The Great American Road Trip has a sense of occasion, a heritage and romanticism. It heralds images of open roads, the great outdoors, wildlife, motorcycles and classic Americana. We embarked on a trip through 16 cities travelling from the West Coast to the East, across the southern states of America; California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. This is a journey that I have wanted to make ever since I was young and here I was, finally living out one of my life goals. This was to be a glorious and enlightening experience.
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The Beginning of the Great American Road Trip
The new Virgin Dreamliner touched down on the concrete at LAX. Plastic window blinds no more, replaced instead by electronically tinted windows. The window is slowly turning from black, through shades of midnight blue and turquoise, revealing the scene beyond the tin tube as Led Zeppelin pump out guitar riffs through my earphones. The aircraft trundles alongside the runway and we finally reach our terminal 11 hours after we left gate 21 LHR. We’re pulled onto our docking bay and were ushered through to USA immigrations.
Car collected, we got on our way, the far stretched 12 lane highways of LA make way for the sweeping tree lined roads as we approach Pasadena at the base of the LA mountains. There’s a college game showing in all the bars and the city is buzzing. We grab a pizza for our jet lagged bodies and it hits the spot and then we go and get our heads down….it’s 05:00 body clock time and that’s about as much as we can handle for one day.
Pasadena is a beautiful city within the Los Angeles metropolis yet feels a world away from its craziness. It has more of a small town feel to it, a community with a main strip that’s full of bars and restaurants and smaller shops and markets. It is set under the backdrop of the mountain range that overlooks LA so you never truly forget where you are. We’re staying at The Westin, Pasadena which is just what we need after our long flight. It’s a hotel fits perfectly into the surrounding town. It’s cool, yet not in your face. The decor is luxurious and light with some great services to offer guests such as a spa, pool, gym and a great restaurant. Fantastic for a jet lagged breakfast!
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Hitting the road and driving through the desert. On route is the ghost town of Calico, where the sun beats down. You feel really exposed here, knowing that if you somehow found yourself out in this arid and blisteringly hot wilderness without a vehicle or shelter you’d be in real trouble. Calico is a former mining town in the Mojave Desert. Wooden huts are dotted around the mountain landscape and a ram-shackled wooden train track snakes between the towns buildings. We don’y hang around long, for the heat is too intense. Four hours after we left LA we’ve arrived at Sin City. The city of bright lights and bright nights, where anything can happen and dreams are won and lost. Our stay for the next few days is at the luxurious Aria Resort. An incredible hotel that boasts everything that you would require and more. The evening gets underway and we head to the Alibi bar on the casino floor for a Martini. Inevitably this transcends in to a seat at the roulette table where are fate is in the hands of the spin. After some successes the table begins to turn and it’s time to call it a night. Vegas is a city with so much to offer. For those that aren’t interested in the casino’s, pool parties or opulent nightlife, there are some of the greatest restaurants here with entertainment shows that are simply second to none. It may be a city for the bachelor and bachelorette parties, however there is so much more to this fantastic place. It does travel a hundred miles an hour, and there is of course a reason that so many films such as Fear and Loathing are based here, so after a fun filled 4 nights in our sky-high suite we drive away from party town and back to the desert.
– 900KM –
The Joshua Tree is a unique plant that calls the desert to the south of Las Vegas home. Joshua Tree National Park paves the way in to the ‘Valley of the Sun’ and the city of Phoenix. The Joshua Tree makes way for perhaps the world’s most recognisable plant, the Saguaro cactus. A cacti that is so impressive and respected in these parts, that to fell one is considered illegal and not without good reason. The large ones that are several metres tall, can be up to 250 years old. Phoenix is a truly special place that one can sense on arrival, for the roads are all named after the heritage of the native Americans that live in these parts. The Navajo tribe have spread their influence in these parts far and wide. Travelling through Arizona, you can see where Western movies have gained all of their influence. Roads have names such as Bloody Basin Road, Antelope Creek and Indian School. Phoenix is a vast city where sprawling highways reach far into the surrounding desert. The unique area of Old Town Scottsdale is a nod to the areas cultural heritage where family run restaurants serving local cuisine mix with small bars where you can often find a country singer with a guitar. Our hotel for the duration of our stay in Phoenix is the stunningly beautiful Arizona Biltmore. Designed in part by the acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built in a classic art deco style, the hotel whispers sophistication since its opening in 1929. It is an elegant architectural masterpiece with manicured lawns dotted around the resort. A room is newly renovated and is a very cool interior decor that echoes those architectural styles throughout the resort. The hotel has two restaurants, Wright’s at The Biltmore and less formal but still fantastic, Frank & Albert’s. We relax most evenings overlooking the main lawn, enjoying the hot summer evenings over cocktails, with an Arizona sunset over the mountains in the distance. Simply magnificent.
We leave Phoenix after several days and head north to the small town of Sedona. What a magical place this is. The surrounding red rocks are imposing and mysterious. The town has a rich native American heritage with paintings and dwellings that can still be found amongst the cliffs of the red rocks. Today the spiritual significance is still shown, with characteristics such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross built in to the red rock and a great number of spiritual and yoga retreats. We could sit in a cafe and stare at the surrounding landscape all day. It’s remarkably peaceful and easy to forget about normality here. We are staying at Junipine Resort whilst in Sedona. It is a favourite of ours when we’re here – with wooden cabins and creekhouses built amongst the pine trees. Situated outside of the main town it is incredibly peaceful. Our suite, which is a completely self catered cabin, is decorated true to the heritage of the town, with native american clothing on the walls and a lot of timber exposed on the walls and ceilings. The terrace opens out on to the tall pine trees where we can see woodpeckers and other wildlife with a backdrop of mountains. Sedona’s Oak Creek runs through the grounds and there is a constant faint sound of running water. You feel very connected to nature here. Junipine even offer guests the added luxury of having a hot tub on your rear terrace.
Leaving Sedona we head north further still, and the road slowly rises with the snow capped San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff ahead of us. The drive is an interesting one through pine forests and open plaines. We traverse a small section of Route 66 through the town of Williams. This is Americana and the town is a great tribute to that. Sitting outside a bar with a BBQ and watching the classic cars and Harley Davidsons cruise past, there is little doubt as to what Route 66 means for America. It is America.
– 1250KM –
Tusayan is the last town on the road to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Approaching the rim you cannot see the majesty that awaits the eyes, for the trees are covering the horizon lines. However, once you walk through the last line, the land falls away and the largest chasm you have ever seen is ahead of you. A canyon so large that at first it is difficult to gauge a sense of perspective. Then the eye starts to catch things in the distance — a soaring eagle, a tree on a cliff, the Colorado River. You then obtain a sense of how large the Grand Canyon really is. A view that a photo can never do justice. Words cannot describe its scale. You simply have to see it to understand. I can only imagine the feeling of awe those early natives must have had on first discovering this land.
Part II of The Great American Road Trip to follow soon….
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from London Heathrow to Los Angeles (LAX).
Car hire from major dealers are available at all major USA airports.
The Westin Pasadena, Los Angeles.
The Aria, Las Vegas.
The Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.
Junipine Resort, Sedona.