Road Trip: NM, AZ, CA

There is nothing like a road trip in the US! We have been on the road for a week and have another few days to go. We left Santa Fe last Monday with snow flurries in the air. Now I am sitting in Palm Springs in the hot sun, wearing shorts!

We drove from Santa Fe to Sedona in one day (7 hour drive), stopping at the Cracker Barrel in Gallup for lunch. Cracker Barrel is a weird “middle-America” kind of chain restaurant, but it has a good enough vegetable plate and all day breakfast, so we eat there when traveling. It was cold and windy in Gallup. I wished I had packed more winter clothes.

The drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque is boring and west from Albuquerque is boring for the first hour, but then it gets interesting. Beautiful rock formations, small dusty towns in the distance, no trees, but long vistas. There are big beautiful cliffs surrounding Gallup and further on at the Arizona border there are more big red rocks. The approach to Flagstaff is lovely with the big mountains in the distance and the big pine trees as you get closer. There was snow on the ground in spots around Flagstaff.

From Flagstaff we went south to Sedona. We should have set out an hour earlier because the sun was low in the sky and in our eyes for some of this drive, but the drive was spectacular. From Flagstaff, you get off the interstate and drive down from 7000 feet to 5000 feet through the Oak Creek Canyon – about a one hour drive. There are lots of trees here and red dirt and red rocks. The road goes along the side of a mountain with a steep dropoff. The views of the mountains at the start of this drive from Flagstaf are incredible. Then you get into the canyon and drive along the creek, seeing the trees and that red rock. At the end, you come out of the canyon to a wide open area with the most incredible red rocks and cliffs and mesas – and then you are in Sedona.

We have been to Sedona many times before – we usually spend the night there on the way to California – but this time we looked around and saw it with new eyes. What a lovely spot. It is a small town with a big tourist area, but it is completely surrounded by National Forest, so not much sprawl and plenty of hiking.

We usually stay at The Orchards, the cheap seats of the expensive L’Auberge Hotel, but our last stay there was pretty disgusting (bad checkin arrangement, rooms are getting tacky), so we tried a new place and loved it. The Amara Creekside Resort. Nice big rooms with lovely, good quality furnishings. The main road in Sedona is higher up, above the creek, but Amara (and L’Auberge) are on the valley floor, beside the creek, so you look up at the red rocks and cliffs.

Out for dinner at a Thai restaurant that we have been to before, Thai Spices (caution: this site has music). They have several vegetarian options and the people who run the restaurant have some Macrobiotic training.

The next day we drove from Sedona to Los Angeles. We left at 10am, after a leisurely breakfast and a walk. Big mistake. This meant we arrived on the LA outskirts at 4pm – traffic time.

But, first the drive. It was beautiful. I love spotting the first Saguaro cactus as we drive south. They appear about an hour north of the Phoenix sprawl. Big, beautiful, wide-open views and hillsides covered in Sequaro.

Phoenix is the typical big American city ugly sprawl. They are gridding up the desert and throwing up cheap and big houses as fast as they can.

The drive from Phoenix to LA on I-10 is nice. We have done the drive on I-40 so many times that I can no longer think of Kingman and Needles without wincing. I-10 was a nice change and it works well for us spending the night in delightful Sedona instead of dreadful Needles.

A lovely drive and then two hours on LA freeways in LA traffic. We were driving to Anaheim. Now I understand why some people on the message board have no problem driving in Italy – they are used to the LA freeways at rush hour! Fast driving, driving blind because you are heading into the setting sun, winding roads. But we made it.

We were going to Anaheim for a conference for Steve’s business, Tabby Software, admin software for middle and high schools (his piece schedules students to classes and works with a big piece of software that does all the admin functions). We spent three nights at the Marriott across the road from the Hilton where the conference was held. We have to stay at the Marriott instead of the Hilton because at the Marriott you get balconies and the windows open, but the Hilton is a sealed building (one of my phobias – I hate high rise buildings, but when you cannot open a window I am really not happy). The conference went very well, but we spent two days on our feet at our booth talking to people, so were pretty tired from it. I did manage a trip to the South Coast Mall while Steve attended work meetings the first day.

We did not even make it to Disneyland, even though it was only a couple of blocks away.

We listened to the election results driving into LA and were pretty horrified to find John Kerry losing. I thought the world would be different the next day, when it was official, but everything seemed pretty much the same. I have personally decided to go with the George Carlin political view – the crazier, the better – makes it all more interesting to watch. Hopefully that will get me through this.

My personal view is that I am living in an alternate universe – one that split off in 2000 with the stock market crash, the Bush win and 9/11 – the real universe is going along well with a healthy stock market, a Gore presidency and the Green Party as a legit third party, the towers still stand, and I have a house in California (with our stock market gains). Someday soon, I will rejoin that universe. Like on Dallas when that one crazy year was just Bobby dreaming.

On Friday afternoon we packed up our booth and drove to San Diego. We got to use the car pool lane for the Orange County portion, but there were none on I-5 in San Diego, so we got bogged down in rush hour traffic.

We spent the weekend in San Diego, visiting Shannon and Colleen (who came down for the weekend) and going to a SlowTrav GTG. We were staying at a hotel in Ocean Beach, near Shannon.

We checked into the hotel, but were dismayed to find these automatic air fresheners in the room. The room was lovely – it was a one bedroom suite with a kitchen – but the smell of the air freshener chemicals was overpowering. They had one in the bathroom and one in the living room and they pumped out chemicals automatically. We turned them off and opened all the windows. The hotel management brought us fans to move the air. Then we went out for dinner with Shannon, Colleen and Sue, who had driven down from Santa Barbara for the weekend. We had a great dinner at a good Italian restaurant and then went back to the hotel.

We spent 30 minutes in our room and when we could not longer stand it (we could taste the air freshener), I started calling hotels. The Hotel Parisi, where we stayed last time, only had one expensive room left and would give us a good price for one night, but not for all three. So I called the Hotel Del Coronado, a place I have always wanted to stay and they offered us a discount from their cheapest room and gave us a better room. At midnight, we were packed up and checked out and onto the next hotel. I was so tired from the conference and the drive that I thought we could not do this – but I realized that even one night with all those chemicals would be horrible for us. Steve gets very sick from all fragrance chemicals. I get sick too, but not as bad as Steve.

We loved the Hotel Del Coronado; loved it! We had a good sized room in the old part of the hotel, with a balcony and a garden view. I think the bathroom was as big as our London hotel room (from last month). Had a great night’s sleep, went for a walk Saturday morning and found a good coffee shop, then went to the SlowTrav picnic!!

We are in Palm Springs now (it is Tuesday) and the sun has gone down. It turns from summer to winter here in one hour when the sun goes down. Time for dinner – I will finish my trip description later.

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.