Grand Road Trip: Day 5

Start: March 9, 5:30am in Holbrook, Az

End: March 10, 3:00am in Columbia, Mo

It was bittersweet as we left our cozy wigwam in Holbrook, Arizona this morning and began the 18+ hour trip to Columbia, Missouri. Arizona has been more than gracious to us, offering beautiful sites we didn’t even know existed, and surpassing our expectations of the Grand Canyon. As we crossed over the state line and into New Mexico, en route to Texas, Oklahoma, then finally Missouri, we reminisced on our favorite parts of the journey. As expected the Grand Canyon was a top contender, but the rest were hard to place. Everything we saw – from the luxurious city of Phoenix to the middle-of-nowhere places like hiking the WirePass Trailhead – was remarkable. I can already picture people asking me what my favorite place was that I visited, and besides the Grand Canyon which comes as an obvious answer, I honestly can’t choose just one. It was all so inexplicably incredible.

However, with over 18 hours of driving planned, we’ve got at least one great stop left before reaching Missouri, and that’s the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Created as an art piece in 1974, the 10 Cadillacs buried front first into the ground have become a popular stop along Route 66. We found out not too long before arriving that it’s a tradition to spray paint on the Cadillacs, leaving your mark as you pass through Amarillo, so with a can of lime green spray paint in hand, we had some fun with completely legal graffiti.

   

   
After leaving our marks on a Texas icon, we drove to another state hotspot known for the best burger: Blue Sky. Having highly advertised that they’ve been voted the best burger in Texas since 2003, there were high expectations entering the restaurant, and the bacon cheeseburger exceeded every expectation flawlessly. Hands down the best burgers we’ve ever had, we all agreed it would be worth another drive to Texas just for those savory pieces of heaven.

  

With our lunch break finished and milkshakes bought for the road, it was back in the car with about 12 more hours to go. Surprisingly, the majority of the car ride passed quickly, with conversation flowing fluidly which kept things lively in the car. Playing the question game, we’re pretty sure that by the end of the long drive, we had all mapped out our lives and heard every one else’s plans as well, but hey, at least it killed some time! It wasn’t until about 10:30pm that we slowly started to lose our energy, even though we still had about 4 hours left. 

If you’ve been keeping up with us this far, you know it’s essentially mandatory at this point that we take pictures with each state sign for the state we’re entering. Well, this tradition backfired on us when we missed the Missouri state sign and turned around only to find that the toll road in Oklahoma didn’t have any exits for another 14 miles… So with 30 extra minutes added to our trip just for a picture with the Missouri sign, our mood started to die down, but we were in our final state of the day and on our way!

We finally arrived in Columbia around 3:00am, and it had never felt so good to be out of the car and onto a comfy couch for bed. Since I will be staying in Missouri and getting a one-way ticket back home to spend time with my boyfriend, tonight marked the last night I’ll be in the car with the 3 amazing women I’m lucky enough to call my friends and travel buddies. They’re well aware of my serious fomo (fear of missing out) issue, so watching them leave and head back to Georgia without me was hard, but they’re excited to be back home knowing that our spring break has been the best hands down. 

Though the trip is nearly over, and we all wish we could pack our cars again and go back to Arizona one more time, it has been a vacation I’ll never forget, and I hope one day I’ll get to tell my kids about the time my friends and I took a cross country road trip to the Grand Canyon and saw everything in between. 

Grand Road Trip: Day 4

Start: March 8, 9:00am in Page, Az 

End: March 8, 9:00pm in Holbrook, Az

Yesterday was inexplicably incredible, seeing the Grand Canyon and feeling a sense of accomplishment for having reached our final destination, but the adventures don’t stop there! As we travel back to Georgia over the next couple days, we have plenty of sites to see along the way. Today marks our last day in Arizona, and we have a full schedule to soak up every last minute in this beautiful state.

To start the day off, we got in Archie (what we’ve decided to name our hard-working Nissan Altima) and drove north to Utah where we of course stopped to snap a picture as we crossed the state line.


Our first destination today was The Wave in Marble Canyon, Az, which is a repeated pattern of layered red, orange, and white rock that blends in a wave-like formation to look like a sea of rock. Unfortunately, we were unable to see it due to the need of a pass 24 hours in advance, but that didn’t hold us back from enjoying the beauty around The Wave. After twists and turns, winding down a bumpy, middle-of-nowhere dirt road to get to the trails leading to The Wave, we embarked on a 4 mile hike along the Wire Pass Trailhead. Although we wish we could have witnessed the natural wonder of The Wave, we soaked in the beautiful scenery of red and orange rock, green flora, and the glowing sunshine. Not only was it great exercise after being in a car for the past few days, it was also a great chance to just stop and see Arizona. We’d seen national sites and popular hotspots like the Grand Canyon and Phoenix, but we hadn’t gotten the opportunity to be in the middle of nowhere and just take in the state’s natural beauty.

 

Around 2:00pm, we dusted off and hopped back in Archie to tackle the crazy dirt road we drove on to get here. Finally reaching a steady pavement, we were back on the highway and driving towards Horseshoe Bend, a site that Mary had been looking forward to all day. Once we got there, I understood why. A horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, its unique formation, immense depth, and flowing water make it yet another one of Arizona’s natural wonders. Standing at the top of the cliff, you could see far and wide out into Arizona. The rocky ground glowed orange under the sun, and I felt incredibly lucky to be there (I guess it was the horseshoe).

We also wore matching outfits, because what’s a group road trip without matching outfits?

As the day was winding down, there was just one stop left before we got to our final sleeping location for the night. Yet another dirt road in the middle of nowhere, we turned down it in search of the White Mesa Arch. However, this dirt road made the last one feel like a joy ride. We’re positive that at one point good ole’ Archie was driving sideways along a slanted mound. But it wasn’t without some reward. The White Mesa Arch is an intriguing arch within a mountainous rock that, when the sun shined through it, was a stunning scene.

Today was a long day filled with hiking beautiful trails, off-roading in Archie, and more great conversations in the car. Leaving the middle of nowhere and entering a somewhat less middle of nowhere town, we pulled into the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Az. What’s a wigwam? So glad you asked. It’s an Indian tipi, and we got to sleep in one. Possibly one of the best decisions we’d made on this trip, sleeping in a wigwam was exciting and quaint, and we got great t-shirts out of it.

Tomorrow begins our second longest road trip as we travel from Holbrook, Az to Columbia, Mo, crossing through New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. We’ve still got some great things planned for a break in between, and with great company like Mary, Taylor, and Devin, 18 hours in a car will go by in no time (or so we tell ourselves).

 

 

 

 

Grand Road Trip: Day 3

Start: March 7, 10:00am in Phoenix, Az

End: March 7, 9:00pm in Page, Az

Today is the day! We’re going to the Grand Canyon! We’ve come 2,500 miles across the country for this moment, and it’s finally here, but first we’ve got a few other places to explore in Arizona.

First thing on the list is to explore the city of Phoenix. Lined with palm trees, it almost feels like you’re walking through LA. The best part of Arizona, though? No humidity! We’ve all become so used to the humid southeast that we didn’t know heat without sticky humidity even existed. It was clear skies and a beautiful 65 degrees as we strolled through Phoenix with Starbucks in hand. Arizona State University lies within the city, which will be Devin’s new home next year as she sets out to receive a master’s degree in sports journalism! From the clean, pristine streets to the gorgeous architecture and artwork among the city, Phoenix has now become one of my all time favorite cities.

    

Although we could’ve stayed in Phoenix for the entire day and been satisfied, we are on a mission to the Grand Canyon; so we got in the car after an hour of sight seeing and drove up through Arizona.

The next break out of the car was only a little over an hour away in Sedona, Az where we got to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Bell Rock. The drive there was just as wonderful as the sites with cacti and red mountains surrounding the paved road. By about 3:00pm, we had already witnessed beautiful views of the church within a mountain and the huge, bell-shaped rock as well as grabbing some lunch in the quaint city. Then it was time to get back on the road towards our ultimate destination only 2.5 hours away.


Finally, the moment we’d been waiting for had come. The moment we’d driven 2,500 miles across the country to experience. As we approached the south rim of the Grand Canyon, suddenly we felt nervous. Six months ago we made a plan to travel cross-country to the Grand Canyon, and 6 months later, here we were, standing on the edge. To say it was surreal would be an understatement.

As a journalist, I occasionally experience writer’s block, but this isn’t one of those times. Simply put, there is no way to describe the Grand Canyon in its entirety to give it the praise it deserves. Truly a work of God, its beauty expands 277 miles wide, and to think that the vast spread of red and orange hues in front of us was only a small portion was unbelievable.

I’ve traveled to Europe and tropical islands, seen the Eifle Tower light up at night and floated down a river in Guatemala, and I’ve described most of these experiences as breathtaking, but I now realize I was wrong. The Grand Canyon is the definition of breathtaking. When we reached the edge of the canyon, we all stopped. No one spoke. You couldn’t even hear breathing. It was a kind of quiet I’d never heard before.

Looking out and seeing such an expansive and immense abyss makes you feel so small in the best way possible. It was a feeling of knowing there are far more things bigger than you in this world that suddenly calms and settles every problem or fear that once seemed impossible to settle. I thought about how great life can be if you use every opportunity you have to make it that way. Regardless of the bad that comes with the good, that good can be great and that great can be incredible; it just takes some effort to give life all you have, and life will return the favor.

An overwhelming feeling took over as we stood there just gazing, absorbing everything that was happening – the colors, the vastness, the beauty – and I couldn’t help but think, “We did it. We made it.”

  
        

Mile count: 2,477

Hour count: 40

Grand Road Trip: Day 2 

Start: March 6, 6:00am in Dallas, Tx

End: March 7, 12:30am in Phoenix, Az

“We really overestimated our abilities,” as Devin said, so we decided to leave at 6am this morning instead of 5 for that extra hour of much needed sleep. With a full tank of gas and a full day ahead of us, we headed off to Phoenix!

Out of the six day road trip, the longest drives are from Dallas to Phoenix and from Holbrook, Az to Columbia, Mo. Today we set out on one of the two 18 hour straight car rides, with most of the time being spent in the car unlike the previous day. Although being in a car for so long did take its toll on us every now and then, especially as we got closer to Phoenix and grew more tired, we still made the best of it that we could! Creating extensions to our already existing car games plus stopping at a couple spots on our list made for a good second day on the open road as we traveled from Texas to Arizona.

We had quick stop in Abilene, Texas to see the World’s Largest Buffalo Head! The hours declared that the exhibit wasn’t necessarily open… But the gate was!

At the Universiy of Texas of the Permian Basin is a Stonehenge Replica, exhibiting the exact layout of the real Stonehenge in England. So of course we made a photo op out of it! Located in Odessa, Tx, the intriguing artwork made for a great break from the car and a breath of fresh air.


Voted the highlight of the day, sliding down sand dunes at the Monahans Sandhills State Park was so much fun!


  

After sliding down the sandhills, the long hours in the car began as we drove from Monahans, Tx to Phoenix, Az. During the drive, we rode along the border of Mexico and Texas on I-10 West, getting so close to Mexico that our phones starting picking up Mexican signals, and we had to switch our phone to airplane mode so we didn’t get international data charges. Then around 6:00 Eastern time we reached New Mexico!

For most of the drive into New Mexico and prior to reaching the border, on the left we could see Mexico and on the right was Texas/New Mexico! After a tiring ride and reaching the 2,000 mile mark, we finally made it safe and sound to Phoenix, Az. Tomorrow is the big day! Grand Canyon, here we come!


 


Grand Road Trip: Day 1 

Start: March 5, 5:00am in Athens, Ga

End: March 5, 11:30pm in Dallas, Tx

We were up and at ’em at 4:00 this morning! Rental car (check!), bags packed (check!), jammin’ playlists for the long ride (check!). A lot of coffee and a lot of excitement got us through the 18 hours from Athens to Dallas. First small stop was on the side of the highway (carefully of course) to take a picture with the Alabama welcome sign! Self-timers are life savers.

Once we passed through Mississippi and got to Louisiana, we made one quick stop at the Abita Mystery House before reaching Bourbon Street in NOLA! Inside the small, shabby house is essentially a collection of knick-knacks strewn randomly along the walls and ceilings. From a two person organ (Mary had to turn a crank while Devin played) to the House of Shards made entirely of glass shards, it was an interesting but great experience. Plus we got a free pair of Mardi Gras beads out of it!

Once in NOLA, we put an hour in the parking meter and made our way through the loud and crowded streets of New Orleans. Street performers, horse carriages, and people were everywhere as we walked around, carrying our Po-Boys from a small restaurant named Johnny’s. Outside Café Du Monde, two lines wrapped around the popular café, but the surprising factor was seeing my high school best friend standing right outside the front! I guess you never know who you’ll run into in NOLA!


An hour later, we were back on the road with one last stop on the list for the day: Dallas, Texas. Thanks to great family friends who opened their home to us for the night!

So far it’s been a trip full of car games (some even getting a bit too competitive), tons of laughing, and great throwback tunes. As we neared our resting stop for the night, we exchanged favorite times from the day, and while we got to see some pretty incredible and interesting places, we all said how much we’ve been loving just being in the car with each other, talking and laughing. I’m thankful for friends like these that can be in the car for hour after hour and still make the best of it. Overall, a very successful first day of the road trip!

The anticipation is building for our final destination of the Grand Canyon on Monday with over 1,000 miles down and about 1,000 more to go! You can keep up with our Instagram photos with the hashtag #grandtheftaltima. No worries, no stolen cars here, just a Nissan Altima headed to the Grand Canyon.

Next stop: Arizona!

Mile count: 1,081

Hour count: 18

Grand Road Trip: Let’s Do This! 

After traveling parts of Europe, seeing the Eifle Tower, Big Ben, historic castles, and the lively streets of Dublin, I fell in love with seeing. Not just seeing the Eifle Tower, but seeing how it illuminates the city of Paris at night; not just seeing Big Ben, but seeing the immense and gorgeous city built around it. While some spent their summer at internships or working, I knew those opportunities would come to me another time, but the opportunity to travel to another continent wouldn’t come all that often after graduation. So I took it, and I fell in love.

Going to another country is incredible, but finding hidden gems and hole-in-the-walls in Europe made me wonder how many of these kinds of places I’m missing out on in my own country. Of course thinking about traveling the country is the easy part; it’s the being bold and actually planning a trip that’s difficult. Luckily I’ve surrounded myself with friends who also have the urge to travel and see everything, so this spring break, instead of going to a beach somewhere for a week like most every college student does, I’m embarking on a road trip across the country to the Grand Canyon. With three great friends, a rental car, and my duffle bag, I’ll get to fall in love with seeing all over again, and this time in my own country.

What’s a road trip without great stops along the way? We’ve pinpointed and mapped out our route to include tons of great spots throughout the 5 day road trip: Bourbon Street, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Phoenix, Antelope Canyon, The Wave, The Painted Desert, and of course the final destination – The Grand Canyon. We’ll also be seeing the World’s Largest Paper Airplane because why not?

It’s a tough decision to go on a long road trip. There’s numerous precautions you have to take, a lot of money to save, and a good amount of risk involved, but leaving the country to study abroad had all of that and more. And at least this time I’ll understand the language!

Look out for more blogs throughout the next week as we get to experience a taste of what America has to offer. Let the Grand Road Trip begin!  #grandtheftaltima