What I Did on my Summer Road Trip Vacation
I’ve been in the automotive industry for more than 25 years and have driven many cars at media events all across the country. From my Los Angeles home base, I’ve driven through much of California, and into Nevada and Arizona, but I’ve never actually taken a cross-country road trip in my own car. After some ribbing from a friend, who in those same 25 years has driven throughout most of the US, we decided it was time for me to undertake my first substantial multi-state driving adventure.
A window became available when my ex-husband took our children on their own vacation, giving me 10 whole childless days to hit the road. Maps were consulted, routes were considered, and a trip was loosely planned.
We left on a Friday and drove 1350 miles to Oklahoma City in two days, overnighting in Gallup, New Mexico, the approximate halfway point. We spent some time in Albuquerque on Saturday and didn’t arrive in Oklahoma City until very late that night. After nearly a week in Oklahoma, we started back on the following Friday, allowing three days to drive mostly scenic two-lane highways, visiting Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, meandering through the desolate and dramatic landscape of the Four Corners region, and visiting the Grand Canyon. We arrived back at my home in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. All-in-all, we drove more than 3400 miles over those 10 days. (Note, you can click on any of these photos to open an enlargement.)
Though the first two days were about crossing a great distance in a short amount of time, the vast desert landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico served up some memorable images, even along the Interstate. The first day it was dozens of rainbows. The second day it was vivid lightning strikes from nearby storm clouds. Here are a couple of rainbows we saw outside of Flagstaff. Look closely: one of them is a double rainbow (OMG! a double rainbow, all the way across the sky! Be sure to watch this video at YouTube in case you don't get that wacky reference). [Photo 1]
While in Oklahoma, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where I obsessively counted the memorial spaces and empty chairs representing each of the 168 people killed when Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, in one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil. [Photo 2 and 2a]
We visited many small towns during our travels. Ever hear of the infamous "Wewoka Switch"? We went there (but we didn’t go missing). In one Oklahoma town we ate burgers and drank milkshakes at a drive-in before cruising out to the local lake. In another we drove deserted brick streets where stop signs in the middle of intersections have never been replaced by stoplights. When I was young, I spent my summers visiting family in Gardnerville and Carson City, Nevada. These Oklahoma towns were even smaller. Seriously. [Photo 3]
We also visited Guthrie, Oklahoma. Guthrie is significant because it was the original capital of Oklahoma Territory after the Land Run of 1889, the first state capital of Oklahoma, and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark for its outstanding collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century commercial architecture. While we were there we took a cool, private tour of the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple, one of the largest Masonic temples in the world. I'd share my own photos, but the ones at AtlasObscura.com are much better.
Starting back toward California, of course I had to make a cargrrl's pilgrimage to the famous Cadillac Ranch. The funky automotive art installation has been visited by countless graffiti artists since the 10 Cadillacs were originally planted in a field outside of Amarillo, Texas in 1974. [Photo 4]
This time, in New Mexico, we left the Interstate and headed north toward Santa Fe. We were rewarded at night, when we pulled off a deserted highway to gaze at a star-filled sky and watch the moon rise. As a city girl living in the brightly illuminated Los Angeles area, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dark sky filled with so many sparkling stars.
In one day, we walked around the historic Plazas in both Santa Fe and Taos, as we had done in Old Town Albuquerque a week before. In Santa Fe, we browsed the Native American marketplace on the porch of the Palace of The Governors, which has been in continuous use since being built in 1610. In Taos, who would have thought we would have stumbled into an outdoor classic car show? [Photo 5]
Also known as the "Gorge Bridge," the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is a historic steel bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles northwest of Taos, New Mexico. At 565 feet above the Rio Grande, it is the seventh highest bridge in the United States and 82nd highest bridge in the world. In 1956, it was awarded the "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge" in the "Long Span" category by the American Institute of Steel Construction; when we visited, we were awarded another gorgeous rainbow. [Photo 6 and 6a]
All over New Mexico, we kept seeing these road signs warning us to watch out for cows in the road, except that many of them had been altered with alien spacecraft stickers. We finally stopped to take a picture of one, and ironically, it was the last alien-cow abduction sign we saw. We never did see a cow in the road, or an alien spacecraft. [Photo 7]
My friend and I like to explore cemeteries, and we stopped at lots of them. That's my thing, checking out all the old headstones, imagining their stories, trying to find the oldest ones, and looking for typos. Sometimes I do find headstones with typos, believe it or not.
One of my favorite headstones was this one in an Oklahoma cemetery, hand-carved from soft stone because the family was probably too poor to buy one during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression years [Photo 8]. I saw others from that period, comprised of children’s marbles and small toys pressed into concrete. We also visited a colorful Indian cemetery outside of Taos. [Photo 8a]
We also like historic churches. On the way out to Oklahoma, we stopped at San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, built 1793, before eating some proper Mexican food and getting back on the Interstate. [Photo 9]
We considered crashing a wedding about to start at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, a church site dating to 1626 [Photo 9a], but chose to eat pastries and drink lattes in a cute little French bistro across the street instead. This sculpture of the dancing St. Francis outside the Basilica made me very happy. [Photo 9b]
While in Santa Fe, we also visited The Loretto Chapel, built in 1878, and its mysterious staircase. While two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the chapel -- the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction -- Snopes says it's not really quite as mysterious as the hype indicates.
We also stopped at the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos, built between 1772 and 1815. The National Historic Landmark is the subject of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, as well as photographs by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand. O’Keeffe described it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards.” The Taos Chamber of Commerce states that the adobe structure is "one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world." [Photo 9c]
I don't know what the hell this thing is, but it got smashed into the grill of my car while we were driving in New Mexico. The nasty thing was literally the size of my hand. I had to take a picture of it; it could have been one of Daenerys Targaryn’s dragons. [Photo 10]
According to television lore, this is where "they" parked the Airwolf. Truth is, it’s actually the giant Shiprock landmark, which guided both Native Americans and later explorers across the Southwest. We got to see the ancient volcano from two different angles, because we made a wrong turn after a gas stop. Oops. [Photo 11]
Even though we went to the Grand Canyon on the way home, we didn't actually see much of it because there was rain and it was full of clouds. We like to think we were lucky to have such a surreal and unusual experience. While there are thousands of photos documenting the canyon’s beauty, what we saw was also dramatic. [Photo 12]
I had downloaded a variety of apps for my smartphone to help us find hotels along the way, but they weren’t especially helpful when we were seeking low-cost accommodations late at night. Because Priceline is an auction-based travel app, it didn’t always show accurate pricing and availability when searching for a nearby hotel at midnight. As blurry-eyed road trippers on a tight budget, we found the Trivago app to be the most helpful.
My friend brought a very capable GPS receiver to track our drive each day. This is the screenshot we took in my garage when we got back at the end of our last day around 3:30 am Monday morning. It shows we traveled 813 miles that day, were driving for 13 hours and stopped for 5, and hit a max speed of 110 mph. Yep: My little Ford Fiesta went a documented 110mph. (It didn't like it very much, though.) [Photo 13]
Along the way, the car’s trip computer showed we averaged about 37 miles per gallon with some legs as high as 44 mpg, and my friend took the title as most fuel-efficient driver for every leg driven.
There’s only one question left to answer: Where will I go on my next road trip adventure?