October 2019. American Southwest.
This October I went to Albuquerque for 5 days of work. About 1200 miles as the crow flies, but rather than fly I drove there in our Model 3. Driving electric reduced my emissions by 40% compared to flying or driving a 50 MPG Prius.
The full trip was 2,721 miles (4350 km) through 6 states. I drove a total of 47 hours, with 17 Supercharger stops and just over 7 hours of Supercharging, for which I paid $92.66. This post describes the trip and includes basic data on driving, charging time, energy use, and emissions. Feel free to read along or use the links below to jump to specific sections. Below each section is an “Index” link to jump back to the top.
NOTE: Tesla owners have been going on long trips for many years. The first owner drove cross country in January 2014 after Tesla completed its first cross-country Supercharging corridor. The number of Superchargers has grown significantly since then and Tesla owners have been driving pretty much everywhere. For example, one Model 3 owner drove 18,000 miles through 38 states in 38 days to catch a baseball game in every MLB park. Another Model 3 owner has been traveling all over the U.S., documenting his travels and sharing his photos from the journey – Check out his stories here. And that’s just a small sampling of the many blogs, posts, and stories from owners driving their EVs all over the world.
Basic Driving Info
ROUTE: I used ABetterRoutePlanner to plan my route and Supercharging stops along the way. Briefly: from my home I drove down Rt. 5, over the Tehachapi pass, and along Rt. 40 out to Albuquerque, with stops at the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater along the way. After completing work I took a left in Albuquerque, like you’re supposed to, and drove north towards the Four Corners region and in to Monument Valley. After that I drove through Page AZ, the Tehachapi Pass and up Rt. 99 to get back home. Our 2018 Long Range RWD Model 3 was 18 months old and had 24,600 miles on the odometer at the start of the trip.
A big chunk of my driving was within the Colorado Plateau, which is the basin for the Colorado River and a unique geological region. The transcendent landscape and features of this region that we know today were produced by a combination of geological forces, sediment deposition, and erosion over hundreds of millions of years. Landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and much more are located throughout this region.
I drove about 1300 miles to Albuquerque and 1400 miles on the way home. The ‘Basic Driving Stats’ Excel chart below includes driving data for each leg of the trip for those wondering what it’s like to drive and charge a Tesla on a road trip.
I recorded the range of the car at the start of each leg; the number of miles driven; driving time; the range of the car when I arrived at a Supercharger or destination; how long I spent charging the car; and the range of the car after charging. The chart also notes miles driven per day.
Total driving time was 47 hours, and total Supercharging time was 7h:10m. The average distance between Superchargers was 150 miles, and average driving time between Superchargers was 2 hour 35 minutes. The average charging time at a Supercharger was 23 minutes (range 13 to 40 minutes). 2700 miles of the trip were driven over 6 days on the road, so I averaged ~450 miles a day.
I used a Level 2 charging station (240 volts / 30 amps) in the Grand Canyon and in Albuquerque – designated ‘L2′ in the chart below – and a 120 volt outlet in Monument Valley – designated ‘L1’. (Read up on L1, L2 and rapid DC charging here if you are not familiar with these terms). I started the trip with a fully charged battery (325 miles), and rarely went below a 30% SOC (~100 miles of range) during the trip. My lowest range was 81 miles when I arrived at the Mojave Supercharger on the way home.
Travelogue: Sights Seen Along the Way
On the first day I left home at 5AM to avoid morning traffic in my area, and made my first stop 223 miles / 3½ hours later at the Kettleman City Supercharger. Next I stopped in Mojave, CA near the huge Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, and from there drove another 222 miles in ~3½ hours to reach Needles. It was an uneventful 580 miles on the first day. That worked out to 9h:50m of driving and 1h:10m of Supercharging in Kettleman City and Mojave.
I had never seen the Colorado River before, so once I got to Needles I found the River Front Cafe on the California side of the river and ate some pizza while watching the sun go down and the Colorado roll by. After finishing dinner I walked down a boat ramp to the river. Water flowing by Needles in the Colorado had already seen a lot – it’d been through the Grand Canyon, many other canyons, and manmade structures like the Hoover Dam.
The next morning I added 100 miles to the pack at the Needles Supercharger (3 of 4 stalls were blocked by a tractor trailer) and got on the road by 5:30. I crossed into Arizona and stopped briefly in Kingman for a quick break, watched the sunrise, and then headed off to Flagstaff.
From Kingman I drove 150 miles to the Flagstaff Supercharger. I passed many signs inviting me to visit the heart of the old Rt. 66, which criss-crosses back and forth under Rt. 40, passing through countless towns along the way.
In Flagstaff I grabbed a quick mid-morning snack while charging up to 300 miles. I could have driven straight into the Grand Canyon from Kingman – where a new Supercharging station is now open – but when I left for my trip reports disagreed on whether or not that Supercharger was open – so I stopped in Flagstaff just to be safe.
I arrived at the Maswik Lodge in the Grand Canyon at 12:30 after driving 300 miles that day. I had a local beer, a bite to eat, and asked the info desk to point me to the closest hiking trail.
This was my first time at the south rim of the Grand Canyon and, stating the obvious, the views are incredible. Photos taken with my phone do not do justice. At all. The Grand Canyon is a crown jewel not just of the Colorado Plateau region, but of the entire National Park Service. At over 200 miles long and a mile deep, the immense size is breathtaking. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I cannot stress enough that this is must-visit. If you haven’t made it to the Grand Canyon yet, put it on your list of things to do. At the top.
The hike down Bright Angel trail was spectacular…. and a hell of a workout. I saw Bighorn Sheep, chatted with folks from all over the world at rest stops, and took in the view. I was glad I added an extra day to the journey so I could make this stop, but one afternoon in the Grand Canyon is not enough. I’ll be back again with the whole family.
I stayed in the Maswik Lodge that night. Plugshare lists a Level 2 charging station at that location but I did not want to depend on this destination charger being available for my journey so I went to Flagstaff first, which added 60 miles to my total trip. In the end both Level 2 ports were available and I didn’t see any other EVs in that area of the park. Since the temperature went down to 30 degrees that night I plugged in, added a few miles to the pack and warmed the car for morning departure. The new Supercharger station in the park is going to be very, very useful for Tesla owners.
The next morning I watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon and met Barry who was getting ready for a 10-mile trek down Bright Angel trail. His crew said he makes the 20-mile round trip 2 or 3 times a week. They hike down, camp over night and return the next day. That’s a job I wouldn’t mind taking.
After sunrise I got on the road, stopped for 15 minutes in Flagstaff to grab a bagel and some electrons, and continued east on Rt. 40. Next destination: Meteor Crater. 50,000 years ago a meteorite estimated at 150 feet wide smashed into the Arizona desert leaving a mile-wide crater. This site is the best preserved impact crater on Earth, and it’s just a short drive off Rt. 40.
The Meteor Crater visitor center has the largest fragment that has been discovered. This ‘fragment’ weighs 1400 pounds and was likely blasted from the impact to where it was found 4 miles away. Meteor Crater is a beautifully stark reminder that our planet travels along a path that intersects countless meteors, comets, and asteroids. And occasionally they leave a mark.
After an hour at the crater I got back on the road toward Albuquerque. I stopped at the Holbrook and Gallup Superchargers, and also stopped whenever something caught my eye: The Continental Divide, a Petrified Forest, and great examples of classic Americana along the old Rt. 66. My favorite was the Wigwam Motel. Still open. And yes you can reserve a room and stay there overnight.
From Gallup it was a straight shot to Albuquerque. I arrived after driving 1300+ miles and having seen amazing sights. I didn’t have time to tour Albuquerque because of work, but managed a quick visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. Unlike the Colorado, the Rio Grande flows to the Gulf of Mexico rather than the Pacific, but like the Colorado, the headwaters of the Rio Grande arise in the Rocky Mountains of western Colorado. And like the Colorado, the Rio Grande is heavily managed and used for irrigation, and some years does not reach its destination.
When I finished work at the end of the week, I charged my pack up to 300 miles at the Albuquerque Supercharger while talking with a local owner, and got back on the road. This time heading northwest to Farmington – the highway was wide open with beautiful landscape along the way.
I passed signs for Zia Pueblo along Rt. 550, but didn’t stop because I wanted to reach Monument Valley before sunset. The Zia Sun symbol is in the center of the New Mexico state flag and license plates. The Zia symbol has four groups of rays that radiate from the sun’s center representing the four points of the compass, the four seasons, obligations each person carries for themselves and the welfare of others, and much more.
I also missed the opportunity to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park on this trip. The Ancestral Puebloan people constructed massive stone buildings that were several stories high and had hundreds of rooms. Remnants of these impressive structures up to 1000 years old can be seen throughout the Chaco Canyon region. This is high on my list for my next visit.
From Albuquerque I drove 180 miles in ~3 hours and charged in Farmington, and after another 135 miles charged at the visitor center in Blanding, Utah. I ate lunch while charging in Blanding and bought a geology book from the Visitor Center to try to learn more about the other-worldly geology of the Colorado Plateau.
Speaking of which: from Blanding I headed south, got on Rt. 163, passed the Mexican Hat rock formation, crossed the San Juan River, and arrived in Monument Valley.
I parked at the Gouldings Lodge, left things in my room, found a short trail to hike along and watched in silence as the buttes and mesas slowly changed color in concert with the setting sun.
I stayed that night in one of the Gouldings Lodge ‘Villas’. These comfortable little units are really designed for an extended stay – each includes a kitchen for preparing your own food. The units also have an exterior plug that can be used for 120V 12Amp charging. I didn’t need extra range, but the temperature went below freezing that night so I used the plug to warm up the car in the morning.
Another option in the area for EV owners to consider is camping at Gouldings RV & Campground. They have 14-50 and TT-30 hookups for RVs (240V/50amp and 125V/30 amp, respectively) and these can also be used for EV charging if you have the adapter and the circuit is operating. Views are great, but you’ll want to check ahead for availability.
The next morning I parked along Monument Valley Road to watch the sunrise. There was a crescent moon hanging low in the sky over the buttes and mesas before the sun came up (barely visible in the pic below), and I wished I’d brought along a real camera to capture it. But the memory is strong. That sunrise was a treat I will not forget and was probably the highlight of the entire trip.
With the sun up, I turned around, marveled at the brilliant reds, browns, and oranges of the mesas bathed in morning sunlight, got in my car, and drove off toward Page, AZ.
Page was initially a housing community for work crews building the Glen Canyon dam in the 1950s. Today Page is a great base for exploring the iconic slot canyons in that region.
One mile from the Page Supercharger the Glen Canyon Dam overlook is a good place to view the Colorado River and a portion of Glen Canyon, and to appreciate the contours and striated geological formations that characterize the Colorado Plateau.
From Page I drove to St. George, and then over the last 700 miles I stopped in Primm, Barstow, Mojave and Fresno on the road home. After charging in Primm I crossed into California and noticed the Ivanpah Solar Power plant alongside Rt. 15. This hybrid plant now produces about 800 MWh per year. A natural gas plant heats up the boiler tanks each morning and then large fields of mirrors concentrate the sun’s power on three boiler towers, producing steam to generate electricity. Solar energy contributes about 85% of the power for electric generation at this plant.
The most notable passage of the last part of the trip was exiting the Colorado Plateau through the Virgin River Gorge and emerging back into a familiar landscape of mountains and valleys. The Colorado Plateau is so different from my east coast roots and other places I have lived, it is fantastic. I look forward to going back and exploring the region again.
The Tesla Supercharger network is incredibly easy to use. You park and plug in – the car and Supercharger take care of everything else. I charged at a Supercharger 17 times during the trip. The Excel chart below shows data from each charging session, including miles driven to the charge station, charging time, miles of range added to the battery pack, kWh delivered, and cost.
The average distance between Superchargers on my trip was 150 miles, average driving time between Superchargers was 2 hours 35 minutes, and average Supercharging time was 23 minutes (range 13 to 40 minutes). Total price of Supercharging on this 2721 mile road trip: $92.66.
As noted above I drove an average of ~450 per day on the road. The 7 hours 10 minutes of total charging time averages out to 1 hour 10 minutes of charging per day. So 1 hour and 10 minutes of charging, broken up in 2 or 3 charging sessions, over 450 miles of driving.
I did not optimize my driving and charging to achieve the fastest charging rates – charging speed is faster when you arrive at a Supercharger with less 100 miles of range. But I was driving through parts I’d never visited before and I wanted flexibility to visit something interesting I noticed along the way, or deal with unexpected road closures, etc.
You never know what might happen on a road trip. Case in point: as I approached Flagstaff on Rt. 40 traffic came to a stand still because a tractor trailer had crashed and dumped it’s load on the highway. Eventually police were able to direct traffic around the crash so I got through after a 20 minute delay. Accidents like that can always cause delays and detours, so I kept that in mind. My lowest range during the trip was 81 miles. At three Supercharger stops I arrived with less than 100 miles of range (95, 96, and 81 miles). I never worried about range.
The peak charging power that I noticed was 148 kW in Primm. The most miles of range added to the pack in the shortest time was 199 miles in 31 minutes… not coincidentally that was when I arrived at a Supercharger with 81 miles of range. I did not try the V3 Supercharger in Las Vegas.
My favorite Supercharger stops were Kettleman City (obviously), Flagstaff, and Page. I also liked the Blanding Supercharger and several others. Some Superchargers are located in hotel parking lots and the hotels welcome Tesla owners to come in, relax, and get some food at their cafes if they want. Since I was driving a good number of hours per day, at most stops I plugged in and walked for 15-20 minutes, and then picked up something to eat.
My least favorite Supercharger: The Holbrook, AZ Supercharger is in a Burger King parking lot and there’s not much else around… and Burger King is not my favorite place to eat. But otherwise Holbrook was a good place to stop because of the interesting stretch of Rt. 66 through town.
FYI: I fully charged our Long Range RWD Model 3 at home to start the trip and got exactly 325 miles (520 km) as advertised – an earlier software update had boosted the range of our Model 3 from 310 to 325 miles. At this point our car was 18 months old with 24,600 miles on the odometer, and this was only the third time I had fully charged the car. 325 miles seems achievable in real world driving. On my first leg I left home with the 325 miles of range, the temperature was 42 degrees and I used the seat warmer. I drove 223 miles to Kettleman City and the car indicated that another 110 miles of range remained in the pack. So far I haven’t needed to drive 300 miles between charges: that 223 miles is the furthest I’ve driven between charging sessions. But the extra potential range gives you more options, removes the idea of range anxiety, and makes the Model 3 a good car for road tripping.
I do not use Autopilot very often for daily driving. On my morning and evening commutes there’s quite a bit of traffic, the highway is 6 lanes wide in some places and I feel more comfortable driving myself. I feel that a good driver, who is paying attention, can see things happening further down the road. But the huge advantage of Tesla’s autopilot is that it is always paying attention and never gets distracted. For this road trip – driving 8 to 12 hours per day by myself, over very long stretches of road – Autopilot was a tremendous help. I felt safer knowing that there were 8 additional eyes watching the road with me. I believe that made the trip safer as well as more relaxing and enjoyable.
Autopilot is very good, but it’s not perfect yet, there are limitations, the system is still learning the rules of the road. I noticed two things in particular. Navigate on autopilot worked very well passing slower cars in the right lane. I would approach the car in the right lane and when autopilot reached my preset “following distance” it would pass the car as soon as the left lane was clear. But, I noticed it had a problem passing tractor trailers under certain conditions. If I was driving east-bound a tractor trailer in the right lane would often cast a long shadow that covered the left passing lane, and that shadow appeared to confuse autopilot at times. I learned that when passing a truck under these conditions I had to get in the left lane far in advance and then autopilot worked fine. But if I let the car reach the “following distance” behind the truck, autopilot appeared to think the shadow was a vehicle and simply would not pass the truck. In those cases I could get around the truck by following another vehicle that was passing the truck, or by taking over and driving manually.
The other thing I noticed is that when I’m driving I tend to give myself a little more room when passing a large truck: I don’t stay in the middle of the lane while passing, but move over a bit to the left portion of the lane. I hadn’t realized this before using autopilot. In contrast, autopilot invariably keeps the car in the center of its lane, and at times I felt like I was too close to the truck I was passing. In those cases I would take over and move the car a bit to the left.
That said, Autopilot functionality is extremely useful, perhaps even more so on long-distance trips. I passed 3 accidents on the trip, 2 of them serious. In each case Autopilot features may have prevented those accidents. On the first morning I saw a driver veer off Rt. 5 and slam full speed into the center median. Two days later I got stuck in traffic on Rt. 40 when a tractor trailer went off the highway, crashed, and spilled it’s load. These drivers may have fallen asleep, I don’t know, but Autopilot features could have prevented those accidents and hundreds of serious accidents like them that happen every single day. I believe that Autopilot made my trip safer and more enjoyable.
Energy Used and Emissions
The Model 3 reports how much energy is used from the battery pack while driving. My car reported using 601 kWh of energy for the full trip.
However, additional energy is used to store that electricity in the battery pack. So a bit more energy is sent to the car than is ultimately stored in the battery pack. I estimated the total number of kWh sent to the car for the trip, since that’s the number that counts: 671 kWh. See the “kWh Delivered” column in the chart below.
The 671 kWh estimate was derived from the following calculations: 1) I fully charged my battery pack at home to start the trip. Assuming 74 kWh usable in the pack and 85% charging efficiency, 88 kWh were sent to the car from my 240V outlet at home. 2) Tesla Superchargers in California and Utah tell you how many kWh were sent to your car during charging, ChargePoint does the same. So I just recorded the numbers from my Tesla and Chargepoint accounts for those charging sessions. 3) Tesla Superchargers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada tell you how many minutes you charge. I estimated kWh sent to the car at those Superchargers based on miles gained during the charge, and compared that to kWh delivered during similar supercharging sessions in CA. 4) I charged at a non-networed L2 station in the Grand Canyon, and a 120V outlet in Monument Valley. I estimated kWh sent to the car at those locations based on miles gained and assuming 85% efficiency for L2, and 75% efficiency for the 120V outlet.
Driving electric cut my emissions for the trip. Based on the 671 kWh sent to the car while charging for this trip, and based on where I charged, 626 pounds of CO2 were produced to generate that electricity. See the “Total Pounds CO2” column in the chart above.
In contrast, a Prius averaging 50 MPG over 2721 miles would have released 1066 pounds of CO2 (each gallon of gas burned releases 19.6 pounds of CO2); and the average car that gets 25 MPG would have produced 2133 pounds of CO2; and a round trip flight to Albuquerque would have produced 1067 pounds of CO2, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
I usually drive in the right lane and enjoy the ride. If I had driven faster – averaging 240 Wh/mile instead of the 221 Wh/mile I averaged – my trip would have released another 60 pounds of CO2. Each additional 20 Wh/mile would have released another 60 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for this trip.
As another comparison, if I had driven those 2721 miles exclusively in California I’d have produced far fewer emissions: 310 lbs of CO2. Power plants in California do not burn coal and use a mix of renewable sources to generate electricity for the grid, which cuts emissions. On a related note, we have a rooftop solar system on our house that offsets all the electricity we use to power our home and charge our Model 3 – so our day-to-day carbon footprint is effectively lower than the California average.
Finally, it’s important to note that if I had driven the 2721 miles exclusively in Utah, which has over 3X the emissions compared to California (1.629 lbs CO2 per kWh versus 0.494 lbs in CA), I would have produced 1093 lbs of CO2 – similar to a Prius. But hopefully that will improve over time as electric grids gets cleaner year by year.
For example, in 2017 coal fired plants produced 2634 megaWatts of power in New Mexico, accounting for 49% of electricity production in that state. Renewable wind energy produced 497 megaWatts of power in New Mexico for about 9% of total production. However, like elsewhere more clean energy is in the works. The electric grid in New Mexico will get cleaner in the coming years with 2700 megaWatts of wind energy under construction.
Coal: The Colorado Plateau is a rich source of coal, and this is still a major source of power in the region. Many parts of the country have been switching over to cleaner burning natural gas plants, and adding renewable sources of electricity production to the mix, which lowers carbon emissions. As noted above for New Mexico, cleaner sources of energy are being introduced in the region.
Emission calculations: The US government publishes lots of data, updated every year, on emissions produced by generating electricity. Data on state-by-state sources of energy and emissions can be found on the US Energy Information Administration website: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/california/index.php. You can select your state, download the associated Excel file, and find carbon emissions per MWh on tab #7 of the Excel file. In California 0.494 lbs of CO2 are released per kWh of electricity generated and delivered; in Nevada it’s 0.758 lbs CO2 per kWh; in Arizona it’s 0.909 lbs, in New Mexico 1.506 lbs; and Utah is 1.629 lbs CO2 per kWh of electricity. The Excel chart above shows the number of kWh delivered in each state and estimated emissions based on that state’s average emissions. Using those numbers to estimate emissions I produced 626 lbs of CO2 on my 2721 mile trip.
The Model 3 is an extremely comfortable car for long trips. The drive is smooth and the seats are comfortable. I logged 47 hours sitting in the driver’s seat, driving over roads that ranged from newly paved highways to roads that could be resurfaced, and I was very comfortable throughout. In summary: the Model 3 is a pleasure to drive. The long range of the car combined with Tesla’s extensive Supercharging network allows you to drive pretty much anywhere you’d want to go in a gas powered car. While charging the car I got a chance to walk, stretch my legs, eat a snack. Stopping every 2½ hours or so kept me fresh for the journey.
Importantly, the Model 3 is an efficient car, and this reduces the amount of energy used and emissions released from driving your car. It all adds up, quickly, and as I’ve pointed out before the atmosphere is not a limitless reservoir.
I’ve had the Model 3 for 18 months now. It was very good when I bought it, and keeps getting better through software updates. A week ago I got the 2019.36.2.1 software update, which boosted drive train power by 5% (for the second time); and introduced one pedal driving – which I immediately liked.