The first time around, I did a lot of planning and took what I believed to be the most direct route across the country, mostly because that's what Google Maps told me. (Though after the initial find of the route we strictly used my atlas.)
My best friend and I packed ourselves up and headed west, that Kerouac dream. We split up the drive into what should have been 6 days, but ended up being only 5.
First day was brutal, because it was straight from Jersey, across the not so exciting Pennsylvania, and into southeastern Ohio. We were in West Virginia for just about the exact length of time necessary for us to play "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver, and obviously belt it right along.
...country roads, take me home / to the place I belong / West Virginia, mountain mama / take me home, country roads...
Obviously we had to play it. We didn't really see any mountains and we were on interstate 70 so we didn't even see any country roads but we did pass a huge Cabela's. That night we found ourselves nestled into a nice, mosquito-filled campsite in the Wayne National Forest in the Ohio countryside.
The next day, we trekked through the rest of Ohio and into Indiana, where we found a huge waterfall and saw this insane woman jumping off it. And then, of course, we did it too. For the novelty, of course...
We found ourselves afterwards exhausted and so made our way into the Mark Twain National Forest. The next day was going to be a haul if we expected to be in Texas the following night!
...And a haul it was. Trekked through Illinois, making time to stop at the billboard-advertised "Home of Lincoln" only to find out we were tricked, and it was only Lincoln's stepmother's summer home when she was 20, or something like that. Feeling jipped of the experience, we made our way across the state and into Missouri.
People, I'm so sorry if you're from Missouri, but there's a reason people refer to it as "Misery." It was a truly horrible experience from start to end in that state, starting with our decision to go to the Jesse James Wax Museum (literally the scariest place I've ever been, and it's not supposed to be), and then getting to our campsite that night only to see a cannibalistic raccoon killing a fellow raccoon and then carrying it home to its nest. That was the point where we decided to get the heck out of there, and drove until 2 AM into Oklahoma.
We found ourselves at a Walmart parking lot right by a set of train tracks. Big store parking lots are great for getting a short sleep in your car when it's too late to find a campsite, but when you're in Tornado Alley and there's a train going off next to you every hour, you probably won't be sleeping too well.
When we woke up, we took our crusty eyes and weary bodies to the nearest fast food establishment for any kind of comforting nourishment to make us feel a little more human, and I saw my absolute favorite part of the trip: a real life bison.
Now, people, bison are my favorite animals. Many call them buffalo, wrongly so, because true buffalo are only found in Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe. One of the gas stations we stopped at even had a few bison on the property and I got to get a lot closer!
Anyway, after my freakout, we made our way into Texas. Ahh, good ol' Te-has. Our destination here was Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States, but our true goal of our time in the state was to each get an authentic cowboy hat.
Palo Duro Canyon is gorgeous, and arguably a better place to go in the summer than the Grand Canyon simply for the significantly smaller amounts of tourists, and the ability to car camp for cheap inside the canyon.
After our night in the canyon, this is when things got serious. First of all, we had only a few hours to get our cowboy hats. Our searches the day before had given us much more trouble. Cowboy hats in Texas are super serious business, and so we were looking at ridiculous prices of $300+, as well as straw hats, wool hats, crossovers, different hat buckle meaning, different fits, different brands, hats made by country singers.
Honestly we didn't care all that much, we just wanted cool hats to commemorate our experiences and the chance to say "Yeah I got this in Texas, it's pretty legit." In retrospect that's pretty lame, but I've changed a lot since then.. Anyway, we got 'em. For cheap, too, each of ours was less than $30 AND authentic wool. That's me on the left with my best friend Joe in our new hats.
The other dilemma was that we were definitely going to go through New Mexico, but should we actually stop there? We even took a pointless detour to Santa Fe to see if it could convince us, but no. We wanted 'Zona, and we did not want to wait. So we drove from Amarillo, Texas to Prescott, Arizona in one day, a hearty 11 hour driving day alone, not counting our cowboy hat search, bathroom breaks and food breaks.
But oh man, was it worth it. We made it into the state just in time for this vivid sunset view.
I was sold. I was so ready to start my life here. I fell in love with the state instantly.
We ended up reaching Prescott at midnight on August 15. We had no where to stay and couldn't find a campsite, so once again we pseudo-slept in my car. It didn't matter. We were here, I was starting a new chapter, we were happy.
And so now, I'm heading back east. I flew back for about a week over winter break, but I haven't really thought about driving back since I drove here. So much has changed, and I know I will never have the same beautiful experience as I did first time around. But this country is a magical place, and I plan on taking different routes this time to get there and back, and I'm excited to explore as much of it as I can while I get the chance to.
All pictures are mine, except the screenshot of the Google Maps map. .