Starting last Friday, I’ve been on a transcontinental journey, from Washington State to South Carolina. I’ll be arriving in SC tomorrow.
It’s been an interesting journey through an assortment of geography and geological features, from the desolate high valleys of NE Oregon and Idaho, to vast stretches of BLM-controlled lands in the Great Basin of Nevada…to the colorful canyonlands of Southern Utah and northern Arizona, to the rolling high plateaus of New Mexico, to the flat farmlands of West Texas, the pleasant rolling hills of East Texas… to the bayous of Louisiana and the great rivers of the South (the Red, Quachita and the Mississippi)… to the pleasant rolling acres of upper Mississippi and into Alabama.
Of all the areas I drove through, the best-loved was Southern Utah. I would love to go back to the town of Kanab, which has a stunning setting in a dry valley just south of Staircase Escalante National Monument and nearby Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. I was unable to linger or sightsee much, except for a drive up the Cedar Canyon Road (recommended, no trailers or semi-trucks!) a narrow mountain route that zig-zags up a steep 8% grade to reach an area of beautiful mountain meadows and forest lands. The drive from Carter City, UT, through Kanab, UT to Flagstaff, AZ on Hwy 89 is highly recommended.
Of course, anyone going to Flagstaff should also visit beautiful Sedona, but unfortunately, having a limited time-frame, I didn’t this time. I hope to go back for a visit sometime.
Another thing of interest noted along this trip was the astonishing array of volcanic features that I saw along the way, including the 9,000+ foot the San Francisco Peaks, remnants of an ancient strato-volcano located just NE of Flagstaff, an indication of that area being on the edge of the North American Craton or Plate. And I noted some piles of black lava in West Texas. I know that area is pock-marked with fracking sites and has been subjected to more frequent earthquakes as a result, as has Oklahoma to a greater degree. Since I have spent most of my adult life in the Pacific Northwest, I can easily identify a volcanic feature, even when driving by at 60 MPH.
Driving the nation’s Interstates is an interesting adventure. When driving for days, you tend to get into the flow of the movement of traffic, working with the trucks, passing slower vehicles and allowing the trucks to pass as well. I observed a lot of really stupid drivers who push the trucks aside in an attempt to get somewhere faster than?
One incident, not while driving an interstate, occurred on Hwy 89, outside of Kanab, UT. I was driving the speed limit, but a large white caddy was hugging my rear trying to push me to go faster. I kept my speed, finally coming to a passing lane, where the caddy attempted to cut me off. He finally got around me a bit later and zoomed off up the highway. Within moments of the caddy passing me, I passed a Utah State Patrol car which was sitting quietly alongside the highway. The patrol car followed me for a short way and then seeing I was following the traffic rules zipped by at another passing lane and tore off ahead. Within moments, the patrolman had succeeded in pulling over the white caddy (Cadillac Escalade). Instant karma… for aggressive driving and excessive speed.
From Washington State, I followed I-84 from Pendleton to Twin Falls. It’s a busy road, especially around the Boise area. From Twin Falls, I drove due south on Hwy 93, the Great Basin route to Wells, Nevada. I was hoping to avoid any snowy roads through the Rockies or storms in the mid-section of the country by heading south before cutting eastward.
It was in Wells, Nevada, that my cat, Lilly the black tortie, ran away. I miss her. However, a couple of people who communicate with animals have told me that she’s fine, even to find a new home with an elderly couple. I hope so; she’s a great companion animal. We shared some 13 years together, but she was a poor traveler and didn’t care to be stuffed into a carrier for hours at a time. My other cat, Ivory, has learned to adapt and has managed to get in a lot of sleep while traveling.
From Wells, NV, after a late start attempting to find Lilly, I drove 618 miles southeast to Flagstaff, AZ. As written above, the trip from Carter City, UT to Flagstaff, AZ was the best part of the trip. Without actually visiting the canyon land national parks, I was still able to see lots of beautiful rock formations and cliffs, as well as some attractive high country.
I was astonished to see just what a vital route Interstate 40 is for commercial trucking and railroad traffic. The road was a parade of trucks. Long freight trains passed by on the adjacent Burlington Northern Santa Fe line. The rest areas were asea with parked trucks, many with drivers taking their breaks and nap times as they can only drive for a specified amount of time before a rest period.
The states Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are very high in elevation. For two days, I was driving through some country over 5,000 feet in elevation. The highest pass I crossed was 7,000 feet in elevation. And yet towns and communities were far and few between vast acres of sagebrush and in some of the higher areas, juniper “forests”. New Mexico has the smallest population of any of the Western states as can be easily seen when driving its roads.
The third day, I drove I-40 due east to Amarillo, TX. West Texas is in a word, flat… Actually, it is deceptively flat, laced with dusty draws and gullies that fill rapidly with flash floods when large storms pass through the area. Southeast of Amarillo, there is some prime farmlands, even including some peach and pecan orchards.
The fourth day, I drove from Amarillo clear across the great state of Texas. It is vast, bigger than many nations. Witchita Falls was one of the largest cities that I passed through. I had to be alert to maneuver the complex highway system through the city area to keep on my route from Hwy 287 to Hwy 82. Before Paris, Texas, I apparently missed the truck route bypass and ended up driving through that annoying town. The old highway passes through the middle of town, zig-zagging through a maze of neighborhoods and right through the town center. A garbage truck was double-parked blocking traffic. They really need to re-think the local traffic flow designs there, for safety and for the life of their interesting town. It would be safer for citizens and visitors to walk around a town that didn’t have a major highway penetrating the middle of town. Bad Feng Shui!
Today, the fifth day, I drove from Texarkana, Arkansas to Prattville, Alabama, a community NW of Montgomery, AL. I have attempted to stay in smaller towns to keep away from the mass confusion of entering a brand new town after driving 600 miles or so. My drive today was very pleasant up to entering Prattville, only to find myself on the wrong road. I asked directions and sorted it out quickly by driving a bit up the Interstate and onto Fairview Avenue, where my motel was located.
By the way, for you Northerners, spring has arrived in Texas and the South. I have observed the redbud beginning to bloom as well as other trees, including maples. I don’t know the local Eastern trees very well, so will make a study of them when I get settled. I’ve always enjoyed learning about local natural environments. Some areas along the roadways were also planted with miniature daffodils, a nice spot of color in the drab winter-faded grasses. Some areas of Louisiana were also especially water-logged. Apparently, they have been suffering through some heavy rain storms of late, but I was fortunate to have great weather for the first five days of travel.
Tomorrow, I will arrive in South Carolina, to start a new stage in my life. Freed from the prison, leaving friends, job and home behind, I’m stepping into the unknown and enticing territory, both inner and outer.
P.S. No photos taken on this trip. With 500 to 600 miles to accomplish every day, I was pushing it hard, with few stops for gas, rest stops and snacks. After a few days, I actually combined the three, spending most of the long days driving steadily with my rented Penske truck, which I nicknamed “Buttercup” for its bright yellow color.
P.P.S. As I finish writing this piece, I’m hearing what sounds like a Southern thunderstorm beginning to happen. There have been distant rumbles and now the heavens have opened up. Fortunately, Ivory and I are snug and dry in our motel room. These storms can be very destructive, with heavy rains and wild winds.