On August 9th, Amanda and I set out on a journey of a lifetime through 9 spectacular states in the United States of America. We were going for the Great American Eclipse, but we had also planned an epic journey along the historical Route 66 plus many detours before and after the eclipse! We travelled over 4.500 km, explored 9 states, saw countless natural wonders, explored multiple cities and villages, ticket off two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and discovered the special atmosphere of the historical Route 66 in the tiny cafés, long-forgotten ghost towns and haunted motels.
On August 9th, we flew from Copenhagen to Toronto, Canada, where we had an 8-hour stopover, giving us just enough time to travel to the city center, explore it for a few hours and then get back to the airport to catch our flight to LA.
We both loved Toronto and agreed it was a place we would both someday return to. Read the post about our day in Toronto here!
In the evening, we arrived in LA, a city that didn’t quite live up to our expectations. We were both really disappointed with LA and Hollywood, which looked more like a ghetto than the capital of the Western film industry. We did a couple of fun things though, such as finding Mary-Kate and Ashleys star on Walk of Fame and hanging out with the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.
On August 11th, we picked up our rental car and could finally leave the bad experiences in LA behind. We first drove to Malibu, where we saw a much nicer side of the LA region, and then headed to Santa Monica Pier, where our Route 66 adventure began (at the official end point).
We spent the afternoon driving to Barstow, a small town in San Bernardino County, California. We had planned on sleeping in the car, but were instead invited into the home of a lovely local family. What a beautiful start to our roadtrip adventure that was!
The next day we headed for the gaming city of Las Vegas, exploring ghost towns, quaint cafés, natural wonders and classic Route 66 villages on the way. We also drove the most beautiful stretch of Route 66, from Oatman to Kingman through the Black Mountains. We arrived in Las Vegas in the early evening after a quick stop at Hoover Dam, and spent the evening enjoying all the fun and entertainment on The Strip! And we also gambled…. 3 dollars 😉
We were woken up early the next day by two security guards, telling us that we weren’t allowed to sleep on the parking lot in our car.. Oh well, it gave us an early start to the day! We were headed to the Death Valley, the warmest place on Earth, but unfortunately, fate didn’t want us to get there this time around. We had some problems with our car, so we had to turn back to Las Vegas to exchange cars when we were already halfway there. We decided to save the Death Valley for another time, and instead headed straight to Grand Canyon, still via the Route 66 for as long as possible.
The Grand Canyon was MAGNIFICENT! Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. We watched the sunset over the canyon and waited out until the Milky Way became visible, before going to bed in our car. The next morning, we woke up early to catch the sunrise over the canyon. We had quite a few wow-moments at that spot!
We left Grand Canyon behind and headed towards a new state – New Mexico. But before getting there, we wanted to see a few more natural wonders of Arizona, my favourite state (out of the 10 I’ve seen so far). We explored the 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater and went for a drive through the beautiful Petrified Forest National Park, stopping at several spots to admire its petrified wood, ancient petroglyphs and colourful Painted Desert.
Along the way, we also saw some more characteristic Route 66 roadside attractions, such as the historic Wigwam Motel, before entering New Mexico and heading to Albuquerque, where we spent the night – this time in a motel.
The most beautiful city in the United States of America, Santa Fe, was up next – and it definitely didn’t fail to impress us! After exploring the city for a few hours, we drove onwards through the countryside of New Mexico, past abandoned service stations and motels, and to the atmospheric Blue Swallow Motel, before entering the state of Texas.
In Texas, we explored the abandoned – and probably also haunted – Texas First/Last Motel, had a photo session at the Midpoint Café (the very midpoint of Route 66!) and tried to catch a glimpse of the Cadillac cars at Cadillac Ranch in the dark.
The night was spent in our car at Amarillo Travel Information Center, located just outside the city of Amarillo.
Texas was a blast to drive through. It had many cute Route 66 roadside attractions as well as several ginormous highway crosses, reminding us that we had now entered the Bible Belt.
It didn’t take long before we entered a new state – Oklahoma! Here, we spent some hours at the brilliant Oklahoma Route 66 Museum and engaged with a local in El Reno, before getting to Edmond, a suburb to Oklahoma City, where my friend Alexandria lives.
Alex had invited us to stay with her for a few days, which was a lovely break from all the driving. We spent our time there hanging out with Alex, who took us to all the typical American places (such as Target and Pops), and spent a day exploring Oklahoma City as well. Much of my time was also spent playing with Kevin, Alex’s adorable dog.
It was lovely to relax for some days and spend some time with Alex before going off on the road again.
On August 18th, it was time to hit the road again, and we actually managed to drive through three states that day. We started off in Oklahoma, exploring the city of Tulsa and a few cute Route 66 roadside attractions such as the Blue Whale, before entering the state of Kansas.
Kansas is only represented by 11 miles on the Route 66, so it wasn’t long until we crossed the border to Missouri. We spent the night at a motel in Springfield and got up early the next morning to take a trip to the Fantastic Caverns – which were just as fantastic as the name says – before heading to St Louis, the most dangerous city in the country! Neither of us had any intention of getting hurt or into trouble, so we were out of St Louis as quickly as we were in!
There was one sight left that we wanted to see before leaving the Route 66 for a few days for the eclipse – the ancient Cahokia Mounds, which is one of America’s most interesting archaeological sites.
We then turned off Route 66 and headed to Carbondale, a large city in southern Illinois, our chosen destination for the eclipse. We arrived there two days prior to the eclipse, as we wanted to be safe in terms of traffic.
I’m so glad we did, because one of my most blessed memories from the trip was had the next day, when we were driving through the countryside in search of a perfect eclipse spot. We came past a bunch of Amish buggys, and decided to follow them. They were going to church, and after waiting around for over two hours, they finally came out and let us join them inside! We had a wonderful three hours with them, and enjoyed engaging, singing and eating with them. They are the nicest bunch of people I’ve met in a long time, and it was a dream come true to finally meet some people from the Amish community, which has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember.
On August 21st it all culminated at the event that our whole trip came down to, the total solar eclipse, also known as the Great American Eclipse. We watched it from a field in the Giant City State Park near Makanda with hundreds of other eclipse viewers, making the experience extra cheerful, and it was even more special to me because I was able to watch it with a great friend. Despite it being my third total solar eclipse, I’m still not done with them. This one proved that every eclipse really is different, and they are all very special memories for me. Nothing can beat the thrill of watching a total solar eclipse!
After the eclipse, we had planned to drive all the way to Chicago, but we could forget about that! It took us seven hours instead of the usual two just to get to St. Louis because of enormous traffic jams throughout the entire eclipse path! So instead of getting all the way to the windy city, we stayed overnight in St Louis and then headed to Chicago the next day.
On the way to Chicago, we followed the Route 66 once again and saw more chacteristic places. We got there in the afternoon and had just enough time to see the main sights of the city. We both LOVED Chicago and could’ve spent so much longer there. I wish we had spent two days in Chicago rather than LA! Chicago was the perfect place to end this incredible journey of a lifetime.
The next day, we dropped our rental car off at the airport and flew all the way back to our everyday lives in Denmark.
Despite being a slightly rushed trip through 9 states in just two weeks, it was a blast the whole way through. I loved exploring the quaint villages, atmospheric cafés, haunted motels and ghost town and seeing some of the beautiful natural wonders that the USA has to offer. And I loved the freedom having a car gave us! Americans all over the country showed great hospitality, and we felt very lucky to be able to experience the American lifestyle for ourselves for a few days.
I’ve now been to the United States twice (with Florida in 2008) and seen 10 states, but that is definitely nowhere near enough for me. I’m dreaming of taking a roadtrip along the east coast, exploring the southeast, camping in Alaska and of course visiting Hawaii. I also want to see every one of USA’s natural parks, as they all have something unique to offer.
If not before, I’ll definitely be back in the USA in 2024 for the next Great American Eclipse!