Driving to the U.S. Southwest

The Southwest United States is renowned for its spectacular desert landscapes and mountains, and is a favourite location for landscape photographers. Over the years, I’ve seen beautiful images from this region in some of the photography magazines that I read such as Outdoor Photographer.

And so I decided to drive to this region over the Christmas break instead of traveling to a more distant tropical location. It’s a lot of driving from Ottawa — four days straight driving just to get there — then more time driving between locations that tend to be quite distant from each other. People asked me whether it would not be more economical just to fly. Perhaps. But I am carrying camera equipment and camping equipment that would be a nightmare to take on any plane. Then, once I got here, I would still have to rent a car, and it’s extremely difficult to rent a standard, and it’s even harder to rent a car with snow tires. Both of those are necessities for traveling to some of the rugged places I wanted to go. I’d rather have my own car – which goes 1,000km on a $40 diesel fill up.

Added to that, I despise air travel, especially in the United States. The aborted bombing threat over Christmas, and the resulting security nightmares, remind me just how unpleasant air travel has become. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until a terrorist smuggles explosives in a body cavity, and from that day onward, security will be checking all air passengers’ body cavities before they board the plane. I hate air travel.

Driving has its own challenges, not the least of which is weather. I delayed my departure by a couple of days thinking the weather would still be okay when I left, which was. What I didn’t notice until it was too late, was that a massive snowstorm was heading for Washington DC just as I reached that area. I had to stop early the first day at Hagerstown, Maryland, when the highway became virtually impassable. There were thousands of cars in the ditch in the area. The next day, the snow had stopped, but the roads were still covered, and I had to take smaller roads to get out of the mountains and choose a more southerly route through the Deep South. Instead of going through Tennessee and Arkansas, I went through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and met up with my original route in Dallas.

You don’t experience the United States in any great depth when you’re simply driving all day on the interstate. Yet you get glimpses when you stop your meals, gas, rests, or pull into small towns in search of some forgotten or needed item. This trip, I’m using a GPS, which is wonderful for telling me when I need to turn and what lane to be in. It makes navigating the freeways easier, especially going through cities. It even detects traffic congestion and chooses detours for me. Sometimes the detours are even fun as when I was led through some of the more upscale neighborhoods of Montgomery, Alabama, or through some small towns to bypass shut-down traffic on a freeway.

I brought camping gear, and though I have camped, it’s not the best for taking advantage of the short daylight hours. It’s often dark by five, but some days on the road I preferred to drive till nine or 10 at night and then grab a motel. Fortunately, this being off-season, cheap motels are available. The Motel 6 chain is very adequate and their rooms range in price from $27 up to about $40. Clean and basic, but all the necessities such as clean sheets, hot showers, and wireless Internet — not necessarily prioritized in that order.

At last, after four long days of driving, and numerous meals at Waffle House or sandwiches at roadside rest stops, I arrived in Carlsbad New Mexico, ready to begin exploring the Southwest.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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