In March of 2014, my friend Diane and I embarked on a cross-country road trip to Las Vegas. Alan would meet us in Vegas and spend a few days with us, before he flew home and we drove back.
Here's a whistle-stop tour of where we went... (hat tip to Foursquare for the list)
We left Austin early in the morning on Sunday and headed out northwest. Through Fredericksburg, take the right fork onto roads in Uncharted Territory, further than I've ever driven that way. An hour later we were in Brady, where we stopped for a quick picture of the pretty town square:
Another hour took us to San Angelo, where we stopped for lunch at Bo Bo Kitchen, a diner.
Here's where things got interesting. The temperature had dropped like a stone, and we found ourselves driving through a freak ice storm. The roads were fine - the ground was still warm - but the ice was accumulating on the windscreen faster than it could be fended off with heat. We eventually pulled into a gas station in Sterling City, along with everyone else. They don't sell ice scrapers in Texas, so folks were scraping with whatever they had!
We got the ice off, and as soon as we left the gas station, the air dried up and while it stayed cold, we had no more ice. The terrain had opened up by now into an endless flat landscape, through which we would spend the next three hours traversing. Only an occasional cow or nodding donkey punctuated the landscape, but if the picture below was a video, the view would stay the same...
We had originally thought of driving six or eight hours towards the edge of Texas before stopping for the night. As it turned out, all the towns up there are small working towns, with nothing but ranchers and oilmen. No hotels. I felt OK, so we pressed on towards New Mexico. As we crossed the state line, the terrain was changing; becoming more rolling and with rocky outcrops.
By the time we reached Roswell, I'd been driving for eleven hours. I was pretty fried by this point. We checked into a Best Western, and went next door to an Applebee's for dinner. It was still very cold and windy, we were in need of warmth! And beer.
A pint of this Marble IPA was very welcome. Diane enjoyed a cocktail.
Day 1: 523 miles
The next morning remained cold but wasn't quite as windy. We walked into town where we looked around the UFO museum. The whole town of Roswell is alien-themed; businesses welcome aliens and the local tourist office uses a UFO as their logo.
Model crashed UFO
The museum was kind of interesting; they don't really have a lot of artifacts, it's all text to read on the walls, of various peoples' stories about the Roswell crash and other strange phenomena.
Personally, I thought the best thing about Roswell was just outside the art museum - this statue of Robert Goddard with one of his original rocket test rigs. He was one of the fathers of modern rocketry and was based in Roswell.
We also enjoyed seeing the town hall, surrounded by very lovely white trees. I don't know what they are but the bark was bright white.
We got on the road again and headed for Albuquerque. I'd identified a Giant Red Arrow which looked to be located in a mall; figured it would do as good as anything else for a lunch stop. When we got there, we found the mall was a Whole Foods supermarket - yay! A very nice lunch was enjoyed :-)
Our last stop for the day was another three hours up some very long, straight roads, to the north end of New Mexico and the town of Farmington. We checked into a Comfort Inn and walked into town for about a mile, to have an excellent dinner in Three Rivers Brew Pub.
Day 2: 378 miles
From Farmington, NM we drove west, towards Four Corners, where the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet. It's a total tourist trap but it had to be visited. Diane was horrified to learn the location had actually moved over the years, when they re-surveyed the area and found they were off by a mile or two... As it stands, the official site is where it is and that's where we went!
This is the main area. There are flags of each of the four states, and around the edge are little vendor stalls. These filled up with Native Americans selling souvenirs and jewelry.
In the middle lies this marker point. Diane should have a picture of me with a hand and foot in each state. This is me holding a fisheye-equipped iPhone over the middle! I have a foot in Arizona and New Mexico here, while Diane is standing in Utah.
The roads were still long and straight but we're seeing mountainous bits now:
Next stop was Monument Valley. The previous evening, my friend Steve had messaged me saying he was traveling in the area and we should meet for lunch at Goulding's Lodge, so we headed there. Here's my Jeep parked up at Goulding's, with Monument Valley in the background:
This is as close as we got to the Valley, though. Steve told us the Native Americans wanted money even to reach the visitor center... and anyway, we had places to be. So a proper tour of the valley will have to wait for another day. However we did enjoy a nice lunch with Steve and his son, and Steve gave me a drive of his Tesla, which was fabulous :-)
We continued on into Arizona - our route here saw us crossing back and forth between Arizona and Utah - and headed towards Page, where Horseshoe Bend is located. This is a deep canyon bend in the Colorado River which is very photogenic.
We also paused at the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, since it was pretty spectacular.
Finally, after a few more hours, we made our way to Kanab, UT to spend the night. Kanab turned out to be a very pleasant small town. We got a room in a Best Western - this one was motel-style with the doors on the outside - and some Chinese food at fusion house, a new restaurant. This being Utah, beer was scarce, but jasmine tea cures a lot of ills. We got back into the car and drove to a nearby park, where I tried some star photography. The sky was amazing, you can see the Milky Way really well.
Day 3: 350 miles
We made a leisurely start this morning and walked to the next block, where we found the Little Hollywood Movie Set Museum. This was quite a cool place; they have saved a bunch of sets from various films (mostly Westerns) that were made in the Utah area.
Back in the car, it was an hour or three's drive to Zion National Park. We had vague plans of doing both Zion and Bryce, but the road to Bryce was closed due to roadworks. As it turned out, Zion was plenty enough to keep us busy.
On the way to Zion, we drove through the town of Hurricane, where they have this nice Arch Bridge.
Zion National Park defies description. It's hard even to take a photo that shows the colossal scale of the place. It is approached via the towns of Rockville and Springdale, filled with lodges, restaurants and touristy shops. The Virgin River runs through everything and is the carver of this vast canyon. You could easily lose yourself in this park for a week. We had about three hours. Handily, we could drive ourselves along the tourist road; in the summer months they make you take courtesy shuttle buses. I can see why; the parking lots were chock full of cars as it was, we were lucky to find a space.
We picked out a couple of easy trails to visit, given the time we had. One of them led up a steep path to the Weeping Rock, an overhang with a perpetual slow drip; not really a waterfall but enough to make you feel rained on. Here's the rock as you approach it:
And this is what you see from underneath the overhang:
Back down the hill, if you drive to the very end of the road and park up, you can walk along the canyon. It apparently narrows into a thin slot canyon but we didn't have the time available to walk up that far. It didn't really matter; the surroundings were just beautiful wherever we were in this amazing place.
Another three hours on the road took us to Las Vegas. We had a room booked at the Desert Rose Resort, which is tucked in between the MGM Grand (sort of) and the airport. It doesn't have a casino, but it does have a pool, which we took advantage of during the next few days :-)
First order of business was to acquire beer and dinner. The Almighty Google told us there was a Whole Foods down the street a few miles, so back into the car we got, and headed there. I did like their sign in the vegetarian section.
Last but most importantly, I had to go to the airport, to pick up Alan. He had flown in from a conference in California. I just had time to take a picture of the Cessna in the baggage hall, before he appeared and we both went back for some of that refreshing hop juice...
Day 4: 248 miles
Outward total: 1,499 (oh, just call it 1500) miles!