After our trip to America back in 2002, it wasn’t long after we returned before there was murmurings of going back and seeing some different places. Slowly the idea formed of doing a road trip, but not just any road trip, the road trip…coast to coast.
The photos on this page were taken with my old Canon Ixus compact and aren’t as good as the other ones on the site; both because of the limitations of the camera and also because I was only really starting to take an interest in photography at this point!
You can view the GPS trail that we made.
Two of the guys who went on the last trip couldn’t commit to the holiday, so by 2004 it was seeming unlikely that it would go ahead. As Steve and I mentioned it to various people we knew though it turned out that some of them liked the idea as well…In the end my old school friend Dave and his partner Rachel didn’t take much convincing to come along.
A rough route was planned out across the southern states in early 2005 and then tweaked until we had something like a plan. Tickets were booked, a car sorted out and off we went for a three week trip in August 2005 which wound its way from Los Angeles, California all the way to Orlando, Florida.
This page contain a brief account of the trip as well as selected photographs. The maps that you can see of each state show the actual route that our GPS logged as we drove around, with our final distance travelled coming to over 5,500 miles.
A word of advice for anyone planning a similar trip—this was too far to try and go in three weeks, in my opinion. It’s not that we struggled to make the distance, but too many days consisted of getting up, checking out, driving for two hours, having a sandwich, driving for three more hours, finding a motel, eating a pizza then going to bed. This is a rubbish way to travel and there were a lot of places that we either drove straight past or slept in but didn’t really see. With hindsight we should have stayed in the same place for two nights on more occasions and given ourselves full days in places rather than an hour or so.
Also, Hollywood does seem to perpetuate a romanticised image of driving in America; with films like Kalifornia, Crossroads, Easy Rider and Thelma & Louise making the open road seem like the perfect holiday. In reality, although some places are nice to drive through, you still have to put up with other people’s shitty driving, poorly marked roads and often torrential rain. If you plan a trip like this try to avoid the interstates as much as possible, they’re straight, you can’t see anything from them and they’re boring to drive on!
I have also included a section at the end of photographs that Steve took. Since I’m not in many of my own photographs (and I took less candid ones than Steve!) I thought it would be nice to have some more group ones on here.
After flying into LAX on the 31st July we picked up the hire car and drove to Calabasas, some 40 minutes outside of LA. The following two days we drove California Highway 1 through Big Sur towards San Francisco, staying in Marina on the first night. The drive is very scenic and the road is twisty and challenging in places! A Subaru Impreza may have negotiated some of the corners with a little more finesse than our Cadillac Deville…
We arrived in San Bruno a little south of San Francisco on the 2nd August, and that evening drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The following day we rode the BART train into San Francisco itself and spent the day there. That evening we drove down suspiciously towards Palo Alto for a meal, which afforded Steve and I the opportunity to seek out Xerox PARC and take a geeky photograph!
The following day it transpired that Dave had left his passport at the restaurant on the previous evening, so we drove back through Silicon Valley on our way towards Yosemite National Park where we arrived on the evening of the 4th August.
We spent the following day in Yosemite which is stunning, working our way over the Tioga Pass in the afternoon and arriving in Lee Vining that evening. Finding nothing else to do in Lee Vining we ate at what Steve claimed was a famous petrol station and then cajoled the Caddy down a dirt track to Mono Lake.
The 6th August was our final day in California, which we spent driving across Death Valley towards Las Vegas where we arrived that evening having failed to visit Rhyolite Ghost Town due to a storm damaged road (booo!).
California Highway 1
Yosemite National Park
Mono Lake, Lee Vining
Death Valley National Park
We arrived in Vegas at tea time on the 6th August, and began by driving down the strip, or rather queuing down the strip which was extremely busy. Vegas looked much as I remembered it from the last time and I can’t say that I felt terribly happy to be back there!
Dave and Rachel seemed excited though and there were murmurings of ‘doesn’t look that bad…!’ from the back seat whilst Steve and I moaned in the front. We did see a shit Elvis impersonator caterwauling away in a booth at the side of the road though, which was quite amusing.
We booked into a scummy motel next to one of the instant wedding places at the top of the strip, replete with matted 70s shag pile and a marriage service available at reception. After unpacking (whilst trying not to look too closely at the carpet) we headed into the Riviera casino, where Dave promptly won a shitload of money on a slot machine. A slot machine, in fact, which had eaten $5 of my money and paid me out bugger all only moments before. Dave then lost all of his money by being a bit inept at roulette, which was funny but also probably the start of his gambling problems :)
We left Vegas the next morning, driving over the Hoover Dam (where they seem to be in the process of building another bridge) and into Arizona.
I took several photographs in Vegas and then deleted them all, concluding that this one really summed the place up!
Once in Arizona we headed through the desert towards Tusayan and the Grand Canyon. Having stayed in Tusayan on the previous trip we’d booked in advance to stay there again, knowing that it’s only ten minutes or so from the Canyon.
Arriving in Tusayan on the evening of the 7th August and realising it was nearly sunset, we grabbed our cameras and sped towards the Canyon rim. Unfortunately (well, no, it wasn’t fortune it was laziness; we walked down the path instead of running even though the sun was blatantly going down) the sun had just about gone by the time we reached the rim, ruining our chances to take some clichéd postcard shots of a Grand Canyon sunset.
The next day (everyone else got up and went to watch the sun rise in the Canyon. I however, being on holiday, refused to get up at 4.45am) we had planned to walk down into the Canyon, however the weather was terrible and the path we had in mind to descend was closed due to storm damage, so we ended up just driving along the rim and peeking over some of the viewing spots :(
The Wupatki thing was a bit of a let down, it’s a few walls which the National Park Service have cemented together to stop them falling over. There was nobody else there though and after following all the other sheep along the Canyon rim all morning, it was nice to stand in the middle of Arizona and not be able to see another soul.
Sunset Crater more than made up for the wall remains, and was excellent. The entire area around the crater is made up of volcanic debris and is a mixture of black and red cinders. It was raining, but we parked the whip and set off following the signs for the ‘long’ walk (being America is was about a mile, if that) which let us walk around the base of the crater. The rain had soaked the cinders and the place looked fantastic, and again we practically had the place to ourselves. Along with the airboat ride (we’ll get to that in a bit), this was my favourite part of the holiday.
That evening we drove on to Flagstaff where we had a lovely meal and spent the night.
The Grand Canyon
Sunset Crater National Monument
We left Flagstaff on the morning of the 9th August and headed through the Indian reservations towards Albuquerque, where we arrived that evening. Steve and I promptly disappeared to try and find a cake for Dave since it was his birthday the next day!
The following day we turned south and began our drive towards Texas. We detoured away from the I25 to see the White Sands National Monument. White Sands NM is a fantastic area of made up of gypsum dunes which are adjacent to a missile range, and as such is closed at certain times while the army plays with bombs and the like. Thankfully it wasn’t closed when we arrived, and we were able to go wandering off into the dunes. The sand really is almost pure white and the dunes are actually quite disorientating to walk around.
My camera struggled to expose the sand properly and also couldn’t focus very well, so most of the images are of plants and cacti which gave some contrast to the dunes.
We arrived in El Paso that evening, ready to begin the big drive across Texas which would be home for the next four days.
White Sands National Monument
We left El Paso on the 11th August and made our way down to a tiny place called Study Butte by that evening.
We had planned to see the ghost town at Terlingua seeing as though we’d been robbed of seeing Rhyolite in California, but on arrival it turned out to be the crappest ghost town ever! For a start there were still people living there, which isn’t my definition of a ghost town, and the prevalence of corrugated iron on the buildings made me think that this was more like a ghost town from the 1940s than the 1840s.
On the 12th we spent the day in Big Bend National Park, again being unable to get to the best bits due to storm damage. We did get to see the Rio Grande though, and also nearly shagged the car driving down an ‘unmade road’ to some hot springs.
The following two days were long and uneventful, seeing us drive from the small town of Marathon (where we stayed in the historic Gage Hotel, which was great!) through to San Antonio on the first night, and then Houston on the second. We really didn’t spend any time in either of these cities, pushing on in the belief that our time would be better spent in Florida.
Big Bend National Park
On the Road to San Anton’
We drove from Houston to Baton Rouge on the 15th August, having swapped the old Caddy for an identical new Caddy (except with ninja black leather interior) in Houston that morning. The old Caddy, having some sort of a Spectrum inside it, was claiming that the oil was worn out. It suited us to swap it anyway as the other one was filthy and the exhaust had been grounded on more than one occasion…
As soon as we got towards Louisiana the ground frequently gave way to swamps and bayous, and the I10 is raised for miles in places on concrete stilts. I regret not detouring off the I10 a little more though as it’s very hard to see anything from the road, it’s basically tree-lined on both sides for a thousand miles into Florida.
The following day we completed the short distance into New Orleans, spending the afternoon and evening there without getting robbed or shot, which was nice. The oppressive humidity made walking around uncomfortable, and I was unable to see the grave of ‘Voodoo Queen’ Marie Laveau as the cemetery was shut! Steve and I also failed to locate the authentic Voodoo Temple even though I was clutching a carefully made biro map, so all in all our Voodoo exposure was rather disappointingly limited to seeing some glazed alligator heads in one of the gift shops.
I didn’t find New Orleans to be all that photogenic, so once again my experience of the place is summed up in a single frame, showing the typical ironwork in the French Quarter. This image was taken on 16th August, less than two weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall and devastated the whole area.
Mississippi and Alabama
As you can see from the map, we really only grazed the bottom of both of these states and we drove straight across without stopping on the 17th August, on the way into Florida. Since we didn’t really venture into these states the only photo I have is a slightly dull one taken from the car :(
We arrived in Talahassee on the evening of the 17th August, and went out for a drive to see the sites. It seems the sites in Talahassee are harder to find that you might think at night time, but we did see a large gaggle of war protestors outside Jeb Bush’s house and also Florida State University, which looked lovely.
On the 18th we finally left the I10 behind for good and headed south on the I75 towards Tampa. We stopped off on Tampa for an ice cream and a drive around, and then headed on to Naples for the night.
The next day we made our way east to Miami, stopping on the way for an airboat ride on the edge of the Everglades National Park (no boats are allowed inside the actual park). This was great fun, we were out for an hour and the airboat captain even managed to find us an alligator to see! All in all this was my favourite moment of the trip.
We spent the next morning in Miami, working our way up the coast to Titusville in the afternoon, stopping along the way in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs.
The final leg of the journey was the short distance to Orlando on the 21st August for the flight home.
The Road to Naples
The Florida Everglades
These are extra photos which were originally taken by Steve. I have edited them myself before including them here.