With Detours to Ruby Falls, The Meteor Crater, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
The road trip from Orlando, Florida to the Grand Canyon that we took from September 26, 2011 to October 2, 2011 is something that we’ve mentioned in one of our first posts, and is still probably one of the most epic, fun, adventurous road trips that John and I have taken.
The Grand Canyon was actually never on either of our ‘lists of places to see’. A big hole in the ground didn’t really intrigued us. But road trips did. And a road trip out west really intrigued me.
We had a week of vacation coming up with no real plans and the Grand Canyon popped into my head. I looked up how long it would take to drive — 1 day and 8 hours. It would be a crazy road trip. We would have to drive almost straight through just to have a couple of days to explore the park. We’d have to sleep in the car! It would be epic, like those coming-of-age movies where friends have crazy road trips! (At least, that’s what I thought anyway.)
So on the morning of September 26, 2011, we set out with adventure on our mind.
As I write this, Mandy and I are stuck in a massive blizzard on the side of the road in New Mexico with snow up to our tires. So what better thing to do than write a blog post?
I’m not sure if a flash-blizzard exists but that would be the best way to describe what we’re currently sitting in. Our visibility has shrank to mere feet in front of us and sometimes hardly even that.
What I’m currently looking at is like something out of a story book. It’s the sort of storm that you imagine only being summoned by some evil entity; Gargamel of the North, maybe?
It’s the type of storm that comes on with malevolence and covers everything around it in cold and frost.
The sort of thing that you can’t help but feel powerless in front of.
The wind coming down from the mountain to our left is snow, ice and sleet. The windows have begun frosting over and ice is starting to form on the windshield.
Panic? What panic?
The road that we were driving on, once covered in a patina of snow, has gradually filled up in peaks and valleys around us.
We’ve been walled in to our own car.
If you’ve never been trapped on the side of the road in a snow storm, trust me when I tell you that you really don’t want to.
You should know that we didn’t set out for this. The morning actually started really nicely, with a cup of coffee and a good pace being made out of Golden, Colorado after the roads had been plowed.
We made some good time out of CO, and shortly after crossing the border into NM, we ran into the bane of every road tripper.
The road block. Dun dun dun.
We’ve handled this sort of thing before. Being the mighty road warriors we are, we had decided to find our own detour. We plugged a detour into the GPS, telling it to avoid the current road, and off we went, problem solved. We drove a bit out of the way onto Highway 72 which also heads east and found another road block. We were going to turn around and head way down south when we found this quaint little country road called Potato Mountain Rd that headed straight down to another part of US 64. Jackpot!
Unbeknownst to us, the initial road block was for an 84 mile span of US 64, not just a few miles as we had assumed. Once on US 64, it got a bit gusty. Then it was hard to see beyond 20 feet ahead. Soon, we couldn’t see but 5-10 feet in front of us. We made it to Des Moines, New Mexico, pulled off at a gas station, then decided cautiously that if we just kept driving 5-10 miles per hour, we’d be okay and could continue on. It was only wind and a little snow. Nothing awful. Yet.
We got stuck in some deep-ish snow (it really didn’t look that bad) about 1 minute down the road from the gas station.
Around thirty minutes after we had gotten stuck, even having gotten out to try and push the car, thoroughly soaking our shoes, we had resigned ourselves to sitting and waiting out the snow. At least we had a full tank of gas and heat to keep the snowstorm at bay. We settled in to wait for the snow plows, listening to a few podcasts, Mandy knitting, me writing.
More cars began coming up from behind us and some in the lane going opposite us. Some managed to make it through the drift that we got caught in, others would get feet in front of us, and then become lodged.
One SUV near us had tried plowing ahead in the opposite lane at breakneck speed, seemingly defying gravity and gliding across the over-snowed road. It came to rest in a snow bank that came up to their front fender, colliding with it in a loud thud. Steam began escaping the hood and the driver walked out of the car in anger.
The ones lucky enough to pass us merely got caught in a deeper snow drift five minutes down the road.
Eventually, some rescue crews made it onto the scene to begin the process of extricating any stuck motorists. Snow plows and tow trucks began making their way down the street, trying to create a safe path for cars. A valiant effort, considering Snow-Mageddon 2015 was taking place around them. According to one of them, the state had tried to shut down US 64 but the word didn’t get out fast enough, so they put up roadblocks on the major roads going instead.
Road Trip Tip #2: Dial 511 if you don’t know what a road block is about before trying to find your own detour.
When a snow plow finally rolled up to us about an hour into sitting in the road, he signaled for us to roll our window down – no small feat in the middle of a blizzard. Against the wind, he told me that he had to go free another thirty cars at a gas station down the street from us, the resting spot for those that decided to test their luck beyond us.
He assured us that he would be back with friends to get us out once he dealt with the gas station. An hour later, he proved to be a man of his word. After a lot rocking back and forth and a good push from the plow driver, we were freed.
“You’d best go up the road ahead of you.” He told us, pointing to a small side road a few yards in front of us, also covered in snow. “There’s a church there. You’ll probably need to hole up for the night.”
Thankful to just be out of the snow, I followed his instructions and found the church. Cars were lined up around the building and whatever could have been a parking lot was filled to the brim.
The inside of the church wasn’t much different than the parking lot. People were packed at tables and on the floor, trying to find a spot to keep for the night. If I had to guess, there were about 70 people inside.
“Sleeping bags are on the floor to the right.” One of the road workers said, leaving the church after a break. “You should grab one before they run out.”
We didn’t, thinking we would only be there for 4-5 hours. It was only 4:30 pm. Plus, we had our own sleeping bags in the car.
We found our own pew next to a dog named Bunny. We chatted up Bunny’s owner, a 20-something heading home for Christmas. She had rescued another stranded driver that was headed to Colorado Springs. Everyone there sounded like they only had another 3-5 hours. We still had 11 hours to go ahead of us on our journey to Wimberley.
We tried to keep ourselves occupied. I read, Mandy again began knitting. She switched between knitting, reading, and looking around, unable to focus, waiting to hear whether or not we’d at least be able to fit in another few hours of driving in for the day.
Around 6:30 pm, one of the highway emergency workers came in and let everyone know that it didn’t look like they were going to open the roads tonight. The wind was still wailing outside and it was not safe to drive.
So we had to spend the entire night there. Luckily, we had tons of almonds and some mead-filled chocolates in the car. It was a comfortable temperature, so we didn’t bring in the sleeping bags.
Pews do not a comfortable bed make. They’re just slightly more narrow than the width of a typical human body if you try to lay on them. If you sleep on your side, your arm goes numb because wood does not give.
It also became bone-achingly cold in the middle of the night. But the only thing we could do about that was go out into the 14° weather to the car to fetch the sleeping bags, so we dealt with the cold.
The night was mostly sleepless. The church creaked horribly when anyone walked to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Until about 10pm, there was a cacophony of sound, from movies to video games, to people talking amongst themselves.
Later into the night, all you could hear was snoring. I never gave much thought to how each person’s snore could be like a signature. It was like we were in a swamp, listening to an orchestra of frogs.
By 3:30am, we could not sleep to pass the time any longer. Mandy dialed 511 — a number she had noticed on signs that we had passed on the highways for travel information. They hadn’t updated the information since 10pm last night.
By 4am, we decided to grab our things and just go sit in the car. The sound of snoring was a bit maddening and we really wanted to get on the road. With each passing hour, our arrival into Wimberley inched further into the night.
To our surprise, the road outside of the church looked pretty clear. The Fusion was icy but there was no snow packed around the tires.
We warmed up the car. It took about 20 minutes to get the windshield thawed.
And we were off.
There were only two small crossroads before we would be back onto US 64. The first small road we could take to get to US 64 was covered in snow. We skipped that, flashbacks from yesterday’s two hour stint in the snow urging us to pass.
Driving straight, we got to the US 64 intersection. There was a tiny 1 foot snow bank that the snow plowers hadn’t quite cleared. We paused. A mini van came up behind us and whizzed on over the bank. Mandy thought maybe we could go over the same tire tracks. Maybe we could clear the snow with our shoes. We tried, it was packed. We decided to turn around. We weren’t feeling particularly brave anymore.
We drove around all of the side streets available to us for about 20 minutes before finding nothing as cleared as that one intersection. So we went back. I stared down that tiny snow bank, squinting at it angrily to let it know I meant business.
I revved my engine, hoping the Fusion could handle what was to come, fearing a repeat of yesterday.
I hit the gas. Mandy cringed.
We flew over that tiny snow bank like the Dukes of Hazard. Not really.