Sitting here thinking about the memorable aspects of two days of driving I-40 across the New Mexico, Arizona and California, the best word that comes to mind is progression. There were many scenic points along the drive and great stops to see the Old Town of Albuquerque and the red sandstone buildings of the University of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, but the experience of watching the landscape change, sometimes dramatically, as you pass from one ecosystem to another is fascinating. Travelers who board a plane in their hometown and suddenly arrive at the resort town of their choice have no experience of the progression and change in the land between the two destinations.
Take, for instance, between Amarillo, Texas and Flagstaff, Arizona, you progress from Shortgrass Texas Prairie range land to the dry buttes of Tucumcari, the pinion pine foothills east of Albuquerque and onto the high desert and mesas of western New Mexico. Once in Arizona the land flattens out again in the high desert until dramatically changing to pine-covered mountains with a brief, intense thunderstorm outside of Flagstaff. Leaving Flagstaff, the progression goes in reverse from the wooded mountains to winding desert valleys between pinion covered hills. By the time you reach Needles, California you are fully experiencing the Mojave Desert. Several hours later you are rising again into grass covered hills with scattered trees in the Tehachapi Mountains before descending down into the San Joaquin Valley and Bakersfield, California. You certainly would not appreciate the extent of orchards and growing fields surrounding Bakersfield without the progression through the desert southwest and you would not fully appreciate the extent of the vast, open spaces that exist in the western states without experiencing that two day drive. Flying travelers may arrive days sooner but have missed out on the epic cross-country trek that brings you fully in touch with this great country.
Next, we’re on to California Highway One and the Big Sur scenic drive, probably the most dramatic single piece of highway in the country!