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Sound’s like an epic trip! Too bad you had to rush through everything…
BTW, you mentioned 7 Caddies… I counted 8?
I have a tad of experience sleeping in a car. A state trooper stopped by and I just mentioned I was too tired to drive and was fearful of having an accident.
And I very much agree with you about our roads. It’s like we drive on a beautiful carpet.
Glad you made it Rio! Sounds like you had a trip that you’ll remember for a long time.
I saw Cadillac Ranch when my wife and I drove to California and when we drove back. I think we have pictures of it somewhere.
Sept 3: Departing mileage 128057. Departed at 4:10pm, arrived 7:57pm, NYC mileage 128253
The trip to New York was decidedly uneventful and easy, with Rt 15 pretty smooth and effortless, making it a relatively decent 4 hour ride. I did manage to have two dogs as passengers along the way though, a result of the fact that a rideshare request through craigslist became an animal transport request. One was a large white lab/pit mix named Dharma and another a tiny black minpin named Chiquilita. Chiquilita promptly snuggled in my lap for the ride but Dharma, perhaps for want of space in the back, was quite fidgety. I could only imagine the other drivers on Rt. 15 as they saw my car swerve occasionally as I would have either Chiquilita try to drive with me or Dharma slobbering over my middle console. But all was safe and that was that.
Sept. 4: Departed at 9:00am, Salem, VA 5:45pm mileage 128732
I had a great blueberry pancake breakfast with Swarthmore alum and firehouse colleague and newlywed Andrew at his apartment on the Upper East Side/East Harlem dividing line. With so much stuff in the car I couldn’t help but be paranoid about parking the car, but there wasn’t anything to be worried about in the end. What followed was a 9 hour trip leading me through NY, NJ, MD, WV and VA, arriving towards the early evening at Salem, where I was staying at a Josh’s place, a couchsurfer who had kindly agreed to put me up for the night. Josh is a drug enforcement cop for the county of Roanoke, slightly disillusioned with the whole (holier-than-thou attitude that his colleagues have). We had Mexican food for dinner, and upon hearing that I had a banjo in the car, took me to a Saturday night jam session in the middle of town, where some old folks were playing bluegrass. I was able to burn some of his extensive bluegrass CD collection before retiring comfortably for the night.
Sept. 5: Departed at 5:20am, Jackson, TN, 5:32pm, mileage 129302
The long drive from Virginia to Jackson Tennessee involved going through Knoxville and Nashville, and my earlier days experience had me wanting some genuine bluegrass experience. Waking up early meant that despite Nashville being towards the tail end of the 9 hour trip, I would have enough time to see the downtown area and go hunting around for a Stetson hat. Nashville’s downtown was fairly small but certainly very crowded, but despite the masses of tourist souvenir shops I decided against getting a hat. I arrived in Jackson, a further two hours southwest, and pulled into the driveway of Catey and Michael, my hosts for the night. I wasn’t aware that I had shifted a timezone as I traveled, so I ended up waking Mike from his sleep, as he and his wife work the night shift at a hospital, him as a ER nurse, she as a floor nurse. They were very friendly and kind, and with a nice meal of ritz-cracker-crumb-chicken and egg salad (and the company of two friendly cats) I couldn’t quite resist the appeal of getting some much needed rest.
Sept 6 departed at 6:00 am, arrived Dallas 4:30ish mileage 129863
With Dallas right around the corner I couldn’t resist the temptation of leaving early and getting there. Since Memphis was just an hour along my trip I made my way to Graceland, the famous mansion Elvis Presely lived in and where his tomb can be seen. Since it was still early in the morning there weren’t many people, and I managed to find some postcards to send off to friends and family. The rest of the way to Dallas was relatively uneventful, as I barreled my way through Arkansas and finally made it into the large metropolis, where Elizabeth was kind enough to guide me to her home.
A view of Graceland in Memphis, TN.
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Dallas, hanging out with Elizabeth and running errands. The weather was pretty foul on both days but it helped clean the car somewhat from the dust and flattened bugs on the windshield. On Wednesday we heard a tornado warning siren, indicating that a tornado had touched down somewhere near us. It was pretty intimidating to hear. There was much rejoicing at good food including two runs to Paciugo Gelato and one to the famous Burger House. Lucy was also very excitable and I almost caved in and bought a dachshund at a pet store. I couldn’t get myself to fork over the $900 for the cute dog, however, never mind wondering how I would be able to take care of it once I had settled in. Oh how wonderful it would have been!
Sept 9: Departed 7:00 am, arrived Tucumcari 5:30 pm mileage 130362
The drive from Dallas to Tucumcari was a long one, particularly since traffic leaving Dallas was snarly at best. With rest stops and gas stations becoming fewer and farther between, I was also somewhat paranoid about being on the safe side. About 7 miles west of Amarillo, near the border with New Mexico, I stopped to find the Cadillac Ranch, where 7 Cadillacs are parked permanently with their noses into the ground.
All the Cadillacs. You can either bring your own spray can and spray things onto them or use the hundreds of ones left behind there.
From there I headed west on what would be my long companion all the way to California, Rt. 40. Parts of Rt. 40 intersects the historic route 66, and it was on that road that I stayed at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
The Blue Swallow Motel, the “friendliest motel on Route 66″. A single room goes for $39.95 per night.
Sept 10, departed 5:30am, arrived Grand Canyon National Park 9:00pm mileage 131019
There were three things on my agenda for the day: visit Tinker Town just east of Albuquerque, see the Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, and get to Grand Canyon. As such a 5:00 departure didn’t seem early enough. Tinker Town is a small museum that houses thousands of wood carvings made by a man by the name of Ross Ward. In talking to his wife (Ross passed away not too long ago) I found out he had started his hobby in the mid60s, while still working as a circus painter (drawing fantastic artwork on the outside of circuses). He would bring his little wooden creations around in a traveling road show fashion until it became too big to bring around. It was an amazing little gem of a place, one I wish everyone traveling around the area would go visit.
At Tinker Town just east of Albuquerque you can feast your eyes on thousands of delicately carved wooden sculptures.
After skipping through Albuquerque (needed to rush, despite the fact that the New Mexico state fair was going on) I arrived at around 3:30 at the Meteor Crater outside Winslow. It was just in time to tag along on a tour of the meteor’s rim. It was perhaps most surprising that meteor and asteroid science is still cause for much speculation and many questions still remain unanswered. After the requisite asteroid rock purchases I headed further west towards the Grand Canyon. Since I planned to stay overnight in my car I stopped by a Pilot Travel Center to take a shower, a la trucker. For $10 you get (I think) as much time as you need to take a shower and the facilities were really clean. There were even fresh towels to use, though I stuck with my own.
The Meteor Crater just outside of Winslow, Arizona.
By the time I had driven the long road towards Grand Canyon (north of Flagstaff - I was also going 50 miles an hour because I was scared of hitting deer) it was around 9:00pm and the signs at the gate said “this station is closed. Please continue through and enjoy your trip to the Grand Canyon”. So I ended up not having to pay the entry fee (redeemed partially by the purchase of souvenirs) and also managed to find a spot near the lodges to park and hunker down for the night. I was a bit afraid of being woken up at 3 in the morning by flashing lights and a knock on the door, but the only thing jarring me from my sleep (besides the cold) was the stupid 5:00am alarm I had set at Tucumcari two nights prior.
Sept 11, departed 11:00am, arrived Barstow, CA 9:30pm mileage 131454
Waking up at around 6am, I drove the car around somewhat groggily until I arrived at a decent parking spot. I headed up the Rim Trail and was pleasantly surprised that it was perhaps only about 10 minutes walking before I got to the edge. No amount of anticipation and preparation could have been sufficient for the sheer amazing view, and my attempts to describe them here will be absolutely unimpressive. While walking towards Maricopa Point and the Bright Angel trail I saw a bunch of elk and squirrels, who were decidedly unafraid to eat nuts and leaves with people so close by. I descended perhaps about a mile into the canyon using the trail, somewhat apprehensive after reading a warning about the death of Margaret Bradley, a Boston marathon runner who died of heat exposure and exhaustion in the canyon in 2004. There was no denying that walking uphill was significantly more tiresome than going down. There were plenty of people coming up the trail who had spent the evening at the bottom, near the river, and not all of them looked particularly happy.
After the requisite postcard and souvenir purchase I decided it might be good to start driving westward again, but I didn’t feel much motivation since there weren’t places along the way that I felt I needed to stop and visit like the previous days. I did end up taking a slight detour on a whim (convincing myself that I would probably not be able to do such trips again in the very near future) to the London Bridge spanning Lake Havasu City. A distinct flavor of London on the border between Arizona and California was pretty stark to say the least.
London Bridge, near Lake Havasu City. It was constructed after the dismantling of the original in London, and apparently uses some original pieces.
With a little celebratory dance within the car (all alone, sadly, with 200 miles of Mojave desert in front of me) I crossed the border into California. The first welcome was a California Department of Food and Agriculture stop where they asked me whether or not I had any fruits or vegetables or pets. With nothing to declare I stepped on the gas and landed in Barstow, CA, completely tired and ready to hunker down for the night at a Flying J gas station. I did manage to survive the sticker shock of seeing the first gas station in California sporting an unleaded gas price of $3.59 per gallon. I resolved then and there that my car, unfortunately, would have to be sold, as I could hardly justify paying so much.
Sept 12, departed 5:30am, arrived Mountain View, CA 3:12pm mileage 131834
Waking up after a somewhat fitful night in the car, I turned the key only to hear a rather raspy, choking sound but no engine running. My heart leaped up and out of my throat and I anxiously turned the key some more to no avail. Cursing in such a way that a pirate would be embarrassed I simultaneously voiced my thanks to Elizabeth, who had equipped me with her old car’s jumper kit, which also has other nice doohickey like a tire pump and flood light. Rummaging like a madman through the back of the car I managed to take it out (no one around to say: calm down, so I was free to be panicky) and connect it. The engine hesitated but wouldn’t turn, and with the warning on the jumper manual not to turn the key for more than 5 seconds (lest I flood the engine) I was absolutely and undeniably nervous. Flying J didn’t have any loaner jumper kits but I managed to ask a passerby to use their car to start mine (all the while not knowing whether or not the battery was the problem). Again, Elizabeth had provided me with cables, so with the two cars connected, my car hesitated, smarted, then decided, rather reluctantly, that it could make the last leg of the trip. I was incredibly grateful for the passersby and also extremely unwilling to shut the car off, though I convinced myself that it would be okay. I had gone 3000 miles without any problems, and here I was at the last stretch.
What I later concluded was that I had left the blinker orange lights turned on throughout the night - the car keeps them on in the “evening but not headlight” mode. By this point on the trip I had developed a rather emotional attachment to the car (given that I was (a) underinsured - no collision, towing or glass coverage (b) quite possibly without AAA) so I gave the hood a gently pat cooing of “good job, Granny Mobile”. I decided that my detour to Sequoia National Park would be best postponed, so that I would have some time to enjoy it in the future without being worried about breakdowns or accidents. Besides, it was around Barstow that I had felt it was high time to be out of the car. I managed to take another final detour after spotting a wonderful Union Pacific train rumbling near the town of Mojave.
I’m not sure of the massive train stopped because it saw an Asian guy standing at the side of the road holding a camera, but it made for a wonderful photo shoot opportunity incredibly close to the tracks. The rest of the road, through Bakersfield and north on Route 5, was rather uneventful, though my opinion of California highways dipped further the more north I went. I missed the smooth, even and black paving of Massachusetts highways, the ones that would make you feel like your car glided on oil. In California, I could hear my car’s struts saying ouch every time it hit a bump. As though the car was saying “I’m tired and ouch I hate cracked roads ouch” type of feeling.
And at 3:12 in the afternoon, after 3581 miles and 10 days, after 17 gas fill-ups, 2 couch surfing nights and 2 nights in a car, I was in Mountain View, California.