Cross-country journey Texas to Oregon trek covers a lot of ground

By Anthony Williams, The Observer February 12, 2009 02:25 pm

Similar to how studies show most accidents occur close to home, the most dangerous part of a 2,700-mile journey is the last 30 miles.

That’s the biggest thing I’ll take from my journey here from Texas, although there are plenty others to choose from.

You can see lots of different sights just moving around the huge Lone Star State, seeing as how you can drive 10 hours-plus one way and still be within state borders.

That’s how my drive began, with a nine-hour trek from Dallas to El Paso. I’d heard that the speed limit in west Texas was 80 miles per hour, but it was interesting driving it in person. Because, of course, that means most people are going 90 mph, but there’s really nothing to see between those two cities anyway.

It’s roughly the same distance from El Paso to Los Angeles as it is just getting across my home state. So after spending the night at a friend’s house, I set out for another day of driving through deserts.

I stopped in New Mexico and witnessed the madness during Denny’s free Grand Slam breakfast event Feb. 3. Then I went to my first tourist trap, The Thing, in Arizona’s Texas Canyon.

L.A. was the goal that night and I didn’t make it too late, thanks to another time zone change. But this would be my first hotel stay on my own, and I didn’t know where to go. I knew I wanted to try and see Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean while I was there, so I figured it’d be better to stay there as opposed to going there in the morning and having to turn around.

Unfortunately, Santa Monica’s pricey. The Holiday Inn rate that night was $199, and I wasn’t feeling $89 rates nearby. After seeing so many Motel 6 signs along the freeway advertising no more than $49 a night, I knew there had to be somewhere else to go.

Where I ended up was partly determined by sleepiness and giddiness — a Super 8 Motel off of Sunset Boulevard. Being lost in L.A. is different because you don’t know exactly where you are, but you’ve seen most of your surroundings. After seeing the Capitol Records building, the Staples Center and the Hollywood Walk of Fame while wandering down streets, I was thrilled to see the name of a motel I knew where I saved a little bit of money.

It was quite the wake-up to see the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Park Observatory, from James Dean’s “Rebel Without A Cause,’’ from my room window in the morning. I felt bad for spending some time looking at a few more sights before getting on Interstate 5 north, but it equalled out since there’s absolutely nothing to see outside of L.A. before getting to the Siskiyou mountains.

When I told friends and family where I was going, the one thing people who knew Oregon brought up was the beauty — after they asked if I was going to Portland. It was dark as I made my way to the state border, but I could clearly see a snow-covered Mount Shasta, giving me my first taste of what was ahead in the Pacific northwest.

It drizzled all day as I made my way up to Portland, along the Columbia River and into the Blue Mountains. I hated that it was dark and I couldn’t see the gorgeous nature around me, but about 25 miles from La Grande, suddenly there were huge snowflakes coming at me and white stuff all over the freeway.

Next thing I knew there was a sign telling me I was at the mountain summit — 4,100 feet — and all I could do was pray steadily as I made my way down into the valley. My aunt in Indiana who’s used to winter driving helped keep me calm too, and soon I was calling the litany of family and friends who were worried about me to say I’d made it.

Later, after a brief introduction at Safeway, the cashier said she’d always wanted to go to Texas. Even having been there all my life, I can’t imagine what similar hazards she’ll run into if she makes the trip.

Anthony Williams is a Chips Quinn Scholar who is doing an internship as a reporter at The Observer. Last week he drove from his home in Tyler, Texas, to La Grande — taking the southerly route —  to start work at The Observer.