The Great American Road Trip

For Week 24 of my 52-week journey, I took the great American road trip with my best friend. She was traveling from Boston to Phoenix, and when she got to Knoxville I hopped in the car and went with her the rest of the way. We drove almost 2000 miles, and through 6 states, with a few stops along the way.

Road Trip Map View

Memphis, TN
Our first major stop was in Memphis. You can’t visit Memphis without seeing Graceland. Well, I guess you can beacuse this was my fourth time in Memphis and I’d never visited Graceland before. We didn’t have time for a tour because we had to hit the road early, but we were able to see the meditation garden and Elvis’s grave before the rest of the estate opened.

Graceland
We had the entire place to ourselves. I guess there aren’t a lot of Elvis fans up at 8:00 AM.

Elvis's Grave
After Graceland, we made a quick detour to go visit Sun Studio. Sun Studio was run by Sam Phillips and is considered to be the birthplace of rock ‘n roll. Greats like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Howlin’ Wolf recorded there in the 1950s. Again, we were too early to talk an actual tour, so visiting the outside had to suffice for this trip.

Sun Studio
If you look carefully, you can see a sign below the giant guitar that says, “Do not stand in street.” When I saw that my first thought was “what idiot would stand in the middle of the street?” A few minutes later I look over to see my friend standing in the road taking pictures during rush hour traffic.

Little Rock, AR
As we headed West from Memphis we discussed what our next stop would be. The only place we could think of before Oklahoma City was Little Rock. We tired to figure out what there was actually to do in Arkansas. The only thing that occurred to us was the Clinton Library.

Clinton Library

As we pulled into the parking lot my friend asked whether parking was free. I replied, “of course it’s free. He’s a Democrat!” Just a little humor there, kids.

Oval Office

We got there just as a tour was starting so we decided to hop on and join. The library was very interesting. It featured full-scale replicas of the oval office and cabinet room, thousands of historical documents, policy alcoves featuring various administration initiatives, a timeline of his years in office, and gifts to the Clintons during their time in the White House. I hope I can visit more presidential libraries in my future travels.

Okemah, OK
Our first roadside stop was in Okemah, Oklahoma, home of Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie Statue

Woody Guthrie was an American folk singer who sang “This Land is Your Land,” a song I refused to listen to in the car out of fear it would get stuck in my head and never leave. Even as I type this I am trying not to think about it.

Woody Guthrie Mural
There was also a mural honoring him and three nearby water towers that said “hot,” “cold,” and “home of Woody Guthrie.”

Oklahoma City, OK
We spent the night in Oklahoma City and got up early the next day to visit downtown and the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and Museum. Oklahoma City is absolutely beautiful. I wish I had more time to explore.

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial Panorama

The Clinton Library tour guide recommended that we visit the museum and told us how well it was put together. He was right. The museum walked you through the minutes leading up to the bombing to the terrible aftermath.

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

Outside the formal memorial, the public has created their own wall to remember those who lost their lives in the bombing. The fence lining the grounds is covered with mementos left from people all over the world.

While this wasn’t exactly a feel-good tour stop, I am glad we did it. Traveling is supposed to give you perspective and teach you what it is like to walk in another’s shoes. The museum definitely opened my eyes to what it might be like to have your community torn apart by such a horrible event.

Hydro, OK

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to travel the Mother Road. Route 66 has been around since 1927, a time long before modern American highways. It runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, a route I hope to follow in full some day.

Now you go through Saint Louis, Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.

We first met up with Route 66 on the other side of Oklahoma City.

Route 66 Oklahoma
We stopped at Lucille’s, a historic pitstop on Route 66. It was built in 1929 and purchased by Lucille and her husband Carl in 1941. It is merely a monument now, but serves as a reminder of what it was like to travel the country before the existence of modern interstates.

Lucille's
I wanted to stop at more abandoned towns and gas stations on the route, but I know my friend would have killed me and left me at one if I tried.

Groom, TX
Route 66 was where it was at for roadside kitsch. We couldn’t stop at every attraction, so I picked the ones I liked best. Of the ones we visited, only a few for them are on the blog.

We stopped at the leaning water tower in Groom, TX. It used to be a functioning water tower, but was eventually slated for demolition. A local business man purchased it and used it as a sign for his gas station.

Leaning Water Tower

Eventually the gas station burned to the ground, but the tower remains.

Conway, TX
Just East of Amarillo we reached the Slug Bug Ranch, which features 5 VW Beetles burried in the ground just off the interstate. Conway, TX is a tiny town of approximately 20 people. The origin of the Slug Bug Ranch isn’t entirely clear, but it was supposedly erected around 2002 to attract people to a service station. However, like many roadside attractions, the bugs survived and the station did not.

Bug Ranch Full View

Just like at Cadillac Ranch, people bring cans of spray paint to leave their mark. Unfortunately, we did not think to do this.

Bug Ranch Pose
It’s really a great stop that shouldn’t be missed.

Bug Ranch
Who doesn’t love Sara!

Amarillo, TX
Next, of course, was Cadillac Ranch the inspiration for the Slug Bug Ranch. Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974 and features 10 Caddys half-buried in the ground. The angle of the cars replicates that of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The place was crawling with visitors, all leaving their mark on the cars.

Cadillac Ranch Full View
I look like I am rocking a diva pose here, but I am just desperately trying to get my hair out of my face. It was incredibly windy that day.

Cadillac Ranch
While we were at the Slug Bug Ranch we noticed that part of the car, likely the splash guard, was hanging down and dragging the ground. I tried to reattach it, but couldn’t get it to snap back into place. However, my dad taught me well and I knew exactly how to fix it. We stopped at a gas station after Cadillac Ranch and I purchased some cable ties. I was able to secure the piece back into place and we were on our way!

Fixing the Car
I was really excited to feel useful.

New Mexico (Various Locations)
I really shouldn’t make fun of my friend too much for standing in the road in Memphis. When we reached New Mexico we pulled over to take a picture of the state sign rather than attempt to take a shot out the window of a moving car. I was very responsibly taking a picture from the side of the road when I realized that no traffic was coming for at least a mile. I ran into the middle of the road and snapped this. When I got back in the car my friend said “I can’t believe you were just standing in the middle of I-40! If I’d known you were going to do that I would have taken a picture.” She is always looking out for me. I admitted that it was probably not one of my more responsible photo-taking decisions.

New Mexico State Line

We discovered that New Mexico is pretty empty. Other than in the cities, there is absolutely nothing there. We drove for hours without any cell service and had to use maps the old fashioned way to get places.

Windmills

Since we didn’t have any roadside stops, I snapped a few pics out the window as we drove.

New Mexico Train

I loved the long trains out in the desert, they seemed to stretch for miles.

Santa Fe, NM
We spent the night in Santa Fe so we could explore the downtown in the morning. It was much cooler there than our other stops, and it was a nice break from the 100-degree-plus weather we had been experiencing so far.

Oldest Church
Santa Fe is home to the San Miguel Mission, which is thought to be the oldest church in the country. It was constructed in 1610 by the Tlaxcalan Indians, and is still in use today.

Oldest House

Just across the street from the oldest church is the oldest house in America. It is adobe-style and dates to at least 1646, but it is thought that it could have been built as early as the 1200s. It is amazing to think about something in our country being that old, usually you have to travel abroad to experience such history.

Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque was just a short drive from Santa Fe so we took a short detour to walk around Old Town. I really liked it there, better than Santa Fe. (Sorry, Santa Fe.) It just seemed like there was a more to see there and the layout was a little more open and scenic.

Old Town Albuquerque Panoram

This post might as well be subtitled “Sara learns to use the panorama feature on her iPhone.” You can click the pictures to enlarge them.

Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
We detoured off of the main road to visit the Petrified Forest in the Painted Desert. If you are ever near here, definitely take the time to see it, its beauty does not translate well to photographs.

Painted Desert Pose

It’s a 28-mile drive though the park. The road is lined with scenic overlooks of mountains, valleys, and petrified wood.

Painted Desert Tepees

My favorite part was the tepees. They are layered in blues, purples, and grays created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals. They were breathtaking. I hope to go back to the painted desert someday and see the rest of it.

Painted Desert Tepees Panorama
The park also has hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs, which clearly depict ancient aliens.

Petroglyphs
Actually, many of the sites were used as solar calendars. Most of the petroglyph sites date to 1000-1350 A.D.

Holbrook, AZ
After exiting the park we drove through Holbrook on our way back to the interstate. If you love roadside kitsch or Route 66, this is the stop for you. It seemed like much of the town was frozen in time. We stopped at one of the most iconic roadside stops in America, the Wigwam Motel.

Wigwam Motel

You can actually stay in the wigwams! I had no idea. If I ever make this trip again I definitely plan to stay here.

Meteor Crater, AZ
Our last tourist stop was the Meteor Crater. We were growing tried so we only stopped long enough to take a few pictures.

Meteor Crater Panorama 2

The crater was formed 50,000 years ago when an asteroid stuck the earth at 26,000 miles per hour. It is almost a mile across and 550 feet deep. Because it is the best preserved meteor crater in the world, I knew this might be a once in a lifetime sight. It was indescribably huge, yet only a small fraction of the size of the meteor that likely killed the dinosaurs. It is a little sobering to think how little control we have over our destiny.

Meteor Crater Panorama 1

We spent 4 days driving 2000 miles and had an absolute blast doing it. One day I hope to drive the entire Mother Road and stop and visit all there is to see.

6 Comments on “The Great American Road Trip

  1. Road trips rock – but you left out the important details – music and car snacks!!!

    Why no detour to the Grand Canyon?

    Like

  2. Simply no better way to enjoy the greatness that is the United States of America. Some may ridicule flyover country and its people, but they are the beating heart of our great country. Glad you had a chance to enjoy, if only a small slice.

    Like

  3. I loved your pictures! It made me feel as though I was on the road trip with you:) I’ve always wanted to take Route 66 because of that same song!

    Like

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