“It’s impossible to take a road trip in an electric car. If you have an electric car, you need to have another gas car if you want to take a road trip. This is true and no matter what you say, you cannot convince me otherwise,” said one of my acquaintances. I am sure that many of you have heard statements such as this before. My response is usually much more measured and mature, “You don’t know what you are talking about.” Actually, after thinking about this for a while, I came to the conclusion that because of the current state of electric car charging infrastructure in the USA, this person was probably, maybe, a little right. My wife Judy and I own a Tesla Model X Raven with a 328-mile range, and I figure that this person must have been thinking of some other electric car than a Tesla. If the electric car you own is not a Tesla, then you really do need an internal combustion engine (ICE) car if you want to take a long road trip in the USA. (A road trip can be done in a non-Tesla electric car, but a round trip from our house in Vista, CA, to my Brother Ross’s house in Springfield, MO, would be more difficult than teaching our Golden Retriever to stop eating peanut butter.) However, since over 75% of the battery electric cars sold in the United States during the last two years are Teslas, this person was only 25% correct, while I was three times more correct than he, at 75%.
Judy and I have owned a Tesla since March of 2015. We have driven our Teslas over 100,000 miles, many of which have been on road trips of 1,250 miles or greater. So it seems clear to me that many people, my friend included, would benefit from an account of our most recent “impossible” road trip to visit my brother Ross in Missouri.
Day 1: Vista, CA to Wrightwood, CA — 110 Miles, about 2 hours
Laozi, the famous Chinese philosopher, is thought to be the author of the Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand Chinese miles begins beneath one’s feet.” Our road trip from Vista to Springfield and back was going to be over three thousand miles, so we thought the obvious place to begin was Peking Wok, our favorite Chinese food restaurant, just a few miles north of our home. Before leaving, we filled up the car with free electrons from our solar panels. (These electrons really are free; we installed the solar panels on our house 10 years ago and the system has long since paid for itself.) Then we headed to Peking Wok in Fallbrook, where we enjoyed a full Chinese dinner with leftovers to keep in our cooler, before driving 100 miles northeast on Interstate 15 to our mountain house in Wrightwood, CA, in the San Gabriel Mountains above L.A. In Wrightwood we replaced the 45 kWh we used climbing from near sea level to 6,000 feet. (Just a note here to disclose that this did cost us about $8 because our mountain house has no solar collectors. But that was all we paid for energy on the entire trip: $8 to travel nearly 3,500 miles. The rest cost us nothing because we have free miles resulting from our Tesla referral code; free electricity at hotel destination chargers; and a few free kWh from Prescott, AZ, friends who hosted us on our way back home.) We relaxed for the night in Wrightwood and departed early the next morning for Winslow, Arizona, with our battery at 100% charge.
Day 2: Wrightwood, CA, to Winslow, AZ — 475 miles, about 9 hours
The second day of our trip took us from the pine trees at altitude in Wrightwood, down through the Mojave Desert, and up the Colorado Plateau to Winslow, AZ. Beginning the trip with our battery at 100% and over 320 miles of rated range, we drove the 17 miles to Interstate 15 and then took I-15 to Barstow, where we transitioned to Interstate 40. Our first stop was in Needles, CA, on the Colorado River, 210 miles from Wrightwood. Most people think of the desert as a dry and barren place, but while the desert is dry, it is far from barren. The Mojave Desert is full of striking drought-tolerant plants, and the landscape is ever-changing. We ate breakfast–bagels and Snapple– and used the restroom at the Dairy Queen in Needles while we supercharged for about 20 minutes.
Our next stop was Kingman, Arizona, which is only 65 miles from Needles, but one of us had to use the restroom. (Our Tesla has a rated range of over 328 miles, but our bladders have a much shorter range.) The Kingman Supercharger is in the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr, so we emptied our bladders and filled up our Model X. Just down the street from the Kingman Supercharger is the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, but we wanted to get into Winslow when it was still light so we skipped the museum. Back on the road, we drove 150 miles to our final supercharger stop of the day in Flagstaff, Arizona, a drive that brought one of the most dramatic scenery changes on our trip. At 3,300 feet, Kingman sits on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert while Flagstaff, at nearly 7,000 feet, is surrounded by a ponderosa pine forest on the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Though the drive was full of scenic surprises, the Flagstaff Supercharger was hidden in a Marriott Courtyard parking lot with no view. But we used the hotel restroom, enjoyed the Peking Wok leftovers, charged for only enough time to finish our lunch, and were off on the last 60 miles of the day headed to our destination (and destination charger) at La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona.
Most people reading this are probably familiar with the Eagles song “Take it Easy.” One of its most memorable lines is “Well, I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.” As you can see from the photo, Mark enjoyed standin’ on the corner with his bronze friend, and we both thoroughly enjoyed staying at Winslow’s other attraction, La Posada Hotel. If you ever travel on I-40 or Route 66 in Northeastern Arizona, it’s well worth your while to stop in Winslow and stay at least one night in La Posada, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter’s Southwest masterpiece and Fred Harvey’s last great railroad hotel.
Fred Harvey was said to have “civilized the west” by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, and impeccable service to railroad travel. (He was so legendary that MGM made a movie called The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland.) Harvey developed and ran all the hotels and restaurants of the Santa Fe Railway, eventually controlling a hospitality empire that spanned the continent.
In the 1920s, Harvey decided to build a major hotel in the center of northern Arizona. “La Posada”—the Resting Place—was to be the finest in the Southwest. Construction costs alone exceeded $1 million in 1929. Total budget with grounds and furnishings was rumored at $2 million (about $40 million in today’s dollars). They chose Winslow, then (as now) the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Winslow was ideally situated for a resort hotel since everything to see and do in northern Arizona is a comfortable day’s drive. They asked Colter to design the new hotel, and she worked for the Fred Harvey Company from 1905 until her retirement in the 1950s. Although famous for her magnificent buildings at the Grand Canyon, she considered La Posada her masterpiece.
In addition to the historic uniqueness of La Posada, the food was excellent. We ate dinner in the Turquoise Room, named after the private dining car on the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Super Chief. I had the prime rib and Judy had the Killer Vegetable Platter. Both were excellent, but whatever you order in the Turquoise Room, you have got to try the Signature Soup, a creamy sweet corn in the same bowl with smooth and spicy black beans, topped with spicy chili cream. By far, it was the best restaurant food we had on the entire trip.
Day 3: Winslow, AZ, to Amarillo, TX — 575 Miles, about 14 hours
After a simple breakfast, we began our third day with 100% charge and headed east on I-40 to our planned side trip to Sky City in the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. The trip from Winslow to Acoma was over 200 miles, so we stopped briefly to charge at the Tesla Supercharger in Gallup, NM. While charging, we talked to a couple of Tesla owners, who were also on road trips, about various sights we had seen along the highway and swapped tips regarding Tesla ownership. One discussion was whether it was faster to drive slowly, 60 to 65 mph, to get a better range and thus needing less time to charge, or to drive faster, 75 to 80 mph, to arrive at the supercharger earlier but having to charge longer. The husband and wife team from NH, driving a Model S, claimed that they made better time by driving around 60 mph. But the folks from Chicago, driving a Model 3, and we agreed that driving a Tesla at 60 mph is just no fun. We’ve done trips both ways and we really haven’t noticed any significant difference in total time for a trip. (As everyone who lives and drives in California knows, ”speed limits are just guidelines, not rules.” And we’ve noticed that in California one of the best ways to get a good view of someone’s middle finger is to drive 60 mph on the freeway.) So on the interstate, Judy and I try to drive 70 to 79 mph, depending on the state and the speed limit. We believe that 75 mph is the Tesla road trip sweet spot, but it is clear that opinions vary.
Acoma Pueblo is about 15 miles south of I-40, and the tour of the Pueblo took us around three hours, so this side trip added nearly four hours to our day, but it was well worth it. The road from I-40 to Sky City Cultural Center begins high on a mesa and then drops down into the Acoma Valley. The views of the valley and Sky City in the distance from the top of the mesa are breathtaking.
From the mesa, we dropped down into the valley and parked at the Sky City Cultural Center, where we signed up for the next tour of the Pueblo. While waiting for the tour we spent some time viewing the exhibits in the small museum and talking to people we met.
When it was time for our tour, we boarded a small bus and took a short ride up onto the mesa that supports the Pueblo which, according to the Acoma people, is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, over 2000 years old. There are over 250 adobe dwellings in the Pueblo, all without electricity and running water.
As we walked around the Pueblo, our guide related its history and the significance of the different buildings and spaces. At the end of the tour, he pointed the way down the original treacherous, vertical footpath leading to the Cultural Center road and invited anyone interested to descend the 365 feet. Only one hand went up. Everyone but Judy chose to ride the bus. And of course, when I say Judy volunteered, that also meant that Mark did too. Step by careful step, handhold by carved handhold, we made our way down the ancient path, which was like climbing down a 365-foot ladder with rungs spaced randomly 4 inches to 2 feet apart. By the time I arrived at level ground, my legs were rubber and wouldn’t recover for days. Judy felt just fine and wanted to turn right around and go back up the trail so she could have the full experience. My experience was already so full that I used my daily veto to nix the idea. So Judy walked and I staggered the remaining distance to the Cultural Center. By the time we arrived it was lunch time, but Mark was too tired to eat, so Judy drove to our next stop at the Tesla Supercharger in Albuquerque.
The city of Albuquerque is an interesting place to visit, especially during the Balloon Fiesta, which we had attended a few years ago but missed this year by a couple of weeks. The Albuquerque Supercharger is nothing special, so we just made some PBJ sandwiches, drank some peach Snapple, and hung around the car until we had enough charge to drive the 2 ½ hours to the Supercharger in Tucumcari, NM. Northern New Mexico and Northern Texas are basically just flat, high plains with not much to see or visit, so when we pulled into the Tucumcari Supercharger, located in a Holiday Inn Express parking lot, we walked over and had a lovely sit-down dinner at McD’s. With our bellies filled with dollar-menu hamburgers and French fries and our battery filled with free electrons, we headed off to Amarillo, TX. Nighttime on the high plains is even more boring than daytime—boring, that is, until we were about 20 miles from Amarillo. All of a sudden, we noticed in the distance flashing red lights. First only a few, but then, mile after mile, more and more flashing lights, all flashing at the same time. No, actually, all the low-level lights flashed, then all the high ones. At first Judy and I were thinking we were approaching an alien spacecraft landing site, or maybe it was just a big Texas joke to spook nighttime travelers from California. Eventually there were thousands of these flashing red lights, and after about ten miles of this, we Googled “flashing lights in western Texas” on our phone, and voila! They were windmill lights to warn low-flying aircraft! As it turns out Amarillo, TX, is the Saudi Arabia of wind power in the US, and windfarms in TX have a rated capacity of over 25,600 megawatts. All of a sudden, it felt really good knowing that all the electricity we would use to fill our Tesla in Amarillo was to be generated by the wind. After surviving the light-flashing spookiness, we pulled into our destination charger hotel in Amarillo.
Amarillo, TX to Springfield, MO — 550 Miles, about 10 hours
First stop of the day was in Weatherford, OK. Aside from the Supercharger, there were two things of interest: Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the Stafford Air and Space Museum. But that day we were on a mission to get to Springfield, MO, to visit my brother and his family, so no side trips (well, that turned out not to be exactly true, but more about that later). After charging, we headed to Catoosa, Oklahoma or, as we came to call it, Tollahoma: there were toll roads everywhere! If you plan to travel through Oklahoma, make sure you have at least one roll of quarters, two would be safer. Having not known this, we were forced to look in the seat cushions, on the floor of the car, and the bottom of Judy’s purse for enough change just to get us through the state. (Lucky for us, Judy’s purse has as much stuff as Mary Poppins’, but I am sure Judy’s weighs twice as much.) The Catoosa Supercharger is in the parking lot of the Hard Rock Casino. Thus, we made that unexpected side trip I mentioned. How can you stop in the parking lot of a casino and not go inside to see if your luck is running that day? We had to at least try to win back that $8 we had spent on electricity at the beginning of our tour.
So into the casino we went. Transitioning from the tranquil parking lot into the Hard Rock was indeed a shock to our senses or to paraphrase the Grinch, “Oh the lights, lights, lights, lights and the noise, noise, noise, noise.” As you may know, to go anywhere in a casino–restaurant, check-in, hotel room, bathroom–you have to pass by the gaming tables and the slot machines. (I think I remember there being slot machines in the bathroom stalls at the last casino we visited some years ago, but I could be wrong about that.) The Hard Rock was no different. First, we journeyed deep into the slot machines to search out the bathrooms and then while making our way back to the real world, we were surprised by an impressive display of Cherokee artifacts in a hallway. We considered lunching in the food court but decided we would forgo the noise and the $20 cheeseburgers and eat PBJ in the car. We never even tried to win our $8 back. After our casino adventure and lunch, we had enough charge to get to Springfield. A few more tolls and 170 more miles later, we pulled into the Double Tree Hotel in Springfield, MO on a late Friday afternoon.
3 nights and 2 days in Springfield, MO
The Double Tree, Springfield, is a reasonably nice hotel with free chocolate chip cookies and a Tesla destination charger. (Just a side note here: In California, especially along the coast, you can’t hardly spit and not hit a Tesla, or at least some kind of BEV or hybrid car. Not so much in Missouri. We saw no Teslas or BEVs on the road during our three days in Springfield. And while we had no need for a Supercharger in Springfield, we did stop on our return trip at the one in Joplin, MO, and we did not see even one Tesla or BEV in Joplin.) At the Double Tree they had two Tesla chargers and two J1772 chargers for other BEVs, but in these four spaces there were parked two ICE automobiles and a Double Tree service cart. We parked in the one available reserved space that happened to contain an orange traffic cone, and during our three-day stay the cone reserved the space for us. We registered at the front desk, got our chocolate chip cookies, and obtained that valued key for the Tesla charger that was ours and no one else’s during the entire three days, not that anyone else in MO owned a Tesla.
That night we enjoyed dinner and reconnecting with my brother and his family, plus delighting in the main reason for our visit: our six-month-old grandniece, Lydia, who is third in intelligence and cuteness behind our two grandchildren. The next day we met my brother for a late breakfast at a great little restaurant in Downtown Springfield. If you have ever been to Springfield, MO, you probably know that Springfield is famous for four things: 1) it is home to 22 separate colleges, including Missouri State, 2) it has the colossal original Bass Pro Shop, 3) it has Lambert’s Throwed Rolls Restaurant, and 4) it is close to Branson. Judy and I have seen, attended, worked at, and paid tuition for enough colleges and universities to fill two lifetimes, so we did not need to visit yet another one, and we didn’t make it to Branson, although we have in past visits. We did not eat at Lambert’s this time, but if you’re in Springfield you really must go: it’s good Southern comfort food and they really do throw rolls to you across the room. We did ooh and ahh through Bass Pro Shop, which is the most spectacular sporting goods shop in the country, and one of us returned the following day.
On Saturday night we gathered with my brother’s extended family at the home of his mother-in-law, Anna Marie. She’s the friendliest and most welcoming person in Missouri, as well as being a fantastic cook. We had a great dinner and enjoyed a night of delightful conversation and catching up. Sunday morning Judy and I were on our own for a late brunch and then met the kids and grandniece at Bass Pro’s “Wonders of Wildlife” natural history museum and Aquarium, which Judy toured with the kids while I went over to my brother’s and watched football. (What man wouldn’t rather see the Chargers lose than go to an aquarium?) Later that afternoon we said goodbye to everyone and retired to our hotel room to prepare for our return trip to Vista.
A bit earlier I had noted that Springfield is famous for four things. Well, Sunday night—actually, early Monday morning at 1:00 am, we learned of a fifth thing: tornados! Warm and comfy in our nice Double Tree bed in the middle of the night and dreaming of hot chocolate, whipped cream, and puppies, we were awakened by our cell phones screeching and a siren blasting outside. It was a tornado warning! All of the hotel residents were herded into the root cellar for the duration of the warning. Living in Southern California, Judy and I are no strangers to danger. We have survived earthquakes, wildfires, and Santa Ana winds. But a tornado is something altogether different. As we sat in the disaster room eating Double Tree chocolate chip cookies while waiting out the warning, we got to meet several families staying in the Double Tree, most of whom were Midwesterners who treated the tornado warning the same as we would treat missing out on Costco chicken: not a real problem, and there will be more tomorrow. Anyhow, after sitting for about an hour, we got the all-clear and returned to our room and pretended to sleep.
This ends Part I of An Impossible Tesla Road Trip. Please click here to read Part II
Mark & Judy