The open road, an endless playlist, salty snacks and a few friends–what more do you need for a road trip across America? With my V.W. packed and ready to go, George (aka Dad), Tallie (the terrier) and I hopped in the car in Santa Cruz, California. Our itinerary? Cross the southwestern United States in five days, and end in Asheville, North Carolina. We planned to cross deserts, mountains and rivers on the 2,560 mile trip and hopefully have the experience of a lifetime.
Through southern California, Arizona and New Mexico we traveled the first two days. Roads straight and narrow were framed with saguaro cacti and tumbleweeds. Indian casinos beckoned with their flashing neon billboards, while tepee shaped souvenir shops boasted goodies like mood rings and feathered headbands. A lonely, romantic feel permeates this section of America, as we passed ghost towns deserted since the mining heydays of the late 20th century.
Midway, we’d talked for hours, exhausted every CD and audiobook, but the road lay wide and welcoming in front of us, and the trip must go on. (Even bucket list items can sometimes grow tedious!) Texas seems endless by road trip standards, with two out of five days spent traversing this massive state. It wasn’t till the Texas Oklahoma border that trouble hit…literally.
A tornado warning blasted into effect, immediately followed by walnut sized balls of hail. Being California natives and unsure of what to do in an extreme weather emergency, we pulled into the nearest parking lot, McDonald’s of course, and waited for it to pass. Dark clouds roiled and I was certain the windshield would be cracked by the time the storm petered out. But, no tornado touched down that day, and Tallie for one was extremely happy to celebrate with a Big Mac.
Through Arkansas and beyond, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River, its long and varied history escaping none of us except maybe Tallie, whose favorite road trip activity was chewing on a squeaky pink hippo. Tiny slices of quirk and Americana popped out at every bend, cafes claiming the “World’s Best Pie,” followed by the ubiquitous roadside dinosaurs and diners.
The Blue Ridge Mountains lured us in with leaves of orange and gold, and we spent the last hundred miles on the gorgeous stretch of highway that is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Each autumn, thousands of “leaf peepers” make the trek to this area of the country to view the fiery foliage and melt away stress in the hot springs that bubble in the hills of western North Carolina.
Weary and road sore, we pulled into the driveway at our destination, ready for some R&R–a glass of wine for George and me, and a frantic sprint around the yard for our four legged friend. And after over 2,500 miles of singing, noshing on fast food, a few near doggie escapes and watching the landscape of America pass us by, trust me…we deserved it.
Leslie Patrick is a perpetual nomad and freelance writer focusing on travel and culture. Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Hemispheres, Monocle and Salon. Leslie has lived and worked in North America, South America and Asia, and her adventures span nearly 40 countries. Where in the world is Leslie now? Find out on her travel blog, The Chic Adventurer.