11 May 2005

Cross Country Drive: Maryland to Arizona – May 2005

Day1: Frederick, MD to Indianapolis, IN

I woke up around 6:30am tired, anxious, and ready to hit the road to begin my new life. I admit I was sad to drive away from the town that had been my home for the last year, and the state that had been my home for the last 7 years. A lot of the most important things in my life happened in Maryland- college, my first job, my first home- but I was about to do something that not every person has the opportunity to do in their lifetime.

I’m not sure how many times I heard the words “I’m jealous” or “I wish we could have done that”, so as scared and as sad as I was, I knew this dream of mine was more than just a simple move- it was my way of breaking the traditional mold of getting married, buying a home, and having kids. Of course, I had already broken that mold by resisting the pressures of starting a family and traveling the world instead. This move was the beginning of my plan for world domination (okay, not really….); it is actually the beginning of making all of my dreams and goals come true. So, as I began my long journey down Interstate 70, I wiped the tears from my face and began to take in the surroundings.

The first day of driving seemed to go by really quickly, most likely because of the excitement of the next few days. I drove through Maryland, Pennsylvania, a little slab of West Virginia, Ohio, and part of Indiana on my way to Indianapolis. I started off driving in the rain, and actually hit the worst part of my drive in the hills of Pennsylvania with some thick fog. The fog broke quickly, though, and I finally broke from the rain in the mid section of Ohio. Before crossing into Ohio, I stopped briefly in Wheeling, West Virginia for lunch and gas. Wheeling kind of broke the mold of West Virginia- it was cute, quaint, and everyone seemed normal. I lived about 5 minutes from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia in my old home, and so I knew West Virginia had it’s good parts and it’s bad parts. Wheeling was definitely an example of SmallTown, USA at it’s best. Besides many miles of farms and farms of open fields, I finally realized just how different large cities in the Midwest are from large cities in the East. As we approached Indianapolis, I was shocked to see nothing but farms around 15-20 miles out. Back home, suburbia extends a good 30-40 miles out from Baltimore and DC (if not more) and it was crazy to see that all of a sudden, the fields just end and the big downtown area begins. As a person who really hates large cities and loves the country, this set up was great! It is possible to live in the country, work in the big city, and only have a 15 minute drive to work!

Indianapolis itself actually shocked me. Like I said above, I’m not a big city type of girl, but I found Indy to be pleasantly uncrowded, semi easy to navigate (although the one way roads are a pain), and there seemed to be a lot to offer in the way of activity. There was actually a NBA play-off game in town that evening (more on that later), and yet there were no large swarms of crowds and no major traffic jams. I walked from my hotel to the mall, right in the middle of downtown, and it was simple and pleasant. The mall was fairly large and I had a blast in Nordstrom! I ate dinner at one of my staples, PF Changs, and just walked back to the hotel afterward.

The Westin Indianapolis: I arrived at the hotel around 4pm and it was crazy busy! I pulled up to get our bags out and there were just people everywhere and cars continually pulling in, so it was hard for me to take my time getting everything out of my car (keep in mind, I had a cat with me, so I had to get her in her crate, gather her food, litter box, and all of my bags, so it was a handful). When I finally had my act together, the bellman came over and loaded everything up on the cart.  As I was walking into the hotel, I almost ran directly into a very large man, who had to be at least 2 feet taller than me, and I’m 5’3″. I was totally in awe over my near collision, when I realized that the entire lobby was full of extremely tall men. Well, as it turns out, they were the Boston Celtics! The hotel is directly connected with the RCA Center and there was a playoff game that night. That certainly explained the mass chaos that ensued for the next few minutes. There were people everywhere, trying to get autographs and pictures. I just calmly sat next to the cart. After I checked in, I went up to my room on the 10th floor. The bellman was very kind and explained everything to me and who to call if I had any questions. Once he left, I immediately began thinking of dinner. Unknown to me prior to my arrival, there was a Shula’s Steakhouse in the hotel and Shula’s just happens to be one of my favorites! I was crushed because I had the appropriate attire (I had dry cleaning I had picked up just prior to leaving Maryland), but I did not have the appropriate shoes! I considered going to the mall just to buy nice shoes, but then decided I’d just do our dinner at PF Changs.

The room itself was fairly nice, but a little on the small side. I knew I wasn’t going to get a very nice room because not only did I use my government rates to book all of the hotels, but I had my cat with me and they usually put pets in pet friendly rooms. I was fortunate to get a room away from the elevators (by request) and a non-smoking room. The room overlooked the top of the main building and the Marriott hotel across the street, so it hardly had much of a view. It was fine for a simple one night stay, though. The Shula’s Steakhouse, the hotel also had a Starbucks kiosk that offered the famous coffee and pastries. Other than the things I mentioned, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore and see what else the hotel had to offer. The hotel is a two block walk from the mall and several restaurants, and a one block walk to the local theater. Also, the hotel is directly across the street from several government buildings. Overall, it was a very clean, up-to-date hotel that is a great place to stay while in downtown Indy, especially if you are attending an event at the RCA Center. I enjoyed my short stay in Indy, surprisingly! It’s the perfect city for someone like me who hates the crowded downtown craziness of cities like NYC or DC.

Day 2: Indianapolis, IN to Kansas City, MO

I awoke on Sunday morning hoping to have a much more scenic drive than the day before. I knew I’d at least get to see the grand Mississippi, and this was somewhat of a big deal for me since I had never crossed it before by land. I hit the road around 8am and shortly into my drive, I saw a billboard that was taken as a sign that I was doing the right thing. The billboard was for Southwest Airlines and said “Phoenix for Peanuts.”  As silly as it may seem, it made me feel a lot better about this whole move. I truly think it is fate. Anyway, I stopped briefly for gas in another SmallTown, USA called Cloverdale, Illinois. I also passed what could quite possibly be the world’s largest cross. I knew I was in God’s Country after seeing that (and after seeing some really to-the-point Pro Life signs)! Before I knew it, we were crossing the Mississippi and entering St. Louis. I did the obligatory tourist stop at the Arch, took pictures, and headed on my way. Not knowing exactly where the good and bad parts of town were, I drove just outside the city limits and got lunch. I should have waited a little bit longer because I stopped at the world’s slowest McDonald’s. It literally took them 20 minutes to get my two chicken sandwiches and fries to me. After what seemed to be the longest fast food stop ever, I hit the road again to head to Kansas City. The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, although I did stop to get  an Atlas, which is something I should have owned already, being as though I am a huge map geek (and hold a BS in Geography). The Atlas kept me very occupied and it helped me pin point some possible stop-overs for the future parts of my trip.
Once I got settled in the hotel room, I headed down to the shopping area for dinner. Once again, I found myself next to another high-end steakhouse (Ruth’s Chris) without the proper attire. I promised myself that I would have to treat myself to a nice steak dinner once settled in my new home. I am just such a huge fan of top notch steak dinners and this just disappointed me to no end. I did, however, have a nice meal at Brio Tuscan Grill, which is located in the midst of the shopping district, across from the J. Crew store and California Pizza Kitchen. I had a great meal, with large portions and excellent service. The atmosphere was very nice and could be condusive to a casual meal or nice night on the town. I’m not sure how long the restaurant has actually been there, but the decor seemed very new and well kept. After dinner, I  just went back to the hotel room since everything was closed for the evening. This part of town was very nice, though, and would be great little shopping getaway if you ever happened to be in town.

Sheraton Suites Country Club Plaza: As I pulled into downtown Kansas City, I had visions of a somewhat grand hotel in the middle of rolling hills of a golf course. At least, that’s sort of what the name implied! Instead, it was located right in the middle of an outdoor shopping district, with several high end stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue. Luckily for me,  it was Sunday and all of the stores closed at 5pm! I pulled into the self parking section of the hotel and went inside. The hotel seemed only slight upscale, nothing overly fancy, but still well maintained. They had one restaurant that offered all three meals of the day, but I only had breakfast there (it was a mediocre breakfast buffet). When I got up to the room, I was a little peeved it was right next to the elevator, but as it turned out, I did not hear the elevator during my entire stay (I had huge issues with this in Oahu, so I was prepared to duke it out with the hotel to move me). The room was set up like a suite with a separate sitting area and bedroom, with doors that allowed you to close off the two rooms from one another. I was overjoyed by this because having to sleep with the cat in the same room the few nights previous to this turned out to be a major issue. There is just nothing quite like waking up 5 times in the middle of the night by the cat crawling all over your face. While I was very glad to have this separation from the cat for the night, I was otherwise slightly disappointed with the room. I did have a pretty nice view overlooking the outdoor pool, but the decor in the room looked like it could use some updating, the furniture didn’t all match, and some of the furnishings looked a little worn and could have used a cleaning. Of course, they may have purposely given me this room because of the cat. Again, I was glad to actually have a non-smoking room, even if it was pet friendly. Overall, the hotel was decent, nothing spectacular, but fine for a quick stop over.

Day 3: Kansas City, MO to Denver, CO

This was my longest leg of our trip, totalling just over 600 miles. While it was not a bad drive (again, all on Interstate 70), it would have been MUCH better if there had actually been something decent to look at. Kansas is as flat as a sheet of paper, with nothing but fields as far as the eye can see. It truly was an eye opener for me, mostly because I thought I lived in the middle of nowhere, but this truly was the middle of nowhere. In all seriousness, it was interesting to see, if not just that once, and it seriously made me ponder why so many people are crammed in California and in the metropolis that is the Mid-Atlantic states, when there is plenty of open land available for development there. I know most of it is occupied by our country’s hard working farmers, but some of the land was truly underutilized. Seeing all of that also made me understand how Kansas can get so many tornadoes, but there isn’t massive destruction from many of the storms. Perhaps it is a good thing that the land is so barren! Even once we crossed into Colorado, it was still so flat. It wasn’t until we reached Denver that I saw the magnificence of the Rocky Mountains that I had longed to see. Oddly enough, the highlight of this leg of the trip was passing a pick-up truck in Colorado that had two bear statues in the back. The bears, who I am assuming were made of some sort of metal, are seen trying to swat at a squirrel. It was worth a good laugh for a few minutes.

I, admittingly, cringed when we first entered the Denver metropolitan area. Other than St. Louis, which also slightly freaked me out, this was the largest city I had hit along my drive and it was almost rush hour, so there were people EVERYWHERE! I thought it would be a major chore to get to the hotel downtown, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. The hotel was in an area that was a little too closely packed for my taste, but the area itself looked very nice and upscale. There seemed be a lot of different shops within a few block radius, not to mention Six Flags and Mile High Stadium were not more than a mile away. Out of all the cities we visited (with the exception of Scottsdale since I’ll basically be living there), Denver is the one I’ll most likely return to for pleasure. I actually have no choice about returning, though, since we have business associates there and will be visiting a few times a year.

Westin Tabor Center: The Westin Tabor Center is a chic, modern hotel attached via walkway to the Tabor Center Mall. The hotel’s decor is ultra contemporary, with a minimalist approach toward furnishings. The furnishings were all of a square shape and featured the modern colors of deep woods, neutral browns and greens, and dark lighting. The hotel appeared to cater mostly to business travelers more than leisure travelers. When I checked in, I was greeted with the unexpected announcements that cats were not allowed in the hotel. I explained to them that I specifically called Starwood directly and spent a half an hour on the phone with them arranging hotels for my trip that would accomodate cats. They said it was a recent policy change and they had actually turned someone away the week prior who had a cat with them. I was peeved, but after speaking with the manager, they allowed me to stay, but in a downgraded room. I didn’t care at that point- I just wanted some food and some sleep.

The room was nice inside, and the biggest downgrades were it was on a lower floor, next to the elevator, and had two double beds. Even with all of that, the room still had a sizeable bathroom with marble fixtures, a soaking tub, and there was a balcony with a table and chairs out the back sliding doors. It was a tad chilly to sit outside, but it would have been nice if it were summer. The rooms had just been renovated in April 2004, so the furniture was still fairly new in appearance and the only major complaint with the room, other than the obvious, was I could hear the elevator through the wall. I didn’t realize it at first because I had immediately put on the TV and that masked the noise. I dealt with it, though, and it was not nearly as loud as my Waikiki experience.
The hotel had several restaurant choices within the building, including the upscale Palm Restaurant, but I chose to walk over to the Tabor Center and have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. There isn’t much I can add about the Cheesecake Factory, other than I eat there a lot and it wasn’t the ESPN Zone. All in all, the hotel is nice, clean, and in a good location, but not the place for a good ole family vacation.

Day 4: Denver, CO to Albuquerque, NM

This was the shortest leg of my drive, and also the first day off of Interstate 70. It also turned out to be one of the most scenic and one of the most surprising. I say surprising because once I passed Colorado Springs, it was virtually barren, except for Pueblo and Trinidad, CO and Santa Fe, NM. I thought it couldn’t get anymore remote than Kansas, but I was wrong. Kansas at least had plenty of highway exits with small gas stations and there were farms within sight most of the drive. For several hundred miles, I saw nothing but mountains and fields (if you can call them that) and NO sign of life! There were some smaller towns along the way, and I actually stopped in one of them for lunch (Raton, NM). I enjoyed the scenery, though, and the wonderfully high speed limit of 75 MPH on Interstate 25. I also enjoyed trying to spot out the large, fancy pueblo homes on the mountainsides. Once in Albuquerque, though, I was disappointed. It was like another large, crowded suburban area, although not nearly as developed as Denver. I expected something a little more smaller and authentic, which is probably what Santa Fe would have offered if we had stopped there.

Albuquerque, from what I saw of the downtown area, wasn’t very upbeat and well kept. The people I met and spoke with, though, were all very kind and personable. Perhaps there is a nicer part of town that I did not get to see, but I doubt I’ll be back there for anything. For dinner, I ate at Texas Land and Cattle, a steakhouse chain mostly located in Texas. I had eaten at one in San Antonio and enjoyed it, so I thought it was worth giving it another go. Plus, I got to have the steak I missed the few nights prior, even though it was not quite upscale. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my meal.

Sheraton Old Town Hotel: Out of all the hotels I stayed at, they had the one of the most friendly staff, but it was by far the least luxurious and well kept. I would say this hotel is a 3 star hotel tops. It’s located right along a major road with no special amenities and the rooms are in a need of a serious update. The furniture seemed crammed in there, with the coffee table having to be pushed up directly against the couch, and there was almost no room to sit at the desk because of the table and couch. The bathroom was really small and the tiles were cracked in several places. Of course, I say this knowing that I’m sure I got a pet friendly room once again. At least it had a king bed! The wireless internet access was subcontracted out to Sky River Communications and it was awful. I got logged off every 5 minutes. There just isn’t a whole lot to say about this place, other than I’m glad they accepted cats!

Day 5: Albuquerque, NM to Scottsdale, AZ

Finally- our last day on the road. I got off to a very early start at 7am (6am AZ time) and took to the roads like a bat out of, well, you know…I was so eager to get to my new home. The scenery was gorgeous with colorful mountains and canyons, and the lush forests of Flagstaff. I could tell I was dropping in elevation as I drove because the landscape changed, as well as the temperature. When I actually arrived in the state of AZ, I cried when I saw the sign. I had finally made it!

I didn’t wander about Scottsdale very much, but I didn’t feel the need to because I can do that whenever I want now! I didn’t even eat dinner because I was so exhausted! I know, how very boring of me, but I needed the sleep because I had a few rough days behind me and quite a few busy days ahead of me.

Westin Kierland Resort and Spa: When I initially pulled up, I was shocked to see how close it was to the business areas and how very plain it looked on the outside. Well, when I walked in, that all changed. The lobby was open-air and gorgeous, with an incredible view overlooking the golf course. The lobby had a chic waterfall and had marble floors and a nice sitting area. I checked in as the bellman attended to our things, and since I’m a Starwood member, I got bumped to the club level floor! This was a stunner for me, since I had been given all of these pet friendly rooms that were less than wonderful. The room did have two double beds, but I managed to survive through that! LOL The room had a nice view overlooking the golf course from the 9th floor. The room was fairly large, with all of the Westin Heavenly trimmings. The bathroom was awesome, with a huge tile shower and soaking tub that looked brand new. All of the furnishings looked new, and there were some wonderful desert prints hanging on the walls.

After being in my room for all of 5 minutes, I headed down to the pool area. There are two pools- an adult only pool and the larger main pool. The main pool is where the action is, obviously- they have a small water slide, tons of inter-tubes, and the J. Swillings Grill for eats. The adult pool is where I chose to relax, and it was very quiet, yet very plain. They did have some floating rafts to lounge on, which was a nice way to relax. Unfortunately, part of the pool is roped off for lap swimmers, so you have to pay attention to make sure you don’t float into that territory. I also enjoyed a poolside lunch and some frozen drinks. After a few hours of the sun, though, I showered and retired to my room for the evening, not to be seen again until 6am the next morning for my complimentary continental club floor breakfast. So, I didn’t get to do too much exploring, but I did notice the spa looked inviting and there were several restaurants to choose from for meals. The resort also offers a shuttle over to the Kierland Commons, for shopping and meals. If you choose to walk, it’s 10 minutes tops. I’d like to visit again, if I can, but I also want to check out several other Scottsdale resorts, such as the Phoenician and the Four Seasons. I’d like to see what each one has to offer. But, I would recommend the Westin for nice, friendly experience with the perfect touch of luxury.

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    • My name is Janelle and I'm a luxury travel consultant with Luxe Island Escapes by Easy Escapes Travel and an avid traveler!

      I specialize in customized luxury travel to the South Pacific, whether it be a quick get-a-way, honeymoon, or a bucket list adventure. In addition to being a Certified Tahiti Specialist®, I am also a certified specialist for Fiji, The Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia. To learn more about me, my services, and my certifications, please visit the About page.

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