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  1. #1

    Default First Cross-Country Road Trip: New Jersey to California and Back

    I just completed my first week on this trip, which still has quite a few weeks of fun and exploring ahead! So far I've traveled a total of 2,530 miles.

    That's definitely a lot and it's going fast, but I knew the trip out west would, because I have many more stops I want to make on the more southern route headed back east. Plus, I love to drive - I love being on the road! When I want or need to stop, I do - everything I've wanted to see and everywhere I've wanted to go, I've made good use of the time I spent doing so - but otherwise, I just drive with my music on and dig the ride and the scenery. It's every bit as amazing as I dreamed it would be.

    Day 1: Left New Jersey, taking 78 to 81 to 83 to bypass all the tolls of the Jersey Turnpike and I-95. Hit just one toll on the Pennsylvania side after crossing the Delaware River. Spent the night in Falls Church, Virginia. Koi Koi has really good sushi and Natalia's Elegant Creations has delicious baked good made on the premises - even the plain bagel I had was perfect and fresh.

    Day 2: Followed 81 south to Knoxville, Tennessee. Hit a 3-hour delay midway down when a bad accident closed down the highway for a while - so naturally, I was stuck on a stretch where there were no exits until immediately after the closure point.

    Day 3: Enjoyed a quiet day in Knoxville, seeing Old Town, Gay Street, the 1800s cemetery at the First Presbyterian Church, the World's Fair Sunsphere and grounds, the University of Tennessee, and the Tennessee River.

    Day 4: Drove north through Kentucky and across the Mississippi to Metropolis, Illinois. Stopped in Superman Square to see the Superman statue in front of the County Court House and the Superman Museum and Super Store - loved the Christopher Reeve memorabilia they had there, but the exhibit is probably only worth the $3 admission price if you're really a devout fan. Waved to the arch as I passed through St. Louis, and stopped in Columbia, Missouri for the night.

    Day 5: Had lunch in Lawrence, Kansas, which I admit is so much more beautiful than I imagined! Downtown is bustling with business and life and seems very much a fresh college town. Also, the Kansas River is gorgeous from the park near the Visitors Center. Ate at Milton's Cafe, which has really thick, fluffy French toast, and the root beer was served in the bottle with a nice clean pint glass! Loved it! Continued on to Dodge City, Kansas. Lots of construction on the rural U.S. routes which close one lane on two-lane roads, so a pilot car has to lead lines of traffic to the other side after they've been waiting anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes for the car to return from leading alternate traffic through the work zone. Got into Dodge and ate at Montana Mike's Steakhouse, which wasn't too bad, and I wandered a bit of modern Front Street (Wyatt Earp Boulevard), which is nothing like it was in the 1870s during its Old West Cowtown days, but the train station is restored and there is a statue of Wyatt across the street.

    Day 6: Visited Boot Hill - I didn't know Ed Masterson isn't there, and that was kinda disappointing, as was the fact that most of the buildings were recreated as opposed to being restorations, though there are a couple buildings left in tact that are restored, including a colonel's house and the school. Got the heck outta Dodge and drove rural U.S. routes into New Mexico. Stopped in Las Vegas (NM) to see the Historic Town Plaza and grabbed a bite at Charlie's Spic and Span Cafe. Drove into Santa Fe for the night.

    Day 7: Walked around Santa Fe's Historic Town Plaza and shopped a bit. Saw St. Francis Cathedral, and most amazing of all, the Miracle Staircase at Loretto Chapel, which is truly awe-inspiring. Hopped over to Albuquerque and wandered Central Avenue a bit and Old Town, which was a bit too touristy for me, but then again, I really liked the Route 66 Diner!

    Now I'm in Gallup - by the way, on I-25, it seems like every 15 to 20 miles there's road work right now, and it looks like they're repaving the southbound section of the highway because traffic is diverted to take up lanes on the other side of the divide (which means the road work is affecting traffic flow both ways).

    I'm planning for Monument Valley next, followed by the Grand Canyon. Not sure how possible it will be for me to do those in one day, but I'll pace myself and see where I am and how I feel tomorrow. I'm not sure how much there is along the northern route to the Valley and then the Canyon in the way of accommodations and gas stations. I'll stay fueled up as much as possible, of course, and I've heard about Mexican Hat and Kayenta being good overnight stopping points, but I may get well beyond those and stop just before the Canyon. This part of the trip I'll have to plan as it goes.

    Of course, any input, questions, or comments you guys have on any of this are more than welcome!
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 10-02-2008 at 07:52 PM. Reason: linked to previous thread

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Cameron trading post.

    Hi Serra,

    Thanks for dropping in, it sounds like your trip is going along nicely.

    I'm planning for Monument Valley next, followed by the Grand Canyon. Not sure how possible it will be for me to do those in one day, but I'll pace myself and see where I am and how I feel tomorrow. I'm not sure how much there is along the northern route to the Valley and then the Canyon in the way of accommodations and gas stations. I'll stay fueled up as much as possible, of course, and I've heard about Mexican Hat and Kayenta being good overnight stopping points, but I may get well beyond those and stop just before the Canyon. This part of the trip I'll have to plan as it goes
    In case you look in again, the Cameron trading post has lodging, food and gas as well as some very cool shopping.
    It is located just south on the 89 from the 160 and is an ideal spot to set you up nicely for a short trip to the east entrance of the Grand canyon.

    Have a great time and we look forward to hearing more.

  3. #3


    Thanks for the suggestion, Dave! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to check back in, but I had an amazing time! And I still am!

    Here's Week Two with a cumulative 4,602 miles on the odometer so far:

    Day 8: Saw Monument Valley early in the morning and the Grand Canyon in the late afternoon - two incredible sights in one day. Swung by Flagstaff and grabbed some hotdogs from the Dog Haus, which is a really neat little place with really good food! Stopped in Kingman, Arizona for the night.

    Day 9: Drove to the Hoover Dam, and then on to Las Vegas, Nevada. Lost some money to the Hard Rock Casino and even more to their hotel and cafe gift shops - I collect the pins, and they had some cool ones. Crawled up and down the Strip in the 5 mile per hour traffic, and saw many happy couples walking out of insta-wedding chapels.

    Day 10: Ran all over a couple hundred miles of Death Valley National Park - Mark, thanks for suggesting Twenty Mule Team Canyon, as it proved to be one of my favorite parts of the day. Always wanted to see Badwater, and the salt flats were even more unreal than I imagined! Those killer curves going around and around the sides of the mountains and climbing 6,000 feet on the way out of the park were incredible, but quite a driving-adrenaline rush for an East Coast woman whose used to the smoother Appalachians! Breathtaking in every way with such diverse landscapes all in one gigantic area. This was one of the best days of my trip so far - seems that most people marvel at the Grand Canyon as the epitome of America's natural wonders, but Death Valley is my Grand Canyon. Also, I was really amused to have to stop for a coyote crossing the street in the middle of nowhere - deer and cats I'm used to, but coyotes? And ravens everywhere! Poe would've had a field day! Gotta love it all! Spent the night in Bakersfield before heading up to the Bay area.

    Day 11: Had lunch in Napa at Bounty Hunter, which has the best beef brisket sandwhich that isn't even close to being a brisket - it's sliced brisket, like a Sloppy Joe made of brisket only ten times as tender and tasty. Enjoyed an afternoon of wine tasting in Napa Valley - I was the only one spitting out the wine after a few sips at the first winery, and that's when I realized that most of the people standing around drinking it down and having a good old time were part of a tour or had transportation of some kind. I actually explained to someone: "Drivers spit." Without a doubt, every wine I tasted was exceptional - the best wines I've ever had in my life! I had the will power to walk away with just one bottle of 2004 white port from Prager Winery, which is a hidden but very shiny gem!

    Day 12: Visited Muir Woods first thing in the morning, but just missed seeing it in a nice thick fog - that would have been wonderfully atmospheric. Drove into Sausalito and soaked up a little of the local Bayfront scene, and then crossed the Golden Gate into San Francisco. Drove to all the places I've never had a chance to go in San Francisco before, including Grace Cathedral and Golden Gate Park. I completely forgot to hit the Hard Rock to see what pins they had, and I kicked myself later for this. Drove to Colma and visited the graves of 19th century SF legend Norton I (Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico) and Wild West legendary gunslinger and lawman Wyatt Earp.

    Day 13: Staying in Palo Alto, I just sort of relaxed for the day before meeting some friends in town for dinner and ice cream - for which I highly recommend Rick's! All kinds of awesome flavors including but certainly not limited to Cherry Chip, Pumpkin, and Computer Chip (chocolate orange with chocolate chips - like a frozen Tobler orange). I've been here before and Stanford is worth seeing as is the Rodan sculpture garden at the museum. Hoover Tower is well worth the admission fee.

    Day 14: Hit the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot - and yes, my wallet does feel quite a bit lighter after that costly little curiosity. It's all optical illusions and small little anomalies that I'm certain are explainable by scientific means, if not now, then eventually. Wasn't expecting much though, so I wasn't disappointed. Drove around Monterey and Carmel, and did the 17-Mile Drive, then went down Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur where I turned back and headed down 101 in search of cheaper accommodations halfway between SF and LA. Under lessons learned the hard way, the wind at Hurricane Point is no joke - before I found out it was called that, I opened my door a little and the wind ripped it right out of my hand bending the frame so it wouldn't close properly at the top. I was able to bend it a bit to close right, but now there's a larger dent where it was rubbing against the door frame. For the rest of the trip, I will getting in from the passenger's side.

    That's all the news thats fit to report from the field right now. This is definitely an experience I will never forget and I can't believe it's taken me so long to actually finally do it! I don't think I've ever done anything this rewarding and invigorating. I'll check back in soon!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Great news !

    Hi Serra,

    Great to here from you, thanks for sharing your trip with us.

    Here's Week Two with a cumulative 4,602 miles on the odometer so far:
    Wow, that's some serious mileage you have clocked up, well done.

    t's all the news thats fit to report from the field right now. This is definitely an experience I will never forget and I can't believe it's taken me so long to actually finally do it! I don't think I've ever done anything this rewarding and invigorating. I'll check back in soon!
    I am so pleased that you are getting so much from this trip, [apart from the bent door] and will look forward to updates.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Oops on the door!

    I had to do the same thing myself once, getting in-out via the passenger door all the way from New Mexico to Washington's coast. A bit of a hassle with the stick-shift and storage unit in the way, let me tell ya. So have fun with that.

    I'm really enjoying your report. You've made me especially about the Hoover Tower. What is it and why is it worth a visit?

  6. #6


    Dave, thank you for your comments! I really can't believe it took me so long to do this, but I'm so grateful that I'm finally doing it! And clocking up the miles has been no effort whatsoever! The bent door I will chalk up to another life's lesson.

    Judy, I've had cars before where I needed to get in and out of the passenger side, and it's at least a lot easier with the minivan.
    The Hoover Tower is on Stanford University campus right across from a really beautiful fountain. It's a fairly tall structure, and you can see most of the campus from the top. There is a small admission fee and there are Stanford students who man the elevator and stand at the top to answer any questions (at least they were there when I went), and the view if just a gorgeous 360 degree view of Palo Alto and the surrounding area of the valley and the mountains that enclose it. You can see Google Headquarters from the top too.
    Here are two links on the tower:
    The first one here
    and here
    I'd recommend it if you're ever in the area - as well as the Rodan sculpture garden on Museum Way where they have a cast of his famous "Gates of Hell."
    I'm glad you're enjoying the reports - I'll have another in a few days.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 10-14-2008 at 12:56 AM. Reason: Preffered link format.

  7. #7


    Here's the report on Week 3, though I only logged about 400 miles the whole week since I spent most of it in the same city enjoying SoCal - I got very comfortable in LA, despite the incredibly random traffic crawls.

    Day 15: Arrived in Los Angeles! I've been to the City of Angels before, so I've been down Hollywood and Sunset, seen the Chinese Theater, Hollywood & Highland to Hollywood & Vine, Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach and Marina del Ray, the Hollywood Bowl and sign, so when I got to LA, I was wondering what I was even going to do with myself. Didn't have to worry about it much right away, because I got into town late anyway after driving some of Pacific Coast Highway - the 101 was faster and had mostly the same amazing views, and I came in through Malibu. Point of curiosity: how do those houses not crumble downhill or collapse into the ocean? As a kid, I made sandcastles that looked more stable.

    Day 16: Got brunch at Basix in West Hollywood. Did you know they can make pumpkin pancakes?! I didn't know such a thing existed, but they do it like they invented it! Went to Marilyn Monroe's grave, which couldn't be more hidden. Drove around Griffith Park and visited the Autry Western Heritage Museum - worthwhile if you are a fan of westerns, as it compares the Hollywood versions to the real thing. Walked around City Walk at Universal - Popcornopolis makes some wicked concoctions, like White Chocolate Pumpkin Popcorn, and Saddle Ranch has some drinks and steaks worthy of Texas. You can even ride the mechanical bull for $4 - I only lasted 15 seconds.

    Day 17: Went to the Peterson Automotive Museum and the Paley Center - not enough '60s and '70s cars at Peterson and Paley's archives were fun to explore, but it really wasn't what I thought it would be.

    Day 18: Toured San Fernando Mission, and discovered that Bob Hope is buried in a garden there. Grabbed a chili dog at Pink's Famous Chili Dog stand where dozens and dozens of celebrity autographs adorn the walls.

    Day 19: Took the VIP Tour at Warner Brothers Studios - expensive but worthwhile. Attended a "live taping" of Jay Leno. The Palm Thai Restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard had a Thai Elvis impersonator.

    Day 20: Explored the Getty Center, which has a beautiful view of the city during the day, and then hit the Griffith Observatory after sundown, which has a beautiful view of the city lit up at night - also got to see Jupiter and two of its moons through the telescope.

    Day 21: Went to It's a Wrap in Burbank where they sell used clothes from the studios at bargain prices, and then left LA for San Diego. Drove around La Jolla and then into downtown to the Gaslamp District, where there is a lot of nice restaurants and a serious shortage of parking.

    That's my third week on the road, and this is actually the halfway point of my trip, though there are still many stops to come.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Very eclectic LA experience

    Thanks for the latest field report -- looks like a pretty ideal LA trip thus far.

    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 10-17-2008 at 10:00 AM. Reason: typo in the title

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default LA without theme parks!

    Personally, I must see The Mouse and ride the rides at all the theme parks when I go to LA but, gosh, what an ideal list of things to do once done at the parks! I think this is one to bookmark.

    I would have loved to see that Elvis impersonator!

    Keep it coming... :)

  10. #10


    Thank you, Mark and Judy! I definitely tried my best to do as much as possible. I went to the two major theme parks (Disney and Universal) when I was 14, and though I was tempted to hit Universal up this time, if only to go on the Simpsons ride (which I've been really eager to do), I just couldn't justify the cost. I'm willing to splurge occasionally on this trip, but I do have to watch my budget and I'm trying to do the things that make the most sense and will be the most fun/rewarding. I was definitely pleased with the way I spent my week in LA.

    Now, onto the rundown for Week 4:

    Day 22: Having arrived in San Diego the previous night, I walked La Mesa Village, which is a small town center with local boutiques and shops. I've been to San Diego's Old Town and Gaslamp District before as well as La Jolla, and while they're great tourist spots, I found nice places in La Mesa to spend time away from the tourist track, though it's not teaming with things to do. Moving on to Coronado, walked the beach where the sand is super soft and sparkles with pyrite dust, but the water is pretty cold. The Hotel Del Coronado is historic and majestic, and there's a tree outside marked for its famous appearance in a Marilyn Monroe photo, because this is where she filmed "Some Like It Hot." There's a fantastic sushi place just across the street called Yummy Sushi, and I ate on the patio and watched the sunset over the Pacific.

    Day 23: Went out to Bates Nut Farm in Escondido for Fall fun and their pumpkin patch. Got to see lots of beautiful California hills and towns on the way there, and on the way back, stopped at Encinitas on Pacific Coast Highway. Ate at Roxy's, which had a pretty good falafel, and then spent time on the beach by the bluffs. Taking PCH part of the way back, stopped in Del Mar to watch the sunset over the Pacific for the last time.

    Day 24: Had breakfast at Mimi's, which seems to be a California chain, and they excel at breakfast foods! Explored a local farmer's market before hitting the road and heading for Phoenix. Got up to 101 degrees while I was on I-8, and I took the 347 north to Phoenix and it was a much more scenic and beautiful ride than the Interstate.

    Day 25: Explored Chandler a little bit, which is mostly shopping area and has some nice little plazas, but mostly it's typical urban shopping centers, so I just took some time to relax.

    Day 26: Hit downtown Phoenix, which is the quietest downtown area I've ever seen in my life - and Phoenix is one of the quietest cities I've ever visited in my life. Ate lunch at Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, which is a small, hidden place, but the food is home-style Southern cooking, and I had the absolute best fried chicken and homemade mac & cheese I've ever had eating out! Toured the Heard Museum, which chronicles the Native American cultures of the region - very nice museum, but the gift shop is mostly overpriced.

    Day 27: Spent some time in Historic Chandler and ate at SanTan, where they have soft pretzels as appetizers and a nice spicy cajun chicken pasta.

    Day 28: Headed out to the Superstition Mountains, and drove out to Tortilla Flats, ate at the little restaurant inside the shop and sat at the counter/bar where the seats are saddles. Hit several vista points around Canyon Lake, which is beautiful and serene. Toured Goldfield Ghost Town, which is definitely a nice little tourist trap where much of the old mining town has been built up for the tourists, but it was a real mine and there is a tangible history there that felt worthwhile. Ate at its Mammoth Saloon restaurant, which had a nicely done flat iron steak and very fresh corn.

    I'm taking it easy in the Phoenix area, just to take a break, especially since I'm sick right now, but I'm still doing my best to enjoy my time out here. The weather has cooled down since I arrived - it's really beautiful with no humidity and lots of sunshine. Now I'm just sort of pacing myself, because it'll be a few days yet before I'm back on the road.

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