As soon as I came to know that I can take some holidays during the last week of December and combining them alongside Christmas and New Year designated holidays, my mind was swarming with all the different ideas as to where I can go for a trip. I checked on the weather news and considering that I have already done one north - south road trip ( Seattle to San Diego), I decided to do one journey to some point to east of California. I calculated that I had 12 days before I will have to report back to work. I immediately started the process of renting a car. As I was going to rent a car for two weeks, the airport locations were out of questions as they would charge some additional fees as compared to local locations. Avis as usual was a bit on the expensive side even from a non-airport location. Enterprise is cheap, but then they won’t provide you with unlimited miles if one drives outside the states of CA, NV, and AZ. That left Hertz as the next available option considering it is 10 minute drive from my rental apartment. I searched online for some Hertz coupons and was able to stumble upon a good deal. Now, the next question was to whether I need to buy insurance. My credit card does provide me Loss Damage Waiver option which covers any damage to the car. And, I decided to buy liability insurance as this was not 3-4 trip, but 14 days through snow and sand. Luggage was packed one day before the trip was to start. I pack light and just made sure that I have some warm clothes in case of emergency. I went to office, wrapped up the some of the pending work and picked up the car. I always pick up a car which has two 12V charging outlets (One for GPS and the other one for my phone). I came back home, picked up my stuff and started my journey on 20th Dec, Friday at 8:30 PM.
San Diego to Tempe to Alamogordo (Dec 20-21, 2013)
My first stop would be the place where I studied for two years and completed my Masters, Tempe AZ. It was an uneventful ride. It was dark and I just stopped to have dinner and fill up the gas. As expected, I was stopped at a US Border Patrol checkpoint as Interstate 8, runs all along the US-Mexico international border. The Border Patrol officer just asked me whether I was US citizen and I told him no at which point I showed him my passport from Republic of India. He glanced through it and wished me good night. I was able to make it to Tempe at my friends (former roommate) place by 2:30 AM. I was feeling really tired, so I just had a small chat with him and slept. I was planning to wake up my 9 AM, but that time just went out of the door. I woke up close to noon and had a bath and a heavy lunch. I was in a dilemma whether to go to New Mexico today or wait for one day and then proceed. I searched online for the cheapest room available and talked to the person over there at the motel inquiring whether there has been any snow in Alamogordo. He said there has been none and I decided to drive up there. I started at around 2 PM and was able to make it to Alamogordo by 8:30 PM. In between, I witnessed rains in Tucson, AZ and just before entering Alamogordo; a US border patrol officer stopped me and inquired me before wishing me good luck on my journey. It was cold outside and I just had a light dinner at Sonic located nearby. The Motel attendant turned out to a couple from Surat, Gujarat. Had a small chat with them and then went off to bed.
White Sands to Carlsbad to Austin (Dec 22, 2013)
Next day, I woke up at 7:30 AM and by 8:30 AM I was off to White Sands National Monument. Reached there by 9 AM and roamed around. It is very different and small (if you do the entire loop in car) as compared to rest of the parks. I completed one small 2 mile round trip (Dune Life Nature Trail). It has the largest Gypsum Dune Field and that was the one of major ideas behind creating this monument. . After that, I completed the entire loop in car and spent another 30 mins exploring the scenery before making the journey towards Carlsbad. It was 3 hr journey and I was reached there in just a nick of time as I was the last person who was allowed to go for self-guided hike through the caves. Unfortunately, the Bat Flight event happens only during summer. So, I just did Natural Entrance trail leading up to the Big Room. Stunning would be an understatement to describe the caves, especially the big room with all the intricate details of the Stalactites and Stalagmites.
I spent close to 2 hours in the caves before heading to elevator and deciding my next destination. I was confused between Dallas and Austin, but after talking to few folks and looking at my next destination (New Orleans), Austin won it hands down. I called up my friend and informed him that I would be arriving late in the night. So, began the 487 mile journey to Austin. Within 30 minutes, I was into Texas and I was welcomed with a lone windmill standing long in the field and the message on the board: “Don’t mess with Texas”. Then, followed a long (and I mean really long 350 miles on I-10 E) road journey through Texas. Speed limit was 80 mph which is in line with the phrase: “Everything is big in Texas”. After taking exit on US 290 and driving in total darkness and seeing Christmas decorations along the way, I finally reached my friend’s house at 12:30 AM. Chatted with him for a long time before finally going to bed. My friend woke up at 7 AM and went to office leaving behind keys to his house.
Austin to San Antonio (Dec 23, 2013)
I woke up at around 11 AM and got refreshed before going over to my friend’s office in Downtown Austin. I gave him the keys and thanked him for the stay and understanding the plight of over exerted and tired friend. Then, I had to mail some stuff and that gave me good excuse to explore some of the Downtown Austin. Roamed around for 2 hours on 6th Street and the vicinity and had a heavy breakfast. By this time, my car started giving me issues about oil change. So, I decided to get it exchanged before the end of the day at San Antonio. I was in San Antonio River walk by 4:30 PM. I wasted close to 30 mins just finding the cheap parking alongside the street. Then began a very lively evening walk. Surrounded by people all in festive cheer and there was a party cheer all around you. Alamo was fine and most of the eateries located in the area had many items which borrowed their names from soldiers involved in Battle of Alamo. I went to this very nice place Moses Rose’s Hideout in Downtown San Antonio. It had an excellent ambiance and also the fried turned out to be really good.
After spending an hour refreshing myself up with food, I went to San Antonio International Airport to get my car exchanged. I was assigned Buick Regal which tuned out to be better car than Chrysler 200. I started on route towards New Orleans. I was able to make it to Houston by 11 PM before I started feeling sleepy. So I decided to take a nap inside car. I stopped at a rest area on I-10 E near Baytown and slept for 3 hours before I woke up.
Houston to New Orleans (Dec 24, 2013)
I hit the road again at 3 AM and rode towards New Orleans. The early morning drive was fine before I was just about to hit New Orleans; I had a very beautiful view of Mississippi river. In New Orleans, I cheeked couple of Hostels but all of them were booked to full. So, I just booked a room in Motel 6 and took a long nap at around 9 AM. I woke up at 2 PM and freshened up and then I decided to go to French Quarter and Garden District. Normally, when I go to a downtown in a new city where I have an inkling that I might drink, I just take one credit card with me to have a backup option in case I end up losing my wallet. So, that being done I went over to French Quarter and parked my car. I roamed around in French Quarter. It was Christmas Eve and the party mood was on full swing. It had a feeling of a small French town (Since, Louisiana was occupied by French before being bought by USA).
I went to a couple of bars and enjoyed the atmosphere and met many people and talked. At 7 PM I decided to call it a day and went to take my car and here I came to know that the parking facility only accepts cash and I had not enough cash and nor did I had debit card and neither did I had the Pin number of my credit card to withdraw some cash from ATM. So I told the parking guy that I would be back in 10 mins with the required money. He was nice enough to give me back my car and I went to my motel, took the debit card, withdrew the money and came back to give him the required cash. So, I slept around 9 PM as the Dec 25th would be a long driving day.
New Orleans to Asheville, NC (Dec 25, 2013)
I woke up around 7 AM and was driving by 7:45 AM. I crossed into Mississippi and enjoyed the scenery. I went for a small drive alongside US 90 before making the turn to go towards Atlanta, GA via Montgomery. Took a small breakfast at McD and continued on the way. I was able to make it to Atlanta by 3 PM and I decided to go to World of Coca Cola. As it was Christmas Day, it was closed and so, I had to change a bit of my plans and I decided to go towards NC. I contacted one of the Hostels in Asheville and inquired about any dorm beds. They told them that they have plenty of rooms available. I sat in the car again and reached Sweet Peas Hostel, Asheville by 7 PM. Asheville is a beautiful city and the Hostel is located at a very strategic location (in terms of proximity to pubs). But, most of them were closed as it was Christmas. So, I was roaming around in the street when I met a couple who were also looking for a nice place to drink and relax. So, we went to aloft. I had a couple of drinks (as Hostel was within walking distance), chatted with them and had a good dinner before heading back. I reached hostel and met 2 young people and all of us started talking about travel, dance and random topics. I slept around 10 PM after drinking copious amount of water.
Asheville to Smoky Mountains (Dec 26, 2013)
After having breakfast at IHOP, I reached Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC. I wandered around the visitor center and asked the Park ranger for some recommendations. In the end, I decided to go to Clingmans Dome (Tallest peak in Smokiest). The road to the dome was closed. So, it became a 7 mile one way trip. I parked my car near the Road Closed Sign and started my hike. As I had had a heavy breakfast, I carried enough water but hardly any food or snacks. After covering 1 mile on road, I came across the path for hike to Clingmans Dome. It is a very small part (6.2 miles) of the 2000 mile long Appalachian Trail which runs from Georgia to Maine. Some of the parts of hike were covered with snow, but it wasn’t very difficult to navigate. Saw a team of 5 hikers who were also hiking. After 4 miles, I saw that I was walking just besides the road and hence, I started walking along the paved path and I was able to reach Clingmans Dome parking by 4 PM. From there, it an 800 meter steep climb to that top which gives you expansive views of the park.
The Hike was worth the effort, but it was very cold and windy. Soaking in the accomplishment, I made my way to the starting point. I saw some black ice on the road and tried walking on it and realized the dangers of driving on the road having black ice. It is transparent and slippery. One needs to walk on it to realize that. While coming back, my right feet started paining. So, I took some rest before making it to my car in 3 hrs (My foot pain was not subsidizing and I believe that it was because I didn’t carry enough warm footwear as there was a very light bluish tinge to the affected part. It could have been worse had I done a longer hike. So, I drove through Hwy 441 to a rest area in Gatlinburg, TN. I called up the Knoxville Hostel, but the hostel was closed. So I decided to go to Knoxville and search for a motel. After reaching Knoxville, I decided to go to an Indian place to have some home style food. The place, Bombay Palace turned out to be delicious. The owner turned out to be Punjabi and so I told him that I want Chicken and I also want Saag. He said fine and within minutes, I was having food which reminded me of back home. I booked a motel online while eating and proceeded there after I was done. I was very tired and my legs were sore. So, after taking hot bath, I went off to bed for a well-deserved rest.
Smoky Mountains to Nashville (Dec 27, 2013)
My body recovered well during my sleep and I felt fresh and started out towards Cades Coves. The pain in my leg was still there and so I decided to do just one hike today. I reached Cades Coves by 9 AM and started the loop which gives information about the settlers in the area and their way of living. Abrams fall trail was about 1 hr in and it turned out to be nice enough hike. (2.5 mile one way) but make sure to carry enough water.
I was done with the hike in 3 hrs and then, Cades Coves loop was done by 4PM.
I had a sandwich which I brought with myself in the morning. After that, I decided to go to Nashville and explore its downtown. I reached the downtown by 7:30 PM and roamed around a bit. I don’t why most of the shops were closed. So, I decided to catch a movie. I searched for Regal Cinemas (as I had one discounted ticket) and found one 10 mins away. I went to watch “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. It was a delight watching that movie in between my trip. So many things in common. Then, I drove in the night and slept at a rest area inside the car. It was comfortable sleeping in the car, but it used to get cold after very 2 hrs. So I had to wake up and turn on the heat for 10 minutes before going to sleep again.
Nashville to Oklahoma City via Memphis and Little Rock (Dec 28, 2013)
After freshening up at the rest area, I decided to go to Memphis and try one of their BBQ Pork Sandwiches. I reached Payne BBQ and waited for it to open. But it never opened even though I waited 1 hr over there after the official opening time. I had some food at Subway and passed through Little Rock by 2:00 PM. Just did a small sightseeing and after having a small rest, I reached Oklahoma City by 8PM. I had my dinner at a Mediterranean Place as I wanted to have some Lamb Kabab. I wanted to sleep at a motel but decided against it as I didn’t want to spend money for mere 5-6 hrs. So, I started on my way towards Albuquerque via Texas panhandle and it turned out be to a very hard drive. Oklahoma had the longest drivable miles of Historic US-66 route. I just traveled on US 66 business routes to get some food and fuel. Now, driving along I-40 during night turned out to be whole new experinc3 for me. It was bitingly cold 20F outside and the winds were blowing like crazy, so much so that my car was moving sideways along the highway. I tried sleeping at a very huge gas station which had ample parking for cars, RV, trucks. Similar thing repeated from yesterday where it got so cold that I had to turn on heat after every 1 hr. I woke up around 4 AM and started driving, but I was getting tired after every 30 mins of driving. Then, I made one more stop along the rest area and slept for 1 hr before moving again. This continued till 7 AM in the morning and then, I entered New Mexico and took a small rest in the Welcome Center.
Amarillo to Four Corners Monument via Albuquerque (Dec 29, 2013)
I was able to freshen up at New Mexico welcome center and the last nights driving had taken a heavy toll on me. I was considering whether to straight away go to Tempe and meet my friends for the New Year. As I was driving, I suddenly saw a Punjabi eatery (very similar to one seen back home) along the I-40 Hwy.
There was no way I was going to miss that. As soon as I entered, I knew this a real deal as the kitchen was very similar to one back home. I had 2 Parantha with curd and butter. I felt rejuvenated and decided to continue onto trip. I crossed Albuquerque and reached Four Corners Monument at 4 PM.
Monument valley was already closed and after spending an hour at the monument, I made my way to Kaibab. I had some food and decided what to do next. I had three options: Go to Bryce and sleep there, Go to Kanab and sleep there or Sleep in Kaibab itself. The, I told one of my friends to search online for permit to Wave. He told me the lottery takes place at Kanab, UT. So, I went to Kanab and parked my car across Grand Escalante National Staircase Monument at a gas station. The experiences from previous nights repeated itself ( waking up after 2 hrs to turn on the heat), but this time the gas station attendant was exceptionally nice, He gave me few hot cups of coffee and told me to come and have a small nap inside.
Kanab to Monument Valley via Bryce Canyon (Dec 29, 2013)
In the morning, I went for the lottery and found myself competing against 136 souls for 10 on site permits. My number was 21. When the lottery started, I was hoping to get 21, but alas 20 came up the very first time. Then, it was 36 for a party of 5. So, I didn’t get through the lottery and I went to Bryce Canyon. I reached there in 2 hrs and explored it for another 2 hrs (Sunrise Pt, Sunset Pt, Upper Inspiration Pt, Bryce Pt).
Then, it was a mad dash towards Monument Valley. I reached there around 4 PM and was told that I only have 1 hr of daylight. I went upto John Fords Point. Along the path, I passed along Three Sisters. Monument valley during dusk felt like being in Mars.
After that, I called my friends and told them I would be in Tempe by midnight. I reached Tempe by 2 AM after making one small step in Flagstaff.
Tempe to San Diego (Jan 1, 2014)
After celebrating New Year with my friends in Tempe, AZ (I won’t go too much into details), I left for San Diego on Jan 1st. I decided to go to Salton Sea and I contemplated on how much I have changed in past 1 year with all of my travels and new experiences which came with each of my travels.
After having an Apple Pie at Julian, I finally reached my rented apartment at 9 PM and after unpacking and a beer, I went off to bed to start work the following morning. It was all together one of the excellent road trips.
Never Stop Exploring.