My 3,000 Mile Road-trip to Yuma, AZ

Posted on 10 Oct 2021 by Steve Markham

My friend, Chyna, moved to Yuma, Arizona, last week. To make a long story short, I ended up driving her U-Haul truck from Long Island, NY, to Yuma, AZ, over the course of 9 days. I saw Ren, Jeff, and Corinne, and did a couple of nice hikes along the way.

You didn't expect me to drive right by scenery like this without getting out to stretch my legs, did you?
You didn't expect me to drive right by scenery like this without getting out to stretch my legs, did you?

Since driving isn’t conducive to picture taking, but I’d like to have a log of the adventure, this post my be a little text-heavy.

First, the cast of characters. Long ago I baptized my friend Veronica Bronson. Her daughter is Crystal, and Crystal’s two daughers are Chyna and Cherish. Chyna’s daughter is Celeste, and Chyna’s fiance is Brandon. Brandon is in NM finishing up the final training before become a border patrol agent in California. Yuma, Arizona is on the CA/AZ/Mexico border, and a much more affordable place to live than anywhere in CA.

Friday, October 1st, Janet drove me over to Veronica’s house to meet up with Crystal, who drove me down to Long Island (technically I drove her down, but we used her car). We listened to SiriusXM 70s on 7 and had a very pleasant three hour conversation about everything. Crystal and I have the same birthday, and I see her about once a year around birthday time, so there was lots to catch up on.

We arrived at Chyna’s place (er, Brandon’s parents’ place, where Chyna and Celeste have lived for a couple years) around 1pm. The truck was all loaded up, and Chyna was just getting back from the store with some rope to tie the rocking chair in place. I loaded the car on the dolly, doubled-checked the plan with Chyna, and then headed out. I confess that I stopped about 2 miles away from her place to re-check the driving directions. NYC is not a fun place to drive, and furthermore there are many toll roads where commercial trucks (which apparently a UHaul truck is) cannot go. And lots of places limited to two axles (and I had three–I was towing a car). Google Maps probaby has a setting for “I’m driving a commercial, multi-axle vehicle” but I couldn’t find it, and it kept on trying to switch routes to the fastest one for a two-axle car. I memorized the directions to NJ and then headed out. I texted Janet at 1:29pm saying “everything seems to be working ok.”

It took a long time to cross Long Island and another hour or more to get through NYC, so I didn’t get to NJ until 4:05pm. I anticipated bad traffic in NYC and Atlanta, and possibly around Baltimore and DC depending on what time of day I passed them. And I was mostly right; there was traffic in all of those places, but nothing that slowed me down anywhere else.

As soon as I was in NJ I filled the gas tank. While the guy was pumping my gas (Don’t you love NJ!) I decided to go back and get dinner, too. But when I pulled behind the building at the rest area (to circle back to the parking lot for McDonald’s) there was a fence! And no space to do a clean U-turn. So, I got to see how well I know how to reverse a trailer with limited visibility. I was doing fine, but going slowly, and then someone offered to stand behind Chyna’s car so I could back up close to the obstacle, making what would have been a ~11 point turn into a ~5 point turn. Thank you kind stranger! I ended up stopping at a Burger King much farther south in NJ, right around 6:30. The Burger King appeared to be staffed by just two people, so I made a few new friends while waiting in line.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I entered Delaware at 7:33pm, Maryland at 7:58pm, and Virginia at 9:42pm. I saw the beautiful DC temple, and thought of my summer in Vienna as I crossed Chain Bridge Road. I stopped for the night in Stafford, VA, at an LDS meetinghouse. I had planned to stealthily hang my hammock between two trees in an empty parking lot, but it was conference weekend. Friday night of conference weekend, you may or may not have realized, is when the big screen is set up for conference, and clever Mormons know to “test it out” by watching the BYU/USU game, which goes until midnight on the East coast. I parked the truck in the middle of ~20 cars, but didn’t quite feel right about putting up a hammock in the open. I found a clump of trees nearby that was pretty well hidden, and slept there.

Saturday, October 2nd, I woke up around 6, hit the road, and had snacks for breakfast. When I stopped for gas in Richmond, the right rear tire pressure was low, so I filled it. Not long after that, the indicator came back on for the same tire. I stopped at the welcome center in North Carolina around 9:22am to call Dad and determine how bad it would be to drive on a low tire for another 2500 miles.

Truck tires should normally be at 80-90 psi, but this one is at 40psi in this picture, and got down to 25psi before I decided to drive to the next gas station and fill it up instead of waiting for someone to come to me
Truck tires should normally be at 80-90 psi, but this one is at 40psi in this picture, and got down to 25psi before I decided to drive to the next gas station and fill it up instead of waiting for someone to come to me
Meanwhile, I did some interior decorating with the art Lewis and Adele snuck into my bag before I left
Meanwhile, I did some interior decorating with the art Lewis and Adele snuck into my bag before I left

After three hours on the phone with Chyna, UHaul, and a random tire guy in Raleigh, I drove to an Exxon outside Durham to meet the tire guy.

While I was waiting, I finally got a picture of the setup for the road-trip
While I was waiting, I finally got a picture of the setup for the road-trip

You’ll be happy to know I received NASCAR-level service once the tire guy finally came, and I was back on the road around 1:30pm.

I spent the rest of the day driving to Charlotte.

Janet asked for pictures of the road trip. Lots of 7-lane-each-way freeways, huge storage containers of who-knows-what, and peeking in the rear-view mirror to make sure I was in the lines
Janet asked for pictures of the road trip. Lots of 7-lane-each-way freeways, huge storage containers of who-knows-what, and peeking in the rear-view mirror to make sure I was in the lines

Ren had taken the boys to the hospital (where Negin was on call), so he couldn’t meet me until 6:30pm or 7pm. That gave me time to explore the Rocky Face Mountain recreation area.

85 degrees just a few feet from the summit. In October!
85 degrees just a few feet from the summit. In October!
The Southward view from the top

Ren and I met up at his house. I briefly said hi to his twins before they shyly went up to bed. We went out for sushi at a nice place around 9:30pm.

We played big chess while we waited. I played black, and the lack of a king and queen seriously handicapped me.
We played big chess while we waited. I played black, and the lack of a king and queen seriously handicapped me.

It was very fun to see Ren. We stayed up chatting until 2am, I think, and then went to bed.

Sunday, October 3rd, I showered, called Janet to wish her happy birthday, talked to the kids about soccer and whatnot, and then had brunch with Ren. He got called into a surgery around noon on Sunday, which is when I hit the road again. The rest of Sunday was boring: South Carolina at 12:42pm, Georgia at 2:38pm, Alabama at 6:10pm, and Mississippi at 9:56pm. I stopped for the night at a Walmart parking lot in Jackson. I didn’t immediately see any trees to hang a hammock from, but I had stopped because I was starting to feel sleepy. So, I got into Chyna’s car to take a quick nap, and then I was going to drive around looking for a park with some trees. I woke up 6 hours later feeling very refreshed from my nap:)

Monday, October 4th. Yogurt and snacks for breakfast. I was still full from all the food I ate with Ren, to be honest, but driving is boring so I ended up snacking for most of the 50 hours I was driving. Monday was an exciting day, since I was headed to Dallas to see Jeff and Corinne. There were a lot of cars on the road around Dallas, but no real traffic. I drove on lots of toll-by-mail roads that took beautiful pictures of the front of the truck, which had no license plate since it was registered in AZ. I’m going to let Brandon and Chyna deal with all of that–Google still hand’t figured out I was in a truck, and I didn’t see any other way to get to my destination. I parked near Jeff’s house, on a stretch of road along a pond (meaning, not in front of anyone’s house) where Jeff occasionally sees RVs and stuff. Then I hung out with Jeff for an hour or so, and he gave me a ride to Corinne’s, where I was staying. I hung out with Ben and Corinne for a bit after school, then drove Corinne’s car up to Jeff’s for dinner. Jill made chicken parm, and I enjoyed chatting with Jeff’s kids.

Tuesday, October 5th, Corinne took me fossil hunting. When she described it to me by phone it didn’t sound especially fun, but it was a very pleasant way to spend a day with my sister. It was hot, but we were standing in cool water, and it gave us something to do during lulls in the conversation. Corinne says she liked it a lot, since she is way better at it than I am:)

I'm happy with my haul, though Corinne did find about twice as many shark teeth
I'm happy with my haul, though Corinne did find about twice as many shark teeth

Tuesday night I went to Ben Markham’s debate club with Jeff. It was interesting. I’m not sure I like formal debates, since there is no room to reach consensus or compromise, or to innovate and come up with a better resolution. But it was still fun to watch, and give feedback on presentation skills.

Wednesday, October 6th, I went to lunch with Jeff, Texas BBQ at Hard 8, and then enjoyed meeting Corinne’s friends during a 4 hour dinner party from 5 to 9. A couple of them stayed chatting after everyone else left, and it was a very interesting conversation. One of her friends, the same guy who lent us the shark tooth stuff, is going back to school to become a social worker. His professors are encouraging him to get into advocacy (aka lobbying) instead of therapy (aka working directly with people), and we had a good discussion about the merits of each. A good policy helps many people with a single action, but most policies are not especially good, some are downright bad, and no policy will really solve the underlying problems in society. 1-on-1 is time consuming and “heavy” at times (his word, meaning sometimes people just have really hard things happen to them, and it feels overwhelming to get involved at all), but when it works it addresses real issues, and it’s easy to see good effects.

Thursday morning, October 7th, as soon as Ben was on the bus I said goodbye to Corinne and hit the road again. The plan was to drive all day and stop in El Paso, but I was feeling good and went farther. I entered NM at 7:25pm. I drove past Las Cruces and then realized that there might not be another good stopping point until long after I was sleepy.

The sunset was beautiful every evening, and also a warning that I needed to stop driving soon
The sunset was beautiful every evening, and also a warning that I needed to stop driving soon

Fortunately Janet called me and we chatted until I got to a truck stop near Gage, NM, that had little covered shelters with picnic tables and bright lights, far away from the traffic noise.

Rest areas in Texas and NM had these nice picnic tables
Rest areas in Texas and NM had these nice picnic tables

There was a sign saying you couldn’t stay at the truck stop for more than 24 hours, which I interpreted to mean they were perfectly fine with me sleeping there overnight.

I found a shelter near a dumpster, and strung up between the fence post near the dumpster, and the back of the UHaul truck
I found a shelter near a dumpster, and strung up between the fence post near the dumpster, and the back of the UHaul truck

I went to sleep around 8:30pm Thursday night, and woke up 8 hours later (yup, at 4:30am).

Friday, October 8th, started with a beautiful view of the starry sky. I hit the road early and didn’t stop until after I was in Arizona, which doesn’t do daylight savings time, so it was 4:50am on the Arizona side of the border. I stopped for gas in San Simon, and stopped at Walmart at 6am local time when it opened in I-forget-where to get yogurt and a croissant. Around 8am I drove past this gorgeous mountain right next to the freeway.

Picacho Peak, which is just off I-10 in AZ
Picacho Peak, which is just off I-10 in AZ

I thought, “I bet there’s a trail to the top of it, and I bet I have enough time to hike it and still get to Yuma for dinner.” Picacho State Park signs showed up at the next exit, so that’s where I went. The park ranger said that it gets hot even in October, so I wanted more than just my water bottle. I had a gallon jug in the truck that I had been refilling from, so I filled that up and brought my water bottle, gallon jug, some beef jerky, and some ritz. I didn’t have hiking boots, a backpack, or a proper sun hat, but that’s never stopped me in the past. I took lots of pictures, but I’ll try to spare you.

Adele liked all the cactus I saw. This one must be 15-20' tall.
Adele liked all the cactus I saw. This one must be 15-20' tall.
There were subtle differences in the flora compared to the Adirondacks
There were subtle differences in the flora compared to the Adirondacks
There were four sections of trail that were very steep, and had steel cables like this
There were four sections of trail that were very steep, and had steel cables like this
There were 6 other people on top with me. In the background is I-10
There were 6 other people on top with me. In the background is I-10
It was gorgeous country

I noticed some shiny white spots on the other high point near the summit. One of the other hikers thought it was quartz shining in the sun where some rock had been chipped off. I decided to hike over to investigate.

On the way, I noticed talc or some sort of chalky rock. Maybe that was making the white spots?
On the way, I noticed talc or some sort of chalky rock. Maybe that was making the white spots?
Nah, just lots of bird poop:)
Nah, just lots of bird poop:)
As is often the case, hiking down is much scarier than hiking up
As is often the case, hiking down is much scarier than hiking up
Those two hikers in the middle of the picture are less than 0.1 miles down the trail from me. So steep!
Those two hikers in the middle of the picture are less than 0.1 miles down the trail from me. So steep!
You can see the head of a lizard poking out from under the rock at about 3 o'clock (across from my shoe)
You can see the head of a lizard poking out from under the rock at about 3 o'clock (across from my shoe)

All together the hike took about four hours, plus another 30 minutes for lunch when I got back to the truck. Then I was back on the road, and aside from needing gas, my next stop was Yuma.

Just after I got onto I-8 I saw the first sign for Yuma
Just after I got onto I-8 I saw the first sign for Yuma
I would see little groups of mountains on the horizon like this. The horizon here is about 25 miles away, and I passed three or four waves of this before reaching Yuma
I would see little groups of mountains on the horizon like this. The horizon here is about 25 miles away, and I passed three or four waves of this before reaching Yuma

It turned out Brandon was getting a ride to Yuma for the weekend from a buddy at the academy. My original motel didn’t have any double rooms, so I switched motels and then went walking around town. It’s got wide streets and few crosswalks, but otherwise it’s very walkable. I checked out their apartment, had dinner, and enjoyed stretching my legs for an hour or more before turning in. Brandon arrived at 2:30am, and the leasing office (to get the key) didn’t open until 10am, so we slept in.

Saturday, October 9th, we walked to the grocery store for some breakfast, then to the apartment to scope it out, and then back to the motel. Shortly before ten we drove over to the leasing office and got the key. We unloaded everything in about an hour, then killed some time unpacking and setting up the modem and wifi until it was time to get Veronica, Chyna, and Celeste from the airport. From there, we went straight to an Indian restaurant for lunch (yum!) then to the apartment. Chyna and Brandon needed to get lots of things, including a table and some chairs, and I decided it was time to bow out and let them get to it. They dropped me off at the airport a few hours early, and I assume everything went smoothly for them from there.

Yuma Internation Airport is so cute! The TSA screening is done as part of the boarding process, and the ticketing agent told me I was welcome to take a nap in the waiting area–she’d come by to wake me up when it was time for my flight to board. I talked to Dewey for a while but did eventually sleep, since my flight was delayed a bit.

The plane was empty. It felt like Knight and Day
The plane was empty. It felt like Knight and Day

I took a 26 minute flight to Phoenix, watched some TV on the airport wifi, then took a red eye to Charlotte at 12:55am Sunday morning. I fell asleep before takeoff and didn’t wake up until we landed. After a quick layover in Charlotte I flew back to Albany, where Janet and the kiddies were ready to pick me up and take me home in time for lunch.

For the record, I drove 3072 miles (less than U-Haul’s 3150 mile allowance despite going through Charlotte and taking two detours to hike), and averaged 11.1mpg.