Cross-country road trip: Day 3 – Vail Colorado to Barstow California

vail to barstow map

01. Introduction and Day 1: Benton Harbor to York Nebraska
02: Day two: York Nebraska to Vail Colorado
03: Day three: Vail Colorado to Barstow California
04: Day four: Barstow California to San Diego

Day three: February 13, 2004

I woke up the next morning like a man with a mission. The goal was to make it to Las Vegas today. I knew that would be a tall order, but looking at the map led me to believe that it would be possible. The weather forecast looked good, so I was up bright and early to give it a shot.

Just like the morning before in York, Nebraska, it was cold this morning in Vail. It was so cold that my Celica made a horrible grinding noise upon startup – a sound that I’ve never heard from this car, and not a very reassuring one at that. I put it out of my head and found my way to I-70 west.

The drive across western Colorado was beautiful. Again, I’m dumbfounded as to why I didn’t take pictures! But it was a very pleasant morning of driving, and I even made a quick stop to give the car a quick wash – it wasn’t horribly dirty, but I really wanted to get all of the residual road salt of it. I was thinking that this may be the last road salt this car was ever going to see, so I was anxious to cleanse it of that toxic crap.

Along the way, I started to notice cars with license plates from the east coast that had been making the journey west with me. Sometimes I would pass them, sometimes they would pass me. This went on all day, and sometimes I would lose them only to catch up to them hours later.

Things got interesting once I hit Green River, Utah. There I saw a sign that said “no services for the next 110 miles” – which is a scary thing to encounter when you aren’t expecting it. Yeah, I made sure to stop and top off with gas even though I didn’t need to. I wasn’t going to take any chances! This truly was the open west.

It was a long and lonely drive to Salina, but I’m happy to report that I made it without incident. I can only imagine breaking down or having any other sort of car trouble along that stretch. I’m sure it happens all the time, but wow…that can’t be fun.

celica in Utah
The one and only picture I took during this cross country road trip: the Celica taking a break with the Utah landscape behind

After a quick lunch at Arby’s (I know, I know) I eventually connected onto 15 west, which was a pretty significant moment for me. Why? The 15 goes all the way to San Diego, that’s why. I finally felt like I was making progress, and it renewed my spirits to push on into the afternoon. I was feeling good, and the scenery helped pushed me along. The late afternoon sun hitting the rugged red landscape was like nothing I’ve seen before and it was a moving experience. Again…where the heck was my camera??

One hour west of Las Vegas was another important moment for me. It was there I made a stop for gas, and I was thrilled to feel the warm desert air as I stepped out of the car. I had finally made it through the cold! Also, there were palm trees. I cannot even begin to put into words how awesome it was to see those.

It was a typical late Friday afternoon drive into Vegas. Traffic was getting thick, and the passing Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s were becoming more frequent. I was actually starting to get into the Vegas spirit at this point, and I was starting to plan where I wanted to stay. I wanted a hotel somewhere on the strip, and that’s what I had fully intended to do – until traffic started getting really bad. By the time I reached the city limits, we were crawling along at a snail’s pace and I was getting frustrated. I had been in a car for two and a half days, and I was in no mood to fight traffic. I could see the hotels on the strip off in the distance, but I was too frustrated to continue deal with the crowds. I decided to give up my Vegas plans and continue further west. I was even thinking that I could make it all the way to San Diego that night.

Pushing on and crossing the California / Nevada border shortly thereafter gave me another boost of energy. I made it to California! However, I was 30 minutes west of Barstow when I realized that I had to get off the road for the night. I was becoming severely fatigued, and it just wasn’t safe to continue in my current state. I decided to stop for dinner first, and made a very poor choice with El Polo Loco – it was probably one of the most disappointing fast-food meals I’ve ever had. It’s not like I was expecting a fine dining experience, but it was really bad. Now feeling worse, I set off to find a hotel for the night. I eventually found one further down the road in Barstow.

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