The capital of and most populated city in Georgia, Atlanta is the center of a metropolitan area that about 5.9 million people call home and is a major air traffic hub, with its Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport being the world’s busiest since 1998. The city has plenty of interesting things to do, from the World of Coca Cola Museum to Centennial Olympic Park, to a myriad of art and cultural opportunities. Professional sports are also popular in the city, which has professional baseball, football and basketball teams.
When looking to leave Atlanta for a vacation, avoid the busy airport and hit the road. With a relatively mild climate, a road trip heading west is not only feasible, but pleasant even during winter months. At just under 1400 miles, a road trip to Albuquerque requires covering a lot of ground. However, you will find that there are plenty of things to see and experience on your way, easily breaking up your time on the road.
After working your way to the desert city of Albuquerque in New Mexico, you will have the opportunity to explore a unique city with a unique cultural history and plenty of outdoor recreation options. In and outside the city are opportunities for RV and tent camping, where you can easily access all that there is to do in Albuquerque and its surrounding area.
Located 90 miles west of Atlanta in Anniston, Alabama, is Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge. Less than a two-hour drive from Atlanta, the Refuge, which was legislatively established in 2003, includes more than 9,000 acres of parkland. The preserve got its name from the longleaf pine tree forests that are found in the southern states. The refuge can be found on the site of Fort McClellan’s former army base and is a part of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountain ranges.
Visitors will find plenty to do within the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, from hiking, biking and picnicking, to viewing plants, animals, and birds. Keep your eyes out for the white-fringeless orchid, which is endangered, along with Black-throated Green Warblers, gray bats, Scarlet Tanagers and Bachman’s Sparrows.
Head west from Anniston for about an hour and you will arrive in Birmingham, where you can check out the Sloss Furnaces. A National Historic Landmark, the Furnaces were an iron-producing blast furnace from 1882 through 1971, at which time it was closed and became the only blast furnace in the United States to be preserved and restored for visits from the public. The furnaces received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1981.
The site of the Sloss Furnaces functions as an interpretive museum of industry (admission is free) and is host to a metal arts program that has received national recognition and has served thousands of students. In addition, the Sloss Furnaces host concerts and festivals and has been rented out for haunted attractions. A new visitor center was opened at the site in 2016.
Continue heading west from Birmingham for about two hours until you arrive in Tupelo, where you can check out the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum. Considered Tupelo’s most significant landmark, the two-room house is the birthplace of the King of Rock & Roll, who was born on January 8, 1935. The house was built by the father of Elvis for $180 and attracts more than 50,000 visitors annually.
The home is a part of the Elvis Presley Park, which includes 15 acres of exhibits, including the church Elvis attended as a child and the Elvis at 13 statue, a bronze statue of Elvis in overalls, an open-collar shirt and simple shoes, reflecting the poverty of the future star and his family during his early years, which was commissioned by the Elvis Presley Foundation. The life-sized statue was presented in August 2002.
After a visit to where Elvis Presley was born, continue northwest for under two hours until you arrive in Memphis, where you can check out Graceland. Within Graceland is Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland Mansion, which he purchased along with its grounds, in 1957.
The landmark offers guided iPad tours along with a special tour guide for children. The tour will offer the opportunity to get to know Elvis, including his influences and roots. Graceland resort offers a AAA Four-Diamond Guest House, as well as an RV park and campground.
In addition, Graceland offers themed restaurants where visitors can experience Memphis cuisine and gift shops where Elvis memorabilia can be purchased. Live shows and special events are also held, offering a well-rounded experience!
After a fun-filled experience in Graceland, continue west for about two hours to Little Rock, Arkansas, and the Museum of Discovery. Located in the River Market, the city of Little Rock’s oldest museum, having opened in 1927, the Museum of Discovery has a lot to offer those who have an interest in history and natural science.
Within the museum is a collection of more than 14,000 items of historical and cultural significance, as well as displays of insects, animals, and fossils. Many of the displays are interactive, allowing visitors to have a hands-on learning experience; in fact, there are more than 90 hands-on exhibits! The museum also offers special events and is a great experience rain or shine.
From Little Rock, it is less than an hour to the Hot Springs National Park, located in the city of Hot Springs, in Arkansas. The land for the park was preserved through an act of the United States Congress in 1832 and it became a national park in 1921. The hot springs flow from Hot Springs Mountain’s western slope into pools which can be enjoyed by visitors.
Part of downtown Hot Springs is included in the National Park, which also offers a number of hiking trails as well as areas for camping. Check out Bathhouse Row (designated as a National Historic Landmark), which is a collection of bathhouses and gardens within the park where visitors can enjoy soaking in the spring water. The park’s visitor center can be found in Fordyce Bathhouse and is a great place to start your visit.
After relaxing at Hot Springs National Park, continue northwest for about two and a half hours to Fort Smith and the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The site’s visitor center is housed in the former courthouse/jail building and is a good starting point for exploring.
Within the Fort Smith National Historic Site, you can view exhibits on the military history and western expansion of the area. During your visit, you can explore the grounds and encounter the remains of a few important buildings, like the commissary building from 1838 as well as a reconstruction of the gallows that had been used in the past by the federal court.
The park has a walking trail that follows the Arkansas River, which is perfect for stretching your legs and taking in the area’s surrounding beauty.
For a unique experience, check out the Underground of Oklahoma City. Less than three hours west from Fort Smith, the Underground covers more than 20 city blocks and is filled with exhibits of art and history that highlight the originality of the state and those who live there.
Originally called the Conncourse (named for Jack Conn, an Oklahoma City banker) in 1974, the series of tunnels runs for about a mile underground and includes shops, cafes and a post office. Tunnels are color-coded, with each color representing a wing. While there is no one entrance to the Underground, there are a myriad of secret entrances throughout the downtown area, many in the basements and parking garages of buildings.
One of the most popular and accessible tunnels is the basement of the Sheraton Hotel, while the Banc First Building offers access to a larger number of the tunnels. The tunnels are open from 6am to 8pm.
For a unique experience on the way to Albuquerque, make a quick stop in Amarillo, Texas, to check out Cadillac Ranch. Built in 1974, Cadillac Ranch is the creation of a helium millionaire named Stanley Marsh 3 and The Ant Farm, an art collective of San Francisco.
Marsh covered the cost of ten Cadillacs covered with graffiti, to be buried halfway (nose down) in a Texas field. As the city of Amarillo expanded, the display was moved two miles further out to avoid it being caught up in the expansion. The display can be viewed at any time and visitors are encouraged to add their own graffiti to the cars, which are painted over on occasion; for example, in 2005 the cars were painted pink as a tribute to victims of breast cancer.
After adding your creativity to the Cadillac Ranch, jump back on I-40 and continue heading west. After about 2.5 hours you will come to the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa.
Formerly known as Blue Lake, the Blue Hole is one of seven lakes that connect underground by a large system of water. The Blue Hole is an oasis in the desert, and over the course of history, nomadic tribes, cowboys and American heading west on Route 66 stopped for rest at its location.
The lake offers clear, pure water with a visibility of 100 feet as a result of the water renewing itself every six hours. Popular among scuba divers, the Blue Hole maintains a temperature of 62 degrees regardless of the time of year, making it a perfect place to cool off during a hot summer day as well as tolerable during cooler months of the year.
Now that you feel refreshed from your visit to the Blue Hole, you are less than two hours from your destination. Continue west on I40 along relatively flat landscape, until you reach the hills and mountains outside of the city of Albuquerque. After driving through the mountains, you will find yourself at the cities’ edge. Depending on the time of day, you can consider pulling off to explore the Sandia Mountains that are at the eastern part of the city, perhaps hiking or biking the many available trails. Or, you can continue west toward the many other interesting things offered by the city.
You can wander around historic Old Town, which features historic buildings as well as Native American art and jewelry, check out the petroglyphs of the Petroglyph National Monument, or walk along the paved trail next to the Rio Grande. If you are looking to give the local cuisine a try, choose red or green chile (or both) on top of your enchiladas or burrito.
Opportunities are available for camping, whether with your RV, trailer or tent, both within and just outside of the city. A popular choice is the Coronado Campground, located in the town of Bernalillo (north of Albuquerque) which will provide a quiet place to relax and take in the beauty of the area while offering easy access to the cities’ many attractions.