Chef Sara's Raw Vegan Academy in Cave Creek, AZ

Driving through the Desert

My not-quite-a-week in California was hectic and filled with a genuine desire to see all of the people I have missed over the last few years. But as I hit the road on Monday, all my troubles disappeared. No longer could I worry about how to maximize my time in L.A. or plan the upcoming coast-to-coast road trip; I was already on it.

As I entered the California and Arizona dry lands, I was surprised by how inviting the desert can be. The old car set itself just under the speed limit—a blessing because there is no cruise control—and I arrived in Scottsdale without a moment of traffic.

One particular benefit of staying with people (rather than camping or staying in a motel) is taking advantage of their advice in what to see, do, and explore. So upon the advice of my well-traveled hosts, I took the next day to explore. I went up to Cave Creek, looked at the faux antiques and had lunch at a delicious raw, vegan, gluten/nut/honey-free restaurant in the desert. I also managed to meet not a single person who was born in Phoenix.

Chef Sara's Raw Vegan Academy in Cave Creek, AZ

Swimming in a desert lake sounded appealing so I drove back through town and into the hills. Of course, I didn’t realize until after I had driven 30 miles off the highway that I needed to have purchased a parking pass before entering the national park. It was disappointing, but still shockingly lovely to see the clear lake nestled between desert mountains.

The drive from Phoenix to El Paso was less stellar, but smooth nonetheless. Luckily, someone told me about the Roadside America app for my iPhone during this leg of the trip so I could take advantage of all the bizarre roadside attractions, like the world’s largest (cement?) chile pepper (see below). I questioned jumping into Juarez for some dinner but took advantage of the innumerable taco joints in El Paso instead. Then, I appreciated a quiet night on my own in El Paso before my longest day on the road.

This next drive was the leg of the trip I was most dreading, going from El Paso to a small town just an hour south of San Antonio. Everyone who has done the drive was vocal about its potentially boring landscape and the lack of phone service that would plague my safety at points. Waking up to the early desert sunrise was a wonderful start, though. Again, I was blessed with a smooth ride, little traffic, and plenty of time to let my mind wander.

The Roadside America app directed me to the world's largest chile pepper outside Las Cruces, NM

The problem, though, was that I didn’t actually want to let my mind wander where it wanted to wander. This trip was significant for various reasons, including the fact that it was my first cross-country road trip, that I was bringing back the first car now signed over to me, and I was doing it all solo. However, it also marked the year of my unexpected single-dom. I am continually surprised by the thoughts and emotions that have ebbed and flowed over the course of this year, and I really wanted to focus on the scenery rather than my internal landscape.

However, seeing as I’ve been slacking on my meditation—and the fact that the scenery didn’t change much throughout southwestern Texas—it was difficult to keep my mind focused on appreciating the landscape.  Though unwanted, this was helpful, because I sometimes forgot why I was driving a car to Florida. This past year has been intense, exhausting, magical, life-changing, and overwhelming. So, ten hours of forced self-reflection was necessary. Yet, I was looking forward to ending the self-reflection upon my arrival at my relatives’ about an hour south of San Antonio.

It was perfect to sit a few days mid-journey with loved ones who haven’t seen me since before Peace Corps. There is something humbling about realizing that there are people who still don’t know why I’m living in Florida in the first place.

Even with the unwanted reflection and the desert heat, I have been so glad to be doing this drive. This is what I wanted to see, the desert lakes and the vast expanses of non-California land. And with a smile on my face, I tell myself, “Oh, so this is America!”

UPCOMING:

  • Independence Day in Baton Rouge – My first 4th of July in America in five years, floating down a river
  • Driving through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama
  • Why getting a ticket is sometimes a good thing
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