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Our Texas to California road trip – day by day
We did look into the best road trips from Dallas but really my heart was set on Route 66. We’d wanted to do this trip for years and with two people in our family who were pretty crazy about old American cars and the other two who appreciate the retro feeling of the era, it was a no-brainer. Route 66 here we come and quite happily it fitted into our Texas start point.
Day 1 – Dallas TX to Wichita Falls TX
Distance – 140 miles
Our first leg of the road trip saw us driving through North Texas up to the part that is known as the panhandle. It was really nice to start to see more of the state outside of the city of Dallas which had mostly been our experience on the trip so far even if we really only experienced the highways.
We broke our journey with an overnight stop in a town called Wichita Falls (we stayed at the Days Inn which was super cheap – check for latest prices) which was lovely to walk around and explore. We had a really nice nature walk along to see the waterfalls. It was so hot though! I also learned that the waterfalls here are actually rebuilt and not original – the town was obviously named after some, but they were destroyed in a flood. After lots of visitors came and were upset to not see the waterfalls the town restored their landmark!
Day 2 – Wichita Falls TX – Shamrock TX
Distance – 164 miles
We drove the following day along what seemed like endless small oil fields and spotted many of the ‘nodding donkeys’. Although there were lots of them, they definitely weren’t as big as I was imagining. Perhaps those were just smaller oil fields or perhaps I just had grand ideas from the TV.
Finally, we arrived at the iconic Route 66, our dream destination! We actually drove a little back to the border with Oklahoma so we could say we’d been there too and got to tick off another state. It was so close that we had to!
Our first day on Route 66 saw us drive only about 15 miles on the road as our planned stop was Shamrock TX. James has Irish roots so this town had always appealed to us. We loved that tiny town and it was our first experience of seeing neon light up the road! The U Drop Inn is a must-see bit of architecture on Route 66 – don’t miss it lit up if you can!
We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express which was right next to the U Drop Inn garage and the centre of the small town so easy to walk around. Check for latest prices
You can read more about what we found in Shamrock here.
Day 3 – Shamrock TX to Tucumcari NM
Distance – 204 miles
The third day of our road trip, driving from Texas to California, saw us leave the lovely state of Texas behind. We really did love that state, the people and places we saw and we are definitely planning a return.
Before leaving we managed to catch quite a few of the Texas Route 66 attractions such as the Big Texan steakhouse, the giant cross at Groom but we failed miserably to find the Cadillac Ranch! I don’t know how we missed it, but we did – I was very sad about this because it was such an iconic spot. Anyway, we also explored a pretty cool service station on I-40 that was decorated in a nice Route 66 style and we came across our first mention of tornados as it had a tornado shelter! Yikes, perhaps time to get on the road 😉
Texas – we will be back!
Tucumcari was just over the border in New Mexico and we celebrated this new state with tacos for dinner! It was Tuesday after all.
We also were treated to way more neon than I could have ever imagined as all the motels were lit up. This felt like a real Route 66 town and listening to the crickets at night and being around a quiet road I could just imagine Fillmore and Sarge (from the Disney Cars movie) watching the traffic lights there! There are loads of murals in the town too, it’s like everyone wanted to paint a scene of times gone by. Even if you don’t stay overnight here I’d definitely recommend stopping and checking it out. You can read more about Tucumcari and the rest of the New Mexico Route 66 sites that we visited here.
We stayed in the lovely Motel Safari, which was cheaper than the iconic Blue Swallow motel but we really liked it. It was quite basic but had that 50s motel feel with how it was decorated and was super clean. Fab.
Day 4 – Tucumcari NM to Gallup NM
Distance – 311 miles
We drove pretty much the entire state of New Mexico on this day. I remember seeing lots and lots of signs for casinos on the road and lots of signs for shops with authentic Native American goods. We did stop at one of the shops but weren’t really impressed by it all – seemed a little cheesy, but I guess lots of people like them. I’d love to explore more of that history though rather than just see the tourist shops – again something for another road trip!
On the west side of Albuquerque was the Petroglyph National Monument which sounded like a really interesting place to visit so we took our supermarket lunch there (one of our many tips on keeping the budget down on our road trip) and ate that before having a walk around the trails there. It was a great stopping point for our day of driving, especially as we did quite a few miles this day. The weather was still quite warm in New Mexico, but it was nothing like the stifling heat we’d experienced in Dallas and the rest of Texas. August isn’t the best month for driving I don’t think, especially in Texas but it did get better for us as we drove West.
We stopped overnight in Gallup which is another famous route 66 town (it’s even in the song) but we chose a motel on the outskirts which meant we didn’t get much time to explore there which was a shame. It was a cheap and clean motel though and can still recommend it for a budget night on the road.
Day 5 – Gallup NM – Holbrook AZ
Distance – 95 miles
This was a nice short driving day so we took it easy. It saw us reach our 4th state – Arizona! We’d stay in Arizona for a few nights as we had lots to see and do in the area.
In between the two stops was the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert national park which I’d seen beautiful pictures of and had to see. Unfortunately, it was a little overcast that day so it wasn’t as impressive as I imagine it would have been with some beautiful sunlight, but it was still impressive none the less and we had less worry about keeling over in the heat!
You can read more about our trip to the Petrified forest here and how I became a junior ranger (and the kids did too!). Our friends at The Daily Adventures of Me also took a trip to the Petrified Forest and have some fab pics on their post about it.
Our night time stop was the iconic wigwam motel! We loved it there, and it was awesome walking around as the sun went down taking pictures of the old cars. Inside it was a little dated, but for the price, which was one of the cheapest on our route, it was definitely worth it.
Day 6 – Holbrook AZ to Williams AZ
Distance – 125 miles
Leaving Holbrook we set off looking for the meteor crater which again felt like it was something we should do while in the area. It was a nice attraction but for some reason didn’t quite hit the spot with me. We also stopped in Winslow which is featured in the famous Eagles song ‘Takin it Easy’ and made for a nice halfway stop.
We drove to Williams where we spent the next two nights. Something we’d needed as we’d been travelling non stop for the last wee. We couldn’t believe the change in scenery as you approach. I assumed that Arizona would be all desert but there were parts when I could have completely believed we were back in Scotland! So lush and mountainous – I was very surprised!
Williams was a great town and we stayed in the Motel 6 there – nice, cheap, central and right across from a Dairy Queen. Oh, I miss Dairy Queens! You can check prices for this motel here.
Day 7 – Side trip to the Grand Canyon
Distance – 60 miles each way
We knew we had to see the Grand Canyon but we also knew that paying extra for the privilege wasn’t our style, so we stayed two nights at the motel in Williams AZ and just did a day trip to the Grand Canyon. It was just a 60 mile trip so easily doable in a day from there. We even came across our first roundabout of the trip there!
You can read more about the Grand Canyon trip here – needless to say, it was awesome. From Dallas to the Grand Canyon our road trip tipped into the over 1000 mile mark!
Day 8 – Williams AZ – Needles CA
Distance – 165 miles
The last day of our trip – sadly, as I said not quite a Dallas to Los Angeles road trip, but fairly close. I remember seeing signs for LA and thinking we should just go for it!!
The last day saw us go through lots of attractions though, the first being the town of Seligman, home of the barber Angel Degadillo. We’d watched his story on the extras of the Cars DVD and so were really pleased to chat with him. There are a lot of shops in Seligman and I think it’s a stop for many coach trips too.
This stretch of the west end of Route 66 can be done a couple of ways. You can follow I-40 all the way or you can come off and go up through the mountains via a town called Oatman.
We heard lots of stories about it being a very twisty road, but since we’re used to that in the UK we thought we’d be fine – it still had me gripping hold of my door handle! Very twisty, very high roads, but a wonderful view.
You can read more about the towns in AZ and what we saw here.
The final night of our road trip was spent at the Rio Del Sol Inn Motel in Needles and I was so excited to have finally made it to California – the place we see so much on TV! I hope next time we can explore a bit more!
We had an amazing time on our Route 66 trip from Texas to California and encourage anyone thinking of doing a similar trip to go for it! If you need some guidebooks to inspire you have a look here and you can see all of my Route 66 posts here.
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