This is part of a series reflecting back on the self-described Great American Roadtrip that David and I took in July. See our itinerary here!
Also check out the first leg of the trip here!
And read about Albuquerque here!
After two nights in the most disgusting motel I’ve ever set foot in, it’s time to depart for Tucson.
We eat a mismatched breakfast from Starbucks. For some reason, as I rummaged and organized my purse before the trip, I found 4 half-used Starbucks gift cards hiding in my wallet. FOUR. I am admittedly and depressingly addicted to coffee, so I’m shocked. I must have hid them from myself on different occasions.
A surprise for future Jenn.
So we eat a lot of weird meals from Starbucks on this trip to save money. We buy cheese sticks and bananas and David gets a dry coffee cake. It’s pretty dull, but it’s no matter because my true destiny is to eat all of the authentic tacos in Arizona. All of them.
As we hurtle towards Tucson, we first decide to hit up White Sands National Monument. We have this America the Beautiful pass and are so ready to milk it for all that it’s worth. The drive is long and winding but so so so beautiful. It turns from desert to mountain to farm land to desert to mountain.
Along the way, the sand transitions into a hard, black rock. People are pulling over and taking photos with it, so I ask David to Google what exactly it is. It looks a bit like lava because IT IS LAVA. Turns out, to get to White Sands you have to drive through a massive volcanic field. It’s ugly and wonderful all at once. We stop and take photos like all of the rest of the tourists.
Around 30 minutes away from White Sands, we also drive past the world’s largest pistachio. Or, as David would say, nature’s cigarette. Who knew the largest would be in the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico? We take a photo with this too, of course.
At last, we reach White Sands. It’s approximately one million degrees out. There’s signs everywhere asking you to drink water and plz not die.
We begin hiking, and that’s when I realize, sand is literally the worst terrain in the world. I’d rather do road walks. I’d rather do rock scrambles. I’d rather slide around in mud. We trudge up the sand dunes and I am sweating gallons and making very little progress. My thighs burn.
It’s so hot and so bright, I can’t take my sunglasses off. When I do, my eyes begin to water as they fry in the sun’s reflection. This Mars-like hike is mesmerizing and miserable.
We only manage a one mile loop before I throw in the towel. My camera is blistering hot, even though it’s hiding in the backpack, and it’s so exposed that there is no shade to hide in. I’m worried it might break.
Plus, I can barely take any photos because even looking through the view finder hurts.
We slide back down the sand and hop back in the car. Whatever. I wish we’d have chosen a more temperate day but what can you do. It’s a bummer though because I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be back. It’s incredibly out of the way.
So, onward to Arizona. We drive through Las Cruces and are treated to a show of the extraordinary Organ Mountains. Then we are back on a flat, two-way road for endless miles. On the left, we can see a mountain range and a small wildfire. David googles it, and it turns out that the mountain range is a part of Mexico. We are so close! So far south! I want to go but we don’t have our passports.
I’d read up on border laws the night previously and found out that arbitrary check points are only allowed within 100 miles of the border. We are within 50. I try hard to memorize rights in Spanish, in case I need to shout them to someone. We pass through checkpoints, but there are fortunately no situations where it’s needed.
(But you should still brush up – here are immigrant’s rights regarding interaction with border patrol.)
As we drive along, we see multiple dust devils and sand storms. It reminds me of the Dry Dry Desert in Paper Mario. I wait for us to get caught in one and be swept away to another location.
At the border of New Mexico/Arizona, we dip down below some mountains and end up in an endless field of dozens and dozens of sand storms. It’s surreal. Signs flash at us from every direction:
IF CAUGHT IN A DUST STORM
PULL OFF ROADWAY
TURN OFF LIGHTS
FOOT ON BRAKE
SEAT BELT ON
Being from a place where we experience blizzards and torrential rain, I can’t figure out why I need to turn the lights off. But I oblige, as we end up pulling over once or twice when a gust of wind and sand blow over.
Finally we get to Tucson and I am immediately in love. It’s so colorful. Everyone is riding a bike. Green mountains surround us in every direction. I already regret that we will only spend a day here.
We arrive at our fancy-af Airbnb around sunset. It’s a drastic upgrade from the Super 8 and I immediately take a shower. Afterwards, we drive to a restaurant so that I can finally consume some tacos.
I’ll edit this later when I can remember what the restaurant was called but it was fantastic. I got avocado tacos and tried a prickly pear margarita (verdict: tastes like strawberry). We also ordered salsa. When she asked if we wanted it mild, medium or spicy, I answered spicy.
This was a mistake.
Spicy in Tucson does not equate to spicy in Missouri. It was delicious until it numbed my mouth.
The margarita leaves me a little buzzed, so David drives us back to the Airbnb.
I’m already digging Arizona.