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Traveling I-40 From California to Alabama

Updated on February 4, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

State and National Parks and historical attractions have long been a favorite destination for Liz, and she loves sharing them.

Notes From the Road

Back in the year 2000, we took a cross-country drive to visit friends in Alabama. From where we live in California, that was a long trip. We were on the road 3 days getting there, pushing hard to have maximum visit time.

We traveled along Interstate Highway 40, which parallels the old, historic Route 66. Some of the old road can be seen off in the distance, used rarely, and just by local traffic; some of it has been incorporated into the newer highway. In some places, small towns still exist along the old road, and must be accessed via an exit ramp from the I-40 freeway.

On the way home, we took a detour through Las Vegas and an extra day, for we wanted to re-visit the Star Trek Experience show and museum that we’d seen there on our honeymoon. We enjoyed it just as much, and left just as mystified as to how a certain special effect was done. (Sadly, it has now been removed.)

That was before my husband had all his health issues, and he did about 90% of the driving, leaving me free to make notes on the passing scenes and jot down poetic thoughts, or strange wild thoughts. Some are dated, some are not. Mostly, it's the poems I dated.

I just recently came across some of these notes, though they are not complete; I don’t know what happened to the rest of them.

The snatches of memories found herein do appear out of sequence in some places: some were written on the outbound trip, and some on the return.

Traveling the current Interstate Highway 40 parallels and uses some of the historic old Route 66
Traveling the current Interstate Highway 40 parallels and uses some of the historic old Route 66

No. Air. Conditioning!

We traveled in mid August through early September. Probably one of the worst times to be in the middle of the desert, and there was a heat wave that year to boot.
Our truck, we belatedly discovered at this inopportune time, had not come with air conditioning. (Coming from San Francisco, we had not even given it a thought; for such is not needed in that town!)

En route, as we gained the desert side of the mountains, the following thoughts crossed my mind.

We’re hot, sweaty, sticky, cranky and miserable, wanting nothing so much as to plunge into the campground’s cool pool.

Unthinkable, then, the tenfold agony of the pioneers in their slow-moving wagons. No ice, no water to spare, and bundled in the head-to-toe clothing dictated by the propriety of the day.

I Lacked Even a Hand Fan!

About the only cooling there was; but I lacked even this.
About the only cooling there was; but I lacked even this.

It was all about 4-65 air conditioning: 4 windows rolled down, doing 65 miles an hour. It wasn't a great deal of help, given the outdoor temperatures.

Comedic Observations

Letting my mind free to wander can be a dangerous thing. Unfettered, it can come up with all manner of crazy, off-the-wall thoughts, such as this one:

Do you know why it took so long for the pioneers to cross the country? Well, folks, they had to keep stopping to wait for the guy with the tape measure to catch up, so they could record how many miles they’d traveled that day!

Mile After Unchanging Mile of Barren Dirt and Fences

Fencing in the odd
Fencing in the odd

Keeping the Road in Place?

All along Interstate Highway 40, there were fences along the sides of the road. These stretched from California through New Mexico and Texas. Never did we glimpse a single livestock animal.

What the heck? Was someone afraid the vast open spaces were going to run away? Ha! More likely, your tax dollars at work. “We need a way to spend some money! Call the Army Corps of Engineers. They’ll step in, and call for volunteers.”

“You, you, and you have just volunteered to build a fence to keep this road in its place!”

Foothills of the Tehachapis

Live oak trees march bold and ramrod straight up to the crest,

While sagebrush cowers at the base, having fallen back in retreat halfway up.

Toasted slabs of sandstone; live oak surrenders to coward sage,

And pre-historic Joshua trees appear.

Atop the peaks, in high modern contrast to nature’s scene,

Tower giant windmills, ceaselessly turning energetic cartwheels

Uncaring of darkness or light.

Poem © Liz Elias 8-19-00 

Midnight in Needles

Needles, California. Midnight. Stopping for gas. It was pretty warm, still inside the truck, but stepping out at the gas station left us gasping. It was like stepping into a blast furnace or dry sauna. Needles is in the Mojave Desert.

A large round-faced thermometer on the wall of the building told the story: 100 degrees Fahrenheit. At midnight! We commented, and one of the attendants said, “You should have been here at noon; it’s cooled off twenty degrees since then!”

One hundred twenty degrees at high noon! I cannot imagine such temperatures!

It’s no wonder it is said that Needles is just a quarter of a mile from hell.

Needles, CA: This Is What It Felt Like!

Needles, CA:  1/4 mile from hell...
Needles, CA: 1/4 mile from hell...

Probably the Hottest Region in the United States!

Needles, CA:
Needles, CA, USA

get directions

Situated in the Mojave desert, Needles, CA is probably the hottest region in the state

Desert Daylight

There is a blazing brightness to the desert daylight. Whether clear blue or scattered clouds: sunglasses are inadequate.

Nevermind the Sunglasses! Where is My Earth Box?!

Sunglasses don't cut it against bright desert sun
Sunglasses don't cut it against bright desert sun

Meteor Crater, Arizona

We stopped to tour this amazing landmark near present-day Winslow, Arizona. From photos, you cannot really appreciate the size and depth of the thing. If a meteor of this size were to strike today, it would be catastrophic, even in a relatively unpopulated area. For the dust it would throw up would interfere with sunlight and crop growth.

The meteor struck 50,000 years ago, so there were no effects on humans. It is a fascinating tour, though, and as we approached along the road, the scenery inspired these thoughts:

Mile upon mile upon mile of barren red emptiness.

Shallow contrast of barely-green, barely-there sagebrush.

Pile upon pile upon pile of scattered, carved, and balanced rocks

Cast about as if by some mad giant,

Annoyed at his game of Tiddly-Winks.

Poem © 9-1-00 Liz Elias

Meteor Crater Near Winslow, AZ

Meteor crater, Arizona:
Meteor Crater, Interstate 40 Exit 233, Winslow, AZ 86047, USA

get directions

Winslow, Arizona:
Winslow, AZ 86047, USA

get directions

Have you ever traveled along Interstate Highway 40?

See results

The Grand Canyon of Arizona

No cross-country trip is complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon. Carved over centuries by the Colorado River, it is an impressive sight to behold. This trip took us toward the south rim, which I had never seen. As a child, the family had visited the north rim, which, in my opinion, is even more spectacular and impressive.

However, the south rim is also a place of awe and wonder. The downside being that it is much more commercialized.

The road offers glimpses of the canyon, and the visitor center is a short walk down a trail from the main parking lot. The sculpting of the rocks, and the sheer size are as impressive, but the colors are much more muted than the view from the north rim.

The south rim view is less colorful than the north rim
The south rim view is less colorful than the north rim
For comparison, a north rim photo shows the added color
For comparison, a north rim photo shows the added color
Williams, AZ:
Williams, AZ 86046, USA

get directions

The south rim of Grand Canyon National Park is located just 60 miles north of the town of Williams, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park:
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA

get directions

Rain in the Trees

As we cleared the desert and got into eastern Oklahoma, we finally saw trees and forests again. What a relief that was, after mile upon unbroken mile of arrow-straight, hypnotic highway with no real landmarks to mark either the passage of distance or give any sensation of speed. At times it felt like we were sitting still on a dyno machine at 70 mph!

And then, it rained, and granted moisture and a brief respite from the heat, although, it was a warm and gentle rain, with a sideshow of lightning and thunder. I penned this verse.

Raindrops softly whisper down through the trees,

Dancing with each leaf;

Landing with soft kiss to the Earth.

Intense green glows against muted sky,

As the dust is banished earthward.

Jealous fire gods battle in the clouds,

Hurling darts of wrathful passion to and fro.

Angry sky god growls his warning,

Drowning the voice of the whispering rain.

The play concludes

And sun god beams approval.

Poem © 9-1-00 Liz Elias

Rain Filtered Through Trees is a Soothing Sound

New Mexico

Mesa cliffs of brilliant red

Stand tall against the sky.

Carved and sculpted by nature’s hand

Into shapes of fantasy, legend and myth,

Rising from the desert plateau

They spring forth

Atop a more softly rounded, sculpted base of gray.

Sandstone statue

Alone in the vastness

Proudly wearing a limestone hat.

An odd juxtaposition

Much like a saucepan with a

Mis-matched lid.

Mother Nature

Shopping in the mix-n-match aisle.

Poem © 9-1-00  Liz Elias

Balancing Rocks Are Seen Frequently

Strange rock formations dot the landscape
Strange rock formations dot the landscape

The Distant Cliffs

Flat topped mesas, harboring secret sites

Tucked into their wall;

A thousand hints of abodes of old.

A million ghosts prowl the clefts

Seeking ancestral homes.

Poem 9-2-00 Liz Elias

Caves and Caverns Appear to Dot the Cliff Faces

What secrets hide in the distant cliffs?
What secrets hide in the distant cliffs?

Layered sandwiches of reddened stone

Stand out below the mesa crest;

Sharp, yet rounded

Jutting proudly

Like an adolescent

Strutting her newly formed breasts.

Poem © 9-2-00 Liz Elias 

The Road Construction Shows the Past

In a grade cut in the road, the inner mountain is revealed. Layer upon stacked layer of carefully lain stones; it is reminiscent of an old New England dry stone wall.

Dry Stone Wall

A dry-built stone wall is reminiscent of the layers of earth revealed in a road cut through a mountain, except that in a mountain cut, the layers extend for hundreds of feet or even miles
A dry-built stone wall is reminiscent of the layers of earth revealed in a road cut through a mountain, except that in a mountain cut, the layers extend for hundreds of feet or even miles

That Was a Long Time Ago

I hope you've enjoyed this jaunt down memory lane with me. Finding those old notes brought back many pleasant memories of things we saw and did on that trip; one which was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Everyone should travel across country by car, even if only once. It truly gives an appreciation for the size and scope of this nation. I've never driven farther east than Utah on Highway 80, but it goes through more settled areas and a number of large cities.

Traveling I-40 shows the still vast wildness and emptiness that once greeted our ancestors as they trekked westward. As you look off to the sides of the road, the only thing that really changes is the color of the dirt, from beige to brown to orange to red and blends of all.

It was a trip I do not regret making; it is a trip I would not make again.

© 2015 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment
  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    3 years ago from England

    Hi Lizzy, just wondering where you have gone to? :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi Martie!

    Aw, thanks so much. I'm delighted that you so enjoyed my mini-travelogue and poems. It was a great trip, and we did enjoy it overall, in spite of the heat and lack of variety in the roadside scenery.

    I'm glad my husband did so much of the driving, as I tend to be subject to "highway hypnosis" on long, straight roads like that.

    I'll be sure and check out your travel hubs. ;-)

  • MartieCoetser profile image

    Martie Coetser 

    4 years ago from South Africa

    DzyMsLizzy, I enjoyed this trip on the I-40 tremendously. Your poems are absolutely beautiful! South Africa is about the size of Texas, so, from east to west will take 2 days by car, sleeping halfway over, and 3 days from south to north, also with sleep-overs in between. I love travelling. You will find many travelogues in my corner - if you ever want to get an idea of the world down here. Thank you for a very enjoyable hub :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks, Ann! Yes, I can see how re-visiting the same place many times could result in 'same stuff, different day' kind of reporting. I'm sure my diaries of our numerous camping trips to Lassen National Park from my childhood would fall into that--except that there were always new side trips and antics and funny mishaps at camp. ;-)

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    4 years ago from SW England

    I keep diaries of holidays that cover new places we go. I kept a diary of our trips to France for a few years but they became a bit 'same old, same old'. Yours certainly aren't that!


  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Ann!

    Hee, hee--it is a bit like a peek into a diary; I always have kept journals on my trips ever since I was a kid. Of course, those are long gone. But these "diaries" are minus the teen angst over boyfriends and back-stabbing girlfriends, etc. LOL

    I'm delighted you enjoyed this, and I thank you for your kind words.

  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    4 years ago from SW England

    I love diary-like snippets like this; it evokes your exact feelings when you were there and the physical circumstances you had to put up with.

    Your poetry is great, as usual. I particularly like the one about the rain.

    Sorry I'm a bit late visiting this one! Life is a bit chaotic at the moment!

    Hope all's well with you.


  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Faith Reaper,

    I'm so glad you enjoyed this collection of old memories and enjoyed the poems they inspired so long ago.

    Thanks for the photo compliments, but sadly, I had to resort to Pixabay for those, as I don't know what happened to my own, and near the end of the trip, my camera acted up; you mentioned the humidity in Alabama, and boy, oh boy, my camera did not like it. The lens fogged up on the inside!

    But, it kicked in before we got there--when we hit Ft. Smith, Arkansas, it was so humid that there was no point in bringing a towel to the showers!

    Thanks very much for stopping by and your kind words. That was very sweet of Ann to write such a nice review; now, I'll have to kick my rear into gear and get the thing completed! (Since I originally compiled it for family, I thought of several more stories that need to be added...) ;-)

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 

    5 years ago from southern USA

    Hi Liz,

    Thank you for taking us along on your trip of way back when. I am so glad you found your brilliant poetry from that trip and have shared it here with us all. You are a fine poet. Your photos are amazing.

    Well, maybe at least the desert air was dry with no humidity? I know when you reached Alabama, that humidity had to have kicked in, which will take your last breath. However, September months provide much relief.

    Enjoyed the read. I love Ann's wonderful review of your book too.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, drbj! Yeah--even more "fun" with cranky, too-hot kids in tow. I did that back when mine were young, as well. By the time of this trip, however, we were "empty-nesters." I'm so glad you enjoyed these random memories.

    Hello, FourishAnyway - Yes--like I said, it's a trip everyone should make at least once, even if only once. It's very interesting. I'm glad you liked the poems. Those were raw, unedited, just at they came to me on the trip. I'm sure they could use some cleaning up. ;-)


    General note: writing this has jogged a couple more memories from that trip that were not in the notes I found. I should probably edit the piece, and add those other bits.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    5 years ago from USA

    I'd love to take a trip like that, especially to see that meteor site. Your poems were a nice addition.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    5 years ago from south Florida

    I could really identify with this charming memoir, Liz. Back in the day my hubbie and I took many auto trips with the kids ... without air conditioning. Even visited the Meteor Crater. Somehow we survived. Thanks for the lovely deja vu.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ MarleneB - Well, thank you! **bows and blushes** I'm delighted you found this mini-travelogue to be interesting. Many thanks for your kind words. I do enjoy company on a trip; it's boring to drive alone, and have no one to point out sights, or "oooh and ahhh" over scenery. ;-)

    @ Shauna - Right--I'm not at all crazy about deserts, but we couldn't afford air fare, so we drove, and that was the most direct route. It was, indeed, a small taste of what the pioneers felt like, though, thankfully, it was over with much more quickly at modern highway speeds! Thanks so much for stopping by!

    @ Paintdrips - LOL--well, that wasn't very nice of your dad now, was it!? Parents are supposed to be supportive. I'm sure you are a real artist, and could capture those sunset colors just fine. Thanks much sharing your story.

    @ Ruby - Aggh..not the boilover radiator!! What a drag! Car trouble is never fun. Thankfully, our truck was relatively new at the time; sold as used because it had been a dealer demo, but with such ridiculously low mileage that it was essentially a brand new truck. But the dealer got to take the depreciation hit, and we got a brand new "used" truck for a decent price!

    @ Larry Rankin - I hope you enjoyed your trips along the "Mother Road" more than I did. ;-) As I said, it was an opportunity not to be missed, but I'd not do it again. Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm glad you liked the article.

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 

    5 years ago from Oklahoma

    I've actually traveled this route a few times. Very interesting read.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    5 years ago from Southern Illinois

    I made that trip in 1957 to see family in Bisbee, Ariz. The month was June and it was miserably hot. We had air conditioning in the car but the dessert was so hot the water boiled in the radiator. back then the thought of writing never entered my mind. ( I wish It had. ) It is beautiful country thanks for sharing.

  • PAINTDRIPS profile image

    Denise McGill 

    5 years ago from Fresno CA

    I've traveled from CA to Indiana so we took a more northerly route although I would have loved to stay the southern route. The sunsets are phenominal. I still remember my dad pointing out that if I was a REAL artist I could capture those colors in the sky. I figure only God can capture some things, right? There is a beauty everywhere, even the desert. Thanks for the travel guide.

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    5 years ago from Central Florida

    What a road trip! I'm not sure I'd want to travel the desert's expanse, but I love the thoughts your travels evoked. It's amazing how the early settlers survived the trek. You got a taste of it by traveling without air conditioning. What a trip!

  • MarleneB profile image

    Marlene Bertrand 

    5 years ago from USA

    You are a true artist with words. I can imagine how fun it would be to travel with someone like you. The conversations would be lively and poetic. You do have a way with words. I really enjoyed this little trip. Thank you so much for sharing a little of your world with us.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi Bill,

    Wow--you're quick on the uptake! Thanks for being first to comment! ;-) LOL A medal? Yeah, well, I was younger in those days..and we managed. The best defense was staying hydrated and a spray-mist bottle aimed at the face every so often, for some evaporative personal cooling.

    I'm not much of a desert person, either; I much prefer the mountains and forests and waterfalls. But, this was the most direct route to our destination.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I'm not much of a desert guy. I've seen the Mohave...once was enough. Traveling that road without air conditioning? You deserve a medal...probably the Purple Heart. ;)


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