A few weeks ago I got a text from a friend: “Hey, want to drive across the country with me and my cat?”
Hell yes, I did.
So I booked a flight for January 13, which happened to be a Friday. I mention that because my plane had two flat tires. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that one.
We started in California and drove east, hitting Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia before finishing our journey in Washington, D.C.
It was amazing.
If you’ve never been to Joshua Tree National Park, put it on your list. This place is awesome. Joshua trees look a lot like Dr. Suess’s Truffula trees, so that’s cool. And then there are the gigantic monzogranite boulders that beg to be climbed. Which you can actually do! I didn’t see a single “stay off the rocks” sign, and I took full advantage of that. I didn’t have my climbing gear with me, but I scrambled up anyway.
We did zero research for this trip. We knew we wanted to take the southern route to avoid winter storms in the northern states. We were vaguely aware that there was an ice storm crossing the country, but we weren’t at all clear on where and when. Obviously we survived, because I am home in DC typing this, but if you are planning a cross-country drive, I don’t recommend this method, and that is entirely because of Arizona.
You see, sometimes Arizona looks like this. I expected that.
And sometimes it looks like this, which I did not expect at all.
Shortly after this photo was taken, there was suddenly a lot more snow. I didn’t get a picture of that. Visibility was almost zero.
“Roll down your window and take a picture,” I said.
“No,” she said.
More than any other state I’ve been to (with the exception of California), Arizona is full of contrasts. There are sandy deserts and red rock formations and lush pine forests. One minute we were admiring the cacti in Tonto National Forest, and the next we were driving through the snowy Mogollon Rim. It was crazy.
Both places, by the way, are gorgeous and worth a more in-depth visit. I am definitely planning to go back, although maybe I’ll check the weather first, because that shit was scary.
This picture was taken through the windshield and in no way does it justice. I couldn’t stop staring out the window and shrieking “Holy shit, this place is gorgeous!”–which really freaked out my friend because the road was super curvy and there were cliffs involved.
Me: “I can’t believe this place! They should tell people it’s here.”
Her, reading from phone: “The Tonto National Forest is one of the most visited in the United States.”
New Mexico was so incredible that it was hard for me to believe it was a real place. The rock is so colorful. Even though it was cloudy and overcast–because yes, we hit that damn ice storm–the reds, pinks, and yellows were brilliant.
I can only imagine what this looks like at sunrise or sunset–or even on a clear day.
The storm, oddly enough, did not deter this person from a hot air balloon ride.
We stopped for lunch at a place near Bucket of Blood Road on a reservation.
“Why is it called that?” I asked the waitress, in the half-anxious, half-curious way white people do when we think we’re the answer.
“Bar fights,” she told us. “They were so bad the street was full of blood.”
Not the answer I was expecting, but still exactly what I was afraid of.
There’s really not much to say about Texas, because we only drove through that very top chimney-shaped part. It was an incredible sunrise, probably one of the top five I’ve ever seen. I was happily surprised about the windmills; I hadn’t thought the Texas oil industry would allow that. We didn’t see any cows, which also surprised me.
Not gonna lie, Oklahoma was long and and boring. I took a picture, not because it was worth looking at, but so that I would have a picture from every state. So now you know what Oklahoma looks like. You’re welcome.
Oklahoma was long and boring. Yes, I already said that. It’s monotonous reading the same line again, isn’t it? That’s Oklahoma for you. It’s reading the same line over and over again for all eternity.
But if someone were to ask me to take a road trip to Okema, Oklahoma, I would say yes. This is because of Papa’s BBQ. It is amazing.
We listened to Episode 107 of This American Life while we drove through Oklahoma. It’s about twin sisters who drive along the Trail of Tears, where their ancestors were forced to walk. It was funny and heartwrenching and also depressing as hell. Yay for a new face on the twenty, amiright?
Every place has good people. It’s important to remember this should you ever find yourself driving across Arkansas.
I’ve always like Tennessee. I love the cities here: Nashville of course, but also Memphis and Knoxville. I don’t particularly like blowing up mountain tops for coal and God knows what else, but there are still lots of good views here. We spent most of Tennessee in the dark. We crossed over from Arkansas after the sun went down, and then started driving again super early in the morning. I would have liked to see more of the Smokeys. I’m hoping the fire damage isn’t too bad, but I plan on visiting again in the summer regardless.
I spend a lot of time in Virginia, either hiking, camping, or just visiting friends. Honestly, I thought the six hours we’d have to drive through would be pretty boring, because I’ve seen it all before. But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I was happy to see my mountains again. I spend a lot of time wishing I was west of the Mississippi, where the “real” mountains are, but I guess Dorothy had it right after all: My own backyard isn’t a bad place to be. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing. What she actually said was, “I won’t look any further than my own backyard” but that’s not going to happen. I’m too curious not to look.)
It’s January, so the mountains are chocolate brown. And somehow, even though they top out at 5000 feet, they don’t look that small to me. I can’t wait to get back in them.
And I think maybe that’s half the point of an adventure: Coming home again.