Southwest Road Trip

For the most part, I haven't missed driving since moving to Japan. It's just a lot easier to hop on a train and go to one part of town to run some errands instead of having to get in a car and drive across town or even just down the street. Despite this dislike of driving, I miss road trips horribly and the feeling of driving down those open roads America is so well known for. And while I know other countries do those long haul road trips, there's something distinctly American to me about loading up a car with loved ones and waking up in the pre-dawn hours to head somewhere unknown many, many miles away. 

There might be a million and one sample itineraries out there for Southwestern road trips, but I thought I'd share what we eventually settled on seeing. There were so many places we wanted to drive to, but we only had so much time for this trip. 

  • 12/26- Tulsa to Phoenix
  • 12/27- Phoenix to LA. Spend day sightseeing in LA. (We ended up at Salvation Mountain because of the bad weekend weather forecast) 
  • 12/28- Spend the day with an old friend at Getty Villa and Venice Beach. Drive to Joshua Tree that night. 
  • 12/29- Camp at Joshua Tree. 
  • 12/30- Salvation Mountain. (We ended up spending the morning in Joshua Tree and drove back to Phoenix after lunch) 
  • 12/31- Phoenix Botanical Garden with friends. 
  • 01/01- Tucson and the Saguaro National Park with friends. 
  • 01/02- Phoenix to Page, AZ. Stop off at Coal Mine Canyon near Tuba City. 
  • 01/03- Page to Monument Valley
  • 01/04- Monument Valley to Tulsa. Stop off in Albuquerque for lunch. Stop off at Cadillac Ranch if there's enough light. 

We left Tulsa before 6 a.m. We stopped off for the requisite McDonald's roadside breakfast and it gave me such bad heartburn I didn't eat fast food again for the rest of the trip. Driving through our home state was uneventful, but pleasant enough. I give Oklahoma a lot of crap, but it does have some wonderful skies and those plains seem to stretch on for eternity. Growing up, sometimes it felt like they did. Those plains would go on for miles and miles and I would never find my way out. They simultaneously remind me of home and of intense claustrophobia. 

The road was long, but easy. The closer we got to Texas the more rocky the terrain became and the drivers got a little faster. When the road changed to New Mexico's faded sage greens and sandy browns we were positively giddy at seeing those desert scenes glide by. 

The Land of Enchantments's more muted landscape exploded into Arizona's red rocks and dramatic plateaus. The light faded and cast long shadows on the red desert and we were left wondering out loud if we could be desert people. We tried to pop into the Petrified Forest, but we missed open hours by 15 minutes. We stepped outside the car and soaked in all those soft pinks and purples slowly painting the sky. The desert is a mystical place at sunset. 

Our only trouble on this first day of driving was on I-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Flagstaff was covered in the most beautiful snow. This snow meant that all those desert dwellers heading south back home had no idea how to drive and traffic slowed to a crawl. Then traffic came to a complete stop because there was a shooting on the interstate down in Phoenix. Welcome to America, where people shoot each other in moving cars on the highway.

Our last stop before we got to our friends' house was Filiberto's, Phoenix's best worst Mexican food. It'll settle in your stomach like lead, but it's so so delicious. This isn't Taco Bell, but you aren't going there to get gourmet food, like you don't go to Burger King to get a Michelin star burger. 

While none of the road trip advice I'm about to give is revolutionary, it doesn't hurt to put it on the interweb one more time. 

  • Buy food for the road. We stocked up at Trader Joe's for road snacks. We deconstructed a rotisserie chicken and made chicken, hummus, and cheese sandwiches. We had crackers and baby carrots for the hummus and cheese slices. The chocolate covered raisins from Joe's were perfect for portable snacking. And when we got tired we had bottled water from Sam's that we put Zipfizz  in to keep us pepped up for the long trip. My mom works for Zipfizz and she has all of us addicted to it. We didn't buy anything to eat or drink on that first day except for breakfast. This saved us a lot of time and some money. 
  • Screenshot all your directions. Our AT&T cellphone service in Arizona was garbage and we would have been lost a few times if I hadn't taken screenshots of all our google maps directions. 
  • Really make it a priority to organize your car and keep it organized. It was tempting just to throw things in the back when I got finished with them, but we stayed a bit more sane by always putting stuff back where it belonged. 
  • Podcasts saved our sanity on this trip. We binged Welcome to Night Vale (because it's in the desert), Oh No Ross and Carrie's Scientology series, and You Must Remember This podcast's series on the Manson murders.