The Great St Louis to Los Angeles Road Trip

In pictures, music, tweets (reposts from Twitter, which I’ve marked as such), and text.

Day One: St. Louis to Amarillo

Or, technically, my parents’ house west of St. Louis to Amarillo. I initially thought about trying to follow Route 66 for some of this trip, but when I started trying to map it through Missouri (using Historic it got really complicated and basically just followed I-44 on the service roads anyway, so I figured to heck with it. Plus I tend to get frustrated on non-interstate roads very quickly on trips, so it was pretty much a stupid idea anyway.

Tweet: California or bust!
Tweet: Music recommendation: Babyshambles’ newest release Shotters Nation. Finally picked it up Saturday [yay Vintage Vinyl!] and it’s awesome.

Here are a couple of tracks off that album. I like the way lead Pete Doherty is bringing in some jazz influences, especially in “There She Goes.”

Babyshambles – Carry On Up the Morning
Babyshambles – There She Goes

There’s not a lot of love lost between me and Missouri (besides St. Louis, which I do love), but the stretch of I-44 going through the Ozarks can be quite lovely. Too bad it was a little cloudy when I was going through, but I really like the rolling hills and rock cuts.

I-44 in Central Missouri

Tweet: I’ve lived in Missouri for 25 years and am now moving away having never been to Branson. Huh.
Tweet: Billboard I just passed was advertising ‘Titanic: A Family Experience.’ Because drowning is always good times.
Tweet: My iPod is picking awesome songs. I guess having playlists FULL OF AWESOME helps.

Of Montreal – Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse

Tweet: Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…


This is advertised to be the World’s Largest McDonalds, stretching across I-44 just west of Vinita, Oklahoma, but I don’t think that’s actually true. Unless, perhaps, you count all the non-McDonalds parts of the building, like the souvenir shop and the ice cream booth. Still, it’s cool to stop at and watch the cars go under you while you eat, but I didn’t stop this time.

World's Largest McDonalds?

Last chance to continue down I-35 through Dallas to Waco instead of taking I-40 toward California! It was tempting to find an excuse to go down and hang out with my friends again, but then I’d just have to say goodbye again, too, and that would suck.

Last Chance for Waco!

Tweet: Bob Dylan is good stuff. Why did I not know this before?

I never really listened to Dylan until I saw I’m Not There a couple of weeks ago, but as soon as I saw the film, I was inspired to seek out more music, and I quite like it. Different than most of the stuff I listen to, but then a lot of the stuff I listen to wouldn’t exist without Dylan’s innovations.

Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man
Bob Dylan – Ballad of a Thin Man

Tweet: Hills and cruise control are an annoyingly poor combination. [So are headwinds and cruise control, as I found going through the deserts later]
Tweet: They aren’t kidding when they talk about the wind blowing down the plains in Oklahoma.
Tweet: Apparently I’m not the first to notice how windy OK is; passing the first wind farm of the trip.

Oklahoma Windmill Farm

Aw, Oklahoma’s trying to do mesas. How cute!

Oklahoma Mesas

Tweet: Done with Oklahoma. Seems like I was in there forever.
Tweet: My ears just popped! This is the most gradual hill ever, but I’m definitely gaining altitude.

Getting into Texas made me happy, even if it is just the panhandle. This landscape agrees with me a lot more than Oklahoma’s, for some reason.

Texas Valley

Then there was this gorgeous sunset.

Texas sunset
Texas Sunset
Texas sunset

And then there was Amarillo.

Click through for Days Two (New Mexico and Arizona) and Three (California).

Day Two: Amarillo to Kingman

I left Amarillo bright and early, since I had to make it all the way across New Mexico and Arizona with enough time to stop by the Petrified Forest National Park. The national parks in the Southwest are my favorite – if I could’ve stopped at the Grand Canyon and Bryce and all up in there without putting myself days behind schedule, I would’ve. Someday.

But first, more of Texas. Not to be outdone by Oklahoma, Texas also has wind farms. And, being Texas, bigger ones. These must have gone on for a mile or so, and were spinning like crazy.

Texas Windmills

Texas arguably also does mesas better than Oklahoma. (I’m sorry, Oklahomians – I’m trying not to hate on the state, but I-40’s a pretty boring drive through there. I do love the I-44 turnpike, though – only toll road I’ve ever felt like was worth the money.)

Texas Does Mesas

But you have to get into New Mexico to get really good mesas, so let’s do it, shall we?

New Mexico!

My intention was to get the welcome sign for every state. Unfortunately, this intention didn’t hit me until I was coming toward Texas, so I’d already missed Oklahoma. And then I was fiddling with my iPod when we got to Texas and couldn’t grab my camera fast enough to get a good shot. Then there wasn’t one for Arizona, but we’re not there yet.

Here we go: mesas. Still not as impressive as the ones in Utah, but adequate for my tastes.

New Mexico mesa

Tweet: I love mesas! This terrain always makes me want to go horseback riding.
Tweet: I keep looking around thinking I could drive thru this all day and not get bored. And I get to! So I’m happy.

New Mexico mesa

New Mexico is apparently trying to compete with Texas on a number of fronts. They’ve won on mesas, obviously. But they’re also working the wind farms. On top of the mesas.

New Mexico Windmill Farm

And highway interchanges. This is the I-40 / I-25 interchange in Albuquerque. I’m not sure it matches the sheer brilliance of the Hwy-75 / I-635 interchange in Dallas, but it’s nice, just the same. The deserty pastel coloring is a great touch, too.

Albuquerque - I-40 and I-25 Interchange

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you get to Albuquerque, you go through a long stretch of nothing, reminding me once again that taking New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, etc. into account, the United States is in no way overpopulated. When I used to take trips with my parents, Dad would always point out all the undeveloped real estate ripe for condos. So, Dad, here you go. New Mexico awaits you. There’s at least 75 miles of this just along I-40.

Ripe for development Pt 1
Ripe for Development Pt 2

There are a lot of good road trip songs, you know? I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, because it was new to me and fit driving really well. At one point I was dying to have the Easy Rider soundtrack, so much so that I nearly started looking for a Best Buy, but then I figured they wouldn’t have it anyway. A lot of Sheryl Crow songs work, too.

Sheryl Crow – Every Day is a Winding Road

There are signs advertising Clines Corners as a “famous rest stop” for at least 100 miles before you get to it. The good thing: it is a good rest stop – one of those shops/restaurants with all the souvenirs from keychains to Native American crafts. Fun to just browse while you stretch your legs. Plus, quite good fudge. The bad thing: try to have enough gas to not have to gas up here. It was $4.29 here and $3.79 fifty miles further on in Albuquerque. I’m looking back at that now that I’ve been in LA for three weeks thinking, “Wow, $4.29! Great deal!” It’s averaging $4.85 right now, after a twenty cent jump last week. Sheesh.

Clines Corners Travel Stop

Tweet: Continental divide. Not as exciting as in Colorado, but some pretty red mesas for the photo op.

Continental Divine - New Mexico

Somewhere west of the Continental divide, New Mexico decided to have an identity crisis. Here’s the south side of I-40:

South side of I-40

And here’s the north side:

North side of I-40

Are we desert? Forest? Mountains? WE DON’T KNOW.

Oldies also work well for road trips, especially in the Southwest. I think because I associate them with Route 66, because I associate Route 66 with driving to California in the ’50s and ’60s. I did the Beatles for a while, but they’re a road trip staple for me. I really started feeling it when I threw in the that thing you do! soundtrack.

that thing you do! – Drive Faster

Like I said, no welcome sign for Arizona, so the sign for the welcome center will have to do. They were doing construction and rerouting the roads through there, so hopefully the welcome sign will return eventually. Because every state should have welcome signs.


Arizona did, however, make its presence known through these beautiful painted cliffs just inside the state line.

Painted Cliffs

Excursis: Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

I’m only going to post a very few of these pictures here if I can restrain myself, but there are a bunch over on Flickr.

The park is called the Petrified Forest National Park, but half of it loops up into the bottom of the Painted Desert. Honestly, go here if you’re ever in the area, because it’s gorgeous. I’ve been here before, and I remember the Petrified Forest part, but I didn’t remember the Painted Desert part at all. Maybe we just swung through it and didn’t stop to look or something.

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

These hills have crazy wild stratification, huh? I started driving through them, and my jaw just dropped. I couldn’t get the scope of it with the camera, though. They’re huge and everywhere for about a half mile, and then they’re gone.

Petrified Forest - Teepees

Petrified wood has to be one of the weirdest things. It’s wood, but it’s rock…but it’s wood! And it’s in the middle of a desert. I mean, it’s a desert now. Obviously at some point it was less so.

Petrified Forest - Crystal Forest

Then I apparently didn’t take any more pictures the rest of the way to Kingman. Oh, right, it was getting dark. That was why. I spent like four hours in the park, and enjoyed every minute of it.

I gotta give props to Arizona for having a huge amount of terrain variation. I’ve been through there before, but I wasn’t driving or paying attention, obviously, because I had it in my head that it was all desert and canyons. It’s not. When you get to Flagstaff, you’re in really woodsy, mountainous terrain. And apparently there’s a bunch of rivers and lakes somewhere, according to the sign at the visitor’s center. I definitely put Arizona on my list of places to explore more carefully at some point in the future (a hopelessly long list, I sadly add).

Kingman to Los Angeles

I had beautiful weather on Day 1 and Day 2 of this journey, but Day 3 was really overcast, which lessened considerably the number of pictures I wanted to take. I did quite like this tree, though – there were a lot of them spread throughout Arizona west of Kingman, but this one was bigger than most. I should know what it is, but I don’t remember. Anyone?


California, woot!

Welcome to California!

Phantom Planet – California

Tweet: From here I can see desert, river and mountains. Cool. [I swear you can – there’s a dust storm starting to roll in which kind of obscures the view, but there’s a river with a nice healthy strip of green land, probably arable, at the feet of those mountains.)

Tripartite landscape

Tweet: Signs keep saying speed is enforced by plane. What are they gonna do, strafe? Monitor, I might believe.

Remember when I said a bit ago that I thought Arizona was all desert? Yeah, I also thought all the desert was in Arizona, but I was WRONG. The real desert is in California. I should not admit that I did not know that, because I might have to give up my claim to know anything about geography. Note to self: Mojave Desert. California. Check.

Mojave desert

Let me tell you, driving through a dust storm in the Mojave is pretty much unfun. Most desolate drive I’ve ever taken. I generally like the desert, but I definitely like Arizona’s style better, with all the mesas and canyons and pretty colors. This just had me praying to make it to the lone gas station in the middle of the desert, because running out of gas right there? DID NOT WANT. $4.75 was the highest gas price I’d ever seen, so I took a picture of the sign. At that point, I would’ve paid double that, though. And it doesn’t seem so high now, although when I rolled into LA, prices were about $4.35. The one in the desert probably charges over $5.00 now. Because they can.

Highest Gas Prices Yet

I’m told the wind doesn’t always blow the dust up like this. Only having driven through the Mojave once, though, I obviously think that you can never see more than 100 yards.

Mojave Desert dust storm

Like all things, the Mojave finally ended. And switching to the San Bernadino mountains was a relief. They had 100% less dust storm, for one thing. Also, snow! (Seriously, up on the top there? It’s there, really.)

San Gabriel Mountains

Soon afterwards I got into LA and stopped taking pictures because I was, well, concentrating on driving. Because you have to. I like driving in LA, actually. Yeah, there are a lot of cars and you have to drive actively, but I like that. Everybody generally drives well, too – they signal, they let people in who signal, they stop for pedestrians, they have very specific stoplight etiquette that everyone adheres to, and they pretty much behave.

Anyway, I’d been driving around through Pasadena, central LA, Hollywood, Wilshire area, etc., starting to get a little tired of all the buildings (and Hollywood? Not really nice at all – don’t let the movies fool you) and concrete, and then came out through Santa Monica (which is REALLY nice – any time about six of you want to come out and split an apartment there with me, that’d be great) and found the beach. And remembered all over again why and how much I want to live here. And even though I haven’t gone back to the beach since, I get that feeling every time I wake up in the morning and it’s gorgeous, or drive over the mountains and it’s gorgeous, or drive to my temporary job in Beverly Hills and it’s gorgeous, or go to a concert in Griffith Park and it’s gorgeous – there are a lot of not nice areas in LA, but the nice ones + the weather + so many potential things to do so much more than make up for it.

Santa Monica beach

Rilo Kiley – Spectacular Views (language warning at 2:48)

So there you have it. And now I’ve been here three weeks, I have a temp job for the next two months in Beverly Hills, and I’m signing paperwork for an apartment in Encino on Tuesday. So things are moving along nicely. :)