We recently shared the details of our cross-country poker road trip from Boston to Las Vegas. On that journey, we mainly followed Route 80 across the northern part of the United States, visiting multiple poker rooms along the way. For our return to Boston in November, we chose a more southern route, largely following Route 40 back to the East Coast. After a poker-packed month in Las Vegas, we also decided to focus on the sights, rather than more poker for our return home. We will visit any poker rooms that we missed along the way on a future trip. The current post describes our adventures traveling across the South.
As with our previous road trip, we had a very carefully thought-out plan…which we then completely reconfigured. We learned during our September poker road trip to Las Vegas that moving quickly across the country with long drives every day can be tiring. So on our way home we decided to take it slower. Many of our days featured short drives, and we chose to stay two nights in a couple of our destinations to get some more time to explore.
Cross Country Road Trip Day 1
After checking out of our trusty Airbnb and waving good-bye to Las Vegas, we drove just three hours to Williams Arizona, a cute little tourist town on historic Route 66. We would cross and re-cross Route 66 on this journey, but this first intersection may have been our favorite.
We had lunch at the fabulous Grand Canyon Coffee and Café, which boasted an eclectic menu ranging from typical diner food (breakfast all day!) to Mexican to Chinese. The prices were reasonable and the service impeccable. They even have a little Route 66 store in the back if you’re looking for some swag. The town of Williams itself has a number of nice restaurants, small businesses, and even a train to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel has been around since 1901 and offers daily train trips into the heart of the Grand Canyon.
After our brief visit to Williams, the Grand Canyon was our next destination. The “Grand Canyon Visitor Center” is actually unofficial and lies outside the park. It offers information about the National Park, a restaurant, a gift shop, and a very interesting half hour IMAX show about the Grand Canyon.
It is about ten minutes from the fake Visitor Center to the entrance of the park. The ranger will take your money and offer you maps of the Grand Canyon. We explored the South Rim for the rest of the afternoon, walking a number of well-trodden paths. The actual South Rim Grand Canyon Visitor Center remained closed in November due to the pandemic.
Books have been written on the best ways to visit the Grand Canyon, so we will refrain from offering further detail here, other than to say that it was an incredible experience and we will return one day to trek down into the canyon.
In planning our cross country road trip home we had imagined we might want to spend more than just an afternoon at the Grand Canyon. So our target for Day 2 was just an hour up the road in Flagstaff, Arizona. However, when we woke up on Day 2, we decided that one afternoon/evening at the Grand Canyon was enough for now. Part of this decision was due to the fact that I had fallen hard for an attraction I noticed near Williams the previous day. Bearizona Wildlife and Safari Park did not disappoint: it tickled my fancy in a way that is rare for me.
After sucking the marrow out of Bearizona, we drove south an hour into Sedona. The Sedona valley is absolutely gorgeous, and we took a short hike there that we wish had been longer. The West Fork of Oak Creek Trail winds through a beautiful canyon, crossing and re-crossing a meandering stream all the way. The hike requires one to hop from rock to rock across the stream numerous times, but it is not terribly challenging and can be made even easier by using a walking stick.
After our hike, we visited the town of Sedona itself. I am sad to say that despite all the press about Sedona, I found it to be a pretty typical, if beautiful, tourist trap. The main drag is lined by stores offering turquoise jewelry, crystals, souvenirs, and tourist food. We did, however, get a bit off the beaten path for some of the best Mexican food we have ever had. Mole Sedona offers fine Mexican cuisine, and is definitely worth a visit.
After dinner, we travelled 45 minutes back up route 89a for a well-earned night of sleep in Flagstaff.
On Day 3 we traveled another whopping 3 hours east from Flagstaff to Gallup. This time the reason for our lack of progress was a long journey through the Petrified Forest National Park. On the way to the Petrified Forest, we took a brief diversion onto another historic section of Route 66 and found ourselves in the famous Winslow, Arizona (as in “standing on a corner in..”). We explored Winslow a bit, learned about it’s pre-Eagles railroad history, and had a great lunch at the Sipp Shoppe. The Sipp Shoppe will take you straight back to 1955, and you won’t regret it. Don’t skip the milkshake.
After our detour through Winslow, we drove straight for the Petrified Forest. This is another park that we can highly recommend. The Petrified Forest offers a great variety of trails through virtual moonscapes. You will see hundred foot trees turned to stone, gorgeous hills of varying colors, the remains of an ancient native community, and numerous petroglyphs. It will take you several hours to experience it all, and the park is very strict about your prompt exit at sundown. So make sure to plan accordingly.
We spent the night in Gallup, just over the line into New Mexico at a Springhill Suites by Marriott. While we recommend the Springhill Suites chain, especially if you need to spend some time working in your hotel, we do not particularly recommend Gallup.
Cross Country Road Trip Day 4
The next day we traveled another two hours west to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We look back now and think we may have taken this slow travel thing a bit too far. Nonetheless, we found ourselves in Albuquerque in time for a late lunch which we ate at the Grove Cafe. This was an organic spot that veered a bit toward precious, but served excellent food and was only moderately overpriced. In Albuquerque, we also visited the historic Old Town, took the Sandia Park Tramway 10,000 feet up a mountain, and visited the Sandia Poker Room.
We spent the night at the El Vado motel, a 1950’s motel that has been extensively refurbished by local artisans and served as an absolutely delightful place to spend the night.
Day 5 & 6
From Albuquerque we traveled 50 miles up the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe. Santa Fe also served as our first two day stop. While we later regretted the incredibly slow pace of this journey, we never regretted stopping for two days in Santa Fe. We have added it to our list of places that we’d like to return for an extended stay. In fact, there is so much we want to say about Santa Fe, that we will reserve this beautiful city for a post of its own.
Day 7 finally took us a bit more eastward from Santa Fe to Amarillo Texas. The highlight of Amarillo is of course, the Cadillac Ranch. Here you can pick up a can of spray paint and add to the crazy sculpture permanently in progress.
A cross country road trip from Las Vegas to Boston can be delightful, yet tiring.Click To Tweet
Cross Country Road Trip Day 8, 9 & 10
Day 8 and 9 were all about putting down the miles. We first drove from Amarillo to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and then on to Memphis on Day 9. We traveled about 10 hours across two days, ending in Memphis for our next two day visit. In Memphis we stayed in the funky ARRIVE hotel, just across the street from the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum. Sadly, in a sign of things to come, the museum was closed for the two days that we were there. The Blues Hall of Fame, the art museum, and half of the restaurants we were interested in were also closed. While we stayed in the arts district hoping to visit the small galleries that normally reside there, these were all closed due to COVID. We did, however, visit Sun Records, which we greatly enjoyed, and took a walk down Beale Street.
Frankly, we hit a wall on Day 10. While we planned to play poker in Tunica and to spend an evening soaking up the sounds of Beale Street, we failed to do both.
From Memphis we travelled to Nashville, Tennesee. When we arrived at our hotel, it was surrounded by limousines and roped off roads. As the desk clerk explained when we checked in, the Country Music Awards were going on that night right next door at the Bridgestone Arena. Despite the hubbub, we managed to have an excellent dinner at 60 Vines down the street. Most of the other diners appeared to be eating in advance of a visit to the awards ceremony. We were surrounded by ball gowns and tuxedos. After dinner, we took a slow walk down Broadway, the Beale Street of Nashville. We took our time enjoying the music floating out of the various venues. As much as Memphis was a disappointment, Nashville exceeded expectations.
We woke the next morning to start our trek from Nashville to Cherokee, North Carolina. In addition to pouring rain, we encountered a traffic snarl of epic proportions. Because of course, today was Veterans Day and Nashville was hosting a major parade. After working our way out of town, we travelled from highway to valley to winding mountain road. Finally we reached Harrah’s Cherokee Poker Room. True, it fell a bit short of expectations, but at least we felt we were finally approaching home.
Day 13 & 14
Our final two days were spent making the final desperate push home. We finished our trek on Route 40, stopping first in the beautiful mountain town of Asheville, NC and then pushing across to visit my daughter in the Research Triangle. The next morning we hopped on 95 North and never looked back. Boston or bust. We stopped to eat, use the facilities and gas up. Nothing more. The last 11 hour day was twice as long as any individual day on our lazy trip across the south. But we made it! After seven weeks, we were home again.
Summary of Our Cross Country Road Trip
Days Spent: 14
Miles Travelled: 2,995
Poker Rooms Reviewed: 2
On the trip west, we moved too fast. I would counter that on our trip east we moved too slow. We wanted to see so much in the Southwest that I’m not sure what we would have cut. Certainly, we could have pushed through from Amarillo to Memphis in a single day. And maybe skipped Nashville? But we wanted to see Nashville and were glad we did.
Clearly, we still have some work to do to optimize our cross-country travel. But we feel we’ve learned a lot from our first cross-country loop and are eager for another similar journey.
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