Great American Road Trip 2009: The fly and drive combo New Mexico to Montana and back

For the past seven summers, ever since we moved back from India, we’ve embarked on a Great American Road Trip. The first was the mega version that put 10,000 miles on a new Ford Taurus station wagon in three months. Mind you, this was in 2003 with a 10 year-old and a 1 ½ year old-and without video games, computers or a DVD player.

This year’s version is a fly drive combo. Three months for tootling around between the Atlantic and Pacific is harder to come by-three weeks, doable. Without a burning desire to drive through the Midwest to get to Montana from Ohio like last year when I waxed poetic about Wisconsin’s cheese curds, we flew on Northwest Airlines (aka Delta) over those endless corn and soybean fields to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sure Albuquerque is no where near Montana, our main destination, but there’s a reason for the detour.

I used to live in Albuquerque. So did my husband. Between us, we have loads of friends we haven’t seen since that first road trip. Besides, Albuquerque is a budget destination with cheap flights to get there and inexpensive car rentals for heading out on the open road IF you rent away from the airport (more on that later).

When planning a Great American Road Trip, I highly recommend the fly then drive option. One year we flew to Denver and drove to Montana. Another year we flew to Seattle. With a limited time frame, the flight cuts out the parts you don’t necessarily want to see and provides the time to see those places that you do. If you’re going to be renting a car when you reach your main destination, why not head a few states away for the opportunity to explore the bounties in between?

For us the bounties might be a national park, the largest metal sculptures in the world, a mom and pop restaurant with regional food, or a town that a highway bypassed. Sometimes we know where we’ll stop before we head out, or one of us notices a point on a map and says, “Let’s stop here.”

In the next few weeks, as we’re traveling in a Toyota Sienna van through New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana, where the landscape and people have a flavor so unique I could return again and again, I’ll fill you in on the places we’ve stopped and give some Great American Road Trip how-to suggestions.

We passed by Arches National Park a week ago. It’s been a busy week. Stay tuned. Ghost towns, neon and great eats on the way.

[The first photo was taken two years ago at the parade at Flint Creek Valley Days in Philipsburg, Montana where I am now. The second photo was taken last year at the pheasant family sculpture, part of the Enchanted Highway, on the way to Regent, North Dakota.]