Okay so picking up on where we left off on this cross-country road trip from Georgia to California, I left Georgia listening to my Sirius XM channel 50, and I was doing great on time. I was hitting my miles and reaching my state targets right on time. I kept my weather app accessible and I ensured I had written directions, in case I hit a dead zone with my cell phone. I was glad that I waited to leave Atlanta at 7:30am because Alabama did have some high winds and I wouldn’t have been able to see debris on the roads and highways in the darkness.
I hit Birmingham right on time, snapped a photo of the rain hitting my windshield in Winfield, the highway signs below the dark clouds in Tupelo, and it was soon after that photo that one of my jams came cranking through my car speakers. It’s interesting how many cities and towns throughout the US are named after Biblical places, such as Corinth.
About an hour later I was in Byhalia, never heard of it, but I knew that keeping straight was leading me to Memphis.
I thought that I would stop and have lunch at a restaurant on Beale Street. So I hopped off the highway and cruised over to Beale Street. I snapped some photos because you never know what changes can take place in a short period of time. What I didn’t factor into this great detour idea of mine, was the yucky weather and having to park my car and walk in the rain, in pursuit of some yummy food that this newly-converted vegetarian would have to track down. It was just too much going on so I scrapped the idea and convinced myself to grab something in Arkansas. So I hopped back on the highway. drove over the Mississippi River and crossed into Arkansas. I knew that I had 123 miles to get to Little Rock.
I’m really not sure what I thought I was going to find in Arkansas. What are they known for, food-wise? Heck if I know, and guess what? Once you leave Memphis, the next McDonald’s isn’t along that route for another whopping 25+ miles. I knew I wasn’t going to stop at Subway and soon I realized I done messed up now. But I kept driving and kept singing with channel 50. I arrived in Forrest City and saw the Mc D’s on N. Washington Street, across the street from the gas station I had eyeballed.
What in the world??? That’s all I can really say. They didn’t even put a full slice of cheese on my sandwich. I mean it’s not like they had to rush or anything. There was only one car in front of me when I pulled up and no cars behind me when I ordered, paid at the first window, and collected my food at the second window. It was 3:30 pm local time and my sandwich said to me, “Howdy, I’ve been waiting for you!” because that is exactly what it tasted like. My fries were okay. I decided to do something I rarely do, I completed one of their online surveys, explaining my disappointment.
After leaving there and filling up my tank, sticking to my routine of not letting the gas level drop below half a tank, I got back on the highway. I noticed that I lost some time with my shenanigans. Now it was no longer saying that I would arrive in Oklahoma City by 8pm local time. The clock was inching up and now saying 10pm. Yikes, how in the world did I lose two hours? I hadn’t been sitting there for that long. Uugh, the Beale Street loop-da-loop coupled with this stop, and it factored in something I didn’t see coming.
Traffic Jam Parking Lot
Thank goodness for my Waze app for alerting me to a major traffic jam on I-40. I guess there was construction and looky-loos, and a bunch of fools on the highway, because the re-route that Waze provided was roughly 12 miles long. It wasn’t a quick re-route, but thankfully it took me through a really beautiful community in Arkansas. I was too busy chatting it up on the phone with my aunt Valerie to remember to take some photos, or note my location. Just know that it was the perfect detour. At first it had me and my aunt nervous, thinking that I was about to take a scenic drive through no-man’s land. If I hadn’t paid attention to the detour alert I would have been stuck in that traffic jam (that looked like a parking lot on Black Friday) for a long time. It was over 10 miles deep according to the alerts on Waze. I felt sorry for anyone stuck in the middle and running low on fuel or in need of a restroom.
The weather in Arkansas had gotten rough at times, the winds were intense, and anyone who has driven a high profile vehicle, you know the more exposed surface you have the more you’re risking with crosswinds, etc. Those little cars were just zooming by and I knew why. They have a lower center of gravity and a smaller surface area. I was watching huge trucks, big rigs and other high profile vehicles swaying and drifting across lanes, and that meant I was going to have to slow myself down big time to keep a safe distance from them. When the sun set things really started to get intense and I found myself dropping my speed down to 40 mph in some areas.
After passing Little Rock Arkansas I had 313 miles to Ft. Smith. I knew that the closer I got to Ft. Smith that I was closer to Oklahoma City, because Ft. Smith is near the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
I started driving past highway exits with names I recognized, and when I saw the Indian Nation Turnpike, I knew that I was near the towns my maternal grandparents were born and raised. I knew I only had 1.5 hours to get to my aunt’s house. You would think that once I reached that point that it would be smooth sailing into Oklahoma City. But it wasn’t. It was dark. I mean real dark. And the wind and rain decided to play tag with me. All while I’m navigating the construction zones that they don’t ever seem done improving. It started feeling like I was in an old school pinball machine, just zigging left and right, on pavement then off, with the blinding headlights of vehicles and big rigs zooming by on the other side of the highway.
It also didn’t help that I got on the phone with my maternal grand aunt, Mary, and told her that although I planned to surprise her that day, I was now four hours behind my initial planned arrival time. It would be too late to swing by her house and even if I did, I knew I wouldn’t have enough energy to then backtrack to my aunt Valerie’s house. It wasn’t telling aunt Mary this that made this final stretch of the trip difficult. It was the fact that my aunt Mary has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, and after an hour of chatting with her on the phone, I found myself getting too relaxed and I thought I would fall asleep. I had to tell my beloved aunt that I had to get off of the phone. As soon as I did, I cranked up the music and told my body to get it together. I pulled up to my aunt Valerie’s at 11:55pm.
The next day I had a companion. My maternal uncle, Michael. Yep, he was riding with me the rest of the way to California and was down for whatever. So after a stop at Dunkin Donuts and then the gas station to refuel, we hit I-40 heading for Amarillo, Texas. I no longer eat steak, but I had to snap a photo of “The Big Texan Steak Ranch” that had a full parking lot at almost 3pm. My uncle Michael drove and I rode shotgun.
We crossed the Texas-New Mexico border, entering Hereford. Did you know that New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment”? I know one thing, it’s a heck of a drive, because you’re going across the entire width of the state. That’s what zapped me when driving through Arkansas. It’s different when you’re clipping parts of state. Cutting straight across or down, depending on the side of the state, can feel brutal. Once you enter New Mexico it’s 529 miles of desert.
After my uncle had made it a “good ways” into Albuquerque, I convinced him that I knew how to drive, and that he could pull off and switch places. He had driven all day and I wanted to ensure he wasn’t taking his road warrior status too far. He clearly still saw me as a young teenager, because not only did he pass up several nearby gas stations and parking lots to pull over, he drove one mile off the highway, and turned into the parking lot of a mall, then positioned my SUV so that it was pointing in the direction of the highway, and then proceeded to tell me how to leave the parking lot. Like we were out there doing a behind-the-wheel driving session. I had to remind him that I had been driving for decades. Hilarious!
Once entering Arizona I knew I had 348 miles before I would reach the exit that I needed to head to our hotel at the Grand Canyon. In your mind, you see the signs and you tell yourself, “I will be there soon” but boy howdy, if you have never driven to the Grand Canyon, let me tell you, oooh wee, do it during the daytime because at night it was cuh-razy!
I took SR-64 drove 28 miles then another 22 miles on US-180. Ummm yeah, so several miles before reaching the Grand Canyon village, you forget that you’re out there with some real animals, I mean like more than snakes and coyotes. We drove by something that was grazing by the roadside. At first my uncle said it was a moose and then he was like, wait that couldn’t have been a moose. Then it was like one minute later and why did we see a huge elk? I mean huge. I mean, it was so huge that if it had changed it’s mind about hopping up the side of the embankment, and instead decided to turn around and charge at my SUV for being a nuisance, it could have knocked us clear off the road. It’s antlers looked to be as wide as the front of my car. And before you ask, heck no we didn’t stop to take a photo. I will say, the elk in Arizona are eating well and living good.
We pulled up to our hotel at 11:55pm beating the 12am cut-off which would have been a late check-in headache of sorts. Not sure what exactly, I’m just glad that I didn’t have to deal with it. I’m also glad that they honored my uncle’s Veteran status and gave us a discounted rate. Hey now!
Tomorrow I will share photos from the Grand Canyon, and then my reflection of the final leg of this three-day trip.
Copyright 2021. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.