Book review: A great guide to 25 awesome scenic side trips in Arizona and New Mexico

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(Last Updated On: July 8, 2018)

Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips by Rick Quinn doesn’t just take road trippers on a few pleasant scenic drives, it takes them on full-scale adventures through some of the Southwest’s most spectacular and historic places. For travelers who want their journey to be the adventure, this is a great guide to these two states.

road heading into the mountains in Arizona

I received a free copy of Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips shortly after it was released in order to review it. That’s a really nice perk, because I quickly realized that this is a book I really need for my next trip to the Southwest.

Book review: 25 scenic side trips in Arizona and New Mexico

As should be obvious from this website, I love a good road trip. And the farther the road diverts from the well-traveled path into the heart of the place I’m exploring, the better.

Cover of book with road and mountains

Quinn’s Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips fits the bill perfectly.

Most routes in the book are designed as one day (usually one really long day) drive for those who just want to see some great scenery or make a few quick stops on their way from point A to B.

However, with detailed information on the route and the sights along the way, many of Quinn’s scenic side trips could be broken into shorter segments that allow a few hours of in-depth exploring along the way OR extended into a multi-day trip with plenty of time to explore.

And, for those of us who just hate being on the Interstate, Quinn clearly shows how each road trip links to others. This makes Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico a great resource for developing an epic southwestern road trip that avoids the Interstate highway system entirely.

About the author

Author Rick Quinn comes off as an affable and knowledgeable guide with a passion for history, culture, and geology.

He’s an Arizona native, but has traveled extensively in North America and South America. (As in more than half a million miles between Tierra del Fuego and Alaska, according to the publisher’s biography). He sounds like a road trip fanatic, with trips that sometimes last for months. He’s a professional writer and photographer (among other things) with a degree in anthropology – all of which come together beautifully in this guidebook.

What you’ll find inside Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico

Each route in Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips provides all the information you need to follow the route (including safety and driving tips). At the same time, it helps you locate some of the best sights and activities along the way and understand the history, culture, and geology of it all. Beautiful color pictures provide inspiration, boxed text provides contact information, and notes on linked routes allow you to extend your exploration almost indefinitely.

Introduction

It would be easy to skip over the book’s introduction to get into the details of a route that interests you, but don’t. Besides providing some basic “how to use this book” information, the introduction is a super-short primer on traveling in the desert and on isolated roads. It has a few good reminders for anyone, but it is essential reading for anyone not familiar with the desert and mountain driving.

Organization

The book is organized around the Interstate highway system. Sort of.

The idea is that these scenic side trips are alternative routes to major points along the Interstate system, but some of them stray really, really far afield.

I understand why Quinn organized it this way – he wanted the book to be used by people in the region who might want to take a little more time to get to some place that have to go anyway. For example, the Phoenix family that needs to attend cousin Billy’s piano recital in Flagstaff and wants to see a few sights along the way. Thus the routes are intended to get drivers off the Interstate and then return them there at or near the final destination. It’s a not a bad plan, but I just have a hard time seeing very many of the routes used that way.

This structure doesn’t really hurt, but for most routes it doesn’t seem particularly useful either. I think it would have made more sense to organize them geographically, although that has its own drawbacks.

The good thing? The organization doesn’t matter because the Scenic Side Trip Locator Map is so good.

Scenic Side Trip Locator Map

Don’t bother with the table of contents.

Instead, open the flap inside the front cover and identify the general area where you want to travel. Each side trip is color coded and numbered, so it’s easy to look up the ones near your intended route.

Arizona and New Mexico map showing scenic side trip routes

Scenic Side Trip Locator Map from Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips. Image used with permission of Imbrifex Books.

This map is also ideal for planning longer trips. Because the scenic side trips are all one way, it’s easy to link them together to form longer trips through the Southwest or loops that begin and end in the same spot.

While this seems like a no-brainer, that’s usually more difficult to figure out because most books have shorter, isolated segments. Quinn’s routes were clearly developed by someone who loves extended road trips – if you have a few months you could use Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico to see much of the region without ever diverting from his scenic side trips!

As for me, I am pretty confident that my future holds a multi-day trip that combines scenic side trips 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in southeastern Arizona!

Each route has its own section

The book has a separate section for each route, all of which are presented in the same, easy-to-follow format.

The basics

Each Scenic Side Trip is numbered and named based on the start/end points and major points along the way. This is listed at the very top of the page and makes it fairly easy to understand at a glance where the route will take you. I say fairly easy because several of the routes are not particularly intuitive and many of the reference points will be unfamiliar to travelers who have not spent a lot of time in the area.

A virtual test drive

Of course, the best way to see if a guide book is any good is to give it a test run on the road.

The second best way is to see what it has to say about a route you know well from driving it in the past.

Since I won’t be getting down to the southwest until next winter, I decided to travel virtually along the Scenic Alternatives to Interstate 17.

A closer look at itineraries: Alternatives to Interstate 17

Interstate 17 runs north/south through central Arizona from Phoenix to Flagstaff. Even beyond Phoenix, it’s a big busy road.

Quinn lays out three scenic side trips that more-or-less connect Phoenix and Flagstaff. Two of them generally parallel Interstate 17. The third is more of a side trip than an alternative to Interstate 17: you can get to Flagstaff using this route, but it’s not even remotely direct – and the side trip leaves you 100 miles from Flagstaff. (But it’s a straightforward drive from there.)

I’ve been on all three of these routes at least once in the last few years. I’ve been on some parts of them a number of times. Note, however, that I’ve never taken any of them the in exactly the form they are presented in this book – as a day trip between Phoenix and Flagstaff. My road trips in this direction usually include a stop-over in Sedona.

When I’ve driven these routes, it’s either been as a shorter day trip or a segment of a much longer road trip. But that is one of the things I really like about Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico – almost all of the road trips in the book can be broken down into shorter trips or combined to form longer ones.

Scenic Side Trip 9: The western route between Phoenix and Flagstaff via Sedona

As highway scenery goes, Interstate 17 isn’t bad. But it’s still a major highway, so we often avoid it on our regular runs up to Sedona. And, because we are usually starting from the east side of the Valley (the greater Phoenix is sometimes called the Valley of the Sun), our usual route is part of Scenic Side Trip 10.

But a few years ago I wanted to how the other side of the Valley has changed over the years. So I convinced my husband we should drive across the Phoenix metro area, pick up Arizona 89 on the other side, and take the western route into Sedona.

This is precisely the route presented in Scenic Side Trip 9.

To give you a feel for the scenery, here are some photos I’ve take of the scenery along the way to Sedona on this route:

Sedona to Flagstaff

Quinn includes information on Sedona sightseeing in this scenic side trip, although scenic side trip 10 also goes through Sedona.

The verdict

Quinn’s western alternative to Interstate 17 makes sense as a scenic route and can be done as a (long) day trip with a minimal number of stops. The highway directions seem to make sense (that’s a hard thing to test without actually driving the route again) and his road notes are good. He notes some of the more exciting (challenging) spots for driving, which is helpful. However, not calling out the regular traffic slowdowns in Sedona is a bit of a shortcoming.

Scenic Side Trip 10: The eastern route between Phoenix and Flagstaff via Sedona

Here are few examples of stops along the way:

I’ve also posted a few pictures of the scenery as you drive into Sedona along this route elsewhere, if you want a better idea of what this approach to Sedona looks like.

Scenic Side Trip 11: The far eastern route via the Petrified Forest

This side trip is what I’d call a Quinn classic.

Recommendation: Buy this book for epic Arizona and New Mexico road trips

If you plan to road trip in Arizona or New Mexico, you need a copy of Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips.

Cover of book with road and mountainsThat’s true whether you are a regular visitor to this area or making your first trip. If you want to really see Arizona and New Mexico, this is the book for you.

  • Regular visitors to the Southwest will find hidden gems they’ve missed and roads they never thought to connect into a single route.
  • Those making their first trip here will find all the information needed to put together a killer road trip itinerary. All they need to do on their own is throw the tent in the car (or book a room at one of Quinn’s recommended lodgings) and pack the cooler (or check online for the best dining options along the way.)

While you still need to apply some common sense (how many hours do I really want to drive on mountain roads in one day, what’s the weather forecast, is my car in good shape, and do I want to be at my destination in time for happy hour?), these scenic side trips are well thought-out and well presented. Just be conscious of your own abilities and the answers to those questions!

Get a copy at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Target, and most other big retail sites.

What I love about Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico

The best thing about Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico is that the routes are well thought out and can be linked together to cover most of these two states. (Attention Rick Quinn: Southwest AZ needs a little love from you.)

The next best thing is Quinn’s commentary, which covers most of the best sights in an intelligent and engaging manner that provides plenty of information without overwhelming the reader. It’s almost like having a private guide in the car with you.  And the little stories he throws in – like how Show Low got its name – are perfect for travelers who don’t know the area or its history and culture very well.

I also appreciate the guidance on travel in Indian Country. I’ve generally avoided travel on reservation roads because I’m uncertain about procedures, etiquette, and expectations. I would have liked Quinn to provide even more information, but I feel like there’s enough info to get me started.

Since he isn’t actually in the car with you, I also appreciate the clean, easy-to-read design (layout, fonts, etc.) that allow a solo traveler to pull off the road for just a moment to quickly double-check the info needed to get to the next stop. With the exception of the larger text boxes (a small, thin font crowded onto an orange background), everything is really readable. Fortunately, the text boxes don’t contain directions or other information needed to drive the route!

Finally, while I haven’t had a chance to really test them, I appreciate that the RoadTrip America website has all the routes in Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips formatted as Google maps that can be used to create custom itineraries. The maps don’t include all of the attractions on each route, but those can be added. It’s an off-shoot of the broader services that RoadTrip America provides online and is a good addition to the book that eliminates the need to stop and consult the book while driving!

Other things to consider

Keep in mind that while all of the scenic side trips in this guidebook can be done in a day, most require a LOT of driving in a day. For a more pleasant trip with time to actually get out of the car, split the trip into couple of days.

Quinn’s interests seem to lean toward scenery, geology, history, and Native American culture. Those are interests of mine too, so that makes him the ideal guide for me. However, if you’re into shopping, food, or the arts, this book won’t identify the best places to stop for them. It generally won’t even mention them. What you will find are side trips to cool towns where you can search out those things on your own. But you will have to do some research.

While some may question the lack of restaurant recommendations, I think leaving them out was a good decision. Tastes vary too much, restaurants change or go out of business in a flash, and some folks just pack a cooler and bring along what they like. The best and most up-to-date restaurant information is online. There’s no sense putting it in a printed guide book unless you are going to update it every year.

I couldn’t test his time estimates virtually. Use them with caution and recall that they don’t include any stops along the way. Allow plenty of extra time if you really need to be somewhere by a specific time.

Get your copy now!

Rick Quinn’s Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips is published by Imbrifex Books, the publishing house for RoadTripAmerica.com titles. Based in Las Vegas, the publisher also has a series of Base Camp Hiking Guides, a Local Angler Series, and a bit of literary fiction tied to the southwest.

Get a copy at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, Target, and most other big retail sites.

The Arizona and New Mexico publication is the first in a planned series of Scenic Side Trip guides. Quinn has set a high standard with this initial offering. If other authors can do the same, RoadTrip America should have a lot of success with the whole series. I know I’m looking forward to the next one.

And I’d like to see more books from Quinn.

I received a free copy of Roadtrip America Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips for this book review. Despite that (and as you can probably tell) all opinions are my own and honestly reflect my response to this book.

Links on this website are provided for your convenience. However, purchasing anything through one of these links may give me a small commission at no cost to you.

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