My husband Tym and I spent most of October driving to California. We’re retired, so we have the time. We’ve done this before, but this time, we wanted to see a new route on our way to visit family near Reno. The road in a rented Jeep Compass took us west on I-40, wound us through small towns and cities, past farms and ranches for 4,800 miles. Three weeks later, we were on a plane back home.
People who’ve never done this have no idea how large our country is, or how varied. They cannot fully grasp the amazing things the United States has to offer: Nashville, Graceland, the mighty Mississippi River, Hot Springs bath houses, funky Branson theatres, The National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, the Texas Panhandle, the Grand Canyon, a Nevada ghost town. Seeing all of this in sequence unfurls an unforgettable story.
Our trip played a musical theme. We saw the Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B in Nashville, we toured Graceland and stood in Sun Studio where Elvis recorded “That’s All Right,” strolled Beale Street, toured the Gibson guitar factory, walked through the boarding house once occupied by James Earl Ray, caught a show in Branson, stopped by the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, scouted out the Norm Petty Studio in tiny Clovis, NM, where Holly, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings recorded hit records.
We had a photo op at the Casey Jones home in Jackson, TN; shopped the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop inside a giant pyramid overlooking the Mississippi River, took the Peabody Hotel tour complete with the duck parade, saw the Sam Walton Museum in Bentonville, stopped by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company with more heirloom seeds for sale than you can imagine, in Mansfield, MO. We stopped at Jack Sizemore’s RV Museum in Amarillo which was more amazing than the Cadillac Ranch. We visited the Route 66 Museum and complimented it with occasional stretches of the Mother Road. We marveled at huge petrified logs near the Painted Desert, walked the rim of the Meteor Crater (a mile wide) and the Grand Canyon (a mile deep), visited America’s oldest house and church in Santa Fe, saw where the atomic bomb was assembled in Los Alamos, moseyed through the kitschy Neon Museum at Las Vegas.
Our journey became one endless Burma Shave, which we actually saw an example of on old Route 66 east of Kingman, AZ.
- Most cashiers cannot make change.
- Siri is more reliable than Garmin, unless you’re in the mountains. I still want a map.
- Mile-long freight trains form a steady stream from the port of Long Beach, loaded with double-decker ship containers.
- Westerners worry more about drought and wildfires than Confederate statues.
- Expect a steady diet of Mexican food when driving through West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.
- The Oklahoma City National Memorial is a must-see, down to Timothy McVeigh’s getaway car with no license tag.
- Two weeks after the Las Vegas shooting, Route 91 Harvest Festival posters still hung around Las Vegas Village. Shooter Stephen Paddock sprayed bullets across a busy intersection. The news media somehow missed that detail.
- Markers for “Historic Route 66” are too little too late. Most of the towns bypassed by I-40 are emptier than the Mother Road.
- Thousands of cattle stand shelterless in stockyards in all kinds of weather. I shall eat less beef.
- I can’t forget two Arkansas gentlemen. One, an elderly white man, rushed to insist on holding the door for me as I entered a restaurant in Hot Springs. The other, an older black man, greeted me warmly as I passed him in Little Rock, the flashpoint of racial integration in 1957.
11. Having endured a Hot Springs bath, I know how it feels to be a lobster in a cookpot.
- America’s highways are full of trucks pulling ship containers and Baby Boomers pulling campers, looking for America.