I was determined to leave on Friday. I hadn't gotten everything I needed done in the house, but being away from my kids for so long, and the 12 hour work days were getting to me. Fortunately my neighbor happened to be a handyman so I could just pay him to take care of the few things I had left.
I left on Friday, a bit later than I had anticipated, and was headed to Tampa, a four hour trip. I was going to see my Aunt & Uncle. It's interesting how there is no word for aunt and uncle as one unit. Everything else has a non gender specific word for multiple relatives, parents, cousins, siblings. Anyway due to some communication problems I couldn't get in touch with them so I decided to head to downtown Tampa. I realized once I got there I had been to Tampa many times in my life to visit relatives but I'd never actually seen the city. A couple of people I hung out with at the cigar lounges in Miami recommended a steak restaurant, Bern's Steakhouse. I didn't realize I should have made reservations a week in advance, so I figured I'd check another place out.
I went to a couple others restaurants near by, hoping I could get something, at least a seat at the bar, but every place was packed. People were over Covid apparently here and everyone was out. I called my cousins for recommendations and ended up having dinner with them. Good food and good wine. Feels like an appreciation of good wine runs in the family. After visiting my relatives, having a good cigar and discovering one of my new favorite scotches (Lagavulin 16), I began to head north.
After a few hours I got to try my new Bon Voy App (This is not an advertisement). I decided since I was staying at so many hotels on this trip, I might as well sign up to a rewards program. On the way to Miami from Seattle, the nicest hotel I was at was a Marriot, so I decided to go with them. They have an app that can locate hotels and rates. When you get tired of driving you can see what's in the area and book before you get there.
I ended up getting dinner a bit outside of Tallahassee at a bar. Zero precautions were being taken because Covid. I got some wings and some BBQ. The BBQ was ok, the wings I regretted buying both because I didn't have enough room for them and I didn't think they were good quality.
My hotel had a very nice room with a couch and a computer desk. The next morning while brushing my teeth I noticed a large upsetting black mark on my tongue. In the middle of the night I had woken up with my mouth completely dried out. I must have slept with my mouth open for a long time because it felt like sandpaper when I closed. I wasn't sure if this might have something that could have been there a while and hadn't noticed so I went to a walk in clinic in the area. The doctor wasn't very good at reassuring me it wasn't cancer instead of a blood blister something less serious so I was a bit nervous. She told me to keep an eye on it and make sure it didn't get any bigger over the next few days.
After that I drove to New Orleans, and found a restaurant called Cochon which means pig in French. I got deep fried alligator in a Cajun sauce with mint, a pork belly with spicy mustard and honey, and a bacon and fried oyster sandwich. All of which were delicious if not a little painful to eat with my tongue. After eating I looked in my car rear view mirror and saw the blood blister had popped, which was a huge relief. Not only was freaking me out, but it was unsightly.
I was originally planning on staying in New Orleans for the night, but because I didn't leave in the morning initially, all the cities I planned on staying at night at, I was getting to around lunch time, which means at dinner time I was staying in random cities of less cultural significance.
The next day I made it to Austin Texas. I had never been here before and was pretty excited to try some BBQ. I had looked up the best BBQ places to go ahead of time but unfortunately I didn't realize they don't open until Friday or Thursday and are only open for a couple of days. I plan on going back to Austin and some point to check out more of city. It's more than you can take in with just one stop for lunch. I did find a place called Terry Black’s BBQ, and went there for lunch. Got an assortment of meats, and the brisket was the best I've ever had. Moist, tender. They didn't do much rub or sauce or anything like that, it was just about how perfectly it was cooked. They of course had sauce you could put on afterwards, but I definitely need more Texas brisket in my life. I've seen heard or seen the place mentioned randomly a few times as being one of the best places in Austin.
After that I headed west to El Paso to try the Mexican food. I saw some signs on the way advertising a cave that wasn't too far off the highway so I decided to go on one of the tours. I had never been in a real cave before. This one went hundreds of feet underground and the tour took about 2 hours. It was a pretty interesting experience. I got a sense of claustrophobia just as we started to descend but that quickly disappeared. It ended up being one of the best experiences on the trip, very beautiful and amazing that there were stalagmites that had formed over millions of years. During one part of the tour they said there used to be a beautiful formation that resembled a butterfly but one side of the wings were broken off. Some college student had broken it off and put it in his backpack. They discovered who had done it and when they went to arrest him he threw the formation in a river. He now has to pay millions of dollars to the owners of the cave over his lifetime.
It's amazing how nature can take millions of years to create something beautiful and some asshole just takes a second to destroy it for everyone.
One of the coolest things about the cave is when they turn the lights off, you are in true 100% darkness, the nearest sunlight is through hundreds of feet of solid rock. What's even cooler is the material in the cave the stalagmites are made out of, absorb some light, and when you turn the lights off for a few minutes they have a green-blue glow. I ended up getting a hotel in some town that was really just a glorified highway exit. Mcdonald was the fanciest restaurant they had.
El Paso had a very interesting look to it. The rent and price of houses there was incredibly low. I googled the best Mexican food in El Paso, got there early and took a walk while I waited for the place to open for lunch. El Paso has a good feeling to it, definitely not a rich feeling, but kind of gives me a similar vibe to certain parts of Miami. Lunch was pretty good. I was hoping the place would blow me away with some kind of Mexican food I had never experiences far away from the border, but it's pretty much the same kind of stuff you can get everywhere. At some point I will have to go to Mexico City and see what it's like there.
Next I went to Phoenix. I called the hotel and asked them if that was a good place to go for entertainment. They said they were in downtown and there wasn't much to do but that I should go to Scottsdale, so I booked a hotel there and headed over. The first thing I noticed when I got to Phoenix is how clean it is. It's like they have a lawn service they hire for the whole city. Maybe it has to do with that dry desert air that nothing gets moldy, but it's like being in Disney World, where all the trees and bushes are perfectly pruned.
The second thing you notice is how hot it is. At 9pm at night it was in the 90's. It was a good heat though. That dry heat you hear so much about. I think 100 in Phoenix is more comfortable than Miami at 80.
I started walking around the neighborhood near the hotel and trying to find good stuff. I asked a group of people walking down the sidewalk if they lived there and knew where a good place to eat was. They said the Tiki Bar just a block away was great. I talked to them for a bit and then went to the bar which was very good. After that I googled to see if there was a cigar bar around the area, and there was. It was about 20 minutes away walking and very large. They had a huge scotch collection which was great, and comfortable leather seats. I felt lucky I found such a nice place. I hung out there for a while and enjoyed a nice cigar and a great scotch and then took an Uber back to the hotel. I definitely want to go back to Phoenix and check out more the of the city.
Next morning I woke up, got breakfast at the hotel and headed north to one of the most anticipated stops on my trip, the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is truly in the middle of no where. It's like a 4 hour drive from Phoenix through the desert. There is a little town based around Grand Canyon tourism right before you enter the park. One of the interesting things about visiting places you see all the time on TV or in photos, is they always just show the Grand Canyon, you never know the little things, like what the drive up there is like, what the air feels like, how many people are looking around, etc. You'd get the impression when you get there you are by yourself, and just pull over to the side of the road to check it out, but there's parking lots and tons of people around.
There's a long wait where you pay to get in. It's interesting because it's not something you can see until you're right on it, so even after getting through the gates, driving to the parking lot, getting out of the car and walking towards the canyon, it was still a mystery what it looked like in real life. Finally I saw it as I walked to the edge. It was definitely amazing, beautiful. I thought of what it must have been like for people heading through the deserts for whatever reason to just stumble upon one of the Wonders of the World. It didn't give me any kind of spiritual experience from realizing my place in the universe, but it was good.
Unfortunately I had to drive about an hour south from the Canyon before I could get back on a highway to head north and get me back towards home.
The drive north to Utah was one of the most amazing parts of the trip. The Arizona desert is red with interesting mountain formations that you don't see anywhere else. On top of that it is desolate. The most desolate place I've ever been through. Hours of driving without seeing a house or a person. It felt like going for a drive on another planet. It's a drive I would like to make again one day.
I finally stopped at a town called Page, on the very north of Arizona. It was a small town, first gaining population when many workers built a dam right next to it, which was quite a spectacle. Nothing I had planned on visiting, but I pulled over at Glen Canyon Dam. Now the drive north had a bit of civilization in it. I headed north through prairies, every once in a while I would see a ranch on the side of the road. It was interesting to me that people lived so far out here by themselves with the next ranch being many miles down the road. I feel like I could imaging living there for a little bit, but I never feel happy living outside of a major city. Seems like the kind of place you could visit to write your novel in isolation.
It started getting dark and I was driving through the most winding mountain road I've ever been on that wasn't a small dirt road. It produced a good amount of anxiety in me as I made my way though. I was able to get a glimpse of the sky which was amazing. In the city the sky looks like black with specific dots of light for stars, but out here it was a textured canvas of stars, milky way. Thousands and thousands of stars blending together. At some point I need to go camping in a place as far away from the city lights as this and really appreciate it without having to worry about keeping one eye on the road on a mountain highway.
Finally I got a hotel in some town I can't remember the name of, slept a few hours and got up early the next day. I was about 4 hours from Salt Lake City at this point. I had planned on spending some time there, but at this point the combination of time I had been on the road, and how close the end seemed made me just want to get it over with. I stopped for breakfast at a little place I found via Google, and moved on. I will explore the salt flats, and the great salt lake another trip. I headed up into Idaho, though a lot of rolling hills, beautiful, but creepy in a way being so far from civilization. There isn't much down there at all. It's quite a difference driving through the east side of the continent vs the west. In the east you're never more than a couple hours from a well known town, but in the west you see nothing but land for hours.
Finally I went to Boise, stopped at a little Russian restaurant that had very good reviews from Google and headed through the mountains finally back to Seattle at around 11pm. I did 18 hours of driving on that day, far more than any other.
I have 3 more possible road trips I want to do in the future, from Miami all the way 95 until I get to Maine, from Seattle to Alaska, and down to South America.