Day 13 Las Vegas to Phoenix
States covered so far: 3
Miles driving today: 455 (732 kms)
At last, some more road-tripping. We knew it would be hot, but would we didn’t expect was the huge variation in temperatures today.
We got away from Las Vegas at 9am, and hit the road, firstly aiming for Kingman, Arizona. We’d been to this small Route 66 town 9 years ago, so wanted to see if it had changed much. Also, since we are writing a book on travelling in the USA (www.usa2nz.co.nz) we thought it was important to get some miles in on Route 66 as well. Any excuse to drive more in the US is fine by us.
We had a quick stop at Hoover Dam – 7 years ago when we were here last, a huge overpass was being built. As it was, all traffic had to go over the dam and that meant a security check for every vehicle on that road. Traffic jam, anyone?
Now the overpass is finished, and the road to the dam is one-way only – much easier for security checks! This also made it a much more pleasant experience as a tourist, as you didn’t have a big semi up your butt wanting to get to Las Vegas.
Kingman wasn’t too bad as far as the heat goes, about 33 degrees. The town hadn’t changed much, and that was fine by us.
We then took the I40 that leads us to a turnoff to go to Seligman, another Route 66 town and probably the one that plays up the most on its Route 66 status. On the way to Seligman the temperature outside drops to 16 degrees – just like home!!
In Seligman, there are 4 or 5 shops here jammed packed with Route 66 memorabilia. Anything that you can buy has a Route 66 logo on it. One of the shops also has a classic car display, but it’s just a single hot rod and an Austin Healy 3000. I was surprised to see the Austin – I thought more a Mustang or something more *American*, and asked the owner about it – it’s his own car, and that’s what he owns so that’s what’s in the shop on display. Fair enough.
From Seligman we travelled more along Route 66 and at one point I pulled over and strongly suggested my wife drive. I need to mention this is our 5th trip to the US, we’ve done around 80,000kms here and she has never driven. Ever. Regular followers of Drive Life will remember she HATES driving in New Zealand, so for her to drive a manual car (that she’s never driven) in the USA would be a major Fear Factor moment. But she was up for the challenge (it did take a while!) and we swapped seats.
We waited for a white Ford Explorer to go past, then she moved off. Ok, starting off she did go straight from 1st to 4th gear but the V8 handled it easily. She managed to hit 50mph and we cruised along (with the song Route 66 blasting on the stereo, naturally) and after 5 miles or so she decided to find a place to pull over and swap back, before we re-joined the interstate. I spotted the white Explorer parked up ahead and suggested she pull in next to him, there seemed to be enough space. But when she pulled over, it wasn’t the same Explorer – this one was the local sheriff! I said hello to him and asked him how his day was going. All was good but it did seem like a ‘what if’ moment for a while there. We had a good laugh about it as I accelerated away. Without mentioning it to my wife though, I took the speed up to 80mph as per usual, before looking at the GPS and noticing that this was a 55mph limited road! Oh well, perhaps he didn’t have his radar on, or he liked our accents. Or more likely like other cops in the US, they don’t put as much emphasis on speed there and concentrate on all the road rules. If only it were like that at home…
We left Route 66 behind and did the trip down from Flagstaff to Phoenix to stay with relatives. We spent 12 hours on the road today, driving and sightseeing, and it was everything I remember an American road trip to be. Cheap gas, cheap coffee and lots of driving at 80mph.
We’ve got 3 nights in Phoenix to do family stuff, then we head south-east towards Texas for our next leg.
Day 16: Phoenix to El Paso
States covered so far: 5
States covered today: 3 – Arizona, New Mexico, Texas
Miles driving today: 492 (791kms)
MPG today: US26.1mpg, NZ31.3mpg or 9.3l/100km
We leave family in Phoenix today and hit the road big time – we need to put in as many miles as we can today so we can get as close as possible to San Antonio. We’ve booked in a Segway Tour there on Sunday so got a heap of miles to get through to make it in time.
On the whole, today was pretty uneventful – all our miles were on the I10, sitting on around 80mph.
At one point we stopped at a rest area near Tuscon and there was my (not) favorite sign: Watch out for snakes. Ug, I hate snakes.
We stopped in the town of Bowie at one point; the huge and plentiful beef jerky signs were a draw card, and we needed yet another toilet stop. We’ve been downing 3-4 bottles of water each a day, it’s so hot, and this takes its toll on our travel time, stopping for toilet breaks often.
Bowie isn’t too big of a town, really just the beef jerky shop. We’ve had jerky before so settle on some homemade maple walnut fudge instead. Hard times. We drove along a bit and found an old deserted gas station to take some more photos of the car to go in our book (www.usa2nz.co.nz)
I say on the whole the day was uneventful, as there was a slight incident with a State Trooper. There we were on the I10, cruising along with the traffic at 84mph – the limit is 75, but everyone seems to move along around 80ish. I come up on a car in the fast lane and he doesn’t over, so I do the New Zealand Flick and pass him on the inside, and then see two police cars sitting in the scrubby area between the two sides of the interstate. Five seconds later, I see his lights go on. I knew it was all over, but of course was hoping it was someone else he was pulling over. But no. We stopped, and I awaited my speeding ticket. But again, no. The first thing he asked was, did I realise I passed someone on the inside lane? Apparently it’s illegal in the USA. I did not know this, and told him so, nicely.
He confirmed it’s definitely law there so I should not be doing it. He asked for my license and took it back to his car. One minute later he was back, and then mentioned my speed – they prefer you not to speed in New Mexico, and yes after I mentioned it he said yeah they drive faster in California – but this isn’t California. Totally a nice cop, genuine and friendly and let me off with a warning about passing on the inside. That was enough drama for today!
We soon stopped at a Love’s Truckstop for some food. For those who haven’t visited a US truck stop, they are like a little self-contained city. You can buy just about anything here, have a shower, buy a heap of different foods, and more. The parking lots are enormous and the gas is cheap. There are three sizes of coffee cup, small-medium-large. A small cup is 50% bigger than our largest cup, and the price between the sizes is a whole 20 cents.
We arrived in El Paso at 630 and find a hotel for the night – we left Phoenix at 8am and went for breakfast on the way, but with all our stops and discussions with the Police, we’ve been on the road for 9 hours, and even with AC it’s been bloody hot in the car when the sun is on you.
We get a Quality Inn room for $49 including a cooked breakfast – great value.
A weird thing in El Paso is it’s just over the border from Mexico – at night, the US is all lit up and bright, the Mexico side is pretty dark. There’s plenty of houses over the border that we can see during daylight, but there’s plenty of poverty too. No wonder they try every night to get across the big fence that separates the two countries.
Tomorrow we hit the road again, aiming to make it to San Antonio as soon as we can – without any more stops with the Police (hopefully!).
Day 17: El Paso to San Antonio
States covered so far: 5
States covered today: 1! Texas
Miles driving today: 576 (926kms)
We tried to get up early today, but no can do. We wander down for the free breakfast at 8am, and there they are: Texas shaped waffles. We’ve seen these on other trips through Texas and this is the first time for this trip. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s one of those ‘only in Texas’ markers that are quite cool. Nothing like starting your day by eating Texas covered in maple syrup.
Today is going to be a Big Ass Driving Day. We are needing to cover over 900kms, 99% of it on the I10 Interstate. We’ve done 1,100kms in one day before in the US on a previous trip, so we know it’s do-able. Surely not possible or a good idea in New Zealand to drive 900ks in a day, but with the Interstates as good as they are (non-stop driving, or at least until your fuel runs out), very much easier.
After a late start from El Paso, we hit the I10 which is a full 15 seconds from our hotel. After ten minutes, the speed limit changes to 80mph (128km/h) so I set the cruise control for the long haul. After yesterday’s brush with the law, I’m sticking to the limit today, so 80mph is my target. Well, most of the time anyway.
In fact on this first leg, I don’t change down from 6th gear for nearly 2 hours! The only reason we had to turn cruise off was for a toilet break at a gas station.
I do love using cruise control on a manual gearbox car. With an auto, often when your speed drops down, the car will sometimes accelerate on full throttle, changing down and revving its guts out until it gets back to the right speed. With the manual, I just leave it in 6th gear and let the torque of the engine cope with any changes in speed. A lot more relaxing and dare I say it more economical as well.
Early on today, we went through a border check-point, where they search cars and trucks for illegal immigrants. Luckily we had our passports to hand, otherwise who knows what could have happened. Our patrol guy was super friendly, and was asking more questions about the car than if we were harboring any illegal aliens in the boot. We weren’t, by the way. Well, none that I know of.
Time for another gas stop. Long miles = a few tanks of gas. I have a love/hate relationship with US gas station/truck stops. Everywhere (we have yet to see an exception) in the US you have to prepay for your gas. Not the end of the world, but the speed of service at the counter means it can take AGES just to hand your cash over to the person on the till, to then go back out into the heat and gas your car up.
Then it’s back in the queue (remember me saying a few posts back how the Americans seem to love to queue up?) to get your change. Also, people can cash cheques at the till (yes, this happens often) so if someone does this in front of you, there goes another 5 minutes. Yes, First World Problems and all that but when you just want to hit the road to cover 576 miles, you don’t want to waste time at gas stations in queues. We find that any gas station stop takes at least 15 minutes, and that would be a good time. Generally it’s at least a 20-minute experience, especially if you have to queue up for the toilet.
Back on the road again, and we thought we were doing well time-wise today, until we passed a sign warning us of a time-zone change and then bam! We lost an hour instantly.
During this trip to the US, we’ve decided to embrace that technology that is satellite radio. The car comes with a 5-year subscription and I’ve got to admit, I love it. We have 6 stations programmed in, and they work everywhere. No more trying to search for new stations as you leave an area – and no adverts either! Just so much easier.
It’s so different in the US compared to New Zealand when it comes to rest areas. Over here, they are much further apart. After exiting one of them today, the sign on the interstate told us the next one is 119 miles (191kms) away! We just stopped at all of them to make sure we didn’t end up on the interstate and busting for a pee. If you stopped at the side of the interstate, a State Trooper would be there real quick to see what was going on. You aren’t allowed to pull over, unless broken down.
After 11 hours of travel, we arrived at our hotel in San Antonio. Tomorrow we have booked a Segway tour of San Antonio. Neither of us have ridden a Segway before, so it should be interesting. We decided they are the best way to see the most of a city in a short time. We’ve done walking tours of cities before, but with this heat? No thanks. For $60 each for 2.5 hours of sightseeing, it’s a no-brainer.
Day 18: San Antonio, Texas
After yesterday’s mammoth road trip, today we are looking forward to hanging around in San Antonio. If only it wasn’t so hot! 7am for breakfast, and 35 degrees – and humid with it.
First up for the day is our Segway tour. I can’t explain how much I’ve been looking forward to this. I’ve always wanted to have a go on one, and at last I have a genuine reason. It does make sense when you think about it; save your legs, see more of a city and have a fun ride doing it. What you call a win-win-win.
We had a short training session each, and I’m going to gloat here and say my lesson lasted all of 30 seconds. I got on, she wiggled the machine about and said “you’ll be fine”. We were off. It was surprising how quickly these things can accelerate, and what sort of speeds you can get up to.
I’d like to say my ride for the 2 ½ hours went without incident, but at one point I did manage to get some air, and not on purpose. Apparently from behind it looked like quite an impressive manoeuvre, but I was busy nearly falling off the thing. Looking back I had hit a bit of steel pipe that was sticking up out of the footpath, so it wasn’t really my fault. True story.
We whizzed around San Antonio, posed outside The Alamo, went around the Tower of the Americas and through a market. Literally, through a market. At this point I felt quite conspicuous, as there you are up higher than everyone else, and feeling a bit lordy over all the peasants you are gliding past. We did take it really slow – walking pace at times – but I could have done without that part of the tour.
It was great value and I highly recommend it next time you travel to a new city and want to get to see some sights with someone giving you their local knowledge. We have booked Segway tours in New Orleans and Washington DC in advance, after doing this one.
We then went back on foot to the Alamo, but the queue to get inside was horrendous. It actually looked like a really short line, but then we realised it curved right around the garden and back again! Then we saw the reason for the queue. They were holding people up to take their freaking photo. Everywhere in the US, at anything that remotely resembles a tourist attraction, you have to get your photo with the green screen behind. We’ve given up on these money makers now, and just say “no thanks” and go past it. But you can’t do this at The Alamo without pushing past everyone in line, or waiting in line and then just going past it.
Too hot to bother standing in the line, so we went to the Long Barracks instead, where there was no line but there was air conditioning. After that, we went to the gardens themselves which had some good displays and other info.
Lunchtime now, so we headed down to the river to do the river walk, and find somewhere to eat. Mexican was calling and another air conditioned café was a perfect choice. The river walk itself is very nice, with boats going up the ‘river’ with tourists onboard and a tour guide. It’s not a wide river here – only 5 metres or so – but there are heaps of tourists like us walking up and down the sides of it, mostly looking for somewhere air conditioned to eat!
It was interesting getting back to the car park after that, as a guy walked past the Challenger as we were getting in, and threw me a “nice car”. We’ve had this comment from quite a few people now, and when sitting at the lights often people will point or look at the car. I’m not sure if it’s because of the colour (i.e. not grey like most Challengers are) or perhaps it looks like a Hellcat. The optional charcoal-coloured forged alloys on the car really look like they belong on a Hellcat. Hey, I can dream about it, surely.
Tomorrow we hit the road again, driving south east through to Corpus Christi, then Rockport, and onto a night staying in Alvin – still in Texas though.
Day 19: San Antonio to Alvin, Texas
States covered so far: 5
States covered today: 1! Texas
Miles driving today: 385 (619 kms)
Today was pretty boring as far as driving goes. Sure, we had a few turns here and there, but it was a straight run from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, then on to Alvin, Texas.
The little coastal town of Corpus Christi was nice. Well, perhaps not that little with a population over 300,000. Coming into the town, instantly you can see this is an Oil Town. Tanks everywhere and huge infrastructure all for oil refining. Even looking out into the Gulf of Mexico from the shore, you could spot oil rigs out there, drilling away.
One other thing that we have decided Corpus Christi is famous for – bad roads. The pot holes and mis-joins in the road hammered the car, even at slow speeds. In the end it was a quick toe-in-the-water at a beach and then get out of town. The roads there are shocking.
After that we drove straight to Alvin, on the way driving through a heavy thunderstorm, complete with torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Although the limit was 75, all of a sudden Texan drivers slow right down to 50 or so – they have little experience driving in rain, and so traffic almost comes to a standstill. Well, it felt like it.
We’re in Alvin just for the night – tomorrow we are of via the coastal town of Galveston and on to Baton Rouge.
Day 19: Alvin, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana
States covered so far: 6
States covered today: 2 Texas, Louisiana
Miles driving today: 298 (480 kms)
Again, best laid plans of an early start did happen. We left Alvin at 9am and hit the I10 heading south-east towards Galveston. We dropped off the I10 to go to Galveston. Always wanted to go to Galveston, and this trip we made it happen. There’s a number of reasons behind this; it’s at the bottom of Texas and is an island joined to the mainland by a massive bridge on the Houston side. Then when you get into Galveston, you can see oil refinery infrastructure for miles – it’s massive. Also, Galveston has the not-great record of the place where a natural disaster wiped out more people than any other natural disaster in the USA. In 1900, a massive hurricane turned on sea-level Galveston and levelled it, killing 6,000 of the 30,000 or so inhabitants. Part of the problem then was they were cut off from the mainland by road or telegraph and so no one on the mainland knew of the devastation. Then the remaining locals decided they had to dispose of the 6,000 bodies, so weighed them down and sent them out to sea. The sea sent the bodies back to the island. So instead, for two weeks non-stop, the bodies were burnt. Amazingly sad story.
We arrived in Galveston, but unfortunately since we were already late, did not have time to visit the museum to learn more about the hurricane. That will have to wait until another trip. We did spend some time there, and also had to fill up with gas. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the oil refineries in the area, but we got our cheapest petrol price so far – US$1.69 a gallon. That’s NZ 72 cents per litre. It’s not costing much to fill up the 18-gallon Dodge tank at that price.
After gas, coffee and donuts, time to head east to the end of the island to catch the free ferry across to Bolivar Peninsula. The free ferry takes 18 minutes to cross, and today we got the bonus of having some dolphins give us a show on the way over.
Once we hit Bolivar Peninsula – which is basically a sand spit, we cruised the extremely straight road to the end of the peninsula, then took a sharp left – literally! – to head back to the I10 interstate.
We did stop at one of the estates to take a cruise past the seaside houses. All are up on stilts – some of them three stories up – and are quite palatial.
We saw some land for sale for $79K, plus your house cost on top. This doesn’t seem too bad, but I wonder just how well those stilts will hold up in a decent storm.
On the road through a town called Welsh, we decided to have a pit stop for a toilet break. There, next to the toilet, was ‘Gator Chateau’. Had to have a look, and as you walked in the door they hand you a baby alligator to hold. Well why not. Toilet stop and a baby gator, they so go together like, well, things.
After a while, hunger struck us so we stopped in at a roadside Creole restaurant. We aren’t Creole experts, but since we are doing a ‘walking food tour’ in New Orleans in a few days, we thought we had better at least try some. It was delicious! Our waiter said Creole is more about taste than being hot, and he was right. My Gumbo Ya Ya was superb, and I’d have it again in a flash.
Time to get moving again, we still have 3 ½ hours to Baton Rouge. Finally we rejoined the I10, and after a while we got to a bridge that crosses a swamp. We stayed on this bridge for nearly 20 minutes. It was an incredible engineering success – built up on concrete poles on top of the swamp, for mile after mile after mile. I wanted to take a photo but it was raining, and there was no stopping allowed.
Near the end of the bridge, SatNav mentioned a traffic jam on the I10, and would we like an alternative route? Why not. This took us on some real back roads of Louisiana, and we love this. Seeing the old historic buildings and homes – some incredibly expensive, and others run-down shacks – there’s nothing like getting off the interstate.
Then it was time to rejoin the I10, and more straight roads. At one point, we passed a sign that said if you want to come and see a tiger, go to the Tiger Truck Stop. Yes, they actually have a tiger at the truck stop. Sad but true. By now on the I10, the traffic jam had expanded.
We slowly crept onto the Horace Wilkinson Bridge that crosses the Mississippi, and then into Baton Rouge. New Orleans is only 30 minutes or so away, so easy driving tomorrow. We have another Segway Tour booked in tomorrow – now we are sort of pros at it, going to be a lot of fun.
The temperatures haven’t been quite so bad today, ranging from 24 to 33 degrees. But the humidity…killing our energy levels.
Observation for today: America once again is full of SUVs. They are everywhere. In California, Prius and Tesla seemed to outnumber everything, but from Nevada until now in Louisiana, SUVs seem to make up at least 50% of the traffic on the road, with pickup trucks making up another 25%.