My road trip from St. Petersburg, FL to Portland, OR

It has long been me and my family’s dream to move to Portland, OR. Earlier this year, that finally happened. This post is about the 4,100 mile road trip that my Dad and I made to get from one corner of the country to the other and all of the places we saw (and avoided) in between.

I’m going to write another post about how the planning, the move, the driving and the logistics went in a separate, future post, so keep your eyes peeled. This post is more about the adventure.

Last autumn, me and my family finally got word from my company that the move we had long wanted to make (to Portland, OR) was going to happen.

We set an approximate date and started planning for it. Ultimately, we decided that it made the most sense for me to drive across the country and for Marti to fly.

A driving partner

Since I didn’t want to get rid of either of our cars, it was becoming clear that I would need a helper. One of us would drive the moving truck towing one car and the other person would drive the other car and we would tag team.

After identifying a few people who were interested, my Dad gave me a call and wondered whether I’d be open to him doing the trip with me: my Dad and I weren’t close growing up (my own doing), but since becoming an adult we’ve enjoyed a much closer relationship, so I jumped at the chance to spend some one-on-one time with him.

Hitting the road

After a couple of hard days loading up the truck, we were ready to set off. We rolled out of St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 26th at about 9:30 am.

Day 1: St. Petersburg, FL to Mobile, AL

The first part of the trip was all about getting some miles behind us and not spending much (any) time stopping to see stuff.

With that, there’s not really much to share from day 1. We headed north on I-275 and then I-75 all the way to Lake City where we stopped for a quick bite to eat, then started heading west on I-10 until we hit Mobile, AL where we decided to lay up for the night.

I wanted to be sure to capture photos of all of the “You are now entering (state)” signs, but I didn’t realise that they’re usually a mile or two inside the state line at a convenient location, so I was overtaking a truck when we passed the Alabama sign, so I missed it. The only photo I have is of the “You are now leaving Florida” sign, which is effectively the same thing.

Can’t say that we “visited”, nor that I’ll miss you too much Florida.

Duration: 563 mi / 9:31 h

Day 2: Mobile, AL to Dallas, TX

On day two, we had our sights set on Dallas, which was a fair old drive, but we knew it would set us up well for slowing down a bit later in the week, so we got an early start, hitting the road at 7:20 am.

Initially, we had considered driving via New Orleans, LA, but it would have been a couple of hours out of the way and it was the Monday before Mardi Gras, so we thought it might be a bit chaotic down there! Incidentally, we saw a police convoy escorting a whole bunch of floats on their way down to Mardi Gras.

Continuing west on I-10, it only took an hour or two to get from Alabama, through Mississippi and into Louisiana. From Baton Rouge, we headed northwest up US-190 and I-49 towards Alexandria, where we had lunch. Then we continued up I-49 to Shreveport where we turned left along I-20/US-80/I-30/I-35E towards Dallas.

We were fortunate enough to meet up with a couple of old friends (Mariko & Jorge) who left Florida for Dallas several years ago and had dinner with them before retiring to bed for a much-needed rest.

It was apparent that we made the right decision by not spending much time in the southeast. The views and driving were fairly tiresome.

Duration: 646 mi / 10:56 h

Day 3: Dallas, TX to Santa Rosa, NM

Striving to reach New Mexico by the end of the day so that we could start slowing down, we again got off to an early start. We had heard and been told that western Texas was going to be long and dull, and people weren’t lying, though we did at least start hitting some hills: something which had been pretty absent until now.

We left Dallas on TX-114 to get out to US-287 and start heading northwest. It was a pretty desolate drive with no one and nothing around. We stopped in Childress for lunch and we started to realise that we were reaching the point in our journey where you had to stop for food and petrol/gas when the opportunity presented itself, otherwise you may not get another opportunity.

As the afternoon wore on, and after yesterday’s decision to not drive after sunset, we realised we probably wouldn’t make our originally planned destination of Albuquerque, so we adjusted our plan and decided to head for Santa Rosa, NM: a small town on Historic Route 66 that has since been bypassed by the Interstate.

We continued up US-287 towards Amarillo, TX to get to I-40 and started heading west on I-40. After almost running out of petrol/gas (more on that in the logistics post to come) we finally rolled into Santa Rosa, NM just after sunset.

We stayed at a motel on Historic Route 66 and went for dinner in an old diner that has been on Route 66 for generations. The food was fine, but it was more about the journey back in time. We, of course, had to check out the gift shop and get ourselves a little souvenir.

Duration: 532 mi / 9:34 h

Day 4: Santa Rosa, NM to Sedona, AZ

Before we broke free from Santa Rosa, we made a little stop at the Blue Hole: a naturally formed sink whose crystal blue waters are fed from underground sources. On a clear day, you can see over 100′ down and it’s a haven for divers and kids wanting to cool off in the summer.

We rolled out of town at a very leisurely pace, taking a few minutes to observe the nostalgia of Route 66 in the daylight, before setting our sights on our next port of call: Sedona, AZ. We continued west on I-40, passing through Albuquerque, NM and stopping for lunch just shy of the Arizona border, in Gallup.

The day was full of long stretches of nothingness, but we started to see the kind of landscape that had made me want to go through New Mexico; hills and mountains made of fiery reds and oranges made me feel like Lightning McQueen exploring the area outside Radiator Springs.

As we made our way across into Arizona, we had to make a decision about where to stop for the night. Flagstaff was an option, but I had always heard good things about Sedona, without ever really knowing why it was so nice. So I went with my gut feeling and settled on Sedona on the fly. It’s just as well that we did because, had I planned ahead, I would have shot down the idea based on the treacherous approach that we would have to negotiate. For the first time on our trip, we found ourselves amongst snow as we had ascended from about 4,500′ in Santa Rosa to about 7,000′ in Flagstaff. Little did we know that Sedona is a small town, nestled and protected in a steep canyon. So, to get down to Sedona, you have to descend about 3,000′ inside this steep canyon on SR-89A. There is a longer, safer approach, but we weren’t aware of the difference since we made the decision on the fly.

It was a difficult drive, as my Dad who was driving the moving truck will attest, requiring putting the truck in 1st gear down 10+% gradients and slowing down to about 10mph to avoid losing the brakes, but it made for perhaps the most stunning sight of the entire trip in my opinion. To talk about it, or even to show you photos, doesn’t come close to doing it justice. As you drive down, you are surrounded on all sides by near verticals walls of rock, forest and in our case, blankets of snow. It was an awe-inspiring moment that made me feel very small and insignificant amid the majesty of my surroundings.

High on the experience we had just had, we pulled in at our hotel and noticed that Sedona is something of a swanky town: lots of high-end artists, designers and jewelers make their home here and the make-up of the tax base is reflected in the design of the town which is nice to visit, but too fancy for me to want to live in.

After a nice, but very expensive dinner, we had a bit of a wander through the sleepy town and made our way back to the hotel. It was probably the nicest hotel we stayed in, and thanks to it being the off-season, we got it for a pretty reasonable rate.

Duration: 484 mi / 9:28 h

Day 5: Sedona, AZ to Boulder City, NV

Taking advantage of our fancy hotel, we stocked up on calories at the expansive breakfast buffet before making our way of town, opting for the longer and easier drive along SR-179 and north up I-17, rather than trying to get back up and out the canyon with steep, icy inclines in a moving truck towing an SUV (no thanks!).

We stopped once or twice to get some pictures of the magnificent views around Sedona on our way back to Flagstaff and I only wish that I could have spent another day or two there to explore the sights. Hey ho. After reaching Flagstaff, we turned back west along I-40.

On the bright side, this was the day when we would be passing the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is about a 60 mi, 1 h detour off of I-40 to get to the South Rim (the most popular tourist spot). It seemed silly to be one hour away from the Grand Canyon and not see it, so we dropped the truck off at a truck stop, hopped in the car and drove up there.

While seeing the Grand Canyon was definitely magnificent, it perhaps wasn’t as amazing as I was expecting. That may have been assisted by the fact that it was bitterly cold, and we were only laying our eyes on it, rather than going on a hike into or around it, but it was still a very special experience and I’d like to go back there one day to do some kayaking and hiking.

After deciding that we’d seen enough, we headed back to the truck to continue our way west. We already had a good idea that we’d be hitting the Vegas area for the night, so we set our sights on there. After arriving at Kingman, we got off the Interstate to go northwest on US-93 towards Las Vegas. It was an incredibly flat, straight and desolate drive through the desert that thankfully only lasted about an hour and a half.

We got a sneak peek of the Hoover Dam as we crossed over the Colorado River into Nevada, before stopping just a couple of miles inside Nevada at Boulder City for the night, just 30 minutes shy of Las Vegas.

Neither of us were particularly fussed for seeing Las Vegas, but we figured that, if we’re passing by, we might as well stop for a night and then we can say that we’ve seen it and never have to return. So between that, and the cost of hotels on The Strip, we made the conscious decision to stay outside of Las Vegas. Boulder City is a very sleepy town today; it used to be the main residence for most of the thousands of workers who helped to build the Hoover Dam just a couple of miles away.

We decided that the following day, we would take a day of rest in the Vegas area, to see several things that interested us, so we took it easy that night, grabbed a few beers to drink at the hotel, went out for a dinner in Boulder City and walked around the town, taking in its old charm.

Duration: 417 mi / 7:38 h

Day 6: A day of rest in Boulder City, NV

As a nerdy engineer, and on the advice of some co-workers, I decided that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Hoover Dam. We got up early and got ourselves in line for the first tour of the day, making sure to do the extended tour which includes going inside the dam itself.

It was a really interesting tour and I learned a lot about the Hoover Dam, like the fact that producing electricity is the least important thing that it does (in a list of 5 things). And then there’s the engineering and political willpower that even went into making this thing possible – it was an excellent tour and I thoroughly recommend it if you ever find yourself in the area.

After that, I was dying to get out into nature and start laying my hands and feet on some of these sights that had been tempting me for the past few days. We settled on the Valley of Fire, so we headed up there, which was a good two hours from Boulder City, all the way around the west end of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead.

It was really astonishing and showed off the rainbow of colours that are so synonymous with the Southwest. We visited a few different places within the park and did a couple of hikes before heading back to Boulder City with a view to spending the evening in Las Vegas.

After getting ourselves ready, we made our way into Las Vegas, parking at the Venetian, which was one of the few places that still had free parking. We set about wandering up and down The Strip, without a particular purpose. We stopped in at one or two casinos, watched the fountains at the Bellagio, observed street performers and inhaled more second-hand pot than I thought possible.

We walked about 5 miles that night and while I was glad that I saw it, I’m glad that I have now seen it and need not go back. Once was enough for me. Also, side note: casinos ought to have more simple slot machines. It was near impossible to figure out how many of them worked they were so complex! Just needed a few one-armed bandits!

Day 7: Boulder City, NV to Reno, NV

This day was high on the list of the most boring days. Desert, desert, desert.

After weaving our way through the metropolis of Las Vegas, we headed northwest along US 95. This takes you through Death Valley, and there couldn’t be a more apt name for it. There truly is nothing in Death Valley. You’ll go for dozens of miles and see nothing, before a brief sign of life in the form of an old gold mining town. And then it’s back to nothing.

We stopped for lunch in the old mining town of Tonopah, NV, with about as many active businesses as I have fingers. After that, we continued pushing north with a view to reaching Reno for the evening. We drove past sandstorms, nuclear weapons, UFOs, race tracks, testing facilities and bombing ranges before hanging a left along US Alt 50 at Fallon to intercept I-80 and head west into Reno.

Another little surprise, which was telling of how much there was to review and plan for each day, was that it was snowing in Reno. When I hear Nevada, I think of desert and blazing heat, but little did I know that Reno sits in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada at about 4,500′ in elevation. In fact, the weather was so bad that just 13 miles ahead of us, they had closed down I-80 and weren’t letting traffic into California.

We got settled in at the motel, got ourselves some dinner and did our best to review the weather forecast and figure out where to go in the morning.

Duration: 495 mi / 8:42 h

Day 8: Reno, NV to Lakeview, OR

After waking up and drawing the curtains, we knew it was going to be a difficult day. The snow had continued to fall throughout the night and was settling on the roads. After doing some research online, we had learned that more snow was forecast throughout the day, and that there were a combination of road closures and chain control measures in place.

Having grown up in England and then living in Florida for a decade, I was completely unfamiliar with snow chains, so we were in new territory, not to mention that we had a moving truck towing an SUV trying to get over the Sierra Nevada in snowy conditions.

We booked ourselves in for another night in the motel in Reno, but in the meantime, we headed out and traipsed through the snow to try and find snow chains for my car and the moving truck (not easy to come by when everyone else wants them). A couple of hours later and after hauling 20 kgs of chain around Reno, we made it back to the motel and checked the conditions again. We saw a break in the weather on the radar and decided to go for it.

Apparently, we hit the road at just the right time, because as we headed up US-395, they lifted the chain controls for a couple of hours before reinstating them when the weather got worse again. As it turned out, we never had to touch our snow chains, and while we may have only progressed at about 30 mph, we made some progress.

We encountered some pretty treacherous conditions, including drifting snow and a semi that had skidded off the road, but as we reached Alturas and looked ahead for what we could achieve with the remaining daylight, we realised that we couldn’t go much past Lakeview, OR without driving past sunset, which wasn’t appealing. So we set off for Lakeview and got in at early evening.

Lakeview is a very small city, with just 2,200 residents and is quite high up (~5,000′), so it was a cold night. We reviewed our dinner options (quite limited on a Sunday in small-town America) and settled on Chinese food. We headed back to the motel, played a few games of chess and called it a night.

Duration: 262 mi / 5:38 h

Day 9: Lakeview, OR to Portland, OR

When we woke up on Monday morning, we knew we were within striking distance of Portland. It was a long drive, and there was lots of snow on the ground, but we were determined to get there.

We spoke to the motel owner who suggested that we would be fine going along SR-31 through Paisley, but wanting to be doubly-safe, we ignored her suggestion and went a slightly longer route where there were no chain controls in place.

We continued on up US-395 all the way to US-20 at Riley, driving through drifting snow on some of the ridges.

As we headed west on US-20 and got closer to Bend, the weather eased up and the snow had gone. We got ourselves some lunch and got back on the road for our final slog to Portland. We headed north on US-97 and then US-197 through Maupin and Dufur, heading towards The Dalles on the shore of the Columbia River.

For me, the drive along US-197 was pretty magical and I started getting a bit emotional as I appreciated the landscape of rolling hills, flowing rivers and green pastures that were to be my new home. A really beautiful song came on, and I played it on repeat for the next hour and a half in amazement at the beauty around me, which will now forever remind me of this trip and of moving to Oregon.

After reaching The Dalles, I was in familiar territory after our trip to Portland in 2012. We wound our way along the shore of the Columbia, passing Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls and more.

While the glorious sunshine highlighted our descent from the Cascades down to the Columbia River, it was very fitting that the rain started coming down as we passed Hood River and headed into Portland.

Duration: 452 mi / 9:28 h

Arriving in Portland

After 9 long days on the road, my Dad and I rolled into Portland to start my family’s new life in Oregon. It was a very cool experience and we saw such a variety of people, places, scenery and sights. But, 9 months later, I can safely say that we made the absolute right decision in moving to Portland. We couldn’t be happier here and we’d be happy to host any of our family and friends that wish to visit and see what it is that we travelled so far for.

Total duration: 4,106 mi / 76:41 h

You can explore where we went on this Google Map, which tracked our drive from end to end. And as promised, I’ll soon publish another post about the logistics of planning such a trip.

Explore my cross-country trip

Author: Dave

Dave is many things. Most importantly, he’s a husband and a father to Ellie and Jack. Almost as important, he’s British (though he lives in Florida). Following on from there, he’s a WordPress developer and civil engineer, has an unhealthy love of hummus, is vegan, likes cider, wants to travel to Iceland and Japan, loves solving puzzles and is a realist.

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