Before a terrible event intervened, my ex-fiance and I had planned to fly across the United States. I had never contemplated driving across the country before. After a late night flight, we arrived in Las Vegas for the business convention. The next day, I woke up and went on the TV to find out that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in New York. The events of September 11th utterly shattered us and our community. Instead of the customary horse racing or other athletic events, all the televisions at Caesar’s Palace were switched to the catastrophe. As the horror unfolded, live on screen, there was complete silence. As a result of the terrible catastrophe, the convention ended early. As we exited the conference hall, we were each given a T-shirt bearing a message honouring the victims of the attacks in New York and Pennsylvania. Thankfully, my ex-spouse had leased a van ahead of time so that we could get around when the flights were grounded and the rental car industry was in chaos. The Las Vegas airport is conveniently located inside city borders, near to the famous Strip. With no planes in the air, we occasionally caught sight of a military jet fighter flying about the city. It was ominous, and a warning of potential peril, and it was definitely worth remembering. Away we went, driving all the way to L.A.
Our moods were raised as we travelled along the Los Angeles coastline, stopping at picturesque locations like Balboa Island for lunch, Laguna Beach (with its many unique shops and restaurants), and Dana Point, where we stayed in a stunning oceanfront hotel. Thereafter, we travelled to Burbank to watch Jay Leno’s Tonight Show get taped for a second time. The bizarre atmosphere left no one in the mood for jokes, so the performance was unusually muted. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, and others came to sign a motorcycle that Jay was going to raffle off for charity. One of the producers told us that the studio was kept chilly to prevent the many hot stage lights from exploding, which was intriguing to hear. Since we arrived so early, we were able to secure seats towards the front of the venue. If you intend to attend, you should leave somewhat earlier than directed so that you can get parking and avoid the lengthy admissions line.
We departed from downtown Los Angeles and made a loop through the Hollywood and Beverly Hills areas. What I enjoyed most about visiting Beverly Hills was gazing over the extravagant mansions that adorn the streets. You could not have gone anywhere without seeing a sign warning you that forest fires are possible and assessing the daily risk. Interesting. Some residences owned by famous actors and actresses were located on typical neighbourhoods’ streets. Some were hidden away in the highlands behind massive barriers and intimidating “keep out” signs. To be honest, with all the insane people in the world, I can not say I blame them. One item of clothes could easily cost as much as a new car or perhaps a mansion in downtown Beverly Hills, making a shopping spree there unfeasible unless we won the lottery and became as wealthy as the Hilton family. Wow. We went all over the country in a car, taking pictures and eating at fast food joints like In & Out and Krispy Kreme. We visited some exquisite Mexican, Thai, and Indian eateries. Most of the Mexican eateries I visited were great, and I especially like the authentic ones that served generous amounts.
As we headed east through the desert, we caught sight of the massive Hoover Dam. All New Yorkers were on edge after the incident, so we had to drive by the bridge and park elsewhere. The dam’s Art Deco-influenced architecture and extensive history made for a picturesque sight. It was scorching outside, yet the heat was dry rather than sticky. To prevent dehydration, we guzzled tonnes of soft drinks and bottled water. This girl from the Midwest was enthralled by the sights of towering mountains and massive volumes of water being pumped by this impressive dam.
Utah, with its incredible mountains and rock formations, was our next stop. Although we were only able to see the southern half, what we did see was breathtaking. There are outcroppings of brilliant red rocks, towering mountains, and a starry sky that seems to go on forever. In the remote mountains, we stopped for an hour to gaze at the stars. Since there were no artificial lights to obscure the view, even the Milky Way was visible. It was stunning and otherworldly all at once. Utah is a very beautiful state full of natural attractions.
The following stop was Colorado, where we continued our trip. Traveling up and down the mountain highways of this vibrant and gorgeous state was a sight to behold. The entire state is a photographer’s paradise in the fall thanks to the abundance of vibrant hues. As autumn set in, the aspen trees around us turned a brilliant yellow, and the massive mountains in every direction left me speechless. To me, it had the atmosphere and appearance of the Old West. We had burgers cooked from buffalo meat and stopped at a historic mining village (made of yes, real buffalo meat, which was good). If we’d had more time I would’ve spent a week there, but my ex had to rush back to his job thus time was limited.
Everything became astonishingly flat just east of Denver. Prairies are bleak and spotting indications of life off the roadway were few and far between. Nobody knew how long it would be before the next gas station, so we always made sure to fill up when we saw one. The locals there were wonderful. We slept at a charming, historic hotel and dined at the cosy cafe next door. Pure, unadulterated Americana.
Parts of Iowa, which we were not in for very long, brought back the sight of hills. The city of Chicago, Illinois, was our next stop. We visited several of my favourite landmarks, including WaterTower Place, the theatre, and the art museum in the downtown area, all of which I had seen before and enjoyed. While there is much to see and do in this stunning city, visiting in the winter would be a miserable experience for anyone not prepared. You can tell Chicago is a major metropolitan area by its lengthy skyline. Greater in size than Cleveland, where I grew up.
We got to my house in the Cleveland suburbs late that night. Even though tragedy overshadowed our trip, we were able to make the best of it. The trip home took a week, and I hope to repeat it sometime when I have more time. Rent a car (rather than using your own, as this is very taxing on a vehicle) and map out your itinerary to get a sense of the real America. This excursion turned very well despite our lack of preparation. We had visited beautiful state parks, witnessed breathtaking landscapes, and interacted with some very outstanding individuals. I plan on getting a triptych from the car club the next time I do this so that I may visit less-visited landmarks in addition to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Napa Valley. Make sure to get behind the wheel and experience our great country in all its intricate detail.
Having studied at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology, scientific and nature illustrator Carolyn McFann now runs the Two Purring Cats Design Studio. Carolyn is an accomplished creative who has travelled extensively and honed her skills in these fields. She has had several exciting career opportunities overseas, including stints in Cancun, Mexico. Clientele are diverse and may represent nature preserves, museums, scientists, businesses, and private individuals. There have been TV interviews with her,