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I wrote this article almost two years ago. The purpose of this cross country journey was to deliver an auto to Phoenix. Whenever possible, I try to record my travels through photographs. Since I’m planning another repeat of the drive from the Midwest to the Southwest in a few weeks, I wanted to refresh my memory to see how I might stuff even more photos into my next trip to Phoenix.

Written: November 2008.

Here’s some rambling about nothing in particular.

When the weather starts cooling off in Michigan, Mom starts thinking about going to the warm environs of her Winter home in Arizona. Normally she waits until after the Christmas Holidays, but this year she decides to travel early.

Here’s where I come in. She flies and I drive. As the designated driver, I drive her car from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Phoenix, Arizona to use for the months that she is there. I don’t mind, in fact I look forward to the 2000 mile trip. After delivering the car to Phoenix I’ll fly back to Grand Rapids.

During the cold months to avoid bad weather, the preferred driving route is through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and then on to Arizona. When I leave Grand Rapids on Friday at 7PM, my plan is to follow this route. But two hours into the trip I call my son Paul by cell phone and have him check the road conditions forecast for Colorado. According to, he assures me that the roads through Colorado are clear. So I decide to take the more northernly route through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado. The reason is simple – the scenery in Colorado is preferable to the scenery of Missouri and Oklahoma.

Except for refueling, a rest area just east of Des Moines is my first stop at 3AM. Mom has thrown a blanket and pillow in the back seat for me so I recline the car seat for some sleep. My alarm clock is the cold temperature of the car. After a few hours sleeping in an unheated car (the engine is off), I’m too cold to sleep any longer so I’m back on the road. I reach the Iowa-Nebraska border at 7AM.

I fill up the tank again in York, Nebraska where the gas is only $1.99 per gallon. This turns out to be the lowest price for this trip. As I pass by the large and fragrant stockyards in Ogallala, Nebraska I know that I’ll soon be leaving the East-West Interstate 80 and heading south into Colorado.

Since I’m getting a little drowsy, I pull off into a rest area in Sterling, Colorado for an hour nap. Then I’m back on the road through Denver and a short jog onto US 185. Now I’m passing through the very pretty mountains and high plains of central Colorado.
Although today is a Saturday, the roads in rural Colorado are nearly traffic-free. This makes my drive through the mountains very relaxing. Five hours later I arrive in the southwest corner of Colorado and the picturesque town of Durango.

Durango is most well-known for its narrow gauge railroad that climbs the steep mountains to Silverton. During the summer, this unique railroad attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to the cozy town. A few years ago, our youngest son lived in Durango so I know the town well. So I point the car towards East by Southwest Restaurant to treat myself to sushi after my first 24 hours on the road. Then on to the Best Western motel.

After checking in, I ask the clerk for a 6AM wakeup call and hit the pillow for some real sleep. The next thing I know my wakeup call is harkening me back into the car. It’s still dark out when I pick up a coffee from McDonalds and leave town driving south.
A few miles out of Durango I cross into New Mexico. Northwestern New Mexico is also the Navajo Indian Reservation. I stop in Shiprock to snap a few photos of the famous monument. Then I continue south to Gallup where I pick up Interstate 40 westward into Arizona.
An hour later, I’m at the entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. Although I’ve passed through this area a dozen times before, this is my first visit to this National Park.
The 28 mile loop through the park yields about 75 photos. Then, I’m back on the road for the last leg of my journey. In the scenic east central area of Arizona I drive over mountains and through winding canyons and past the cactus covered deserts. I arrive in Phoenix just as the sun is setting.

Here’s a few observations from this cross country drive.

My biggest surprise is the cost of a medium chocolate shake at McDonalds in Holbrook, Arizona – $3.81 including tax (ouch).

Best breakfast – Golden Corral in Gallup, New Mexico

Best dinner – East by Southwest in Durango, Colorado

Prettiest site – Shiprock monument in Shiprock, New Mexico and Painted Desert overlook in Petrfied Forest National Park

Sleepiest section – eastern Iowa at 1AM

  • $2.03/gallon – Walcott, Iowa
  • $1.99/gallon – York, Nebraska
  • $2.59/gallon – Sterling, Colorado
  • $2.58/gallon – Farmington, New Mexico

Mom’s Toyota Camry performs OK. I check the mileage twice and find that it gets 25 miles per gallon on the interstate highways where the speed limit is 70 mph to 75 mph. However in the high plains of Colorado where the speed limit is 55-60 mph, the car gets an impressive 35 miles per gallon. The bottom-line to maximize your gasoline dollars – slow down.

I pull up to Mom’s house at 6PM – just about 48 hours after leaving Grand Rapids. I unload her belonging from the car, have dinner with my sister and brother-in-law (who also live in Phoenix) and then retire for the night to get some sleep. I’m up at 5AM the next morning for my early flight back to Grand Rapids.

Here’s a few observations about my return flight on Monday morning.

A one-way ticket from Phoenix to Grand Rapids is a sky-high $470.

The leg from Phoenix to Chicago is overbooked. United Airlines asks for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for free travel. Within 5 seconds of the gate agent’s announcement, a dozen volunteers are offering their seats. This is not surprising. With high prices for airline tickets, consumers are on the lookout for ways to save money. Since I want to get home, I don’t volunteer.

One of the passengers confesses that she is upset over the $15 charge for checking her luggage.

Onboard, I find that not only are United’s prices for beer and wine up from $5 to $6, the prices for purchased meals is also up from $5 to $6.

After the 3 hour flight to Chicago and short connection to Grand Rapids, I’m back home by 3:30 PM. Mom’s car is now in Phoenix awaiting for her arrival. I’m happy to have a set of photos from the cross country trip and I’m also happy to get back to work. And all of this completed before the snows begin out West.

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