A dog, a camera, and 2,500 miles on the road


Photo by Simon Levy

Dixie the golden retriever is the author’s best friend and traveling companion on the journey west.

By Simon Levy

I had 2,500 miles to drive and five days to do it, while trying to avoid the worst blizzard of the season. 

The open road, good music and my dog, Dixie.

For reasons that need not be explained here, I had to get Dixie and my mother’s car from Oxford to her in Palm Springs, California, by Feb. 8. My journalism professor agreed to let me miss a couple of classes, as long as I memorialized the trip in an on-the-road saga.

So here it is: A man and his dog with 2,500 miles of road and the season’s worst snowstorm heading right for us:

Day 1: Hitting the road a day early

The initial plan was to leave Thursday morning, Feb. 3, and arrive in the palm desert that Sunday. I planned on at least making as much of an adventure out of it as I could, and I had man’s best friend riding shotgun. But the weather forecast prompted me to pack my bags and hit the road earlier, around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2. 

My goal was to completely miss the winter storm that had thousands in Tennessee and the Midwest struggling to get their power back on and eventually left a thick white blanket of snow on Oxford. 

When I left Oxford Wednesday afternoon, the rain was coming down steadily, a precursor for the blizzard making its way up from the southwest towards the east coast, crossing right over southeastern Ohio. 

imon left Oxford a day early to avoid the coming blizzard, but freezing rain was falling as he pulled into Nashville on his first night. Photo by Simon Levy

Live music from bars all over downtown floods out into the streets as we enter Nashville. Even though I had been there briefly a couple of times before I had never been to the city alone and been able to explore, in addition unlike prior times I have visited the city, I was now 21. 

First night: Nashville

Less than a five-hour drive from Oxford without traffic and I find myself in Nashville, a city that is so close in proximity yet so different in culture from where I spend most of my time. After a quick dinner, I took Dixie out for a long walk before I put her to bed and wandered out to explore the late-night scene of Music City, U.S.A. 

In search of live music and a beer after five hours of driving through the rain, I found the Tin Roof, a mostly empty bar with country music — of course — that could be heard from a block away.

The author found shelter from storm listening to country music in the Tin Hat in Nashville. Photo by Simon Levy

While it felt as if the last call had already been made and the men on the stage had had more than a few too many, the singing was the only thing sobering them up. It was a little after midnight and even though they closed in less than an hour, I was assured I had time for a beer and even two.

I made it back to the hotel after one beer because to be able to experience the rest of the places I have planned to stay, getting checked out of hotels and on the road early is a must. Especially with the almost 700 miles and about 10-hour drive from Nashville to Oklahoma City

Day two: heading for Oklahoma

At 9 a.m. Thursday, with breakfast in my stomach and a Doggie Donut for Dixie, we left Nashville behind and started our drive to Oklahoma City.

Dixie settled for a doggie donut breakfast as they prepared to get back on the road for day two. Photo by Simon Levy

Getting a good road trip playlist set up before driving with great sing-along songs comes in handy for the early morning or late-night sections of such a drive. The only person, or dog in my case, who heard me belting my guilty pleasures as we made our way through Tennessee, can’t tell anyone how awful my singing is.

The sky was overcast, and we had rain and precipitation-free weather — for the first 45 minutes that is. The snow caught up with us and the drive that initially had us planning to arrive in Oklahoma City in 10 hours (including stops for food, gas, and to walk the dog) ended up taking 14 hours.

By day two, the rain had turned to blinding snow as the author moved from Tennessee through Arkansas and finally into Oklahoma City. Photo by Simon Levy

planning to arrive in Oklahoma City in 10 hours (including stops for food, gas, and to walk the dog) ended up taking 14 hours.

Tip of advice: if you are white-knuckling your way through a snowstorm on an interstate, especially in states that don’t get that type of snowstorm, pull over and stop driving. I sure wish I had. 

However, through the help of music from Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey, I was able to make it to Oklahoma City, where we checked into the hotel and went right to bed. Checking out the wild west would have to wait until tomorrow.

Day three: historic Route 66

Oklahoma City was still blanketed in the snow when I took Dixie out for her morning walk. The streets, including the main roads, had been untouched by snowplows, and even at 8 a.m. the city was as dead as when I arrived just before midnight the night before.

As we hit the road, the sun showed her face for the first time and by the time we made it to the interstate the roads were clear and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Similar weather was in the forecast for the rest of the drive. 

Looking for a spot to walk Dixie, I pulled off I-40 following a sign reading “Historic US Route 66.” The town I pulled off into blew my mind. When I stepped out of the car, I might as well have stepped out of Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean in “Back to the Future.”

Historic Route 66 was mostly a service road with dilapidated buildings running parallel to the interstate. Photo by Simon Levy

Tucumcari, New Mexico has motels, gas stations, and restaurants that look as if they had been the inspiration for Radiator Springs, from “Cars.” 

Often referred to as the Mother RoadUS Route 66 was one of the first major highways in the US, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles. Now, most of the original roadway serves as a frontage (or service depending on what part of the country you are from) road for Interstate-40.

While a lot of the mother road does not look as it once did, pieces of the past in Tucumcari still exist and are a way to travel through time when life was much simpler, phones didn’t exist, gas was a fraction of the price it is today.

The dog needed a walk and without her there I wouldn’t have entered a stretch of Route 66, unchanged since the ’40s. If I hadn’t realized it already, I now knew I needed my dog by my side for this adventure, because who knows what I would’ve missed if she wasn’t with me.

Once the dog had her comfort break, and a gas station that worked was found, Dixie and I continued along I-40 through and onto New Mexico State Route 285 into the southern portion of the Great Rocky Mountains.

Santa Fe, New Mexico is the second oldest city in the United States (and the oldest capital city in the US), founded as a Spanish colony in 1609-1610. Pueblo-style houses covered the mountains and buildings with the same architecture lined the streets of downtown, some of which are older than the country itself.

The Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in New Mexico seemed to have been caught in a time warp. Photo by Simon Levy

Our hotel, nice but not over the top by any means, matched the architecture of the rest of the city. As I checked in, and Dixie got lots of attention from the employees at the bar, I asked the receptionist, “I have already fallen in love and I plan to come back, but I am only in Santa Fe for one night, where would I regret not going to eat?”

“Tomasita’s,” she replied without hesitation.

I sat at the restaurant bar and had a drink and ordered a red and green chile-covered, stuffed sopaipilla to go. I wanted to order food I couldn’t get in Oxford, so I got the red and green chiles that are used in many dishes in Santa Fe and a sopaipilla, which is a fried puffed-up tortilla, often served with honey that is native to and hard to find outside of New Mexico.

Simon and Dixie dined on stuffed sopaipilla with honey, a local delicacy, in their Santa Fe hotel room. Photo by Simon Levy

I brought the stuffed sopaipilla back to the hotel and ate dinner alongside Dixie before taking her for the final walk of the night and getting ready for a big day of hiking ahead. It was finally time for the national parks and the dog to get a nice long hike.

Day four: The Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park

With most of the national parks being west of the Mississippi River, a large portion of the population must do a lot of traveling to see them. In addition, many parks don’t have easily accessible airports nearby, so the way to get to many of them requires more than an hour of driving.

The National Parks Service has preserved some of our country’s most beautiful natural landscapes and wildlife environments. I’m lucky that at such a young age, I have had the opportunity to see many national parks, but I still wasn’t prepared for what I had planned for Dixie and myself.

The painted desert colors swirled past the car windows during western part of the journey. Photo by Simon Levy

After getting Dixie registered as a Bark Ranger, which allowed her to accompany me, we drove slowly down the two-lane road that wound its way 28 miles through the length of the park. A lot of national parks limit places where I would be able to bring the dog, but the ranger at the station informed me Dixie could go anywhere I could.

The easiest viewing point of the Painted Desert is from the north entrance of the Petrified Forest National park. While not a national park itself, because it is mainly on Navajo land, the red and salmon stripes of the desert sand hills are mesmerizing.

As we traveled further into the park and away from the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest began to show itself as the pinks and red mountains changed into different shades of gray and tan.

The weather in Arizona was much warmer than it had been two days earlier in Oklahoma, so the travelers rolled down the windows and Dixie stuck her nose into the wind. Photo by Simon Levy

The weather was much different than two days prior and warm enough to cruise with the windows down, allowing a tired Dixie to feel the cool breeze against her face after our first hike, a 3-mile loop through the Blue Forest.

We made our way through the park, stopping at the Rainbow Forest, a vast field covered with petrified wood chunks, stumps, and fragmented logs, glistening with a variety of different colors that give it its name. I took Dixie for a quick half-mile stroll through the Rainbow Forest, where she may have been more fascinated with the petrified wood than I was. 

Looking back, I should’ve thought about how much she loves sticks before bringing her to a park covered with petrified sticks. However, after a scraped knee in the Blue Forest, and a short pouting struggle about having to leave the Rainbow Forest, we were back on the road to Phoenix where we would arrive late and leave for Palm Springs Early the next morning.

Palm Springs; end of the road

With around four hours of driving time left to where I was delivering the family dog and car to my mother, we were once again on the road bright and early. With the windows down and Toby Keith blaring while we soaked in the southwestern heat, there was a certain bittersweetness in realizing this was the final stretch of our five-day adventure-packed drive across the country.

Arriving at his mother’s home in Palm Beach, Simon caught up on his sleep while Dixie enjoyed the pool. Photo by Simon Levy

As we pulled into the driveway, you could tell Dixie was ready to be at her final destination with a pool for her to fetch a ball in, and a large yard to run and play. I needed to just get in bed and catch up on lost sleep if I wanted to make it to Joshua Tree before my flight the next morning.

Being a one-way drive, I had to catch a plane from Palm Springs back to Cincinnati and Miami classes the next morning. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 p.m. PST and land at 10:53 p.m. EST, with one connection at Chicago-O’Hare. I was packed and ready to go at 9 a.m. figuring about an hour before my flight was a safe time to get to the airport. I took the keys to the car and headed to nearby Joshua Tree National Park for a last bit of sight-seeing.  

I knew I wasn’t going to have time for a hike in Joshua Tree, but it was great just to be able to drive down Pinto Basin Road for even 10 miles past the colorful desert foliage and many different sizes of the Yucca plant known as the Joshua Tree.

Simon took one last sightseeing excursion through Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs before bidding Dixie and his mother farewell and catching a plane back to Cincinnati and classes at Miami. Photo by Simon Levy

I had to turn around after about 30 minutes of driving straight down the main road of the park to have enough time to give my mom – and Dixie — quick hugs goodbye and make it to the airport. 

A burning desire to do it again

All other obligations and stressors that were on my mind before the trip were cleared from my head as I made my way down those country roads. Sometimes all it takes to relax is just getting your furball, filling up the tank and getting on the highway. Whether it’s 50 miles or 2,500 miles, there is something about the roads that keep calling you back.

Simon Levy is a Miami senior majoring in Journalism and Sports Leadership and Management. When not reporting from the highways of America, he covers sports for the Oxford Observer.