Back in July 2006, my husband David and I took a road trip to Orlando, Florida. Going for a business conference we drove straight through – four and one-half days, 2600 miles. There were so many amazing places along the way, so on the way home we decided to take our time and do some sightseeing.
The day after the conference, we left Orlando and drove 50 miles east to Kennedy Space Center. It was amazing to see so many pieces of space exploration history, including full-sized replicas of the Saturn V and the Lunar Rover. During the tour, we actually saw the space shuttle Atlantis in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) waiting to be taken out to the launch pad. The tour was a lot of fun despite the high heat and humidity. Every time we went outside from an air conditioned building my glasses fogged up. I got to where I’d walk outside and stand for a few moments just so I could see where I was going.
One thing I noticed about being in Florida, I could count on a thunderstorm each and every afternoon. I loved the thunder and lightning storms we experienced, although the unrelenting, drenching rains were a bit frightening to drive through. Rainstorms like that are very rare in Bakersfield, and I do miss the exciting weather we saw in the east and central parts of the United States.
The next stop on our trip was Daytona Beach. We arrived late in the evening, during a storm. We found an old motel on the beach and decided to stay – The Thunderbird Beach Motel. Walking out of the back door of the room we were 1000 feet from the water. In the dark we caught quick, flickering glimpses of the ocean each time lightning shot through the sky. We made plans to get up early to see sunrise over the ocean. Despite the cloud cover we managed to see slivers of light as the sun rose to the east.
After wading in the Pacific Ocean countless times, it was strange to be on the opposite shore. Staring out over the water, I had a hard time orienting myself to the east. The pure white sand was also different. The Pacific shore sand tends to be dark and coarse, while the eastern shore was the opposite. I made sure I collected sand and seashells (as I do on most beach trips) just to remember the fine, sugary-white shoreline.
Because we’re big NASCAR fans, we took the rest of the day to visit the Daytona Speedway. There we saw pieces of NASCAR history, watched a tribute to Dale Earnhardt, and took the track tour. Since there was no race, we enjoyed the day without crowds of people, which was nice. We even got our picture taken with Jimmy Johnson’s #48 car – winner of the 2006 Daytona 500.
We left Florida and heading up into Georgia, just to say we’d been there! But, after studying a map we realized we were 20 short miles from Plaines, home to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. We took the tour of the 39th president’s home and high school, which featured memorabilia from several presidents. We even got to see peanuts growing – underground of course!
As we began to head west, we stopped in Montgomery, Alabama. After staying the night, we drove by the church where Reverend Martin Luther King spoke and spent several hours at the Rosa Parks Museum. It was humbling and sad to watch a re-creation of the famous bus ride, realizing this historic event only happened a short time ago.
Traveling west on I-20, our next stopover was in Vicksburg, Mississippi. We stayed at the Battlefield Inn, a southern-style hotel graced with four white columns out front and a ceiling fan in each room (very important in the humid environment). I remember walking through the door, and being greeted by a colorful parrot in a tall birdcage. Everyone who entered received a cheery “Hallo”. Vicksburg was the site of a famous Civil War battle and we visited the battlefield the next day, taking time to study and explore the monuments. At times it was hard to imagine all the people who lost their lives in this area, but seeing rows and rows of white grave markers it reminded us of the reality.
After a week or more of sightseeing we decided to put a few miles behind us and traveled 1,142 miles (16 hours of driving) to Gallup, New Mexico the next day. I’m not sure why we did the marathon drive, but I know I didn’t want to see the inside of a car for quite a while. But since we were so close (665 miles) we drove all the way home the next day.
By the time we arrived home we’d been gone 16 days and traveled 5600 miles. We’d been to states I’d never seen, historic places I’d always wanted to see, and met lots of wonderful people along the way. There’s something about driving across the states – one realizes there is so much more to this country than one’s own backyard. We travelled miles and captured memories on our way, driving back home across the county.