Driving through Southwestern United States

Our bellies filled with a comfort-meal of dal-chaval and our hearts with some trepidation, we set off from Manisha’s house in our rented, practically brand-new, Toyota Avalon on the afternoon of June 16 on a two-week road trip through the Southwest US. With two camping trips behind us, a cooler in the boot, even if tiny by American standards, was now considered indispensable. I mapped our destination for the day – Grand Junction, CO – on GoogleMaps and we breezed along on I-70 (US Highway 6), getting honked at just once when we hesitated to make a left turn to allow the person behind us to pass. Old habits die hard.

It was an easy 4-hour drive with the Colorado River flowing gently alongside. We could see the railway track on the other bank, a travel mode we had considered briefly. In these barely 260 miles the landscape was changing dramatically already. We were leaving The Rockies behind and the tilted red rocks by the highway were preparing us for the grand mesas and buttes we were about to encounter all across the state of Utah.

To Arches National Park (12)By tea-time we were at the hotel in Grand Junction and met up with my parents, sister, and her family who had driven down from CT after a brief halt to visit family in Ann Arbor, MI. Rounds of tea followed though it was too early to whip out the kettle Manisha had insisted I carry. She was right; the hotel-room coffee/tea-makers do not get the water hot enough for a decent cup. We picked a Mexican place for our first dinner with the family and caught a glorious sunset afterwards.

The following morning we stopped at the Arches National Park to marvel at the spectacularly eroded landscape of red rocks. We admired them from afar and and were back on track for St George.

The kettle came in handy for our tea-loving family.  Barring the son and TH, we all love our tea, and lots of it. The breakfast spread gets boring pretty soon with the same cereal-bagels-oats-toast-juice routine. After tasting the sausages and them scrambled eggs once, I steered clear of them for the rest of the road trip. What is with those souffle-like eggs?! I bet they are made with some manufactured ingredient and not fresh eggs. I had a new-found respect for Indian hotel breakfasts most of which are still prepared fresh from real food – aloo parantha, poori-bhaji, idli-vada-sambar-chutney, and pohe are ubiquitous at any hotel breakfast table; and eggs are invariably cooked fresh from whole eggs.

On the road.

Arches National Park

Picnic by the stream, at Zion National Park

Zion National Park

We made day-trips to Zion National Park and Las Vegas, sometimes eating out, and at other times carrying sandwich fixings for lunch. At Zion NP, to beat the heat we picked a spot by the stream  for our gourmet sandwich lunch. Later, we rode the park shuttle and explored the slot canyon right up until it becomes really narrow. Back in St George by evening, it was finally time for the big birthday celebrations. We went to a local Benja Thai and Sushi restaurant set inside a refurbished building and ordered too much food; it was Dad’s treat. Thank you, Papa!

Hoover Dam (1)

Las Vegas at midday in midsummer is just too hot. We should have set out after lunch and aimed for the glittering show it puts up at night. But we persevered. A visit to Hoover Dam was a must with architects and engineers in the group. Despite the heatstroke-worthy intensity of the sun, we went to visit the dam which, at the time of building, was the tallest dam in the world. Built during the Great Depression of the 1930s it is truly a marvel of engineering and design. The beautiful Art Deco style detailing is carried through into the smallest element of the dam exemplifying the harmony of art, architecture, and engineering. Just this week I was at our own Tehri Dam, another engineering feat. But crude engineering does not a marvel make.

Next day we drove to the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon to marvel at a natural wonder. The drive, as always, was beautiful. While V caught up with sleep, we put together gourmet sandwiches for lunch and brewed ourselves a good cuppa on a camping stove that the brother-in-law had brought along. After checking out a couple of viewpoints we were back on the road.

Our next stop was the town of Mammoth Lakes in Mono County, California. We picked a road less traveled and it was eerie to go half a day and pass only a couple of cars in the moonscape of Nevada Desert – no trees or humans in sight for hundreds of miles around. One might wonder what it was to ride across this Wild Wild West in old times.

At Mammoth Lakes we had an apartment to ourselves with a comfy living room and a well appointed kitchen. Yes, dal-chaval was on the menu the first night. We also stocked up on vegetables, fruits, and eggs for later. A regular masala omlette at breakfast hit the spot next morning. The food scene had improved for all.

The next couple of days included an easy hike to Emerald Lake one afternoon, and trips to Horseshoe Lake and the spectacular Mono Lake. Mono Lake is a hypersaline lake with high alkanity (pH 10) where the only plant life are planktonic algae on which feed endemic brine shrimp no bigger than a thumbnail. The shores of the lake teem with alkali flies which are an important food source for migratory birds. The tufa columns that add to the uniqueness of the lake ecosystem were submerged at one point. Conservation efforts since the 1980s have attempted to increase water in the lake to sustainable levels in an effort to undo some of the damage wrought by water diversion beginning in the 1920s.

Back at the apartment, there were many rounds of Canasta with the nephews. We firmed up our return road trip plans. Hotel reservations were now going to cost more but it had given us flexibility of travel. South Rim, Grand Canyon, and Santa Fe were marked for the route back to CO.

After spending three nights at Mammoth Lakes we hit the road for our half-way destination, Newport Beach, California. We sipped wine as we watched the sun set into the ocean from the terrace of my cousin’s resort-like home and and enjoyed a Kashmiri repast Manuja had prepared for us. We spent an idyllic morning lazing at the nearby Laguna Beach the following day. Lunch at the Zinc Cafe and Market, a vegetarian restaurant with casual patio seating, was the best meal of the trip so far. I loved my spinach lasagna drowning in its fresh tomato sauce, and took bites from everyone’s lunch order which included pizza, sandwiches, chili, quesadillas, salads, and stuffed peppers. We also tried some of their desserts (cheesecake with lemon curd, walnut brownies, and tiramisu) – all good stuff. They are terribly slow at clearing the tables, however, and you may safely assume that job as part of your own duties here. The food is worth the trouble though.

The group split up for the return journey: the three of us were heading to Colorado to catch a flight from there to Hartford while the rest of the family was driving back to CT. The route was common till Flagstaff, AZ, but we left earlier, hoping to catch the sunset at the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon. We almost didn’t.

[Next, A weekend in Santa Fe!]


3 thoughts on “Driving through Southwestern United States

  1. Two camping trips? Which one did I miss?

    Food and labor are expensive in the US. Your trip would have been way more expensive if you had been served real food cooked by humans, not machines, at motels. Food safety laws also come into the picture and besides, motels remain motor inns and are not hotels. Remember the vastness? No people or cars for miles? Not much grows there. Food has to travel, just like you did, to get there. You might remember that I wasn’t as impressed as you were when you kept telling me that breakfast is included in all your motel stays. Yeah, but who wants to eat that?! >.< Typically, we pick up whole fresh fruit, maybe a bagel or toast and hot tea from the buffet and find a restaurant for brunch or eat leftovers from dinner or find breakfast burritos to go. Never go near those eggs or sausage. But eating out can also be very expensive. You have to find a middle ground that works for your wallet and your palate.

    Glad you made left turns, even if they were hesitant. On your next road trip through the US, I hope you make U-turns because they are legal. And, yay for making it to Mono Lake! It's an incredible place!

    1. Also, last time I checked, Grand Junction was in Colorado O.o

      Also, also (like PPS), when am I never right?!


      Silliness apart, beautiful pictures and great family time. A road trip is the best way to experience the vastness of this country. You just need to dial down your expectations of gourmet food along the way. There was a reason why I asked V to hold on to his chaat masala when he offered it to me. 😀

      Did I put Grand Junction in UT?! Oops.

      Food is not very good in a large part of Northern India as well but it can be. This was a great trip and a good bit of credit for that goes to you!

    2. You’re right (again!). That should’ve read, “one camping trip and a trip to the mountains…” Food travels here too but labour is cheap. 😦 And, we don’t have that level of processed food available readily. But, at least we can value the labour that ensures we eat fresher than the developed world. It’s all changing though.

      We did what you said there – mix it up so that we had more choices of foods we like.

      But what a trip! 🙂

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