11:35 a.m.

Before we head out of town I wanted to get one last look at Downtown El Paso and the Santa Fe Bridge leading to Juarez, Mexico. When I worked here in 2005 and 2007 I frequently visited Mexico both for work and pleasure. Some weekends I would cross the border just to get a café con leche and pan dulce at Café Central near the old mission in Juarez. How things have changed. Since then Juarez has erupted into drug violence as the Juarez and Sinaloa Cartels engage in a bloody turf war. According to Loan Grillo who wrote an extensive special report on the city for Global Post, Juarez ?is the murder capital of the world, claiming more than 5,500 killings since January 2008. It is responsible for one-fifth of the more than 25,000 drug-related murders that have occurred in Mexico since 2006 when President Felipe Calderon officially declared war on the country's heavily armed drug cartels.?

Monday9/5/20119:15 a.m.

It's always hard to say goodbye to good friends. Andrea Simmons, her husband Jerry Wallace and their pup Winston were gracious enough to host our family as we passed through El Paso. Andrea is a FBI agent who is simultaneously studying to be a pastor! She's also an AMAZING cook! When Andi invites you over for dinner you always say yes. For our first meal on the road she prepared whole wheat pasta with a homemade pasta sauce and roasted heirloom tomatoes. The desert, a scrumptious pear phyllo pastry with toffee syrup á la mode (made with pears from her yard). They were also gracious enough to let us run a load of laundry and be patient as we juggled the demands of dog, cat and baby. Come morning Andi had a pot of coffee ready as well as yogurt, granola and fresh berries for breakfast while her husband checked our tire pressure. He's an attorney with experience in litigation involving SUV accidents. Thank goodness he thought of it because unbeknownst to us our tire pressure was low. It was a great suggestion that we'll certainly remember for future trips!



8:12 a.m.

El Paso, Texas

Our first morning on the road kicked off with a knock on the door, bark from our dog and a sharp startled cry from our swaddled baby. We wanted to leave by 8 a.m. My friend was knocking on the door to tell us that it *was* 8 a.m. Mina slept in! That means she slept about 9 hours! Yeah! The bad news: we didn't set an alarm and so now we are, once again, starting a bit later than we had wanted. C'est la vie! Next stop will be the Riverwalk in San Antonio.



3:52 p.m.

The day started with Mark's preferred menu item. The Wolfpack at Over Easy, our favorite breakfast joint in Central Phoenix. Owners Brad and Andy were kind enough to treat us to a farewell breakfast (and hold Mina so we could eat).

Video: The Road Trip Begins

We began our voyage a wee bit later than we had planned -- like 5 hours later! As with any move there were some last minute items we had to tackle in the morning. Plus Mark had to play a game of Tetris to comfortably fit everything into our car. A stroller, travel crib, travel bassinet, clothes, a cooler and a whole heck of a lot of diapers!

With the cat and dog in tow we are essentially a mobile petting zoo! Our dog Fahrenheit truly has the best seat in the house. He's set-up in the back on a large dog bed with his own fan. At 75 pounds we wanted to make sure he had plenty of room to stretch his legs along the way. It is our 14-pound cat Buddy that's not too happy with the arrangements. We bought him a large soft carrier so he too would have room to roam. So far he's decided to just ball up in a corner and belt out whimpers of discontent. We did get him a Rescue Remedy cat collar to take the edge off. Learned about this trick from a neighbor who volunteered at a nonprofit that rescues stray cats. Rescue Remedy is a blend of flower extracts that help calm a cat's nerves. Lucky for us Buddy is a travel pro! He already has several moves under his belt and has lived in more states than some people. Born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, this cat has survived New England winters, a hawk attacked in Texas and Phoenix's oppressive summer heat. He's the kind of kitty that can whip even the largest dog into submission with just the narrowing of his eyes and presentation of his large polydactyl paw. You see, Buddy is what they call a "Hemingway Cat." Like the cats you'll spot at Ernest Hemingway's home in Key West, Buddy essentially has an opposable thumb -- which means he has an extra claw per paw. No one messes with Buddy. If there is any cat that can not only survive a cross-country trip but take it in stride it's Buddy!

And so, to the soundtrack of Buddy's protest meows we drove out of Phoenix. Mina slept like a champ. Last night was our farewell party which came on the heels of a VERY busy day. Our baby girl was pretty fussy at the gathering. She was tired and hot and cranky. Aren't we all some days? So I think this car ride is helping her little body catch up on the sleep she may have missed.

The drive is absolutely beautiful! I suspect due to the Monsoon rain the desert just past Tucson is exceptionally green. Cradled by large, calm mountains patches of white rock and beige sand cut through the lush landscape of desert brush and ocotillo cacti.

When you are on I-10 East bound for El Paso you quickly spot large billboards for "The Thing?". It is a tourist curiosity that helps bring business to a gas station rest stop. Walk past lollipops made to look like feathers in a Native American's head dressing and stands of cowboy hats to a black door. Pay $1 and you can find out what "The Thing?" is all about. I won't spoil it for you in the event you ever find yourself out this way. Let's just say I'm sure you will find it appropriately priced.

I ask Carmaletta at the cash register where exactly we are. Her response, "I tell folks we are out in the middle of nowhere." Nowhere is somewhere between Benson and Wilcox in Arizona. Not knowing when we might return I decide I have to buy Mina a pair of pink moccasins. So Southwest right? It's not until hours later when I am in the car do I notice they are made in the Dominican Republic. Seriously?

While there I also buy a bag of my favorite pistachios. Grown by the McGinn Family in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Pistachio Tree Ranch always offers pistachios seasoned with fun flavors like red chili or lemon lime.

By 5:30 p.m., we entered New Mexico, the Land of Enhancement. Just thinking of New Mexico makes my mouth salivate. The reason: red and green chili! Yum, yum, yum! I have to say New Mexico is one of my favorite states. Understated and rustic. Lots of natural beauty and southwest charm can be found from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. But mostly I love their food! When I lived in El Paso I would often travel a ribbon of black road that snaked through pecan trees to Mesilla, New Mexico just to eat!

7:09 p.m. we pass the Continental Divide! Elevation 4,858. The one drawback with traveling from West to East is you lose part of your day? one hour at a time. In Arizona we were on Pacific Standard Time, we are now entering Mountain Time and by tomorrow will be on Central. With each change you tack on an extra hour to the trip.