“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”- Ibn Battuta
Note** if you take the time to read all the way through this blog, thank you so much! I know it’s long but so much happened in the 4 days we were on the road, I really didn’t want to leave any important details out. 🙂
Road trips are great, aren’t they? I honestly don’t know where my passion for road trips comes from. I didn’t grow up taking road trips, as my parents have always been the flying type. I definitely feel that road trips get a bad rap. Sure, you’re probably more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash, but hey, live a little. Not only do you get to enjoy the comforts of your own car (like being able to fart in private, without shame), you get to see things that you’d never be able to see if you had just flown to your destination. Road trips allow you to see/stop by weird, obscure, and less-well known attractions.
I’ve taken plenty of mini road trips (most notably my 10,000 5-hour drives to and from Rancho to Phoenix), I’ve taken 2 “big boy” road trips, and I’m about to embark on the 3rd in July. Those are the ones that hold the stories, the crazy experiences, and unforgettable sights. The first major road trip I took was in 2011 with my father, from southern California to southern Illinois, when I moved back to The Land of Lincoln. Unfortunately and extremely upsetting for me, all my pictures from that trip have been lost to the void of life when my computer crashed shortly afterwards. Being only 21, I didn’t have the wherewithal to make sure my pictures were backed up on a drive or even on Facebook. Rookie mistake… don’t make the same mistake!
Even though I can’t make a blog post about that trip because quite frankly, blog posts without pictures are boring, I can share a few memorable highlights: seeing a double rainbow in the California desert and finding the end (no gold), a rock flying over a cliff and cracking my windshield in Arizona not even 2 seconds before we saw a “watch for falling rocks” sign, getting lost at night in a town near Flagstaff that I can only describe as Children of the Corn-ish, driving behind a semi-truck in New Mexico whose tire blew out and almost crashing as a result, getting stuck inside a massive dust storm in Texas and trying to drive through it, and last but not least, my transmission going out in Oklahoma (joy).
Luckily, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take the exact same road trip again, when I moved back to California from Illinois. Well, it wasn’t the exact same; it was 4 instead of 2 days, and we added far more stops and destinations. A major notable difference in these 2 road trips was that this time I would be traveling with my friend Kristi (and not my dad, who knows what to do in case of emergencies), my 8-month-old daughter, and my wiener dog, Oscar. I was told for months leading up to this trip that it would be “miserable” traveling with a dog and a baby, but honestly it was anything but. In fact, it was the exact opposite. We took this trip at the best possible time in my child’s development because she wasn’t very mobile yet and slept a lot, so she probably slept 90% of the time we were driving. Of course we’d get her out when we’d stop at places, as well as Oscar, but for the most part we had a schedule to keep, and that meant driving around 8 hours a day.
We traveled through 8 states, start to finish: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We began in Indiana because that is where Kristi lives, and it just made more sense since she’d be flying back into the airport there and needed to leave her car at home. I’ve been contemplating how to break down this blog, and I think the best way to do it is by the day.
Day 1: Indiana to Oklahoma
*Note: I didn’t take any pictures of Indiana and Missouri, as I was driving this leg, plus we did not stop anywhere other than for gas. Please enjoy these photos of Oklahoma.*
Our destination that night was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma which was about a 10-hour drive, give or take 30 minutes, so we began as early as possible. Of course when you have two airheads, a baby, a dog, and a car full of stuff (inside and on top), plans don’t always stay on track. We ended up finally leaving around 10 am, made our way to the border, which is only about 15 minutes from Kristi’s house, and on through Illinois. For all you coastal people, let me tell you something about the Midwest… it’s all the same. The most variation you get is fewer trees or more farmland. For the most part, every state in the Midwest consists of trees, small towns, farms, and green. This makes it the absolute most boring part of the United States to drive in, in my opinion.
After making it out of Illinois and into St. Louis, Missouri, we started the long drive all the way across the state, from side to side. I’ve been to Missouri plenty of times because St. Louis is only 2 hours away from my hometown in Illinois, but I’ve never been any further than right across the Mississippi River. I had zero understanding of how hilly/mountainous Missouri is; I think a lot of people don’t. It’s actually a beautiful place, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the state I was living next to all these years was completely different than I had previously thought.
But honestly, the only real memorable thing that happened to us in Missouri was when we had to call the Missouri Highway Patrol because two men (Idiots 1 and 2) decided to channel their inner Evil Knievel and do daring stunts outside their car windows while driving 80+ mph down the highway. It started with the driver (yes, the driver) sticking his head out the window, then his shoulders, and then his entire body until he was sitting on the window of the car door. I can only assume he had on the car’s cruise control and Idiot 2 was controlling the steering wheel from the passenger seat. After Idiot 1 hung out of the window for what seemed like forever, he went back inside and out came Idiot 2 from his passenger side window. Once he went back inside the car, we thought they were done, but nope, out came Idiot 1 again, except this time he came out the sunroof. The entire time this was happening, Kristi and I were smart enough to hang back far enough that if they wrecked, we wouldn’t also wreck. I should add that the highway wasn’t exactly empty that day. There were A LOT of cars, which made the entire situation even more alarming and infuriating.
After we saw the sunroof act, we decided we’d had enough and it was time to get these two idiots off the road. I was driving, so Kristi called 911 and we reported what we saw. Unfortunately we’ll never know if the police were able to get these two bozos because we ended up passing Idiot 1 and 2 after they got stuck in traffic. We saw the Missouri Highway Patrol car sitting at the end of an entrance ramp, waiting for their target to pass, but the Idiots could have easily gotten off the highway before passing the officer. I can only hope that they were able to get them.
After making it out of Missouri alive, we headed towards OKC (Oklahoma City), where our hotel was located for the night. When I think of this part of the trip, I think of nothing but pure frustration. To anyone from Oklahoma reading this, your state is greedy! Even more greedy than California, and that’s an accomplishment! Oklahoma is the only state I’ve ever been in that constantly required tolls. Tolls were everywhere. The only other place I’ve ever been that could compare is Chicago. These tolls were in the middle of the highway and they were at every off-ramp and on-ramp. We ended up missing a ramp to another highway we were supposed to take and had to exit to turn around. Not only did we have to pay a toll to get off the highway, we had to pay one to get back on the highway too. When we had to stop for gas, yep, you guessed it, tolls! It was maddening.
After being shaken down by the state of Oklahoma for around $5 we finally made it to the hotel and it was time to unload the car. This was the first of 3 nights that we had to perform this ritual. There was my bag, Kristi’s bag, R’s bag, Oscar’s bag, R’s rocker that she slept in, and the gun box. We also had to take everything out of the bag on the roof because I was cheap and bought the kind made out of thin material which someone could easily cut with a knife (I don’t recommend this kind; splurge for the one made out of plastic – mine ended up ripping in 3 different places and it’s a miracle we made it to California without anything flying out). We would have to load up the hotel luggage cart with all our crap, which was exhausting.
I never knew that just driving for hours would be so tiring, but we all fell asleep around 9 pm, and it was time to recharge for round 2.
Day 2: Oklahoma to New Mexico
We left the hotel in OKC pretty early, around 8 am, and started the trek to Roswell. Roswell has always been on my bucket list; I was robbed of the opportunity to go there during my first road trip with my dad, due to him being on a tight schedule because of his work. It’s only a 2-hour drive south of I-40 and completely doable. We left the hotel and were greeted by a blanket of humidity, which I learned was at 98% humidity. That’s an ungodly, disgusting amount of humidity. Californians don’t understand how blessed they are to experience the teeny tiny amount of humidity that they do. Even though the air is made of water and it’s the worst thing on the planet, there is another geological feature in Oklahoma that is stunning and unlike anything I’ve ever seen: the red dirt. Who ever knew that dirt could be so beautiful and vibrant! We headed towards Elk City, Oklahoma, which is home to the World’s Largest Route 66 Sign, something I recommend stopping at if you have the time. To take pictures is completely free but there are some stores and museums there that I’m assuming are not free (we didn’t have time to go inside them).
I knew we were getting closer to the Texas border because the green and red dirt started to fade away and just regular, boring dirt and brown started taking its place. If you’ve read my Texas blog, you know my feelings on Texas. They haven’t changed. Like I’ve said, the panhandle is composed of nothing, with small towns here and there. Usually when making this drive, you’d stay on I-40 and go through Amarillo and out the other side, to finish the drive through the panhandle. We weren’t going that way however, as we had to go southwest towards Roswell, so we exited the main interstate and started driving down various dinky two-lane highways. Apparently this is a route less traveled because the state of Texas didn’t think it was worthy of anything more than that.
As we started getting farther into BFE Texas and closer to the New Mexico border, I started noticing fewer and fewer towns, which means fewer and fewer gas stations. My mother has always drilled into my head to never allow your gas tank to get below 50%, which is something my grandfather drilled into *her* head previously. Now I want to drill it into anyone’s head who is reading this. NEVER LET YOUR GAS TANK GET BELOW 50%. I’m very glad that my mom instilled this concept in me because for the last hour of the 2-hour drive to Roswell, there were zero (and that’s not an exaggeration) gas stations or towns. On our drive back to I-40 the next morning, it was literally 2 hours of nothing, but I had already filled completely up that morning (thanks Mom and Grandpa).
After we got into Roswell, we stopped by some alien stores, because… Roswell right… for some T-shirts and then on to the hotel, where we had to do the whole hotel cart song-and-dance once again. After unloading the mountains of stuff, we went out to get some real, authentic Mexican food. The Mexican food in Roswell was LEGIT; it wasn’t the watered-down Americanized Mexican food like Taco Bell or any generic Mexican restaurant in the Midwest. It was so authentic that Kristi couldn’t eat it. I (being a quarter Hispanic) had a completely different experience: it was fantastic. It’s called Los Cerritos; I highly recommend it if you want authentic Mexican food.
After swimming in the hotel’s indoor heated pool (R’s first time!) we went to sleep. Unfortunately we just didn’t have enough time to do all the cool alien-y type attractions; I really need to make a return trip to spend about a week there.
Day 3: New Mexico to Arizona.
Roswell to Flagstaff, Arizona is a surprisingly long trip (about 8 hours) and we had multiple stops planned along the way, so we started out extra early that morning. We began the long 2-hour drive in the middle of nowhere back to I-40 and once again, I was in awe that there wasn’t a single gas station or town the entire way. I couldn’t help but think about all the poor, lost souls who didn’t have their mother dictatorially ram the “get gas at half a tank” rule into their brains. Seriously, there was NOTHING. The only thing we saw the entire time were 2 random, 20+ foot statues of 2 cowboys having a stand-off, one on either side of the highway. Yep, you read that right. Apparently gas stations aren’t important to the people of New Mexico, but Godzilla-sized cowboy cutouts are. There are ranches along the way but they are miles apart, and the actual homes and buildings of the ranches sit miles back from the highway. The only part you can see is their giant, iron ranch gates and the beginning of their driveways. If you were to run out of gas out there, you’d either have to brave walking up to some random rancher’s home or wait hours for a tow truck. No bueno.
I was extremely relieved to see that we were getting closer to the interstate because I knew that meant GAS. After driving for 2 hours, my gas was getting a little too low for my liking. Once back onto I-40, we started towards Albuquerque, New Mexico, on our way to see Walter White’s House from the t.v. show ‘Breaking Bad’. I am personally not a fan of the show, but Kristi is and it was one of her “must sees”. It’s not difficult to get to and you can find the address on Google, however, and this is a big however, the home is currently owned and occupied by an older couple and they do not like trespassers. We had already read on Google that we would not be allowed to park near the home or even stand near it, because the older couple sat in their garage every single day to monitor looky-loos like us. Apparently rude fans would walk onto their driveway, yard, and even up to their front door at all hours of the day and night, and they finally had enough. However, they couldn’t stop people from parking down the street and taking a picture, so off we went. Sure enough, there was the older couple sitting in their chairs when we arrived, but I was raised right, so I asked for their permission to take a picture. The old woman said yes, but asked us to stand in a certain spot far away, so we did. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, people.
For those who haven’t had the chance to drive through the American Southwest, you’re really missing out. The Southwest is my favorite region of the United States and there’s a reason why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment and Arizona is a mecca for desert lovers.
The landscape is gorgeous and unlike anywhere else in the entire country. I suppose I can be a little biased because it is my favorite, but I still think everyone should see it at least once in their lifetime. After driving for a bit, we stopped at a Native American trading post called Yellow Horse Trading Post and it sits on the Arizona/New Mexico border, right off of I-40. If you’re looking for it, you can’t miss it, and probably won’t miss it even if you’re not looking for it. I suggest stopping there because even though some of the prices can be a bit steep, there is some very cool authentic pottery, artwork, blankets, and clothing for sale. Important note: they do not have a bathroom.
After buying some knick-knacks, it was off to Winslow, Arizona. For those who don’t know, this place was made famous because of The Eagles song, “Standin’ on the Corner Park”. I hadn’t heard about it before this trip but my dad insisted that we go, and we thought “why not?” I’m glad that we did, because the town is literally right off the interstate and the main attraction (the corner) isn’t hard to get to, and parking is just fine (and free).
Once we left Winslow, we headed towards Flagstaff, but first I wanted to stop and see the I-40 meteor crater. I have never seen a meteor crater in my life and even though Kristi wasn’t a fan (I still think she’s a dummy for passing this chance up), I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The crater isn’t exactly right off of the highway, although it’s easy to get to nonetheless. Admission is $20, which is a pretty steep price to pay just to see a giant hole in the ground. However, if you actually plan to stay awhile and take the time to visit the museum and read all the information, it is probably worth the price. Kristi stayed in the air-conditioned car with R and Oscar while I raced up the steps to the observation deck to see the crater, snap a few pictures, and get back to the car. A nice lady even took my picture for me, even though I probably looked like a total dweeb there all alone.
After my 10-minute speed trip to the crater, we were back on the road and roughly 60 minutes outside of Flagstaff. Once we arrived and did our unloading ritual, we headed to dinner at a Greek restaurant called Taverna (excellent, highly recommend). After dinner it was more of the usual and right to bed around 9 pm. We definitely had to get to sleep early, because the next day was the BIG day; the Grand Canyon.
Day 4: Arizona to California
This was the day that both Kristi and I had been waiting for the whole trip. We were about to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and it was exciting to say the least. The entrance to the Grand Canyon is about 1 hr to 1 1/2 hours from Flagstaff depending on traffic, and you should probably get there no later than 9 am if you want a fighting chance at finding a parking spot along the rim. We got there a little before 9 am and left at around 10 am, and the amount of traffic coming into the park at that time had already risen exponentially from just an hour before.
The Grand Canyon is one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen in my entire life. You grow up seeing pictures of it, but to actually lay eyes on it in person is a completely different experience. The massive size of this place takes your breath away and leaves you awe-struck the entire time you’re there. It was unfortunate that we were only able to spend an hour, but with an 8-month-old and weenie dog, it’s not very practical to go shuffling around The Grand Canyon. Kristi and I have already talked about taking a mini roadie back there from California and staying for 4 or 5 days. Hopefully in 2019 or 2020!
After a brief stop in Williams aka The Gateway to the Grand Canyon, we started the 6 1/2 hour drive towards California. This part of the drive was miserable. We knew it was the last little bit standing between us and my parents’ pool, we had been doing this for 4 days, R was starting to get fed up with the situation, and lastly, once you leave the picturesque rocky landscape of Northern Arizona, you’re greeted by barren desert that’s littered with foreboding mountains off in the distance. It’s not exactly welcoming or ideal scenery. Out here, it seems like no matter how far you drive, the landscape never changes. It’s one of the most boring 4 hours of your life, which you’ll never get back.
I’d say our official road trip ended when we hit Apple Valley, California because I knew that was the last desert town and next would be freeways, smog, people, and the hustle and bustle of southern California. While I LOVE road trips and Kristi makes a great road trip partner, road tripping with an infant, a small dog, and piles of stuff you have to bring in and out of the hotel every day, is not something that I am itching to ever do again. I am so relieved that our road trip this coming July will be an entirely different matter. However, our experience could have been a lot worse. I was so blessed to have an amazing baby who loves car rides, and the motion of the car always would put her to sleep. So thank you so much, Reagan! Also, we didn’t have any car trouble, we didn’t get lost, we didn’t fight and bicker the entire time, and most importantly, we made it!