A Trip from San Francisco to Key West and Back Again

When we told some of our friends that we intended to drive to Key West,
I was surprised to find that they were surprised.

"You're not flying?
Nope. We're driving.
All the way to Key West?
And back?

Our friends' reaction was typical of every single person's attitude that we met along the way. Somewhere east of New Mexico, folks started coming up to us when they saw the California license plate. They would strike up a conversation as though we were doing something out of the ordinary. Apparently road trips have gotten a lot shorter than when I was a kid. I remember hitchhiking across the country several times before I had my own car and don't honestly know how many times I have driven across from one coast to the other. This trip was one of the easiest I have ever made. Great roads, plentiful gas stations, a good vehicle, excellent motels, decent food, well regulated traffic, numerous rest areas, and very accurate signage. Interstate highway speeds literally make the miles fly by and an eight hundred mile day is a snap - even without exceeding the speed limit.

Palm Springs Theatre District

Palm Springs Theatre District

Granted, not everyone I know wants to sit in a car for ten hours at a stretch, so it is necessary to regulate the number of miles driven each day by the endurance factor of your fellow passengers. My own endurance levels are quite high, but on this trip we did not try to break any records. The first day we drove from San Francisco down to Palm Springs, California, via Interstate Highways 5 and 10. (The only part of this segment of the trip that needs much attention is the transfer from I-5 to I-10. If you miss a sign or don't do it correctly, the Southern California freeway system can take you on a very long and very frustrating high speed detour. I strongly suggest that you pay close attention to the road signs and your maps at this point in the trip.) My fellow travelers had never seen the classic desert oasis of Palm Springs and it made for a good overnight visit. It was May and hot, but we hit town at dusk and the evening was delightfully cool. I was happy to see that Frank Lloyd Wright's gas station was still there.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

The next morning we were up early and drove through town one last time before heading east on a back road to Twentynine Palms. After a brief stop at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, where we spent an hour or so watching an adult red-tailed hawk and two fledglings with a new kill made by one of the youngsters, we went on to Twentynine Palms and toured some of the murals including all of my favorites. After the murals, we stopped briefly at Oasis de Mara on the edge of town where my mates got several new bird sightings including their first Phainopepla. From the oasis, we continued our trip by driving through Joshua Tree National Park back down to I-10. We were lucky because a few Yucca and a number of Ocotillo were still in bloom. We got to Phoenix in time to visit the magnificent Desert Botanical Garden before dinner.

San Antonio

Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas

Next morning, we got an early start and headed east across the rest of Arizona, all of New Mexico, and well into Texas. We had dinner in El Paso at a very good bar-b-cue restaurant and stayed overnight in Van Horn, Texas. Time did not permit us to visit all of the wonderful destinations that are sprinkled along this part of our route, but we made good time and got in a lot of miles. The next day, we drove on into San Antonio where we stayed for two nights in an historic hotel in back of the Alamo and just a couple of blocks from the River Walk. We had two evenings and a full day in town. After visiting the Alamo, we purchased a day pass and hopped on the city bus for a tour of a couple of the old Spanish missions that are on the edge of town. Both evenings we had dinner on the river. San Antonio was hot, but the River Walk was delightful and the missions were new to me. I found them to be fascinating.

New Orleans

Andrew Jackson & Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana

After San Antonio, we stayed on I-10 and drove out of Texas and on into Louisiana. The countryside changes dramatically during this part of the trip. Where Texas tends toward austere, Louisiana tends toward lush. Bayous appear and the signs along the road start talking about exotic cajun delicacies. We motored on to New Orleans where we stayed two nights in a small hotel just off of Bourbon Street in the old part of the city. We had not been back since Hurricane Andrew and were delighted to find the old part of the city to be running full steam as though nothing had happened. We ate in our favorite places, listened to some music, and drank some beer. Cafe Du Monde was as crowded as ever and Antoines still does souffl├ęd potatoes better than anywhere else in the world. (Very unfortunately, we also found that some parts of the city had not yet recovered.)