Retirement Bucket List Trip to Arizona, Utah, and Nevada

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My parents have shared some of their budget traveling stories here before, and thankfully were willing to do so again.  Their travel style is a little bit different than mine.  They prefer domestic trips, and are totally okay with modest airline and hotel accommodations.  They leverage miles and points to make their budget travels even more affordable on their retirement budget, while at the same time marveling in some of the natural beauty of this country.  They were even just quoted in the Wall Street Journal about some of their budget travel habits!

Their most recent trip in October was a big tour around Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, and here is how they used miles, points, and deals to make another one of their bucket list dreams come true.  My parents are children of the “Greatest Generation”, are proud of this country (well, for the most part), and enjoy experiencing various National Parks and treasures.  These are my dad’s words about this trip.

Oh beautiful, for clear blue skies, for nature’s hall of fame, for mountains, plains and valleys, beauty is your name, America, America….It is always great to travel and behold the magnificence of our nation’s natural wonderment and treasure. We have been blessed with many opportunities to revel in, to smile at and to stand in awe of some of her amazing and breathtaking scenic offerings. Thank you Lord. Thank you Mother Nature. Thank you Time. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt. Thank you parents that pointed us in beauty’s direction.

Using Miles, Points, and Deals to Build This Bucket List Trip:

Our most recent bucket list adventure found us exploring the unique states of Arizona and Utah. Our youngest daughter joined us on this trip, and the three of us flew from Houston to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines. It was our fourth Spirit experience, and this flight, like the others (all to Vegas and back), was satisfactory. We know about Spirit horror stories, but our trips have been efficient and on time. We even have another Spirit trip booked for January. We used our Free Spirit Miles which enabled the three of us to fly for a total of 7,500 miles and $60.00 each way. That is 7,500 points for the three of us. Our return flight was on United, and we used 37,500 of our United miles, and about $7.50 to get the three of us home.

We rented a midsize car online on a Tuesday thru Hertz with our USAA discount for ten days. The all in cost was $258.00, or an average of about $25.80 per day. We are pretty modest and basic in our lodging needs.  Comfort Inns and Best Westerns were our targeted properties for this trip. The room prices were in the $100 to $160 a night range as our stays fell during a popular travel time when most hotels in the area were sold out. All the hotels, with the exception of one, had free breakfasts to help offset the expenses and to provide the most time efficient morning meal. We used accumulated points to cover two of the nights, and thanks to registering for various promotions, our stays rewarded us with enough points for two more nights later on. Our last night was in Vegas where we saved $50 on our room by daily monitoring its price on the hotel website, and re-booking when the price dropped.

National Park Senior Pass:

We also saved close to $150 by having the National Park Senior Pass that is available at age 62 for one lifetime fee of $10.00. The Senior Pass is truly a reward both financially and psychologically as it just makes you feel kind of special and important.  We include all these monetary facts and figures as this site is all about maximizing family travel at minimal expense by wisely using miles and points and shopping for good deals.


Grand Canyon, Arizona, and Colorado River:

The North Rim of The Grand Canyon was our first stop. We have been there before and is our preferred Grand Canyon side.


The drive is invigorating as you climb through a forested mountainous environment that eventually opens up into a broad open valley before entering the park. The aspens had started their annual turn to glory and their color sparkled and danced and waved as we drove past.


The North Rim sits at about 8000 ft. elevation and is more heavily wooded and cooler than The South Rim. The North Rim does close in the winter due to the snowfall. Our visit was only about four hours but provided us an extended rim walk and the first of our many budget conscious and fun picnic lunches. There is a contemplative reverence about the Grand Canyon. Even when busy, it somehow seems church quiet. It could be its vast expanse, it could be its beauty. I just know it is special, this GRAND CANYON, GRAND CANYON, GRAND CANYON, GRAND CANYON of ours.


Our next destination, and one of the expected highlights of the trip was to Page, Arizona.  Page, Arizona?  Never heard of it?  Well, go look it up and then make plans to go. The town is nice with ample lodging and restaurants, but the attraction is just east of town on Navajo land at a site called Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is essentially two slot canyons, Upper and Lower, separated by a short distance.


Each has its own parking and assembly areas and both require fees and a guided tour. The Upper Canyon is more frequently visited due to its famous light beams and because it is easier to walk. It has a more traditional canyon entrance as you enter through a schism in a rocky hillside. However, the Lower Canyon is quite a different experience as it sort of swallows you up unexpectedly as you walk in a dry stream bed. A very small crack in the earth becomes your portal to an otherworldly experience that unfolds as you climb down to an eventual 70 feet below the surface.

There are very good metal ladders and platforms to help you in and out and anyone of average health should have no problem unless you are bothered by intense beauty and overcome by visual stimulation. The walls of the canyon are like a series of vertical waves that twist and turn and dip and dive with an irregular but beautiful symmetry. It is the work of a master artist. The colors are both subtle and bold and warm and cool. There are photo opportunities everywhere. This is a must do experience for all, and we will certainly be seeking out other slot canyons in our future travels.  DSCN5948

Also near Page, is the famous Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River. You get a stunning and knee shaking view of the river making a 270 degree bend from a ledge 1000 sheer feet above. There are no guardrails, no fences, no nothin’ but a distant warning sign and good judgment to keep you from becoming an infamous cliff diver.


We viewed this awesomeness from a horizontal position but a number of tourists chose to tempt fate with some precarious rim balancing presumably to spice up their Facebook page. Yipes. Don’t they know about acrophobia?



We told the Colorado River we would see her again, and we told the Cirque de Soleil aspirants we hoped they saw tomorrow. We then climbed back into our rented stead and headed east.  The road unfurled its magic ribbon through Monument Valley, the backdrop for many western movies. Strong winds and blowing dust diminished the visual impact of the formations but created an interesting driving experience in the frequent dust storms as we headed toward Utah, which will be covered in the second half of this story in a future post.


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  1. Thanks for the great post! Am planning a similar family trip at spring break but to the south rim & staying in the park. Looking forward to the rest of their trip as we are also going to Zion & Bryce & would love to hear what they thought if they also went.

  2. Thank you for sharing this mommypoints! I’ll admit I’ve always wanted to see our beautiful country as well and this is on my bucket list too. However, I do plan on doing all that when I’m older, simply because I feel the USA has the best tourist infrastructure in the world for the elderly/handicapped/disabled tourists.

  3. Be careful about going in spring break. We tried a couple years ago and got three feet of snow dropped on us and had to change plans.

  4. Great article (and great photographs). MP, you should feel quite confident leaving the blog in your parents’ hands if you need to be offline for a few days.
    For natural beauty and variety, it’s impossible to compete with the American west.
    In that area of the world, I personally rank the Grand Canyon about #10 on the list of must-sees. Bryce, Kodachrome Basin, Capital Reef, Mesa Verde. . .

  5. Americans should see these places. Those places were my backyard. I’ll be flying Spirit home 4 Christmas LAS then rental car to Southern Utah to grandma’s house we go. DO NOT put those places on your some day bucket list. They are best experienced by fit people. If you are not fit or young go anyway and make the most of it, but don’t put it off. @LarryinNYC you can’t rank Grand Canyon #10 there are no rankings for awesome. However, I am partial to Zion since it was less than 20 miles from my point of origin. Mesa Verde rules too! We had a family reunion this summer and some extended family came out West for the first time. The father was dying a slow horrid death, but they made the challenging day trek to Zion and had a great time. These were people who had been all over the world and never seen their own America.

  6. @ alanea…The drive from Las Vegas to Zion National Park is about 2 1/2 hours, and it takes you through the Virgin River Gorge which is an unbelievably scenic drive. The trip from Zion to the North Rim can be done in a little over two hours, but we took longer because we wanted to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

  7. Thanks, Grandpa!! I’ve been to Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, and some of the slot canyons. You’ve alerted me there’s some awesome stuff I’ve missed. I’ll be back (even if I can’t fly anyone’s aspirational First Class on the way).

    PS – hope your Spirit experiences continue to go well :-).

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