Have you ever wondered what it’s like to take an epic, month-long, cross-country road trip across the USA?
It was 8:37 a.m. when my husband and I pulled onto Big Timber Road. As we drove out of the parking lot, I went through the checklist in my mind, but I knew that if we’d forgotten anything, well, we were out of luck. For the next 31 days, we would be exploring America. Or, at least, a good-sized part of it.
It was a Friday in February, and we were headed towards San Diego. We had a good idea of how we were going to get there. We had no idea how we were getting back. We just knew we had to be home again on March 19.
Why, you’re probably wondering, were we doing this?
Besides the fact that road trips are awesome, I had a deeper purpose. The reason for this journey was to discover the good in America. Three days before we left I’d written in my journal:
I want to believe there is good everywhere. This is not a scientific endeavor, and if it were, my thesis would be suspect from the start. I’m seeking the good, so I’ll find it.
Boy, did I ever.
From an exuberant Mardi Gras parade in the Ozarks to hometown passion in Kansas, from a red flag day in New Mexico to the silent sand dunes in Colorado, we found wonder. As we left our home, I knew I wanted to experience unadulterated joy and share it as publicly and loudly as possible.
What we experienced on that cross-country journey was an American stream-of-consciousness through a joy-filtered lens. There were moments of sorrow, like driving the Trail of Tears and stepping foot on a Japanese internment camp, but those experiences added depth and complexity, making the happiness more poignant and our understanding of this country more profound.
I tried to capture it, capture all of it, in “Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1.” It’s a love letter to the American road trip, meant to share that joy.
Below is a day-by-day itinerary, a map showing the places we visited, and links to the stories from this journey.
If you want to curl up with this tale of American wonder, you can also get the book in digital or print formats (or both!).
Order and save! I’m celebrating the re-release of Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1 under The Local Tourist imprint with a big sale of both books.
I hope you’ll love exploring this American road trip with me, and that it might inspire you to plan your own adventure.
From start to finish, here’s our day-by-day itinerary for our Southwest USA road trip:
- Day 1: Elgin to Pulaski County, Missouri, 457.3 miles*
- Day 2: Pulaski County, Missouri to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, 194.9 miles
- Day 3: Eureka Springs, Arkansas to McAlester, Oklahoma, 219.3 miles
- Day 4: McAlester, Oklahoma to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma, 210.4 miles
- Day 5: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, 238.4 miles
- Day 6: Palo Duro Canyon, Texas to Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico, 217.3 miles
- Day 7: Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico, 133.3 miles
- Day 8: Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico – Red Horse B&B, 126.9 miles
- Day 9: Albuquerque, New Mexico – Red Horse B&B to Winslow, Arizona, 334 miles
- Day 10: Winslow, Arizona to Cottonwood, Arizona, 111 miles
- Day 11: Cottonwood, Arizona to Yuma, Arizona, 277.2 miles
- Day 12: Yuma, Arizona, 37.2 miles
- Day 13: Yuma, Arizona to Oceanside, California, 333 miles
- Days 14 – 19: Oceanside & San Diego, California
- Day 20: Oceanside, California to Joshua Tree National Park, California, 203 miles
- Day 21: Joshua Tree National Park, California to Bishop, California, 324.5 miles
- Day 22: Bishop, California to Tonopah, Nevada, 117 miles
- Day 23: Tonopah, Nevada to St. George, Utah, 364.3 miles
- Day 24: St. George, Utah to Deer Creek Campground, Utah, 214.2 miles
- Day 25: Deer Creek Campground, Utah to Ken’s Lake Campground, Utah, 284.9 miles
- Day 26: Ken’s Lake Campground, Utah to Alamosa, Colorado, 341.1 miles
- Day 27: Alamosa, Colorado to Las Animas, Colorado, 250.5 miles
- Day 28: Las Animas, Colorado to Wichita, Kansas, 396.5 miles
- Day 29: Wichita, Kansas, 50.6 miles
- Day 30: Wichita, Kansas to Keokuk, Iowa, 486.5 miles
- Day 31: Keokuk, Iowa to Elgin, Illinois, 268.8 miles
*The mileage numbers don’t quite add up to the total of 6,479.5 that was on the tripometer when we got back. I cite user error (mine), even though I tried to be diligent about recording our daily mileage.
Epic Southwest USA Road Trip Map
Click on each number to see where we went. Not every location we visited is included, but every destination is. For example, we visited several spots in Yuma, Arizona, but only the city destination is on the map.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
How do you begin a 31-day road trip? At a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Our first stop, Cahokia Mounds, is considered by many to be the most important archaeological site in North America.Continue Reading
Pulaski County Missouri
After exploring the mounds, we got back on the road. We were headed to Pulaski County, Missouri. We checked into our rustic cabin at Blue Jay Farm and took a spin on a cantankerous four-wheeler named Wilma, ate the best fried pickles EVER, and woke up the next morning to chicken-fried steak with a side of history.Continue Reading
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
After some pizza and wings at Roadhouse Bar & Grill, it was a dash to Eureka Springs. All went well until GPS decided to take us the back way on a one-lane dirt road on the side of a mountain! Fortunately, we arrived safely at our haunted hotel and checked in without a minute to spare, barely catching the last shuttle for the Mardi Gras Parade.Continue Reading
Moonshine Mary and Men in Heels: Just Another Day in Eureka Springs
There's nothing like a Mardi Gras parade in a town with no right angles and drinking moonshine for breakfast. Welcome to the Ozarks.Continue Reading
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
We visited this home for abused, abandoned, and neglected wild cats and bears on our way out of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Cecil the Macaw greeted us in the Refuge’s gift shop entrance and we exited the other side of the building, entering a world of rescue, education, and sanctuary.Continue Reading
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, this museum offers a premiere collection of American Art - and it's free!Continue Reading
Perseverance and Silver Linings
After a respectful drive on the Trail of Tears, a hiccup creates some unexpected, and welcome, down time.Continue Reading
Remembering to Breathe
You know how you feel when you’ve been going non-stop, pushing yourself and getting no sleep and eating everything you’re not supposed to and just feeling generally exhausted, and then suddenly your full day becomes empty and you realize you’ve been holding your breath and now you can breathe?Continue Reading
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
This was our first night of camping, and the first time - ever - I hadn't reserved a spot in advance. Not only did we find the perfect campsite, it was downright magical (despite the creatures clawing at our tent all night).Continue Reading
Palo Duro Canyon
Turkeys are jerks.Continue Reading
Everything is Connected and Nothing is Random
Selecting Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Palo Duro Canyon State Park as destinations for this road trip was based on geography, geology, and convenience. After visiting both, we found some mind-blowing connections.Continue Reading
If you've driven I-40 through the Texas Panhandle and into New Mexico, you know it's mind-numbing. Fortunately, a few stops along the way break up the monotony (including some buried cars).Continue Reading
Camping Should be a Pre-Marriage Requirement and Other Road Trip Observations
Although it was a short hop from Santa Rosa Lake to our next destination, I still had plenty of time to reflect on everything we'd seen in our first six days.Continue Reading
Meeting the Greatest Generation
A stop at the Old Town Albuquerque Visitor Center turned into much more than a request for tourist tips when we encountered a very special gentleman.Continue Reading
Old Town Albuquerque
You might expect a tourist destination to be filled with tourist traps. You know, overpriced restaurants, gaudy shops offering cheap merchandise, and souvenir emporiums designed to get you to leave as much money as possible before you go. Old Town Albuquerque is most assuredly a tourist destination, but if the places we visited are any indication, it is delightfully lacking in all of the above.Continue Reading
The Beauty of Bed & Breakfasts at Bottger Mansion
A stay at this historic mansion on Route 66 yields more than tasty quiche and fresh-squeezed juice.Continue Reading
Coronado and Jemez Historic Sites
Exploring two New Mexico historic sites gives an insight into the past.Continue Reading
Red Horse Vineyard Bed & Breakfast
There's nothing like staying in a place where everything has meaning, especially when that place is on a vineyard with an accidental winemaker.Continue Reading
The Singing Road and Stuff Carved Into Rocks
It was our final day in New Mexico, so we packed in a singing road (literally) and TWO National Monuments.Continue Reading
How to Survive an Epic Road Trip Without Killing Your Partner
At this point in our journey, we'd learned some important lessons. Namely, how not to kill each other.Continue Reading
Ghost Towns and an Enchanting Excursion
Now this was an epic day. Not only did we visit an abandoned mountain lion zoo, we took a heritage train ride with wine and a singing engineer.Continue Reading
Arizona's sunny, right? Riiiiight. Not this day it wasn't. We could barely see the switchbacks in front of us. Fortunately, Jim is an excellent driver.Continue Reading
Castle Dome Mine Museum
A ghost town is even spookier when it's a gloomy day and you have to drive through unexploded ordnance to get there.Continue Reading
Welcome to Yuma
A visit to Yuma meant eating the "most consarned concoction" and staying in Arizona's oldest motel.Continue Reading
After a tour of this date farm, I will never ever ever EVER complain about the price of the fruit again.Continue Reading
Yuma's Merchant Prince
Lunch outside in February was pure heaven for us Midwesterners, followed by a stint as a post-mortem photographer and a lady of the evening (I'll let you guess which one of us was which).Continue Reading
Yuma Territorial Prison
Why yes, yes we did tour the most-feared prison of the American west.Continue Reading
From Yuma to the Center of the World
Our visit to Yuma ends. Helloooo, California! Land of sunny skies and the Center of the World.Continue Reading
A Detour to the Salton Sea
A trip to the dying lake yields more than fish skeletons. We also found "Salvation" and a bartender named Scheherazade.Continue Reading
Romancing the Road Trip
We made it! And, we found "our people."Continue Reading
Playing Local Tourist in San Diego
Although we stayed for a week, we weren't able to play much because of the Travel & Adventure Show. So, here are some fun things to do from another visit. (It's sweet having relatives in sunny SoCal.)Continue Reading
One Night in Joshua Tree
A friendly ranger saves the day! That, and Jim's eagle eye nets us an amazing camp site in this International Dark Sky Park.Continue Reading
The Museum of Western Film History & the Alabama Hills
If you love movies, a visit to Lone Pine on US-395 is a must.Continue Reading
Manzanar National Historic Site
A few miles north of the Alabama Hills and its land of make-believe is a place that's all-too real.Continue Reading
After the sobering, somber visit to a Japanese internment camp, a restful night and exploring a historic town was welcome.Continue Reading
Tonopah, Nevada: The Town That’s So In-Clined
When I found out that Tonopah, Nevada, is home to the first electric elevator west of the Mississippi, and that it still works, we had to visit this former mining town. Bonus points that it was in a hotel owned by the Cline family - yes, those Clines.Continue Reading
The International Car Forest of the Last Church
Have you lost your sense of the bizarre? Don't worry; we found it.Continue Reading
Skirting Las Vegas
Utah was calling, but first we had to see a park about some red rocks.Continue Reading
Zion National Park
Entering Zion was like driving into an artist’s rendering. The intensity was nearly overwhelming. The colors were HDR vivid, the contrast of red mountains against an unbelievable blue sky breathtakingly crisp and bright.Continue Reading
Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon
Seriously, Utah, could you get any more beautiful? We left Zion and drove to Bryce and the state kept smacking me in the face with its awesomeness.Continue Reading
Switchbacks, Slot Canyons, and Really Nice Pit Toilets
We thought the rainy drive in Arizona was harrowing? "Hold my beer," says Utah. (Not while actually driving, of course.)Continue Reading
From Capitol Reef to Moab through a land filled with Goblins
Entering Goblin Valley was like stepping onto Mars, if the red planet had oxygen and a $15 entrance fee.Continue Reading
Mesa Verde National Park
Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the few non-negotiable items on our itinerary.Continue Reading
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Sand dunes? In Colorado? Yes, and visiting is to a see a place of majestic silence.Continue Reading
Comanche National Grasslands
I have no idea how we got to Timpas, but somehow we found this former stop on the Santa Fe Trail, complete with wagon tracks.Continue Reading
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
Next time we visit, we'll know to bring items to trade. These people are serious about their living history!Continue Reading
What can you do in 41 hours in Wichita? A LOT, we discovered.Continue Reading
Are you inspired to visit any of these places, or have you been to some of the same destinations? Please leave a comment below!
And, if you wouldn’t mind sharing this to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Pinterest, I’d be forever grateful.
Love and wanderlust,