May 26, 2019: US Road Trip IV

Austin -> El Paso -> Phoenix -> Indio.

5/23 (El Paso, TX)

The long road ahead.

This was the part of the road trip that I was not looking forward to, but it's an exercise every American should partake in at least once in their life (that is, driving down a long, seemingly-boring stretch of road and experience the open country). According to EV Trip Planner estimates, this would involve a 10 - 11 hour drive from Austin to El Paso. I've heard West Texas isn't exactly full of exciting scenery, but since this is essentially the start of my trip back to the SF Bay Area it needs to be done.

I left Hotel Eleven before 10am with a 92% SoC. The day plan called for stopping at 4 different Superchargers, each spaced 1.5 - 2 hours apart.

Junction, Texas was the first. This is yet another case where I wish the nav system pointed out the business name the charging stalls are located next to. When I'm in a new city and making turns while visually scanning the area, sometimes what the trip computer is verbalizing vs. what I'm seeing doesn't align. In this city the 8 charging stalls are next to the Chevron.

Ozona was the second stop. The 6 charging stalls here are located in the back of a Quality Inn. Not exactly a place with the usual assortment of comfort amenities since there doesn't seem to be any restaurants, etc. within immediate walking distance. Those items are a short drive down the street, however. I ended up napping and extended my charging time longer than necessary which added to the overall trip time to El Paso, but I'd rather be rested than trying to keep my eyes open on the long stretches of road. I've relied a lot on Autopilot so far but it hasn't been flawless either.

Fort Stockton was the third stop located at the Pilot Flying J Travel Center. The only dining option here is a Subway, and after spending several days eating almost nothing but damn-good barbecue I decided to pass. Texas has made me a picky eater and I refuse to submit myself to Subway.

Van Horn was my final Supercharger stop for the day located at a Hampton Inn. There's not much to do here either except sit inside the car and get some rest.

For much of the day the highway speed limit was 80 mph. I generally kept the cruise control locked on that number since going above it meant dealing with more wind turbulence requiring more corrective effort if Autopilot wasn't doing a good job. Traveling at this speed is also less energy-efficient than what I'm used to. All in all, the entire drive over the day didn't feel so long and the flat, plain landscape that I was expecting turned out to be a little more scenic to my eyes than I had anticipated. It was a pleasant sight to take in. I've also never been so close to the Mexico border in decades as El Paso sits right across from Ciudad Juárez.

My accommodation was at a Courtyard by Marriott on the southern edge of El Paso. I figured that after such a long drive I'd want to get to the first destination charger along the way and turn in. They have 3 Wall Connectors here (although one didn't fully seat into my charging port) which are located near the entrance.

I had initially feared that the open road in West Texas would include lots of wind gusts that would adversely impact range, but given how close the Superchargers were spaced out this never became a concern. The recent storm activity that had been making its way through Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas was non-existent in this part of the state by the time I drove through. I've been extremely fortunate to have essentially missed out on all the atmospheric drama that's been in the news headlines as of late. If my trip planning had been shifted by a few days, it might have been a completely different story.

5/24 (Phoenix, AZ)

One of the interesting aspects of El Paso is that it's right at the Mexico border, and as I drove out of the city you can see Ciudad Juárez right next to the freeway. The two cities which straddle this border look remarkably different at a quick glance.

So far on this road trip, the number of other Teslas seen along the drive have been far and few in between. On my route from El Paso to Phoenix, I saw two transports carrying brand-new Model 3s eastbound, but otherwise seeing any Tesla vehicles (except at Superchargers) were rare. If Elon wants to nudge the masses towards electrification, then he really needs to look at the truck crowd since Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and Toyota pickups dominate the scene over the last few states I've pushed through.

This leg of the journey to Phoenix is the last of the "lengthy" stretches coming in around 7.5 hours. Charging stops at Deming (New Mexico), Willcox (Arizona), and Tucson (Arizona) were required. These particular stops did not have any decent dining options available except for the likes of Subway and Burger King. I guess after partaking in all the great Texas barbecue over the last week, my palette's expectations were raised to the point I developed cuisine snobbery. But if there was a Burger King, that option was exercised.

I found the drive through New Mexico and Arizona scenic, although some might consider it boring. The weather was also quite moderate and sunny at the Superchargers. As I entered Arizona, I was greeted by a field (or army?) of cacti.

The ramming speed continues.

As I was arriving into Tucson, there was apparently some sort of traffic accident or other significant congestion. The nav system re-routed me through a detour that helped bypass most of it and also allowed me to see some back roads. An unexpected surprise.

My hotel room for the night was at The Camby, another Marriott property. This place reminds me of the Sonesta, a typical hotel with a lot of fancy window dressing to make it feel upscale. While it's certainly nice, it just feels relatively pretentious and comes with a $35 valet fee because there's no public parking. What essentially feels like forced-valet in this large city gets awarded a scorn rating in my book. On the bright side it allows me to use Valet Mode on the car again.

I personally don't find much value in overly-styled establishments anymore and after staying at more middle-of-the-road priced properties as well as high-end (the St. Regis in particular) over the last week and a half, it's unlikely I'll ever consider places like The Camby again. Hotels generally vary only by service level, location, "luxury" amenities, perceived reputation, and the pricing to go with it. If there were no destination charging here, I wouldn't have considered it. I should have read the fine print on parking availability more carefully when doing my research.

The immediate area seems upscale and the Biltmore Mall across the way feels akin to the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, California. This probably explains the whole hotel valet requirement, especially considering the mall itself has optional valet service.

Like El Paso, Phoenix was just a passing-through city for me. For this trip at least, I had no interest in sight-seeing the area.

5/25, 5/26 (Indio, CA)

It was about a 4 hour drive from Phoenix to Indio (next to Coachella and Palm Springs). Once you leave the field of cacti, the sign welcoming you into California passes by. Google Maps provided approximate locations of various California Highway Patrol speedtraps. Not surprising these exist. Best to stay around the speed limit anyway.

The only Supercharger stop needed along the route was at Quartzsite, Arizona at a Carl's Jr. which isn't exactly my idea of a nutrition recharge. Quite a few Teslas were here along with a few of those temporary Supercharging stalls. It took me a moment to realize why - the Memorial Day Weekend. Otherwise it was still rare to see other Tesla vehicles on the road (although I did see a couple more delivery trailers heading eastbound).

I arrived at the Fairfield Inn (my third Marriott stay 3 days in a row) before 2pm. While this facility doesn't offer any Tesla Wall Connectors, I wasn't concerned since the local Supercharger is located in the next parking lot. To my surprise, the Fairfield Inn here also has 4 L2 chargers I could use in a pinch.

It's been almost a year since I last came to this part of California to visit Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea. I enjoyed Joshua Tree so much that I figured another visit on my return trip home would be in order. For my first night's stay, an evening trip through the south entrance would allow me some silent contemplation time gazing up at the stars. A quick run to the Indio Supercharger revealed Tesla's just-announced policy change on Supercharger use at select busy charging locations.

This policy has its pros and cons. Generally I think it discourages "over-charging" (that is, all the way to full or close to it) when it's unnecessary and I presume Tesla is trying to further encourage better use of L2 or home charging as a side effect. Throughout my entire road trip over the last couple of weeks, I don't recall a stop where I had to charge beyond 80% and the nav system pads sufficient range buffer to reach the next charging stop with roughly 15 - 20% remaining. The calculations take into account geographic elevation changes and the extra energy required to overcome them, but I'm not sure if it factors in weather forecasts, in particular Tornado Alley storm activity which was prevalent during the last week.

That said, if I'm not traveling to another Supercharger but going deep into territory with no electric infrastructure, I wonder whether this new policy factors in this scenario. Since I was planning a drive into Joshua Tree where modern amenities (or even cell signal) doesn't exist, I was worried for a moment whether heading towards (and getting back from) Joshua Tree would be an issue if starting from 80%. This ultimately didn't seem to be the case, at least when reaching my final point at Joshua Tree's Porcupine Wash along Pinto Basin Road. If I had originally purchased a Model S with a 60kWh battery, I'd be much more concerned about range capability.

Note that this 80% limit can be overridden by simply adjusting the limit setting in the charging window on the center screen.

Within the park, I made my final stop around Porcupine Wash at 7:30pm and settled in for a couple of hours watching the sunset and the stars slowly reveal themselves through the atmosphere. It was a bit breezier than my visit last year. Interestingly, a group of folks in a Model X turned in and parked behind me to also take in the view. When they left a short while after, I appreciated how relatively quiet the X was compared with all the other internal combustion engine vehicles that occasionally zoomed by. Teslas really are an ideal transport through a quiet park like Joshua Tree where you want to minimize the intrusion of human activity.

As I watched the sun go down, I sat there appreciating just how much my Model S has done for me over the years. While I could take road trips and do exciting things with any car, something about my S85 has inspired me to do things like take long distance runs and live in the bubble of a future-thinking world without lurchy gear-shifting, engine vibrations, and noise. It's unlikely I'd have the same life experience if I had bought an Audi that I was originally considering.

It's interesting to see the limits of technology when some fundamentals aren't in place such as LTE signal. Joshua Tree is a deadzone for wireless coverage so the nav system maps aren't available. You'd think that it would include a cached copy of map data, but not so. The earth is essentially shown as a generic grid, making your point on the map look like a lightcycle in the Tron world.

There are no street lights along the road and after dark you're completely reliant on the headlights to illuminate what's ahead. While Autopilot does work to an extent, I recommend making the drive manually. The radar does not detect the very small life forms that scurry across the two-lane road in the dark.

On the return drive back to Indio I made a run to the Palm Desert Car Wash to rinse off the road grime and bug smashes (before any permanent etching occurs), then spent a few minutes Supercharging up to 60% so I could top off to 90% at the Fairfield Inn. Unfortunately, I didn't consider that the 4 parking spaces with the L2 chargers were taken up by ICE vehicles by this time. There's no signage or policy stating these spaces are strictly reserved for EVs, and perhaps these charging hookups should have been located towards the back area where it's less populated. First world problems of a relatively early EV adopter.

The weather wasn't as cooperative the next day (the Sunday before Memorial Day), so I spent the time either eating or working on the road trip write-up. Downtime is much welcome after 2 weeks continuously on the road.

The next stop is North Hollywood, California, followed by Pismo Beach a few hours away. Then it's the final stretch back to home.

Next: Indio -> North Hollywood -> Pismo Beach -> Fremont.