A Southwestern Road Trip

By Autumn Palen

Last summer, I took a family trip: The archetypal American Summer Road Trip, across the southwest. My brother stayed home, unattended, because he dislikes things like Going Anywhere At All. I started in San Marcos, CA; a logical decision, seeing as that’s where I live. Then I made my way to Tucson, El Paso, Albuquerque, Cortez, St. George, Las Vegas, and back home. 6 new cities in as many days.

Needless to say (probably), I quickly went from excited to exhausted, somewhere around the third multi-hour trip in a row. It was not entirely horrible, though. I had a lot of time to listen to podcasts (primarily Nerdist and You Made It Weird, both of which focus on T.V. shows getting made, careers getting started and continuing onward in LA), as well as marvel at how much of this country is a flat, uninhabited terrain.

The small towns we passed on the way to our destinations were often puzzlingly distant from things like bodies of water and supermarkets (the two things I require for survival). It seemed so bizarre that anyone lives in these tiny towns, where the closest thing to an “attraction” is a gift store full of mugs and other tchotchkes, regardless of how appealing the multiple garish billboard advertisements leading up to the shop made it seem. 138 miles to the Big Old Shop of Junk. 89 miles… 20 miles… Exit now for Junk.

Hmm… what is the mystery of Arizona, I wonder? – photo by Ken Lund on Flickr

My favorite city that we stayed in, hands down, was Albuquerque. Because our previous handful of days was spent bouncing from motel to motel, we decided to treat ourselves to a DoubleTree. Oh, it was glorious. Everything was pristine, we had a view of downtown, and there was a concierge (the true mark of fanciness). Our room in El Paso was nestled between a Cracker Barrel and a Walmart, for comparison. The city also provided for a mini-tour of Breaking Bad shooting locations. Great times were had.

In between Cortez, Colorado and St. George, Utah, we visited the reigning champion of reasons to visit the southwest during the summer: The Grand Canyon. It was beautiful, and gigantic. I also had no idea that it was shrouded with trees. I suppose I was just under the impression that it was a big ol’ canyon, in the middle of a desolate nothingness. That’s what I had in my mind.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

On our way from St. George to Las Vegas. I took the wheel, and drove through three states in an hour (Utah, Arizona, Nevada). Freeways are weird that way. Las Vegas, although gorgeous, was unwieldy in its foot traffic. It took three hours for us to walk to the Bellagio, watch the fountain show, and walk back. There were waay too many people, and, when we made the occasional detour into a casino, it was just an exercise in navigating our way through a densely-populated, garishly-carpeted maze. Quite the contrast from the wide-open, uninhabited land that we had careened through in the previous days.

Although it ranged anywhere from “highly interesting” to “completely unnerving,” I’m glad I went on that road trip. I visited places I had never heard of before, learned to take on a Zen approach in the face of daily seven-hour car rides, and discovered that the sidewalk is not the place to be at 10pm in Las Vegas.

Featured image by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

Autumn Palen is a rising junior majoring in Film & TV Production, with a minor in French. She is from San Diego, California and enjoys listening to music, watching TV, traveling outside of her usual parameters whenever she can, and drawing incessantly. She also loves learning about languages and lifestyles from all around the world.