I promise you, you are making a big mistake. Be a romantic and drive. To check your bags in, sit between strangers and see the western landscape out a two-foot circular window is the wrong way.
When you set out east to west you are now engaging and enlightening yourself on a trek thousands of Americans risked and journeyed in the past. There is a nostalgic and electric feeling every morning you wake up, an excitement to see what the west unfolds.
So if you have the time and the chance why limit yourself?
My adventure began humbly at 10 p.m. leaving from Birmingham, Alabama, a real southern blood vein. I had just graduated college two weeks before and I was headed out with my two best friends, my car stuffed with everything I could squeeze and our tent.
Many people have made this drive or flight before. We were driving to California with no deadline, no place to be, just freedom to be attained. They were to drop me off in Los Angeles, a city unknown to me, with nobody, no job and only a finger crossed future.
Our first stop was in Austin to stay with my family. We were pampered, we swam in hillside pools, drank old French wine and stayed in the warm laughter and comfort of family. It was hotter and there were a significant amount of more hipsters, but still the south.
When we weren’t relaxing in the west side of Austin, tucked in between the hills and the mansions we were out exploring. Austin has been photographed, Instagrammed, and pinned a thousand times over because it is that cool of a town. You will not be unamused by the nearby swimming holes, five-star food trucks, famous BBQ or endless catchy wall graffiti.
For me, a great day in Austin would be checking out Zilker Park. At the park, you can walk the gardens and look for fairies on the Woodland Fairie Trail or kill the Austin heat and swim at Barton Springs Pool. From there spend your afternoons getting lost in eclectic shops in South Congress, eating great bites at food trucks and checking out breweries such as 512 brewery, a perfect small and local spot for your IPA fix.
In Austin, you have to end your night with a wickedly good restaurant and live music. My favorite dinner spot is called, Sway, it is a gorgeous modern Thai restaurant with family-style dinners, warm moody atmosphere and an unresistible dish called the “Tiger Cry.” If not stuffed from the all amazing options, finish your night bar hopping for bands. You can’t experience Austin truly without the sound of live music, and this town is blessed with that. There are unlimited options, but for big names in an intimate space check out Stubbs BBQ and for new local discoveries hop over to Whip in, and grab a naan sandwich for round two.
Austin is the city I hope all cities America can be. Not to take away what makes it Austin, but to be a town that is alive with music, food, and adventure. Austin was my last temptation on my decision to move to LA. I saw my life in both places, and being very happy in very different ways. Spoiler alert: I am very happy with my decision, and after a few days in Austin I felt closure and we moved on.
Next, we embarked on our biggest ride: 13 hours from Austin, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
You can either hate it or love it, driving through our countries biggest state. Texas is hot and flat, eerily flat, the isolation is similar to what one can feel in an ocean. On the thrilling side, you can drive as fast as you want and periodically there are sunflowers that go on for miles in every direction.
You start to really feel like your truly in the middle of nowhere going somewhere.
As we passed the Texas border, for me southern New Mexico was a completely different energy from northern New Mexico. Southern New Mexico felt like a different type of isolation, a sense of emptiness. That feeling became overwhelming in the town of Roswell. The town that became famous for finding UFO wreckage in the 1950’s and involving themselves in an FBI scandal. I made us go off course for this mysterious place. It’s as if you walked into a spooky movie. Roswell is a dusty sidewalk town all consumed by alien memorabilia, with a general feeling that it hasn’t left the 1980’s. Roswell is definitely worth a visit if you want to experience this strange throwback town and collect a few pins and stickers.
It seemed as we drove closer and closer to Santa Fe, things became more magical. We seemed to be entering a spiritual land. This is where I learned to pause and take the side roads. If you feel an itch that you should turn left even though you’re supposed to be going straight, take a left.
When you take lefts, you’ll discover high places, rocky places, isolated places. The opportunity for accidental discovery cannot be taken for granted.
We arrived in Santa Fe in the twilight, the desert mountains turned purple, blue light shed all around us and stars began to peak out in the atmosphere. Things had changed: the air was different, the energy and this was the first place without a white queso dip. No mas of that hot melted, gooey, white liquid gold that we oh so love in the South. No more Tex-Mex, they serve real Mexican here.
Santa Fe was the first place I have ever set up a tent and camped. I fell in love with the desert air, the crunch of the rocks and whistle through the trees. We drank heavily under the stars and woke up on our backs to sunlight. Camping was my new thing and so was Santa Fe.
How can I bottle up Santa Fe in a few words, a few paragraphs? This place is special. Founded by the Spanish in 1610, Santa Fe is the second oldest city be colonized in America and is the oldest state capitol.
So much has happened here between the native Pueblos people and her conquers. There were many brave revolts and Santa Fe was an ending stop on the horrific Trail of Tears route. There is a noticeably strong native American energy here as if the spirit of the indigenous Pueblos people are still fighting the Spanish for their rightful piece of Earth, even in their graves. Yet, it isn’t a hostile energy, it’s beautiful. As if every step you take in Santa Fe there is an ancient feeling, a reminder that the ground beneath you is truly the Pueblos land.
The whole town is made out of ancient clay, that changes mood and color depending on the light of day. One minute the town is toasted orange, within an hour the whole town is electric pink. It is romantic at any hour and there is a reason why so many artists migrated here. The colors, ancestry and welcoming energy is the perfect recipe for creating art. Whether it be sculpture, paintings, necklaces or music, I see the appeal to leave the city and create beautiful art in this magical clay town.
In Santa Fe, you don’t need directions. It small enough to roam, because every street, house, and shop is unique. Explore the town’s marketplace, buy handmade Native American gifts and listen to live street music. Certain days you’ll catch the annual events such as the Zuni Pueblos show, International Folk Art market, or the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), which is an annual local showcase of local Native American goods happening since 1922.
While wandering the street of Santa Fe any place will satisfy your hunger. But some suggestions for eating would be at La Plazuela for lunch for well-known tortilla soup and for dinner stop by The Pink Adobe for a romantic unforgettable setting in a 350-year-old house. Food and atmosphere like that aren’t just in any town.
Santa Fe also has many options of exploration surrounding the city limits. For true serenity stay at the Ten Thousand Waves spa. It is an inspired Japanese mountain spa resort surrounded by the beautiful New Mexican desert only ten minutes away from downtown. For a longer drive but with adventurous needs, you only have to drive an hour away to discover new worlds. Check out the site, Tent Rocks to understand the more about the beauty of the desert or take a trip Taos. A beautiful town containing a small authentic community of Native Americans tucked away in the mountains. It will give you a better perspective of life in New Mexico before the Spanish.
If your still not convinced to drive out west, Santa Fe will be the town to change your mind. To fly over such a treasure would be a shame. When you stumble upon this haven called Santa Fe I only have two requests: learn and understand the history of this place and do not leave until you had hot chocolate from Kakawa, it’s like drinking velvet.
For the rest of the adventure, things get wild with Arizona and Vegas. Follow me to LA and check out ” Don’t Drive Out West: Part Two”