Coast To Coast

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To the East

The real trip starts here. I leave California and enter Arizona.

Second leg : Needles, CA - Shamrock, TX, 900 miles, 14 hours

Leaving at 7:35, weather is already warm. They must have rather high temperatures during the day. Traffic is already on the road. 2 lanes, at 75 in AZ and NM, although most trucks cannot sustain 75 due to the steep grades. Needles is at 500 feet on the sea level. We climb to 3586 feet in just 50 miles, from the Arizona border to Kingman, AZ,

Arizona Border

and then even more, up to 6840 feet in Flagstaff! That's 2300 meters on the sea level. We can feel the weather has changed too. In Flagstaff there's a strong, chilly wind. Main features of this part of the trip are the rock formations in the desert, that give way to beautiful conifer forests. The landscape is varied and colorful. I stop at one of the many "indian trading posts". They sell beautiful pottery (which I couldn't buy for fear of breaking them during the return trip), sand-painted glass, petrified wood and artistic creations by local indian artisans. Interestingly these trading posts are not at the freeway exits, but a few hundred yards from it. They don't look much from the outside, but they're actually quite nice. Another surprise is the number of freight trains that one can see traveling on the railroad that goes parallel to the freeway for a long stretch. Sometimes you can even see 2 trains crossing while traveling in opposite directions. I try to film some of them with the rocky backdrop of the mountains, but I'm not sure of the result giving the vibration and the challenge of driving. Luckily the sky is clear, the sun is shining and the light is just perfect. I see many highway police patrols, sometimes driving in the opposite direction, sometimes stopped in the crossover between the westbound and eastbound and sometimes behind some stopped motorist. It's easy to speed given the climbs and falls of the road. I have to be careful. I just follow whoever is in front of me and I have no problem.

New Mexico Border

New Mexico is a bit of a disappointment. While I had already been in the northern part of NM, the section that is crossed by I40 is rather monotonous. Except for the occasional climb and drop or drive through a canyon, the land is barren and desolate, though still more colorful than the Nevada portion of I-80, much to the north. Another surprise is that you don't cross the Rocky Mountains at this latitude. In fact, you don't cross any mountain at all after the initial climbing to reach the Grand Canyon Plateau. It's one quick climb and then a very long and gentle downhill for the next 2000 miles. I arrrive in Albuquerque while the sun is setting. This was a bit of a surprise, because the clock was marking 4:00 PM, but I did not realize that I had crossed one time zone, and it was in fact 5:00 PM Mountain Time. That meant that there was no more light for filming after Albuquerque. I did notice that many freeway overcrossing were decorated with native american motifs. Very nice, though sometimes they had inconsistent quality. After NM, it's all night driving to Texas. I try to take a picture of the "Welcome" sign at the state border, but it seems the camera is not cooperating, and the result seems to be very dark. Oh, well. Texas has a 70 mph speed limit on I-40, 65 at night. I arrive in Amarillo at 8 PM California time, but it's 10 PM Texas (Central) time. I decide I can drive one more hour so that the next day I'm closer to my destination. That's how I end up in Shamrock, TX. I get a room at the Budget Host for $40+tax, after having checked other (nicer) motels, all having a higher rate. I settle for this one, probably wake up the attendant (by now it's 11:30 PM local time) and settle down for the night. Tomorrow it's going to be along day, without the beauty of the desert to comfort me.

Third leg : Shamrock, TX - Lebanon, TN, 870 miles, 14 hours

Morning in Texas is that of a gloomy day. Driving eastward the landscape is not very colorful. What is distinctive since the previous evening is the re-appearance of trees. The only trees I had seen since I left California were the conifers in the National Forests south of the Grand Canyon. Other than that, it had been a pretty barren landscape until now. Strangely I don't see any highway patrol. Pretty soon I arrive at the Oklahoma border. I stop at the visitor center to pick up a map and make a photo, and I'm on my way.

Oklahoma Border

One thing I notice in Oklahoma is the very bad state of its roads, much worse than in any other place I've been so far. And, again, I didn't see a single police patrol while in OK. The weather improves a little bit, with the low clouds clearing up partially. The landscape, alas, is still not impressive. A lot of hills we have to cross in the west part of the state. The east part is more flat. I see a lot of signs along the freeway marking the entering and leaving of many indian nations. Osage, Cheyenne, Arrapaho, Comanche, Cherokee. All the famous names of tribes are here (while I thought they were more to the west. Of course the only tribe I found more to the west is the Navajo Nation, in Arizona). It would be intersting to come back, if not for the landscape, just to visit the different Indian Nations represented in Oklahoma. I have not seen a single police car in the whole state of Oklahoma. If you pair that with the terrible state of the roads and the constant road work sections, one has to conclude that Oklahoma doesn't invest much money on roads.

Arkansas Border

In contrast, Arkansas starts with a menacing sign that says "All road laws strictly enforced, no tolerance". And in fact, in the first 50 miles from the Oklahoma border I can see at least 6 or 7 police cars, hiding behind hills, bridges or parked on the right shoulder (they are in plain view, so I assume it's to catch any driver who doesn't move to the left lane when crossing a stopped vehicle, which is state law inn several Eastern States). Strangely, though, about 50 miles into Arkansas, the police cars disappear, and from there to the Tennessee border is business as usual. Once again, I stop at the Arkansas visitor center to get a map, and I'm on my way. While in Oklahoma I could hardly see any house from the freeway, in Arkansas I can see a lot of houses, barns and ranches, giving it a more "inhabited" feeling. I'll have to check the population of the two states. While the west part of the state is pretty hilly, the east part (after Little Rock) is more flat. Vegetation has become more greener, and I actually have the impression of driving in northern Italy near my home town: lots of cultivated fields. Other than that, not much variety. The same landscape keeps going until the sun sets. It's already dark when I reach the Tennessee border.

Tennessee Border

I cross the bridge over the Mississippi River (which unfortunately I can only capture on camera in the dark, and drive through Memphis, which is on the east shore of the river. From there, it's to the final destination for the day: Nashville. I stop at a Knights Inn, where I get a room for $44 including, and I go to sleep after 14 hours of driving and 870 miles.

Next : To the North