Record of my driving across North American continent
From December 26th, 2008 to January 10th, 2009
1. Independent travel continuously requires decision-making
Private travel continuously requires decision-making. It is absolutely different from packaged tour. I strongly had such feeling throughout this trip.
Time and budget was NOT unlimited. Also, winter weather, shortness of daytime in this season, and my 2WD sports car (not 4WD car) were conditions of travel.
Where I would go? What I would see? What I would eat? Where I would stay?
When I made a choice, I believed it was the best choice for me and I acted with confidence. However, I wanted to make as good of a decision as possible. I made a lot of decisions under the criteria that I wanted to see something new and do something un-experienced.
I had a chance of making decision before starting this travel. I had three options as follows:
1) Take a flight to Florida and drive the peninsula by rent-a-car.
2) Drive to New Mexico
3) Drive to San Francisco
It snowed heavily on December 22nd and 23rd around the Southwestern United States. The state of Arizona which is next to California and state of New Mexico had a lot of snow at that time. As I was going to have the travel by myself, I knew I should avoid dangerous routes. I decided to go to Florida, which means I take option 1) once.
Nevertheless, I didn't get excited about the option of going to Florida probably because I had seen a lot of beautiful beaches here in San Diego. And the option of going to San Francisco was not appealing either, because I had been there so many times. I completely don't know the reason, but I hoped to go to New Orleans, Louisiana, in future. If I take option 2), I might drive extended to New Orleans.
Hence, I made the decision to take option 2) though I worried about the weather and road condition in the mountainous areas, such as in Arizona, and in New Mexico. Because I had a dinner with host family and relatives of them on Christmas Day , I started my travel early in the morning on December 26th.
I did not have obvious schedule and did not know when I would come back home. Before leaving my house, I told my host family that "I will be on travel for a week at least, and two weeks at maximum", "I will call you on the way home". After all, I called them from parking of Hoover Dam on 14th day of my trip , so I had them worried about my safety.
Before the trip, I bought a ticket of CES, Consumer Electronics Show, at Las Vegas which was held from January 7th to 11th. Also, class in university would start on January 12th. My trip schedule was limited by those, but I was not going to have such a long travel, when I started from San Diego.
BTW, everybody really takes the day off on Christmas Day in the U.S., so I couldn't buy anything for trip preparation. I noticed that when I visited and knew even Wal-Mart was not operation, who was usually operation 24 hours 7 days. Accordingly, I bought a lot of stuffs at Wal-Mart in Yuma, Arizona on my 1st day , for example, daypack baggage, water and etc.
Not only in Yuma, Wal-Mart helped me a several times through my trip. I was relaxed when I saw Wal-Mart after driving long time through country side because the cities who had Wal-Mart were relatively big one.
2. Three big decision-makings in my trip
I had three big chances to have decision-making for driving route in this trip.
I. Whether I should drive to New Orleans, Louisiana, or not
II. Whether I should drive to Jacksonville, Florida, or not
III. Whether I should drive to Las Vegas, Nevada, or not
I remembered it was the night of 3rd day at Fort Stockton , TX, when I had to face the decision-making of case I. In that day, I visited to White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park where were I set as my first destination. And if I would drive further East to New Orleans, I would have to tolerate driving without much fun because there were no attractive places in 850 miles' drive. Therefore, I had the option I would visit to Big Bend National Park in Texas and would come back same way. In that case, my entire trip would end in a week.
However, I decided to go further east because I drove substantially longer distance than I estimated and when I was surfing on the Internet I found the countdown event on New Year's Eve in New Orleans. Talking about the distance which I drove each day, I estimated 200 to 300 miles per day based on my past experience. Looking back on the trip, I drove 400 to 500 miles each day.
That is because I traveled by myself, I was getting used to life in the U.S. and the performance of GPS navigation. Of course, cruise control system equipped in my car was sufficient to use. Incidentally, the price of GPS product in the U.S is usually 100 to 200 dollars. It is mobile type because antenna is built-in. So it was really useful when I walked around New Orleans. I am wondering maybe the reason it is not popular in Japan is complexity of traffic.
I didn't think about case II at all until I arrived at New Orleans. I was going to go back home after having fun at New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in New Orleans. Suddenly, the idea came to me. "I wonder, if by any chance, I can drive across North American Continent," I considered about the idea during stay at New Orleans on New Year's Day. By the time I was wondering if I would have another opportunity like this, my mind was already made up.
Another factor for the decision-making was weather in South West of the U.S. Weather forecast said that they would have snow on January 3rd to 5th in north part of Arizona, New Mexico. If I drove toward west from New Orleans on January 2nd, I might be stopped driving by snowy packed road. Taking those forecast into consideration, I took my route east. I had 2 more days until going back west.
Flagstaff, AZ, had 5.5 inch snow on January 4th and they still had snow on January 7th when I arrived there. As a result, my choice to go to east from New Orleans was not so bad.
It was the night of my 12th day in Albuquerque, NM , that I thought about case III. Driving from Tucumcari to Albuquerque via Santa Fe and Los Alamos was really amazing on that day. And I had many national parks where I didn't visit to in New Mexico, Arizona such as El Malpais, Walnut Canyon, etc. I wanted to have enough time in Sedona, AZ and to take the tram in Albuquerque which is the longest in the World.
In case III, if I gave up going to Las Vegas, I can use the time for other places instead. In that option, I would go back home in San Diego by January 11th. I compared those options and made decision of going to Las Vegas as I planned before. At this time, the criterion was "safety". This also affected to my decision: "Don't overeat" Consequently, this was good choice because I was safely back home without big trouble through this travel. In the last stage of trip, people tend to unknowingly make mistakes caused by fatigue.
In addition to above things, there were uncountable decision-makings. For instance, I decided to give up driving to Spider Rock which was centerpiece of Canyon de Chelly National Park because of snow packed road. The road was not closed, but my car was skidding a few times before reaching there. In state of Oklahoma, I decided on an impulse to drop by Quartz Mountain State Park. It was also a chance of decision-making whether I should stay in a motel where I cannot use Internet.
3. Sources of Information and process of decision-making
I considered process of decision-making as gathering information, listing up ideas, comparing ideas, preparation of backup plan and so on. Especially, gathering information was the most important process.
We have various kinds of sources of information, and you know, Internet is most useful tool. We can instantly get information of weather, road condition, motels and places to go, and they are really valuable.
But, all motels don't provide Internet connection to visitors. I couldn't connect to the Internet because of "machine down" at three motels at least, though I basically chose motels who has WiFi facilities. And even when I succeeded to connect to the Internet, it disconnected soon because the signal was unstable. Signal was weak in my room, so I moved to reception and used laptop sometimes.
I remembered I spent hard time at the motel Rodeway Inn in Albuquerque where I could not reach the Internet although next day was the most important day because I scheduled to go into State of Arizona who had much snow. Fortunately, the Internet provider had call center who was 24 hours operation, so I called them and change settings of my laptop, at last I managed to get the connection. It was a bitter memory...
All states had visitor center and they were useful indeed, so I dropped by them without fail. I got road map of the state for free and heard the places to go and road condition from them. I also got those kinds of information from motels, cafes, gas stations and so on.
I often visited website called "Swan no Yume"
(only in Japanese) which had the places to go and recommended driving route. As far as I know, the website has the most and useful information on driving in the U.S. There were websites which was abroad. But, in my opinion, there were a little bit differences between recommended by foreigner like American and by Japanese. One of popular leisure for American is driving by RV towing auto to national park or RV park and they enjoy trail and so on.
Of course, TV program like Weather Channel and calling 511 or national parks were important sources of information. I have a story I felt very lucky during stay in Tucumcari. Weather channel often have a documentary program called like "Weather changed history" and on that day they were about atomic bomb dropped to Nagasaki, Japan in World War II. The U.S military changed their target from Kokura to Nagasaki because of the bad weather in Nagasaki.
In the story, they told that Los Alamos National Laboratory developed those nuclear weapons like atomic bomb and performed experiments. Trinity site was where they performed the test of atomic bomb in desert of Arizona, I heard from the TV. I looked into the place of Los Alamos and found it was near Santa Fe. I checked on the Internet about them and decided to visit the museum of them next day.
Unless I turned on the TV, I probably would not have gone to Los Alamos. So it was a fortunate coincidence. Los Alamos is really good place to go because I had nice driving with nice scenery on the road there. The museum was worth visiting because their theatre and replication of bombs were good. I recommend you to visit there.
Also, I frequently took free papers at gas stations and visitor centers which contained coupons of discounted motels. In addition that, I used search by GPS and called to motels. "Motel 6" was the motel I stayed most this time. Most of them were cheap and had WiFi at every city.
Trying to get good motel after sunset wore out my strength, so I avoided it. In this trip, I decided the motel, which I stay in the night, for first visited motel. I drove to second motel only twice because I was not satisfied with the first motel.
4. Joy of travel
I am often asked about most favorite place, however this is one of the most difficult questions. One reason is that I can say this was good trip not only because I visited amazing places and had good experiences, but also because I had other things like driving long time, taking fast food, some troubles, and disappointing places.
Another reason is that there are beautiful things you cannot understand without being there actually. I cannot tell you by tons of words, pictures and movies about those beautiful things. For example, in Big Bend National Park, TX, I drove and approached to mountains which were seen away over ten miles and finally I drove into them. In the area around Santa Fe and Los Alamos, I drove on freeway which was in about 6000 feet elevation , and when I took off the car and walk the town, I felt really chilly. Those continuous events I felt by my five senses cannot simply be told to you. I can only recommend some places to go, but I am not sure if you get excited same as me.
I divided the U.S into West side and East side. Texas is between them. Overall, I enjoyed big natures in West side, and histories in East side. There are Rockies in West side. Around Texas, they are called "Rockies extension". Including them, I enjoyed driving, visiting national parks and having trails.
I originally didn't have interest in history, but I had it about the Alamo in Texas War, history of space flight by Johnson Space Center , French quarter and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that flooded 80% of New Orleans land in 2005, and Kennedy Museum.
Los Alamos was in West side, but here is good place to have me interested in history of World War II. I still don't like study of history, so I want to see movies related those things. In order to know the United States well, natures and histories are essential.
5. About driving
1) I was so tired to drive from Del Rio to Houston via San Antonio, TX.
(US-90 and I-10)
There were a lot of cars and very long about 350 miles. Most of them were only two lanes for each direction, so the traffic tended to be slow caused by slow car. It was just connection freeway between city and city, and scenery is not like city, nor like nature in countryside. No features.
2) In the night of 4th day , there was no gas station about 120 miles' drive between Sanderson and Del Rio. It was no problem by calculation, but I felt anxious in my mind. There were no lights except headlight of my car. Such situation enhanced my anxiousness. And I had a regret that I drove there after sunset because I probably had nice scenery if I drove in daytime. I should rush in order to be in time for New Orleans' count down two days later.
3) I was really careful not to get a speeding ticket, so I didn't. I always drove over 10 MPH than limitation and I braked to slow down when I saw the lights of police car. I saw cars that were caught by police a few times or more each day, and it made me careful.
4) When I drove from Panama City Beach to Pensacola, FL, and tried to change lane to another, the following car didn't make any space for me. And when we stopped next signal, she came out off her car and roaring at me. I saw her tattoo on substantially muscular arms and thought her as bad woman of Florida. When I locked doors and absolutely ignore her, she started to call somewhere. She might call to police. I don't want to be in such trouble, I made U-turn at next signal and changed my route. It was bad because there was small peninsula and no other road except returning many miles. As a result, I drove 30 or 40 more miles and went north to take I-10. I couldn't see the city of Pensacola in Florida. This "Bad Woman in Florida" was only trouble in this trip.
- 1st day: Great numbers of cacti (Saguaro) in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park
- 2nd day: Amazing night view in El Paso
- 6th and 7th day: Nice atmosphere in New Orleans
- 14th day: Red rocks and climbing them in Sedona
Total driving mileage: 6,767 miles (about 10,888km)
Average driving mileage: 467 miles/day (about 751km/day)
*I calculated it except a half day of 7th day and whole day of 15th day when I didn't use a car.
Number of states I drove this time: 10 states (CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, FL, OK, NV)
In the U.S. there are "National parks" and "National monuments". For example, Big Bend (http://www.nps.gov/bibe/ ) and Carlsbad Caverns (http://www.nps.gov/cave/ ) are "National parks". White Sands (http://www.nps.gov/whsa/ ) and Organ Pipe Cactus (http://www.nps.gov/orpi/ ) are "National monuments". The reason is as follows by WikiAnswers:
"There are a combination of reasons, but first and foremost in the United States is the legal way in which a national park and a national monument are established. National Parks are established through acts of Congress while National Monuments can be established by the President at his discretion.
Parks, in general, are natural areas and wildlife preserves. Monuments may also be natural features, but are often cultural or historic places."
By the way, there are 20 places of World Heritage in the U.S. such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite and I visited one of them, Carlsbad Caverns, this time.
7. Table of Contents
1st day San Diego to Tucson, AZ
1. Yuma, AZ
2. Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, AZ
2nd day Tucson to El Paso, TX
1. Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ
2. Tombstone, AZ
3. Chiricahua National Monument, AZ
4. El Paso, TX
3rd Day El Paso to Fort Stockton, TX
1. White Sands National Monument, NM
2. Alamogordo, NM
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
4th Day Fort Stockton to Del Rio, TX
1. Big Bend National Park (Texas)
2. US90 east Sanderson to Del Rio
5th Day Del Rio to Houston, TX
1. Amistad Dam, TX
2. San Antonio, TX
3. Johnson Space Center (NASA) in Houston
6th Day to New Orleans, LA
1. Johnson Space Center (NASA) in Houston, Texas
2. New Year's Eve in New Orleans!
7th Day New Orleans, LA
1. Walked around downtown, mainly French Quarter
2. Drove to swamp area
8th Day to Jacksonville, FL
1. Driving long time to Atlantic Ocean
2. Reached the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine
9th Day to Jackson, MS
1. Jacksonville, FL
2. Panama City, FL
3. Panama City Beach, FL
4. USS Battleship Alabama memorial park
10th Day Jackson to Dallas,TX
1. Vicksburg, MS
2. Dallas, TX
11th Day to Tucumcari, NM
1. Fort Worth, TX
2. Historic Route 66 in Oklahoma
3. Historic Route 66 in Texas
4. Historic Route 66 in New Mexico
12th Day to Albuquerque, NM
1. Go to Santa Fe, NM
2. Driving to Los Alamos, NM
3. Albuquerque, NM
13th Day to Flagstaff, AZ
1. Canyon De Chelly National Park (Arizona)
2. Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
3. Santa Fe Railways
4. Meteor Crater (Arizona)
14th Day to Las Vegas, NV
1. Flagstaff, AZ
2. Sedona, AZ
3. Kingman, AZ (on 15th day article)
4. Hoover Dam, AZ and NV (on 15th day article)
5. Las Vegas, NV (on 15th day article)
15th Day International CES@LV
2. Exhibitor's booths
3. In-vehicle technology
16th - Final Day to San Diego
1. Mojave National Preserve, CA
2. Joshua Tree National Park
3. To San Diego County
Thanks to my friend Alex for helping translation Japanese to English.
I am considering to drive north along Rockies and run north-south through the United States as a next travel plan in the season when there are no snow! Is it just a dream or dream comes true???
"Complementary short road trip " is here.