Take 80 all the way to Nebraska then 76 to Denver. If you make good time the first day with little traffic, from NY to somewhere West of Chicago then you can make it to Denver easily the next day. There's little worth seeing in between unless you want to hit Chicago up regardless of which route you take.
Then take 70 into Utah and go down via 128 to Moab. Hit up Arches. It's like going to Mars. Then back up to 70 and past Green River and then down along 24 and then 12 through Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. Then take 89 or 89A down and around through the canyons and ridges to the Painted Desert and then GCNP. North Rim is better (67) but if you want to go SOuth Rim (64) more power to you. It's all good either way. Then down to 40 via either 89 (North Rim) or 180 and 64 (South Rim). Take 40 West to Kingman and then up along 93 to the Hoover Dam. Wackest part of The Fugitive, no fucking way Harrison Ford could have gone off that dam and lived. Continue on along 93/95 and you're in Vegas. After that you still ahve many options. Either go down to LA on 15 and then up the Pacific Coast or go up to Area 51, through Death Valley, then 395 North and then 120 across Yosemite. Too many good options.
i've heard that the rockies could be a bigger problem. how would you handle that? do you make stops every so often to cool down or not use AC or....?
Depends on your car. If you've got an old junker then that is a reasonable idea. If your car is modern then don't sweat it. Even the Rockies are tame though if you are on the interstates.
also, any tips for lodging? i figure just nap in the car..... but, a night or two in a bed wouldn't be the worst thing.
Go for smaller cities. Generally cheaper. Motel 6 is the cheapest of the chains and it is usually fine in small towns. Looking at maybe 40 bucks. Avoid it in big cities as it may or may not tolerate locals (ie dealers and prostitutes).
If you really wanna be cheap, some states let you sleep at rest areas legally. Once you get to Iowa that is, East of there it would not be adviseable. You can do it at others, if not legally then with little risk of polizei problems. Do so at your own risk but I've done it dozens of times and never had a problem. Park in a lit area by truckers but not too close to the shitter.
If you feel too tired to drive, pull over immediately. Don't convince yourself "I'm okay", play the radio, shake you head and slap yourself to stay awake. It won't work and you'll end up in a ditch, or worse. If you've got someone traveling with you, and everyone's too tired, just sleep on the side of the road.
Agree with the part about pulling over. It's probably obvious but if you're gonna sleep on the side of the road, get off and stop by a ramp, never stop on the shoulder if possible. People get killed all the time along shoulders.
Personally I would skip LA. You can get there in six hours, making it easily doable from the Bay Area on a three day weekend. Spend your time somewhere in between that is less accessible from SF or NY.
it's a 2002 dodge dakota quad cab....so... i would think it would do fine....
You'll be fine. Desert is hot but not that much hotter. Don't try to go up a mtn at 90 miles an hour and keep your RPMs midrange. Any new car should be fine at any temp that you'll see in North American. You could drive through Death Valley if you want, no problem.
It sucks to have a car break down in the middle of nowhere. I was assraped for $600 for tires in Needles CA this February. I got stuck in Kansas once for nine days when my car broke down. But altogether I've driven cross country at least 25 times and usually it is all good. Keep a good spare, not a donut, pay attention to your oil, tire pressure and radiator and you'll be OK.