…. and I survived. Why would I travel that far in a Jeep? That is the greatest question of the ages. The answer is that I have worked for Apple for 14 years. I was presented with an amazing opportunity to work on a temporary assignment in Cupertino, California. I jumped at the chance to work at the “mothership”. During this assignment, the company will fly me out and fund my transportation and housing while I am there. But, I am not sure that I could be without my Jeep for that extended period of time. So, I decided that I would need to take my Jeep with me.
After the excitement of accepting the position and learning some details, I have come to the realization of driving a Jeep 3000 miles across the United States and that might be a big deal. Oh yeah, there is one more detail, it is winter. Well, I need to go into planning mode. There were so many questions. What does driving across the country look like? Is there anything I need to know about being in a Jeep for that long? What would be the best route to take? How long does this actually take?
Early on in the planning process, I knew that I wanted to take my time and see some sights and people that I know. This was important on both sides. I knew that going straight across I-80 would be the shortest route. But, it is winter and some of the route might be snowed in and in the line of potential winter storms. I know that my Jeep is capable of almost any terrain or inclement weather. But, I would rather not spend hours of my drive at 10 miles an hour or even stopped. I opted for the longer southern route which would also allow me to see more people and enjoy the sights.
Day 1 – Destination: Elizabethton, TN (540 miles)
The first day is a drive I have taken many times. My mother lives in Elizabethton and I planned to spend a day or so with her. There are 5 states that you will drive through; Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. This drive is actually very nice as you can see some of the southeastern Pennsylvania landscape. Once in Virginia, you parallel the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains. As a word of caution, I-81 has a ton of state troopers that patrol most of the Virginia stretch vigilantly. In a Jeep, speeding is not really an issue. I didn’t stop except for fuel but I have done some sight-seeing in the past. Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg at Exit 269 is nice diversion. It would take a couple of hours to tour the caves and the attached American Celebration on Parade. Both are interesting enough for the whole family. Another roadside stop is Natural Bridge off of Exit 175 or 180a. It’s a nice little hike to the natural phenomenon.
There are plenty of places in East Tennessee to see and do. I have even spent a good time off-roading in the area. I have written a previous blog about that here. This trip, I spent an extra day here with family and just relaxing.
Day 3 – Nashville, TN (300 miles)
Today was an early departure from Elizabethton to drive the short four hours to Nashville. This was one of the shortest drive days. I had a plan. I wanted to get to Nashville in plenty of time to see a few things that I hadn’t seen in several years. I spent a good chunk of my life living just outside of Nashville and have fond memories and loyalties to the sports teams there. I have been a Nashville Predators fan since day one and that hasn’t stopped. I arrived in Nashville just in time to have lunch with a dear friend. We went to Chuy’s, one of my favorite TexMex restaurants. Living in the northeast, there isn’t an over-abundance of good texmex. Yum. Even as a chain, Chuy’s keeps a very unique feel to every location. They have a saying, “If you’ve one Chuy’s, you’ve seen exactly one.” I spent a couple of hours driving around and seeing the downtown area. The capitol grounds, Bicentennial Park, the replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park and Printer’s Alley.
My brother had been amazing enough to decide to meet me in Nashville and share part of the drive out. We are both huge hockey fans and luckily enough there was a Predators game that night. We planned his arrival flight with enough time to pick him up and make it to the game. With some time free that afternoon, I wanted to meet up with a life long friend, Ken. We had a blast just bouncing around some of the honky-tonks downtown. The area on Broadway has really grown up and mimics Beale Street of Memphis. There is live music in every bar, even in the middle of the afternoon during the middle of the week. There are two favorites of mine: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Nudies. Cold drinks and live music is never a bad thing while catching up with an old friend. I caught up with my brother and attended my first hockey game in Bridgestone Arena in over 10 years. It was great to be back in that arena watching my favorite team with my brother. Couldn’t be much better than that!
Day 4 – Oklahoma City, OK (700 miles)
We stayed overnight just outside of Nashville (Thanks Ken). This allowed us to enjoy the game and not have to make any miles up that evening. After a quick breakfast, we set sail on the first long drive of the trip. It was great to have a copilot on board (or a pilot, when I would let him drive). We started talking about all of the road side type attractions that we had seen through the years and decided since a good chunk of the drive was along I-40 (Route 66) that we should take a few minutes and see some of them, even if it was a little kitschy or goofy. This would help break up the long drive and provide comic relief at times. My brother lives around Memphis and we decided to forgo a stop over to spend the day with the family in an effort cover some distance. We originally thought about hitting one of the local bar-b-que places in Memphis but settled for a build your own pizza place, Pyro’s. Pyro’s is good. Next time you are in the area, I definitely recommend either Germantown Commissary or Central Bar-B-Q. These smaller joints really pack in a huge amount of flavor!!!!
There isn’t really much in the way of roadside attractions past the Mississippi River for a while. Arkansas has some beautiful nature but none of it found along the I-40. We did pull off in Conway, AK to see a big chicken at David’s Burgers. This chicken is kind of a response to Chic-fil-a’s eat more chicken campaign. The chicken is a large chicken on a flatbed trailer. It looks like it would be used as a local parade float. The burgers at David’s… pretty tasty and the milkshake was pretty good, too. The staff there is every nice and friendly. It was well worth the little detour. We drove to just the east side of Oklahoma City. This was a good long day and we were ready for some rest.
Day 5 – Gallup, NM (680 miles)
Getting rolling it was clear that overnight the temperature had dropped considerably. It was above 60 when we pulled in and it was only 20 degrees and the wind was howling. Our plan originally involved going to the Oklahoma City Memorial where the tragic events around the Oklahoma City bombing took place and walking around. But, it was too cold. So, we did a quick driving tour of the site. It was truly awe inspiring even from the Jeep. I would like to go back and experience it when the weather is more conducive.
On the road, that wind was incredible. Of course, driving a Jeep is kind of like driving a big sailboat on the road. You are at the whims of the wind. It was a battle, to say the very least but we survived. The miles per gallon, however, didn’t. For that tank or two, it dropped by 4 or 5 mpg. Jeeps are not known for great mpg at all, but that is a big hit when you only getting 16-17 any way. Hood flutter – It’s a real thing. I hadn’t experience it at all until then. That hood was jumping around. Although, I felt confident that it was actually going to come off, it was still very unnerving. I have since ordered new hood latches to hold it more securely in high wind situations.
Shamrock, Texas: This was a one of the big joys of the drive. I am huge Pixar fan and I love the movie, Cars. The movie was truly a reminder to slow down and enjoy the ride. It looks at a time gone by when Route 66 was the the primary path to cross the country during the heyday of automobiles. Although Cars is an animated movie about a fictional town called Radiator Springs, the artists used real locations for inspiration. This CONOCO Tower Gas Station and the U Drop Inn is a perfectly preserved relic of days past. Although, gas is no longer pumped, it did energize us for several more hours of driving.
Amarillo, Texas provided two interesting stops: The Big Texan and the Cadillac Ranch. I have seen billboards for hundreds of miles advertising a free 72 ounce steak. You can’t miss them. Who doesn’t want a 72 ounce steak while they are driving across country? We did not eat the 72 ounce steak, which has to be eaten in an hour, with strict rules or you have to pay. We did get a smaller steak enjoyed the atmosphere which included a strolling guitarist. All and all, I won’t need to stop every time I pace by but it was a quite enjoyable spot for lunch.
On the west side of Amarillo, is a road side attraction that you could easily drive past without seeing if you weren’t paying attention. This is truly a road-side attraction. You just park on the side of the road and walk over to the site. The Cadillac Ranch isis a very distinct work of art that created under the patronage of a wealthy Amarillo man. He had a team of artists take 10 Cadillac automobiles that were “retired” and plant them in a row with the noses buried. This only left the passenger area and the tail fin left above ground. This makes a distinct look that only changes as the amateur artists and their rattle-can paint add to the uniqueness. It really seems as if graffiti is encouraged here.
I went to college in the 90’s in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. I have some fond memories of the desert and mountains surrounding the city. Originally we had panned to stay overnight in Albuquerque, but we had made good time and still had a few hours of good day let. Since we weren’t going to stay, we really didn’t have much time to linger. One of my favorite places to eat when I lived there was Garduño’s. Although the menu has changed a little, the flavors haven’t. The original concept was a chile pepper packing plant turned restaurant. The spice and flavors have always been some of my favorites! We got back on the road for just a couple of hours to get to Gallup.
Day 6 – Palm Dessert, CA (600 miles)
This was the busiest and most interesting day yet. I love the sights in the southwest. And from I-40 you get a ton of those views. We wanted to drive through the Petrified Forest National Park. The government was shutdown so most parks were closed including this one. It was a little disappointing but maybe next time.
Near the Petrified Forest is another couple of those quaint little road-side things to see on Route 66 is in Holbrook. Holbrook seems to be one of those lost towns that was probably pretty bustling during the popularity for Route 66. One of the simple sights is a long map of Route 66 painted on a wall in a vacant lot. It’s neat to pull in and see where you’ve been and where you have to go. There is Wigwam Village Motel just little east of there on 66, which is an outdoor motel where the teepees are the rooms. In the parking lot are vintage cars as if frozen in time. It looks exactly like you would see in a brochure for the motel from yesteryear.
Winslow, Arizona is our next stop on the map. “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing’ down to take a look at me.” That iconic Eagle’s song comes to life in Winslow. The town decided to help bring tourist back to Winslow since I-40 diverted traffic around and away from the town. So using Take It Easy as the inspiration, they created a great little park in the town where you can grab a picture and imagine a time when Route 66 was alive. There is a statue of Glenn Frey and even a flatbed Ford. After a couple of pictures and cup of coffee we were back on the road.
Pulling into Flagstaff is a beautiful thing. The town itself is very cool and interesting gateway to the southern rim of The Grand Canyon. It is a great oasis of great shops, restaurants and breweries. Mother Road Brewing company is my favorite. There was snow on the ground but with the sun out, it didn’t seem to cold or wintery. We didn’t have time to stop but did drive around and through some of the areas of Flagstaff. I definitely recommend stopping in for a little while if you’re in the area.
My Uncle Doug suggested that we take 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. Throughout the years I have learned one thing: if Uncle Doug suggests it, then you better do it. And, wow, was he right! The drive through the canyon and gorge was unbelievable. The cliffs and hairpin curves were spectacular. Even if it was winter, it was worth it to put the sunrider top back so that we could take it all in. With all of the cornering and curves, this road would be spectacular in a sports car. But, I really think you are missing out on so much if you just zoom, zoom down the road. Instead, we were treated to a new breathtaking sight around each curve. It is so worth taking this route for a while and then using Rt 179 back over to I-17 to Phoenix.
Off-roading: In Sedona, We headed off to find Schnebly Hill Road. This is Jeep Badge of Honor Trail. It is not the most challenging trail I have been on but wow those views. It was a mixture of sand, mud and rock. It had almost something for everybody. There were a couple of Jeeps set up to take small tours on the trail. Pink Jeeps seemed to be the most popular of the touring vehicles. These were beefed-up custom jeeps with a covered-seating area on the back. They were really cool looking. I just wonder how much the folks in the back were bouncing around. It can bad enough in the fronts seats on a trail. I can’t believe how beautiful of a day it was. It was another perfect adventure off of the main interstate.
The remainder of the day was driving to the Phoenix airport to drop my brother off so he could go back to his real life. And then, it was the semi-boring drive on I-10 west to Palm Dessert. Frankly, this was the least eventful and mundane part of the drive. Maybe it was because I had a partner through such a long portion OR I was tired from the days activities OR this section just wasn’t as beautiful as all of the sights and roads that I had seen already that day. I think it could have been a combination of all three.
Day 8 – Cuptertino, CA (480 miles)
After a relaxing day chilling out with my friend, Mike, it was time to get back on the road. The Palm Dessert has a ton to offer. For me the highlights in the area are the Living Dessert Zoo and Coachella Valley Brewing Company. The brewery has a great tasting room and be sure to grab a growler for later. This was the earliest day that I got up. I wanted to try to beat as much of the Los Angeles traffic as possible. Even leaving as early as 4:30 am I still managed to spend a little while in thick traffic. I don’t miss LA and it’s traffic at all. Going up the 5 is not as exciting as some of the other freeways that I had been on but, going over some of the mountains and seeing all of the agriculture and farmland was an interesting new experience for the trip. After 8 days of travel and fun, I finally pulled into Cupertino.
I have travelled across this country a couple of times. Once in a small sports car, twice in large moving trucks and now in the Jeep. I certainly would choose the Jeep again over any of the other methods. Gas mileage aside, This was a very comfortable and adventurous version of a very long trip. The journey was awesome!!! I will be taking a more northern route at some point soon as I will head back to the “other” coast. Have you traveled long distances in your Jeep? What made it great? What was difficult about it? Let me know in the comments. Keep on jeep’n!!