The Spring of 1990, in a fit of mid-life crisis, I decided to quit my comfortable job and drive my Land Rover around the United States. My friends thought I was crazy, my mother still hasn't recovered from the shock, and my dog thought it was a great idea.
So the dog and I loaded up my 1967 88 and set out on our big adventure. We didn't plan the trip beforehand nor were we particularly organized in our packing. I had a road atlas and the Rovers North phone number, Robbie had her food dish; we were all set.
I started south one cold, gray day in early April. I traveled down the Eastern seaboard visiting friends and family all the way to Florida. I didn't see any Land Rovers at all from the time I left Rovers North until I got to Charlottesville, Va. In Charlottesville I stayed with rover friends of rover friends but after that I didn't see any Rovers for weeks.
At the bottom of the Eastern seaboard we headed west (the most promising direction given the obvious alternatives) and aimed vaguely for San Francisco. My dog is a good dog but she is a lousy navigator and we traveled to California via New Orleans, Memphis, and the entire Southwest.
I hadn't packed a sleeping bag or a tent (or enough money to pay for motels every night) so we slept in the Land Rover most nights. On nice nights I slept with the tailgate down and the stars overhead, on rainy nights I curled up in the bed of my 88 and wondered if I really was as crazy as my friends thought.
The Land Rover is a perfect vehicle for sightseeing. Other people were racing to their destinations while I cruised along enjoying the view. I have an overdrive and 750x16 tires so I can keep up with traffic if I have to but generally I don't go much over 60 and I'm perfectly happy going much slower. We took lots of side roads and small roads and a couple times no roads at all.
The high point of my trip west was Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. It is a National Monument in the middle of the Navajo reservation. The Navajo farm the canyon floor and the canyon walls are covered with fantastic Anasazi ruins. You can drive along the cliff top and peer down at everything but if you want to really see it you can hire a Navajo guide and take your 4WD into the valley. My guide was a very knowledgeable man named Johnson John and the day I spent driving along river beds in Canyon de Chelly was the best day of my whole trip. Johnson had never seen a Land Rover before and I think he liked my truck as much as I liked the canyon.
From Canyon de Chelly we drove up to Moab, Utah to check out the site for the National Land Rover Rally. The Arches National Park and the Canyonlands are spectacular. I can't stress enough how incredibly beautiful they are. I'd seen pictures and heard tell about the sandstone formations but nothing compares to seeing them. The colors and shapes are more like something from a strange, elaborate dream and the landscape stretches out in all directions begging to be explored. A week is just enough time to whet your appetite for more. I still haven't been able to get to a Rally but you can be sure I'll go back to Moab someday so I can see more of it.
Three words of warning for anyone ever going to the Rally: be prepared to adjust your carburetor, you might not notice the lack of oxygen in the air but your Rover will; bring a couple canteens full of water; and don't forget your camera and LOTS of film. Also I'd recommend against bringing your dog - it'll be pretty hot and they are not allowed loose at all anywhere in the park. I loved Moab but I think Robb was pretty bored by the time we left.
After Moab we set our compass in earnest for San Francisco. We spent a night in a motel in the mountains of Utah (rain is okay but snow is cold) and a night in an oasis in Death Valley and finally we reached the Pacific ocean. It was a lot bluer and a lot colder than I thought it would be.
We spent a few days with friends and then we headed east again. The first half of the trip had been mostly warm and sunny; the second half of the trip was rain and snow. I liked the Cascade mountains - what I could see beyond the raindrops. I loved Montana even though I could only see the first 100 feet of mountain before the clouds took over. Yellowstone was glorious but I had to share it with a blizzard. Iowa was much less flat than I expected and I had headwinds the whole way. The money I saved on film I spent on motel rooms. But we still had a great time and I'd like to go back sometime when the sun is shining.
I was amazed at the lack of Rovers. I saw a Range Rover in Washington near Spokane. I waved like mad but the woman driving the RR obviously didn't wave to crazy people. I saw my first Land Rover since Virginia in southwest Montana - I was so thrilled I turned around to get some pictures of it. It was a red 109 and it looked like it might only be a vacation vehicle. I saw another 109 in Deadwood, SD and I was told its owner had an 88 too but I never saw it. Those were the only Rovers I saw until I got back to Charlottesville a few weeks later. Some people seemed to recognize Land Rovers - I could tell when they asked things like "you're driving that?" with the same tone my friends used when I first told them of my trip plans. An Indian at 4 Corners gave me a pair of earrings which he said would protect me - he obviously thought a woman driving a Land Rover so far from home needed lots of protection.
I wore the earrings the rest of the trip. Whether it was the earrings, or luck, or divine intervention, or the fact that I really do have the best Rover in the world I had no problems the entire trip. I was on the road for about six weeks and at least 15,000 miles; my 88 did battle with snow and sand and a Ford Bronco and returned to Vermont none the worse for the trip. I was homesick and glad to be back in Vermont and I think Robbie was too but the Rover was ready to keep going.
I have to admit to being pretty surprised at my lack of Land and Range Rover sightings. I'm a little spoiled living this close to Rovers North; there are a lot of Rovers around here and I am used to seeing them out and about and in use. All you Land and Range Rover owners out there must be keeping them in your garages and only bringing them out for special occasions. There were a lot of people who thought my Land Rover was a Land Cruiser and those that knew it for what it was questioned my vehicle and my sanity. I think we Rover owners should drive our vehicles more often and proudly - Rovers are too good to go to waste.