I-10 or I-40
June 21, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Driving from New Orleans to LA over two days. Should I take I-10 all the way OR go diagonally to Amarillo TX and then I-40 the rest of the way.

As part of a larger 8000 Mile, 30 day round-the-country road trip in August, we have a finite amount of time to get from New Orleans to LA.

Google Maps has both routes coming in at the 30-31 hour mark.

The long 16+ hour days driving do not scare us, we regularly do NYC to Tampa in one shot (20 hours), and there is an extra driver in the vehicle so each of us are fresh.

Obviously, we're not going to be stopping and lingering, but a little stopping is OKay. We're not going to be able to explore so things like city centers, music festivals, museums are not a concern.

Overall, of the two, which is the most scenic, has cool food to stop at, is safer, easiest access to fuel, make for better photos, has interesting landmarks...

Thanks in advance.

p.s. Things that would take us off the route, no matter how wonderful wont happen. We wont be stopping a the grand canyon or the Alamo... :-)
posted by sandra_s to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've taken the 10. Plenty of places to stop for gas. It was pretty scenic, but I've never taken the trip before, so everything seemed scenic and new.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:26 AM on June 21, 2011

If you hit I-40 at all, I'd recommend doing it through the heart of New Mexico and not Texas. That drive from Houston to Amarillo is longer than it looks. Las Cruces/El Paso/Juarez is more scenic, and if you drive up I-25 to I-40, you see some crazy stuff: Elephant Butte Lake, T or C, and White Sands is like 20 minutes away.
posted by mattbucher at 8:31 AM on June 21, 2011

I've done Houston to L.A. many times. IH-10 is a breeze, you can actually legally drive 80MPH on stretches of IH-10 in West Texas. If you stay in Las Cruces, I recommend you hit up the Burger Time for some breakfast tacos. map location.

When you get into the Death Valley, there's still plenty of fuel and places to stop and snack. You'll see signs that inform how far away next fuel is, but you'll likely be fine. Enjoy your trip. I've been itching for a road trip lately too.
posted by eggm4n at 8:51 AM on June 21, 2011

I'd go with I-40 because the route through Albuquerque and Flagstaff is much more appealing than Juarez to Phoenix.
posted by Lame_username at 8:51 AM on June 21, 2011

I've done the I-10 option twice this year (Dallas to San Diego) but haven't ever taken I-40. All I can tell you is that I-10 from El Paso to Phoenix is boring as hell and the northern route has got to be better. I crossed New Mexico once during the day and once at night, and they were approximately the same except the skies are so clear that the stars were remarkable at night, and there are slightly more roadside stores open during the day.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 AM on June 21, 2011

I'll also throw out, as a (thankfully) former Amarillo native, there's nothing in the Texas panhandle that really warrants the drive. If you're already going to be there for business or family, there are things you should see. Otherwise, steer clear....
posted by conradjones at 9:07 AM on June 21, 2011

You don't say when you're planning this, but if it's soon then take into consideration the state of fires along the way. Looking at todays map, the northern route along I-40 might be a better bet. All of Texas south and west of Dallas, southern LA, AZ, and NM are in severe drought so the odds that you'll run into a fire are pretty high on the southern route.
posted by Runes at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2011

Google has street view down the interstates, so you could take a gander for yourself.

I did the I-40 from Barstow to Alburquerque in the winter, and parts of it are gorgeous. I've never done I-10 apart from stretches around Phoenix and Palm Springs, CA.

In New Mexico, from Alburquerque to the continental divide is kind of ho-hum, but after that the highway runs alongside an enormous red rock cliff for miles, and then goes through some other interesting rock formations around the AZ border. Most of the drive through AZ to Flagstaff is high plains, but you can catch glimpses of monument valley-type stuff far up to the north (depending on visibilty), and when you get to Petrified Forest National Park you should catch a good view of the painted desert just to the north of the road. Closer to Flagstaff, you start heading into the mountains and pine forests, and then descend back to the desert before crossing the Colorado into CA. The mountains to the south of Needles are quite interesting. From there to Barstow is desert, which has some interesting parts but that really depends on what you think of desert scenery. I had no problems with gas stops along the route, and I was driving a pickup truck that doesn't get the greatest mileage in the world. From Alburquerque to Flagstaff, I think I only needed to stop at either Grants or Petrified Forest (where there's a Chevron).

When you get into the Death Valley, there's still plenty of fuel and places to stop and snack.

I don't know if you're using "Death Valley" as a colloquialism for the desert, but neither route proposed actually goes through Death Valley.
posted by LionIndex at 9:35 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

conradjones said:
there's nothing in the Texas panhandle that really warrants the drive.
I second that.

I like I-10... parts are 80mph in between SA and El Paso. I think I-20 is 80mph out west, too. I-10 in the west part of LA is very bumpy; Think washboard. It was ... an experience. Once you get in to TX though it's much smoother. My favorite highway sign is the one you see after you get in to TX on 10 that says, "EL PASO - 855m", just so you know that you're going to be in TX for a long time.

If you take I-10 through San Antonio, you will go through downtown. I-10 doesn't really get too traffic-y except during rush hour near the interchanges. It's up to 6 lanes each direction on the busiest parts (near downtown) and only goes down to 4 lanes (each direction) in the populated parts of town.

If you wanted a tour from the highway, take I-10W into SA and get on 37N to go past the Alamo. Then take 35S back to 10W. Like this.

source: San Antonio native. I've driven along I-10 from Van Horn, TX (just East of El Paso) to Pensicola, FL (the first "major" town you hit from I-10 in FL).
posted by cellojoe at 9:40 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only know I-10 from San Antonio to Las Cruses, but if you take that route, either have REALLY GOOD gas mileage (I didn't) or get gas on the west side of San Antonio and again at the ONE gas station in the middle of the desert (a Chevron on a hill, at the first exit for many many miles, I think the sign on the wall said "Cherry Hill, Tx").

Aside from the gas issue, depending on the time of day, it can be a really REALLY boring drive, though most of it can be taken [legally] as said above, at 80mph. Night time, the stars are AMAZING, sunrise over the mountains was breathtaking (caught that on the way back). Daytime... desert... lots and lots of desert and foothills (what we call "mountains" around here). In other words, driving it in the daytime is going to be long, hot and lots of *nothing* to look at. But hey, I'm from Texas and have driven all over the state and am *used* to driving through lots and lots of nothing.
posted by MuChao at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2011

Avoid the northern route if you possible can.

I-49 to I-20 isn't bad but unless you time the metroplex right the I-20 to TX-287 interchange can be a massive time suck on your drive. Definitely avoid the I-10 to Houston then I-45 to Metroplex then 287 to Amarillo route because dealing with both Houston and Metroplex traffic are total beatdowns.

I-10 through Houston and San Antonio and El Paso is a long haul and can be quite boring except for the Davis Mountains but it's probably a faster route.

If scenic is what you are looking for the middle route through New Mexico out of Lubbock through Roswell and Socorro and the White Mountains in Arizona can be worthwhile. It's not as fast but I think it's a fairly worthwhile trip.
posted by vuron at 10:05 AM on June 21, 2011

I just did both of these a couple of weeks back. I-10 is boring as hell (particularly in Texas – boringest state in the country to drive through, by far) but probably a bit faster. I-40 may take you a little longer, but it'll feel shorter because it's considerably more interesting. Personally, I'd take the 40.
posted by Scientist at 10:29 AM on June 21, 2011

...get gas on the west side of San Antonio and again at the ONE gas station in the middle of the desert (a Chevron on a hill, at the first exit for many many miles, I think the sign on the wall said "Cherry Hill, Tx").

I've made the drive from Houston to El Paso many times, and the last few times that gas station was closed. Fill up every opportunity you get once you get down to half a tank, and don't even think about doing I-10 without a GPS to locate gas stations for you. Even then, be aware that the information may be outdated. I also wouldn't drive that stretch at night. There can be very few cars even during the day, and cell phone service is non-existent through a large part of it. Not a good place to have car trouble. Or even a flat tire, as there are no shoulders on that road. There are also no radio stations, so be prepared.
It's also insanely boring.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:11 PM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and expect to be stopped and questioned by the Border Patrol if you take I-10. It's not a big deal, but it's mandatory.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:13 PM on June 21, 2011

there's nothing in the Texas panhandle that really warrants the drive

Not even the Cadillac Ranch? I'm still annoyed about missing it (in the snow!) that one time I was in the neighborhood.
posted by Rash at 1:28 PM on June 21, 2011

@ MexicanYenta I think it's actually an Agriculture stop, Once, entering Texas from New Mexico and once entering CA from Arizona. They want to make sure you don't have plants or fruit that can affect crops in their states.
posted by eggm4n at 2:15 PM on June 21, 2011

They may do that somewhere too, but the stops I'm referring to are Border Patrol looking for illegal aliens being smuggled, terrorists, and drugs. They never ask about plants, but they always ask if you're a citizen, and engage you in conversation to see if you seem nervous. You're literally yards from the Mexico border at that point.
Which reminds me- be careful of cell phone usage when you get near El Paso. AT&T always thinks I'm in Mexico and sends me a warning text about roaming charges. And while trying to place a call, I frequently get a "call didn't go through" message in Spanish.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:22 PM on June 21, 2011

Although I haven't been on the exact stretch of road MexicanYenta is talking about, I can verify that there are border control checks that often have mandatory stops in various areas of the southwestern US. San Diego County has a border checkpoint at basically every point where a highway crosses the county line - up near San Onofre on I-5, in the mountains on I-8, in the desert on S-2, and inland north county on I-15, plus others I just haven't experienced yet. Usually I just get waved through. I haven't seen anyone actually working at the I-5 one in years, but they may have more sophisticated electronic surveilance equipment there than at other locations, which have mostly sprung up within the last 10 years.

In addition to the border patrol things, California also has the agricultural inspection stations at every state border crossing. These are mandatory stops and the officer on duty will speak to you.
posted by LionIndex at 5:40 PM on June 21, 2011

I made the trip from New Orleans to California, and actually went up to Shreveport, took whatever the bypass was for Dallas, then jumped up to 40 until Barstow. It was totally fine and gorgeous after I slogged through Texas.
posted by Asymptoot at 9:17 PM on June 22, 2011

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