If you follow me over on Instagram, you may know that I went on a cross country road trip last month. It was a semi-spontaneous, planned at the last minute, can’t miss this, sort of a trip.
Now that I am back in Chico momentarily – blogging on the floor of my empty living room – I’m documenting the trip, if at the very least, to capture the highlights of this happy holiday adventure. In other words, it’s a compilation of photos snapped with my iPhone (since that’s as fancy as I got) to remember how I spent the final couple of weeks of 2017.
What. Why. When. Where.
A cross country road trip from Chico, California to Tampa, Florida.
3,203 miles. 7 days. 7 states.
My boyfriend (who is in the Air Force) received orders that his new duty station would be in Tampa, Florida and he had to report on December 27th. Two days after Christmas!? Why, Air Force, why? We contemplated multiple travel plans in order to be with family for the holidays, but ultimately traveling through Christmas via his vehicle (in order to get his truck and dog to Florida) seemed to make the most logical sense.
I also contemplated, briefly, about staying in Chico to work, as my last official day was right around the corner; but, hey, when life presents such an opportunity to take a road trip across the country (even on Christmas), you do it!
In order to arrive in Tampa on Wednesday, December 27th, we decided to leave on December 20th giving us seven days on the road. I know it’s entirely feasible to drive across The U.S. in much less time, but 12+ hours of driving per day did not appeal to either of us.
So, we packed up his truck with his sweet puppy, a case of Sierra Nevada beer (which got stolen at some point), and a Blue Tooth speaker (since his car stereo was out of commission). Can you imagine driving said distance without music!?
Just days prior to embarking on our adventure, I asked my geography-guru of a mother to map out a route for us, and a wonderful job she did! Hallelujah for Google Maps too. Just saying. I don’t think it led us off course once during our journey.
Day 1. Chico, CA to Barstow, CA | 483 miles
We opted to go down the central valley of California versus “over the through the woods” (a.k.a. the Sierra Nevadas) to avoid hitting any possible winter weather on Day 1. Driving down the middle of California certainly isn’t the prettiest drive, but we got some good mileage under our (seat)belts. Barstow is anything but a destination, but it did its job as a sleeping spot and gave us a direct shot into Arizona for the grandest destination on Day 2.
Day 2. Barstow, CA to Tusayan, AZ [Grand Canyon] | 450 miles
Nick and I were both silly excited about Day 2’s destination. I have been to Grand Canyon National Park once before, when I was in middle school, but it was Nick’s (and Koba’s!) first time. Tusayan (not to be confused with Tucsan) is a tiny tourist town a few miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. If you notice on the map, the canyon was a bit “off route”, but we both agreed that it was totally worth the extra miles.
We made it into Tusayan just as the sun was setting, so we rushed through the park entrance to be at an overlook point at sunset. We caught the tail end of it, as the sun was nearly down, but the sight of the Grand Canyon still took our breath away in the dim December evening light… and/or the freezing cold temperatures may have had something to do with that!
One of my favorite photos, albeit blurry.
I did my best to pack clothes for a variety of climates, but I didn’t realize just how cold most of our trip would be, especially in Arizona and New Mexico. There was a light dusting of snow and ice in Tusayan; the temperatures were single digits! Needless to say, ridiculous layering of undershirts, flannels, socks, hats, scarves, and gloves (none of which matched) ensued to avoid my unavoidable Raynauds. Holy brrr!
The only one of us that didn’t mind the frigid temps was our furry pup. She thrives in the cold and probably could have played outside all day. Koba had her photo taken with more than one foreign tourist. She has her own set of paparazzi!
Ambitiously, our plan was to begin Day 3 by watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. Basically we hightailed ourselves in every piece of warm clothing that we had packed back to the South Rim area again for morning views of the canyon.
Of course we yearned for more time to actually explore and hike, but we had to hit the road. Plus, we planned to stop in Flagstaff, Arizona for brunch. It was my second time to this university mountain town in northern Arizona, and I’m only craving more of it (with a trip to Sedona!?). The inviting downtown scene with outdoors-y shops has my name all over it.
We ate at MartAnne’s for brunch, a quirky spot with funky decor and southwest fare. The blueberry banana buckwheat pancakes hit the spot!
Day 3. Tusayan, AZ to Santa Fe, NM | 729 miles total for Days 3 & 4 (forget to record mileage on Day 4)
Day 3 took us into New Mexico. Originally we had planned to stop in Albuquerque, but once my aunt and uncle said that Santa Fe was one of their favorite cities (and they travel a lot!), we altered our route. Again, it was a little bit “out of the way”, but worth it. Santa Fe turned out to be one of our favorite stops of the entire trip.
We got into town on Friday night. We had high hopes of eating dinner at the “best restaurant in the country” according to my uncle, Cafe Pasqual, but we couldn’t get a reservation until 9:30pm, so we opted for his second choice: The Shed.
A bustlin’ place on a Friday night, located in an old adobe build in the heart of downtown Sante Fe. I had the strongest margarita of my life, and the veggie tamales knocked my socks off. The Shed gets five stars from us for both food and atmosphere.
We were in no rush to get to our next destination in West Texas, so we had a leisurely Saturday morning exploring downtown Santa Fe. We filled our thermoses with hot coffee at the tiniest coffee shop I’ve ever seen, Holy Spirit Espresso, and then meandered the streets, Koba entail (pun intended). Turns out, Santa Fe is extremely dog friendly, so Koba was welcomed most everywhere we went. Several of the shops had water bowls, treats, and even invited her inside. Except for the cathedral. We took turns going inside. And what a magical experience! Seeing that is was two days before Christmas, the choir was singing Christmas carols and it was decorated elegantly. Despite not being religious, I can appreciate the splendor of such establishments. It reminded me of visiting Notre Dame in Paris, flooding me with immense feelings of peace and gratitude.
The plaza (pictured above) where we had dinner the night before was now lined with artists selling beautiful sterling silver and turquoise jewelry, among other handmade trinkets. All of the artists (who said that they are out there every day!), were incredibly friendly. I couldn’t pass up purchasing a couple of Christmas gifts.
Day 4. Santa Fe, NM to Lubbock, TX | 729 miles total for Days 3 & 4 (forget to record mileage on Day 4)
Day 5. Lubbock, TX to Baytown, TX | 555 miles
In short, Texas was big and barren. We had originally planned to stop in Austin for a night (Sunday, Christmas Eve), but we opted to drive further to Baytown (east of Houston) so that we’d have a shorter drive on Christmas Day/more time to explore New Orleans. Note: no need to go to Baytown again.
Texas was uneventful and flat. But, nevertheless, we saw a part of the country we’d never seen. We drove past oil rigs, cotton fields, and windmills. And tumbleweeds, those too! The route we took from Lubbock to Baytown was desolate. We would have made a pit stop at Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas, but the home of Fixer Upper was closed Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve 2017 was spent eating sushi during the closing hour of a Japanese restaurant not far from our hotel. Holiday homesickness is a thing and we both were missing our families a lot; but, we both knew it was just this once… just this one time that we’d be in this nondescript east Houston oil town on Christmas Eve. Plus, we had playful Koba girl to keep us smiling.
Day 6. Baytown, TX to New Orleans, LA | 325 miles
We woke up Christmas morning excited to hit the road to NOLA! It was a shorter day of driving, purposefully, as to have more time to explore the city. I’m pretty sure we drove on Interstate 10 East for at least three days straight. Through the swamps and over the bayous to NOLA we go… we cranked up Christmas music, called our families to wish them a Merry Christmas, and by mid-afternoon we were in the heart of New Orleans. Ignorantly so, we thought the city would be quieter since it was a holiday, but wrong we were. The city was still very much alive.
It was semi-overwhelming exploring the streets of the French Quarter with our fluffy, wants-to-kiss-every-stranger of a puppy, but we enjoyed strolling the historic cobblestone streets — festive in decor, loud with construction, and spirited with live music and joyful tourists and locals alike.
And let’s just say that Christmas dinner was a bit of nightmare. Ok, I could be exaggerating. We didn’t go hungry (obviously!). Though finding a restaurant without a reservation in a big city on Christmas resulted in two hangry individuals wandering the streets looking for a restaurant fit for this foodie. I ended up demolishing the largest plate of veggie pasta, we gave our charming waitress a large Christmas tip, and called it a night.
We had one priority left on our to-do list before we left New Orleans and tackled our final day on the road. Beignets! Pure sugar and coffee is ideal driving fuel, no? Enter Cafe du Monde with a line of tourists that wraps around the block waiting for fried sugary dough doused in powdered sugar and washed down with chicory coffee. Street musicians kept us entertained as we waited in line, but it didn’t take absurdly long before we were inhaling powdered sugar for breakfast at an outdoor table surrounded by every other tourist doing the same thing.
Day 7. New Orleans, LA to Tampa, FL | 661 miles
We saved the longest leg for the last day. Oh yes we did. I mean it wasn’t by choice, but since NOLA was a non-negotiable, it’s how it had to be done. Enter 661 miles/10+ hours of driving — woo!
I found a Whole Foods in Alabama, and we skimmed through the south of Mississippi before crossing the Florida border. Yay for crossing off a few new states on “my list” this trip.
We pulled into Tampa late Tuesday night, December 26th. We made it! It still blows my mind that we encountered zero issues the entire week on the road. No car issues. Not a drop of rain. No iffy weather (aside from the shear cold).
Never did I think this is how I would wrap up 2017, but I couldn’t have imagined a better finale to finish off a year for the books! This road trip filled me with courage, endless laughter, purple potato chips, and memories that will last a lifetime. Sure, our Christmas holiday was anything but ordinary, but if I’m learning anything at all, it is that the best things in life are often unplanned and unexpected.