My great American road trip

This summer I did a lot of driving. 6,147 miles (9,887km) or 86 hours to be exact. I drove from Texas to Arizona to Colorado to Pennsylvania, stopped in Western New York for three months and then decided to do it all over again — well Pennsylvania back to Arizona at least. And I did it all by myself.

I’m naturally independent, and I’m perfectly happy to spend time alone. In fact, I often find that I’ll need take a break from everyone and everything around me and just escape. Having said that, as much as I enjoy my own company, 86 hours is a long time to spend with just me, myself and I.

So how did I do it?

Well I listened to music, chewed gum and spent time talking to my friends and family on the phone — handsfree of course. I also took the time to appreciate the various areas of the country I was driving through. Each day I tried to drive “manageable” distances and allowed myself plenty of stops. I aimed to never drive in the dark and only broke this rule a couple of times.

On my shortest day of driving, I drove just over six hours, and on my longest day, I drove around 11 hours. Finding sightseeing places to stop along the way also helped break up each day of driving.

I’ll be posting a full list of my top road trip travel tips soon.

What was my favourite state to drive through?

This is a tough one because there are so many and each state offers something unique. But if I can only pick one, I would choose Utah, with Arizona and Colorado as a close second.

On my trip from Arizona to Pennsylvania, I drove through Utah on Highway 191 up to western Colorado. On my trip out west I drove from Denver to western Utah on I-70. Utah has the most unique landscapes I’ve ever driven through. One minute you’re driving through desert views of beautiful red-orange rock formations, then next minute, you’re suddenly immersed in vast canyons and mountain ranges. A lot of the rock is a beautiful red/orange, and with a blue sky it really is something special.

Image of sights in Utah during my drive.

What was my favourite route to drive on? 

While Utah is my favorite state, I-70 is hands down my favourite single stretch of road.

My favourite section of this road is west of Denver ,where you drive through the Rockies, through canyons and into the more desert-like areas of Utah. This was some of the most spectacular roading I’ve ever seen, especially along the Colorado River just east of Grand Junction, Colorado. Here you wind through a canyon following the river’s twists and turns. If you’re heading east, you then start to drive upwards into the Rocky Mountains and if you’re headed west, you’ll reach the deserts and mountains of Utah.

I’ve been lucky enough to do this drive twice and each time it offered something different, whether I stopped somewhere new or just noticed more along the way. The weather was also different each time. Driving through the Rockies in blue sky and driving through them in a torrential rainstorm can make for quite a different experience.

If you’re ever planning a great American road trip, I highly recommend working this section of road in.

Perspective of my drive through Colorado

What was my least favourite state to drive through?

This is a no-brainer for me, and unfortunately Kansas is the unlucky winner. To be fair, I drove through Kansas during one of my longest days of driving — almost 11 hours in total.  Because I was in a hurry to get back to Pennsylvania, I didn’t plan any scenic breaks that day. I stopped only for gas and food and usually got both at the same time. By now I also had listened to all my Spotify playlists at least a couple times, and this definitely made it harder to pass the time.

I also was coming recently from Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and Kansas just didn’t hold up in comparison. Sadly, Kansas did nothing to help itself either. It was green, flat and the sky was blue — perfectly pleasant for a nice Sunday drive, but not enough to stimulate the senses for hours of driving at a time. I’m sure there are some beautiful parts of Kansas, and if I had more time I’m positive I would have found something to do or see. Maybe next time, if I ever make it back.

My road trip highlights? 

Aside from getting to see so much of the country, I loved seeing the sun set each night. As I said above, I tried to be off the road by the time night hit, but usually I was driving as the sun was setting. And let me tell you, the U.S. knows how to do a good sunset.

The best states to see the sunset from the road?

Arizona and Utah without a doubt.

The sun setting on the Utah-Colorado river border
The sun setting on the Utah-Colorado river border.

I also loved being on the open road and the big, broad skies this brings with it. I have a specific memory of driving through New Mexico toward the sun and into the rain. As the road and the skies stretched out in front of me, I could see the rays of the sun coming through the clouds hitting the ground. It was surreal. The clouds formed a kind of halo which the sun shone through and the light beams were misted by the rain. I’m not a religious or spiritual person but if I was, I’d be writing books about that.

Light rays touching the ground in New Mexico

My road trip lowlights? 

  1. The amount of bird poop and dead bugs my windshield and bumper accumulated.
    Seriously, every time I stopped at a gas station I would clean my windshield only for it to be splattered and filthy another 200 miles later.
  2. My near death encounter
    Say what?! Okay, so I didn’t almost die, but I did have the sh*t scared out of me in New Mexico. I was driving down the highway, minding my own business, rocking out to some High School Musical only to have a fork of lightning strike the road next to me. In all reality it probably hit far off in the desert to my left, but it was so bright and intense that at the time, it really felt like it was right beside me. I drove through a few lightning storms in my travels and while for the most part they were exciting, that one hit a little too close for comfort.

My next road trip? 

I’m currently working in western Arizona and will be here for the next eight months. While here, I’m hoping to plan some smaller trips to places in northern Arizona, southern Utah and eastern California. My goal is to do another road trip when I finish my job before my visa expires next year. I hope to travel up the California coastline and then head back toward Pittsburgh through the northern states. I’m compiling a list of things I want to do before I leave, and I’m open to all suggestions, so feel free to leave any in the comments below.

Wilbs

23 Comments on “My great American road trip

  1. Poor old Kansas! But Utah, Arizona and Colorado do sound amazing to drive through. I am so impressed by how much you did and how much you saw. I also think those landscapes in the three states you enjoyed seem wonderful – would love to see them for myself. I have been to the US many times, but not to this part. New Mexico is also on my list!

    1. I know, the poor thing. New Mexico is great! If you ever make it there, do some research before you go. There’s lots to see and do, but there’s also a lot of general desert you can end up driving through. A little bit of research and you’ll find the gems though 🙂

  2. Wow, a trip across the States is so ambitious! I’m from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and driving through them is beautiful if you’re looking for somewhere to go! My fiancé who is from the UK really wants to do a road trip across the US in a mustang haha It makes me kind of nervous to rent a car, but did you find that was the best route to go, or did you take your own car?

    1. Yeah, I wish I had a bit more time when I was doing it, but I’m hoping to do it again next summer and see a lot more along the way. Thanks for the tip! I don’t think I’ll be heading that way anytime soon unfortunately, but if I do I shall keep that in mind. I took my own car and it was fine. Renting vintage cars is super expensive – from the research I’ve done. But that would definitely be a fun way to see the country.

  3. Having never been to America I can only imagine what fun a long road trip would be. Utah is the one place I would love to visit with zion and Canyonlands national parks. The natural landscape reminds me of western movies i watched as a kid.

  4. I’m usually on the road by myself and totally love traveling that way. I’ve driven parts of the route you did, and there is some amazing scenery on those roads. Too bad you didn’t like the drive through Kansas. It is actually one of my favorite states to drive through. You need to put Washington State on your list – we have miles of coastline, rainforest, mountains, and desert!

    1. I think the timing of my drive through Kansas had a lot to do with it. I’m hoping to drive through Washington next summer!! Any places I must see?!

  5. Road trips are so much fun – but the US is so huge I would not know where to start to have one there! I drove all over Ireland and Iceland on my latest Europe trip – such fun! Awesome you got to witness some great sunsets too – that’s a truly special part of each journey.

    1. I know I love them!! It’s definitely big, but it’s not as daunting as one might think. Especially if you nail down a couple places or things that you really want to do. Oh wow, that sounds incredible! Iceland is very high up on my bucket list of places I want to go, and a road trip round the island sounds amazing! Yes, the sunsets are definitely my favourite part.

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  8. Sunsets, FTW. USA is so gorgeous and a road trip dream. Next road trip, allow extra time and drive the smaller roads instead of the interstates. So much more authentic Americana can be found there.

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