Things I Learned Driving Across the USA (And Back): A Primer

Hello! I have returned from my cross-country trek.

Like an idiot, I drove from Los Angeles, California to northern Michigan and back in the space of two weeks. I’ve driven cross-country a few times before, but never in such a short span and the last time was a one-way trip when I drove literally from one coast to the other with a cat and a trailer bigger than my car. I don’t recommend doing that.

The blue line was my route both ways.

Here are a few things I learned along the way.

Whenever possible, spring for the $854 plane ticket. 8 hours and 15 minutes in a plane is always preferable to over 70 hours in a car with your sister and two dogs.

As I said before, “you have no practical conception of how extremely large and predominantly not scenic The United States is until you drive across it in one go.” In my opinion, having grown up in Michigan with lakes and trees, The United States gets prettier and prettier the farther east you go, but your mileage may vary.

Starting from west to east, here are notes on the specific states I drove through.


There is nothing of interest nor any redeeming quality whatsoever in southern Nevada. 117 degrees is not fit for human habitation, nor is it anywhere you want to get stuck in a three-hour traffic jam with nowhere to get off. California and Nevada really need to get off their asses and build some rest stops on the 15 freeway. The Mohave Desert is nothing to trifle with. I drove through Las Vegas twice without stopping at all. Go to Reno instead.


Arizona is not my cup of tea. It made me uncomfortable driving through just the tippy top of it.


If you’re into a whole lot of heat and dirt, and somewhat colorful, wind-worn rocks precariously piled on top of each other, and you don’t like places to stop, people or many other living things terribly much, then Utah is for you.

“Majestic” is the perfect word to describe most of the western United States. For the record, “majestic” is not synonymous with “pretty.” A mountain range or a view that seems to encompass several states at once can be quite majestic and terribly ugly, foreboding, dismal, desolate, and depressing at the same time.


Colorado is a very schizophrenic state. Just in the upper middle part that I drove through, it seems to be three or four states at once.

The western part looks like Utah.

Denver is real city, as opposed to a town or a berg, complete with rush hour traffic that halfway approaches Los Angeles levels.

The freeway through the Rocky Mountains is at a higher elevation than you would think a road would be possible, and it’s always cold and rainy there. The area around Vail is absolutely beautiful even though the interstate freeway runs right through the middle of it.

Eastern Colorado is essentially southern Nevada, but not quite as hot.

Iowa and Nebraska

Sorry if you’re offended that I lumped these two together, but they looked the same to me.

The rest of the country tends to think of Nebraska and Iowa as completely flat and devoid of any geographical interest. While not as littered with mountain ranges as the western states, I found Nebraska and Iowa to be rather nice. Hundreds of miles of rolling green farmland (mostly corn) with the occasional tree and lake is far more serene than, say, Utah, where it seems like enormous boulders are going to crush you like a bug at any second.

Plus, the people there are far nicer and drive way better than in Los Angeles.


I realize that in the wintery states, they need to construction in the summertime, because doing it during winter is insane, but come on. We’re not building the Parthenon, but fixing a road that already exists. How hard can it really be? Plus, I had to pay for the privilege of driving through it unlike every other state.

Other than a toll road and a lot of construction, I don’t remember any major difference between Illinois, and Iowa and Nebraska. I might as well have lumped it in with the other two.


Gary, Indiana in the summertime is a total clusterfuck. Just like Illinois, it’s all construction, all the time. If it weren’t for GPS, I would have gotten totally lost navigating all the interchanges… twice.

Hey, Indiana, an orange sign with just a black arrow on it isn’t all that helpful. Some words might be good as well.


Michigan is the prettiest state in the whole country, and where my parents live is the prettiest place on earth. Every time I go there, I get wistful and I seriously consider moving back, until I remember why I moved in the first place: winter.

If Michigan didn’t have winter, or even had a more reasonable one, this would be my view while having coffee every damn morning:

Random notes

A brand new Range Rover, while perfectly capable of making the drive, is not large enough for two people, two dogs, and all the accoutrements needed for both for two weeks.

Maverik without the C in Cedar City, Utah is the nicest gas station in the entire country. They have a Cinnebon, homemade donuts, and a thousand different kinds of coffee. Also, gas.

Driving with two dogs in the summer means you’re going to be eating a lot of fast food since you can’t leave them in the car to go in and eat.

Always remember to pack some slippers.

While I can’t verify the tenacity of the claim, The World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa is the largest truck stop I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t see a single cedar tree in either Cedar City, Utah, nor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nor did I see the lone pine in Lone Pine, California.

Nebraska has the nicest rest stops.

The western states are not the only ones with a claim on “big sky.”

La Quinta hotels not only allow dogs, but pot-bellied pigs.

My dog doesn’t know what to do about deer, ducks, geese, bald eagles, hawks, wild turkeys or pot-bellied pigs. Mostly, she stared.

Range Rovers have the worst random shuffle ever. I put over 600 songs on a USB drive and it seemed to play the same 50 songs over and over and over. Sometimes, back to back.

Driving through Omaha, Nebraska or Lake City, Michigan at night around the Fourth of July is like having your own personal fireworks show.

Wave runners are awesome! They’re like a motorcycle on water. If I lived on a lake, I’d have one.

Swimming in a fresh water lake and boat rides are mighty nice.

Sparklers are not what they used to be. They last only about 10 seconds nowadays.

Sharing a twin bed with a 70 pound dog for a week is not recommended unless you’re a small child or you don’t have any legs.

Sunsets are prettier over a lake.