small Road Trip Abandoned building Colorado


Travel Confessions: SF consultant Caleb gets his kicks on Route 66

Published January 4th, 2016

Have you ever gotten your Kicks on Route 66? Well I have. I also got a new floral shirt and a hipster hat, but that's another story. Summer in the USA to me has always been about cocktails, late nights, sharing amazing sunsets with strangers, and the open road. While I have struggled sometimes to anchor myself in the so-called ‘real world’, as long as I am wandering along some kind of lonesome road, with the aim of regulating my imagination with reality, I have generally been able to find my footing.

Caleb and Olivia on their USA road trip! Yewwwwwwwww

There's no better place in the world than America for a road trip. With an amazing variety of scenery, wide open roads waiting to be explored, friendly locals, and unexpected gems hidden around every corner, it's no wonder the great American road trip has been at the heart of numerous successful films. And Route 66 is the mother of them all, a winding trail of forgotten towns and bypassed hubs that stretches from Chicago all the way to LA. Back in the 1930s, Route 66 was the major path for those migrating west and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. As the new Interstate Highway System took over however Route 66 floundered. Many any of its communities turned into ghost towns ripe for urban exploration, a string of haunting memories and broken dreams.

Having just finished a conference in Las Vegas back in July earlier this year, my friend Olivia (from Escape Travel Chatswood) and I thought a road trip was in order. So we packed our bags, ordered a Mustang convertible (no red available, silver would have to do), and started our week long trip ‘Thelma and Louising’ it through the desert. We planned to follow Route 66 through Arizona to Santa Fe in New Mexico before heading back to Las Vegas through Colorado and Utah. We wanted to experience the back-roads America we had learned about in our childhoods. And we planned to stop at every Denny’s and IHOP along the way to eat our body weight in fried food.

Abandoned building, Colorado. Image: Caleb van Schmal

There's something so liberating about hitting the open road, not knowing where you're going to end up, no hotel booked, leaving everything to chance. There's no WI-FI in the Nevada desert but nor did we need it; we liked the solitude and lack of communication that the winding desert highways provided. After a quick stop at Hoover Dam, we hit Route 66 and it was everything we dreamed off. We stopped at fading desert communities like Dolan Springs (the hub of the abandoned trailer park and the threatening local), famous Route 66 old-time outposts like Seligman in Arizona (home of the Road Kill Cafe), and every abandoned gas station, motel, and building we could find. Urban exploration is a passion of mine so to be alone in an abandoned gas station in the middle of the Arizona desert, reading the graffiti and exploring the items left behind with a plethora of photo opportunities, was a dream come true.

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Caleb showing some ass at Two Guns, Arizona

The scenery along the way through these Western states of America was breathtaking at every turn. With the music blaring and the top down on our convertible, we blasted through the desert enjoying this little slice of Americana, stopping only for food, gas, and to explore. When we arrived at Santa Fe, New Mexico, it was like a city of dreams. That may have been because we had a Chinese takeaway picnic dinner in our hotel room and ate enough for 12 people, so our vision was somewhat blurred. The whole city looked like the set of The Flintstones with its famous Pueblo style of architecture. With a culture heavily based around the American Indian and being a hotbed for the creative arts and new-age spirituality, Santa Fe was a great city to unwind for a few days. Being the highest altitude capital city in the United States however we kept our partying to a minimum, two drinks and you were under the table.

After a few days of rejuvenation, Mustang Sally was keen to hit the open road again and Colorado was calling our name. The desert scenery of Arizona and New Mexico was quickly replaced by the rugged beauty of the Colorado Mountains as we drove through picturesque villages and stunning vistas at every turn. The beauty of the road trip is the unexpected surprise of what might lie just around the next corner. Pagosa Springs is a spa and wellness centre and popular ski area in the winter time. Arriving in the summer though, we were bowled over by the spectacular river running through the centre of town, the cascading rapids, the therapeutic hot springs, and the quaint stores and cafes. Pagosa Springs had never been on our itinerary but we sure were glad we found it and the authentic Key Lime Pie it provided us with.

And on we drove to Utah, home of Monument Valley and Mormonism. By this stage we were at one with our vehicle and we barely needed to drive anymore, we trusted her and she understood us, continuing on almost unaided through the alien landscape. By this stage we had picked up a guest, another Mustang took turns with us leading the way through the movie sets of our childhood. For over 300 miles we screamed our way through the desert together and when they finally exited off the highway near the Nevada border not too far from the famed and secretive Area 51, it was like saying goodbye to family. As we slowly drifted into Las Vegas a few days later, its lights and shimmer had a sobering effect on us, the reverse of what this glamourous city was known for. The open road and seclusion had become our bride over the past week, and the noise of Las Vegas was overwhelming.

Oliva caught in a roadside dreamcatcher

Our week long road trip through some of America's rugged west was over and Olivia and I had not only survived our time together in Mustang Sally but flourished. Not once had we considered grabbing onto each other’s hands and careening off a cliff Thelma and Louise style, even though we had the big sunglasses and head scarves and background music to pull it off. With no end point in mind, we had been as free as we could possibly have been and for once the trip became about the journey rather than the destination. We had seen some amazing scenery, met some fascinating locals, taken some beautiful photos, and gotten off the beaten track. And we would do it again in a heartbeat.


Caleb van Schmal

Working for Student Flights gives me the ultimate base from which to explore my passion for all things travel related. My wanderlust has no cure, but luckily travel is the only purchase which will make you richer.