Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Great drives in the US

The Dutch seem to be headed to the US this summer. I suspect that it's driven by some combination of a strong euro and (relatively) cheap US gas, perhaps even by renewed interest in the US presidential race or bad weather here.

Whatever the reason, I've shared a bunch of evenings pouring over maps with friends, pointing out stops and handing out AAA guidebooks. I've driven the entire country except for Oklahoma, and the conversations have reminded me of so many of the places I've loved visiting over the years. So, I'll take this evening to share a few: I'm happy to send along more guidance for any of them if you are thinking about a visit.

  • The Pacific Northwest: It's home, but it's also a wonderful area of ocean, mountains, cities, and islands. I recommend a loop, starting from Seattle, then down I5 to climb Mt Rainier and see the volcano, Mt. St. Helens. A bit further to Portland, then out to the coast and back north along highway 101, passing beaches and salt marshes and finally circling the Olympic National Park rainforest to Port Angeles. Take the ferry through the San Juans to Vancouver Island, then across to the mainland and back down to Seattle. Along the way, make time for museums, seafood, and a Mariners game.

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  • The Monterey Peninsula: South of San Francisco Bay is a magical corner of California extending from Seaside down to Point Lobos park. I love the Monterey Aquarium and walking Carmel, driving along Big Sur and around 17-mile Drive at Pebble Beach.

Monterey Carmel

  • Yellowstone and the Tetons: Take Hwy 89 south from Livingston, Montana into Yellowstone Park , then around Hwy 191 to see the lakes, falls, and geysers of the country's original national park. Continuing south, the highway brushes the front of the Teton Mountains, with wonderful camping, rafting on the Snake River, and climbing.

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DSC01613 Raft Keith 3

  • Jasper / Banff / Glacier Parks: Starting from Edmonton, Canada (Home of one of the biggest enclosed shopping malls in the world), go west on Canada 16, then straight down through the heart of Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff, and Yoho parks. It's a spectacular drive, down a lush valley between towering mountains, dotted with glaciers, lakes, and thermal pools. I like to continue on to the Waterton Lakes area and cross into Glacier National Park in the US, another great camping area.

Street in Banff

  • Across the Prairie: Two good routes here. One is through the Black Hills and out east into South Dakota on I-90. While in the Rapid City seeing Mt. Rushmore, make time to drive a couple of hours south to see Wind Cave and the Custer Grasslands, where you can drive among the buffalo herds (I've had one rest it's chin on the hood of my Blazer). Heading east, don't miss the famous Wall Drug Store and the Badlands to the south of it, spectacular at sunrise or sunset. Then it's hours and hours of flat open prairie. To the north, Canada 1 crosses the similarly vast open spaces of the Canadian heartland. I have always thought that the encounter with these limitless prairies forever changed the attitudes of the Europeans who crossed them: it's both humbling and empowering.

  • Boston, north to Maine: I always like Boston as a center of education, history, and culture: it inspires me to walk the river and the university campuses there. Driving north, you quickly reach the spectacular islands and coastline of Maine: Boothbay Harbor is a particular favorite. Civilization thins out with every passing mile until there are just vast forests until you reach Nova Scotia.

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  • The Great Smoky Mountains: My favorite part of the Appalachian mountains, go south from Knoxville on Hwy 441 through the heart of the park. Gatlinburg is a faded resort community at the center of the park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the southeast near Asheville, is another area steeped in southern history and music.

Gatlinburg, TN USA - Georgia - Smoky Mountains

I spin the map scanning states and tracing highways, and there are still lots that I could suggest: short stretches through Arkansas or Colorado, a favored bit of southern Wisconsin or northern Minnesota, a memory between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. These are the ones that jumped out though...'makes me want to start a vacation tomorrow...

3 comments:

Textual Healer said...

"Makes me want to start a vacation tomorrow". Me too- I have always been a fan of 'left of centre' American writers - Kerouac, Steinbeck, Brautigan, (loved his book about Big Sur) and always wanted to go that part of the world- And the Oregon mountains that Kerouac so beautifully described in Dharma Bums.

Dave Hampton said...

AB lives in Oregon and, except for frightful income tax, I've always thought it would be a perfectly ideal spot. The coast is really gorgeous (I like the drive south from Cannon Beach), and the mountain ranges are more varied and less rugged than Washington. Portland has a nice bohemian feel, and the Shakespeare festival at Ashland is fun in the summer.

I will have to go back to the authors you've listed: I used to take a travel narrative with me in the car, but fell out of the habit here. The Journals of Lewis and Clark are also wonderful.

Are we the only one's left on-line this month??

Textual Healer said...

I suspect so.