It’s been a long time since I took a long-distance road trip. Obviously, with the price of gas these days, it might be a bit longer before I hit the road and head west or north.
About 26 years ago, I took the trip of a lifetime. I had accumulated so many vacation days that I was able to take a whole month off from work.
Back then, I lived in Miami, worked for a natural gas company and was a personal trainer as a side hustle, and there was a huge fitness convention in Las Vegas I wanted to attend to update my training credentials.
I took out my atlas maps — this was before GPS, Siri and Alexa — and created a plan. The first part was driving from Miami to Chattanooga to spend a few days with my brother. My best friend was my travel buddy. We packed up our stuff and headed out.
After visiting my brother, we headed west along I-40. The next destination was the Grand Canyon. We took turns driving and stopped at Motel 6s if we needed sleep. We also took side roads. I-40 runs parallel to Old U.S. Route 66, and there were several spots where you could easily hit 66 and enjoy stops at mom-and-pop diners, quirky gift stores and unique things to see.
We weren’t in a hurry.
We knew we would need to be in Las Vegas on specific dates, but we made sure we had plenty of time to sightsee — and we surely did so. I had my camera, a Canon T-50 — digital cameras were just starting to come to market, but I still had my film camera — and I took tons of photos.
It was amazing to see how the landscape changed as we drove through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. At the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the park’s Bright Angel Lodge. It was July, and I was surprised that our cabin had no A/C — they still don’t — but it had a huge window overlooking the South Rim.
As it turned out, A/C was not needed, as the temperatures at night were surprisingly chilly.
During the day, we were busy hiking the trails.
During our stay, the park had just re-introduced the America Condor, the largest flying bird in North America. Its wings may stretch nearly 10 feet from tip to tip.
When in flight, this huge bird glides on air currents to soar as high as a dizzying 15,000 feet. These majestic birds are still on the endangered species list, and it was incredible to see them flying above us.
After the Grand Canyon, we drove over the Hoover Dam into Nevada and headed to the Vegas strip for the fitness convention. We stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton (now called the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino), and back in 1996, the interior of the hotel was all Star Wars themed. It was a hoot. We did our classes, ate at every Las Vegas buffet we could, walked the strip, played the slots and took even more pictures.
Next on the trip was a stop at Sedona, Arizona.
We went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Oak Creek Canyon, Bell Rock and Red Rock, and shopped and dined on Main Street. The colors were breathtaking.
It was in Sedona, while hiking around Bell Rock, that I took my last photos — at least, the last with my Canon. While hiking up the trail, my camera strap came undone, and my camera smashed to the ground, rolling down the trail. I managed to retrieve the camera, but the shutter was damaged — though I did save the film.
As we headed back to our motel in our last night in Sedona, we had to stop in the middle of the road to let a pack of wild coyotes cross the highway. Too cool!
We left Arizona and made a last-minute decision to stop in New Orleans before making the final trek back home. In NOLA, I bought a couple of Kodak disposable cameras. It was during this trip in 1996 that I came to love the culture, food, eccentricities and people of NOLA. The Spanish, French, African-American and Caribbean influences is front and center there.
I haven’t ventured out west again, although I plan to. But I’ve been to NOLA several times since. And I did buy a digital camera, my first of several Canon Rebels, after that trip.
Right now, gas prices are too high for me to venture out that far, but thank goodness for that box of photos from that adventure and others. All I need to do is open that box, and the memories and fun come flooding back in.
Patty Leon is senior editor of the Coastal Courier.