At the start of this trip, almost a year ago, I never imagined renting a car and driving coast to coast, east to west, nearly 5000 miles, Georgia to Oregon to California with some amazing places in between. All in just over a month.
We made no itinerary other than leaving Savannah and finishing in Portland (even this changed as we eventually finished in San Francisco) with our next destination sometimes only decided the night before travel.
The car loaded we set off on a journey that would take us to 23 towns and cities, through the Great Smoky Mountains, the flat plains of Texas, the deserts of New Mexico, the Colorado Rockies, the vast wilderness of Utah and Oregon before cutting through the Redwood forests of California. We drove parts of Route 66, the Santa Fè and Oregon trails and travelled across the halfway mark between the Equator and the North Pole.
Our first stop after Savannah would be the city of Charleston, South Carolina.
Charleston, South Carolina.
We left the former British colonial city and drove north to South Carolina and the city of Charleston for a three night stay.
Like Savannah, Charleston was extremely well kept with a colonial look and feel. Sitting on the Atlantic Ocean it had a breezier climate but nevertheless the temperature was still pushing 100°degrees during the heat of the day.
Our apartment was about seven miles out of the downtown area in North Charleston and we enjoyed the small sprinkling of shops etc the area had to offer. There was also a decent sized park with a large duck pond for Hamish to dip his toes and stretch his legs. Downtown enjoyed free parking on the ocean front so we left the car and explored the city centre on foot for a couple of hours, taking cover in the occasional shop or restaurant to escape the sun on some of the hottest July days on record, with the most amount of days consecutively over 95°degrees.
Adjacent to where we parked sat the gorgeous West Point Gardens, a great spot for picnicking, walking and letting your dog run free in one of the few parks where off the leash is permitted. Hamish took full advantage.
We drove to John’s Island to see the five hundred year old Angel oak tree, though disappointing that dogs are not permitted close to the tree nor are there any walks close by. Merely a big old tree flanked by a few picnic benches, a Ranger’s office and a large fence. Still, it was a fair old tree!
One of the highlights of driving Charleston was crossing the Arthur Ravenel, Jr bridge. With eight lanes of traffic the bridge has a span of 1,546 feet, is 150 feet high, cost $700 million to build and is the third largest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere.
Summerville, South Carolina
The self-proclaimed home of sweet tea, Summerville is about forty minutes northwest of Charleston, has a population of about 44,000 and was a former summer retreat for those escaping seasonal insects such as mosquitoes and the diseases they spread. It was also thought, in days gone by, to be one of the best places for the treatment and recovery of conditions such as tuberculosis due to the air quality brought on by the surrounding pine trees.
We stopped here for two nights at the Pink Dolphin BnB, enjoying a large breakfast of baked oats, cheese grits and biscuits in gravy. We had a quick walk round the small town centre sampling that sweet tea at local café, and checked out Elizabeth Arden’s (the queen of cosmetics) former home which was close by.
Close to town there’s also an extensive cycle and river walk which Hamish enjoyed.
Google maps gave us three routes to Chattanooga from Summerville; we chose the quickest and most direct – just shy of six hours – and set off on the first long journey. The reality was well over seven hours. We were directed through the city of Atlanta during rush hour and eight lanes of nose-to-tail traffic, gridlocked at snails pace and seemingly going nowhere fast. GPS had failed it’s first real test and after loosing the signal we relied on good old fashion road signs and guesswork which served us well enough to make it most of the way without any major issues. Luckily the GPS sprung into life upon us entering Chattanooga and directed us to our final destination in the north of the city. Tired and hungry but in one piece we just had time for a quick bite to eat at Wholefoods before setting in for the first of our four nights in a unique and up and coming city, still full of local run shops and eateries, resisting the national chains that has homogenised just about every other city and town across the country.
After a long lie in we briefly meet up with some friends we’d met the previous year on our trip to Asheville. Arranging to meet later for supper, we set out to explore the city centre, our first stop to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo followed by some refreshments at Mean Mug coffee.
The following day we decided to be tourists and rode the worlds steepest funicular railway boasting a 72.7% incline and 2,100 feet above sea level before driving the short distance to Lookout Mountain plummeting 1,120 feet below ground to see Ruby Falls, a 145 foot waterfall hidden deep within a cave and network of tunnels. The guided tour takes you into the cave and through the tunnel to the waterfall which eventually flows to the Tennessee river.
On our last full day we met up with our friends, Casey and Marysol, in their hometown of Ooltewah, Tn and with Hamish in tow enjoyed a day out boating on Lake Chickamagua to the backdrop of glorious scenery, sunshine and country music, Hamish of course refusing to get his feet wet.
A two and a half hour drive took us to the city of Knoxville, our primary aim to visit Dollywood Theme Park, situated nearby at Pigeon Forge. An initial two night stop was extended to four thanks to the luxury English cottage and the hospitality of our hosts and the neighbouring residents, who seemed determined to prevent us from leaving by sheer generosity and kindness. Their Southern charm shining through in spades, gifting us home grown produce, jams, toffee, wine and whisky (making this Scotsman very content).
With the exception of an enjoyable day out at Dollywood (Hamish checking into the adjoining Doggywood) and a brief excursion to the cute downtown area, we were simply happy to enjoy our temporary home and all it had to offer, especially the hospitality.
Little Rock Arkansas
It was with a heavy heart as we loaded up and drove out of Tennessee and the wonderful hospitality and friendship we encountered, both in Chattanooga and Knoxville. But with a deadline to meet and a road trip to complete, we set off for Arkansas and the city of Little Rock.
After a brief stop in Nashville to meet friends for lunch, we completed the journey to Little Rock in around eight unenjoyable hours behind the wheel, arriving at our apartment, within a gated community (boasting over 480 apartments) just before dark.
Little Rock was a surprise and we thoroughly enjoyed our brief two night stop here. We ventured into town and enjoyed the afternoon walking around. We crossed Junction Bridge Pedestrian Walkway, formerly a railway bridge, visited the Market District and, after a short drive, had a look around The Old Mill Park, featuring a building from the opening scene of the classic film Gone With The Wind.
Our gated community also boasted a great little dog park for Hamish to run around.
Oklahoma City (five hours from Little Rock) and capital city of Oklahoma State would also be a two night stop, this time enjoying a converted loft apartment above a garage.
With downtown around an hour or so walking, we decided to enjoy the trappings of the local neighbourhood. Within two blocks, the 16th street plaza boasted an array of shops, restaurants and bars, with our first night dining out on pizza. Our second and final night, we were kindly invited to join neighbours (Gerry and Nancy) for a BBQ, later sitting on their porch enjoying a beer and a ‘dram’ from Gerry’s extensive whisky collection. Hamish too enjoyed the social occasion and happily played with their dog, Maggie the Pitbull Terrier.
About three blocks from the apartment sat the Milk Bottle Grocery from the historic Route 66 and from here we headed out of Oklahoma, making for Amarillo Texas and a four hour drive on a long, straight road of flat farmland and countless windfarms.
With just an overnight stop in Amarillo, we didn’t really have an opportunity to explore the city. We dined at the Texas Roadhouse and walked Hamish round the neighbourhood. In the morning as we left, we made a brief stop at the Cadillac Ranch, yet another Route 66 icon, before continuing the long straight drive on a seemingly endless road with no end.
But it did end, and so we arrived in New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque.
Albuquerque New Mexico
The location of award winning TV series Breaking Bad, Albuquerque didn’t do much for us other than a stopping point before going west to Phoenix Arizona, or north to Colorado.
Our place of abode was just a couple of blocks from downtown, another few from the old town plaza and easy enough to walk with Hamish. We bumped into a local police officer who pointed us in the direction of some nearby points of interest, including Tuco’s hideout (from Breaking Bad) situated above a local eaterie, Java Joe’s.
With only a few hours of our Albuquerque trip left, Tracy found us a cracking rental in Colorado Springs, and so a decision was made to head north on the Santa Fè trail rather than west to Arizona.
We left Albuquerque at midday, the mountains of New Mexico in the distance, with nothing but desert in between, and headed north, passing the beautiful city of Santa Fè along the way.
Not far after Santa Fè, we witnessed the unusual sight of a young-ish looking Hispanic gentleman bound, tied and gagged to a telegraph pole, the heat of the day relentlessly beating down upon him. We talked about the possible scenarios as to why this guy was there – punishment, a stag or bachelor prank, or ploy to entice motorists to stop? As unforgiving and cruel the situation was, we drove on, convincing ourselves a police patrol vehicle would pass by and rescue the poor fellow. We were in Breaking Bad territory after all….
After a couple of hours driving we entered the state of Colorado, noticing a distinct difference in the countryside and the surrounding terrain from the one we’d just left. The mountains were on top of you with forest and woodlands adorning large sections of the land. We soon arrived at Colorado Springs and our Maps directed us to our AirBnB accommodation, home for the next three nights.
And what accommodation it was! A beautiful mountain retreat, our hosts lodged on the upper floor, whilst we were to occupy the lower. However, not long after we arrived, they decided to vacate for the weekend and leave us the sole occupants of their $1.5 million dollar home, complete with pool room, bar – stocked with more beer than I could drink, and a gym (which remained unused). From the balcony, Hamish could watch the elk foraging below and go bananas trying to catch Chipmunks or similar looking Ground Squirrels.
We made full use of the luxury facilities and ate in for every meal during our stay, enjoying mountain views from virtually every window.
The only drawback during our stay was the weather. Thunderstorms like we’d never seen, producing lightning bolts delivered by the furious God’s of war; rain so heavy we were lucky to escape the flash flooding – others not so as cars lay strewn by the side of the road.
We went to visit the Garden of the God’s but the weather forced it to close early. Another time, another visit.
Grand Junction Colorado
As so to one of the most awe inspiring drives we’d have the privilege of completing. Colorado Springs to Grand Junction must go down as one of the best in the US. Maps stated it was around five hours, but the reality was a bit longer.
The roads were tight as the mountains bore down upon you like an overbearing power of nature. Tunnels cut through those same hills in feats of engineering genius, and bridges carried you across the mighty Colorado river, its clear rushing water twisting and turning below you like a translucent, sidewinding snake.
Cars and tankers laboured the steep hills, with runaway truck lanes every few miles should brakes fail on the downward spiral. Although the speed limit is low, it was difficult to concentrate; the scenery so beautiful your gaze transfixed in a mesmerising glance, so captivating almost hypnotic.
We passed the town of Idaho Falls, birthplace of the famous American Gold Rush, well worth a stop for a look around.
The city of Grand Junction sits below some stunning scenery. The nearby Colorado National Monument, a 37 mile drive through a mini Grand Canyon is a must see for anyone visiting the area. At just a couple of miles out of town, it’s easily accessible and at $10 per car, one of the bargains of the century.
A couple of miles after the Colorado Monument is the city of Fruita, also worth a stop over, and like Grand Junction, the perfect gateway to some of the most beautiful and accessible hiking and biking in the area.
Salt Lake City Utah
It was a long lonely drive to Salt Lake City with nothing much in between other than mountainous wilderness, the odd service station (One called “The Middle of Nowhere”) and the railway/mining town of Helper, where a large statue stands of mining legend Big Bad John. We refueled here and had a little look around, before setting off on the last leg on our journey to Utah’s state capital.
For our two night stay, we had a little one bedroom apartment in a converted barn within walking distance of, and sandwiched between, the city centre and the Capitol building.
Sitting in the shadow of Mt. Olympus, Salt Lake City presented itself as a clean, vibrant city with beautiful buildings in a well kept downtown area. On our short stay, we ate out both nights. Once in town, the other at the local Wholefoods Supermarket.
During the day, Hamish and I hiked Ensign Peak, enjoying panoramic views of the city and Mt. Olympus from one side, and in the distance, the great salt lake to the other.
We explored the neighbourhood and Hamish enjoyed some off the leash time in the grounds of the Capitol building, playing with other dogs as we chatted to their owners.
A beautiful city, well worth a visit and if we had more time would’ve stayed longer.
Before our morning departure, and almost five hour drive to Boise Idaho, our host kindly made us a breakfast smoothie before waving us goodbye and wishing us well. We had a brief stop in the town of Rupert to stretch our legs and grab a drink before arriving in Boise, early evening.
The capital city of Idaho, population approximately 210,000, would only host us for one night as a stop over before making way to our, original, final destination of Portland.
A great little city with some fine outdoor activities, great parks and river walks. We dined out on falafel at a local Mediterranean restaurant before settling in for the night. After a morning walk to the river with Hamish we set off for the long 429 mile final leg to “Bridge Town” Portland Oregon.
Baker City, Oregon
The drive to Portland was pretty long. Too long. Even with a lunch stop at the quaint Baker City it felt too long. Over 4000 miles since our road trip began, we were car weary and wanted our destination to arrive. Poor Hamish was sick and we nearly ran out of petrol. But we kept going and the wonderful Oregon scenery along the magnificent Columbia River buoyed our spirits. We made it.
Portland Oregon, a stunning city sitting proudly on America’s Northwest was waiting for our arrival, and a week long stay in Bridge Town was about to begin. Boy, was I looking forward to returning the car to the rental company….
Portland Oregon…. to be continued.