Another vintage post. Mushy and I (Quiz) took an epic roadtrip across America after we spent Thanksgiving with Mushy’s family. We camped every almost every night, it was freezing and the scenery was stunning as we took the scenic route.
Day 1 – Charlotte to Great Smokey Mountains National Park, North Carolina
We woke up on Thanksgiving/holiday time at 9am so it was probably wishful thinking that we would have the car packed and ready to go by noon. Last night Mushy and I went out with his 2 best pals from school Lucy and Larkin, but Hattie’s one of the 3 gay bars in Charlotte had failed to live up to my Boston all night dancing experience. We didn’t even have a hangover as an excuse. I made sure I had my last shower in 9 days while Mushy did the last of his packing. We then loaded 5 boxes of all his worldly possessions into his car (including Lady the dog) and had a last supper lunch with his folks Jimmy and Vicki. Vicki cried and Jimmy gave me his blessings as we walked out the door; the beginning of our 9 day odessy diagonally across America from North Carolina to Washington.
According to Mushy we are in a densely populated part of the east coast, and the traffic was dense. But after an hour blue mountains appeared on the skyline through the thick continuous forest of birch. Our gps took us on a strange and winding route off the interstate and onto dirt roads as the sun set deep and red. Looking in on all the small houses on tiny farmed plots of land made me think of one of the most famous Appalachians i know, Jesco the Dancing Outlaw.
The dirt road wound its way up the steep mountains and upon reaching the summit we joined the Blueridge Parkway which we had crossed 30 minutes before. It was not dark and we drove into the night,past shimmering white birch trunks till we made it to a Visitors Centre. We didn’t really have a plan. S____ Campground was only 2 miles away so we headed there.
Great Smokey Mountains
We baggsed one of the last free camping spots in the whole place and set about setting up camp. Pitching tents happens quickly now after so many months practice. Sadly coming prepared for fires does not and there was slim pickings on the well picked through forest floor around the campground. We made a 30 minute fire and warmed tomato soup on Mushy’s jetboil, drank red wine and basked in the very cool glow of car camping; we had so many luxuries but it was still freezing.
Day 2 – Great Smokey Mountains National Park to T.O State Park Memphis outskirts Tennessee
It’s was really fucking cold overnight, frost covered the ground and our tents when we woke and we vowed to sleep all 3 of us (me Mushy and Lady) in Mushy’s 2 person tent tonight. We were both pretty spacey and sleepy when we got up at 7.30, but revived somewhat after coffee and the glorious drive out of the Smokies.
Lady enjoying the wilds
Immediately after we left the mountains we came to Pigeon Fort, home of Dollyland! But Dolly Partons hometown seems to have brought the carnival to the mountains, the antithesis of nature. Haunted houses, b-grade roller coasters, go carts and putt putt golf line the highway. It’s surreal, and the traffic is terrible. We finally make it to the I40, the westerly road that we will travel on for the next few days, and settle into a groove. But after only a little while the car starts making a strange noise, before we realise a tire has blown and we are making smoke and the car is driving all wonky. Mushy calmly manoeuvres it onto the side of the road and we come to a stinky rubbery stop. What now? We have a spare tire but no jack. We pull out our phone and start googling our options. The local gas stations don’t stock jacks, Mushy is not a member of AAA so we can’t get roadside assistance, finally Mushy discovers you can call the local police number and they will send out someone to help.
Somewhere near Dollyland, maybe a rival land?
That someone was Karen, beautiful angel Karen in the disguise of an older lady with a shroud of white hair. Karen fixed our tire in about 5 minutes, gave us a fistful of candy and left us on the side of the interstate. Onwards and upwards, our next destination the tire shop. There was one right by the interstate in downtown Nashville. As we waited for them to change the spare we walked Lady in the empty parking lot next door. 3 homeless guys complimented her no end but never got closer than 5 meters, one did ask Lady to call him when she was next in town.
Jobs done, spare tire, jack and spanner in place we left town and continued along the I15 worrying about our slow pace. We pressed on to Memphis, Mushy pulling an epic 12 hour day as I cannot drive (unless!). We tried 2 RV parks, one right beside Gracelands which we got a sneak peek at and it was full to the brim with Christmas decorations. The RV parks either didn’t have camping or required us to prebook so at 8.30 we consulted trusty google who led us to a great free campsite in T.O State Park on the banks of the Missippi River (!!!) in a far out suburb of Memphis. We got in so late that the few other campers were already in bed so we didn’t have a fire and just drank a beer and went to bed. Lady did try and stalk our neighbours cat though, causing a bit of anrocous. The trails of the road.
Also so America, it seems these moments are not that hard to find.
Day 3 – T.O State Park in Memphis Outskirts to Foss State Park Oklahoma
We got up super early (5.30am) to try and make up some lost time from yesterday. Everyone was still fast asleep and we made coffee and hastily packed up the tent and slipped into the quiet Memphis backstreets. Our first big event was crossing the Mississippi! Such a famous act and we did it in about a minute with the sun rising and very few water views.
Oh Lady, I love you!
The I40 continued west through the flat planes of Oklahoma. Oh Oklahoma land of classic musicals and lots of dust and tumbleweeds. I entertained myself for hours trying to capture them on film as they hurtled across the road. Unfortunately this is not the state for stunning scenery so we drove with purpose for hours and hours taking few breaks.
At 2pm Mushy called a halt and we happened to be in a tiny town (which looked more like a mall) that was home to a Cracker Barrel. For those of you who haven’t walked the PCT this is significant – the first town stop in Washington is at Whites Pass, a tiny town that hosted a hotel and a Kracker Barrel General Store. You are at your hungriest in Washington and think about food at length and when we found out a Cracker Barrel was at our destination we were all very excited! Sadly they do not exist in the north and the Kracker Barrel turned out to be a gas station. Oh the cruelty! So back to the present ever since I met Mushy in North Carolina I had seen numerous signs for real Cracker Barrels and I only thought it fair that we finally go to one. The Cracker Barrel called us inside and we sat down to some fine Southern cooking; I had grilled catfish with mac n cheese and collard mustard greens and Mushy had chicken busicuts with caramelised apple and hash brown casserole (just in case you were wondering). I really do with someone would open one at Whites Pass!
At last at last at last!
I’ll have alllll the fiiixin’s please
A true southern guy
Feeling full and sleepy we prowled the ye olde gift shop and hopped back in the car. Mushy drove and drove across flat planes and through poor farmland for what felt like eternity. The sun set and still we drove watching natures excellent daily display light up the eternal flat planes. At 5.30pm we finally pulled off the interstate on our way to Black Kettle Grasslands, but only a few miles in we saw a turnoff for Foss State Park and followed the road to a deserted closed for winter camp aka free! We set up shop by a man made Lake and basked in comparatively warm weather. Sadly it was too windy for a fire which didn’t matter so much as we went to bed early in an attempt to make it to camp tomorrow before sunset. We did get to watch the cars drive along a road on the other side of the lake and it reminded me of the train scene from Spirited Away. It was beautiful after the barren planes.
Day 4 – Foss State Park Oklahoma to Alamosa Colorado through New Mexico and Texas
We rose with the sun today and our body clocks thanked us! We watch it rise over the lake which was far more magical in the darkness. Unfortunately upon getting out of the tent Lady stood on my mat and punctured it with 2 large holes. We rolled on into Texas pretty quickly but it was the north eastern panhandle end and so apart from the border sign not much had changed. Texas was misty and the fog clung to the gullies and open paddocks sometimes obscuring the road quite thickly. We drove slower than usual with our lights on eating damyana’s signature snack (PCT reference to the colourful characters we met at the Jackson Well Hot Springs near Ashland), which is a tortilla with sunflower seed butter and banana.
We moved from Texas into New Mexico and the landscape went through its most dramatic change of the trip. literally on the NM side of the state line small mesas rose out of the never ending dusty planes, and they gradually grew in size and number till we entered a big valley walled on either sides by towering cliffs. There were clouds ahead which were abbot worrying and soon we were climbing up to a high pass and thick snow flakes were falling. We got higher and higher and the red desert landscape looked fantastic under its thin white layer. I was getting excited about seeing the desert in snow but also a bit worried about my mat which I had mended with the last of my glue.
We entered Colorado in a swirl of now upon the high Pass we had been climbing to. Our first stop was in the town of Trinidad to buy some much needed and now legal supplies. It has stopped snowing by this stage and the locals in the weed shop told us that at this time of year it usually snowed or rained in the morning and heated up in the afternoon. Soon after we drove into a large beautiful valley leading us into the heart of the southern Rockies! Mushy said that you can see this valley from space and that it looks like a giant gash/vagina. Thankfully the Trinidad locals were right and the weather had cleared right up and the sky was blue, the tops of the mountains covered in snow.
As we had crossed so many state lines today we also crossed two time zones and had gained 3 hours! This was really handy as we had an afternoon plan that we didn’t want to miss. We passed many huge mountain ranges, as we drove northwest towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Mushy spotted them first rising up out of the valley floor, rows upon rows of white dunes crowned with a dramatic glaciated snow capped mountain range, I could not believe my eyes. We parked the car, drank a heap of water, smoked a cheeky joint and headed out into the fray; the great sand dunes stood imposing and tall ready to meet us.
Lady was so excited, she bounded around us tangling us up in her lead and making us run and leap about with happiness. If felt so good to be out of the car! We could see people on the highest dune and we aimed to meet them but first we had a lot of climbing to do. As always dunes make everything look close by but we knew it was actually 1.5 miles to the top. We slogged up and up in the sand, puffing, pulling off layers and struggling to believe we had been driving through snow only a few hours earlier. Lady had slowed only a little by the time we reached our first false summit, which did give us excellent views of the mountains and also excellent views of the summit still quite a way off. The sun was just starting to get low in the sky and the colours were at their bright best in contrast with the deep shadows. We pushed on to the top and sat on the very highest dune overlooking our grand kingdom.
Not wanting to be caught out after dark we moon walked our way back to the car passing people walking up for sunset (a really excellent idea). My mat which I had blown up before we left definitely still had holes in it. I didn’t want to sleep on the ground in the freezing cold so we booked a night in a cheap hotel in a nearby town Alamosa. The Rodeway in looked like it was going out of business/was a prop in B grade remake of The Shining. The lobby was huge, had a large rock wall with a smattering of potted plants, a footsall table, pool table, armchairs and about 20 mattresses which different people filtered in through the doorways collecting. The halls on the second floor were empty and never ending and had carpet banisters. Strange. We cooked pasta sides left over from Mushy’s resupplies and watch TV in bed, Lady curled up between us just like in the tent. It was so warm!
Day 5 – Alamosa Colorado to Dinosaur Dimond Prehistoric Scenic Highway outside of Moab Utah
We get a free breakfast!!! So at 6.30 we trooped downstairs leaving Lady to guard the fort and had hotcakes and coffee, excellent. Today is only 5 hours of driving but we had a few errands to do so we hit the sceneic road and took the highway to Wolf Creek Pass. The Pass was in steep exposed granite mountains at the top of winding roads, the mountain sides covered in snow. We stopped and had a quick play in the snow at the Pass, Lady was very enthusiastic and we found a huge snowman.
The road was just as scenic down the other side through some very idillic farmland to the cute town of Durango. We stopped at a coffee shop and were overwhelmed by the amount of cuties in there. Lots of cuties on the street too! We though about lingering but yet another of Americas great National Park awaited us!
The mountains slowly flattened out and we travelled through a patch of badlands. On the other side interesting rock formations started to appear, and they got bigger and clumped together and by the time we reached the town of Moab they were very impressive! I went to the hiking trading post and brought a cheap second hand sleeping mat, but we kept our time in town to a minimum because we were going to Arches National Park!
Even the drive into the park up a steep red rock slab under some towering hawk like monoliths was amazing. Upon reaching the plateau strange rock formations loomed from all angles. We drove in silence filled with awe at the amazingly beautiful and majestic landscape we were seeing. We started to notice small windows appearing in the rocks and then on the horizon, the arches the park has been named for.
We drove straight to the Garden Of Eden and the Window Arch. A short walk led to 3 huge arches, which were very impressive but what i found incredible was the colours of the desert in the afternoon light; the golden hour. Everything seemed particularly vivid and I could see for miles, miles upon miles of phallic strangely shaped red rock formations punctuated with canyons and shage brush, shadows crisp and dark. It was glorious! Unfortunately Lady wasn’t allowed on any of the trails so we took it in turns the other staying in the car park walking Lady in circles.
Next we visited Delicate Arch. It’s an 8 mile return hike to reach the base of it and we were running out of daylight so we opted for a lookout. The iconic Arch which appears on many signs and number plates around Utah looked great but was really far away. Next time, next time. I also told myself this when we had to choose between Arches and Canyonlands National Park. In the same area I quickly ran up a trail to see some Ute rock art depicting Ute’s on horses rounding up buffalo.
The sun was starting to set so we set our sights on camp and drove back out into the plateau sun lit purple rock garden. Again we drove in silence through this mystical landscape and we were both sad to leave. Upon reaching the highway in the real world we headed back towards Moab but took the first left at the Colorado River where it ran through a small canyon. The road that follows is known as the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Scenic Highway, and it is very scenic and feels old, like you could imagine dinosaurs walking there not long ago. The Colorado River ran right along the National Park boundary and on one side of the highway and a towering red rock wall on the other. Our BLM campground was squished in between the river and the highway, kinda exposed but with a great view. We made a fire and had soup and pasta sides for dinner, feeling the cold and eventually retreating to the tent. Today was excellent!
Day 6 – Dinosaur Dimond Prehistoric Scenic Highway outside of Moab to Antelope Island Utah
Last night was cold but we used the space blankets we brought in Moab to line the tent and make it a space dome! And also much warmer and like a disco when illuminated with head torches. We slept well. Mushy was not looking forward to driving though (fair enough) but thankfully we had a shorter day of only 5 hours to Antelope Island near Salt Lake City.
The beautiful rocks so prevalent near Moab quickly broke down into more badlands/desert. We drove through dry dusty and lumpy scenery for quite a while listening to podcasts before Mountains started to loom on the horizon. We climbed and climbed to a high desert pass and then descended into a huge valley that houses Salt Lake City, but you wouldn’t know it as the valley was full of smog, dirty brown smog that sometimes reduced our visibility down to 50 feet. The I15 continued north battering through the relentless smog, industry and housing estates that seemed to fill the valley to the bursting. SLC is one of the fastest growing cities in America and that growth seems to be out of control. Mushy has been considering moving here but his ultimate decision to move to Bellingham was enforced upon entering the valley.
We did need some of the services that a big city provides, such as Trader Joes, but apart from that stop/deviation from the I15 we got outta there asap! Mushy was feeling it, the 2 hours + of driving on the congested roads was tiring him out, thankfully our destination Antelope island was not far away. We left the city and the interstate and set out along a causeway west into the middle of the Great Salt Lake! Antelope Island from a distance seems to float in the smog that never disappears from the horizon. Similarly all mountains viewed from the island float giving the whole place an otherworldly effect. It is one of the few benefits of smog!
After going to the Visitors Centre to get firewood and fill up on water we drove to our perfect beachside camp. It was just us, Lady the beach and a floating mountain, so so beautiful. It was also freezing cold even though it was 2pm, and maybe it was this that delayed us seeing the other campers; 3 huge shaggy buffalo grazed just outside the campgrounds boarders. Thankfully Lady was oblivious.
We got to exploring and stretching our legs once we had set up camp. The rest of the blog post is just in photos because I got lazy about writing. Read the captions!
Day 7 – Antelope Island Utah to Craters of the Moon National Monument Idaho
Our morning drive through Utah and Idaho on our way to Craters of the Moon
Driving to Craters of the Moon NP
Hot Springs everywhere, this one was literally right by the road
It might not look it but it was fucking cold
Idaho potato country
Craters of the Moon lava fields
The weather turned cold and nasty, it got down to -6C overnight and everything froze solid, including us and maybe our sanity.
Day 8 – Craters of the Moon National Monument Idaho to Kennewick Washington
We drove through Snoqualamie Pass!!! Here are some very cold pictures, it looks a lot different to how it did in September. We also got pie at R&R diner in South Bend, aka diner from Twin Peaks.
Goodmorning, maybe slightly better weather today?
I was wrong, oh well.
A lil RnR
Day 9 – Kennewick to Bellingham Washington
Bellingham, Mushy and Lady’s new home.
What an amazing adventure. Thanks for having me Mushy xxxxxxx