Southwest: Van Life

To begin our road trip, we broke the most basic law of road trips: drive a car you know how to drive. In other words, if you’ve never driven a stick shift, a 2,140 mile journey is not the time to learn.

But logic and reason can’t always win, especially not when you’ve been offered a 1987 VW Westfalia with clean white paint, low mileage, and a top to pop. When this happens, you lose sight of reasoning, you look at the stick shift, you think that it can’t be that hard, and you say: let’s roll.

So we shifted the Westy into reverse and backed up out of our starting location: Park City, Utah. Our first stop was in Moab, Utah, which was about 300 miles directly south, from there we’d head Durango, and then continue on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was our final stop. Our Westy was equipped with two small burners and a sink, so most of our meals were “home” cooked – tacos, stir fry, spaghetti. In Moab, we scored a camp spot on the bank of the Colorado River and after hours of hiking and mountain biking through the fiery red sandstone cliffs, we settled in for the night to sounds of the river echoing off the rock faces. The desert sky darkened overhead as we ate dinner on the sandy beach, a growler of Dead Horse Amber Ale from Moab Brewery nestled into the cool sand between us.

Two days later, we packed up and head to Durango, cranking the Westy’s windows down and holding up the two finger salute as we passed other VW vans, a friendly gesture to other campers on the open road. The road to Durango is speckled with small ranch houses and majestic rock formations. The road turns uphill towards the mountain pass; the ski resorts on either side of the road looked naked without their blanketing of snow. As an anchor point (and a hot shower) in the middle of our trip, we spent a day with family in Durango, which was a delicious break after four mornings of breakfast out of the cooler. There we woke up to the smell of buttery toast, veggie omelets and hot coffee.

After goodbye hugs and a hand getting the van into first gear on an extremely steep hill, we were on our way to Santa Fe. There is a stretch of highway 64 in New Mexico that is desolate in the sense that you can drive for hours and only see a few cars, a handful of cows, expansive skies, and billowing clouds. The vehicles tend to be a mix of stacked eighteen wheelers, rusty 4×4 trucks and a VW van or two. Santa Fe is an intersection of people: Native American, Hispanic, Caucasian, cowboy, and artists, all of which creates a culture as rich and colorful as the paintings you find on Canyon Road. At the top of Canyon Road, which is a narrow street dotted with over one hundred art galleries, sits The Teahouse. With a selection of over one hundred local and foreign teas, The Teahouse was a welcome stop on our day long bike trek. The kimchi grilled cheese and the Freak of Nature oolong tea were a perfect contrast to the open road peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We finished our trip and counted our winnings: 57 stalls, 3 campfires, 2 cop pullovers, countless sunburns, 2 inspired wanderers, and one epic road trip. Whatever laws may apply to reason slip away in moments of spontaneity.

Moab Brewery – Moab, UT
Three Ravens Coffee House – Tierra Amarilla, NM
Izanami Ten Thousand Waves – Santa Fe, NM
Cafe Pasqual’s – Santa Fe, NM
Arroyo Coffeebar – Santa Fe, NM
The Teahouse – Santa Fe, NM

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