This country of ours is full of surprises

By CAMAL PETRO,

Did you know this country is filled with amazing sights to see? I’m not just talking about places like the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore, but there are literally thousands of places that will make your jaw drop with astonishment.

My buddy and I just recently completed a 4,000-mile, nine-day road trip to the Grand Canyon and back. While a trip to the South Rim was the reasoning behind the excursion, we planned dozens of off-the-wall sights to see while on the journey. From visiting Austin, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona, we covered a lot of ground.

That leads me to my point. You think you know all of the cool places in this great country until you’re driving through New Mexico and your friend says, “Yo, do you want to check out the El Malpais National Monument?” While I hesitated for a quick second, it led to the best memory I had from our trip.

We ventured off Interstate-40 at Grants, N.M. and traveled down Highway 53 for 20-plus miles before turning left on a dirt road. Another 10 miles down that brought us to the Big Tubes area of the park. El Malpais is Spanish for  “the badland” and that’s exactly what this place was. 10,000 years ago, a volcano erupted in the area and it left behind lava rocks and deep trenches formed by the lava.

Today, people like my buddy and me climb down into those trenches – about 30 feet deep – and scale over giant rocks to reach caves that have formed. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of terrifying. We were out in the middle of nowhere, nobody was around and we aren’t exactly the most experienced rock climbers. In fact, this was my first time. After that adventure, while walking back down the trail to our car, I left El Malpais with the thought, “I never want to do that again, but that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”

We saw the Grand Canyon at sunrise the next day and hiked trails in Sedona, Arizona after that before spontaneously visiting another unknown place to the both of us.

Again, in New Mexico (that state is pretty cool) and about an hour northeast of I-10 and Las Cruces, N.M., we decided to visit White Sands National Monument. This was Day 7 of our trip and it was a long drive from Phoenix to El Paso, but our adventure called us to White Sands.

Side note: less than a mile away from the park’s entrance, we went through a U.S. Citizen Checkpoint. It was weird, but the officer had a nice back-and-forth with us once he found out where we were from.

“We visited Elvis’ house in Mississippi,” he said.

“Oh, yeah? In Tupelo?” I replied.

“No, Meridian,” he answered.

Once he found out he was wrong, he let out an expletive and said, “Somebody lied to us then!”

White Sands is exactly how it sounds. Miles upon miles of – you guessed it – white sand. It looks like an endless beach but without water. A waterless, beach paradise in 100-degree heat in the middle of the New Mexico desert that used to be a government missile range. What made it even stranger was the sand felt great on your bare feet, despite the temperature in triple digits.

Those two trips weren’t planned prior to us leaving Mississippi, and we spent countless hours on the phone going over what we were going to do on this trip in detail for months, too. It came out of nowhere. We centered this whole trip on visiting the Grand Canyon, but the memories we made of everywhere in-between is what I’ll remember most.

This wasn’t our first road trip either. We did five-day trip to Colorado and back in December 2016 where we saw plenty of off-the-wall things. Another side note: go to Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, Texas.

There’s something about driving thousands of miles with friends with no time restrictions that make you see how amazing and unknown this country really is, and I can’t wait for our next trip. I encourage everybody to do the same. You won’t regret it.

 

Camal Petro is the sports editor of The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, and The Petal News.