USA road-trip in detail
USA ROAD TRIP 2012
My last post was a quick one on driving in the US. This one is much more detailed, and contains a full list of where I went, along with the highlights of each day.
Firstly, here is a map of our trip. I’ve indicated below which cities we stayed at overnight, as well as those we stopped at on the way thru during the day.
I should also mention we stayed at 3 star type accommodation most of the time. Easy to find in the US, and super cheap – often $40 US a night inducing wifi and breakfast (for 2). TripAdvisor helped heaps here! So not an expensive trip compared to hotels in many other places. Petrol (gas) is also crazy cheap – especially when you are driving a hybrid using less than 5l/100km (50mpg+).
View US Road Trip in a larger map
Day by day
30th December 2011: Canada to Los Angeles (LAX), then the start out the road trip!
At LAX we negotiated a good rate with Avis on a Prius (which probably means we were ripped off) and off we went to Barstow, a wee town just out of LA, towards Vegas.
Like all good US small towns it has a diner on the main street, with the railway running behind it, and it was also the start of route 66.
31st December 2011: Drive to Vegas, NYE party time!
The start to the day was breakfast, and picking up a coffee from Starbucks (conveniently next door) then we hit the road to Vegas. Nice thing about small towns is that everything is so close. So hotel, diner, Starbucks and service station all within walking distance. Only 3 hour drive today so an easing in of the thousands of miles we would be doing.
Went to the Vegas strip early evening to catch up show (well two shows, one free, one expensive) and luckily for trip adviser the reviews of La Reve were on the mark, it was awesome (as a side note, if you are going to check out any show, make sure you check the reviews on sites like Trip Adviser first, so many shows had more 1′s (or terrible) than everything else combined!).
Walked one end of the strip to the other (which is quite an effort normally, but more so on NYE with tens of thousands of people on the street ) Stayed around the strip till midnight where we watched fireworks being Let off, Vegas style.
Vegas reminds me about what the massive waste Americans seam to love. Thousands of litres of fresh water to keep each tree alive on the strip (remember it’s a desert!) and so much is built “coz we can” not because it serves any purpose.
Walking back to the bus stop proved quite a mission since around 50,000 people thought about doing the same thing at the same time. When we did make it to the bus, ours was forced to stop after what the driver called “biological contamination” (that’s bus drive speak for someone threw up on the floor of the bus). So 3 hours later we arrived back at our hotel.
1st January: Drove to Amarillo
Happy new year!
This was to be one of our big driving days, but since we only got to bed until after 3am, we didn’t hit the road until after 9am.
Sat at the counter of a traditional diner for lunch on route 66, and got given way to much food (and bad watery coffee), such an awesome and quintessential American experience!
Drove over 1000 miles (1600km), as much on possible on historic route 66, through two time zones and three states, and arrived in Amarillo at 1am. Saw heaps of wind farms on the edge of Amarillo.
2nd January: Explore Amarillo and drive to Dallas
We ended up skipping the “explore Amarillo” part of the itinerary, since we hadn’t had a full nights sleep for several days. We justified this to ourselves since lonely planet guide told us all about what Amarillo USED to have, but implied none of this was left now.
One venue, famous throughout Texas is the Amarillo Big Texan steak ranch. It offers a free 72 ounce steak (that’s over 2kg!) to visitors, but there is a small catch: If you don’t eat it all, you pay $70.
Drove 5 hours to Dallas. We confirmed three things about American drivers: almost all of them speed, they rarely indicate, and they love to tailgate.
3rd January: A day in Dallas/Fort Worth
Woke up to Texas shaped waffles for breakfast.
We decided to experience some true Texas things, so went to Fort Worth stockyards to see a live cattle drive of long horn cows. We also visited the worlds largest Honkey tonk bar, and saw the worlds largest belt buckle (and yes it was big!).
Then we headed to Dallas to explore downtown. We successfully navigated Dallas’s amazingly complex interchange systems (if Auckland has spaghetti junction, then Dallas has the spaghetti factory) before grabbing a train to downtown. We grabbed some pictures with some cute robot sculptures and just explored the city by foot.
4th January: Drive to Memphis, pit stop in Little Rock
Another moderate drive day (7 hours), with a stop in a town called Hope, which is where Bill Clinton was born. His old house is now a museum, which was both cool, and free!
It also marked the start of a new tradition: when in doubt, a taco bell box of 12 tacos for $10 for lunch.
Next stop was Little Rock, which was made famous in the 50s, when it was the first school in the US that was forced integrated (i.e. it allowed a handful, of black kids to go to a formally white school). A museum has a very informative history of this, as well as info on the general struggle for civil rights back in that era.
Arrived in Memphis that night.
5th January: Explore Memphis and drive to Nashville
Memphis is home to the 2nd most photographed home in the USA: Graceland (the most photographed is the White house). We explored Elvis’s estate, and then on to Sun Studios (perhaps the most famous recording studio in the world) for a very entertaining tour We got to stand on the spot Elvis recorded many of his hits from, and even play with his mic. We were very grateful that this trip was off season, as places like Graceland were clearly designed to accommodate thousands of people, and there were only a few dozen when we visited.
We did a quick visit to downtown Memphis, and had a tram ride. It’s clear the city is not what it used to be, with a very sleepy CBD, and lots of empty modern buildings.
When then hit the road for Nashville, a relatively short 3 hours up the road.
6th January: Explore Nashville.
We started by exploring downtown Nashville. We found a really good (and free) museum which had heaps of info on the civil war, and how USA formed. We booked a show the grand old Opre which is a live show broadcast on the radio, and is the worlds longest running radio show. It had everything from a former American idol finalist through to a 90 year old country star (who everyone but us recognised).
We also squeezed in a visit to a Honky-tonk bar. A must for Nashville, and very fun.
7th January: Drive to Orlando
Another big drive (almost 1,000 miles) to Orlando Florida. Drove through Atlanta, and then stopped off in a very beautiful city, Savannah, Georgia, on the east cost on the way. We arrived in Savannah just in time to see a massive ocean liner go past us on the river, and then we ate fried pickles at a waterfront bar. Another day of three states in one day.
8th/9th January: Disney World
The next two days we played at Disney World.
After buying “pre used” tickets, and being dropped off by our hotel shuttle driver via Disney downtown where we were supposed to get resort bus to the theme park (pretending to be a resort guest), then our fingerprints failed to work on the entry gates to the park, but they just reset them for us.
We did Magic Kingdom the 1st day, which included space mountain (roller coaster in the dark) and lots of ride like dumbo, spinning tea cups etc. Splash mountain was awesome (even if we did get rather wet). Ques were all quite short, and we hardly used the fast pass at all that day. Apparently there were 30,000 people at the park, and 40,000 is usual for this time of year, and the capacity is 90,000.
The next day was Epcot. Lots more fun rides (with the “mission space” motion simulator making us both feel I’ll afterwards). But Ian enjoyed that heaps to start with as he got to button mash dozens of knobs, switches and dials.
10th January: Drove to Miami.
11th January: Explore Miami, head to Key West
Today I watched police arrest two homeless people, well OK, not a true highlight, but to me it showed what was wrong with certain parts of the US. The homeless people were just sitting on the footpath (pavement for Americans), and totally harmless.
We decided to skip Key West as it was raining, and headed to Tampa. No point spending a day on a beach when it’s raining.
12th: Walked along Clearwater beach. Drove to Pamama city.
14th: Explore new Orleans.
Visited the very cool French quarter. Did a quick horse-drawn cartridge tour of the area, plus a nighttime walking tour of vampires, ghosts and voodoo. Very informative. I ate some raw chicken (accidentally) in a restaurant, resulting in a free meal for two. We also got a free ferry ride across the Mississippi (and back!).
15th: Drive to Houston via baton rouge.
We briefly explored the state capital Baton Rouge via its super high state capital building. We watched Tennessee’s inaugural marathon finish.
Also visited the mall of Louisiana, where they do tax free shopping (a Louisiana thing) .
Stopped at Starvin’ Marvins for dinner, and had a big old Texas feed (with more free bread than you could eat).
Houston is home to the (almost) largest Armadillo statue in the world. Yes, everything really is bigger is Texas.
Bonus: Hotel in Houston had free cookies!
16th: Explore Houston
Visited the sites like the water wall, and the natural science museum (where they told us how good oil was for America). That visit was kinda like an old fashioned indoctrination video. We went to Houston space centre the next day.
17th January: Drive to San Antonio via Austin
A moderate drive of 5 hours today to San Antonio via Austin to visit Will (and his mom).
18th January: Drive to Roswell via “Hicksville”
A big driving day, all on back roads. Which in the USA is still two lanes each way most of the time. Drive through lots of dying little towns, and we’re stopped by US border patrol near the border with Mexico several times. It varied from checking passports, though to drive on though guys when they saw we weren’t ‘Mexican looking’.
19th: Change of plans
Woke up early went to the hospital. Long story short, all OK, but apparently an x-ray, blood test and doc consult is gonna cost me (well my insurance company) several thousands dollars! I actually tried to pay as I left, but they didn’t have a system for that, so we left an email address. I wonder if I will get the bill.
We then checked out the UFO museum (lots of reading!) and finally drove to San Diego – a big drive of over 1000 miles again, well into the night. Stopped in Tucson for dinner, and arrived in San Diego around midnight.
20-22nd January: San Diego
Spent a few days chilling in San Diego, before heading back to LA on the last day. Dropped car back and then spent a night in LA by the airport (due to flight being delayed) and then flew back home to NZ the next day. San Diego is one of my favourate US cities. It has a similar feel to San Fran – busy enough, but still feels slow enough to be down to earth. It was one of the few places on this US leg of this trip that I had been to (the others being LA and Vegas).
All in all that’s 10,000km of driving, 3 weeks of exploring nine states and 20+ cities. It’s hard to pick one highlight, since there was so much. The beauty of Savannah on the east coast vs the history of route 66, or even Sun Studios, they all rocked (no pun intended on the last one). Maybe it was just having coffee in a sleepy town on route 66, or having a beer in a honky-tonk bar in Memphis that was both awesome and so quintessential for this trip.
Black and White Version: There is so much to see in the US that you do need weeks to do it justice. And yes, Texas is BIG!