Driver's Log

Driver’s Log v2.0: The Southwest

Welcome to the second installment of the driver’s log! During this road trip, I have discovered that my dear wife has a rather narrow definition of a beautiful landscape. It tends to involve oceans and pine trees, features which are rather lacking in Arizona and New Mexico. I happened to enjoy (most of) the drives through those states, so I feel that I should weigh in so as to provide a different perspective on the landscapes of the southwest.

Leaving eastern California on I-8 was what seemed like our tenth ascent/descent of the Pacific coast mountain ranges. As we descended, the trees disappeared and the mountains became what looked like large piles of rock (see Mica’s post). Then the desert started.

I was actually pretty excited to see the Arizona desert after living east of the Mississippi my whole life. As far as being big, flat, sandy, and generally inhospitable, it did not disappoint. What I did not expect was the intermittent attempts at rain in southern Arizona. It never rained in earnest, but there was standing water in Yuma, so it must have rained at some point. I later learned that Yuma averages about a quarter inch of rain in the month of July, so I suppose we were privileged to have seen puddles there.

As we made our way north through Phoenix to Flagstaff, we entered the mountains of northern Arizona. These were of course very different from the mountains of Montana: fewer trees, more red cliffs. Sedona was nestled in the most impressive part of the area, surrounded by towering structures of red-orange rock. North of Sedona, we climbed to Flagstaff via a winding and, surprisingly, forested road. I was not expecting to see many trees in Arizona, but WVT is full of surprises!

The drive east to Santa Fe along I-40 (parallel to old Route 66) was mostly flat, dry, and scrubby, into New Mexico. At that point, we began our ill-fated trip to El Morro and El Malpais, straight into a massive New Mexico thunderstorm. Though it foiled our attempts to see a giant wall of old graffiti and weird volcanic rock formations, I was happy to see lightning again, after many weeks of no precipitation at all. I think the wife was less amused.

Stormy driving

The drive through Albuquerque to Santa Fe was accompanied by yet another huge thunderstorm, even worse than the last, but we were able to admire the landscape on the way out this morning. Santa Fe is set against a pleasant backdrop of mountains, and though Mica did not much approve of the brown stucco, I thought it complemented the scenery rather nicely.

In the last (and first) installment of the driver’s log, we had just passed through the most boring stretch of land I’d ever driven (southern Minnesota). I am happy to report that that dubious distinction now belongs to eastern New Mexico! Pat yourselves on the back guys; you’ve earned it. It was flat, with scrubby underbrush, and only a few trees bigger than a garden shed. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that, in the 200 miles between Santa Fe and Roswell on US-285, there were two named towns, one with a population under 500, the other under 100. So yeah, there is actually nothing there. Good thing I got gas before we left. I might have died of boredom had Roswell not been filled with amusing alien kitsch and a flying saucer McDonald’s!

IMG_0957 Harrison at Roswell McDonald's

PS – WVT passed the 10000-mile mark in eastern New Mexico! It seems that my estimate of 10k for the whole trip was wrong! Sorry Mom!

wvt odometer at 9999.9

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Driver's Log

Round Lake, IL to Sioux Falls, SD: Driver’s Log

When planning this road trip, I was excited to see friends, family, and the sites along the way, but I was also excited to see what the country looks like between those things.  The destinations are awesome, but getting there is half the fun (my lovely wife may think otherwise)!  For those readers who also wish to know what can be found in the wilds of Wisconsin and Minnesota, read on!

The answer: Apparently not much can be found on I-90 in Wisconsin and even less can be found on I-90 through Minnesota.

I will elaborate, lest you feel you have been given short shrift.  Wisconsin is actually a very pleasant state.  It has green, rolling hills and dairy farms dotting the countryside.  As we drove north and west of Madison, the hills became more jagged, and as you saw in Mica’s post, some interesting rock formations popped up.  I should also mention the area surrounding Wisconsin Dells, which appeared to be some bizarre water park resort destination.  Please comment if you know what is up with that.

Upon crossing the Mississippi at La Crosse, Wisconsin, we were greeted by the relentless plains of southern Minnesota.  There is so little in southern Minnesota that the road signs saw it fit to tell me that we were approaching the burg of Albert Lea, MN (pop: 18k) from 100 miles out.  There was just nothing else in between.  Plains gave way to sad little hills, which gave way to more plains.  The interstate was, by and large, straight as a pin, and there were typically about 5 or 10 cars per mile of highway.  I think I saw more wind turbines than on any other day of my life, even after living in Illinois for five years.  I don’t mean to imply that the state of Minnesota is boring; we were just in a boring part of it (less “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” more “I Can Tell We’re Not Far From Iowa” (no offense Kim, and other Iowa natives!) (sorry for double parentheses!)).  Someday we’ll see the prettier and more interesting parts, but today was not that day.

Tomorrow we spend a solid day driving across South Dakota, but I am confident it will be more interesting.  Faces on mountains and stuff.

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