I had decided many months ago that spring of 2015 would be the time for some big changes in my life. Little did I know when planning my move last fall that my best friend would get a job offer and make a move ahead of me. Of course, I’m happy for this man that I’ve come to love so much. Who wouldn’t be? He had the opportunity to move to Las Vegas and while I hated to see him leave me in Memphis, I understood that life does not stand still and that there was no way he could pass by this chance to start fresh in his own life. My devious, little mind decided to prolong the having to say good-bye part and volunteered to do the long road trip to Las Vegas, sitting beside him in the bright yellow Penske truck while towing his car behind us. It meant another week before we had to say good-bye and even though I had come down with the flu only days before we left, I wouldn’t have missed this road trip for anything in the world.
We pulled out of Memphis at around 8:00am on Wednesday morning and crossed out of Tennessee with the early morning sun at our backs and the wild west in front of us. It started raining not longer after we drove into Arkansas and we had a steady but light rain for our drive across The Natural State. Arkansas is at the very southern end of the Ozark mountains and our terrain was a gentle up and down through green, rolling hills. The interstate bypasses Little Rock, so there were really no cities to see or to travel through, just miles upon miles of evergreen trees and the bare branches of all the other trees as we were still entrenched in winter in the Mid-South. Our drive was peaceful and uneventful and filled with quiet conversation.
Arkansas gave way to Oklahoma after we passed by Fort Smith and Russelville and we left behind towns with names like Toad Suck and Pickles Gap. Within a mile of crossing into Oklahoma, the rain gave way to sleet and freezing rain and another thirty miles or so, the rain changed over to big fat snow flakes with a strong wind blowing them every which way. We stopped and got gas and discussed how much further we should attempt to drive in the snow and decided that we should push on and try to make it to Oklahoma City before we stopped for the night. The road conditions were good at first, then we would get a driving snow storm and then it would clear for a few miles. We continued on into the early evening before we finally hit another batch of wind blown snow and decided that we needed to look for a place to pull off for the night before the road got really bad. Thank goodness for billboards and thank goodness we found a really nice place called, The Grand Hotel to finally stop at and take refuge from the late winter storm.
After pulling off, parking and getting a room, we traveled back down to the truck for suitcases and favorite pillows only to find that the locks were all frozen shut. Even the one on the back of the Penske which was an ordinary padlock. The snow was falling, the temperatures were in the teens and the wind was howling from the north at about 30 miles per hour. If I had been by myself or with anyone else, I would have been spending the night in Shawnee, Oklahoma in the same clothes that I had worn all day, but I was with my bestie who was determined to get into the truck that night. With a tiny Bic lighter and both us trying to shield the flame from the wind with our hands and bodies, he persevered until the locking mechanism finally warmed enough to allow the key to turn in the lock. We were in! And, with that we made our way back into the hotel for some dinner and a little fun. We ended up staying up half the night before finally closing our eyes.
After a nice breakfast which included conversation with a 92 year old, World War II veteran, we loaded our suitcases back into the Penske and headed west on Interstate 40 once again. Earlier that morning, Lee had managed to use de-icer to get into the front of the truck and had sat in the cold, frozen parking lot warming up the truck and getting us ready for another day on the road. The storm had moved east overnight and while it was still cold, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we made our way mile by mile across the rest of Oklahoma and finally crossed into Texas early in the afternoon. A quick stop at a Denny’s in Amarillo and a quick resecuring of the straps that were holding the car on the tow dolly and we were bound and determined to make it to New Mexico before we called it a day. We stopped and asked a trucker who told us about a town called Saint Rose and while eating our nachos and burger, we tried to find a motel convenient to the interstate in this place the trucker said was full of motels. Lesson learned. Don’t ask a trucker who has such a thick southern accent that you misunderstand the name of the town. We quickly found out that there was no such town, but after a little research by the bestie, we found out that there is a town named, Santa Rosa and we both had to laugh about it.
We pointed the truck west once again and drove across the panhandle of Texas and into New Mexico. There was absolutely nothing to look at except for cows, horses and tumbleweeds. Amidst conversation, my bestie started making mooing sounds or neighing sounds whenever we would spot cows and horses grazing in the endless fields on both sides of the road. There were manly moos for the steers, feminine moos for the cows and the cutest baby moos for the calfs. The horse neighs were also subtle in their differences, but we decided that there were happy horses and not so happy horses and of course Lee made all the appropriate sounds. I finally decided to get in on the game and saw a group of cows that included several young calfs and some tiny, tiny babies. I thought I could make a youthful cow sound and what came out was, baaaaaaaawwwwww! The only sound I could make was the sound of a sheep of which we had yet to see any on the trip. It was hilarious! We laughed until we both were coughing and for the next several hours whenever I would see a baby cow I would make the sound of a sheep. It never did stop being funny. I’m sure that for the rest of my life, whenever I see cows, I will think about our long trek across Texas and New Mexico and the camaraderie and laughter that we shared across the country.
We finally made it to our room in Santa Rosa and got a good night’s sleep before heading out in a fog-shrouded valley early the next morning. New Mexico seemed like miles and miles of nothing until we made the gentle climb up the mountains and descended into Albuquerque. It seemed to take forever to finally reach the bottom of the valley and once we left the city behind, the desert stretched out before us with rock formations, scrub brush and stunted cactus. The drive through New Mexico and Arizona had this exotic quality to it, and at times felt almost extra-terrestrial. As if we were driving across Mars or another planet deep into the solar system. There were little towns here and there that were sad to behold and it was hard to think about what the people who lived there did for jobs or fun and wondered what their lives were like.
Arizona looked a lot like New Mexico and the desert streched for miles and miles until the San Francisco Peaks came into view. The highest point of the mountain range is called Humphrey’s Peak and the mountain reaches 12,633 feet into the sky. It is the highest point in Arizona and to just see it suddenly in the distance of the flat horizon was magnificent. This mountain range is what’s left of an eroded stratovolcano. As we drove closer and closer, the view of the peaks brought goose bumps and an appreciation for this stark, barren landscape that holds such a treasure. One entire side of the San Francisco Peaks was snow covered and the snow seemed to cover the mountain from the impossibly high peak to the gentle slope at it’s base where it rises powerfully from the desert floor. Quite a sight.
We encountered snow on the sides of the road before long as we gently wound our way up to Flagstaff. The roads were terrible due to the changing weather condiditons, and the day was becoming long at that point in the drive as well. Our next landmark to look for was Kingman, Arizona and for whatever reason, the drive seemed to go on forever and forever driving over one hill and then down the next. I can honestly say that from Flagstaff to Las Vegas was what seemed like the longest drive of my life and it wasn’t until we finally made it through Kingman and got off the interstate that we had now travelled for three days, that I started to believe that the end of the trip might just be in sight. By this time, the sun had sunk below the horizon and the highway was dark, though busy with tourists all headed the same direction as us. About 40 miles out of the Las Vegas valley, we started to see a glow behind the mountain tops and I declared the bright light in the distance to be Sin City and we both started to get excited.
The last hour of the drive from Memphis to Las Vegas had it’s own ups and downs including a lot of ups and downs. We had seen signs along the 1600 mile journey for deer, and falling rock and even moose. But on the last highway we saw signs for rams. Big, horned, rams! What are they doing in Arizona? I could finally make the sheep noise that I had perfected by now and with adding just a little bass to my voice, I became the ram. Baaaaaaaaa! Finally got it right. The other thing was that the last few miles in Arizona were the scariest of the whole trip. We were winding our way through rough, rocky gorges and there were wind warnings about what lane high profiled vehicles should be driving in. Combined with the threat of huge horned animals leaping onto the roadway, I have to say I ended up breaking a few fingernails from holding onto to the armrests so tightly. We crossed by Hoover Dam but I couldn’t see anything. We made our way into Nevada and into the little border town of Boulder City. And, it felt like the end was near.
We finally topped the rise that overlooks the Las Vegas valley and it was so enchantingly beautiful that I literally caught my breath and became emotional. There’s no other sight like it in all the world. The entire valley is spread out below and it glitters with a billion gold and silver lights. The air is so dry that the lights are brilliant in a way that is impossible anywhere else on our planet. The lights twinkle and sparkle and shine with magic stardust and quiet moonbeams. It truly is Cibola after a long journey, and I’ll never forget that sight for as long as I live.
We finally pulled into our motel early on a late winter’s evening, and my best friend was home. He had never seen Las Vegas before, except from the airport and I couldn’t wait to show him around. We had just had an incredible trip that I know neither one of us will ever forget. It was long and stressful and tiring. We were both somewhat sick and the weather was definitely less than ideal. But, it was still some of the best memories that I’ve ever made. I will cherish each and every mile that we travelled and I will never forget the laughter and the love. I wish my friend well in his new city and with his new job. I know that wherever life takes him, he will be successful and happy. I want to thank Lee for including me in his cross-country journey and for allowing me to be a part of his life. Good luck, my friend, and thanks for the road trip of a lifetime.