Voices from the Road

11 states in 14 days: Car camping along the most famous routes in the U.S.

In the summer of 2021, I completed the Trans-America Trail, a 5,000-mile off-road trail from North Carolina to the Oregon Coast. I thought I would be done doing long road trips forever. But after about 6 weeks back at my homestead in Whidbey Island, Washington, I was itching to get back on the road. With the pandemic still raging on, my dream to drive the Alaska Highway would have to wait another several months. After several weeks of research, I decided to stay away from dirt and opt for the path that was just ever-so-slightly more beaten than true wilderness. 

I decided that the next series of accomplishments destined for Lottie, my 2008 Land Rover Discovery 3 (LR3), would not be off-road trails, but historically significant routes across the U.S. I had already driven much of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so now I wanted to tackle the West Coast. 

a silver land rover sits near the water under dark skies and green grass

The Pacific Coast Highway was first on the docket; the beginning of the highway was just a short ferry ride from my home. I was also yearning for another cross-country trip. I had recently built a full-size bed frame in the back of the truck and I was looking forward to testing my new method of camping long-term on the road. I had a window of opportunity, a surprise work trip in Pensacola, Florida, in January. I set the departure date for late December, with the plan of arriving in Pensacola no later than January 5.

I departed on December 22 amid a strong winter storm. As I awaited the ferry, I watched waves crash against the jetty that guided me to the dock of the Coupeville/Port Townsend Ferry. As I crossed into Port Townsend, the ferry crew asked us to remain in our vehicles due to the rough seas, so I opted for a nap before I departed for the long journey. I arrived while a beautiful sunset contrasted against a looming stormy sky, and after stocking up on some last-minute items, I was on my way down Highway 101. 

a wide shot of the golden gate bridge with dark clouds

It wasn’t long before rain clouds soared over me. There would be no sightseeing on my first day. I stopped to sleep on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside of Forks, Washington, and quickly crawled into bed. My bed platform was a success and I quickly drifted to sleep. 

The next morning, I awoke before dawn and set a heading due south with the hopes of getting close to the California border that evening. The sun was rising beautifully along the coast. I eventually reached the mouth of the Columbia River as I took in its incredible vastness from Fort Columbia on the Washington state side. I soon crossed over into Oregon and celebrated with a beer at the famous Fort George Brewing, just like I had done the past summer.

Notable stops and trailing storms

Over the next several days I took in the amazing sites of the Pacific Coast Highway, and gazed along the rocky coasts of Oregon and California, I climbed Sisters Rock and gazed into the angry seas of the Pacific, I touched “The Big Tree” in the Redwood National Park along the Drury-Chaney Trail, and I watched two bull elk fight for grazing rights along the Avenue of the Giants. I arrived in San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and continued on to Monterey, where I cut southwest to spend Christmas Day with some friends in Joshua Tree National Park, eating my holiday meal at the Joshua Tree Saloon in town.  

a black and white sign for route 66 that reads "welcome! turn right next exit"

The next morning signified the start of the Route 66 section of my trip. I picked up the Mother Road outside of Twentynine Palms, California, and rode it all the way to Las Vegas, where I picked up a friend at the airport and took my first official rest day at the Mandalay Bay Casino. I found myself at the Skyfall Lounge with fine cocktails and the best views of Sin City. 

The next day, after performing some minor maintenance, I was back on the road. I hopped on and off Interstate 40 frequently to enjoy some of the sites, passing through Needles, California, and Topock, Kingman, and Oatman, Arizona. It was winter, so many businesses were near empty or closed for the season, but I did see my first Burma Shave sign, a Route 66 classic. These advertisements from a long-out-of-business company spanned Route 66 with riddles and phrases, all ending with a Burma Shave sign. 

As we approached the Grand Canyon, the moderate desert winter quickly turned colder, and a snowstorm emptied onto us. We explored the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as snow gently fell against the red and orange rocks. The storm continued to follow us all the way through the mountains, where we stopped at Sunset Crater, and continued into Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

We cut south and headed toward Roswell, where we enjoyed beers and explored the International UFO Museum and Research Center, Carlsbad Caverns, and finally Guadalupe Mountains National Park

We took our next rest day in San Antonio, Texas, exploring the historic Southtown, and the Riverwalk. We spent New Year’s Eve in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, enjoying fine Cajun food. New Year’s Day brought us to Jacksonville, Florida, where we watched a game of amateur ice hockey, and then continued down the state to the Overseas Highway where we finally arrived in the Florida Keys. I spent my first night in Islamorada where I learned that most campsites are booked out at least 11 months in advance, so I had to check into a hotel. 

a close up of an alligator half on land and half in water

The next day I drove to Key West and the southernmost driveable point of the U.S. I arrived just as a storm was rolling in—continuing my long-lasting luck with storms. I spent my last night in Key Largo, and then cut through the famous Alligator Alley along Florida State Route 40 and Interstate 75. It was warm and sunny and the alligators were sunbathing along the waterways. The remainder of my trip up the Florida coast brought me through Tampa and Tallahassee until I arrived in Pensacola for work.

Meet the Roadtripper

Erick Huertas