"Beauty is and always will be blue skies and open highway".
I grew up in Southern California in the 1960's. I suppose, to some extent, everyone who grows up in the West has a permanent mark left on their psyche from our "car culture".
I remember loving to drive anywhere with my parents in 1965 so I could count the Ford Mustangs on the local roads. Conversations with other boys in school invariably ended up with sports or cars. "Which is your favorite?" "What size is the engine?" "Chevy's suck!" "NO WAY- Ford's suck" "Four on the floor" "Three on the tree". "Mooneyes or Mags?" STP stickers were all the rage. If you didn't know who Big Daddy Garlits or AJ Foyt or Parnelli Jones were or the difference between a 283 and a 389 then, well, you were completely lost and ran the risk of being laughed off the playground.
What is the cliche? The "lure of the open road"? It had us all firmly in its' grip and we were all too young to drive. There was (and is!) romance in asphalt, steel, chrome and the freedom it represents. I have spent many hours trying to determine why I craved and still crave the open road. It's a spiritual, mystical and oddly ethereal concrete symbol for getting the Hell out of my head and out of here.
I fantasized before retirement about just hitting the road as soon as I could...
THAT dream has become a reality. I have been traveling the highways about half the time since June of 2013 but I have been loving highways my entire life.
Recently, on Twitter, I asked my followers to tell me some of their favorite highways. I was surprised at the number of responses I received. It's obvious that I'm not the only one who is in love with the road. Of course, were it not cut into pieces the "Mother Road"- Route 66- might have been on everyone's list. While I appreciate the efforts to preserve or re-create that route, I've done bits and pieces and it's a puzzle to even find it at times and much is gone in favor of the interstate system. So, we won't include that here which is too bad.
So what criteria did I use to determine my favorites? In two main ways- how the road makes me feel and whether I'd recommend it. That's not too subjective, is it? Well, of course it is but it's also very simple...
Here's the list:
1. California State Route 1 Growing up in SoCal this one was king. Commonly called PCH it stretches from San Juan Capistrano in the south to Leggett in the north- encompassing some of the world's most beautiful scenery and vistas. Big Sur and environs is typically considered the most beautiful part of the drive but there are little stretches - from it's southern terminus to it's northern end that are emblematic of everything that represents the "California culture". The drive from Santa Monica to Oxnard is an example...waves, surfers, sand, seafood, fishermen and the shaka sign.
2. Highway 101 is also known, in places, as "PCH". This, if I had to pick, is the highway that I think I've loved more and longer than any other. As a young man I read and was captivated by John Steinbeck and his descriptions of the land (I still am). Highway 101 (one oh one) traverses the heart of what I think of as "Steinbeck Country"; the rolling hills with large oaks that are shimmering green in the spring and golden in the autumn. The world changes as you approach the Gaviota Pass and I cannot describe how glorious it feels to go through the Gaviota tunnel heading north - I simply leave all the Southern California bullshit behind me, get out of my overthinking mind, and embrace the visual poetry of the drive.
There have been times, I'm not ashamed to admit, when the stretch between Santa Barbara and the Bay Area has literally brought me to tears. It's also known, of course, as "El Camino Real" and even that name, as a child, filled me with romance as I pictured Californios walking the Royal Road. I feel more "connected" to the 101 than any other Highway.
Now that I've taken up photography as a passion I'll be traveling more on 101 in Oregon. Most of the highway skirts the Pacific there and the sights are as peaceful and stunning as these eyes have ever seen. When I met my wife Lupe one of the first places I wanted to show her was the Oregon coast.
3. Highway 395 - this highway, lesser known than the coast routes is a gem. The granitic Sierra Nevada, sloping and gentle on the western slopes is completely different on the eastern side. On the western side you see the mountains off in the distance, on 395 they rise seemingly straight up, off the valley floor. I believe that I will probably spend more time on this highway than any other in the next few years. In fact, next month I'll be fishing with my sons in the Bishop Creek area and then I'll be exploring the Alabama Hills in October.
Of course, this is a federal highway and runs to the Canadian border from the Mojave Desert but I do not know the Oregon and Washington sections very well having only traveled them a few times. I believe in the next few years I'd better correct that.
4. Highway 89 - Strong arguments could be made that this is simply the best highway in the West and, therefore, the entire USA. If someone were to ask me to "show them the West", I'd head right for Highway 89. Highway 89 used to run from the Mexico border to the Canada border but that was changed in 1992 and now there are two sections.
Remarkably, Highway 89 links seven National Parks. In addition, 14 National Monuments are located close to this route. It is mind blowingly beautiful.
Here is a list of highlights:
Saguaro National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and near Casa Grande National Monument and the Hohokam Pima National Monument. There is Tuzigoot National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument.
Zion National Park, Bryce National Park. Two sections of U.S. 89 in Utah have been designated Scenic Byways. The Kanab to Mt. Carmel and Long Valley Scenic Byway is a designated Utah Scenic Byway. From Logan to Bear Lake is designated as the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway by the National Scenic Byways project.
This stretch, bordering Utah, does not have a National Park nearby but it's pastoral and enchanting as it goes through Montpelier and you know you're getting closer to the mountains and grandeur of Wyoming's National Parks.
Here you go. Highway 89 leads to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park which is, of course, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park - the granddaddy of National Parks and subject of my next post.
The highway winds through the state, with breathtaking scenery along the way, to magnificent Glacier National Park.
My friend, Eric Temple, who I've mentioned previously, is the creative force behind Highway 89 Media. Our man knows how to name things...
If you have the time you'd be smart to put this road first on your list.
5. US Route 550. I was on this highway two years ago and it is an unforgettable and spectacular drive. It is known as the "Million Dollar Highway" as it stretches from Durango, CO to Montrose, CO. The road goes through and around some of the most impressive mountains in the United States. It is glorious and if you have not been on this road, as I suspect a few of you have not, I encourage you to make plans to see it post haste. I guarantee you will not be disappointed- just check the weather forecast. You can see some of the sights on this road if you scroll down my Trip Review Page to September 2014.
6. Utah Highway 12. While Highway 395 was my inspiration for this blog the first other highway I thought about was this dramatic road. It's only 125 miles from beginning to end but what an irresistible stretch it is. Starting at Bryce Junction (off Highway 89) and ending at Capitol Reef National Park it captures Southwestern Utah and its' uniquely sculptured magnificence. It travels through some of the most picturesque country in the West. Red Rocks, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome State Park are along the way. While Highway 89 may be the highway I would recommend to "See the West" it is a long route. If you have limited time then get yourself over to Highway 12 and check out its' wonders. I offer a 100% money back guarantee that you'll love it.
7. Beartooth Highway. Many people consider this the most beautiful drive in America (including none other than Charles Kuralt according to the always reliable Wikipedia page). This is the Northern Rocky Mountains at their very finest. It leaves Yellowstone and then twists and turns and switchbacks all the way to Red Lodge, Montana. I've only been on this road four times but I can remember each drive...the clouds and sky...where I had lunch and those breathtaking mountains. It's that unforgettable. It is notorious for its' unpredictable weather and summer snowstorms, while rare, are not unheard of. I have a dream of doing this drive some early September morning and stopping every few miles along the way. It's a nice dream. I hope to make it a reality quite soon.
There are other roads that I must mention even if I don't give them the words they deserve. I drove Interstate 93 through Massachusetts and New Hampshire about 15 years ago in October which started and ended my career as a "leaf peeper" but I'd go back in a heartbeat. My teen years and first years of driving were on the "Rim of the World" Highway 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains and I still think about it often...I drove it for 20 years in my career as well from the little town of Running Springs to Lake Arrowhead through every possible kind of weather and I'll always love it. On those rare clear days you can still see Catalina Island. A current favorite is Highway 70 in New Mexico that runs by the Organ Mountains and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico along the way to Alamogordo Going over the La Veta Pass on I-25 from Pueblo, CO to Santa Fe, NM is another fave.
So, there you have it. My top 7 American Highways and some honorable mentions. My hunch is lots of folks would disagree with this list and that's great. Educate me (but be gentle). I know that my eastern US knowledge is fairly weak and I probably missed some great roads in the midwest too. I also know there are many local highways that may provide for your escape and, perhaps, your inspiration too. The terrific photographer Alex Kunz mentioned, for example, California Highway 78 which runs from the beach to the desert and is an underrated heavenly drive that has inspired much of his remarkable work. Tell me about yours and I'll put it on the list of my future travel destinations...
I plan on sharing more of my "favorite places" in the coming months. Next up will be my favorite National Parks and, I guess, I'll try and limit that to seven as well... it won't be easy.
See you on the road...
The weekend will go quickly as I anticipate leaving for the Slickrock country of Utah. I'll be hanging out with my daughter and I love her so much that time just flies when she's around. Just a few more items to address before I hit the road. I look forward to sharing about my trip on my return. I've been to many of the places I'm heading before but never in the beautiful month of October.
My trips for next year are starting to shape up. I have 4 big trips in the works already. Big Bend NP, Rio Grande Del Norte in New Mexico, Devil's Tower NM in Wyoming, and the mighty Cascades Loop in Oregon and Washington.
I'll leave you with this quote which reminds me that the past is always past- especially when we're on the road:
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Please take care of yourselves.
I've been home almost a week and, funny enough, I'm itching to get back on the road. I know that the good weather months are dwindling and that soon it will be cold- my traveling and camping nemesis. I have a trip planned to Utah in less than two weeks and then the wait for the twins begins in earnest and I'll probably stay pretty close to home.
One of the most enjoyable activities of the winter months is planning the next year's travel. So far, I plan on two trips to Organ Pipe NM this winter. After 11 long years the monument is now fully open again which is exciting to say the least. I can now explore some places I've been itching to see for awhile but were closed due to the US Border Patrol's activities.
Have you read, "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Urrea? The setting is Organ Pipe- it's a tragic story and my views on immigration were only solidified by reading it. I know it's a complex issue but we MUST find a more humane way of dealing with those desperately poor people from Mexico who simply want a better life in the USA (as did all our relatives- except the indigenous). I have lots of deeply passionate thoughts about these issues and, perhaps, in future, I'll devote an entire blog to what I believe the problems are (and there are many - starting with the government of Mexico and US policy) and how we might go about creating a better world for our brothers and sisters from the south. If you have an interest in these matters please read Urrea, or "Border Patrol Nation" by Todd Miller. Or read anything that Charles Bowden has written on the Border problems.
If you know me, at all, you know I love all things Southwest- by extension- I love Mexico and the Mexican culture. It's everywhere you go in the Southwest and it's one of the major reasons I love it here.
Back to my plans for next year- so Organ Pipe is on big time. I'm also going to spend some time at Anza Borrego near Little Blair Valley doing some boondocking near a dry lake bed. Last year when I was there I was mesmerized by the solitude and stark beauty of the place. The problem was that it's at 3000 feet elevation, it was during a cold snap, and when I awoke it was 21 degrees F. WAY too cold. This fall/winter I'm hoping to go when it's a bit warmer. Of course, I'll also figure out a time to go to my beloved Joshua Tree NP.
In March I'm heading to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas along the mighty Rio Grande. This is a trip that I've been wanting to do since my 20's and I'm finally going to make it happen. That trip will include stops in Arizona and New Mexico and may include a stop at Palo Duro Canyon and Guadalupe NP. April is a wonderful month to explore the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara and Big Sur and I'll backpack then. I love to travel in May because the weather is warming and the crowds are at a minimum. I will probably be in Taos and Santa Fe then. In June I'll head to the Sierras again. July is "Lupe and Lilly time" and we are still in the process of deciding. I'm considering two options for August - either Flathead Lake and Glacier NP in Montana or a Northern Cascades trip in Washington.
This last trip was really spectacular and I'm strongly considering heading back to the Four Corners in Utah and Colorado in September. I'm still, as I sit here at home, staggered by the scenery I saw in Colorado on this last trip.
My next trip, leaving on October 6, includes a visit with my very best friend from high school, Kevin D. , and still one of the best people I've ever known (or ever will know). He went to college in Utah and then got a job there and so our visits have been sporadic (at best) over the years. I'm hoping that changes in the next few years as we both move into the retirement phase of our lives. As I told him recently- one of us is still working (him) and one of us is a hobo (me) so his schedule will dictate things for awhile. Luckily he's free on the weekend of Oct. 11 and I get to hang with him on this trip. Knowing Kev he's explored most of that beautiful country up there and I'll be the beneficiary of his knowledge.
Here's my Utah tentative itinerary:
10/6 Navajo National Monument
10/7 Arches NP
10/8 Arches NP
10/9 Arches NP
10/10 Canyonlands NP
10/11 Visiting with Kevin near Vernal, UT
10/12 Goblin SP
10/13 Goblin SP
10/14 Capitol Reef NP
10/15 Kodachrome SP
Looks amazing doesn't it? Arches NP remains my favorite. Before I read Ed Abbey I visited it and had an OBE (out of body experience)- after I read, "Desert Solitaire" I understood why. I probably feel more "at home" in Arches than any other place on earth. There is no place like the Red Rock Country of the Colorado Plateau. Being there fulfills my heart's desire. I'll look forward to sharing pictures on my return as always.
Thanks for reading this. I hope all is well in your life and that you too are planning your next adventure. I'll look forward to writing again soon and sharing about another one of my new passions- playing guitar.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.