Thinking back, I’m not quite sure when the idea hatched. If I really dig around in my memory, I think it might have been a vague suggestion by one of us to drive to the Grand Canyon as part of our Vegas adventures. After all, we had some time to kill between Britney and Burning Man. But somewhere between a “why not” and a “what’s a plug in campsite?,” regular travel companion Zoe and I devised a detailed plan for a five-day road trip that would take us from Nevada to Arizona up through Utah and back to Nevada again.
Our ride? The boldly colored JUCY camper van, a New Zealand staple that’s recently launched in three US cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco and yes, Las Vegas. This was my inaugural trip traveling in any kind of RV situation, and it was a big first for me. I have a post coming with the low down on our lean green driving machine, so stay tuned if you’re intrigued (pretty much everyone we encountered on the road was — I can’t tell you how many tours we gave!)
Our trip started bright and early on Monday morning in August. We had aimed to arrive at JUCY, about a twenty minute drive south of The Strip, the moment they opened at 9am, but because of who I am as a person got there closer to 10am. The friendly staff allowed us to store our excess bags — this would be key to maximizing the space in our compact home for the next five days — gave us the lowdown on our ride, and wished us well on our way.
An hour after leaving Vegas, we crossed the border out of Nevada and into Arizona at the Hoover Dam. The fact that it was already noon combined with the overwhelming heat left us in agreement that we’d have to save a more comprehensive dam tour for another trip, and this would be just a photo op stop.
Our final destination for the evening? The Grand Canyon, which we hoped to reach in time to catch sunset at the rim. While a straight shot drive from Vegas is just about five and a half hours, we’d agreed long ago to take the rambling route, turning off Interstate 40 to instead enjoy a well-preserved stretch of Route 66.
Once one of the USA’s major thoroughfares, some stretches of Route 66 still stand for those willing to shift out of the fast lane. For our adventure, we turned off the Interstate at Kingman and met back up with it again right outside Seligman. In between, we passed through Hualapai, Hackberry, and Peach Springs — mostly blink-and-you’ll-miss-em towns that seemed frozen in forever time.
The biggest attraction along this breakaway route was Hackberry General Store. Our stop here was our first taste of something we’d discover over and over again throughout our mini American Southwest roadtrip — there just weren’t that many Americans on it.
Visiting this teeny tiny town in the middle-of-nowhere-USA was like dropping in on a United Nations meeting, and we made a game of guessing the accents of our fellow travelers. By the time we reached Utah, a friendly septuagenarian RV Park attendant greeted us with, “Well hey! A couple of local girls!” When we politely explained that actually we were from New York, he practically snorted at us.
“Ladies, that’s local around here.”
Wandering through the time machine/pop culture museum/nostalgia bomb that was Hackberry, I could see why travelers would come from far and wide to confirm for themselves that places like this do in fact exist outside movie sets.
Already on our first day, we established a regular pattern in which Zoe drove and I navigated. We both had total stopping power at any time, though — no matter how recently we’d last stopped, no matter how much the other person wanted to keep going, we could call a pull over.
We were in total giddy agreement, however, over stopping again around the outskirts of Seligman, when the facade of an old Western town caught our eyes — well, that, and the signs for Roadkill Cafe (we just had to know what was on that menu.)
As two avid design geeks, we couldn’t get enough of the neon signs plying Route 66.
While I’m not sure I’d actually want to stay in any of the desolate motels along this stretch — my after dark anxiety would surely have protested such an idea — I was totally enamored with them in broad daylight. Though to be fair, my irrational fear of being alone in the dark was causing all kinds of mental mayhem on this particular trip, a fact Zoe found pretty entertaining when she borrowed my iPhone and found some rather morbid recent searches. (Travel tip: maybe don’t google campground murders when you’re hours away from sleeping in a campground for the first time.)
We spent the most time in Seligman, which stole the show as far as the tiny stretch of Route 66 we saw was concerned. The charming town was a leading inspiration for Disney Pixar’s hit movie Cars, set in the fictional town of Radiator Springs.
Yet to our amazement, we still more or less had the place to ourselves. The lack of fellow tourists — or residents, for that matter — added to the surreal vibes of this quirky and colorful town.
Our JUCY camper fit right in.
I probably could have spent a whole day in Seligman. As with almost every hamlet we’d passed through that day, Zoe and I marveled over what it would be like to grow up and live there, and I wished we’d had more time to interact with the locals and get a sense of it.
We might not have had time for a drink in the local watering hole or an in-depth discussion on the ramifications of the dwindling drive-by traffic on a small town dependent on roadside tourism. But we did have time for photoshoots. Always time for photoshoots.
All day we’d been looking for the perfect spot to grab a bite. Our road trip snack pack (you know I had a road trip snack pack) had kept us sated for a while, but we couldn’t resist the charms of a late lunch at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive In.
The creators of Cars had interviewed one of the Delgadillo brothers, a Seligman barber and Route 66 historian named Angel. Angel told the poignant tale of a once vibrant town who’s traffic virtually disappeared on the day that Interstate 40 opened, a plotline that later became a large part of the movie.
Reluctantly turning off Route 66, we took one look at the time and realized our dreams of watching sunset over the Grand Canyon were simply not going to happen. After all, we still had one last stop in Williams to fuel up and buy supplies for the the trip.
In retrospect, we wish we’d had an extra day to split this part of the journey into two — in a perfect world, we would have spent the night in the buzzy-but-still-endearing town of Williams and spent the next day slowly getting ourselves over to the Grand Canyon (there were a few more silly roadside attractions we would have loved to have stopped at, and we wouldn’t have minded more time in the National Park, either.)
But while we might have missed sunset over the Grand Canyon itself, we were treated to a pretty special one on the road. As daylight turned to dusk, we were transfixed by the colorful show taking place through the windshield. And that’s when we saw it — a flash of muscle, the flick of a sinewy tail. A mountain lion ran right in front of our camper! (Full disclosure: this may have been as we were still struggling to locate the headlights.) I couldn’t believe our luck. We hadn’t even entered Grand Canyon National yet and already, the wildlife was coming to us.
Stay tuned for day two — The Grand Canyon! Have you ever driven part of Route 66?
Many thanks to JUCY for our sweet ride! As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.
Girl, you have no idea how much this post made me want to travel to the US again! I think there are so many amazing things to discover in your home country and I really appreciate that you’re devoting time and space on your blog to write about your American trips as much as about your adventures abroad! 🙂 The photographs in this post are fantastic – what a colorful place!
Absolutely! My home country continues to charm me. When I first started traveling I was obsessed with everything exotic, and too anxious about seeing the far corners of the globe to appreciate the closer ones. As time goes on, I weight them more and more equally.
Camper vans are the tits. Great photos as always – looking forward to part two as well as the tour of your ride!
After this experience, I have to agree! Can’t wait to get back in one!
I made my way to the Grand Canyon coming from the other way (Colorado) and even growing up in this part of the country it shocked me how remote it is and how much more time I could have spent exploring along the way. I had similar fears camping on my own! Can’t wait to read what you girls got up to there!
Considering what a draw the Grand Canyon is, I couldn’t believe how much of the route there we had to ourselves! Granted, we went the scenic way… but still. No traffic, no crowds — the whole way!
Such a fun trip! I have indeed driven on route 66. I did a big US road trip from Kentucky to California 10 years ago this summer (eek!). It was so much fun. I loved the Grand Canyon. I’m looking forward to reading more about this Juicy van- never heard of it before.
Oh man Joella that sounds awesome — I would love to do the same someday! Jealous! Did you RV it or stay in hotels/motels along the way?
I live in Vegas so there’s no excuse why I haven’t done this yet! After I (finally) get my license I’m grabbing a couple friends and totally driving this route.
That would be an amazing celebration for getting a license 🙂 It was a nice easy drive too — perfect for a new driver.
This is beyond adorable! This part of the US seems so foreign to me and I love that it actually exists…outside of movie sets 🙂 Hoping to do my own US road trip this year!
Nice! Where are you planning to go? I wanna come! 😛
I drove the same part of Route 66 as you and loved it. We stayed at a camping ground just out of Seligman, a town I also loved, and I loved the Route 66 Museum in Kingman (and Mr D’z Route 66 Diner). I will be back in that area in 6 weeks time so I will definitely check out Williams and Hackberry
I’m bummed that we missed Kingman — definitely a return trip in conjunction with a visit to the Hoover Dam is in order next time I’m in the area!
This looks so fun! I love roadtrips, but have never been that far west before. Can’t wait for the next post!!
Love that you guys are loving this series! Thanks Cate 🙂
love this. Your roadtrips are too short. You tell great stories. Love love the photos. Can’t wait for the next installment.
They are indeed! I would love to do a longer one someday… this RV thing may have won me over 🙂 Florida will have to be on the destination list!
Really loved this post. I’ve wanted to drive route 66 for about 10 years now and this might just be the little kick in the hinder I needed to actually do a trip!
Woo hoo! That’s what I like to hear, Hanna. This little stretch inspired me to drive more of the historic route, for sure!
These photos are awesome! I love how much you’ve focused on the kitschy stuff and that these places even exist still is just awesome.
Looking forward to the next instalment very much.
I do love me some kitsch 🙂 Love that you guys are loving this trip too!
I am SO excited for these posts – I’ve been dreaming of a Grand Canyon/Utah road trip for several years now. I even saved the JUCY camper van on pinterest. Can’t wait to read more about the journey!
I’m obsessed with the JUCY. Already dreaming of what trip I could take it on next — maybe just this trip, all over again!
Awesome images Alex! And excited to see JUCY make it to the US (my husband is a Kiwi so he’ll be proud). We’ve done a few road trips in the South West and it’s such a feeling of freedom. Such amazing landscapes. Excited to hear more about RV’ing it – thinking of trying it with our little man 🙂
I think the JUCY would be great for a family of three! Tell your husband his country makes a great RV 🙂
Ahhh, more places to add to my JUCY roadtrip!!
Where are you renting from, Zoe? I want to plan my next trip already!
Looks like an amazing stretch of road to take a road trip … can’t wait to do it myself!
Do you have a trip planned, Katie? If not, no time like the present 😉
I love that you were googling campground murders before staying in one – I can’t help but do that sort of thing, too! I love this whole post, though – Route 66 has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I have yet to make it there. I had never heard of JUCY until you posted pictures on Instagram. Can’t wait for more of these posts!
I hadn’t heard of it until starting to plan this trip, but then I started seeing them everywhere — at Burning Man, on the road, and all over social media. After driving around in one, I can understand why!
Ha, I’m surprised you two ever even got to your destination. There seem to be photo-worthy things at every turn! It must have taken an eternity just to go a few miles. But wow, that kind of looks like the best road trip ever. Once again, you’re making me realize that I really need to do more traveling in my home country.
Believe me… there are large stretches of nothing, ha. That’s kind of what defines this drive, actually! Guess I didn’t do a great job of covering that part!
YES, so excited to see we now have JUCY vans in America! I did a road trip in a JUCY van up the east coast of Australia back in 2010 and we had the best time and loved the JUCY. I’ve always thought since then how awesome it would be to have JUCY in the USA. Hopefully they expand their base, we need them on the east coast too!! And your road trip looks like a blast, Utah is definitely on my list, can’t wait to see more about that 🙂
Yes, I would LOVE to see them on the East Coast! Especially if the drop off fees from one location to another were reasonable. That would be an awesome way to go cross country!
Love the photos my eyes got to feast here. We as a family have done quite a few road trips in Europe, they are scenic. Got to watch out for such interesting stuffs.
My last few US roadtrips have given me the bug… would love to try one in Europe someday!
Wow – do you know how rare it is to actually see a mountain lion? That’s pretty cool!
My friends and I did a week trip from Vegas to GC to Zion National Park – such a fun road trip! Can’t wait to see the inside of this camper you rented!
Indeed — the ranger we spoke to was even pretty skeptical until we confessed we’d been unintentionally driving without our headlights on — then she conceded our eyes probably did not deceive us. We were on a serious high after that sighting!
Such an awesome road trip! You took so many gorgeous photos! I was surprised to find out there are so many tourists and so few Americans along the route! Haha it’s a bit on the beaten path it seems 🙂 Nevertheless I would love to drive down it one day!
It was bizarre — we barely encountered anyone but those we did encounter were from very far away places 🙂 Cracked us up, out there in the middle of nowhere!
That picture of Zoe is FIRE
Girl has got some style!
This looks like SO much fun! How quirky and cool are those little towns??
I’m fascinated by any place with a population in the triple digits 🙂
This post made me homesick. And I’ve never even been to Arizona or Utah!
That’s funny 🙂 Americana knows no state lines, I suppose…
I have been trying to convince my better half to go on a road trip in the US for ages now and I think these posts might have finally sold him on it! It looks amazing!
Yay! That’s awesome to hear 🙂 I can’t wait for my next road trip…
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Wait! First of all, great photography! Oh my Arizona. You made me homesick :'(
Always happens to me when I see photos of New York (which happens a lot!) So I know the feeling <3