Southwest: Part One of My 8,500 Mile U.S. Road Trip
Most of us living in the United States have never explored beyond our region, state, or sometimes, even county. Is it because there is no desire too? Or perhaps people are fearful? Or to put it simply, there is no time nor the money to be able to do so. I believe where there's a will, there's a way... so I decided I wouldn't be limited by these boundaries and set out to explore the expanse beauty that the U.S. has to offer.
After rigorous planning... ok I'm kidding it was more like; "I'll save it till the last-minute", I came up with an itinerary, which ultimately would take me through 25 states. Some would be places that I have always wanted to visit, and others where just places that I had no choice but to drive through on my way to where I was going. Either way, this trip would be much more than just walking the sand dunes of White Sands National Monument, or having key lime pie in Key West, it would offer me a glimpse into the life of another place and time.
The great American Southwest might not be on everyone's list of must visit places, but being that I have previously visited some parts of it before I knew just how beautiful it can be. I started my 8,000-mile long road trip through Arizona, with my first stop taking me to Tucson. The only thing I knew about Tucson prior to my trip was that the ghost town of Tombstone was near by, which unfortunately I didn't get to visit, but I was able to see Mission San Xavier del Bac.
It's just a couple of minutes south of downtown Tucson, and it's been there long before the fancy restaurants and high-rise buildings. The Mission is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, and hosts some 200,000 visitors each year. One of my favorite things to do is to explore old churches, their art, history and architecture is often unmatched; but I've only associated beautiful churches with Europe and Latin America. Mission San Xavier del Bac blew my mind and completely changed my mind of what I previously thought, it reminded me of my time spent wandering the streets of León, Nicaragua.
After exploring some of what Tucson had to offer I was eager to make my way into New Mexico. I had never been, but I knew from researching that it offered a wide variety of landscapes and some funky small towns. I am often town between my love for the concrete jungle and the serenity of nature, but being that I would be driving through southern New Mexico I was extremely excited to explore White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
After a couple of pretty grueling hours of driving I could finally see bright white sand off in the distance... it was the brightest sand that I've ever seen! The monument is located just a couple of miles south of Alamogordo, where I was able to get camp at a KOA for a small fee. White Sands National Monument is incredible from the minute you pull in, with its sandy white dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see, dozens of retro-looking picnic tables that make you feel as if you are exploring the park back in the 60's and sunsets that will take your breath away.
If White Sands was any indication of what the rest of New Mexico had to offer then I knew it was going to be amazing. Although it has a ton of national monuments, New Mexico only has one national park. I was glad to know that I would be able to visit it even though I was sticking to New Mexico's southern region. Carlsbad National Park is one of the oldest and most famous caves systems in the world! Its most famous feature is a large cave chamber known as the Big Room, it's almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. The cave is so steep that it even has an elevator, but unfortunately during the day I visited it was being worked on, so I had no choice but to make the 1 and 1/4 of a mile steep descent by foot. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted, but once you make your way down into the cave you'll soon realize it's worth every step!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was one of the most incredible things that I've ever seen, and I highly recommend everyone visit this natural wonder at least once in their lifetime. When all places seem to have already been explored, you visit a place like Carlsbad and suddenly realize that there is still so much to be discovered... now off to The Lone Star State!
So what is Texas known for? Football and barbecue... or at least that's what I was told. I'll be honest, there wasn't that much in Texas that I was dying to see besides the random Marfa Prada art installation and its capital city of Austin. Prior to visiting Texas I had read some blogs about a tiny and remote city called Marfa, a small ranching community located on the Chihuahuan Desert near Big Bend National Park. It's known for its famous Marfa Mystery Lights and as the location for the shooting of the classic movie "Giant," with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Dennis Hopper and James Dean, but has recently seen a surge of funky bars, artsy kids, and even vegan food! Yes... vegan food in Texas is real.
Unfortunately, when I arrived in Marfa it was going to rain... and by rain I mean thunderstorm. I stopped by El Cosmico to see what all the buzz was about and discovered that it was even cooler than what it looks like in pictures. It's a great hotel that draws its inspiration from a long history of American hippies, nomads, bohemians and heck... even modern day explorers. I wasn't able to stay this time but I know I'll be back, for those driving through or living in Texas I highly recommend paying this art oasis in the desert a visit.
While searching for places to stay in Austin I noticed some places cost as much as a flight to Europe, I wasn't really sure why. After doing some digging I was told it was because my visit fell on the same dates as SXSW; which apparently is one of the biggest festivals for film, music and technology, and host an insane amount of people. I might of actually been the only person not from Austin who wasn't there for the festival. Besides the insane costs of accommodations, rain, and traffic, Austin is a beautiful city that has something for everybody... it strangely reminded me of Portland.
Now off to the southeast region, stay tuned for part two of my 8,500 mile road trip through the United States.
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About The Author
In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.