A few weeks ago, I wrote about a European Grand Tour my wife and I have been planning for the better part of two years. The pandemic has loomed over my planning for a year now, but I always had faith we would find a way to make the trip happen. Surprise, we didn’t.
Failure of travel plans and vacations doesn’t mean much to the big picture when you talk about our current pandemic, but there is an emotional toll for us. We spent a lot of time discussing and dreaming about this trip, and I spent hours building the plan. If things had gone as scripted, we would be in Lisbon, Portugal, enjoying dinner in that amazing city as I write this. Alas, I am still in Tennessee, and my feet will not know Lisbon’s cobblestones for some time.
In theory, the world is in the “home stretch” of this pandemic, with access to vaccinations growing daily. Yet, we are not at a point where the average American can hop on a plane and travel to enjoy the majesty and history of Europe as a tourist. That is truly sad and disappointing, but it doesn’t mean we will never go. I am already drafting a slightly abbreviated version of our trip for summer 2022. The crowds will be larger and the prices higher, but the journey will still be sweet.
In the meantime, my wife and I find ourselves in limbo with no permanent address and nothing to do. After the outbreak of COVID-19, I tentatively built an “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” Plan B if we couldn’t travel overseas. It’s time to break some glass. If we cannot venture down the roads of Europe, we will embark on a road trip through our own country.
We have a couple of cars perfect for exploring the winding back roads long abandoned by travelers looking to gobble as many miles as possible in one day. So the Boxster and my wife’s Z06 are about to be put to good use touring the southwestern US for a couple of months.
Bucket List Stops
There are 62 designated National Parks in the United States, and I estimate we’ve only visited a dozen or so thus far. That will change as we plan to knock at least 10 more off the list over the next several weeks. A bonus is that we will have the chance to meet up with some old and dear friends whom we see too little of these days. Europe was a road trip of a lifetime, but this one promises to be just as epic in its own way.
You never really appreciate what you have in your hometown. Many native New Yorkers never go to the Statue of Liberty; some Bostonians haven’t walked the Freedom Trail, some Chicagoans don’t enjoy the pizza… no, wait, that’s not true. Anyway, you get the idea; it’s easy to overlook the amazing things and places to do and see in your own city, state, or country by lusting over the romanticized ideal of another locale.
A road trip through the American southwest will break that spell. I’ve driven through enough of it in the past to know it is stunning. While the terrain can be hostile and the temperatures lethal during certain times of the year, the beauty of the desert is undeniable.
One major difference between this new American road trip and our planned European one is the distance between destinations. Rare was the day on our Europe plan where we would be in the car for more than 4 hours; we could double that every day going from point to point in the US, but we will not. We’ll be taking more time than necessary to reach many of our destinations. The first rule of this road trip is no interstates! We’ve driven on the major arteries (I-40, 35, 70, 90, 20, 10, etc.) enough in our lives to know they are not the way to have an enjoyable experience. The second rule is no more than five hours of planned driving on any day. We will stop and smell the roses (or bluebonnets), and we will check out that scenic overlook without worrying about “making time.”
Along the way, we will make as many detours as daylight and circumstances allow. We won’t be completely free with our time because the popularity of the parks we intend to see dictates reservations are made early. While you could find a place to stay if you decided to go to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, you may not be enthralled with your accommodations.
This is The Way
So what’s the route? We will meander to Dallas, where we’ll meet up with some friends, and then it will be off to our first park, Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas. From there, we will make our way into New Mexico to explore the Gila Cliff Dwellings. In Arizona, we’ll work north from Tucson to the Grand Canyon with several stops along the way.
Utah will be next, where we’ll tour the five major parks, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Arches. These parks have been on my list of must-see places for quite some time, and I am thrilled. I can’t wait to set up my camera and take in the amazing sunrises and sunsets these parks have to offer.
We plan to work our way into Colorado to drive the drop-dead-gorgeous “Million Dollar Highway” before heading to Colorado Springs to experience Pike’s Peak. From there, it’s northbound to the Rocky Mountain National Park for more hiking and adventure. The entirety of the Colorado portion will be subject to kind weather because April in the Rockies can be brutal for snow, and we will not be tackling those conditions in our sports cars.
After Colorado, we will make our way back to Tennessee while remaining off the interstates and stopping to enjoy unique small towns and meet up with more old friends. This trip won’t be as long as our planned European tour, but it will still be a solid adventure.
All of this natural beauty and hiking in the greatest of the great outdoors will be connected with some of the best twisty roads you can find. And if we have to take some detours from the normal route to drive them, that’s just fine with us. I’ve been hunting on Google Maps for squiggly lines along our route, and I intend to explore as many as possible.
Weather will always be a factor, and we will likely have to make some real-time decisions on some legs. And of course, there is the fact that I will be driving a now 16-year-old Porsche that has, to date, not been the most reliable mechanically (touch wood). But it is a perfect candidate for such an epic adventure, and I am more than willing to see how it all works out. Hopefully, we can accomplish the journey more-or-less as planned, but if not, that will just enhance the story.
I will post long-form updates from the road here, and shorter, more photogenic updates will appear on my Instagram account (@mydrivingpassion).