As we approach the steepest COVID-19 peak to date, it’s grown clear that the grimmest days of the pandemic may still be ahead of us. Thankfully, it’s finally beginning to look like there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the announcement of several viable COVID vaccines that will begin rolling out over the next six months. By summer 2021 we might actually be able to start tackling that travel list we’ve been growing all quarantine long.
And what better place to start than here in the United States?
Though road trips aren’t completely safe, it was certainly easier to control risk factors by car over the summer than by plane (airports created endless contact points). Certainly, the low-contact road trips that we did take have only invigorated our love for all the locales we’re able to experience without jumping on a plane. But while 2020 travel may have been defined by car-based adventures, these long drives weren’t always taken for pleasure.
Sometimes — like in electronic musician and singer-songwriter Nylo’s case — they were borne out of necessity.
“I decided I had to see my mom,” Nylo explains. “She had recently recovered from surgery, which meant I wasn’t going to be taking any risks when it came to COVID exposure. Flying wasn’t an option. So I did something I haven’t done since I was a teenager, I drove from Los Angeles, California to Austin, Texas in two days.”
Along the way, Nylo found herself winding through scenic valleys, lush groves of trees, and stark desert landscapes, which inspired her to create the music video for her new song, “We’re Not The Same.” When fatigue set in, she also visited rest stops, restaurants, hotels, and roadside attractions — carving a pretty incredible path across the Southwest in the process. In fact, the entire trip looked so interesting in the video that we asked her to share her full itinerary so that we could file it away for the future.
Check out Nylo’s self-shot video for “We’re Not The Same” above and then dive into her picks for the best road trip stops between California and Texas.
Bombay Beach — California
So check this out, this is a town that went from a weekend getaway into an ultimate ghost town overnight when almost eight million tilapia died and washed ashore in one day, and all the residents and vacation goers fled. For decades it remained a very desolate town where you could walk up to an airstream, preserved in desert dust like a time capsule, with clothes and shoes exactly as they’d been left — as though the rapture sucked the tenant into the sky.
It’s eerie, but now the town has been adopted by artists in recent years and turned into this wild, mind-bending, and surreal landscape that’s like a parallel universe in which time both stood still and leaped into the future. You can still feel the pain and loss of the town’s glory days, but that feeling is mixed with this exuberant rebirth of art, and energy, and creation. It’s hard to explain but it’s amazing. There is a festival called the Bombay Beach Biennale — named with intentional irony for it occurs once a year — that converts the town into what has been described as a mini-Burning Man. One striking difference between the two festivals being, instead of the “leave no trace” mentality that Burning Man has, the Biennale takes the opposite approach, and goes for “LEAVE a trace,” meaning, most of the installations stay year-round, and can be visited until they become one with the desert.
That’s the intention for it. It’s really beautiful.
The Library at The Sea of Tranquility — Yucca Valley, California
A film director, photographer, and also co-founder of the Bombay Beach Bienalle, Tao Ruspoli, runs an Airbnb made up of vintage trailers and AirStreams, container homes, and more in Yucca Valley where upon entering the premises you pass a sign that says “clothing optional,” and well… it means it. The property is filled with a very beautiful and owner-curated group of guests at any given time, bringing in open-minded, free-spirited carelessness, conversations on philosophy, photography, art, and sexuality.
People swim nude, walk around topless, dance with their lovers under the unfiltered starlight, read books in the hot-tub as the sun goes down, and any other number of other whimsical endeavors you might imagine. Obviously, this is not a place you’d vacation with the kids, but with a few good friends or your life partner, I imagine it feels like what it must have felt like to walk around Woodstock in the 70s.
There’s a rare and genuine magic there.
The ACE is a desert staple and was my last stop before home after a 14 hour drive day. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to put on my ACE robe (which is like a blend between a snuggie and a robe, basically a fuzzy blanket with a hood, sleeves, and a waist tie), and have my cocktail delivered to me at the pool with my feet into the hot tub, listening to my favorite indie music filtering softly through the atmosphere. I then slept like a starfish across their king bed — which could sleep a whole family — feeling like an actual God.
The ACE is a hipster paradise. The music is cool, the staff doesn’t wear strict uniforms, the robes as I’ve mentioned before are a personal highlight, the rooms are individual and unique, and the restaurant has great food with options for vegans.
This hotel has hosted many a Coachella festival for me and many others and remains a coveted oasis of good vibes in the desert.
Traveling across the miles and miles of flat desert — mixed with an assortment of Joshua Trees dispersed like confetti tossed into the wind — you’ll find Peggy Sues, a welcomed stop on the long stretch of nothingness between LA and Vegas. It’s a classic diner from the ’50s, restored and expanded, heavy-handed on the nostalgia, and there to provide you a hamburger, shake, and fries that won’t disappoint. It’s even got the 1950’s dinosaur garden out back.
After your diner snack you can hang in the fabulously random dinosaur sculpture garden before you depart to continue your journey.
There is an abandoned waterpark on the way to Vegas from Los Angeles. It’s just spooky and cool, and for anyone with an Instagram account, makes a justifiable stop. ‘Cause admit it… you always want another nice pic for the gram.
Enchantment Resort is a beautiful resort hotel in Arizona, where the pool backs up to a strikingly — actually strikingly — beautiful backdrop of red canyon walls. The rooms have that unique, artisan, boutique vibe, featuring desert flare in all the details, as well as the rounded adobe walls.
It’s a very posh and serene escape-away from it all.
My first visit to Marfa was to see the infamous and unexplainable “Marfa Lights,” which as Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens would say, “could be aliens!” The town has a special draw for artists, and people interested in art, it hosts many art festivals throughout the year and is the home of the permanent Prada store art installation, which has received national press — particularly after it was broken into on its opening night and vandalized with the words “dum dum dum” written on it.
Marfa is conveniently located exactly where you’d want to stop if headed west from Austin or Dallas, and won’t disappoint. El Cosmico was a recommendation from a friend and is a perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a unique experience, like sleeping in a desert-themed pristine Airstream.
Just to speak candidly and personally, I love this restaurant so much. I can’t believe it’s real sometimes; you sit on the outdoor patio right next to the humble local marina where boats rhythmically come and go, and people get off their boats to come in for a plate of fries or a fried catfish platter. It’s really very peaceful with the sounds of the river, and if you get one of the tables on the edge of the deck where it meets the water, you can interact with an assortment of turtles, fish, and swans as they cruise by investigating restaurant-goers for potential food donations.
There were over 20 turtles just hanging next to us while I dined with my family. It’s my favorite place to lunch in Austin.
Paddleboarding is clearly something the Austin locals take very seriously. At any given time during daylight hours, Lake Travis is sprinkled with people paddleboarding in pods, laying solo on their paddleboards reading books, cruising around with their dogs like my mom does, and just living. It’s a beautiful lake, with so many different experiences varying from outdoor gym zones to a sculpture walk.
The cove across the lake from the paddleboard rental shop is the best-kept secret. The water in the cove is free from currents so you can float through these crystal clear portraits of the trees reflected by the glassy surface of the water. That area is less populated, quiet, and you might even catch someone abandoning their board, and scaling the overhanging low bridge to backflip into the water.
This bridge is one of Austin’s most famous attractions and home to the largest urban bat population in the country, and North America. The skyline behind the bridge is at its finest vantage point, and as the sun goes down you might be lucky enough to catch the departure of those 1.5 million bats on their way out for dinner. It looks like someone is painting black smoke across the city as they wind out in a unified stream and up through the sky, weaving around distant buildings, and — just like any good spooky movie — getting silhouetted by the moon.
People show up in hordes every night around sundown to watch from the water, from the grassy area beneath the bridge, or from on top of the bridge — all waiting to see if they can glimpse the bats as they head out. After visiting the Congress bridge many times over, I’d recommend the grassy area viewing, because you’re the closest to the action there, and you can lay on a blanket to catch the show.