Little America

My nonfiction story “Little America” found a home at Litro.

A young woman grapples with loss and lack of direction while driving across the U.S. and exploring Wyoming’s finest, and most ridiculous, truck stop.

Check it out here

Visiting Monument Rocks in Kansas

MONUMENT ROCKS IN KANSAS

The U.S. is full of weird, random sights right off the highways (like the World’s Largest Armchair in Anniston, Alabama) and no cross country road trip is complete without stopping for at least one of these sights.

On my long cross country drive from Georgia to Oregon a couple springs ago, I decided to visit Monument Rocks in Kansas.

I was driving alone, with my car packed with all my earthly possessions, so I didn’t want to make a lot of stops along the way. I mainly wanted to haul ass across the country. But I saw a photo of Monument Rocks somewhere on the internet and decided this would be my one random stop.

I arrived in Oakley, Kansas after a 12 hour boring yet sunny drive that began in Illinois. The receptionists at the Sleep Inn told me sunset was a perfect time to visit Monument Rocks.

Around 530 I headed back out. These rocks are technically on private property that still welcomes visitors on a goodwill basis. You drive down a dirt road that if wet would be a total muddy nightmare, so definitely don’t go if it’s rained recently. I lucked out with dry weather, so the dirt road was passable, though very bumpy. My little car was filthy afterward.

It feels weird to drive on someone’s private property.

Cows meandered on the road. The babies came up and sniffed around the car. The moms peed on it.

You drive down this bumpy dirt road for a good while, with no other cars around, and then suddenly these massive limestone rocks appear out of nowhere. From a distance, they reminded me of a chalky stonehenge.

A couple other cars parked nearby. I got out, camera in hand, and wandered around.

These chalky, limestone rock formations have a few different names such as “Eye of the Needle” and “Charlie the dog”. Visitors are asked not to touch or climb the rocks in order to preserve them.

Charlie the Dog

I met a girl in her late twenties wandering around too. She asked if I’d take her photo, which I did, and then we spent an hour talking and taking photos. One of my favorite things about traveling alone: the random people you meet. Even in what feels like the middle of flat nowhere.

I also learned that night: in tiny rural American towns, places often close early. Even restaurants. I wound up eating gas station food for dinner in my hotel room (yogurt, granola, banana, a bag of potato chips) and called it a night.

Monument Rocks are not something I expected to find in Kansas. They aren’t as grand as the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, say, but they are definitely worth a detour and arguably one of the coolest things in Kansas.

Getting there:

Going South from Oakley on HWY 83, turn left (east) onto Jayhawk Rd. There will be a sign at this intersection for Monument Rocks. Travel down Jayhawk Rd about 4 miles then turn right onto Gove County Rd 14 which turns into 16. You’ll see the rocks appear on the flat horizon.

How to Stay Sane on a Solo Cross Country Road Trip

Somewhere in Tennessee, I think.

I have driven across the U.S. between Georgia and Oregon twice. The last time I drove solo. It is roughly 2600 miles (or 38 hours of driving time, without traffic) between Atlanta and Portland. That is a lot of time to spend in the car by yourself. If you are moving with all your earthly possessions crammed into your car like I was, the drive can be even more stressful.

Here are my tips to stay sane driving solo as a woman across the U.S.:

COFFEE

Okay, first, shitty fast food coffee is your best friend. And actually, you’ll discover that it isn’t really that shitty, because it will taste like hope and comfort and pure joy. As much as I hate fast food the burnt coffee in McDonald’s and precious wifi saved me from having a breakdown in Wyoming. (I was driving through a snowstorm, with no cell service, for the entire day, with hardly any cars around me. Stress was high. Coffee and a call to my Mom in McD’s helped.)

Also, when you’re in Wyoming and find yourself asking: Is it worth it to go ten minutes off the highway exit for Dunkin Donuts coffee and chocolate cake donut holes? The answer is ALWAYS.

MUSIC. Download all of the music you can onto your phone and then add more than you think you’ll need otherwise you’ll end up listening to the same ABBA album over and over again. Also, Podcasts. Because then you’ll be both entertained and feel like you have company. Especially necessary to keep you from falling asleep out of boredom when you drive through Nebraska or Kansas.

Exciting!

SNACKS. It’s okay to just graze. You’re driving solo. You’re bored. Also, I get really hungry on long drives and refuse to feel guilty about snacking constantly. I tend to always crave crunchy, salty foods so nuts and crackers and popcorn are always in my snack pile. Plus dark chocolate. Because if you’re having a bad hour, or feeling angry and hopeless driving through a rainstorm in Wyoming, dark chocolate will help you feel like everything will be okay. My car trip snack pile: trail mix, salty crunchy crackers, corn chips, bananas, apples, and granola bars.

EMERGENCY SHIT. I carry at least a gallon of water that I often don’t touch unless there’s an emergency. Have a car jack and lug wrench and LEARN HOW TO CHANGE A TIRE yourself. Just in case. Keep your phone charged at all times. Have a paper map too! A flashlight and plenty of food in case you get stuck somewhere is also essential. Carry a blanket and extra layers if you’re traveling during a cold season and for the love of God get AAA.

TAKE LOTS OF BREAKS. Your butt will thank you. Your lower back and shoulders will also thank you. Inhale the sweet, sweet smell of fertilizer in Kansas. Marvel at the Rockies on the horizon in Colorado. Make friends with the old couple and their pomeranian at a rest stop. Call someone you love periodically to check in and let them know where you are.

SENSE OF HUMOR. Seriously, this along with dark chocolate is a lifesaver. This country is huge and weird. Laugh at it. Kansas has a lot of funny yarn store billboards like “Knaughty Knitters” and “Second Friendliest Yarn Shop in the Universe!” (What is the FIRST friendliest yarn shop in the universe??) Laugh at yourself as you almost shatter your windshield with your terrible rendition of “It’s Raining Men.” Laugh at that truck driver picking his nose, too.

Monument Rocks in Kansas.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS. If you have the time and means, find places or people along the way to visit. It makes the trip a hell of a lot more fun. On my last trip I checked out Monument Rocks in Kansas, visited friends in Boulder, Colorado and stayed with family in Salt Lake City. If I’d been with someone and didn’t have a car full of all my belongings, I would have taken my time driving across the country more. I would have visited Yellowstone, the John Day Fossil Beds, and possibly just gone out of my way to drive through Montana, which I’m told is insanely beautiful.

ACCOMMODATION. Everyone has a different safety threshold. I do not like to camp by myself. In the U.S. I generally feel safer staying in hotels rather than motels. Sometimes I book a place ahead, sometimes I don’t. I rely on my gut instinct for where to stay a lot. Does this place feel weird or sketchy in anyway? Are there creepy dudes hanging around in the parking lot for no discernible reason? If your car is packed with all of your belongings, as it was with mine, definitely bring the most important things into your room with you.

CHECK YOUR GUT. I’m obviously not talking about nausea or flatulence here. As a woman traveling solo, trusting your gut is ESSENTIAL. If anything feels off or weird about a place, I get out immediately. It’s not worth the risk.

I’m an introvert, so like and need large stretches of time alone. This last drive probably pushed me a bit to the edge there. This country is vast and varied, and even when I felt like I would never leave Wyoming, I felt just fine on my own. Take photos, think deep thoughts about your life, and have fun.

Arrival in Oregon! Beautiful Columbia River Gorge.