Discover more from Mega Road Trip 2022™
Suffice to say, it’s been an adventure already!
12 minute read
Due to technical difficulties, this is going out later than implied by what’s written below. This was all composed between 9:45pm on Saturday, May 21 and 1:45am on Sunday, May 22. Thanks for your patience!
I think I need to write these more often than once per week because there is so much to say.
I’m pushing through composing this post from Odessa at 9:45pm because crossing the border into Texas seems like a fitting end point to the first chapter of my trip. I’m through most of what will be familiar to me on the journey. In some ways, the trip starts here.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have neither the time nor energy to create a more synthesized narrative, so I will go through the trip day by day and just call out some highlights (& lowlights…). But first, some stats!
Days on the road: 7
States visited so far: 7
Miles driven: 2382.5
Gallons of gas used: 168.2
Average miles per gallon: 14.2
Average gas price: $4.67/gallon
Cheapest gas: $4.15 in Cuba, NM
Most expensive gas: $7.04 in Fields, OR
Animals seen: coyotes, jack rabbit, prairie dogs, marmot (or groundhog?), hawks, vultures, cows, sheep, horses, dogs, partridge, pheasant, wild turkeys, roadrunner, lizards, RATTLESNAKE (so cool, more on this below!)
Let me know if there are other stats you’re interested in and I’ll see what I can do for next time!
OK, let’s get on with this. There are so many photos I want to share. 😅 I am mostly including photos here that I did not post in my first two Instagram posts since starting the trip. The exception is the RATTLESNAKE Val & I saw, which I am still excited about and can’t wait to tell you about!
Day 1 – It begins!
It was fitting that it was 50°F and raining when I left Portland at 9am on Saturday, May 14. Winter seemed to be dragging on this year and I looked forward to being under sunny skies at the end of my first day on the road.
Driving to the Alvord Desert was a great way to start the trip. It’s a place I’ve been many times (though never camped!) and I had enough on my plate hauling the loaded trailer for the first time, so being on known ground helped keep the cognitive load manageable.
I got to Fields Station, the tiny gas station, store, cafe, and motel (2 rooms) in tiny Fields, Oregon, an hour before they closed, enough time to fill up the gas tank and ask the woman working the register whether the desert was dry enough to drive on. “There are people camping out there, but watch for standing water. I’ve had people wake up surrounded by mud.” Good advice, that.
I drove the 20 miles to the entrance to the Alvord and found it not to be treacherous at all. The Alvord Desert is a dry lake bed that sits in the rain shadow of Steens Mountain in extreme southeast Oregon. It averages just 7 inches of rain per year, but with how much rain we’d been getting in Portland, I was afraid it might be gooey, Jeep-tire-eating muck. Bullet dodged!
[Here is where I have to resist telling stories of the generations of Hedges family members who learned to drive on the Alvord’s vast expanse. Too much still to write. Buy me a beer some time and ask about it!]
There were several other vehicles and tents visible on the desert when I got there. I drove around until I found a spot that felt relatively isolated and set up camp. I won’t go into detail about that process, but I will say that I love my little teardrop trailer!
I slept soundly that night until around 4am. I’m not sure what woke me, but whatever it was, I’m glad it did. I looked out the left side window of the trailer and saw a couple of planets. “Cool,” I thought, and got up to take a longer look. My breath was taken away when I saw it was actually 4 planets all in a neat line and that a full moon was low on the opposite horizon!
An auspicious start to my trip! Or so I thought…
Day 2 – My first mishap 😬
I set out the next morning bright and early, getting up with the sun around 5:30am, and breaking camp about an hour later after a bit of a wander and a quick breakfast of hard boiled eggs, crackers, and cheese.
If you had to guess, which of the United States is the most mountainous? Colorado? Utah? Alaska? Nope, Nevada. I know, right? Nevada makes up most of The Great Basin, the vast area between the Sierra Nevadas to the west and the Rockies to the east. Driving across it rarely sees you on the level.
So, yeah, about that mishap. I learned 2 lessons on Day 2 of my trip:
Don’t make important/risky decisions at the end of a long day of driving when you’re fatigued and hungry, and
Don’t just take Google Maps’ word for it if things seem at all sketchy.
[Crap, it’s getting late. Must. Write. Faster.]
Quick and dirty version of the story: I googled around and found out. Late in the day, I got off at the exit Google told me to take and immediately the pavement ended. I’m a Jeep guy, so this didn’t immediately phase me.
Narrator: It should have phased him.
I navigated the first bit which consisted of some deep ruts, careful to keep my shiny, new, 5-figure teardrop trailer on as much of level footing as I could and continued up the hill. The only problem was that I paid so much attention to the terrain that I missed the fact I was right away supposed to turn left onto a different dirt road.
I was now stuck on a narrow dirt road with no good place to turn around. I went for a bit and found a place with a “clearing” (in quotes because all that means is there were fewer bushes and rocks than the rest of the terrain) and attempted to back the trailer up and get everything pointed back downhill.
Except, there just wasn’t enough space and I ended up well and truly jackknifed. (This isn’t even the mishap, by the way, but it did suck.)
I had to disconnect the trailer, put chocks under the wheels to keep it in place, better situate the Jeep, move the trailer by hand, and reconnect the chains, cables, etc. in order to go back the way I came. Hassle-icious!
More determined than ever (unfortunately) to conquer this road, I made my way back to where I’d missed the turn. I looked at the tall, steep hill with the rutted, gravel road running up it and with nary a second thought proceeded upwards.
After the first little bit, I thought to myself that if I were to lose traction on the upper, steeper bit, I’d need to back the trailer down the hill. Not an easy thing to do, I thought to myself as I kept going forward.
Having survived a scare on Murphy Hogback a few years back, I knew enough to have my Jeep in its lowest gear and crawl up the trail so as not to bounce around too terribly much. It didn’t really help. Towards the top, I started to—you guessed it—lose traction and just punched it, really, really hoping I wouldn’t have to back down the beastly hill.
Dear reader, I made it to the top. My trusty and beloved trailer made it as well, but has battle scars in the form of a severely bent license plate and a kajillion dings in the fenders to show for it. My apologies David Bowie (that’s the trailer’s name, at least for now).
So, yeah, I was at the top, and again on a narrow dirt track with nowhere to turn around. It finally dawned on me to second guess Google Maps. I checked and, sure enough, there was a PAVED FREAKING ROAD I could have taken. It was just a couple of miles further down the highway and Google was trying to save me some distance in favor of risking my life and limb? Not the greatest calculus on Google’s part, I must say.
Still, Taurus that I am, I considered staying on the dirt road, but realized that the way could easily have more crappy, treacherous terrain ahead like that which I’d just endured. So, I found a place to turn around and took my long-suffering teardrop back down that stupid hill.
Back on the highway I went, taking the very next exit and following actual signs for the road up to the campground. Closed. The sign said the campground was closed. #ffs
Just 8 miles up the road and not really wanting to have to settle for the RV park in town, I decided still to make the drive up to Angel Creek, if only to see what I would be missing.
I’m glad I did! The campground, contrary to the signage, was open! And it was good. Dramatic weather. Pretty sunset. Wild turkeys in camp. Disaster averted just hours earlier. Who could ask for anything more?
Day 3 – Utah
Something about camping has me getting up super early. I was again on the road by about 6am on Day 3. Angel Creek is only about 3 hours from where I was to meet up with my friend, and former co-worker, Cayce, his wife, Margaret, and Cayce’s mom, Ranee, at their home in Sandy, Utah.
I need to keep this brief, so…photo op on the Bonneville Salt Flats, lunch, hike, dinner, with Cayce & Co. (So fun to catch up! Thanks for the hospitality!!!)
Day 4 – Feels from Four Corners
Some of y’all know I lived in New Mexico for about 3½ years in the early 2000s. This was for me a very formative time. I got married, adopted her girls, and at 36 years old was learning how to be a husband and dad, learning that I couldn’t always put my own needs first, uncovering demons I didn’t know I had from the stresses and pressures of my new life. I grew a lot during this time. I became a lot less selfish. But, it was uncomfortable, boy howdy.
It was with the above on my mind that I crossed into New Mexico. Well, I crossed into Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico kind of all at once. Four Corners is a unique place in the United States where 4 states come together at a single point. Back east, states are super irregularly shaped. Out west. they’re more commonly big rectangles and these 4 states happen to share this tiny bit of territory.
Despite living in the state for a while, I’d never made it up to the northwest corner. Driving from Four Corners through Shiprock and Farmington to that night’s campsite, I saw the contradictions of New Mexico laid bare. I saw mesmerizingly beautiful terrain and crushing poverty. I saw a broken down or abandoned car on the side of the road at seemingly perfect 10 mile intervals. I saw 500 years of Spanish influence and the cruel legacy of American colonialism on the state’s indigenous peoples. New Mexico is a special place that I both love and hate.
That night in camp, I looked forward to seeing my Valerie Rose, who had flown into Albuquerque from Portland that same evening.
Day 5 – Reunited and it feels so good!
I awoke excited to get to Albuquerque to meet up with Val, but first had to attend to a quick detour through Alcalde, a “census-designated place” that is the namesake of my friend and former co-worker Dan Alcalde, who has only ever lived in the NYC area, but whose goal in life is to become the Alcalde’s mayor. Alcalde means mayor in Spanish, so this would make Dan Mayor Mayor of Mayor. (Did I get that right, Dan?) Alcalde is tiny. Tiny enough that I didn’t manage to get a photo. Sorry, Dan!
I rolled into Albuquerque around Noon. Again, I need to keep this story moving, so much more to write, am going to summarize! 😅
Took lunch away from Frontier, a NM institution if only for those fresh tortillas, and ate at the duck pond, a favorite place where I used to take Allie & Erin when they were little
Val & I rode the tram to the top of the Sandias, great views! (Glad we snuck this in because they closed the trails due to fire danger the next day!)
Grabbed a beer at ReSource, a small brewery in the heights, much recommended
Got dinner at Sawmill Market, which was suuuuuuuper cool and a must do if you ever visit
Day 6 – RATTLESNAKE!!1!
Val & I had 2 full days in NM together. We spent this day in Albuquerque and the other day in Santa Fe (more about that below).
Tryna beat the heat, we set out early-ish to the Rinconada Canyon Trail to get some steps in while viewing some of the many petroglyphs left there by the Native Americans and early Spanish settlers.
We weren’t more than ¼ mile into the hike when I spotted a RATTLESNAKE not 10 feet to the left of our trail. I was so freaking excited! Luckily, the beast didn’t pick up on my vibe and slithered off, apparently unbothered. But, wow, what a magnificent animal to see in the wild!
I don’t remember everything we did that day, but I do know we ate and drank a lot. 😛
Day 7 – Making lemonade in Santa Fe
So, a little set up is called for here. Before the trip, I took my Jeep to my usual mechanic in Portland for a once over. I was clear that I was about to leave on a 13,000 mile road trip and wanted to know that my ride was as reliable as possible before I set out.
I picked up the Jeep on a Friday and was supposed to pick up my new trailer in Bend the next day. But, alas, the shop screwed up my brakes and my ride wouldn’t roll. Back to the shop on Monday, new calipers installed (free of charge), and all seemed well. Mostly.
The brakes being the bigger issue, I didn’t mention to them that the engine seemed to be running a little rough and even did a little shudder thing once when I was idling. With the benefit of hindsight, well, you can guess where this is headed…
The shudder happened only a couple more times over the 2 weeks since I’d had the Jeep in for servicing, but on this day, as we left the highway on our way into Santa Fe, it happened again. Only, this time, accompanied for the first time by a blinking check engine light. I’m not a car guy, so I don’t know whether this holds for other cars, but on a Jeep, that light blinking is bad, way worse than if it just comes on and stays on. Woo hoo.
We were really close to our first destination, Meow Wolf, so we parked there and I got on the horn with my shop in Portland. They assured me they would reimburse me for any warrantied work, so I got to googling nearby mechanics. There was a highly-rated one…across the street 😂 so I drove the 60 feet over there and pleaded with the mechanic there to take a look. Long story short, he told me the engine had misfired, but he didn’t have capacity to help me. We ended up at the aptly named Auto Angel, which was also super close to Meow Wolf, and was run by the very best mechanic I have ever talked with. I won’t go into all the details, but I knew my Jeep was in good hands. Gabe was clear they might not be able to fix it, but he agreed to bend their rules and take my broken vehicle in and do their best with the 6 or so hours they had before they called it quits for the weekend.
Long story short, what could have been a disaster, throwing off my trip plans, ruining our day in Santa Fe, turned into the same day we would have had, just with a couple of Lyft rides instead of us driving ourselves. Auto Angel fixed the Jeep and it’s been running like a champ (knock on wood) since!
But, yeah, Santa Fe has some cool stuff! 😛 Meow Wolf was pretty incredible, like a giant mystery/escape room/art installation that is so creative that it’s impossible (for me) to put into words. We also walked around the Railyard area, which has a bunch of restaurants and galleries, including SITE Santa Fe where we saw an incredible exhibit by Native American artist, Jeffrey Gibson. After SITE, we made our way up to the plaza, did some window shopping, grabbed a beer, then headed back to the shop to pick up the Jeep for the drive south back to Albuquerque.
Despite my own conflicted feelings about the place, I highly recommend a visit to New Mexico. There’s nowhere like it in the U.S.
Day 8 – Don’t mess with Texas
Day 8, today, er…technically yesterday because it’s now after midnight, had me driving from Albuquerque to Odessa via world famous Roswell, home of the International UFO Museum and Research Center. I’d been to Roswell a couple of times, so I only briefly stopped for a sandwich and a quick photo op.
Heading southeast from Roswell, I entered the oil fields of SE NM and West Texas. I wasn’t prepared to see oil derricks literally stretched to the horizon in every direction. This wasn’t just in one spot. It was like this…for hours. Metal contraptions steadily extracting carbon from the earth’s crust to be burned and sent up into the atmosphere.
I get the irony of complaining about fossil fuels as I am in the middle of a trip where I expect to burn 1,000 gallons of gasoline. Still, to see it like this brought home to me the impact we are having on the planet. As I write this, New Mexico is being rocked by terrible forest fires. It’s hard to go a day without exchanging a few words with friends or strangers about how the weather isn’t how it used to be.
The only hopeful thing I saw through this stretch were the wind turbines, competing for space with the rigs and derricks. Here’s hoping we can curb our love of carbon in favor of sustainable energy sources sooner rather than too late.
Sheesh, that was a downer way to end things.
Yeah, sorry about that. It’s 12:45am. I expect to be more optimistic in the morning! 😅
Man, what an adventure this has already been. With this as the start, what lies in store over the coming 7 weeks? All I know is that I’m headed for Austin in the morning after I check out a meteor crater and Stonehenge replica. Looking forward to hanging with friends in my favorite Texas town!