Hey there, lovely readers!
Since I’ve finished and uploaded my new poems I wanted to spend some time on, I can again bring you some tales of my adventures in the U.S.A.! This post will hopefully allow you to better understand New Mexico and its surprises, as well as some other states along the way. I hope you enjoy!
My trip began from home, like most others, but this was the first time I drove somewhere to meet someone who didn’t live there. My friend Adam (yep, the same one from my travels out west) drove down from Salt Lake City to meet me in southeastern New Mexico. The drive was about 13 hours for him and 21 hours for me (including stops for food and fuel), so we both spread the drive out over two days to reach our rendezvous point. My drive followed I-35 south from Iowa to Kansas City, MO. This was my first time driving through Kansas City, and I didn’t find it as fun as large cities farther east. I ate at a Five Guys, which you might remember I fancy from The Road to Washington, D.C., and then I crossed into Kansas and began my journey west.
Kansas was my 39th state, and I love that new states can still surprise me and go against my expectations. I thought Kansas would be a flat, boring prairie, and while it mostly is, the stretch from Kansas City to Emporia was full of lush, green vegetation and beautiful scenery. I hadn’t expected to like or recommend Kansas to anyone at all, but I think it’s worth the visit, just to see the change from the greenery of the Midwest to the harsh dryness of the Southwest. It was a pretty boring second half of the day as I drove across the browner part of Kansas, but I did enjoy seeing oil derricks along the way. I didn’t know they were used in Kansas, and it was my first time seeing them in real life. I’ve also heard that Kansas’s sunflower fields are mesmerizing at certain times of the year, but I didn’t see any of them on my visit, unfortunately. I stopped for the night at the Moon Mist Hotel in Meade, KS, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for lodging in the area. It was around $50 for the night (about half of what a single room normally costs at a hotel in the U.S.), and it was kept clean and well-stocked. Although the owners could have been a tad more welcoming, I would definitely stop here again if I didn’t have friends or family nearby.
After a longer first day (about 12 hours on the road), I took the second day to enjoy the drive a little more and prepare myself for an awesome time in New Mexico. I crossed quickly through the rest of Kansas and the panhandle of Oklahoma (state #40) as I made my way southwest. Oklahoma was pretty much what I expected: a flat grassland without much to see. Perhaps it would have been more exciting if I hadn’t been to solely the panhandle, but I still think it’s a state worth skipping. Texas upped the ante (and the speed limit) from Oklahoma, with a relatively short drive there as well. Texas has the scariest roads I’ve ever driven (aside from Jocassee Gorges in South Carolina), with 75-mph limits on two-lane roads with loose gravel… I appreciated their efficiency, but it was a wild ride for the few hours I was there. I stopped for lunch in Dalhart, TX, and I enjoyed the Mexican food I ordered (especially the guacamole!). I jumped back on the highway after lunch, as I was about two hours behind Adam, and promptly saw more cows in five minutes than I ever had in my whole life (perhaps combined?)! Dalhart is in cattle country, U.S.A., and, well, everything’s bigger in Texas, or so they say…
The end of day two brought me into and through New Mexico (state # 41), though the drive actually kind of passed quickly in my mind. Northern New Mexico is mostly dry and desolate, the typical picture of the American desert, which I dislike. Spanish radio stations are available once you get to Texas and further southwest/east, though, so I enjoyed being able to feel culturally separated from what I’m used to. As I mentioned earlier, I love when new states can still surpass (or completely unhinge) my expectations, and that’s exactly what New Mexico did. I didn’t expect to like it, to be honest, but I thought it would be fun to visit Adam and knock out the states I had left in the Southwest at the same time. I found that there was more than just desert in New Mexico, however, and I was enchanted (sorry, I couldn’t resist using the term from their license plates…) by the plateaus, monsoon rains, rolling hills, and evergreens scattered about. Our rendezvous point was Aguirre Spring campground, between Alamogordo and Las Cruces, so I even got a peak at White Sands (our destination for the next day) on my way to meet Adam. I tried to stop at Three Rivers Petroglyphs, but the monsoon rains hit just as I was about to explore, and I opted to keep driving, rather than be drenched and stuck somewhere in the desert.
I made one of my foolish decisions of the trip (maybe the most foolish?) in foregoing the gas station in Alamogordo, as I thought my car would reach 350-400 miles before needing fuel. I usually refill right around 300 miles, but the fuel gauge is broken anyway, and I’ve only had the fuel light come on once, the first day I drove my car and ran out of fuel, so I wasn’t sure how far I could push it without running out. I drove past Alamogordo at around 280 miles on the current tank of fuel, and I figured that if I did run low on fuel, there would be a station between Alamogordo and Las Cruces (about a 50-mile gap). I didn’t know that our campsite was ten miles off the highway, unfortunately, so my low-fuel light turned on just as I pulled up to our campsite. We had planned that I would pick up Adam and we would go to Las Cruces for firewood and fuel, but the circumstances made us take his car instead, to avoid running out of fuel on the highway. All was fine, and I bought a gas can in Las Cruces (with which we were able to get my car full enough to make it elsewhere for fuel the next day), but the whole snafu cost me an extra $15 and some wasted time (not to mention we almost weren’t let back in to our campsite, since we didn’t make it back until just after 8:00!). We made a small campfire and narrowly avoiding a lovely sounding rattlesnake while collecting wood, and then we finally relaxed for a short while before calling it a night.
We arose a bit earlier the third morning (around 7:30 a.m.) and headed out for our adventures of the day. We started at White Sands National Monument, Adam’s favorite place in New Mexico. The area reminded me of what I imagine the deserts in the Middle East look like, and I conceded that it was a pretty cool place to visit, even if it is just in the desert. The featured photo for this post is from White Sands, to give you an idea of what it looks like.
From White Sands, we headed east, with a goal of visiting Carlsbad Caverns in the same day. I accidentally took us farther north than we planned, but it actually allowed us to drive through some unexpected pine forests and Native American villages (check out Mescalero!), which I thought was the coolest part of my entire trip. We eventually made it back on track, but we had to forego a formal lunch for the chance to make it in time. We toured Carlsbad Caverns and narrowly avoided being hammered by more monsoon rains, and it was a pretty cool visit. I don’t think I would hype the place up quite as much as do most people (don’t go out of your way to see it), but I do think it’s worth it to see some caves if you never have before. The experience is almost surreal, especially if you consider that people lived in similar places at certain times in human history. It was fun for me to visit because of my fascination with fantasy fiction (such as Dungeons & Dragons), so the caverns were almost mythical, in a way. Anyway, before I nerd you all out, here’s a couple shots from deep inside the caverns. Hard to imagine people discovering this without the lights we have today!
After we visited the caverns, we headed back into Carlsbad, NM, for supper. We wanted some quality Mexican food, so we ironically ended up at a food-truck restaurant, where we both ordered stuffed taquitos. The vender is called La Patrona and is pretty good for the price, so check it out if you’re ever in Carlsbad. Our decision for food also tied in with our decision for camping location, because we had discussed climbing the highest point in Texas the next morning. Once we researched the peak a bit more, however, we decided it would be best to camp northeast of Carlsbad, so that I could start my eastbound leg of my journey the next morning. We went for a short run in the desert and camped just off some ATV trails, and in the morning, we bid our fond farewells and headed our separate ways. Adam went south to conquer Guadalupe Peak (as he has a goal of climbing the highest point in each state), while I hopped on the highway and headed into Texas.
Day four took me all the way across Texas, and while much of the state was pretty flat and bland, the day was not uneventful for me. It was in the late morning, while driving toward Abilene, that I heard the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide. I couldn’t really even fathom it at first, and the haunting thoughts of it ate slowly at my attention span the rest of the day. I won’t convolute this post with my thoughts on the subject, but please do read My Short Guide to Prevent Suicide if you want to see how I responded.
I found eastern Texas to be pleasantly surprising, much like eastern Kansas. The Dallas-Fort Worth area was a fun metro to drive through, and the closer I came to Louisiana, the greener the scenery became. I didn’t know (but should have guessed) that Texas became more like the South as it stretches east, so I recommend the area between D-FW and Shreveport, LA, if you’re going to make the trip. I-20 took me east into Louisiana, my 42nd and most current new U.S. state.
I admittedly didn’t see much of Louisiana, as I stopped for the night in Shreveport and stayed in a pretty small radius, but I liked what I saw and would consider the visit worthwhile. Louisiana has a swampy feel that is pretty much instantaneous once you enter the state, and I don’t know of anywhere else in the U.S. that has the same feel (except maybe Florida? I’ve never been there yet.). I tried to find some authentic Cajun food, as Louisiana is the only place with French and Creole influence in the U.S., but I was disappointed to find that the place I chose was basically just fried fish. I wasn’t adventurous enough on this journey to try the frog legs, but I think I would go for it if I returned to this part of the south. I stayed in the Carleton Inn & Suites by Carlson, located right night to Shreveport’s airport. The staff was extremely accommodating (shoutout to Mehul for the random discount!), and I was able to stay in a king-size single (not because I requested it; I just asked for the cheapest room) for only $80. The room and the hotel were both very well furnished and clean, and I found the place to be a steal, even though $80 isn’t usually in my road-tripping budget for lodging. Sometimes you have to settle for what you can find in the U.S., unless you want to drive four hours farther along your journey. I strongly recommend this hotel to anyone staying in Shreveport, even though the elevator smells a bit swampy…
Day five was the final day of my journey, and it took me all the way from Shreveport, LA, to my home in northern Iowa. The worst stretch was definitely the first hour in Arkansas, as there isn’t a road faster than 55 mph until after Texarkana. Arkansas was surprisingly very green and hilly though, and I would consider it a pretty cool place to visit if it weren’t for the speed-limit hindrances. If Texas is unreasonably fast for its infrastructure (I think it is), then Arkansas is equally unreasonably slow. The highway took me north, through Fort Smith and Fayetteville, all the way to Kansas City. From there, the return journey was just like the departure, and other than the watery mess of my air conditioning going out on my car, the trip home was pretty smooth sailing.
I hope you enjoyed my latest adventures, and I can’t wait to fill you in once I make it to Nicaragua! I’m only a week away from my journey with the Peace Corps, and I know it’ll be a tale worth sharing with you all. Until then, happy reading! 🙂