A Winter Road Trip Through Southern 'Merica/ Part 1

By - Cody Baldwin

America is a glorious country. A big country.  It’s insanely beautiful, far and wide. But most of all, America is a strange place.


A quick and concise backdrop for you: Lizzy and I sold our small business  recently. It was a cozy little hostel in Chattanooga TN, known as En Root House. Lizzy grew up in the midwest. I was a military brat. We met in college, in Chattanooga. Here we are 9 years later. It’s crazy how we got here. It’s crazy how I got here. Thinking all the way back to the big bang. BOOM! Here I am 13.7 million years later. The hostel is sold, and we decided to take a road trip across the country before we jet set to Asia with intent on obtaining jobs in Vietnam, spreading the great words of English. 

20 days, driving from Knoxville TN to Death Valley CA, and back. We chose a southern route, due to the winter time and only having a Honda Civic as our means of transport. We thought we’d avoid the snow and ice. We also had some family members we were hoping to see along the way. During the planing stages, I presented a challenge to not use GPS during the trip, and rely instead on the good ole atlas. It’s how our parents used to travel, surely we could do it. Well, the amount we rely on technology now is truly frightening. We’ll just leave it at that. 

New Orleans was the first destination. Neither of us had been, both extremely curious. Our time was spent frolicking from the Marigny area, up and down Frenchmen st., through the French Quarter, a quick peep on Bourbon st, and a couple detours for culinary excellence and a hip hop show uptown. The Nola spirit is vibrant and real, and rough around the edges. The amount of homelessness, from train kids to veterans is surreal. It’ll certainly get you down if you let it. We were feeling strange the night we decided to check out Bourbon st. The juxtaposition of binge drinking party party bass and homeless Jenny walking by with a face full of tears was a bit much. We made a quick retreat back to Frenchmen St. and popped into the Spotted Cat for a beer and some old-time jazz that put our souls at ease. The amount of culture, music, food, and history that exists in New Orleans is insane. That part, is beautiful. 


We have an aunt in Fort Worth TX we wanted to spend some time with, so we left the bayou in the rearview and made our way to big country. I guess the moment you enter Texas, things are suddenly bigger. Two nights were spent in Fort Worth, just hanging with Aunt Vicki. We had a blast. Fort Worth itself seems to be a suburbia city with boxy buildings and chain eateries. 

Have you ever been to a Taco Cabana? Well, it’s a fast food chain based in the Texas region that claims to serve authentic Mexican food. I lived outside Austin for a year when I was in third grade, and I’ve always had vivid memories of filling my face at this place. Being back in Texas, the nostalgia hit me hard and I was determined to relive my past. We searched for a Taco Cabana the night we left Fort Worth, which proved difficult to do without our trusty Google Maps. We eventually found one. The tacos were shit. Some things are better left as memories… 

West Texas is the heart of what they call Big Country. It seems to refer to the big open spaces, trucks, and cowboy hats. I received a few howdies as greetings the morning we awoke in West Texas. It was fitting for the long day’s drive into New Mexico as we passed ranch after ranch after ranch. It’s a different world out there. As the road continued west, the ways of life continued to change. America is a vastly different country from region to region. Is it even possible to come together? That’s just a question. I don’t have the answer. 

I’ve always had a fascination with alien life. I wasn’t going to skip the chance of visiting Roswell once we were in New Mexico. Roswell is a super small town, but has a slightly bustling center due to the tourism that extraterrestrial life has graced the land with. Story has it, there was alien activity goin on in the area back in the 1940’s. The US government tried to cover it up, but the story broke in the 70’s. Since then, the local Roswell economy has certainly cashed in on it. We visited the International UFO Museum, and Alien Zone. I highly recommend both if you happen to pass through Roswell New Mexico. It’s reaffirmed my belief in alien life. 


We chose the route we did to avoid the snow. The morning we awoke at our campsite in the mountains of New Mexico, there was certainly snow falling from the sky. It’s not that the whole elevation thing slipped our minds, we just didn’t do our research. We started the morning at 4,500 ft as a cold front blistered through. The majority of that day was spent driving through the snow. Abandoning our plans to camp outside the Petrified Forest in Arizona, due to a projected nightly low of 12 degrees, we booked a last minute Airbnb in Flagstaff. My previous thought of Arizona consisted mainly of desert landscape and blazing temperatures. Sitting at 7,000 feet in elevation with a 12, 500 ft peak just 10 miles to the north, Flagstaff is a very cool town surrounded by pine trees, snowy mountain peaks, dark skies, and an adventurous spirit. I need to spend more time in Arizona. 

We never made it to mars, but we did make a two night stop at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. As far as I know, it’s the closest thing to red planet you can get. We camped. It was cold. It was magical. It’s a dessert playground filled with endless massive red rocks that all happen to take form of some creature or majestic being. Do you ever look up at the sky and see what images you can pick out amongst the clouds? Being at the Valley of Fire is kind of like that, but with multi colored rock formations coming out of the ground instead of the clouds. This was probably one of the more unique and insane places I’ve ever experienced. A mere 50 minutes from Las Vegas, but it’s an entirely different world. If you happen to have any sort of list, go ahead and put Valley of Fire on that list.  


From awe-inspiring dessert camping to the glitz, glam and smoky casinos of Las Vegas. Yeah, we made a 2 night stop in Vegas. Sin City promises many things, but all it really does is take your money. For some people, it takes a lot more than that. It’s a place where you can be anyone you want, but it’s probably not who you want to be, even for one night. Needles to say, we had our fun here. It took some of our money, and we’re grateful it didn’t take anything else. I won’t be going back anytime soon. 


Plans change when you’re traveling. We planned to do more camping than we did. We just didn’t think it would be so damn cold. Feeling a little drained from our night in Vegas, we booked a trailer off Airbnb in a desert town outside Death Valley National Park. Pahrump was the name of the town. Like I mentioned earlier, you keep moving west, you keep running into different ways of life. Houses here are far away from one another, but you’re in the desert, and there are no trees, so there’s really no privacy. Every other house has a trailer in the backyard. It’s as flat as can be, only to have dramatic desert mountains in all directions. This is where it hit me hard, after everything we’ve seen up until that point. We live in a strange country.