Part 2: Driving Across the United States – The Southwest

You are insane- why don’t you just FLY?!” asked many well – meaning friends and family. My response – NOPE!! I have been looking at the same walls for months and now that I am vaccinated I am going to pack my Mazda3 and drive from one end of this country to another.  And I did. With the help of my friend, Marj, we criss – crossed the United States learning more than any book could teach about this vast country.  This is the second of my blog series about this experience spotlighting the  trip from LA to Chicago!

Time to roll: Day 1

After much preparation – Marj and I were ready to roll! With a car packed from top to bottom – my little Mazda 3 was decked out to the hilt. My co-driver had stashed a lot of yummy snacks and drinks in the cooler and we had enough electronic and print maps to hopefully guide us through any navigation situation. Read about how we prepared here.

Cute clothing and much more at Cracker Barrel

Never under estimate stopping at a Cracker Barrel

I must admit that I had not considered the perennial favorite – Cracker Barrel – as a place that would become very important to us during this trip. Not only does this restaurant/ store have a huge array of candy that evokes emotional responses from my youth, but the ladies clothing line and game selection were amazing! Marj and I stopped at no less than 8 Cracker Barrels during this trip. I managed to buy everything from candy sticks to a baby present. The menu selection is best categorized as “comfort food”. But, most notably – this establishment has CLEAN bathrooms. Seriously, as the trip continued the importance of having a clean and safe bathroom was tantamount! I for one am a new and forever fan of “the barrel”! To see the list of Cracker Barrels around the United States – click here.

Crossing the Mojave to Arizona full tank of gas is a must!

Route 15 and 40 across the Mojave desert are two long roads that converge and cross and area of California noted for being a bizzilion degrees hot in the warmer months and windy as hell on most any day. It also has very little service areas so if you are crossing this part of California (home to the nearby and infamous Death Valley) – go to the “potty”, gas up and check your car before venturing out. Our route had us going through the Cajon Pass to the bottom part of the Mojave on Route 40. (This also is the part of the highway that is shared with Route 66). After about 7 hours (with stops)- we found ourselves in Williams, Arizona. Here we stayed for the night and headed out to get dessert at a local establishment known for their various pie recipes. Sadly, our choices of pie were unsatisfactory – so I will leave off the name of this place and hope that they were just having a bad day.

Highly recommend purchasing and using THE NEXT EXIT 2021 edition. This little gem of a book tells you which towns are on your route, what service areas are at each exit and much more. Found on Amazon and worth the $18 price. Check here for details.

Day 2- Let is snow!

We left the last week of April only to find ourselves riding through several inches of snow the morning of our second day. Breakfast was in Flagstaff, about an hour east of Williams, and an excellent little diner – Brandy’s Restaurant and Bakery. The waitstaff was super friendly and very knowledgable about the area and supplied us with updated weather reports. Based on what I was seeing outside our diner window I was very happy that I remembered to pack snow boots.

When Covid Rules

Due to Covid 19 restrictions many places had limited availability to tour. Some closed early. Other places simply were CLOSED. We thought of visiting the Petrified Forest but changed our minds once we discovered it would add at least two hours to an already long driving day. The petroglyphs have been there for eons, and we will just have to put this national park on our “next time” list. Instead, we opted for the overpriced “unofficial” Petrified Forest store off Route 40. 

Side note: Unfortunately, not all who travel know how to negotiate roads in snowy situations. That includes the trucks that seemed to bounce along the highways carelessly. One after another of these double and triple trucks seemed to have challenges with “holding on to the road”. So, lesson for all – keep your distance. Be attentive to others who share the road with you.


Hello New Mexico we have a change of plan!

WINDY!! That is how I would describe driving through New Mexico on Route 40 before we arrived in Albuquerque. While the snow abated, the wind and dust did not. Poor Phoebe (yes, I named my car) – was so dirty by the time we settled for the night in Santa Fe.

While driving through New Mexico, we took in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and appreciated the small towns, many that were part of the Navajo Nation. New Mexico is beautiful, but the houses and villages seem to all adhere to a muted color palate. Shades of browns, greens, and yellow were most noted. Almost as if the intent was to not detract from the natural scenery, but to blend with it. 

A small section of the Navajo Nation

The trip through New Mexico took longer than we anticipated. So, we ended up just skirting Albuquerque and arriving in Santa Fe at dinner time. There we had an absolutely delicious dinner at the restaurant inside La Fonda – a big hotel in the town’s center. While most of the area was pretty quiet, we did see some fun street art.


Our original plan was to leave Santa Fe and continue to Tucumcarri – a small town on the Texas/ New Mexico border. But, due to the severe weather anticipated in that area and up through Oklahoma, we changed our path and headed north to Taos and southern Colorado. This was the first of many “adjustments” we made thanks to Mother Nature. So, we stayed the night at a resort north of Santa Fe and had a quiet evening. Little did we know that the next day was to be a marathon driving day.

In the morning we ventured to Taos, New Mexico. Known as a true artist colony, both Marj and I were pretty excited to check it out. Sadly, due to Covid, many of the galleries were closed. What was open was clearly geared for tourists.

There is one recollection of Taos that left me sad. I was a bit surprised about the number of people who were living on the streets or the back alleys). While Taos is beautiful and we simply did not see all the positive it offered, it is the memory of several women waiting to wash in a public bathroom that will stick with me. Their eyes so forlorn. I wondered if they were “broken” physically, mentally, or both.

(Side note: I am fully aware that homelessness is a situation that is complicated and happens in our urban, suburban, and rural areas. I just was surprised at the extent of homelessness in Taos.)


COLORADO – KANSAS – MISSOURI

We didn’t expect to go to Colorado during the West to East portion of our trip. But, since the weather was ominous to our east we thought going north and then east would be “safe”. This meant adding hours to our trip, being stuck in lots of road construction, and driving across endless areas where you passed very few if any other cars. (There was a time I would swear we were driving through private property as we saw NO ONE for miles and miles.)

Second adjustment of the day: Route 50 was closed. This was to be our connector to points north and now we had to decide what to do. To Route 70 we would go! This decision resulted in a much longer driving day than we expected and over 12 hours passed before we stopped for the night in Hays, Kansas.

I had heard from others who drove this route that Kansas was one of the worst states for driving. “Monotonous”, “Flat” “Boring” were all adjectives I have heard from others. I disagree. The roads were well maintained. The rest stops areas were plentiful. And, seeing the fields of golden crops juxtaposed with greenery was amazing. I enjoyed driving through Kansas very much.Plus, a stop in Kansas City at Joe’s “World Famous” Barbecue was a very welcome side-trip! Not to mention that I stocked up on sauces and seasonings for gifts!

We spent our fourth and final night before arriving to Chicago in Hannibal, Missouri. Here is where I encountered some of the most interesting people – in a hot tub.  Yes, an oversized indoor hot tub of all places! I learned from this assortment of folks that there is a lot of misinformation about Covid 19. But, I had to come to the reality that their “truth” was not all that uncommon.  The lack of facts they spewed to me were often cited on TV.  Some of these people were convinced that the covid vaccines were a ploy constructed by the Democratic Party to “brainwash” Republicans. I rarely am at a loss for words – but I wasn’t sure how to answer this claim. 

However, when one woman was very vocal about covid being due to “those people from Californi-ee” – I couldn’t keep quiet. Especially since I outed myself as a person from the great state of CaliforniA.  As an educator, I tried my best to present facts vs. fiction. I gave up after about 10 minutes and retired for the night feeling that I just met a good sample of people that support some of the initiatives in this country that divide versus unite us. If you agree with my spa buddies that the vaccine is a conspiracy – please feel free to stop reading my blog and skip the comment section.



DESTINATION CHICAGO!

Marj and I parted ways in Chicago after five fun-filled days together.  It is essential to travel with someone who is a good match or compliment to your own travel style. 

I must admit that when we crossed the Illinois border we did a bit of “hooting and hollering”.  And a few hours later we were finally within site of the Chicago skyline.  By mid-afternoon our first big leg of this month l long journey was checked off as complete!

RANDOM TRAVEL TIPS

  1. Buy jars of hatch chilis available in New Mexico. They are AMAZING!
  2. Stop at local owned stores for the best food/ spices and gifts. The prices are much more reasonable and the selection is usually more expansive than the stores located in the tourist areas.
  3. Keep your receipts for future reference.
  4. Lock your car and have a tarp or something to cover any items you need to leave in your back seat.
  5. Write down key “memories” as you will forget names and dates later.
  6. Consider donating to local shelters and food banks to help those in need.
  7. Take lots of photos, videos, and notes.
  8. Travel with someone who compliments you and doesn’t have vastly different goals for your trip.
  9. Remember that you didn’t need to talk the entire time. Quiet travel time can be wonderful. 

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