix in the southeastern corner of the state, this town is a destination most travelers don’t happen upon by accident or plan an entire trip around. The picturesque mountain town feels equal parts Santa Fe, Colorado ski-town, wild west, high on just a drop of LSD, perhaps.
The beauty of the town is that it’s off the beaten path. It thins out the RV camper and snowbird herd, helping it remain quaint and picturesque. A stone’s throw from Tombstone and yet a world away, there’s an almost hippie vibe rushing through the off-the-beaten-path town like a free-spirited river. The windy roads twist through the town, holding back secrets until the last moment as you wind around the next bend. There’s the converted historical bank and post office, which you’ll swear you saw robbed in any number of Western movies. The Bisbee Coffee Shop occupies its own corner, giving you an optimal people-watching seat, or if you’d rather toast to the high altitude and the funky mural you discovered painted on the side of the mountain, The Old Bisbee Brewery is the town’s only brewery, and within walking distance of the Bisbee Grand Hotel.
Because the town is cut right into a mountainside, there isn’t much room for chain restaurants, shops, or hotels to pop up. You won’t find any Urban Outfitters for hundreds of miles, and you better catch the first stagecoach out of town if you want a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Thinking about busting out your Hilton Rewards card? Forget about that too. But this isn’t the kind of town you’d want to stay at a chain hotel anyway. Much of the charm is booking a local hotel.
The Copper Queen Hotel first opened in 1902 and is said to be haunted, while the Bisbee Grand Hotel (which is also said to be haunted) gives you easy access to everything downtown. The Gadsden Hotel has been running since 1907 and has, for over 100 years, been a Bisbee staple.
Most of the hotels here have an old-world charm, adding to the Bisbee experience.
Many avoid Arizona in the summer because of the scorching triple-digit temps, but thanks to the higher elevation, Bisbee is in the mid to low 80s (and as it’s a dry heat, it’s even more comfortable). But for sweater weather? Shoot for a winter holiday in Bisbee.
Book your hotels early on. The temperatures are milder here during the summer, and yet still comfortable during the winter, so while there isn’t a “peak” tourist season, the small selection of hotels do fill up, so don’t wait until the last minute. Make sure to fill up on gas before getting to Bisbee, because gas prices will jump, and you’ll have fewer options in town. Thankfully, most of the town is so walkable you’ll be able to trade in your driving shoes for walking shoes for much of the stay.
A hour drive from Albuquerque (ABQ) airport, Jemez Springs, and the surrounding Jemez (pronounced HAY-mess) Valley, is like Arizona’s Sedona of 50 years ago–spiritually charged, visually stunning. The town itself has only a few hundred residents, one salty saloon, a top-notch bakery, and several art galleries. But what it lacks in big city amenities, it more than makes up for with a plethora of natural beauty to, quite literally, soak in.
The nation’s only town within a national park, Santa Fe National Forest, camping sites and trails abound, over 1,000 miles in fact—many with great payoffs like hot springs or waterfalls. Locals recommend the San Antonio Hot Springs trail (Required: high ground clearance vehicle to access) for the clearest pools and McCauley Warm Spring for one of the easiest to reach.
For day trips, there are several stunners. Take Highway 4, a surreal scenic drive just outside of town, to Gilman tunnels—an eerie but impressive defunct railroad passage through sheer boulders. Don’t miss the roadside waterfall. In the other direction, Mother Nature’s powerful artistry is on display at Valles Caldera. Formed by a volcanic eruption long ago, it’s a gigantic meadow ideal for wildlife watching, like elk and golden eagles, fishing, and horseback riding.
For history buffs, Jemez Valley is teeming with intriguing narrative. Visit the Jemez Historic Landmark to tour 700-year-old Pueblo Indian ruins and a 17th-century Catholic church established by Spanish missionaries.
Roger, the mayor of Jemez Springs, and his wife Linda, a sculpture artist, have the most luxurious outfit in town. Located along the Jemez River among a wonderland of soaring trees and verdant, flowering landscaping, Casa Blanca has two private guest houses—a cool, 1800s adobe home and a hobbit-style cottage with a modern spin. Both are tastefully decorated in a rustic-chic Spanish fashion with antiquities from around the world; kitchens are outfitted with Linda’s ceramic creations. Another more austere option, but equally unique, is bunking with Buddhist monks at the Bodhi Manda Zen Center. Access to their on-property hot springs and zen meditation sessions are included with either a dorm-style or private room stay.
Early fall is ideal. Like a Van Gogh painting, the valley is dotted with frenetic splashes of golden and amber hues as the leaves turn. Plus, temperatures drop a bit so you won’t get as sweaty on the trails and that dip in a hot spring feels that much more divine. (Hot tip: Plan your visit in early October to hit Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, too.) Late spring, like April or May, when most trails open again and the mountains are bursting with wildflowers is pretty dreamy too.
Do not miss a mineral soak at the 150-year-old Bath House with private tubs in which you control the temperature and fill as you wish. Double down on the #treatyoself experience and bring self-care items, like a sheet mask, deep conditioning hair mask, essential oils, and even a razor for an amazing shave.
P.S. If you opt for the post-soak herbal wrap (and you should), ask for Perriann; she’s like your very own magical, fairy godmother.
Marfa is an unassuming reward for the labor it takes to get there. The art scene and community are inviting, interesting, and genuine–an unexpected scene, considering the most famous work on display is Prada Marfa, the installation sculpture of the brand’s storefront. Gallery shows and visiting artists change up flavors and colors while the resident creatives and iconic landmarks (like Donald Judd’s freestanding concrete structures) give the town an ephemeral vibrancy combined with a long-standing authenticity. The restaurant and bar scene follows suit, and 2022 brings Marfa’s first distillery and tasting room, The Marfa Spirit Co. Their Chihuahuan Desert Sotol, a locally produced spirit made from desert spoon shrubs, aims to make sotol the next mezcal of the liquor industry.
And of course, there’s the Marfa Mystery Lights, visible most clear nights when looking toward the Chianti Mountains between Marfa and Paisano Pass. The lights, which have mesmerized us for a century, mysteriously flash with color, flit about the sky, pulse, and melt away, among other unexplainable visual perceptions. This is the sort of mystifying spectacle that makes for a most satisfying transcendental experience. And while the Marfa Lights steal the show, the night sky over Marfa isn’t anything to shake a stick at. Those stars at night. So big and bright.
Choosing a place to stay in Marfa is an absolute delight because the options are completely unique and cowboy-chic but without sacrificing service, luxury, or whatever amenities you can’t live without. Hotel Paisano, made famous by James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor’s classic movie Giant, is an iconic Marfa stay. Designed in 1929 by famed architect Henry Trost, the hotel is constructed to be “the most elegant hotel between El Paso and San Antonio,” while El Cosmico represents the other end of the spectrum showcasing retro trailers, stylish tents, and teepee- and yurt-style accommodations (don’t be fooled by the “rusticity” of the digs–Beyonce stayed her on her trip to Marfa). Airbnbs, campgrounds, and RV parks abound, but for those willing to do a bit more driving, the Cibolo Creek Ranch 30 miles south offers rooms and suites in an authentic Texas dude ranch and hacienda fort-style, or head a little further out still into the Chihuahuan Desert to the Chianti Hot Springs cabins, which include soaking tubs in every casita.
Look, Marfa is seriously desert. If you don’t like hot, sunny sun, you’re going to want to aim for shoulder seasons. Winters, though short, can be quite cold and even snowy.
Marfa’s known for its art, but don’t sleep on its food scene–everything from laid-back fine-ish dining (Cochineal) with remarkably locally sourced ingredients, to gourmet food trucks (mesquite-smoked brisket, ribs, sausage and chicken at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ and beef hotdogs or veggie fritters from CowDog), and even home cooking (at Marfa Burrito, “the burrito queen of Marfa” Ramona Tejada has turned her personal kitchen into a renowned taqueria).
The state of Oklahoma was literally carved out by the U.S. government to house, for lack of a better term, its “Indian problem.” Old maps have the entire state blotted out because it was not considered a state, only “Indian territory.” As a result of its rich cultural heritage, today Oklahoma is one of the best places in the U.S. to find Indigenous peoples’ art, culture, and cuisine—yes, cuisine. Chef Nico Albert, owner of Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods, a catering company also offering educational events, is on a mission to introduce traditional recipes and dishes like fried yuca croquettes and bison meatballs to the community in Tulsa. Get a taste of Albert’s culinary delights over at Duet, a restaurant and jazz joint, where Native cuisine is at the forefront.
Also, just outside of downtown Tulsa, is the recently-revitalized Kendall-Whittier and Brookside neighborhoods. Boasting delicious eats, drinks, and a booming nightlife, it’s easy to spend an eventful weekend here. But save some energy for daytime exploration of Tulsa’s network of tunnels, once used by early oil and gas barons. The tunnels are still in use and open to the public, and they are especially useful during inclement weather. Tulsa Tours offers a 90-minute tunnel exploration, or, if you prefer to stay aboveground, the two-hour downtown tour will introduce you to the Deco, Arts, and Blue Dome districts, offer a history lesson on Black Wall Street and the 1921 Race Massacre, and share visions for the future of this great American city.
Be sure to hit up the Hardrock Hotel and Casino (owned by the Cherokee Nation) for its entertainment and its clear homage to rock ‘n’ roll. Also, River Spirit Casino Resort, owned by the Muscogee Nation, is a definite go-to for gambling, delicious food, and live concerts. The Osage Nation just revamped their entire casino, and they even launched their own brewery. The local suds are best enjoyed by the pool.
You’ll want to arrive in the spring because from July through September it’s oppressively hot and humid. For weather in 70s and 80s, with low humidity and beautiful greenery, pay a visit anywhere from May to June.
Hands down, drop into Tacos Don Francisco. They’re a family-owned business located across the street from the University of Tulsa, and they’ve been there since the 1960s. Also, if you visit in the spring or summer, you’ll hear tornado sirens (three whole minutes of sound) at noon every Wednesday, rain or shine. Another tip: Gilcrease Museum has the largest collection of Native and Western art in the U.S.